Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Alexander Wolff

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For those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up reading Sports Illustrated, then write for the magazine, there’s this oft-unspoken ranking thing that happens inside our heads.

Without fail, we all have our, “Top 5 All-Time Sports Illustrated greats” lists. The names tend to vary from person to person. My Frank Deford is your Dan Jenkins is your Steve Rushin is your Rick Reilly is your Bill Nack. One person, however, who seems to cross the lines of age, gender, race, area of specialty is Alexander Wolff.

Beginning in 1980, shortly after his graduation from Princeton, Alex joined the staff of Sports Illustrated. He then spent the next three decades writing some of the most beautiful, most comprehensive, most intelligent pieces in modern sports journalism. He’s covered everything, from the Olympics to the World Series, but is best known for his devotion to chronicling basketball. Of John Wooden’s 2010 passing, for example, Alex wrote: “If death had granted him a moment to convey the sentiment, John Wooden would have declared his passing last week at age 99 a happy transit.” Of the 1982 Dallas Mavericks, he observed, “To paraphrase that great Irish hoop maven, Willie B. Yeats, things can fall apart if your center’s no good. That summarizes the prospects of the Dallas Mavericks in their third season.” Seriously, tale a moment and check out the scope of his work on the SI Vault. It’s gold.

Though he’s officially listed as retired on the scouting report, Alex still contributes to SI. He’s also the author of a wonderful new book, The Audacity of Hoop,” on Barack Obama’s devotion to basketball.

One can follow Alex on Twitter here.

Alexander Wolff, you are the Lancaster Gordon of writers, and the 288th of Quazes …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Alex, I’m gonna kick this off with a depressing one. Yesterday Sports Illustrated laid off more employees. Inevitably they were lay off more, and more and more. It strikes me that this can’t end well; that maybe there’s just no saving print and the magazine is a dinosaur scheduled for inevitable extinction. You worked at the magazine for decades. You were there through some glorious years. Do you have any hope? How does it all make you feel?

ALEXANDER WOLFF: I was an SI fact-checker in the Bright Lights, Big City days, and then a writer on staff into the early 2000s, when the magazine and travel budgets were fat and if you threw out a story idea you’d hear back, “When can we have it?” And then I spent the last decade or so until retirement just trying to breast the tape as bodies collapsed around me. So this is a painful subject.

But even as this agonizing transition from print to digital takes place, I have to believe there’ll still be an appetite for the mag. It may be a mag that appears less often than every week. It may be one produced with contributing rather than staff writers; some of the photographers who lost staff gigs a few years ago are now getting even more SI work as freelancers. The people who are still on staff are top-of-the-craft. Just from a hoops perspective, it doesn’t get better than Lee Jenkins and Chris Ballard on the pros, and Luke Winn and Seth Davis on the colleges. With a little help from my son, Grant Wahl has turned me into a soccer fan. Tom Verducci and Peter King are the voices of their respective sports. And guys like Tim Layden and Scott Price and Jon Wertheim and Mike Rosenberg are just absurdly versatile.

Which is why it hurts so much. No one let go over the past dozen years or so was sacrificed at the altar of anything but Forces We Can’t Control. They were universally smart, gifted, productive people. Many—I wish I could confidently say “most”—have found other places to commit journalism. That’s our loss and others’ gain, but at least the same forces threatening the SI so many people grew up with are creating all these new soapboxes in the public square that people can mount and speak from.

My hope rests in technology and new norms it may set. In 10 or 15 years we may all keep rolled up in our pocket a paper-thin device that captures and displays words and pictures instantaneously, a kind of turbo-charged iPad, and if so SI will be right there, delivering first-rate content by talented people, and the brand will endure—not because people have accommodated themselves to us, but because we’ve been nimble enough to go where the consumption is, whether it’s on a Web-enabled fruit rollup or whatever.

Just last week I had a feature in the mag about cord-cutting and “over-the-top” delivery options, and how leagues and networks are being forced to move to the platforms people choose to spend time on. The challenge facing print is pretty much the same. People will always want a good story well-told, and I’m never going to doubt SI’s ability to deliver that regardless of the platform. My fear is the same one I and many others expressed in last week’s piece, for rights holders and their broadcast partners: all the dislocation along the way.

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J.P.: You’re best known for your work on basketball. I have this thing in my head, that the college games was never better than it was in the 1980s in the Big East. Mullin, Ewing, Pearl, Billy Donovan, Cliff Robinson, on and on. But am I just falsely glorifying something from my youth? Is it better in my mind than it was in actuality?

A.W.: I’m as susceptible as you to romanticizing those days, because I was young and impressionable and just breaking in. I had a chance to take stock a few years ago while working on a piece about the demise of the Big East, and it was a stitch to collect stories like the one about God Shammgod as a freshman at Providence, walking into a religion class and, asked to introduce himself, saying, “My name is God Shammgod and I’m here to take Providence to the Promised Land.” Which led the priest teaching the class to call the college president to find out what in Jesus, Mary and Joseph was going on.

But the sport was great everywhere during the Eighties. It was growing with ESPN and worming its way into every corner of the country. For you it might have been the Big East, but I was even more smitten by the SEC of that era, maybe because the South seemed so exotic to a kid from the Northeast, and maybe because the basketball coaches had to work extra-hard to catch anyone’s attention what with the football emphasis. You had big, bad Kentucky, the team everyone was shooting for. At Auburn you had Charles Barkley, and Tennessee students delivering a pizza to him in the pregame layup line. LSU started at forward a guy named Nikita Wilson, whose middle name was Francisco, which led Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to call him “a trilateral summit conference.” And the coaches had this honor-among-thieves camaraderie. I loved the wit of Georgia’s Hugh Durham and Auburn’s Sonny Smith. Alabama’s Wimp Sanderson was, in his words, “named after a cousin who blocked a punt and died shortly thereafter.” At one SEC tournament LSU’s Dale Brown pledged not to sleep for the entirety of the four-day weekend and then phoned writers at all hours to prove that he was keeping his word. It was the cheating-est league in America. Probably still is. But in terms of pure entertainment value, every dollar was well-spent.

From a 1980 Asbury Park Press profile.

From a 1980 Asbury Park Press profile.

J.P.: You were the owner of the Vermont Frost Heaves of the ABA. It started as a magazine idea, then just got really interesting. I’m gonna be vague and wide open here. How did the idea begin? Why? And what did you learn/gain from the experience?

A.W.: One of my professional vices has always been a certain restlessness. By the mid-2000s the basketball beat had begun to seem a little like Groundhog Day. I heard from NBA scouting director Marty Blake about the reconstituted ABA, where franchises went for $5,000. My wife and I had just moved to Vermont, and the Web was creating this limitless place for content. So the idea of starting a team and writing about it became hard to resist. And when I saw two great old Palestra-like venues in the Vermont cities of Burlington and Barre, I got sucked deep into the vortex. The hardest part was conceiving the project—and pitching it to editors—as this light romp through the theme park of pro team ownership, and discovering very quickly that there were real people with real stakes depending on the whole experiment working out.

I learned a lot about the goodwill of my Vermont neighbors, and how quickly money can disappear, and the incredible amount of work that goes on before a sportswriter sits down courtside in front of that little welcome card with your name on it. We rented the hall and paid the entertainment and basically threw parties for more than 1,000 people 18 times a year for three years. It wasn’t a sustainable financial success, but with two ABA titles and memories that people up here still talk about, it was an artistic one. The young Vermont guy our fans picked to be the coach, Will Voigt, just led Nigeria to the Rio Olympics. And Ken Squier, the old CBS motorsports analyst who runs the Thunder Road racetrack in central Vermont, so loved our mascot that after we folded he took Bump the Moose in like a stray. Bump is now Speed Bump the Racing Moose.

I wrote up 15,000 words for the SI.com longform site about the whole experience, but have another 50,000 or so stashed away. Even if that overset never gets published, writing it all up was therapy.

J.P.: You’re the author of “The Audacity of Hoop,” a new book about President Obama and basketball. Like me with Brett Favre, you actually never got to interview Obama for the project. So I ask: A. How did you go about trying? B. How did it impact the final product? And how did you even come up with the idea for this?

A.W.: Hoop had become such a big theme during Obama’s 2008 campaign that, after his election, I asked editors at SI whether they wanted a sort of basketball biography of him to run before the inauguration. After filing the story, I asked myself whether hoop would continue to figure in his life as president. And when it did—and all these great images from White House photographer Pete Souza began surfacing that featured POTUS around the game and NBA players—I began to think there might be a book. Of course, he needed to get re-elected for it to have any chance in the marketplace. But after he was, I threw myself into the project.

There’s no way to badger the President of the United States for an interview without bringing yourself to the attention of the authorities. So I put in my request, hoped for the best, and got on with the project. A little part of me died each time he’d sit down with Bill Simmons for the umpteenth time, or make a sidetrip to Marc Maron’s garage for a podcast, and my own phone wouldn’t ring. But Obama has left a long trail of commentary about the game, none better than those pages in his memoir Dreams from My Father, so there was that to work with.

And as you know from your Favre experience, even with the hole, there’s something to the donut. Not getting your main subject forces you to work the edges that much more. And like you with Favre, I benefited from there being no active effort to keep me from doing the book. People in the Obama hoop circle spoke openly and freely. And I did feel I got cooperation from the White House to the extent that Pete Souza chased down images we were looking for. One of my favorites has POTUS dribbling toward the camera with his daughters on either side of him. He’s dribbling with his weak-ass right hand, as are Malia and Sasha, and it’s an incredibly poignant photo if you know the Obama backstory: POTUS has said that he might have been a better player if he’d had a father around to take him out to work on his off hand. I have no idea whether his girls are right- or left-handed, but here Obama is discharging his paternal duty with them both, taking care of business his own dad never tended to.

And in one respect I got the ultimate cooperation: Throughout the Obamas’ time in Washington, the White House has been loath to release photos of the girls. But Souza said he’d try to get authorization for us to use that shot, and came back with a green light. You can take it to the bank that either POTUS or FLOTUS signed off on it.

J.P.: How did this happen to you? I mean, I know you grew up in Princeton until age 12, then moved to Rochester; know you had your first byline taste in the Trenton Times, know you attended Princeton, graduated in 1979, joined SI a year later. But when did you know writing was for you? Was there a moment? An event?

A.W.: I grew up around words and just learned to love them. My grandparents were book publishers, and even my dad, an English-as-a-second-language immigrant who was 28 when he arrived from Europe, lit up when he saw a Puns & Anagrams puzzle in the New York Times. I consumed any newspaper or magazine that made it into our house. But I was indiscriminate with language, and it took a ruthless English teacher to shake some of the lassitude out of me during my sophomore year in high school.

But it was four years later, in a writing course at Princeton, that I really got excited about journalism. It’s the course that John McPhee still teaches today, though he didn’t teach it that semester because he was off working on his Alaska book, Coming Into the Country. Robert Massie, the old Newsweek and Saturday Evening Post staffer who had gone on to write Nicholas and Alexandra, took his place, and he was a great fit for a kid who was about to be a history major. The 16 of us in the class would get our one-on-one time with him, going over what we wrote, but the real value was in reading and critiquing what others produced. I went back to campus 20 years later to teach a similar course, and the magic around that seminar table—a gentle peer pressure, but of the pressure-makes-diamonds kind—was still an animating force.

Meantime I’d joined a group of campus stringers and begun filing for the Trenton Times, which was 12 miles down Route 1. Because it was so close to campus, editors would take just about anything. And because it was a p.m., I could stay up fiddling with my copy all night if I wanted, as long as I filed by the time the editors came in at 6. So I wrote a lot—some sports, but mostly news, arts and features. My stuff got professionally edited, and I could cross Nassau Street in the afternoon and pick up a copy of the paper and see exactly what had been changed. I even got a check every month. Princeton had no journalism major or school, but those opportunities were in place, and by taking advantage of them I got a glimpse of how I might make a living—and I quickly learned to like the variety and rhythm and satisfaction of it.

With Bryan Byrdlong, DeAntre Harleston and Elizabeth Ea in Nashville.

With Bryan Byrdlong, DeAntre Harleston and Elizabeth Ea in Nashville.

J.P.: In 1984 you wrote a cover story about a Chicago Bulls rookie named Michael Jordan. The team sucked, his greatness wasn’t yet established. What do you recall from that experience? Of a young MJ? And was it clear back then that he would be THIS good? Or was it more like, “If he works hard, he has a chance to be a Sidney Moncrief or Otis Birdsong-type player”?

A.W.: I’m not sure I accept the premise. By the time of that ’84 cover story, Jordan was the buzz of the league. Certainly Nike had already made the bet that he was on his way.

I remember the exact moment I knew. It was in Cole Field House his junior year. Carolina was playing that Maryland team with Len Bias, nothing close to an easy out. But the Tar Heels were in control from the jump, and Jordan seemed to elevate just an inch or two higher and hang for a quarter- or half-second longer than anyone else on the floor. He did just about anything he wanted. Late in the second half some Terp threw a lazy pass to the wing, and Jordan jumped all over it and turned it into an exclamation point slam at the other end. I still remember being gathered around his locker afterward, when someone asked, “Were you trying to send a message with that dunk?”

“No messages,” he replied. He sounded all business, like an efficient secretary. That day, that’s when I knew.

I make no claim to being a great judge of talent. I thought Lancaster Gordon was can’t-miss. But from watching Jordan in college, even in that supposed straitjacket Dean Smith cloaked his guys in, I knew Jordan would have his way with the league. I even shook my head when two big guys went ahead of him in the draft.

J.P.: I have a thing in my head, and it’s this: Most Division I men’s college basketball coaches are slime. Happy to break rules, happy to use kids until they can no longer be used, much more concerned with the next job than developing men. Am I off on this? On? Are there more exceptions than I think?

A.W.: Actually, if we’re going to slander entire professions, let’s go after college football coaches. They’re imperious and self-important and even more extravagantly overpaid, with no more refined sense of loyalty than basketball coaches. At least basketball coaches know their guys—three to five in a typical class. Woody Hayes had a starting quarterback hurt in the middle of one game and famously sent in a backup whose name he didn’t know.

I don’t see how you can care about a player if you don’t have more than a nodding relationship with him. And how can you really know a kid if he’s one of a hundred, and there are layers of middle-management (this coordinator, that coordinator, outside linebackers coach, inside linebackers coach) between you and them? Yes, there are on-the-make college basketball coaches, and plenty who’ll light out for a better situation without a care for who’s left in the lurch. But the haughtiness that permeates big-time college football right now is breathtaking.

Remember Dabo Swinney on that John Oliver segment, grumbling about the “attitude of entitlement” he thinks infects kids these days? You want to see entitlement, take a look in the mirror, my man. And if Title IX or some other nefarious equity ethic steers any bowl money to the women or non-revenue men, the tantrums these guys throw. Give me John McKay, the old Southern Cal football coach. He said he only needed three platoons: an offensive team, a defensive team, and a team “to carry me off the field after we win.” A-friggin’-men.

Back in the day.

Back in the day.

J.P.: You left Princeton after your sophomore year to spend a season playing for a third-division team in Lucerne, Switzerland. You had been merely an OK high school player. Um, how did this happen? And what do you remember from the experience?

A.W.: I was ready to “stop out” of college after two years, probably from some of the same restlessness that led to the Frost Heaves. This was back before even middle-schoolers talked about taking a “gap year,” and the concept was kind of revolutionary. A childhood friend, a Swiss-American, had played for the national junior team over there and was in college himself, in Fribourg, which happened to be where the Swiss Basketball Federation was based. The president of the federation wanted to develop hoop in the German-speaking part of the country, so my buddy passed along my name. I’d been the fifth option on my high school team, 6 feet tall and maybe 150 pounds, but I was American. When I got off the train in Lucerne, Andre, the G.M. who met me, must have been mortified. But third division club ball in Switzerland in the late Seventies was pretty crude, and I was as much a development worker as a ringer.

The club got me a nonverbal job working for an agricultural consulting firm, coloring maps to indicate soil aptitudes. I reffed rec league games around the canton and picked up a little more money that way. I read a lot. And I taught myself German, though I would have picked up a lot more if they didn’t speak that bizarre Swiss dialect.

When I returned to college the following fall I was much more mature and worldly. I’d like to say I caught a glimpse of the Euro-revolution that would remake the NBA. But mostly I was explaining to people who were conditioned to think of basketball as “not soccer” that it’s only a violation if you intentionally gain some advantage by striking the ball with your feet.

J.P.: What are the keys to reporting a great story? I know that’s a wide-open question, but … for you … what are you trying to do?

A.W.: It starts with the idea. If you have a notion for a story but struggle finding an entry point, or people to talk to, or simply what would go into a nut graf, heed those warning signs. There may be no there there. The last couple of decades I’ve done a lot of historical and issues-based pieces, and for both I’ll try to read widely before I do any interviewing—books and what I can find online, deadlines permitting. That helps with the inevitable passages where you set context, and it wins you goodwill when you go out to report because people know right away that you’ve done your homework and reached some threshold of giving a damn. For similar reasons, I try to swing by a library or historical society or archive once I’m out in the field. It’s amazing what gets stashed in those places, and how much the people who staff them know. Even if you only find one little fact, sometimes you can spin it into gold.

I had three days to turn around that cover story we did in the mid-Nineties urging Miami to drop football, and the most valuable time I spent was dipping into Robin Lester’s book about Robert Maynard Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago who abolished football there. Hutchins’ son-in-law was the Miami president, so for my open letter to him I could deploy old Hutchins comments about the damage that football run amok could do to a university, and know they’d have real power.

Another strategy that has worked well for me is to make sure to speak to the women around a male athlete or coach. It’s just the nature of things that most of our profile subjects are men, and male athletes are conditioned to put up a shield and resist being introspective or showing vulnerability. Wife, girlfriend, sister, aunt, grandmother—they’re the proxies who can speak to that stuff, the ones who kept the scrapbooks and dressed the skinned knees and remember every little setback along the way. And I think male and female readers alike kindle to something emotional, like a story out of childhood, or proof that even today’s hero was once a goat.

The test around the SI offices after someone filed a profile was simple: Does the story answer the question, “What’s he like?” Understanding that you can never flesh out someone’s whole bio in one magazine story, that’s still the test.

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J.P.: I feel like all of us who do this long enough have a money story—that one thing we can tell at parties for years to come. For example, I’ve gotten tons of mileage out of the whole John Rocker saga. So what’s your money story? Craziest, weirdest, most-memorable experience from your life? Do tell …

A.W.: Actually, that Miami story might have been my Rocker moment. It hits, and all of Canes Land is in an uproar. I’m this bogeyman for Miami fans and an easy target for harassment. A drive-time radio jock cold calls my apartment early in the morning, live. I’d gotten smart enough not to pick up, but my answering machine greeting was “You’ve reached 212-blah-blah-blah. I’m sorry I’m not here to take your call . . ..” Which meant that my home number was broadcast all over South Florida, which touched off another round of abusive calls. The weirdest thing is that, in an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend twist, years later Nevin Shapiro decides to write me from prison because he wants to dish on his adventures in unrestrained Miami boosterdom and figures I can be trusted. I really bear no ill will toward Miami. Sometimes assignments just break a certain way.

For entertainment value at a party, though, I’ll default to something that happened while covering the Bulls during a late-Nineties playoff series. I find myself in the back seat of a car leaving a downtown Chicago club at 3 in the morning. Dennis Rodman is at the wheel. Carmen Electra is riding shotgun. He patches out, backward, down three city blocks, oblivious to the lights, then hits 90 on the Dan Ryan. She’s egging him on the whole way. I’m terrified, envisioning the headline: RODMAN, ELECTRA, ONE OTHER, DEAD IN CRASH.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ALEXANDER WOLFF:

• Rank in order (most desirable to least desirable), guys you can start a team with (from their primes): Fennis Dembo, Yinka Dare, Gerry McNamara, David Wingate, Lancaster Gordon, Laron Profit, Kit Mueller, Shawn Respert, Adam Keefe, Vin Baker: Baker, Respert, Gordon, Keefe, Profit, Dembo, Wingate, Dare, McNamara, Mueller (My head’s spinning from two Lancaster Gordon refs in one Quaz).

• Why wasn’t Reggie Williams a great NBA player?: He was a stick. George Gervin was the last real bag of bones to make it big, and Ice had that one signature shot. Great NBA players all have some signature shot or move, a little film clip that plays on your frontal lobe when his name is mentioned. Reggie didn’t really have that. (That little flip from along the baseline doesn’t count.)

If Reggie had come from some compass-point school in Michigan the way Gervin did, he might have developed a signature weapon. But at Georgetown he was a cog in a machine.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Leaving Denver on American, sitting in the back of the plane, there’s a loud pop from one of the two side rear engines just as we’ve taken off. Gulps all around the cabin, and the captain comes on, in that Chuck Yeager voice that Tom Wolfe wrote about in The Right Stuff: “Looks like we’ve had a little engine stall, so we’re going to circle back to the airport just to be on the safe side.” I’m no aeronautics whiz, but “engine stall” and “takeoff” would not seem to be an ideal combination. We make it safely back to DIA—I’ve always been grateful they didn’t name the place Denver Overseas Airport—and they subbed out the aircraft.

I do remember getting upgraded on that next flight.

• Our former SI colleague, Merrell Noden, died last year at 59. What can you tell me about him?: Merrell was an endlessly curious guy and a lovely writer who put up on a pedestal every one of the many people he counted as friends. There’s that Billy Collins line that “experience holds its graduation at the grave,” and Merrell was a great example. All the things you and I might have tried out through college, he was doing until the end. Taking piano lessons. Auditing math classes. Tutoring prisoners. Acting in a Shakespeare production. All while raising two magnificent kids and being a proud and supportive companion of his artist wife Eva.

• What’s the scouting report on Alexander Wolff, basketball player, 2016?: Can’t play without at least two days’ rest, ideally three. Only real shot is a square-up mid-range jumper. Beyond-the-arc range disappeared a dozen years ago, along with my core. Trying to backfill with “old man game,” but a guy needs more girth and better peripheral vision to really unlock OMG. Basically, more than 40 years after turning the age Janis Ian sang about in At Seventeen, now one of “those whose names are never called/when choosing sides for basketball.”

Christian Laettner—misunderstood lug or legitimate cocky asshole?: Legitimate cocky asshole. He’d tell you as much himself, which was a big part of his success.

• One question you would ask Soulja Boy were he here right now?: “You any relation to Arn Tellem, the Detroit Pistons executive, former player agent, and erstwhile Cheltenham (Pa.) High School classmate of ex-SI staffer Franz Lidz?”

Elena Delle Donne as a serviceable low-level Division I shooting guard … possible? Ridiculous? Both? Neither?: I adore her game, and I’d love to see what she’d do dropped in among guys—but if you want real serviceability, probably best to try her at D-II or III.

• What are the most overused words in the Alex Wolff writing catalogue?: Maybe it’s my German heritage, but I love words that result from two other words getting scrunched together. Words like gainsay and woodsmoke and hardscrabble. Love them too much, probably.

My wife is my first reader, and she’s genuinely surprised when I write something that doesn’t have hardscrabble in it. Or hard by, as in, “a cabin that sits hard by a silo.” That’s a lot of hard. Guess you could say I take Viagra for my vocabulary.

• How do you feel about Donald Trump as president? (being quite serious): (Cue the growls from the pit of my stomach.)

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Jadah Cortez

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Anyone who reads the Quaz series knows I have a Q&A thing for athletes, politicians, actors and sex workers.

Why? Because the stories are always riveting, the dialogues mesmerizing, the insights into the psychologies of life and death and sex raw and, often, on point.

Enter: Jadah Cortez.

Today’s lucky 287th Quaz Q&A lives in Salt Lake City, where she has a boyfriend, a pad and a thriving career in the field. You can follow her on Twitter here, and find her product here.

Jadah Cortez, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so your business genuinely fascinates me. But what fascinates me most is that—in a profession where 99 percent seem to use fake photos, hidden identities—you make your own videos, pictures, etc. Does this not concern you at all? Couldn’t it bite you in the rear? You apply for, say, a job at a law office, they Google Image you. Or, years from now, you’re a PTA mom …

JADAH CORTEZ: My entire family and friends group knows my career (yes, you heard that correctly, career) choice. When I introduce myself to people and they ask what I do for a living I tell them I am a pro-dominatrix, as it’s easier to explain than to say I am a lifestyle Goddess. The thing is, let’s say I ever do find myself wanting to go down a more mainstream path, though that is highly unlikely, I’m okay with this being a large portion of my past. Sex workers are discriminated upon so often and its highly disturbing. If a company can’t accept a previous sex worker than it is very clearly not a company I would like to work for. This is the same thought process I hold with friends and family—’If you are not okay with what I do than I am not okay with you.’ Sex work needs to stop being criminalized. Women are getting beaten trying to make a living and end up getting blamed for being a prostitute, because obviously they chose that life right? Its sad, it truly is. I’m knowledgeable enough on the topic to make someone feel idiotic at best for trying to attack this part of my life, and outspoken enough to be able to put someone in their place in any way. I love who I am, and I stand by sex workers. Hiding from it only causes the stigma to grow, and I refuse to allow that to happen. That didn’t flow all too well but my mind was running a million places at once.

J.P.: How did you become “Goddess Jadah”? Literally, what was your path from womb to now? How did it come to you as a profession? When did you start? And who are you? I know you live in Utah, but … married? Kids? College? Dog owner?

J.C.: Well, I suppose the story would have to start from childhood. I’m an only child, extremely intelligent, beautiful, and a knack for having things go my way. Growing up I had two loving parents who raised me and nurtured me to the best of their ability. It was adorable actually, there was kind of a friendly competition of who could spoil me the most. Whenever I got into an argument with one of my parents, the other would step up and take me out. My dad would take me to get ice cream or video games while my mother would take me to get new clothes and shoes. It was a win/win situation. I never lost; I guess I got used to this mentality.

However, the problem would be in my Hispanic background. My parents stepped away from the cliche Mexican ideals but my grandparents held true to them. I was always expected to get married young, have kids young, graduate high school and be a stay-at-home mom. This was not my desire and it put some stress on me, though my parents assured me I could be whatever I wanted to be. Moving forward, I excelled in school. I was an almost straight-A student and graduated high school as the head of my cross country team, a lovely 3.7 GPA, a few college courses in film writing under my belt, a full-ride education scholarship (so room and board not included) to one of hundreds of schools across the United States, and hundreds of hours of volunteer service at the local shelter. I was excelling in every aspect of my life, however I was not happy.

I feel in doing all these things I lost myself. I was in the ‘perfect’ relationship—also which must be noted. He was a star athlete, prom king, and all those other things women fawned over. He treated me like I deserve, constant letters of adoration, daily walks to and from school as his work schedule allowed, and everything else a woman could desire. I still wasn’t happy. At the time I was living in California and left to a school I had never heard of, which I later found to be a Historically Black University, in Virginia. I turned down the opportunity for a full ride at UCLA because I didn’t care. I had already decided that I didn’t want to be society’s version of perfect as that is not who I truly am. I am perfect, and being someone I am not could only taint my perfection.

I completed my first year of college, however, and got perfect marks (minus the fucking B I got second semester in calc) but I had a meltdown. I guess to truly find yourself you need to lose yourself, and that’s exactly what happened. I lost the woman I knew I was and I was scared I would never find her again. I left school and my scholarship and my then-fiance. I jumped into a new relationship with an officer in the military who I didn’t care about, but he was a safety net until I figured out my next move. He was my first experience in D/s relationships. He answered to my every call as we lived together and waited on me hand and foot. I never held his hand and rarely kissed him. I had my couch and he had his. He begged for my love and I wouldn’t give it to him. Over time I grew bored as my sexual desires grew and he was unable to satisfy me correctly due to his smaller-than-average penis. I ended up sleeping with other men, all of whom he knew about, and he seemed strangely aroused by the situation.

I researched online what was going on and found the world of cuckolding by complete accident. Somehow a few articles and clicks later I stumbled across Niteflirt, and Goddess Jadah was born. This isn’t my real name of course, but I do not fear using my real name once I know a boy and if he’s ever curious. Regardless, I am simply referred to as ‘Goddess’ or ‘Princess’. I was a bit past 18 at the time, and now a month away from 22 I can say that I am beyond happy. Here in Salt Lake City I live with my adorable doggy Lucky, my boyfriend (who is very aware of what I do and is so supportive it’s not even funny—he actually helps me with clips quite often), and that’s it. We moved here a little over a month ago because we wanted a new adventure.

Finally, as I have taken a lot of time to answer this question already, I will note that “Who are you?” is a rather hard question. I’ve answered how I got here but not who I am. I would say I’m the woman you walk by and crash into a pole due to captivation. The woman who can break you apart with a glance, but somehow always knows how to piece you together even better than before. The one who knows your weaknesses and has fun pulling at your heart strings. The woman every good boy needs in his life.

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J.P.: Your Twitter tagline is, “You need me. Fate has brought you to my feet.” And I get the words from a business standpoint. But, from past Q&As I’ve conducted, it’s clear that there’s an addictive element here. Do you worry about taking advantage of one’s addictive tendencies? Are you worried about ruining relationships, hurting a marriage, etc?

J.C.: Not at all. I have never had this fear and I don’t think this is a good time to start. I understand limits. I can read a person so clearly that I know when to push and when to pull. To this day I have had two marriages end and I am so happy for it. Neither of them were a, “Leave them for me” situation but rather a truly toxic relationship that needed to end and I was the one who was able to help my customers through it. One gal was struggling with her male identity. She knew deep down she was female and also knew her wife would never agree. I was able to help her past it, her self hatred for being different. I was able to make her realize that she can be the beautiful woman she had always known she was. The other was just an unhappy marriage in general. Due to the nature I will not speak on it, but I am also glad it has ended. Beyond those two incidents I have always drawn lines of where I will not cross myself personally, and where my boys don’t want me to cross.

Addiction is real—I have a boy who’s currently in a lot of debt from his old Mistress. He felt into an endless cycle and it took a while for him to break free. It took him a long time to trust me but he does now, fully. I control his finances and am making sure every month a large chunk is set aside for debt. I could easily be selfish and only allow him to pay the minimum, or I could realize how weak he is and put him deeper in the hole, but as his Goddess it is my duty to make him the perfect good boy, and a debt free happy life is part of that.

J.P.: Is Niteflirt a good or bad thing for you?

J.C.: Amazing. It’s my main platform. The percentage they take is nothing when you realize how much money its drawn in for me. I’m one of NF’s top performers, and am very regularly in the top 1 percent on their (they give out semimonthly reports showing your bracket). I woke up this morning to a couple hundred in clip sales on there, along with a $100 amazon giftcard from a good boy who would not know of me be it for Niteflirt. They take a hefty 30 percent but if I worked a storefront I could expect similar fees.

J.P.: Why do you think there are so many pornographic/sexual sites catered toward men for every one for women? Are we simply more desperate? More pathetic?

J.C.: I think boys are weaker. Did you not hear about the guy who fucked a McChicken? Boys will fuck everything. Women have a plethora of men who would give the world to sleep with them. There have only been two guys in my entire life that I truthfully wanted to sleep with prior to the situation that resulted in sex. One was my ex-fiance, one was my now boyfriend of over two years. I wouldn’t say I pursued either of them by any means, but more so that prior to them jumping through hoops to impress me I already had it in my mind I would sleep with them. I make money off of men’s weakness. However, arousal is largely a mental stimulation more so than a physical one. Men are idiots and have a hard time differentiating which is why so many boys do things they wouldn’t do in a non-aroused state compared to an aroused state. You control their cock, you control their mind. Once you have that under your belt it’s just full mind control due to the lack of distinction in the male mind.

J.P.: I have this image of you doing a call, and a guy is jerking off, doing whatever he does, and you’re picking your toes, watching Friday Night Lights re-runs with the volume off. Is that the case? Ever? Or how do you do your calls? Where? What’s the mindset?

J.C.: I have strayed away from the sign in, get random calls, sign off. As this point its more of a preset session. I get a message we set up a time and go from their. Most of what I do are either cam calls or audio hypnosis calls. Both which require my full attention. I love what I do. Looking through some of your things you seem like a sports guy so look at it this way, would you mute the game and read a book? Of course not! You get so drawn in to the game doing anything else would have to wait until commercial break. That’s what sessions are to me.

J.P.: I’ve gotta ask: How does the family feel about your profession? Was there a moment you told them? Explained? What was that like?

J.C.: My mother is more of a don’t ask don’t tell. She knows what I do, but I am her daughter and nothing will ever change that. My father, on the other hand, finds it interesting. Whenever I joke about what he’s getting me for holidays or my birthday’s his instant response is, “But you’re rich! Tell on of you fans to get you stuff!”—to which we both laugh. Of course he still gets me stuff, but he just likes poking fun at me. He doesn’t agree with it, but he refuses to have any avenue between us unopened. If I tell him I’m busy making clips he tells me to call him after, if I tell him I’m going on a vacation he laughs and asks how much of it is covered by my ‘fans’ (all of it of course) and what not. He’s a sweetheart and I’m his one and only child. He loves me, I’m safe, and I’m not mooching off of them financially, what more could parents ask for?

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J.P.: Erotic hypnosis via phone seems a bit of a stretch. Like, is it legitimate hypnosis? Are people truly hypnotized, in the traditional sense? Or is it more of a role play? And do you have any sort of hypnosis background?

J.C.: Actual qualifications I have none, though I do plan on getting some certification in 2017. I have been interested in hypnosis from a young age. Elementary school I had trouble sleeping and my mother used to play hypnosis clips for me. They were all food based to lose weight as that’s all she had on cassette. But, regardless of the topic I fell in love. It was so interesting to me getting lost in the words and the art of it all. The first time I ever experienced hypnosis was beautiful. Once I had awoken I can honestly say I had never felt so full of happiness in my life. It was something I listened to regularly and I became interested in the subconscious mind. Of course I grew up the internet became more prevalent. Life hack: If you need to read a book for school, play the audio it in your sleep on repeat for a week. I did this all through high school after being submersed in the strangeness of the subconscious mind. I got 100 percent on every single reading comprehension test without ever actually reading a word. I did hypnosis for a year as practice free of charge until I felt comfortable with my talents. At this point, if anyone questions I just refer them to my clip “Goddess of Love—Your Life’s Purpose—Hypnosis” which can be found on my Niteflirt, or any other clip site for that matter. After that file you’ll have the answer yourself.

J.P.: Best story from your career? The one that stands out in your mind …

J.C.: Oh gosh, there are so many. I will quickly name a few with little details. I’m a Goddess, you can’t put these sort of restraints on me!
• The boy who I had never spoken to but bought my MacBook pro and only messaged me to inform me.
• The boy who did a 45 minute role play all by himself. He simply wanted me to listen to him over the phone act out like four different roles in a sex scene.
• The boy who wanted to be hypnotized into feminization, and when I started producing the sensation of his chest expanding he started screaming at the top of his lungs right in my ear and saying his Hail Marys.

• A boy who called daily for months to play me a song on his guitar and sing to me.
The list could go on forever.

J.P.: I’m obsessed with death. It often consumes me—the reality that, ultimately, I will cease to exist for eternity. I’m guessing this doesn’t particularly bug you. Why? Why not?

J.C.: As an atheist I have some fear, but its minimal. I’m not worried about being forgotten, as those who have known me will take my memory to the grave. I am not worried about death as in my mind it will be equivalent to prior conception. There was nothing, there will be nothing again. I don’t recall pre-birth as being a negative experience, as I do not recall it at all. Just as I feel post death is also nothing. I don’t visualize it as a dark empty space, I literally visualize it as nothing.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JADAH CORTEZ:

• Rank in order (favorite to least) American cheese, Arian Foster, pop-up VW vans, “Jurassic Park II,” corned beef, Huey Lewis, tablecloths, Cindy Lauper, poetry, The Nutcracker: VW vans (I actually just sold my orange 82′ vanagon with the full pop up tent with all the mini kitchen in tact prior to moving here), American cheese, poetry, Cindy Lauper, corned beef, The Nutcracker, Huey Lewis, “Jurassic Park II”, tablecloths, Arian Foster (mainly because I had to look him up so he is irrelevant to my life”)

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Oh yes. Planes are actually one of my greatest fears. I was flying from Norfolk Virginia to D.C. and it was a tiny little plane as it was a connecting flight to a big airport. The turbulence was the end of me as we were in a huge storm. The over voice informed us we were landing so seat belts need to be buckled and what not. We started going down, about half way to the run way the plane immediately jerked up and we started going back up. It felt like we were going up for hours. I swear I thought the plane was hijacked. No voice came on the intercom and every one was confused, except me. I was terrified. Well, turns out they couldn’t land as the storm was screwing up visibility so we had to return to Norfolk and try again in 2 hours, which ended up fucking up my connecting flight from DC to Texas, and Texas to Oregon. I was pissed and shaken up. But they compensated by giving me a large sum of money in food vouchers, hotel stay, and limo service.

• Are big penises really so much better than small ones?: Yes.

• What’s the sexual taboo that troubles you the most?: Pedophilia. Don’t touch kids, don’t think about kids, don’t do anything. They’re innocent.

• One question you would ask Rand Paul were he here right now?: Funny enough, one of my previous submissives works with him personally. I have no questions for him as I have no interest in someone who will willingly be part of returning to the days when the only option for women was coat hangers.

• Donald Trump is president. Your emotions in exactly 17 words: That’s a sperm that should have ended up in the trash. He can’t even control his hair.

• Can you explain the longstanding popularity of pumpkin-flavored everything?: I’m unsure. Its an epidemic that has swept the nation, yet I fail to see why.

• Five reasons one should make Salt Lake City his/her home: I live here, its the safest big city in America, the economy here is booming and there’s jobs around every corner, there’s little pollution for so many people, its extremely affordable compared to the California prices I’m used to.

• Five things you always carry in your purse: Pepper spray, lipstick, my cell phone, pocket knife, and mini utensils

• Would you let your kids play tackle football? Why or why not?: Sure. Kids should be active. Always let, never force.

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Margot Bingham

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If you’re a fan of talent and substance over hype and nonsense, this is your Quaz.

If you’re a fan of passion over ego; of hard work over nonsense; of craftsmanship over ad-libbing—this is your Quaz.

If you’re a fan of rising stars who don’t think of themselves as rising stars, this is your Quaz.

And, lastly, if you’re a fan of the daughters of ex-Pittsburgh Steeler linebackers, well, this is your Quaz.

I digress.

Margot Bingham kicks ass. That sentence just entered my skull, and it’s true. If you pay even the slightest bit of attention, you’ve seen her work on shows ranging from Boardwalk Empire to The Family to Matador. If you’re a lover of music, her voice and stylings—sultry, smooth, vivid—will blow you away. And if you simply like reading about the rise and accomplishments of genuinely decent humanoids, well, you’re in the right place.

One can follow Margot on Twitter here, and visit her website here. (if you love music in even the slightest way, make certain to check out her outstanding Feel Good Studios series on the site).

Margot Bingham, you’ve arrived. You’re the 286th Quaz Q&A …

JP: Margot, I’m going to start with a statement that morphs into a question. So people are generally captivated by celebrity and, in particular, movie and TV stars. Well, about, oh, 10 years ago I did a TV Guide story on a show called “Love Monkey.” It starred Tom Cavanagh, Jason Priestly — and the day was soooooo boring. One scene was shot over, oh, a four-hour span. When I finally sat down with Priestly I said, “This seems surprisingly dull.” And he said, “Brother, you have no idea.” Margot, I get the excitement of premiers, bright lights, award shows. But is the creative process of television an interesting and engaging day-to-day experience? Or, sister, do I have no idea?

MARGOT BINGHAM: Ha! What a great way to start this out. So, its funny you mentioned this experience because one day when my parents came to visit me on the Boardwalk Empire set, they couldn’t believe just how many takes I did for one single line. I remember my dad making a comment to my aunt over the phone, just saying how unbelievable it was that we just kept going and going.

For readers to understand from an artistic standpoint, this is essentially what our job is. Yes, the entertainment world can seem quite glamorous, although it’s more political than anything else, but my job as an actor is going into work and no matter how many takes I do of the same line or scene, I have to make it look and feel like it’s the very first time. If I am required to be, say, surprised … you best believe my ass is getting surprised about 50 times in a row. Obviously the viewer only sees me getting surprised just that once, so I need to make each one of those 50 takes count. I guess the long way to answer your question on whether or not the day-to-day is engaging, the answer is, even if it’s not, I have to make it be. Just like any job, on days you’re sick or just don’t feel like going into work, you pull yourself together and do it anyway.

J.P.: To many fans of Boardwalk Empire, you are — before anything else — Daughter Maitland — and the role scored you hugely positive reviews. I’m fascinated how this happened. I mean, soup to nuts, how did you get the gig?

M.B.: I had originally moved from Pittsburgh to New York City. I didn’t finished college. I left about two years in. After moving, my parents gave me one year to get my act together or it was back to school I would go. To be honest, I was looking into recording and audio engineering schools, just in case. I ended up going in for an open-call audition for Rent, as it was the last production before the musical closed. I was number 719 in line and I was far from the last person in line. It wrapped around avenues and blocks and took forever! But I was the only one who made it from the open-call. Pretty incredible.

Eventually, the show closed. Everyone else in the production had an agent, so I thought, being in a show and having some newfound clout, it was time I go and get one myself! I was lucky enough to have signed with a smaller agency just before the show closed, then it was back to being unemployed and hitting up more auditions.

They called me in for Boardwalk as a jazz singer, possibly for a “day player.” What that means is, I play the role whatever it may be, for one day, and then my job for that episode, possibly the season, is finished. I went in to audition nine more times. It went from having me sing the song, which was “St. Louis Blues,” to then reading a small scene, to finally doing both. I met with the producers and casting and knew a lot of the other girls who went in. For casting, it always comes down to the “type” they want, so there were plenty of other beautiful, light-skinned singers there, mostly from the Broadway community with more credits than I had.

Fortunately, I ended up getting the role. I received my first script and it was a small intro, a tiny sassy scene with Michael K. Williams, and then the practice song in the background of the club. I truly thought it would all end there, but two seasons later with a series wrap, there I was … still standing. I never could have imagined my journey with that show lasting as long as it did. Waiting weekly on the next episode, I thought for sure I’d be the next to be whacked off! But I was one of the very few who survived (spoiler alert). My storyline never existed before I got there. Now, being friends with the writers and producers, they never saw me comin’ …

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J.P.: I’m going to ask something sorta odd. Do you know if a film sucks or kicks ass while you’re taping? Let’s use “Barbershop: The Next Cut” as an example. I truly enjoyed the film. But as you’re working, do you have any remote idea? Is there a terror in seeing the final product?

M.B.: Of course there’s a terror in seeing the final product. At least for me there is. I always want to see it alone before the premiere. In case my performance sucked, I want to be the first to know I sucked. It’s like owning up to the joke before others can laugh at you. Barbershop was my first comedy. Every joke that someone made, there’s not a live audience to laugh as we move along, so there’s no real way to test it. Being one of the only non-comedians in the cast, I was constantly wondering or questioning if our jokes would land, but then I reminded myself that comedy is one of the most truthful emotions we can portray. If you try to make a joke without speaking from a place of truth, the joke won’t stick. Comedy is honest and dramatic. Worrying about the outcome and not living in what we were trying to create would only hurt myself. So just like every project, you have to go into it not worrying about the outcome. As far as watching the final product, you have to remember the amazing experience you had working on it and the new family you’ve created because of it.

J.P.: You’re from Pittsburgh, and your father is Craig Bingham, who spent half a decade playing linebacker for the Steelers. He’s Jamaican and black, your mom, Lynne, is white and Jewish. Which is all sorts of interesting. I know your dad retired before you were born, but what did you learn from him about spotlight, fame, performing? And, along those lines, what did you get from your mother?

M.B.: Unfortunately, I missed my dad playing by a few years. He actually stopped playing the year my brother, Cori, was born. He is three years older than I am, so my dad was pretty far removed as a player by that point. I did, however, grow up with a lot of “uncles” who were former teammates of my father. Growing up around Franco Harris and Craig Woofley was pretty normal for me. Only now do I truly appreciate the support system our family had. My dad constantly jokes that my career has surpassed his. I don’t think it has anything to do with who got further with fame. The two most important lessons I’ve learned, which both of my parents always tried to instill, was for me to always stay grounded and to read everything I sign.

My family has been known to put me in check a few times if I start getting too big for my britches. Plus, I’m from Pittsburgh. It’s a blue-collar town with a hustler mentality. I’m also lucky enough to have not had my career take off until now. I think if I were younger and grew up with this lifestyle, it would be more difficult to connect with reality.

As far as reading everything I sign, my dad and his teammates learned first hand how badly you can get yourself into trouble with a contract if you don’t read it through carefully. Without realizing, you can sign your fortunes and rights away purely by lack of knowledge. My mom and dad never wanted me to get stuck. They always pushed me to learn as much as possible … and then learn more. I ended up switching my major in school to entertainment and sports Management and took a course on contractual agreements. I’m very grateful that my parents enforced knowledge above all else.

J.P.: I’m gonna follow up with something. My nephews are bi-racial and the absolute lights of my heart. The older one is 16. Recently we posed for a photo at a wedding and he SnapChatted it with the caption, “White family problems.” I was genuinely hurt, but then I thought about what surely must be the adolescent complications and confusions that came with being bi-racial. So, Margot, what are the complications and confusions?

M.B.: Woof. I could talk to you about this all week. I grew up in a predominantly white community. I was one of four black kids in my middle school and high school combined. My brother shared the other half of that ratio. There were definitely moments where I tried to either style my hair or change my clothes in the efforts to blend in with the other girls. When I entered high school, I switched to a performing arts school outside of the suburbs and into the city. It was a totally opposite experience. I may have been the only mixed freshman. Black girls didn’t get me. White girls didn’t get me. It was a very helpless feeling, knowing that neither side offered me the opportunity to fit in. Only as I’ve gotten older have I finally removed the burden of needing the approval of someone else.

While it’s difficult being a minority anywhere, the challenge of being so as a teenager can present daunting experiences. Adolescence is harrrrrrd. We’ve all been there … but we suppress it, because it wasn’t always the most pleasant of memories for anyone of us. Fitting in as an adult is difficult enough, but these kids in today’s culture now have to deal with added layers, such as cyber bullying, etc.

I’m sure that picture hurt your feelings, but I can guarantee that your nephew is just trying to navigate through his youth. I’m also sure that if he knew of the weight of his words, he would’ve thought twice about saying them. As he gets older, I’m confident he’ll be able to compartmentalize his feelings and not poke fun at the expense of others. Wanting to be accepted by your peers is always challenging. Trying to do so as a kid of any color adds a whole new layer.

With her father.

With her father.

J.P.: Is fame appealing? What I mean is, I’ve known people who chase a career in Major League Baseball because they love the game but have no interest in the attention. I know others who desperately want to sign autographs and score free meals. What about you?

M.B.: I think people choose certain paths for many reasons. Entertainment was always my calling. Acting, singing and dancing were things I’ve always loved and gave me the ultimate sense of fulfillment, but with this career comes other responsibilities. I think fame, past a certain point in your career, is inevitable. But manners maketh the man. I never had any desire to be famous. I have even less now as I get older and try to understand the world and my industry. Free meals are cool, changing a person’s day because you sign an autograph is pretty incredible. But I’d personally like to make a mark with my fame in other ways. There are organizations I’d like to showcase. There are groups I’d like to finance. Kids I’d like to see get a better education. I would like to share the platform I fought to achieve with things that fulfill me inside instead of the lights and cameras. Superficial things fade, love never does.

J.P.: In 2013 you are credited as playing “Uniform #2” in the TV series, “Golden Boy.” This isn’t a question, so much as a request. Can you tell me everything you recall from the experience. And what did you do with the 12 Emmys?

M.B.: Lol, you’re crazy. Well … I actually remember a lot from that day! It was cold as shit. I had to wear a horrible cop suit. Just a side note, women having to wear cop uniforms on TV or film is never sexy. I had a tiny little room for my trailer. It was post 9/11 and the episode was about the World Trade Center going down. It was surreal. We filmed it in Brooklyn with a beautiful skyline of the city. Me, and Uniform #1, had to look over at the city skyline as if we were seeing the towers getting hit for the first time, but the wild thing was that nothing was there. No towers, so the camera operator gave us our eye line so we would both be looking in the same direction. Pretty wild.

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J.P.: When did you know performing was for you? Like, not when did you first have a performance? When did you have that magical lightening bolt appear?

M.B.: When I was 12, I had vocal surgery. It was my voice teacher at the time who told my mom to bring me in to get checked. I guess it wasn’t normal for a 12-year old girl to be singing tenor bass in the choir and crushing Toni Braxton songs. I ended up having two cysts on my vocal chords, which were hindering my ability to have any sort of range in my voice. I always just sounded low and raspy. So when they were doing the surgery, they made us aware that there was a chance I’d never be able to sing again and my voice would be different forever. It was either that, or eventually, I wouldn’t have much of a voice at all. So we took the chance and I was mute for a few months post-surgery.

I had to learn how to speak again before I could learn how to sing again. I remember going back to my voice school for the vocal recital. It was still way too early for me to be singing, but I wanted to go so badly. My song was “In My Own Little Corner,” from Cinderella. I remember getting up on stage, the piano starting, opening my mouth to sing and nothing came out. I tried again, and nothing. I ran off stage and locked myself in the bathroom until everyone from the recital had left. I was so embarrassed, but when I walked out, I knew I had to make the choice to improve or quit. I walked out and chose to fight.

J.P.: Maybe an odd question, but is it at all intimidating to work with superstar veterans of the trade? You’re with Joan Allen in “The Family”; you were with Steve Buscemi in “Boardwalk Empire,” Ice Cube in Barbershop. Etc … etc. Do you see yourself as 100-percent equal peer in those circumstances? Is there any, “Holy shit! Calm down!” going through your head? If not now, in the past?

M.B.: Jeff, that “holy shit” moment is every, day. Joan Allen, whoa. What an incredible actress and I get to go head-to-head with her?! I remember going to see Room, and then thinking, “Heh, tomorrow I get to go to work and tell this woman, face to face, my thoughts on the movie and her performance!” It’s still pretty surreal, but in the scene work, I’m not myself … I’m not Margot. I have to be truthful to the character I’m playing and leave those nerves in the dressing room. If I bring my fan-girl baggage to set, it’ll affect my performance. So instead, I try to stay in the moment and learn bits and pieces from these greats. I’ve been lucky enough to build up quite the catalogue.

J.P.: You have an absolutely killer voice, so I’m gonna be weird with this. After Whitney Houston died in 2012, a well-regarded music critic lambasted her for throwing away her gift with cigarettes, drugs, etc. He called her selfish, in that she gave us this magical sound but failed to care for if. Fair? Unfair? Why?

M.B.: Both fair and unfair—here’s why. It’s unfair because the people who were obsessed with her demanded to be so “in the know” of her life. Her lack of privacy can be largely attributed to her drug use. Fans can typically feel like they are owed every ounce of insight from celebrities. They can feel like that level of access is deserving. Whitney, G_d bless her … she struggled with the fame, so she tried to escape it in the only way she could without quitting something she loved so deeply.

It’s fair because someone in her camp should’ve fought harder for her. If she were able to focus solely on herself, her family and her craft, maybe she would still be here with us. But when so many people take a piece of you, how much is left for you to survive with?

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARGOT BINGHAM:

• Would you rather slice off your left arm with a rusty butcher’s knife or devote yourself to eating a pound of bacon a week for the rest of your life?: Definitely slice my arm off. I can probably heal better than bacon constantly clogging up my arteries!

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Walter Abercombie, Nick Cannon, Martha Stewart, cucumbers, Denver, Laura Linney, “Remains of the Day,” Ethel Kennedy, Vanity Fair, Kristaps Porzingis, MacBook Pro: Walter Abercrombie (my dad’s old roommate), Martha Stewart, Laura Linney, MacBook Pro, Vanity Fair, Ethel Kennedy, “The Remains of the Day,” Denver, cucumbers, Nick Cannon, Kristaps Porzingis.

Celine Dion calls. She offers you $25 million a year to be her personal acting coach. You have to move to Las Vegas, work 360 days a year, shave off all your hair and change your middle name to RoseDawson. You in?: Count. Me. In! First off, love me some Celine. What a babe, inside and out. Secondly, hair grows back, plus I’ve always wanted to shave it all off! And third? I would learn so much more than what I could teach her if I were to be by her side for one full year. She’s a machine, never stops. Plus, I could save up AND feed a small country, with this newfound friendship, and have her back that same … poor … country. BOOM! World problems solved. Thanks Celine.

• This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: I dig it! And now I’m hungry.

• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: “Keep Going.” I know this one is so short and obvious, but on the tough days when you don’t know if you have anything left to give or to fight for, you have to trust that you’re meant for something greater. But you can’t get there unless you keep going, keep fighting, keep pushing. Greatness wasn’t meant for the lazy. That’s why it remains so great.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I try NOT to think about that! But in one particular case, it was hard to avoid. There were severe choppy skies. A young girl, mid-20s, was sitting next to me. The whole flight, not one peep. Then we started to dip, pretty badly, and every time we did, she’d let out a little yell. And then an, “Oh my gd!” Then a “Jesus Gd!” And then began to start crying. At this point, I kinda had to ask her if she was okay, as I was praying in my own seat but totally trying to look like the cool, seasoned flyer. I calmed her down and we came out fine, thankfully. But as I was calming her, I couldn’t help but think that I was full of shit.

• Three memories from your senior prom: 1. I wore a Halloween costume because I couldn’t find a dress or a corset to duplicate Drew Barrymore’s princess moment in Never Been Kissed; 2. My date was close to 30. I took my brother’s friend because no one asked me and I didn’t want to go Hans solo. Looking back, he was a good friend to agree to that; 3. I went to a bar instead of the high school after=party.

• You’ve worked with many actors. Who are the five the purely nicest celebs you’ve ever met?: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Wright, Common, Joan Allen, Mark Ruffalo. All five are all-stars and class acts.

• The people at my gym never clean off the StairMaster after sweating all over it. Give me a creative idea how to get revenge: Ohhhhh I hate to be a lame, but I’m such a pushover. I’d just clean it off myself. If you give them your sweaty towel, then it affects everyone. And if you sweat all over the water fountain? Same thing. That’s a tricky one.

• One question you would ask Bubby Brister were he here right now: My dad said he was a pretty wild guy! There may have been a few experiences that flew under the radar. So, I would ask him to tell me his craziest story. I may be there all month.

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James Hoffmann

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As you read this, I am sitting inside Buzz, a coffee shop along the main drag cutting through Encinitas, California.

Two minutes ago I ordered something called “Best Drink Ever.” It’s described as “classic americano + signature creamy vanilla.” I’ve taken two sips, and it seems quite good.

But, really, it might be quite bad. I have no idea, because to my tongue and mouth, coffee is  coffee. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts—it all pretty much tastes the same. Which, while hardly unique among humanoids, is surely sacrilege to today’s 285th Quaz Q&A.

James Hoffmann, after all, isn’t merely a guy who enjoys a nice cup o’ joe. Nope–he’s the winner of the 2007 World Barista Championship. He’s also the author of The World Atlas of Coffee, as well as the head of Square Mile Coffee Rosters and a prolific writer on all things coffee.

In short, if you aspire to know anything (and everything) about the magical drink, James is your guy.

One can visit Hoffmann’s website here and follow him on Twitter here.

James Hoffmann, perk up! You’re the new Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So James, there are countless times when I’ll be standing in line at some café, and the person in front of me takes 20 minutes to make his/her mind up on some genre of a coffee drink. And I always think the same thing: “It’s just a fucking drink. Who really gives a shit?” It seems like this sentiment would really rub you wrongly. Yes? No? And why?

JAMES HOFFMANN: It doesn’t rub me the wrong way, though it speaks to one of the tensions within coffee: a cup of coffee can be a delicious way to switch on the brain in the morning, and it can be one of the myriad ways in which you define yourself and express control in your life. Coffee has been pretty deeply embedded and intertwined with culture for a long time now, and so we’ve come to add meaning to certain drinks. If you drink espresso, then you probably consider yourself someone worth defining as an “espresso drinker”, and there’s a tone of stuff that comes with that – be it the implication of intensity, or the pace at which you live.

When it comes to function vs form, neither is wrong or bad but there’s often a little friction there. So, if you’re picky about what you want to drink, then I’m on your side. However, if you’re the kind of person who waits in line for the ATM, but wait until you’re actually at the machine before you go looking for your wallet and your bank card – then I hate you.

J.P.: You’re a coffee guy. Like, a coffee coffee coffee guy. So, being American and being surrounded by them, I must ask: What are your thoughts about Starbucks?

J.H.: My feelings about Starbucks somewhat mirror my feelings about the USA. I should explain … I love the US, it is one of my favorite countries on Earth, I love visiting and spending time there. There are so many amazing things, incredible people, opportunities and institutions. However, I can’t deny that I’m horrified by a lot in the US too. The healthcare system, industrialized food and the obesity epidemic tied to it, income inequality, gun violence, workers rights (things like a lack of real maternity leave blows my mind) – all of these things upset me and I hate them. So, I both love and hate the US. I feel the same about Starbucks. I love them for all the work they do recruiting new coffee drinkers (you just don’t see anyone under 21 in a specialty coffee shop). They buy, and have bought, coffee from farms in a responsible and sometimes life-changing way. They’ve changed the general public’s expectation of what a cup of coffee should cost. I know some incredible, talented and passionate people who work in Starbucks. All very, very good things. However, there’s lots to hate: the coffee is often terrible, they could pay staff better around the world, they could pay their taxes in the countries they operate in. The uniformity of a Starbucks just makes the world a little less interesting – I don’t want a coffee shop in Moscow that is the same as one in Houston.

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J.P.: What’s the difference between an absolutely breathtaking cup of coffee and a mediocre cup of coffee? I don’t simply mean taste. I mean texture, feel, background, mojo. The whole thing.

J.H.: It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding a little crazy. A truly breathtaking cup of coffee is primarily an intellectual thing, because it tastes very clearly of the place in which it was grown. The idea of terroir is common in wine, and is true for coffee. So firstly, you have the kind of clarity of flavor that means you can pick up different flavors and aromas that are tied to a place. As for a more objective experience – truly great coffee has a delightful natural sweetness to it, and this should be front and center. This is down to picking the coffee fruit at peak ripeness, and that sweetness carries right through. Great coffee should have pleasant acidity. Not the tart, ugly sourness that bad coffee can have. I’m thinking more the acidity of a good apple, than the acidity of lemon juice. Acidity brings the other flavors to life, and makes coffee more pleasing to drink. (Same with soda….). The bitterness should be minimal, though bitterness ends up being a pretty subjective thing. Some people like a lot, but I don’t. You can’t really get a lot of bitterness without roasting the coffee pretty dark, which mutes acidity and drives away a lot of the interesting flavors. Finally, the aftertaste has to be wonderful. Coffee flavor hangs around, espresso especially, so when you have a great coffee that leaves you with a pleasing, caramelly sweetness, life is pretty good.

J.P.: You were the 2007 World Barista Champion. I visited the website, and the rules are long and extremely dry. So, James, what did it entail? What did you have to do? And what did winning mean for you?

J.H.: Barista competitions are best described as part Iron Chef, part sommelier competition, part dog show. They’re pretty weird, but in a good way. The format is pretty simple: You make three rounds of drinks, for four judges. You have to make them each an espresso, each a milk drink and then each a custom creation called a “signature drink”. They assess the flavor of each of the drinks, in a very serious way. They also assess your presentation, looking at how well you tell the story of the coffee, how well you describe its flavor, how good your service is. Meanwhile, two judges watch your preparation work to judge your technical skills. This competition format is used around the world – I think somewhere between 50 and 60 countries each year run a competition, that feeds into the World Championship. When I won it was in Tokyo and, unsurprisingly, the Japanese get pretty obsessed about coffee. Having around 3,000 in a room watching me make espresso drinks was both weird and wonderful!

J.P.: Here’s a weird one: When I drink lots of coffee, I have to poop a ton. Is this a common side effect? And, if so, any idea why?

J.H.: This is indeed pretty common. Initially this freaked me out whenever it happened to me, because it happens so fast! There was no way the coffee itself was working its way through my digestive system in that time. Turns out darker roasted coffee triggers a hormone to be released, which in turns makes you need to grab a newspaper and head to the bathroom. Lighter roasted coffee tends to affect people less it seems.

J.P.: You operate Square Mile Coffee Roasters out of East London. How did that happen? I mean, quite literally, how does one develop his own roasting company? And is it really possible to create 100% unique coffee? I mean, there are so many coffee companies out there. Isn’t there a huge taste overlapping?

J.H.: I’d been working in coffee for a few years, and when my business partner and I started the company we wanted to open a cafe and to roast inside it. I’d been working doing a lot of training and education and she’d been doing the same, as well as working for a green (raw) coffee importing company in London.

However, just when we were about to sign the lease the financial crisis of 2008 was reaching its worst point and so we figured a big rent was a bad idea. We took a little industrial space and just started roasting, and working with a few wholesale customers. We tried to help fan the flames of great coffee in London, and since then the coffee scene has certainly exploded. London has one of the most intense coffee scenes of any city in the world now.

As for uniqueness – this is a great question. Our philosophy has been about a couple things: Traceability has always been key. We only create a couple of blends for espresso, and everything else is un-blended and sold under the name of the farm, or group, that produced. Nothing is kept secret. This means our range changes a lot, because we’re also interested in seasonality. While people get seasonality in fruit and vegetables, its role in coffee has been pretty hidden for a long time. Different countries harvest coffee at different times of the year, and once harvested the raw coffee is only really excellent for a few months. Right now is a great time to drink Central American coffees, from places like Guatemala and El Salvador, or Costa Rica. However, in six months you don’t want to be drinking them, as they’ll be flat and boring and likely taste a bit woody. So roasters now try to buy coffees freshly harvested, and use them quickly.  Buying from a roaster like us works if you’re interested in exploring what coffee has to offer. It isn’t going to be the same all year, and we like that. We get that some people prefer consistency, but we figure there’s lots of companies doing that already.

J.P.: Non-coffee question: As I mentioned earlier, I live in America, and Donald Trump is our next president. How is this playing in England?

J.H.: There are raised eyebrows. Granted, our foolish decision to try to leave the EU perhaps helped validate some of his ideas, so we feel partially to blame. I think there is genuine fear. The only upside would be that his economic policies would likely weaken the US dollar, which would (as a company that buys coffee in USD) make life a little easier. While we understood that Hilary was by no means an ideal candidate, I think most here were hopeful that upon election she would have come through as the lesser of two evils.

J.P.: You’re the author of “The World Atlas of Coffee”—which delves into the origins, makeup, delight of coffee. I’m fascinated by the way books are pieced together. So why a book? How did you go about it? How much travel was involved? How do you feel about the finished product?

J.H.: Sadly, the advance for a book like this doesn’t finance a huge amount of travel! The book was a pretty brutal learning experience for me, and at the end I truly understood that writing is a job that takes time, energy and head space. Trying to do a job like this, while having a couple of other full time jobs, is not wise!

I wrote the book, primarily, because I wanted to own it. There was this weird gap in coffee, where we spent so much time talking about where it is from but there wasn’t a book you could buy that would explain what it all meant, that showed you more about where and how coffee was grown. The coffee boom in recent years has come with a lot of information about every cup of coffee served, but not much in the way of guidance for how to use that information to make better decisions, and to make coffee a little more enjoyable. A barista might tell you a coffee is a “natural process coffee”, but if you don’t really know what that means it just makes coffee complicated, intimidating and less fun.

I don’t want coffee to be something impenetrable, something you have to be “in the know” about to really enjoy. I didn’t want the Atlas to be just a reference text, all dry and serious. So hopefully the book is kind of field manual, there to help buy your next bag or maybe help with your next brew at home.

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J.P.: Is there fact in the taste of coffee? What I mean is, are there factually “good” and factually “bad” coffees? If my dad loves McDonald’s coffee but hates Square Mile, is he, simply wrong? Is he of bad taste? Or do you view it differently?

J.H.: This is difficult. In terms of taste, my preferences aren’t any more right than yours, or anyone else. You like what you like. However, there is coffee is bad when considered outside of the cup. It might be the way it was grown, or picked, or roasted or brewed. There are good ways and bad, from an ethical, financial or philosophical perspective. My feelings are that, whatever you currently enjoy, there’s probably something out there you could enjoy even more. Coffee is a rich world, full of choice, diversity and fun. It’s worth at least a little exploration.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

J.H.: Greatest moment: hard to pick one! Winning the World Championships was great, of course. (I got a giant novelty cheque too, which was definitely on the bucket list!) Seeing London’s coffee culture boom and grow has been another. Building a sustainable business, supportive of its team (about 50% of people who have moved on from us now run their own companies) and its industry has been hugely rewarding.

Lowest: being so broke, as a demonstrator of domestic espresso machines in a department store, that I survived several days on milk and chocolate powder.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAMES HOFFMANN:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ella Fitzgerald, Monty Python, Guns n Roses, “Rocky II” Chris Tucker, ankle-high socks, the Big Mac, your right elbow, the number 23, Michael Jordan:  Monty Python (national pride), Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Tucker, the Big Mac, Guns n Roses, Rocky II, my right elbow, ankle high socks, Michael Jordan, number 23 (this means nothing to me!).

• The worst cup of coffee you ever had was?: There’s a cafe in Tokyo that serves coffee that was picked a long time ago. They had a coffee from Colombia that was picked in 1954. I could not resist ordering it. Our sense of taste evolved primarily to keep us from poisoning ourselves, and drinking this set off all sorts of alarms. Just weird, rotten, moldy, gross coffee. It was like nothing else I’ve ever had. It was hard work to make it to the end, as my hosts had paid for it and were keen to see me enjoy myself.

• The best cup of coffee you ever had was?: Possibly that same coffee from 1954. Most memorable, certainly!

• Would you rather never drink coffee again or cut off three toes from your right foot?: I’m struggling more with this question than I thought I would. It’s not that I don’t love coffee, but I feel like my toes are very useful and I like running around and doing stuff. So maybe no more coffee for me.

• In exactly 23 words, make a case for Diet Pepsi: It probably isn’t what you want, or what you ordered. It’s fine though, because it has caffeine. Just add a lot of ice.

• Three memories from your first date: Jet lag, a shy smile, the door being closed on me before I could go in for a kiss.

• What is the absolutely coolest coffee-making device in the world?: The Victoria Arduino Black Eagle Gravimetric espresso machine. But I am biased as I helped design it!

• One question you would ask Bob Dole were he here right now?: What is your biggest regret? (I’m always interested in learning hard lessons the easiest way possible)

• Is speed walking a sport? And why?: No, because apparently this is just something I consider to be normal walking speed.  (I just like to get to a place, and I gather me being 6’4 and in a hurry isn’t much fun for the people walking next to me).

• Is it possible my dog is ignoring me on purpose?: There is definitely intent in that behavior.

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Jappy Princess

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So a couple of weeks ago I was soliciting new Quaz enlistees, and an alumni of this series—the super fantastic Jenni DeMilo—said, “I have the perfect person for you.” Or some words along those lines.

She told me about a colleague in the online sex industry who works as a “Jappy Princess.” Which immediately struck me as both odd and interesting—odd, because I’m Jewish and I’ve known my fair share of JAPs; interesting, because I’m Jewish and while I’ve known my fair share of JAPs, I’ve never known one who works as a phone sex conversationalist. But that’s what this week’s interviewee does and, according to Jenni, does well.

She also happens to be one of the cooler people I’ve met in nearly six years of Quazes. Although I’ll respect Jappy Princess’ requested privacy, I will say—away from the world of masturbatory avatars—she’s normal and funny and lovely and human. The obnoxiousness you might see in her Niteflirt pages? If not an act, probably a safe exaggeration of a decent person just trying to make a living in a most unique way.

Anyhow, one can follow Jappy Princess on Twitter here, and visit her business page here.

Jappy Princess, take a break from the phones and enter the land of Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I’ve had different people who work in myriad sex-related businesses do this Q&A, but never a “Jewish Princess”—mainly because I didn’t know such a thing existed in the phone sex world. So please, explain this fetish. What are people looking for? Why the Jewish element

JAPPY PRINCESS: When I started doing phone sex, I didn’t see anyone offering a Jewish Princess humiliation experience, and I thought that would be a really exploitable element. “Jewish” dredges up lots of weird feelings in Jews and goyim alike. I also knew that it would be important to speak knowledgeably, and I know a lot about Jews and Jewish Princess culture – it’s a part of me. My callers are looking for the stereotype they see on TV, or someone they have met in real life. I hear from a lot of them that I remind them of a girl from their youth who rejected them. They get to relive that humiliation when I reject them again. Most of my callers aren’t Jewish, but have a thing for Jewish women, and know that we tend to stick with the tribe. That’s the allure

J.P.: There’s a question I always ask people in the sex business, so I’ll ask you: What does your family think about the work? How open are you with them? Are they cool with it? Angry? Thrilled? Embarrassed? And does it come up in regular conversation?

JAPPY PRINCESS: No, my family doesn’t know. I live in Hollywood where everyone is a writer, director, actor or life coach, so it’s pretty easy to make something up that no one understands. All they really care about is that I’m making money and not soaking off of them. My mom has better things to worry about anyway, like redecorating her Palm Beach condo.

J.P.: In your bio you write, “my boyfriend is a member of the tribe.” And I wonder why you even mention a boyfriend, because I would think—probably incorrectly—that part of the appeal for men is along the lines of, “Hey, she’s hot, maybe she’ll be interested in me …” No?

JAPPY PRINCESS: What kind of loser would I be if I had no man? It really doesn’t matter, since many of them still think they have a chance anyway. They like to tell me they have more money, are better looking, etc. I love when my callers get jealous of him; it’s pretty hilarious. Others want to hear all about the “real man” who gets the woman they never could, and want to pay for our dinners and vacations. It’s a smorgasbord of neuroses.

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J.P.: I have this image of phone sex professionals being on a call, the person on the other end getting all hot and horny while you’re filing your nails, half listening, watching an episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. No? Yes? How engaged do you have to be

JAPPY PRINCESS: I’d imagine that your vision is probably correct for many phone sex ops, but for a good call, you have to be engaged. When I get a caller that’s not engaging, I let him know he’s totally fucking boring me, and that I’m barely paying attention. The type of caller I get eats that up. That’s what’s so fun about calling me, I’m really honest and super bitchy. I also take calls while I’m hiking, shopping, on the treadmill, or getting my nails done.

J.P.: What’s your path? Like, birth to now, how did this happen for you? How did you enter the phone sex business?

JAPPY PRINCESS: I’ll get this part out of the way first: I have a great relationship with my father, Whatever any armchair psychologist might want to be true, I don’t do this because I’m looking for male attention or some shit. I do it because my chosen career was destroyed by file-sharing. Also, I’m fucking good at it, and I make more money sitting at home in my Lululemon than I would as a Senior VP at some label, which is where I would likely be right now. The other relevant thing you should know about my father is that he has a disgusting, foul mouth, and never stopped telling dirty jokes. The sharp tongue I got from him has come in handy in both my careers. My mother is an unrepentant JAP, where all my worst qualities come from, and largely why I’m good at what I do.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. summer camp, got kissed at 13, fucked at 18, blah, blah, blah. There’s nothing to note because I was a good girl, who got good grades, played the violin, and was focused and ambitious. I always wanted to be in the music business since I was young, and I was largely focused on music to the exclusion of all else through school. My parents were very supportive, but when I moved out to California, it was sink-or-swim quickly. I was persistent and lucky and soon got a job working at a major record label in radio promotions. Things were going great and I was moving up, and then Napster; then panic; then layoffs. A friend told me I should do phone sex because I was great on the phone with these loser radio program directors. (Seriously, the absolute bottom of the entertainment barrel.) Really, spending my days on the phone pimping the crappy singles at our label was not very different than what I do now except I feel cleaner at the end of the day now. At first I tried doing the regular “ooo-baby-baby” stuff, which is not for me, and I just started telling the guys how fucking disgusting they are. Then I realized that some callers like that sort of thing, and will also pay more for it. Up is down! Black is white! Day is night! Specialists are the best; they pay more and never complain.

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J.P.: What’s the story of the strangest client experience you’ve ever had? 

JAPPY PRINCESS: So many strange ones, I’ll just give you the most recent. A few weeks ago I had a new caller, and he ended up falling in love with me. Like, for real. He didn’t care that I had a boyfriend, and he was determined to win me over with talk of being a millionaire, and how great life would be if I were with him.  He told me he was going to come to Los Angeles, and I told him he probably shouldn’t expect to hang out with me. The next thing I know, I get a call from him that he’s here at a hotel in Beverly Hills.  Many callers fantasize about coming to LA to meet me, but this guy was serious and really thought I would come on down to his hotel. When I told him to settle down, he went crazy on me, sending hundreds of derogatory and threatening emails in the course of a couple of days. What I thought was especially funny was that he kept asking, “how many women get the chance to have a drink with a guy with a million dollars?” In LA? Just about all of them. What a douchebag. He ended up calling me about 20 times in a day, at $1.99 per minute, just to tell me what a bitch-ass loser I am. Of course, I listened and took his money, because JAPs take the cash, naturally. He finally stopped calling and that was that.  Too bad he ruined it, I made a lot off him.

J.P.: You identify as Jewish—but this doesn’t seem like a particular spiritual or religious thing to be doing. I’m not condemning you … I’m just saying phone sex doesn’t strike me as especially Biblical. Do you care? Is it something you had to get past? Does it even matter?

JAPPY PRINCESS: Clearly you have never read the Old Testament. It is the most depraved text of all time. For example, just in the story of King David we have war, famine, plague, rape, incest, adultery, homicide, filicide, infanticide, regicide, genocide, and I’m probably leaving some stuff out. God punishes David for NOT killing everyone in a Philistine village. That’s some cold shit, God. But seriously, I never said I was a nice Jewish girl. In fact, as my URL plainly ­­states, I am not a nice Jewish girl.

J.P.: How has Niteflirt impacted the careers of phone sex operators? In past Quazes I’ve had people complain about the service; say it’s more ripoff for people in the business than it is aide. Thoughts?

JAPPY PRINCESS: I think of Niteflirt as where I rent an office in a giant porny office building in cyberspace. Like any other business, you get out of it what you put in. If you provide a quality service and market it effectively, people will want to buy.  Do I wish the site didn’t look like 1990s internet, had smartphone apps and other technologies to help us make more money? Yes, but it’s not my site so I work with what I’m given. The bottom line is that most phone sex has migrated to Niteflirt, so it’s a fact of life for all of us.

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J.P.: When you’re on a call, are you truly in character. What I mean is—if it’s a guy who wants hypnosis, do you think of yourself as a seductive hypnotist? If it’s someone who wants to be brutalized, are you that person in the moment? Do you know what I mean? Like, do you need to sell yourself on the performance?

JAPPY PRINCESS: I guess you can say I’m a little like method actor that way, but not entirely. When I’m telling some piece-of-shit that he’s a piece-of-shit, I usually mean it. On the other hand, I’m no Daniel Day Lewis and I drop it once the call is done.

To your question about hypnosis calls, you should remember that this is opposite-land. I don’t do sensual stuff, I leave that to the hordes of basic bitches who can’t do what I do. My hypnosis calls generally revolve around “straight” guys, many with wives, families or girlfriends, who want to “hypnotized” into being gay, or a girl, or a sissy. To be clearer, these are generally gay men who live straight lives, and use this as an outlet. Having a woman “hypnotize” them makes it less gay and acceptable to fantasize about giant cocks, I guess. There is a lot of self-disgust mixed up in all this. Human sexuality is bizarre, what can I say?

J.P.: What’s the difference between a great phone sex operator and a shit one?

JAPPY PRINCESS: I think that’s for the caller to decide. What one person might think is great, someone else might think is shit. I don’t do the typical “oh yeah baby do it to me” phone sex. I do only fetish-oriented calls and it’s never sensual. It’s bratty, dominating and humiliating, and there’s a ton of men who think I’m the worst.  What makes me great is that I’m different than the usual basic bitches that answer these lines. I’m well-traveled, educated, and I’m knowledgeable about pop culture, politics, money, and food. I can have long conversations on many topics that my callers find engaging. There is an art to reading a person’s voice and knowing what they want.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAPPY PRINCESS:

• Seven greatest bands of all time: Beatles, Queen, T-Rex, Oasis, The Replacements, Prince and the Whatevers, The Clash

• Three most interesting people you know: My colorist. My stylist. My personal trainer.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): A Tribe Called Quest, house music, Angela Lansbury, Mike Pence, Trader Joe’s, Klay Thompson, prime rib, Twitter, skateboard parks, the San Diego Zoo: Angela Lansbury, Prime rib, A Tribe Called Quest, Klay Thompson, house music, skate parks, Trader Joe’s, San Diego Zoo, Mike Pence

• One question you would ask Buddy Holly were he here right now: Where did you get those glasses—I love them.

• Would you rather have sex with someone who has severe tuna breath or a festering zit atop his nose?: I’ll take the zit. Toss a paper bag over that face, and hope it doesn’t burst.

• Seven adjectives you’d use for Donald Trump: Sub-moronic, avaricious, monomaniacal, churlish, porny, douchey, fucking terrifying.

• What was your Bat Mitzvah like?: At Le Cirque in Manhattan. The rabbi wore leather Prada slacks, you can fill in the rest.

• Make a 16-word argument for canned soup: 17 syllables, in haiku form:

Sometimes, time is short.

Campbell’s says, “Soup is good food.”

I say, “Time for soup.”

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: His father’s chauffeur picked me up. He took me to a restaurant where his father had an account. He wanted to fuck me, so I asked him whether his father was going to do that for him as well. (No, it was not Jared Kushner. I don’t date Jersey boys)

• What’s the worst pickup line the world has ever known?: My name is Jared Kushner.

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Chris Ladd

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Chris Ladd used to be a Republican.

Actually, not merely a Republican. He was a precinct committeeman and campaign volunteer and worked his rear off to get John McCain elected president in 2008. He ran a website, GOPLifer, that was a regular read by Republicans looking for insight, understanding, verification.

Then Chris woke up. Eh, scratch that. He didn’t wake up, so much as he was stirred to awareness and anger by a once-great political party going, in his opinion, batshit crazy. The GOP Chris loved was one of fairness, economic principle, a willingness to engage and compromise. But with McCain’s defeat (and, oddly, Sarah Palin’s simultaneous rise), Ladd experienced a shift that horrified him. Reason was discarded, replaced by religious fundamentalism. Contemplation found itself tossed into the waste bin, overtaken by gut feelings and racially-charged decisions. In short, he felt abandoned.

Hence, Chris—a longtime political journalist who blogs for Forbes—started Political Orphans, a site for those who feel left behind. He has been a vocal critic of President-elect Trump, who he calls a “walking, talking cancerous mass,” and attributes much of the recent election results to a white America resisting diversity.

You’d be making an enormous mistake not visiting Political Orphans or following Chris on Twitter.

Chris Ladd, you’re Quaz No. 283 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Chris, ever since the election I’ve had trouble sleeping, trouble staying positive. I keep reading these essays on the destruction of America; keep hearing about the awful future of the EPA; keep thinking about Muslims, Mexicans, etc. You’ve been around—is there any good here? Can this possibly work out?

CHRIS LADD: To be clear, there is no way this is going to be “OK” in any conventional sense of the word. We will, however, adapt. We will develop a new definition of normal. I am reasonably confident that the majority of your readers will survive to the end of the Trump Administration. So, at least there’s that.

Two forces are still working in our favor. The first, perhaps surprisingly, is bureaucratic inertia. The second is the fact that Trump won with barely 47 percent of the vote.

As Obama discovered after being elected with a massive Congressional majority—it is very difficult to make the US government do anything under any circumstances. Legislating is hard. And worse than legislating, getting a change of direction implemented by our dense, almost impenetrable deep-state institutions requires remarkable skill and insight. Trump’s ambitions will be limited by his own incompetence, disinterest, inattention to detail, and the blundering high jinks of the dumb, venal bastards in his entourage.

Whatever damage can result from inaction (think: climate change) could be severe and lasting. On the other hand, any potential damage that would depend on his effective use of executive or legislative power (think: a Muslim registry or mass deportations) probably will never materialize. Chances are, the bureaucracy will continue to do all the things it was already doing. New Trump and GOP initiatives will probably be slow to launch or fall apart under the weight of their own stupidity.

His historically weak electoral mandate plays into this inertia. At every step he will be dogged by legal action, silent resistance from bureaucrats and noisy resistance from a newly energized (and furious) American middle.

I still wake up some mornings and get a minute or so into my day before I remember what happened and my heart sinks. This is a tragic situation. Whatever hopes we may have had for ourselves and for our lives in the near term that depended on an effective, responsible central government should probably be … let’s just say, modified. I doubt we will be getting competent leadership in Washington anytime in the near future.

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J.P.: There have been approximately 8,223,221 attempts to psychoanalyze the rise of Donald Trump, and I want to give you No. 8,223,222—because I’m at a loss. How do you explain Donald Trump, political phenomenon? Like, why do people listen to him? People with brains? And do you view him as some odd quirk in history, or as a scarier truth?

C.L.: In pursuit of an answer that makes sense, people seem to be sorting into two blocs. One blames the rise of Trump on pigheaded racists. The other pins the blame on the economic travails of blue collar and rural workers. I’m of the opinion that there is a little of both at work here, but it all rolls up into the meaning of race in America.

I wrote about that nexus between economics and race here. Race is the larger factor here, and not just in some kumbaya, ‘let’s all learn to love each other sense.’ America is built from the ground up on the assumed supremacy of white people—their culture, their religion(s), and their economic priorities. People will tolerate all kinds of “others”—including a black president—so long as they feel secure in the core supremacy of white culture. When that breaks down, they freak out in violent, catastrophic ways. The ‘economic insecurity’ logic for Trump is disastrously flawed unless we recognize the role of race in that insecurity.

Trump is not getting the bulk of his support from “the poor.” His hardest of hardliners are aging, lightly educated white people earning modestly above middle incomes. They are, however, pretty consistently “left behind.” These are whites who for reasons of choice or circumstances did not participate in the great boom of the past 30 years, the largest expansion of wealth in human history.

What these people have lost over the past few decades is not so much factory jobs or middle-class incomes. Much more importantly, political and economic liberalization has badly weakened the shadow social safety net that used to insulate white people, especially lower and middle income white men, from conditions everyone else had to endure.

If you actually listen to Trump supporters describe their reasons for supporting him, you get some version of this:

BENGHAZIFEMACAMPCOMMIESBLACKHELICOPTERSEMAILAARRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!

Nothing these people say about Donald Trump makes a lick of sense, from the Clinton email narrative to the claim that Trump “tells it like it is.” Their arguments make no sense because they aren’t going to talk about their genuine motivations. In fact, they probably don’t even understand their own motivations. Pretending that race doesn’t matter is more central to the American identity than baseball. That denial runs very, very deep.

For the Bernie wing out there looking for validation for their narrative, the nonsense spouted by Trump supporters is an invitation, a blank canvas. These Trump Whisperers are determined to translate this gibberish into a neo-Marxist story of working class angst. It takes a lot of work and a soft focus to pull this off, but they are trying.

For someone raised blue collar in East Texas who has listened to Trumpers when they feel comfortable enough to tell the truth, a clearer picture emerges that has nothing to do with “economic anxiety.” You’ll hear clarity from Trump voters under one circumstance, and only one circumstance—if they feel safe enough (or drunk enough), to tell you “What I think about The Blacks.” Sometimes they’ll substitute Mexicans or in a rare case even The Jews. And increasingly, you might hear what they think about “radical feminists,” which is code for their wives (or ex-wives).

Want to see an antidote to the Trump Whisperers? Read what people from white working backgrounds say once they’ve escaped that world. Kevin Williamson at the National Review drew fire for his cold assessment of the Trump phenomenon back in March. Williamson is no alien to Trumplandia. A native of Amarillo, a place where I spent my holidays and summers in a trailer park, he sees this scenario pretty clearly. Speaking of the Trumpsters, he explains:

“Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence—and the incomprehensible malice—of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.”

There’s a clean, mathematical test available to determine whether white angst is about economics or race. Voters in the primaries had an opportunity to nominate a Democratic candidate who devoted his entire campaign to a Rooseveltian program of democratic socialist economic outreach. Alternatively, they had an opportunity to vote in the Republican primary for a race-baiting Fascist. Look closely at primary results from smaller counties across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Guess which guy white voters picked in greater numbers in the primaries?

Stories written by soft-core sociologists about the plight of white people hit me in a particularly personal place. I grew up white trash in one of those forgotten hellholes in Trumplandia. Most of these places were hellholes decades ago in their imaginary prime. They were hellholes 80 years ago when writers like James Agee came to ogle their inhabitants and muse on their simple virtues. Now they many of them remain hellholes with fewer people and less going on.

Nothing about these places has changed apart from the fact that the rest of the world got better, a lot better. And most importantly, the world has gotten better for people like African-Americans, Hispanics, and women; people whose suffering and enforced weakness used to give Trump voters some relative comfort.

These voters chose Trump because regardless of the outcome, this election wasn’t going to change much of anything about their lives. The place where they live would continue to be left behind under a president named Trump or Clinton. Trump isn’t offering them a chance to improve their town, he’s offering a chance to destroy better places; a chance to turn everything into the kind of rundown, abandoned places they are content to inhabit.

Mealy sympathy-pieces about backwater towns in thrall to Trump offer a certain comfort to everyone else. We would all be relieved to discover that this national nightmare was just a big misunderstanding, another example of “elites” failing to listen to the common people. We could just hug it out.

Sorry. I’ve been listening to these people my whole life. We are not facing some new problem born of globalization or capitalism or trade. We are facing America’s oldest problem.

When white people feel their hold on power slipping, they freak out. And it always starts with the folks lower down the economic ladder, because they have the highest relative investment in what it means to be white in this country. There’s not a damned thing we can do about it other than out-vote them and, over time, out-evolve them until this crippling and occasionally lethal national glitch is slowly worked out of our bloodstream.

Politics in a democracy hinges on an openness to understanding, the quest for empathy. As the Trump Whisperers are demonstrating, that quest can go wrong, especially when both understanding and empathy are stunted by cultural distance. Our drive to find common ground can end up legitimizing or even romanticizing toxic ideologies. All values are not equal. Some values deserve to be aggressively marginalized. Some values should inspire more anger than sympathy.

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J.P.: I would think writing on politics would be ultimately depressing as all fuck. I mean, it’s nonstop squabbling, little gets done, it’s uglier than ever. How do you not want to stick a knife in your temple?

C.L.: Tell me more about this knife …

This may sound odd, but I sort of hate writing this stuff and I’m not completely sure why I continue. It feels like a duty I cannot escape.

This country has done a lot for me. People who came before us made enormous sacrifices to build something unique in human experience. Then they handed their work to us. I feel a duty to take what they gave me and do what I can to preserve and improve it for the people who come after me.

Serving in the military was never really an option. I’m too scrawny to march around with a backpack and I’m too ornery to take orders. Running for office is unrealistic. You need to be likeable on at least some level to win elections. However, I’m reasonably bright and I write words good. So that seems like the best contribution I can make.

The effort feels futile, it is often depressing, and it promises to earn me a lifetime total of $0, but it gives me a chance to make a payment on that debt. So I keep writing and speaking.

J.P.: How did you wind up going from Republican to largely anti-Republican? Was there a moment? A light bulb? What happened?

C.L.: This year’s RNC marked a clear bright line. The party I served as a precinct committeeman and campaign volunteer endorsed a fascist. Democracy depends on compromise and openness to ideas, but I’m gonna take a hard pass on lining up with Nazis. A lot of my thoughts on this situation are in my resignation letter to our local chairman.

For decades I have belonged to a Republican faction that lost much of its influence when Bush II became President. Pragmatic, business-oriented, pro-civil rights Republicans in the Jack Kemp mold have long felt their influence eroding. I grew up in East Texas and I was living in Houston in the 1990s when a band of religious nutjobs took control of the GOP there. Their actions split the party—literally. For several years there were two separate organizations with different leadership claiming to be the Harris County GOP. I found myself aligned with the losers in that struggle, as a particularly ugly and corrupt band of religious fundamentalists won the right to set the party’s agenda.

John McCain offered hope for a resurgence. His 2000 speech excoriating the “agents of intolerance” kept me engaged in the party. Plus, moving to the Chicago area placed me in a far more sane, tolerant and pragmatic local Republican organization which helped a lot.

I was volunteering on the McCain campaign from the beginning, making hundreds of calls into New Hampshire alone. When McCain nominated Sarah Palin it became clear that we were in serious trouble. When he lost the White House and she became the standard-bearer for the GOP it was time to start speaking out more forcefully against the party’s direction. Until last year I was still writing pieces about how the party might be reorganized to shed its dependence on white bigots and develop a sane policy agenda. Obviously, that’s over. I have no idea what to do now, hence the emergence of PoliticalOrphans as a successor to the GOPLifer blog.

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J.P.: You’re the author of a book, “The Politics of Crazy: How America Lost its Mind and What we Can Do About it.” Chris, how did America lose its mind?

C.L.: In short, we won. We prevailed in the cultural, economic and military/strategic challenges of the 20th century so comprehensively and enormously that our victory changed the landscape around us. Even happy developments can produce unintended consequences. Now we face pressures to adapt to a new environment shaped by our success. So far, this generation’s response has been a humiliating failure.

To my view, The Politics of Crazy is ultimately a story about the decline of social capital, that dense network of community institutions that once played a critical, stabilizing role in filtering the craziest ideas and people from the core of our culture. A vast and relatively sudden expansion of freedom, prosperity, and technological progress ate away at the foundations of our social capital institutions in ways we never anticipated.

We are more isolated from our communities, from our core institutions, and from each other than we have ever been. That isolation has weakened mediating institutions that used to keep the culture healthy. With the mediators too weak to perform their functions, there’s nothing to stop Sarah Palin from becoming a VP candidate or some random reality TV star and grifter from becoming President.

J.P.: Chris, what can we do about it?

C.L.: Our best responses probably need to happen on two levels, policy innovation, and reinforcing a sense of social obligation.

On the policy side I think we need to revisit the ideas of libertarian thinkers like Hayek and Friedman. Forget about libertarian fantasies of laissez faire markets solving all of our problems. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m referring to approaches that leverage carefully structured markets as ways to solve problems with less reliance on government. If elected institutions are likely to suffer from a chronic vulnerability to crazy, then maybe we need to find solutions to problems that place less emphasis on central government action. Maybe our lives would be better and safer if those institutions had less direct power over our lives.

In fact, the insurance mandate that formed the basis of the Affordable Care Act started out this way, inspired by thinkers influenced by Hayek and Friedman, working at the conservative Heritage Institute in the 90s. As another example, think of the cap-and-trade approach to carbon regulation. That’s an innovation from the right inspired originally by libertarian thought on pollution control. And it could work.

The right won’t adopt cap and trade because if Jesus cared about polar bears he’d build them an ark. The left won’t get behind market-based solutions because such simple policy mechanisms deprive them of the opportunity to deliver special Easter eggs to their galaxy of tiny interest groups and community organizers. Take a close look at the politics that doomed Washington state’s carbon tax initiative as an example. We cannot continue to operate this way, with the Democratic Party’s patronage engines blocking progress from one side and raving right-wing psychos on the other side promising to pray away our problems.

Along the same lines, what if we replaced the social safety net with its hundreds of thousands of enabling bureaucrats with a universal basic income? Why not replace the war on drugs with a few simple regulations on access? What if we replaced thousands of pages of largely unenforceable and useless gun regulations with a universal insurance mandate for owners? The same dynamics that have doomed carbon regulations have blocked these useful reforms.

I wrote about this at (even) more length in a piece at Forbes. We have to get used to the idea that a society this complex, this large, this diverse, cannot rely on a massive pool of experts in Washington to manage our affairs in minute detail. Markets give us a tool to solve critical public policy problems with a lighter, less expensive, less intrusive hand. These are the ideas I used to hope that Republicans might embrace. They didn’t and now they won’t. But these concepts are still sitting there, waiting for someone to leverage them to build a better future. Approaches like this are our allies in the fight against crazy.

On the social side, I think we need all individually have to get more engaged.

Coming to adulthood in the 90s it really felt like all of the important problems had been solved. Nothing remained but administration. That feeling left us all a bit complacent and drove a massive decline in local civic engagement. One silver lining from the Trumpocalypse is that we have lost our complacency. It looks like we may see a big uptick in public engagement going all the way down to the local level. Social media has a role to play in this process, and we are already seeing its impact.

J.P.: I used to love social media’s possibilities, but I’ve come to think it’s far more awful than beneficial. In other words, I feel like ignorance and unsubstantiated gossip spreads at the speed of light, and truth crawls. Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?

C.L.: Adaptation is an evolutionary imperative. Social media is a tool and a threat, just like every innovation. It has disrupted older methods of human interaction in ways no one could have anticipated. Look, mass electrification was a pretty unnerving innovation, but I think we can say with some confidence that it worked out.

Besides, social media is nowhere near as toxic as 24-hour cable news. CNN, Fox and MSNBC are a collective brain hammer.

As funky as social media has been up to now, it is probably the medium through which a truly powerful resistance to the Trump Administration is going to materialize. Granted, it remains the main channel through which my father and his generation consume disinformation and scams. But for digital natives, people who have grown up understanding the need to filter raw information, this medium might eventually be as politically important as the first printed books. Nothing inspires me quite as much as what I am seeing develop in communication technology.

J.P.: I know it’s asking you to guess, but 100 years from now what does history say of Barack Obama’s presidency?

C.L.: At the end of the Obama Administration I tend to think that the main critique of Obama from the 2008 campaign is still pretty persuasive. He seems to be a good, decent, admirable guy who was utterly unsuited by personality and experience to serve as president.

He had control of every lever of government power for two years. All he has to show for it are a bank bailout, no Wall Street prosecutions, the failure to deliver meaningful relief to ordinary people hit hard by the financial collapse, and a cluster-fuck of a health insurance reform that did almost nothing for middle-income voters but saddle them with a mandate. Don’t get me wrong, we’re gonna miss him, but mostly because he’s a pretty great guy on a personal level and he’s being followed in office by a walking, talking cancerous mass.

And 100 years from now? I suspect whatever remains of “history” that far out will recall little if anything from this period more significant than the development of the iPhone, the Cubs winning the World Series and Beyonce’s Lemonade. It feels like we are seeing government and politics eclipsed as a matter of importance in our lives and a vehicle for improving the human condition.

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J.P.: Is it possible that this is merely a blip in American history? That Trump sucks so badly that, four years from now, a progressive Democrat trounces him and a more united, more diverse America emerges stronger? Or is that the spewing of a crack addict?

C.L.: Well, sorta. It seems likely that we are witnessing a phenomenon larger than Donald Trump, and even larger than the low-rent fascism he has fostered. We are probably living through the dawn of the idiocracy. Once upon a time, it was unusual to have a President who didn’t have a degree from a prestigious university. Over the coming decades I doubt we’ll have a single president who doesn’t own an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy or Heisman, or at least have their own TV show.

That’s not to say that we won’t adjust or that life in American won’t get better while this carries on. I just suspect that the presidency is likely to decline in relative importance after four unstable years of Donald Trump followed by the glorious eight-year reign of President Kanye West (Hail Pablo!).

We might be witnessing the end of government and politics as the main engine of human progress in the world. For the past 20 years, politics has given us almost nothing valuable, while markets and corporations have developed usable solar energy solutions, reusable rockets, a hand-held device with access to almost all human information, and made that device cheap enough that 12-year olds are carrying it around.

The death of politics as anything more than a persistent threat to more meaningful human endeavors might turn out to be an okay development in the longer run.

J.P.: You Tweeted something interesting: “To be clear, we didn’t underestimate Donald Trump. We overestimated American voters.” Are the American voters simply ignorant? Callous? Dumb?

C.L.: A lot of this came out in the lengthy, earlier answers, but basically Americans voters care a lot more about white supremacy than almost anyone in mainstream politics wanted to believe, including yours truly. A truly stunning number of American voters are outright assholes, willing to doom the entire national project because hipsters or celebrities or people who say “Happy Holidays” triggered their delicate little feelings. It was a mistake to imagine that a majority of voters care about things like patriotism or sacrifice in any sense that actually applies to their lives. We shouldn’t make that mistake again.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CHRIS LADD:

• Five most noteworthy Ladds the world has known?: We are not a famous bunch. One uncle describes us as a band of vagabonds and renegades, which has largely been continued into the present. There are, of course, the actors, Alan and Cheryl. The world has yet to know five noteworthy Ladds. We’ll see what the future holds. My kids are awfully promising.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Andy Moog, The Cranberries, Pierre Trudeau, Anthrax, Super Glue, Jackie Chan, Emily Blunt, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Don Cheadle, Pac Man, Paul Ryan: Jackie Chan, Super Glue (you gotta love stuff that works), Emily Blunt, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pac Man, Andy Moog (I Googled him), Don Cheadle, Pierre Trudeau, The Cranberries, Anthrax, Paul “Vichy Republican” Ryan

• One question you would ask Herschel Walker were he here right now?: How much money do you figure you gave up in the end by betting your career on Donald Trump and the New Jersey Generals?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, and it was a remarkably calm moment. I felt deeply sad for my wife and my kids, but I felt like I had done what I could for them and they would be OK. I leaned back and prepared to go hurtling into some suburban Appleton backyard. Then the little plane leveled off and life carried on as normal. It was a strange experience.

• The most important thing a kid needs to know when it comes to learning to engage in politics?: Elected officials are surfers, not the wave. Don’t ever expect an elected official to be a “leader.” That isn’t how this works. If you really want to change things, stay away from Washington. Work in community organizations changing conditions on the ground. Washington is where change ends, not where it starts.

• What Whitney Houston song most moves you to tears?: Perhaps the remake of The Greatest Love of All by the underappreciated geniuses, Sexual Chocolate.

• What happens to Donald Trump in four years?: He’s wandering around his penthouse, the last property he still owns, alone, in a soiled bathrobe, with Kleenex boxes on his feet and jars of his own urine stacked up on the windowsill, shouting orders to invisible generals and aides, waiting for the sweet embrace of death which each day refuses to close around him.

• Coolest NHL uniform? Ugliest NHL uniform?: Having lived in Chicago for a while now, it has come my attention that there is a thing called hockey. That’s the most I can offer there. Apparently it involves ice and sticks or something

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Cam Adair

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Cam Adair is addicted to video games, in the way one is addicted to gambling, to pornography, to sex, to overeating.

If that sounds strange, well … yeah, it sounds strange. I mean, video game addiction? I probably played 100,000 hours of Pac-Man as a kid, and I walked away unscathed. My son sits before the TV Saturday mornings and dominates Madden. Is he an addict? Of course not.

Unless … he is. Because, as Cam rightly notes, video game addiction is a worldwide problem. A huge worldwide problem. The numbers are staggering; the impact tremendous. At his lowest, Cam was sitting before a television 16 hours per day—jobless, listless, indifferent. He would lie to his family and friends, all in the name of mastering a meaningless game.

Now, however, Cam is fighting back. He is the founder of Game Quitters, an outfit devoted to helping people in need break the chain of video game addiction. He’s also a prominent (and dynamic) public speaker, as well as a lover of San Diego, Cam Neely and his Seahawks-loving uncle.

One can follow Cam on Twitter here and Instagram here.

Cam Adair, rise up! You’re the 282nd Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Cam, so to be totally honest, I was unaware of the issue of video game addiction until I randomly came upon your Twitter feed. I obviously know of drug addiction, alcohol addiction, porn addiction, food addiction. How big of a problem in the world is video game addiction, and how is it different from other addictions?

CAM ADAIR: It’s bigger than we think. Today over 1.2B people play video games worldwide, including between 70 percent to 90 percent (or more) of American youth, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down with projected growth by as much as 5 percent annually through 2020. When it comes to video game addiction, research varies between 1-11 percent of gamers, so in my estimation, we’re looking at between 10-50 million people right now who struggle with this problem. To share one example of a consequence of this, Erik Hurst, a macroeconomist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Busines,s has found that employment rates among young (early twenties) non-college educated men have dropped sharply—more than any other group. So what are they doing with their time? He found they are playing video games! Not only speaking to the health of the individual, but what about supply for the labor market? These young men are part of our future, and yet they are living with their parents or relatives playing video games, and they are content with it.

I believe there are similarities between all addictions, but one of the ways video game addiction is unique is that people start playing at a very early age—as young as 2-to– years old. So by the time they are coming out of high school and entering university, it has been the central force in their life, and because of it, they likely have not developed other hobbies or the intangible skills (independence, spontaneity, social skills, amongst others) that you develop when you’re forced to go outside and play.

Many of the people who join our Game Quitters community don’t only struggle with a video game addiction though, but also an addiction to the Internet and porn, of which I have dubbed the “three-headed dragon” of addictions. Only half kidding.

J.P.: According to your bio, you were addicted to video games for more than 10 years. You played more than 16 hours per day, dropped out of high school, never graduated, never went to college. But how did this happen? What I mean is, what causes someone to go from, “This game is fun!” to “I can’t stop!”? How did it happen to you?

C.A.: It’s different for everyone, but in my case, after I dropped out of high school I was at home all day with nothing to do. At the time I was depressed and completely apathetic about life, so I had no desire to do anything other than whatever could help me escape from this reality. Gaming made that really easy. Eventually my parents told me that if I wasn’t going to school I had to get a job, so I started to pretend to have one. Every morning my dad would drop me off at a restaurant where I was a “prep cook,” and as soon as he drove off I’d hop on a bus back home and sneak in through my window. My parents were at work during the day so they had no idea. Of course after a few weeks they would expect a paycheck so I would make up a story about getting fired and then find a “new” job. I repeated this cycle a few times before they finally just gave up. Personally, at that point I was against anything that took me away from gaming. I loved “living” in that world.

One of the factors that can lead to you becoming addicted to video games is when you have extended exposure to the difference in stimulation that gaming provides. There’s a brain chemistry side to this, which if anyone is interested I would encourage you to watch this TEDx talk by Gary Wilson, but environmentally, when the contrast for me between video games (being awesome) and real life (not so awesome) became apparent, I saw no reason to do anything other than continue gaming, and would go to great lengths (deception, etc) to fulfill that.

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J.P.: You grew up in Canada, and you write of being mercilessly bullied. Specifically, you talk of lying down on the back of a bus in a fetal position, being spit on. With as much detail as possible, what the hell happened? And how did you feel?

C.A.: Yeah, that was fucked up. I was on an elite level hockey team for my age, I was 14 or 15 at the time. It was the beginning of grade 10 and our team was playing a game in Red Deer, Alberta, which is two hours from our city of Calgary. For the past few weeks I had become the person who was being picked on, teased, all that stuff. You know how teenagers can be when they identify someone they can take advantage of. So after the game we got back on the team bus to head home, and I was just laying in the backseat minding my own business, listening to Good Charlotte or something hilarious like that, when one of the sons of an assistant coach started to come and kind of taunt me. He was just poking fun at me or something. I remember taking a headphone out to hear him and after a few minutes, I just put it back in and tried to ignore him. At this point in my life, having been bullied consistently for the past two years, I was just over it. As he realized he wasn’t getting a reaction out of me (his intention), he started trying to taunt me further—being louder, poking me, that sort of thing. I just continued to ignore him hoping he would go away. He didn’t, and things escalated to the point where he literally started to spit on me. I think I just went into a complete state of shock. I froze. I had a picture of a girl I had a crush on at the time in my hand and I just held onto it hoping it would give me the strength to get through this. This went on for about 45 minutes before we finally got back to our city and he had to stop.

I remember it was around 1 in the morning and my father was picking me up from the arena. We were driving a teammate of mine home, and I was still just kind of frozen in the moment, quiet, not saying much. The second my teammate got out of our car, I started crying hysterically. My dad was asking me what was wrong and I wouldn’t say anything. The next day I refused to go to practice and told my parents I was quitting the team. Thinking about this right now, the first time they heard about this was when I shared about it on stage at TEDx. They ended up convincing me to stay with the team and things calmed down for the most part after that, but it’s definitely a night I’ll never forget.

Looking back, I wish I would have just smacked that kid so fucking hard in the face, and I’m sure doing something of this nature would have stopped this behavior toward me for good, but I was a teenager who didn’t know better. And I mean, I was listening to Good Charlotte, so I probably deserved it.

Do I need to add a disclaimer that I don’t condone violence? smh.

J.P.: You wrote a suicide note. Why? When? How close were you to acting on the note? And why didn’t you?

C.A.: Around the time I was depressed, living in my parents basement pretending to have jobs and gaming 16 hours a day. As much as gaming allowed me to escape and avoid dealing with my depression, it didn’t fix it and my depression continued to get worse and worse. I had suicidal thoughts many times but never got too serious about it, but that too continued to spiral further and further until I did start planning for it. For me it was really simple. My life was fucking shit, I hated the world, and I wanted the pain I was feeling to end. I stopped seeing any value in continuing to live, and hated myself for feeling like a fucking coward to not follow through with it. What is more pathetic than torturing yourself with the idea of suicide and not being serious about it? So I started committing to the idea and planning it out. I know, this sounds really fucking dumb. Anyways, I planned to drive my car really fast into a big truck that was parked a few blocks from my place. That or off a cliff. On the night I planned to do it, I wrote a suicide note on my computer, individually addressing the various people in my life and what the final thing is I’d like to say to them. To my father I wanted him to stop hating video games so much. Ironic, isn’t it?

An hour or two later a friend called and asked if I wanted to go see the movie Superbad with a few friends. I said yes, we smoked a bunch of pot, and I laughed my ass off during the movie. Laughing and having a good time snapped me out of my depressed state for long enough for me to realize that I was actually pretty close to ending my life. I no longer felt safe with myself. I no longer felt like I could trust myself to make decisions in the best interest of my health and well-being, and I needed to ask for help. So when I got home I asked my father to come speak with me, and I told him I needed to get professional help, and asked if he would help me find a counselor. He did, and that’s when things started to turn around for me.

J.P.: Should my kids not be playing video games? I know you get asked this all the time—but, really, should they not? Would you let your kids?

C.A.: I’m not against gaming, but I do think we need to have more honest conversations about it. What I recommend is this: If they are gaming, then allowing them to play less time in one sitting, less often is best. The longer they play at a time, the more exposure they have to the level of stimulation in gaming (see the TEDx talk I referenced above.) This goes with the more consistent they play as well, so less time, less often.

I also think it’s incredibly important for them to have other activities they do and not just gaming. For many parents they focus on sports and gaming, but I would say having at least one or two other activities they do at home when they’re tired and bored is crucial. I also believe your kids going outside to play is important. Giving them the opportunity where they have no choice but to engage in the environment around them, to come up with games to play, to be social, to be creative, and to be spontaneous … those are just a few of the intangible skills they need to develop that we withhold from them by using an iPad as a babysitter.

I will let my kids play, but probably a lot less than most. That extends to TV as well. I mean, that’s the best we can do with all of the options our world offers us? In my opinion, kids who are gaming or watching TV also have parents who come home from work and just sit around watching TV themselves. I have greater ambitions in my life than that. I just came back from a three-week trip to Tanzania where I spent time in a rural village where they do not even have electricity. The energy of the kids was amazing! I don’t even think they knew what the concept of boredom even was. It was inspiring.

J.P.: Random question—you’re a Canadian who now lives in San Diego, and our 45th president is Donald Trump. How do you view this from afar? What was the reaction among your friends? People you spoke with?

C.A.: I personally think the fear of Donald Trump is exaggerated (media driven) and he’ll probably be better than people think. I’ll also be the first person to admit I was wrong if I am (I doubt I’m wrong). I went to the Donald Trump rally in San Diego and met a ton of people who were very welcoming and kind. The protestors outside, not so much. As a Canadian, it’s bizarre to see anyone attacking police officers. I still can’t comprehend that one. But then again, Americans wear their shoes indoors and that’s pretty fucking weird too.

The majority of my friends were Hillary/Bernie supporters, so their reaction on the day after the election was quite amazing. I mean, honestly, has anyone ever seen people on Facebook hysterical like that? Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends, they are incredible people who have the best intentions in mind, but I feel little sympathy for people who spent no time trying to understand the other side. If you didn’t think Trump could be elected, you chose to stay in your bubble (is that called a safe space?) and refused to listen to the other side’s genuine concerns and issues. And then you pretend that you know exactly why it happened—RACISM! SEXISM! XENOPHOBIA! BUZZWORDS! Gimme a break.

Donald Trump has more support in Canada than people think, but Canada has also been treading in the dangerous waters of anti-free speech (see Canada’s Twitter Trial), political correctness, etc. Can we #MakeCanadaGreatAgain?

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J.P.: What was your lowest moment, addiction-wise? I don’t mean the note. I mean, you’re playing a game, miserable, but unable to stop …

C.A.: At one point I moved to Victoria, B.C. looking for a fresh start. I had just spent two years not gaming (after the note), but I started to feel down in my life again and instead of escaping into games, I figured a change of scenery would do it. I moved in with two roommates and one of them, Ben, found out we both used to play Starcraft. He said we could play and I told him I didn’t really want to, because I quit. Later that night he came home with a big grin on his face and put the game in front of me. “Just one game.” I relented. He destroyed me. That night I committed to doing everything possible to make sure he would never be able to beat me like that again, and thus began a five-month binge of gaming 16 hours per day. I stopped working and barely left the house. Eat. Sleep. Game. The lowest moment for me was when my roommates left on a three-week trip, and to be honest, I was stoked. I no longer had anyone to notice how much I was playing. I no longer had anyone to invite me to get out of the house and make me feel guilty when I said no. Etc. That felt pretty shitty.

J.P.: I check my social media shit nonstop. All the time. Habitually. It’s an annoying distraction that’s hard to break. I need Twitter and Facebook to sell books, but I hate that need to look. Any advice?

C.A.: Fuck, I really don’t know. I’ve checked Facebook and Twitter 20 times just answering these questions. So far the only thing I’ve found that really works is this: Be somewhere where you don’t have your devices with you. So I go surfing, I put my phone on airplane mode, that sort of thing. Interestingly, when I don’t have access to being able to check, I have a lot less of an urge or craving to do it.

With that said, when you do have access to it, I try to embrace the habit by not resisting the temptation to open a new tab, but instead of opening the tab, hitting up Twitter and starting to browse the feed, I open the tab and then close it and get back to my work. Sounds kind of crazy but in my experience, my urge or habit is more to open the tab than it is to actually look at the content. It’s similar to when I have an article I “want to read.” I save it in Pocket and forget about it. But saving it to Pocket makes me feel like it’s still there, and available, but I don’t actually want to read it.

On a more serious note, a lot of the work I do around gaming and addiction comes down to identifying why you do what you do, and then finding replacements. Genius idea! For instance, if you’re browsing the Internet because you’re tired from the day, and you just want to relax at home, your desire to relax at home is genuine, but you don’t have to fulfill it using the Internet. It may just be that the internet is your “go-to”, your default. Finding alternatives such as reading, listening to podcasts, going to yoga, hanging out with a friend, learning a new language, and/or playing an instrument can fill the same need. Find why you do what you do, and then align alternatives with your goals and values.

If you want to read a great book that describes how social media sites keep you hooked, read Hooked by Nir Eyal.

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J.P.: You’re bored in a mall. There’s a Pac-Man machine. You have a quarter in your pocket. Would you even consider giving it a go? Could you without trouble?

C.A.: Probably wouldn’t even notice the Pac-Man machine, but if I did, I’d have no problem playing—I just have little interest in it. If it’s a chessboard that’s a whole different story. Who wants to go?

J.P.: Are the video game manufacturers aware of this problem? Is there any thought that they might knowingly take advantage of addictive personalities? Or is it mere accidental byproduct?

C.A.: Are they aware that it’s a problem? Absolutely. Nobody involved in the gaming industry doesn’t know at least someone who has a serious problem with gaming. How many people who don’t even work in the gaming industry know someone with a problem? Probably at least 40 percent of the people reading this right now know someone. Now are they aware of the extent of the problem? I’m not sure. I met the CEO of a game development company from Canada recently and he was shocked that the games he loves to make could be causing harm to some of his users. I know his heart was in the right place. They are definitely aware of their intention to make games as “good” (engaging/addictive) as possible.

It’s important to note that with the introduction of mobile devices games have changed a lot. “Back in the day” games had a clear beginning and end. Today they continue on forever. And in mobile games you have new features of game design that were never there before, such as turn-based delays and in-app purchases.

Imagine if you sat down to watch a movie and after five minutes it stopped and said you either had to pay $5 now or wait 24 hours to watch the rest. You would think that was a total scam. But that’s exactly what’s happening in mobile games. They let you play for a bit and then they make you wait for 24 hours. But in the moment you’re engaged in the game, maybe you’re waiting at the bus station, or you’re trying to take your mind off something stressful. For $1 you can continue to play, do you do it? Of course you do. And that adds up to a lot over time.

I’ll end on a positive note. This year I went on a tour speaking at problem gambling conferences, and the hot topic was about virtual goods you could win in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). Long story short, a feature in the game allowed you to bet on matches and earn virtual goods, which you could turn around and sell on third-party sites for real money. Because the virtual goods had no real monetary value in the game, they were unregulated which allowed anyone of any age to bet and win them. A total gray area. I was receiving emails from kids as young as 13 saying they had placed their first bet and were concerned they would do more—all of their friends were doing it! Naturally the problem gambling industry was outraged over this. A few months ago STEAM (the owner of CS:GO) came out and said they were shutting down access to these third-party sites. Honestly, I was blown away. A corporation did the right thing for the health and well-being of their users. Who would’ve guessed!

Maybe there’s hope for our world after all …

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CAM ADAIR:

• Five shittiest video games ever?: Starcraft 2, Counter-Strike: Source, Cookie Cutter (the only game Elon Musk won’t let his kids play, because “You literally tap a f#@#ing cookie.”) I know that’s only three, but fuck.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Every time I fly! Let me explain. Shit this is rapid fire. Ok, I’ll be quick. My personality responds to anxiety with flight (no pun intended), and the most extreme version of flight is suicide ideation. So throughout my life when I’ve been suicidal, it’s actually been because I’ve felt anxious and I’ve wanted to escape from it, not because I’ve genuinely wanted to do it. What a breakthrough! So every time I fly I have a moment where I hope the plane crashes because then I won’t have to actually go and accomplish all the stuff I want to. It’s fucked up, but it’s true.

* If you ever feel like you’re serious about committing suicide, don’t fuck around and get some help, call or text the crisis hotline.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Salty beef, Q*bert, Sammy Hagar, elephants, Laguna Beach, Cam Neely, Cam Newton, arm wrestling, sleeping in the nude, cement trucks, sea horses, Lenny Kravitz: Cam Neely (great name!), Laguna Beach, sleeping in the nude, sea horses, elephants, cement trucks, arm wrestling, Salty beef, Q*bert, Sammy Hagar, Lenny Kravitz, Cam Newton (who complains about being hit in a sport with physical contact?).

• Three memories from your first-ever date: No idea when my first date was. I promise I’ve been on one though! I don’t even remember my first kiss. Is that weird?

• You live in San Diego. How and why did that happen?: It was a cold blizzard day in Calgary. -22C or something insane. Humans are not designed to live in such conditions. Anyway, I walked from my house to my car, and while shivering waiting for it to warm up, I said … I fucking hate this … Why do I do this?. .. And then I had what I describe as The Next Thought: I should move. So I did, and I’ve been retired from winter ever since.

• Would you rather lick Mike Tyson’s left armpit after a two-hour workout or eat Christina Aguilera’s sneeze residue?: That is disgusting. Christina Aguilera no doubt. Think she’d go out with me after? Can someone put in a good word?

• Five things you’re very bad at doing: Chores. Chores. Chores. Chores. Chores.

• What’s the maximum reasonable amount of money to spend on a T-shirt?: $150. But I think spending less and replacing them more often is a better strategy.

• One question you would ask Brian Bosworth were he here right now: Who are you and why do I feel like people are going to be pissed at me for not knowing who you are? (So I just googled him, and yep, my uncle is probably going to be pissed at me. He’s a huge Seahawks fan. Shoutout to my uncle! Go Hawks!)

• What’s the worst smell in the world?: Probably Mike Tyson’s armpit after a two-hour workout.

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Harvey Araton

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Harvey Araton is one of the greatest newspaper writers of my lifetime, which immediately makes him one of the greatest Quazes of my lifetime.

Hell, just check out his blog. Or his clips. Read his takes on the U.S. Open, on Super Bowls, on the World Series. From the time he debuted as a New York Times columnist in 1994 until his recent retirement from the paper, Harvey has been one of my go-to reads; a man whose work makes other writers sit up and moan, “Shit, I can’t do that.” Along with decades of work on the New York newspaper scene, Harvey is the author of seven books, including the wonderful “Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry and Baseball’s Greatest Gift.”

Today, Harvey talks about newspaper highs and newspaper lows; about legacy and Bernard King and, in 1993, skipping a flight from Indianapolis to Chicago that ultimately crashed.

You can visit his blog here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Harvey Araton, I hate that you’re better than me. But I love that you’re the 281st Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Harvey, I wanna start this with something that’s going to probably seem quite weird. So I was reading your New York Times blog, and I came across a really beautiful entry shortly after the death of Scotty Stirling, the former Knicks GM. Stirling was a big deal (for admittedly a short span) when I was a kid in New York. I mean, my memories of him are quite vivid. And when he died, well, it seemed to be a non-news story. I mean, it was noted here and there. But nothing large; nothing overly noteworthy. And I was thinking how fleeting fame truly is. How while we have our occasional Jordans and Gretzkys, what we really have are tons upon tons of Scotty Stirlings. And I wonder, with you having covered ceaseless Scotty Stirlings, if there really is a such thing as legacy in sports. Are people truly remembered? Is there such a thing as impact? Or will the vast majority of us (from athletes to executives to writers) simply have our existences turn to meaningless, forgettable dust?

HARVEY ARATON: I think most of us who perform or entertain in some public setting ultimately grapple with legacy or the more fundamental fear of being forgotten 20 minutes after we exit whatever stage we’re on or forum we have. It’s worse for the average athlete; it happens much sooner in life and in most cases without advance warning, though many do get to recreate themselves as managers, coaches, executives or broadcasters. That at least can create a renewed sense of relevance. But, OK, the truth is most of us wind up as Scotty Stirling, made to feel even worse if our last name is commonly misspelled. (I had to Google Stirling/Sterling when I wrote that blog and I covered the guy for a whole bunch of years). Leaving the Times after 25 years, I’ve been moved by so many people reaching out to say they have enjoyed my work and would miss it in the paper. But if I let myself for even a second think that makes me indispensable and wonder how the Times sports section will survive without me, I’d like my wife to dump a bucket of frigid Gatorade on my head to snap me out of my sad and delusionary state. I’m proud of the work. It is preserved in the archives. Enjoyed the run. Life moves on in another direction.

J.P.: I teach journalism out here at Chapman University. And I always debate something—can you teach someone how to become a writer? Put different, can I take someone with little skill, little experience and improve him/her? How about make him/her good? Or do you feel like this is a talent one is born with, to a certain degree?

H.A.: There are certain devices and constructive techniques that can be learned to improve one’s writing skills, for sure. I know that by looking at the dreck I turned in earlier in my career. But I’m not sure I was taught as much by academicians as I was impacted by those whose work I’ve read and tried to emulate some stylistically (Larry Merchant, Vic Ziegel and Henry Hecht come to mind from the old New York Post).

I have also done some adjunct teaching the past few years at Montclair State University. The most recent course has been called Column Writing & Analysis and I begin each semester by asking students to name the columnists they regularly read. I typically get back blank stares or the name of some obscure hockey blogger. So I have a prepared response now: You want to write columns you but don’t read any columnists? That’s like saying you want to be a rock star but you don’t listen to music.

I guess I do believe writing skills can be improved, otherwise why am I there? Or maybe what I should say is that students can be taught to be better reporters and journalists, which automatically makes the writing read better. But as for superior writing (which of course is such a subjective thing), I’d have to say, probably not so much. I’ve had few students who are just natural with the cadence of words, the rhythm of sentence structure and how paragraphs can flow from one to another with the use of transitions. That’s more innate. I’ve also known some brilliant people who speak more articulately and intelligently than I ever could on my most clearheaded day. Then I look at their writings. Really? It baffles me.

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J.P.: I feel like people under a certain age don’t get what it was like to work for a newspaper when newspaper mattered; when the smell of print was floral; when you rushed to the newsstand to see what happened to the Knicks. Harvey, you started your career in 1970 with the Staten Island Advance, and stayed there until 1977. So (and this is admittedly wide open) what was the experience like? What do you remember? Was it thrilling? Awful? High? Low?

H.A.: When I was kid growing up in a Staten Island housing project, the son of a postal worker and grandson of a man who was functionally illiterate, I was the pitcher for my youth baseball team in the first game of our first season. I gave up five runs in the first inning but the coach, bless him, stuck with me and we won, 7-6. My dad remembered that the Advance ran line scores on every little league game with the winning pitcher’s name in agate. Next morning, he waited outside the candy store for the paper, jangling the coins in his pocket. He brought it home, beaming. From that day on, seeing my name in newspaper print was special. Before I knew it, and with some serendipity and kindness, I was making deli runs and wrapping the old ticker tapes for the Advance sports department. My career, by the way, was nearly aborted before it began when I attached tape to the copy of a newsbreak from Munich in ’72—the U.S. had beaten the Russians by one in the gold medal basketball game. Rushed it out to the composing room on first-edition Sunday paper deadline. Proud of my quick response, I didn’t bother returning to the wire room for another 20 minutes, by which time the result had changed: the last Russian possession was infamously replayed, the Commies had won, except not in the first few papers that rolled off the Advance presses. After that, I didn’t leave that wire room unless was my appendix was about to burst.

I came of working age still in the days of hot type (though I titled my one published novel about a newspaper strike in the early 1990s, Cold Type). I learned so much about nuts and bolts reporting covering high school games for the Advance. I loved working for both New York tabloids in the late 70s and 80s, hurrying to the newsstand on the morning after a big sports night, anxious to check out my competitors and ready to hate myself if I got beat on a story or if I decided I’d been out-written. I could have used a good therapist much sooner than I actually found one. But those were also days of growth and self-discovery. For better or worse, I was full of energy and excitement, immersed in the great and ongoing struggle for survival between the Daily News and the Post.

J.P.: Harvey, I’ve never had a one-on-one conversation with Mike Lupica. But I’ve been in a bunch of press boxes and press conferences with him—and I’m quite certain I hate him. Is that hatred misplaced? And what can you tell me about the Lip?

H.A.: I worked with Mike for several years at the News. We’re not what I would call friends but we mostly had a good professional relationship – we’re about the same age – and I have to say that I have always admired his pure writing skills, the speed at which he’s worked and his ability to produce prodigiously in multiple forums at what seems to be every waking moment. He is the best self-promoter I’ve ever been around and it amazes me that he never gets tired of it.

That always-on persona has made him the brand he is but is also what many find so grating. But hate, I think, is too strong for someone who ultimately doesn’t impact your life and can be tuned out by just walking away (unless you were the poor NCAA attendant on the receiving end of a tantrum over preferred seating at the Final Four).

Some believe that Mike had the very talented Mark Kriegel banished from the News years ago (Mark recovered, I’d say) because he saw him as a threat to his empire there. If so, shame, shame. And I will also say that I threw up in my mouth a little last year when the News laid off Filip Bondy – who went everywhere for that paper and wrote with a wonderfully informed and light touch — while keeping Mike, who, let’s face it, hasn’t for some time been piling up the Marriott points.

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J.P.: You were at the New York Post in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I wanna throw two things at you here: A. What was it like, competition-wise, being a beat reporter in New York City during the newspaper heyday? And … B. How unbelievable was Bernard King? And what was he like to cover?

H.A.: My first full year as the Knick beat reporter, I wrote a piece out of Seattle quoting Willis Reed, asking MSG president Sonny Werblin for some relief from rumors that Werblin wanted to replace him as coach. “Am I in or out?” Reed said, maintaining the clarity was necessary for a young team. The quote, presented in my story as a plea, was rewritten by the desk into a back-page ultimatum. I called Werblin to explain what Reed’s intention was but it was too late. Werblin seized the opportunity and fired Reed a few days later. When he was the hub of the championship Knicks teams of the early 70s, Reed was my fucking hero. Welcome to tabloid beat life and especially Murdoch World.

Truthfully, occasional excess muckraking aside, I loved my years writing for the Post and the News. We had a great cast of characters, none more fun than Jerry Lisker, the Post’s former executive sports editor – which brings me to the next part of your question, Bernard King.

I always said while covering King that he was one of a few special players that were singly worth the price of admission. His game face scared the shit out of me and his focus and intensity in that relatively short period between dealing with his alcohol and drug issues and tearing up his knee was remarkable. He was pretty much un-guardable and so intent on cleaning up his life and image that he wouldn’t so much as loosen his tie on the plane while playing cards with the guys.

A very bright guy who could be absolutely charming but also unpredictably difficult. I did the first interview with Bernard when he finished a stint in rehab after trouble with police in Salt Lake City. When he was joined the Knicks from the Warriors, he again addressed his issues with substance abuse but then said he was done talking about his past and, on top of that, warned the beat writers from dwelling on it in the paper. So then he really starts tearing up the league and the Post assigns me to write a comprehensive King piece. I tell his agent, Bill Pollak, my plan and he says, “Bernard will talk to you but not about his past, and if you write about it, there will be problems.” I write the piece, portraying him as the man who conquered his demons. Pollak calls the Post and demands to speak to Lisker. (I happen to be in the office, sitting nearby). Pollak explains that I had been warned, had betrayed my relationship and what was the Post going to do about it? Lisker told him to hold a second, then gets back on, tells him we’ve talked about the situation, and “You should go fuck yourself.” Then he hangs up.

My hero.

With Billie Jean King.

With Billie Jean King.

J.P.: You were a tabloid guy until 1991, when you left the Daily News for the New York Times. And I wonder, did you at all feel like you were (for complete lack of a better term) “selling out”? What I mean is, at the time the News and Post were thought of as pure grit, grease, grime, fight, heart. And the Times was caviar and bubbly. So … how did it feel? And why did you make the move?

H.A.: I left the News following a brutal five-month strike (90-91) after my first son was born, my wife quit her job and we bought a coop we could barely afford in Brooklyn Heights. Back then, the Times was thought to be an impregnable force in an already wobbly industry, and I would have been nuts to pass up a job there to stay at a paper that had just been sold by the evil, union-busting Tribune Company to a British press lord, Robert Maxwell. (Maxwell lasted a year, then got busted for siphoning money from the pension funds of his holdings and retired to the sea head-first from his yacht).

I also knew why Neil Amdur, the Times’ sports editor then, hired me: his mandate was to expand his section and quicken its metabolism in order to compete with the tabloids (including Newsday, which was pushing into the city from Long Island). So while I had to lower the stridency of my voice – something I wanted to do anyway — I never thought I was competitively sacrificing anything.

J.P.: This is sort of random, but why do you think Derek Jeter was pretty universally beloved while Tom Brady is pretty universally (outside of Boston) reviled? They’re both handsome, well-spoken winners with sexy female companions and major marketing mojo. So what’s the difference?

H.A.: To start, I’d say that Jeter from early on was tethered to Joe Torre, who for a dozen years was the benevolent, paternal face of New York sports. Brady was tied to Bill Belichick, a man who would mumble the eulogy at the funeral of his best friend. More importantly, Jeter came to represent something baseball desperately needed a half-dozen years into his career: a player who was so much above suspicion of doping that people routinely would say: if I found out that Jeter was using that would be it for baseball.

Brady, conversely, had no such context. No one seems to care what football players put in their bodies, as long as they can tackle and block. Add the attachment and his contributions to the notion of the Patriots as cheaters and it is what it is. I will say that I kind of liked Brady (and Belichick, for that matter) but that ended when I heard that he is for Trump. Now I hope the Jets’ front four chases him out of the end zone and into a sedentary life cutting up and pasting photos for his wife’s scrapbooks.

J.P.: I know you’re from Montclair, N.J.; know the newspaper that employed you. But how and why did this happen? Why journalism? Why sports journalism? Was there a moment? A spark?

H.A.: Montclair has been my family’s home for 23 years. Growing up I was an outer borough kid. Growing up in an extended family of civil servants and people who didn’t go or even think of going to college, I originally thought my chances of having a professional career were only slightly less than succeeding Walt Frazier as the Knicks’ lead guard.

Moving to Staten Island from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn (yeah, Mike Tyson’s neighborhood), we lived in the West Brighton Houses, a city housing project. The basketball courts in the center of the development were our paved oasis and escape from our harsh economic (though not hopeless) financial reality. I was an OK player for a 5-8 kid. Spent most of my free time there. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked a clinic there when he was Lew Alcindor. I loved the game so much and I’m guessing I just gravitated to anything that would have kept me around it. After I had some experience covering high school sports, I begged the Advance’s sports editor to let me cover Knicks games at the Garden on Saturday nights. Then my childhood pal Phil Mushnick connected me to Lisker at the Post for a clerk’s job and when the Knicks beat opened a year later, Pete Vecsey – already the NBA columnist — told Lisker to send me out with them (mainly because he didn’t want to get stuck with doing windows himself). I suddenly had a life that I couldn’t possibly have foreseen. Eternally grateful.

J.P.: What are the keys to writing great columns? Construction? Approach? Etc?

H.A.: I’ve always thought of sports writer as something of an insult, a way to separate what we do from what everyone else in the newsroom does. We’re all reporters, storytellers, and that includes or should include the columnists. And those that aren’t, while they may brilliantly entertain in their commentary, ultimately become pontificators. The best columns are invariably – if not always — the ones with information in them and the best columnists are those who get around, call people, all of that.

Adrian Wojnarowski is terrific at writing basketball columns because he knows so much by being a great reporter. Bill Plaschke has long been a destination read in the L.A. Times because he is gifted writer and storyteller with the knack for getting out of the office. When I was young in the business, covering a lot of Celtics playoff games, I couldn’t wait to get off the plane to grab the Globe for Leigh Montville’s columns. You never knew what you were going to get from him but you were sure it would be different from what you got elsewhere.

I will also say this: when I first wrote Sports of the Times, the column was anchored on the left side of the first sports page, which gave us about 775 words, and that, I believe, was when I was at my best. The hole forced you to write crisply, making careful use of information and quotes. No overwriting! When they moved the column for design purposes, all of a sudden we started stretching out to 1000-1200 words, just because we could. Didn’t make the columns better, just longer and lazier (writing wise).

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J.P.: Is journalism fucked? I know I’m supposed to be optimistic and peppy, and I usually am. But … man, newspapers are dying, ad revenue is gone, corporations increasingly own the messengers. Is our industry a corpse?

H.A.: Obviously – and sadly — there is no model right now that holds up economically, print or digital, as long as the goal is to provide real journalism, which costs plenty, and not shitty aggregation. I get the question a lot from students – as I imagine you do as well: Professor, can I get a good job doing this? I try to be honest. I don’t know what the future is, only that there is a greater need now for smart content than there’s ever been, and more exciting, fun ways to present it.

But I do wonder what the future of the full-time job is, at least as we’ve known it. Will there be a middle-class for journalists – full-time salaried jobs with health benefits and 401Ks (I have a defined Times pension coming but few places offer that anymore)? Or will the uncertainty mean a class of industry multi-forum one-percenters – in sports, for example, the likes of Bill Simmons, Tony and Mike, Stephen A. – while most scavenge for part time work, finding a little here, a little there, while dreaming of a big score, akin to aspiring actors and novelists?

I hope not. But given the trend of newspapers and the limited advertising revenue for digital only publications, I don’t see how they support as many decent-paying jobs as there will be deserving reporters with traditional benefits going forward. I hope I am as wrong about this as I’ve been about most prognostications.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH HARVEY ARATON:

• One question you would ask Ricardo Montalban were he here right now?: Were you as grossed out as I was when you inserted that little worm-like creature into Paul Winfield’s ear during “The Wrath of Khan?”

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: When I was made a columnist at the Times late in 1993, I was assigned to cover a Jets game in Indy. Next day, my editor asked me to go from there to Chicago, where they were opening United Center and retiring Jordan’s jersey in a ceremony on Tuesday night. I booked my flights, then changed my mind, wanting to come home on Monday, which was Halloween, to be with my kids for a block party right after we’d moved to Montclair. So I did, had a wonderful afternoon and evening, put the kids to sleep, turned on the TV and learned that the flight I’d switched off from Indy to Chicago, on American Eagle, had gone down in northern Indiana during an ice storm. Sat there frozen for a half-hour. Went up to bed, never more thankful for fatherhood.

• This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: Like the song, never heard of the band. Then again, I’ve been raving about the new Jayhawks album lately and friends look at me, like, who?

• In exactly 16 words, can you make a case for stale bagels?: I can’t make the case for any bagels because I have sworn off bread for months.

• Global warming terrifies me, yet most people don’t seem to care. What the hell are we supposed to do?: I wouldn’t say most people, but one side of the political spectrum. But Trump’s election is enough to make me think there is no hope, none whatsoever, for the human race, especially since the U.S. influences as much as it does around the world. Our east and west coasts could be under water and the far right would still be in denial, or just defend their position by calling it God’s will.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Marco Rubio, Nick Cage, David Bowie, Scottie Pippen, “The Martian,” award shows, strawberry ice cream, “Zoolander,” Jojo Moyes, Martin Lawrence, the number 44: Bowie. Pippen. Strawberry ice cream. Zoolander. 44. Martin Lawrence. The Martian. Cage. Moyes. Award shows. Rubio.

• What word do you overuse in writing?: Narrative.

• On Facebook, I tend to block all the arch-conservative wingnuts from my high school. Then I get ripped for it. What to do?: Unfollow but still be friends. That works for me.

• What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever seen?: In the context of what’s at stake, Trump’s face contorted in staged anger is the first thing that comes to mind.

• Who wins in a fight between you and Mark Kriegel? How long does it go?: Kriegel sounds more street than me but I, unlike him, actually grew up in the hood. He is younger, bigger and better-looking, the type who wins over the judges and gets a decision, even if I manage to bloody him with some MMA-style tactics and trickeration.

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Sarah Cooper

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Sarah Cooper is a ridiculously funny comedian.

Sarah Cooper is the purveyor of the world’s greatest business/humor newsletter.

Sarah Cooper has mastered social media. Sarah Cooper is terrified of Donald Trump. Sarah Cooper is intelligent and quick-witted and absolutely lovely.

But the reason Sarah Cooper is here … the reason I’m one of her biggest fans, is for a simple reason: Sarah Cooper loathes meetings.

Hell, having survived, oh, hundreds upon hundreds of those awful corporate powwows, where men and women sit around a table and try to appear intelligent, she decided to write a book about the collective lessons. That’s why 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings has resonated with so many Americans. Because meetings absolutely suck, and must be avoided at all costs before they kill your rotted soul.

I digress.

One can follow Sarah on Twitter here, and visit her on Facebook here. Oh, she’s also on Instagram, and—again—her newsletter will keep you entertained for hours.

Sarah Cooper, meeting slayer, you are the 280th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Sarah, even though your book is satire, satire can really only be satire if there’s truth to it. So I ask you this: In meetings, why do people always repeat what others already said? What I mean is, it’s time to go around the room and offer your thoughts. And Jim says, “We need to expand the IT department.” And Sam was thinking the same thing, but now he doesn’t need to say it, because Jim already brought up the point. But, when it’s his turn, he says, “We really do need to expand IT.” That shit happens ALL the time. Why?

SARAH COOPER: Because it’s the perfect thing to say when you have nothing else to say. And you can’t say you have nothing to say, because then you won’t be seen as a positive contributor to the meeting. I’ll freely admit doing this an embarrassing amount of times. Works especially well when the person you’re repeating is generally seen as a smart person.

J.P.: What’s your meetings background? Like, first meeting you attended? How many have you attended? And what inspired writing a book about meetings?

S.C.: First meeting ever attended? I’m not sure I can even remember. I’ve been attending meetings since my first job as a designer back in 2001. You can’t work in an office without attending meetings. I’ve attended thousands of them because I’ve worked in an office off and on for 15 years. But meetings don’t just happen at work—there are PTA meetings, condo board meetings, networking events, meetings with your husband and your real estate agent, meetings are just everywhere! I wanted to write a book about meetings for a practical reason—because people really identified with the original article, 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. I considered making it more of a broad “how to win at work” book—but there’s something especially painful about meetings that everyone identifies with immediately. Everyone hates meetings but will still complain if they weren’t invited to one.

J.P.: You had a gay ol’ time writing about the Republican Convention, but I’m struggling to find Donald Trump’s potential election even remotely funny. Truthfully, I’m terrified. What do you make of this all? And, let’s say he wins, will you be able to let humor conquer fear/disgust?

S.C.: The joy that existed when Donald Trump first entered the race is gone. The jokes I make now are exasperated and frustrated and angry and I make them because it feels like all I can do. I remember the first moment I didn’t think it was funny anymore—when Trump went on Jimmy Kimmel, and they were joking about keeping Mexicans out. I was furious. I thought about some little kid watching this and not being able to laugh at all. When I saw he was going on Fallon a few months ago I didn’t watch it (truth be told I’m hardly ever up that late) but the next day, the images of Jimmy pulling Trump’s hair made me sick. But there’s only so many times I can yell “fuck you” at my Twitter feed or my television screen. I really don’t like feeling so angry and stressed and hateful. I don’t like dedicating so much of my energy to this person who deserves none of it. I want one day for us all get tired of him but it feels like that day is never coming. His success shows us how easily manipulated we are. Kerry Washington recently said something on Real Time that struck a chord with me—she said the media is doing us all a disservice, and leading us to not vote in our own self-interest. I think Trump’s supporters are holding a middle finger to the establishment, which feels good but in the end, the only people they are fucking is themselves. If he wins, my only sustaining thought will be that the supporters who put him up on a pedestal will be the first to bury him. Watching that happen will be my only retribution.

J.P.: So I know you attended Maryland, snagged a master’s from Georgia Tech, worked for Google. But … how did this happen? I know that’s sort of a lame question—but you’re a former Google employee with her own website, a book. What’s your path?

S.C.: Growing up, there were two things I loved: being on the computer and entertaining people (er, attention, depending on how you look at it!) When I went to Maryland I wanted to get a degree in theatre but my parents didn’t think that was very prudent. They encouraged me to get a business degree (to get some “real” skills). I hated it and knew I didn’t want to pursue it as a career, and luckily, my last semester at Maryland I took a multimedia design course and fell in love with Photoshop. That led me to Georgia Tech where I got a degree in digital design, and went on to work at an ad agency, Yahoo! and then Google, but in between working I was still hanging on to that acting dream. Acting led to standup comedy which led to writing and once I had some success with writing, I decided to leave corporate America once again. The book came through people finding my writing online.

J.P.: I’m gonna say something, and please don’t think me a dick. I saw you and your husband’s wedding announcement in the New York Times, and it was lovely and cute and all. But it also struck me as something—Times wedding announcements—that someone like you would mock and ridicule, not necessarily appear in. Is that a midread?

S.C.: Oh, it’s definitely something I would mock. I’m a pretty sarcastic and sometimes cynical person, but when I fell in love with my husband Jeff, I turned into a cheeseball. All the things I didn’t think I wanted—the engagement photos, the engagement party, the wedding by the beach, the New York Times announcement—I wanted it all! I just love him and he makes me so happy and turns me into such a cheeseball. Oh and for the record, it’s something Jeff would totally make fun of, too.

J.P.: You’ve done a good amount of standup comedy. What was your greatest moment on stage? Your worst?

S.C.: Greatest moment—I’m not sure I’ve had one yet. Standup is hard. I’ve been doing it eight years and I feel like I’m eight years away from being good at it. My worst—I’ve had a lot. Probably a show in Brooklyn where I bombed horribly and when I sat back down next to my husband he wouldn’t stop staring at me and asked me if I was going to cry. I told him to please stop staring at me! It was really embarrassing. I’ve done really well and had people coming up to me to tell me how awesome I was, and I’ve done so horribly that I just wanted to disappear after the show. The funniest part is that’s with the same material. I hope one day to be someone who kills no matter what, but also someone who doesn’t care if I don’t.

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J.P.: I really dig the way you see the world. Not the big things—but the tiny observations. Bachelor dialogue, mannerisms in meetings, etc. This is sort of a big, broad, dumb question, but what are you looking at? And what are you looking for? Are you eternally on the hunt for material? Does stuff just hit you naturally?

S.C.: Yeah, I try to be as observant as possible when I’m going about my daily life. If I only created stuff when I sat down to my laptop and tried to, I’d never create anything. Everything I create comes from something I noticed when I wasn’t trying to create something. I do observe people a lot and try to get at what they’re really saying or who they’re trying to impress or what they’re trying to avoid. But I think more of my material comes from observing myself. Noticing the moment I say “definitely” when I really mean “leave me alone.”  I’m not always on the hunt for new material, I turn my brain off a lot more than I should. Most of my ideas come when I’m not really trying to find new ideas. I write down ideas constantly, sometimes I’ll just tweet it out and sometimes I’ll write it in a notebook which I refer to later when I’m trying to come up with something.

J.P.: You’re addicted to cable news—which strikes me as crack without the momentarily good feeling. What is it about cable news that draws you? And how long can you watch Hannity without stabbing yourself with a rusty nail?

S.C.: I can’t watch Hannity anymore. Jeff and I started watching it ironically because it was so ridiculous it made us laugh. Now it infuriates me. I’ve noticed the thing about cable news is: it’s not news (revelation!)—it’s news filtered through the opinions of commentators. If you watch local news you won’t see people taking sides, it’s way more like real, unbiased news in that way but also boring because there’s nothing to yell at. Cable news is opinion entertainment.

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J.P.: So you have a free semi-monthly newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers. Why? What I mean is, why do you do it? What’s the goal? Do you make money off it?

S.C.: It’s another way to reach people and let them know about what I’m doing. A lot of people don’t use Twitter or Facebook, and even if they did the chances of them actually seeing my updates are small. So my newsletter helps me reach more people. I don’t make money off of it per se, but if people buy my book or visit my website, I can make money that way.

J.P.: What’s your relationship with the eternal nothingness of death? Comfortable? Terrified? Something you think about? Something you don’t care about?

S.C.: I don’t believe death is an eternal nothingness. I think there’s a somethingness there. I’m not sure what it is but I’m interested to find out. Not super interested but interested. I think about dying all the time. I think about wanting die before my husband, and hoping I die peacefully and without having to bear the sadness of anything horrible happening to me or anyone I love. Life is wonderful and I’ve been lucky and if I could die happy I’d be happy about that, no matter when it happens.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SARAH COOPER:

• One question you would ask Claudell Washington were he here right now?: Who are you?

• Three favorite words that start with the letter Q?: Quartz, Quizzical, Quagmire

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Brit Hume, carrot cake, Doug Williams, staplers, Aretha Franklin, mechanical bulls, trap doors, eggs benedict, Rick Astley, Topeka: Aretha Franklin, staplers, trap doors, eggs benedict, Doug Williams (dont know who that is, so I’ll put him here), Rick Astley, mechanical bulls, Topeka, carrot cake (and I HATE carrot cake), Brit Hume.

• Five greatest female rappers of your lifetime: Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Lisa Lopes, Lil Kim.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I always think about the scene from Castaway where the plan crashes and the people not wearing their seat belts get thrown out of their seats and I make sure I have my seat belt on.

• John McCain calls. He’ll pay for $2 million to write his arch-conservative speeches next year. You in?: I’d do it and try to sneak my liberal persuasions in there.

• How’d you meet your husband?: I met him at Google.

• How afraid are you of really large snakes?: I think I’m more scared of small snakes that disappear somewhere and you don’t know where they went.

• Would you rather change your name to Nipple McGee or self-pierce your nose with a 5”-thick arrow?: Nipple McGee I hate pain

• I’m pretty psyched for Edwin McCain’s new album. You?: Now that you mention it, not really.