Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Tom Holt

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 12.48.47 PMWhenever I board an airplane, I always make certain to touch the side with my right hand.

Whenever I’m sitting on an airplane during takeoff, I close my eyes and put my head back.

Whenever I’m sitting on an airplane during particularly rough turbulence, I listen to Lauryn Hill on my iPhone.

Why? Because—even though I’m not particularly superstitious—I’m superstitious about crashing.

Which leads me to this week’s awesome guest …

A few months back, Tom Holt sent me an e-mail about an article I wrote. It was a nice, interesting, supportive little note—but what jumped off the page were the words, “I flew commercially for Delta …”

Bingo!

I’ve long wanted to ask a pilot 1,001 questions about the biz, and here’s my chance. Mainly, I wanted to know whether my fear is at all justifiable; whether there are risks involved with flight; whether there are things we (the souls in the seats) should know.

Hence, we bring you Tom Holt, Delta pilot from 1979 until 2005, and Quaz No. 154 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Tom, you flew commercially for Delta for 30 years. I’ve flown professionally (as in, to get places) for about 20 years, and on about half of those trips I’ve convinced myself—usually during some rocky turbulence—that the plane was going to crash. How irrational does that make me? And, as a pilot, how many times have you truly thought, “Shit, we might be in real trouble here”?

TOM HOLT: Jeff, many people flying today share the same fears while the airplane is being bounced around like a beach ball at a Dodgers game. Let’s face it, as you’re trapped in a long aluminum tube you begin to wonder how this thing is staying in the air and will it continue to do so. I’ll get into it somewhat deeper when I answer your question about the fear of commercial flying. Next time try to imagine Mother Nature is just helping by rocking you to sleep. I’ve slept through some wild rides while riding as a passenger and when it’s over people just shake their heads. I can do this because I have complete trust in my fellow pilots and the airplane.

Regarding the second part of the question I can truly say I have only had a couple of experiences which have left me wondering if today was going to be my day. A comedian years ago told a joke about not being afraid if it is his day but what if it’s the captain’s day. I had one really “Oh shit” moment as an airline pilot. Nearing what proved later to be the end of my career with Delta I was flying a B-767ER from Shannon, Ireland back to Atlanta. The flight had approximately 235 “souls on board”—which included flight crew and passengers. This term may sound a tad gruesome but it is used in aviation during emergencies to provide ground personnel a number of folks they will be dealing with. It was a beautiful day for flying as we had a smooth ride, tail winds and a cloudless sky. When we fly commercially for more than eight hours we always have three pilots on board with one of us rotating to the back for rest periods and two on the flight deck. This allows for a fresh crewmember during the long trans-ocean flights. Take off and landing operations will see all three crewmembers on the flight deck.

One of my first officers was resting and the other one in the cockpit with me was having his meal. He had opted for the fish that day which played a part in the upcoming scenario. Normally when one pilot is eating the other will watch over the flight operation. There isn’t a tremendous amount of work to be done as the navigation is done with a combination of the autopilot and the FMS (Flight Management System). At some point here I began to smell something unfamiliar, which started me looking around the flight deck. We do get some “odd” smells at times which is natural with food combined with cabin pressure. At this point the FO (First Officer) is also experiencing an unexplained odor. Ah ha! It’s the fish lunch, isn’t it? We both began to examine the tray and are giving different parts of it the smell test when—BAM! Black and gray smoke starts rolling out of the top of the instrument panel. The odor instantaneously gives away the culprit. We have an electrical fire somewhere in the cockpit.

The danger of an electrical fire cannot be understated. We have had training in the simulator but when it’s for real you have to react quickly. The Swiss Air accident off the coast of Nova Scotia has been used to detail what can happen if you wait. The Swiss Air captain elected to stay at altitude to run the “Smoke and Fumes Elimination” checklist. They didn’t have time to get the aircraft on the ground as the fire burned through their flight control wires. These wires send signals from the control wheel (Yoke) to the panels that control movement of the airplane (ailerons, rudder, and elevator). When the wires burned through, the crew had no way to control the airplane and it crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia.

At this point we had donned our oxygen masks and summoned the resting FO back to the flight deck. Communicating with the masks on is very difficult as you’re trying to push words out of your mouth while the mask is pumping pressurized O2 for you to breathe. The lunching FO had tossed the food tray on the floor (that fish didn’t look so great anyway) and while the two FOs  began to go through the cumbersome checklist I took over flying the airplane. The first thing we needed to do was to get off our “track” and get away from other airplanes. A track is an electronic highway across the ocean and is used by several airplanes. We have a procedure to insure a safe escape from the track system. I sent out several “May Days” to send notice we had a problem and I gave a heads up to other aircraft of my intentions.

After clearing the tracks I began an emergency descent to 1,000 feet AGL (Above Ground Level). We are now 1,000 feet above the ocean and tearing butt for St. John’s, Labrador about 250 miles away. The smoke is still coming and the checklist has not found the culprit as it is designed to isolate different electrical systems until the offending one is located. My thoughts are wondering at what point I might have to make the decision to ditch the aircraft. As long as this bad boy is flying I’m heading for St. John’s which finally found us on radar. At least now someone knows where we are. The flight attendants are getting the cabin ready for a ditching and I cannot fathom how they felt looking at the ocean just below them and wondering if we will make a water landing. I was fortunate to be occupied flying the airplane.

Approximately 100 miles away from landing the smoke begins to dissipate as our checklist has hopefully lead us to the system causing the problem. Things were looking up so I pointed to the fish plate on the floor and asked my FO, “Are you going to eat that?”. We decide to maintain the emergency and leave the masks on as there was still some lingering smoke but 20 miles out we pick up the runway. “Yeah baby, we’re going to make it!” My concern now, on top of the smoke, is that we are 60,000 pounds overweight for the landing. Aircraft have a landing structural weight and exceeding that can cause damage if the landing is not done properly. We’re five miles from touchdown and—BAM! The smoke starts up, obscuring my vision but just as quickly it lessens and I have the runway again. The landing went perfectly (this where I pat myself on the back), the smoke had stopped and best of all the entire crowd in the back was going crazy. We took the masks off and taxied to the gate. Damn, it was finally over.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 12.49.43 PMJ.P.: I’m fascinated by life paths—so what’s yours? How did you become a pilot? When did you first realize it was something you wanted to do? What was your path from just some kid with a dream to sitting in the cockpit?

T.H.: My life began in a small town located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley about 50 miles from Fresno, California. My mother went to a local doctor in Firebaugh, most likely because my parents couldn’t afford a visit to the hospital. I was born in one of the back rooms weighing in a healthy 10 pounds and two ounces and arrived home shortly after to be put in the care of my older sisters. I was the last of seven children and my birth so disgusted my oldest brother he left home and married his high school sweetheart. My mother returned to the fields the following day doing whatever work was available during the season.

The San Joaquin Valley is agrarian with thousands of acres of crops being planted and harvested each year. Children usually accompanied their parents after reaching the age of 5 or 6 as daycare was expensive and the families made little to begin with. I remember helping with the field work when I was not in school. Usually in the summer this came down to chopping cotton, picking cotton,and picking tomatoes. I believe I was 10 or 11, working in the summer with temps around 100 degrees every day, picking tomatoes. We got 25 cents for a full bucket. Fill it up and carry it to the end of the row and repeat. I would not eat tomatoes for several years because of the stench of sitting on rotten ones while harvesting the ripe ones. I decided at that very young age I was getting out of this type of life. Using education was going to be the key that would release me so I was determined to buckle down and do what was necessary. Education of their children was important to my parents as neither of them got past the eighth grade. They grew up during the depression in Oklahoma and had to drop schooling to help out at home. It was so important to them that we were not allowed to work even on weekends during school time. However, the summer meant you were fair game and expected to work with the understanding your wages went to the family.

I bring up living in an agricultural region only because there was an element of this daily lifestyle that helped to shape my future. Crop dusting! The politically correct version now is “Aerial Applicator,” but to me they were crop dusters. Most of these airplanes were surplus World War II Stearmans, which were bi-wing aircraft with huge radial engines used for training future pilots during the 1940’s. Eagle Field was located near where we grew up and my family actually lived in some of the housing that was converted for civilian use after the war ended. These airplanes were eventually auctioned off and became an everyday workhorse for the pilots who used them. Many are still being used today in the same area.

Watching these monsters work the fields was fascinating to me as a kid. My house was surrounded by fields of crops and some mornings you would awaken to a thunderous noise as those radial engines would be pulling their pilots skyward after making a pass. Within seconds I would be out the door and on my bike to watch the rest of the pilots’ workday. If they were in range of a bike ride I would stay until it was getting dark. Parents then would not worry about you as long as you were home by dark. I loved watching these beauties and started to think that maybe someday I could fly one. I believe this is where the first seed was planted, but—like all things that grow—that seed needed to be nurtured and cared for. I set out to do just that.

When the bug really hit I was 16 or 17. I recall riding my motorcycle (big upgrade over the bike) to visit a friend who also rode a cycle. His family owned a grocery store in Firebaugh and as I was waiting for him to finish his chores I went to the magazine rack. There was a “Flying” magazine on the shelf and I thought it would be worthwhile reading. Boy, was I ever right about that. There just happened to be an article detailing a pilot’s story starting from scratch and then receiving his private pilot’s license. I was hooked and nothing was going to stop me from accomplishing this goal.

Some of my friends laughed at me when we would talk about the future. I would always bring up the notion of learning to fly and, by golly, I was going to do it. I was a sort of nerdy kid who also just happened to be the most ungainly specimen of my class. I definitely was not athlete material but I was determined to make a go of this.

I graduated from high school in 1969 and for those who don’t remember we had this little skirmish going on with Vietnam. The draft started using a lottery system to determine who should be pulled into the army. My lottery number turned out to be 54, so yep I was going. The area we grew up in was rural and conservative and many of us felt an obligation to join and do our part. I was not against serving at the time but if I was going then I wanted to do it on my terms and not theirs. I applied and was accepted to Fresno State College, which is now California State University, Fresno. That name didn’t stick and it is still referred as Fresno State.

I graduated from college in 1973 with just the required amount of units needed. My junior and senior years were spent being a member of the USAF ROTC program on campus. These were testy times as the anti-war movement was going strong. We eventually quit wearing uniforms on campus so we wouldn’t stand out. However, the haircuts always gave us away. In June 1973, along with graduation, I was also commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the USAF. I awaited my orders to a pilot training base to begin UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training). It had been hard work at times as I had to work 20-to-30 hours a week along with completing my college courses but I manage to do it and stay out of the draft. The Vietnam War was declared over in January of my senior year. Boy, did we ROTC pukes celebrate.

I began pilot training at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas which is located on I-20 about 25 miles east of Midland, Texas. It was typical West Texas, which was basically scrub brush and a flat desert type terrain. It was the perfect place for young men (females had been approved for flight training in 1973) to learn to fly. As the joke went, “You’ll love it here. You get to fly airplanes and there is a girl waiting for you behind every tree.” We soon learned there were no trees.

I learned to fly basic jets in a T-37, which is a small primary trainer built by Cessna. The cockpit was a side-by-side arrangement which allowed the instructor the opportunity to grab your mask and shake it to get your attention. My good fortune took a sour turn when we arrived at the flight line to begin flight training. The instructor assigned to me was on leave and would not return for two weeks. My reward was a disgruntled instructor who did want to be assigned to Webb, instructing student pilots, or flying the Tweet (the nickname for T-37 aircraft).

This guy managed to “pink” me on my first seven rides. Basically he was saying I was flying unsatisfactorily and my career had entered a deadly tailspin. I finally told my flight commander about the situation and figured it was over for me. He went ballistic when he read my daily folder and immediately showed the instructor the door. The flight commander backed me and put me with another instructor who got my confidence back. I was behind for a while but I made it to the next step—T-38s.

The T-38 Talon is a tandem seat trainer built by Northrop. It is capable of supersonic flight and was the Air Force’s main trainer for formation flight. I finished this segment with no problems and was awarded my pilot wings in September of 1974. My aviation career was moving forward. I had come quite a long ways from picking tomatoes with my family.

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J.P.: Here are two back-to-back questions, intentionally linked. 1. Tell me why people shouldn’t be afraid of commercial flying. 2. Tell me why people should be afraid of commercial flying?

First, I get asked this question frequently from people who want to understand why flying is considered the safest mode of transportation we have available to us. The first thing you should look at is the experience of the pilots. I was an Air Force pilot for five years before starting my airline career. At Delta, as with other major carriers, we had pilots who came from military backgrounds. Other pilots who joined with a civilian background also had many years experience flying for smaller airlines, corporate, or other types of commercial flying. My point is not make one form of experience favorable but to state that most pilots are highly experienced when they start flying for an airline.

This experience enables a pilot to successfully complete initial training on different types of aircraft. Training can be difficult but an invested pilot will learn to fly the airplane correctly and safely. When I was flying a an FO I also learned from my captains and how they handled different situations. Some things I kept and some I discarded.

The best way to sum up the pilot part of the “Is it safe?” equation is to rely on the experience and the training they undergo. A new part of pilot training is CRM (Crew Resource Management). This is simplified by stating the crew acts as one with the captain taking input from each of his crew members. This was put into place to prevent a rouge or cowboy pilot from doing his own thing and leaving common sense behind. When I first started captains were not questioned about their actions. Now each crewmember is expected to speak up if there is a problem. Captains still have the final authority for actions but at least now they are willing to listen to others.

Now that we taken care of the pilot portion of safety let’s look at the aircraft itself. The next time you encounter turbulence look outside the window (if you can stand it) and you will probably see the wing flexing up and down. The range of motion can be 5 to 10 feet depending on the aircraft. These planes have to be incredibly strong to be able to take that much punishment. There’s usually not much positive about airplane crashes but many of our safety devices today were added after a crash in the past.

Think about how many takeoffs and landings are made each day. The only time we question the safeness of air travel is during the reporting of a crash. Knowing what I know of the background of aviation, I will take it every time. I’m in more danger trying to drive I-285 to get to the airport.

As for the second part of the question … frankly, I don’t believe anyone should have a fear of flying any major airline—and this includes regional or commuter airlines. I’ve done this too long to have a fear of it. If there is one factor it would have to be weather conditions that can cause unfavorable flying conditions. With advanced weather detection by ground and airborne radar systems these can be easily avoided.

J.P.: I remember being a kid, and flying was special. You would dress nicely. You’d get a hot meal. It just felt … classy. Now I wear baggy shorts, I get a bag of peanuts and I have to pay $5 extra for a gross blue blanket. What the hell has happened?

T.H.: I can explain the change in air travel in just one word—deregulation. Years ago airlines had set routes which allowed them to also have set prices. Competition on many routes was not allowed, giving the airline control over schedules and fares. Around 1978 deregulation of the airline industry was adopted. This opened up routes to competition from different airlines. Discount carriers popped up giving fliers the basics without the frill. If a major airline wants to stay in business it has to follow suit and the first things to go are food and other niceties such as blankets and pillows.

People’s Express Airlines started much of the discount flying, offering unheard of prices from New York City to Florida. Their fares were cheaper than riding on a bus, thus they became known as the Greyhound Crowd to other airlines. Major airlines had to match their fares but it soon became apparent the majors’ coasts were much higher. The flying public didn’t care and only wanted the cheapest fare. Flyers now pay for food, drinks, baggage, blankets and pillows. The next charge will be for the lavs. “Get your book of five lav visits for just $10. Please see me at the gate.”

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J.P.: Do you recall the first time you actually flew a plane? That first-ever moment when you’re in charge, it’s all on you? What does that feel like?

T.H.: One thing a pilot never forgets is their first solo. My first time alone came on a sunny clear day at the Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). I had flown with my instructor to Madera, California just north of Fresno where I somewhat made a couple of landings and touch and gos. I thought it was going well but my instructor, out of the blue, said ”Let’s go home.” He sounded POd for sure and I thought it was a waste of time and money for me (a struggling college student). We landed at FAT and as we taxied back he said pull over here. I stopped. He looked at me and smiled and said, “See you back at the office. Don’t break anything.” I made three landings and it was a great feeling being up there by myself.

This was fun but the greatest first solo for me was in the T-37 at Webb AFB. As you recall I was struggling and wasn’t sure I was going to complete the program. I was so discouraged I had decided to quit or SIE (Self Induced Elimination). I remember sitting on my bed in my quarters crying because my dream was about to end. Getting my wings was the world to me but I was failing—failing me and failing my family. This went on for a few minutes and then I told myself, “The hell with them. I won’t quit so if they want me gone it will be on them.”

I didn’t quit and wasn’t washed out. My instructor returned and taught me how to fly. A few days later a similar scenario played out. We did four or five touch and gos and then we parked away from the runway. He opened the canopy, secured his seat straps and then looked at me, smiled and crawled out. After my first take off I was laughing and screaming so hard I couldn’t talk straight. Complete joy that few have felt but I was flying this bad-ass jet by myself. When I completed my three landings I taxied back to parking to be met by my fellow classmates. I was the last in the class to solo and they were all pulling for me. We went directly to the dunk tank where I was thrown it to celebrate my solo. Oh, and the beer that night at the club tasted so sweet. I was on my way.

J.P.: Can you give me a blow-by-blow recollection of your scariest moment in a cockpit?

T.H.: Our morning started out with a 0400 wake up. The mission tasked for our crew today would be a “bladder bird” setup to support US Army helicopter operations. After completing UPT I was assigned to fly a C-130 aircraft also known as the Hercules or, affectionately, the Herk. This aircraft is still being used by not only our own USAF but several other air forces. It is also flown by the US Navy and US Marine squadrons. It is powered by four turbo jet engines which supply power to the four propeller assemblies. This system is called a turbo prop airplane—which will play a part of the upcoming scenario.

Just two days before our squadron, planes had ferried units of the Army’s Red Horse battalion whose job was the creation of a tent city almost overnight. This exercise we were participating in was named “Team Spirit” and included units from the USAF, the US Army and the ROK (Republic of Korea) Rangers. Our base of operations would be Kwang Ju air base located about 150 miles south of Seoul.

It was springtime and the temperatures were still chilly but on the positive side the weather was going to be clear skies. We moved from our tents to a massive mess tent for a cold egg and bacon breakfast. Most of us didn’t care for the tent living but we tried to keep complaints to a minimum. You have to realize that South Korea is always at a state of wartime readiness and these exercises are important for training. As her chief ally we knew full well we would launch from our home base of Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Japan. Our squadron would be called upon to fly troops, equipment and supplies in support of our own troops along side the ROK troops. We were also there to evacuate “special weapons” if the need arose.

At approximately 0600 hours we took off for our first mission, which was to fly fuel to waiting Army helicopters. This is why we were called a bladder bird as our setup included a huge rubber bladder holding more than 2,000 gallons of jet fuel. Tied down in the cargo section, this made our airplane a flying gas station. We did not do air-to-air fueling so this setup had us landing, which allowed us to pump fuel to the helicopters. The Army crews would hover in close to us, take on their fuel, and then leave so the next one could refuel. The neat part of this mission was the fact we landed on an interstate highway. In South Korea interstate highways are used for emergency airfields, The pavement is marked as any runway would be and most of these ran straight for a couple of miles. Can you imagine blocking I-285 here in Atlanta for a couple of hours to land airplanes?

After refueling all of the copters that came to us we took off and headed back to Kwang Ju, which is about a one-hour flight. On this day I was part of a five-man crew which included the aircraft commander, co-pilot (me), navigator, flight engineer and loadmaster. Also on board with us was a young airman photographer assigned to document our operation with film.

We entered the pattern for a standard overhead approach and landing. This type of approach is used when the visibility is unrestricted, which it was that day. Flying this type of “visual” approach means we look out for conflicting traffic and they should do the same with us. The first part of this approach was flown directly over the runway at 1,500 feet AGL (Above Ground Level). Halfway down the runway we entered a tight right turn which is called the crosswind. As the aircraft commander was flying this leg I was working the radios and doing the checklists. I reported to tower we were in the “pitch.” Naval aviators call it the “break,” but it means the same thing to tower controllers—we were turning to start the approach.

Coming around the turn we heard a ROK F-5 pilot call initial which meant he was flying overhead the runway. At this time we were rolling wings level to position ourselves on the downwind which would have us flying southbound for a short time. Our runway was now off our right wing and as I glanced at it I could tell our positioning was good. We heard the ROK pilot call the pitch and I was thinking he best slow down to stay behind us.

I turned my attention to completing the checklist. While doing these checks pilots are calling out items and then looking in the direction to see if a switch or button is in the right position. I had just turned my head from the left to face forward again when a slight shadow came into my peripheral vision on the right. I started to turn to the right to check out what I was seeing.

Slow motion now engulfed my world. I couldn’t believe it but the only thing I could see out my right window was our right wing and fuselage bottom of an F-5. The F-5 is a single seat fighter which is very similar to a T-38. I have seen this picture many times before while doing echelon turns during pilot training. I could see rivets, panels and streaks of hydraulic fluid on the bottom of this guy’s jet. As I said it all seemed in slow motion as the belly of his fighter was headed for my window.

It was time to get back to regular speed and I yelled “Break Left! Break Left!” while simultaneously grabbing the control wheel and pulling like a sucker. The F-5 was belly up to us and had no idea we were there. My AC also pulled the yoke and turned to the left. At this point I waited for the collision because I didn’t think there was any chance for us. Ah, grasshopper, you forget we were in a Herk which has quick control response while doing aggressive maneuvers.

We finished our circle and set up for our landing. We were all a bit shaken but the amazing thing is only I and the young airman saw the F-5. That poor kid said he didn’t ever want to fly again. I think his first stop after getting off was the BX for some new underwear.

After shutting down and getting off the airplane we were met by some of our squadron mates who came running up. They told us they saw the F-5 merge with us and just waited for the fireball. The tower controller also saw it and dispatched the fire trucks knowing we were doomed. When we pulled away from the fighter there was disbelief we had survived.

As it turned out the ROK pilot was grounded and lost his wings. He stated he saw we were a “Propeller” airplane and assumed we would fly at 1,000 feet AGL so his plan was to keep his speed up, fly over the top of us and land before we did. As I stated earlier we are a turbo prop aircraft hence we always fly at jet altitudes when in the pattern.

Luck can cause changes in one’s life. It can be bad luck or good luck. If I had still been looking to the left would we have had time to escape? Most likely not. It was also good luck the AC trusted me enough to start the left turn and not fight me for the controls. Good luck was with our young airman that day also. The BX had just received a new shipment of underwear.

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J.P.: You flew the team charter for the Atlanta Braves when you were with Delta. What do you recall from the experience? And how did you land that gig?

T.H.: I was lucky enough to fly the Braves to St. Louis for their playoff game. The last game of the regular season would determine where the Braves would play. Chipper Jones made an error that allowed the Rockies to win the game. I immediately placed a bid into our system requesting a charter. This was all based on seniority but I knew this flight would be coming. I received it and flew the team to St. Louis. Our call sign was Tomahawk One. I had a great time chatting with Bobby Cox and Pat Corrales before the flight. The three of us came from the Fresno area and we talked about how our lives had changed after leaving.

We didn’t get to stay as the aircraft was needed for other flights so we flew it back to Atlanta. Unfortunately the Braves lost the playoff series with the Cardinals.

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

T.H.: The greatest moment of my career had to be receiving my wings in the Air Force. Unlike several of my classmates I was not a natural at flying. The students who were good athletes made damn good pilots and their training came with ease. I had to work harder to accomplish the same maneuvers, and where they could use a natural sense about flying I was more mechanical. At Webb I knew in the beginning if the Chinese restaurant ever moved from the north end of the runway I was in trouble. I used it as a point to start my turn for landing. The nice thing is experience quickly makes up for some deficiencies. At the end of the program I felt I was doing as well as any of my classmates. Pinning those wings on my chest was the proudest point of my career. My mother and father were there to see it and I know they were extremely proud.

The lowest point of my career was the day I received a letter from Delta explaining that my next pension check from them would be “zero.” I, along with several other senior captains, retired early to protect our pensions from the fast-approaching bankruptcy of Delta. My pension along with what I had saved would get us through and sadly Delta felt it necessary to get rid of that nasty pension. I gave them 27 years of safe flying—no hurt passengers and no bent metal and this was my reward. Another win for corporate America.

J.P.: Why did you stop flying? What caused your career to end?

T.H.: After losing the annuity part of my pension I had to return to work to make up for it. Heck, if I had known I still needed to work I would have stayed at Delta. I flew in China for three years but by then I was tired of the commute and living without my wife being there. I would still like to fly but age is now a factor. If companies have to spend 20k to 40k to train a pilot most would prefer a younger one. Dang, that’s how some guys choose a new wife. Anyone out there need an older experienced pilot?

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 12.49.35 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH TOM HOLT:

• In the movie Flight, a drunk Denzel Washington prevents a major catastrophe by inverting the airplane. Not sure if you saw the plane–but is such a maneuver physically possible with a large commercial jet?: Denzel is one hell of an actor and I love his movies. That being said I don’t believe even he could keep a commercial jet flying inverted for more than a couple of seconds.

• Celine Dion calls—she’ll pay $5 million next year for you to be her official pilot. However, you have to fly 355 days a year, 9 hours per day, dress in a pink tutu and have her refer to you only as “Leon Spinks III.” You in?: For 5 million? Heck yeah I’m in. If my wife found out I had turned it down I would be a dead man anyway. At that salary I would consider myself to be a washed up infield journeyman.

• Five best airplane-related films of all time?: 1. Flight of the Phoenix (original); 2. Top Gun; 3. Airport; 4. Memphis Belle; 5. Airplane.

• Fill in the blank: “If you’re concerned about safety, I would advise not flying _________ Airline.”: Any airline with “Stan” in it’s name.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): hiking, Adrien Brody, Fruity Pebbles, Madonna, Santa Barbara, scuba diving, Lamar Odom, Tom Glavine, matzoh, egg salad, Menudo, the number 18: Santa Barbara, Menudo, Adrien Brody, hiking, Tom Glavine, matzoh,  No. 18, scuba diving, Lamar Odom; Madonna.

• Why do passengers clap at the end of an uneventful flight?: Most likely they clap because they are tired of being cooped up in an airplane for hours on end. I haven’t had too many of these but if the weather is hairy and you get them safely on the ground then the applause comes.

• You were in the Air Force. Were you more Maverick or Goose?: I was definitely Goose. My personality is being laid back and I consider myself to be a type B.

• Rank in order of flying danger: Lightning, snow, hail, fierce wind, repeated Michael Bolton songs being played by God.: 1. Hail (can be ingested into the engines and knock them out) 2. lightning (not so much striking the airplane as I have had three or four lighting strikes in my career. Lightning is dangerous due to the storms they are generated from.) 3. Snow ( In the air it’s not a problem. Causes havoc on the ground and big delays) 4. Fierce wind (the most common danger is a windshear during takeoff and landing.) 5. repeated Michael Bolton songs anywhere. In listing weather features, the most dangerous for pilots is freezing rain. It can freeze on the wing causing the airfoil to change which will decrease the lift a wing can generate. If a pilot comes on the PA and says they have to de-ice don’t complain. Remember—no lift=no flying

• Five all-time favorite Braves: 1. Dale Murphy; 2. John Smoltz; 3. Greg Maddux; 4. David Justice; 5. Mark Lemke

• We come back 500 years from now, is everyone flying their cars?: I believe in 500 years we will be teleporting everywhere; either that or we’ll be back to horses and wagons. I firmly believe we will see automated airplanes which will take off and land vertically (safer and uses less space) and fly you around with just computers controlling the aircraft. Look at all the drones flying now. Maybe in the next 50 to 75 years. An old joke among pilots is that future airplanes will fly along with one pilot and one dog. The pilot will be there to monitor things and the dog will be there to bite the hell out of him if he tries to touch anything.

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Pierre Walters

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The NFL Draft kicks off in two days, which means—right about now—a couple of hundred or so college football players are dreaming of “making it.” I intentionally placed those two words in quotations, because “making it” doesn’t usually mean making it. “Making it” equals a fantasy life of snazzy cars, long-legged hotties, Nike endorsement deals, free kicks, a mansion, millions of screaming fans, etc. And, indeed, someone from this draft will “make it.” Maybe, just maybe, three or four or five guys will. And that’ll be about it.

For the rest, life in professional football becomes largely about survival; about lasting as long as possible so that money can be saved and the real world can be postponed as long as possible. When the hype of Draft Thursday dies down, and the headlines yellow and Chris Berman’s voice fades away, football is a brutal (though financially lucrative) business. Very few survive.

One person who knows this well is Pierre Walters, Quaz No. 153 and a linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009-2011. An undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois, Pierre busted his ass to make the roster, then stick longer than most. Like all NFL players, he knows the ups and downs of the pro existence. Like all NFL players, the end was far from pretty.

Pierre has become one of my absolute favorite people, and he brings forth one helluva interview.

Pierre Walters, cat lover, welcome to the land of Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Pierre, I’m gonna start with a question that I’ve heard asked, but never answered especially well. What does it feel like to absorb a really powerful hit at the NFL level? I beg of you, don’t just tell me, “Well, it hurts.” Like, what does it feel like? Can you brace for it? How long does the pain last? And what’s the worst hit you ever took?

PIERRE WALTERS: Is the intensity the highest at the NFL level? Yes. Do the hits hurt more than the ones I’ve given and taken in college? Not necessarily. There are a few that stick in my mind at the NFL level, but I’ll only tell you about one. It happened during the “inside run” portion of practice in 2009. Inside run is when the offense calls only run plays against the defense so both sides can learn how to execute their blocks and fits. I was playing linebacker on the left side of the defense when the offense ran some sort of split zone play. In that particular play, the fullback was responsible for blocking the last man on the line of scrimmage. In most cases against a 3-4 defense, that man will be the outside linebacker. This was about the 20th time we practiced against split zone that day and we were having a good physical battle with the fullbacks.

Anyway, I was on the left side of the defense when the center snapped the ball. As the offensive tackle blocked down (away from me), I knew the back was coming to block me. We crashed into each other head-first and carried on with the play. A micro-second after we hit, I saw the color purple—and I ain’t talkin’ Whoopi and Oprah. I mean, literally, the top-left of my vision turned purple with a yellow trim. It was wild. I didn’t get a headache or feel any pain. I shook it off and after about four seconds the sky turned that beautiful blue again. We spoke during the short intermission after the next play to reflect on the hit, laughed a bit and agreed we were going too hard on one another. He was dazed pretty good, too. We always practiced hard, but we didn’t have to kill each other every play. So we made a pact to make it look good and save it for the game.

The pain—if there is any—doesn’t last long. Adrenaline is an amazing chemical. Most of the time the real battle with pain takes place off the field when you have to do “normal” activities. That’s when you truly feel all the hits and tears. Pain is always present in some way, so you just have to do your best to cope.

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J.P.: You played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009-2011. Which means, in the eyes of many, you lived the dream. I’m interested—is the NFL life a dream? Does it live up to expectations? Is it genuinely fun? Or does pressure make fun not fully possible?

P.W.: It was a dream in more ways than I could probably explain. When I signed my contract on April 26, 2009, the very first thing that went through my mind was appreciation. I now have the chance to fulfill my farfetched goal of playing in the NFL, and of course to play the game a while longer. Immediately after that thought, I looked down at the numbers next to my name and couldn’t help but smile. “Someone pinch me.“ Obviously this meant, if I made the team, I’d be able to provide a bit of financial comfort for myself and my family. That was a main driving force behind my ambition. As the news spread, the reality of it all began to hit and it got more exciting. I got a flood of calls and messages with everyone wishing me the best and giving me their advice. That was the most fun part of my “dream“ … the “foot in the door” phase. Once I reported to rookie mini-camp, the fun quickly turned into business. All the hype and congratulating was cool, but I had to make it short lived and collect my emotions so I could focus on making the team. That’s when I first felt the stress.

People underestimate the pressure ballplayers tolerate. Let’s say your passion is loading trucks. You spent eight-to-10 years as a truck-loading apprentice before you finally reach the level when you can interview for that big-money truck-loading job. The moment is here … you got the interview! You look online and on television and your name, job title and potential salary are posted for the world to view. Everyone across the nation is locked in to see if you’re the next best truck loader to come to their city. Soon after, you’re getting messages left and right and people come out the woodwork saying they’re going to watch your loading career unfold. Now there are blogs, forums, truck fans and analysts scrutinizing your loading abilities from head to toe—most of whom don’t even know the first steps in picking up a damn box.

Throw in the anxiety you’ve created for yourself years ago to make it to the big loading show, then add on the large money that will serve as a saving grace for you and your family—and the pressure is on. Oh, and people are hitting you with baseball bats all day while you’re working!

The point is at that top level, there’s little time for fun because it’s taken so seriously by everyone—from the athletes to the fans. There is just too much on the line to relax, no matter how much you’re getting paid. Money definitely helps in life, but in no way does it completely eliminate stress. It’ll just add to the stress because now you have to expend that much more mental energy into keeping up with it and fending off vultures who may want to taste some of it.

I fell deeper into the “dream” when the checks started coming in. Here I am. Regular me, making this money and garnishing this attention. All of a sudden you’re standing out and people want to be around you. You, your family and your close friends know you’re just you.  But now you’ve earned a tag—“NFL player.” I began to see how extremely enthralled society can be when it comes to sports and pro players. We’d be at a bar or store and everyone who noticed you is surprised you’re there, and they drop everything to get a picture or whatever. I mean, I get it. I’ve always loved interacting with fans. It’s just crazy to be in that position knowing good and well you’re a normal person like them, and you’re just “loading trucks” like you have been since you were 13. Yet here they are, treating you like you‘re a king. I often wondered how the superstars of the league faired mentally with all the attention. Compared to how I got it I know they get it 100 times more, and I’m sure it can’t be easy. It seems cool on paper, but the attention gets menacing in sports. If you’re not careful you can get lost in it. It’s a dream because you become larger than life.

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J.P.: What was your life path? I know you’re from Forest Park, Illinois; know you attended Eastern Illinois University. But how did you get into football? What made you start playing? When did you know you were better than merely OK?

P.W.: I first started playing football my freshman year in high school, but before high school my favorite sport was basketball. In this area, most kids grow up with a basketball in their hands rather than a football. My friends and I would play football and a form of baseball we called “Piggy” in the street or at the park, but basketball was every day—and with Michael Jordan and the ’90s Chicago Bulls’ influence, I was just one more of the millions of  kids who wanted to be like Mike. For as long as I remember, I’d always been a high-energy little kid. I couldn‘t sit still at all. From ages 4 to about 7 my dad—a Vietnam War Vet—would challenge my brother and I to do push-ups and have playful wrestling and boxing matches in the living room. I loved every minute of it.

When the hoop dreams began to fade around eighth grade, that gritty fascination started to resurface and my curiosity in football began to peak. During an open house at St. Joseph High School my mom and I came across a booth for the school’s football team, and the varsity coach suggested I play. I agreed. My friend Chamario and I showed up for the first intro practice in June and my passion took shape that day. I became obsessed with the game. I was spellbound by the tough, militant environment. The field and the weight room became my refuge and that’s when I knew that I would be better than OK. Nothing was going to separate me from this game/feeling and I was ready to do whatever it took to keep it in my life. Plus, I knew that one day I would be built like my new-found heroes who were on my TV every Sunday and I wouldn’t be so damn lanky anymore. Finally, my body would grow and catch up with my head! It was a win-win!

J.P.: Knowing all we now know, do you let your kid play youth football? Why or why not?

P.W.: That’s a really tough question. Of course the man, and God-willing, future proud father in me says, “Hell yeah!” I couldn’t  imagine too many other things in life more special than watching a little version of yourself playing a sport you excelled in. I’ve experienced the many perks the sport has to offer and it served as a necessary outlet for me when I was young.

However, my heart and the humanitarian in me says “Hell no!” The harsh fact is football destroys your body and in many cases your mind. Point-blank, period. Some people have the ability to acknowledge that, but unless they’ve played up to at least the college level or know a college/pro player in an intimate way, they can’t even begin to fathom the extent in which it tears you up. Do all sports take a toll on the athlete in some way? Absolutely. But not like football. It would be hard giving my son up to the game at that age knowing that if he gets good enough and loves it enough, he’ll be playing for a long time. The physical toll is what I cringe at when I think about this question, but I cringe just as hard when I think about the way the populace will persecute him once his playing days are over and God forbid he needs health assistance.

In my mind, football and junk food are comparable. Many Americans are addicted to and love fast food, sugar and fried treats. They are the most “fun” foods to eat and you can’t tell most people any different if you tried to get them to cut back on the over-consumption, even though there is 100-percent factual evidence all that crap significantly shortens your lifespan. Americans were ignorant to the consequences of bad food until all the health food movements started popping up. As a result, stats show that we are finally getting healthier as a whole.

Now we have football. I don’t have to explain how much Americans love football. And they have every right to love it. What’s not to love about it? You’ve got super-sized, larger than life warriors blasting each other, catching touchdown passes, signing autographs and kissing babies! It’s a very exciting and admirable game. But, like our cherished junk food, most romanticize the sport to the point where they are completely unable to recognize the mutilation that’s happening to a man, and in turn, eliminating their ability to show empathy toward the player. The allure society has for money and fame has forced people to humanely detach themselves from ballplayers. What’s the saying about junk food? “How can something that tastes so good be so bad?” I’ve heard many people say, “How can a player claim his life is so bad at times, when it seems so good (money, fame)?” and “They make all that money so why are they fighting for extra benefits/compensation?” and “They should just stop complaining and play.” People who say these things are the ones who think players shouldn’t have a voice when the issues of how to properly treat a human being arise. Football is plagued with these minds.

Not one person on this earth would refute compensating an injured construction worker, EMT or electrician who bust their ass everyday to make a living. Those are careers where the likelihood of injury is high, and the person knows it. No matter the monetary discrepancy between those professions, each would and should be compensated swiftly if hurt on the job. So, what makes a pro football career any different? Nothing. They know the risk for injury is high. They go to work. They work. They constantly get hurt … they continue to work. When it’s over, they hurt. They’re damaged. Many seek compensation for their disfigured bodies, and most don’t receive it. I don’t think anyone would want to think about their boy going through that. It‘s just different because, unlike junk food, football isn’t bad for the consumer or fan …. it’s bad for the employee. The game is too fun to watch to begin thinking about the damage being done to someone’s brother, nephew, son, father or best friend. It’s like being able to eat all the bad food you want for as long as you live, but someone else is going to get fat and die early and you don’t give a rat’s rump. The least you could do is lobby for their liposuction once they’re done sacrificing. I have a hard time dealing with these realities.

Should we ban all junk food and force everyone to eat healthy all the time? No. All we can do/have been doing is educate people of the dangers and teach “balance.” Given all the disturbing evidence, should we ban football and force young boys to do less threatening sports? No. The game is an outlet and meal ticket for millions of boys in America. Like McDonalds, football isn’t going away, nor should it. All we can/should do is continue to monitor the practices/rules, thoroughly educate the young’ns of the long-term dangers, then give them a chance to weigh the elements and decide.

So, if my son wanted to play youth football, would I let him? No. Not until high school. If he wants to follow in dad’s footsteps, I’ll explain to him why I think he’s too young to start ramming his head into people, but I’ll be more than willing to coach him up and train him until he’s a freshman in high school. By that time, I feel he will be more physically prepared, have learned enough about the long-term dangers, and old enough to make his decision. From that point, I’ll just have to be his support and pray for his safety like my parents did for me. Go be a warrior, son—get fat.

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J.P.: I always hear NFL officials talk safety, safety, safety and protection, protection, protection. But, having played in the league, do you feel like teams are genuinely interested in a player’s well-being? Do they want to know if you’re hurt? Or do they prefer one shuts up and plays?

P.W.: f you are talented enough to make it to the league you learned a long time ago to play through pain. That’s not something that has to be said much around the league because everyone at that level is tough and performs hurt. But, it was always implied to young players when I first got to KC. I can’t speak for all, but I developed that mindset in high school. Some may have been conditioned before high school or after. Mine started as soon as I fell in love with the game. In my experience, I felt the coaches, for the most part, were genuinely concerned with a player’s well-being. They’re the ones who are around us the most and in large instances they were players themselves, so they understand the mindset. They’re in a weird limbo. They know we’re tough men and they allow us to be tough and play, but they also want to make sure they protect us from ourselves—especially when you’re talking head injuries. That’s the vibe I got from my coach. Some apply more pressure than others.

The real pressure comes from the “higher-ups.” The businessmen who control the team are the ones who are disconnected in that regard because you are simply an investment. Also, the majority hadn’t played a high level of football and are making too much money and have too little time to be concerned with a player plagued with an injury. In any case, you’ll feel the heat. From a bad ankle to vertigo and everything in between, you know you’re always under a microscope and any chink in your game will be magnified. “Can’t make the club if you’re in the tub.”

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J.P.: You were undrafted, and somehow made it. How big a stigma is that to overcome? I’ve always heard teams feel much more devoted to draft picks, and will do everything they can to make sure they succeed before turning to free agents. True? Not true?

P.W.: The highest hurdle to overcome is the “small-school” label. A lot of good smaller-school players don’t have enough buzz created around them so it’s harder for them to get the opportunities to prove themselves against higher competition.

I was fortunate enough to get invited to play in the Texas vs. Nation All-Star game in ‘09 after my senior year at Eastern Illinois. Practicing for and playing in that game gave me the chance to showcase my skills to the scouts against more “elite” competition and I performed well. The secret to overcoming any stigma is not buying into it. If you know you’ve got game and you belong it doesn’t matter how someone labels you. Just show up and take heads off. The “free-agent” label is a much smaller hurdle and doesn’t carry as much weight. If you’re a free agent, then that means you’ve already got your foot in the door. That’s all you can ask for in life—an opportunity. No doubt the odds are still against you because the fact is, the team is more devoted to the draft picks because they’ve invested more money/years into them and those are the guys the fans are most eager to see play. If you think about the odds too much, you’ll probably fail. Acknowledge what you’re up against, devise a plan to beat the odds, then carry it out with everything you have and let the cards fall. Simple and effective strategy.

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J.P.: I’ve known many retired athletes, and they seem to really struggle with life after pro sports. You were a member of the Chicago Rush of the Arena League in 2012, but haven’t played since. You’re only 28—how has to real-world adjustment been for you? Do you feel restless? Wayward? Do you watch the NFL on TV and think, “Man, I wanna go back”?

P.W.: When the truth sets in that football is a thing of the past, for many players (especially young ones on the brink of their pro careers), their world feels gone. It’s easy for people to say, “It’s just a game, get over it.” Those are the people who haven’t found or aren’t living their passion in life … they are incapable of understanding. They need to understand it isn’t that simple. One of the definitions of “passion” is “the intense feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.” To put in all the work it takes to become, say, a doctor, medicine and saving lives have to be your passions. The same goes for court judges who are passionate about the law, famous musicians and their deep passion for music and so on. Unless people with these occupations had their license revoked for malpractice or have developed a crippling handicap, they will always be free to live out their respective passions in some way—old or young.

A “failed” young NFL career is different because it takes that same amount of intense enthusiasm to attain your exclusive goal, but it‘s certain one probably won’t thrive once he’s “made it,” and once you’ve had a taste of that level, it’s hard to continue your passion at the lower levels because the pay-to-physical-damage ratio isn’t worth it. The drop-off to other levels in football suck, so many (who realize) are forced to stop playing cold turkey. Do all musicians and medical students make it to world-class status? No. But, there are hospitals and clinics that pay very well for a med student to apply and be content. The drop-off is still sweet. Musicians will always be able to perform or express themselves through their instruments. Once you’re done in the league you’ll be damned if you go bust your body up more for free (semi-pro) or peanuts (AFL/CFL). A player has used the game for an outlet and expression (because that’s how it all starts) his whole life. Abruptly remove that and a storm is likely to brew.

A lot of crazy things were happening all at once toward the end of my football career. When you read down a couple questions you’ll better understand, but I developed a health condition in Kansas City which ultimately led to my departure from the team. Five months later, I suffered a significant knee injury in Spokane, Washington when I played briefly with the Shock. After being traded to the Rush, I was pretty much a shell of my former self. I still produced stats and made some plays, but I was running hot. I hit a hard wall and got really sick just before they released me. I came down with pneumonia, but nursed myself back to health. A few other AFL teams were interested in signing me, but I was done. I couldn’t do it. Especially at the AFL level where the player transaction rules, or lack there of, was a circus. Physically, I couldn’t go on.

When I refused the other offers I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders—although I know in my heart if an NFL team had come calling I would have signed in an instant. It pissed me off then, but today I’m so blessed no team called because you best believe I would’ve went after that money. That’s when I was convinced the money was the top priority. It can’t be in football. If it is, you’ll be forced to turn on your “Eff-it” switch and ignore your body and destroy it for the wrong reasons (yes, there are plausible reasons, but I‘m running out of room. Another time, Mr. Pearlman). The reality was my career was coming to an end, and that‘s a big pill to swallow for a young athlete standing in the crossroads of his NFL desires. That’s when I was shaken out of my dream. The restlessness and anxiety quickly set in. “Now what?” The last 13 years I’d been playing a game. It wasn’t long into my restless state I caught a nice pick-me-up when the head coach at my former high school reached out and asked if I could come speak to the boys or maybe even coach a bit. I never really saw myself as coaching material, but I decided to go back and check things out. It turned out to be just what I needed to lift my spirits. I quickly embraced the idea of taking these boys under my wing and the first couple months felt OK. But I was too fresh out the game to feel normal again. I was still disturbed about my illness. I was bitter about how I was released. I was still battling injuries with no treatment available and still frustrated at my agent and teams. And yes, if a game came on I was turning that shit off. I was resentful and I still felt lost. It’s bizarre having your passion ripped out of your life in a flash and seeing it dangled in your face everywhere you look. “Hey! Did you see the game, Sunday?!”

“No, Fuck off.”

Five months pass and I’m still in my rut when I got the news about what happened with Jovan Belcher. The news crushed me—crushed everybody. But man, I was flattened. Just utterly destroyed. This, on top of all the other challenging adjustments and unknowns, made life take a turn for the worse. Four months later in April I get news my childhood friend, Steven, died under similar/suspicious circumstances. There’s not enough time or space in this Quaz for me to explain how I felt in late April of 2013. I literally ran out of tears by June. But, I’ll show you how God works …

Having being clouded by aimlessness, frustration, sadness and ailments, there was no way for me to understand what was being built ahead of me. Being too unhealthy to play ball forced me back to the Chicago area where I was shocked to realize how long I’d been away from my parents and how much time I lost back home. They were older and it wasn’t until I was seeing them on a regular basis that I was forced to appreciate what I’d done in my career and had to focus on developing a stronger relationship with them. On top of that, thanks to the coach reaching out, I was forced in a position to mentor these young players, and as the months went on, coaching them became a means of therapy. I couldn’t let my outside problems negatively affect how I coached them. I was aware how they looked up to me so I genuinely had to be upbeat and positive.

Not a day went by where I hadn’t thought of my friends who’d tragically passed away (including my good friend and college roommate, Trent, in July, 2010). After more than a year of dissecting tragedy in my head I came to the conclusion that there are silver linings in every event in life. Tragedies, as horrible as they are, ultimately force the ones impacted by them to slow down and value the people and blessings they may have taken for granted. I learned there are more important things in life than being hell-bent in your career no matter how strong your passion burns in your heart. So, today I do not feel restless or wayward. I’m a proud coach/mentor/counselor who is helping to turn our school’s football program around while quietly working on several other projects and ambitions. I enjoy watching NFL football again, and I would not go back—even though I’m in the best shape of my life thanks to juicing and T-25.

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J.P.: This might sound odd coming from a white Jewish guy, but I feel like, were I an African-American college football player, I’d view fans and coaches and boosters very warily. I’d wonder their motivations; their thoughts. They cheer for me—yet until college desegregation they wouldn’t let me play for their teams. They say I’m great—but would they want me dating their daughter? They’re often multi-millionaires, but once my athleticism and/or eligibility fade, they don’t toss a dime my way. Pierre, am I being dumb here? Is there sense to this?

P.W.: Na, you’re not being dumb at all. You’re being an aware individual. That’s an awkward reality every elite black football player faces at some point. There have been times where I had to attend a special dinner or party and just laughed to myself thinking those same thoughts … wondering what’s going through their minds as you have to sit and make small football talk at the table. I‘m confident there are many out there like how you describe, but I’ve never thought way into it, tricking myself that every white booster, coach or fan was racist. I was always respectful and cordial, but never too concerned with how anyone viewed me. If they had a problem, it’s their vice. Good luck with that.

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

P.W.: The greatest moment of my football career had to be when I received a scholarship to play at Eastern Illinois University. I’d been receiving some attention from several schools, but most of them were only offering partial scholarships or preferred walk-on positions. It was my senior year in high school and we just finished playing our first game of the season. I believe it was that following Monday I got a call from a guy named Derek Jackson, who was Eastern’s defensive line coach at the time. The call surprised me because I hadn’t heard anything from Eastern. Hell, if I hadn’t made it down state for track the prior year, I wouldn’t have even known Eastern Illinois existed. Well, he introduced himself and began to explain how they wanted to offer me a full scholarship to play. I was speechless. He said he was actually scouting the offensive lineman I was playing against and I stood out. I wasn’t even on their radar. Lesson in life: Always go hard in anything you do because you never know who’s watching. After I hung up the phone I ran in the kitchen to tell my mom the news. It felt so good. I was going to a university for free. That made our lives a lot easier.

The lowest moment in my career, hands down, was how I departed with the Chiefs. Not a lot of people know how it all went down. So, it’s the week of the third preseason game in 2011. I was having my best training camp to date. I knew the defense well, and my body felt good. On Monday night of August 22, I was at my apartment eating dinner. It was a normal night and I felt fine. I set my alarm to 5:30 and went to bed. I woke up at about 4 am and felt an enormous pressure in my abdomen and figured I had to take a dump, so I got up to do my business. I sat down on the toilet (yes, I’m about to explain, in detail, my poop session) and tried to go. Nothing. I push a little harder. Nothing. As the minutes went by the pressure got worse. I push, I push. Nothing. Not even a fart for some relief. Now I’m getting worried because 10 minutes have gone by and I just want to finish and go to sleep. Now it’s 4:30 and at this point a baby rabbit could have put my turds to shame. I knew I wasn’t going back to bed because of the pain so I decided to get an early start to the day. I walk into the facility at around 5:45 and at this point my abdomen hurts worse than before. Still, it wasn’t hurting so bad to the point where I thought to panic. I figured I was constipated. I asked the trainer for some gas relief medicine, swallowed them down, got taped and dressed then proceeded to the bathroom stall. I put up another valiant effort with no results.

The start of practice was nearing, so I had to wrap it up and try later. As I stood up, it felt like a knife was being jammed from the inside out of my intestines along with pressure four times worse than earlier. I nearly collapsed and started sweating profusely. I knew I wasn’t right. Practice was starting in 10 minutes, camp is almost over, and these last two games were the most important for me to date. I had no time to think about it, so I left the bathroom, grabbed my helmet and walked outside. Once I got on the field I started jogging to the usual warm-up spot and with every stride, the vibration irritated my stomach. It was miserable. I don’t know how I made it through practice, but I did.

After practice I quickly shower, change and drag myself into the training room to see the doctor. After some preliminary assessments, he suggests it may be my appendix and  recommends I go to the ER. He drove me there and when we arrived I was almost fully incapacitated. After they run the tests the doc tells me I have Diverticulitus. “Diza-ficka-whaa?!” Google it. He tells me I’m the youngest patient he’s seen with it and he doesn’t know how in the world I was able to practice and blah blah blah. He says to take antibiotics and go on a liquid diet. I’m blown away. My head is spinning. “What of my career? The Rams game is in 3 days! What are the coaches thinking? I can’t even move! How long is this gonna take? Am I gonna die?! What the hell is happening right now?!” It all happened so fast. As a result, I missed the game and fell hard on the depth chart. The next week I was far from 100 percent, but I put in too much work to go out like that. I pushed on and practiced anyway, hoping to show them there wasn’t anything that was going to keep me from making the team. It didn’t work out. Man, I tell you that was hardest moment in my career. It ripped me from football (not really a bad thing after 13 years total) and killed the momentum in my career. Today, I’m aware that it was a blessing in disguise because I gained a brand new appreciation for health after that experience. Now I take better care of myself and I’m much healthier and more fit today.

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J.P.: We spoke at length when I wrote a long piece about your good friend, the late Jovan Belcher. Looking back at your career, as well as at Jovan’s passing, why do you think guns are so prevalent among pro athletes? Is it a problem? Not such a big deal?

P.W.: The answer is simple. First, you get picked up by a team. Second, you attend the many mandatory meetings where they brief you on the city and all the craziness that has happened to players before you. Everything from identity theft and stalking to home invasions and extortion. They spend so much time preparing you how to maneuver through your new life as a “target” and what you must look out for. The meetings are absolutely essential but they do something to most players. The meetings put players’ guards way up and you’re compelled to find solutions to feel safe, naturally. These new realities that you’ve never had to worry about come very fast once you’re in the NFL, so the quickest way to security is getting strapped.

Think about it. You’ve never lived in this city before. You move into the neighborhood and you stand out. People know who you are, they know when you’ll be out of town during the season and they know you‘re making great money. You feel like all eyes are on you because they are. It’s always in the back of your mind and the stuff does happen, so why would you be so arrogant and think it can’t happen to you? Better to be safe than sorry.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 1.42.50 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH PIERRE WALTERS:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Aw man, yeah. I forgot where I was flying from, but we were trying to land in Chicago. There was a big thunderstorm directly above the airport and the pilot had to circle the place about four times before he could land safely. It was the worst turbulence I’ve ever been in. It was terrifying and the muscle relaxer had worn off.

• Best piece of advice you ever received?: I received a lot of great advice from many strong men from my dad to coaches who were like extended fathers, but the first that comes to mind is from my favorite hip-hop artist. “If you lie make sure the trail is gone, and don’t expect a happy ending unless you’re in a nail-salon” — Joe Budden

• Who wins in a MMA match between you and Floyd Mayweather? How long does it last?: I win. It‘ll take about 30 seconds to walk him down and finish him. He’s 5-foot-8 and about a buck fifty? I’m 6-foot-5 and 235 with giraffe legs. My front-kick is hellacious.

• Five all-time favorite books?: Over the years I hadn’t done much reading to give you a solid five favorites, but I’m proud to say I started up recently and I’m forming a collection. I enjoyed Forrest Griffin’s “Got Fight” and I’m finishing up Jeffrey Marx’s “Season of Life”—which I’m thoroughly enjoying (I still have to thank Coach Gary Gibbs for that one). Next on my line-up is Nate Jackson’s “Slow Getting Up,” and then I‘ll start “Sweetness,” written by some no-name. For the fifth book, I gotta go back to grade school and say Goosebumps: “Night of the Living Dummy III”

• Why do you think women are so drawn to athletes?: Naturally, like most men, most women are attracted to an athletic, in-shape body. If that’s one of your fixations as a woman, where better to start looking than the athletic department? But, of course the main reasons are the hopes for financial security, living fast and the excitement of being a trophy to a player so she can make her girls jealous. Certainly, the “stand-up” women don’t fall under this umbrella … that’s just the scallywags and jersey chasers.

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $5 million to move to Las Vegas for a year and work as her personal physical trainer. However, you have to work 365-straight says, live on a diet of Coke Zero and baked potatoes and change your last name to Tollbooth. You in?: Eh. It’s tempting, but I couldn’t do it. Money isn’t all too important to me these days and I don’t drink pop. I wouldn’t want to go that long of a time from seeing my parents again. Plus, my cat and I have separation anxiety from one another. Yeah, I said it …

• Five best football players you ever faced?: Ryan Perrilloux, Willie Colon, Philip Rivers, Sean McGrath (he had a stint at EIU), and Brandon Albert.

• Three ugliest NFL uniforms, three coolest NFL uniforms: Ugliest: Raiders, Broncos and Chargers. Coolest: Ravens, Bears and Chiefs

• Should the Washington Redskins change their name?: Absolutely. Times have changed. Either change the name, or give every other team racist names and we can all make a joke out of it. “Tonight, on Monday Night Football we’ve got the Jacksonville Jigaboos versus the San Diego Wetbacks! And later, the Cleveland Crackers will face off against the undefeated WASHINGTON REDSKINS!”

Michael Sam is about to enter the NFL. How hard will it be for an openly gay player?: It’ll be tough on him for sure, and he may lose a bit of stock/money because of his bravery. But I applaud him for not allowing himself to be oppressed out of fear. For him to announce his orientation with conviction shows he’s a confident man. As long as he produces and gets sacks (heh-heh), he’ll stay in the league.

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Louis Campbell

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This is the 152nd Quaz Q&A. I wish with all my heart it didn’t exist.

I am, like Louis Campbell, a father of two children. I live for my son and daughter, and would willingly die for my son and daughter. I don’t believe I ever knew what it was to be unselfish before their arrivals. Now, however, I think about them continuously, and consider it my primary mission to guide them toward adulthood and, ultimately, whole and fruitful lives. The idea of them becoming ill hurts me. The idea of them dying before I do paralyzes me. It is my biggest nightmare—so much so that I hated writing that last sentence.

Louis Campbell and his wife, Cindy, have (it pains me to say) experienced the nightmare. On Oct. 17, 2012, their beautiful, charismatic son, Ty Louis, died of cancer. He was only 5.

Because Lou and I both grew up in Mahopac, N.Y., I’ve been able to witness (via Facebook and e-mails) the power Ty’s saga has upon people. When he was sick, there were constant pleas to pray for his well-being. When he passed, there was more prayer—as well as a profound determination to keep his memory alive, and make sure something good came out of something awful. That good is the Ty Louis Campbell Foundation, a marvelous nonprofit organization that funds innovative research and clinical trials specifically geared toward the treatment of the deadliest childhood cancers. There’s also the Muddy Puddles Project, also in Ty’s honor, which encourages children (and adults) to find the love of all things messy.

Here, Louis Campbell speaks of what it is to lose a child, and how one can carry on and move forward—despite the crippling pain, despite the despair. His is a story of love and strength, and I’m honored to have him as Quaz No. 152 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: It strikes me when I look at your Facebook posts—people talk about how they deal with loss, and some people get rid of everything quickly. They empty closets, put the photos away. That’s how they deal. It seems for you Facebook is a vent. It’s really raw and painful to read your Facebook posts. Do you put stuff up about Ty as a way for you to deal? Is it a way to keep his memory alive?

LOUIS CAMPBELL: With Facebook, I’m not doing it to make people feel bad. It’s just a way for people to always remember him. That’s what I’m trying to do. One, it’s a nice little time for me to just talk to him. You’ll see I write to him a lot, like, ‘I miss you so much, sweet baby boy.’ It’s an opportunity when I wake up to say something quick to him, and also an opportunity to remind people on Facebook that my son was here, that he was beautiful and maybe once in and a while I’ll post a picture from the hospital, saying ‘Hey, appreciate your kids today, appreciate what you have.’ I’m like everyone else—I worry about different things. It just bothers me when I worry about work or money, because I know how much bigger the world is. And how much more serious it can be. That’s what I’m trying to remind everyone, and to share him with everyone as much as we can.

As you go through this, you want to learn as much as possible, how other people react to the situation. How do other people you know adjust to things? It’s something I’m always intrigued by, and it’s something I’ve talked to people about as we’ve delved into the cancer world. I’m curious to see who refuses to talk about. I know someone who won’t recognize his child as having died. He only recognizes the child as having moved on. He just won’t use that in his literature. So every time I hear someone refer to Ty as being dead, I think of that person. I think, ‘Wow. It’s so … it sounds so bad, because I think of it as people not wanting to hear the reality.’ But what are the traditions people do? Who leaves a seat at the dinner table every night for the child? Or some just leave it during holidays. Or some leave the room completely untouched and never let anyone in that room. And then there’s … so you don’t plan for what you’re going to do and how you’re going to react. You just do what comes natural for you.

And for us, right from the beginning, we wanted this out there. So we said, ‘Hey, you know what—our child is beautiful. And we’re going to exploit him. We want other people to exploit him. Because this is real. This is what happened.’ My wife’s blog has always been very raw, and I always wanted that for her. Why should we hide anything? Why should we tone it down? It should be raw. If you read her blog, it puts you in our shoes and helps you to see what we are dealing with. I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes. The No. 1 thing we get from people is, ‘I’m a better parent because of you guys and Ty’s story.’ One of the biggest things I constantly say is, ‘We’re the majority, not the minority. You would do the same.’ It’s true. When people are put into the situation we’re in, and you have to care for your child to save his or her life … children in our eyes are immortal. You don’t think of your child dying. And when you see your child become mortal and you’re faced with a situation where you know death is there and will most likely happen, and all you’re doing is pretending it’s not … you’re trying to do your best to make it not happen. But you know it’s there. Right up until the day he died I just hoped and prayed he would walk off the couch. But from the day he was diagnosed I was never naïve to the fact that I knew it was a possibility.

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Father and son.

J.P.: When Ty was diagnosed in 2010, did they say, ‘The odds of him overcoming this are not good?’

L.C.: He had a very poor prognosis right off the bat. And the doctors come up with a thing called the road map. And basically the road map is, ‘What are you going to do over the next six months?’ It’s sort of a breakdown of what sort of stages you’re going to go through in treatment. And the basic gist was ‘He has a very aggressive tumor, he will either die in six months or he’ll be lucky enough to get out of here.’ And that’s what we believed. We didn’t know anything, so we were determined to give it everything we had. We’re going to do whatever we can. And we were fortunate—we both got to spend pretty much every night in the hospital with him. My wife and I both spent more than 200 nights in the hospital. We both stayed together almost every night. We were fortunate—I have my own business, she stopped working, we had an au pair at home and the support of family. So we were able to be there and be huge advocates in his care. I think Ty got as far as he did because of that.

There were a lot of road bumps along the way. We weren’t parents just being assholes to doctors and nurses. No, we were parents who educated themselves and made sure that our child was getting the best care. It was, I don’t care what it takes—‘If his scar can be two inches or three inches, I want it two inches. Because you may be looking at him as a kid who’s definitely going to die because he has this aggressive cancer, but I’m looking at him as my son. One who’s going to make it. So I want to know if he can eventually play football with what you’re going to put in his head?’ And I know the doctors were looking at me like I had three heads when I was asking the football question, but we always looked for the future. We wanted to know how this would affect him in the future. Not just how this would affect him today. And is there a better way? Is there a better way we can do this treatment?

J.P.: It seems the sentences one hears when he’s lost a child are, ‘God needed another angel,’ or some sort of rationalization of why it happened. I wonder when you’re in your shoes, do you take comfort in that stuff, or do you feel like saying, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’

L.C.: You know, my wife and I are very laid back about that stuff. You’d have to catch one of us on a really bad day for us to be mean or negative. We’re kind of always defending the people who are saying those things because, you know, we see a lot of angry cancer parents, and you can’t blame them. I’m not saying we’re great people who can take it all in stride—we’re not. We get upset just like everyone else. But people don’t know what to say, so they say something. And I’ll tell you what—I’d rather have somebody say the dumbest thing in the world to me than nothing at all.

J.P.: Does that happen? Because it can obviously be awkward …

L.C.: Absolutely … absolutely. And I try to free them of that awkwardness. They look at me and they start to say something, and I say, ‘I know, thank you. I know.’ And then there’s still that awkward silence. Look, it’s an awkward thing. And a lot of people get away with it on social media as the first time to pass along their sympathies. Especially with us, because so many people followed Ty’s story for so long, and they weren’t going to see us.

And you hear things, too. There are a couple of stories we almost laugh about. There’s an awkwardness, and people say such stupid shit sometimes that it’s just, ‘Uh, here we go again.’ But at the end of the day I always appreciate it. Here’s a perfect example that’s happened to me a million times. This was while Ty was being treated. It would come up that Ty had cancer, and someone would say, ‘Oh, my friggin’ nephew’s sister in law’s daughter had the brain cancer and died in six months! Jesus Christ! Terrible … terrible!’ And I was like, ‘Is that what I really want to hear?’ But they don’t know what to say, so they’re saying what comes to mind. And I think there are a lot of families that don’t take it so casually, and there’s anger.

I’m not going judge anyone. It’s all about how you handle it, and the path you choose. I’m not saying anyone is wrong or right. Do you keep their room as is, or clean it out? I don’t have an answer. It’s whatever works for you. Whatever gets you as a parent through the day … if you wanna go around and tell everyone with healthy kids to fuck off, do it. If that what makes you feel good, do it. Everyone answers to themselves and their own God and the law. You do what works for you and your family.

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Louis Campbell with his wife Cindy and their son, Gavin.

J.P.: In reading the blog, your wife mentions God a lot. When something this horrible happens, how does one maintain faith?

L.C.: I have a perfect answer for that, and I tell everyone. I made my confirmation, I’m not a big churchgoer, my family is not a big church family. I am very faithful, I do pray a lot. I started praying a lot more once Ty was diagnosed. And I keep those rituals as prayers every morning and night.

J.P.: Still?

L.C.: Still. And I certainly questioned it. But if I was to give up on praying once he died, I’d be basically giving up on the thought that I’d ever see him again. I need to believe he did go somewhere special, and he is somewhere where I’ll see him again. And if I stop praying and I hate God, then I’m giving up on the thought of seeing him. And why am I here and what am I doing?

I thought about this, because I was pissed off. And you’re right—people said to us, ‘God needed an angel’ and ‘We wrote something nice on a prayer card’—the truth is, I don’t think God can heal. I don’t think God can stop cancer. I don’t think God created cancer. I think there’s just a lot of shit that’s out of God’s hands, but I do believe that there is something there. I really do. And it’s not just because of Ty. Just like everyone else who questions faith, you look into the sky and there’s no explanation for that. There’s no way you can break that down. You can’t put it in a box because there’s infinite something beyond that box. I do believe in evolution—I’m a science guy. But it had to start somewhere. You had to start with one cell of something. So until someone can explain all that—the infinite world and the one cell—I’ll stick with God.

J.P.: I’ll give you unlimited time—tell me about your son, Ty …

L.C.: He was my firstborn. You have children, so you know how magical that becomes when a child is born. You think you know when you have nieces and nephews. It’s like when you were in college, and you heard about your uncle’s kids having an illness, or I remember a distant family member lost a child to SIDS when I was in college, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s terrible.’ But I had no tie to it. I couldn’t even comprehend what they went through. What did I think? I thought the same stupid shit other people thought—‘Well, fortunately they have other children.’ Because that’s the other thing people say. ‘Well, thank God you have Gavin.’ Yeah, that’s true—he totally replaced Ty. [Sarcasm] It’s harsh.

J.P.: It’s seems very callous …

L.C.: But again, they’re not saying anything malicious. Nobody’s ever said anything to me maliciously. And I have to take that into consideration and be kind to them, because they’re being kind to me. Who am I to attack them? We had a person call our home, OK, Ty was home on Hospice. He was going to die within 20 days. And they called our home and basically asked us if we’d accepted the Holy Spirit. They got my wife on the phone. It was a random person. And my wife said, ‘Yeah, I guess. I’m Catholic. Yes.’ And they said, ‘No, no—have you accepted the Holy Spirit?’ And they let her know that it’s OK, because Ty was less than 7 or whatever age it was, and he would be welcomed into the kingdom but we wouldn’t see him unless we accepted as well. We didn’t curse them out, we didn’t hang up on them. My opinion—that was somebody trying to help in a very terrible way.

J.P.: You are a better person than I am—factually.

L.C.: I don’t want to put myself on a pedestal. My wife and I have certainly thought to say, ‘Go fuck yourself. You don’t know what you’re talking about, you asshole.’ Everyone has suggestions, too. We’ve had people post on the blog—‘How can you talk about Ty on the blog this way? You’re leaving Gavin totally out.’ Once in a blue moon you’ll get these crazy posts. It goes back to, ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.’ Some people can’t control that.

J.P.: So what was your son like?

L.C.: Oops … sorry. My son was born. He was great from the beginning. He was just everything. As he developed a personality, he had a super magnetic personality. I think he was the kid that everybody—and this is the prior to him having cancer, and post cancer—he was the one everyone wanted to be near. I know I probably sound like every parent. When he developed cancer, it got more so. People just flocked to him. He had a contagious smile. And I have two children 18 months apart. Both boys. And I can tell you, before Ty was sick, based on personalities Ty’s the quarterback and Gavin’s the running back. And I think that describes the personality. The quarterback being the one everybody drools over and is after and is too cool for school. And the running back—does his thing, doesn’t care what people think, just makes the plays, no glory to it. I know sports metaphors are clumsy. Ty had a great personality. As he got older he liked to horse around a lot. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, like most kids. He always liked being the wise guy—making people laugh. He kept such grace in the hospital. He never—and maybe this is a child thing across the board—but he didn’t complain or react to his disabilities. He woke up one morning and he was paralyzed. And he didn’t cry. He just said, ‘I can’t do this. It doesn’t work.’

When he was diagnosed, he didn’t have any neurological symptoms at all. He wasn’t sleeping at night, but he never slept at night. We didn’t think there was anything majorly wrong, because from the day he was born he didn’t sleep through the night. But it became more and more as if he was in a positional pain. It got to the point where I said, ‘If this was one of my patients I’d take him to get an MRI. So let’s just do it.’ And then one night he was just so bad we agreed we’re not waiting, let’s do it. So we took him in, and once he was diagnosed we were released from the hospital Thursday. Now he hadn’t shown one neurological symptom. By Friday he choked on his food a little bit, by Saturday he couldn’t sip from a Sippy Cup, by Sunday he couldn’t drink with a straw. It was like once it was revealed, it was on.

So going back to him not complaining—when he couldn’t work the Sippy Cup for the first time, he would say, ‘My mouth not work … my mouth not work.’ We knew what it was. By this point he had been diagnosed, and we realized he was having these neurological symptoms. Later on he’d play with toys—but when the paralysis happened and he couldn’t play with his toys, his favorite thing to do was to look at toy books. He’d have me flip the pages and look at the toy books and he’d tell you what he wanted to play with. He kept his personality through the whole thing. He was definitely a fighter. He was stubborn when he didn’t want to get his needles. And when he couldn’t walk he would scoot around the floor of the hospital. He’d scoot on his butt. He was really amazing. Watching him go through what he went through, with the attitude he kept—it was just amazing. I was around a lot of different cancer kids and a lot of different types of cancer. And I will tell you, neuro oncology is the worst department to be in, because it’s so debilitating in so many ways. You’re not just losing the battle with cancer and you’re not just sick with chemo, but there’s always neurological dysfunction. It can be brain damage, it can be an inability to speak, to walk. And that’s very common. These kids can’t swallow—so now you’re on steroids. You’re having every food rage imaginable, but you can’t chew and swallow your food. So you’re not allowed to eat. It makes it so much more difficult.

I don’t know—my wife describes Ty as always being quick with a smile and a wise guy. That’s pretty good. He had a very, very magnetic personality.

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J.P.: So Ty was 5 when he passed. This might be a dumb question but when you’re that young, do you know you’re dying?

L.C.: I don’t think Ty knew he was dying. Well, I … it’s not a stupid question at all. It’s a great question. I think some people do and some people don’t. I don’t know that he knew. There was a time when he was almost gone, and he sort of came back. I know death. I held my brother’s hand when he died, and I spent the whole time with Ty when he died. And I was with both when they took their last breaths. Both of them were unconscious prior to it. Ty was … we took Ty home from the hospital and we told him, ‘You don’t have to go to the hospital anymore. You’re gonna get better, and you don’t have to get treated anymore. You’re gonna be able to walk and run and play.’ I don’t know if he knew. He knew he was very sick. He definitely knew he was very sick. But I don’t know what he thought of as dying. We didn’t talk about dying with him. We talked about it more as he wasn’t going to have to go to the hospital any longer. That he would go home. We said it’d be better. Almost not a lie. We didn’t want to lie to him. But not telling him he was doing to die. He didn’t know what death was.

J.P.: How did your brother die?

L.C.: My brother was an alcoholic. Basically drank himself to death.

J.P.: This is a very depressing question, but how do you go on? As time passes, do days get a little better, or …

L.C.: I thought I knew this—time does help ease the pain. Everyone tells you that—‘Don’t worry. Time eases the pain.’ And what I can tell you is it’s an unfortunate truth. Time does ease the pain. There are days where—there’s never a day I don’t wake up and think about him. But there are days that are just great days. And there are days that are terrible. Like just recently. Monday was just a terrible day for both my wife and I.

J.P.: What makes a terrible day?

L.C.: You just can’t get out of a funk. You wake up and it becomes more of a reality that day than it did the day before. We always try to keep ourselves busy. Right after Ty passed my wife took on the foundation full time. And everything is about Ty. It’s like he’s with us because we stay so busy doing stuff that directly pertains to him. It’s almost like he’s there. So I guess some days there’s just the lull of him not being there. The other day I posted an old video of him, because I was at my parents’ house and I saw an old picture of him that I hadn’t seen in a long time. And it brought so many memories of him when he wasn’t diagnosed.

Most of what I remember about Ty comes from when he had cancer. It’s hard to go back and remember him not having cancer. You sometimes have to go to pictures. It’s true—no matter what, time will heal things. I know my bad days will be less in five years and less in 10 years. Because not only does time heal, but so much more happens in that time. And it’s all happening without him. One of the things about the foundation is a lot of major events in our lives take place with him.

J.P.: I think about death a lot. And a lot of the things you’ve discussed, I’ve thought about. How much of the heartbreak here is having your son pass and not having been able to do anything, and how much is it that there’ll be no 20 … no 30 … no wedding …

L.C.: Yes, that hurts. We had children back to back because my sister and I were 18 months apart. You know, we saw the closeness and wanted that for our children. It was very important they were close. We were probably going to have more children. We wanted three kids and we knew we wanted our kids back to back. So now we’re getting to a point where Gavin is going to be older than Ty, he’s bigger than Ty, he’s just grown out of Ty’s last clothes. The first day of school is going to come and it’ll be the first time … my wife wrote about it. I know high school graduation is going to be a terrible day—for a moment. For a moment. Then I’ll celebrate with Gavin. I’m not going to ruin his day. We’ve been fortunate to hold it together. I don’t know that I’ll hold it together my whole life. I don’t know that my wife will hold it together her whole life. I know that what we’re doing now works for us, and we help each other. There are no guarantees about what’s to come. There are days where it’s, ‘I can’t fucking believe it. I can’t fucking believe my son is dead.’ As a matter of fact every morning when I’m walking out of the house, and I walk past his picture, right after I kiss his ashes and take the little Ty doll that we sleep with out of my bed, I’m walking out and I see his pictures. And there’s this one picture … it just does it to me. And I can’t fucking believe it. I can’t believe I had a child who died of brain cancer. I can’t believe it. It’s literally unbelievable.

J.P.: I feel like until tragedy hits us, we think it’ll always be someone else.

L.C.: There’s a perception we have of life. A perception of reality. And I felt like when my brother died, everything he went through his whole life, I felt like that was … and it’s partially because my brother died on November 3, and my son was born on October 4 … so Ty was born on the fourth, and my brother died less than a month later. And I felt like my brother’s whole life was so painful, that he was the bad thing. Every family has a terrible tragedy and a terrible thing. Talk to 10 people you meet at a cocktail party, and I guarantee you nine of them has some fucking tragedy—their brother’s a drug addict, they’re uncle’s whatever. You think everyone at the party is perfect, then you start talking to them and you get all the dirt. I thought my brother was that. And then I also felt he was the sacrifice—he suffered his whole life so we can have great lives. I’m a thinker. A lot of people think about things a lot, and others don’t think of anything. I think about these things a lot.

J.P.: Having seen death up close, are you more comfortable with the concept of death? More fearful? Do you not think of it either way?

L.C.: Have you ever been with someone who died?

J.P.: No.

L.C.: It’s a weird thing. I’ve been with two people when they died—holding them when they died. We had a Hospice nurse who might as well have been an angel. Just a weird good vibe with her, and she was a very spiritual woman. She would say that a lot of people describe death as being very beautiful, and she hoped we had that experience. She was also the one who came to pronounce Ty. And it was amazing. It was really, in Ty’s case, different than my brother’s death. We had a pastor come to our house. We moved up here, we never went to church, we never picked a church, but Ty went to Christ Church Nursery up on Quaker Hill.

There’s a Catholic church in town, and being that we’re Catholic, we called the priest at the church to come and give him his last rites. I guess he was busy. I know it sounds crazy, but he was busy. So we called this other pastor, and he came a couple of days and my wife went to walk him out. Ty had been unconscious for a little while, and we knew things weren’t going well. His vitals were still higher than I would have expected, and so she walked the pastor out and I stayed upstairs that whole morning with Ty. We never took him back downstairs or anything. She came back in, and as soon as my wife walked back in, Ty opened his eyes—he had been unconscious—and he opened his eyes wide, and he flickered them a couple of times. And my wife said, ‘What’s going on? Was he doing that? What’s going on?’ And I said, ‘I think this is it.’ And we both just cradled and held him in our arms, and he took his last couple of breaths.

I know people say this, and the metaphor thing, but it was as if he had seen something beautiful; it was almost as if he had a grin on his face. And then … he passed.

It really was beautiful. This is your child. There’s nothing that’s weird or scary. Then we took him and we bathed him. Just us two. And we put him in his suit. We were planning on cremating him. We weren’t going to have a wake. So we put him in his suit and we made a last-minute decision of whom we were going to invite. Which was just our family and our au pair. And we set him up upstairs and we spent the night with him. We had looked into this previously, and we wanted to take him to the crematorium ourselves. And there’s a Hindu tradition where the oldest son starts the burners for the cremation. I found out about that and asked if we could do it, and they let us. But just myself and my wife. But the deal was it had to be for the morning. So we stayed with him for the night, and they came in the morning with the coffin and we set him up in that. And we had a moment—her and I. And we left, and a friend followed us. We went there. He stayed in the car, did our last prayers, took him into the crematorium, and started the process.

Ty Campbell.

Ty Campbell.

J.P.: You hear of certain parents who lose a child and their remaining children sneeze and they take them to the hospital. How has this impacted you as a parent? And how has it impacted Gavin?

L.C.: I think we’re the opposite (laughs), in that we’ll drop Gavin off at a house, ‘Bye … be good …’ Even when Ty was sick, our doctors would somewhat tease us—‘Your comfort level is a little too high. You’re too comfortable with him at home.’ Even Gavin … we’re not like that at all. We’re very lax with the doctors. However, there is fear of everything. I mean, having another child right now—if we were to have another child—I do have a fear that, ‘Well, there’s that much more chance that the child gets cancer, or may have something wrong with him, or may wind up an alcoholic or a drug addict.’ Due to the personal experiences I’ve endured in life. And there’s definitely a fear with Gavin—that fear of what if someone happens? You read of families with two kids with cancer. It’s the unimaginable. What if, God forbid, that happens again? There’s a fear there. But it sits in the back of our heads. We’re not obsessive with it.

J.P.: How does this whole experience impact a marriage?

L.C.: It’s a huge strain. Then and now—huge strain. In the beginning, a lot of families break up because of it or grow closer. I think we’re lucky enough that we grew closer. But it puts a whole lot of stress on the marriage. And it’s not just stress against each other. It’s stress in life. It’s really … I can see why people break up over it. Maybe just not being on the same page of things, blame. But my wife and I experienced the same thing, and I can’t imagine speaking to anyone else the way I speak with her. I couldn’t be closer with my mother and my sister, but they didn’t experience what we did.

I feel like my mother and Cindy’s mother had a harder time with Ty being sick than we did. That might be an exaggeration, but one of the first thoughts in my mind when he was diagnosed. ‘How the fuck am I gonna tell my mother? How the fuck will I tell her?’

J.P.: How did you?

L.C.: I called her and told her Ty was sick. Really sick. And then I proceeded to tell her what it was. I think about that moment. At his eulogy I said the same thing–How do we tell our parents? Because Cindy and I are both the babies of our family. And he was our baby.

J.P.: How did you come to start the foundation? And did you start the charity to help charity, or do you start it to keep someone’s memory alive? And has it been worthwhile?

L.C.: I started it and got it approved as a 501C3 while Ty was still alive. I knew I wanted to give back. There were so many people willing to help us. We’re fortunate people, so why wouldn’t we do something? You get the idea, and you don’t realize what you’re getting yourself into. You have to know where you want to go with it. And our original thought was we wanted to help families. And then we saw, well, that’s kind of what a lot of charities do, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. There are unbelievable foundations. But when we started to take the foundation off, we realized we had a big platform. We had a huge platform. Cindy’s blog was followed all over the world. We had 4 ½ million hits, we had some national news outlets reach out to us, a lot of local. So we thought if we could raise a lot of money at this, we could fund research, and that’s where there’s such a strong need. The government doesn’t fund nearly enough research. Nobody funds it. We’re right on the cusp with a lot of breakthroughs with cancer.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 1.40.32 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH LOUIS CAMPBELL:

• Besides yours, what are the charities you believe in and feel strongly about?: St. Baldrick’s

• Does your wife ever write something on the blog and you think, “No, too personal”?: No. Sometimes we used to say let’s tone that down a bit so readers don’t think we are exaggerating, because it was that intense.

• Five reasons one should make Mahopac, N.Y. his next vacation destination?: 1. To attend the annual TLC ”Mess Fest” at Camp Kiwi 2. Participate in the annual TLC TYathlon. 3. See my hometown 3. See Jeff Pealman’s hometown 4. Visit the Frank Lloyd Wright home on the lake. 5. Why not explore? Always explore

• One question you would ask James Dean were he here right now?: Although he appeared to be very cool, I would pick someone else

• Are you of any relation to Luke Campbell of 2 Live Cru?: No.

• Three things that bring you joy?: 1. Family 2. Friends 3. Experiencing life

• How did you propose to your wife?: On one knee at her favorite spot in Central Park, literary walk. Then followed up with dinner at the infamous Oak Room and spent the night at The Plaza.

• Movie line you quote most often?: Not sure, but most frequently use the accent from Anchorman.

• Toughest part of running a charity?: Time. When you are so passionate about something you are never satisfied and always want to do more.

• Phil Simms, Eli Manning, Ken O’Brien or Joe Namath?: Joe Namath. Is there even a question? He changed how football was viewed.

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Sydney Screams

IMG_2519The Quaz is a beautiful thing in my life, because it’s introduced me to a wide range of people who occupy spots in society I’d otherwise never explore. Once, there was a KKK leader. Another time, the world memory champion. From pinball wizards to child actors to lead guitarists, I’m all about tracking down folks whose worlds fascinate me.

Enter: Sydney Screams.

Sydney is a full-figured fantasy and fetish professional. I was directed her way by the lovely Jenny DeMilo, my good pal and Quaz No. 33. And when Jenny suggests someone, it’s usually with good reason. Sydney is a college-educated, business-savvy young woman who makes a good chunk of change embracing her sexuality—and sharing it with others. On the Internet, she’s everywhere—including here, here, here, here and here.

Oh, and right friggin’ here.

Sydney Screams—scream with joy. You’re Quaz No. 151 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Sydney, so I’ll start with an obvious one: You are a self-described “full-figured fantasy and fetish” professional. What, exactly, does this mean? What do you actually do?

SYDNEY SCREAMS: Essentially, it means I’m a plus sized professional model or performer. In the kink and porn world, I’m referred to as a BBW (Big Beautiful Woman). I fulfill various fantasies and fetishes via short video clips, photo sets, webcam shows, and face-to-face sessions. That’s the side that everyone sees of me, so people tend to think that the job ends there. I occasionally wish that was the extent of my job, but in actuality I’m running my own business that centers on a brand I’ve created for myself. I book outside work with “small” producers, photographers, and larger production companies, but I also shoot my own content (photos and videos). Shooting my own content entails a lot of work, which ranges from hiring other models, being my own script writer, camera person, lighting person, makeup artist, hair stylist, and editor, all on top of being in said videos and photos. The fantasies and fetishes I fulfill on camera range from traditional hardcore and softcore porn, to some “tame” fetishes such as foot fetish, feeding, balloons and tickling, to more extreme fetishes such as ballbusting, bondage, smothering and spankings. Even though many of the fetish fantasies that I fulfill are “mainstream” in the fetish porn community, the fact that I’m a plus size lady means that I’m catering to an even smaller niche. DSC_0949J.P.: I’m beyond riveted by your life path. Womb to website, how did you get here? What was your path? How did you get into the business? Etc …

S.S.: It has been one hell of a journey! When I was a child (we’re talking elementary school age at this point), my best friend and I would play dress up in my bedroom while our parents would have dinner parties together. The thing is, we didn’t play house or cops and robbers or anything along those lines … we played what I’d later call “courtesans.” My mom bought me these horrific 80s prom dresses from thrift stores to me to play dress up in, and my friend and I would pretend we were the supreme rulers of the world and that we’d have all the men in the world trapped. We would only let them out of their cages and chains for our own amusement and pleasure. I don’t know how her and I got the idea for that, but looking back, I’m pretty sure our parents may have wanted to pay closer attention to our games. Both her and I have parents who are pretty traditional on their views on sex and sexuality in general.

As I grew up, I was a curious kid. I experimented with boys and girls pretty early on in my teen years, and not just out right sexual activities, but things that I now know of as “kinky.” When I hit 18, I spent a semester abroad in college, and upon my return I was asked to photograph some girls for a friend of mine. He was starting up a nudie pin-up girl website, and wanted someone who knew what they were doing with a camera. The first photo shoot I did for him, I was strictly behind the camera, but the girls I met had some interesting stories regarding their money making. One girl was a professional Dominatrix; another girl did foot fetish videos. A few months later, I was doing a second shoot for his site and one of the model’s escorts was a foot fetish producer. I let him take pictures of my feet, thinking it was really fun and “why would anyone want to see my feet?!” About a year later, I got brave and got in front of the camera as a nude model for the first time, and it was exhilarating. It was just pin-up style photography, but I literally spent an afternoon running around naked. I started asking photographers and producers I was hired by how they were making their money, and I learned about the very popular fetish clip site, clips4sale. At some point, I got curious and explored. The next day, I bought a webcam and started making three-minute long videos in my bedroom at my parents’ house. I haven’t stopped making videos since, though I’ve significantly upgraded my lighting and camera, and now I shoot anywhere and wherever I can.

J.P.: When you Google around, or visit Niteflirt, you realize it’s 99% sexual services for men, and—at best—1% for women. Why do you think that is? Are men needing certain sexual stimulation women don’t require? Are we more pathetic? What?

S.S.: I think that men and women approach their sexual stimulation in very different ways. As a woman, I have never paid for sexual services, whether outright sex or to fulfill my kinky desires. I have several close friends who have hired escorts or seek out professional kinksters, but they’re all male. I have a couple theories on this.

The first one probably is a bit sexist: women don’t feel that they have to pay for things. It is extremely easy to find a willing participant for our sexual deviousness, especially with online dating and sites like Fetlife and Adult Friend Finder. Any time I use an online social networking site, my inbox is flooded with offers for a very wide variety of sexual releases (though only one in 100 are ever offers I’d actually consider accepting). Women don’t have to work very hard to get what we want. Men on the other hand … I have friends who use the exact same sites and they complain that they never get messages from women in the same range of quantity.

My second theory is that men tend to be more openly physical than women. I can tell you exactly what 90 percent of my male friends are seeking out when it comes to relationships or sex or kink. Women however… there is still a very unfortunate taboo that sexual women are less wholesome, which may make it harder to find a life partner. On numerous occasions, women have told me that they envy my openness when it comes to sexuality. I usually hear that from the women who are looking for a serious life partner to settle down with. It’s unfortunate that women feel they can’t be openly sexual if they want to find a life partner. I’m big on the idea that someone who wants to spend their whole life with me is going to end up being someone who accepts every aspect of my life, including my open sexual nature.

I would love to have female clients, but I think that there is still a taboo placed on women when it comes to enjoying sexual behavior. Popular magazines often teach how to give the best blowjob or how to spice things up to “keep him around,” but what about our pleasures?

2666bgb_Sydney_Screams_046J.P.: You describe yourself as “full-figured,” and you work in a business that, obviously, includes lots of skin and flesh and such. M-a-n-y people (and many women) in this country struggle with weight, and perceptions. You seem, at least on the surface, to embrace it? True? And how did you come to this point?

S.S.: I hate hate hate the pressures people are put under when it comes to weight and how we are each perceived. When I first told my mom that I went to a nudist resort, she was embarrassed for me. It wasn’t the idea of being surrounded by naked people, it was the idea that I didn’t have a bone in my body that I felt I should be ashamed of. My mom actually still reminds me of my words to her when I told her about going to a nudist resort: “Mom, you’re more uncomfortable in my body than I am.” That’s the thing though—this is my body, and I’d rather be happy in my skin than not. Sure, there are things I’d like to change (hello, perky tits that I can rest a plate on and a more round ass …), but those aren’t things that I particularly care enough about to rush out and get changed with surgery.

I truthfully cannot pinpoint ever having serious body issues outside of normal struggles with being the first girl in school with boobs and hitting puberty. Despite my mom’s body issues that were projected onto me, I think my parents raised me in such a way that I’d have confidence in myself. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or perfume except for Halloween or super special occasions, and even now I rarely ever wear makeup. My parents didn’t force me to conform to a lot of the ideals that I see many parents doing: If I wanted to wear boy’s clothes, I could. If I wanted to dress up like a princess, I could. I’m extremely thankful for the way they raised me in terms of addressing body issues.

J.P.: On your website you list a bunch of fetishes, including one—Bodily Functions (burping, coughing, sneezing, farting…)—that has me quite confused. Why would a guy want to hear you burp and fart? I mean, I don’t wanna hear Halle Berry fart …

S.S.: What, you don’t think Halle Berry’s farts smell like peaches?! But how will you know if you don’t try! Haha, no, this is one of the less common fetishes out there, I think. I’m not sure the origin of this fetish, but I would like to believe that it came from the idea of proper women not having bodily functions. There’s an idea of a proper woman as “unobtainable” from both the female and male perspective, and I think at some point there was a rise of the desire for a girl next door rather than a supermodel, so perhaps it came from that. I still have friends who won’t admit women poop …

DSC_1139_2aJ.P.: People are always told, “Don’t have embarrassing photos on the Internet!” You’re a young woman, and there are tons and tons of photos, videos, etc. Do you ever worry about this coming back to bite you? Your kids see it … you wanna get a job in an attorney’s office … etc …

S.S.: I’m a goofy broad, and I want the people who see me and put me up on some sort of pedestal of perfection to know that I’m anything but. I make silly faces, I fall asleep on the floor at parties, I’m a human being … life is embarrassing. I’m sure that one day being an Internet model will come back and bite me in the ass, but if my sexual desires stay the same, then I’ll probably love that bite.

I’ve known since day one that once I’m on the Internet there is no going back. Its one of the things I warn my friends about when they come to me about wanting to get “into the business.” This is as permanent as a tattoo. The thing is I’m doing something I love and that I’m passionate about. If later down the line I decide that I want to ruin a perfectly good vagina by squeezing out a kid or two, I’d rather be able to say, “Mommy spent her twenties doing something super fun that she was passionate about!” than “Mommy wished she had grabbed life by the balls instead of sitting in an office answering to someone else all day.” As for working in a “professional” or white-collar job … well. I do that too! For me, it’s just a smart life plan to have both a day job and a “fun” job. If someone didn’t want to hire me down the road because I’m naked on the Internet, then they’re missing out on an individual who has a strong work ethic, great business skills and a sane look at life. That being said, I’ve been offered work just based on who I am, which is just as shallow and awful as not getting a job based on my Internet work.

J.P.: On your website you say, “I travel nationally as both a Pro-Domme and a fetish model.” Blunt question—and I mean no offense. Does this ever entail having sex for money? And what are the lines you won’t cross?

S.S.: There are certain lines that sex workers draw for themselves in terms of what they will or will not do, and having sex with clients is one that I will not do. I will not be nude when I see a client. I don’t do give handjobs, blowjobs, footjobs. I don’t give or receive anal or oral sex with clients. I don’t have sex with clients. I’m already dancing on a very fine line between legal and illegal based on what I do in sessions, but the minute I offer those services, I can’t argue that I wasn’t escorting/prostituting.

The other big limit I have is that I will not see a client without establishing safe words. Safe words are a means of communicating personal comfort, and in many public play areas follow a traffic light pattern of “green means good, yellow means slow down, red means stop.” This allows for a level of safety and trust between my client and me.

On camera, I do shoot porn, but the theory is that it’s different (and legal). Sometimes, I’m not too sure on that fine line between porn and escorting though.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.39.03 AMJ.P.: My mom wanted me to become a lawyer. When I became a journalist, she seemed somewhat disappointed. I’m fascinated by what your family felt about this career choice. Supportive? Angry?

S.S.: I’m truly lucky to have a very supportive family, even if they aren’t 100 percent thrilled about certain aspects of what I do. My parents are more concerned that I’m staying safe, that I am doing what I want to do, and that I am happy. For the most part, I’m a responsible adult; I finished my college degree, I’m financially independent, I’m happy. My family plays a big part of my life, and I’d be lost without their love and support.

J.P.: What are the misconceptions about sex workers? There’s a general take that women who work in your industry deserve, for lack of a better word, pity, because they’re being forced by a male-dominated society to do something against their interest. Thoughts?

S.S.: I think that there are probably a good deal of women out there who are sex workers because they feel they don’t have another option, but when someone is forced into sex work, it no longer is sex work; it’s trafficking, which is a big, big problem. Sex work can be even more empowering than most can imagine though.

Imagine having the consent to make someone your personal puppet for a period of time: you control their every move, their breath, their pleasure, their pain, and oftentimes their wallet. They give you the trust to have your way with them, mentally and physically. Trust is power if you know how to use it.

Are there people who feel that they can’t get out of sex work? Probably. Are there people who do it for the money rather than the fun? Sure, but everyone has to make a living. I can only hope that sex workers have as much fun doing what they do, as I have.

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

S.S.: Every once in a while, I get a message on Tumblr, Facebook or Fetlife that says something along the lines of me being a positive kink and body image role model. I never set out to do this for anyone but myself, but the fact that I’ve inspired people to be proactive with their self-image issues is an amazing feeling. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and helping people see that is an unexpected highlight of being a big girl in the kink community.

As far as lowest, I don’t really know if I can define that. I guess the closest point was I let myself overstep boundaries I set for myself during a session really early on, and still to this day when I think about it, I feel quite a bit of regret. I was young and inexperienced, and I let someone peer pressure me into more than I was comfortable with.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.39.25 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH SYDNEY SCREAMS:

• Three memories from your senior prom: I didn’t go to my senior prom. High school wasn’t the best point in my life, and despite being well known, I wasn’t close with anyone in school. I went to my best friend’s senior prom though! We danced. We drank afterwards. I met someone with a pet snake and I maybe tried to steal it.

• You say you have 36DD boobs. I’m sure, career-wise, that’s tremendous. But don’t they bug the hell out of you? Your back?: Dude. These suckers are heavy. I’ve thought about a reduction and lift several times, but I’d be out of commission for a while and I’m not sure how it would impact my career. Also, it’s hard to find good bras that are cute!

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Crosby Stills & Nash, Easter, Domo, Rob Lowe, the Go Gos, Bryce Harper, wood-roasted pizza, Cookie Monster, Reader’s Digest, long walks on the beach, Richie Cunningham, Kevin Kline: Wood-roasted pizza, cookie monster, Easter, long walks on the beach, Rob Lowe, the Go-Gos, Richie Cunningham, Crosby Stills & Nash, Kevin Kline, Bryce Harper (had to Google him, but he’s attractive), Reader’s Digest.

• Your Amazon wishlist includes something called the Sexflesh 8 Inch Lifelike Squirting Dildo. Can you make an argument, in less than 20 words, for a fake penis over a real one?: Fake penis doesn’t catch a nasty case of emotions after a great fuck, and they’re always ready to go.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash?: Thankfully, no.

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $20 million to move to Las Vegas and work for five years as her maid. However, you have to change your name to Keith Dugin III and abstain from all sexual activity. You in?:  Nope. What would I do with $20 million, an awful name, and no good dick or pussy? Also, cleaning up after someone else … ewwwwww.

• One question you’d ask Ross Perot were he here right now?: Don’t you have better places to be than in my living room watching Game of Thrones?

• The best-kept secret for having great sex is …: Fall in love with your partner even if only for the fuck, and lose yourself in the moment. Also, do some research on how to not suck in bed … porn doesn’t count as research.

• Five sexiest movies you’ve ever seen: Secretary. Y Tu Mama Tambien. Eyes Wide Shut. Shame. Pretty Woman.

• Strangest request ever made by a customer?: I get a lot of strange requests. It takes a good strong imagination to get to me anymore, but one day, a year or two ago, I got a request for a simulated beheading. He never actually paid, so I never got to make the clip, but it would have been one hell of a theatrical performance for the sake of someone’s fetish.

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David J. Leonard

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.49.38 AMI am not particularly intelligent.

I know … I know—big shocker. But, truly, I’m of marginal smarts. Mathematical equations get me every time. Crossword puzzles are my doom. I try and grasp concepts and angles, but usually fall terribly short. I am, sadly, pretty average in the thought department. Sigh.

That being said, I am a huge fan of thinkers; of people who tackle issues with precision and depth and emerge with theories based upon a merging of historic relevance and an ability to comprehend future indicators.

I am a big fan of David J. Leonard.

An associate professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University, Leonard—white, Jewish, bearded, lover of funkadelic hats—has (in the words of WSU’s website) “dedicated his career to interdisciplinary scholarship, transformative teaching, and research that underscores the continued significance of race within popular culture, the structures of politics, and society at large.” He’s written books on some truly riveting subjects pertaining to race and society, and researched (among other things) Shawn’s Green’s religious/baseball identities.

One can visit Leonard’s website here, and follow him on Tumblr here and Twitter here.

David J. Leonard, welcome to Quazville …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I just read an essay you did for Ebony about Joe Paterno, and you wrote, “The celebration of Paterno as patriarch, as the embodiment of a White working-class ethic, as a coach of a different era, sits at the core of the demoralization of Paterno.” I can hear tons of people saying, “What in the world did Joe Paterno—and Joe Paterno’s passing—have to do with race? Why even evoke that?” So, David, why?

DAVID J. LEONARD: Joe Paterno’s place in the national imagination was tied up in his whiteness. The reverence was very much tied to what he embodied: a throwback coach of a different era when college sports was about the “name on front” not the name on the back. This vision of college sports, and the narrative around Paterno, is very much tied to his white-male-working-class-identity.

Here is part of what I wrote:

The efforts to memorialize and the hyper celebration also reflect the power of white masculinity and nostalgia within the cultural landscape. Described as a “model of law-abiding sportsmanship,” “a disarming mix of a lofty diploma and Brooklyn-bred blue-collar grit,” and as someone committed to education and honor, Joe Paterno’s importance exists apart from National title, victories, or football within the national conversation. As noted by Rick Reilly, Paterno “was a humble, funny and giving man who was unlike any other coach I ever met in college football. He rolled up his pants to save on dry cleaning bills. He lived in the same simple ranch house for the last 45 years. Same glasses, same wife, same job, for most of his adult life.” The celebration of Paterno as patriarch, as the embodiment of a white working-class ethic, as a coach of a different era, sits at the core of the demoralization of Paterno. The national mourning in this regard reflects both a desire to redeem him in the face of the sex abuse scandal and to celebrate nostalgia for a different era of college sports and a heroized white working-class masculinity. As pointed out by Tim Keown, “The regurgitation of the Paterno-as-moral-messiah (-until-Sandusky) fable is what happens when people close their eyes and see the world the way they thought it was, or how they want it to be.” Or as Bomani Jones told me, “We are here because of the image we created of Joe Paterno,” because of the brand of Penn State and JoPa and its meaning in the cultural, racial, and national landscapes.

The aftermath and the response to Joe Paterno says much more about us than him. It reveals our continued difficulty, silence, and unwillingness to deal with the issue of sexual violence and abuse. It illustrates the ways in which we valorize and hero-worship football coaches and where football sits on the national landscape. It highlights the power of nostalgia and the celebration given to a particular inscription of white masculinity. Over the last year, several prominent African American figures passed away — Gil-Scott Herron, Etta James Manning Marable, Fred Shuttlesworth and Derrick Bell – whose contributions to humanity, to knowledge, to community, to justice and helping others reach [their goals] are without reproach. Why haven’t their deaths been breaking news?”

To answer your question: Why . . . because race matters; because whiteness requires critical examination; because we need to look at the ways that race operates within our every day language; we need to reflect on how these ideas are tied to dominant understandings and languages about whiteness. So often, when we talk about race we think about racial otherness, and must reflect on how whiteness is a racial construct.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.54.41 AMJ.P.: You wrote a book in 2012 titled, After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness. I’m sure David Stern—who cringes at everything anti-NBA—hated that one. Why do you think the NBA “assaulted” blackness post-the Artest fight? And can the league make the argument, “We were just trying to clean up the league … it had nothing to do with race”?  

DJL: I don’t think David Stern read my book, although he, Adam Silver, and others “leading the NBA,” should read books that are critically looking at the league and its place within a larger cultural landscape.

I also don’t think the book is anti-NBA. It is critical of the league’s and Stern’s decisions in the “aftermath of the Palace Brawl.” It is critical of the ways that the league replicated and reinforced dominant stereotypes about blackness. The decisions made—dress code, age rule, the media’s language about players—don’t exist in a vacuum but both reflect what’s happening throughout society in terms of racial stereotypes, criminalization, and inequalities. It also normalizes and naturalizes these ideas. The book is asking to think about what it means that David Stern saw it necessary to rid the league of hoodies. Yes, I am thinking about Trayvon Martin. My concern here extends beyond the league but at the ways that the league embodies and perpetuates racial injustice.

The idea that the league “needed to be cleaned” up is debatable and in itself reveals what I am saying about the desire to control, discipline, and “clean up” the NBA.

Palace Brawl transformed the league and the media coverage surrounding the league; race was at the center of this process. It transformed the league because the brawl was seen as a symptom of a larger disease plaguing the league—that the disease destroying the league and making it unpalatable to white fans and corporate sponsors was both hip-hop and the contemporary black baller; the changes in the league sought to treat this disease with a dress code, age restriction, crackdown on trash-talking, physical play, and any form of individuality; most important the NBA’s treatment plan focused on disciplining and punishing any NBA player who didn’t “get with the program” who didn’t appeal to its fan base. So, the idea that the league was interested in “cleaning up the league” (or even the idea that it needed to be ‘cleaned up’) or that it needed to deal with (white) fan discomfort or anxiety or fear demonstrates how race was always at work.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.54.26 AMJ.P.: I’m fascinated, fascinated, fascinated by your journey. I mean, you’re a white guy who went to UC-Santa Barbara for a B.A. in Black studies. So how did this happen—your fascination with race? With black culture? What is your life path, from birth to here?

DJL: This is a long a story (I will give you the cliff notes version) with a lot of moments, influences, and events that shaped not only my path but who I am as a person, how I try to live my life.

I grew up in West Los Angeles, in an integrated and diverse neighborhood.  Yet, my experiences were also defined a level of racial homogeneity—at some levels, it was very white, middle-class.

Education was a point of emphasis in the family, even though I was not a good student. Between a learning disability and a disinterest in school, my passions were not directed toward school and learning. My childhood was defined by a house full of books, parents who pushed us to think critically, and by an educational system that allowed me to eventually find my passions on own terms. My middle-class parents spent most of their income on our education because they believed in progressive education even if this ironically meant my going to overwhelmingly white and wealthy schools.

As a child, I went to a school founded by Hollywood Communists, including the likes Charlie Chaplin. The type of education I got there would become my norm; I have never attended a school where we called our teachers by their last name; I didn’t receive a report card until the ninth grade. Detention and the pledge of allegiance, much less security guards and metal detectors, were completely foreign concepts to me until high school. This educational environment established a foundation based on critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and passion for justice; but this only tells part of the story.

I was also somewhat typical of many white kids growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Blasting N.W.A, Public Enemy and EPMD, I embraced everything that hip-hop embodied, at least in my white teenage imagination. On a given day, odds are I would be wearing a Malcolm X hat, cross-colors shorts, and a Southern University sweatshirt. I sagged my pants, wore my UNLV starter jackets and walked with a swagger that conveyed a brash sense of masculinity. There was even a short period of time where my hair was braided- that is until I removed it following a basketball game that put my whiteness on full display. Every time I touched the ball, my opponents would serenade me with “Kris will make you jump.” Not surprisingly, I was never conscious of the process of appropriation, nor was I initially conscience of the inherent power/violence in “eating the other.”

I started my undergraduate career at university of Oregon. My experiences was defined by a perpetual feeling of isolation and alienation (I was the Jewish kid from Los Angeles), although I would develop several friendships with others who also felt like outsiders. It was ironically at University Oregon that I developed several cross-racial friendships. Daily conversations with African American friends, alongside of observations of racial profiling abound, pushed my thinking about race, about white privilege, and about racism.

I remember one of my friends challenged me about wearing an “X” hat, asking if I had read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I hadn’t and needed to. These lessons and challenges, along with my initial African American history class, sparked something inside of me. While I transferred to Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara, my passion and focus remained. I would read and read, only stopping to watch documentaries; this would be my undergraduate experience. Along the way, many people shaped the direction I was heading – mentors like Cedric Robinson, Kofi Hadjor, Douglas Daniels, and many others pushed guided and inspired me. The LA Uprising, my activism while at UC Berkeley, and my experiences in the classroom left a lasting imprint, making clear where and how I wanted to spend my life..

Racism and inequality remain America’s problem of the twenty-first century. My life’s work is playing whatever role I can play in participating in these conversations, trying to do work that is accountable and that may have an impact.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.08 AMJ.P.: You wrote a truly fascinating blog post about Madonna using the n-word, saying, “With her Instagram photo, she has become yet another white person who either doesn’t understand the meaning and history or who simply doesn’t comprehend or care about the harm, pain, and violence that comes every time a white person utters the word.” Why do you think, suddenly, white people seem so comfortable using the n-word? Where the hell did that come from?

DJL: White people have always felt comfortable using the word—power and privilege will do that. Obviously the history of the word, and its relationship to slavery, Jim Crow, and the normalization of racial terror demonstrate a history of comfort using the word. Clearly the history of minstrelsy, of blackface, of white mocking of blackness that exists in the white imagination, shows that this is nothing new.

We have seen the impact of social media, and online technologies to “expose” its [the N-word] use by whites. Whereas 15 years, whites were using it behind closed doors, within homogenous white racial gatherings/settings (see Feagin and Picca’s book Two Faced Racism), the usage is now more exposed. Social media has pulled back the curtain on racial language, on the expression of stereotypes and racial slurs. Secondly, the language of “satire” or “it’s just a joke” or “I am just copying what my favorite rapper says” is now part of the language of justification and rationalization. The “satire card” or hip hop made me do it” is about justifying because whites have been using the word for as long as it has been existence.  It is about excuse making in the face of calls accountability.  Exposure resulting from social media demands accountability—this leads breeds excuse making/ justification/rationalization. But whites have comfortably bandied the term around amongst themselves throughout history. Usage has not grown, but has hit new levels of exposure resulting in more public dialogue

I also think its usage becomes part of a moment where whites can assert power and imagine a sense of victimhood—citing “double standards.” At present, we observe a constant narrative of (white) victimhood that erases the power and privileges of whiteness.

J.P.: There seemed to be an idea in this country by many that, with the election of an African-American president, racism had magically ended, and we were all good. Obviously, that’s not even remotely the case. So what has been Barack Obama’s impact on race relations—and racism—in the United States?

DJL: I guess it depends on how we define “race relations”—so often this is defined in terms of public opinion and in terms of the level of harmony across imagined racial communities. This is a very limiting because it reduces the discussion to individuals, to feelings, and plays upon the idea that race issues are about interpersonal dynamics.

If we look at white views about racism, we see two things: 1) If you compare public opinion polls from 1960s and 2000s, much of the white community thought, “all is good.” In this sense, there hasn’t been much change because whites have and continue to benefit from our current racial configuration. 2) In a post civil rights environment, the GOP (Southern Strategy) has used race, racial fear, and the belief that the system is working against whites, to maintain power, to galvanize support for their agenda. This has been going on for 50 years so it’s almost as if the election of President Obama has allowed people to yet again scapegoat blackness for racial problems when in reality the persistence of racism, the persistence of inequalities, the racial fear mongering, and so much more predates his election.

When we look at the ‘war on drugs’, when we look at disenfranchisement, when we look at housing discrimination, when we look at health disparities, or divestment of education and investments in prisons, we see how race remains a dividing line. We see how injustices and violence are an enduring reality for communities of color. His election didn’t change these institutional realities.

J.P.: You teach at Washington State—a wealthy school with a lovely campus and a lot of money. Why do you think college has become so insanely expensive (and unaffordable)? Is money being spent rightly? Have we reached the point where maybe, just maybe, people need to reexamine whether a lifetime of student loans is worth the benefit of a degree?

DJL: Wealthy? Really? As a public university, we have experienced the impact of the recession and public divestment from higher education. So, “wealthy” isn’t an adjective I would use to describe WSU. As someone who teaches in the college of arts and science, within the humanities, and in the fields of ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies, I have little knowledge of this “wealthy university” you speak of.  The reasons why budgets have been cut is the same reason why tuitions are dramatically on the rise: a lack of investment in higher education from both state legislatures and the federal government. Whereas, colleges and universities were supported in the past, today’s colleges and universities get little funding from the state. It’s kind of of astonishing when we look at the dramatic defunding of higher education. The response from higher education is to increase tuition because the money has to come from somewhere. In many ways, public universities are becoming quasi private, reliant on tuition, grants, and donations.

With increased tuition, and less-than-stellar job prospects, universities have increasingly begun to sell “the college experience” as opposed to the degree or the educational benefits. So, it’s no wonder that money is going to recreation centers and student activities; it’s no wonder that there is so much emphasis on hotel-style dorms, parties, and fall-fun and March madness.

Our current moment requires us to demand investment in higher education. Its time for us to reflect on why critical thinking, media literacy, knowledge, and communication skills are a societal benefit, and therefore should elicit financial investment. It is no coincidence that these changes, that the systemic divestment of higher education, has come during this so-called “post-racial” moment. That is, in a moment when more racial/ethnic minorities and women are entering into the spaces of higher education than ever before, we are seeing a reversal in terms of financial, political, and cultural investment in higher education.

J.P.: You’ve researched Shawn’s Green’s religious/baseball identities. I know Shawn quite well (he was actually a Quaz). So I’m riveted—what does this mean? And what did you find out?

DJL: I have always been fascinated by the “illegibility of the Jewish athlete.” We have all heard some variation of this joke: “What does the Encyclopedia of Jewish Sports Stars look like? Answer: A Pamphlet.” This work comes out of this fascination, my own experiences, and my being a “retired” Jewish athlete. Of course, being from LA also meant that Green was someone I was always intrigued by—as a fan and as a researcher. To me, I wanted to explore how his Jewish identity was talked about and what this tells us about Jewishness in the twenty-first century. In many ways, the piece looks at how people debated and discussed whether he would play on Yom Kipur, resuscitating debates about Hank Greenberg or Sandy Koufax. Just as the discussion of what a “Jewish athlete” meant for the Jewish community embodied the fears, anxieties and questions in a post-war context, the discussion that followed Green also told us a lot about Jewish identities in the twenty-first century. There were a lot of debates about “what it means to be Jewish” and the importance of his being a role model.

I think narratives about Jewish athletes are culturally power because athletic prowess or sports success offers a source of legitimacy for ideas about masculinity, assimilation, and “making it” within the American social fabric. In this sense, Green challenged the stereotypes and the anxieties over the stereotypes with respect to masculinity.

I have also been interested in which Jewish athletes get imagined as Jewish, as representative, as role models worthy of celebration and really as part of the Jewish community. This tells us a lot about Jewish identity formation and the relationship between Jewishness, religiosity, and race. This isn’t just about Green, Koufax and Greenberg, but we can think about how someone like Yuri Foreman, Ryan Braun or Omri Caspi gets imagined, consumed, and positioned as Jewish athlete, but someone like Jordan Farmar or Taylor Mayes are read quite differently.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.34 AMJ.P.: Do you think it’s possible to be color-blind? What I mean is—you’re aware of someone’s race, but you 100% don’t give a shit, don’t have it impact your opinions, perceptions, anything at all?

DJL: Whether an individual can acknowledge racial difference, and see it as meaningless and as insignificant is difficult given what we know about implicit bias, about the entrenched nature of stereotypes. This is why I often challenge people who say, “that person is ignorant” because when in reality their acceptance of a stereotype, with a particular worldview, reflects their knowing these ideas, stereotypes, and visions of the world that are circulated daily; from the media to school, from family to religious institutions, from the world of sports to the worlds of popular culture, we are learning and teaching what “race” means so it is hard to imagine it not impacting someone. We can resist, we can challenge ourselves- and others, when these prejudices are articulated … but they are everywhere. We can be particularly vigilante in challenging the value judgments, and of course when those ideas translate into discriminatory actions, policies, and interactions.

I also wonder why we think that “not seeing” is a good thing given the ways that race operates within our society. In some ways, we are saying “your identity, your experiences, your community, your sense of self, don’t mean shit” and that of course is a problem on so many levels.

To address racism and inequality requires color consciousness. It requires recognizing implicit and explicit bias, it requires looking at both institutional racism and the ongoing legacies of American racism. The idea that ignoring will lead to change is naïve but worse destructive because it perpetuates inequalities and injustices. If we think about the criminal justice system, do we really think justice will come about if the prosecutor, judge, and jury take a colorblind approach given the racist nature of the war on drugs, given racial profiling, and given stop and frisk? We have to be aware of how racism operates at every level, and figure out ways to challenge its historic and present operations.

J.P.: I’m Jewish. And I know many Jews who believe we have a kinship with African-Americans. Minorities, struggles, stereotyping, etc. Yet I’m sort of of the belief that blacks, generally, don’t feel the same way. Am I being wacky?

DJL: There have been many books written about this but lets put it this way: while American Jews have experienced a history of discrimination, of hyper stereotypes, and of exclusion, many Jews (we have to remember that in the U.S. there an estimated 100,000 Black Jews (studies estimate between 50,000-500,000) so even the idea that Jews “kinship with African Americans” presumes that there are not black Jews) have benefited from their whiteness. So, while we can see shared histories, and we can most certainly see a history of coalitions, from the NAACP to Freedom summer, it is a history of many Jews benefiting from their perceived whiteness.

We also have to push conversation to think in complex ways. So, while clearly stereotypes about Jews remain widely known and are circulated, do those stereotypes have impact on the life chances and choices of the Jewish community? Do these stereotypes lead to racial profiling: NO! Do stereotypes of Jews as “greedy” lead to higher suspensions or expulsion rates? NO. Do “Jewish sounding names” lead to hiring discrimination? Again the answer is NO. We must be mindful of these very different experiences, the ways that privilege operates, the ways that many Jews benefit and have benefited from their whiteness, and how this impacts communal relations.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.52 AMJ.P.: I hate “black” movies. What I mean is, films come out that are for “black” audiences—and they almost always cater to the lowest common denominator, with stereotypes and insults and someone in fat person drag. Why is this so common? And is there a cure?

DJL: It sounds like you hate stereotypical movies—movies that rely on classic stereotypes, clichéd humor, and childish banter. I wonder if we describe the movies of Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow …. “white films” or do we call zombie movies and Twilight “white youth films”?

I would say you are watching the wrong films and should go watch Pariah, Middle of Nowhere, Fruitvale Station, I Will Follow, Daughters of the Dust, Mississippi Dammed, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, and Yelling to the Sky. There are so many amazing films that offer a range of representations that offer powerful stories, which speak to a myriad of issues.

We also need to ask, why certain films get major platforms, get distribution that puts them in every theater and every city, whereas the films I mentioned above are considered obscure and/or are (were) unevenly distributed by (within) the film industry.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.48.04 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID LEONARD:

• Did Manning Marable’s Malcolm X biography—which showed much of the autobiography to be exaggerated or false—wound you in any ways?: I actually have a confession. I haven’t read Marable’s book. Every time I look at it on my shelf, I am overwhelmed by its length and know I need ample time to digest the book – and that reading it will lead me to read other books that have been critical of the biography. I have always found Malcolm to be a complex person; he had his flaws and contradictions . . . like everyone else, so I don’t think it would wound me.

• Rank in order (favorite to least favorite)—Coors Light, Dale Murphy, Bell Biv Devoe, Toledo, Natalie Wood, “Oh Sherrie,” pork chops, Tommy Herr, grape juice, Tyler Perry, Len Bias, Posh Spice, L.L. Bean catalogue: Is there a way to re-imagine this question as a couple of favorites followed me least favorite and then “no thank you” because “least favorite” doesn’t capture my feelings of some on the list? Bell Biv Devoe (although Ralph T was always a favorite); Len Bias (RIP), Toledo (home of Max Klinger and Tony Paco’s, the L.L. Bean catalogue (backpacks) ….. , “Oh Sherrie,” Natalie Wood, pork chops, grape juice, ……………….. Tommy Herr, Dale Murphy, Tyler Perry………………………………………………………………… Posh Spice …………………………………….. Coors Light.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, but have had moments where I was like “oh, fuck … that turbulence is a little much.”

• Five all-time favorite singers/groups?: Five?! Wow… Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Ice Cube, Nas, Don Henley (I feel like LeBron must have felt with Mt Swishmore b/c I know I forgot someone.)

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. What do you think?: If we are ever in the car together, I am in charge of the radio. #Not.a.fan

• The absolute best dunk you’ve ever seen was …: I am a Lakers fan so I am sure these are the best but for me best is about joy, pleasure, nostalgia, memories and all things Lakers—every Coop-a-Loop ever and Kobe’s lop to Kobe in Game Seven against the Trailblazers.

• Three memories from your fifth-grade class?: I have no idea . . . three great friends: Jenny, Quinn, and Erin—I am still in touch with two of them.

• Three skills you don’t have: Given my last answer . . . clearly I lack of the requisite skill to remember my childhood, ability to relax, and at this point I have neither a right nor a left hand on the basketball court.

• Best joke you know: I don’t know any jokes. Seriously but my 6-year old likes to tell jokes whenever he meets new people – while getting his hair cut, at stores, at parties, so here’s one: What do you get when you cross a turtle with a porcupine? A: A slow poke.

• Who wins in a 12-round fight—right now—between you and Ray Leonard with one hand tied behind his back?: Ray Leonard wins in a one-round fight; Benny Leonard also knocks me out in a hurry.

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Michelle Beadle

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.08.25 AMHere’s how you know when someone in the spotlight is cool …

When I initially e-mailed this week’s Quaz questions to today’s guest, I misspelled her last name as “Beedle.” Her response: “First of all, it’s BEADLE, bitch.”

Translation: I’m a big Michelle Beedle fan, and an even bigger Michelle Beadle fan. The SportsNation co-host doesn’t think herself a goddess of television; doesn’t revel in the attention and the fanfare; doesn’t equate being on the tube with, well, any real-world importance. She’s blunt, straightforward and extremely good at her job. She also happens to love Dikembe Mutombo, dislike Rick Perry and embrace all things WWE.

Michelle Beed … eh, Beadle. Welcome to the Quaz, bitch …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Michelle, so you seem cool enough and grounded enough that I can ask this without having a knife thrown in my eyeball. I’ve known many people who work in sports TV, and while they tend to try and play off recognition and fame as a major perk of the job, I sorta get the impression—for many of you—the ego boosts of fame and recognition are addictive and seductive. Airport recognition. Autograph requests. Etc. Am I right? Wrong?

MICHELLE BEADLE: Wait … people in this business have egos? I think most everyone enjoys a little recognition from time to time. It’s a bizarre thing to be in a restaurant with friends  and have it happen. But for the most part any glimpse into that type of an existence has been positive for me. You won’t catch me doing the whole publicist, TMZ route anytime soon, but a nice ‘howdoyado’ goes a long way.

J.P.: When I have a book come out, and I do media for that three-week span, I love it. I love the TV, the radio. By the end, however, I’m ready to return to my cave and stop talking. I’m tired of hearing my own voice, tired of the makeup, the banter, the, “Real quick before we take a commercial break …” thing. What is it about TV that you love? That keeps you going? Is there something I’m missing?

M.B.: For me TV was the last thing I should have been doing. I wasn’t an extrovert. Not a ham. To be honest, I’m not overly social at all. On TV, I get to talk about things that I enjoy, with people I find interesting, and when it’s live, it provides a nice buzz to an otherwise quiet life. TV came relatively easy once I learned to be comfortable. And the money doesn’t hurt.

J.P.: I’m always fascinated in life paths, and you see to have a pretty winding and remarkable one. Born in Italy, raised in Texas, focused upon practicing law. Michelle, how the heck did you get into TV? What was your path?

M.B.: I grew up wanting to go to Harvard Law School and save the world. I thought I could be a politician and truly make a difference. I spent my first several college years in Austin at UT, worked at the Capitol, all while pursuing this ‘law’ dream. Meanwhile, I slowly acquired an addiction to Jerry Springer (pre-fake-fighting) and afternoons at Barton Springs. This lifestyle was not conducive to attending my classes. So my grades start to plummet just as I’m realizing the political road was not for me.

With an abysmal GPA, I left Austin and took off. Spent time in various cities, “living the dream.” Or as my parents called it: wasting time. When I finally made my way back to Boerne (where my parents live), it became clear I needed a plan. Through my dad, I got a meeting with an executive of the team who put me in touch with the broadcasting maestro, and voila! Actually, not quite that easy. I called many times and was annoyingly persistent. One day I was allowed to shoot a segment on how to care for one’s pet for the team’s locally broadcast children’s show. I was beyond horrible, uncomfortable and awkward. I got one more shot. My cameraman that day, Eddie Ray Rodriguez, said “forget the camera’s there.’ Simple yet effective advice. And that was it. The bug bit. And I’ve been chasing the little red light ever since.

J.P.: I just read this on your Wikipedia page, and was immediately fascinated (Beadle was one of the last people out of 142 to audition for SportsNation. ESPN called her back and asked her to write about what she would do to make the show better.Thinking it was a joke, she wrote “a sarcastic list of 10 stupid things,” which helped her land the job.). A. Is it even true? B. Can you explain—in greater detail—what happened?

M.B.: The audition for SportsNation came at a time when I’d been on a few, and was very prepared to hear ‘no’ again. My chemistry with Colin Cowherd was immediate and easy but not the whole thing. I met with a number of suits, and one of them ‘assigned’ me the list of 10 things I’d do to improve the show. Now I’m thinking, ‘How do I improve a show that doesn’t exist?’ My list was ten strong but extremely sarcastic. I remember including my brilliant idea of ‘adding more purple to the set.’ Luckily the list was intercepted by Jamie Horowitz and Kevin Wildes before it reached its destination, and we, together, came up with real magic. Or at least enough magic to get me the gig.

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J.P.: In 2012 you left ESPN for NBC and immediately seemed to regret the decision and loathe NBC. You were very open about your unhappiness. What caused it? How long did it take you to realize, “Glub—bad move,” and did you seriously consider leaving the business?

M.B.: I’ve spoken a little bit about the last two years. They weren’t great. I enjoyed my time at Access Hollywood. Loved my work family in New York. And I got to do some interviews that will always be cool to look back on: Michelle Obama at the White House, the Anchorman crew,  the people who make the things that entertain me. But on the sports side, it was a simple case of just a really bad fit. I came in with the highest of hopes: the Olympics, Triple Crown, my own show. I left with a greater appreciation for people I’d worked with in my past and a lot of life lessons learned. But yeah, I was considering quitting the whole TV thing and going to a nonexistent plan.

J.P.: You’ve done a shitload of red carpet work for award shows. I say this with no disrespect—but it strikes me as sorta vapid work. What are you wearing? You look gorgeous. Blah, blah. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right. Or neither.

M.B.: I hate red carpets. I. HATE. RED. CARPETS.  I did a few while at Access Hollywood. But I tried to have as much fun as possible. Covering the Country Music Awards in Nashville, I asked as many non-fashion questions as possible. I’m with you … people fake laughing at unfunny jokes while kissing celebrity booty is not entertaining.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.09.03 AMJ.P.: A while ago I wrote a blog post that was pretty critical of Erin Andrews. My point wasn’t to bash Andrews, but sports TV—which seems to rarely place women in the booths, and always seems to hire perky, pretty, tall blondes and plant them along the sidelines while feeding them bullshit questions. In short, I think it demeans qualified, talented, sports knowledgeable women. You agree? Disagree?

M.B.: It’s not rocket science that TV likes to put attractive people in front of the camera. And obviously, women have been, far and away, a recipient of this process. And yes, it’s annoying when you see that put someone in a position that they should probably otherwise not have. But let’s be honest, across the board, in any industry, we’ve all witnessed folks who might not be perfectly qualified. We get a tougher time in this business because as females the spotlight is hot. We are expected to fail, to not do the work. I’m proud of the new crop of women who have made a helluva showing: Allie LaForce, Kristin Ledlow. They have massive knowledge and presence, and for the Neanderthals who can’t hear them speaking, they just happen to both be gorgeous.

J.P.: If one YouTubes and Googles Michelle Beadle, he/she finds a lot of shit about your breasts, your legs, your outfits. How do you deal with this stuff?

M.B.: No. 1: Never Google yourself. Ever. I’ve given my parent the same instructions. A few years ago I learned the hard way that any jerk can say what  they want and it can get you. The Aaron Rodgers crap that hit the internet was a flat-out blatant lie, yet I, to this day, find morons who tweet about it like it was fact. I’ve never Googled myself since. Nothing good comes of it. And if there’s a positive story out there, it will find you.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.11.10 AMJ.P.: You’re a big fan of professional wrestling—which strikes me as both weird and weird. Where did this come from? How often do you attend events? And you do realize it’s predetermined, yes?

M.B.: PREDETERMINED?!?!?!?!?! I won’t even engage in that silliness. I got into wrestling in my 20’s. Was working in a restaurant in San Antonio and all my fellow servers were fans. It became standard practice to watch RAW on the reg. I never grew up watching or being around soap operas. I always equate wrestling to my soaps. I love the storylines, the athleticism. And for those of us who have had to speak into a microphone in front of a large group of people, some of those guys are amazing with the promo skills . Do I consider myself a nerd for loving it? Yup. I’ve been lucky enough to form a relationship with the WWE over the last several years, and as a result been to many events. Front Row. Sweating  and sometimes I bring my own signs.

J.P.: You have a natural, refreshing presence on TV. I’m not just saying that. You come off as someone it’d be cool to hang with. Is that at all practiced? Perfected? Did you have to ever loosen up, change your approach? In short, where did that come from?

M.B.: I believe this to be a major compliment. So first of all, thank you. I don’t think about it all. This may actually be a problem. But going all the way back to that cameraman who gave me the “be yourself” advice, I’ve never worried about cameras or me. I know that when I watch television, the people who I feel most satisfied watching are those that genuinely come across as humans. Not prompter-reading robots. I mean look, I’m discussing tattoos and tweets, this should be fun. It’s sports.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.10.49 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHELLE BEADLE:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): J.R. Richard, potato latkes, Rick Perry, Dave Briggs, Tommy Dreamer, Raymond Felton, Laura Branigan, The Best Damn Sports Show Period, earmuffs, The Rainbow Connection, Oreos, John Steinbeck: Earmuffs (I suffer poor circulation), Rainbow Connection (should have been first if not for that damn circulation and New York City winters), Laura Branigan (she got me), John Steinbeck (I can read), J. R Richard (amazing story), The Best Damn Sports Show (liked it early on), Tommy Dreamer, Raymond Felton (I like basketball), potato latkes (mmmmmmm—carbs),  Rick Perry (don’t even think I’m getting political on this), Oreos (I’m not a sweet tooth).

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I believe I’m going to die every time I get on a plane. 50-50 chance, right? My tears upon takeoff are real. And I’m a big proponent of Xanax to try and squash some of the anxiety. My friends do not enjoy flying with me. And I completely understand. Have I mentioned I hate flying?

• Nicest athlete you’ve ever dealt with?: Dikembe Mutumbo. Easy. Willing to do anything and laughs the whole way through.

• How many licks does it take to get to the bottom of a Tootsie Pop?: Four bites plus paper taste.

• Nicknames kids came up for you having to do with “Beadle”?: Beadlejuice, Beadlemania, Beadster, I call myself Beadsy, Sphincter McGillicutty

• Five best sportscasters of your lifetime: In no particular order— Dan and Keith as one; Scott Van Pelt; Jim Ross; Rob Lowe; Bob Ley; 6th man award: Doris Burke.

• Six guys walk into a bar …: and my pants stay on.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to spend a year MCing her new Las Vegas show, “Celine Eats Pork Then Vomits Everywhere While Singing George Michael’s Freedom.” Bright side: You’ll earn $54.7 million for the year. Negative side: You have to change your name to Ed Ott and, nightly, clean up the vomit. You in?: This is a ridiculous question. 54.7 million??? I’ve done far worse for much less. I’ll even analyze her diet for her nightly

• You’re from Texas. I sorta hate Texas. Give my five reasons I’m wrong: Fresh tortillas, Coach Bud Kilmer, The McConaissance, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shiner Bock.

• My neighbor recently took one of my books without asking, then requested I autograph it. What’s the proper response?: Send a bill to his house or sleep with his wife. Seems fair. One or the other.

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Ross Newhan

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.38.59 AMOn occasion, I feel bad for the 20-something-year-old sports fan.

Oh, on the one hand it’s a great time. Games on at all hours. Stats upon stats upon stats, and images upon images upon images. You’re one click away from everything and anything.

And  yet … I can’t help but feel that a certain element of artistry has been lost. For every blog post and every Tweet, there’s a level of journalistic dexterity that no longer exists. Men like Dave Anderson and Murray Chass and Jim Murray and Peter Vecsey—profound voices; productive voices, informed voices—are pretty much ghosts, never to return.

I long for their bylines.

I long for Ross Newhan‘s byline.

For 40 years, Ross was one of America’s absolute great baseball writers. He began his career in 1961 with the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and six years later landed at the Los Angeles Times, where he covered the Angels and Dodgers for nearly two decades. He took over as the national baseball writer for the Times in 1985, and was at the paper when I started covering the game for Sports Illustrated. Whenever I’d travel out to Dodger Stadium, I’d run into Ross—one of the true gentlemen of the genre.

Perhaps best of all, in 1999 Ross’ son, David, made his Major League debut with the San Diego Padres—proving to the world (well, to the four people who cared about such issues) that sports writers have athletic genes, too.

Though he left the Times in 2004, Ross’ blog is beautifully done and a must-read. His piece on the late Jim Fregosi is one of the best things I’ve read this year.

Ross Newhan, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Ross, you started covering baseball for the Long Beach Press Telegram in 1961. That’s 53 years ago—a pretty damn long time. This is a broad question, but I wonder how you feel about sports journalism now vs. sports journalism then. Do you long for what was? The seemingly simpler age where a newspaper was a newspaper, and that’s what people read? Or are things better now, with multiple platforms, myriad ideas on what journalism is, etc?

ROSS NEWHAN: I wouldn’t put it in terms of “longing for” the way it was. I feel fortunate to remain productive after a half century in sports journalism and to have generally kept up with the technological changes. I regret the demise of so many newspapers and that generations of young people won’t know the joy of holding a newspaper in their hands and reading a story in depth. At the same time, we have seen the development of quality websites that enable a reader to weigh competitive opinions on varied subjects with a click of the mouse. In many ways I can now read more spots journalists touching on a wider range of game and cultural issues than I could ever do in the “old” days. Hell, when I started in the old days of ’61 they had Western Union operators in all the press boxes and you would hand your typewritten page to the operator and crossed your fingers that they would send it to the paper the way you had written it.

J.P.: What was your life path? What I mean is, how did you become a journalist? Why did you become a journalist? Was it luck? Hard work? An odd break? How did it happen for you?

R.N.: In my case it was luck, work and an odd break combined. I came up to my last two years in high school at Long Beach Wilson with no real direction and having never shown much interest in writing. However, I decided to take a journalism and creative writing class on a whim, and somehow, somewhere during that process, the instructor, a great bear of a man named John Gartner, found a way to light a spark. A lot of it, I think, came from the fact that he read Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, which had just been printed in entirety in Life magazine, to the class and, like many others I suppose, I was caught up in the simple, yet descriptive and complex, style that sent me to the library to read all of Hemingway I could. Gartner, in turn, asked me to be sports editor of the school newspaper and shortly later came to me and said the Long Beach Press-Telegram was looking for someone to call in the results of our high school games. I jumped at the opportunity—$5 a week represented a full tank of gas in 1952. Well, from calling in results, to working in the office and taking those results over the phone, to getting the chance to actually cover and write about a high school game, to bigger and better assignments while learning to write headlines, edit copy and lay out a page, it was all a pretty amazing development. I did enroll at what was then Long Beach State, but I was having too much fun and making too much progress at the paper to keep up my grades. Newspaper work, writing, is the only job I have ever had (besides a brief sojourn in the Army Signal Corps) and I am pretty sure that the route I took, that I fell into, happens any more in today’s journalism.

Newhan, far right, interviewing new Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan alongside Mark Gonzalez (left) and Murray Chass.

Newhan, far right, interviewing new Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan alongside Mark Gonzalez (left) and Murray Chass.

JP.: In 1967 you were hired by the Los Angeles Times to be a traveling beat writer for, at different times, the Angels and the Dodgers. What, to you, are the traits and characteristics of a great beat writer? How competitive does one need to be? Can you befriend the rival writers? Are there codes?

R.N.: Competitiveness, of course, is at the forefront. So is earning the trust of the organization—from owner to clubhouse personnel—of the club you cover. You have to protect sources. You can’t be violating that trust. When I was hired by The Times I had already been on the Angel beat for six years at the Long Beach paper, but I found at the Times that the other writers on the beat—and in the late ’60s and most of the ’70s there were still a half dozen other healthy papers in Southern California—took a delight in beating The Times, even if it meant sharing quotes and stories. It is hard not to be sociable, at least, with the group you travel with over the course of a season (for the most part the press corps is in its own cocoon), but that “ganging up” on The Times could be pretty distasteful at times and, over the course of several seasons, eroded my relationship with a couple of the writers with whom I was closest. Now, while there are fewer newspapers and fewer beat writers traveling on a regular bases, the competitive aspect might be even stronger. Any quote, injury angle or breaking story that a beat guy or gal gets on their own is immediately tweeted and/or put on Facebook and/or sent to the organization’s web site so that they can be first.

J.P.: You covered a lot of Tommy Lasorda. I’ve heard mixed things about him, and a lot of negative: Phony, fraud, deceptive, dishonest. What’s your take on Tommy Lasorda? How do you explain him—because the man has long fascinated me.

R.N.: Tommy, indeed, is a complex personality, and I have had, like others I know, quite a few periods when we were not speaking in his reaction to something I had written and even an occasion or two when he telephoned in a threatening context. Yet there were and have been other periods—particularly when he was managing and I was traveling with the Dodgers—when he invited me to lunch or dinner, greeted my wife warmly and was Uncle Tommy to my son and daughter when they were youngsters. He was, in many ways, a kick to cover. Fresh stories, old stories, screaming quotes, perceptive quotes. A man who has traveled the country giving speeches, doing good deeds (big and small), seldom (never?) paying for a meal. He has been an ambassador for baseball, a blue blood salesman for the Dodgers and a worthy Hall of Famer (whose election I supported in print). However, I also weigh the words you have employed in your question—phony, fraud, deceptive, dishonest—and at this point of his and my careers, let’s just leave it in this context: If you can’t say something nice about a person (which I think I have done) ….

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.29.24 AMJ.P.: You worked alongside two of the most notable and interesting sports writers we’ve seen—Jim Murray, the legendary columnist, and Mike Penner, the baseball beat writer who famously had a sex change and, ultimately, committed suicide. What was your relationship like with those two people? What made Murray so great? And did you ever feel like—toward the end—you understood what Mike was going through? And how did his passing impact you?

R.N.: What is there to say about Jim Murray that hasn’t been said? He was, indeed, a great writer who felt his responsibility—which we talked about more than once while sitting next to each other in cold and wind swept World Series press boxes—was to entertain, which he did through humor and hyperbole (“Gentlemen, start your coffins …” he began a column on the Indy 500). Pete Rose? Willie Shoemaker? Jack Nicklaus? The stars came to him, but he also knew the man of the street. He was insightful, blessed with quick recall, among the fastest writers I knew or have known and very encouraging and complimentary to me, which was like praise from heaven. The great circulation boom of The Times through the late 60s and 70s? No one was more responsible than Murray.

Mike Penner was also a terrific writer and friend with whom I traveled at different periods of our careers. He, too, brought a touch of humor to his game and feature writing, and I always felt he was headed to bigger things—book writing and more. He was that good. In addition, he and his wife had dined with my wife and I more than once, I had been with him on the road and I was stunned by his gender transition, having never an inkling. I am not a psychologist/psychiatrist, but Mike was clearly caught up in a difficult world, and I was deeply saddened by his suicide, shaken by what he must have been going through. I think of him often.

J.P.: On June 4, 1999, your son David made his Major League debut with the San Diego Padres—then stuck around to play another seven seasons in the Bigs. How the heck did a short Jewish sportswriter produce a jock son? And what was it like for you, as a sportswriter, to have him make it?

R.N.: What do you mean by a “short Jewish sportswriter?” Just because one of David’s favorite responses to inquiring reporters was “look at the genes I’ve had to overcome” doesn’t mean his mom and I didn’t have athletic ability. Consider all the years I had to tote a typewriter or computer up ballpark steps, all the books his mom had to tote as a school district librarian (lol). Yes, David had to overcome the genes of his parents, and he did it with all the traits parents like to preach: dedication, hard work, heart. All of a sudden, with David’s success, I was being quoted instead of seeking quotes, and after decades of observing the rule in regard to no cheering in the press box, I had to get used to the idea that it was quite natural to do sitting amid family and fans. I mean, how could we not act mashugana at times? Like when he had three hits off Oakland’s Tim Hudson in his first big league start or an inside the park home run off Pedro Martinez or a grand slam off Bronson Arroyo or the five four hit games in the second half of the 2004 season alone. Those genes couldn’t have been too bad.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.33.12 AM J.P.: Is there hope for newspapers? And, if so, what?

R.N.: I have to believe there will always be newspapers, in big cities and small regions, doing the important, investigative work that has always made them vital. Pollyanna? Perhaps. But I have been in the business too long to feel otherwise, although I recognize the difficulties, the momentum, that has closed so many and continues to work against their success.

J.P.: We always write about fading athletes; about the inevitable loss of ability. I’m wondering if this happens in writing, too? Did you ever feel like you lost any skill or sharpness? Does ability diminish over time? And are there ways to stay particularly sharp?

R.N.: I don’t know for sure about a loss of skill or sharpness. I guess when I think of staying sharp now it’s in terms of my golf game, such as it is. I do think that writing on deadlines, as I did for four plus decades, helps you retain your skills and sharpness, keeps you at an edge, and that you can get a little soft, you can lean towards procrastination, when deadlines are no longer an issue. I still do a baseball blog and I continue to do freelance work for various publications, but there definitely isn’t the rush associated with grinding it out daily or having 10 minutes to produce 750 words.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.35.00 AMJ.P.: Greatest moment of your journalistic career? Lowest?

R.N.: I don’t think there’s any question about the high point. Being voted the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by your peers and having the opportunity to give an acceptance speech touching on your career and the contributions of your family as part of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown pretty much stands alone.

The lowest? Not sure. There were days when I’d pick up the paper or re-read my story of the previous night on the computer and immediately saw how I could have done it better. There were days when another paper might have had an angle or a story that I knew I should have gotten to first. However, over a long period I feel I was generally ahead of the game on both of those counts. I have a plaque on my office wall here that I received from The Times as part of their annual awards banquet. The category: “Sustained Excellence.” I can live with that.

J.P.: We recently saw Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end, come out of the closet. I’m wondering—how do you think this sort of thing will go over when it happens in baseball? And, through the years, have you ever covered players you knew to be gay (I’m not asking names, obviously)? Do you think the Major League clubhouse can handle it?

R.N.: I have to think, and hope, that as a society and as journalists we will reach a point where a Michael Sam isn’t a story, isn’t news. I covered the Dodgers when the late Glenn Burke, who later acknowledged being gay, played for the team and I didn’t know it at the time, although some of his teammates have since said they did. He was popular, a bright, cheerful clubhouse favorite. I otherwise can’t think of any time in any year when I suspected that a player might be gay or I knew a player to be gay. The 162 game season is a long trek. No team is immune from an occasional disruption. It doesn’t and wouldn’t take a gay player for that to happen,  and I don’t think you can generalize in regard to how any one team would respond to a teammate coming out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.28.43 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH ROSS NEWHAN:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Multi-million mile flyer but never thought I was going to die in a crash.

• Greatest baseball game you ever covered? Why?: Can’t narrow to one. Dramatic pitching duel between John Smoltz/Jack Morris in Game 7 of 1991 World Series; Reggie Jackson’s remarkable three home runs off the first pitch from three different Dodger pitchers in Game 6 of 1977 World Series; Boston’s Game 5 victory over California Angels in 1986 ALCS after Angels had been one out from going to World Series.

• Rank in order (Favorite to least): Bruno Mars, Orange County Register, Diane Keaton, Swingers (the movie), eggplant parm, Dave Krieg, fishing, Tony Armas, Nutella, St. Louis’ arch: Diane Keaton, fishing, eggplant parm, St. Louis arch, Swingers, Orange County Register, Tony Armas, Bruno Mars, Dave Krieg, Nutella.

• Five greatest baseball stadiums you’ve ever visited: Fenway Park, Camden Yards, Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field, old Tiger Stadium.

• How much do you worry about climate change? Is there a solution to be had?: I do worry about it in the context of how climate change will alter the lives of my grandchildren and their children. I don’t see an immediate solution considering the polarization in Washington and the continuing doubters.

• Most awkward moment involving a player?: Probably the time Angel outfielder Brian Downing stuck a bat under my nose just because I had written that all his weight lifting must have left him muscle bound between his ears.

•  Five greatest sports writers of your lifetime?: Jim Murray, Jimmy Cannon, Red Smith, Mark Kram, Bill Nack.

• Do you consider Barry Bonds to be a Hall of Famer? Why?: Bonds deserved to be in Hall of Fame before steroids degraded his career and upgraded his cap size.

• The absolute best restaurant in Los Angeles is …: Cut at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Say Hello to Wolfgang Puck.

• The world needs to know: What was it like covering Daryl Sconiers in his prime?: Anyone have a good book?

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Tova Mirvis

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As a self-identified agnostic atheistic Jew who probably doesn’t believe in God, I’ve long been fascinated by Orthodox Jews. The commitment. The devotion. The, well, craziness.

I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s a pretty bonkers existence. You follow the Torah to the word. You seclude yourself from the outside world. You raise your children to live the same way and if, ultimately, they reject it, you tear a swath of fabric and act as if they are dead to you (not always, but often).

Crazy. Stuff.

Hence, I am riveted by today’s Quaz. Author Tova Mirvis was, for the first 40 years of her life, an Orthodox Jew. She walked the walk, talked the talk, followed the laws and expectations. Then, as I learned in her fantastic New York Times Magazine essay of several weeks ago, she bolted. She simply wanted a different life, and had the guts to leave—divorced, mother of three. Largely alone.

The one thing Tova took with her, however, was her talent. She is the author of three books, including The Ladies Auxiliary, a national bestseller. Her newest work, which came out last week, is Visible City, which chronicles three couples whose paths cross in their New York City neighborhood.

One can visit Tova’s website here, and follow hereon Twitter here.

Tova Mirvis, woman of words and strength, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Tova, I learned of you from your magnificent New York Times essay about your past life as a member of the Orthodox Jewish world—and I was absolutely riveted. I know a few Orthodox Jews quite well, and while I like them as individuals, I feel like they’re actually members of a cult that, for some reason, isn’t labeled a “cult.” Am I way off on this?

TOVA MIRVIS: I don’t think it’s a cult, but I do think that it’s a very tightly ordered community with an immense number of rules and a overwhelmingly strong sense of norms and expectations for its members. As you go further rightward into the Orthodox world, those rules intensify, connections to the outside world decrease, and the ability to leave the Orthodox world shrinks too. In that further-extreme right wing world, I think you see characteristics that are cult-like, in order to keep people inside and to ensure uniformity of behavior and belief.

J.P.: I’ve always felt bad for the daughters of Orthodox Jews, because it seems like they have, literally, no say in their futures. This is what you’ll do, this will be your role, this is who you’ll marry. And, mostly, they go along. I was wondering—beneath their breaths, are the young girls/women ever saying, “To hell with this bullshit—I’m out.” Is there resistance? Backlash? Or are they reduced to mere lemmings, coerced into thinking this is the only way?

T.M.: There’s a range of practice in the Orthodox world, of course, but I think being a girl in the Orthodox world is very challenging. So much expectation, such a sense that you are supposed to be a “good girl.” Some people are happy with this, I know, but for those of us who are not, it can feel like you are bursting out of the walls of your world, erupting inside your own body. Some of these girls act on this and leave the world, and some stay and try to make changes from within, and some live in a state of conflict, as I did, where your outsides don’t match your insides. There are lots of ways to rebel, including the quiet spaces inside where people rise up, resist, yet continue to remain inside. I love writing about those moments when characters are perched on the line, both inside and outside at the same time. Those can be hard places to live, but they are great to write about.

J.P.: I’m not sure how observant you are these days, so, well, how observant are you these days? And if there’s no God, is all this religion stuff just a big waste of time?

T.M.: I’m not sure how observant I am these days either. I’ve spent the first 40 years of my life strictly observing Jewish law, and even as I struggled and doubted over the years, it was important to me to remain inside. I am finding my way now when all of a sudden there are no givens, no precedents for me. I still value tradition very much—this is not an uncomplicated leave taking.

One of the things I think about a lot is the way people derive benefits from religion regardless of its truth value. I think people believe in community as much as, maybe more than, they believe in God. But is that enough? Is community a good enough answer for the problem of belief and doubt?

J.P.: Your debut novel, The Ladies Auxiliary, debuted in 1999 and became a best seller. This might sound sort of silly, but how did you actually know how to write a book? I mean–you’re a writer, and you surely love the written word. But your book is 336 pages. How did you figure it out?

T.M.: I figured out how to write the book as I went along—I started out with one small piece of the book and went from there. I think writing is something you can only learn how to do by actually doing it—by making mistakes and learning how to fix them. It can be a nerve-wracking way to write, with no clear plan, but it’s the only way I know how. Now, a few books later, I still write that way, but have a little more trust that eventually this unclear path will take me somewhere.

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J.P.: What’s your writing process? Where do you write? When? How do you develop ideas? And how do you not lose your mind (like I do) is a sea of loneliness and despair that every word you jot down absolutely sucks?

T.M.: I swim in the writerly sea of loneliness and despair just about every day. My writing process is basically think, mope, worry, have an idea, get excited, furiously pound a few sentences onto my laptop, rest, think, repeat.

J.P.: I know you’re from Memphis, I know you’re Jewish, I know you write, I know you’re divorced and live in Boston with your three kids. But what has been your life path? Like, when did you first realize, “Writing! I’m good at this!” How did you come to that realization?

T.M.: I always liked to read and write—I was one of those kids whose head was always in a book, and liked to make up stories. In high school I was that anomalous teenager who enjoyed writing her college essays. And then in college, I started writing fiction and fell in love with it. I started writing what I thought would be a novel about the Memphis Jewish community where I grew up. I also wrote for the Columbia newspaper and toyed with a career in journalism but decided to apply to the Columbia MFA program in fiction writing. I started writing an early version of what became my first novel while in grad school—a different novel about the Memphis Jewish community. I also interned for a literary agent and when I was done with that novel, I gave it to her to read and she liked it and sold it.

J.P.: You and I both recently released new projects. I’ve just spent the past 2 ½ weeks whoring my book like no other book whore. I probably did 130 TV and radio interviews, I had myriad sports websites run excerpts, etc. Literally, I can’t think of anything more to do. But how does a fiction author promote? It seems like the outlets—especially compared to sports—are very limited, no?

T.M.: Promoting a novel is harder—people often want the real-life angle in order to give it media attention. But after spending almost ten years writing this book in a sort of hibernation, I’ve come out of my dark cave and discovered the very active and vibrant online book world. I’ve been doing a lot of guest blogging and have discovered that I can write a piece without spending five years on it. There are so many wonderful book bloggers who are interested in writing about novels. I’m late to Twitter and there too have discovered a wonderful book-loving community. These days, I suppose there an endless number of ways to be a book whore.

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J.P.: How difficult was it, leaving the cocoon of the Orthodox world? I mean, I’m sure it was hard. But was it h-a-r-d? Did you ever feel like a traitor? Do you ever have pangs of guilt? Regret? Doubt?

T.M.: The past few years have been immensely hard. Divorce—from a spouse or a religion—is not for the faint of heart. Regret, guilt, doubt, fear—these have paved the last few years, but also, exhilaration, adventure, growth. I think the religious leave-taking was as hard, if not harder, than the divorce itself.  The word unmoored is one that comes to mind a lot. I have felt like an exile, aware of the sense of rootedness I’ve lost, aware of the many friends from the Orthodox world who disappeared from my life when I got divorced. I think there is no way around this tradeoff: loneliness for freedom.

J.P.: How do you come up with the end? The final chapter? The final line? Do you have it planned far in advance? Does it happen as it happens? Do you change it frequently?

T.M.: I don’t have it planned at all. I don’t have the final line, the final idea, none of it until very late in the game. I don’t know where a novel is going until I get to know the characters very well and I can’t get to know the characters until I write my way into the book. With Visible City, I revised constantly, most of all the ending. I am a chronic reviser and tinkerer. Even now, when it’s already published, I could probably go back and revise a little more.

J.P.: I often feel like we writers think ourselves to be important, when really we’re sorta disposable and useless. Agree? Disagree?

T.M.: To be a fiction writer is to hope that complete strangers will want to live inside a fictional universe that I created in my head. That’s a pretty bold expectation, and maybe you have to believe that what you say will be important to people in order to spend so many years at it. Individually we might be disposable, but I’d argue that fiction itself is indispensable. It’s a way of illuminating the world of human interaction. It’s the best place to understand what it means to be a human being.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TOVA MIRVIS:

• Would you rather return to your past Orthodox life or convert to Catholicism and attend mass, oh, six times per year?: I’ve spent too many years with black and white either/or propositions to have to make that choice. I’m going to rebel against the question and go for Buddhism.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Dunkin’ Donuts, Candyland, the Shema, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Oklahoma City, Frozen, Leonard Nimoy, Dan Quayle, tweed, Tina Turner, Holiday Inn Express, Anthony Bourdain: Frozen, Candyland, the Shema, Leonard Nimoy, the number 24, Tina Turner, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Anthony Bourdain, Oklahoma City, Dunkin’ Donuts, tweed, Holiday Inn Express, Dan Quayle.

• Celine Dion calls—she offers you $30 million to spend the next year writing her memoir. However, you have to move to Las Vegas, live in her guest house, change her dog’s dog diaper once per day and live on a simultaneous-and-limited diet of bacon burgers, chicken sausages and chocolate shakes. You in?: I can do Las Vegas for a year, I have 3 kids so there’s no diaper that daunts me, but I’m a diehard vegetarian, so that’s a deal breaker for me.

• Five reasons to make Newton, Mass. one’s next vacation destination: Crystal Lake, the walking trail at Cold Spring Park, Bullough’s Pond, the Newton Library, and Crystal Lake.

• Give me your worst book event/signing story: At a reading in Florida right after my first book came out, the bookstore owner said to me, “we have a “non-attendance issue”—meaning no one was there.

• Five greatest novelists of your lifetime?: Philip Roth, Marilynne Robinson, Jeffrey Eugenides, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison.

• You’re from Memphis, but you were raised Orthodox. Number of times you took the Graceland guided tour?: Believe it or not, just once, and that was when I was 18, to take a friend from out of town.

• The word you use waaaaay too often in your writing is …: Seem

• How concerned are you with the potential eternal nothingness of death?: It’s on the list of things to worry about at four in the morning, but luckily (or unluckily) there are always more pressing concerns.

• I’m thinking of writing a book about a reform Jew from New York who sits in coffee shops all day checking his Twitter account while he’s supposed to be writing about the Showtime-era Lakers. Think you can help me land a deal?: Pure fiction, right?

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Conroe Brooks

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I love people who bust their asses chasing a dream.

We always throw around terms like, “Busting my ass” … but how many actually do so? How many chase a dream, even when the dream keeps taunting, teasing, proving elusive? How many are willing to sustain, even when said dream pulls back, darts off, dashes away?

Conroe Brooks is a dream chaser. He’s an actor, a singer, a dancer. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe you haven’t. You’ve certainly seen him—leading famed flash mobs, starring as Sam Cooke. He’s an amazing talent who aspires to great things, while eternally experimenting in his pursuits. In short, he’s a performer. An excellent one.

This is one of my favorite Quazes, because guys like Conroe Brooks—and their efforts—speak to me. You can follow him on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

Conroe Brooks, welcome to the land of Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Conroe, before I get into your history and some nitty gritty—you’re the man behind many of the flash mobs that went viral. Which leads me to ask: What the hell? Some phenomenons I get, some I don’t. This one—the idea of a ton of people just starting to dance, without anyone else knowing—caught me totally (but pleasantly) off guard. How do you explain the evolution of popularity of the flash mob? How did you get involved? And does it have any remaining steam, or is it sorta 2010ish?

CONROE BROOKS: I got started doing flash mobs when Michael Jackson died. After he passed I felt like I needed to do something to celebrate him. I came across the Sweden “Beat It” flash mob and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I sent a message out to all my friends—including Staci Lawrence, who is now my business partner with Flash Mob America. She really jumped on board to help out, make this thing happen and invite people. It ended up being a major success, getting tons of news coverage. After that I really thought I was done with. I expected it to be one and done. But people kept begging for another one. So we did another MJ flash mob on his birthday. And then I honestly thought that was it. Next thing we knew Janet Jackson’s record label found us on Facebook and hired us to do one for her. Janet showed up to watch, which ended up giving us international press. It was insane. We began to get news coverage on MTV, CBS, etc. And they were naming us as the leading flash mob company. And really we were the only flash mob company. Lol!

So the popularity really sprung up after Michael Jackson died. People ended up doing MJ flash mobs all over the world. Next, major PR agencies began hiring us. We haven’t had a day off since. I’d say that now, almost five years later, the big major company flash mobs have decreased a lot. We are still very busy though. Now people are doing them mostly for marriage proposals, weddings, sales conferences and trade shows. There’s still plenty of steam as far as I can see.

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J.P.: You’re best known as an actor now, but when you were 18 you joined the R&B group Special Generation—which was discovered by MC Hammer. What exactly does that mean? Did Hammer literally find you in a club? How does one get discovered? And what did Hammer do for you and your career?

C.B.: Hammer actually literally discovered Special Generation. I think it happen at a show. They sang for him and he told them to pack their bags, you’re coming with me tomorrow. I say ‘they’ because I joined the group later in the game. They sang background on his “U Can’t Touch This” album and then recorded their own. After a couple years things got rough and a couple members left the group. In came me. An 18-year-old bright-eyed kid. I was over the moon because I had their album and knew all their songs already. At this point though, MC Hammer wasn’t really involved. We were basically starting from scratch again. The name definitely helped us get in a few doors. We released a single and toured for a summer, but that was it. So after a few years I decided to leave the group and get back into acting.

J.P.: Being Denzel or Redford seems awesome. Being Conroe Brooks, actor, seems hard. In 2000 you played Sam Cookie in the TV movie, “Little Richard,” and since then much of what you’ve done has been small parts—“Kevin” in an episode of Will and Grace, a police officer in Heroes, a process server in The Young and the Restless. Why is it so hard to strike it big in Hollywood? And how rewarding/frustrating has your career been?

C.B.: It is definitely hard at times. But I love being an actor. It’s been a long roller coaster for me. When I first got to Los Angeles in 2000, things moved pretty quickly. I landed the role of Sam Cooke on my very first audition. There have been some great parts here and there since then, but of course I’m not famous yet. There are hundreds of thousands of actors out here. So that’s one thing that makes it tough. Also, you’ve got to be absolutely ready to handle a lot of pressure. There is an extremely small percentage of people that could actually handle carrying a movie or a TV show. That takes either being born with that it factor or somehow finding it along the way. No one can teach you that. Or else, of course, more people would be famous. It has been quite frustrating for me because I don’t get a lot of auditions. Although I book a good percentage of the auditions I go out on. But six-to-eight auditions a year won’t cut it. So that’s the most frustrating part. Getting casting directors to know you exist and bring you in. I have the chops, but only a handful of casting directors know that. The good thing that’s happen for us up-and-coming actors is that now it’s easier that ever to make your own movies, webseries, etc. And that’s really all I want to do. I’m not looking to be famous. I just wanna tell great stories and be able to make a living doing it.

J.P.: You were born and raised in San Jose, and you got your start singing in musicals. But what, exactly, was your path from birth to here? How did you decide upon entertainment as a career? What pushed you throughout your early days?

C.B.: I can tell you the exact moment when a light bulb clicked in my head that entertainment is what I wanted to do. It started when I was in sixth grade. It was recess and I walked by an open classroom door and heard a teacher call my name. I went in and he said, “I want you to audition for the school play. Here, look at this monologue for a little while and then come back in and read it for me.” I was kind of a shy kid so I’m not sure why I agreed. But the role I was reading for was a shy kid, so that worked in my favor. I came back in and read the monologue and as soon as I was finished he said, “You got the part!” That actually wasn’t the moment I knew I wanted to be an actor. I was so nervous, but also a bit excited. It was after the play that sealed the deal. It was the reaction of everyone telling me how good and funny I was. That’s when the light bulb turned on. I loved making people happy. I loved making people laugh. I was hooked.

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J.P.: What is it like seeing yourself on TV? Is it still a rush or a thrill or anything? Does it get old? Are you ever horrified, or elated?

C.B.: Seeing myself on TV now doesn’t have the same thrill as it did in the beginning. Now I watch with more a critic’s eye. I’m not too hard on myself, but I watch carefully to see if I pulled it off and was believable.

J.P.: According to your IMDB bio, you were cast by Garry Marshall to help develop Happy Days the musical. I was a Happy Days fanatic as a kid—looooooved and lived for that show, but I remember nothing of a musical. What happened, Conroe? What’s the story behind the story?

C.B.: Garry Marshall did, I think, about three or four workshops trying to get a musical off the ground. I did a few of them and then my manager advised that I stop because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I think he only ended up running it for a short time at his little theater in Toluca Lake. So it just never got going.

J.P.: Several years ago I wrote a piece for TV Guide about a short-lived show called “Love Monkey.” Jason Priestly was a cast member, and after watching a scene filmed for the 20th time I said to him, “This seems pretty boring.” He replied, “You have no idea.” Conroe, is film/TV acting actually fun? And, if so, how/why? Because it seems like there’s a helluva lot of standing around.

C.B.: There is a lot of standing around for sure. But you get used to that. It’s still a thrill once those cameras start rolling and you have to do your best to portray real life. It’s the ultimate challenge. And when you get to do fun action stuff like shooting guns or high-speed chases, well, then the wait is worth it.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? 

C.B.: I just released a music video for my cover of Say Something. This is my first music I’ve done and first song as a solo artist on iTunes. The video is starting to pick up some steam and getting amazing feedback! I’m very proud of the song and I think the video is going to be something different and risky that people haven’t seen before. I think it’s going to doing something pretty big.

J.P.: Sam Cooke was friggin’ amazing and awesome and the smoothest singer I’ve ever heard. That was your first-ever TV role. What do you recall of the experience? How does one prepare himself to play a legend? And do you recall how you received word that you landed the part? What your reaction was?

C.B.: Well, Sam Cooke is my favorite singer so I was very familiar with him already. I watched anything and everything I could get my hands on to learn about him and see him in interviews and performances. My voice is already similar to his so that wasn’t a problem. My manager called me to tell me the news. I was at work waiting tables when I got the call. She actually left me a message to call her as soon as I got it. So I snuck off at a time when nobody needed anything at my tables. When she said “You got the part,” I was overjoyed. I jumped around and screamed like a crazy person. I immediately called my parents to tell them the news. Sam Cooke is also my dad’s favorite singer so I knew he would be excited.

J.P.: In the aftermath of Newtown, liberals blamed guns, and the NRA turned around and blamed—in part—violence in TV and film. I’m wondering what you think about this. Are some movies and shows too violent? Have we, as a society, crossed a line?

C.B.: I don’t think they are too violent. I watched all kind of scary movies, violent movies as a kid and I had no desire to shoot people. It’s ridiculous to blame TV and movies. They aren’t turning kids into killers. These kids are already disturbed for whatever reason and people/family aren’t taking the time to really talk to these kids about their problems. They obviously aren’t feeling loved or a part of society. There’s a disconnect with their parents somewhere.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CONROE BROOKS:

• Not a ton of Conroes in the world. How’d you get your name?: It’s a family name. My dad is Conroe and my grandfather was Conroe as well.

• Five reasons one should make San Jose his/her next vacation destination?: Hmmm. Ummm. It’s close to San Francisco?

• Three memories from your experience playing “LAPD Officer No. 2” on 24: Meeting Kiefer Sutherland. Feeling nervous about acting like an authority figure. The feeling of wearing a cop uniform and walking around downtown LA.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino and Daniel Day-Lewis.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)Jim Rome, The DH, Whole Foods, “Clueless,” The Rock, Lindsay Hartley, New York City, Milk Duds, “Jerry Maguire,” Jose Reyes, Pete Wilson, Buddy Biancalana, Canada Dry products: New York City, Lindsay Hartley, “Jerry Maguire,”, “Clueless,” Whole Foods, The Rock, Milk Duds, Canada Dry products, Buddy Biancalana, the DH, Jim Rome, Pete Wilson, Jose Reyes, Cher.

• The most underrated film of all time is …: The Shawshank Redemption

• One question you would ask Jimmy Carter were he here right now?: What was up with that UFO incident?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall …: Yes. But I’m a bit nervy about flying. It was really just turbulence that last longer than I could handle. I sort of let out an “Oh god!” at one point.

• Can you make an argument, in 18 words or less, for Celine Dion?: Not really. I don’t pay much attention to her. I mean I know she’s amazing. I just don’t get excited about her.

• Best joke you know: Knock knock. Who’s there? Control Freak – OKAY NOW YOU SAY CONTROL FREAK WHO!