Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Austin Winsberg

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I love interviewing writers from different mediums.

From my end, it feels like a country artist comparing notes with a rapper; or Julia Roberts trading acting thoughts with, oh, Sylvester Stallone. There are so many processes that go along with the profession, and they cross over traditional creative barriers. Where do you write? How do you write? Where do the ideas come from?

Hence, today’s Quaz.

Austin Winsberg is a scribe, just like I’m a scribe—and the similarities end there. He has written for Gossip Girl and Still Standing, and was the creative mind behind  Jake in Progress, the TV series starring John Stamos. His biggest hit, to date, comes on Broadway, as the playwright of the runaway hit, First Date: The Musical.

Here, Austin explains how Punky Brewster and a lack of interest in snorting coke changed his life, and what it feels like to have a play—your play!—open up on Broadway. He talks actor egos and Carrie Underwood and, of course, Celine Dion.

Austin Winsberg, welcome to The Quaz: The Non-Musical …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Austin, so you’re responsible for “Blind Date: The Musical,” which opened on Broadway on Aug. 8, 2013. But I’m a tad confused—to quote a bunch of places, “The show evolved from a book by Austin Winsberg.” So, eh, how the heck did this happen?

AUSTIN WINSBERG: Well, first of all, the show is called “First Date.” Blind Date was that awesome Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger movie from the 80s. So, already, this interview is going swimmingly. [JEFF'S NOTE: This is a pretty embarrassing screw-up. I guess I could have edited out. But screw-ups happen]  Now, in regards to “the book.” The book in a musical is actually what they call everything that is not a song. So, in other words, the script. Or the characters and dialogue. It’s not a book like something you would buy on kindle or used to exist in something I believe was once called a book store. It’s just all the words between songs. To clarify, my writing partners on the project—Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary—and I, all sat down over several months and came up with the whole structure and idea behind the show. (The show is about a couple on a first date at a restaurant. And as they are trying to get to know each other, all of their past baggage and skeletons in the closet come to life on stage around them …) We came up with the basic framework, and funny song ideas, and who the characters were, etc. Then, I went off and wrote all the dialogue and scene description stuff and they wrote the songs. Sometimes I would write dialogue that would turn into lyrics. Or sometimes song notions would end up becoming dialogue. It was a very collaborative process between the three of us …

J.P.: So it’s Aug. 8, 2013, and your show is opening on Broadway. No, YOUR SHOW IS OPENING ON BROADWAY!!! What did that feel like? Emotions? Nerves? Were you petrified by fear? Overcome with pride? What?

A.W.: I think at that moment I mostly felt exhausted. It was all pretty surreal. We had an intense rehearsal process and then about a month of previews before the show had opened, so we had seen it with an audience about thirty times before opening. We also had done a three-month “out-of-town try-out” in Seattle. So, we were used to people seeing the show. But we were also in this intense pressure cooker of a work environment, and once you’re in that bubble, you kind of forget the enormity of it all. Which was probably good for me. Because if I stood there through rehearsals thinking, “Holy shit—we are about to open on Broadway,” I would have been paralyzed with fear and wouldn’t have been able to rewrite jokes every night during previews. As for pride—I’m a neurotic Jew who is very hard on himself and I always think I could and should be doing better. So, pride is not an emotion I normally feel. That being said, I tried very hard at a few points during the process to take a step back and enjoy the moment. Because if you don’t enjoy it—what’s the point of doing it in the first place? I remember the first time I saw the show up on the marquee—that was a good moment. The first time I heard the audience laugh at a joke I struggled for weeks to get right—that was also another good moment. Opening night, I remember sweating. And feeling very hot. And also a little emotional. I may have cried a little. Don’t judge me …

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J.P.: I know you’re from L.A., I know you attended Brown, I know you have a wife and two kids. But what’s your life path? How did you get from the womb to here? And when did you know writing was your thing?

A.W.: Wow. That’s a very long and intense question … Not sure I can give you all that info in the time allotted … But let me see if I can give you the Cliff’s Notes version. (BTW—do Cliff’s notes still exist? Or did I just age myself? And why were they called Cliff’s notes? Who the hell was Cliff other than the definitive slacker? Note to self—maybe there’s a TV show idea about this “Cliff” and all his notes. Like a comedic, period piece, origin story … How one slacker came to help an entire generation NOT read the classics … Sorry, where was I?) Okay, I grew up thinking I wanted to be an actor. My parents weren’t in the business, but I always loved being the center of attention. So, at a very early age, I convinced my mother to get me an agent. And I started auditioning for commercials and TV shows when I was about seven years old. My biggest claim to fame during this part of my life was being fired from Punky Brewster. They accused me of being “disruptive on set.” This may have had to do with the fact that I was madly in love with Punky. And that I told the director where to put the camera. Did I mention I was ten? And I still think the angle I suggested was better than what she was planning.

I started reading Variety when I was twelve. And I could you tell about every single movie that was in production or what show was on what channel at any time of the day … (I was basically a walking IMDB before IMDB. Why did I need all this information? I have no idea. I think it was like other kids memorizing baseball stats or something. Only I wasn’t good at baseball. I had depth-perception problems. Which made catching fly balls very embarrassing for me. And for everyone around me…) Either way—I was just endlessly fascinated by the business. All aspects of it …

When I was 14, I went to a very famous theater camp in the Catskills called Stagedoor Manor. My best friend there was already a “playwright” and he was winning all these young playwriting contests around the country. (Yes, this is really a thing …) I always liked making people laugh and writing sort of seemed like a natural extension of that. So, while I was still trying to get the leads in school plays and the occasional bit part in shows like The Wonder Years (never happened), I also started writing some plays on the side. Mostly to compete with my camp friend and show him I was cool, too. ‘Cause nothing says “cool kid” more then “young playwright’s festival winner.” That being said, I won the Los Angeles Blank Theater Company Annual Young Playwright’s Festival five times before I was 19. And writing just became a part of what I did, while still pursuing other things.

After college, I worked at New Line Cinema for a year, thinking that I wanted to be a studio executive. But it didn’t feel creative enough for me. (That and I wasn’t comfortable around all that blow. Am I allowed to say that on here? I’m not saying where the blow came from, or that it had anything to do with the New Line organization. I’m just saying, I may have seen some blow that year. And I may not have partaked. And I may have been judged for it by those who will not be named …) So, I left New Line and decided to be a writer. (It was, after all, the one area where I had gotten the most validation up to this point. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but when you’re not getting parts in even your school plays, maybe you shouldn’t then decide to make an entire career out of being an actor. Thus, writing became my full-time job …)

I convinced that camp friend to move to Los Angeles from New York. We started writing together and got staffed on our first TV show when we were 23. We wrote on two shows together. And I left the second one when I created and executive produced a show that was on ABC for two seasons called “Jake in Progress,” starring John Stamos. I have lots of stories from that time. But since you did not ask me about that, I will move on … Having a show on the air opened the door to lots of opportunities. And by opportunities, I mean writing lots of pilots and movies that have not gotten made. That has been a big part of my career—getting massively humbled while selling and writing projects that never make it off an executive’s desk … (While also taking gigs on the occasional show like “Gossip Girl.”) Which actually brings us back to First Date … Feeling frustrated with the whole TV development process, I thought maybe it was time to go back to my theater roots. And that’s really where writing a stage musical came from. Just the desire to have fun with some friends and try writing something different than another pilot that gets passed on by a network so they can pick-up someone else’s show that gets canceled after two episodes. And I actually think there’s some sort of lesson here. When you stop writing for “them,” and instead start writing for “you,” who knows what will happen? Best case scenario—I imagined First Date would play for a few weeks in some little theater in Hollywood. And yet, somehow it ended up on Broadway …

J.P.: I’m gonna throw a weird one at you: Of all the writers, producers and directors I’ve met in New York and Los Angeles, a solid, oh, 70 percent of them have been Jewish. And yet, we make up about 3 percent of the country’s total population. How do you explain this? Do I just have a Jew magnet? Do we own the media? Somewhere in between?

A.W.: I certainly don’t think I can speak for all Jews. But I do imagine the majority of us have this “need to please” gene. And, like I mentioned before—“nothing’s ever good enough” syndrome. Maybe this comes from growing up in homes with challenging or critical parents. But I think we all desperately want to be loved. And get validated. And there’s no greater validation than being loved on the world stage. Or by having millions of people seeing your work and responding to your material. I also think we are gluttons for punishment. So some combo of wanting to be loved and needing to be persecuted at all times has driven most of us into this profession. It’s not healthy. And yes, I am in therapy. But at least I’m aware of this sickness. If the day comes when I can get most of my self-worth and happiness from something other than fleeting validation from the powers-that-be, we should throw a big party. (That I’m sure I will be judging while it’s happening. “This is really the whole party? Do I even deserve this? I don’t care if there’s three hundred people here all celebrating me. How the hell did that one person not show up?! I’m going inside. I have a stomach-ache. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten gluten.”)

J.P.: You were a writer on The Sound of Music Live!—the recent recreation of one of the all-time classic plays/movies. What was this experience like? How ambitious was the idea? What did you think of the ultimate product? And how many times did you think, “Fuck—Carrie Underwood ain’t no Julie Andrews …”

A.W.: I think the idea was hugely ambitious. A live TV musical? For three hours? And are you really asking me what I thought of the final product? Here’s what I think—there are lots of challenges with having to do something live. You have to do a general lighting scheme, so everything seems super brightly lit. You have to shoot it on video so it can be broadcast to the world live. Forget about any other aspects of the show—and already—it looks like a Spanish telenovela. So, the first thing you have to overcome is just the simple visual style. And for some people that’s a hard thing to look past. Especially in HD. But there was great care taken in the creation of all aspects of the show. And I think they mounted a production that was true to the intent of the original stage piece.

As for Carrie Underwood, I think she got very unfairly maligned. Seriously. For her first acting role—to take on a three-hour live show? I thought it was incredibly brave of her. And I think people were super critical of her without praising the sheer boldness and risk-taking involved. I think “Sound of Music” is a classic. And I think it was an admirable experiment. Anything that brings theater to the masses has to be applauded. At least in my opinion. Plus, the good news (at least I take it as good news), is that since the show got so many viewers—there’s going to be even more of them. (They’ve already announced live “Peter Pan” and “Grease” musical events …) So, whether people are watching because they love the musicals or because they treat it like some sort of guilty pleasure or potential train wreck—there are still eyeballs coming to something that is quintessentially theater. And I think that’s awesome. So, to be a small part of the project that started this trend is something I am extremely proud of.

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J.P.: According to your IMDB page, you have one acting credit, as “KPQU Joe” in “The Ugly Truth”—the Katherine Heigl-Gerard Butler non-classic from 2009. There has to be a story here. Please explain …

A.W.: Well, I used to work out at a gym next to a guy who was a producer on the movie. One day he told me there were lots of parts in the film for people like “writers and agents and stuff like that.” I think what he was trying to say, was, “You know, Jews like you…” He asked me if I wanted to audition. I thought it would be fun since I hadn’t done it in so many years. I went in and read some lines with the casting director. And sure enough, I got a call two months later saying I had a part. I didn’t know who KPQU Joe was, but I was really excited. Just like I was back at Stagedoor Manor. I remember the script arriving at my house, and me going through every single page looking for KPQU Joe. This was finally the big acting break I had wanted so many years earlier.

Finally, I get to page 96, and the first time KPQU Joe shows himself. And this was the description—I’m not even kidding. “In walks JOE, a balding nebbish.” This is what I had waited all those years for?! To play the balding nebbish?! This is how the universe or at least the casting Gods saw me? Apparently so … Needless to say, I did not let that deter me. And I spent three days on set reminding myself why I gave up acting in the first place. (Did I mention I’m a pretty terrible actor?)

J.P.: Why do you think we care so much about actors? Being serious, Austin. A fireman can walk by and we pay him no mind. A teacher, a police officer, an EMS worker—meh. But show me a man or woman who pretends to be someone else on a screen or stage, well, break out the confetti! Why?

A.W.: I think actors reveal the universal truths and the deep-seeded emotions that most of us are too afraid to feel or let out in public. By standing out as individuals, they are speaking for all of us. Oh, who am I kidding?! Actors are pretty people, damnit! And everyone likes looking at and being around pretty people. Plus, most of them are way more charming and funny than the rest of us. Until you spend actual time with them. And then you realize that they are bottomless wells of need and insecurity who will suck you dry with endless conversations about themselves. And their latest headshots. And whether or not they should switch agents. Or go on that yoga retreat they’ve been thinking about. Or… (Honestly, I’m exhausted even writing about this question. And I am friends with some actors. They’re not all emotional vampires…)

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

A.W.: I think these moments are actually both the same. I found myself in the audience several years back at the rehearsal for a live episode of American Idol. The people I was there with were friends with one of the producers. He came over to us while we were watching the contestants perform their songs (sans judges), and asked if any of us had any funny quips or critiques that Paula Abdul could use while she was talking about any of the performances on the live show. I came up with some snappy barb in the moment and then forgot about it. I went home that night, turned on the TV, and sure enough, Paula Abdul said my joke while she was talking to one of the contestants! Watching Paula Abdul say my line on American Idol in front of 20 million people may have been the greatest moment of my career. In retrospect, the fact that I got that excited about Paula Abdul saying my one corny line on American Idol also has to qualify as one of the lowest.

J.P.: You were a consulting producer for many episodes of Gossip Girl. I’ve watched a bunch of TV shows being filmed and I’ve often thought the same thing—yaaaaaaaawn. “Let’s shoot that scene again. And again. Now from this angle. Wait, once more.” Do you enjoy working in television? If so, what’s the appeal?

A.W.: I love working in television. First and foremost, because of the pace of it. Movies and theater take years and years to happen (or not happen). With TV, it’s such a machine. It needs product. Which means, everything happens much faster. So, you know very quickly if a pilot you wrote is getting made or not. Or, if you are on a TV show, you have an entire crew and actors waiting on a set. And they have to shoot something on Thursday. There’s no going back from that. Once the thing is in motion—it stays in motion. Until cancelled by an outside force. So, there is only so much “group think” and noting that can happen. But at a certain point—they just have to shoot something. So, you actually get to see your words being shot. And that can be very gratifying. Also—TV is a collaborative medium. It’s not just you alone in a room all day, trying to force yourself to sit down at your computer. Most TV shows have writers rooms and you get to go in and bond and laugh and come up with stories and eat great lunches with a room full of supremely talented people. So, if you enjoy being social and you’re not a total hermit, you get to flex your creative muscles while also being around other people at the same time… Finally, TV is truly a writer’s medium. They say film is a director’s medium. But in TV, the writer or “showrunner” is the one in charge. So, if you get to that level, you are actually overseeing all aspects of production. Not just writing, but casting, editing, costumes, etc … It truly feels like the one place, other than being a film director, where it can be your vision up there every week. (Or at least close to it, depending on how many notes you get from the studio and network …)

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J.P.: How do you write? Where do you write? When do you know if something’s great and brilliant, vs. liquid crap?

A.W.: I always start with an idea. Then I let it dance around in my head for a while. Then I get several people’s opinions on whether it’s worth pursuing. Then I second-guess it. Then I get depressed. And then if I still can’t let it go, I start writing up some form of an outline or a pitch document. Once I have a solid story and structure, and only then, will I actually start writing a script … I usually write at home. Unlike a lot of writers, I actually need silence to write. Unfortunately, that’s getting harder and harder since I have a 3-year-old who’s bedroom is literally right next door to my office. And another kid due in two weeks and counting … So, for me, the hardest thing at the moment is just shutting the door, silencing the outside noises and trying to focus. Which is made harder by the fact that all I really want to do at this point is just play with my kid … As for “great” and “brilliant”—I’m not sure those are thoughts that ever go through my head. I do go through a phase where I feel like it’s coming together and the script feels like a version of what I set out to do. For me—that’s probably the best moment in the process. Finishing a draft of something and thinking—“You know what, I don’t totally hate this …”

But, having had my heart broken so many times with projects that I thought were very good and ended up not getting made, I try at this point to not put any expectations behind it when I send it in to the powers-that-be. I always believe in putting my best foot forward. But as my therapist has reminded me numerous times, the only thing I have control over is the work, not people’s responses to it. And executives always give notes. This is their job. THEY WILL NEVER NOT GIVE NOTES. So, if the notes are light, I think the executives are brilliant and I’m pleasantly surprised. And if they have lots of notes, I instantly turn on the thing I liked just the day before and now convince myself it’s riddled with problems. Honestly, the hardest part of the whole process is remembering what it is you liked about the project in the first place. And then fighting as hard as you can to maintain those small things that initially got you excited while also being a team player and showing everyone that you can adapt and incorporate all of their thoughts into the work … without totally watering the thing down … and making it feel completely generic … which has happened to me a few times over the years while trying to be a “good guy” and make everyone happy. Which, consequently, ends up making nobody happy.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH AUSTIN WINSBERG:

• On IMDB, it lists your “alternate name” as Austin Garrett. Um … what?: This was my stage name when I was a child actor. My first agent told me Winsberg sounded “too Jewish.” True story.

Rank in order (favorite to least): Book of Mormon, Joe Montana, The Greatest American Hero, napkins, cake pops, Joan Rivers, Peter Criss, veggie burger, “Holding Out for a Hero,” hiking, Brian Cashman, Easter Sunday: The Greatest American Hero, Book of Mormon, cake pops, “Holding out for a Hero,” Joan Rivers, hiking, Easter Sunday, napkins, veggie burgers, Peter Criss, Joe Montana, Brian Cashman. (Did I mention I don’t really follow sports? And yes, I had to look up Brian Cashman. But not Joe Montana. So at least give me a little credit for that.)

• Five favorite movies of all-time?: The Shawshank Redemption, Parenthood, Groundhog Day, Defending Your Life, Annie Hall.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Taylor Momsen? How many rounds do it go?: That girl would kick my ass so hard. I’d probably take it on the chin in the first round and then go home, whine to my wife and take a nap.

• Would you rather name your daughter Leighton Meester Winsberg or Blair Walforf Winsberg?: Thankfully, I have a boy with a second boy almost here. So I don’t have to answer that question. Having seen some of the Gossip Girl message boards, there’s no winning in getting involved in that fight …

• Celine Dion calls and offers you $15 million to write her new play, “Celine Dion Eats Goldfish then Worships Satan While Pooping on Stage.” You have to sit next to her every day for a year and also eat 10 pieces of her dead skin daily. You in?: I’d hate to ever consider myself a “sell-out,” but … I already have a ton of ideas for what I would do with that project … even without the $15 million. (I mean—who wouldn’t go see that show?!) The dead skin part kind of throws me a little, but these are the sacrifices we make for our art …

• My cell phone recently dropped in a toilet filled with piss. What was I supposed to do?: The same thing happened to me at the podiatrist office. In a water tub. I shudder to think about the feet that were in there before my phone dropped in. That being said, my cell phone is the fourth most important relationship in my life, right behind my wife, my child and my mother. So I dove right in to grab that thing just as if a family member was drowning. If I could have given my phone mouth-to-mouth, I totally would have. Unfortunately, we were not able to revive it. And I ended up giving my phone a proper Viking funeral.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: That’s all I ever think when I’m on a plane. Mostly I just try to close my eyes and go to a happy place. Or take Xanax and drink lots of alcohol. In which case—I recall nothing.

• Your college roommate was John Lloyd Young, the actor. Can you tell us one thing about him that’s never been written?: He makes a mean cornbread?

• This is my all-time least favorite song. Your thoughts?: Steve Winwood is my uncle (twice-removed), so it wouldn’t really be appropriate for me to comment.

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Bob Ley

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Not unlike most people who work in sports media, I have mixed and scattered opinions about ESPN. On the one hand, I’ve probably spent, oh, 12 percent of my lifetime television viewing time watching the network. The coverage has been unparalleled and, in relation to broadcast journalism, medium-defining. Some of the shows are absolutely dazzling; some of the employees beyond elite.

And yet, ESPN can also drive a guy to drink. It’s non-stop. It’s (at times) brain melting. There’s often a blurring of the line between reporting and entertaining, and if I never have to hear that damned SportsCenter theme song again … well … um … yeah.

I digress: As much as I sometimes growl toward the network, I always—always—love the work of Bob Ley, ESPN’s longest tenured employee and the definition of a professional. Bob is not a guy with gimmicks and tricks and irksome catchphrases. He reminds me of the sportscasters I grew up watching—Len Berman, Jerry Girard, Sal Marciano. He lets the action speaks, and uses his voice and words as guides, not soundtracks.

As you read this, Bob, along with Alexi Lalas, is anchoring ESPN’s World Cup coverage from the network’s studio in Rio de Janeiro. He still hosts SportsCenter on occasion, but does his primary lifting as the host of the top-shelf investigative program, Outside the Lines.

Here, Bob looks back at the day he accepted $25,000 to join a network nobody had yet heard of; he talks TV egos and good vs. bad programming. He loves Pretzel M&Ms and the Soprano’s, can do without Superman II and Tweets regularly (and entertainingly) here.

Bob Ley, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Bob, so I’m gonna start with an odd one. Years ago I left Sports Illustrated because I just got really bored covering sports. It started to hit me as repetitive—same uniforms, different names. I couldn’t take it. You’ve now been at ESPN for 35 years. That’s a lot of sports. How haven’t you lost interest?

BOB LEY: Those of us who go back a ways here in Bristol have a phrase that deals with the never-ending tide of highlights, scores, trades and contract stories—Cavs/Mavs/Jazz. Say that to an old-timer, and they get it immediately. Another (hopefully not generic) highlight, of another game, from another season. I anchor SportsCenters only on Sunday mornings for about half the year, so my Cavs/Mavs/Jazz quotient is not trending toward the immobilizing, but I get your point. There are times when you’re doing highlights with one side of your brain while the other is marveling that you can still summon the energy to sound interested.

J.P.: It won’t shock you to hear me say that I’ve seen m-a-n-y TV people with enormous egos. They think they’re important; they love the airport recognition; love signing autographs and hearing, “Hey, I love your work!” I’ve never heard anyone say a thing about your ego, arrogance, strut, cockiness. Literally, all I hear—repeatedly—is, “Good guy, real pro.” A. Do you disagree with my take on the field? And B. Why no crowing?

B.L.: Well, there is something I call Red Light Fever (borrowing from the old country and western “White Line Fever” written by David Allen Coe) and there is an intoxicating quotient about the attention and immediate feedback of doing this for a living. But at the end of a day, dude, this is just a job. The same as the folks operating the cameras in my studio, the same as the producers in my ear, and the same as the guy who gets up at 3 am to deliver my Sunday paper. A producer buddy of mine once said that getting a bunch of TV talent ( yes, the industrial term for ‘meat puppets’) together is akin to gathering a group of dogs in the park. They all get busy metaphorically sniffing each other, in sensitive areas, and sizing each other up. That’s inevitable. Perhaps part of my approach is that playing to the crowd, which I distinctly differentiate from being polite to folks who approach you, can be a bit of a waste of time. We got plenty on our ‘to do’ list. Maybe twice a month you’ll really nail a show, get a great interview, or illustrate a story ahead of the curve, and the show meetings after a program such as that are filled with the quiet satisfaction of doing what no one else has done that day, and doing it freaking well. OK, meeting’s over, time to go home … and then come back in tomorrow and do it again. And try to do it better. That will keep your chest thumping to a minimum. That, and reading Twitter, which vacillates between a revolutionary digital resource, and vivid proof that Darwin was right, and opposable thumbs can do some really stupid things.

J.P.: You’re from the mean streets of Bloomfield, N.J., you attended Seton Hall. But what’s your path? Like, when did you know, “TV—this is what I want to do!” And when did you figure you had a talent for it?

B.L.: I recall being 6-years old and standing in the announcer booth (rickety as it was) at the Langhorne Raceway in Pennsylvania, and watching a Wide World of Sports announcer (can’t recall exactly who) work a demolition derby. (You know, where cars take the track with the sole purpose of crashing into each other; last car running wins) My uncle was an assistant director at ABC, and an early age he introduced me to the magic of the business. I mean, that was 53 years ago, and I can still recall the gee-whiz factor, and how neat that all looked. Growing up in Jersey, outside of New York City, like so many kids in the late 60s and early 70s, I listened incessantly to Marv Albert announce Knick and Ranger games, and called games myself into cassette and reel-to-reel recorders; eventually, on a quite illegal pirate FM station a buddy had set up. Broadcasting was the sole reason I applied to Seton Hall, having listened to their basketball broadcasts on the student station WSOU (which covers the entire New York metropolitan area). And shortly after I graduated from school in 1976, a buddy I had written sports with at The Herald-News in Passaic told me that he heard a local cable system was setting up its own channel to broadcast sports. I had radio tapes, and they were paying $50 a game. How could you say no?

Three ESPN originals—Tom Mees, Chris Berman and Bob Ley (from left to right)

Three ESPN originals—Tom Mees, Chris Berman and Bob Ley (from left to right)

J.P.: You arrived at ESPN in 1979—when nobody knew what the damn thing was, and the idea of an all-sports network seemed preposterous. What do you recall from those early days? Did you guys are share in the vision? Was there doubt it’d last? And why did you even take the job?

B.L.: Grasshopper, you’ve asked me to write a book here. And some have. There were early visions and philosophies of how this place would sign on, prosper and grow. And the men who hired Chris, Tommy and me—Chet Simmons and Scotty Connal, both now gone—were in charge of managing that to fruition. Now, I did join ESPN when it started, but I actually had two job offers in hand. Exactly two weeks to the day before the network signed on, I drove from New Jersey to Plainville, Connecticut to meet with Scotty, having already sent a resume tape ahead. By the time I walked to the door with him at the conclusion of our meeting, he was offering me a job, doubling my local cable salary and promising to pay me the outrageous sum of $25,000 a year. This was late August, 1979. Scotty was sketching out a marvelous future. Of course, ESPN’s studio wasn’t yet finished, the building was a shell, and this interview was taking place in a rented, unfinished loft. I stopped poor Scotty in his tracks when I told him I had another job interview the next day, so I needed time to consider his offer. New Jersey Public Television, the next morning, offered me the No. 2 job in their sports department. Their building was constructed, they had plumbing, and the job meant anchoring on weekends in New York and Philly on the PBS stations, and reporting during the week. The money was virtually identical. I had about 18 hours to make up my mind. As I was coming out of a startup at a local cable system in Jersey, I saw the value of writing your own job description and taking charge of a blank canvas. But it wasn’t a clear-cut call. At least then.

J.P.: I’m a University of Delaware grad, and one of our famous alums—and a guy we all looked up to—was Tom Mees. I don’t mean to be overly depressing or dramatic, but what do you recall of Tom? And do you remember finding out about his death? How did that impact you?

B.L.: The words that inevitably spring to mind when I think of Tom are ‘irrepressible’ and ‘genuine.’ He did not possess an ounce of guile. Tom had a thorough and genuine love for the games, for reporting on them, and for his role at ESPN from the first month in 1979. He died August 14, 1996. I had just returned from a reporting trip to Cleveland on a story (which never did pan out) and I will always remember the phone conversations I had that afternoon with Chris LaPlaca and Howard Katz. We were all numb. The shared foxhole experiences of the early years, doing shows together at all hours and against all odds, in some of those times, frankly, when it was anything but certain that this enterprise was going to survive … you can’t appreciate the bonding and brotherhood of that unless you’ve experienced it. We would do a Sunday morning show together, and Tom would come over to our house (this was before he met Michele and was married) and my wife would cook us brunch, and we’d sit there having omelets and Bloody Mary’s, and wonder if just maybe this little network might work out. The picture displayed at his wake said it all. It was a casual shot of Tom, rinkside, at an NHL arena, with the broadest smile on his face. He was doing what he loved. Hockey was his passion, being from greater Philly, and pull out the videotapes; he was beyond excellent as a hockey play-by-play guy. All who knew him, think of him, especially around network anniversaries and the like.

Perhaps my favorite Tommy story is one he would never tell himself. It was after one of the Oilers’ Stanley Cup Championships, and Tom was doing the live interviews for SportsCenter with the winning players. SportsCenter was in a commercial break, and Wayne Gretzky skated over to talk with Tom. “Wayne, it’s gonna be a couple o’ minutes because we’re in a break. Sorry to make you wait.” And the greatest player in the history of the game said, “Tom, for you, anything. No worries.” We only heard that story after he died. He would never ever think of talking about himself like that.

Lee hosts the 1985 Grand Final of Aussie Rules with former Carlton skipper Mike Fitzpatrick.

Ley hosts coverage of the 1985 Grand Final of Aussie Rules with former Carlton skipper Mike Fitzpatrick.

J.P.: You broke the news of Pete Rose’s lifetime banishment back in 1989. How breathtaking and shocking was that? Did it have the magnitude of, say, Magic’s HIV announcement, or the OJ chase? And, years later, do you think Rose belongs in the Hall?

B.L.: Nothing will ever top Magic’s announcement for the sheer shock and breathtaking humanity. Remember, Pat Riley led the Madison Square Garden crowd in prayer that night. We all assumed Earvin would die. Rose’s ban was not unexpected by the end of August, 1989. We had developed multiple independent sources that summer as to the nature of his gambling on baseball. Over the years I sat down several times with Pete, before he came clean, and listened to his spin. Damn, what a ballplayer and American original he was, and is. Does he belong in the Hall? It’s academic, because he’ll never get in, but even if that weren’t the case, it pains me to say that his banishment should stand.

J.P.: You’re a big soccer dude, dating back to your stint as the New York Cosmos play by play man. Do you see a day when soccer is a legitimately big sport in the U.S.—right there with baseball, football and hoops? And why do you think it hasn’t happened already?

B.L.: The changing demographics of this country, the drip drip drip of soccer highlights into the daily highlight diet, the attention on the U.S. national teams (both men and women), the sterling job NBCSN is doing with the English Premier League, and the attendance figures for Major League Soccer all tell me that soccer, in 2014—and across the board—is already as big as hockey. This will honk off soccer-haters to an unfathomable degree but it’s a measure of how the sport has progressed that the once-fashionable disdain for the sport is loathe to slither out of its lowly hole, for fear of being beaten back by facts,and passionate disagreement. This summer in Brazil, we’re hoping to replicate the authentic and intelligent coverage of the World Cup we were proud to produce in 2010 in South Africa. Damn, that was quite something. We trusted the audience’s intelligence, and they came along for the ride. There are other floors in the television mansion that could learn from that.

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J.P.: I hate watching broadcasters scream at one another—Bark! Bark! Bark! And yet, it seems to be a big thing at your network, at other networks. This whole debate-for-the-sake-of debate thing. How do you feel about it? And am I even right?

B.L.: Our brand is actually a big tent, with many shows, platforms, web pages, and files. Sports, more than anything, is about opinions, and exchanging those opinions plays to the heart of this entire enterprise. Now, are there times that the same issue is sliced eight ways from Sunday on any given day on our various platforms? Surely. We’re even guilty of that occasionally on “Outside the Lines.” It’s easy to criticize both the volume and passion of some presentations. But I’d suggest that, more often than not, having learned about this Talk Thing through the years, we attempt to present Informed Opinion. Where we invite the perception that it’s ‘all too much’ is in the fact that we have so many platforms. But we also have OTL, e:60, The Sports Reporters, smart conversations and interviews, unparalleled story telling, Grantland, fivethirtyeight.com and other similar pieces of the brand. You hold the power, Obi Wan. You have the remote. Find another channel.

J.P.: Greatest mistake you ever made on air?

B.L.: Well, there was that night about 23 years ago when I’m doing the 11 pm SportsCenter with Dan Patrick, it’s the middle of the summer, Claritin has not yet been invented, my hay fever is at Defcon 3, and I am medicated to the max. Opening theme, dissolve to the two shot, my turn to open the show …”Good evening and welcome again to SportsCenter, along with Bob Ley, I’m Dan Patrick…….wait…..that’s not right.” That lives forever on a blooper reel. In a serious sense, I remember filing a story during the 1985 Final Four in Lexington, Kentucky, when the University of Kentucky was about to replace Joe B. Hall as basketball coach. Dick Vitale and I had a source telling us emphatically (I forget if he said he was in the room or not) that Arizona coach Lute Olsen had a contract in front of him from UK, and he would be the new Kentucky coach. We ordered up a satellite (not something rashly or easily done in the days of Fred and Barney technology). and reported that Olsen would be the next Kentucky coach. Well, he may have had that contract in front of him, and, every intention of signing it … but he never did. Basic error, and huge lesson learned.

Lee with Robin Roberts, his former ESPN colleague.

Ley with Robin Roberts, his former ESPN colleague.

J.P.: What separates a great broadcaster from a so-so one? Voice? Oomph? Knowledge? None of the above?

B.L: You don’t need a voice, you need a mind and a heart; the ability to observe, to write, to synthesize quickly and to tell stories. It helps to have a solid baseline of knowledge beyond sports, so you can explain why these buildings that are your backdrop in Dresden, Germany still have burn marks on them, and why the main street in Soweto is named after Chris Hani, and how tonight’s match is being played in the most dangerous city in the world (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, if you’re scoring at home). Understand that it’s not about you, it’s about the game, or the facts, or the news, or the empathetic story you’re trying to tell. Talk to the audience, not at them, and trust their ability to follow a story. That’s the once advantage we have with decades of credibility. If we tell our audience something is important, they’ll give us the benefit of the doubt. But then we have to deliver.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.45.06 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH BOB LEY:

• Would you rather listen to the SportsCenter theme song eternally, on an endless loop, or chop off three of your toes?: I could probably learn to re-balance my center of gravity and walk properly even with a 5 and 2 toe distribution. Actually some of the earlier SportsCenter themes are a gas to listen to.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Louis Orr, guinea pigs, Pretzel M&Ms, Sally Jenkins, Oklahoma Outlaws helmets, sushi rolls, Pat Benatar, David Foster, Superman II, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Vince Evans, potholes, Disney World: Pretzel M&M’s (like Cheezits, an essential food group), Louis Orr (a classy coach in his time at Seton Hall), Real Housewives of New Jersey ( I keep watching for old girlfriends), Pat Benatar (classically trained voice, did you know?), Sally Jenkins (so smart, and with her dad’s DNA), Oklahoma Outlaw helmets (beyond cool), Vince Evans (looked so good in silver and black), David Foster (six degrees of separation with everyone in music, it seems), Superman II (sequels, like second terms, always suck), Disney World (our kids are grown, so it’s been a while, but we have our Cast Member Silver passes), Guinea Pigs (mine ran away when I was a kid), potholes (assuming you mean roadways and not hiding places for your stash; “Dave’s not here, man.”), Sushi (not on a bet)

• Five greatest broadcasters of your lifetime?: In no order, and recognizing I’m omitting so many fine people I admire: Red Barber (actually spoke to him once on the phone, and listened to him call Yankee games as I was growing up); Brent Musberger (has anyone done both the studio and play by play so effortlessly, and at the peak of the industry, for so long?); Jim McKay (words matter, and his were remarkable; his work at Munich stands alone in our profession); Marv Albert (learned from another idol, Marty Glickman, and is simply, the best); Jim Simpson (left NBC to join ESPN in 1979 ; I learned so much from watching him, and he is a gentleman of the highest order).

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay $50 million for you to spend the next year MCing her Las Vegas show, “Celine and Bobby Meacham Dance the Tango.” Only catch—you have to move to Vegas, paint you hair neon green and adopt the catch phrase, “What up, motherfuckers! Who brought the mustard?” You in?: Is that paint latex or oil based?

• Hardest sports name you’ve ever had to pronounce?: Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. When his name showed up on Tour de France shot sheets, my palms would glisten, my knees buckle.

• Are there rivalries in sports media? Like, you run into the Real Sports crew, is there any awkwardness or beef?: Where do you think those “Anchorman” rumbles originated? Though I’ve never killed anyone with a trident. Flesh wound, though.

• How do you explain the continued popularity of the Kardashians on TV?: Now you know how some people feel about soccer.

• Five all-the favorite non-sports TV shows?: Soprano’s—Final scene shot 3 blocks from my boyhood home, in an ice cream shop I haunted as a kid; The Wire—Nuanced, human, infuriatingly complex, and trusting its audience. (and it’ older cousin, Homicide: Life On The Streets); Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In—Inflection point for humor; The Monkees—The re-runs hold up, the music does too, and it was 15 years ahead of MTV; Mad Men—Learned on “The Actor’s Studio” that they do not rehearse. Think about that. Only a table read, and then they shoot. Astonishing.

• When I was in college I had a crush on Linda Cohn. Think you can snag me an autographed photo?: Get in line, bunky.

• Five reasons one should make Bristol, Conn. his/her next vacation destination?: Lake Compounce Amusement Park; ESPN Café (even if under year-long renovations); Mum Festival Parade (build your September around it); Relaxed pace of life; The holy waters.

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Amy Fabry

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In many parts of the country, people find the 2014 stay-at-home mother to be a perplexing thing.

Why would you stay at home? Don’t you want to work? Aren’t you bored? Do you just play tennis all day? Is Days of Our Lives still on? Blah, blah, blah, blah …

Enter: Amy Fabry—proud stay-at-home mother of three kids.

I’ve known Amy forever. We’re both survivors of the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y.; both attended the same high school; both remain in New York. Her husband, Michael, owns two excellent restaurants—The Rye Grill and Bar in Rye and The Lexington Square Cafe in Mount Kisco. Here, she stands up for her life’s work and explains why picking up the kids beats crunching numbers or making stock trades.

Amy Fabry, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Amy, you’re a self-anointed, proud stay-at-home mom. Which makes me wonder—what sort of stigma is attached to being in your shoes? Do you still get comments like, “So you don’t work …” and, “Don’t you ever want to do something?”

AMY FABRY: To be honest, I’m sure there are people who think that way but I’ve never had anyone say it to my face. I feel extremely fortunate that I have the choice to stay home. I love being home and being a “housewife.” I have three children—ages 10, 8 and 5. When they were younger it was much harder but it’s so much easier now that they are older. The youngest will start full-day kindergarten in the fall and I will have the entire day to myself which I’ve never had. I think working mothers and fathers have it so much harder than stay-at-home parents (I’m probably going to catch some slack for saying that) but I say to myself on a regular basis, “I don’t’ know how they do it.” The stress of getting everything done (homework, cooking, cleaning, activities, play dates, etc) and working? I raise my glass to them because I would be a basket case.

J.P.: Blunt question: Why not get an away-from home job?

A.F.: I have no desire to work away from home but that is probably because I never had a career. I graduated college with an English degree and, at the time, I was waitressing and making more money than other jobs could offer me. Once I got married I got a job as an executive assistant at a real estate company in New York City. The money was OK but, again, it was by no means a career for me. I knew that once I had children I would stay home. If I had a career that I loved to go back to—maybe? But I am honestly extremely happy and satisfied and fulfilled being home. And I appreciate it—I really try to not complain.  My husband and I joke that our lives would be different if I worked (not necessarily better, but that renovation we’ve wanted for years would come much faster!). But for now—having me home with the kids works for our family. My 8-year old has asked me why can’t he go to the local Boys and Girls Club after school with his friends and I explained that there isn’t a need for it because I’m home. He asked me to go to work :)

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J.P.: I remember when my daughter was born and my mother in law and I got in a heated debate over whether a dad can be as close to his child as the mom … whether he can serve a similar role and meet the same needs. What do you think?

A.F.: I think that is 100 percent up to the dad. I do think a father can be as close to a child as a mother—maybe even closer in some cases. I think it depends on the parent. I joke all of the time that I think my kids would step over my bleeding body to get to their father. I know that they love me and when push comes to shove and someone is hurt or upset—they usually come to me. But I think that’s only because I’m the one who is always around. But I also think that my husband is fully capable of meeting the needs of all three. Maybe not all of the time but I can’t do that either. Sometimes only Mommy will do and sometimes it’s only Daddy.

J.P.: What’s your bad day like?

A.F.: Again, I really try not to complain—I will say that the evening hours of 4 until 7 are ridiculous and stressful but that’s the case in every household with children. Carpooling kids to activities and making dinner and helping with homework that I don’t understand while dealing with cranky, tired kids isn’t fun. If you ask my kids what makes me angrier than anything? All 3 will tell you “fighting, crying and whining.” So any day that has an abundance of those three things is a bad day.

J.P.: What’s your great day like?

A.F.: Sunday is my favorite day of the week because my husband is home (he works in the restaurant business and has a crazy schedule). He takes the kids in the morning—I get to the gym by myself. We usually have friends or family over for dinner—it’s usually just a chill, do-nothing day—and I love those. No carpooling or homework.

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Amy, center, during her days as a Mahopac High School cheerleader.

J.P.: I know you grew up in Mahopac, N.Y., know you attended Iona. But what was your path from graduation to here? When did you decide this course? Did you ever come close to becoming a career woman?

A.F.: There were actually a few stops before I graduated Iona. I started at SUNY Cobleskill and from there went to SUNY Oneonta for a semester. When I was asked to “take a semester off” from Oneonta (I basically failed out—my grades were horrible) I moved in with my aunt and uncle in New Rochelle and started at Iona.  I began waitressing to make money and fell into the trap that so many do—the money I was making was great and I worked when I wanted to work and took off when I wanted to take off. I loved the freedom of the lifestyle. When I got married and got tired of it I went into the city and worked there for a few years until I had my first child. I said before—I did take a few graduate classes after Emma was born with the intention of possibly teaching once I was done having kids. But then I had No. 2 and No. 3 and here I am. I have no desire to go back to school for anything.

J.P.: I’m fascinated my the nanny-mom-child triangle. I’ve spoken with many nannies about it, and particularly about the awkwardness that comes when the nanny understands the kids better than the mother. Do you see this a lot? And do you see complications in the relationship.

A.F.: I don’t know anyone personally who has a nanny so I don’t really have an opinion either way. Living in Westchester, though, I see lots of kids with nannies. I can say this—If I did work full time and had the need for a nanny, I would think that I would want someone who loved my children and understood them and cared for them just as I would. I was at a 50th birthday party recently for an old friend of mine who was a nanny for a family when she came over here from England. She started working for them when the children were babies and stayed with them until she had her own children. They’re all grown now and they were at her party—it was very sweet to see how close they still were. It was a very special relationship.

J.P.: Your husband Michael is a restaurateur. I’ve heard 1,001 times that the restaurant business in thankless, hard, awful, endless, etc. True? Not true? And how does his career impact your schedule and role as a mom?

A.F.: He genuinely loves the business—I cannot imagine him doing anything else. Mike and I met at a restaurant when we were in our 20s. He was the manager and I was waitressing. I don’t think our relationship would work if I didn’t understand the business. He owns two places now so he’s busy, but he can make the schedule any way he wants to, so when I need him home during the day or ask him to take a night off for something specific—he can do it. He opened up his second place a few weeks after our third child was born—that was hard. He worked nonstop for a few months straight but we did it. We knew that if we made it through those few months that we could survive anything.

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J.P.: I feel like, when we were growing up, our parents trusted the school system. They weren’t always complaining about teachers, second guessing assignments, etc … etc. Has that changed at all? Has it changed in you? And—why?

A.F.: I’ve been really lucky so far in that my kids have had great experiences in school so far. I love our district and they’ve had great teachers. I don’t understand most of the math homework that comes home (for my second and fifth graders) but I trust the system until I have reason not to. I think there is this want to try and protect our kids from everything—especially failure.  I personally think that we should let them make mistakes and screw up and fail, then be there for them to help pick up the pieces. That doesn’t really answer your question, does it?

J.P.: You and I both grew up in Mahopac, N.Y.—which, sadly, has become famous lately for a crazy racial incident involving the basketball team. What’s your take? Do you consider our old hood narrowminded? Is it just a few people? A problem of a larger scale?

A.F.: The whole thing is sad. I was especially heartbroken for Kevin. I think racism is everywhere—in every town. I don’t know what Mahopac is like today but I don’t think it’s fair to judge an entire town on the actions of a few. What those kids did was stupid and narrow-minded. Hopefully, if nothing else it can be the starting point to open up a conversation about racism in the schools. I used it as a conversation starter with my 10-year old about racism and the evils of social media.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH AMY FABRY:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Chieftain, Sears, Curtis Granderson, Rye Grill and Bar, “Dance Moms,” Datsun 510, Dave Fleming, Ratt, Rocky III, apple Danish: The Rye Grill and Bar, Dave Fleming, The Chieftain, Apple Danish, Sears, Datsun 510, Rocky III, Ratt, Dance Moms, Curtis Granderson (I think he’s a New York Yankee? I’m an angry Met fan and Yankee hater)

• Celine Dion calls. She offers $50 million for you and the family to move to Las Vegas for a year. You have to work 360 days as her personal dog groomer. You also have to change your name to Corinne Lee and only eat pumpkin-related foods. You in?: Not a chance!

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never, but I am a nervous flyer now that I’m a parent so my worst fear when flying is not seeing my kids again.

• How did you meet your husband?: The Rye Grill and Bar—he was the manager and I was a waitress. We were great friends—I fell first. It took him some time to feel the same way but he finally came around.

• Three memories from the Mahopac Senior Prom, please: Mitch Jacobs was my date.  We took a party bus to the Jersey Shore afterwards. We saw Billy Joel in concert on our way home.

• If someone offered you the car of your choice in exchange for eating five maggots, would you?: No way! I love my car.

• Four must-eat offerings at your husband’s restaurant?: 4 Layer Dip, Crabcake sliders, Farfalle Pasta, Double Chocolate Cake.

• Was 1980s high school cheerleading a sport or an activity? Why?: LOL—it was totally an activity! Now its a sport! Once we graduated they really took it to the next level but we had so much fun!

• Five things you always have in your purse?: iPhone, sunglasses, Chapstick, baby wipes, gum.

• One of my children just farted very loudly. Should I laugh or be grossed out?: Always laugh! They’re kids.

bubba

Bubba Sparxxx

bubba

Last year, when Florida Georgia Line and Nelly blew up the charts with Cruise, one person after another seemed to praise the apparently revolutionary merging of country and hip-hop—two genres (the story goes) that never before touched.

I call complete, total bullshit.

Eleven years ago Bubba Sparxxx, the creative and wide-open rapper from LaGrange, Georgia, brought forth Deliverance, an album that was about, oh, eleven years before its time. The songs were country. The songs were hip-hop. They were inventive and explosive, and so incredibly good that the lame medium that is FM radio refused to touch it. Hence, while Deliverance is known to true hip-hop heads, it sort of vanished into the mist.

Sparxxx (real name: Warren Mathis), however, refuses to vanish. Now signed to Average Joe Entertainment, the veteran rapper recently released his latest single, Made On McCosh Mill Road. He tours all over the place, appears in songs with seemingly everyone and offers up a song that is—and always has been—uniquely Bubba.

One can visit Bubba’s website here, his Facebook page here and follow him on Twitter here.

Bubba Sparxxx, welcome to LaQuaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Last year Florida Georgia Line and Nelly generated a ton of attention for their country-hip-hop merging … something you first went with in 2003, when you released Deliverance. Did all the attention they received Irk you at all? It seems people forget that you were ahead of your time And did you always think country and hip-hop as a marriage made sense?

BUBBA SPARXXX: It’s crazy, but I’m thrilled to death what’s going on. I’m actually signed to a label out of Nashville now, and I spend a lot of time up there songwriting. I just got my first country music songwriting hold with a country music singer this past year. And I mean, I’m pretty stoked about it overall. But it’s also a little comical to me—people just typically don’t associate me with the whole thing. I’m like, hands down, this is what I’m doing 10 … 12 years ago.

J.P.: It was a weird marriage. My first job was in Nashville, and I did a story in 1995 about country and rap ever emerging. And a lot of the country singers were like, ‘Rap? That’s not even gonna be around five years from now!’

B.S.: Hahahahaha …

J.P.: There was one guy in particular, Neal McCoy, who thought rap would be gone in a second.

B.S.: Neal McCoy is actually a pretty good friend of mine. And Neal McCoy covers rap songs at his concerts. He has at different times. Neal’s a great guy. A great guy. And his new song that’s getting some play on XM Radio is very … I’m not gonna say it’s the hip-hop influence, but it feels popish and it’s definitely not traditional country.

Neal and I went on a USO Tour to Kuwait and Iraq 10 years ago, and he always seemed open to it.

J.P.: How did you develop the idea in your mind that you could take these two foreign genres of music and merge them together?

B.S.: Working-class people just aren’t that different—period. No matter what the ethnicity. There are these invisible lines placed between the different races, but lower-middle class and down, and people are pretty much the same. The same mindsets. Their lives are pretty stressful. They deal with what they deal with on a day-to-day basis, and then when they cut loose they wanna have a good time. That’s something I knew at a young age. I just knew the people weren’t that different, because I grew up in a rural town—LaGrange, Georgia, about 60 miles southwest of Atlanta. Pretty much a 50-50 black and white community. And as far as my own story relates it to it all, I grew up in this place. There were some old South leanings where I grew up, hands down. But I grew up in this place, in this era when hip-hop music was exploding. And I guess it’s when you could say hip-hop music became mainstream; when it became popular music. And everybody was listening to it. Obviously some people more than others. And I just knew, where I grew up, white kids—quote-unquote rednecks—were riding around in jacked-up trucks, and in their CD cases they had Tim McGraw, Hank Williams, Jr., Outkast, Tupac, Nirvana. You know what I’m saying? I feel like my generation was the first generation that pretty much listened to everything.

And it really just boils down to the fact that I’m a country dude. I’m a country dude. I believe I’m pretty forward thinking, but I’m a country dude, I was raised in a rural area outside of a rural area. And I fell in love with hip-hop music. I grew up on the farm, grew up hunting and fishing and all that stuff. But I fell in love with hip-hop music. So I always just believe there are always ears for the story. I just always believed it.

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J.P.: I’m like a liberal Jewish guy from New York. And there would be a perception of a kid like you, in small-town Georgia, white kid, you’d think he’d grow up with parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, who would be not happy or if he dates a black girl …

B.S.: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

J.P.: So how did you emerge out of that?

B.S.: I’ll just say, neither one of my parents ever went to school with black people. To me, there’s no excusing ignorance. But there are just certain generational stances or views or shapings that … people born before, maybe, 1960 in the South … my dad never went to school with a black person. He just never did. So natural was separate in his eyes for a long time. Now he’s come a long way the last 20 years. Especially seeing my career, and some of the things I stood for. And the fact I couldn’t have been any more different than he was. He just has kind of grown to accept it and even evolve.

I went to school with black kids. I was around black kids. My parents never were. It’s a generational thing, to a degree. So I just feel like the generation I grew up in shaped me. Now we all come to a crossroads and we all have decisions to make. We can all take the right fork or the left fork. I definitely felt, even for my generation, I took the road less traveled. Not to put myself on a pedestal, but at a young age I just kind of gravitated toward questioning things and bucking the system and debating whether what I’d been told was the way it had to be. So that was who I was. And hip-hop music and the explosion that was taking place was just kind of shaping me. It became who I was.

It’s just become even more so the case. It’s just like … when I look at Donald Sterling. It was crazy, because all this stuff happened, and I was reading about him in your book. I look at it like this—those people are just gonna die, man. You know what I’m saying? I believe very few people are all bad or all good. I believe most everybody has some good parts and some bad parts. The people of that particular mindset—they’re gonna die. And I believe at some point there won’t be very many, if any, left on the planet. I’m not saying I wish about anybody’s death. It’s just the way the world is changing and evolving.

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J.P.: There’s always talk out there about the N-word in hip-hop, the N-word in sports. You’re from an interesting place. I’m sure you grew up hearing it from whites, and now there’s a lot of ‘Nobody should use that word! White or black!’

B.S.: I heard a lot of the one with the ‘e-r’ ending growing up, that’s for sure.

J.P.: Right. What do you think? To me, it’s, ‘I can tell a Jewish joke, you can’t.’ Can a black person take ownership of that word that, perhaps, you and I can’t?

B.S.: I definitely agree with that. I think that, as far as what’s happening with the use now, I just think the youth don’t give a shit. Whatever this generation is, the youth, whether it’s kids in the 1950s wanting to listen to rock and roll … whatever a generation is focused on, the youth is going to do what they want to do. So as far as the way kids today … I’m strictly speaking in terms of the word with an ‘a’ at the end, kids are just gonna do whatever they want. It doesn’t mean the same thing to kids today as it did when I was in high school. It doesn’t mean the same thing. But as far as me—I know where I come from and I know who I am, and I know the responsibility I place on myself. And it’s not something I’m going to do. Yes, I’ve had black friends and I could have said it. But it’s just not the route I choose to take. Because, once again going back to the generational thing, I don’t think it’s righteous for a man in his mid-30s to say, ‘OK, since it’s cool now I’m gonna start saying that!’ I’m not a part of this generation. If this generation is rocking that way, cool, I’m not gonna judge or fight it. But it’s just not something for me.

At the end of the day, I’m talking about black kids, white kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids—everybody’s just saying it. Everybody’s applying it to themselves, to their friends. It is what it is, as far as the kids. But it’s never been something I felt comfortable saying, because I simply felt like, coming from where I come from, I understand the meaning of it in a deeper way.

J.P.: I love Ugly. Love it, always loved it. For all I know you hate it and never want to hear it again …

B.S.: The song I hate is Ms. New Booty. Ugly for me is—I wish more people, when we read the history books, I wish more people would focus on Ugly and Deliverance than they do Ms. New Booty. But it just is what it is.

J.P.: What’s the back story of Ugly?

B.S.: Well, it was the last song I recorded with Timbaland when I went to L.A. to record. I had put out an independent version of Dark Days, Bright Nights, and we decided we were going to keep about half of those songs for the Interscope release, for the Beat Club release. Which was Timbaland’s label. And then we were going to make the second half of the album with Tim. So we go in, and we probably do seven songs, and it’s two days before I’m supposed to leave. And I’m like, ‘Man, I just don’t really feel like I have a vintage Timbaland beat yet. I want one of those beats where, when you put it on, everyone says, ‘There’s that new Timbaland banger.’ Probably seven minutes later—this is his process. I’d be like writing to another beat over the loud speakers in the studio, and he’d have his headphones on and be playing with his keyboard or whatever. And probably seven minutes later he told the engineer to cut the beat he was working on on the big speakers. He did that and it was Ugly. And I was like, ‘That’s it! That’s it!’ That was the last song we actually did for the first album.

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J.P.: I find it interesting when artists—I’ve heard Eminem do this to his Relapse album; Mandy Moore hates her biggest song. What’s your beef with Ms. New Booty?

B.S.: I’m not going to apologize for a single that sells 3 million downloads. It’s not like I’m not grateful for it. But here’s my thing with it. Basically what you had is, I had a situation where I had the success of the first album, then we came back. Did you ever listen to Deliverance?

J.P.: Of course.

B.S.: Well, I felt like I had something to prove with that second album. Like, with the Ugly video, we presented these provocative visuals of rural life. We showed some real culture in there, and we also did some things for effect. It was supposed to be entertaining. But some real culture was captured in there. Tim didn’t feel like the sonics matched the visuals, and culturally who I was and where I came from. We basically just made a … it was more urban-leaning. Club bangers and that type of thing. And also we felt like a lot of people took it as a joke. So we sort of took it upon ourselves on the second album to not only make some viable music with a backbone, but to also sonically delve into bluegrass, different country-leaning instrumentation. Harmonicas. Fiddles. So on and so on. And create that sonic landscape that was Deliverance. That really backed up what the visuals of the Ugly video were. So we take this chance and have this critical darling of an album—everybody raves about it. But commercially it flopped.

It sold 400,000 albums. Nowadays they throw a parade for you. Back then you get fired. That’s basically what happened. It was kind of the beginning of addiction settling in in my life. It was the beginning of a very turbulent time. So I go through this period. It was like a bank robbery. Tim goes his separate ways from Jimmy Iovine and Interscope. Me and Tim went our separate ways. And there I was for, like, two years. I’d spoken with Big Boi from Outkast. We’d had a really cool relationship. And I knew he was looking to do another label situation somewhere, and we talked about that. But I go through these two years where I’ve accumulated all these things—a couple of houses, cars, whatever. And slowly the money is starting to dwindle. I’m slowly losing the means to facilitate this lifestyle that I’ve gotten adjusted to. And basically we then signed a very lucrative deal with Purple Ribbon, which was Big Boi’s imprint. And Virgin Records. At that particular time it was like I’d gone through this whole movement, in that I really, really believed in the country-rap thing. I really believed in what I was doing. I had a fan base. A pretty loyal fan base, loyal to what I was doing at that time.

And man, you know what? When I signed that deal with Virgin, they wanted a club banger. Ying Yang Twins were hot. I loved those guys, so grateful for those guys getting on that record with me at that time. Grateful, grateful. And like I said, it sold 3 million singles, huge hit, one of the biggest records in the world that year—but it just wasn’t in line with what I had been building. If that makes sense.

That’s my only gripe with it. I’m not going to say that it wasn’t me, because it was a component of me. But artistically, I know it threw a lot of my fans—my true fans—for a loop. So basically what you have now, for that period, what you had was … and I still don’t think it would have been such a big deal had I continued from there. But that happened to be the point when I just completely feel apart, went to rehab for the first time, just completely fell apart personally. I did just stop. But it looks like I quit. I didn’t. I just needed to deal with more important issues in my life and gain some perspective. So to a lot of people, my fan base that loved my first two albums, it sucks, and they’re pissed off that I did this big pop record that’s obviously just a trendy attempt at trying to make a record relevant to that particular era and fit into radio.

Where we struggled with Deliverance is it fell between the cracks. You didn’t have YouTube and Vevo and all these other mechanisms for reaching fans. Back then if you didn’t have radio or MTV or BET, guess what? In hip-hop, you’re not going to reach your fans. Deliverance was too urban for rock or country radio, and it was too rock and country for urban radio. It was what it was. When Virgin was like, ‘Can you make a viable record for radio?’ I did my best. But it conflicted.

Now you have these kids who look at me as this one-hit-wonder guy who did Ms. New Booty. Then you have my older sect of fans—true hip-hop heads—who know what I did earlier on. It’s just kind of … a dichotomy.

J.P.: I’ve spoken with guys from Blind Melon, and they don’t exactly love No Rain. And they have the frustration that comes with knowing you’ve done 800 better songs. Is that something you know and understand?

B.S.: Well, and really you hate being judged by that. You just hate for that to be viewed as your crowning achievement. And you know you’ve done so many more substance-filled songs. It’s a frustrating thing. It really is. But at the end of the day I’m not a sour grape guy. Because I had a career. I’m a kid who grew up on a farm, and I made a career in hip-hop music. I truly am just grateful for hip-hop, because I always say nothing more than religion has unified people and brought people from different walks of life together more than hip-hop and hip-hop culture. And I’m just a part of that. I’m tickled to death to be able to do 100 shows a year. I still go around, making a living. I just put out a new album in October. I know I’ll never have what I had … I’ll never go platinum again. Well, I’ll never say never, but I doubt very seriously that I’ll ever go platinum again, but I believe I can put out an album once a year, sell between 50,000 and 100,000 units, do 50 to 100 shows a year, sell some merch. I’m doing a different type of thing now, and it’s working. It took some time to get it going, but it’s going. And where country rap is heading—well, it’s exciting.

J.P.: Addiction is fascinating. Here you are—talented guy, rolling along. How do you explain the ability of addiction to fuck everything up?

B.S.: I honestly think the substance just brought it to a head for me. I can only speak for myself, and as it pertains to me, I just had some issues. As they say, I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. I was batshit crazy. I had a sickness in myself where I could never be satisfied. To me, it’s much deep-rooted stuff. I think I would have just went through life had I never acquired the means to do my drug of choice every day and to allow it to take a hold of my life and nearly kill me. I think I probably just would have gone through life just being miserable and not knowing why. From a young age, I had this thing that just gnawed at me. Any time I’d walk into a room I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. This goes back to elementary school. Walking into a classroom, and if someone’s laughing I automatically think they’re laughing at me. When I pick up the drug, that soothes it—in the beginning. It was like when I first took a drink. It alleviated that edge. This underlining gnawing feeling that wouldn’t allow me to be comfortable. When we talk about the disease of addiction, they’re talking about the dis-ease. The dis-ease. That’s what it is. That’s the best way I could put it. A lot of it, I think, is growing up. I think, a lot of people, if you give them millions of dollars in their 20s … look at NBA athletes. Especially when you’re first generation of accumulating big-time money. Nobody is there to teach you how to handle it. So I think many people who get millions in their 20s fuck it up. Not to make excuses for myself. I mean God, I wish I hadn’t. But I think a lot of it is growing up. People who have success beginning in their 30s appreciate it more, and understand the realness of it all. When you’re 23 and you have that money, it feels like a lottery ticket. Sure you worked, but if you work from 20-30, I think you have more appreciation for it. And in terms of decision making in general, obviously it improves as you gain experience in life. Not that it explains addiction in full. But it’s a component of it. Sometimes you just grow up. And you learn how to live and stay out of situations.

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J.P.: Ninety nine percent of society is not only riveted by fame but, to a certain extent, jealous of fame. It’s the reason we buy People and Star—because we think there’s something amazing about fame …

B.S.: Jay-Z said it—fame is the most dangerous drug known to man. And I’ll tell you, there is nothing … there is no aphrodisiac I’ve ever encountered … there’s nothing ever invented that makes people go more crazy than having seen somebody on the idiot box. I have no idea why that is. We can travel down this street for a minute—there’s something about television that seems larger than life to people. They don’t understand that it’s really just somebody standing in front of a person with a camera. A person just like you, standing there. But they think it’s really magic.

J.P.: Does fame live up to the hype? Would you rather have a kid and he goes on to be a doctor or lawyer—successful but not famous. Or do you want fame?

B.S.: At this point, I’m not gonna say I didn’t enjoy it. It was never something I really, really craved. I think I was scared to death of it, and then I went through a period where I was on tV all the time, and it was cool to talk in the mall. And people go crazy recognizing you. The first time I was ever on TRL, the same trip, when I was in New York, I’m walking in Times Square, and I literally get mobbed in Times Square. Me, from LaGrange, Georgia. From a farm—I get mobbed in Times Square. So it was all cool, but you just can’t turn it off. That’s the most frustrating aspect of it.

I always think about Little John. Me and my manager talk about this. Can you imagine how miserable it is for him to be at an airport at 6:30 in the morning, and some dumbass comes up to him, talking about, “Yeaaaaah, Ohhhhkkaaaaaay!!!!” Can you imagine? I can’t imagine having to be Little John all the time at 6:30 at an airport, with some dumbass running up and saying that. Whatever it takes for someone to have a good life, and that looks different for each person, I support. But my word of advice to my son will certainly be, ‘If you can find fulfillment in life and have a successful life and make a lot of money without that, you’ll probably be better off in the long run for it.’ Especially if you’re wired like me.

J.P.: Justin Bieber is fascinating. Because as much as the 13-year-old girls loved his rise, people really enjoy his fall.

B.S.: That’s America for you. America, man. People love the ascent. They love being a part of the people’s champ, the underdog. And once you get there, and they see you do something they perceive as a change. Which means you’re really just adjusting to where you’re at now … it’s like, ‘Uh-oh, we have to drag him down.’

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J.P.: It seems you have a mature approach now to your career. You don’t think you’ll have a song blow up as it once did. Can you play a room of 500 people, but it’s not sold out. The Ballroom in Brewster, N.Y. But they absolutely love the show …

B.S.: Yes! Yes, I can. One thousand percent. I appreciate it all more than ever. I literally went at one point almost two years without going to the studio one day. I had completely thrown in the white towel. I was done. This was probably 2010. I went to rehab initially in 2006, had some clean time, then had a relapse and went back in 2008. I got arrested in Tampa in 2009, and those charges ended up getting dropped. I had medication on me I was prescribed, but I didn’t have them in the container. TMZ reported all that stuff, but it wasn’t as newsworthy when the charges were dropped two weeks later. I really just had it with myself. I was still doing shows, but that’s when I started the process of surrendering in a positive way. Surrendering to the fact I really had an illness. I had tried to control it. I tried to do things on my terms. In 2009, it was the first time I said that my plan wasn’t working, and I needed someone else’s plan. So from 2009 until the beginning of 2011, I just didn’t have any use for music. I kind of had this cycle where I would get away from music and then I would have some clean time and get my act together. And then I’d go back to doing shows and recording, and I set the timer. It was just a matter of time before I started using again. I started thinking the problem was music. Or the lifestyle. And to a degree it was. But really the problem was me. A lot of people have fruitful careers in the music business and don’t use. Part of it, too, was I didn’t understand what I had to say. When music started changing, and I was in my 30s, hip-hop is becoming more of a deal—and as old as Jay-Z gets, that’s how old someone can be and stay relevant in hip-hop. If Jay-Z is 63-years old, we all can be 63 and rap.

Anyhow, around this time the guys at Average Joe Entertainment in Nashville started building this whole country-rap thing. And it was becoming a force. You have to see it. It’s the damnest thing you’ve ever seen. I’m talking about 3,000 kids, and rappers are performing … there’s black kids, white kids. This whole culture started exploding, and I was invited to be a part of it. And I realized even though I quit, and was totally removed from it, the seed I had planted had started to grow. It started to sprout. Over time it had been nurtured, and I wasn’t even aware of it. The whole thing is going crazy.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BUBBA SPARXXX:

• Five greatest rappers of your lifetime?: Andre 3000, CeeLo, Jay-Z, Eminem, Ice Cube.

• Ever thought you were gonna die in a plane crash? If so, what do you remember?: Not an actual plane crash, but I used to have horrible nightmares about dying in a plane crash. The worst thing that ever happened to me was a really, really turbulent landing into Miami at one time. And I think a lot of people thought the plane was gonna crash. But I was pretty experience at that point. I didn’t think we were going to crash.

• Celine Dion calls, wants you to do a rap interlude in her new song for the Titanic II soundtrack. She’ll pay you $500 and a lifetime supply of Celine CDs. In?: No. Well, maybe if I get royalties. That could be a pretty big movie.

• Five reasons for one to make LaGrange, Georgia his/her next vacation stop?: 1. Because we play the best high school football arguably in the whole United States here; 2. We have a beautiful lake, West Point Lake; 3. We have a mall. 4. Um … let’s see. We have Charlie Joseph’s hamburgers. The best hamburgers you’ll ever eat. 5. And, I guess, it’s the birthplace of Bubba Sparxx.

• Meanest thing you’ve ever done to someone?: Hmm … meanest thing. Toughie. Oh, shit, my friend, Trey, he had a real hairy chest. I’d hold him down and put tape on his chest.

• Two memories from your senior prom?: I got very drunk and I had sex.

• Openly gay rappers—not a problem in the hip-hop world, or tough?: I think it’s just a matter of time. It’ll be smooth. Because that’s just where the world’s at. The person will probably be able to present it in such a fly world, people will be on board.

• Worst and best songs you’ve released?: The best song I ever released is Nowhere, which is off the Deliverance album with Kiley Dean. And the worst song would be a song called Regardless off my first album.

• What is Vanilla Ice’s legacy?: I think he was one of the first huge, huge pop stars who was a hip-hop artist. No one would have any problem today with any of the issues they had back then. He kind of knocked down the door for dancing entertainers, like what Puffy became. He wasn’t the greatest MC ever, but he was a helluva entertainer. He kind of gets a bum rap. And he’s an awesome guy. The dude sold 15 million albums. Everybody liked that song when it came out. Everybody.

• You’re driving in your car and Ugly comes on. What do you do?: I listen to it. Ms. New Booty—maybe not so much.

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Tracy Reiner

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Yesterday afternoon, while driving back home from a visit to Cooperstown, N.Y., I asked the wife which Quaz I should run this week. I began mentioning some names, but when I reached Tracy Reiner she said, “Stop!”

Stop?

“We’re coming back from the Baseball Hall of Fame!” she said. “Tracy Reiner is Betty Spaghetti! You have to do her this week! It’s timing …”

And here we are.

My 156th Quaz Q&A features Tracy Reiner, whose life is, to understate, fascinating. She’s the biological daughter of Penny Marshall. She’s the adoptive daughter of Rob Reiner. She’s been a key player in two iconic films—”A League of Their Own” and “Apollo 13″—and continues to act and direct … when she’s not focused upon her five children and/or medical software.

One can visit Tracy’s website here, and follow her on Facebook here.

Tracy Reiner, there’s no crying in the Quaz! There’s no crying in the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Tracy, my kids (ages 7 and 10) love A League of Their Own. They absolutely, positively love it. So before I go into your career, let me ask: A. What’s your take of the movie, some two decades later. B. Did you know it’d be this good of a film as you were making it? C. What do you recall from the actual experience?

TRACY REINER: This film changed so many things . It mapped a new way for people to see history, baseball and female athletes. It totally changed the way men looked at us playing, and I mean not just the USC coaches but the White Sox and the Cubs also played with us at exhibitions. The guys couldn’t believe we could really play even as actors until we showed them. Charlie Hough pitched with me for 30 minutes in the bullpen when Comiskey Park was brand new and Jack McDowell coached me as well and came to practice. Ozzie Guillen sent us flowers and notes—he was very impressed with all the skirts.

What else changed? Basically, there was no way to even start a farm league for girls to play at all unless it started from both ends. After we knew we were good, we laughed at how 250-pound men were playing with little balls, diva-style, and paid millions of dollars to do so. Meanwhile, these women played double headers in skirts and went out dancing at night. Modern ball vs. old-school ball was what we see as sad now. The Silver Bullets and Justine Siegal and Baseball for All and even Sports Illustrated for Women started after the film. Also, the WNBA started and really took off.

As for the quality of the film—we all knew the historic aspect and the comedy was there but we did not know until after that it would touch so many people. I don’t just mean girl players, but Megan Cavanagh, Lori Petty, Annie Cusack and Patti Pelton and Anne Ramsey and I did the sports card shows for 10 years. And what I learned from the coaches, PE teachers, dads, moms, daughters and wives of players is that little girls all over the country wanted to play.

Most important to me, at the card shows the veterans and their wives and widows changed me deeply. I had no idea how deeply moved people would be. Screw the fact that it’s still the highest grossing sports movie of all time. People changed. People cried and felt understood. I had so many women athletes say they made their life choices after watching the film. I’ve still never seen such a reaction from a film. I am so honored to have been a part of telling their story with my family and so deeply grateful for these women keeping us all in their lives personally. The cast is as close to this day as any I’ve ever even heard of on other movies. We share all of our real-life events often to this day.

Now, I actually found out about the film when my cousin Wendy was trying out and was nervous because she works on films but isn’t an actress, per se. So I drove her with a mouth filled with wisdom teeth stitches and saw 2,000 girls trying out at USC. I was in awe, but I saw a lot of girls who I knew that I was more athletic than. So, in a jealous moment, I signed up to try out. I threw as hard as I could and did all the stations and heard Rod Dedeaux (the late USC baseball coach) say, “Damn, that girl’s got an arm!”

We got home and my mouth was a mess. I’d popped both sides of stitches and was exhausted My mom showed up shocked and said we had scored really well and my mom sat us down and asked if we wanted to do this. We said yes. So training started and some girls were hired.Then my mom decided to direct it herself and everything went nuts—eight hours a day for six days a week in training and then casting. We all switched roles and positions for a while. Then the real players showed up and our lives totally changed.

Each one of us has years of personal relationships and stories of what an amazing group of women were able to pull this off. I have spent the last 25 years sharing my life with these women. The cast and the AAGPBL Legendary Ladies of Baseball are a part of my family. That hasn’t happened on any other movie.

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J.P.: So if one looks over your resume, you’ve had a very strong career—active, myriad roles, different sorts of characters. You’ve been a working actress for a long time, which ain’t something to sneeze at. And yet, your mom is Penny Marshall. You were adopted as a girl by Rob Reiner. In other words, you have big connections, a big last name. I wonder, what comes with that? More pressure? Less pressure? More opportunity? Less? Is it a blessing, or a Catch 22?

T.R.: It’s an absolute gift to be surrounded with just massively talented people. It gives you amazing insight and also it gave me, personally, the ability to choose a balance of real life and what I call simulating real life. I worked for a long time and worked production and ran a development company, then I took a long real-life break and got married. And now I am producing a film about the 100-year history of the American Legion Post 43 and Hollywood. There is no curse to having family in the business you’re in … although family will do to family what strangers would never dare. That’s in good and bad ways. It’s life.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by life paths—so, Tracy, what’s yours? I know you were born in Albuquerque, know your family background. But why did you go into acting? How did it start? When did you first feel the love?

T.R.: I wanted to raise horses and ride forever. So when did I feel the love for performing? Acting is really fun and really intense, and there are lots of people out there all doing the same thing. I love the effort and creed of film people—but show business is a cold and vain world. I lived here as a kid so I learned to say no and was protected from a lot of really fucked-up people and also had to deal with a lot of really fucked-up people.

But, like in any family, you feel totally left out if you don’t at least participate in family events. I had to learn the language my family spoke since I spent my first years in New Mexico. My family was into therapy and I was sad from my parents splitting and for me therapy was not fun. It was very serious and not really helping me be funny and laugh more. They all still think I’m really intense, and unfortunately therapy left me highly analytical and fast minded. Somewhere around then my mom sent me to improv class and Viola Spolins, then Uta Hagen, then Stella Adler and on and on. All were very nice to me and were very nurturing. I’m still not a comic. I am known for crying a lot in movies. It’s my balance, I guess. They make you laugh and I make you cry. It’s a family.

J.P.: You turn 50 this year—not old by normal standards, but—it seems—sort of antiquated in the world of female actresses. Which strikes me as really, really unfair and sucky. How hard is it for, oh, post-40 actresses to land good roles? Is there as big a double standard as I think? And did that at all influence your transition away from acting toward other endeavors?

T.R.: I didn’t want to be a woman at 40 trying to look young. I thought it was the perfect time to go off and turn into the next character in my story—mother and writer and huge business facilitator. I have helped 10 projects while raising my kids. I started doing digital business plans, then consulting the actors and filmmakers. All by introductions. Not from my family at all. They think I’m nuts for not sticking to one thing and I keep having an amazing adventure. Now I’ve done domestic cultivating—kids, pets, gardens, screenplays, etc.

And now I’m into space … macro perspectives of all this history I’ve studied. I was a history of storytelling major in college. Now I want to animate the periodic table. Not a very sitcom, action or drama topic. I home school my girls and I like it a lot more than they do so we will see about next year. It reactivated my brain after being “in service” as a parental unit. I’m ready to travel and work again and show them the world like my parents did with me. Don’t get me wrong—I will act in anything now. It’s fun. I love it. It’s great as a job—so heads up anyone reading. I’m ready to be the Colleen Dewhurst version of me. Or Glenda Jackson. Geraldine PageEllen Burstyn. Or a toothless homeless woman talking to the stars. It’s all now about the focus of the piece.

J.P.: You have five kids. Let me repeat that—five kids. I have two. Couldn’t even imagine the stress of having three more. How do you do it? Manage? And how has that impacted your career?

T.R.: It’s made me sane. I grew up basically an only child. I have a sister, Heather, from my father Mickey. I love to be silent and alone and having constant chaos opened up a whole new skill set. Twelve years ago I would have laughed and driven away if you said, “Guess where you will be in 2014 …” But I am better now at being me and being a parent and an artist then I ever imagined

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J.P.: According to your bio, you grew up with 15 family members employed by the Atomic Energy Commission, which resulted in your interest in renewable energy , space and super luminal transport physics. Tracy, recently a crushing report on climate change came out, suggesting—more or less—we’re sorta fucked. Tracy, do you have any remote hope for humanity? Or are we just screwed?

T.R.: There is a tremendous effort being made to save the earth and a tremendous effort at still raping the earth. She will have to reconcile this battle. I am on the side of the white blood cells fighting the disease.

J.P.: In 1993, “A League of Their Own” became a relatively short-lived TV series, and you played Betty Horn in all six episodes. Did you think the series would take off? Did you know it wouldn’t? And what is it like to have a series cancelled?

T.R.: There are such sad, funny stories about the series. They actually hired one of the greatest writing teams to try and launch the show, but I think they knew there was no way a period piece show that dealt with the war, politics, baseball and women’s feelings was going to excite male sponsors and general doubters. I had just had an 11-pound baby so it looked like Betty’s husband died and she ate a lot. Tom Hanks, Ted Bessel and Harvey Miller all guest directed. Monica Johnson, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from the film wrote. That doesn’t happen. And it did. Tom Hanks laughed at me and said, “You know, if this goes you will be only the second sitcom widow on TV!” Julia in the 70s was the other.

And then we got the script. The famous TV script where a monkey is in the show. When there’s a monkey you’re cancelled.

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Tracy, right, with her fellow Apollo 13 cast member, Kathleen Quinlan.

J.P.: You were awesome in Apollo 13. I really mean that—awesome. I sorta feel like the film somehow gets overlooked when we discuss great movies of the 1990s. Yet, for my dough, it’s right there. What do you recall of the experience?

T.R.: I auditioned really fast because it was at Universal and I wanted to sneak in the back lot with my son, who was 2. I said, “Bill Paxton is from Oklahoma. Do you want me to do an accent?” Um …  sure. So I read really quick and showed Ron Howard my son in the video since the character had three kids. I remember the line—to Jim Lovell’s wife—was, “You’ve done this three times? You don’t even sweat or nothing?” And I was off. There were no tears in any of my lines.

I was going to do the directing program at USC and I got a call that Ron Howard wanted to see me to read in person. So I went and he said, “Thanks, goodbye.” I don’t think he even knew that I had uncle who worked at NASA and worked on Apollo 13. Just as I got all my classes settled I got a call saying I got the part. Then I researched Mary Haise, my character, and she also had a degree in Astrophysics like her husband and was a master archer and was the only NASA wife who had a shag. All the tears came when we shot the launch. It was one of the greatest sequences ever. Jim Lovell’s real wife and daughter were put in the scene standing in front of me and Kathleen Quinlan (who is another hero of mine) and the two Lovell women started to cry when they played the real launch audio of the takeoff.

There were tons of people watching a tissue go up a flag pole but when they cried we stopped and Ron came up and said to me, “You know what to do.” I looked into her eyes and knew watching your husband leave the planet, an absolute life risk, for the third time was beyond bereavement and prayer. I had reacted to death but this was something else … overwhelming and, for Mary Haise (seven months pregnant), it took all of my compassion and ability way up and in honor of them.

Originally the script said something like, “I hear in Italy 13 is a lucky number” … look to kids, blah blah blah. Now it’s crazy real. Mother Mary crying to the moon and the launch and the score … to this day people tilt their heads and look at me and smile. That film was the second best time ever. I knew many of the cast before the film which is always fun. We won Best Ensemble Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. I got to meet Arthur C. Clark‘s brother (awe from a geek like me) and Arthur Projected holographically from Sri Lanka at the Arthur C. Clark awards. I got to go because of the film and then got invited to speak in Seoul at their KIPA film school on storytelling from game design to feature films with some guys from James Cameron’s Earthship TV.

So all my crazy technology buttons got pushed and I started not finding the same levels of intelligence in many of the films that followed. Or in what I was being looked at for being 35 … 36 … 37. So I was totally reality inspired and also spoiled and needed a break. I was having totally unrealistic expectations from the people in this industry . So I stopped simulating and started connecting people and ideas and now both sides of my brain feel much better. .

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J.P.: In 2013, you headed a team that funded and marketed a new medical software company. Um, that’s not something you read in the bios of too many actresses/directors. Please elaborate …

T.R.: Not true. Women actresses have always been major connectors of people and ideas and money and technology. Hedy Lamarr, Jayne Mansfield— there are plenty. Google it. I love lens history and projection as well as farm and water technologies and alternative energies. The man who started the medical software was in early Animatronics special effect and other things.

J.P.: You recently said in an interview, “some of the technology that is being used  in special effects and large format I find  to be dangerous. And I’ve spoke with quite a few people in 3d technologies and we need to make sure that there is not just film stimulations but also conscious effort to preserve the integrity in doing this job.” What, exactly, do you mean by “dangerous”? What’s the problem here?

T.R.: I have my own very serious concerns with the stability of people’s binocular fusion of the eyes just for starters. I have seen many dysphorias come from watching 3D films and I have seen the difference of my own performance on the audience in 3D and I suggest people really seriously give a shit about a whole bunch of things about CGI and special effects. About what they watch and show their kids. I spoke on panels and I asked many people about the guidelines and I have many friends who do that job. I bug them constantly. I have been asked to say things and be a noisy brat by some of the inventors of the technologies and so I do. Just remember how much more important your food is over movie stimuli.  Don’t watch crazy shit. And if you can’t help it … yes, you’re pretty much fucked.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TRACY REINER:

• The wife and I debate this all the time—does Dottie Hinson intentionally drop the ball?: Seriously? Whatever you believe, you make true.

• Five things you always carry in your purse?: Water, 1,000 cards, pens (I love black pens), Magic Mom Kit, passport, phone.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Deer Hunter, Starbucks, Kiss, Marvin Hagler, Howard Stern, potatoes, Kentucky, Marla Hooch, convertibles, Martin Landau, Hollywood, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Justin Bieber: Marla Hooch, Martin Landeau, convertables, potatoes. The rest are not in my life.

• Five greatest actresses of your lifetime?: I think I mentioned them.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a place crash? If so, what do you recall?: No shit—I’ve gotten off the plane twice. I just heard out loud in my head, “Get off!” They, of course, didn’t crash but it was creepy. Pissed off the people I was flying to meet. I told them I was late.

• Number of times a year someone says to you, “There’s no crying in baseball. There’s no crying in baseball.”: It used to be a lot, then only at amusement parks. Now only when we all hang out and with Bitty Schram … I just signed another release for the clip of that to be used all these years later.

• My daughter is wrapping up fifth grade, and she really wants an iPhone 5. Thoughts?: No No and ah NO. Testing new technology on your kids is kinda fucked up. No, Daddy. Nothing personal. iPad laptop or towers are a bit safer. I like iPhones but they are bad for kids’ bodies—period.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to move to Las Vegas for a year to become her personal acting coach. Good news—$5 million for the year. Bad news—you can only look at her shoes, and twice a day you have to bake her banana bread. You in?: Money isn’t what’s happening. I don’t endorse shame games.

• I have an idea—A League of Their Own II—Revenge of The Ghost of Jimmy Dugan. You in?:  Only if they play on the moon.

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Dave Zirin

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There is a lot of bullshit in sports media.

It’s true, and it’s worse than ever before. Few people dig, probe, look for the truth behind the glitz. Most of us are simply satisfied with access. If an athlete calls a reporter by his first name, nine out of 10 times a positive profile follows. Or—even better—a glowing Tweet.

We are simple and stupid. We aspire to be Skip Bayless and Michael Wilbon (wanna-be celebrities) instead of Red Smith or Frank Deford (craftsmen). We’d rather be recognized walking through an airport than recognized for exemplary work. It sucks, it sucks, it sucks—and it depresses the hell out of me.

Thank goodness for Dave Zirin.

I’ve known Dave for a long time now, and he is—without much debate—one of the most important and bad-ass voices of our time. He tackles issues others tiptoe around. He chases injustice, whereas others merely nod its way. He is the sports editor of The Nation, hosts Edge of Sports Radio on Sirius and writes some truly dazzling books. His newest release, Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy, is a powerful and haunting look at what’s happening behind the scenes (oft-tragically) in a nation hosting both the World Cup and the Olympics. It’s strong work.

You can visit Dave at his website, and follow him on Twitter.

Dave Zirin, welcome to Quazville. Population: You.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dave, I’m gonna start with a completely random question, because you seem like a good guy to ask. I fear death. Sometimes, I’m consumed by this fear–by the inevitability of non-existence, and how we somehow seem to forget (or don’t mind) that we’re all on an airplane that’s heading toward the ground. I ask folks, “Doesn’t this bother you?”—and 95% say No. Dave, what do you think about the concept of eternal nothingness? Does it concern you? Bother you? Are you good with it? In denial? None of the above?

DAVE ZIRIN: Was going to give a snarky answer to this. But then I thought that honesty might be the better way to go even if it’s a buzz kill. I had a couple of very close friends die before their 24th birthday. I’ve also spent the last 20 years doing a lot of work to abolish the death penalty and gotten to know a lot of people who live on death row and a lot of the victims’ families who are against capital punishment. In other words, I’ve been around some death, so I’m just grateful for the years I’ve had because a lot of folks have had far less.

J.P.: You have a new book that comes out in June. It’s called, Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy. I’ve loved what I’ve read thus far—powerful shit, important issue. While reading it, I found myself thinking that you must be a truly frustrated man. You have this issue of corruption in Brazil—and most people either don’t know or don’t care. Are we just a bunch of lazy fucks consumed by the Kardashians? Do we lack general empathy? Is it all too much work?

D.Z.: Thanks Jeff. I loved Showtime and The Bad Guys Won. Getting dap from authors you respect is, for me, a sustaining part of this gig. I wrote the book in part to raise awareness about what’s happening in Brazil. We can’t fault people for not caring about issues that receive next to zero mainstream attention in the U.S. And also the people who really matter here are the 200 million people in Brazil. They are protesting and raising hell about displacement, corruption, and police brutality so I know they care and I hope the book can shed some light on what they are going through, the movements they are building and the obstacles they face. Thrilled the book has a Brazilian publisher putting out a Portuguese version so folks in Brazil can read it.

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J.P.: Along those lines, what inspired you to write the book? Where’d the idea come from? How much time did you spend in Brazil? What was the process like?

D.Z.: Honestly, the book started as a simplistic no-brainer: “Brazil is going to host the World Cup and the Olympics? Holy crap. That’s a book.” Then I went down to Brazil, started crash reading about Brazil and realized that I was in way over my head. So I changed the focus of it to trying to explain in very elementary terms to a US audience why Brazil matters, why knowing its history matters, and why the World Cup and the Olympics (more specifically why FIFA and why the IOC) are such parasitic institutions. When I was there, I hooked up with a remarkable NGO called Catalytic Communities that brings academics and journalists into the Favelas so people can tell their stories. Thanks to them, every day there was a treasure trove.

J.P.: You’ve always been something of a defender of Barry Bonds, in that you think the hatred and animosity is more about race than PED. I generally find myself agreeing with your stances—but here I don’t. I think he’s an asshole who treated people awfully, and when you treat people awfully—and cheat—it comes back to bite you. Why am I wrong?

D.Z.: I guess it starts by my thinking that the “weight” of the PED era has fallen on the individual shoulders of a few players while Major League Baseball’s owners and players have gotten off with nary a scratch. Far more outrageous to me than Barry Bonds is the fact that Bud Selig gets to be the commissioner of the PED era and the commissioner who “cleaned up the game.” It’s galling to me that Brian Sabean was the only baseball team executive who had to testify in front of Congress. Hell, it bothers me that the House Oversight Committee went from investigating the cover-up around Pat Tillman’s death to steroids as if these are in any way comparable. I’ve always thought that discussions about Barry Bonds’ demeanor gets us off track from focusing on how PED get into locker rooms in the first place, why they’re criminalized, and who benefits from the whole drug war hysteria that engulfs this discussion and turns sports radio jocks into pharmacological experts. As for race and Barry Bonds, I just spoke to too many people whose hatred of Bonds was drenched in such thinly veiled racial animus, that “cheater” was just a substitute for a more volatile word. Of course I’m sure many people dislike Bonds because he’s like a thorny rose without the petals. But for some, other reasons lurk in plain sight.

J.P.: I know loads about your career and almost nothing about your life path? Womb to now, how did this journalism thing happen for you? Who was the first to inspire you to write? To say, “Here’s a path …” And when did you realize it just might work?

D.Z.: Has it worked? It’s working but it’s a day-in-day-out grind just to keep the family in frozen dinners. I was always a nuts sports fan, but never thought sports writing could be something magical and a craft worth pursuing until I read James Baldwin’s 1960 essay about Sonny Liston. I was inspired but also knew I was no James Baldwin. Then I read Mike Marqusee’s book about Muhammad Ali called Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the 1960s. Brilliant book. Unlike Baldwin, which made me feel—correctly—like, “I could never write this well,” Marqusee’s prose was more grounded and inspired me to want to do that kind of sports/political writing for myself.

J.P.: This whole recent Donald Sterling thing fascinates me, in that we’re all so outraged by his words … so willing to damn the man to hell—meanwhile, sports owners everywhere donate to causes that go directly against the interests of poor minorities, fight for causes that have killed income equality, etc … etc. Is this laziness on our part? On the part of players? Do you think athletes—before choosing teams—should look deeper into the business dealings of the owners?

D.Z.: Yes, there are a ton of sports owners who are ickier than whatever’s underneath a teenager’s mattress: people who actually harm thousands of people in their day-to-day lives. Hell, Donald Sterling, as a slumlord, was one of those people but that’s not of course what finally got him. In this case, we learned, yet again, in the power of audio media to trump the written word. People in mainstream publications have been writing about Donald Sterling’s racist activities for years. But much of this evidence was contained in court documents and the testimony of people whose words tend to be ignored. This time there was audio of the man himself and he insulted Magic Johnson—who people feel like they know—so the dynamics were different on every conceivable level.

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J.P.: You co-authored John Carlos’ autobiography. It doesn’t seem like it sold particularly well (no offense. I’ve been there). I wonder if you feel like, in 2014, people have grown ignorance to the Carlos-Smith moment? Or if they somehow don’t grasp the impact? Along those lines, what was he like to partner with?

D.Z.: Oh, I disagree. I don’t know the sales numbers but doing that book was an all-time life highlight. We toured the country together and the audiences were huge. We also toured during the height of Occupy and spoke at Occupy encampments in every city we were in. The audiences were very young and the energy was off the page. Speaking with him in London on the eve of the Olympics actually got a little scary because people were mobbing him so much. The book was a great validation that his actions live on and resonate. As for John Carlos the human being, I say with complete candor that he’s perhaps the finest human being I’ve had the privilege to know. And man, can he tell a story.

J.P.: I remember seeing one of your books and reading the front-cover quote, from Robert Lipsyte, “Dave Zirin is the best young sportswriter in America.” You and I are about the same age—can we still use quotes like that? And how do you think aging has impacted your skills as a journalist?

D.Z.: Bob—to my eternal gratitude—wrote that about me when I was 30. I stopped using it when I hit 35. At that point, it felt too much, in the words of Chris Rock, like “the old guy at the club,” especially when there are a ton of great young writers out there, writing for sites like Sports on Earth and The Classical, whose laptop I can’t carry.

With John Carlos.

With John Carlos.

J.P.: You ask hard questions, and you don’t seem to take any shit. So how do you prepare for interviews? How to you approach a subject you know will be hostile? And what’s the most heated exchange you’ve had in the course of a Q&A?

D.Z.: It’s just sports. No one is really that intimidating to interview … except for Jim Brown.

J.P.: I see Skip Bayless and I want to vomit. I just don’t get his popularity. Dave, please explain …

D.Z.: He has an enchanting musk.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVE ZIRIN:

• Celine Dion calls. She offers $20 million for you to spend a year hosting “Edge of Celine radio”—12 hours a day, 365 days a year of coverage solely of her career and greatness. You in?: I once watched all five Rockys in a row as part of a radio contest in high school. The prize was a fake gold chain with a boxing glove on the end. If I could do that shit for a piece of jewelry that turned my neck green, then damn right I could do Edge of Celine radio.

• You wrote the Muhammad Ali Handbook. Is Ali’s place as a sort of God-like figure in American-sports culture righteous, or somewhat exaggerated?: It’s altogether ridiculous because what makes Muhammad Ali so awesome is his humanity, his flaws, and the fact that in spite of those, he stood tall when a lot of people needed someone like him to do just that. When we “godify” Muhammad Ali, we create distance between what he did and what any one of us could do: i.e. stand on political principal even if you pay a price.

• What are your three favorite love songs?: I Love You by Mary J. Blige; Blind Alley by The Emotions; How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore? by Prince.

• You’re the sports editor of The Nation. How much longer does print have in this country?: What time is it right now?

• Five all-time favorite sports names?: 1) Razor Shines; 2) God Shammgod; 3) Dick Tidrow (better than Dick Trickle and the name of a great band); 4) Vladamir Guerrero; 5) World B. Free.

• What’s the outcome of a fistfight between you and Garry Templeton?: Didn’t he hit 30 triples one year? I could knock him out early, but if it goes into the later rounds, I’m toast.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Willie McGee, The Band Perry, Eric Carr, sleet, boxer-briefs, Target, “The Empire Strikes Back,” Kool G Rap, Geraldine Ferraro, Trident Layers Sugar Free Gum, Moses, wet farts: (leaving off ones I don’t know or had to look up)—Kool G. Rap, Empire Strikes Back, boxer-briefs, Moses, Willie McGee, Geraldine Ferraro, wet farts. Trident Layers Sugar Free Gum, Target, sleet.

• One question you’d ask Stephen Pearcy were he here right now?: Did you ever party with Milton Berle?

• I love this song. Your thoughts?: Without the girl in the bumblebee costume, I couldn’t say focused on the music.

• I’m 42. Were I single, what’s the youngest woman I could date without being pathetic?: Age is a ridiculous and artificial construct that denies the fact that two people can just have a connection regardless of  the happenstance of when they were born into this crazy world … Oh, it’s 34.

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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?

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• 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.