Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Mark Millon

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This is my son Emmett. He’s 8-years old.

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He is wearing pajamas in this photograph. He also happens to be standing in front of the oldest poster to grace his room—one depicting lacrosse star Mark Millon.

The image exists on Emmett’s wall for a strange reason: Five or six years ago, when we still lived in New Rochelle, our neighbors—three elderly men, one middle-aged woman—relocated to San Diego. They left tons of things behind, and after nearly everything was sold we walked through, wondering what remained. There was weird stuff. An autographed script from Martin Sheen. A big African drum. A rolled-up poster, signed by Mark Millon.

Emmett was young, but he liked the image. So we hung it, then took it town and hung it again when we relocated to California. It’s a bit tattered and worn, yet also loved.

Here’s the weird thing: Neither my son nor I knew much about Millon. We’re not big lacrosse fans, and certainly not followers of the pro game. That’s why, a few weeks ago, I said to Emmett, “I’m gonna try making Mark Millon a Quaz …” To which he replied, “What’s a Quaz?”

Ah, kids.

Anyhow, today’s 181st Quaz is a dandy. Millon isn’t merely a dude from a poster. No, he’s one of the all-time greats of the sport; a UMass product and Lacrosse Hall of Famer who has earned every honor imaginable. Now 43, he devotes much of his time to teaching the game via his camps and clinics. You can also follow him on Twitter here.

Mark Millon, you’re no longer the dude on the poster. You’ve been elevated to Quazhood …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Mark, I attended the University of Delaware when the men’s lacrosse team was very strong—and I fell for the game. The speed. The physicality. The skill. So I wonder why more Americans haven’t fallen for it? I mean, lacrosse is insanely exciting, yet it remains sorta fringe, the pro leagues draw meh crowds. Why is this? And can you picture a day when professional lacrosse is right up there with the Major Leagues and NBA and NFL and NHL?

MARK MILLON: Jeff, lacrosse is an absolutely incredible game to play and watch but there are a few issues that I feel slow its growth.

Folks talk about how much it’s “growing.” Yeah, it is but it’s growing from something tiny into something just very small. Over the past five years, though, while the participation numbers are not off the reservation, the TV coverage growth is exponential and I feel that gives lacrosse its best chance ever to really kick into gear. However—and it’s a significant however—there are still huge barriers to that happening. The first is the cost to play. You cannot pick up the game for less than $225-to-$250, and that’s for the barebones low-end equipment. Every player needs a helmet, gloves, stick, arm protection and shoulder pads. So you can’t chance watch it on TV and say, “I’m gonna try that sport!”

Next, while it looks cool on TV, which, again, I think can fuel growth, the average person who has never seen it has a hard time following it. Seeing the ball, knowing about all the substitutions, etc … etc … makes it somewhat complicated. The final piece is adequate coaching. Lacrosse is actually pretty technical and there aren’t enough qualified coaches or former players throughout the country and world to teach people how to play the right way.

One more thing: when you first pick up a stick it’s not easy so you cant get instant gratification like you might get kicking a soccer ball or shooting a basketball.

For all those reasons I really don’t see lacrosse ever being up with the mainstream big four sports. I would love to see it but I don’t envision it happening. I feel like we will continue to see growth in participation but I see fairly slow growth in the pro leagues.

Millon (No. 9) alongside teammate John DeTommaso after Team USA captured the 1998 World Championship.

Millon (No. 9) alongside teammate John DeTommaso after Team USA captured the 1998 World Championship.

J.P.: In 2007 you retired as the all-time leading scorer in MLL history. Then, in 2013 (at age 42) you returned to join the Rochester Rattlers. Why? And how hard was it to get back into the sport at that age? What were the toughest physical struggles? And was it worth it?

M.M.: When I retired in 2007 I was working two jobs. I was a full-time sales manager at Warrior and I was running my camp business with 2,000 kids coming through. I had been the two-time offensive MVP of the MLL, was the MVP of the league in 2005, won a championship, played nine years in the NLL (National Lacrosse League), was an All-Pro, won a championship, played on two USA teams, was the MVP of the World Games. I really felt like I had done it all. My off-field preparation was suffering and I really wasn’t playing with passion. So I walked away.

But I always felt I sort of walked away the wrong way, sort of the opposite of Derek Jeter’s “walk away.” And it was definitely not because I couldn’t play.

Fast forward to 2013. I knew I could do it, I knew with 100-percent certainty that if I got in shape I could play. I also have two young boys who could now share in the experience in a real and understandable level. So the combination of knowing I could play, the ability to leave the right way, and for my kids to share in it and see the training it takes to compete at that that level … it was really enticing.  Was it tough? Oh, yeah, it was really tough but it felt good to work as hard as I did. I re-hired my strength and conditioning coach, did a lot of shooting and dodging on my own and even did that crazy-ass Insanity workout. I felt incredible. I went to my first training camp and a former teammate from my prime in Boston, who was a future Hall of Famer as well as the captain of 2014 Team USA, told me, “You look 100 percent exactly the way you did in 2005.”

Most people think I am completely delusional with what I will say next, but, well, I just ended up in the wrong place to succeed. It was a combination of about three or four things but it was just the wrong place and I feel with all my heart that if I went to the right place and the right fit it would have been an incredible ending. I played in three games and had one goal and three assists—far from what I was looking for.

But was it worth it? Hell, yeah. Regardless of what anyone thought, I was so goddamn close. It failed, but all you want to do is have a chance. Right?

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J.P.: I know you’re from Long Island, I know you played at UMass, but … why lacrosse? Like, how did you first discover the game? When did you truly start to love it? What about lacrosse did it for you? And when did you first realize, “Damn, I’m REALLY good at this?”

M.M.: I grew up in Huntington, N.Y. and in my youth I was really all about baseball. I played on all the elite teams through the age of 13 but practices were just so boring for me. I was a sports junkie, though, always playing deck hockey, pickup football, baseketball, etc. I honestly didn’t know that much about lacrosse. My dad was a school teacher at Syosset High School, and the lacrosse coach said to him one day, “Hey, I know you have two young sons. You should have them try lacrosse.” So we did. My bro and I went to a camp when I was nine but I really wasn’t hooked. It was hard and I was killing it in baseball so I just messed with the stick on the side for a few years and continued to play baseball.

In middle school I played on the team and was pretty good and really from there I was hooked and started to develop a real passion to play and practice. I think what really hooked me was the speed, the scoring and just how much fun I had playing. I got really good in high school, played on the most elite team there was (Empire State Team—Long Island) but it really wasn’t until my sophomore year at UMass where I was like, “Wow, I actually think I can do anything out here on the field I want. I can dodge, play off ball, score, pass.” I guess that;s when I started to realize that I was pretty damn good.

J.P.: I think winning—and the emphasis we place on winning—is sorta bullshit. I don’t see why losing is so awful, so long as you tried, had fun, learned a few things. The majority of people seem to disagree. How about you? And why?

M.M.: I swear I am the most competitive person in the world (I know everyone says that), but the emphasis on winning is a total effing joke. It’s really, really bad in the world of youth lacrosse. The way I coach my kids teams is, “Guys, I am going to develop the shit out of you, you are going to play the game so that you have a real chance to be good and if we win or lose so be it.” I want my kids to play like a mini-college team and move the ball around. I want everyone to participate. There are so many idiots out there that just want to win. They give the ball to the biggest kid and he bulls around and scores, but the offense looks like total shit. Yet the parents are stoked. Parents all over the country completely undervalue development and instruction and just want to win.

Where does this come from? Is it because every pro athlete says that all they want to do is win championships? Did it trickle down? Is it because we say NFL quarterbacks, regardless of stats, are nothing until they win? I have no idea. But, in my mind, if you compete as hard as you can, have a blast and get better, well, that is pretty damn important.

J.P.: Do you feel like anyone can develop lax skills? Like, can we take some kid who’s a so-so athlete, work with him on lacrosse and make something? Or do you need kids with speed, with size, with agility?

M.M.: Nah, it’s like anything else. Not everyone can be good at lacrosse or develop great skill. One thing that’s unique in lacrosse is it’s really not about the speed, size or agility. If you look at lacrosse right now, Paul Rabil is the best player in the game. He is 6-foot-3 and big and fast, but one of the best college players is a kid at Duke who is 5-foot-8. The Thompson kids from Albany aren’t crazy big and strong.

What lacrosse does take is good eye-hand coordination combined with massive amounts of practice. The skills, especially offensive skills, are really technical. You can take a so-so athlete, speed-wise, with amazing eye-hand coordination and find a spot on the field for him.

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

M.M.: The best was being named to my first USA team. It was truly my dream from when I first got passionate about lacrosse in seventh grade. I had the poster on my wall with a USA player on it and always wanted to wear that jersey.

The worst was my senior year in high school. I had a great year, I was a 100 percent lock to be a high school All-American—which I really coveted. I talked to my coach that day and he could not have been more confident for me. He called me on the way home from the meeting and was literally in tears. “Mark,” he said, “I do not have any idea how this just happened, but you didn’t make it.” I was upset but it really drove me.

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J.P.: Back in 2006 lacrosse was all over the news because of the whole Duke lacrosse scandal. It seemed, in a way, to offer up this image of lacrosse players as privileged, arrogant, indifferent assholes. I’m wondering, at the time, what you thought of the goings-on. Were you concerned? Hurt? Defensive? All? Neither?

M.M.: Being a lacrosse player, working in the industry, running camps, I was a total 100-percent lacrosse expert. From the second the news started to break I knew with 100-percent certainty it was bullshit. I knew a bunch of educated young men … boys brought up in New Jersey, Connecticut … and there was no way they would gang rape a woman. Would they do a ton of other questionable, dumb stuff? Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But not that. I knew the truth would come out eventually. The amazing thing is what it has done at Duke. That program is by far the best in lacrosse right now and it all started at the start of the scandal. Crazy stuff. Karma? Nah. Probably just a great coach.

J.P.: What does it feel like to start getting old as an athlete? Are you aware of it happening? Does it sneak up on you one day? When did you first notice some slippage? And how did you deal with it? The inevitability?

M.M.: I will be totally honest. I have no idea. I am either so naive, stupid—or I just didn’t perceptively feel it happening. Maybe toward the end of my career, when I was not putting up the numbers and I was blaming it on lack of preparation, but was it age? I don’t know because I really wasn’t preparing properly. I know this is crazy but even today, at age 43m when my stick is in my hands at a clinic, my shooting feels exactly the same. I guess, though, one thing you do feel for sure—and I did feel it 2013—is your body can’t rebound as fast and the tendency to strain muscles increases.

I guess that’s why guys use so much growth hormone and testosterone.

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J.P.: I’d love to hear the story of your absolute most painful injury. What happened? What was the pain like?

M.M.: Unfortunately I really don’t have a great injury story. For a smaller guy who played a really slashing, speed-oriented, attacking style, I have no idea why I was so lucky. I did break my fifth metatarsal in 1997m which required a screw and it hurt like a son of a bitch. But that isn’t really exciting. I also needed surgery to fix a torn lower abdominal muscle and it hurt. But not that bad.

J.P.: I fear death. I do. The inevitability. Like it’s just waiting there, and it’s gonna happen. I’m guessing you don’t feel that way. How do you avoid the thoughts? It haunts me.

M.M.: Of course I do because I like life so much and not being able to do it any more or share it with my kids would surely suck. But I try not to think about it much. I block it out because I generally don’t have a lot of control of the matter.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARK MILLON:

• We take you, age 24 or 25, and give you a year to train as an NFL wide receiver, then get you a training camp invite. What could you have done?: I could have been Wes Welker. Not necessarily the straight speed but the change of direction and quickness would have allowed me to make plays. I would have loved the opportunity

•  Rank in order (favorite to least): Anthony DiMarzo, ice skating, Real Housewives of Atlanta, Marcus Camby, Roosevelt Field Mall, Paul Molitor, ant farms, black licorice: This feels like a baseline concussion test or something. Camby, Molitor, Roosevelt Field Mall, ice skating, Real Housewives, Anthony DiMarzo, black licorice, ant farms.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Oh, yeah. During my years playing in the NLL we used to travel on these Dash 8 prop planes in the middle of winter. Sometimes they would drop what felt like 2,000 feet and I would tell my teammate next to me, “I honestly thought we were going down.”

• One question you would ask Suzanne Somers were she here right now?: What was it like acting like a complete idiot on Three’s Company?

• Five reasons one should make Long Island his/her next vacation destination?: OK, this might not be five reasons but here goes. On a July day you can sit on the nicest beach in the world from 9 am until 2 pm. Jump in the car and go watch the greatest sports franchise in the world (Yankees), then go hit a world-class restaurant. After dinner go down to the Meatpacking District, party till 5:30 am, head back east and you can fall asleep on the nicest beach in the world.

• The world needs to know—what was it like playing alongside Dan Radebaugh?: Words that come to mind—intense, loyal, fundamental, angry, fun.

• What’s the all-time best psychup song before a sporting event?: It’s an oldie—The Cult’s Fire Woman. On a side note, I saw them live at Nassau Coliseum in like 1985 and it took two days for my ears to come back on line.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Eli Manning? What’s the result?: While Eli looks like a 5-year-old schoolboy who lost his puppy, he is still 6-foot-4 and tough. I out-quick him for a while but TKO in the 10th. I lose.

• How many Mark Millon sex tapes are out there on the underground market?: I hope none.

• Would you rather drink a full cup of Tom Marechek’s spit or sing the national anthem at the next Philadelphia Eagles’ home game?: That is just a nasty visual. Would anyone not take the National Anthem option there?

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Matthew Laurance

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I don’t like to brag about stuff, but you’re about to read an awesome Quaz.

Absolutely awesome.

Matthew Laurance is a name you might know, or a name you might not know. For Kentucky basketball and football fans, he’s the host of UK Game Day on on WLXG in Lexington. But that’s, like, his 564,432nd claim to fame.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Matthew appeared in, oh, every movie and TV show you can imagine. Hell, here’s a quick and random listing: Beverly Hills, 90210, Matlock, thirtysomething, Eddie and the Cruisers, My Sister Sam … on and on and on. He enjoyed the highs of Hollywood (fame, big pay) and the lows of Hollywood (egos, idiots, aging). Lived the life of a star without ever thinking of himself as a star.

These days, you can follow Matthew on Twitter here, and check out his impressive IMDB page here.

Matthew Laurance, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So you have one of the most unique resumes I’ve EVER seen. I mean that—e-v-e-r. WNBA commentary. Sideline analyst for Duke men’s basketball. A key role in 90201. St. Elmo’s Fire. Thirtysomething. On and on and on. Just amazing. But I wanna ask you about something specific. In 1989 you reprised your role of Sal Amato in Eddie in the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! I’m always riveted by sequels, especially sequels of big, iconic period films. So, Matthew, what do you remember about doing the sequel? Did you want to? Did the script hold up? Was it a good film?

MATTHEW LAURANCE: I was working on my series Duet for Fox. My agent called and said that they were doing the sequel, and would I be interested in doing it. I asked all the right questions—who is doing it, director, where is it shooting, what about the series I was doing … they told me that the record company The Scotti Brothers were producing, and that Tony Scotti specifically wanted me from the first one, that nobody except Michael Pare and I were coming back. I found out that  my scenes were shooting in Montreal, and I would need two weeks off from my series. When I told the Duet producers, they graciously agreed to write me out of one episode to go back to back  with our normal week off. All good so far. My agent said, “Let’s ask for a lot of money.” I said “Yippee!”

Then I got the script.

Underwhelmed, to say the least. I felt that we had a built in audience, and that we had a chance to do something special. The good news was that all my scenes were with Michael, and I felt like we could make them work because of our history together. And two weeks in Montreal? I’m in.

Well, I don’t like the movie at all. The whole premise is that this huge rock star is hiding from the world. Doing construction. And the music comes back, and his picture is everywhere, and he has a little mustache and nobody knows it’s him. Like Clark Kent put on glasses and no one knew he was Superman. Ridiculous. But I think my scenes with Michael are really good, and I had a wonderful time doing it [Jeff’s note: To his credit, Matthew scored a hot date to the premier].

90210 gold ...

90210 gold …

J.P.: In 1980-81, you were a cast member of Saturday Night Live, where your twin brother Mitchell has been an assistant director. What was the SNL experience like back then? I’m picturing craziness, drugs, wildness, drinking, etc. But … am I off? And why’d you leave after just one season? Do you at all regret that?

M.L.: There was a lot of that, granted. But not only on SNL. Everywhere, by everybody. It was both a great year and very difficult at the same time. We replaced the most popular cast in the world. Icons. Lorne Michaels left in a dispute with NBC, I think, and they hired Jean Doumanian to replace him. She was the talent coordinator for Lorne. I had been doing Off-Broadway theater and studying, and working as a waiter for a looooong time, trying to get an agent. Most of the people in the cast were comedians. Everyone fought for their place in sketches. There was a lot of jealousy and backstabbing by certain people. But the opportunity to be live in front of all those people every week was incredible. Big time rush.

And there were people I loved working with- Charlie Rocket, Gail Mathius, Denny Dillon … Eddie Murphy, before anyone knew him. And I left when I wasn’t asked back. They changed regimes again and that was that. I was fine with it. Within a few months I was on my way to LA to work with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner on a movie, and that was that.

Matthew, along with actresses Alison La Placa and Mary Page Keller, at a 1987 press conference.

Matthew, along with actresses Alison La Placa and Mary Page Keller, at a 1987 press conference.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, I know you’re a twin, know you’re from Hewlett, N.Y., know you attended Tufts. But why acting? When acting? And when did you realize this was something you could make a career out of?

M.L.: My first role was in eighth grade. I played Hugo in Bye Bye Birdie. And then Curly, the lead in Oklahoma, in ninth grade. And I loved being on stage. A lot of it has to do with being an identical twin, I think. You want to be different than your sibling, and you develop a personality that kind of says, “Hey, look at me!” At least I think that’s what I did. We were both really good athletes, and on basketball and football and baseball teams, but I loved being on stage in front of people. Kept doing plays through high school, and at Tufts.

I was going to be a lawyer. And Mitchy—my name for my brother—was going to be a doctor. My dad was very poor growing up, and never wanted to worry about us. It was just always understood—law school, med school.

My senior year at Tufts, I went to take my law boards at Harvard. As I sat looking at people whose life seemingly depended on that test, I realized I was doing it for my father. I randomly filled in the rest of the answers and left. When I went home for Christmas break, Dad asked if I had sent my applications in to law schools. They were sitting on my desk at school. I hadn’t filled them out. When I said no, he asked when I planned on sending them. I replied, “Never. I don’t want to be a lawyer.”

“Really? What are you going to do?”

“I think I want to be an actor.”

He got up from the table and walked into the living room. I looked at Mom, and she said, “Leave him alone for awhile. This is a shock to him.” I went to bed, almost ready to say I’d go to law school. I loved him so much, and knew that if I became an actor, he’d be in for many years of worrying. The next morning, he came in and sat on my bed and woke me up. He said (I get tears in my eyes even now thinking about this), “If that’s what you want to do, I’ll do everything I can to help you.”

We were incredibly blessed to have parents as supportive as ours. He passed away before I got my first real job.

Probably not as popular as Brian Austin Green during the 90210 years. But much better dressed

Probably not as popular as Brian Austin Green during the 90210 years. But at least he doesn’t have to explain the sweater …

J.P.: You had a run of being in everything. I mean, seriously, you owned the 1980s and 90s. Now, it seems, work isn’t what it was. And I wonder if that’s by your choice, or just what happens when actors age? Is it harder to land gigs at 64 than it was at 34? Or 44? Do you still want gigs?

M.L.: I had been in LA for about 18 years. The business had changed. Everything was about youth. With everything I had done, I was still having to work to get roles, as most actors do. One day my agent called and said, “Just so you know what’s going on, I submitted you for a sitcom pilot for NBC. The casting director (who was about 25) asked me if you could do comedy.” I had my own sitcom on Fox for three years. Had guest starred on a ton of great sitcoms. SNL for a year. And this kid didn’t even bother to look at my tape. He just knew me from my years on 90210. That’s when I made the decision to leave.

I miss it. I have people say to me that I could work now if I wanted to. But I have a family now, and my only job in life is to make sure they’re all OK. I know how unstable and eractic acting again might be. But I miss the creative part of it. I miss being on the set—the crew were always my peeps.

Helen Schneider and Laurance on the set of Eddie And The Cruisers

Helen Schneider and Matthew making rock faces and jamming away on the set of Eddie And The Cruisers

J.P.: Serious question—how do you explain so many actors having such huge egos? Being serious. They save no lives, they win no legal cases. The job, literally, is to make big bucks pretending to be a different person. So why the ego? And did you ever have an enormous one that ran away from you?

M.L.: I never did. Upbringing, my man. People who become famous have problems like everyone else. If you weren’t brought up to respect people and be kind to others, the more people give you, the bigger your ego gets. I was always grateful to be working and making money and traveling and meeting incredible people.

I was also very lucky. My first job, the one that got my career started in earnest, was a film called Prince of the City. It was directed by one of the great directors of all time, Sidney Lumet. My first day ever on a movie set, I arrived early (we were shooting in Great Neck!) and when I finished getting my makeup on, the assistant director told me it would be a while. “Why don’t you go in to the trailer over there,” he said. “Some of the guys are playing cards. It’s quite a game.” I went in, and some of the actors were playing poker. One of them was Jerry Orbach, a legend to all of us who grew up in New York. I was incredibly nervous—it was my first day on my first job. Jerry was the nicest, funniest man in the world. He dispensed words of wisdom to me for about an hour.

I left and Sidney came over. I mentioned what a great guy Jerry was, and he said—and I never forgot this- —Always remember something, Matthew. You’re gonna do a lot in this business. And the bigger you get, the nicer you should be to everyone.”

And I never forgot that. I hated people with out-of-control egos. Still do.

Alongside Father Evil.

Alongside Father Evil.

J.P.: You played “Steve” in two episodes of “My Sister Sam,” a show from the mid-1980s that pretty much ended with the real-life murder of one of the stars, Rebecca Schaeffer. I’ve always been sorta riveted by the show, and Schaeffer, and what happened. I’m wondering if you have any memories of your “My Sister Sam” experience, and any memories of Schaeffer? Or was it just one of many gigs?

M.L.: It was one of my favorite jobs. That set was so much fun to be on every day. Wonderful wonderful people—Pam Dawber, Joel Brooks, David Naughton (who remains a friend) … and Rebecca. Laughter all the time. They were all so talented, and treated me as if I were a real part of the cast. Pam and I worked on Do You Know the Muffin Man?—which I’ll discuss later. One of the best people in the business. Definitely not just another gig. Special.

Rebecca was one of the brightest, sweetest people I’ve ever known, anywhere. She was so young to have the kind of mind she did. She was just a beautiful, wondrous human being. I was as sad and horrified about her murder as I can remember being. Just a shocking event that left a real void for everyone who knew her …

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J.P.: Back in the 1980s Eddie Murphy was gold, gold, gold. Every movie did well, every movie seemed to be praised–save for Best Defense, which, ahem, you were in. Did you know the movie sucked at the time (if you believe it sucked)? Do you recall anything from the experience?

M.L.: I recall everything about it. Eddie and I had done SNL, and when I went in to meet the writer/director/producers, the Huycks, I was nervous as hell. They were big time at the time. They wrote the screenplay for American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The movie had Eddie and one of my idols, Dudley Moore, as the stars. And my part was being shot in Israel. I had been there before, had friends there, but this was a dream—they would be paying me to go. Salary, per diem, ISRAEL!

It was awesome. They picked us up every morning at about 5 o’clock at the hotel and drove us out to the desert outside Jericho. If you’ve never seen the sun rise over the desert, well, it was spectacular. We’d get to the set and there would be tanks and Bedouins and camels. C’mon. I’d get some coffee and just sit by myself on a tank and think, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world right now.”

When you read a script, most of the time you have a feeling about it. I thought it would be very funny, and with Dudley and Eddie, sure to be a hit. Not. I remember watching it and thinking, “Uh oh, this sucks, please be gone quickly.” So much of the finished product is the editing, music—all post production things you have no control over. So conversely, things you think could suck turn out to be great …

J.P.: What separates a great film from an awful film? I mean, it seems like it might be a thinner line that folks think, where one or two or three decisions takes a promising project to a higher level, or into the shithole.

M.L.: It’s all a crap shoot, for the most part. Although I think the great films all have that potential from the start. And it starts, obviously, with a great script. My favorite movie of all time is “The Godfather.” That includes Part II. I know every line from both—I’m not kidding. Then perfect casting, photography, production design, great director. Boom, masterpiece. Great films I think are great from the beginning, but major gaffes along the way could screw up the equation.

    Matthew, far left, shooting an SNL skit in 1981 with Gilbert Gottfried, Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Gail Matthius and Ann Risley.

Matthew, far left, shooting an SNL skit in 1981 with Gilbert Gottfried, Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius.

J.P.: You’ve done a lot of sports work of late. How did that happen? Why the transition from acting? And the WNBA? How’d that happen, and what’d you think of the experience?

M.L.: Ah! The transition! As I said before, by 1999 I was done with LA. Over the years, thanks to Mitchy, I had become an avid golfer. I began to get invited to play in celebrity golf tournaments all over the country. And one of the first ones I played in was the Duke Children’s Classic. In the early 1990s, I went out to dinner with my good friend P.J. Carlesimo at that tournament, and we were with his friends Jim Boeheim, and Mike and Mickie Krzyzewski. I sat next to Mike all night, and we talked about acting and the business. We developed a friendship, and I started going to Duke games. He has three daughters, and they were huge 90210 fans. I would send them scripts, and call them and tell them what was going to happen on shows so they had the jump on their friends.

So when I went to play there in June of 1999, I went out to dinner with Mike and told him how unhappy I was in LA. I said I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I wasn’t long for Hollywood anymore. He said, “You should be doing sports. You know as much as any of them, you’ve been on camera for years, you’d be great.”

I went back to LA, and thought about what he’d said. I decided to go for it. I called my friend Nancy Lieberman, who was the head coach and GM of the Detroit Shock in the WNBA. She knew everyone in sports. I asked her to put the word out that I wanted to do sports, and she said, “Can you make me a tape of you talking about the Shock? I think I can get you the job as analyst on Fox for our games.”

“Huh?” I said. “Uh, sure.”

Bingo, I spent the summer in Detroit. I had a great time doing it, living with Nancy and her husband Tim and learning on the fly. A couple months later I called Coach K and asked if he’d put in a good word with the peeps at ESPN for me. Then came the words that changed my life: ”Why don’t you come here and work with me?”

“Huh?” I said.

“I’ve been thinking about something for awhile,” he said, “and I think you’d be great. Just call me when you get here and we’ll talk.”

I sold all my furniture, got my mom to fly out to LA, and we drove cross country together. I wasn’t married, no family, so I just threw my trust in K into the car and went for it. When I got to Durham, he told me he wanted me to do radio for the basketball team, but in a way that hadn’t been done before. He wanted me to sit behind the bench and get in the huddles with them. He said it would give the fans a greater perspective. Of course, I had looked at the schedule, and Duke was going to Maui that year. I asked him if I would travel with the team. “Of course,” he said. “You’re part of the broadcast team.”

“I’m in,” I said.

And for 10 of the best years of my life, I was a part of the Duke family. Biggest blessing of my life, next to my family.

Five years ago, I was playing in a tournament in Lexington, Kentucky that I’d been coming to for 26 years. I met my wife at that tournament, and had many friends in Lexington. I played with a man who owns the ESPN radio station here, and when he offered me a job, I accepted. Shannon and I had two young boys, and I wanted them to be closer to her family. And here I am. I’m on our drive-time show every day, and I do the pre- and post-game shows for Kentucky football and basketball. And a golf show, of course.

If your film's not good, at least score a hot date to the premiere. Matthew and actress Melissa Morgan attend the Eddie II opening

If your film’s not good, at least score a hot date to the premiere. Matthew and actress Melissa Morgan attend the Eddie II opening.

J.P.: You played Brian Austin Green’s dad on Beverly Hills, 90210, a show that lasted forever and a day. How do you explain the staying power?

M.L.: Timing. At that time there really weren’t any shows for teenaged kids on. The first year of the show, it was the lowest-rated show on TV. Fox was still fairly new, there were still parts of the country that weren’t really able to get Fox yet. I had never seen the show. When my agent called and said they wanted to meet me to play one of the kids’ dad I said, “No way.” I thought it was pretty bad. He said “You’ve never played a dad, it would be good for you to do it.” I went to meet with them, and they told me I would be Brian’s dad. For one episode. I agreed to do it for Brian. When he was about 13, we did Circus of the Stars together. That’s right—I walked the high wire. I’m a stud. Anyway, I spent about five weeks with Brian doing the Circus show, rehearsing and just hanging out. I loved him. And then 90210 turned into a nine-year gig.

Fox did something that hadn’t  been done. The summer before I started, they showed new episodes while everyone else was in re-runs. Not only teenagers watched. Their parents watched with them. There were some things on the show that hadn’t been talked about before, and parents wanted to see what their kids were watching. And once the publicity machine cranked up … bingo. It’s been amazing. There wasn’t much creativity in my part—I loved Brian, and just reacted to everything. But a couple years into it, I was in Germany, and a crowd of Swedish tourists mobbed me. That’s how big it had gotten.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MATTHEW LAURANCE:

My mother-in-law is named Laura Stoll. She attended high school with you. Do you remember her?: Unfortunately, not really. She was a year behind me and Mitchy. Her name is familiar, but I can’t picture her. That’s not saying much—I can’t remember where I live half the time. But I bet if I saw her picture I’d remember her in a second.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chevy Chase, Ode to Joy, Maurice SendakBrian Austin Green, Brian Bonsall, hashtags, Oakland, Christian Laettner, UCLA, Willie Upshaw, Nicki Minaj, Tony Blair, Mercury: Brian Austin Green—my boy. Maurice Sendak—I have an autographed copy of “Where the Wild Things Are.” Christian Laettner. Hashtags. UCLA. Willie Upshaw. Ode to Joy. Mercury (Morris? The car?). Chevy Chase. Brian Bonsall. Oakland. Tony Blair. Nicki Minaj.

• One question you would ask Captain Lou Albano were he here right now?: How do you get your hair to look like that?

• Five reasons one should make the south shore of Long Island his/her next vacation destination?: Beautiful beaches, great food (pizza), close to New York City, great golf courses, the Long Island Railroad

• Best and worst movies you ever acted in?: Hmmm. Three way tie for best—St. Elmo’s Fire, Eddie and the Cruisers (Sal is the favorite character of my career), Prince of the City. Worst—hands down, Best Defense.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Brando, John Cazale, James Spader, Daniel Day Lewis, Henry Fonda

• Three memories from your role of Assistant D.A. Connelly in Matlock?: I only have one—Andy Griffith was not a nice man.

• Why do so many child actors end up addicted to crack?: They get used to having people treating them like big shots, never learn to relate in the real world, and when there’s no more work and no one cares, they hit the pipe.

• You were in the TV movie, Do You Know the Muffin Man? about child molestation. When one works on a film with such a heavy topic, do the days … feel heavy? Or can the director scream cut and people start farting?: That was the toughest role for me. Being on that set was hard. I sat with prosecutors from the DA’s office and watched actual tapes of some trials involving those cases, and I had trouble sleeping for a while. You try to keep it light but it was very hard for me. No one farted during the making of that movie … that I know of.

• In exactly 18 words, tell the world what it was like working with Stephen Dorff: He was great, incredibly talented for one so young, and I loved being around him him him him.

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Laurenne Sala

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Back when I was a teacher at Manhattanville College, I liked to tell my students that I’d rather interview the random stranger than Derek Jeter.

“Why?” I’d be asked.

“Well,” I’d say, “Derek Jeter’s life is repetition. He shows up to play baseball, he goes home, he sleeps, he shows up to play baseball. He makes lots of money, has lots of fame.”

“And?”

“And,” I’d reply, “life is more interesting than that.”

Indeed, it is. Life is funny and quirky and weird and funky. You never know what someone’s story will entail. That mystery is what makes people riveting. Where have they been? What have they seen? What challenges have they overcome?

This is a long way of saying that, a few weeks ago, I was sitting at a coffee shop near Venice Beach when I began chatting with the woman at an adjacent table. She was young and perky and cool. She also happened to be a writer with a marvelous life. In short, Laurenne Sala is someone I’d rather interview than Derek Jeter. The 179th Quaz Q&A explains why.

One can follow Laurenne at Twitter here. You can visit her sites here and here, and listen to the Taboo Tales podcast here. It’s wildly entertaining.

Laurenne Sala, stranger at a table, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: In an essay for Huffington Post, you wrote the words, I’ve spent my career convincing people to buy things they don’t need. And in order to do this, I’ve lied. I’ve made teenagers think they had to have video games. And when I wasn’t sure if my lies would really ring true to them, I surveyed their peers and conned them into telling me what tricks I could use.Which sounds like you feel really guilty about some of the advertising work youve done. Where does that guilt come from? What was the moment in the biz when you said, Crap, I really cant believe Im doing this?And has that belief changed the path of your career?

LAURENNE SALA: When I was a kid, I used to make commercials in the bathroom mirror. Uncles Jesse and Joey seemed to kill it writing jingles on Full House, so I thought it would be fun to do that as my job. And it was cool at first. People pass around appetizers to you on set. You get to meet celebrities and travel for shoots. It’s the perfect job for bragging at your high school reunion. Kinda. Unless you really think about it and realize you’re putting in a ton of effort to make “films” about cheeseburgers or cars. But I didn’t think about it in my 20s. I thought it was the coolest. But there are only so many focus groups you can take. Watching a group of teens open up and tell you what they want to hear and then writing ads that tell them just that started to feel pretty gut wrenching.

I wanted my life to mean more than that. I started doing some things on the side that involved telling really intimate stories and creating a community. I started blogging on humansarefunny.com and meeting a ton of people who became my friends because of solidarity. I realized how important it was to be honest and authentic. I didn’t want to live by lying to people every day. And yes … most ads are made of lies. Lots of lies … or at least stories that steer you to believe you’ll be a certain kind of person if you buy something. And that’s never true! You’ll be the same damn person you were before you bought that thing.

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J.P.: You were hired to rebrand eHarmony—which featured notoriously boring, cheesy ads. So, soup to nuts, how’d you go about that? What was your process? Do you have lightbulb moments? Or is it a gradual development of concepts?

L.S.: This was in the very beginning of 2010, so I don’t exactly remember (I did some drugs in the 1990s). But, I can tell you that most rebranding campaigns collect people in a focus group and ask them how they feel about the current campaign and what they want to feel instead. Or … brands will look for the groups they’re not reaching and figure out ways to go after those people. There are usually huge strategy meetings and big debates. For months. I know that, in the case of eHarmony, we found that people thought eHarmony was super saccharine, uber Christian, and hated that old dude. So we wanted to steer away from that.

It made me sad they’d been showing that campaign for years because when we finally met the couples, they were truly in love and it was amazing to see. I knew that if we just put that authenticity on TV, people would love it. However, companies get really scared. We shot eight days with Errol Morris, who is known for his really authentic documentaries, and they pulled the ads. Never ran them. They were scared that the truth—people kissing and black people (yes, black people) would scare away their big ticket spenders, who I guess are really conservative.

OurTime.com, another dating site for older couples run by match.com, saw my website and hired me to make their commercials more authentic. Then … they never ran those either.

J.P.: You spent five months in 2013 writing copy for Beats By Dre—now one of the biggest products/labels out there. How’d you land that gig? What did it mean for your career? Do you actually think Beats By Dre are better than, say, the $10 headphones I buy at Marshall’s? And did you ever actually meet Dr. Dre?

L.S.: A Beats guy read my blog and thought I could bring some personality to the brand. This personality was never actually embraced by Beats (are you sensing a pattern here?).

I did meet Dr. Dre while I was there! I ran into him in the hallway and the elevator several times. Every time, I wanted to come off totally cool and say something super in-the-know about the music industry or something. But I just said, ‘Hey.’ I’m sure one of these days he’s gonna remember that chick in the elevator who said ‘hey’ all the time and call me up for some advice.

The sound guys and product guys at Beats take their product really seriously. They have some specialists tune the headphones to make them the best ever, but I personally don’t hear a difference. I’m more into lyrics, though, than sound. I probably wasn’t the best person to work there.

What did working at Beats mean for my career? I met some cool people. I learned a lot about how popular brands run social media and what it means to have celebrities backing your brand. Basically, it made me realize how uncool I am. Or how I really, really don’t care about keeping up with the trends. It also gave me a bunch of confidence in my acting and writing abilities. If I can write passionately about something for which I don’t care at all and if I can pretend to be super impressed by the DJs and athletes constantly strolling through the office, I can do anything!

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J.P.: You wrote a book of Spanish poetry—even though you weren’t fluent in Spanish. Um … what? And why? And how?

L.S.: Me encanta hablar espanol! My dad is Spanish and never taught me a single word. So I’ve been studying and spending some time in Spain every few years for the past 20. I am alllllllmost fluent, but there was a gap that kept me from being confident in myself. I would have the ability to speak to native speakers, but I also had this voice of fear inside that would tell me I just wasn’t good enough to actually speak Spanish well. That kept me from speaking for years. I went back to school for psychology recently and did my thesis on my perfectionism. I forced myself to live in Spain for two months and speak to everyone I could without judging myself. I also forced myself to publish something in Spanish. I basically had to be wrong/imperfect in front of as many people as possible. It was hard and agonizing but so helpful. Now I care much less about getting every single thing right. Except these questions. Must. Get them right. Are they right?

J.P.: I know you’re from Chicago, I know you attended USC. But, womb to writer, what has been your path? Like, how’d you get here? When did you realize media was your thing?

L.S.: I was always writing as a kid. All sorts of things. Fantasy worlds. Poems. Then I decided to write commercials, and I really have no idea why that idea appealed so much. It probably had to do with the toilet paper account episode with Angela from Whos the Boss. Before graduating from USC, I went to ad agencies and they all told me I needed a portfolio to get a job, something that USC didn’t teach or offer. So I immediately got a bunch more loans and enrolled in Miami Ad School for grad school. It’s a program that sends you around the world to learn in all different kinds of ad agencies.

This was awesome. But … when I applied to that school in Miami, they looked at my portfolio and said it was too visual and that I should be an art director. So that’s the track I took even though I’m so much better with words than Photoshop. (an art director is the copywriter’s partner who comes up with the concept for the commercial/ad and then chooses the wardrobe, location, logo placement, design, etc)

I spent three jobs being an art director. I got my first one by sending out a big packet of creativity. There was a portfolio of print ads. Then there was a little booklet of ideas on how to re-brand bowling alleys. And then there was another booklet of art pieces. I spent three months putting those together and ordering the right boxes and making labels and being a perfectionist. (I think now you just e-mail a link) It worked. I was hired almost immediately to make commercials for Jack in the Box. I think it was almost on the very first day of that job that I began writing a book. I needed to. I decided to go on 50 blind dates with 50 guys who were not my type. And then I wrote about each one. And then I suddenly had a manuscript that was 80,000 words long. A horrible manuscript, but it was a start.

When that didn’t sell (I got at least 30 rejections from agents, and now I’m really happy I did because that book was awful), I took a trip around the world to figure out what my life was really about. I wrote every day on the trip for a year, and I came back even more invigorated. I started freelancing as a writer and left the art director aside (I was the worst art director).

I then put all my energy into writing my second book, which was another 80,000 words of rejection. This time, though, I loved the subject. It was about my family and how we dealt with my father’s suicide. I told the story from three points of view: mine, my mom’s and my dad’s.

When that was rejected, I decided to quit writing all together. I became a yoga teacher and started studying ayurveda. Just this past April I took a month-long course in which I dissected cadavers and thought about going back to medical school. That’s when Harper Collins called me with a book deal! I think if you’re meant to do something it’ll really work out. So now I am sitting in cafes writing books and occasionally freelancing in ad agencies.

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J.P.: You have a children’s books scheduled to be published by HarperCollins. Ten million people want to know: How did you land a book deal? And, since we’re on the subject, how does an adult woman in her 30s understand how to reach little kids? Is it hard writing for an audience that young?

L.S.: I will say the annoying thing that I think everyone in the publishing industry would say. And I hate myself for saying it. But … I think the way to get a book deal is this: keep writing.

Ugh. it sounds so cliche. But that’s what I did. I wrote those two books. I started getting better. I began to develop more of a style. I learned that I like poetry. I wrote a poem that was actually used in a commercial for a baby product. This video went fairly viral because people couldn’t watch it without crying. Then… Harper Collins called me to make two children’s books out of this video and its sequel! Imagine my surprise after sending out so many manuscripts and getting rejected so many times. It is true: If you were meant to do something, it will happen. I took a bunch of Groundlings classes in 2007. I see all these people from my classes taking off now. It’s been seven years, but they kept at it. Now some have shows and one is on SNL. The ones that didn’t give up are finally getting there. It can happen if you really love it and you keep keep keep going and you don’t get defensive. Any time someone has a note for me, I really take it into consideration (unless it’s my boyfriend. Then we get in a fight.)

Also, from a spiritual perspective, I think that things come to you when you’re ready for them, and it’s hard to know when we’re ready for things.  I don’t think I was mature enough to be an author at 25 when I was writing about lame guys in LA. I needed to grow a little and work out my dad stuff a bit before I could take it on or be responsible enough to reach a larger audience.

I think working in advertising and writing that book from my dad’s POV helped me a lot to be able to write from other people’s POVs. I feel like I can channel people really well. I mean, I’ve spent 10 years saying, “OK, I’m a teenager who wants to stand out from all my friends. This is what I think about cars. This is what I want to hear about cars/videogames/fastfood/anything-bad-for-you” So, I wrote from the mom’s perspective and then the dad’s perspective, and it worked! There will be two companion books coming out in winter of 2016 and 2017! (We’ll be so old by then.)

One last tip is to be fearless. Don’t care about rejection. Fuck it. Just ask people. for advice. for help. for ideas. for love! Whatever. You can’t get anything without asking for it, so you might as well. Once I had the first deal, I asked an agent if she’d represent me, and she said yes! And … she wants me to write about suicide, which is the best! I want my mark on the world to be more about what I learned from my dad’s death than a higher ROI for Kia motors.

J.P.: How do you write? What I mean is, what’s your process? We met in a coffee shop—you were at a laptop, drinking a coffee or something. Is that your way? Do you have a method? How do your organize your thoughts, get them on paper?

I like to be surrounded by chaos when I’m writing, but it has to be chaos from which I’m totally unattached. If it’s people I don’t know talking or doing things, I’m all about it. If it’s stuff at home being chaotic, I have to leave or I’ll put off writing. My method is to make an appointment or get out of the house as early as possible and work from somewhere else. I organize stuff by being fairly unorganized. Everything’s in my head mostly, but one thing I love to do is make a list every day of goals and then cross stuff off of it. That crossing off feels so good!

J.P.: I might be falling for an obvious joke, but did you really audition for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation Tour? And, if so, what’s the story behind it?

L.S.: No! hahahaha! I remember that being a joke in some blog piece I wrote, but I don’t know which one or why I wrote that! I do remember doing a dance to that song in a fifth grade recital. And I thought the lyrics were, “We are a part of a big erection …”

J.P.: I’ve always believed the truth sets us free. I just watched a video where you talked about your clit—openly, freely, excitedly. How do you do that? Like, how do you stand on stage and open up about something like that? And why?

L.S.: Great question. My boyfriend asks the same thing. Why? Well, first— my dad was gay in the 80s. Then, he committed suicide when I was 16. I spent pretty much my whole life hiding those things from people for fear of being rejected or judged. I really didn’t talk about it to anyone. Even my friends at school. I just held it all in. I think that phrase about being as sick as your secrets is true. They eat away at you. If you are ashamed of your body parts and tell yourself how gross you are inside your head all the time, it will really affect you. If you secretly are mad at yourself for not “saving” your father, it will come out in some other form of self-hatred.

I finally wrote a post about him in 2010, and I felt such a relief. It was freedom to not have to lug around a secret with me everywhere.

Since I know how great that feels, I want to share that with others and encourage others to share. And they do! This is why my partners, Corey Podell and Rahul Subramanian, and I started Taboo Tales

J.P.: You host and produce a monthly show in LA called Taboo Tales. People get up, speak—and the stories have to be true and taboo. How’d you come up with the idea? What’s the grossest thing you’ve heard?

L.S.: Our motto is “The more we all talk about how fucked up we are, the more normal we all feel.” And I totally believe it. I mean, if we just all shared our truths all the time, I think life would be so much easier. I tried it the other day, and it worked. Instead of coming up with a lie, I told my friend I was just too depressed to go to her birthday party. It ended up in a great conversation and we met a few days later to talk out our issues, which was a much more healthy experience for me than making small talk with strangers at a party. (Note: I’m not feeling depressed anymore).

So we get seven storytellers to come out on stage and tell their truths in front of 120 people each time. Some are professional comedians but many people are simply folks who have been holding something inside. We help them write their stories into comedy pieces. We have had such crazy stuff (because the truth is crazy!). Some good ones were: A guy who got HIV from a Craigslist date, a woman who was born without rectal muscles, a woman whose mom’s twin died while in utero and then remained in a jar in their closet for years, a guy who has OCD because of his hoarder parents, and a 35-year old virgin. But some are just people in their 40s who are lonely or men who’ve been broken up with several times and really want a relationship. Sadly, just talking about these simple truths is taboo in our society.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LAURENNE SALA:

• Explain the background of your first name: Named after Sofia Loren and Lauren Bacall. I’m gonna be a sex symbol probably any day now.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Reggie Bush, 212 Pier, fruit punch, Duracell Coppertop AAA batteries, The Idiot’s Guide to Tax Deductions, Heart, Delta Airlines, Dean Martin, Coca-Cola, nipples, Bonnie Tyler: Heart (I am pretty sure you mean the band, but I’m going to pretend you mean the organ. Hearts are pretty awesome.) Dean Martin (total stud), Coca-Cola (it’s universal!), 212 Pier (I know you hate it, but I’m here right now. I think the key is sitting upstairs. You gotta try it again.), Bonnie Tyler (didn’t she only have that one hit, though?), Idiot’s Guide to Tax Deductions (so helpful), Reggie Bush (nice guy, plus go Trojans.), nipples (wish I liked them more.), fruit punch (so sugary), Delta Airlines (meh), batteries (I feel so guilty when I have to throw them away and keep them for a while to recycle them but then end up just throwing them in the garbage)

• Five things you always carry with you: Chapstick, Spanish metro ticket (good luck), ankh (good luck in the afterlife … just in case), some credit card, water (I am always thirsty.)

• Your mom threatened to put a hex on me for writing negative things about Walter Payton. What would your mom’s hex entail?: She would probably just talk to you about her senior club for hours and hours.

• On a scale of 1 to 10, how worried are you about the California drought? And why?: Six. Just went up now that you just reminded me.

• One question you would ask Candy Crawley were she here right now?: What do you wear for pajamas?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall …: I think I’m going to die when I get into any plane. Every time. And every time I think about all those people who have always said they were about to get on the 9/11 flights but had a gut feeling and then stayed back. And so every time I wonder if I should be that person to stay back, but then I’d never go anywhere.

• Would you rather eat 20 hardboiled eggs in a 15-minute span or thoroughly lick the bathroom floor of your nearest McDonald’s?: I’d have to lick the bathroom. I seriously don’t understand hardboiled eggs. How is it OK to eat something that smells like farts?

• Why is Ned Yost so heavily criticized?: Who is Ned Yost? You and I met in a coffee shop and talked about Walter Payton. I love him. He brings me back to the 85/86 Bears. This was the last time I paid attention to sports. Sorry! Eeek.

• In exactly 14 words, make an argument for the papaya: Health enzymes taste good with sugary milk. Don’t judge a fruit by its cover.

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Laurie Berkner

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Back when my kids were little, Laurie Berkner haunted my soul.

I say that with much love and admiration. Berkner has had an absolutely amazing career as a singer/songwriter for kid-oriented music. She’s sold millions of albums; has released 10 CDs; has been all over Nickelodeon; has appeared on The Today Show and a gazillion other programs.

Put bluntly: She is the greatest Kindie rock singer of our generation. Maybe of all time.

And yet …

We went through a phase where it seemed like Victor Vito was played oh, 200 times per day. In the morning. At night. In my dreams, gnawing at my innards. These two guys, Victor and Vito, just wanted to eat and eat. They had a burrito. And rice. And beans. And collared greens. And … um … yeah. MUST DESTROY! MUST DESTROY! HAT IN MY MUSTARD! DOG EATING CUBA GOODING! CANNED CHICKEN! CANNED CHICKEN! MUST DESTR—

Deep breaths. Deep, soothing breaths.

Here’s the thing: Victor Vito is a great friggin’ song. It’s catchy and bouncy and absorbing, and children dig it. Which is the brilliance of Laurie Berkner: She understands her clientele perfectly. Hence, her success and longevity. Hence, her illustrious status as the 178th Quaz.

One can visit Laurie’s website here, follow her on Twitter here and Facebook here. Her music can be found right here.

Laurie Berkner, straight off the streets of, um, Princeton, New Jersey—welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Laurie, my kids are 11 and 8, and they spent several of their big growing-up years listening to your music. So I say to you, with much love, if I hear “Victor Vito” one more time, I might stab my eyeballs out. I’m wondering—do you get that? Like, do you understand adults running far far far away from kids music? And do you ever feel that way, too?

LAURIE BERKNER: Ha!  I totally get it.  As the one person who has probably sung “Victor Vito” even more times than you have listened to it, I definitely get it.  Though I must admit that for me, singing a song hundreds of times is better than listening to it hundreds of times, because I get to make it a little different every time I sing it.  I also get it as a parent (one song I really remember listening to that way was Justin Roberts’ “Pop Fly”),  and I got it as a music teacher.  I had to listen to a lot of kids’ music over and over to learn it, and then teach it.   That’s one of the reasons I started writing my own songs.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by your career, because you tapped into something big and ran with it. What intrigues me is the process. How, at age 45, do you still know what a child wants to hear? How can you be an adult while thinking like a kid?  

L.B.: Because I am still a kid. (Who told you I was 45?) Or maybe it’s because I skipped kindergarten, and I’m spending my adult life making up for it … or, or, I don’t know!  Stop asking me or I’ll tell my mom!

J.P.: I know you grew up in Princeton, attended Rutgers, sang a lot as a kid, worked as a music teacher. But, womb to now, what’s your path? Like, how did you become this superstar kids singer? How did it happen?

L.B.: Womb to now? Like was I singing in my mom’s womb? Probably. One of my earliest memories is of marching around my room singing “Do Re Mi.” I remember the first time I sang in chorus in school, in third grade, with the sounds of all the kids singing together all around me. It was one of the most amazing things I’d ever felt. When I was an awkward 10-year old at camp, it felt like all of that changed when I sang. (I even had a counselor who used to end our swim lessons early, and then ask me to sing to her from the pool.)  When I went to parties in my 20s and brought my guitar, I had a way of sharing something deeper than just small talk.  When I finally started to tap into how to use the connection I feel with music, to connect with young kids, it became really clear to me that I had found something I could do well that made both myself, and other people, feel really good.

To answer your question from a more practical angle, I got a job as a pre-school music teacher one year after I graduated from college. In between playing gigs at coffeehouses, starting my own band and performing till all hours of the morning with an all-female cover band, I started realizing that I needed certain kinds of songs in order to really do a good job in my new role. I spent hours and hours poring over songs at the library and listening to enormous amounts of kids’  music, but it was very hard to find songs that were crafted to follow the rhythm of a child under 6-years old. They need to move, and they need to express themselves, and they also need to have a safe space in which to do it, and then be able to come back to themselves and bring the energy back down. If a song leads them though all of that in a way that invites them in through their imagination, then it can really work in the classroom. Eventually, I realized that if I wanted a lot of those songs, I would need to write them myself, and I started by asking the kids what they wanted to sing about. That’s exactly how We Are The Dinosaurs was born.

J.P.: So I’ve gotta think there have been (and still are) times when you’re singing your heart out and, oh, the obnoxious kid in the front row keeps screaming, “Fart Breath! Fart Breath!” How do you maintain composure singing for individuals lacking fully formed human craniums? And please gimme your worst story related to this. Pretty please …

L.B.: The kids I sing to at concerts aren’t usually quite up to “fart breath” yet. More often I get older kids who sit in the front row and just stare at me. Which can be unnerving. Even though I know they chose to come to the show and are probably just shy, as a performer I feel a constant desire for everyone in the audience to have a great time.  For the whole show.  Not too much to ask, right?

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J.P.: I used to be a music writer in Nashville, and there were a large number of contemporary Christian singers who were there, first and foremost, because they fell flat as mainstream performers. Did this at all happen to you? Do you see it as a common reason for the existence of so many children-oriented singers?

L.B.: Hmm. Well I think you’d have to ask the people who used to come see me play adult gigs if I fell flat as a mainstream performer!  But I really chose kids’ music because that was what was working for me, and that made it much more fun than the adult gigs. I had my own rock band that played my original music (Red Onion), and we had a small but incredibly loyal fan base.  Unfortunately, when I lost my drummer, the band kind of fell apart and honestly, it was really hard to make ends meet by playing in a rock band in clubs on the Lower East Side. So to keep playing music and actually make some money, I joined an all-female cover band called Lois Lane. We were actually pretty successful, but the work was exhausting, and I got pretty tired of hearing drunk guys yelling “Freebird!” at me at 1 am.

Around the same time I had started playing more and more parties for kids, and they wanted me to actually sing songs I had written.  It was an amazing feeling to watch parents and kids singing the words to my songs and see them having so much fun when I performed them. One day when I had come home from a Lois Lane gig at 6 in the morning and then went right to a party at Battery Park at 10 am, I noticed that even in my exhausted state, I had so much more fun playing “Victor Vito” for those families than I did singing “Play That Funky Music White Boy” for the 100th time, and I decided to quit the band and really devote my energies to kids’ music.  Eventually I made the same choice between working as a music teacher and becoming a full-time performer. After 10 years I felt burned out teaching music and decided to build my record label. For me they were both choices of following what worked and how I wanted to spend my time.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? 

L.B.: Playing to 15,000 people in Central Park on Earth Day.

J.P.: Lowest?

L.B.: When I thought my career was finally going to take off because I got into People Magazine for the first time with a big headline—and then they misspelled my name.

From People Magazine.

From People Magazine.

J.P.: Your husband, Brian Mueller, was also your guitarist until he left the band in 2006 to keep your personal and professional lives separate. How hard is it to have a spouse also as a band member? What were the complications that came with this?

L.B.: It was great and it was hard. I love playing music with Brian. He’s so responsive, talented and ready to put his whole self into whatever he’s playing. But being in my band was not reflective of our real relationship. I was the band leader and business owner when we were working, and when we were at home, we were a married couple, working as a team. Playing together made many things simpler like finances, scheduling and communication. But it also meant that when I was having conflict with my bassist, I was also having conflict with my husband. And we found ourselves talking about very little other than gigging and the Two Tomatoes business. Finally, once our daughter Lucy was born, the little time there was for anything else became filled with talking about her. That really was what made it clear that we needed a change. Also, Brian is a great musician (better than I am in a lot of ways), but he wasn’t doing what he loved.  Kids’ music was my thing, and he really wanted to be doing his thing. His thing turned out to be psychology—he’s almost finished with his PhD now—and he is so much happier.

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J.P.: Serious question I ask all singers. I get singing a song the first time, the 10th time, the 100th time. But how do you still get up for a live show in Bethesda on a gray Monday, singing a song for the 543,322nd time? Are you ever like, “Nah, not today. Let’s stay in bed …” 

L.B.: Sure. I feel that way a lot when I first wake up, no matter what I have planned!  (Who doesn’t like to go back to bed?! Especially if, like me, you tend to be sleep deprived.) I actually think that the “nah” factor for me comes more from always being a little nervous before each show. It never stops being challenging to make myself vulnerable in front of an audience because I’m asking them to share this music with me that I created. That’s much scarier than just having to sing the songs again, which oddly, so far has not gotten boring for me. For me, the unavoidable nature of performing live is that it’s different every time. Each time I sing a song, I’ve changed, the way I feel has changed, the way I present the music changes and the audience changes, and I love that. But I only truly remember how much fun it is once I actually start singing.

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J.P.: You recently went to Kickstarter to raise money for a lullaby album. A. Um … a lullaby album? B. Is it weird or uncomfortable, asking for money? And how did you do it and—apparently—do it well?

L.B.: I did do that, and as it turned out, we did do it well! I feel quite grateful for all the help I had running the campaign and in turn all the support the campaign generated.  I’m not sure what the first part of your question is exactly … does it seem weird to put out a lullaby album? Is it maybe weird to think of me putting a lullaby album? I can’t actually remember a time when parents were not asking me to make one. If calming music hits your kids in the right way, it’s like a magic wand at bedtime. That was something that I didn’t fully understand until I became a parent myself. I also used to think that a lullaby album was really for the parents, and that was less appealing to me than creating something for kids (in fact I felt like I would be betraying the kids somewhat by making it), but then I realized that I could make an album of lullabies where sometimes I take the role of the adult and sometimes—like most of my music—I’m singing from the child’s point of view. I also kind of liked this new way of talking directly to the kids, especially during such an intimate time as falling asleep. I just wanted to make sure I did it in a way that would feel warm and comforting to them, and not condescending.

J.P.: Straight question—what’s the difference between a great children’s song and a mediocre one?

L.B.: I think that there are a lot of songs that will get kids to respond to them. But a great one is one that the parents want to sing, too. It’s also a song that comes to mind throughout the day in such a way that it feels more like part of a movie soundtrack to life and less like just another catchy song. It’s also a song that has multiple layers of meanings but is still really easy to learn and sing—without feeling like you’ve already heard it a hundred times before.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LAURIE BERKNER:

• I have an amazing idea—NWA Kiddie. An NWA album with kid rappers. Thoughts?: Yes, but you find them—because now we’re entering into territory that is more you than me.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I’m not sure if I’ve ever really felt that, but Brian and Lucy know that whenever we land in a plane, I have to be holding their hands. In case anything actually happened, I want that to be the last thing I do.

• Favorite Facts of Life girl, and why?: Tootie—best name. Wait, no, Natalie. Best attitude.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Gladys Knight, Fidel Castro, Carney Lansford, RoboCop, Dixie Chicks, cucumber water, Clubber Lang, Megadeth, eggplant parm, Minneapolis, shaving cream: What is Clubber Lang? Never saw RoboCop. Who is Carney Lansford? I like coconut water a lot more than cucumber water. I don’t use shaving cream.  I’ve never listened to Megadeth, and I rarely eat eggplant parm. I like Gladys Knight, the Dixie Chicks, and Minneapolis is a cool city.  It has a twin. I’m not a fan of Fidel Castro. Have you lost all respect for me yet?

• Who would win in a 12-round boxing match between you and Dan Zanes? What’s the outcome?: I think we’d probably just decide to ditch the boxing gloves and go have a hot beverage where we discuss hair products.

• I would like to throw a large rock at my neighbor’s dog. Is that OK with you?: Sure, you can want to do it. I’m all for that. But if you actually threw the rock, we couldn’t be friends anymore.

• Five all-time favorite songs: Hardest. Question. Ever. Here are some that would be up there: Ulili E: Dennis Kamakahi version; Big Yellow Taxi:  Joni Mitchell; Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading; All of Me: Joe Williams and Louis Armstrong versions; Hey-Ya: by OutKast

• Most embarrassing moment of your life?: Trying to get the boy I liked when I was 10-years old to ask me to go bowling with him—while his friend listened on the other end of the phone.

• Why haven’t you been more outspoken about the designated hitter in baseball?: The what?

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. Would love your take: I’ve never heard it before, but I love that it’s a way of saying “I forgive you” and “I love you” and “I want you in my life no matter what.”  It’s a very moving song, especially at the end.

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Ted Spiker

 

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Back when I arrived as a freshman at the University of Delaware in 1990, I was told of the legend of Ted Spiker.

Ted had been editor of the student newspaper, The Review, and he was—by all accounts—awesome. Phenomenal writer. Insanely smart. Terrific people skills. Shaped like a pear. Understood the medium. Cared fo—

Wait.

Stop.

I never actually heard that Ted was shaped like a pear. Yet he did—throughout his life. People would mock his shape, bemoan his shape, ridicule his shape. He was a great guy with an awkward physique, and—internally—it sorta haunted him. Or, put different, Ted was one of millions of Americans who looked in the mirror and cringed.

Now, in a very public way, he’s talking about it.

Ted’s fantastic new book, Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success, is both humorous and serious; a self-deprecating look at one man’s fight to maintain a healthy lifestyle (as well as a riveting study of the biology and psychology of weight loss). Ted is a well-known fitness-oriented writer whose work includes myriad books, as well as his regular blog for Runner’s World. He is a journalism professor at the University of Florida (for my money, the best journalism professor in the country. I truly mean that), as well as a brilliant tap dancer who studied at the Gregory Hines Institute.

OK, I made that last part up.

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

It’s my pleasure to welcome Ted Spiker, proud Gator Blue Hen, to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Ted, I’m gonna start untraditional. I’ve met many overweight people—severely overweight—who have said something along the lines of, “I was always trying to lose weight, and I finally said to myself, ‘I am who I am, and I’m going to love myself.’” Meaning, I’m obese—and that’s OK. I hate to admit this, but I often think to myself, “You tried, you failed, it didn’t work—so you’re saying what you need to say to protect yourself. But it’s unlikely you feel great weighing 400 pounds.’ Am I being a dick? Too cynical? Is it OK to be obese, if one is OK being obese?

TED SPIKER: I think you nailed exactly what a lot of overweight or obese people do: Protect themselves. We do it with baggy clothes, we do it by staying out of the public and out of photos, we do it by making jokes about ourselves [I’m raising my right hand right now; my left hand has a yogurt-covered pretzel in it]. It’s hard enough to be overweight—and then you have to admit you feel like crap, too? That’s a lot to handle, so we say that we’re OK. But I think you’re right on the big point. Chances are that there aren’t many truly obese people who do love their bodies.

But here’s where the tricky part is: We should be more accepting of flaws, of not being perfect, of realizing that there are ranges of weights and shapes and sizes. And I think that the sweet spot on the grid is being able to make sure your numbers beyond the scale (blood pressure, blood sugar) are good and then accepting the fact that you aren’t going to look like Kate Upton or David Beckham or whoever it is you think has the ideal body. Perfection isn’t the goal. Good health, high energy, and feeling good about your body (flaws and all) is the goal.

For those outliers who are truly happy and really heavy, you asked if it was ok to be obese. I don’t necessarily think we should underestimate how hard it can be for someone to turn a lifestyle around, so it’s hard for me to tsk-tsk anyone and say, shame on you, it’s not OK to be obese. But the reality is that yes, obesity is a burden not just for the individual, but for families, significant others, and the health-care system.

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J.P.: So I’m deep into your book, and fascinated. I’m a big fan of people who mock themselves—and you’re pretty ruthless about your body, body image, etc. How did you develop the comfort level to expose yourself on such a public level? Was it a process? Easy?

T.S.: So you’re probably referring to the parts when a classmate said I had child-bearing hips. And some other spots when people take their shots at my body shape. I guess I’ve always been pretty ha-ha-ha about it—I try to take my work seriously, but not myself. And I also think guys are able to pull off the fat-funny guy routine. Look at Chris Farley or Kevin James or Zach Galifianakis. Fat is like a comedian’s prop—it’s an antagonist and works well into a storyline. And I guess at some point, I just realized that you can beat yourself up about it (which I’ve done) or you can have fun, not take yourself so seriously (if you don’t have serious health issues, which I didn’t or don’t). I still cringe at pictures and I’m not great with my body shape, though I’m a million times better. I just learned that body image is so less important … It’s not as important as what I try to do as a father, in my career, in my personal goals, in everything. It’s one piece, but not the whole piece. And even though body image can influence every other aspect of your life, I think it’s about figuring out how to put it in perspective with everything else. Like really, how does the shape of my hips have anything to do with how I try to teach my kids about sportsmanship?  And if I have a sausage and mushroom pizza every once in a while, does that mean I’m less of a teacher or writer? Would I like to wake up and be the ideal weight with the ideal body-fat percentage and be able to buy a pair of pants that fits right? Uh, yeah. But when you starting sinking your energy into other goals—for me, it was trying to learn to surf and trying to complete an Ironman—you worry less about your khakis and think more about the big picture and all the stuff goes into that.

J.P.: You’ve written books with other people, but never with your name big, bold and solo. I’m wondering what sort of adjustment, as a writer, this took—if any. Did you find the process intimidating? Daunting? Or no biggie?

T.S.: In my other books (I’ve co-authored about a dozen), I was definitely the offensive lineman (and not just because of body type). My job was to block, provide support, and make room for the MVPs. And I loved being part of that process—it was truly a cool process to do a book as a team where everybody is contributing different skill sets. So yeah, when it shifted to the sole-authored book, I did feel more pressure, but also more ownership obviously—that I could tell the story that I wanted: A book that looked at the biology and psychology of weight loss and diets with an equal mix of science and soul. So it’s not a plan or a prescription, and I tried to venture into a sort of hybrid genre—a bit of narrative, a bit of humor, a bit of science, and a bit of how-to. I hope I’m not too heavy-handed, but give readers enough tales and information to help them go in the direction they want to do. And it was really nice to work with a great editor (Caroline Sutton of Hudson Street Press) and a great agent (David Black) who helped me hone and shape and solidify the best way to tell this story.

But there is also more of a sense of pressure. I know you’ve written about the gut-wrenching that comes when you find a mistake. I think I’m going to be okay if people don’t like it or my humor doesn’t fit their style, but I’m going to beat myself up with any stupid mistakes.

But truth is … after a dozen books as that offensive lineman, it’s pretty cool to carry the ball. When I first saw the design of the cover, I loved it—and not because of my name, but because the designers at Hudson Street Press nailed it. Great, fun image—just the right amount of humor, I think.

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J.P.: Why are we, as a country, so fucking fat?

T.S.: Any number of reasons: We don’t walk from point-to-point anymore to go the store or wherever, we sit all day in our jobs, cheese, Scandal and Modern Family and Orange is the New Black and whatever else you like encourages you to stay on the couch when you’re not working, Dairy Queen is effing good, mashed potatoes, being busy makes us tired and tired make us not want to do anything but eat bowls of Doritos, and on and on. Take all that into consideration and making good choices feels like you’re swimming upstream. I can try all I want, but I’m not getting anywhere. It’s not that we don’t know what to do; it’s just that there are so many factors that steer us away from good decision. While I spend two chapters specifically on exercise and nutrition, I really spend most of the book exploring the psychological factors that determine what we do with exercise and nutrition. You know, things like motivation, inspiration, social networks, handling frustration and plateaus, and factors like that.

J.P.: There’s a moment in your book when I literally cringed. You teach journalism at the University of Florida, and a student—in an anonymous evaluation section—wrote, “Wear slacks that aren’t as baggy.” It just struck me as … cruel. Mean. Dickish. I’m wondering how you reacted, mentally. What went through your mind? And did you—as I would have—try to figure out who penned the words?

T.S.: Well, it was a class of more than 200 people, so there was really no way to try to figure out who said it. It stung, but I don’t think it was mean. I think the person was actually trying to help—like, “Dude, I like your class, but tighten up a bit.” Some would argue that appearance should be off-limits, but I was OK with it, because the student was right. My pants selection is an issue—can’t stand tight pants because of my ample gluteus, but if I find pants that will fit up and over that ampleness, they’re too baggy because they droop from my waist. “Why don’t you just get some pants tailored?” one might ask … I’ve started doing that, but for years I never would—because I always thought that if I took the time to tailor pants, that would mean I was satisfied with my size and I should stop pursuing goals. I know, kinda fucked up, but it’s really what I thought—when you yo-yo and never quite reach your goal, you don’t get clothes tailored because it feels like a permanent act, even though logic would dictate otherwise.

J.P.: You’ve worked with Dr. Oz a lot. He wrote the foreword to your book. I’m gonna be 100 percent honest—I’m always skeptical of people like him. Professional experts who then transcend the fame of their chosen profession. Dr. Phil. Dr. Drew. Etc. Tell me why I’m wrong to feel this way. Or right.

T.S.: Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Mehmet for 10 years. He’s my friend and one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. He has the skills of a surgeon and the mind of a scientist, businessman, artist, and so much more. He’s hard-charging, but he’s also as genuine and passionate about helping people improve their health. He makes people feel good about themselves and he inspires people to do better.

I’m admittedly biased, so take my answer for what it’s worth. When he went through those hearings where politicians were questioning claims about diet claims on his show, it pissed me off, because, I felt like a lot of it was taken out of context. He doesn’t hawk products – anything you see on the internet using his name is some company using his image without his permission because he may have mentioned an ingredient on his show that could have some benefit. Where they wanted to grill him was in how he marketed those ingredients, and all I was thinking was, Wait, politicians are questioning about the marketing of a product? Isn’t that what politicians do during campaign season and in office? Nearly every single media organization and individual markets itself—tweets are marketing, “stay tuned for the puppy who saved a squirrel” is marketing, headlines are marketing. They’re all designed to draw you into the content (and subsequently get your eyeballs there to help finance the costs associated with the product). So is he wrong for marketing his show? No. He said at that hearing that some of his words were perhaps a little strong—and that’s a fine line that all media types straddle. How much is too much of a stretch in the “sell” of content? I don’t think anyone endorses any wrong or dangerous information that would be used to promo a show or anything, but if his show and his message helps people get healthy, ask questions, and come up with solutions they might have not otherwise known about, I can’t see how that’s a bad thing.

J.P.: I ask you, simply, “What’s the best way for me to lose weight?” I’m, oh, 10 pounds over, I probably eat too much, I go to the gym and do the StairMaster four days per week. How can I lose weight most effectively?

T.S.: If you have four days at the gym, I’d do weights two or three days and then high-intensity cardio for one or two days. That would be most efficient—muscle just chews up fat, and you’re not going to get all that bulky doing it (with some exceptions, but more factors have to be involved). But that doesn’t really even matter as much as the food: It all centers around what you eat more than you work out (though they go hand in hand and you get motivated to do each one the better you do the other). So the first step would have to be evaluating your food intake, figuring out where your hiccups are and how you can adjust your eating to have more real foods and nutrients, less processed gunk. Easier said than done, right? The X factor, I think, is taking your efforts from private to public—even if it’s just with one friend or with creating a small Facebook group to hold each other accountable, or doing group workouts once a week—where you just feed off each other’s energy, rather than feeding off the coconut cream pie.

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J.P.: What’s your life path? I mean, I know you attended Delaware, teach at Florida. But why writing? When did you realize, ‘This is for me!’ And when did your career head toward books, and wellness-themed books?

T.S.: I remember a high school English teacher complimented my writing to another student, or so he told me. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but music was a big part of high school—I did all the bands (marching, jazz, concert, orchestra pit) as a drummer/percussionist. But once I started writing and got inspired by my teachers at Delaware—Dennis Jackson, Chuck Stone, Bill Fleischman—I knew I wanted to keep going. I had a great experience at the school paper and learned a ton. There are a lot of similarities between music (especially percussion) and writing, so I do think one informed the other. Then when I got to grad school (Columbia), I got eaten up by the faculty there, and it was good for me. In my first magazine job, I fell in love with the creative aspect of it and telling stories of people, but when I jumped from a small magazine (Delaware Today) to Men’s Health, that’s where I started to focus on health and fitness. I knew that I wanted to teach and write, so I was fortunate enough to get this job at the University of Florida and still write magazine articles, the Big Guy Blog for Runner’s World, and books. And it really is the best of both worlds. I can reach small audiences in the classroom in (I hope) an impactful way to help students develop skills and critical thinking, as well as larger audiences in a different kind of way through my reporting and writing.

J.P.: Here’s my problem: I exercise, then I’m REALLY hungry. I don’t exercise, I’m less hungry. I feel like I actually gain more weight on days I exercise than on days I do shit. Is that logical? And can the argument be made I just shouldn’t exercise?

T.S.: Your problem is that you do that Stairmaster too much. Long cardio always makes me hungry as hell, too, especially swimming. I think adding more weights changes that a bit, but it’s easy to rationalize: “Hey, I worked out, I get sixteen doughnuts!” But the fact is, even if you’re exercising long and hard, you’re not burning nearly as much damage as you can do very quickly with a plate of junk. So I think a good strategy is to have some kind of protein (like some almond milk and protein powder) after a workout, which not only helps repair muscle that gets broken down, but also helps take the edge off so you don’t inhale an entire meat loaf. Coffee really works for me—just having a steady something to sip on helps keeping me from feeling like I need to go crazy.

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J.P.: Much is spoken about the downfall of journalism. When you and I came up, the goal … dream was to work in newspapers, have a byline, etc. You teach at Florida. Do you still advise folks to enter the profession? And what, for most, is the goal?

T.S.: Absolutely. It’s just that the profession has changed. There’s still a much-needed place for news. But it’s only one piece of the storytelling puzzle. There’s longform, there are tweets, there are service stories, there are videos, there are and will continue to be lots of places and genres of stories. It’s just that the model keeps shifting about how it’s published, disseminated, and talked about—and it can sometimes be hard to find the good stuff in the not-so-good stuff. But there will always be a place for people who can be creative, have voice, find original information, and construct a narrative. Sometime it will come in the form of these intricate and 3-D stories that you immerse yourself in, and sometimes they’ll be less than that. But the spectrum of possibilities, to me, is what makes it fun, not to mention an absolute necessity because of our thirst for information, entertainment, and connecting and engaging with other people.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TED SPIKER:

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Urban Meyer, Tubby Raymond, Tim Tebow, Bill Vergantino, David Lee, Spencer Dunkley, oranges, Grotto’s Pizza, the Scrounge, South Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Gators, Blue Hens: Gators, Blue Hens, Tubby Raymond, South Beach, Tim Tebow, the Scrounge, Spencer Dunkley, Bill Vergantino, David Lee, Grotto’s Pizza, Rehoboth Beach, oranges, Urban Meyer.

• Five reasons one should make Gainesville his next vacation destination?: Satchel’s pizza, Burritos Bros. guac, Ivey’s coffee blend, being in town for an on-the-line sports event in any of UF’s sports, college town with some unique outdoor landscape (majestic oaks, sun-bathing gators, springs nearby).

• Should Destiny’s Child get back together?: There’s no e´ in team.

• Your wife was once struck by lightning. What happened?: I know nothing of this. But I do know that I spelled lightning as lightening in the college paper. And I have never made that mistake again. [Jeff's note: It turns out she wasn't struck. My mistake. But fun to ask]

• Four pro sports teams that need to change their logos?: 76ers, Browns, Brewers, Edmonton Oilers

• Lowest moment during your marathon run?: Being passed by a juggling runner.

• Would you rather chop off your thumbs or have Madonna’s “This Used to Be My Playground” as your 24/7 life soundtrack for the next two years?: I need my thumbs for my space bar.

• How did you propose to your wife?: Picnic on our second anniversary of us seeing each other. Asked her father right before we left while she was getting her coat or something.

• Your biggest mistake as a college newspaper editor?: Publishing a racially insensitive editorial cartoon. And trying to dunk a tennis ball on a metal Planet of the Apes trash can. Still have the scars.

• One question you would ask Dixie Carter were she here right now?: What qualities make a southern gentleman?

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Andrew Stratman

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Three months ago, I was sitting in a tiny coffee shop in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. There were probably, oh, five or six people in the joint. I had my laptop, my cup of coffee, my notepad. Happy guy, happy place.

I was told the live music would begin in 40 minutes.

“Crap,” I thought. “Last thing I need right now …”

Then Andrew Stratman began to sing. And I was mesmerized.

I mean that—mesmerized. Yeah, the guy has a terrific voice, and a kind demeanor. But it was more than that. Stratman wore his pain. Actually, lemme rephrase that: Wore his fucking pain. You could feel it in the music, in the words, in the way he stood there, shoulders slumped, beard seven or eight days old, the scent of cigarette clinging to his T-shirt. I’d never met Andrew before that night, but his presence and demeanor and music screamed, “I’ve seen some shit …”

And, indeed, he has.

I blogged about Andrew that night, and we’ve become Facebook pals since. I don’t say this about many up-and-coming performers, but I really believe this dude has stardom in his future. Maybe it’s talent plus desire plus drive, but … yeah. He’s got it.

Anyhow, you can follow Andrew on Facebook here, on Twitter here. He’s a terrific person worth pulling for and, certainly, worth seeing.

Andrew Stratman, your truck has more than 250,000 miles on the odometer. But you’ve made it to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Andrew, these questions tend to be unorthodox and sometimes annoying. So I’m gonna start with unorthodox and annoying. When I heard you sing I thought, “Man, this guy had it!” Then, during break, I saw you smoke a cigarette and I also thought, “Man, why would he do that?” Which leads to the question, Andrew—why the hell do soooo many singers smoke? I mean, your vocal chords are absolutely everything to you. It’d be like me pouring soda on my laptop, no?

ANDREW STRATMAN: I started smoking when I was young. At the time I suppose I thought it was to be “cool” or to fit in with everyone I was running around with. Like most adults who started smoking at an early age I regret ever picking the habit up. But, sadly, I really enjoy smoking. I recently realized it is yet another thing that I love and enjoy that I am going to have to give up soon. One of my favorite things to do on stage is to take a few drags off my cigarette and then stick it in the headstock of my guitar between the strings and let it smoke while I play. Then I pick it up and finish it off after the song is done. But like I said, I know I have to give it up soon.

J.P.: There are a lot of crap singers who make it big thanks to looks, thanks to style, thanks to equipment making their voices sound good. And you’re a guy with a remarkable voice and style, sometimes playing before 3 … 4 … 5 people. Does that at all irk you? Frustrate you? Why or why not? 

A.S.: Obviously it’s frustrating to see people get things handed to them—not only in the music business but just in regular day-to-day life. I have worked since I was a young boy, and worked hard for everything I have. I believe that makes you appreciate everything more if you have earned it. Now, I’ll admit, I’ve had my fair share of moments that involve just being in the right place at the right time … there are lucky opportunities that have definitely made my life and journey easier. But having worked so hard and for so long to make it in the music business makes me appreciate everything—lucky, accidental, whatever—more than most.

 J.P.: How do you write a song? Literally, what’s your process?

A.S.: I use my songwriting as therapy. So, for me, songwriting has always been an outlet for my emotion. Honestly, I will have an idea or a verse or a hook come to me and then, while I’m scrambling for my guitar and a pen and paper, I am just letting that idea or verse flow. Then I’ll pick up my guitar and try to put my words to music. Sometimes I will write a verse and let it sit for weeks before coming back to it. Sometimes I can write a whole song in 10 minutes—almost as if it’s just pouring out of me. Those are the ones that mean the most and that I am more proud of. It’s in-the-moment emotion that comes out of my mind and my heart and comes alive in a song that I can sing to one person or 1,000 people. As a songwriter and performer, you really hope that someone out there may be able to relate to the music and that, perhaps, it can help someone through his own struggles. Some of my songs are very personal and not everyone can relate. But for those who can relate, I hope they can relate very deeply and find peace in it. It’s a very cool feeling to see someone relate to your song.

 J.P.: You’re from Missouri, I know that. And you first got a guitar as a Christmas gift when you were 13. But how did this happen? When did you know—really know—singing is my thing, and this is what I’m gonna try to do with my career?

A.S.: I got my first real guitar when I was 13. I remember an old home video of me when I was 5 or 6 in a red cowboy hat with a toy guitar and microphone singing a song I’d written about my grandpa’s turkey farm. Hopefully someone has destroyed that video before TMZ gets a hold of it. I played guitar and sang all through high school but never thought of it as something that was possible to do forever—and surely not for a living. But when I was 20 I was in a contest, Missouri Idol, and I sang a song I had written for my little brother, who had watched me grow up drinking and partying with my friends. As he got older he started following my path, and it scared me so bad. I remembered back to all of my close calls both with death and the law and I was so scared for him. The worst thing was, how could I tell him not to do as I did when he actually saw me do it all? So I wrote him a song. The chorus is: I don’t wanna see your name in writing/I don’t want to see your name in stone/I don’t want to see our mama crying/And I don’t ever want to be big brother all alone.

When I sang that song on stage that night I knew my friends and family were there supporting me, but I didn’t think about my best friend Tommy, who had lost his younger brother to an automobile accident at age 15. Drinking was involved. I was on stage singing, and I watched as tears rolled down my friend’s face in the audience. I realized in that moment what it meant to connect with someone—musically—on a level that personal. I knew at that moment that this is what I was born to do. Since that day that same scenario—touching someone, reaching someone, impacting someone—has happened hundreds of times and each time it is reassuring and humbling.

When I decided to give it my all I had just come out of a three-year relationship that ended horribly. Dealing with the pain of that, I couldn’t focus on anything but music. I didn’t feel like myself anywhere but on the stage. I decided to take all the love and heart that I was giving to my relationship and put it into my music. Once I started letting people see my hurt and see my pain, well, things just took off. There were little signs reassuring me that I had made the right decision … people messaging me to say that my songs had changed a life or that my version of a song had touched them in some way. Soon people began to offer things through sponsorships—speakers, gear, clothes, tires for my truck … anything to help get me on the road. To this day I have my doubts, but then I look back at all that’s happened in my career and I know I’m where I need to be, doing what I need to be doing.

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J.P.: I saw you perform at a coffee house in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. I believe there were 10 of us there. How do you get motivated to play tiny crowds? Is it hard? Do you ever think, “I should just go home?” And what’s the smaller crowd/venue you’ve ever played?

A.S.: I enjoy performing for people. Some of my best crowds have been three or four people who really listen. I would rather play a show for a few people who listen than to 1,000 people with only three or four paying attention. But I do enjoy entertaining a crowd, getting people into my music and getting them going. Obviously they are two very different types of shows with very different content and material but I enjoy both very much. At the end of the day I’m playing my music for me and as long as I am happy with what I’m doing I can live with that. There have been a few occasions where no one is listening and I am literally playing to myself. In those moments, I’d rather go outside and finish the show for myself than to keep interrupting the crowd’s ball game or NASCAR race. But usually there is at least one person paying close attention, and as long as there is that one person enjoying what I am doing, well, I feel like I’ve done my job.

J.P.: I know a couple of guys from Blind Melon, and back in the 1990s they were together, like, six weeks before getting a record deal. It seems painfully hard to get one nowadays. Is that even still the goal? And what are the obstacles you’ve encountered? 

A.S.: I’ve heard of several cases like that, and that is awesome. A record deal isn’t impossible to accomplish. But a productive, successful, profitable record deal … that’s a tough one. Obviously, your chances of success improve when you have more people working behind you, promoting you and supporting you and booking you and and believing in you. I’m touring by myself, playing almost every gig I can get my hands just so I have enough money to keep me traveling down the highway, slowly putting money back for a recording. I want a record that I can sell and be proud of. Money is an is issue in everyone’s day-to-day life. I don’t need much, as I have been sleeping on friends’ and family’s couches and floors for the last year of my life. But equipment needs updating, instruments need maintenance, vehicles need maintenance. I drive a 1998 Dodge 1500 pickup 5spd 4wd, and behind it I pull a 12-foot enclosed trailer with all my equipment. My truck has 250,000 miles on it. There is no telling when that old truck is going to leave me stranded 500 miles away from a gig. But I just keep driving it because I have no choice. We are always looking for investors and sponsors to help financially, because they believe I have what it takes to “make it” (by “make it,” I don’t mean “rich and famous.” I mean making myself a profitable business investment).

With Bubba Sparxxx in Nashville earlier this year.

With Bubba Sparxxx in Nashville earlier this year.

 J.P.: Serious question—how can you afford to do this? How do you make ends meet?

A.S.: Sometimes I can’t afford to do it … or just barely can. I literally live off of tips and gig pay. That is for gas, food, room and lodging, and maintenance on all of my equipment. My truck included. Sometimes it gets pretty hairy. Last week, for example, I had half a tank of gas in my truck. I hadn’t eaten all day and I left the coast and drove to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for a gig that had been on my calendar for seven weeks. I got there and the owner of the club told me I wasn’t playing. He had no reasoning. He just kept saying, “It’s not going to happen. We didn’t have a contract. I don’t owe you shit.” To which I replied, “I don’t understand, but you have a great day sir. Go fuck yourself!” When I got back inside my truck my low fuel light was on, my wallet was empty, and I had 100 miles to drive to get to where I was staying that night. I drove to a gas station and played my guitar for about 1 ½ hours and sold a few T-shirts. That got me enough money so I could put gas in the truck and make it to the next night’s show. And that ended up being a huge success. You just never know, but I cannot give up. I have come too far to give up.

 J.P.: You’re 27—young dude. You’ve worked as a carpenter. How long do you give yourself chasing the dream? Like, do you have an idea in your head? Could there be a point when you say,”Fuck it, this isn’t worth it?”

A.S.: I’ve always told myself that if I’m not supporting myself comfortably by age 35 that I will find a career. I’m hopeful that, if that’s the case, I will at least have made enough connections via music that I can find work for a decent salary, doing something I don’t hate. But, to be completely honest, I can never give up. It’s in my heart to play music. I will never be completely happy if I’m not playing music to people. But I’m very confident that a greater power is at work for me and that I will be successful.

I’m already doing things bigger than I had ever dreamed. Sometimes I do get discouraged and down but then I look back at the last year of my life. If you had told me then that I would be here now, well, I would have said you were crazy. The names and people that I communicate with—via e-mail, text, Messenger or phone—on a daily basis is very impressive even to me. Like yourself, Mr. Jeff Pearlman. I would have never believed that I would be interviewed by you or someone of your caliber. I am very blessed and grateful for where I am and what I have accomplished and the fans and folks who I have behind me who believe in me. With a support system like I have, failure is not an option.

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J.P.: When you see “Make it Big Right Now!” shows like American Idol and The Voice, are you a fan or turned off? Like, are you OK with the instant success while you’re busting ass? Is it legit? OK? Or bullshit? 

A.S.: I have mixed emotions on the reality TV shows. I have actually tried out for The Voice several times, and have gotten nowhere. It is very hard to show people what you’re made of with one verse and one chorus of a song acapella. They have heard thousands of people in these auditoriums—it’s like cattle. And they put them in a room with 10 other people to sing one verse and one chorus. I understand that it is a TV show and it does have to be entertaining and so a few jokesters get by to keep it entertaining. I believe that the actual judges and the judging process are genuine and legitimate. And, honestly, those shows are just a fast track of what real life consists of. To beat out thousands of contestants to make it to the top 10 or 20 that make the show … you’ve got to be good. But, at the same time, if you have a bad morning in audition, you don’t make the show. And maybe you’re amazing—you just had a bad morning.

 J.P.: I’ve heard a lot of rappers talk about pain driving their music—the pain of the ghetto, the pain of seeing friends killed, the pain of selling rock on a corner. Do you understand that, too? Does pain drive country music? Your music? Or is it something different?

A.S.: I absolutely can relate to pain driving me. I’d say 90 percent of my drive and determination is thriving off the pain I feel from the things I’ve done, the people who have hurt me, the people I’ve hurt.  Pain is real and people can relate to pain much easier than they can relate to happiness. You’ve heard my show and I’m sure you could feel the pain from my songs and the hurt in my eyes when I sang them. It’s real.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ANDREW STRATMAN:

• What smells worse—your socks at the end of a long gig or moldy ice cream?: I’m going to have to go with ice cream on this one. I play barefoot pretty much whenever I can. Allows the foot to ventilate.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Nelson Cruz, caramelized onions, Guns n Roses, The Godfather, Big Daddy Kane, J.C. Chasez, Kindles, the color green, San Diego, BP, ostriches: Guns n Roses, green, caramelized onions, San Diego, The Godfather, Kindles, Big Daddy Kane, Nelson Cruz, J.C. Chasez, BP, ostriches (ostriches freak me out—bad)

• How certain are you that there’s life after death?: I believe in some form of life after death.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have never thought that would happen.

• Someone offers you $200,000 to record, “Stratman does the Songs of Tupac: Country Style.” You in?: “Hey, Andrew, do you want to record Tupac’s greatest hits in your style? And we’ll hand you $200,000?” Answer: Fuck yeah!!!

• Would you rather father Celine Dion’s love child or fight Mike Tyson for 2 minutes?: That’s a pretty loaded question. Would Celine and I be in love, too? And just for the fun of it I’d take a hit from Mike Tyson. But only if I can pee in his pool.

• Derek Jeter has retired. What should we give him as a present?: I’ve always been fond of fruit baskets for retirement presents.

I absolutely love this song. Your thoughts?: Great song. Love the video, too. It makes you think.

• Your five all-time favorite singers/bands …: Hank Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Randy Rogers, Jamey Johnson.

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Kate Price

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As a young girl, Kate Price was a victim of sex trafficking.

She wasn’t living in Nigeria or Zimbabwe or some dark corner of the Soviet Union. No, Kate was raised here, in the safe, secure, modernized, enlightened United States of America.

And she was drugged, then peddled for sex.

It’s horrifying. Beyond disturbing. But, in Kate Price (and her extraordinarily brave voice), we have a woman willing to stand up and fight back against an evil that’s far more common than most people surely think. These days, Kate is a wife (she’s married to Christopher Price, the excellent sports scribe) , a mother and—most impressive—a research scientist and leading voice in the ongoing battle against the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Her blog is amazing, as is her Twitter feed. And, if you’re feeling charitable, I highly suggest supporting her dream and visiting her gofundme page.

This is the 175th Quaz. Most (but not all) of the first 174 were about entertainment in one form or another.

This is a story of bravery and resilience.

Kate Price, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kate, I’m gonna start this by being honest. Before this interview, I pretty much thought of child sex trafficking as something that happens … elsewhere. Small African nations. Russian outposts. Then I read your riveting, heartbreaking story, and learned otherwise. Am I simply dumb and naïve, or is there a mass misconception of the issue?

KATE PRICE: You’re not dumb at all. Most people do not realize commercial sexual exploitation of children runs rampant throughout America. Unfortunately, the majority of exploited kids are rendered “invisible.” I was considered worthless in my community. We were very poor and I remember feeling that discrimination very early on. I loved going to church, but I didn’t have nice “church clothes” so I wasn’t accepted. I went to school with black eyes and teachers didn’t say a thing. That’s just what “White Trash” families did to each other. I felt disposable.

We imagine ourselves as a country that prioritizes children’s safety. Yet, in reality, we don’t. The top two risk factors for commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) are a history of child sexual abuse and poverty. Many people don’t know this but the United States is first among industrialized nations for child death from abuse and neglect. We are second among industrialized nations for kids living in poverty. We have created the “perfect storm” for sexually exploited children in America.

J.P.: On your website, you write, “In my early childhood and throughout my adolescence, an immediate family member sold me for sex in order to support his drug addiction. He sold me to men at truck stops, at parties, and within my own home.” I don’t even know what to ask, so I’ll go open-ended and ask you to expand and explain your childhood. How was this allowed to happen?

K.P.: Our household was ensnared in intergenerational cycles of violence, poverty, mental illness, and addiction. My exploiter was the son of the “town drunks” where he grew up and he was sexually abused as a child. My mother’s mother died suddenly when my mom was 16. Her father had sexually abused her and his second wife resented and, literally, hated my mother.  My mother had wanted to go to college far away but was told by her father she could learn everything at the factory where she worked that she could learn in college.

Bottom line is my mother and I were trapped. My first memory is of being sexually abused by my exploiter in the back of a relative’s bar. I was pre-verbal, but I just remember feeling “shattered” afterward. The rest of the world was acting like nothing had happened but my world had changed forever. I also  remember years of being taken out to our garage in the middle of the night where I was placed in the mechanic’s well under a car in our garage. I was covered with an oily blanket and men paid to have sex with me. My exploiter drugged me so I didn’t fight back. The exploitation continued in the garage as well as at truck stops and warehouse parties. I was told only “special” little girls got to have sex and go to “adult” parties. So I just thought this was normal, even though I knew in my gut that something was off.

This was allowed to happen because it happened in a private home under the care of the adults in the house. Abuse was—and still is—considered a private “family matter.” Janay Rice used that very term in a public statement to describe the assault by her then-fiance Ray Rice after the surveillance tape footage surfaced of him knocking her out cold in an Atlantic City casino.

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J.P.: I think people struggle to understand children going through trauma. They look at them blankly, unsure what’s running through the head. So, Kate, when one is being sexually abused … sexually trafficked, what is she thinking? Do you know it’s wrong? Are you aware it’s not supposed to be? Is it about shutting up and surviving?

K.P.: I had no idea anything was wrong until about sixth grade. And even then I didn’t know it was horrific, I just knew things were different. I started spending more time at friends’ houses and I had my first major crush, so I started to understand what I was going through was not normal. Just like many abused children, the perpetrator made me feel like the abuse and exploitation was our “special” time together and that this was “love.” So when I confronted this person I figured he would just stop because he loved me. Instead he left and moved in with his mistress. Yes, the exploitation and sexual abuse stopped, but I was really confused. I had no words to explain what had happened to me.

I think we put a lot of pressure on kids to contextualize and verbalize this very complex issue of abuse when, truthfully, kids’ reality consists of pretty basic understandings of things like school, fun with friends, and Saturday morning cartoons. I am not saying children are stupid—far from it. Kids are incredibly smart and perceptive. But kids who are abused and exploited have probably never had much (if any) adult support and protection around them. How can we expect them to differentiate between being safe and being violated when they’ve never really known what it’s like to feel completely secure?

J.P.: I imagine it’s hard being interviewed, because oftentimes (and, to a certain degree, in this case) people want to understand the problem via details, stories, images. And, I’m guessing, the last thing you want to share are details, stories, images from the worst period of your existence. How do you balance this? Do people ever go too far in their questioning?

K.P.: People’s intentions are usually genuine, so if anyone ever does go “too far” in questioning, I can definitely take it with a grain of salt. I have actually waited about 15 years to start speaking out so publicly because our cultural understanding of sexual exploitation is still pretty basic. We are in “crisis mode” as we are still trying to fully grasp how this atrocity can even be happening.

I truly appreciate people’s intentions; however, I really need to protect myself. I am very particular about who I speak to on the record. My husband is actually a sportswriter, so he is tremendous in helping me navigate the media. I also just recently started working with a Boston-based journalist who is working on a more in-depth piece about my story. We’ve really become a team over the last two years and I have come to trust her completely. A lot of people have approached me over the years to tell my story and I waited until the right person came along.

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J.P.: You mention “an immediate family member” who did this to you. You say he/she was a drug addict. You’ve lived this, studied this. What kind of monster sells a child for sex? How does one reach that point? Is it a nature vs. nurture situation, where one is bred by similar experiences to become so horrid? Are some people simply born evil assholes? And have you forgiven? Do you even need or aspire to?

K.P.: I have zero intentions of ever forgiving this person. I think we sometimes search for forgiveness so we can move on with our lives. But I have created a life for myself away from my most of my family in spite of my history. What happened to me and what is still happening to hundreds of thousands of children in this country and around the world is unforgivable.

Monstrous people sell children for sex so they can feel dominant and in control, particularly if they feel insecure and out of control in other parts of their lives. My exploiter often talked about his shame of growing up poor and being abused, as if it were an excuse for the harm he’d caused. Additionally, according to trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the brain’s reward system can be damaged from child abuse so that pain equals pleasure, causing abuse victims to become victimizers. This was the case with my exploiter. He derived great pleasure from hurting me.

J.P.: You write on your gofundme page that, “I am finally free.” How did you become free? How did you escape the cycle of abuse? Fuck, how are you alive and sane right now?

K.P.: I become free when I no longer got sucked back into those cycles. I literally had to move 300 miles away from my hometown to separate myself. But even then I wasn’t free right away. I would go back to visit or would talk to friends and would find myself right back in the center of the drama. I finally just decided I had had enough and cut all ties—not out of malice, but for my sanity. Leaving exploitation and domestic violence situations usually takes seven attempts until a person leaves for good and I was no different. Even though the situation was harmful, there was still genuine love for the people harming me and it was tough to break away. I never knew anything other than violence, poverty, and addicts, so it took awhile to get used to a healthy and vibrant community.

I am alive and sane right now because I had a vision of what I wanted my life to look like and I just worked like a dog until I got there. During the time I was being exploited I went to a friend’s house and her mother was a professor at the local state college. Their house was filled with books, papers, and NPR. In that moment I knew I wanted to be an academic. I read constantly and I also really loved music early on. Ironically, my very first favorite song was “Stuck in the Middle With You,” by Stealers Wheel. I played the 45 over and over on my Sears Winnie-the-Pooh record player.

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J.P.: You’re a research scientist, and you’re trying to raise $66,000 for three years of graduate school in order to receive a Ph.D. Degree in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts Boston, “where I can continue my current research on the prevention of commercial sexual exploitation of children.” What, exactly, are you hoping to accomplish?

K.P.: I want to contribute to shifting the conversation that CSEC is not a “choice,” but rather a continuation of violence. My research looks at the 10-to-13 years before a child is exploited to see what are the dynamics and commonalities we are missing. Yes, we know a history of child sexual abuse and poverty are the top two risk factors; however, there is more to the story as to why some children fall through the cracks and others do not. I strongly believe if a child is being commercially sexually exploited then we have not done our jobs as a society keeping that child safe.

I also hope to influence our understanding that CSEC is a byproduct of our current dominance and control-based culture. We need to consider CSEC as a system where “supply and demand” is intertwined. The current popular approach is to tackle individual actions such as curbing demand and preventing children from being exploited. Yes, these directives are important; however, if we do not consider that most traffickers, solicitors, and victims all of histories of child sexual abuse, then we are missing the larger picture and the source of this atrocity.

Lastly, I want to be a part of the growing movement challenging the us to ask, “Why is this person being violent?” instead of rehashing, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” The anti-trafficking movement has learned an amazing amount from the domestic movement and I intend to continue to build on that knowledge. Leaving was not easy for me and I hope I can use my story to shed light on the difficulty of the leaving process.

J.P.: Comedians joke about the Holocaust. They joke about 9.11 and the Space Shuttle explosion and a million other awful things. Can they joke about sex trafficking? Does that cross an uncrossable line, where nothing funny exists? Can they joke about the missing Nigerian girls, for example?

K.P.: My favorite quote of all time is  “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true and that is unacceptable” from Carrie Fisher. No, you cannot just crack some joke about 300 kidnapped girls in Africa, but you certainly need humor in your life, especially if you are dedicated to looking at the darker side of humanity for any length of time. A professor gave me the book “Return to Laughter” by anthropologist Elenore Smith Bowen, which is about how a West African tribe survives the trials of hunger, child death and disease through laughter. He was the first person who ever said to me, “You are a survivor.” I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time, but I am grateful he was able to see the journey I was on to undo the cycles and to heal.

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J.P.: Sex has a weird place in society. Hoochie pants and low-cut everything; sexting; raunchy videos, pornography as easy as a click. How have your life experiences impacted your perceptions of sex and culture?

K.P.: Great question. The Internet has “pornified” our culture to a point where expressions of sexuality have been reduced to imitating porn. The saddest part is we are teaching girls to mimic sexual abuse survivors. Sixty-to-90 percent of women in the sex industry (porn, stripping, prostitution) have been sexually abused as children. This normalizing of sex as violence reduces a natural and wonderful mutual experience to an act of dominance and control.

My experience is also making me a better mother. I am raising my son to know he is responsible for his choices and his body. He is very handsome, charismatic and a talented athlete who is already getting a lot of attention from girls. This notion that boys and men cannot be held accountable when it comes to their actions around the opposite sex is insulting. My son is a sweet, considerate boy and I am terrified by the notion that the way he is expected to belong and to bond with his friends is to put down women. Thankfully, my son’s friend’s parents are also incredibly strong and are instilling the same values in their sons.

J.P.: Somewhere, right now, there’s an 11-year-old girl being sold for sex. Her dad is a crack addict, her mom is dead, she lives with no hope and no awareness of a way out. What is she supposed to do? What can she do?

K.P.: Kids are incredibly resilient, so I am hopeful she will find a way to hold on. My other hope is that she can tap into her “authentic self” and not blame herself for what is happening—could be a book, sport, song, place of worship, video game, imaginary friend or a pet. I also hope a safe adult speaks up.

I still don’t always feel comfortable speaking up whenever I see an adult physically or verbally abusing a child. That just happened this summer when I was at an amusement park with my son and some friends. A little girl was being berated by her parents on this “The Flying Buccaneer” pirate ship ride my son loves. I wanted so desperately to say something to this family, but the fear for my own family’s safety stopped me. I knew security couldn’t legally do anything unless I saw the parents physically assault the daughter, which I didn’t. Influencing those laws so we can stand up for children is exactly why I do the work that I do. I still think of that girl every day and hope this is okay.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KATE PRICE:

• Five greatest moments of your life?: 1. When my husband (then-boyfriend) took my hand and said, “We will get through it,” after I told him about my history in a Starbucks next to Boston Common. We were getting serious and I wanted to give him the option to leave. Right after that we went ice skating on Frog Pond and I met a bunch of his closest friends for the first time. They are now some of my closest friends too.

2. Our son was a mop of curls eating a powdered doughnut the first time we met him. (My heart just started racing as I am recalling this moment.) He was four and in foster care at the time. We went to the social services office to meet him. That was the moment I became a mother.

3. We adopted our cat from a rescue shelter. He hopped right into my lap the moment they brought him into the visiting room. His paperwork said he wasn’t a lap cat. Ever since he’s been disproving that statement as well as the notion that cats aren’t needy.

4. The first time I had a side-splitting laugh with my best friend Mo. It was something really stupid, but we both found it hilarious. We have an unspoken shorthand that all great friends have together. Whenever I am out of sorts my husband sends me off with her for “some Mo time.”

5. The first time I heard the Psychedelic Furs song “India.” They were already my favorite band, but I’d never heard their first record. The song starts very quiet and builds to an abrasive rumbling: sounded exactly how my family life felt.

6. Can I play the sympathy card and get one more? [Jeff’s answer: Yes!] The first time I went to New York City. Our seventh grade went to the National History Museum for a field trip. I realized there was a world “out there” away from my family and rural hometown.

• I’m sitting in a coffee shop, writing these questions, and the guy at the next table won’t shut up on his cell phone. Am I allowed to grab his phone and drop it in my café mocha?: Definitely. Although, I would drop it in his drink. Why waste a perfectly good café mocha?

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Michael Kors, Ethiopian coffee, Will Venable, Michelle Branch, KRS-One, patio furniture, “You’ve Got Mail,” Paul Tagliabue, nail polish, Vancouver, the letter V: Michael Kors (I am a fashion apologist), “You’ve Got Mail” (my hubs says I am the Meg Ryan character), patio furniture (love eating outside), KRS-One, nail polish (I am not a girly girl, but I recently found the perfect shade for pedicures), Will Venable (would have put him higher if he’d played in the Cape Cod Baseball League—we are huge Brewster Whitecaps fans), Michelle Branch (that 1,000 Miles song is catchy), Vancouver (I have a thing for nice neighbors), the letter V, Paul Tagliabue, Ethiopian coffee (I am a green tea kind of gal)

• There’s a drought in California. I say we shouldn’t flush after pee, just poop. Some disagree and think that’s gross. Your thoughts?: My son is 9-years old, so poop is the center of just about every conversation in our house, including this flushing debate. A member of our extended family shares practices you “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” philosophy. I also spent a lot of time with hippies in my 20s so I am all for it.

• Three best books you’ve ever read?: The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky; The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger; Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

• What happens when we die?: Hopefully we have left this world a better place.

• I always ask my son, “How do you know this isn’t a dream?” Is it possible you’re answering these questions, but it’s only in a dream?: Please. I am juggling work, school, fundraising, and being a spouse and mother. My entire life feels like a waking dream right now. Do you remember those first months of becoming a parent when you weren’t even sure the last time you’d showered and if you’d changed clothes at all in the last two weeks? I am back there.

• Should Ray Rice be allowed to play in the NFL again?: Definitely not. I think the larger question, though, is if Roger Goodell should lose his job. All of this hooey out not seeing the tape is a joke. Of course they had access to the tape and, besides, what do you think it looks like when a man punches a woman hard enough to render her unconscious? However this shakes out, the tide is definitely changing for the NFL. Hopefully the league was taking notes during CBS sportscaster James Brown’s amazing speech before the Ravens-Steelers game.

• Twelve round boxing match between you and Gisele Bündchen. What happens?: Well, our husbands spend an inordinate amount of time together (my husband covers the Patriots), so ending up at the same place at the same time is no that far out of the realm of possibility. Although, I am not much of a fighter, so I would just ask her if we could go meet Michael Kors (see previous answer).

• Celine Dion calls. She want to do a movie about your life, but insists she play the title character, and that all the other actors have to be either blind or Emmanuel Lewis impersonators. She’s offering $1 million. You in?: First I would have to negotiate the $1 million plus 20 percent of the box office gross (domestic and international). And she would have to agree to a cameo by Ana Gasteyer doing her SNL Celine character (“I am the best singer in the world”). After that I am definitely in. That cast of characters has nothing on my family, though. Plus I would want to create a whole script for watching the movie like Rocky Horror Picture Show. We would throw toast at the screen whenever someone drinks a PBR pounder.

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Marc Boerigter

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Great week for Kansas City.

The Royals shocked the Athletics in the Major League playoffs.

The um … eh … Royals shocked the Athletics in the Major League playoffs.

And now—the Quaz.

If you’re any sort of Kansas City Chiefs fans, the name Marc Boerigter means something. He’s your Vince Papale—the little-known, out-of-nowhere wide receiver who, in 2002, arrived from Canada (via miniscule Hastings College) to not merely make the Chiefs but—for four seasons—emerge as a weapon and special teams standout. On December 22, 2002, the man even made NFL history by catching a 99-yard touchdown pass from Trent Green to tie the league record for longest reception.

In short, he’s the classic underdog tale. The guy you root for.

These days, Boerigter lives in the Kansas City area, where he works local radio and is a senior business development associate at Randstad Technologies. Here, he considers the plight of a concussion-plagued Wes Welker, ponders when one should hang it up, explains the NFL hype machine and explains why he’d destroy Willie Gault in an arm wrestler. You can follow Marc on Twitter here.

Marc Boerigter, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Marc, so there’s a question I’ve been itching to ask an NFL wide receiver (or ex-NFL wide receiver), and here you are. Over the past few years, Wes Welker has suffered one concussion after another after another. He’s probably had, oh, eight … nine that were diagnosed. So why is it OK that he’s still playing? Do you get why he continues to throw himself out there? And should players trust that NFL trainers and doctors have their best interests in mind? Or should they worry it’s all about winning?  

MARC BOERIGTER: I have been asked this question a lot lately. At the end of the day it is up to the player to decide to keep his career going by choosing to play after all of the “documented” concussions. I had a few in my day … lots of time my bell was rung and didn’t say a word about it. Why? Because I was afraid to not play. I had to. It was my job and I didn’t want to get Wally Pipped by someone else. I know the struggle, but I also see a lot of guys who are ending early and for good reason. The worst part is none of us (doctors included) really know what is going to happen to us 20 years after playing. We are just now starting to see what the after effects are. I can only hope and pray that my long term effects from playing football will not be too bad.

As far as the doctors and trainers go, that is part of the struggle a player goes through. Are my best interests of health the main focus? For far too long their job has been to get guys ready to play for the sake of winning. That being said, it’s on the player as well. I hope that it is changing on both sides. Hope is not a good strategy though.

J.P.: You’re from Hastings, Nebraska. You played at Hastings College—an NAIA school 99 of 100 Americans have never heard of. How the hell did you make the NFL? And, when you were in college, did you consider it a realistic dream?

M.B.: I moved a whole three blocks away from home to go to school. That’s right—three blocks. I made it as far away from home as possible. I was a real late bloomer in high school. I chose Hastings because I wanted to play. I get asked a lot, “Why didn’t you go to Nebraska?” Look, I’m a Husker fan, but I was not like every other kid in Nebraska who grew up dreaming to play for the ‘Skers. Here’s how I saw it going for me: I would go walk on, maybe get to run down on the kickoff team in the Orange Bowl and pick up the glory of a bowl ring. That didn’t appeal to me.

Here’s what’s fun about Hastings: Dr. Tom Osborne is from Hastings, the first ever night football game west of the Mississippi was played on our home field (A.H. Jones Stadium), Bill Parcells was a graduate assistant and got his coaching start at Hastings College. It was football tradition … where I could play.

My father was the athletic director at Hastings. I was a ball boy on Saturdays from the time I was in junior high. I saw Jerry Drake make it to the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals. The pro football dream was possible from an NAIA school.  Jerry really paved the way for NFL scouts to look in our neck of the woods. After my Junior year I knew I might have had a shot to play professionally.

I just wanted to play. Getting paid to play (work) a game I love was icing on the cake for me. I just went out, worked hard, had some God-given ability and the road opened up for me and an opportunity arose. I took advantage of the opportunities I had. I look back now and played for eight years total professionally. Not too shabby for a kid from an NAIA school.

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J.P.: With as great detail as possible, what does it feel like to be absolutely lit up? Like, to be hit as hard as a human can possibly be hit? And what was the worst hit you ever absorbed?

M.B.: Hahahahaha. This is going to be tough to explain. I’ll start with this.  All the highlight hits you see where guys are getting lit up … those hurt! They all hurt! But it’s the ones you see coming that hurt the most. You tense up when you see it coming. Your body naturally does it as a defense mechanism. It’s why guys alligator arm balls over the middle. It’s unnatural to throw yourself in harm’s way when you know it’s coming.

Whether you see the hit coming or not, you usually end up foggy, no wind in your chest and an unusual amount of snot and saliva all over your face that somehow exited your body.

I was once knocked out by a linebacker while playing in Canada. I was run over by the late Sean Taylor on a crack block (he ran straight over me) and I had to hit the wedge on the kickoff team that felt like my neck shortened by three inches. It feels like they say it feels—like a car wreck every time.

J.P.: I’m gonna ask you a random question only seven people in the world probably care about. You played with a quarterback out of Middle Tennessee State named Jonathan Quinn. The guy had a rifle arm, he was huge, he lit it up in college—and he was an unambiguously bad NFL quarterback. Why? What was missing? And what’s the difference between great quarterbacks and bad ones?

M.B.: Ah, good old J.Q. … love that man. He had one of the biggest arms I have ever played with. He also threw the heaviest ball ever. It felt like catching a 20-pound medicine ball every time. There’s no real reason why he didn’t pan out overall. But then again, he had a nice little run as a backup quarterback in the league. Not everyone can be a starter. He did have the best Billy Bob Thorton impression from Sling Blade, though. “I like them French fried potaters mmmhmmm”

Great quarterbacks have the ability to manage split-second decisions in their heads like nobody else. They have to be risk takers, but conservative. They have to have an arm to throw rockets, deep outs, sidearm screens, finesse change-ups on shallow crosses. A great quarterback has a timer in his head to get rid of the ball. He has to be mobile enough to escape the rush. He has to have the ability to lead men. He doesn’t have to be Braveheart, but a guy who men will follow. You must trust him. He has to manage his teammates. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

At the end of the day, there are only 32 guys starting on Sundays. About five of them are elite. The next 15 are good, and the rest are JAGs (Just Another Guy). By the way, that’s all I ever was—a JAG. But JAGs are still in the league and can play ball better than anyone else trying to be a JAG.

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J.P.: Does playing in the NFL live up to the hype? I mean, people push their kids toward the goal; dream of it; salivate over it. Once you’re there, is it worth it? Why or why not?

M.B.: The NFL is the hype. It is, was and always will be about the hype. Over-hyped? Probably so. It starts from the top. Coaches work way too many hours because of the machismo of saying they work harder than anyone else. Please. Work smarter and hard, not just long. It is big case of penis envy—for the players as well. But once you are there, you wanna stay. The money, the fame. It’s the pinnacle of your profession. I mean, how many people can say that you are one of the 1,600 or so best people at their jobs in the world? Not very many. Was it worth it? Of course. I’ve been lucky. Athletics, specifically football, have taught me so many things about life in general. I will absolutely let my son play football if he so wishes. But people are starting their kids waaaay too young in tackle football. Kids shouldn’t start playing tackle until the fifth or sixth grades. And parents need to know this—YOUR CHILD DOESN’T LIVE YOUR DREAM! Let them be who they want to be. If they are lucky enough to have ability, things will take care of themselves.

J.P.: I’ve long had the belief that being a pro athlete is great; being an ex-pro athlete is the putrid pit of hell. Your prime came in your 20s, you’re always remembered for things you can no longer do, you do autograph signings and 12 people show up. How off/on am I? How was the initial adjustment for you? And has it gotten easier?

M.B.: It is what it is—cliché. Athletes die twice. When our careers end and when we actually die.

There is a lot of glory to be had in the fact that you were a professional athlete. For most of us, that defines us forever … whether in the eyes and hearts of the fans or in the eyes and hearts of our egos.

I am probably in the minority here a little bit in that I exceeded what I thought I would accomplish. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had and that I was able to take advantage of that. That said, I am a usual NFL statistic as well. I am divorced, I don’t have as much money as I should probably have and I have struggled with the loss of not playing a game any longer. You just can’t replicate the competitiveness and joy in a rec softball or sand volleyball game. You find yourself wanting to win too badly instead of enjoying drinking the beer in between innings and having the fun you should have. When it’s over, it affects everyone else around you as well. I feel good, though, that I have found the balance. I was intelligent enough to know the majority of my life would not revolve around playing. Knowing that is a big piece to the puzzle to stay sane. In the transition I have learned to lean on the people I love, and to let them love me. You learn that it is OK to have a bad day. The world will not end. You can get up tomorrow and start over. It’s a constant balance that I feel I have found.

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J.P.: With Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson in the news of late, there’s been a lot of talk about violence in the NFL, and why so many players seem to have issues. What’s your take? Is it a problem? Can we trace this to the violence of the game? To PED? To fame? All? None?

M.B.: It’s a problem. It’s a societal problem first and foremost. Athletics have always been a microcosm of society—the ups, the downs, the violence on the playing surface. Just look at bench-clearing brawls, hockey fights, big football hits. We love that part and glorify those pieces of sports. Which is a start to the problem.

I’m sure that PED and fame also play a factor. I never took anything other than simple protein shakes. But some dudes are putting all kinds of supplements into their system. Even if they are on the approved lists, has anyone actually done studies of what combinations of all of those at one time do to a person’s mind? Think about it this way—you’re a regular person who drinks a few cups of coffee every day. Try going without caffeine for a week, cold turkey. You get irritable, you have headaches and suffer throughwithdrawal. Chemically your body is not used to the changes. I think the stuff guys take make a difference in their mentality.

Ego is a better term than fame for the issue. Everyone has one … and they all grow at different rates and have a popping point. Different people react in different ways to the glory of being an NFL player. The biggest problem I have with most of the NFL punishments is it is and was never consistent. It was “due process” for guys at the top of the roster and immediate cuts for middle-to-lower end players. BS. Total BS. I believe that it’s a privilege, not a right. I don’t care how great a player you are. You are held to a higher standard because of being in the public eye

The thing that baffles me about the NFL’s reaction to the “new” tape coming out: How did that change anything? Did anyone really need to see it? The first one was enough. There is no place for that type of violence toward women or people in general. The game and Shield are not bigger than the rest of society. I mean, guys have played after killing people while drunk behind the wheel. That isn’t right. Guys deserve a second chance to make up for their mistakes and make a living. It just shouldn’t be playing professional football.

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J.P.: You played several years in the CFL—a league I’ve always enjoyed; a league many seem unwilling to respect. What’s the difference in caliber between the CFL and NFL? If a bad NFL team is having its worst day, and a great CFL team is having its best day, can the Canadian club pull off a win?

M.B.: The biggest difference is the overall size and speed of guys. There are tons of NFL-caliber players up north. Most are just undersized for their positions to play in the NFL. Here’s how to view a matchup of CFL vs NFL. Two different styles of game. If a bad NFL team is having its worst day, the CFL would win. I actually think it would be fun to do a home-and-home series. CFL wins with CFL rules. Can you imagine the NFL guys with an extra guy on the field? Bigger field, no fair catch… oh and the ROUGE! Heads would explode. More people should respect that league. Lots of good coaches and players have made the transition to the NFL from there. The players who don’t succeed in the CFL are guys who “just want to get some film” and get back to the NFL. The ones who do respect it and have a great career up there, or head back south for a nice run.

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

M.B.: I have a few: My NFL record 99-yard touchdown reception. That’s a club shared by, I think, 13 or 14 of us. It will never be broken unless the NFL goes to the Canadian-sized field, so I can always hang my hat on that one. My first professional catch in the CFL went for six yards. It was a nice way to start a career. The 2001 Grey Cup Championship is another. And lastly, my first NFL game in 2002 in Cleveland. I had zero catches but I made two special teams tackle. It was one of the craziest endings ever to a game thanks to Dwayne Rudd and his helmet toss, and John Tait picking up the ball and rumbling to field goal range.

The worst—the first time I was ever cut/fired in Green Bay in 2006. It’s such a hard feeling to describe. And the 2003 season playoff loss against the Colts, at home, in a game in which neither team punted. What a game … but devastating.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARC BOERIGTER:

• Different ways your last name is misspelled?: Too many. Most people try to slide an H in there somewhere. I can’t even begin to try to spell half of the pronunciations I have heard over the years either.

• Five reasons one should make Hastings, Nebraska his/her next vacation destination?: Hastings College Campus, Kool Aid Days (Hastings is the where Kool-Aid was invented) The Hastings Museum, Eileen’s Cookies (the original) and Big Dally’s Deli. Oh, and Duncan Field. The baseball field in Hastings has dimensions that are 370, 405, 408, 405 and 367. There’s a lot of history in that park for baseball buffs.

• Five sweetest and five ugliest NFL uniforms?: In no particular order: Best: Packers, Bears (with the black shoes), Jets, Chiefs, Chargers’ powder blues. The five worst: Tampa Bay in a landslide, Saints, Jags, Oakland and Seattle.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Alain Vigneault, designer sunglasses, Theo Huxtable, Wall Street Journal, Wayne Chrebet, Bob Barker, Philadelphia cheese steaks, Ralph Tresvant, people who wear sunglasses indoors, long walks on the beach: 1. Who doesn’t love walks on the beach? I prefer the lake since I don’t live near a beach; 2. Theo Huxtable—Cosby Show was great; 3. Wall Street Journal; 4. Wayne Chrebet—great player; 5. Bob Barker. If this is Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore, he rises on this list; 6. Designer sunglasses; 7. Alain Vigneault—should be higher probably, but look at who he has had in net. 8. Philly cheese steaks—love them, but a ribeye shouldn’t be sliced thin and chopped up. It should be think and on a grill. I am from Nebraska; 9. Ralph Tresvant—New Edition reference! Nice work, Jeff. He probably should be higher, too,but I’m pretty sure he has done No. 10 since he was in an R&B group; 10. People who wear sunglasses indoors—Douche central. Is it really that bright inside? Medical conditions excluded

• You can either have $200,000 or the superpower of never having to poop again. Which do you take?: This is easy … take the money. Every guy in America uses the bathroom to “get away” and every guy has taken a shit that makes you feel like a million bucks afterwards. Might as well take the $200k and feel like a million bucks. Best of both worlds.

• Who wins in an arm wrestling match between you and Willie Gault?: Arm wrestling today? Me! A race on the other hand—Willie. I’d need a Seinfeld-inspired head start to beat him

• In exactly 28 words, your argument for or against neck tattoos: Ummmm, No.No. No. No. No. No. Tattoos are OK. I don’t have any, but why on earth would you put one there? Makes zero sense to me.

• We give you a start—right now—in an NFL game. What are your stats?: One catch for eight yards. Hitch route. Blew a hammy trying to make a move past the corner in addition to the lower back tightness. Left the game after one series.  (out of shape).

• Are you afraid of death? Why or why not?: Yes/No. I pray that I have a lot of time left. I have a lot I want to do yet. But if, for some reason, I don’t, I’m comfortable that I know where I am going.

• Climate change—real problem or big hoax?: Real problem. But I think the damage has been done. We can try to change, but I’m not convinced it will help.

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Joseph Lozito

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Before you dig into what must be considered the most gripping Q&A in the 3 1/2-year history of the Quaz, take a moment to do a Google Image search for Joseph Lozito. Hell, I’ll do it for you—just click here.

Look at the pictures. Really look at them. Examine the scars. The cuts. The bruises. The dried blood. Now close your eyes and try to picture what Lozito went through on Feb. 12, 2011 when—purely by bad luck and awful timing—he found himself on a subway, standing alongside a maniacal killer named Maksim Gelman, this knife (pictures below) being plunged repeatedly into his body …

sharpEither because you followed the story or because, well, you’re reading this Quaz, you know Lozito survived. But do you know his saga? The bravery of confronting a killer. The helplessness of a countdown to death. The frustration of allegedly not having two nearby police officers come to your aid. The anger over a court refusing to hear your case.

Because of Joe Lozito, a killer no longer walks the streets of New York.

Because of Joe Lozito, you are reading Quaz No. 173.

Joe’s new book, The New York Subway Hero: My Battle With Evil, can be ordered here. You can also follow him on Twitter here, and Facebook here.

Joe Lozito, a hero’s welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Joe, I’m gonna start this one the way it should be started. On Feb. 12, 2011, you were on the 3 train, minding your own business. Then … what?

JOSEPH LOZITO: When I boarded the train, two uniformed police officers boarded with me and went straight in to where the motorman operates the train. Their radios were going crazy and, while I couldn’t understand what exactly what was going on, they were there for a reason. Being that my commute originated from Philadelphia that morning, I hadn’t seen a New York paper. As the commute started, a man walked up to the motorman’s door, banged on it and yelled, “Let me in!”  The male officer behind the door answered, “Who are you?” Unaware that the actual police were behind the door, the man said, “I’m the police.”  Looking through the window at the man they were there to apprehend, the male officer replied, “You’re not the police” and left it at that. As the man walked away, another man who had been standing next to me raced to the same door and was alternately tapping on the window and waving the police out. Again, no action was taken on the part of the officers. As the first man approached the door again, the second man fled back next to me. The first man stopped about three feet from the door, about two feet from me, looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re gonna to die, you’re gonna to die.” He pulled out a cooking knife with an eight-inch blade and proceeded to stab me in the face under my left eye. When he cocked his arm back for another plunge, I shot for his legs to take him down. While I was taking him down, he carved the side and back of my head three times. After taking him down, from the bottom, he was slashing upward while I was trying to catch his hand. His first swing sliced my thumb down to the tendon. His second swing sliced my arm to the tricep muscle. Finally, on his third swing, I was able to catch his wrist, slam his hand down and he dropped the knife.

It was then when I felt a tap on my lower back. It was the male officer from the motormans compartment telling me, “You can get up now—we got him”. That “We got him” is in quotes is not just because it was spoken word.

I got up and sat on a subway seat, blood pouring out of me, watching the male officer struggling to handcuff Gelman after all the dirty work had been done. His partner offered no assistance and, only when another passenger on the train helped, were they able to handcuff Gelman. Several other officers joined in sporadically and at some point I would say there were more than five or six officers in the subway car. Which, by the way, was now stopped in the tunnel between 34th and 42nd streets.

I begged the police the get the train moving. I was told to “hang in there” … that they’d get me out of there. After about 10 minutes of bleeding from my seven wounds, I grabbed an officer by the arm and asked, “Do you have children?” He said he did, and I replied with, “I have two little boys at home. I can’t die on this train.” A few more minutes passed and I grabbed another cop by the wrist and said, “Are you married?” He was. “So am I,” I said, “and my wife needs me. I can’t die on this train.” I was told to stay calm; that help was on the way. I was told not to worry because the paramedics were on their way down to the car, coming through the back of train. The only person to offer any assistance was the passenger who helped handcuff Gelman. He came and applied direct pressure to my deepest wound; a wound so deep you could see my skull in a photograph. After about 20-to-25 minutes of bleeding out and on the verge of death, I heard an officer say, “OK, we’re ready to move.” I shouted, “What about the paramedics?” and the answer was they were waiting at 42nd Street. The truth was they were never on their way to the train.

Feeling myself get weaker and weaker, we pulled into the 42nd Street station and there was a problem getting the doors open. When the paramedics entered, as they were transferring me from the seat to the stretcher, I passed out. When I came to, I overheard one of the officers describe me as “likely.” I had no idea what that meant. Later at the hospital, I asked my sister, who happens to be a New York City police officer, what “likely” meant. The answer: Likely to die. I found out later from one of the officers that when I passed out, I did so with my eyes open and she thought I had died. Once I was carried up to the street, I was greeted by one officer asking the other, ”Is that the perp or the vic?”

Upon arriving at Bellevue, I was greeted by an army of medical personnel and as I was being treated, an officer came by my head and showed me the mugshot that was distributed to all cops that day. He asked me, “Is this the guy who did this to you?” I told him it was. He said, “Well then, you’re a hero.” I said, “I’m not a hero. Why am I a hero?” He replied, “That guy killed four people last night”. That was the first I had learned of Maksim Gelman.

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J.P.: I know you’re a big guy, and clearly tough, but how were you able to pin Maksim Gelman? I mean, he’s stabbing you, you’re unarmed. How’d you do it?

J.L.: When a maniac approaches you and says, “You’re gonna die, you’re gonna die,” and then actually tries to make good on the threat, one really only has two choices. He can fight or he he can die. I chose to fight. It was instinct. Pure survival mode. It wasn’t anything I thought out. Hell, he didn’t give me any time to form a game-plan. I’ve explained it as transforming into savage mode. Or, put different, dealing with a savage with savage behavior that one wouldn’t normally use in everyday life. Or ever have a need to.

J.P.: What does it feel like to think you’re dying? In detail. What’s going through your mind? Are you terrified? Peaceful? Neither? Both?

J.L.: In my particular situation, it was the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had. I’m sitting in this gigantic public casket, yet I’m the only one dying. I couldn’t get out even if I had the energy to try. And for the longest time, in spite of others being mere feet away, I’d never been more alone. All I wanted to do is kiss my wife and hug my sons, but circumstances made it so I might have never been able to do those things again. I am eternally grateful for the man who saved my life, Alfred Douglas.

J.P.: I know about the physical scars. What are the mental scars? Three years later, do you still have dreams about the attack? Do you have weird reactions to, oh, the subway, or guys who look like Gelman, or the police?

J.L.: While the physical scars are gruesome, the mental scars are the ones I always worry about. I’m fortunate that most nights I do not remember my dreams. As far as the ones I do remember, they generally do not involve the incident, any of the participants or any of the “spectators.” I always have this weird feeling when I get on the subway—which, unfortunately, is twice a day. In terms of the police, while I continue to respect the force as a whole, with every officer I see I can’t help but wonder, “Is this person a good cop, or is he/she another Terrance Howell or Tamara Taylor?” It’s funny that you ask about people who look like Gelman. I’m a huge kickboxing fan and there is a kickboxer who, while he doesn’t look like Gelman, in certain photos if you isolate his eyes, it’s eerily similar.

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J.P.: With everything that happened recently in Ferguson, Missouri, the role of police in society has been a very hot topic. I’m wondering, after experiencing something this traumatic, if you have a new understanding of police hatred? Of animosity toward cops?

J.L.: The amazing part of all of this is that I was basically naive as far as police hatred goes. Meaning, I generally live in my little bubble and worry about myself, my family and my friends. I always figured if you have hatred for the police, you must have done something to feel that way. That changed when I was profiled twice based on my looks. Both incidents were years ago, way before anything happened that put me in the public eye. I guess the white-guy-with-the-shaved-head-and-goatee look is an opportunity for some to try and capitalize on. I realized what it was like to be profiled based on appearance. Even with that, while it bothered in the moment of both occurrences, I eventually let it go. That’s just me. I cannot blame anyone if they’ve been in similar situations and can’t just let it go. We’re all different. That being said, I’m still trying to figure out how looting helps a situation.

J.P.: It’s strange to me. The police aren’t actually saying they ignored you. They’re saying they didn’t have an obligation to help you. Which, well, seems like the No. 1 job of police: Helping. Why do you think, on that day at that moment, the two police officers didn’t assist you? I’m sure you’ve had much time to ponder this one. Were they afraid? Indifferent? Unsure? Is there a chance they just didn’t know what to do?

J.L.: Understand, the NYPD trains recruits to “serve and protect.” That is something I cannot and would not dispute. My sister Angela is a member of the force as were two of my wife’s cousins. I know the training they receive is top notch. This loophole of “not owing a duty to protect” is something that most cops aren’t even aware of. Most of the cops I’ve spoken to think I’m lying. This is something that lawyers for the NYPD, Corporation Counsel use in many cases. Some are actually justified and some, as in my case, are complete and utter bullshit. In my opinion, Officers Howell and Taylor knew exactly what to do that day. They chose not to because they are gutless cowards who chose to protect themselves as opposed to doing their jobs. Their cowardice on the train is matched only by their attorneys’ unwillingness to face me in court.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by your take of Maksim Gelman. Do you think he’s an insane guy who knew not what he was doing? Was he a calculated killer? Do you think there’s genuine evil, and it consumed his brain? Was he just trying to kill for the joy of killing?

J.L.: I think Gelman snapped. I think we have a savage side to us all but most of us are able to control it and use it only when necessary or never at all. My guess would be Maksim had fantasized about killing his step-father numerous times and the proverbial “perfect storm” occurred on February 11, 2011. I think, after that happened, it was open season. He wanted to settle some scores. By the time he attacked me, I would guess his world was starting to come undone and he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory … whatever that would mean in his twisted mind.

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J.P.: Who are you? I know you’re in New York, I know you were on the train, I know you nearly died. But where are you from? What do you do? What’s your life background?

J.L.: I’m just an average guy from New York. I was born in Middle Village and probably had the typical life of a kid. I moved to Long Island as a teenager and grew up loving my Braves, Bills and Islanders. I loved the WWF as a kid and later became a rabid MMA fan after UFC 1. I met a girl, made her my wife. We moved to Philadelphia hoping for a better life (I didn’t intend on that rhyming, by the way). I had two amazing little boys, had a fight on a subway with a deranged idiot who was trying to kill me. I moved back to New York to be closer to my family a little while after that. Like I said, I’m just an average guy. There is nothing remarkable about me. I’m not a hero, I just did what needed to be done that and I’m grateful to still be alive to tell the tale. My two goals in life are to make my wife and children happy and make sure that both my sons become productive members of society.

J.P.: You recently self-published a book, My Battle With Evil. Why? What are you trying to accomplish? What’s the message?

J.L.: What you need to know about me is that when I think I’m right and I believe something is worth fighting for, I won’t stop. I pick my battles. Ask my wife. If we’re having a disagreement and I don’t feel like fighting, I’ll just say, “You’re right.” It drives her crazy! The fight I was preparing for in the court was worth fighting for and I was going to hit Corporation Counsel and the NYPD like a freight-train. Since the day we filed our Notice of Claim, I was preparing for my battle against the city. Similar to a fighter who in preparation for a fight plays the bout out in his head over and over, I’d run the scene through my head thousands of times.

Even though my lawyer told me from Day 1 that this would be a tough case to bring to trial, I honestly thought this would be different. Then one day I received word that Judge Margaret A. Chan decided to not allow me my day in court. My family was devastated. This story is a tale that needs to be told for numerous reasons, and regardless of Judge Chan washing the back of Corporation Counsel, I was going to get it out there one way or another. I had already been in discussions with two potential authors but when the decision came down, in my heart I knew I had to write this myself. The project took me a year to complete. I wrote for nine of those twelve months and poured my heart and soul into the project. It was more therapeutic than any help I could have received from a mental health professional.

J.P.: You disarmed a man who killed people. What’s your stance on the death penalty? Does Gelman deserve to die?

J.L.: I have a very strong stance on the death penalty. I have a very strong stance on crime in general. Maksim Gelman deserves the death penalty. Maksim Gelman deserves to suffer. Maksim Gelman needs to feel every ounce of pain that all of his victims and their families have felt and continue to feel to this day. Maksim Gelman does not deserve a serene, peaceful death. He deserves torture. He deserves violence. He deserves angst. The only real way for him to go would be one of two ways and both are from one of my favorite movies, Law Abiding Citizen. At the very least, he deserves to die like Rupert Ames did but more appropriately, he should die like Clarence Darby did. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know what I’m talking about, watch it. If you have and find my stance barbaric, put yourself on that subway in my (literally) bloody shoes and then attempt to disagree with me.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOE LOZITO:

• You said to Gelman, “You better hope I die. Because if I don’t, I’m gonna come back and kill you.” That’s the fucking greatest bad-ass line ever. Would it be appropriate if I add “… and you still haven’t done your homework” after “if I don’t” and use it on my kids?: Ha, thank you. Go for it, brother! Just hope they don’t call your bluff. Kids nowadays are fearless.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Fantasy Island, Twitter, Chuck Liddell, The Coney Island Cyclone, James Harden, Olivia Newton John, pea soup, Gaylord Perry, Dominique Dawes, The W Hotel, $2 bills, San Antonio: Ha, OK, here goes … Chuck Liddell and Twitter are at the top. After that, I’d go with former Braves Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, $2 bills, Olivia Newton-John, Fantasy Island, San Antonio and pea soup. I don’t know who James Harden is and want to keep the spirit of the question going so I won’t Google him. Dominique Dawes is either an Olympian or a WNBA player. I’d rank her ahead of Harden because I’ve at least heard of her. If I have no idea about the W Hotel, does that make me a rube? The Cyclone is last strictly because I’m a chicken-shit and petrified of coasters, especially ones that are 500 years old.

• Who wins in a 12-round exhibition boxing match between you and Tiki Barber right now? What’s the outcome?: I have the size and reach advantage on Tiki but he’s way more athletic. If I don’t knock him out inside of two rounds, it could be a long night for me.

• Five reasons one should live in New York City at some point in his/her life?: Why one should live in New York City? Reside in New York City? Oh boy, you are asking the wrong person. The only one I can think of is if you work in New York City. Other than that … yeah, I have nothing.

• Your all-time favorite New York City mayor is …: Mayor Giuliani. The guy is a badass. People around the world know him for his work during the 9.11 crisis but he really cleaned up the city after the mess David Dinkins left for him. I also liked Ed Koch. Bloomberg is a self-serving, pompous ass.

• How’d you meet your wife?: I met my wife at an Islanders game. She’s as rabid a sports fan as any person on the planet.

• One question you would ask Bo Bice were he here right now?: I guess it would have to be, “Who are you, Bo Bice?”

• How many copies does your book need to sell to succeed?: The book is already a success since it’s helped me in the healing process. As far as sales, the short answer would be I need to sell as many copies as it takes for me to never use the CoinStar machine again and the long answer is I’d need to sell enough books for me to retire from my current job and become a full-time writer. I have four or five people I’d really love to write books about one day.

• Would you rather have a new iPhone or an all-expense paid vacation to Seattle?: Oh, man, an all expense paid trip to Seattle! I still proudly use a flip-phone like my man Dana White! I’m a technological caveman! Seattle would rock as I’d spend my time doing all things Alice In Chains.

• Five all-time favorite songs?: This is tough. The first two are easy. Angry Chair and Would? from what I think is the greatest album of all-time, Alice In Chains’ Dirt. Straight Out Of Line by Godsmack would be up there as well, as would For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica. For a fifth song, I’ll go with Hysteria by Def Leppard. But, as Jerry Seinfeld said in The English Patient episode, “I don’t know how official any of these rankings really are.” Did I just set the record for most quotation marks in a single answer?