Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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John Martignoni

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Several months ago I was driving around California, listening to talk radio, when I stumbled upon a man who swore that prayer works.

I listened and listened and listened, scoffing with each word. I couldn’t understand how this Catholic dude was so certain in his faith, when so many things seem (in my opinion) to point toward his wrongheadedness. I mean, God? Really? When we live in a world of cancer and ISIS and heart attacks and Al Queda and suicide bombings and on and on? C’mon.

But John Martignoni kept talking, kept pushing, kept insisting. And, at that moment, I thought to myself, “This guy would make an awesome Quaz.” So here we are …

John is the founder of the Bible Christian Society, an apostolate “dedicated to explaining and defending the Scriptural foundations of the Catholic faith.” He also hosts EWTN’s Open Line program every Monday at 3 pm Eastern/12 pm Pacific, and is big enough that there’s a website out there dedicated to well, thrashing everything he says. Now that’s oomph.

One can follow John on Twitter here, and visit the Bible Christian Society here.

John Martignoni, you’ve been blessed with the 213th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So John, I really appreciate you doing this. And I want to start with this: A couple of nights ago I was driving home, listening to your radio program, and a caller was talking about how everything was falling apart in his life, and he prayed and prayed and prayed, but nothing had improved. And he asked you, “Is there more I can be doing?” And your answer, more or less, was “God answers prayers by either saying no, yes or you won’t know what the answer is—but He’ll answer.” Which really had me scratching my head. Because, if that’s the case, aren’t you saying, “Prayer is a waste of time—because you’ll likely get the same results by flipping a coin?”

JOHN MARTIGNONI: Jeff, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to be Quazed. I am truly humbled.

Now, regarding your question, your analogy of prayer to flipping a coin is a bit flawed, and I think it is because you don’t view God as a person, but rather as some sort of impersonal “force” that’s out there somewhere—if He exists at all. A Christian, however, views God as a person and He relates to us in a personal manner.

A better analogy would be a child asking his parents for a particular birthday gift. Do you believe he has the exact same odds of getting that birthday gift as he would if he didn’t ask his parents but simply flipped a coin instead? Was he wasting his time by asking his parents for what he wanted? I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that you would say the child has a better chance of receiving what he wants if he asks his parents for it than if he didn’t ask his parents and simply flipped a coin, right? Just so the Christian in prayer.

To continue along those lines, what if the child asks for something that is potentially harmful to him? What if a 6-year old asked for a .357 magnum for his birthday? Would the parents go ahead and give him that potentially harmful gift for his birthday? No, of course they wouldn’t. What if that 6-year old asks for a .357 magnum every year for the next 10 years or so, and still doesn’t get it? But, come his 22nd birthday, his parents get him a .357 magnum. His request was finally answered, but way way after he wanted it to be answered. Or, maybe instead of a .357 magnum, his parents bought him a deer rifle because he was really into hunting. Prayer answered—he got a gun—but just not in the exact way in which it was asked for. Or, maybe he never got his .357 magnum, or anything at all like it, ever.

Just so God in answering prayer. Sometimes the person will get what he/she asked for immediately. Sometimes he/she will get it, but much later. Sometimes he/she will get it, but in a different form than how it has been asked for. And, sometimes he/she will never get it.

God knows better than we do what is good for us. Quite often we unknowingly ask for that which will actually harm us. A lot of people pray to win the lottery. But a lot of people who win the lottery have their lives ruined and end up wishing they had never won it. The fact is, Christians look at things from a different perspective than atheists/agnostics. For a Christian, the proper perspective is an eternal one, not a temporal one (Matthew 6:19-21). If you are praying for something, and God knows that if you get this particular thing it will end up ruining your soul and putting you on the path to Hell, should He give it to you? Yes or no?

Now, I know the folks who don’t believe in Hell and Heaven and Satan and God will scoff at this particular point, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that Heaven and Hell—eternal bliss and eternal pain—do indeed exist. Should a parent give his or her child a birthday gift that will give the child short-term pleasure but that could result in serious injury or death? Should God give someone something they ask for if it will give that person temporal pleasure but result in the damnation of their soul?

No, prayer is not the same as flipping a coin. Just as a child asking his parents for a particular birthday gift is not the same as flipping a coin. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, sometimes the answer is not now, and sometimes the answer is yes, but not quite in the way you wanted. But it does require faith—the faith of a child in a parent to protect them and look after them and do what is best for them.

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J.P.: I’m gonna say something you clearly disagree with, and I’d love to hear why I’m wrong. Namely, I feel like churches use faith as the ultimate weapon. If something great happens—See! Faith pays off! If something awful happens—You just need to have faith! If someone dies, even though you prayed and prayed—Hey, God works in mysterious ways! If you win the lottery—God is rewarding you! To me, there’s another word for it. Well, two words: Shit happens. But the church seems to sell people on the power of faith for all circumstances. I just don’t buy it. Again—why am I wrong?

J.M.: Actually, I agree with you, in part. You appear to be making an assumption, though, that Catholic Christians are like many of the Christians you probably see on TV or hear on the radio. Not necessarily so. There are a lot of ministers on the airwaves who preach what is known as a “Health and Wealth” gospel. The focus is on God wanting you to be healthy and wealthy in this life. If you are, it’s because you have faith and, if you’re not, well, it’s your fault because you don’t have enough faith. Send me $25 and I’ll pray for you to get that faith. So, yes, I would not buy what those folks are selling.

For the Catholic Christian, however, faith is not a weapon that necessarily yields material benefits or temporal cures. Faith does have power for all circumstances, but again, it is more about the eternal perspective than the temporal perspective. Faith is indeed a powerful weapon, especially when wielded with hope and the ultimate weapon—love. But it is a weapon that yields victories in the spiritual realm for those who wield it, not the material realm. Jesus promised His followers that they could count on suffering in this world (see Matthew 5:11-12; 10:21-23; 24:9; Luke 9:23-25; John 15:18-19; amongst others). Being healthy and wealthy in this life are not bad things, but they are not the goal. Living a long time in this life is not a bad thing, but it is not the goal. The goal is to get to Heaven, and to take as many people with you as possible. Quite often, as we see in the case of the wealthy young man (Matthew 19:16-22), material things can keep you from Jesus. The material can become your god and lead you away from the spiritual; lead you away from the one true God.

So faith does indeed have power in all circumstances, but if someone is trying to tell you that if you just have faith then everything will be all peaches and cream, then they are selling you a bill of goods.

One other thing: I find it interesting in your question that you recognize that there is bad (“shit”) and there is good (that which happens when the shit isn’t). You also seem to have a sense of right and wrong that you use to judge things. Well, why do you recognize some things as being good and some as being bad? Right or wrong? Aren’t those value judgments? Aren’t those type of judgments entirely subjective sans God? I mean, who are you to say that a minister using “faith as the ultimate weapon” is not a good thing? What if that minister feels it’s okay to do that? What if that is a legitimate bearing on his particular moral compass? By what right do you pass judgment on him? In other words, if morality is entirely subjective, which it is without God, then why does something like what you described bother you? Isn’t it okay for those ministers to use faith that way if they think it’s okay to do it? Just something to think about …

J.P.: Here’s what I know. You’re on the radio, you love Jesus, you’re the founder and president of the Bible Christian Society. But how did this happen. Womb to now? Where are you from? When did you first start thinking about God and religion? When did you realize this was what you’d do for your career?

J.M.: Well, I’ll give a short summary here, but if someone wants to have some of the details filled in, they can click on My Conversion Story.

Anyway, I was born in Huntsville, Alabama—home of the space program. I was raised Catholic, but learned little about my faith growing up. I basically left the faith when I went off to the University of Alabama and was pretty much a hellion for about 13 years or so—breaking many Commandments many times over. I received a Bachelor’s degree in corporate finance and then an MBA. My goal was to be a millionaire by 30. Went to work in the defense industry as a cost analyst. Got tired of that. After several years, went back to school (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) to work on a PhD in finance. Didn’t like it and left the program after one year, but during that year I had come back to the faith through a series of “coincidences.” Went to work for a year as a finance instructor at the University of North Alabama. Then volunteered for Covenant House (they work with runaway and throwaway teens living on the street) in Anchorage for about eight months until the cold got to me in mid-December. Left Alaska for Guatemala with the intent of spending three months learning Spanish at an intensive language school and then working for Covenant House in Guatemala City. After two months, I got some unfriendlies in my system, lost 15 pounds in three weeks and had to come home to the United States for medical treatment.

Landed in Birmingham, Alabama, and got a job working in the investments division of a bank. Stayed in banking for a few years, but gave that up to go to work for a Salesian ministry (the Salesians are an order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church—like the Jesuits, Franciscans, and such) in a poor area of Birmingham as their business manager. I oversaw the workings of two youth oratories, a free food pantry, free medical/legal clinic, free furniture warehouse, a job training program and other such programs aimed at helping the poor, and particularly, the children of the poor. One day I heard a particularly vile anti-Catholic program airing on the radio that was being broadcast by an evangelical station in Birmingham. I called to complain and that they should allow a Catholic to come on and respond. They ignored me. I don’t like being ignored. I wrote them a letter threatening to picket the station, boycott their sponsors, and other such things until they allowed a Catholic on to respond to that program. I didn’t mean me, but that’s the way it eventually worked out. I went on their station’s afternoon live show for an hour and a half one day and caused quite a stir. The response to that hour and a half led, several months later, to me having a one-hour-per-week live program, talking about the Catholic faith, on that very same station—the largest Evangelical station in Alabama.

The response to my weekly radio program led to two things happening:

1) My being invited to speak at local parishes about the Catholic faith and the Bible. Some of my talks were recorded and wound up being aired on several Catholic stations around the country through EWTN Global Catholic Radio. People started calling, wanting copies of the talks. Then they started calling asking if I could travel to their state to speak to their parish. An apologetics apostolate (ministry) was born—the Bible Christian Society. It just kept snowballing until I was traveling all over the country and sending out tens of thousands of tapes/CDs all over the world each year.

2) A full-blown Catholic radio station came to Birmingham about a year later and I wound up as the general manager of the station. I did that for about four years, but the Bible Christian Society was taking up so much of my time,that I went full-time with that in January of 2003.

I was on my own with the Bible Christian Society for about six years when the bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham asked me to become his Director of Evangelization (2009). So, I do that, but I still also run the Bible Christian Society—traveling to give talks and distributing CDs and mp3s and writing an email newsletter that has more than 30,000 subscribers in over 70 countries—and I run the Catholic radio station in town, and on Monday afternoons, 2-3 pm (Central), I host a radio program on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, which is now on about 250 stations around the country. One of which you heard me on.

And, between all of that, I managed to fit in a wife and four beautiful kids.

Now, when it comes to knowing I would be doing this for my career, I tell people that I never planned to do it—I still don’t—but that I got dragged into it kicking and screaming. But, since I find myself with the responsibility of having people who want to hear what I have to say and who want to read what I write, I am taking the responsibility seriously and doing the best I can with the little I’ve been given, for as long as God gives me the opportunity.

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J.P.: You devote yourself to teaching Catholicism, and trying to get others to follow. But how do you know you’re right? Hell, there are hundreds of other clergy from hundreds of other branches of Christianity and different religions who are equally certain they’re right. So … what if you’re wrong? I mean, surely you must admit to the possibility, no?

J.M.: Well, I know I am right because everything I teach is in conformity with the faith of the Catholic Church. They are also in conformity with reason. I know the Catholic Church is right based on logic, common sense and the evidence of history and science. When it comes to Christianity, you are indeed right—there are actually tens of thousands of Protestant denominations, each of whom are certain they are right. I have dealt with a couple thousand or so Protestants firsthand over the last several years, all of whom believe they are right and I (i.e., my Catholic beliefs) am wrong. They cannot answer my arguments, though. I even have a YouTube series entitled: Questions Protestants Can’t Answer.

I always ask questions of anyone who believes the Catholic Church is wrong—questions that are based on the aforementioned common sense, logic and history (as well as biblical questions), that Protestants cannot answer in a consistent manner. Just a quick example, a series of questions I would ask Protestants goes like this: How long ago did Jesus live? Two thousand years ago. Did Jesus found a church? Yes. How many churches did Jesus found? One. Can the one church Jesus founded 2,000 years ago in Israel be the Presbyterian Church of America? Um … hello? No, it can’t be. The Lutheran Church? The Anglican Church? The Methodist Church? And so on. The answer to all of those questions, based on history, common sense, and logic, is no. In other words, none of those Protestant churches can be the church Jesus founded in Israel 2,000 years ago. So we can eliminate a lot of this nonsense of tens of thousands of churches by just using some good ol’ fashioned common sense. I have a number of such questions that I ask, that have never been answered in a consistent manner. I follow the same strategy with atheists/agnostics as well.

So, no, after going through the arguments—using logic, common sense, history, Scripture, and science—I do not admit to the possibility that I could be wrong, as long as my beliefs are in accord with the teachings of the Church. I didn’t mention this above in my “bio,” but when I first came back into the Church after being out for so long, I asked a lot of questions and I did a lot of doubting. I rejected a number of Church teachings. But, upon thoughtful examination of what the Church teaches and why, I discovered that all of the evidence points to one and only one rational conclusion—the Catholic Church is right in what it teaches, and it teaches that Jesus is God and that He loves us so much that He was willing to die for us on the cross in order to save us. I believe that if someone is truly open to hearing the truth, and they thoughtfully, rationally, and carefully examine the evidence the Church presents on her own behalf, that they will come to the same conclusion that I have arrived at after years of searching. The Catholic Church is not afraid of being questioned. What I so often find, though, is that people ask questions not wanting to hear the answers and they do not respond logically and rationally to the answers that are given. Rather, they quite often attack those who provide the answers.

However, one thing I tell each and every person who challenges me is that I will carefully listen to and evaluate their arguments, if they will do the same with mine. And I tell them that if they can prove to me that the Catholic Church is wrong on any single one of its doctrines … just one … then I will renounce my faith, because it wouldn’t make sense to belong to a church that could teach error. After all, could a church founded by God, teach error? And I am absolutely serious when I tell them that. Truth does not fear error, it is the other way around.

Now, I have a question for you: You say you are an agnostic, but doesn’t that means that you basically give lip service to the idea that God “might” exist, but you essentially live and behave as an atheist? Agnostic in theory, atheist in practice? That has been the case with every one of a number of agnostics I’ve come across. So, my question for you is: If you are truly open to the possibility that God exists, then isn’t the answer to the question of whether or not there is a God, the most important thing you could be searching for, since the ramifications could be quite eternal? Are you then, earnestly seeking that answer? [Jeff’s answer: I call myself an agnostic to be nice and because it’s possible aliens harvested eggs or something. But when it comes to the idea that this one all-knowing being loves us, but sends us to hell if we don’t believe and accept. Well, I’m an atheist]

With Janel, his wife.

With Janel, his wife.

J.P.: I know many people who believe, strongly, that we need to teach God and the Ten Commandments in our public schools. This strikes me as an awful idea—as an agnostic Jew, I don’t need my kids learning this stuff from a public school teacher. What’s your take?

J.M.: Let’s see, you’re opposed to having public school kids learn that lying is wrong, that murder is wrong, that stealing is wrong, that adultery is wrong and that honoring your mother and father is right? Those are all things you would oppose being taught to public school kids? I do indeed think the public schools should be teaching the Ten Commandments. Of course, the teachers need to be properly instructed on how to teach them, but I do indeed they need to be taught. Furthermore, I think the intellectual/philosophical proofs of God’s existence should be taught. I think the public school kids ought to have all of the information available to them about the arguments for God, and against God, in order to make a decision as to what they are going to believe and why they believe it. Do you not believe it is a good thing to have as much information as possible when making a decision, and particularly a decision as important as this one? [Jeff’s answer: I don’t think it’s the place for public school—period]

Again, as an agnostic—which means, as I understand it, that you are open to the possibility of there being a God—why is your default position an atheistic one rather than a theistic one? If the Judeo/Christian God does indeed exist, then shouldn’t His Commandments be talked about in public school?

J.P.: So the Bible is the word of God. But it was, by all accounts, written down by man. Meaning, God didn’t send the book—he sent the messages, which were inscribed. If this is the case, John, and if man is fallible, isn’t it possible the Bible contains mistakes, and perhaps we shouldn’t take it quite so literally?

J.M.: The Bible was indeed written down by man. Man is indeed fallible. However, God inspired the authors to write what they wrote. God is the primary author, and man is the secondary author. If there is a God and He is who He says He is, then no, the Bible cannot contain mistakes, as God does not make any mistakes. There are passages of the Bible that we may have trouble understanding and that might be confusing to us, and that we may have trouble reconciling—the Church Fathers have recognized this for 2,000 years—but that does not mean there are mistakes in the Bible. It just means that there are holes in our understanding of the Bible. It just means that sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to uncover the meaning in any given passage.

The evidence to back up what I just said about God inspiring man to write an inerrant Bible is way too involved to get into in a venue such as this, but suffice it to say, once again, that my belief in this matter is based on logic, common sense, history and science. It is not, as some would believe, simply blind faith. Blind faith is not the faith of Catholicism. For the honest inquirer, I would be happy to spend time to give the reasoning behind my statements here.

J.P.: Why don’t churches deal more with climate change? It strikes me as a natural fit—God’s creation being destroyed by man. No?

J.M.: Well, first of all, climate change is always occurring. Sometimes the world is in a cycle of warming, sometimes it is in a cycle of cooling. Not much the church, or anyone else, can do about that, is there? But, I suspect you are referring to so-called man-made climate change, which, until just a few years ago, was commonly known as “global warming.” Ever ask yourself why the purveyors of this crap changed the verbiage? Maybe because the evidence of global warming was melting away, and also that there was little to no proof that the supposed global warming was being caused by man?

By the way, are you aware that the models that are used by these purveyors of climatic doom—the ones that predict what the temperature is going to be 50 years from now and so on—are models that are written down by man? And, if man is fallible, isn’t it possible the models contain mistakes and perhaps we shouldn’t take them quite so literally? I mean, if the models that are used by the weathermen today cannot always predict within even a few degrees what the temperature is going to be one week from now, how is it that basically those same models are said to be capable of absolutely predicting within a half a degree what the temperature is going to be 50 years from now? Let’s talk blind faith, shall we?

But, let’s say the earth is warming and that this warming is proven to be indisputably caused by man. So what? Why is that necessarily a bad thing? What if that turns out to be actually preventing another ice age? That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? Another thing, did you know that the oceans were actually about 100 feet or so higher than they are now something like 100 million years ago? Doesn’t that mean that the earth was a lot hotter then than it is now? Somehow, though, life survived and the earth survived. So, why is global warming a bad thing?

So sorry, but I’m not drinking the global warming/climate change Kool-Aid. I thought it was pretty funny last summer when the ship that went down to the Antarctic to prove to the world that global warming was occurring got stuck in an ice flow that was much wider and thicker than anything recorded down there in a long time. Global warming crusader ship stranded in record ice flow. I think the word is ironic.

However, just because I don’t buy the global warming garbage doesn’t mean I don’t believe man should be a good steward of the earth. He should be, and indeed, the church teaches as much. Pope Francis has made several statements in this regard, as did Popes Benedict and John Paul II. In fact, Pope Francis is coming out with an encyclical letter in the near future on the stewardship of the earth. Why, he might even buy into the whole global warming thing, I don’t know. But whatever his point of view on it, this encyclical will be about taking care of our planet. So, yes, the church cares about the environment as well as the people that live in it. That’s why we want an environment that can sustain life for our future generations, and why we want our future generations to have life. So we fight against the rape of the earth and the murder of our future generations in the womb. To be morally-consistent, we believe one must do both.

J.P.: John, have you at all changed your thoughts since the Pope came out with his position on climate change?

J.M.: When the Pope speaks authoritatively on matters of faith and morals, we are, as Catholics, obliged to give it the assent of faith. The same, however, does not hold true when the Pope speaks on matters outside of faith and morals—science, math, politics, economics, etc. When it comes to man-made global warming, that is not a matter of faith and morals.  The Pope has his opinion on that specific issue, and I respect his opinion, however, it is just that—an opinion. I will hear it and respectfully consider it. However, since this is an issue of science, not faith and morals, we are free to disagree with him on this matter. As for my thoughts on the matter, I will consider changing my mind when the meteorological models can accurately predict the high and low temperatures of every day for the next month here in Birmingham, within one degree.  When they are able to do that, then I will believe they might, one day, be able to accurately—within a degree or two—predict what the average world-wide temperature will be in 50 years. Until then, though, I’m not buying it.

Family shot back in 2006

Family shot back in 2006

J.P.: I’m the great-grandson of Holocaust victims. My great-grandma was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz for one reason: She was Jewish. Hence, I just can’t believe you’d want to convert Jews (millions of whom have similar stories) to Christianity. After all they’ve been through, after the struggles for survival. It just seems, well, messed up. Tell me why I’m wrong?

J.M.: Well, to consider converting to Catholicism as if it would somehow be adding to the suffering of the Holocaust is a bit “messed up,” don’t you think? Are you aware that all of the first Christians, for a number of years after Jesus’ death, were Jews? Christianity is not a departure from Judaism, it is a fulfillment of. That’s why someone who is Jewish and familiar with the synagogue service is actually more at home in a Catholic Mass than most non-Catholic Christians are. Also, you might want to read the story of St. Edith Stein. She was a Jewish philosopher in Germany in the 1920s and 30s. She was a student/colleague of Husserl and Heidegger. Brilliant mind. She wound up converting to Catholicism and becoming a nun. She didn’t think it too terribly burdensome and painful to do so. She died at Auschwitz.

If the Catholic Faith is true, than convincing someone of that truth no more adds to the suffering of the Holocaust than convincing someone of some mathematical or scientific truth does. Think about this. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic Church is right about God and about Jesus and about salvation and the Bible and all the other things it teaches that Jews would disagree with from a theological point of view. Would it be an act of charity to share that truth with the Jewish people, or would it be “messed up”? Which is the greater act: to share truth with others, or to keep it to yourself and refuse to share it with others? Now, you may not agree that it is the truth, but that is not the point. The point is, we believe it is the truth. Given that belief, how should a moral person act?

The concern of the Catholic who is attempting to convert a Jew, or a Muslim, or an atheist, or an agnostic, or a Mormon, or a Baptist, or anyone else is the salvation of one’s soul. The Catholic believes that a person, any person, has the best chance of salvation in and through the Catholic Church. Given that belief, it is out of love that we reach out to anyone and everyone to share the wonders of our faith with them. You might disagree with our arguments, or find them un-persuasive, but you cannot disagree with the reason behind our making them and presenting them to one and all. It is done out of love.

J.P.: I don’t see any good reason why homosexuality is sinful. Like, none. I mean, is it an anal sex thing? Because the gays I know are kind, compassionate loving, good parents, great role models. And it seems like the Catholic church has taken the sinful role of damning quality people to hell for no real good reason.

J.M.: Well, if there is no God, then there is nothing that is sinful, right? However, even if there is no God, it can still be argued that same-sex acts are contra nature. From a Darwinian perspective, what is the number one law of nature? Survival of the species, right? Well, for the survival of the species, nature has designed men and women in a complementary fashion for the purpose of procreation—for the purpose of the continued existence of the species. I mean, pretty much anyone with a modicum of intelligence can look at a man’s body and a woman’s body and come to the conclusion that nature designed them to join together. Do you come to the same conclusion, however, about two men’s bodies and two women’s bodies? No, you don’t. In other words, the joining of two men’s bodies is contra nature. It is a priori unnatural. It runs counter to the design of nature and, by extension, to nature’s No. 1 law—the survival of the species. And, sorry to be a bit graphic here, but can you name me a doctor who believes it is a healthy thing for someone to rub human feces (“shit”) on their sexual organs? Or, to get it all over your fingers and hands? Is that healthy? Would you consider fisting, especially between two men, a healthy act of love? Is it an act of love to ignore the health risks of such a lifestyle? Do you know the incidence of AIDS, rectal cancer, tuberculosis, and many other diseases among males who are same-sex attracted?

And, when it comes to two women, that, too, is a priori unnatural. For starters, two women cannot join together—they are missing something that is rather important in the joining process.

Suffice it to say, that same-sex activity is contra nature. And, if there is a God of nature, then it is contrary to the God of nature.

So, if doing something that is contrary to the design of nature and contrary to the design of nature’s God—and it’s also something that can be very harmful to a person’s health—isn’t “sinful,” then I don’t know what is.

But, I wish to correct you on something—the Catholic Church doesn’t condemn anyone to Hell. We choose our own paths in this life. The Church simply warns folks of where certain choices might land them. This is not done out of spite or malice or hatred, it is done out of love. Believing what we believe, it would be the most heinous act of hate and/or indifference toward our fellow man to say nothing, would it not. Whether someone is “kind, compassionate, loving, good parents, great role models,” or not is not the point. There are many people who commit many and varied types of sins—great and small—who could be described in the same manner. Going to Heaven or going to Hell is about accepting God or rejecting God. And it’s about repenting and asking for forgiveness for the sins we do commit. And with God, it’s sort of an all-or-nothing thing. You can’t say, “Well, yeah, I’ll accept God on this, but I reject Him on that.” It’s all in.

Finally, I find it quite curious that you would describe anything anyone does as being “sinful.” If there is no God, then nothing the Catholic Church does is sinful, as there is no such thing as sin. So by what moral authority do you call the Catholic Church “sinful” in its teachings on homosexuality? [Jeff’s note: Why does a God-like creature need to determine right v. wrong? Why is it impossible for humanity to devise such a system?]

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• Five reasons one should make Birmingham, Alabama his/her next vacation spot?: 1) It’s only 90 minutes from Huntsville, Alabama, which is God’s country; 2) It’s on the Robert Trent Jones golf trail—some of the best golf courses anywhere; 3) Some of the best micro breweries around; 4) Home of EWTN Television and Radio—largest religious broadcasting network in the world; 5) The incredibly beautiful Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament is close by in Hanceville, Alabama, just 45 minutes north.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Don Drysdale, Ted Cruz, Benjamin Netanyahu, The A-Team, Snoop Dogg, chopped carrots, Carson City, Black Friday, Guy Laroche: 1) Benjamin Netanyahu (anybody who can run a country surrounded on all sides by folks who want to kill you has got somethin’ going on); 2) Don Drysdale (if you had Fergie Jenkins on the list instead of Drysdale, I might have had to make him No. 1 and Netanyahu No. 2); 3) The A-Team (I love it when a plan comes together); 4) chopped carrots (can’t go wrong with carrots); 5) Carson City (always loved the Ponderosa); 6) Ted Cruz (better than your average politician, but still a politician); 7) Snoop Dogg (don’t much care for his music, but got nothing against him on a personal level); 8) Guy Laroche (don’t know who he is, but he’s got to be better than #9); 9) Black Friday.

• I hate doing my laundry. Any advice?: Join a nudist colony.

• Best joke you know?: An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first one orders one beer. The second one orders half a beer. The third one orders a quarter of a beer. The fourth one orders an eighth of a beer and so on. After the 8th or 9th order, the bartender pours two beers and says, “You guys ought to know your limits.”

• What’s the most confusing Bible verse you’ve come across?: Well, I don’t know if “confusing” is the right word as much as “difficult” is. There are a number of Bible verses that can be difficult to understand, but I guess one that I have wondered about and that no one really has a good handle on exactly what is being talked about, is 1 Corinthians 15:29—baptizing on behalf of the dead. People have their theories as to what is being mentioned here, but no one knows for sure.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Dr. Oz? What’s the outcome?: Well, I don’t know who Dr. Oz is, but if he could go 12 rounds, then he would win, because I would probably need an oxygen tent after three.

• One question you would ask Roger Ebert were he here right now?: How did you come back from the dead?

• Why is dropping the occasional curse such a bad thing? I love cursing: I used to love cursing as well, especially on the golf course. Even had one guy who saved a particular “off color” message I left on his answering machine for a couple of years and he would play it every so often for friends because it was so creative in its use of cuss words that it would leave ‘em laughing. Anyway, why is cursing a bad thing? Well, first of all, if there is no God, which means there is no objective standard of good or bad, then cursing is neither a bad thing or a good thing, right? However, if there is a God, and you believe in Him, then you might want to pay attention to what He says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:10) If you wish to imitate Christ with your life, then cursing is not really the way to do it, is it? After all, from what well within a person does cursing generally spring? Somewhere that is positive and joyful and content? Or somewhere that is a bit dark, a bit negative, maybe a bit angry? So, the question is, is one imitating Christ through cursing? If no, then don’t do it. If yes, then have at it.

• What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever received? (and I don’t mean “the gift of Christ.” I’m talking a physical possession): A really awesome chess set for Christmas when I was 12-years old. I was a big Bobby Fischer fan.

• In exactly 23 words, can you make a sensible argument why butter tastes better than Nutella?: No, I can’t.

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Norma Shapiro

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If, 13 years ago, you told me Norma Shapiro would become one of my all-time favorite people, well, yeah. I wouldn’t have bought it.

My wife’s grandmother was unlike any elderly person I’d ever met. Hard-nosed, confident, decisive, opinionated. My grandmas were soft and cuddly and smelled of toast and chocolate. But here was Norma Shapiro the first time I laid eyes upon her, charging across a New York City street carrying two large bags. Shortly before I proposed to Catherine, Norma sat across from me in a restaurant and asked, bluntly, “What are your intentions?” One time we randomly ran into her at a furniture store—where she was seeking out ideas for our dresser. About two years into my marriage, Norma and I engaged in a heated phone conversation that I truly believed killed our relationship.

But here we are, in 2015, and I consider Norma to be both an ideal fill-in for my late grandparents (all of whom I miss dearly) and a true friend. She’s an amazing conversationalist, a terrific dinner companion and an unrivaled great-grandmother to my son and daughter (they call her “Grammie”). There are few people I love more—age be damned.

Anyhow, with her appearance today Norma Shapiro becomes the oldest (age: 95) and coolest figure to grace the series. She explains the keys to a long life (pure luck and good genes), the secrets to surviving a resort fire and the impact of losing a child. You can’t follow Norma on Twitter or Facebook, because she’d rather sit down and chat over a cup o’ tea. But if you’re ever in town, give her a ring.

Norma Shapiro, you’re the new Queen of Quaz  …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I read an essay recently by a writer named Roger Angell, who wrote of being 90 and how he didn’t like people knowing his age because when they knew how old he was they sort of dismissed his opinion. Do you feel that too, or is it the opposite and people take you more seriously because of your experiences?

NORMA SHAPIRO: Well, I think the fact that I’m of a certain age, that people respect my opinion. However, I didn’t tell my age most of the time—almost all of the time—because I didn’t look my age. And I felt people respected what I said because of the person I am. They respect what I say because of me, and it had nothing to do with my age. The reason I didn’t tell my age is because I felt people wouldn’t want to be so socially friendly.

J.P.: Why?

N.S.: It mostly happened when I was very much older. People generally don’t want to socialize with a 90-year old. And I didn’t look my age, so people didn’t know how old I was. So I thought it better not to say anything.

J.P.: When you were 75, did you not wanna associate with someone 90?

N.S.: I didn’t think of it. But when I was younger there were not many 90s around. When I was younger and someone died they were 80, 85 and you’d think, “Well, they lived a nice long life.” But people live longer now.

J.P.: It seems like getting older comes with interesting complications. On the one hand everyone is dazzled by your age and health, and yet you see people dying around you nonstop. You’re basically outliving your generation. So is that more positive, or more negative? More, “This is great!” or more, “I can’t believe this person had a stroke?”

N.S.: I think it’s remarkable I’ve lived this long in good health. But it’s difficult to watch others age, and it makes me think I’m more unusual to be at this age. And I don’t really feel this age.

J.P.: If you were to put a number on how old you feel …

N.S.: Sixty. Or even younger.

J.P.: Does 95 sound weird?

N.S.: Very weird. I almost don’t believe it.

Norma with Laura and Dick in the 1950s.

Norma with Laura and Dick in the 1950s.

J.P.: It seems people don’t understand aging. People think if someone who’s 95 is telling a childhood story, it must feel like a black-and-white image for a million years ago. But it’s not, right? The stories seem fresh?

N.S.: Right. They do seem fresh. My mind is very sharp and my memory is unusually sharp. I rarely forget anything I want to remember. If I want to remember it, I remember it. Even things that aren’t so important, I remember.

J.P.: Is that luck of the draw?

N.S.: I think so. I can’t think of anything I’ve really done to live to this age and keep this health and have my mind keen. Just luck of the draw.

J.P.: What can you tell me about your parents?

N.S.: Their names were Leah and Harry. We lived in Brooklyn, at 4334 Avenue I. I remember the house. I lived there until I got married. My father was in the steel business, and my mother was a stay-at-home mother, but she was really not much of a stay-at-home type. She was always there for the children, but she was very active in charity. And she was one of the only women in her time who drove her own car and went to her charities. I remember my mother driving home at the same time as my father. She was always busy with her charities. We had very good help when my sister Myra was born and I was about 7. I actually almost mothered my sister. I took care of her a lot.

J.P.: Did you know what you were doing?

N.S.: I dressed her pretty and did the ribbons in her hair.

J.P.: You were pretty young when you got married …

N.S.: It was a month before I was 18.

J.P.: You’re a kid, in high school, good student—how does someone get married at 17?

N.S.: My parents didn’t think I was that attractive. They thought I was bright but they didn’t think I was that attractive. I got that impression. My brother Noel was very handsome and my sister Myra was very adorable. She was younger and very cute and she had dimples. But they never said anything about me. It hurt later on in life.

They knew this family of professional people. They were all dentists well thought of in the community. And my aunt knew them and they sent me in to have my teeth cleaned. And the man who would be my husband thought my legs were very beautiful. When I walked out of the office he said to himself, “Those legs will belong to me someday.” I was in college already at Adelphi. Because I graduated high school when I was 16 ½. So I was a college freshman when I met him. Then I became engaged in a few months. Those days you didn’t go together for so long because you didn’t live together.

J.P.: Wait. You’re 17. At 17, I hadn’t even kissed a girl …

N.S.: I hadn’t gone on a date, either.

J.P.: Right. So are you aware the family is trying to set you up?

N.S.: I think so. They sent me there to get my teeth cleaned and they were very impressed with my mouth because I have something very rare to be born with—something called balanced occlusion. Which means no matter how you move your jaw, all 32 teeth touch at the same time. That was very rare, and my father in law was very impressed by it. He had a machine he invented, and he had some very prominent dentists look. They said, “That’s not a normal mouth.” But the truth of the matter is, I have all my original teeth at this age.


J.P.: Leo was how much older than you?

N.S.: He was 30 and I was 17 when I met him. It’s a very huge age gap. I had never been out on dates. I think I was out on one date. I’d never kissed a boy.

J.P.: Did you even want to get married?

N.S.: My parents didn’t make me do it. But they did everything they could to encourage it. As an engagement gift my father bought Leo a Chevrolet. It about $700—in those days that was a fortune. He didn’t have his own car, so my father bought him a car as an engagement gift. And his parents gave me a beautiful diamond pin. And my parents made this huge wedding for 300 people.

J.P.: How much time had passed from the first time you met him?

N.S.: Maybe six months.

J.P.: Am I missing something generational, or is there a part of you going, “What the hell is happening here? Six months ago I was a 17-year-old college freshman going about my life and now I’m married to a dentist I barely know …”

N.S.: I didn’t think about it. It didn’t enter my thoughts. In those days you got married young anyway. Not that young, but people married young. If you were waiting until 29 or 30, you’re old. No, you got married young. Nineteen, 20. Most people did. It was more or less expected. And I took marriage as a serious responsibility. My husband had to build a practice. Now you practice with a lot of people. Back then you had to socialize to build the practice, and I worked really hard doing it. I joined organizations where I was the youngest person they ever had in the organization. I was a kid, and they were all established. I joined charitable organizations, the temple. I learned how to cook and entertain, and I really built the practice by doing that.

J.P.: Are you not the kind of person who was ever like, “How did my life get here?” Does your brain not work that way? Were you never shocked or confused?

N.S.: I never thought about it.

J.P.: Were you happy?

N.S.: [Long pause]. I was happy. By nature, I’m happy. And I know it’s the strongest instinct within me—being a mother. So I was very happy being a mother. I was 21 when my son Richard was born.

J.P.: Do you remember the birth?

N.S.: I think I was in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. And I had a very, very, very bad time. Oh, it was like 42 hours of labor. And the truth of the matter is they should have done a Caesarean, and by the time they realized that it was too late. He was an 8 ½-poind baby. He was a very beautiful child and it was fine, and I loved being a mother. Just loved it. The maternal instinct was strong.

J.P.: Did you care—boy or girl?

N.S.: The first time I didn’t. The second, I was desperate—just desperate—to have a girl. If it had been a boy, I would have kept trying. I had to have a daughter. I was very close to my mother, and I just needed a daughter. So when she came out, I didn’t believe it. They said, “Mrs. Stoll, you have a little girl.” I said, “Are you sure? Are you sure?” I really didn’t believe it. In those days you never knew in advance.

J.P.: Do you remember the drive home from the hospital?

N.S.: No. But I didn’t even drive when we were married. Remember, I wasn’t 18. And then when I was desperate to drive my husband was teaching me and every time I wanted him to teach me he was busy. So one day I was really angry and I took the car and drove off. He saw it and he ran out with his dental coat on after me. I said, “If you don’t teach me I’m gonna do it again.” He taught me and I got my license. It was very important to me. My mother drove a car, which was unusual in those days. I was a little kid when my mom drove her own car. No women drove their own cars.

With Phil Shapiro, her late husband.

With Phil Shapiro, her late husband.

J.P.: What was your role in the family dental business?

N.S.: Oh, I did everything. Not merely billing. Almost everything I did was to make it easy for my husband. I shoveled the snow because I was afraid he’d have a heart attack. I was afraid if he got a heart attack he couldn’t practice, so I shoveled the snow. I did a lot of things. Everything I did was behind the scenes so that no one would know. Because I had to protect his image of success.

J.P.: Was it, “Here’s this confident, successful man!”?

N.S.: He was not a very overly ambitious type of person. He was a very skilled dentist. I would say he was an excellent dentist. But a good businessman? No. He would just as soon do it for nothing. He was not financially at all attuned to the world.

J.P.: So you were pushed to get married. Did you love him at the time? Did you learn to love him? Does that even matter?

N.S.: Of course it matters. I mean, I thought I loved him. And I guess I did. But I was a child when I got married and as I developed as a person he was not the person I would have married. That doesn’t mean I didn’t respect him or didn’t like him. It doesn’t mean that at all. But he was not the person I would have married. I would have married someone who had more ambition; who was interested more in finance and doing well and making more money. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a very fine man, or that I disliked him as a person. It doesn’t mean that at all.

J.P.: Was the Great Depression a big factor in your life?

N.S.: It was a very big factor. I was supposed to go to a sleep-away college. But first my father thought I was too young, so I traveled four hours per day to go to college. Two hours to get there, two hours home. First I got up and took the bus. At 7 in the morning in the cold waiting for the bus. That bus took me to the subway. Then there was a 20-minute subway ride. Then there was the Long Island Railroad. And then I took the Long Island Railroad, and then I walked from the Long Island Railroad to the college. It was hard. But whatever my parents said, I did. I didn’t question.

J.P.: Was your dad a nice guy?

N.S.: He was a very nice guy in that he … he was a good provider, a good father and a nice guy. In his later years he had dementia and was difficult. He adored my mother, and the sun always set on her. She was very beautiful and very bright and very talented. Everyone adored her and thought well of her. And when she got sick he couldn’t handle her. Even before she died, when she was not well, she couldn’t do the things he needed to do. She was more educated than he was. He was smarter. She was really, really smart. She was behind him all the time. You know, a successful man has a woman pushing him.

Leo Stoll: Norma's first husband and favorite dentist.

Leo Stoll: Norma’s first husband and favorite dentist.

J.P.: You said you never felt beautiful as a child, and now you take pride in how you look. Is that a direct connection?

N.S.: I have to tell you—I was trained through life that I wasn’t beautiful. In the twilight of my life, almost on a daily basis, and I’m not exaggerating, almost daily somebody will say to me, “You’re very beautiful” or “You’re so pretty.” Daily. Either at a bridge club, on the bus. It doesn’t matter where I go. I hear it every day.

J.P.: And what does it mean to you?

N.S.: Every time I hear it I think about what I went through. I remember during the war when my husband was overseas and I had to live with my parents, my mother bought me a dress. She was looking at it on me, and she said, “You know, Myra is taller and the dress is too long-waisted on you.” I started to cry, and I said, “That’s the last time you’re going to tell me something looks better on Myra.” She said, “But you’re the smartest of my children.” I said, “I don’t want to be smart, I just want to be pretty.” I remember the words distinctly. And my mother felt so bad that when I was president of a charitable organization she was the installing organization and she said, “When Norma was born the sun rose and set” because she was so proud. But she felt so bad about what she said. She didn’t say those things to be mean. But even other people that came, “Oh, Myra, you’re so beautiful. Where did you get those dimples?” She was adorable, my brother was very handsome. Nobody said anything about me. But before I go to sleep for good, everybody tells me.

J.P.: It’s like Norma’s revenge.

N.S.: Ha. It’s amazing. When I say amazing, I’m not kidding.

J.P.: Did you graduate college?

N.S.: No. My job in those days was to build my husband’s practice. And I worked really, really hard to do it. I had constant dinner parties, I joined every organization. The truth is, that’s what his practice was built on.

J.P.: Would he acknowledge your efforts?

N.S.: I don’t know if he was fully aware of all I did. But that was my job. As soon as I got married, I knew that was my job. If I had to live my life over again, I wouldn’t do that. I would want to develop myself as a person and explore life. I would want to explore more of life. We didn’t travel very much. We were comfortable, but not wealthy. I think I went to Europe once when I was married to him. Summer vacations, we went to the beach. The kids went to camp. We had a cabana at the beach. But we didn’t go away.

J.P.: Do you at all feel like times were better then than now? You know, people look back like, “Ah, the good ol’ days …”

N.S.: I think it was easier living. Look, there are always hard times. I lived through the war with rationing—gas rationing, food rationing. But now young people are living through terrorism. I think these are hard times. I don’t know how young people feel about it, but I feel it’s tough now. And scary. I think the fact we have people in Iraq, the weapons with Iran. And I like Obama, but I don’t like what he’s doing with Iran. It scares me. You’re dealing with horrible people and I think we’re in bad times. I remember the war and rationing and all that, but you knew we would win the war. We were a powerful country and you looked forward to winning. I don’t see that now.

Toasting at her 95th birthday celebration.

Toasting at her 95th birthday celebration.

J.P.: Here’s a random one—you hear rap music, what do you think?

N.S.: I don’t relate to it.

J.P.: How do you feel about laptops, iPhones …

N.S.: I think they’re wonderful things. I don’t use them. I think some of the stuff is terrific. I do think there are things, because we have all these wonderful things, I think some of the art of niceties of living is lost.

J.P.: Like what?

N.S.: I think the art of conversation is lost. I think people are very much attuned to their iPhones and so forth and texting. Because there’s so much texting people hardly call and talk on the phone. And I think the art of conversation, the art of being in contact with someone on a real-life basis instead of all these instruments, I think that’s definitely lost. I think the art of handwriting, penmanship is lost completely. I think the art of letter writing is a terrible loss because those things really can be precious in our lifetime. I kept letters that were written 50, 60 years ago. I still have them, and they were really very precious. I kept letters that my daughter wrote on her honeymoon. Even letters my that my son in law wrote. And he’s not a very verbal person. But he did write me a very special letter while he was on his honeymoon. You won’t have that in years to come. I saved the letter my brother wrote to my parents about 60, 70 years ago, and I gave it to him and he was shocked I had it. And I remarked on how beautiful his penmanship was. You see men now, you can’t even read their handwriting. Men and women and children. Children are not even taught penmanship. Which I think is terrible.

J.P.: Does it drive you crazy when you’re out to dinner with people and they’re checking their phone?

N.S.: I think it’s terribly, terribly rude. I really do. Terribly rude. And I think some families, within the same house, they’re texting back and forth. How sad that is. It’s a big loss. I think some of these things are wonderful, but a lot is lost.

J.P.: So I showed you the different Q&As I did, and one involved a woman dying of cancer. And you lost your son Dick to cancer. How, as a mother, do you overcome that? Do you ever?

N.S.: No. It’s out of the sequence of life. You don’t live to bury a child. It can be the birth parent has to go, a spouse has to go. A spouse can be replaced—a spouse can pass away and you meet someone else and live a happy life. I did. But a child is irreplaceable. A part of you is gone and it is never coming back. [She starts crying].

J.P.: It wasn’t my goal to make you cry. I’m sorry I …

N.S.: It never comes back. Irreplaceable. Out of the sequence of life.

J.P.: So how as a parent are you able to move forward? You’ve gone on to have a fruitful life …

N.S.: In the early part, you have to try and be strong for the other people who are suffering. And so you try and be strong for them and then you gradually have to keep yourself very busy and try to live a life because people who are living really have to live. In my case I had just married my husband Phil, and he really wanted to live. It was hard to punish him with my sadness. I had to do things to keep him happy because it wasn’t his loss and it wasn’t fair to make him suffer like that. He wanted to live and enjoy life. I always thought God gave me this man and this marriage to help me through it. I don’t think I could have made it.


J.P.: You come from an era where people didn’t put their emotions on a platter. Was it OK to grieve publicly and let people know how you were feeling?

N.S.: Not publicly. I never grieved publicly. Because you know what—people do not want to listen to your sorrow. Most people want to be amongst people who are chipper, happy, and most do not want to be around someone who is sad or unhappy. People are that way. And in a way, they can’t feel your pain. So you have to keep it more or less to yourself really.

J.P.: What was Dick like?

N.S.: He was a very special person. He was tall, handsome, very ambitious. And became quite successful with his own self. No one helped him and he really got there. He was going to be president of the company all on his own. He didn’t have help from anyone. And he was really close to me. He adored me like I adored him. And when he first got out of college and he lived at home I told him he had to pay rent. He couldn’t get over that. My theory was that someday he would be married and he’d have to pay rent and he’d have to pay expenses. And he may as well not live for free. So I charged him rent. He had a very minimal salary and I charged him a minimal rent. And every week he came home with his check and he’d come to me and say, “Sigh—here’s your rent money.” He would do it teasingly. And he would say, “What are you doing with the rent money? Going to Loehmann’s to buy yourself a new dress?” And every time he got a raise in salary I raised the rent. After a while he said to me, “You know what? You keep raising the rent, I think I’ll move to New York.” I said—“Fine.”

J.P.: Do you remember how much you charged him?

N.S.: In the beginning he was making $100 a week. I charged him $10. Every time he got a raise I raised the rent. The end of the story–when he was getting married, the night before the wedding we had the prenuptial dinner I gave him the check with all the rent money he’d paid me. I saved it. He said he thought I was doing that all along. I gave him the check for the rent money. It was quite a bit of money.

We had an extremely close relationship. Very unusual for a mother and son. He called me every single day of his life. Even after his marriage. He was an exceptionally devoted son and a very devoted brother to Laura.

I drove him hard with love. His father was very, very easygoing on the kids. Never disciplined them at all. I was the disciplinarian for both of them, but they knew I did it with love. His father did not. Because of that, they both had greater respect for me. I drove a hard bargain, but they knew. So I remember distinctly once when he got a very big raise and a promotion, and he was taking the Long Island Railroad and he was excited, and he called from the station. His father answered and he said, “Let me speak to mother.” He was that close to me. He knew I drove him hard. He was not easy to bring up because I always felt he should study more and work harder. One time I locked up the television. Television was very new at the time. He spent the whole night while I was gone picking the lock. But everything I did was for his good, and he knew it. So they didn’t resent me. They acted like they resented me, but they did not.

J.P.: Dick had two children and great-grandchildren. Is there joy in them carrying him on, or pain in …

N.S.: A pain that he didn’t see them. That he didn’t see his children grow up and he didn’t see his grandchildren and he missed a lot. Really, he missed all of this because of smoking. He died of lung cancer. He had a cough when he was in his 20s, 30s. And his uncles were all doctors and they told him his lungs were like a man of 60. Everyone begged him to give up smoking. At one time when he was in college he wanted a car. My father offered him a car if he quit smoking, and he did, he got the car and not long after he smoked again. His smoking just killed him. It doesn’t kill everybody at that age, but it killed him. Everyone has a weakness. That was his weakness. And it killed him.

J.P.: Do you think of him every day? Or over time …

N.S.: I don’t think of him every day. But a lot of things set me off. If I see a mother playing golf with her son, I think how excited he would be if he knew I played golf. I know when he sees me playing up there … I didn’t play at the time he was alive. But he would be so excited. I played bridge with him. He always teased me about my age, because he knew I never wanted him to tell. So he would always joke about it.

J.P.: You recently had a 95th birthday party, and it was almost like you were gay and coming out of the closet.

N.S.: I was gay and I came out! No one ever knew my age, and I didn’t want a party, didn’t want a party, didn’t want a party. And Laura said, “It won’t be a birthday party, just a celebration. There will be no singing “Happy Birthday,” there will be no birthday cake. She talked me into it. And the invitations came out and all they said was, “Celebrating Norma.” But soon a few people found out, and then 150 people found out.

J.P.: How did that make you feel?

N.S.: At first I was upset, but now it’s almost an excitement. Because I was a celebrity at my club before, I’m more of a celebrity. They treat me like an oddity of nature; something that’s a freak of nature. People look at me every day with awe. In a way now, I’m OK with it. Even though they know my age now, I’m OK with it. Because I’m a phenomenon right now.

Back in the day with her grandchildren (from left) Robin, Deborah, Catherine and Leah

Back in the day with grandchildren (from left) Robin, Deborah, Catherine and Leah

J.P.: So in this interview I can put that you’re 70?

N.S.: Yes you can. Actually, if you had asked me previous to this I would have said no. But I got used to the number 95. I don’t feel 95. I feel as young as you do. I don’t feel any different than you do. That this will last—I don’t know. But I hope it will last a while.

J.P.: When you reach an age like 95, do you worry about your own mortality? Or is it more about getting sick and struggling?

N.S.: I don’t want to be sick. I hope I don’t have any serious ailments, and I just go to sleep and don’t wake up. Just because they say old generals never die, they just fade away. Maybe that will happen to me. I’ll just fade away. What I do worry about is the world and my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I do think a lot about what they have. I worry that it’s a tough world, and I worry about the world in general they’re living in. With the Middle East and the bombs and … I worry about the life they have to lead. I think about that. For me, it’s over. But what they have to look forward to—I hope it’s good times. But I don’t know.

Back in the 1990s, alongside her siblings, Noel and Myra.

Back in the 1990s, alongside her siblings, Noel and Myra.

J.P.: Do you believe in an afterlife? Or don’t care?

N.S.: I can’t think about that. I don’t know. Look, I’ll be looking down at you and seeing that you behave. [LAUGHS] I don’t know. Right now I’m just happy I get up every day. I think how lucky I am that I can get up, drive myself where I want, go where I want, do what I want. The main thing I think of is I want to be able to take care of myself. I’m very independent, and it’s important to me to take care of myself.

J.P.: It seems the day you go into an assisted living facility is the day you say, “I’m not down with this.”

N.S.: I wouldn’t be happy. I’m not sure I could live in an assisted living facility. I might just have to stay home with help. That could be very lonely. Because a lot of people my vintage are going. A lot have gone already. I now have friends who are much younger than me. I don’t have any friends my age. No, I don’t. I have some who are maybe 90, but not 95.

J.P.: And it’s true the key to your longevity is that you never drank, never smoked and only had sex twice?

N.S.: The first two are true. But I don’t think that contributed to my longevity. I just think it’s the luck of the draw. The genes were right and my sister Myra died at a young age, around 80, but she was a very heavy smoker. My brother Noel is 94. He was 13 months younger than me. My mother did not want him. She actually had lost a child before me during the war. She was very ill. The child hadn’t been born. They had to take the child from her.

J.P.: Was it polio?

N.S.: No. I lived with polio with a fire and my children. That was very bad. That year polio was very prevalent and they said people who could get out of the city should. So I took a place in the summer in the Catskill Mountains at a country club. With my kids. And my husband Leo was working but he’d come up every weekend. We were there and one night my parents came up on a Thursday for the weekend with my husband and with Myra’s husband. And we put the kids to bed, it was very hot, you didn’t have air conditioning. The kids were in the room sleeping and we were having tea and cake. We went to bed. And then all of a sudden, Dick had a habit of sleepwalking. I get to the room and he’s not in the room. And I was hysterical. I thought maybe he was sleepwalking down to the lake and he drowned. So happens they found him in another person’s room. So I barely got to sleep when two in the morning I heard, “Fire! Fire!” And so we had to run. My sister, she was able to go down the stairs with her husband and the baby. By the time I got to the stairs there was too much smoke. So we had to go the fire escape. Leo is carrying Laura, who is a little kid. And I’m going down the stairs with Dick. I didn’t know what to grab. We had no clothes and it was a hot night. There was something I grabbed, and it was the sheets Myra’s baby had thrown up in. That’s what I was carrying down the fire escape. And when we got down my parents were hysterical because we weren’t down as fast as Myra. And the fire went down with everything I possessed. I was there for the summer. Anyway, we got back to New York with no clothes, a hot summer. I had a lot of trouble finding clothes in the stores for the kids. We went to another country place, and Dick had terrible nightmares about the fire. He would scream a lot. That was the worst.

J.P.: Were you paranoid about your kids getting polio?

N.S.: Everybody was. Everybody. It was really bad. My doctor’s wife got it. I knew several people who got it. It was a bad time. A really bad time. When people say these times are bad, we had bad times, too.

With her 451 great-grandchildren.

With her 451 great-grandchildren.

J.P.: How did 9.11 affect you?

N.S.: I was having breakfast with someone when it happened. That was terrible, because where I lived in Manhattan you could see what was going on. The Queensboro Bridge, I could see. And the people walking and walking. That’s why these times frighten me. You didn’t have this sort of thing. You didn’t have terrorism. Now it’s everywhere. And ISIS is a cancer. There’s no way to get rid of it.

Back when I was younger I felt my country was the best. It could win a war, it could do everything. I’m not so sure we’re top of the world now. I was sure my whole lifetime the United States of America was the best, and we could beat anyone.

J.P.: Which president gave you the most confidence?

N.S.: I thought Franklin Roosevelt was wonderful. My parents thought he was a God. I thought he was a remarkable man. All the things he had to overcome. He did a lot for this country.

J.P.: I have a good one for you–you were married to Leo for more than 30 years. Usually when people divorce it’s after, oh, five, six years. How did you decide you wanted something different?

N.S.: It’s not an easy decision. Leo was very much older than me. Age like that doesn’t matter so much when you’re very young. When you get older it matters a lot. He was very old and I was in my prime. It matters a lot. But I was very conscious I wanted the kids to get married and I wanted them to have a stable life. That was my primary thought about everything. As he got older we were not on the same wavelength about anything. First of all, he was an extremely heavy smoker. At least three packs per day. And he actually went into a tailspin when he tried to give up. They have to give him shots because he had tremors and couldn’t work for several months. And because he was a very oral person, he drank a lot. When he gave up smoking he drank a lot. He drank a lot before, but he had tolerance. As you get older you don’t tolerate it the same way. His body did not tolerate it. He would have a couple of drinks and he would fall asleep. He just wasn’t right. I couldn’t see myself the end of my life living this way. I was still young—50-something. Maybe 52. And the kids were both married, and I felt I had done my share. Both my kids were married, both had children, both were on their feet. And I did something for myself.

J.P.: Was it hard to say, “I want a divorce” to your husband of 30-plus years?

N.S.: It was very hard. More hard for me. I had nothing and no training of any kind. Never worked a day in my life, and I had to do something. I took a course, became a travel agent, got a job working for nothing so I could get experience. Then I decided I would sell real estate. I took the courses, started to sell real estate. And I did well. One of my first clients was Ben Gazzara, the actor. And I did well. Then I met Phil and I stopped doing that. I learned to do things and I had no experience doing anything.

J.P.: The game of bridge seems particularly important to you …

N.S.: Hugely so. I play bridge because it’s wonderful for my mind, I love it. I play at least four times a week. I love to play. It keeps my mind sharp—I have to remember cards, I have to remember a lot. And it fills three hours of time in the afternoon. I also go to the gym three-to-four times per week. I have a trainer, and he says I’m the only one who goes in between sessions. By the time I come home I’ve been out with people, working my mind, my day has been taken up. I come home, finish with the bills, letter writing. I read a book, I read the newspaper. Then I go to bed.

J.P.: What time?

N.S.: Twelve. One.

J.P.: Whoa. Why so late?

N.S.: Because I have so much to do.

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Do you know who LeBron James is?: Who?

• Who’s your favorite actor of all time?: I loved Cary Grant. When I think of the actors of my day, they were so memorable. I don’t feel that way about the people today. I hardly remember the names of the ones I see now.

• How do you feel about gay marriage?: I feel fine with it. If that’s what they want to do, I have no objection. I have quite a few gay friends. I’m very comfortable with gay people, I have them over for dinner, we socialize. If they want to be married, I completely support it.

• What’s your favorite place in the world?: I love Venice. It’s a very romantic spot. I loved Egypt. I thougt the antiquities were very memorable. I loved Israel. Wherever I went, I enjoyed.

• What’s the most annoying characteristic a person can have?: One of the things I always like to be is a good listener. And I will say that almost any time I’m out with anyone, I always learn something. I don’t always use it right away, but it’s in my head and at some time it becomes useful. And it almost happens every time I’m with someone. Including when I’m with you.

Another annoying trait is someone who doesn’t have an open mind. Who isn’t receptive to anything new.

• Who’s our next president?: At first I thought Hillary, but I’m not sure. I think I would vote for her, but I did read a very unflattering article about her in Time. It was quite unflattering.

• What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in life?: There were some mistakes, but … I can’t even say my marriage was a mistake, because I was not unhappy for a lot of years and it produced two children I love. The one mistake is I married a very young age. That’s a mistake. But my marriage in general? No. The mistake was being too young.

• You’ve lived a comfortable life, but you’ll still cross town with a 30-cent coupon for the roast turkey. You could get the turkey down the street for only a bit more money—but you don’t. How do you explain that?: I think I explain it from early in my life. For one thing, I didn’t have a lot when I got married. If I tell you I kept a budget on my honeymoon—I never told anyone that, but I’m telling you. We just drove down to one of the mountains down on the east coast. Nothing really exciting. And I kept a budget—how much the gas cost and everything. Because when we married we had nothing. When I say nothing I mean nothing. But my parents always saw to it we had enough. For instance, my father would look at my bank account and if we were short he would put some money into it. But I always had to be thrifty. I was trained that way. And while my father was a very comfortable man, during the crash he paid off his mortgage. He was always very thrifty. But if you asked my father for $20,000 he’d give it to you. But if you talked too long on the telephone, which in those days was expensive, he couldn’t stand it. I picked up those traits.

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Linda Cohn

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If you’re a fan of televised sports, and you’re a fan of professionalism, you have to be a fan of Linda Cohn.

Unlike too many in TV these days, Linda’s no joke; no passing fancy; no tool with a quick smile and a couple of catchphrases. The former goaltender for the women’s ice hockey team at SUNY Oswego originally landed at ESPN in 1992, and over the ensuing two decades she’s been (along with, in my opinion, Bob Ley) the network’s staple of class and intelligence. Anchors come, anchors go. But SportsCenter isn’t SportsCenter without Linda Cohn.

Anyhow, today Linda explains why it’s OK for her to be a journalist while simultaneously living and dying with the New York Rangers; why hockey remains her true love and why she ranks Tim Teufel and Madison Square Garden over A.J. McCarron. One can follow Linda on Twitter and Instagram, and visit her personal website here.

Linda Cohn, you’re the magical 211th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Linda, I’ve long been an admirer of your career and your style to sportscasting. And I want to start with this: You’ve long identified yourself as a loyal New York Rangers, New York Giants, New York Mets and New York Knicks fan. Hell, it’s high up on your Wikipedia page (so it must be true!). My question is, why is this OK? I don’t mean to imply it’s not OK, but in print I was sorta taught that, if I’m gonna cover/write about a sport, I have to surrender allegiances. Do you think that’s nonsense? Or perhaps just not important for non-beat writers and such?

LINDA COHN: I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m a fan first. You have to remember most of my viewers on SportsCenter are sports fans to their respective beloved teams. Just like me. I felt it was another way I could connect with them. To make it known I know what’s it’s like to suffer a heartbreaking loss or an exhilarating win. Many in our business lose the reason why they got into sports in the first place. I didn’t want to be one of those people. I didn’t want to become jaded. It hasn’t affected the way I cover each of my favorite teams. In fact, I’ve been guilty of criticizing one of my teams at times, so much so they think I had something against them. I never fall in line with everyone else. If I did I wouldn’t be in this business this long and I wouldn’t have paved a way for others to follow.

I was and still am just being myself, which means not making it a secret how important it is for me to this day and beyond to be a fan of my teams—especially the Rangers and Giants. I’ve also been transparent at times when it comes to being a fan of certain players or coaches—who might not be on a team I root for.

J.P.: You turn 56 this year, which means you’ve been doing this longer than most and you came up during a period when people saw women and sports media and thought, “Um, why is that woman in sports media?” How difficult was it initially to be taken seriously? Did it lead to awkward exchanges, ridicule? And do you feel like women in sports media still have to prove themselves more than men?

L.C.: Really? 56? I feel like I’m turning 36. As you know, I wrote a book about my climb titled Cohn-Head back in 2007. It was an honest, and at times comical, look at the journey. I always felt I had to prove that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to sports and that I have opinions, etc. Being a former athlete I’m very competitive and I always felt each and every day I had to prove I belonged.

To this day I’m still doing that. Does it change the way people think about you? For many, yes. But there will always be men who don’t want women involved in knowing and let alone talking sports to them. They like it the other way around.

I agree with them when it comes to women who are in sports broadcasting for the wrong reasons. Some use it as a stepping stone for other goals in TV. I. It’s unfortunate because those women can set all the good ones back. And there are a lot of good ones …

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J.P.: I’m gonna pull an odd one here. You and I are both Jewish—as are hundreds of our media peers. And, eh, as are precious few of the athletes we cover. Why do you think Jews are so drawn to working in sports media, and why do you think Jews—as a whole—underwhelm in sports?

L.C.: I have no idea. I actually was an athlete who happened to be Jewish so it’s hard for me to speak for the entire religion. Haha

I’ll never forgot my mom never letting me forget the speeding ticket she got taking me to hockey practice on Yom Kippur. So obviously I was more focused on sports than being Jewish. I figure if you’re Jewish and not athletically inclined to play sports but it’s something that fascinates you (like the excitement of it, the stats, the players profiles, the analytics) and you just want to be as close as you can to it, sports writing and sports broadcasting are ways to do just that.

J.P.: Do you think an overweight, relatively unattractive woman can excel in televised sports media? Would she even get the chance? Because that description (overweight, unattractive) describes sooooo many men on TV. But I can’t think of a single woman. Is this the double standard of the medium?

L.C.: This isn’t breaking news, but of course there is a double standard. Look at every news and sports organization out there.

J.P.: You’re a huge hockey person—played at Oswego, devoted to the sport. So why do you think it’s never fully taken off in the United States? Is it something fans are missing? Is the game just wrong for this nation? Has the NHL screwed up?

L.C.: This is a frustrating subject for me. The NHL has a great product. The most passionate fans. The players have tremendous personality and go out of their way to accommodate and most of them are  the best athletes in the world. The league made a huge mistake when it didn’t look big picture and chose to walk away from ESPN. While I was not in any negotiation room I just thought the NHL felt it could grow on its own without serious exposure and promotion by a giant like ESPN. I would be saying this even if I didn’t work there. Once the NHL left, ESPN wasn’t going to put much effort into the league because it wasn’t theirs to promote.

Fans who were just getting into the game didn’t know where to watch it. They couldn’t find it. They stopped watching and caring. Hockey is a sports best appreciated in person. It’s so fast, hard hitting and unpredictable. There also has to be an emotional connection to a team or player for the fan to become fully absorbed.

Considering how much it has had to overcome, it’s truly amazing the NHL is as big as it is and still has the best postseason of any sport. My next job will be to take over for Gary Bettman.

J.P.: After the  Seahawks beat the Packers to reach the Super Bowl, Twitter was absolutely filled with hate for Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay tight end who dropped the onside kick. I’m wondering, have you noticed a change in the tone of fans through the years? Or the way anger is spewed? Or am I just imagining things?

L.C.: There is definitely a change. We have social media to thank—specifically Twitter. It gives fans a voice they never had. No need to hold up a sign at a game anymore. You can make your opinions known, as vile as they are, right to the person you are criticizing. There is no accountability so these fans can Tweet hateful things without repercussions. This is why you are not imagining this.

Oh, and if you or I take a stand for or against something whether it’s sports, politics, movies whatever—beware!  The good and bad responses have to all be treated the same way … it’s just people speaking their minds.

J.P.: How did you know you wanted to do this? Like when was your ah-ha! moment for sports media? And when did you know you could be really good at it?

L.C.: I don’t know if there was one specific moment. Since I couldn’t be a goalie in the NHL I knew I wanted to be a part of sports in some way. Broadcasting, TV or radio, PR … whatever I could do to keep connected to sports. Sports helped me fill a void growing up. It gave me something to look forward to. It helped with my low self esteem. I needed it in my life as an occupation.

I knew there was hope when more of the feedback I was getting was positive than negative and that says a lot for a woman trying to break into sports media in the early 1980′s fresh out of college. I knew if I keep pushing, volunteering, gaining experience, going to games, meeting people in the business, networking—something would open up for me. I always believed you have to make it happen.

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

L.C.: Too many great moments to share but usually the best are when I’m not working. Where there was no camera rolling when I was just talking sports with Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky at the same time at a Super Bowl party. Or being at Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. Than calling my dad to share the experience with him. If it weren’t for my dad I never would be the passionate sports fan I still am today and I never would have been in the business.

Worst moment: Only a few but they always took place in a locker room or it had to do something with the locker room.

Selfies with Rajon Rondo.

Selfies with Rajon Rondo.

J.P.: You used to do play by play for the WNBA. I love the WNBA. Truly do. But I also sorta feel like something about the league has never quite worked. Marketing, maybe? Product? Can’t put a finger on it. Can you?

L.C.: I was surprised the WNBA didn’t do well considering it had the NBA machine behind it.

The players were fantastic to work with. Fans really embraced them. I just think a pro women’s basketball was more regional than national. Not all of those regions were excited about pro women’s hoops even though they enjoy college basketball. The league assumed fans would follow their favorite college player to the pros, and that just didn’t happen.

J.P.: This is such a random question, but I wonder, truly, how you feel when you see this. And what emotions go through you.

L.C.: I felt bad for Sue. I grew up in New York watching her. As on-air personalities we always have to assume the microphone is on. Unfortunately for Ms. Simmons that wasn’t the case.

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• Five favorite sports anchors of your lifetime: Usually it’s the guys who made me laugh. Marv Albert, Jerry Girard, Len Berman, Keith Olbermann, Ed ingles (WCBS radio. He gave me my first break).

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Michel Bergeron, Tim Teufel, Hubert Davis, Charles Krauthammer, Embassy Suites, Madison Square Garden, Gary Miller, Serena Williams, Captain Kangaroo, Sly and the Family Stone, A.J. McCarron, the number 14: Very strange list—Madison Square Garden, Gary Miller, Charles Krauthammer, Serena Williams, Hubert Davis, Michel Bergeron, Tim Teufel, A.J. McCarron, Embassy Suites, Sly and the Family Stone, number 14, Captain Kangaroo.

• Five favorite movies of your lifetime: Sound of Music, E.T., Miracle on 34th Street (the original), Arthur (the original), Casablanca.

• In exactly 17 words, what does it feel like to screw up on air: Sickening. You don’t want viewer to know that so you make fun of yourself, leave them laughing.

• One question you would ask Emmett Kelly were he here right now: Are you as funny without the clown makeup?

• Three things you can tell me about your mom: She loved her children. She wasn’t perfect. She died of cancer and I miss her every day.

• How did your senior prom go?: Since I wasn’t asked by the rock star or athlete, I didn’t go. I had high expectations. I watched a Knicks game with my dad that night.

• Last year you had a pretty awkward interview with Ken Griffey, Jr. When stuff like that happens, what’s running through your head?: I honestly couldn’t believe it was happening. I just tried to have faith he would come around. He was having a bad day. He felt really bad for how he acted and called me afterward to apologize.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve ever dealt with? Three nastiest?: Would rather pass on this. Most athletes are nice. The few nasty ones know who they are.

• Is it wrong to curse in front of my daughter if she’s 11 and finds it funny?: Haha. Pick your spots.

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Steve Davis

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Although I’m only 43, I’m thinking I’ll never live on another planet.

I’m also thinking you’ll never live on another planet.

Or your children. Or, probably, their children.

But after that … well, who knows? With the way we’re destroying earth, it seems inevitable that, at some point, human life will only survive if it finds another place to live. Not Kansas or Kentucky or even (ew) Texas. I’m talking another planet. Maybe even another galaxy.

Enter: Steve Davis.

As the director of advanced projects at Space Exploration Technologies, one of Steve’s primary tasks is to enable people to live on other planets. Which might seem crazy to you and me, but not to a man who sees endless possibilities; who gazes toward the stars and views beyond brights lights and shooting comets.

Oh, and he also owned a donut shop.

Steve Davis, you’re the magical 210th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Steve, I have a son named Emmett. He’s 8. Last night he asked me, “Dad, what comes at the end of space?” Steve, what comes at the end of space?

STEVE DAVIS: Wow, make sure Emmett knows that he asked a great question! My answer is, “I have no idea.” But I do know that, in order to travel to the end of space, we will need amazingly efficient rockets. Hopefully Emmett will help us build them …

J.P.: You’re a PhD and the director of advanced projects at Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)—a company whose mission is to “revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” This sounds really cool and really special … but, eh, is it a realistic possibility? If so, how? When? Where?

S.D.: I hope so because that is why almost all of us work there! The vision and direction of the company is driven by Elon (SpaceX’s founder and CEO), who wants to make humanity into a multi-planetary species. In order to do that, one must first bring down the cost of access to space by a large percentage and a key breakthrough to allow this to happen is to engineer a launch vehicle which is fully and rapidly reusable. He makes the great point that, if we threw away the 747 airplane every time we flew from New York to Paris, then nobody could afford to fly.  Air travel is affordable because we re-use airplanes thousands of times. Yet when rockets fly, they are primarily one-time-use vehicles. This is why plane tickets cost a few hundred dollars, while “rocket tickets” cost tens of millions of dollars. Thus, to solve this problem, rockets must be more like planes in the way that planes are fully reusable (i.e. you don’t replace the wings after every flight) and rapidly reusable (i.e. you can fly it again in minutes).

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, what was your life path from womb emergence to trying to cultivate other planets? Were you always “the smart kid?” Were you the jock? Always fascinated by space?

S.D.: I actually enrolled in an undergraduate business school and initially never considered engineering.  During my sophomore year, I was watching Armageddon and decided that, if that scenario ever happened in real life, I would like to be able to help. The next day, I enrolled in the engineering school. Then engineering grad school. Then a phone call from SpaceX, which, at the time, had around 15 employees. Ten years later, I am lucky to still work for one of the most vision-driven companies in the world, which has now grown to more than 3,500 employees and approximately 50 launches on manifest.  In conclusion, my entire life path was redirected by a Bruce Willis movie.

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J.P.: I’m completely riveted by the Dragon Spacecraft Program—an amazing, dazzling, crazy thing that, oh, 99.9 percent of Americans seem to know nothing about. In 2012 it became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Where did the idea for Dragon come from? And what’s the ultimate goal?

S.D.: Dragon is the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and currently the only cargo spacecraft flying capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth. Elon named it after Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter, Paul and Mary song) because many critics considered SpaceX’s goals impossible when it was founded in 2002.

Even cooler, Dragon has been designed from Day 1 to be able to carry crew (why else would a cargo vehicle have windows?!). Thus, SpaceX is working, in partnership with NASA, toward flying astronauts to space in Dragon, which we expect to happen in the next two-to-three years.

J.P.: I’m assuming you believe in life on other planets-somewhere. I’d love to hear your take on this. I mean, are we talking Alf or Predator? Will they visit? Will we find them?

S.D.: Sorry to be a Debbi Downer, but I have no idea. Just as importantly, nobody has any idea and any “educated guesses” are pretty arbitrary. However, it is fun to “take a side”—so, if it was up to me, I would love for there to be extraterrestrial life, as the day we made initial contact would be quite a day!

J.P.: You’re almost certainly America’s only yogurt store-owning Director of Advanced Projects at Space Exploration Technologies. Uh … Steve. A yogurt store? What the heck? (and didn’t you once own a donut shop, too?)

S.D.: Thanks for the plug! Yes, I own Mr. Yogato, a goofy yogurt store in East Dupont Circle. Also just opened a fun restaurant/bar called Thomas Foolery in West Dupont. The goal of all of these places is to be pure fun and to encourage silly interactions between and amongst employees/customers. At Mr. Yogato, customers get forehead stamps for discounts and we name our flavors after “30-day Champions,”—customers who come to the store 30 days in a row (one awesome customer became a 200-day champion). At Thomas Foolery, you “Plinko” the price of your Smirnoff Ice and get a discount if you perform the Cup Song as performed by Anna Kendrick (my celebrity crush) in Pitch Perfect (my third favorite movie).

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

S.D.: The best moments of my career have been the initial successes of each SpaceX vehicle—Falcon 1 rocket launch in 2008, Falcon 9 rocket launch in 2010, and Dragon capsule reentry in 2010. Lowest moment of my career is when I lost a Rock-Paper-Scissors battle at Mr. Yogato, which resulted in me having to eat a yogurt smothered in Sriracha Hot Sauce.

J.P.: You work in this world of great, amazing, wonderful largeness. Space exploration. The universe. What’s out there? The answers to enormous questions. As a consequence, do you ever struggle to take human nonsense seriously? Ted Cruz and Yankees-Red Sox and the Breaking Bad finale? Are you ever like, “Ugh, is this the best we can do?”

S.D.: Not really. I plead ignorance on the other stuff and, like everyone in the company, am focused on our work and on our goal of increasing reliability/decreasing cost of access to space. It has resulted in some of the coolest flights/videos I have seen, my personal favorite being our Grasshopper Lateral Divert test. Grasshopper is a testbed for us to learn how to land a rocket efficiently and accurately, which is an important step toward a reusable vehicle. Check out the video.

In this test, the engineers are testing the vehicle’s maneuverability—it is rare to see a structure taller than a ten story building “flying sideways.”

J.P.: Is there an answer to the meaning of life? Is there a meaning of life? And does death—and eternal nothingness—weigh on you?

S.D.: Similar question to the one above about whether there is life on other planets; my answer again is “I have no idea!” And I definitely don’t think about eternal nothingness at all. That doesn’t seem like a very fun topic to focus on.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ronald McNair, Lee Trevino, 16 Handles, Yuri Gagarin, The Cars, Sleepless in Seattle, Alabama, Joe Biden, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ms. America pageant, Nashville Predators, TJ Maxx, Dana Plato, Bryce Harper: Ronald McNair is an American hero. And I like Sammy Davis, Jr. because we have the same initials and last name. I don’t know much about the rest of the choices.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between E.T. and Celine Dion? What’s the outcome?: Do you really think it would go 12 rounds?

• What do you think Voyager 1 is up to these days?: Not sure, but what an amazing job the NASA engineers did in designing/launching that spacecraft. Voyager is still communicating with Earth at a distance of greater than 10 billion miles and has been operating for more than 35 years. This is an incredible feat … can you think of any vehicle/appliance on Earth that has worked for 35-straight years without the need for parts replacement or servicing?

• Five greatest space-related movies of your lifetime: Per my answer above, Armageddon is the greatest space movie of all time. Especially the animal cracker scene. It is also the fifth overall best movie of all time behind Braveheart, The Sting, Pitch Perfect, and National Treasure. On the opposite side, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the worst space movie of all time and the second overall worst movie of all time behind Pi.

• Greatest present you’ve ever received?: Size-13 Heely’s (those little-kid shoes with the wheel built in). I always thought my feet were too big and clunky for Heely’s, but somebody finally hunted down a pair for me!

• How do you explain the seemingly 8,654,322 pieces of Kryptonite discovered on earth over the course of Superman’s time here? I mean, wasn’t that planet a gazillion light years away?: Have never seen Superman. But I assume everything in those movies is scientifically sound.

• What sort of results can a guy expect in using the “Did I mention I’m the Director of Advanced Projects at Space Exploration Technologies?” pickup line on a hottie in a bar?: No clue. If there is a “hottie” in a bar, my standard action would be to nervously look at my feet.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: Will let you know when it happens!

• Given the chance, one question you’d ask Ethel Merman?: Not sure who that is, so I guess my question would be, “How is your day going so far?”

• Do farts in space smell?: Ha. Can you please retract this question?

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Becca Brown


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Two seconds ago, when I identified Quaz No. 209 to the wife, she looked at me and said, “Don’t you ever get tired of that sort of thing?”

By “that sort of thing,” she wasn’t referring to actresses or comedians or Chicago residents or people who play bass. Nope, she was referring to my penchant for tracking down actors and actresses from films I enjoyed, then turning them into Q&As.

And, to answer her question: No, I don’t.

Hence, I bring you the lovely, talented, cool Becca Brown, actress, musician and “Katie,” the bass-playing child rocker in the fantastic 2003 flick, “School of Rock.” I actually thought of Becca as a Quaz possibility a few months ago, when I introduced my kids to the movie—which they loved. I starting Googling cast members, and there sat Becca, chillin’ on Twitter. Ah, the magic of social media.

Anyhow, Becca Brown can be found on Twitter and YouTube, sending out some really fun, really raw material. She has an impressive improv and theatre resume, but still lists the School of Rock experience as her best ever.

Until now. Becca Brown, you’re the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Becca, so about 20 minutes ago my kids watched School of Rock for the first time—and loved it. I’m sort of curious what it’s like to have been in a movie that everyone loved, but that came out 12 years ago. What I mean is, are your thoughts all fond? With time, do you get tired of being reminded of it? Of people (like me) seeking you out? Does it ever seem like it never happened? Like it’s a blur from childhood?

BECCA BROWN: Honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve had in my entire life and the first thing I ever did, so when people ask me questions about it I don’t get annoyed. I definitely don’t bring it up in conversation before someone else does, though. And sometimes, if I get recognized during a busy brunch shift at Revolution BrewPub (where I work), I get kind of annoyed and also self conscious, like “These people are gonna think I’m such a loser for being a lowly hostess at a bar 12 years later.” I have a very vivid memory of some parts of the filming process, some on set, most off. But a lot of it is one big happy blur.

J.P.: I know you’re a singer and actress, I know you had a pretty major role in School of Rock. But what’s your life path? Like, birth to now, how did it happen? How did you first get into music and acting? And what is it about performing that does it for you?

B.B.: When I was 2-years old, my parents put me in a music class that was mostly percussion and dancing and clapping, and when I was 4 I was old enough to start taking lessons. I had to pick between piano, violin, cello, flute and guitar. I chose guitar and took private weekly lessons in classical guitar. When I was 9 I was on this radio show called From the Top, which is where the casting directors of SoR found both me and Robert Tsai.

I had never acted before (which may have to do with why I had so few lines in the movie) but after filming was over I immediately got an agent and started auditioning for commercials and other movies and pilots and whatnot. I was really close to being Hannah Montana, but you know, nepotism. After several rejections from film auditions, I started doing more theatre and really loving singing I was a huuuuge choir/musical theatre nerd in high school. I majored in straight theatre at University of Illinois at Chicago, got bit by the improv/comedy bug, graduated from UIC, Second City,and iO all within 2014, and now I’m doing comedy shows all over the city—including sketch, improv, improvised musicals and a fellowship at Second City. Also, I just got cast in a musical that will be locally produced in Chicago this fall. When I’m steadily performing and busy with rehearsals and shows and classes, I’m never bored and I don’t have time to complain or feel shitty about life. That’s what keeps me performing.

J.P.: I’ve covered different TV shows and movies being filmed, and it can be euphoric and dull. So what was the School of Rock experience like for you? Like, what stands out? What was Jack Black like? Did it change your life, or was it just a cool experience? And do you keep in touch with any of the people?

B.B.: Filming was kind of a blur, like I mentioned before. JB is the coolest. He and Mike White and Richard Linklater would always prefer to hang with us kids rather than the bigwig producer people, which was really awesome. Everyone on set really loved us and took care of us. We all felt like rock stars. I think, considering the fact that in grade school I was bullied immensely for being a dork, that this was the first time I’d ever felt cool and that I was getting the good kind of attention for my skills/talents/barfbarfbarf. It totally changed my life because I learned the confidence, rock-star attitude, and a lot of the qualities I carry with me on stage today, in improv, in stand up sets, in auditions, in concerts, on dates. Kevin Clark lives in Chicago so I see him on occasion, not enough though. I still talk to Angelo a lot, because he was my on-set crush and still to this day my real-life crush. And really, that’s about it. The reunion in 2013 was insane. Probably the happiest day of my life, actually. We all met up in Austin for a screening of the film and a photo shoot with Entertainment Weekly and then got hammered with Jack, Rick and Mike at the St. Cecilia Hotel and went swimming at 4 am. It was ridiculous. Everyone got so cute over the last 12 years—not that we weren’t adorable already or anything.

J.P.: So this might be a weird question, but you’re 20 years younger than I am. You’ve been brought up with a cell phone, with Facebook, with Instagram. And it seems like—especially your generation—everyone wants to be seen; to be famous; to be known; to matter. Or maybe I’m reading this wrong. Thoughts?

B.B.: I was probably one of the last kids in my class to get a cell phone. In eighth grade, pretty much all the kids in my class had those Sidekicks and texting and I had to call people from my house phone. I got a shitty Nokia going into high school and didn’t have texting or Facebook until maybe my junior year of high school, and my parents heavily monitored both of those things because I constantly fucked up. Now that I have a pretty good following, on Twitter, on Instagram, etc. I feel pretty indifferent to being known, being famous, to mattering. I Tweet shit I think is funny, usually when I’m drunk or sleep deprived, and I take a ridiculous amount of selfies, and I don’t really care who sees it or likes the posts or retweets it. I post that shit for my own enjoyment.

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J.P.: Your IMDB page lists you as an actress in two things—School of Rock and a short called “Cool Nerds.” Um, what the hell is “Cool Nerds”? And how did you land it?

B.B.: Cool Nerds! Ahhh. Cool Nerds was an online sketch video I did with some friends from iO. This is the link.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life in entertainment? Lowest?

B.B.: The School of Rock reunion concert was badass. Definitely in my top three, but my sketch group, The Cupid Players, did a little show in Austin this past August and packed the house with people we didn’t know at all, and s-l-a-y-e-d. Probably my lowest point was when I tripped onstage at the Toronto Film Festival in front of the Olsen twins.

J.P.: What’s the different between a great bass player and a so-so one? I mean, I feel like I can’t tell. Van Halen replaced Michael Anthony—arguably one of the most accomplished rock bass players of all time—with Eddie Van Halen’s teenage son, and nobody seemed to notice. Is it just me?

B.B.: I’d consider myself to be so-so. I’m a guitarist who happens to know how to play bass. I don’t even know how to read bass clef. Flea is great. Entwistle (duh) is great. Mike Dirnt is great. Paul McCartney and I might be on the same-ish level. Very basic. Nothing ridiculous, no bass solos. I’m keeping the rhythm.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 10.07.20 PMJ.P.: What’s it feel like, on stage, when everything is going right? Like, what’s the emotion? What flows through you?

B.B.: Pure bliss. I’ve found that a great show feels way better than a great burger or a great nap or a great orgasm.

J.P.: Jack Black calls, he wants to get the gang back for School of Rock II: Rocking Even Harder. What do they need to offer you to be in?

B.B.: A bass solo, and a Costco sized box of Cheez-its.

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• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I only fly drunk, so I don’t recall.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Nacho Libre, Sammy Hagar, Nickelback, wood tables, Spongebob, John Cusack, Shane Mosley, 10 feet of snow, scissors, Sammy Sosa: Spongebob, scissors, wood tables, Nacho Libre, John Cusack, Shane Mosley, Sammy Hagar, Sammy Sosa, 10 feet of snow, Nickelback.

• Tell us one thing about School of Rock very few people know.: I don’t actually know how to play cello. I’m just a great fucking actor.

• Five greatest bass players of your lifetime: Kim Gordon. D’Arcy Wretzky. Melissa Auf der Maur. Aimee Mann. Paz Lenchantin.

• The next president will be …: My girl Hillary.

• Five reasons one should make Chicago his/her next vacation destination: Food, comedy, bars, Lollapalooza, I live here.

• Who do you consider to be the sexiest celebrity alive?: Tough one, but definitely Melissa McCarthy.

• In 26 words, make the case for Lady Gaga: Okay, sure her Oscars performance was good. But have you heard her unreleased shit? Do yourself a favor, please listen to Sexy Ugly. Also, meat dress.

• Without looking it up, list every Hall & Oates song you know: Kiss on My List, Rich Girl, You Make My Dreams Come True, Maneater. All the basic ones—I hate myself.

• What are the odds there’s intelligent life on other planets?: Totes could be a thing.

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Ronald Modra

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Back when I used to work for Sports Illustrated, a special bond existed between the magazine’s writers and photographers.

One, because we traveled together, ate together, worked together. It was a very collaborative process. If you were writing, say, an Alfonso Soriano piece, you’d make sure the shooter knew exactly what you were thinking, where you were headed.

Two, because we needed each other.

Three, because we knew how special this thing was. At the time, working for SI felt like being a part of the Dream Team. You were surrounded by extraordinarily talented people, facing extremely high expectations, writing and photographing for an enormous audience in the shadow of many of the medium’s legends.

It was at this point in my life when I often found myself alongside Ronald Modra.

Ron spent 23 years at the magazine, shooting 70 covers and countless images you’d almost certainly recognize. His ability to capture moments oozed from the pages; his relationships with players jumped from his portraits. For me, though, Ron was simply a really cool, really humble guy whose professionalism and decency served as examples how to go about this business the right way.

Anyhow, not only is Ron the 208th Quaz, he’s also the author of a new book, A Baseball Life, that showcases the best images from a spectacular career. One can visit Ron at his website here, or on Facebook and Twitter. Here, he recalls David Justice-Halle Berry weirdness, Barry Bonds churlishness and what it was like working for SI in its glory era.

Ron Modra, step up. You’re the new Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Ron, so I’ve known you for many years, have worked with you many times. It’s great having you here. Opening question—give me your biggest someone-treated-me-like-a-jerk photography story from your career. Oh, and it can’t include Barry Bonds.

RONALD MODRA: That’s easy—David Justice. Back in 1995 I was assigned to do a story about Justice, who was playing for the Atlanta Braves. I thought it was going to be a quick feature that would take a couple of days, but Justice was running me around in circles so the assignment stretched out over several weeks. I was in constant contact with both him and his agent and getting the total runaround. We can do it tomorrow, we can’t do it tomorrow … all the action and the photographs at the stadium pretty much took care of themselves but the managing editor said the most important picture was of Justice and his then-wife, Halle Berry. The magazine also wanted a picture of Justice with his mom. He finally agreed to do that picture one day after a game and when I caught up the two of them, his mom knew nothing about the shoot. He didn’t bother to tell her so she had no time to get her hair done (as she said) or wear something nice (as she said to her son).

The magazine continued to delay the story so we could try to get a shot of Justice and Halle. I followed the team to Pittsburgh where I met with Justice and suggested (with approval from SI) that he and I fly together—on a Lear jet—on the off day to the location where Halle was filming the Flintstones movie. The magazine offered to put the two of them up in any hotel they chose, all expenses paid. He’d get to see his wife and I’d get my picture. Justice’s answer? “I don’t want to be doing that shit on my day off.”

A week or so later we were back in Atlanta. After a lot of back and forth with his agent, we finally set up a shoot with him and Halle at their home. It was a summer day and incredibly hot. Probably 90 degrees with humidity to match when my assistant, Justice’s agent and I knocked on the door. Justice opened the door and let the agent inside. My assistant and I went to the back patio to set up. We waited. And waited. No water. No update from inside.

An hour and a half later, Justice and Halle came out. When he saw the lights we set up he started to pitch a fit. “What’s this? It’s like a major shoot!” By then I’d had enough. I was standing on a crate so I was almost as tall as he was. I said, “David, I told you this is the most important picture.” Then I turned to Halle and said, “The magazine offered to fly him out to your set the other week. Did he tell you that?” Halle gave Justice a pretty cold look and Justice gave me a really nasty look.

I showed Halle the little sketch I made of the picture I wanted and said, “Halle, you’re an actress and a model. I know you can do this. Make this work and I’ll be out of here in five minutes.”

The picture was well received at the magazine, a great shot of a couple in love. (They were divorced less than a year later).

J.P.: It strikes me that technology has changed the way people take photos, but also the way photographers are valued—or perhaps not valued. One can do 1,001 things with an iPhone. Film is no longer in play. Etc … etc. So I ask you—why, in 2015, do we need professional photographers? What can people like yourself do that some schlub like myself can’t?

R.M.: There’s no question that technology has really changed the photojournalism business. Our craft is definitely not as valued as it once was. But value still comes into play. You have to have an eye for composition and still, when it comes to sports photography, be able to anticipate the action. Schlubs like you should put your phones away during the game.

Although, I have to admit, the technology is amazing. More people than ever are shooting pictures because of it and some of the stuff is really good.

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With Rich (Goose) Gossage and Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez at Spring Training.

J.P.: You did a lot of work with Brooks & Dunn. I’m wondering what goes into shooting an album cover. Are there certain things you’re trying to express? Certain approaches that work? And how would you compare working with singers vs. athletes?

R.M.: There’s really no difference between shooting an album cover and shooting a Sports Illustrated cover except, most of the time, if you’re hired to shoot an album cover you have more time with the artists than you would with the athletes. They and/or their record label want to have input and often help create the concept. Also, performers want to look good so they usually take time with you. Their images are more important to them than most athletes. Singers are all pretty good looking—it’s hard to screw up when your subject is Martina McBride. When it comes to athletes, hey, we’re not miracle workers.

Shooting album covers, in my experience, is less stressful than shooting SI covers. And most of the singers I’ve worked with enjoy photo shoots so it’s a lot of fun.

J.P.: I know your professional history, but I don’t know your history. When did you first know you wanted to take pictures? Was there a light bulb moment? When did you realize you were talented? Like, really talented.

R.M.: I’ve never viewed myself as being exceptionally talented. Although I do think I can do better than most people shooting with an iPhone. I guess the light bulb moment came when a legendary SI photographer named Herb Scharfman came to Milwaukee in the mid-70s when I was Brewers team photographer. He looked at my portfolio and was so encouraging. That’s the first time I thought, “Hmm … maybe I can do this.”

Alongside Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks.

Alongside Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks.

J.P.: OK, I give in. Please tell us the Barry Bonds cable car story. It’s just so friggin’ good …

R.M.: In 1994 Bonds was the subject of an SI cover story after he left Pittsburgh and went to San Francisco. We needed an image that said “San Francisco” without using the Golden Gate Bridge. We decided to use the cable car barn. The folks there were great; they even took the  No. 25 car (25 was Bonds’ number) off line for the shoot.

My assistant and I spent several hours lighting the set for our noon appointment. Bonds was a no show and at 3:30 we struck the set and left for Candlestick Park for the game. Bonds was Bonds, he gave no real reason for not showing up but said, “No problem” for the next day. Up early, we set up again and at noon, Bob Rose, the Giants PR director called to tell us Bonds was on the way. Once again Bonds was a no show.

We set up again a third time. At this point I’m not sure what the cable car people thought of us. I went to the ballpark, found Bonds and asked him, “Are we doing this or not?”

The Giants wanted it. I wanted it. Barry said, “Yeah, lets do it.” The problem was the Giants were leaving on a 10-day road trip. As I was leaving the clubhouse, Willie McGee jokingly said I could use his apartment until the team got back. He even offered me his keys.

So I flew home to New York and met with the editors who told me to give it one more shot. Once again, I packed up all the gear and went back to San Francisco. Another morning of set up. Barry never came. I went into the clubhouse later that afternoon before the game where he was talking to his godfather, Willie Mays. Bonds looked at me and said, “You’ll just have to live with it, dude.”

I never got my portrait. The magazine ran a candid shot of Bonds leaning against his bat with the headline, I’M BARRY BONDS, AND YOU’RE NOT.

One of my all-time favorite Modra shots: Texas Rangers Jim Kern, photographed at Milwaukee County Stadium.

One of my all-time favorite Modra shots: Texas Rangers Jim Kern, photographed at Milwaukee County Stadium.

J.P.: Recently Sports Illustrated laid off all of the magazine’s staff photographers. How did this make you feel? What were your thoughts? And can an argument be made, with so many shooters out there and so many wire services, that, perhaps, staff photographers just aren’t needed?

R.M.: I felt awful. But the handwriting was on the wall for years. We’re in a digital age. Years ago, we stopped having to do things like bring the film back to New York after a game or ship the film. Our roles lessened. The magazine is no different than other media outlets these days. It doesn’t make sense economically to have so many people on staff. But it’s still really, really sad.

J.P.: What’s it like shooting a big event? Like, what’s your setup, your approach? And how do you know—absolutely know—you’ve nailed a great shot? And what does that feel like?  

R.M.: I loved big events. I mean, just to be part of it was great. Who wouldn’t want to be shooting the World Series or Super Bowl? I didn’t plan any differently than shooting a regular assignment. The one time I felt I really nailed it was the 1983 Super Bowl, when I spent three quarters without one decent play coming in my direction and then John Riggins broke the 43-yard run right at me. I felt great! Walter Iooss told John Iacono at the time, “I think Ron just got the cover!”—and I did.

J.P.: I live with a pretty chronic fear of death. Not death, per se, but the eternal nothingness that follows. Why aren’t more people concerned by this? Are you? 

R.M.: No.

About to be eaten by the Road Warriors.

About to be eaten by the Road Warriors.

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

R.M.: I think the greatest moment is getting your first cover. I can remember mine like it was yesterday: Detroit Lion Billy Sims. I can still see it in my mind’s eye: It was an overcast rainy day at Milwaukee County Stadium. I was working with John Iacono and Heinz Kluetmeier and to come away with the cover, well, there was no greater feeling.

I have to say there were not a lot of low points but one for me was in 1984. I had traveled pretty much around the world for a couple months photographing Olympic athletes who had been affected by the 1980 boycott but were gold medal contenders again four years later. Just after I completed the assignment, the Russians boycotted the Olympics and the magazine killed the essay because they felt it was no longer relevant. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great assignment. But I was very disappointed it never ran.

J.P.: You shot for SI during a glorious time in American magazines. So what was it like, in its heyday, being an SI photographer? I’m talking soup to nuts—travel, perks, the ballpark, the feel. At its absolute best …

R.M.: It was the very best. The best hotels, Beverly Hills Hotel, The Four Seasons—Jesus—I   once stayed at the Don Cesar on St. Pete Beach for a month while covering Spring Training in Florida. I once flew back from Paris on the Concord to bring back the film from the Tour de France (which made my friend, the great writer Ed Swift, very unhappy).

We had an equipment allowance and pretty much an unlimited expense account. I was able to travel and do and see things I only dreamed about. China, Russia, Cuba. It was an incredible time working with people like Frank DeFord, Ed Swift, Ron Fimrite, Steve Wulf, Curry Kirkpatrick, Dan Jenkins and Gary Smith. We worked as a team trying to put the best possible story together, with pictures and words. It was a time when it really meant something to work for Sports Illustrated. I’m very honored to have been a part of it.

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• Five greatest sports photographers or your lifetime?: In no order, Hy Peskin, Johnny Iacono, Walter Iooss, John Dominis, John Zimmerman. And, for a bonus, John and Vern Biever

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Phil Garner, Queen Latifah, Rihanna, John Jefferson, 1983 San Diego Padres uniforms, Barack Obama, Tanya Tucker, iced coffee with lots of milk and sugar, Abbey Road, your eyebrows: Abbey Road, iced coffee, eyebrows, Padres uniform, Phil Garner, John Jefferson, Barack Obama, Tanya Tucker, Queen Latifah, Rihanna.

• The next president will be … : Dave, as played by Kevin Kline. I thought he had some great ideas about the national budget in the movie.

• The most handsome baseball player you’ve ever photographed was …: Buddy Bianaclana

• Three memories from your senior prom: None. The date fell on the same day as the opening of duck hunting season in Wisconsin.

• What’s your dream camera?: Right now I’m using a Nikon D4s.

• In exactly 16 words, make an argument for Tupac: No real argument, I was a Tupac a day smoker in the Army, developed a bad cough so I quit.

• Would you rather live until 350 or 75?: No real age. As long as I have my health and there is rubber on the tires I’ll keep a go’in.

• We give you 100 at-bats in a Division III softball season right now. What’s your stat line?: Shitty

• Your best memory of the great V.J. Lovero …: Not only was he a kind soul but he rocked khaki’s long before Jim Harbaugh thought of it.

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Tiki Barber

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Back in 2011, Tiki Barber planned his comeback to the NFL. The former New York Giants tailback had been retired for four seasons, and, well, it hadn’t gone smoothly. Initially, Barber was considered the ideal candidate to transition from playing field to real world. He was hired as a correspondent for The Today Show, as well as for NBC’s Football Night in America. Hell, he even hosted the pre-show for the 66th Golden Globe Awards. It was all sunshine and honey.

Then, the bottom fell out. Word spread that, in 2009, Barber had left his pregnant wife for a 23-year-old NBC intern. The New York tabloids went bonkers. He made some ill-advised quotes. His contract was not renewed by NBC. And, like that, Tiki Barber was persona non grata. Suddenly he was sitting at home, watching bad television and wondering what the hell happened.

He tried returning to the NFL—it didn’t work (the market for 36-year-old running backs isn’t great).

Again, he was lost, confused, hurt, devastated. So, with few options and little hope, he partnered up in an oddball business venture called Thuzio.

And here we are.

These days, the 40-year-old Barber is the co-chairman of Thuzio, a company that provides businesses and professionals with an all access pass to celebrity talent through database, booking and event services. He’s also the co-host of Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio. He’s married, lives in New York with his wife and kids and Tweets regularly  here.

Tiki Barber, don’t call it a comeback. The Quaz has been here for years …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Tiki, is fame a good thing or a bad thing?

TIKI BARBER: Fame is a great thing because it means you’re celebrated for doing something good. Now, we usually reserve that for athletes and movie stars and etc., but I think teachers are the same way. Or parents. I think it is a good thing, as long as it’s channeled correctly.

J.P.: But it seems like it comes with a lot of … the destructive element of fame. Lately I’ve been thinking about the Kardashians, who drive me crazy …

T.B.: I don’t understand their fame, either.

J.P.: Is it addicting?

T.B.: Is it addicting? You know what’s addicting? Relevance. So it’s less about being famous, because there are a lot of people, we don’t have a clue who they are, but when you get told about them you learn that they’re extraordinarily relevant in their industry. For instance, if you didn’t know the hedge fund world and somebody told you about Paul Tudor Jones, you’d be like, ‘Holy cow! That guy’s an ass kicker.’ So I think relevance is what’s addicting. Fame is just kind of a product of these great people who do great things.

J.P.: I interviewed a guy the other day who lost a Super Bowl, and he also played with the Browns when they went 3-13. He said he would rather go 3-13 than lose the Super Bowl. You lost a Super Bowl. Is it better to go 3-13? Or 11-5 and lose the Super Bowl?

T.B.: Did this guy also win a Super Bowl?

J.P.: No. He did not.

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T.B.: Hmmm … I’ve done both. I don’t know if I went 3-13, but I’ve had a ridiculously bad season. I think losing a Super Bowl is much more preferable to going 3-13. Because you don’t feel like you’re doing your job if you lose like that. I guess for me it was all about achieving something. Was it all about me at times? Yeah. But was it not about me at times? Of course. If I’m not doing my job and 53 other guys aren’t doing their jobs, you go 3-13. But if you’re doing your job, at the end of the day it’s entertainment. So if everyone does their job, and the fans are entertained, losing the Super Bowl is much preferable.


J.P.: Was the Super Bowl fun even though you lost?

T.B.: Um, you know, I’m gonna say, yeah, it was fun. But it was frustrating. Because we were so good leading up to that game and we were so bad in the actual game.”

J.P.: I’ve asked this to a gazillion people, and I pretty much get a 50/50 split on answers. If you take into account the aftermath of a football career, as far as the physical, mental, financial problems—is it worth it being a professional football player?

T.B.: Yes, and I think even more so as the years go on. Because the brand continuation is getting easier to capture. Before social networking, if you were a starting cornerback on a football team, 90 percent of the world didn’t know who you were. But the way it is now, you can expose your brand and let it live for much longer. So, yes, it’s definitely worth it. Especially if you’re smart how you position yourself for your post-career.

J.P.: What sort of physical pain do you have because of football?

T.B.: None.

J.P.: What?

T.B.: The only major issue I had was a torn TCL, which created laxity in my knee joint. I have some bone spurs. But I just ran a marathon. I’m running a half marathon in three weeks.

J.P.: How do you explain so many running backs in pain, and you’re not?

T.B.: I think a lot of it is the pounding and the fighting through injury. You get hurt, you get a little nick or something and you keep going. I think it’s a precursor to what happened to the running back—he became expendable. You kind of knew that. It’s probably the easiest job to learn how to do, and to do well, if you know what you’re doing.

J.P.: Are you lucky?

T.B.: Absolutely. There’s an enormous part of me that’s lucky, because there were times when I get bent backward or Roy Williams—the master of the horse collar—he horse collared me, and I fell on the back of my legs and I just happened to fall just right so I got a sprained ankle as opposed to a broken ankle.

J.P.: I remember when Thuzio just came out and I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ And I’d go through it and say, ‘Hmm, John Rocker will appear at my birthday party for $500?’ And now it seems like you guys have become something different, and smarter. When did the idea come up, and when did you realize it would work?

T.B.: The second part of that question is difficult, because we’ve gone through so many iterations. But I’ll get to that in a second. So this idea came from my and Mark Gerson, who is my co-founder. Really just having a conversation over lunch. Now I’ve heard this subsequently, and it’s exactly right. To start a great business and to understand how to make it work, it has to be your problem. You solve your problem, so you know all the answers to the questions when they come your way. So Mark and I started talking about how do athletes book themselves when they don’t have an agent anymore. I said, ‘That’s a great question. I have no idea.’ So basically, after three months, we created Thuzio. How did I know it’d work? I didn’t. Because it started as an e-commerce company, then it moved into a booking business, then it moved into an events company and now it’s moved back into a software company, which is Thuzio 360, which gives this comprehensive look at any athlete across the world. We have 21,000 on our platform. For ad agencies or anyone who has interest in an athlete commercially. I think we knew it was going to work at the Super Bowl in 2014. That’s when Ernst and Young, who had a debate whether to bid $1.5 on the NFL Super Bowl professional services contract, or could they contact Thuzio and do six events in their offices with Joe Montana and Dan Marino and Phil Simms and Victor Cruz and Wayne Chrebet and reach many more people at intimate events and get CEOs to come. They chose to do the latter, and they had an unbelievable Super Bowl. That’s what prompted us to start doing Thuzio executive club. And every time we did one—Brian Billick, Roger Clemens—every single one of these things was fantastic. That’s when I knew we had something that was going to work and have legs. And here we are cooking along.

J.P.: It’s a really smart idea.

T.B.: Thank you. I appreciate that.

J.P.: I could walk down the street right now, past a firefighter who just saved 12 kids from a burning building, or I could walk past a pilot who every day lands a 300,000-pound piece of metal in the sky—and I don’t really give a crap. But Wayne Chrebet walks by and people go crazy. How do you explain that?

T.B.: I think it’s something that’s not easy to accomplish, and we know that. We would love to do it but we can’t. And even if you were trained like a pilot or a firefighter, you still couldn’t do it at the highest level. It’s an unattainable goal and you’ve seen someone do it really well. And you’re in awe of it. You’re in awe of their ability to do something you couldn’t do, even if you really, really, really, really tried your hardest. And I think there’s immediacy in it. I always say this when I speak—the lessons of life, people want to hear them from athletes because they’re exactly the same, it’s just the media. You’re judged immediately. Were you successful? Was he good at that play? Not, ‘Was he good in the last financial quarter?’ I was good in the first quarter, I was shitty in the second quarter. I think the instant gratification that sports provides is really compelling.

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J.P.: But you’ll see these advertisements for sports people as business speakers. You know, ‘Tom Coughlin will come speak to your group about success in the office!’ And I always think, ‘Is there really anything—truly anything—a football coach can teach the guys at Xerox?’

T.B.: I would say no. But what I would say that he can give an experience … those speeches are more about giving insight into football, and stories behind what happened. Who was Pick Mickelson’s caddy? Jim (Bones) Mackay. He had him do one of our Thuzio Executive Club events. He’s not even a star. He’s a caddy. He was explaining these moments that everyone in that room—and they were gold fans—knew Phil had gone through. And he’s explaining it. And it’s like these people were re-living those moments with a commentary. So it’s no different than watching a documentary on someone or reading a memoir from a guy, giving you greater clarity. That’s special, because you can’t get that on an everyday basis. It’s not that he’s teaching them anything. He’s explaining how the successes he had happened. And that is a lesson in itself.

J.P.: So I’m a big fan of comebacks. Like, a huge fan. Mark Spitz, Jim Palmer—anyone who comes back. And I remember when you were coming back and I was thinking, ‘Yes! Comeback!’ I can’t explain it. Here are my two questions: Were you doing it out of love? Because you needed money? 2. Are you better off that it didn’t work out?

T.B.: The answer to No. 2—I am absolutely better off that it didn’t work out. Because that was the exact same time that I sat down and had lunch for the first time with Mark, who wound up being my co-founder of Thuzio. Why was I trying to come back? I was covering the Super Bowl, and Mike Tomlin said, ‘You know, you should try and come back. We could use a guy like you.’ I really was doing nothing else. Literally. Working for Yahoo here and there, but otherwise I was directionless. I mean, I’d wake up in the morning and watch Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I watched every episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I watched every episode of Cheers. I watched every episode of Dexter and Roseanne. I’m not kidding you—I never left my apartment. And it got to a point where I was like, ‘I’m gonna jump off my roof if I don’t do something.’ I was out of TV, I didn’t have any media gigs. I didn’t know what to do. So what do I know how to do really well? Play football. So I worked out with Joe Carini, my strength coach, which was awesome. Because it was great to be in the gym lifting around all these guys. Muhammad Wilkerson was in there. LaDainian Tomlinson. It was great to be around the guys again, but then the lockout happened and I never really got a look. Could I have done it? Sure. Am I glad it didn’t happen? Absolutely. To me, it was something to get my ass off the couch and be engaged in life again. Which is something I hadn’t done in a long time. I was going through a divorce, all that shit.

J.P.: I feel like you’re a great example of … you had a horrible run where it was all negative, negative, negative … but it seems like you’re the classic example where, if a lot of shit is going on, the best thing to do is wait it out and it’ll go away.

T.B.: Yes. You have to wait it out. But then you have to go do something. Don’t sit and feel sorry for yourself. Don’t say, ‘”I should have” or “People should have.” Forget that—go do something. And I think that’s what trying to come back to the NFL and founding Thuzio did for me. It was do something.  Find something you’re passionate about and really go do it. And it pulled me out of whatever I was in. Call it depression or whatever it was. I was lucky. I had good friends. I had bad friends who disappeared, and that was probably a good thing at the end of the day. But I had a lot of good friends who pulled me out and got me engaged doing things I feel really fulfilled doing.

J.P.: You ran for 10,500 yards. Are you a Hall of Famer, and do you care?

T.B.: I would say I am a Hall of Famer, but I understand how the process works. And do I care? Somewhat. You know what I mean? I don’t know if it makes me any different now if I’m viewed as a Hall of Famer. Because I’m borderline. I know I’ve done some unbelievable things in my career. I’m the all-time leading rusher in Giants history. There are only three guys with 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving. I was unique and different. But what’s held against me, and I know this, is I left and they won the Super Bowl. Not that my presence or non-presence had anything to do with the Giants’ Super Bowl run. If you look at the statistics—the rushing statistics and Eli Manning’s statistics are almost the same from 2006 to 2007. The difference is that Michael Strahan played eight games, Jason Tuck played 12. These guys were beat up. But when they won in 2007, their defense was unbelievable. So as much as people want to point to me as the problem, it was actually the other side of the ball that got really good, and that’s why they won.

J.P.: Does that hurt your feelings?

T.B.: Not really. Here’s what I love, because I’m a geek and stats matter to me. Analytics matter to me. So if people are going to say what they want to say about me, and that’s your opinion because you don’t like me—fine. But if you’re going to say I’m a bad player, I’m going to call you full of shit. Because I wasn’t. So that’s what bothers me. When people say I wasn’t a good player—no. If you don’t like me because of something I’ve done, or because I trumpet I’m intelligent, fine. But I was a good player.

J.P.: Is it hard watching your team win a Super Bowl the year after you leave?

T.B.: No, it wasn’t. Because I wasn’t committed to being on that team. There’s so much depth as to why I retired. No. 1, obviously, was because of the pounding. But, No. 2., there were so many things happening for me outside of football that were very interesting. Working at Fox News. This was all in the off-season before I retired. Condoleezza Rice asked me to have lunch with her in the State Department. I went to Dick Cheney’s Christmas party. I was traveling, doing stories that weren’t football related. Those things became interesting to me at the same time my body started to break down. And I didn’t wanna put in the work. I didn’t want to go dead lift 550 pounds and squat 700 pounds. And I made the rational decision to walk away. Most guys would steal a check; play another year because the money is so good. But that would have been disingenuous to myself, much less my teammates.

J.P.: I just thought the grief you took over the Eli quote was so overblown …

T.B.: It was stupid. There was no malice aforethought. It was picking the wrong word. Literally picking the wrong word. What I meant was that he’s funny. Not that he’s a joke, but that he’s funny. Because he is an awesome kid.

J.P.: I know you’ve heard this a million times. But very few athletes I’ve seen—who were good to the media, great with fans—caught more shit …

T.B.: Yeah. That’s one of the things that bothered me from the media standpoint. Forget the fans and everything else. But the media. They piled on. I was so accessible to you guys, you all had my cell phone number. If you had a question you called me directly. You didn’t call and agent or publicist. You called me directly. And as soon as they had the opportunity to cast me as the foil, they did.

J.P.: Do you forgive?

T.B.: Of course. Of course. Steve Serby is my boy, even though he tried throwing me under the bus by saying I gave my brother tips on how to beat the Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2007. I mean, I understand what they have to do for a living. Sell newspapers.

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• Five greatest running backs of your lifetime: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk. Because of Marshall Faulk, I was able to be the guy who had 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yard receiving.

• Three ugliest NFL helmets: Browns, Jaguars and … lemme think. I can’t think of a third one. Buffalo Bills.

• We give you 30 carries in an NFL game right now. What’s your line?: I’m gonna have 160 yards and one touchdown. Because I’ll always get caught on the 1. Brandon Jacobs will come in and score it.

• You ran the New York City Marathon in 2014. Impressions?: It was miserable. It was the coldest marathon in the last 20 years, and I can’t explain it, my body quit. I broke down at mile 14 and I got full-body cramps. So I ended up walking the second half. So I need to do it again.

• Best movie I’ve ever seen?: This is going back to my childhood, but The Goonies.

• Three nicest guys you’ve ever dealt with in professional sports: I’d say Drew Brees, C.C. Sabathia and I’ll give my brother Ronde a toss.

• I’m having a debate with now. In 1999 for Sports Illustrated I wrote the story about John Rocker, racist ballplayer. He recently said I took him out of context and lied. Last week the fact checker sent me the tapes. Release them or sit on them?: Ahhh … mmmm … ehhh …. ummm … I think you sit on them. Because it’s only proving your point that your story already proved.

• Better voice—Johnny Gill or Daryl Hall?: I say Johnny Gill. I love Hall and Oates, but I go Gill.

• Three memories from living in New Rochelle, N.Y.: Three memories? I was only there for eight months. OK, one—it was my first time in my life living in a house and my basement flooded because the sub pump was broken. Two—I met a woman and her kids down the street who have become the best friends of my life. And she’s the Godmother of my youngest daughter. And the third—the house was so poorly designed and they had lofty ceilings. My electric bill, with minimal usage, was about $1,000 a month. It was bad.

• Do you let your kids play tackle football?: I do let my kids play tackle football because they have a passion for the sport. I think it’s more because of Uncle Ronde, because Daddy retired when they were young. However, my oldest son, A.J., had a concussion in his first year and I told him if he had another concussion before reaching high school he wouldn’t be able to play until reaching high school. He’s 12 now. He was 10 when he got the concussion. We didn’t know, but it was in Scarsdale, and there was a doctor. He played the next week and got sick. That’s a sign you’re suffering from post-concussion syndrome. We pulled him. Nothing since.

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Sammy Oakey

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If you happen to be visiting the Roanoke Valley in the next couple of months and you, well, die, today’s Quaz Q&A is perfect for you.

Actually, scratch that. Today’s Quaz Q&A isn’t perfect for you, because you’ll be dead. And dead people don’t arrange funerals. But print it out and keep it in your back pocket. Just in case.

Sammy Oakey is the president of Oakey Funeral Service and Crematory. But, more than that, he’s a representative of the fifth generation of his family to run the business. Which means, while Oakey isn’t dead, he knows death. And mourning. And suffering. And embalming fluid. And the smells and sounds of lifeless bodies. He also happens to be on Twitter—which is where I found him during my semi-regular “Why am I so terrified by the inevitability of death?” freak-outs. I asked if he’d be up for the Quaz, and now here we are. Full of life, talking death.

You can visit the funeral service’s website here, and follow Sammy on Twitter here.

Sammy Oakey, Quaz No. 206, let’s talk death …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Sammy, so I have to start with a simple question: How does working in death impact’s one perspective on death? Does it make you more comfortable than the average person? Does it change how you view mortality?

SAMMY OAKEY: I truly believe that instead of making one caustic or callous about death, working in a funeral home increases one’s sensitivity to the dead. Not only do you find yourself treating the decedents with more respect and dignity, but your interactions with the family members of said decedents can’t help but grow more positive and helpful. My Christian faith has been enhanced by working at Oakey’s, which has led me to have no fear of the afterlife. I do, however, still fear the pain that is often associated with dying. I find that I value my family and friends more than a non-funeral worker, mainly because I realize that our life can be snuffed out in an instant.

J.P.: You’re the fifth generation of Oakeys to work in the funeral/crematory business. How did this happen? Meaning, why this, of all fields, for the Oakeys? Did you know this was your future? Or, as a teen, were you like, “I wanna be a dentist!”

S.O.: Ha! Up until I was about 17 or 18, I wanted to be a reporter or a veterinarian! I needed a job in high school for date/gas money and found that it was much easier to ask my dad for one than to ask at my local McDonald’s or supermarket. From the time I came on board at my family business at the age of 15, I did not see myself making it a career until I was a senior in high school. It was then that I saw our profession as a type of ministry, one that helps people during the worst time in their lives.

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J.P.: I’m terrified by death. I mean, I’ll wake up some nights, in a cold sweat, haunted by the awful reality that I’ll cease to exist. Tell me why it’s stupid to have such fears? Or wise? Or neither? And do you ever have them?

S.O.: While not trying to be overly ministerial, I really credit my Christian faith with my ability to not worry about where I will be “going” after I pass away. I know where I am going! I do not believe that it is stupid to have fears about dying, though. It is such an irreversible thing, I think it’s good that you and others realize how final death is. Once you come to the realization that sleepless nights will not change the fact that you are going to die, it will be a refreshing catharsis.

J.P.: What’s the process? Someone dies, the funeral is with Oakey’s. So … what happens from there?

S.O.: It depends on what the family wants. Often, they want an immediate cremation with no service or visitation. If that’s what the next of kin asks for, its what we do. Often though, a family will want visitation and a funeral. This necessitates that we embalm the body, cosmetize the body and ask the family to select a casket and outer burial container. We need clothing for the body, too. During the arrangement conference, we take information for the death certificate, obituary, social security, veterans data and discuss the financial information. We also brainstorm about ways that we can memorialize the loved one. I tell every family that we want to take the focus off of the death and place it on the decedent’s life. The toughest times are when a family views for the first time, when they view for the last time (before we close the casket), and when/if Taps is played at the cemetery on a trumpet.

J.P.: What can you tell us about dead bodies that most folks probably don’t know? Textures? Noises? Fluids?

S.O.: Occasionally during the embalming process, a decedent will slightly move his/her finger or hand. This is just from the embalming fluid (mixed with cold water) flowing into a still-warm body. Once I heard a body make an “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh” sound as we moved him from our cot onto our embalming table. I later found out this was from air leaving the lungs, but it sure scared the heck out of me at the time!

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J.P.: What’s the saddest story from your career? The happiest?

S.O.: Any time we handle an infant or child would be the saddest, by far. The worst was when we had the funeral for Cole Thomas, who drowned at Smith Mountain Lake outside of Roanoke. He was about 4-years old, and snuck out of the family’s lake house while everyone was napping. He walked to the dock, fell or jumped into the water, and was found about an hour later. My own son was about the same age, and I can remember sobbing during the funeral at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. They had put a book into the casket (Where the Wild Things Are) that was also one of my son’s favorite books. Man, that was sad. Packed house.

Funniest thing would be when we had a funeral for a guy who died, who had said “Hey, man!” to everyone during his life. He even had a HEY MAN license tag, which the family affixed to the front of his casket! The family had arranged to have When the Saints Go Marching In played as we rolled the casket out at the end of the funeral. On top of that, the wife started dancing some wild dance as she followed the casket out. Everyone was smiling!

J.P.: Here’s a weird one: I’m sure you’ve uttered the phrase, “I’m sorry for your loss” about 17,000 times in your career. But after doing this for so long, and partaking in so many rituals, do you REALLY feel sorrow when someone dies? I don’t mean to imply you lack empathy, but after all these years on the job, can you still feel sadness over the death of a stranger? Or is it another dead person on another Tuesday?

S.O.: It honestly just seems like the right thing to say, but I truly am sorry that someone has lost a loved one. There are so many things that you can say that a family might get mad at, that “I’m sorry” is a nice and safe phrase that will not get you in trouble. I will not deny that my “sorry level” can fluctuate wildly, depending on my mood and how the family has treated me and my staff. It is still impossible to see tears rolling down a cheek, however, and not have some level of empathy for the mourner.

J.P.: I don’t really want a funeral for myself. Let me die and everyone else should move on. No fuss, no mess. Why am I wrong about this?

S.O.: You are being selfish and only thinking about yourself, Jeff. A funeral is truly for the living, and to deprive your loved ones of the chance to be on the receiving end of kind words from your friends would be mean. Remember how Charlie Brown would say “Good grief”? There is such a thing as “good grief,” and survivors need to go through it in order to heal from a loss. That grief involves planning and attending some type of service for the decedent. Families often find funerals and visitations a great place to learn about stories of their loved ones from friends that they barely know.

J.P.: Have you ever had any creepy experiences? Have you ever felt the presence of someone who died? Ever hear weird noises in the dark room? Ever wonder, “Is that dude really dead?”

S.O.: I have never heard or seen any type of paranormal activity in all my years at Oakey’s. That’s not to say I have never been scared while here. Usually the fright came from coworkers playing jokes/tricks on me, but it would occasionally come from being around some mean or rough family members in our facility. The scariest deaths I was ever involved with were two separate murder/suicides (one where I was only the second person on the scene) and a motorcyclist who died in an accident and was decapitated. When I went to pick him up, his helmet was still on the severed head. I also get queasy when I have to handle “decamps”—bodies that have started decomposing. Horrible odor, appearance, and usually maggots.

J.P.: I have a problem. I was very close with my grandma. She died in 1999, and was buried in New York. I don’t like visiting her grave because when I go, I don’t picture her as my grandma and have warm memories. I picture her below the ground, bones and decay. Is there a solution to this? Is that a common issue?

S.O.: Maybe not a solution after all these years, but it would help to know that the spirit of the kindly lady who was your grandma is not under the ground. Depending on her faith, she is in heaven. My dad had the same problem in 1981 when my mom died, though. I walked into his bedroom one night about a week or two after the funeral, and he was crying (only time I ever saw it) and upset because he said his wife was “in that cold, hard ground.” So you are not alone. Be like the preacher who inadvertently said at a graveside funeral, “What we have here is the shell. The nut has gone to heaven.”

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• What are the major misconceptions people have about your business?: That we are rich! Also that there are a lot of necrophyliacs in our profession and we push high-priced products on consumers.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Trident gum, Steve Bartkowski, freshly baked bread, mouse pads, The Addams Family, Wilma Flintstone, Ross Lynch, Ella Fitzgerald, Air Jordans, Anchorman: Bread, gum, Anchorman, The Addams Family, Bartkowski, Wilma, Air Jordans, mouse pads, and Ella. Not familiar with Ross Lynch.

• One question you would ask Daniel Radcliffe were he here right now?: Heard of him, but never seen any Harry Potter movies or any of his other stuff.

• Life after death—believe it or not?: Absolutely. One goes to Heaven or Hell right after that last breath. Do not believe in reincarnation, either.

• Do you think Sony should have simply released The Interview without delay?: Yes. It became a comedy of errors.

• Five reasons one should make Roanoke his/her next vacation destination?: Blue Ridge Parkway cuts right thru Roanoke, Appalachian Trail goes right around Roanoke, 23 miles of greenways in our valley that mostly parallel the Roanoke River, incredible railway heritage and museums, and the view from Mill Mountain, home of the world’s largest man-made star.

• Top five death-related movies of your lifetime?: Big Chill, Stand By Me, My Girl, Beetlejuice, and Weekend at Bernie’s.

• In 30 words or less, your take on “Six Feet Under”: Pretty well done. A bit sensationalistic concerning the deaths, though. Excellent and rich characters.

• Who would you rather take on a two-week vacation: O.J. Simpson, a dead body or that really loud woman from Dance Moms?: Never seen “Dance Moms” (but hate loudmouths), and not into hauling bodies on vacation, so I guess it’s O.J. and me!

• I can’t get rid of my wrist wart. Any advice?: I’ve still got a scar from 20 years ago when I had one. My dermatologist tried freezing, burning and scraping that wart off. Wart finally went away, but now I am left with a hairless area on my wrist about the size of a dime!

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Jon Heyman

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Back when I started covering baseball for Sports Illustrated in the mid-to-late 1990s, there were tons upon tons of really good scribes who I’d regularly see in myriad press boxes. The faces were familiar, the names were familiar, the writing was familiar.

After two or three years, many faded away.

After four or five years, many more faded away.

Eventually, I faded away.

Jon Heyman, however, has never faded. He has gone from writing for Newsday to writing for Sports Illustrated to, now, writing for And not merely writing. Jon is, without question, one of the best in the business. Intense. Dogged. Professional. Interesting. He combines strong reporting with strong writing and unyielding curiosity. Back at my beginning, I probably looked at guys like Jon and Tom Verducci and Joel Sherman with jealous eyes. How are they getting all this information? Why do they have the sources I lack?

Answer: Hard work.

Today, Jon explains how his career went from there to here; what it takes to break stories and how he feels about being a veteran of the trade. He doesn’t know Chris Hemsworth or Ashford and Simpson, but supports Tim Raines’ Hall of Fame bid. One can follow Jon on Twitter here.

Jon Heyman, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jon, I’m gonna start with something of an odd question. I stopped covering baseball in 2003, when I was 31. One of the reasons, honestly, was because it was starting to make me feel old. The players were often 22, 23, I was a decade older … I just didn’t feel like chasing around kids, waiting by their lockers for 10 minutes of cliché nonsense. You’re in your early 50s. How does writing about these guys—many young enough to be your sons—not frustrate you, age you, bore you?

JON HEYMAN: Well, I can’t say I’m frustrated or bored—though I do seem to be aging rather rapidly. I think the age gap might be a bigger problem if I was a beat writer and had to chase down every piece of minutiae. I deal much more often with front office folks, a couple of whom are almost as old as I am.

When I do cover a game and work the clubhouse, I usually stick to the grizzled veteran or a favorite or two. In spring training I do more player interviews, but then I usually seek out a favorite such as Jayson Werth, Zack Greinke, Jay Bruce, David Wright, etc. In recent Yankee clubhouses, for instance, I enjoyed Derek Jeter (even though he gave up nothing, he’s a clever banterer), C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and at one time, I very much enjoyed talking to Alex Rodriguez, who follows the game as closely as anyone, even if he’s made a mistake or two. Occasionally, there is even a particularly mature kid who doesn’t mind talking to an old man. J.R. Murphy is that guy with the Yankees, just a terrific young man.

J.P.: When it comes to great baseball writers from this era, two of the guys I think of are you and Tom Verducci. However, I mentally place you in different categories. I consider Tom an artist, painting portraits, and you more of a collector, gathering information, working the phones, digging, clawing uncovering. I wonder, though, if you consider this an unfair take?

J.H.: Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too. (Sorry for the Caddyshack reference.) No, that’s perfectly fine, and I appreciate the nice words. I don’t find that unfair at all. Tom is indeed an artist, and a hard-working one at that. I’ve been fortunate to work with him at three different places (Newsday, Sports Illustrated, MLB Network) and I really appreciate his talents. I am more of a grinder and gossip, picking up bits of info here and there, and trying to out-Tweet 12-year-olds.

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J.P.: With so many people covering the Majors, how do you get scoops? Is it a matter of calling, calling, calling? Establishing relationships? Timing? Gut?

J.H.: Now it’s more often texting, texting, texting. But calling is still important, oftentimes to clear up cryptic texts and make sure I understand the message. It’s also important to get to know folks. It would take some special texting ability and cleverness to form a relationship without actually speaking to the person. This is far from brain surgery, as we’ve seen 18-yar-old kids breaking stories on Twitter. I’m not pretending what I do is Woodward and Bernstein stuff by any means, but I’d think generally getting exclusives is about some combination of 1) having a knack; 2) having natural curiosity; 3) hard work.

J.P.: Can you give us the background of a story you broke, and how it unfolded, in detail?

J.H.: My wife, who helps me monitor Twitter and try to keep up, noticed a Twitter direct message a friend’s son sent he heard saying Prince Fielder had been traded for Ian Kinsler. Just dumb luck. Ninety nine percent of those type tips turn out wrong, but this time someone knew something. It still probably took 50 texts and calls to get a couple people who’d be in position to know to confirm that that was actually something that was really happening.

J.P.: So I know you grew up on Long Island, attended journalism school at Northwestern, etc. But how did this happen? When did you know, “I want to be a writer!” and “I want to cover sports!” What was your big break? And what, would you say, separates you from all the writers who have faded away, drifted off, vanished? Why have you stuck?

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J.H.: I was a big math guy on high school (the saber guys probably won’t believe that) but I guess senior year I got into writing for the Lawrence (Cedarhurst, N.Y.) High School newspaper, the bizarrely named Mental Pabulum.

I don’t remember who suggested Northwestern (maybe my guidance counselor), but after going there I started at the Moline (Ill.) Dispatch, decided I wanted better weather and went to the Santa Monica Evening Outlook to cover the Los Angeles Raiders. One break came when it merged with the also oddly named Torrance Daily Breeze, and the sports editor, Mike Waldner, put me on the Angels beat. Even though Torrance/South Bay was overwhelmingly Dodgers territory, in those days that paper traveled with the Angels.

The really big break came in late 1989 when the National sports newspaper started, and even though I couldn’t get a job on that great and very brief paper, it opened up a lot of jobs around the country. In my case, Newsday decided to promote Verducci to national baseball writer, and when their first, better established candidates to cover the Yankees decided to go the National instead, then sports editor, Jeff Williams, took a chance on me. It was quite a leap to go from a small paper to Newsday, not only a big paper but my hometown paper that I delivered as kid in Cedarhurst.

I spent 16 mostly great years at Newsday but luckily read the handwriting on the wall that general sports columnists were no longer wanted at Newsday. I was fortunate to get out a year or two before they got rid of all them in an effort to save money and put out the milquetoast/cheerleading section they seek.

As far as why I stuck around, I assume it’s because I can’t do anything else.

J.P.: In 2009 you took a job at MLB Network. It seems fair to ask whether it’s OK for journalists to work for the very entity they cover. Was this a conflict for you? Did you ever feel MLB interfere in your reporting?

J.H.: I do think there is some level of conflict in working for the league’s network. Fortunately, MLB has been very good about it when I take an opposing viewpoint. Nobody from MLB said a thing when I advocated for Ryan Braun winning his grievance. They’ve never told me what to say or tried to influence me even though I know some folks at MLB think I tend to side with players over management more times than not.

But while no one puts any pressure on me, I would agree it is imperfect. Of course, I don’t have to hear anything from anyone to know it would be hard for me to take harsh potshots at a team owner on MLB Network (or probably on other outlets since I work at MLB).

I will say this, too. No one said one thing to me the winter I criticized Red Sox ownership for spending a gazillion dollars on the soccer team they own and like $7.4 million on the Red Sox. I generally like MLB management, so that helps. I couldn’t work at the NFL Network, whose stances I almost never agree with.

J.P.: I would love to hear you best stories for biggest baseball player asshole moment and biggest baseball player great dude moment. From personal experiences.

J.H.: Well, anything with Albert Belle fits. He specialized in that nasty glare. Just not a very nice man. Great dude moment is Kirby Puckett, God rest his soul, making sure to get Dave Winfield out of the players’ lounge at the Metrodome and then making sure he talked to the New York writers who came to see him. Winfield is a great guy, but he must have been in a bad mod that day. Anyway, Puckett was a joy to deal with.

J.P.: In 2015, would you advise aspiring baseball writers to become baseball writers? Are there still jobs? Is it a worthwhile pursuit? And how would you tell them to go about it?

J.H.: Sure, if they love writing and/or reporting, and love baseball. There are still jobs I think, though maybe not quite as many, and a lot fewer at newspapers. It’s a lot like the rest of America. There are a few more jobs at the bottom, a few more at the top, and many, many fewer in the middle.

J.P.: You spent many years covering the Yankees for Newsday. That always struck me as the worst beat in sports—because you always had to be on, you had 20 competitors, the players were often rich veterans with iffy attitudes. Did you enjoy it? Hate it? And what were the complications of being a Yankee beat guy?

J.H.: Well, I didn’t start until 1990, and those teams in the early ‘90s weren’t all that rich. George Steinbrenner was also suspended for about half my five years on the beat, so it was less of a 24-hour-a-day job when he was away. The early-running-sub requirement for games west of the Eastern time zone, or even games that ran late in the east (that meant stories had to be written before the game, while the game was going on, and after the game) due to deadline was a bit of a grind. But I was in heaven working at Newsday in those years. My job is much more of a 24-hour thing now, with stories breaking around the clock on twitter. That’s made it much harder.

J.P.: I have no doubt Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza used PED. Like, none, zero, zip. But I also have no failed test documents to offer—just anonymous and off-the-record words and tips and confirmations. Should I, therefore, shut up? Or, because the players busted ass to make sure there was no testing, is speculation fair game? Are assumptions fair game? And did you vote Bagwell and Piazza for the Hall? Why or why not?

J.H.: You can say what you want. But I’ll mostly shut up on the Bagwell/Piazza part of the steroid question. I will say I like both guys, though I know Piazza much better. But I will only say that I haven’t voted for either one at this point, but will continue to consider both of them every year.

One thing I will say generally, while I understand the argument that someone shouldn’t be punished on suspicion, even very strong suspicion, I think in voting for the Hall of Fame, the standard of proof is rightfully a lot lower than a criminal trial. If a voter doesn’t include someone on the ballot due to strong steroid suspicion, he isn’t voting to throw anyone in jail but merely voting to defer by one year bestowing the highest honor a baseball player can have. Big difference.

Another point about steroids. This isn’t about morality but authenticity. People ask how I could vote for Tim Raines or Paul Molitor, who took cocaine, but not the steroid guys. The reason is, making a moral judgment over drug use would be unfair. But I think it’s also unfair the way some of these men took it upon themselves to take advantage of baseball’s lack of a steroid policy in those days. They already earned more money and more honors by taking steroids (a lot of MVPs were won by steroid users), so I don’t feel I want to be a guy giving them more undeserved honors.

A few years ago, before he hit the ballot, I was thinking (and I wrote at least once) that I’d vote for Barry Bonds since it is fairly well-documented he didn’t start taking ‘roids until after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did and did it because he saw these great but obviously lesser players passing him by, and I do believe that is what happened. I reserve the right to re-evaluate Bonds and the others each year. I haven’t ruled out voting for all the steroid users forever.

And by the way, even though we did a bad job reporting on this important subject (myself included), everyone knew steroids were wrong, even back then. If it was OK, the ones who took steroids wouldn’t have hidden their usage.

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• The world needs to know—what was it like covering Dion James?: He was a very quiet, strange guy. I recall that John Sterling, who I love, was very close to him, and I could never figure out why. But I never asked.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Rick Honeycutt, Joel Sherman, Shakira, Butch Woolfolk, Peggy Sue Got Married, Ashford and Simpson, Dave Buscema, kayaking, overalls, Linda Cohn, Afros, Dodger Stadium: Joel Sherman (I am godfather to his kids), Dodger Stadium (absolutely love, love it), Linda Cohn (she never flubs on live TV, amazing really), Butch Woolfolk (my mom went to Michigan, big fan), Rick Honeycutt (pleasant man), Dave Buscema (I like Dave), Peggy Sue Got Married (vague recollection that it was a non-offensive-but-dull movie), Shakira (wife told me who she is), Afros, Ashford and Simpson (couldn’t name one song or tell them apart), kayaking (went recently with family, absolute torture), overalls (not my thing).

• Five favorite and least-favorite pro sports uniforms: I pay no attention to unis, though I’d be against overalls. But I’ll go with Yankees, Cowboys, Canadiens, Cardinals, Dodgers—good. Old Astros orange striped things, White Sox wearing shorts, Devil Rays, Padres camouflage, Browns—not as good.

• What’s the most boneheaded baseball trade of your lifetime?: Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins.

• Five all-time favorite sports books: Ball Four, I Managed Good But Boy Did They Play Bad, Season on the Brink, Instant Replay, The Bronx Zoo.

• One question you would ask Chris Hemsworth were he here right now?: Who are you again?

• How do you think a Major League clubhouse would handle an openly gay player in 2015?: I think, and hope, it would be fine. A few players may feel uncomfortable, but hopefully they are smart enough to keep their dumb thoughts to themselves.

• Why doesn’t Tim Raines get inducted into the Hall of Fame?: Doesn’t get enough votes? I have voted for him the last few years after not voting for him the first few. The first seven years were brilliant, and the overall numbers are exceptional. He should be in. (I admit I was a little slow on that one.)

• Climate change is freaking me out, and I’m starting to think humanity is sorta gone in 100 years. Tell me why I should take a chill: I actually agree with you.

• Three greatest names in baseball history?: Puddin Head Jones, Wonderful Monds, Ugly Dickshot (Ok, I looked up those last two.)