We’re having a ton of work done in our house, which has been decimated by moving ground, endless cracks and the deliberate assholeness of someone who sold us the abode while somehow leaving out all the hidden damage. So our floors are being ripped, our walls are being torn, our foundation is being adjusted. It’s loud, noisy, dirty, smelly, sucky.
Norma—who does not like loud, noisy, dirty, smelly, sucky—shouldn’t be in the house. So Phil and Lisa, our kind neighbors, have allowed her to spend the day at their home, alongside the Ghost Dog. Only, well, nobody bothered to get Norma’s approval. Hence earlier today, roughly an hour after Norma was left at Phil and Lisa’s home, the wife called me into the bedroom.
“Norma’s here,” she said.
“Norma’s here. She’s on the bed.”
Somehow, Norma opened Phil and Lisa’s front door, got past a gate, jogged back to our house, entered through the door, navigated past the construction and construction guys, walked up the stairs and hopped onto the bed. It was a legitimate Lassie Comes Home moment … and it pissed me the fuck off. What was this dog doing to me? Didn’t she know I had to work? How dare—dammit, she’s cute and fluffy.
Fuck, I love this dog.
I placed Norma in the car, and we drove to a coffee shop.
Alas, they didn’t take canines. So I went to my parents’ hotel in Dana Point, where dogs are allowed to stay. We were leaving for the airport in 1 1/2 hours, and Norma spent that time on the Comfort Inn bed, watching TV, finding a couple of Goldfish crackers left beneath a couch by a past guest (ew). She came with us to the airport, said farewell to her grandparents, got back in the car, returned with me to the neighborhood …
So I just dropped my parents off at the airport after their week-long visit. I’m very close with Mom and Dad, and have been for years. They’ve been wonderfully supportive my entire life, and I’ve never kept secrets or spewed negativity or complained about their treatment of me or my brother.
However, parents—all parents—have their quirks.
So I’m dropping them off. And as my dad reaches for a suitcase from the trunk a roll of black socks falls from his pocket.
I pick them up.
“Dad,” I say, “why are there socks in your pocket?”
My mom flashes a funny look. Irked. Dad says nothing.
“Seriously, why the socks?”
It turns out father has a theory. If a pickpocket reaches for your wallet, the socks will deter him.
As a rule, I’m not a huge fan of meeting people whose intelligence dwarfs mine.
I mean, it’s awkward and uncomfortable, right? We all enjoy thinking we’re smart, so to have that belief punctured by another human, well, it sorta sucks. It’s deflating, it’s disturbing, it’s … it’s …
Every so often, however, you come across a person whose intellect—while far superior to your own—is far more inspiring than it is crushing. You talk to such a person, observe the speed at which his/her brain absorbs ideas and concepts, and just think, “Damn, that’s absolutely astonishing.”
Enter: Mike Moodian.
I first met Mike about four years ago, shortly after we relocated from New York to Southern California. The wife landed a job teaching at Brandman University, and she spoke glowingly of this co-worker with, well, a glow. So she invited Mike and his awesome wife Margaret over for dinner or lunch or something, and—whooosh! Mike’s brain was off. It was c-r-a-z-y stuff: Jeff, on page 47 of your Lakers book you … and See, the thing about penal law in Utah is …
On and on, a breathtaking, dizzying, ego-free discussion of this and that and that and this and up and down and high and low. Truly, Mike Moodian is the smartest person I’ve ever met. Which is cool, because he also happens to be one of the absolute best. When he’s not working as an associate professor of social science at Brandman University or teaching classes at Chapman or co-directing the Orange County Annual Survey or collaborating with Michael Dukakis or serving on California’s Commission on Judicial Performance Commission or hanging with his son, Mikey, or caring for a chinchilla named Marshall or watching his beloved Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Mike is … doing 100,000 other things. You can follow him on Twitter here, Instagram here and visit his website here.
Mike Moodian, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Mike—this is a weird first question, but that’s OK. We’ve known one another for about four years now, and your mind moves at 7,000 miles per hour. Which fascinates me. In particular, you’ll say something like, “Hey, Jeff, on page 47 of Gunslinger you wrote about …” And later on I’ll say to Catherine, “How the fuck did he know that?” So I ask, with total respect and admiration—How does your head work in this regard? Do you just have a preposterous memory? Do certain things stick?
MIKE MOODIAN: Jeff, my wife always says the same thing. Here’s how I can best answer your question: My mind tends to travel very quickly, often remembering different things by association. For example, I am a fanatical L.A. Rams fan who has season tickets to home games at Memorial Coliseum. Team representatives keep calling me trying to persuade me to buy seat licenses for the new stadium in Inglewood. My wife’s aunt Mary Beth was human resources director for the City of Inglewood for a short time. Mary Beth used to live in Portland, which happens to be home of one of my favorite bookstores, Powell’s Books. When I last visited Powell’s, they had an entire section composed of work written by Noam Chomsky, the famous MIT linguist and activist. Chomsky gave the keynote address at a globalization conference I spoke at five years ago at UC Santa Barbara. The City of Santa Barbara has a small aquarium that my toddler loves. The aquarium houses some cool starfish, so does the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, which my family and I like to go to each October around Halloween for a kids event they put together. This process goes on and on. My mind ventures through these various associations. As I result, I can sometimes be socially awkward when I talk to people because I bring up random things. It’s just how my brain works. My wife can talk about a trip to Buenos Aires we took once, and I can start discussing Golden Spoon frozen yogurt moments later. This goes on and on. My mind works by rapidly connecting things.
Giving the morning keynote at the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations Education Conference, 2018.
J.P.: In 2015, Jerry Brown appointed you to the State of California Commission on Judicial Performance. Your task is to investigate judicial misconduct/incapacity complaints and for disciplining judges. We’re coming off of a hotly contested, painfully partisan Supreme Court nomination, and I wonder how you view this nation’s relationship with judges. I was raised believing they could be impartial, decent, caring, respectable, empathetic. Was I just a naïve punk?
M.M.: Serving on our state’s Commission on Judicial Performance Commission is the greatest honor of my career. California, in 1960, became the first state to establish this type of judicial watchdog agency. Now all 50 states and the District of Columbia have similar commissions that vary in their authority. My work as a commission member keeps me busy, and I never take lightly our role to protect the public, enforce rigorous standards of judicial conduct, and maintain public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judicial system. Because of the sensitive and confidential nature of the work we do, it would be best if I pass on commenting on the judiciary.
J.P.:You’re a professor of social sciences at Chapman University and Brandman University. There’s always a lot of complaining about millennials and their lack of compassion, their lack of attention spans, their materialism. What, as a professor, are you seeing?
M.M.: The students are great, Jeff. You get those who are just skating by, but the dedicated ones make this job worth it. When we reach the end of the term and they present their work—projects they worked so hard on—and you see how far they have come, you develop a lot of hope for our country’s future. I cannot complain about millennials because my generation was certainly no better.
J.P.: You’ve been on a ton of panels. You’ve sat in on endless meetings You’re involved in politics, in social issues, in education. And I wonder: Are people listening, generally? When you’re all gathered in a circle of chairs, and people are speaking their piece, are most just waiting to talk? Or are they absorbing?
M.M.: It’s a mixed bag. You and I encounter so many different people from different walks of life. I pride myself on having an ability to try to see someone else’s perspective, even if I disagree with their viewpoint. I do get concerned that many of us are siloed, the distrust of established news media, the garbage spread on social media, and the embracing of these conspiracy/deep state theories.
J.P.:When I released my USFL book, I was sorta worried the topic wouldn’t lend itself to huge sales. You are the author of a book, Images of America: Rancho Santa Margarita. I’m guessing you knew this wasn’t landing on the Times list. So, what’s the motivation of writing a book with what, from afar at least, seems like a limited readership and audience?
M.M.: That’s a great question. I tend to be extremely curious about everything. Before we had a kid, my wife and I used to hike various trails in OC. One time we hiked an area in O’Neil Regional Park and came across a marker that stated that the Portolà Expedition members had camped at the site while establishing the first overland trail through Alta California in 1769. It was so cool to me that during a time in the 18th century in which the country we know as the United States was being formed on the East Coast, there was significant activity by indigenous groups and Spanish explorers on the West Coast. I also started to research the fascinating untold stories about the land surrounding Mission San Juan Capistrano. Then I spent a summer writing about the ranchos of North San Diego and South Orange counties. I guess I always saw the project of my way of contributing to the area I grew up in by documenting its history dating back to the 1700s. In the years after the book’s release, I gave lectures on Orange County’s ranch history to community groups. I know this sounds corny, but one of my favorite experiences was speaking to third graders about the history of the area. The project is not related to my academic work on leadership and cross-cultural competence. It’s just my contribution to my community, and working on it was rewarding.
Interviewed by Vikki Vargas
J.P.:You’re good friends with Michael Dukakis—who even officiated your wedding. Um, how did this happen?
M.M.: We first crossed paths years ago when I was doing research for a project, and we became close during the years. We coauthored op-eds on the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative, and he wrote the foreword to my first book. He is one of the most decent human beings I know, he is probably the wisest person I know, and he subscribes to an ethical framework that all policy leaders should emulate. I love Michael and Kitty Dukakis like family members.
J.P.:You served in the military, which fascinates me because I’d never guess it. You’re a liberal intellectual who’s wed to Hawaiian shirts. So why did you enlist? What did the experience do for you? Do you think it caused you to see military personnel in different ways?
M.M.: It’s certainly something that I’m proud of, but I guess it’s something I don’t talk about much because it seems like a lifetime ago, and my time in the service was relatively uneventful. Your allusion about military service and liberalism perhaps being antithetical makes me think about how ironic it is that the political right in this country seems to own patriotism. To me, there is nothing more patriotic than standing up for those who are voiceless, treating compassionately and humanely children of color who are trying to seek refuge in this country, and disavowing unequivocally the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, and the Kremlin. The Republican Party today resembles a hate group more than it does the party of honorable people such as Jack Kemp and Bob Dole.
Debating former California Republican Party Chair Shawn Steel on PBS-SoCal, 2018.
J.P.:You’re very involved in Orange County politics. My former congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, is insane. Not exaggerating—insane. How do you explain his lengthy career?
M.M.: His staying power was the result of the fact that he resembled his district. He is that traditional, old-school Orange County Republican who came from the Reagan administration. Also, as you have written many times, Rohrabacher came across as this loveable congressman who surfs, plays guitar, and is fiscally conservative. That goes far in Huntington Beach and the other OC coastal communities. However, as we saw in the most recent election, Orange County is changing and is starting to look more like the rest of the country.
J.P.: You’ve been teaching a long time. What’s the difference between impactful teaching and meh teaching? When do you know you’ve reached students? When do you know you haven’t?
M.M.: There are many who are much better at this profession than I, but the approach that has worked for me is to try to be relatable and to try not to take myself too seriously. Earning a college degree is hard work, and when you get to know many of these students, you realize that some have overcome enormous challenges to get here. I admire anyone who is trying to better themselves and their communities by obtaining an education. For me, my approach has always been to foster an environment that focuses more on collaboration versus an autocratic/dictatorial approach. But again, there are many different impactful teaching methods.
J.P.:You’re a uniquely optimistic person. How have you maintained that during Trump? During climate change indifference? During the Kardashian reign? Because I struggle.
M.M.: Jeff, before Margaret and I adopted our beautiful boy, he was our foster child for 13 months. This precious boy survived hell before he joined us. A community of gifted, kindhearted people—social workers, doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers, friends, family, and our attorney—came together to help our son. The national headlines are depressing, but one can only be an optimist after living life in our shoes.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHAEL MOODIAN:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Paul Stanley, Meek Mill, Sandow Birk, The 17thDoor, Darrell Issa, the elementary school spelling bee, Wilson Betemit, the smell of blacktop, Bernard King: Wow, I cannot stress enough how much I admire Sandow Birk’s work. I consider him, Elyse Pignolet, and Victor Hugo Zayas to be the three best Southern California-based visual artists today. I walked past the SFJazz Center in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood once and talked the security guard into letting me in for a few minutes so I could see Birk’s mural inside. His work is incredible. As an aside, Zayas took guns from the LAPD’s Gun Buyback Program—weapons used for violence and killing—and transformed them into these beautiful sculptures. I never saw anything like them. So going back to your question, Birk is number one. I have not heard Bernard King’s name in a long time. He was one of my favorite non-Lakers in the 1980s, and he was so good. King is number two. The elementary school spelling bee is third. We also had a geography bee when I was young that I believe National Geographic sponsored. I don’t know if schools still hold these, but I thought it was great. The 17th Door is fourth. Wilson Betemit is fifth. The Orioles’ uniform design is one of my favorites. I am not familiar with much of Meek Mill’s work. He is sixth. The smell of blacktop is seventh. Issa was my congressman until recently. My buddy Mike Levin just took over that seat and will do a hell of a job in congress. Issa is eighth. Explaining my disdain for Kiss would require a separate interview. Stanley is ninth.
• One question you would ask Mike Gminski were he here right now: When I was a boy in the 1980s, I had a poster on my wall of the United States with NBA logos placed throughout the map on the geographic areas their respective teams represented. Next to each logo was an illustration of a star player from that team. So when looking at the L.A. area on the map, there was a Lakers logo next to Kareem shooting the sky hook. I believe Michael Cage was next to the Clippers logo. Alex English was on the Colorado area of the map next to the Nuggets logo. Dominique was over Georgia with the Hawks logo. Anyway, I would stare at this poster almost every day. I loved the logos and team colors. The players were larger than life. No one played defense, and anyone who was halfway decent averaged 25 points per game. The 1980s were the best, most colorful era in professional basketball. Remember the NBA VHS series? I was hooked on it. I look at 1980s NBA with the same fondness that you look upon the USFL with. Filmmaker David Lynch once wrote that he thought the sunlight in L.A. shines differently than the light in Philadelphia, and I always thought that NBA uniform colors were vivid and brighter in the 1980s. The league lost some of that zest in the nineties. So if I interviewed Mike Gminski, I would ask, “What was the experience like?” If there is anything we have learned from your books, Jeff, it’s that the most fascinating stories do not come from the Troy Aikmans and Magic Johnsons of the world; they come from those who were not necessarily the major superstars. Gminski was a pretty good player on a bad to mediocre Nets team during a larger-than-life era in basketball. What was that like? What were the locker room dynamics like? What happened behind the scenes? You’re on a team with 11 other men, and you’re all highly competitive people. The Nets were sometimes good enough to make the playoffs, but were never able to achieve the greatness of the Lakers, Celtics, Sixers, or Pistons. How does Gminski reflect upon that? One point that strikes me about professional sports is that athletes eat, sleep, and breathe winning with one team. Then they get traded, or they get waived, or they take a better offer with another team. What is that experience like? I would imagine it’s akin to a painful divorce.
• In exactly 15 words, make an argument for White Lion’s inclusion in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: I love rock music, including most genres of metal, but I never really got into that 1980s MTV glam metal scene. Give me Ozzy or Deep Purple any day of the week, but I will pass on the Ratts and Warrants of the world. That said, Zakk Wylde, Ozzy’s legendary and longest-serving guitarist, started a band in the mid-1990s called Pride & Glory. One can best describe that band as Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Black Sabbath. If the Allman Brothers decided to be a hard rock band, they would be Pride & Glory. The band released one album, a self-titled LP, and I never met anyone who owned it other than me. Man, that album is so good. To me, it is an overlooked gem of the 1990s. Even today, I will listen to tracks such as “Lovin’ Woman” and “Harvester of Pain” as I fold laundry. Back in the nineties, I remember thinking how crazy it was that Zakk started Pride & Glory with two guys from White Lion, a band Pride & Glory sounded nothing like. One of them was bassist James LoMenzo, who has also performed with Zakk on his various other projects. Separately, it’s worth noting that most of these glam metal or hair metal bands were, in fact, very good musicians. Their vocalists were pretty bad, but their members were often the world’s best electric guitarists and drummers. LoMenzo is a superb bass player. Therefore, if I were to make a 15-word case for White Lion’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I would say, “White Lion’s members branched off to form Pride & Glory, and James LoMenzo is talented.”
• How did you meet your wife?: Margaret and I worked in the same building in Santa Ana, CA, in 2004. She was working one of her first jobs after earning her bachelor’s degree from Chapman. I was working a job I hated as I earned my master’s degree from Cal State Fullerton. I would see her now and again in a break room both companies shared, and I started to figure out that she would arrive at work each day between 8:13 a.m. and 8:22 a.m. She would enter the front door, proceed to her desk, set her purse down, and head over to the break room to pour herself a cup of coffee each day. I made sure I was coincidentally in the break room at the same time each morning to toast a bagel I brought from home. We would chat each morning, and after a few months, I mustered the courage to ask her out. On our first date, we saw the Angels defeat the Indians 6-2, played Skee-Ball at Dave & Buster’s, and walked around Huntington Beach. I was so nervous. For our second date, we had dinner at P.F. Chang’s in Santa Monica, walked around 3rd Street Promenade, and had drinks at a West Hollywood bar I will miss forever called Red Rock. I rarely drink today, but I looked up Red Rock recently and was disappointed to learn it closed. The rest is history. You and I married up.
• Three memories from your senior prom: I was one of those awkward kids who did not go to proms and other dances.
• Who are the five most famous people you’ve encountered?: Alphabetically by last name, I guess I would say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Buzz Aldrin, George Foreman, John McCain, and Barack Obama.
• On a scale of 1 to 100, how burdened are you by the inevitability of death?: Every night, just before I go to bed, I quietly enter my three-year-old son’s room, turn the light on, and gaze at my boy for a minute or two as he sleeps. During this time, I often think about how exciting it is that his entire life is ahead of him. I think about how thrilled I am to accompany him through his childhood years, the ballgames we will go to, the fun times we will have, the 2028 L.A. Olympics, and how I will be there for him when he stumbles along the way. Then I consider the fact that as he grows older, I will also grow older, and I find myself reflecting upon my own mortality more than I ever have. I sometimes worry about how awful it would be if something happened to me and I left my wife and boy behind. I start to think about how I need to take better care of myself, eat less carbs, drink less caffeine, and practice breathing techniques to relieve stress. When you are 20, you can look ahead 15 years, and you will still be young. When you are in your forties, it’s different. So, in short, the burden of the inevitability of death is not something that really bothered me in years past, but it’s something that crosses my mind more often today. On a scale of 1 to 100, I would say 55.
• Donald Trump promised he would solve the California drought. In your professional estimation, how’s that going?: It’s going about as well as his efforts to broker Middle East peace.
• The Democratic nominee for president in 2020 will be …: Back in 2006 and 2007, I had a strong feeling that Barack Obama would be the 2008 nominee once the rest of the country got to know him. In 2016, it was always Hillary’s race to lose. I truly see no clear-cut favorite for 2020. I suppose it will either be Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Elizabeth Warren, or Beto O’Rourke. Maybe Tom Steyer, Mark Cuban, or Michael Bloomberg with join the race and provide formidable challenges. It would not surprise me if we see as many as 30 candidates encompassing all sides, from socialists to pragmatic centrists. For the sake of answering your question, I will say Kamala Harris. On a side note, the Democratic establishment should not do what the Republican establishment did leading up the 2016 election by having a debate featuring long-shot candidates early in the afternoon, followed by a debate the establishment considers front-runners during primetime. Prof. Larry Sabato proposed a better idea a few years back: Allow anyone polling at 1% or higher—along with any current or former governors or senators—to debate. If the pool is composed of 20 or so candidates, hold back-to-back primetime debates with participants in each determined by a lottery. If these candidates are going to start debating by mid-2019, the public has the right to see all candidates side by side, not just those with higher poll numbers as a result of name identification. Organizers can start cutting the number of participants after these initial debates.
• What’s the word you way overuse?: It’s funny that you ask that because I tend to pay special attention to word use. I guess “cognizant” is a word that I overuse lately. I notice that you tend to use “myriad” and “digress” quite often. I read a lot of what you and Catherine write and see that she is also using “myriad.” I recently finished Ronan Farrow’s excellentWar on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence and notice that Farrow likes to use “purse,” as in “Diplomat A pursed his lips during the interaction.” I believe Farrow will be this generation’s Bob Woodward. What a talent. Former Sunday Times Editor Harold Evans wrote a book that everyone who aspires to be a better writer should read titled Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters.
So earlier this evening I did something sorta cool—I served as the Q in a Q&A with Sam Darnold, New York Jets quarterback, at the Stance store in Irvine.
I was asked to handle the gig by Tzvi Twersky, the longtime hoops writer and one of Stance’s big guns. So I arrived about 20 minutes early for the 6 pm start time, entered a packed store (I’d say there were, oh, 200, maybe 250 people there) and walked toward a back area, where Tzvi, Sam and a handful of others lingered.
Sam was polite and warm. He’s 21, and he looks 21. Young features, no wrinkles, optimistic expressions. We had a good 20 minutes before the event began, and as we waited a man came back with his son. Both were wearing green Jets T-shirts, and the guy looked at Sam and explained—excitedly—that he was a lifelong Jets fan, and that when he was 7, his father took a picture of him with Joe Namath. And now his son was 7 and, well .. hey … would Sam please pose for a photo?
“Sure. No problem.”
Sam, can I take one photo with me, my son and you?
I am handed his iPhone.
The man has been a Jet loyalist for decades, and he believes in Sam. He wants to tell Sam this, so he does. His son looks bored and sort of disinterested, but one day he’ll appreciate the photograph. They depart, and another woman comes. She’s from Queens, longtime Jets fan, her son is wearing his very own Darnold jersey, and can Sam just pose for one photo?
And sign the jersey? Here’s a pen.
More people have stories to tell. About the Jets. About USC. About Mark Sanchez and Josh Rosen. I’m watching Sam Darnold, but I can’t tell what he’s thinking. I later tell my wife that it must sound like a soft not-entirely-unpleasant-but-hardly-joyful hum to his 21-year-old ears …
Finally, we walk out and conduct an hour-long chat. It’s fun. Sam is friendly, engaging, warm. He will never be controversial, will never tell you why he likes/hates Donald Trump, won’t opine on oil prices or climate change. He is here to do a job—be that quarterbacking the Jets or talking in a sock store. This does not mean he lacks intelligence or depth. It means he knows there’s no advantage in rattling sabres. That, or perhaps he has no sabres to rattle. He’s young, wealthy, happy, living the professional dream.
A few questions are taken from the crowd. I call on the people, and it reminds me—very much—of this classic Saturday Night Live scene. They are mostly men, wearing some sort of Jets gear, standing in the front. They are thrilled to be here, and the age gap between them and Darnold is a non-factor. He is the latest savior of a franchise eternally searching for saviors, and that immediately places him atop the Jets kingdom. So what if, less than five years ago, he was in high school?
When all is done, an announcement is made—Sam won’t be signing autographs or posing for photos, but he will be handing out Jets socks to anyone wearing a jersey.
Initially, for a second, I’m turned off. All these people came to a store in the rain. Surely, he can sign. But then I think about it. To sign and sign and sign—that would be another two hours. Maybe more. And as my wife later (rightly) notes, why isn’t it enough to hear a man speak? Why do we need to depart with a scrap of paper or an iPhone image proving we were there?
Why can’t we just be happy listening to Sam Darnold?
By now you’ve seen that the Clemson football team visited the White House, only to be served a menu of fast food items from Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut.
I don’t get it.
When I say “I don’t get it,” I’m actually not being snide, or even trying to go out of my way to rip the conman president. No, I actually don’t understand why these people were brought to the White House and presented with a buffet of the cheapest, crappiest, least-healthy grub on the planet. I don’t understand why the conman president bragging about how splendid the food it because it’s “American.” I don’t understand fine china being used. I don’t understand the White House going out of its way to boast about Trump footing the bill—when the bill was probably, oh, $3000.
It’s all so weird and bizarrely tone deaf—even for a tone-deaf president. I mean, Barack Obama was slaughtered for being un-presidential when he A. Wore a beige suit and B. Put his feet up in the Oval Office.
So, if those acts caused Washington and Jefferson to spin in their tombs, what does a president standing proudly before a table of greasy deep-fried foods do?
In case you haven’t heard, Mel Stottlemyre—former Yankee pitcher, former Mets and Yankee pitching coach—died today of cancer. He was 77, and a very, very, very good man.
And I was thinking that, perhaps, I long owed Mel an apology. See, back in 2003 my book about the 1986 Mets, “The Bad Guys Won,” was released. Because he was the pitching coach of that outstanding young staff, Mel is regularly evoked in the pages. He worked extensively with Ron Darling, with Bobby Ojeda, with Sid Fernandez, with Rick Aguilera, and helped mold those young men into one of the great all-time staffs.
Oh, there was also Dwight Gooden.
Mel spent a ton of time with Doc. Helped with his control, with his composure, with his mound IQ. But, back in the day (and in my book), Mel was blamed for trying to convince Gooden to learn how to throw a slider—and how to use it. That was heading into the 1986 season, and the results, well, they weren’t tremendous. Gooden’s stats (17-6, 2.84 ERA) look good on paper, but he wasn’t the dominant pitcher of 1984 and 1985. He was very human and one could correctly argue that both Ojeda and Darling were better starters for New York during the ’86 title run.
Mel Stottlemyre caught some grief for this. Why change perfect? Why mess with artistry? And, looking back, it’s bullshit. Dwight Gooden wasn’t reduced because he tried throwing more sliders. No, he was reduced because he was an alcoholic and a drug addict in the early stages of a life-destroying addiction to cocaine. He was using, and using a lot. Hell, the fact that he went 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA is a credit to Mel Stottlemyre, not a jab.
So, to the late, wonderful Mel Stottlemyre, a nod of appreciation.
So yesterday morning I brought a load of stuff to our local Goodwill pickup area.
Included in the haul was a huge barrel of Lincoln Logs and my daughter’s once-cherished Calico Critters. One of the Critters is pictured above, confused about her plight and wondering why she’s about to be thrown onto a truck and sent to a nearby used items supply store.
OK, admittedly, the Critter was made in China, can be melted down and has no emotions. But, for me, it’s a gut punch. My daughter Casey is now 15, my son Emmett is 12. I’ve started teaching her to drive. Most of his time is spent with electronics, taking apart and piecing together. They no longer respond to pretend voices of stuffed animals, to hug requests from toy bunnies. The figurines who once mattered no longer matter. They gather dust, wondering, “Is someone going to play with me?”
So we pass them on and—as the wife wisely reminds me and herself—other children will get joy. Which is great and amazing and beautiful. Truly, it is.
But I don’t merely feel as if I’m unloading a crate of toys.
I feel as if I’m bidding farewell to a pair of childhoods.
And hundreds of thousands of Elves on the Shelves have been returned to their boxes, glumly reduced to the shadows of a musty garage.
But there is hope.
I bring you … Con in the John.
Or, put differently: About a year ago someone presented us with the gag gifts of a Donald Trump mug, Donald Trump toilet paper, a Donald Trump squeeze head and (yes) a Donald Trump bobble head. And, interestingly, I love bobble heads. My house is home to several, including a Ron Kittle bobble, a Chris Mullin bobble, a Jackie Robinson bobble. But, lord, I detest the 45th president. And after a year of placing him in odd spots, positioning him atop the plates of unsuspecting dinner guests, moving him left and right, up and down, well, I decided he needed a new home.
So this morning I stashed him in my bag, brought him to the nearby Corner Bakery and positioned him in his proper place—atop a urinal.
What happens next, in the words of Jerry Falwell, Jr., is God’s plan.
[Or the guy who cleans the bathroom every few hours. Who, were he a government employee, would likely be home not getting paid right now.]