This week’s interview may well seem a bit self-indulgent, but … why should I care?
I’ve hosted this Q&A series for eight years and four days (exactly), and the beauty of a random interview offering is it’s, quite literally, a mishmosh of people from 8,000 different walks of life. Last week’s Quaz featured a woman who likes posting things naked. The first-ever Quaz was an actress from the Wonder Years.
And today, at 399, I bring forward Emmett Pearlman, my 12-year-old son.
Why Emmett Pearlman, my 12-year-old son? Myriad reasons. First, approaching big No. 400 has made me a bit reflective on the past decade. Second, I wanted the 399th to be meaningful, and what’s more meaningful than your offspring? Third, any worries about “Jumping the Shark” (Google it if you’re younger than 25) vanished the moment I realized there is nothing a shark leap could ruin. This is a small-level Q&A series, not “Happy Days.” Fourth, my kid is smart. Inquisitive. Detailed. Precise. I recognize we all think our kids are smart and inquisitive and detailed, but Emmett’s always possessed a self-awareness beyond his years. So it’s not like asking a kid questions and expecting one-word answers. Fifth, I love the boy. And I like the idea of Emmett looking back at this a decade from now and thinking, “So that’s where I was!”
Unlike most of the interviews in this series, which are conducted (lazily) via e-mail, this chat took place last night at the kitchen table.
Emmett Pearlman, son of
a hack writer royalty, you’ve been Quazed …
JEFF PEARLMAN: What are the complications with being a 12-year-old kid?
EMMETT PEARLMAN: What do you mean?
J.P.: I mean, what are the hardships? The difficulties? Is it more good or bad?
E.P.: Most of the problems in my life are not real hard problems. Like, if I can’t figure out a math problem then I look it up online. I don’t really have any problems that are out of my reach of fixing.
J.P.: Do you feel impacted by the Trump presidency? Or is it just hearing me complain?
E.P.: Ha. Um, at school kids repeat what they hear. Most kids don’t follow politics very much. It does come up sometimes at school, but nobody can really have any debates because they don’t know a ton. And the people who do know a ton are usually on one side. Because they know what’s right.
J.P.: Which side is that?
E.P.: Democratic, usually.
J.P.: Are you optimistic for the future?
E.P.: The future of what?
J.P.: The future of the country. And your life.
E.P.: Of the country—I think that people know what’s right and I don’t think that something that bad can go on for too long. And for me, I have no idea. I don’t know if you’re talking careers. If so, I have no idea. I don’t know. I can’t tell what my future will be.
J.P.: So a lot of parents, people my age, are concerned about the impact technology and always having a device is having on people your age. What says you?
E.P.: Most people my age that go on the Internet are just playing games or watching YouTube. Yes, you do have access to pretty much anything. But if it’s taking something pretty much everyone has, it’s not special. You can do what you want, but if you handle that power smartly, it’s not bad. If people are responsible … it’s not your fault, as a parent, for letting them use it. It’s entirely the child’s responsibility. I mean, it depends on age. At my age, you know what you can search and what you can’t. But if they’re under the age of 10, it’s different. At some point people need to be more trusting.
J.P.: Is there no temptation to Google “bloody head after car accident” or “naked people having sex”?
E.P.: Absolutely not.
E.P.: I don’t know. I’m content not having that. I’m fine just playing games on my computer.
J.P.: I’ve written a lot about your 0-37 lifetime basketball record. People ask me if it bothers you, and I say, “No.” They find that confusing. Why doesn’t it bother you?
E.P.: I think it’s actually been good in a way. Not for basketball, but outside it’s been good. I’m the least competitive person I know, which is good. I don’t think people should be too serious about sports. It’s a game. Winning and losing doesn’t matter. Especially at my age. If I lose every game and I enjoy it, that’s fine. And I do enjoy it.
J.P.: Without naming names, you’ve told me every so often about kids at school you don’t like. What are the characteristics of a kid you don’t like?
E.P.: I was thinking about this recently, actually. I think that part of what makes them popular or annoying—and I’m not talking annoying as in bugging you all the time and being annoying on purpose. I mean the people who think they’re cool and can do whatever they want. Part of what makes them like that is they’re not thinking that much about what it is they’re doing. It’s obvious to the people who aren’t friends with them. But to the people who don’t think about it, it’s not something strange. They say something mean and don’t think about it. It’s just what they do. Act meanly. The weird part is their friends just accept it. That’s what they do. They’re a part of it. But everyone outside that group doesn’t see it as fine. We see the truth.
The problem with them thinking they can do whatever they want is they can do whatever they want. Because everyone else thinks they’re cool. Whatever that means.
J.P.: What’s the jerkiest thing you’ve had a kid do to you?
E.P.: To me? Not much. I don’t get involved with things intentionally. I mean, I haven’t had a ton directly to me. I mean, they cut the line every day at school for lunch. And no one stops them because … I don’t know.
It’s like the graffiti thing you told me about in New York [JEFF NOTE: I explained to Emmett how New York City stopped graffiti on subways by cleaning it every night. If no one cleans it, what’s the motivator to stop?]. There’s no point in stopping them because they’ll do it again. It makes me angry. I tell them not to cut me. They usually don’t listen and I just move.
J.P.: You’ll meet them again on their long plummet to the middle.
E.P.: It doesn’t affect me.
J.P.: You love robotics. Why?
E.P.: I think part of it is the way my teacher gives us assignments and teaches us. She teaches us … she gives us instructions and if we need help she’ll give us it. We can ask. But if we don’t want help we don’t get it. We can do our own research on the Internet, which I like because it inspires you. You can build whatever you want. In my free time I’ve built robotic arms, I built something I wear on my hand and it shoots things. You can build what you want and I think it’s really fun.
J.P.: Least-favorite class?
E.P.: History. It’s repetitive. We don’t do anything out of the ordinary. It’s study guide, then vocabulary, then papers. Over and over again. On different units. I do like learning about history, but the cycle gets boring after a while. We do a lot of group work, and I’m not a big fan of group work. A lot of times it’s not even on who does the work. Also in history we write a lot, and history writing is boring. You read something, then put it back out in a different way. History is learning something and remembering it. There’s not much new.
J.P.: Do you remember how you felt when you found out we were moving to California five years ago?
E.P.: I was pretty little. I didn’t realize what was happening. I thought we were taking a vacation at first. Then I realized we weren’t. Because Casey got sad. Then I got sad. All I heard was “leaving” and “California.” I didn’t know what California was. I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t have a choice.
J.P.: In hindsight, would New York have been better?
E.P.: I don’t know. What’s definitively better?
J.P.: Mom and I really enjoy the relationship you have with your sister. It’s interesting, because she’s 3 1/2 years older than you, you don’t have a ton of activities in common. Yet you seem to have a pretty tight bond. Am I misreading that?
E.P.: No. I think what it is is we don’t have much room for arguments. Casey usually stays in her room, so I don’t see her that often. It’s weird, but I guess that makes for less arguments. We don’t share that much, so we don’t argue over stuff. We used to fight for the Kindle, but no more. And when we are together we usually agree. I don’t know. I think we know what we like and we know our limits and we know not to do something that annoys the other person. Why would we fight?
J.P.: It seems like you like her …
E.P.: I do. I also hate having arguments. Usually they don’t resolve anything.
J.P.: I take credit for this, but you have a very strong hip-hop knowledge for a kid your age. Why do you like that genre so much?
E.P.: I don’t know. Why does anyone like any type of music? There’s no answer. Different people like different music. If you were a major country parent, maybe I’d like country.
J.P.: I doubt that.
E.P.: Me too.
J.P.: Five favorite rappers?
E.P.: I’m gonna put … can it be a group?
E.P.: Does it need to be in order? I don’t like order.
E.P.: OK. Tupac, Nas, then it becomes a bunch of people I like. Definitely MC White Owl. Run DMC. And A Tribe Called Quest.
J.P.: You wear sports jerseys every single day. I usually get them on eBay for about $8. You seem to really love them. Why?
E.P.: Um, I like the way they look. They’re pretty easy. I don’t have to think about what I wear every morning. I wake up, see a jersey, go, “OK.” I’m not very fashionable, but I like sports and I like when no one knows who the person is. And I like that I don’t have a constant sports team. I like that I can wear whatever jersey I like. These are the two questions I always get, and they’re asked back to back. First one—”Do you like that team?” And the answer is almost always No. Then they say, “Why are you wearing that jersey then?” As if you can only wear jerseys of the team you like. I say, “Because I like wearing jerseys.” I don’t like going into that much detail.
J.P.: Which are your three all-time favorite jerseys?
E.P.: The Walter Payton jersey is great. I like that one. I like my Doug Williams Oklahoma Outlaws jersey. And my Greg Fields Los Angeles Express jersey. Those are my favorite jerseys, not favorite players.
J.P.: Do you feel like your childhood is moving by quickly, slowly, or none of the above?
E.P.: I think that it’s just going what it seems like. Every year goes the same amount. I don’t know what other lives feel like, so what do I compare it to? I feel like it’s gone at a normal pace.
J.P.: I feel like parents worry about screwing up their kids. Like, I think, “What is he getting from me that’s not good?” Any thoughts?
E.P.: About what?
J.P.: Have I given you bad stuff?
E.P.: Not anything in particular.
J.P.: Are you enjoying your life?
E.P.: Yeah, definitely.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH EMMETT PEARLMAN:
• What would you like your name to be if it weren’t Emmett Pearlman?: I like the name Emmett. I don’t know. I’m not on the lookout for names right now. Maybe Emmett with one T.
• Three all-time favorite athletes: Walter Payton, Eli Manning, Emmitt Smith. Just because he has the name Emmitt.
• What’s the best thing about your mom?: Hmm … I dunno. She’s a very nice person. That’s not very exciting, but it’s true. It’s better than not being a nice person.
• One question you would ask Herschel Walker if he were here right now?: Do you regret anything in what your career became?
• Rank in order (favorite to least): The beach, Memphis Showboats helmets, American Idol, going to the movie theater, Na’il Diggs, Ethiopian food, your dog Norma, your great-grandma Norma, the number 8, sleep-away camp, Eminem: This is gonna be tough. Norma the dog is number one. I’m gonna go Great Grandma Norma No. 2. But they’re very close. I see Norma the dog more day to day. For No. 3 I’m gonna have to put sleep-away camp. Then Ethiopian food. I really like Ethiopian food. Then Eminem. Then I’m gonna put the number 8 because it’s a nice round number. Then I’m gonna put Memphis Showboats helmets, even though they’re not that great. Then Na’il Diggs. I met him once, so I don’t know him well. But he was cool. I’m gonna put the beach there. I don’t absolutely hate the beach, but I’d much rather have Ethiopian food. Then I’m gonna put going to movie theaters. I don’t like movie theaters. I feel I can get the same experience at home, but also get up and do what I want. I don’t like American Idol. I feel like a lot of the people aren’t even good. The Voice has much better talent. And American Idol isn’t realistic. I just find it boring. And if they have a sad back story they go through. And if they don’t, they don’t.
• Four thing that gross you out: Maggots, warts, drawing blood, throwing up (I got that from Mom. It’s just not fun). Oh, and bonus. Those really big, loud bugs. The ones whose wings are really loud.
• How do you feel about having a Bar Mitzvah in a year?: I dunno. I’m looking forward to it. I think my Hebrew is OK. I don’t think it’s something necessary for the rest of my life, but I think it’s cool to have. My friends won’t understand what’s going on. They’re not Jewish.
• Five places in the world you’d love to go: Five? Five’s a lot. OK—Africa. Anywhere in Africa. Madagascar. Galapagos. Iceland. And if I could teleport there instantly, the North Pole. And then I’d teleport right back.
• Tell me three things about Grandpa Stan: 1. He likes naps. 2. He likes back scratches. 3. He has a lot of good stories.
• Why won’t you play me more often in FIFA?: Because I don’t like FIFA as much as other games. Why won’t you play me in Super Smash Bros more often?