Jeff Pearlman

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Jordan Williams

#362
My fantastic nephew is 17 and on the verge of graduating high school. So we talk about life in the Trump world; about growing up bi-racial; about screen time and NYU and living with Celine Dion in a room made of crusted excrement. POSTED May 31, 2018

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The wife and I welcomed our daughter Casey into the world on July 31, 2003, but we’ve long  suggested that our first-born actually came some three years earlier, on Sept. 27, 2000.

That’s when Jordan Langston Williams—our nephew—was born. And while a nephew isn’t technically your kid, and while Jordan has been raised by excellent parents, and while he’s never actually lived under our roof, well, we do think of him as far more than mere nephew. We’ve been there since his birth. We’ve watched him crawl, walk, cry, scream, blow out birthday candles, string decorations onto a Christmas tree, roll through elementary school and middle school and, now, high school. We’ve been side by side for vacations, holidays, Bar Mitvahs, funerals. Truly, one of the great joys of our lives has been watching Jordan emerge from boy to man (Hell, I’ve even overcome the disappointment of losing to him in arm wrestling).

That’s why, for the 362nd Quaz Q&A, I thought it’d be cool to talk to the ol’ nephew about his final days as a high schooler; about life with divorced parents and as a bi-racial entity in an increasingly diverse-yet-complicated world.

Jordan will be attending New York University next fall, and it has been my honor to be a part of his life.

Jordan Williams, you are the new Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jordan, you graduate high school in the coming weeks, and I wonder: When you look at the world, are you optimistic? Pessimistic? Neither? Both? I mean, climate change, Trump, North Korea, corporate greed, on and on. On the other hand—ice cream, sunny days, New York City, college. So … where are you? And why?

JORDAN WILLIAMS: When I look at the world today I am definitely greeted by feelings of both optimism and pessimism. On one hand, I am vehemently against our current president, his ideas, and the path he is leading this country down along. I’m scared for my future because of the rapid changes in our environment and what these changes mean for my generation. But at the same time, I couldn’t be more hopeful for my future. I am about to graduate high school and go to my number one choice college, NYU, in the greatest city in the world. I know I have a bright future ahead of me and I have hope that my generation will be the one to finally do something that will change the tide in our war against climate change, not because I think my generation is superior but because it will be a necessity. I’ve seen the predictions of the state of the world 50 years down the line if we continue on the path we’re on and I know that my generation will not be content to live that way.

J.P.: It’s an age-old question asked of every generation, so I’ll ask you: What don’t we (people over, oh, 40) get about your generation? What do you feel like we don’t understand? Fail to understand?

J.W: The thing I would say people over the age of 40 don’t understand is that my childhood doesn’t compare to your childhood. Older people are always complaining about the way that kids act now a days and that what we do would never fly when they were growing up. I don’t care what it was like when you were growing up, this is how it is now as I grow up and I guarantee that if you had been raised now you would be the same way. I’m sure people in the generation before your’s said the same things about your generation. That’s just the way of the world; things change over time and if you can’t get with the program I don’t wanna hear about it.

J.P.: A couple of years ago, after my kids were born, I was thinking about cigarette smoking, and how happy I was that it wouldn’t be a draw to my children. I mean, it was clear how awful it was, how expensive it was. And it became a non-issue. And now—vaping. I don’t get it. What’s the appeal? Why are people your age drawn to it? 

J.W.: Vaping has exploded as a fad among young people in just the same way that cigarette smoking did before people knew the health detriments of it. In the past, smoking was seen as a cool thing to do and I suppose it isn’t any different now. Since vaping is a new thing there haven’t been any long term studies on how it impacts health. Because of the this many people who would never smoke a cigarette would smoke a juul or a vape because they think it is perfectly harmless. I would never buy a vape because I am positive that vaping will turn out to be just as dangerous as cigarettes.

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J.P.: I feel like your life has flown by. I mean, I vividly remember when you were born; your first birthday party; you as an infant in the city. But that’s from my vantage point. What about from yours? Is your life flying by? Crawling? Do different age gaps have different paces?

J.W.: From my perspective I feel like the years go by faster as I get older. I wouldn’t say it’s flying by but I definitely feel like my life is going by faster than I thought it would. I mean I’m graduating high school in less than a month but it feels like I just walked into my first day of high school like last week. To me, the days go by slowly but the years fly by.

J.P.: You’re the product of divorced parents, which is obviously pretty common these days. But, now looking back on your childhood, what does that come with? What I mean is, what are the complications, the issues? Does it eventually just become … life, or are there always hiccups related to it?

J.W.: Being the product of divorced parents has it’s ups and downs. Since my parents got divorced when I was very young it has just become my life, I don’t know any thing else. On the bright side, I get two of everything, two rooms, two sets of birthday gifts, two summer vacations. And being a somewhat materialistic person, I’m certainly not complaining about that. On the other hand, I don’t get to spend time where I want to spend time, I stay with whatever parent on a fixed schedule. I also don’t get to see my beloved dog all of the time. I definitely feel like one home feels more like home than the other, but I do love both of my parents so divorced or together it doesn’t impact me much at all.

With his Aunt Catherine back in the day

With his Aunt Catherine back in the day

J.P.: You’re also bi-racial. And I wonder—how does this impact you? I mean, there have been 1,001 research papers done, etc. But throughout your life how do you feel like it’s impacted you, if at all? The way you approach situations? React to situations? Do you identify as any more African-American than white or vice versa? Do you think about it much?

J.W: I feel like being bi-racial is definitely a blessing. I get the best of both worlds and I feel like I can fit in with anybody. Since I live in New York, race has never really been an issue for me, people here see color less than in other places so they just see me as me and nothing else. I identify more strongly with African American than white because I am more appreciative of black culture than white culture and my skin tone is closer to black than white. It’s not that white culture is not as good, it’s just that I feel more connected to black culture, especially hip hop. The only time I think about my race is when I’m on vacation with my white side of my family. Often times we go to hotels or resorts and I look around and I feel like I’m the only black person for miles.

J.P.: I don’t really love the modern state of hip-hop, but I also feel like a relic saying such a thing. But … I dunno. I hate trap rap, I feel like there’s more mumbling than ever before, the joy doesn’t seem quite so … joyful. I guess, in a sense, I long for, oh, 2003. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or not.

J.W.: You could not be more wrong. Hip hop is forever evolving. I myself am not a fan of the mumble rappers that have recently take over the mainstream but that is not at all reflective of the state of hip hop today and trap rap is only one sub genre of hip hop. I love old school hip hop more than I like the new school but there is so much great rap music out there now, you just need to know where to find it. I would be more than happy to share my gold mine of amazing modern rap music with you.

With his brothers Oscar (middle) and Isaiah

With his brothers Oscar (middle) and Isaiah

J.P.: You’re in front of a screen, ahem, quite often. I HATE that. I mean, I hate it with you—but I REALLY hate it inside my house. Here’s my question for you, and I’m asking you to step away from yourself: Am I wrong to feel this way? I just feel like there are so many interesting things in the world, and staring at a screen for eight hours a day seems, well, sorta like a waste. No?

J.W: Yes I think you are wrong to feel that way. We live in the digital era now completely surrounded by screens at all times so it’s pretty much impossible to get away from them. I think your issue with my generation intake of “screen time” is more of a generational difference than anything. You grew up in a world that had far fewer screens than the world we live in now so it’s only natural for you to be biased against screens because you feel like if you could grow up without screens so can we. This is just my generation’s form of entertaining ourselves. I don’t feel like it takes away from my experience of the world because if there something I want to do I have no issue putting the screen away and going to do it.

J.P.: “Bullying” became the buzzword of my generation of parents. So … does bullying exist? Is the whole thing overrated? Do we need to chill?

J.W.: Bullying does exist but I don’t think it’s nearly as serious as people make it out to be. For the most part, as far as my experience goes, people have their own particular friend groups and their own particular preferences and usually other people just let it rock. Nobody really bullies anybody unless that person has wronged them in some way. Of course kids are still mean to each other, but not in such a frequent way that it would be classified as bullying.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JORDAN WILLIAMS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): your brother’s Afro, mathematics, Hall & Oates, Kevin Durant, wood cabinets, the ceramic bunny you recently threw out, your dog, Chance The Rapper, toast with jam: My dog, Chance the Rapper, the bunny I recently threw out, my brother’s afro, toast with jam, Hall and Oates, wood cabinets, mathematics, Kevin Durant.

• One question you would ask the members of the Wiggles were they here right now?: Was the sum of money you were paid worth being forever remembered as the Wiggles?

• Five greatest superhero films of your lifetime: Black Panther, Avengers Infinity War, Deadpool 2, Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and my dad (and he’s holding a chainsaw). How long does it go?: Your dad, even without the chainsaw; Stan da Man is unstoppable.

• Five reasons one should make New Rochelle, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination?: Our high school looks pretty, Chicken Joe’s, close proximity to New York City, scenes from Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio were shot here, there is an abandoned warehouse with a lot of cool graffiti in it.

• What’s it like having the world’s greatest uncle?: I feel the pressure to be the world’s greatest nephew.

• Five words you’ve never used in your life?: Argute, eucatastrophe, liripipe, orrery, thalassic.

• What are the odds you wind up vomiting at/after your prom?: 0% chance at prom 20% chance after prom.

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $500 million, but you have to move to Las Vegas and spend a year sleeping on the floor of her shit room. It’s the room made of crusted Celine Dion shit. Oh, and for those 365 days you can only eat apple sauce and maple syrup. And you need to stand still 7 hours of the day.You in?: No—that’s gross and not worth it.

• Watching you grow up and leave childhood behind makes me sorta sad. In 12 words, tell me why it should or shouldn’t: Don’t be sad, be glad for what I’ll accomplish in the future.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life