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The pettiness of Shaq

If you happen to be someone who read my latest book, “Three-Ring Circus,” you know Shaquille O’Neal is one of the all-time great teammates in NBA history. He was giving, he was compassionate, he was decent and warm and loving. I’d argue—strongly—he was better to fringe contributors than any superstar in modern sports.

Which is why the above interview is so depressing.

In the immediate aftermath of the Lakers’ latest NBA title, a video went viral of Dwight Howard—backup center—expressing profound emotion after winning his first championship. It was a legitimately beautiful site: A faded-yet-still-productive former star genuinely overcome with love and bliss upon fulfilling a dream. Is the 2020 Dwight Howard the 2005 Dwight Howard? No. Not even close. But does that take away from the achievement? Should it reduce his feelings? No.

And here’s what bothers me most: If Shaq believes Dwight Howard is unworthy of such feelings of accomplishment, where does that leave Mark Madsen and Devean George? Where does it leave Ty Lue and Slava Medvedenko and Ron Harper and Lindsey Hunter and Jelani McCoy and Samaki Walker and Mitch Richmond? All those men won titles alongside Shaq and Kobe Bryant. But, because they weren’t essential contributors, should they view their rings as tarnished? As lesser?

It’s an arrogant way to think, and it makes Shaq seem small and petty.

Which he is not.

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The Trumps have COVID—and I’m confused

So apparently Donald and Melania Trump have COVID.

And I’m confused.

How am I supposed to feel about this news? Am I supposed to be sad, because Donald Trump is the president and every life is precious? Am I supposed to be happy, because Donald Trump is a sack of shit who treats most people like discarded chips of suitcase bile on the bottom of an airport luggage belt? Am I supposed to take the information at face value, because who would lie of such a thing? Am I supposed to be skeptical, because Donald Trump lies about seemingly everything?

Is it OK that I want to scream to his most devoted COVID-denying admirers, “WELL, NOW DO YOU FUCKING SEE? DO YOU FINALLY FUCKING SEE?” Is it OK that I wouldn’t be shocked were this to be some sort of “Dave”-esque hoax—a way for Trump to leave the election without losing? A way to propel Mike Pence? A way to save face? Is it OK that there’s something oddly satisfying in having the leader of the COVID-is-no-biggie movement come down with the no-biggie disease?

Does it make me a bad person that I would shed nary a tear should Donald Trump die? Which isn’t to say I’m actively rooting for his demise. I’m not. But when someone takes such much pleasure in the misery and destruction of others, well … am I really here to root that guy on?

In short, I don’t know how to feel.

What I do know is, in 2020, there’s something awfully warped about the world; about the nation; about a people no longer able/willing/comfortable bonding over the well wishes for a president.

We are broken.

And sick.

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We needed joy

Poppy: She’s home

So if you follow me on social media, you might know that Norma, my beloved dog of 12 years, died three months ago.

It was, sincerely, the deepest of cuts. I’ve clearly lived a charmed life, because the accompanying pain was as raw, as suffocating, as nightmarish as any I’ve ever experienced. Norma was my sidekick, my writing partner, my friend. She was an eternal optimist, because dogs are eternal optimists. There was no COVID to Norma. No Donald Trump. No fires. She just wanted a carrot to chomp on.

Then, one day, she was gone.

The months that followed were tough ones, because the months that followed were tough for us all. Just one dark moment after another after another, to the point where I’d wake up some mornings and think, “Why even? What’s it all for?”

Enter: Poppy.

She arrived yesterday. From 2 1/2 hours away in Santa Barbara. She’s a 2 1/2-month old bernadoodle (the wife is allergic to most dogs, so we needed a non-shedder), and we all friggin’ love her. She’s soft, cuddly, playful, spunky. She wants to be around people, and makes these funny dog expressions and sounds that spark joy. She is not Norma’s replacement (no dog can replace the Nooms), but she’s a great new pet who—I believe—fills a gap we have missed.

Mostly, though, she’s good news.

And, God, did I need good news.

This week, my book came out—and it’s gone very well. And now Poppy is here. And she’s a tremendous reminder of the importance of having things to look forward to; of keeping life fresh and new and as vigorous as possible. COVID has certainly made that so much harder, but it’s important to never stop trying. Also, it’s important to find happiness. To seek it out. I don’t know what happens in November with the election. I don’t know what happens with COVID. With schools. With kids in cages and the Supreme Court and climate change. But I am fed up with 90 percent unhappiness.

Poppy isn’t a cure-all. But she’s a bundle of love when I require a bundle of love.

She makes me happy.

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The Easter Eggs of “Three-Ring Circus”

So every book I’ve written has contained a fair number of Easter eggs. Only they usually remain in the dark, because I forget to explain what they are and why they exist.

Not this time.

My new book, “Three-Ring Circus,” is overflowing with eggs. And, if you’re curious, here are a few …

Page 47:

Stanley Herz is actually my dad’s business name—which is a long, confusing story, because my mom’s maiden name is “Herz” and my dad’s actual name is “Stanley Pearlman.” But he did run his own executive search firm for years, and this was a really fun drop.

Page 41:

My wife Catherine was born on December 4, 1971. The number 12,471 has appeared in every book I’ve written.

Page 111:

Spencer Dunkley played center for the University of Delaware when I was a student at the school. If 100,000 people read this book, 12 would have heard of him. Maybe 11.

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Francis Brennan: Pride of Catholic University

Francis: No code.

Francis Brennan graduated from Catholic University in 2011.

This is significant to note, because attending Catholic University means agreeing to a pretty strict and clear-cut moral code. It includes the following:

I bring this up because, these days, ol’ Francis is employed as the director of strategic response for the Trump 2020 campaign. Which translates to—if you check out Francis’ Twitter feed—mocking and ridiculing a longtime senator and former vice president who, if nothing else, has shown himself to be a largely decent and honorable human being.

That’s largely Francis’ responsibility: To mock and ridicule Joe Biden and Co.

Which, I suppose is sorta OK. Does it align with the Catholic University standards? Certainly not. Is it decent? No. But politics are rough, and maybe Francis just desperately needs a job (Note: He must REALLY need a job. Because he used to work for the honorable Mitt Romney, who abhors Trump).

I digress.

In case you missed it, early today Francis took his job to new depths, posting this about Biden …

Now, in Francis Brennan’s defense … um … eh … nope. Nope, nope, nope. There is no in Francis Brennan’s defense. Joe Biden was at a cemetery visiting his son’s grave. I wanna repeat that, to be clear: Joe Biden was at a cemetery visiting his son’s grave. He wasn’t jogging. He wasn’t campaigning. He was trying to remember his son—who died.

But, hey, what’s a little decency when you’re Francis Brennan, Catholic University grad and director of strategic response for the Trump 2020 campaign? What’s kindness? What’s empathy? I mean, yeah, at the same time Biden was inside a cemetery Donald Trump was (once again) playing golf. And, yeah, we’re coming off of the revelations about Donald Trump shit talking troops. And yeah, Donald Trump fucked a porn star 10 days after the birth of his son, then paid her off in hush money. And yeah, Donald Trump has repeatedly lied about 9.11. And the Central Park Five. And Barack Obama’s birth certificate. And yeah, we’re now more than 180,000 COVID deaths into Trump’s non-efforts to come up with a non-strategy.

But, thankfully, little dill-weed piss-ants like Francis Brennan are here to remind us of the important things.

Namely, that humanity matters not to the modern GOP machine.

Decency, neither.

Catholic University must be so proud.

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Mahopac: The Good

So if you read my previous post, you’ll see a good ol’ dumping on my long-ago hometown and its refusal to retire the Indian mascot from its sports teams.

What followed was the standard reaction—some amens, some boos. But one reaction that hit me hard was from a Mahopac High teacher and former classmate, who said on my Facebook page: Jeff never passes on a chance to bash his old hometown does he.

And I was thinking: That’s a fair criticism. I haven’t lived in Mahopac for decades. I’m definitely an outsider looking in. I observe, I hear, I write–but I’m far from connected with the nitty gritty of it all. I’m not spending my days driving down Route 6, eating at the Freight House Cafe, jogging around the high school track.

So, again, that criticism is fair.

And, I’ll say this: I think I’m hard on Mahopac because, deep down, I love Mahopac. I loved riding my bike into town, grabbing sodas and gum at Rodak’s Deli. I loved the slices of pizza at Cacciatori’s. I loved running through the woods and exploring the burned-out mansion. I loved sleighing down my street when the snow was just right. I loved the Millers and the Garganos and the Walkers and the Adrians and the Powells and the Ballerinis. I loved my prom. I loved my track team. I loved Lake Mahopac. I loved how orange and yellow everything was in the fall.

I loved so much about Mahopac, and that teacher is right—I am far too hard on the town. Fact.

But … it hurts me. And seeing yet another depiction of a Native American on the yearbook … and knowing too many Mahopacians who run with the #MAGA and don’t want to actually understand the differences between “Indian” and “Native American”—it burns me. It does. Probably out of love. Or nostalgia. Or something.

Even 3,000 miles and 30 years removed.

So am I overzealous and overly pointed and mean? Probably. Am I the one to offer the most piercing criticisms? Probably not.

To cite our grand leader, it is what it is.

Sigh.

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My high school’s new yearbook cover

Awful. Just awful

So I’m sorta speechless right now, because moments ago I learned on Facebook that the above image is the cover of my high school’s yearbook.

Yup.

I attended Mahopac High in Putnam County, N.Y. Back when I was there in the late-1980s, the town was … well … um … not the most enlightened haven around. Warm? Sure. Laid-back? Yup. Lots of places for kids to ride their bikes? Most definitely. But Mahopac was also somewhat cocooned from the rest of the world. Though we were only about a 75-minute drive from New York City, it felt as if the bright lights were galaxies away. The Mahopac I knew wasn’t very diverse, wasn’t very enlightened. I had one teacher tell the class how blacks couldn’t ski—and how hilarious it was to watch them try. I had a kid scrawl JEW JEW JEW across my yearbook. Kids tossed pennies at me and my brother. A pal had crosses burned in his yard That sorta stuff.

But, in a way, I’ve always assumed Mahopac had to have evolved. Sure, there was this incident. And this situation. But there’s no possible way it couldn’t have improved. With time. With exposure. With experience.

Eh, maybe not.

As teams across America finally rid themselves of monikers like Redskins and Indians, Mahopac—and Mahopac High School—stubbornly refuses to do a damn thing. They’re the Indians, and despite some in the town demanding change … well, no. It’s not going to happen. Because, dammit, the Indians are part of Mahopac. Even if, eh, those people identified as “indians” were not, in fact, Indian. And even if it’s daily lesson to students that ignorance and insensitivity should trump (intentional word choice) kindness and understanding.

The yearbook cover is fucking shameful. It’s explosive, it’s dynamic—and it screams, “We are a bunch of ignorant, trashy yahoos who will not let common sense change who we are!”

It’s pathetic.

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“The president is not going to weigh in on that”

In case you missed it, early today Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, was asked whether Donald Trump condemned the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who shot protesters.

Her reply (with crucifix dangling from her necklace): “The president is not going to weigh in on that.”

This should be a new low, but it’s not. Because there are so many new lows. Day after day after day of new lows. What it is, however, is a clear indicator of what Donald Trump knows to be true. Namely, he needs racists to be re-elected.

And he’s right.

There are tons of racists in this nation. Tons upon tons. They’re mostly white, the grew up with this weird notion that whites>blacks, and they somehow see themselves represented by a lifetime huckster millionaire who lived in a gold New York City skyscraper and never showed them (racist whites) a moment of interest until the 2016 election.

Now, he needs them.

That’s why we have the dog whistles. That’s why we have the scare-the-suburbanites soundbites. And that’s why, as we sit here, the White House press secretary refuses to utter a peep about a murderer.

She wants to keep her job.

And if that means supporting a shooter, so be it.

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What is the COVID plan?

Because we now life inside a political/societal blender, it’s easy to get distracted by the 189,543 things swirling around us at all times.

There’s a rally over here. A march over there. A murder over there. A Trump Tweet there. A outrageous statement. An empty baseball stadium. A trial. A court vacancy. A funny commercial. A Facebook controversy. A YouTube clip of naked emus. This. That. That. This. This. This. This.

It’s all so overwhelming.

But, as we approach the terrifying 2020 presidential election, there’s one question that—for me—needs to be answers, but hasn’t been and won’t be:

What is the national COVID-19 plan?

As we speak, our nation has been decimated. We are four percent of the world’s population, and we have 22 percent of COVID cases. We are up to 183,000 deaths.

And.

There.

Is.

No.

Plan.

None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

I don’t even know how to explain this; how to grasp this. We have a president who still barely wears a mask; who held a White House speech a few days ago with a tightly-packed-in audience sans masks. For fuck’s sake, Hermain Cain—Donald Trump’s friend—died of COVID after attending one of his rallies without a mask.

So, yeah, there’s no plan. And that’s one of the big reasons Trump and Co. love violence in Portland; love Joe Biden insults; love inflamatory Tweets that cause the news media to buzz.

If we’re talking about those things, we’re not talking about his utter failure.

One hundred and 80 thousand Americans are dead.

There is no plan.

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I was embarrassed to get a Peloton. It’s saved me.

So—a confession: Two weeks ago a Peloton arrived at the Pearlman household.

And I was embarrassed.

I was embarrassed because a Peloton is stupid expensive. I was embarrassed because a Peloton is a major luxury when so many people are struggling. I was embarrassed because I live in Orange County, and the thing feels very Orange County.

So, yeah. I was embarrassed.

The thing is, I’ve also been miserable. Thanks to COVID, I no longer have my Saturday morning pickup basketball games; also no longer have a gym membership, which I used five-to-six nights per week. I was feeling … sluggish and meh and out of sorts. So, after I dropped the “Maybe we should get a Peloton …” statement one afternoon, the wife kindly ordered it.

And, well, I fucking love it.

I really do.

Do I love spin? Eh, it’s fine. Do I love biking? Eh, it’s fine. What I love about the ol’ Peloton—oddly, weirdly—is the positivity. The energy. I sign on, I snap in, I start a class led by, oh, Kendall Toole or Alex Toussaint and I just … feel it. In this isolated world of same faces, masked faces, Peloton has mastered the illusion/reality of making people feel as if they matter. When I’m on the bike, I don’t want to let myself down—but I really don’t want to let the instructors down. Which is, intellectually, weird, because they know not I exist.

I don’t know how else to explain it. But even as my feet ache and my shoulders throb, Peloton has given me some oomph.

At a time when it’s necessary.