Peter Richmond

On Anthony Mason’s Eulogies, and What’s Missing: That She Was 15

March 1st, 2015
by Peter Richmond

When Anthony Mason played for the New York Knicks he was fun to watch. He was tough in the paint and very physical. His emotions sparked the team. Raised in Queens, his home-town status made him kind of a hero. When he died Friday, at 48, of a heart attack, local writers waxed eloquently.

A columnist for the Daily News quoted a former Knick executive as saying, “He was a nasty character on the court who was capable of being an extraordinary gentleman away from it.” The columnist finished his piece thusly: “There have been other New York basketball stories. His was still a great one. Kid from the corner and off the streetcorners of Queens. Mase: Dead at 48. That was some heart that finally gave out.”

The New York Post columnist wrote, “Even after he was finally exiled to Charlotte, and for the rest of his career, the Garden would always cheer him. He was, after all, not only of New York but from New York. He wasn’t perfect, there were off-court incidents, there were things he said later on he shouldn’t have said. Never seemed to matter.”

A New York Times’ columnist wrote, “Mason was behaviorally indulgent (he also had issues away from Garden, some with the law), so few could resist rendering occasional judgment. But time had its soothing effects.”

Yes, it did. Time has apparently soothed February 7, 1998, right out of written history. On that night, according to the arrest warrant, Mason was charged with the statutory rape and sexual abuse of a 15-year-old in a limousine after a charity basketball game in Queens. The girl had told their older sister of the incident.

After Mason surrendered to police, they questioned him for five hours, and then arrested him. The Assistant District attorney said at the time that Mason knew the girl’s age. He was released on $20,000 bond. Depositions claimed that he had kissed and fondled the 15-year-old in the limo.

Four months later, Mason pled to a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a minor; had he been convicted in court, he’d have faced prison time, due to a prior weapons charge. (An assault of a policeman in Times Square in a separate incident was also settled).

When a man dies, it is human nature to not dwell on his flaws. When a basketball player dies, it’s sportswriting’s nature to not mention them specifically at all. When they involve taking advantage of a teenaged girl, this is inexcusable.

Whether whatever happened in the limousine was consensual or not is not relevant. What is relevant is that Mason was a child molester, according to the law, which was enacted to protect young girls who don’t have the ability to reason.

This is the neuroscience: The rewards center of an adolescent’s brain — the part that wants things — develops earlier than the prefrontal cortex, which serves to tell the rewards center, “Hold on. There will be consequences to taking what you want.”

The 15-year-old girl’s brain was not working the way Mason’s was. She was vulnerable in every sense of the word.

In an age when sexual assaults, domestic abuse and other ugly sides to professional athletics are finally being scrutinized, the death of Anthony Mason prompted not a single writer to examine our relationship to our heroes, or to question why we continue to wax nostalgically about a man who too egregious advantage of a girl. That is not a journalistic misdemeanor. That is a felony.

I taught 15-year-old girls for three years, and now teach 17- and 18-year-old girls. The idea of a large, muscular, famous 31-year-old man ever laying a hand on any one of them is something I will not allow myself to conjure. But if I ever came across such a man who had taken sexual advantage of any of the girls I have ever taught, I would not be responsible for my actions.

And if I ever had to write about him after his death, I would mourn his passing by asking, “We’re waxing fondly and rapturously about a man who pled guilty to criminally fondling a girl. What does that say about us?”

I don’t think I’d want to hear the answer.

On A-Rod’s Eternal Adolescence

February 26th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Alex Rodriguez’ return to the playing field is not working out the way he’d envisioned. Then, Rodriguez’ regular efforts to garner our affection never do. It’s a given: The more he really, really wants to be liked, the more he mucks it up. And the more his judges pile on.

His handwritten apology to Yankee fans, issued on the eve of his return to baseball after a year-long suspension? Universal reaction: Obviously Insincere! The 12,000-word profile written by a Pulitzer-Prize winner in ESPN The Magazine, after the writer spent 100 hours in the man’s company? Featured not a single quote from Rodriguez, because, as the author said, “He’s a proven liar, a repeated liar…there’s just no point in quoting him.” Then, the New York Times columnist — sick of the “lies” — who  suggested that the Yankees should sever ties with him; to do so, said the writer, the team “will have to show two qualities not usually mentioned in the same context as Rodriguez: bravery and honesty.”

All kids lie. Demanding bravery? What is he, William Wallace? Or just a wildly insecure kid playing a kid’s game, never actually coached in mind as well as body, and as brave and honest, in general, as any knuckleheaded, swaggering teenager? I’ve bought into that pop-psych theory for 15 years now, and I’m sticking to it, ever since the two of us sat for a few hours in the wardrobe/makeup trailer for a GQ cover shoot on Miami Beach. He’d be sharing the cover with Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. We were talking about how the three of them — the Mexican Garciaparra, the Dominican Rodriguez and the biracial Jeter — symbolized a new kind of era, and one that had been too long in coming.

“It’s like the baton has been passed…Let’s see if we can take it,” Rodriguez said, just as there was knock on the door and the famous photographer’s assistant was summoning the Mariners’ star to the set. Rodriguez was about to step out of the door of the trailer when he stopped and glanced back at me with a look, as I described it in my story, of “little-kid panic.”

“I don’t mean to say there aren’t a lot of other great players out there,” he clarified. “That’s not what I meant, you know?” He was genuinely, almost frantically, worried that he’d come off as pompous, even though it was a pretty benign quote.

I wasn’t surprised he’d been anxious to clarify. We’d spent a good two hours together, enough time for me to sense that Alex Rodriguez really, really wanted us to like him. Wanted everyone to like him. A lot. At one point that day, he’d asked me, genuinely, whether I, as a New Yorker, thought he should come to the Mets as a free agent. (I thought: he’s asking me? Doesn’t he have legitimate friends and advisors?) “Of course!” I said.

“What about Derek?” he answered. At first, I didn’t understand. “It’d be the coolest cross-town rivalry,” I said. Rodriguez dropped the subject. But I knew what he’d been worried about: going to a city where someone else would always be more beloved…or, more specifically, where being constantly compared to Jeter would ensure that, popularity-wise, as well as character-wise, he’d come up short. Way short.

He went to Arlington, Texas, to a team with no prospects for winning, in a town otherwise devoid of a-list athletes (unless you count Cowboy quarterback Quincy Carter).

When he finally did come to New York, it’d be tempting to say he’d outgrown that adolescent-stud mindset, wherein it’s second nature to grab for whatever you want, be it the babe, the beer/drug, the bucks…

…Unless you recall the night in 2007 when, on a Yankee road trip to Toronto, he ushered a woman who wasn’t his wife to a strip club, and then his hotel. Trailed by paparazzi. Hello, New York Post front page: “STRAY-ROD.” Or the time he flipped out during a midtown Manhattan appeals hearing, slamming his briefcase shut (according to someone who knows what happened in that room), and stomping crosstown to immediately blast the league on the most listened-to radio show in New York…when he’s trying to get back into said league.

Stupid behavior? No stupider than any 16-year-old kid star athlete getting into a car driven by a friend who’s already drunk half of the six-pack on the front seat. It’s an actual neuroscientific fact: the adolescent brain’s “rewards center” develops ahead of the pre-frontal cortex, which accounts for how many teenagers do things without seeing the possible effects of their actions.

Why’d he stop growing emotionally? Maybe as soon as the coaches at the University of Miami started treating him like very valuable meat, and coaches kept handing him up to the next level of the carnival, no one bothered to pay attention to the little kid crying out for attention. And yes, okay, so his reasoning circuits should be wired by now. But old psychological habits die hard when no one tries to genuinely, sincerely remedy them, wherein the more things change, the more they stay the same, if something he said in his eight-minute press conference on Monday is indicative of his mindset: “No mistake that I made has any good answer, no justification. It’s unexplainable.” As in: if there’s no explanation, how can I really be blamed?

*
Time was, the pastime promised an annual psychic rebirth when they unlocked the gates in Florida and the writers gave us the early news. Who’s going to be the fifth starter? Who’s the unknown minor-leaguer who’s going to emerge and win a roster spot, to everyone’s delight?

So maybe it’s fitting that we open this year with columnists piling on the guy. The headline on the Times column? “Lying, Lying, Gone. Fans Should Hope So.” After all: the current national pastime seems to be shouting and fist-shaking between any two sides at any give time: Right/Left, O’Reilly/Maddow, Creationist/Evolutionarian.

Why shouldn’t dialogue about the sporting pastime be any different? Why shouldn’t the first stories from Florida pile on a fallen man? Because he doesn’t deserve such shallow, one-sided, knee-jerk condemnation. Because he isn’t a man. He’s a lost little kid.
He didn’t kill anyone, or rip off subprime mortgage holders. Just his own legacy. Consider this: If a high-school kid serially cheats on tests, as well as his girlfriend, and then says he doesn’t know why he does it, we don’t condemn him for betrayal, for not being brave, for letting us all down. We try and help him see the error of his ways. And then, when he gets it wrong again, we shake our heads and try again to help him grow up. We don’t act as if he’s a cowardly, dangerous, treasonous betrayer of all that’s right and good.

Hey: If you’re a true fan, look at it this way. If we back off a little, give him the benefit of the doubt (again), who knows? Maybe he gives us a good season of baseball. Talented teenagers are capable of doing it, and so is Alex Rodriguez. So let’s back off and let him try and hit some doubles, okay? And stop pretending that the men in uniforms are statesmen? They’re the joy givers. Sometimes they suffer because of it, too. And if we praise them when they delight us, we ought to try and understand when they fail to.

Don’t check your calendar.

February 13th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Perhaps, if you recently walked into your kid’s bedroom and noticed that the Philadelphia Eagles’ calendar for Black History Month featured wide receiver Riley Cooper — two years after he shouted, “I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here!” at a Kenny Chesney concert — you wondered, “How in the hell did that happen?”

Or maybe, like Jesus, you just wept.

“We do not oversee the production of the annual team calendar,” the Eagles said in a stunningly unapologetic statement today. “We do not provide any input about the players who are featured or where those pictures appear in the calendar. The NFL licenses the production of that calendar to a third party and we do not have an opportunity to review the material.”

Let’s assume that this is true, although, given the NFL’s recent general pattern of duplicity from Goodell on down, I don’t know why we should. Still, let’s take the statement at face value, and examine it a little more closely:

For Riley Cooper to have been selected as a calendar guy without the Eagles’ knowledge, this would mean that the mothership of a corporation in public-relations freefall — an industry that, despite providing a product for which the public seems to have an insatiable hunger, has recently managed, through remarkable mismanagement, to squander good will at every opportunity — entrusted the selection of players on a team calendar to someone who either a) didn’t think that Cooper’s neanderthal nature would diminish the calendar’s marketability — or the league’s — or b) was somehow oblivious to the sensational stain that Cooper visited on his league less than two years ago.

Okay: So maybe they put the calendar-selection task in the hands of an intern from, say, Cooper’s alma mater, the University of Florida, the college whose longstanding university-wide racial vibe made it pretty easy to understand why Cooper would shout epithets in public. But even in that unlikely scenario, someone above our intern would have had to sign off, no? If not several folks?

Something nags, though: if the Eagle statement is true, we’re being asked to believe that a franchise in a minutely marketed company had no desire to know who the home office had deemed its poster boy. That everyone from Jeffrey Lurie on down told the folks on Park Avenue, “You go ahead and select the role models for our fans. We’re still too busy trying to erase all the stories still out there about Mark Sanchez and the 17-year-old girl.”
No matter what happened here, this much is certain: Somewhere in the offices of a tone-deaf league, some tone-deaf white men gave their approval to bestowing marketing-star status to a man who (presumably having had some beers, wherein In Vino Veritas) shouted a word that was clearly not buried too deeply in his shallow brain-pan.

Of course, further speculation is fruitless until the league finishes its in-depth investigation, which, given that in 2013 they rubber-stamped the Eagles’ decision to discipline Cooper by…fining him, is likely to happen right after they grant an expansion team to Akron.

Which means that while piped-in crowd noise in Atlanta and deflated footballs deserve acute examination, in the front office of a league that markets itself as a paragon of morality, whose games feature F-16 flyovers, field-sized American flags and sanctioned camo-dress for coaches, racism still raises nary an eyebrow.

Why Beers With Fidrych and Eckersley Symbolize Spring

February 9th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

That morning, I’d interviewed Dennis Eckersley at the Red Sox’ funky old spring-training compound in Winter Haven. We’d gotten along well for people who’d never met before. Then in his fifth year with Boston, after being traded from Cleveland partly because his first wife had been sleeping with one of his teammates, Eckersley seemed to a normal, funny, sardonic, friendly guy who also happened to throw a baseball for a living.

I’d arrived at the Orlando airport early for the flight back to Miami. With two hours to kill, I found a raw bar and a real bar combined, sat down, and saw Eckersley sitting and drinking a beer a few stools over. This was in 1984. In 1984, you could maybe run into a baseball player in an airport bar, and they wouldn’t freak, or ask their friends/entourage to shuffle you away; it was a time when the barriers between them and us hadn’t been completely erected yet.

Dennis emphatically gestured that I had to join him. I moved over. The bartender came over. I ordered my beer, and Dennis asked for another round for him and the guy next to him. “You know Mark, right?” he said to me. His friend Mark leaned over, and shook my hand, smiling big-time, his Roger Daltry-meets-Zeppo Marx blond curls rocking in rhythm to our handshake.

I’d never met Mark Fidrych; he was five years out of the game by then. But I never forgot that goofy smile, and the feeling he gave off that afternoon that he was not an athlete, just a nice guy in a tee-shirt and blue jeans maybe having beers in a local, darkened bar in the town back where he’d gone to high school, where he now drove a gravel truck, which is what Fidrych actually did in real life back home at the time.

Every year at this time, I think of those couple of beers with Bird and Eck. When spring gets close, and you can feel the game starting up because you’ve just read that the Red Sox’ equipment trucks are already heading South on 95, sometimes I wonder why I remember those beers more than, say, the long walk with Mattingly from an outlying practice field to the clubhouse in Lauderdale, or riding in a golf cart with Ozzie Guillen under an Arizona sun.

But the answer’s obvious: It was a cool couple of beers because I wasn’t interviewing Mark or Dennis. I was drinking with them, no notebooks or digital recorders in sight. I was drinking with two guys joined by a sport, and a home state (Massachusetts), and by the vagaries of life. Eck had a brother doing time for kidnapping and attempted murder; alcoholism, Eck had testified at the trial, ran in the family.

Fidrych was hauling gravel, and helping out at Chet’s Diner, his mother’s business up home in Northborough. He didn’t vibe as a guy who’d let the Rolling Stone cover go to his head, or the memories of the summer of ’76, when he unwittingly seized the game for his own, and entranced a nation. Not because he had the lowest ERA in the AL, as a rookie. Because he talked to the ball as he prepaid to throw it, and sometimes knelt to smooth out the dirt of the mound.

Now, in the Orlando airport, he was having beers with Eck because two years later, in 1982, two years after injuries had cut Fidrych’s career with the Tigers way too short, the Red Sox signed him, and while Bird didn’t make the cut that year, he did make friend in Eckersley. This was a no-brainer: Two guys who never thought of themselves as anyone but who they were in real life. The pitcher with the Fu Mancho and scruffy locks who looked like a rhythm guitarist for Little Feat, who had never bought into the star making machinery, and the former pitcher who now oversaw a farm and delivered gravel when the state highways needed to be patched up.

That’s why they were drinking beer and eating crabs legs in an airport: Fidrych had come down to visit his pal for a few days, see him pitch an exhibition game. Now Eck was seeing him off at the airport, because that’s what friends do.

When Fidrych died five years ago, at 54, it seemed insanely unfair. Not just for his family, but for a game that desperately needs nice guys who you can automatically like and root for. They’re way too few. At the time, I was tempted to contact Eckersley and tell him how sorry I was for the loss of his friend (we’d spent some more time together in the interim) But it wasn’t my place. My place was to have been lucky enough to drink a few beers with two guys who stand for everything cool that baseball players can still be.

And that’s why, every February, I start to think of the sights and sounds of baseball again: the sight that afternoon of Fidrych’s curls, the sound of Bird’s methodically cracking open crab legs as he laughed at whatever his friend was saying, because Eck has a pretty fine sense of humor.

This spring will bring some cool, stress-less baseball. But soon after, some player will do something dumb or nasty, and for some people the scandal will shadow the game and paint the athletes in a bad light. But not for me, because once I spent an afternoon with a couple of baseball players who loved their game. That day, they were happy and relaxed and humble without trying to be, and ever since, with the onset of every spring, in remembering, kind of like a dream, I get happy, too.

On how the glitterglitz never diminishes the glory of the game.

February 2nd, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Back in the time before time, in the days of innocence — say, before the Time Magazine cover story on January 5, 1977, announced that The Super Bowl was now a Certified Entertainment Phenomenon — we watched the game for the love of the contest and its graceful, brutal beauty, and then we went back to whatever we were doing, because other things mattered as much as football games did. Football games didn’t really mean much at all.

The men in the uniforms were remarkable athletes, yes — but that’s all we asked of them for a few decades, after the ’58 championship game planted the NFL in our sports consciousness: to play good games. For the next two decades, professional football players more or less earned a paycheck commensurate with what they contributed to society; the average offensive lineman’s salary in 1976 — about $35,000 — would be $145,000 today. The athletes put in a day’s work for a day’s pay.

Off the field, they were pretty average citizens, too. Even in the bourbon-soaked, badassed Madden glory days in Oakland (mid-Seventies), not a single Raider was ever arrested. Yes, fullback Marv Hubbard ritualistically punched out the dry-cleaner’s window next to Big Al’s Cactus Room in downtown Oakland after big wins — but he’d always leave the money to pay for it. Yes, Stabler and Biletnikoff would finish a fifth of Wild Turkey at 4 a.m., but they’d do it in their hotel room. (A few hours later, Snake would then pass for 358 yards and Fred would catch two touchdowns. Innocence, really.)

Then, for whatever reason (but maybe having something to do with turning our back on Carter’s altruism and allowing Reagan to spawn a Greed-is-Good subtext to our daily pursuits) a football tipping point occurred, and now, as we realized that spectacle was something owed us, we Americans wanted not to only see a game; we wanted to be entertained, at whatever cost. We wanted to get beyond our relationship with a second-class pastime and ramp up the glitter to an A-list level. We wanted a show.

And so, instead of the Los Angeles Unified All-City Marching Band giving us Sousa in 1976, in 1983, Michael Jackson was the halftime gig, whereafter the entertainment industry, with a cool new venue, would never look back on marching bands. The Super Bowl production would never again flirt with innocence (see, Jackson, Janet). The coin toss would morph into a ceremony involving about 138 people, including extended families. Television reporters and commentators with all of the insight of so many Homer Simpsons came to clot the sidelines.

The commercials paying the bills? At the start, the commercials were just commercials until, in 1980, Coke put a can of its syrup into Mean Joe Green’s hand, courtesy of a cute little kid in a stadium tunnel, and the Super Bowl Mini Film-Festival was born, wherein a cottage industry of media critics get to judge the theatrical value of mini-movies selling diabetes and obesity with a clown-smile, drunkenness with an innocent-lewd wink..

So that now, as with each annual neon-ed, all-day, all-night carnival, with the game bracketed on all sides by white noise and green-greed, last night the stage was set for us to decry the excess of the day, and how it diminished the game, and pine for the simpler times…until, as always, with the opening kickoff, the game rendered all of the rest of the shallow-show instantly irrelevant. From then on in, pyrotechnics be damned, pro football took over.

Three-and-half-hours later, the army of glommers who’d spent the previous year desperately trying to figure out a way to seize the game for their own profit had long receded, giving way to the crazy glow of that insane last few minutes: the duel between two cerebral, maniacal coaches, and between two extraordinary, and likeable quarterbacks, and between an unknown wide receiver and an unknown cornerback — all of whom conspired to give us, not epic entertainment, but epic sport…which must be why we keep coming back, to the games. Because if there’s one arena of human achievement that continues to defy the entertainment-industry’s machinery’s best efforts to render it soulless, it’s our games.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of the night, I wasn’t wondering whether Perry was on pitch, or whether Nationwide had messed up or nailed it. I was saying to myself, “Damn. What a great football game. What a great ending. When’s the next game?”

And when it gets here, it’ll get here in whatever fashion it has to. History is history. Now is now. So next year, I won’t care if Halliburton and Blackwater buy commercial time to air a musical-comedy commercial about covert weaponry, or Bieber and Tony Bennett do a medley of Nine Inch Nails, or the flyover isn’t just six F-16s; it’s a tactical bomber squadron of B-52 Stratofortresses dropping fake nukes onto the field.
I’ll be back. Because at the end of these nights, it’s only a game. And I can’t get enough of it.

587 Words about The Glorious Spectacle of the Pro Bowl

January 26th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

They played another pro football all-star game last night. That’s the game where no player wants to get hurt or hurt anyone else so that it’s basically a game of touch football, which would be fine if you were watching professional touch-football players, but in this case is kind of like watching two really good boxers who are allowed to only tap their gloves as they feint and bob for 12 rounds before hugging — only worse, because the uniforms in the Pro Bowl look as if they were designed by a former Nike intern on acid working for the pajama section of the Sky Mall catalog before it went bankrupt.

I only watched because with no defense, I wanted to see how good Odell Beckham Jr. could really be (just as good), and because the Miss Universe contest is rigged (no one from any other planet is ever a contestant) and because it was…professional football. The addiction I cannot kick. Then, I’m not alone. This evening of performance art gets better ratings than not only baseball’s version, but the average MLB playoff game. This year, University of Phoenix Stadium filled to capacity with people willing to pay up to $200 to see a game they would later deny having attended (“Why would I go to the Pro Bowl? You know me better than that”). Just as I’ll deny having watched it if anyone asks, which they won’t.

They keep playing it, I guess, for the same reason that they play all the other games. It makes them richer. And they are already really, really rich. (I’m confident that the next mass demonstration on the island of Mannahatta will be “Occupy 345 Madison,” the offices where someone cuts Roger Goodell a paycheck of $1.36 million twice a month without laughing out loud, in return for Goodell having the leadership charisma of my hen, Jill, but far less common sense.

Last night’s game didn’t make money, by the way; in transplanting it for a year from Hawaii, the league forfeited the $4 million Hawaii usually kicks in. So why did Roger willingly give that revenue stream up? Because next week there’s another game in the same stadium named for the sleazy for-profit on-line university: a superfootballgame which a sleazy league has gradually and sleazily turned into a carnival ride instead of a football game…for profit. The experiment, thanks to a city drowning in sports-arena debt, was this: If we were to start putting the Pro Bowl in the Super Bowl city, could we eventually make, say, twice as many trillion bitcoins?

Next year? The Pro Bowl is back in Hawaii, and the league is $4 million richer. Mr. G’s mom didn’t raise no fool — just a clueless blondish marionette for 32 very wealthy puppeteers who know about the bottom line.

No, the fool is clearly, well, me. No one forced me to watch until Beckham made a patented, diving Odell catch, doing his best to represent, freeing me to click over to Miss Universe (she so did not deserve to win).

So, what the hell: Play it again, Roger. Play it in Kathmandu. Name Lady Gaga and Miley Cyris as honorary captains. Make Uzbek the official language of the game. Let Stella McCartney design the uniforms. Mandate that the game be played against an endless tape-loop . Just play it and, god have mercy on our souls, enough of us will always come to make you even richer.

A Plea: In the Face of a Plague, Can We Rise Above The Petty?

October 13th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

So the director of the National Institute of Health tells HuffPost that budget cuts have hurt our ability to handle ebola…
…resulting in Salon’s Joan Walsh broadsiding Repubs who cut the budget, resulting in widespread name-blame chattering on FB…
and I say: stop.
This epidemic is not about parochial American bickering between blue and red. This isn’t about our own little American civil war between shouters.
This is much, much bigger. This disease is the canary in the coal mine, a plague that hints at coming plagues which, if we don’t start thinking outside the bickering realm in a country which is supposed to set an example, will ensure that our descendants won’t have a political party to defend, or colored states to mock as they blame everyone else; they’ll be eating roots and grubs in the Caucasus with the rest of the tribe.
Can we all take a step back from screaming at each other over who did what on The Hill, in the capital of our sad little greedy, grubby land, and remember that Africa is dying — of HIV/AIDS and Ebola? Instead of expending brain cells at slurring legislators we don’t know, or getting angry at the talking head who disagrees with us, can we take that energy and point it in the right directions, the wider-radar directions? Occupy, or volunteer, or educate, or whatever?
Can’t we all start taking tangible action to help save mankind, instead of deriding someone else’s beliefs? And start acting like human beings — as in humanistic, as in compassion which rises above petty ego and ineffectual I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong thinking? And soon?
I truly do think we are all capable of rising above. Presumably, we haven’t been entrusted with being humans so we can make fun of other humans. Presumably, we are here to show empathy and compassion, and use our short lives with vision, not myopia.

The Canary in the Newsprint Mine? Just Died.

October 1st, 2014
by Peter Richmond

I didn’t recognize the area code on the cell. Never a good thing.

“Mr. Richmond?”

“That’s me.”

“Sir, this is a courtesy call from the Knoxville Sentinel.”

Yep, not a good thing. “Courtesy call” is an oxymoron.

“Unh-hunh?”

“Sir, I’m calling about your digital subscription.”

My digital subscription. To the Knoxville Sentinel.

“My what?”

“Sir, it’s been a year and we wanted to know if you wanted to renew.”

Knoxville…Knoxville…yeah, I might have signed on to get a story or two researching a column…but which? Did I write about the Tennessee Volunteers? Not likely. Never written about college football in my life. NASCAR? Ditto.

“Um, no, I don’t think so. But thanks.”

“Then would you like to settle up the account?”

Settle up? “What’s the balance?”

“Three fifty six.”

Fuck. I must have signed on at a dollar a day. Idiot! That’s a new set of used tires for the 19-year-old Volvo!

“Three-fifty-six?”

“Yessir. Three dollars and fifty-six cents.”

I settled.

And it struck me: the dire economic straits that the Knoxville Sentinel faces are such that they pay someone to chase down less money than a vente soy latte costs.

Good night, Sentinel. And good luck. Too bad you, like the New York Times (which announced a looming 100 newsroom layoffs today) and everyone in between in the print empire, hadn’t had the vision to see it all coming, this blueprint for obsolescence. Because it’s not as if Corporate America hadn’t provided enough previous examples of blind greed. Take the railroads. They bled the public dry and filled their coffers for decades — until the cars and planes showed up in their infancy, at which point, as the lords and professors of the national transportation industry, the railroads were in a painfully logical position to leap into the future of transportation. How obvious was it? Technology had announced the next chapter. The New York Central? The Pennsylvania? The Santa Fe? No brainer: Get into the airlines business. Buy up Ford stock. Use your riches to but the obvious future.

What happened? They laughed at the newcomers, and laughed their way to the….bread line, when, in the late Thirties, FDR pulled the plug on federal subsidies: “Get your hands out of the country’s pockets, barons. Your time has come and gone.”

Flash to 1981, when the San Diego Union, of the profitable Copley chain, essayed its first foray into the web: By putting two computers in a closet near my desk in sports, and hiring two interns. “Go for it,” someone said. “Get us, like, a presence on that thing.” Wait,” I thought (and I really did). There’s this thing where we can connect with computers? Read something the same hour some0ne wrote it?

The moral? Like the railroads, the print giants, from Knight-Ridder to Gannett to the Sulzbergers, controlled the transmission of news and information when Al Gore first invented the world-wide-web. They knew how to distribute The Word (and the image), how to maximize its audience, how to lure advertisers, how to run an info-empire. When the web began to make its first squalls, right out of the crib, and then took its first steps, any news organization with half a brain would have stepped in, seized the technology, put it on a front burner and guaranteed a future as profitable, smoothly running info machine, where the actual print paper existed as nothing more than a billboard for a very profitable on-line empire.

But no. Blinded by the buck, they had no vision. Times, Post, Globe, Trib, USA Today? You got no one to blame but your corporate-minded selves. You always insisted you were in it for The First Amendment. Maybe some of you were. But not the ones who counted. They were in it to sell product.

Not for much longer. Bye, bye, guys. As Trey sings in Phish’s “Down With Disease,” “Waiting’ for the time when I can finally say: `This has all been wonderful, but now I’m on my way.’”

How cool is it when a friend blogs about yr book? Cooler than anything.

September 6th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

Sadie and Company

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dear Peter: My Inner Teen Is in Love With Your Inner Teen

Two thirds of the way through Always a Catch, Peter Richmond’s first YA novel, budding prep-school football star Jack Lefferts finally gets up the balls to bare his soul to Caroline Callahan, a brainy eleventh-grader with more literary references at her fingertips than the Library of Congress. So what does the kid do? He suddenly busts out—no more Mr. Shy Guy—and barges into her dorm (strictly off-limits), bounds up the stairs, looks both ways and, seeing the coast is clear, rushes to her door and knocks. The door opens:
She was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants, her hair pulled into a ponytail. “What are you doing here?” she said. “This is stupid, Jack. Booth’s a bitch. If she catches you . . . ” She pulled me in by my sweatshirt and closed the door. “So whatever you have to say couldn’t have waited?”
What did I have to say? Wait, that was easy. “I just wanted to know if . . . if we, you know, are . . . I don’t know . . . ”
“You’re going to have to learn how to finish a sentence, Lefferts, if Jarvis is going to give you an A.”
We stood there, stupidly. Then she reached out both her hands, with her palms up. So I put my hands in hers. And maybe then there was some sort of current. It was definitely electric. For me, anyway. She was just totally cool and relaxed.
“We’re something,” she said. “Why do you have to label it? Now, get out of here. All we need is Booth busting me. Or you.”
I am in love with these two kids. Or maybe I’m in love with Peter, whom I met when we worked together at GQ—our relationship centered on the Chicago Manual of Style. He was way past being a kid, and yet he hadn’t completely shed that vulnerable wiseass persona that defines adolescence. They say that if you want to write YA fiction, you gotta think like a YA. My guess is that for PR this comes naturally, and I mean that as a compliment.

The book isn’t, despite my emphasis, a teen romance. It’s about a lonely kid—a throwaway kid from a family of means—who is trying to figure out who he is while negotiating the horrors peculiar to elite boarding schools. There’s a lot of football in it. Peter wrote it hoping that boys will read it, even though publishing gurus say they won’t because boys don’t read books. I’m recommending it here to mothers of boys. And fathers of boys. And teachers of boys. And anybody else who loves boys. I just hope Jack and Caroline get together before he gets busted for something stupid and Dad packs him off to boot camp.

On what it’s like to shoot an Uzi, or I coulda killed someone

August 29th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

Some years ago,  at the Knob Creek Shootout in West Point Ky., I shot three machine guns, which is what people do every year at the Knob Creek Range, located at one end of a long hollow in the hills: shoot fully automatic weapons down the hollow, at targets. The year I visited the targets included 50-gallon drums of gasoline, which would explode when hit; lots of abandoned appliances (mostly refrigerators and televisions) and the cab of a Peterbilt truck with a poster of Saddam Hussein taped to its grill. (Interestingly, while lots of people stitched some very high-caliber bullets into that cab over the course of the weekend, no one managed to set it aflame.)
Two kinds of people attend the Knob Creek Shootout: Those with guns, who fire them, and those who come to see them be fired. I was a third kind of animal; a journalist covering the event, allowed to hang on the firing line because the organizers felt as if they had nothing to hide, which they don’t, and trusted me to report what I saw.
It would be easy to generalize about the Knob Creek crowd, given that on the Friday of the weekend I visited, one spectator wore a tee-shirt with Hitler’s visage and the legend, “I’m Coming Back, and This Time, No More Mr. Nice Guy,” but the truth was that the majority of people who own fully automatic weapons seemed to be as much historians as gun freaks. They could tell you where their machine gun was used in battle (or crime-fighting in The Prohibition) and who made it, and when. Few seemed to revel in their possessions as being killing machines, but, of course, that’s all a machine-gun is.
Most of the guns at Knob Creek that year dated from the first half of the twentieth century, including the first one I fired: a tripod-mounted, belt-fed, water-cooled .30 caliber Browning M1917 which was capable of firing 600 rounds per minute, or 10 bullets per second. This one weighed 47 pounds, and, its owner explained to me, may have been used in the battle of Flanders Field. He was more than eager to let me shoot it.
So I sat behind it, cross-legged, and pulled the trigger and held it there, and the bullets burst forth at an insane pace, effortlessly. Swerving the barrel right to left, left to right, I tried not to envision what it would have been like to be aiming at German soldiers running, helpless, across a field, preferring to seek refuge in the idea that this was the ultimate video game, for there were no actual stakes; no one was going to die from my shots.
No physical effort was required to shoot the Browning and mow down the imaginary enemy, other than pulling the trigger and holding it, because the gun was mounted. It did strike me that the weightlessness of the effort of operating such an efficient mass-executor sort of made it feel as if I were switching channels on a flat-screen. I can’t recall whether I hit a target; at the time, I was simply marveling at the power I possessed.
The next gun I fired on Friday was a Chinese rip-off of a Russian AK-47 Kalashnikov. But the fake AK-47, since it wasn’t equipped with a fully-automatic modification device, was a semi-automatic, which meant that I had to pull the trigger every time I wanted to fire a bullet. However, most semis have such a fluid and pressure-less trigger action that you can, in fact, fire nearly as many bullets as you can with a fully automatic weapon. An experienced shooter can pull a trigger at least five times per second with a semi-automatic pistol; thus, in ten seconds, fifty bullets can be fired. In a minute, 300. This is why the semi is the preferred munition for school shooters. Getting a fully automatic gun is very difficult, and has been since 1934, when legislation aimed at stopping Tommy-Gun gangsters taxed the full machine guns out of popular existence.
The AK-47 had a slight kick, but since I was able to snap off short bursts before stopping a second later, I never felt as if the gun had control of me. I was also able to hit a refrigerator (I think; it might have been a washing machine) because I could shoot for a second, stop, readjust, and shoot again.
On Saturday, as I roamed the firing line, I saw that there was a new guy in town with an Uzi. Who wouldn’t want to shoot an Uzi? It was developed in Israel in 1948, but today more than ninety nations militaries have them. The name “Uzi” has transcended the genre. When Reagan was shot, the Secret Service guarded his trip to the hospital with Uzis. Bruce Willis probably used Uzis in those movies. Or wishes he had. “Uzi” is hot.
The Uzi guy was cool. “One thing to think about,” he said, as he handed me the gun, “is that you’ll be surprised at the kick.” In a second, I knew why he’d said it: The gun weighed eight pounds. Hefting it felt like rocking a new-born infant. It was so slight of weight that it seemed to be a toy. I knew it to be capable of 600 rounds per minute, but for some reason, it didn’t feel as if it were a serious weapon.
And so, as I raised the Uzi’s stock to my shoulder, and braced my feet as I aimed at some appliance or other, I told myself to be careful. But I also knew that, the day before, I had fired two very deadly weapons without any physical exertion at all. So perhaps, psychologically, I was unprepared for what happened next.
I squeezed the trigger, and before I could even put together another thought, bullets were spraying everywhere — up, and to the right, in a wild hail of firepower. Without letting off the trigger, determined to rein the damned gun in, I tried to level it, but could not. After I stopped firing, I’d fired about 60 bullets in ten seconds, none of them remotely close to any target. All I remember is being relieved that the thing had kicked up, and to the right, and so most of the bullets probably landed off in the woods.
That night, after dark, the highlight of the festival consisted of the firing of a Vietnam-era GE Minigun by a man who had spent years putting one together; after the war, the guns were disassembled, and various parts strewn far and wide; he had tracked them down. The Minigun is a Gatling-style gun, with rotating barrels sparked by an electrical charge, capable of firing 4000 rounds per minute, or 67 rounds per second.
The man hit the switch, and for ten seconds, to the accompaniment of a roar beyond description and a glow of flame from the barrel that seemed to light up the entire darkened hollow, 700 tracer bullets found their way many hundreds of yards down-hollow into the dark in a rainbow of bright-light delight.
When he turned it off, the silence was literally deafening. Then, the applause arose. I think I applauded, in pure awe.
Since the beginning of dawn, we have marveled at the power of power, be it lighting, thunder, gunpowder or the atom. This will never change. It is our duty to harness that lust. To harness that power.
To put that power into the hands of a frail 9-year-old girl? Because at Bullets and Burgers out in Nevada you can have great day of vacation by eating a burger and firing an Uzi — so great that you want your kid to live that thrill?
Is to admit that the power is (literally) now in all the wrong hands. For all the wrong reasons.
If the 9-year-old’s killing of her instructor isn’t a tipping point, there will be none, until those of us who aren’t armed, or open-carrying, will be daily fearing for our lives.