Discover more from Jeff Pearlman's Journalism Yang Yang
The Yang Slinger: Vol. LXVIII
In the lord's year of 1986, a man named Stanley Herz wrote "Conquering the Corporate Career: A Guide for Professional Success in the Office." I was 14—and my life would be forever changed.
Every creator has a book that changed their life.
For Jonathan Eig, it’s “Seabiscuit.”
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For Peter Hubbard, it’s “The Things They Carried.”
For Yaasmyn Fula, it’s “I Know why the Caged Bird Sings.”
For Cheo Hodari Coker, it’s “Manchild in the Promised Land.”
For Jon Wertheim, it’s “A Season on the Brink.”
For Gina Girolamo, it’s “Kafir Boy.”
For Christopher John Farley, it’s “Dao De Jing.”
For me, well … for me, it’s a book you’ve most certainly never heard of, by an author you, eh, also most certainly have never heard of, via a publishing house you’ve definitely never heard of.
But that doesn’t make “Conquering The Corporate Career” by Stanley Herz any less of a book. Neither does that fact that it sold no more than 300 copies. Or that it was self-published under the guise of a created-via-thin-air non-imprint imprint. Or that the author wasn’t—by most standards—a journalist. Or that, as we speak, its Amazon ranking is … argh. It doesn’t even have a ranking.
For me, “Conquering The Corporate Career: A Guide for Professional Success in the Office,” is the book of books.
It’s the all-timer.
It means everything.
More than everything.
It means all things.
It means hope.
It means possibility.
It means chasing the dream.
It means reaching for the stars.
It means bullshitting in the name of earnestness.
Again—it means everything.
Even if, to you (dear substack reader), it means nothing.
Back when I was a kid, growing up on the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y.1, my dad ran his own executive search firm. Well, initially he had a partner named Ed. But when that union collapsed after a few years in the mid-1980s2, he launched his own shop—Stanley Herz & Co …
And, to me, everything about it was mind-blowingly cool. At home, my dad was sorta Clark Kent-ish. He had no interest in sports and zero coordination. He wore whatever ratty T-shirt and ill-fitted shorts were sitting atop his dresser, and I can still see the knee-high white tennis socks cocooning his pencil-thin legs. Dad enjoyed leisurely drives and back scratches and naps and pickled herring and Lender’s plain bagels toasted out of the freezer. He smoked an occasional cigar and listened to classical music and … was sort of a Stan.
I’d watch Dad dress for work, and the transformation was remarkable. Tie tightened and knotted just right. Pressed collared shirt. Blue pinstriped suit. Black dress socks. Brown shoes. Sometimes my brother and I would accompany him to his Stamford, Conn.-based office, and—wow. Just, wow. My dad wasn’t merely a boss. He was The Boss. Calling the shots. Giving advice. Dropping orders. Power lunches and team meetings and budget reports. Everything inside the Stanley Herz & Co. compound was there because of my father, and it was cooler than cooler than cooler than fuck.
It wasn’t merely neat to be the son of the president and CEO of Stanley Herz & Co.
It was an honor.
And here’s what’s even more cool: As he ran his business, Dad was also writing columns for the local Gannett newspaper, The Reporter Dispatch. They didn’t appear every week, but often enough that we’d open the pages and see this …
And this …
And this …
And—Jesus Christ—was it dope. I’m not sure I can even explain how meaningful this stuff was to me, but to say that was my dad (My dad!) inside the newspaper we read! I certainly had my fair share of sports heroes (Ken Griffey, Sr., J.R. Richard, Ken O’Brien, Pearl Washington), but nobody was larger than Stanley Herz (aka—Stanley Pearlman3), who seemed able to accomplish anything he set his mind to.
Including, in 1986, writing a book.
At the time, I was 13-going-on-14. And it’s funny. Because I remember very little about my eighth grade year at Mahopac Junior High and nothing of the Mahopac Sports Association teams I played on at the time. I can probably tell you 30 percent of my Bar Mitzvah guests. It’s all one big hazy, pimple-coated blur.
But I remember e-v-e-r-y-t-h-I-n-g about “Conquering The Corporate Career.”
First, the publisher. My dad didn’t have one. Didn’t even seek one. Instead, he created his own publishing house, and—after a tremendous deal of thought—anointed it “Kimberly Press.”
Why? Because the name sounded like that of a major publisher.
Dad then went out and hired someone to create the Kimberly Press logo—with the singular goal of making it appear as if “Conquering The Corporate Career” were the byproduct of a big book producer …
He nailed it.
“Conquering The Corporate Career” isn’t a long read—288 pages, fairly large type. It’s primarily a collection of Dad’s past columns, with some new stuff thrown in. I’ve probably read the book a solid, oh, 10 times—sometimes skimming through, sometimes page by page. He would never say so, but my dad is the best writer in the family, and I don’t see myself as a close second. He’s very quick-witted, very economic with words, gets a point across in the most entertaining ways. My favorite part of the book is actually the two-page first chapter, titled BREAK OUT OF YOUR CELL.
Which is funny …
Because my parents wouldn’t allow my brother and I to have a dog or cat, we went through a seemingly endless string of pet guinea pigs. They were messy and smelly and lacking affection4, but, well, we didn’t have a whole lot of options. Through the years, there was Sedric (for former Knick guard Sedric Toney), Sparky, Spunky. And, to begin with, there was Waldorf.
He was beige. Unremarkable in every sense of the word. My brother named him for the Waldorf Astoria, and we loved the creature as one might love the seventh best character on a lightly regarded sitcom. Waldorf died a horrible death—which is to say, he developed this oozy bloody thing on the left side of his body, and we counted the days until we could bury him in the same backyard spot where we dumped out his shit nuggets. No tears were shed.
When it came time to write the first chapter of “Conquering The Corporate Career,” however, my dad paid homage to ol’ Waldorf. Except he changed his name to Walter for the narrative impact …
To this day, I love every word.
I vividly remember the book arriving at our home.
I remember staring at the cover.
I remember looking at my dad’s photograph—business cool, anything but Clark Kent.
I remember reading the dedication and thinking, “That’s me!”
I remember feeling so, so, so, so, so fucking proud of my father, and so, so, so, so, so fucking honored to be his son.
And then, the real fun started.
Kimberly Press didn’t have a CEO, a CFO, a director of marketing, a director of publicity, an office, a couch, a coffee pot or a distribution deal with local book sellers.
What it did have was Arthur Haviland.
Arthur was Kimberly Press’ do-it-all dynamo. When it came time to publicize the book, Arthur would write letters to local newspapers and various magazines. When it came time to try and get my father on radio or TV, Arthur reached out himself. My dad wanted the book to be available in our local Waldenbooks, so he got Arthur to handle the details.
“Hello, this is Arthur Haviland. I represent the author Stanley Herz …”
And Arthur, to his credit, was amazing. He worked all the angles, figured out who was who, dazzled the world with his professionalism and insights and smarts and precision and …
Arthur Haviland was, cough, my dad.
Because he thought it would look silly/unprofessional to send out promotional letters as the author, Dad created Art Haviland, nebulously named book publicist. Which, looking back, was both pure genius and (coincidence?) around the same time Donald Trump was placing calls as “John Baron.”
Another thing my father taught me was the ol’ bookstore-move-up-two-step—which is to say, we’d enter Waldenbooks, grab the three copies of “Conquering The Corporate Career” from the business section and slyly, smoothly relocate them up front to the NEW BEST SELLERS golden turf. We’d oftentimes return to the store an hour later, only to see “Conquering The Corporate Career” back in its old spot. So, of course, we’d once again slyly, smoothly relocate them. Again. And again. And again.
I am quite certain I am responsible for:
A. Moving “Conquering The Corporate Career” at least 50 times.
B. Causing the poor Waldenbooks clerk to start drinking.
All told, my dad printed up 1,000 copies of “Conquering The Corporate Career.” He never really viewed it as a literal sales opportunity, so much as something to give clients and potential clients; to place in the lobby of his office so folks would see, “Whoa, this bro’s a real one.” Truly, it probably sold (max) 300 copies.
In the wide sea of business books, where titans like Lee Iacocca and Bill Gates have ruled the landscape for decades, my father’s offering is a pimple on an extremely large elephant. Few people have heard of it. Fewer people have read it. I have two or three copies on my shelf, and toward the rear of my folks’ downstairs closet there’s a musty cardboard box where a dozen or so sit, pale and unbothered and positioned alongside some dust bunnies and fossilized mouse droppings. In many ways, “Conquering The Corporate Career” is of a different time. A different era.
But, for me, “Conquering The Corporate Career” is a life changer. Without it, there is no “The Bad Guy Won!” or “Showtime” or “The Last Folk Hero.” There’s no desire to write for my high school newspaper, which led to writing for the college paper, which led to internships and The Tennessean and Sports Illustrated and this joyful ride that has been my career. There is certainly no “Winning Time,” no Tupac biography, no sitting here at 2:55 am inside an $88-per-night Roadway Inn, deep on assignment.
Truth be told, without “Conquering The Corporate Career” I’m probably just another disgruntled attorney or dentist or CPA who—sans dream/passion/fatherly role model—went the route of least resistance.
My dad’s book experience didn’t merely show me what’s possible. It showed me how to write with voice, how to stand behind that voice. It showed me how to publish and how to market. It showed me it’s not enough to put words on paper. That you need a plan. That you need to go all out. That you need a purpose.
Odds are you have never read “Conquering The Corporate Career.”
Odds are you never will.
But to me, it’s not merely my dad’s book.
The Quaz Five with … Donna Massaro
Donna Massaro is a former classmate, longtime chum and owner of the Freight House Cafe in Mahopac, N.Y. It is, for my money, the greatest coffee shop in America. And I’ve probably been to 50 percent of ‘em …
1. So as a longtime cafe owner, what’s your honest take on the writers who plop down in your shop for, oh, seven hours of writing? Is it annoying? Cool? Is there a certain amount of product you expect someone to order if they’re there that long?: As a cafe owner for the past 13 years, I love when writers plop down and get creative. It’s ok with me that they have a coffee and lunch and sit all day. I’d hope that they would have enough “cents” (pun intended) to move to a smaller table if a large party comes in and understand that I have rent and employees to pay. A nice tip for my staff goes a long way.
2. What, to you, separates the meh cafe/coffee shop from the good cafe/coffee shop from the great one? What are the factors? Elements? Etc?: What separates meh, good and great is the intention. Of course, the initial intention for any business is to make money, but if passion is equal to the drive to make money, you are winning. And that makes you great.
3. How important is coffee quality to most people you serve? What I mean is, I’ve been writing in coffee shops for decades and I honestly can’t tell the difference in taste between Starbucks, Dunkin’, Freight House, Laguna Coffee, etc. Am I rare, or are most people that way?: Coffee quality depends on the person. There are people who go into a coffee shop to work or write and that is their purpose. They most likely don’t care or know the difference between a great brew or a commercialized brew.
Then there are the coffee shop hoppers. They are particular in the bean, the roast, the temperature and so forth. They always end up back at The Freight House. We just do it right.
There’s also the ladies group who sit and chat. They’ve been making coffee at home for years and are always impressed with Freight House Coffee.
My coffee roaster Bear Mountain and I have formed a beautiful partnership. We both are passionate in what we do. He roasts it to perfection and I brew it to perfection.
4. I remember when you opened, and when someone would write a negative, like, Yelp review it would sting. And I wonder, now with more than a decade under your belt, is there a way to handle negative reviews? And do they ever stop stinging?: The way I handle a negative review is first I read it. Then I read it to my staff. Then I call my parents and read it to them. Then I go home and lay in the fetal position and read it to my dog. Then I cry. Then I get up and talk with my staff and decide if this person’s review is valid and we need to step it up or are they projecting their bad day onto us. I write out my response and leave it for a day or two, then I write back. I write back honestly and respectfully. There are only a handful of outrageous reviews and with those people, we are happy they aren’t returning. But I use it all as fuel to be our best.
The Freight House is me. So I take it personally.
5. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had happen in Freight House Cafe history?: The weirdest thing that has happened at the Freight House … well, there are a few things. One is a mother changing her diaper in my dining room during lunch. Another is someone puking in my bathroom sink and leaning it there. A used tampon on the floor. Asking me what the potato soup tastes like. Just to name a few. Some people are weird. And gross. Lol
[Bonus] Rank in order (favorite to least): John Amos, Paul Stanley, hot chocolate made from powder mix, Aaron Rodgers, the smell of a fresh-baked bun, the first snow of winter, Rodak’s Deli, stray kittens, the mid-1980s Mahopac High School smoking section, Tupac Shakur: Mahopac High smoking section, Rodak’s, John Amos, Paul Stanley, the smell of fresh baked bun, the first snow, hot chocolate with the mini marshmallows, Tupac, stray kittens. Who’s Aaron Rodgers?
Ask Jeff Pearlman a fucking question(s)
Here’s a wacky idea—ask me any journalism question you like, and I’ll try and answer honestly and with the heart-of-a-champion power one can expect from a mediocre substack.
Hit me up in my Twitter DMs, or via e-mail at email@example.com or just use the comments section here …
From Staple: You’re Jewish. How are you feeling about Israel right now?: Well, this is loaded and I’m actually gonna go simple: Outside of tremendously sad, I don’t know how I feel. And what I mean is, there are 8,000 complications circulating around this nightmarish hellscape that is the Middle East. On the one hand, I’m Jewish, and the anti-Semitism hitting America right now is disgusting. I loathe what Hamas did, obviously. But this idea that Israel=Jewish person is not just simplistic, but fucked up. Am I supposed to target Catholics every time a priest rapes a 12-year-old? It’s madness.
At the same time, I’m 100-percent anti Netanyahu. Like, I think he’s Israel’s Trump, and has no interest in anything but his own survival and gain. I also believe—strongly—there needs to be a genuine two-state solution, and that Israel needs to stop treating Palestinians as if they’re bothersome gnats.
It’s just … the fucking worst.
From KP: A few days ago, I saw a tweet you posted mentioning you had completed your 450th (?) interview for a book you're working on. I wonder how many times you would reach out to someone before giving up or is there a special approach that you use: I wish I had a special approach. I don’t. If I have a cell number, I always text first. If I hear nothing, I’ll text again. If I still hear nothing, I might call an additional time and leave a message. If the person is really important, maybe I wait a few months, then text again. Usually, however, I move on. It’s more a matter of calling shitloads of people than repeatedly calling the same people. For Tupac, I’ve interviewed about 450. But that means I’ve reached out to a solid 600.
A random old article worth revisiting …
I remember being a 10-year-old kid and thinking, “Wow! The Yankees got Ken Griffey AND Dave Collins from the Reds? This team is gonna be amazing!” And, on June 15, 1982, the Associated Press made me feel the happy-happs with this piece on Griffey and Collins doing what they were paid to do—run.
The Madness of Tyler Kepner’s Grid …
So unless you’ve been living beneath a pebble beneath a rock beneath a big hunk of cheese, you’re aware of Immaculate Grid, the daily game that’s drawn thousands of nerdy sports fans (guilty!) to its ranks. And while the NBA grid, NFL grid, NHL grid and WNBA grid are all fun, this game is at its best when it comes to baseball—where the names are endless and the transactions ceaseless.
Over the past few weeks I’ve often discussed the grid with Tyler Kepner, the Athletic baseball writer. And now, for kicks, every week I’m gonna feature one of Tyler’s bonkers grid results. He’s the ultimate baseball geek (I say this with great affection), and his outputs blow my mind.
• Fun fact about Dan Bankhead: He’s the first black pitcher in World Series history, but not the first black pitcher to actually *pitch.* Bankhead appeared as a pinch-runner in the 1947 World Series and scored a run.
• Ron Roenicke pinch ran for Bruce Bochy and was on base when the 1984 World Series ended
• Juan Tyrone Eichelberger is probably the greatest name in baseball history. Or world history for that matter.
This week’s college writer you should follow on Xitter …
Peter Rauterkus, Louisiana State University and sports editor of The Reveille.
Peter’s profile of LSU receiver Andre' Sam is professionally done in a million different ways. It merges strong reporting with strong writing with strong flow and instinct. It holds you from start to finish, and upon completion one thinks, “Well, now I understand Andre' Sam.”
Writes Peter …
One can follow Peter on Twitter here.
Journalism musings for the week …
Musing 1: Look, I’m not a Barstool guy. At all. But this is pretty much the best thing ever. And I’ve now watched it seven times. Wait. Eight.
Musing 2: I’m a bit late to this, but Adam Wren’s Politico piece on Mike Pence’s pathetic (and now dead) presidential campaign was downright awesome. Wrote Wren: “To watch Pence on the trail these days is to see a man navigating the awkward, abrupt transition from being next in the line of presidential succession just four years ago to backbencher status among the Republican field. You can see him grapple with his own political mortality, working it out in public. In Greenfield earlier that day, he became as wistful and as self-reflective as I have ever seen him when a woman asked whether he felt called by God to run for president. He did, he told her. ‘We didn’t run because we felt like we saw some clear eight-lane superhighway straight to the Oval Office,’ Pence admitted to a crowd of 30 people, as he began talking about his campaign in the past tense.”
Musing 3: If you wanna be even more disturbed by the state of modern journalism, Russian businessman/Kremlin loyalist Magomed Musayev, is the new owner of Forbes magazine. This was initially reported by The Washington Post, which cited audio and video recordings of Musayev telling his partners about the acquisition. In one of the recordings, he calls the acquisition a chance to strengthen his and Russia's "international prestige." Glub.
Musing 4: Chris Broussard has never been my cup of tea. He’s just, well, a full-of-shit blowhard who guesses and screams and moans and offers very little to the sports universe. But even for a walking desk lamp like Broussard, asking—on air—whether James Harden is “retarded” feels particularly pathetic. But anything for clicks.
Musing 5: This isn’t particularly groundbreaking or revolutionary, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Mac Miller these days. And “Circles,” the late rapper’s posthumous 2020 release, is absolute art. Not rap, not jazz, not soul, not blues. Just a merging of everything.
Musing 6: Masterful writing/reporting from the New York Times’ Grace Ashford with GEORGE SANTOS SORE HE’D NEVER TALK TO ME. THEN THE PHONE RANG. Ashford is a should-be/will-be journalism superstar.
Musing 7: The below advertisement ran earlier this week in the Williamson (Tennessee) Herald—and it warms my heart. A reminder: We journalists are important. And often (gasp) appreciated.
Musing 8: Yes, I’m in a hip-hop video. Yes, so is my wife Catherine. I’m the judge, she’s the hospital patient in Glasses Malone’s terrific new release, “Tha Loc.” Through Tupac research, G. Malone has become a trusted confidant and good friend. This was a legit fun morning for the Pearlmans.
Musing 9: The new Two Writers Slinging Yang stars Kate Cohen, Washington Post columnist and author of the terrific book, "We of Little Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (and Maybe You Should Too)."
Quote of the week …
Not mean at all.
See ya, Ed.
You’re wondering why “Herz,” not “Pearlman.” So Herz is my mom’s maiden name, and my dad had two thoughts. 1. Herz rolls off the tongue easier on the phone; 2. Pearlman comes with a Jewish assumption, and at the time there was a lot of anti-Semitism in the business world. Dad probably regrets this a bit, but … times are times.
Guinea pigs don’t cuddle. They shit.