Well, not so much, as it turns out, because the minute we start talking sports and media, Barkann’s wariness fades, and he begins literally rubbing his hands together in anticipation of every new topic.
Newspapers, for instance — Barkann is a believer. “I like opening the sports pages real wide, seeing it all laid out in front of me,” he says, making a newspaper sound like an exotic delicacy. “I like that an editor is choosing what stories deserve big play. I get the perfect overview. I read blogs and websites, but there you don’t get the feeling that someone’s making the call about what matters.”
He likes sports columnists, too. “I love the combination of news and analysis.” He volunteers one of his all-time favorite columns: “Bill Lyon — right after Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson.” He remembers the headline, “Tyson Stares Up at Defeat.” “That column was a thing of beauty,” he says. “When I ran into Lyon afterward, I told him how much I liked it, and he told me he wasn’t even at the fight. He had watched it on television. I was stunned.”
As lunch progresses, Barkann grows ever considerate, the perfect host; he asks how I like my burger, if I’d like another Coke, is it too cold in here? As a kid, he says, he’d watch Carson to see how he treated guests. He watches Letterman today for the same reason.
I throw out some names and ask Barkann to react.
Ed Rendell: “The guy could have a big career as a commentator. He’s knowledgeable, opinionated, and people like him. His views represent the people. Have I seen the temper? No. When I kid him about it, he just rolls his eyes, like, ‘Don’t go there.’”
Allen Iverson: “I saw him play for Georgetown in ’96. You could see the greatness. What I remember most was listening to him talk — the timbre of his voice, the way he would think before he spoke. But now his story has become a sad one. The problems with his wife, remember that? That should have been his big change moment. I get it — he grew up poor. But he’s had running water now longer than he had no running water; he’s been all-world now longer than he was all-poor.”