Friday, October 31, 2008

Work Post: The Other Side Of The Coin

I have a lot of people ask me what I'm working on. I do a lot of different things. A lot of people don't know what I do, so I've decide to begin posting more info about work. Well, there are several reasons I'm posting more about work, not the least of which is that, if you've followed this blog up until now, you might think all I work on are nude photo shoots and bad action movies. Not so. I wrote about those because they are the aberrations, the side trips, the Vegas vacations of my work as an arteest. Yes, fun. No, not my bread and butter or focus.

There is a colleague named Andrew for whom I've worked the past five years ( yes, he's naked on his website ). He is an exceptionally talented Creative Director and Producer, and the brother of Bella. To me they are the Wonder Twins of the Chicago creative community. Bella has become a powerhouse in Chicago Comedy, and Andrew has become a powerhouse in the Chicago non-profit community and events industry.

Now, when I say non-profit I'm not talking about raising subscription rates at small theater (which I'm all for). I'm talking about more substantial endeavors. He was the creative force behind the Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid Millennium Park celebratory event "Chicago Believes, which raised $12 million for the city's bid effort; he created an exceptional event for IIT in the historic Crown Hall on the IIT campus ( which I art directed and for which my primary scenic element was honored by being installed permanently on campus... ahem...); and he's worked for over a year with the amazing global environmental group Conservation International, which brings me to my current project.

Conservation International is an environmental advocacy organization with amazing diversity and scope of mission. They work with major business leaders, politicians, governments and financial institutions around the world, in their quest to "safeguard valuable species, preserve the most important landscapes and seascapes, and support communities that care for and rely on Earth's natural resources." They aren't activists making bold, rash statements. They are scientists, business people, artists, educators, working with great thoughtfulness and innovation. Really a great group.

Andrew and I are working on our 3rd fundraising event for C.I. (his 6th) which will be presented in Seattle this coming week. The design of the staging plays off a new campaign of C.I. called "Lost There, Felt Here", and utilizes a concept of the empty space surrounded by lush greenery. I've enhanced the greenery motif further with the inclusion of green umbrellas – metaphors for protective canopies (i.e. rainforest) and a nod to Seattle weather and their "bumbershoots".

I'm painting the umbrellas myself and will have to haul them with me on the plane. I'm very excited to see them all in place and lit.

There are a lot of cool presenters and participants scheduled, but I'll tell you about them later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm Apparently "It"...

My friend Mo has "tagged" me. I'm now required, according to the rules, to post "seven random facts about (my) fascinating self on (my) blog".

Okay, sure. Why not. I don't usually do things like this, but, well, it's Mo, so:

1. My first birthday was January 15, 1967, the same day as SuperBowl I. Green Bay played (and lost to) Kansas City. I was born in Green Bay. It was a big deal, apparently... (Oh, and for you Green Bay fans: my name is Brett).

I have very few compulsions. Two of them manifest as follows:

2. Before I close a locked door behind me I must look at the keys in my hand. Car, house, closet, it doesn't matter what kind. And...

3. I have a constant fear that I smell bad.

4. I'm allergic to giraffes.

5. As a young boy, I witnessed a horrific accident in which a schoolmate was rendered unrecognizable as a human.

6. My first rock concert was Guess Who at the Illinois State Fair. (I was 5.)

7. I was once asked to participate in a pornographic photo shoot. I declined. (I was 18.)

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

UPDATE: Keeping All The Balls In The Air

Well, here they are:

The National Lampoon Girls

Out of over 2,100 photos we shot, used... eight (we didn't shoot Ali Larter or Shasha).

Ah, well, they look great. Walter did a fantastic job. I especially like Ali Cobrin's photo (wow) and Sarah looks gorgeous. I'm not entirely thrilled with the choices for the other women. The uncropped pic of Andrea is waaaay better (she looks over retouched too).

Perhaps I'll create an online album of some of my favs and post them. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Keeping All The Balls In The Air: Part Two

"I saw her butt."

"Sir, all of the models are wearing swimsuits."

"I saw her butt!"

Lucky you...

We had several visitors that day. At one point in the early afternoon I ran upstairs to the main prep area and it was filled with 6 models, 3 stylists, 1 coordinator, a producer/director friend and his pomeranian, a production assistant, 2 or 3 representatives of the film company, a producer of the film who had not been part of the production for quite some time but now seemed to be available to visit our photo shoot, and a pizza boy. I'm sure I'm leaving someone out. It was a scene straight out of central casting. If I had put this in a film people would be rolling their eyes ("Gee, look, a pizza original").

As I walked into all this activity, Johnny, our assistant, looked at me and said "you look SO stressed."

"I'm just focused" I lied. The early, unexpected rush had me scrambling to keep up at first. And the roster I was given was a little misleading. We ended up having not 7 to 10, but thirteen models that day. There was A LOT to take care of in a short time. But, as soon as Johnny said that to me I took a deep breath and relaxed. It really was time to focus. A stressed out producer does no one any good.

"Brett, there's a neighbor at the door" said Ali.

"What does he want?" I asked but I was already at the door. I was greeted by a skinny, nervous man who was sweating as much from stress as from the summer heat.

"Any other day, I'd be fine with this, I really would" he began.

"What's wrong?"

"Really, any other day this would be fine, but..."

The house we were shooting in was in the West Hollywood hills, perched on the side of a canyon. During the afternoon, we did indeed see people out on their decks or walking through their yards. And, yes, we saw a party in progress on a patio across the way. We all laughed at this for a moment -- "they're getting a nice little show" -- then thought nothing of it. The women were all wearing swimsuits, and occasionally were asked to take off their tops. The nature of Maxim, though, is a general circulation publication. Though topless, the women had had to cover their bits. To help this we had generously styled them with beaded jewelry, necklaces and such.

"I'm hosting a fundraiser at my house, just across the canyon. I've got a house full of priests and nuns. And there are nude women out here. I saw her butt."

"Sir, all of the models are wearing swimsuits."

"I saw her butt!"

"I assure you there is no full nudity in our shoot. All the models have bikini bottoms on. Besides, we're done with all the exterior shoots."

"Like I said, any other day this would be fine..."

We went around and around with this for a minute. I was being as polite as possible but he was not comforted. He insisted that his guests, the whole bunch of priests and nuns, had seen a fully naked bottom (gasp) writhing around on the terrace garden. I didn't blame the guy. I was doing my job running a shoot, he was doing his protecting his guests.

He went away unsatisfied with my response. Inside the house we all had a good laugh about the situation. I don't think they did in his house. After he left we looked across the canyon. On his patio where there once were party-goers mingling and sitting about in chairs there was now a line of broad shouldered men, their backs to the canyon shielding the view from the party-goers inside.

His guests did indeed see a butt writhing around on the terrace garden, though not fully naked. They had witnessed the voluptuous bottom of Ms. Darryl Hanah, an adult film actress (two Rs, one N), who, when in front of the camera became so charged with fuck-me-now sexuality that I'm certain more sensitive observer could not imagine she was not wearing clothes, much like our first model, Rebeca. I was a little surprised by the intensity of her look too. Ms. Hanah had such a laid back quality when she arrived. She was so easy-going and warm as she waited patiently for her slot, only to become filled with a hard, ravenous eroticism on the set. That's what she's paid for, and she knows her job. Her husband Jack -- also an adult film actor -- was there with her, and they settled in easily for several hours. When Darryl was finished the two hung around for awhile, at one point smoking a joint and watching the party of priests and nuns out on the deck.

"The Girls of National Lampoon's Homo Erectus" included straight actresses and adult film actresses. A few of them were in the initial shoot of the film and a few were only from the additional nude scenes. From the "straight" world were the 3 beautiful Zima sisters, Jilina Scott, a woman whose recent credits include a spot in the reality show "The Search for the Next Elvira", and a couple of other up-and-comers. From the adult side were Rebeca, Marie Luv, Faye and, as I mentioned, Darryl Hanah. There was also the lovely Andrea Lowell, a 2006 Playboy Playmate.

All of the models -- the novices and the professionals -- did impressive work. Many of the adult actresses brought their A game and looked like high fashion models. (As one person said to me "they're so happy that someone is asking them to put clothes ON that they eat it up.") And the straight actresses, though most were hesitant, had a great time exploring their sexy sides and became very playful and sensual. I'm very proud to say that we had more good photos than bad (kudos Wlater). It was all really a success in my book. Let's see what Maxim thinks.

It was a loooong day. We had to get the photos to Maxim on Friday so Walter, the director, Ali and I did an initial review of all 2100+ photos before heading home at about 1:30am. It took much of the next day to complete a second review and get all the submission info together. We weren't able to get the photos off until Saturday, but it all worked out well and I was just told that Maxim is very pleased with their initial review.

So much of my work is tangible: drawing, painting, etc. I've worked often as an art director and spent half my life as a designer, where my ideas are produced by others. Even then the final product is a tangible, tactile reproduction of my drawings and concepts. I've brought them to life on paper first. But a project like this is different. I have to provide ideas only, suggestions, thoughts, and then completely rely on others to produce the real work. It's an interesting change of pace. At least I'm confident in my eye, and I really thrive in collaborative environments, so when the opportunity comes to stretch the limits of my blah, blah, blah... Oh, and I really enjoy accessorizing half-naked women.


Keep your eyes open for the feature on "The Girls of National Lampoon's Homo Erectus". Then you too will be able to say "I saw her butt!"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Keeping All The Balls In The Air: Part One

"I'd like you to be my producer on a photo shoot this Thursday. It's for a Maxim feature. We're shooting seven to ten women. All swimwear."

"You want me to produce...?"

"Yeah, it'll be fun. You can be in charge of the spray bottle, too."

I've been through a lot the past few years. The changes in my life have been tectonic in scope. I've lost much. I've gained much. I've made many, many sacrifices, and I'm working very, very hard to make those sacrifices matter, to make my decisions count. During the difficult times I've had several people close to me insist that I give myself a break every now and then, have some fun, and don't get lost in despair. These days I tend too often to throw myself into new opportunities with desperate vigor, eager (arguably to a fault) to channel my energies into something with long-term potential, something more roundly fulfilling, yet practical, something that can indulge my talents, blah, blah, blah...

"How many women?"

"Seven to ten. It's for Maxim, so it's gotta be really sexy. Walter's shooting. You guys did a great job with Josie's stuff, and it'll be a great credit for you, so I thought you'd want to help out on this. You interested?"

Yes. High profile career opportunity, utilizing my talents in a fun and supportive manner, partial nudity expected. Yes.

"Yeah, I think so. Maybe..."

When my friend sold his caveman movie, the releasing studio insisted on amping it up with an R rating. Their solution: more nudity. Over a year past the film's primary shoot and several months after its premiere at Slamdance Film Festival, additional footage was requested. Extending one of the film's gags that included an all-female cave tribe, my friend -- the film's writer/director/star -- had to endure take after take sitting in a pond getting "cleansed" by the cave women, each of them wearing only a merkin and the occasional leathery headband. Poor guy.

With some fresh silly, titillating, gratuitous nudity in the can, the studio then came up with the idea of a "The Girls Of..." photo spread as part of their promotional push featuring the cave-women. Contact was made and Maxim Online approved the idea (caveat: the photo shoot would be produced and presented by the film studio and the material is, at the time of this writing, still pending approval from Maxim; there are no guarantees it will make publication). Now, I've seen Maxim magazine once or twice. Being a straight man I can appreciate some of its more... admirable... content, but it's not exactly my first choice off the magazine rack ( I'm more of a New Yorker kinda guy ). I wouldn't have to read the magazine though, just help coordinate some content. And, really, I would do it to support my friend.


I've art directed photo shoots before. Mostly individual artist or bands, and usually I had some time to plan. 7 to 10 models in a single shoot is a big undertaking and we had only one day to prepare. Walter, the photographer, ran around furiously gathering wardrobe and jewelry samples and I spent a bit of time that same day on the phone helping wrangle some details, even though I would be primarily an on-site producer. We were both somewhat familiar with the location - a private residence in the West Hollywood hills - but there was no opportunity to map out specific set-ups. We were gong to have to wing it. Geurilla shooting again.

It was calm and workman-like when I arrived the morning of the shoot. The coordinator, Ali - who was one of the assistants during the promotional phase, and one of the models for the day - was there, ready to go. She had already been on the phone rounding up the talent (some were hesitant or just plain flaky) and rearranging the schedule for the 14th time. The director was there, optimistic and mellow. Walter was a little late, but no problem, we had to move things back anyway. The hair/makeup artist was there, as was the videographer for the film company ready to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for the DVD extras. We all went through the days expectations. The pieces were all in place.

As time slots were shuffled around, we agreed Ali should prepare for her shoot so we could fit her in a.s.a.p. She is an impossibly cute young actress with a natural all-American quality that Old Hollywood would have killed to sign. She would have looked perfect on a billboard next to Mickey Rooney: god-given curves, peachy complexion, huge, flirty eyes, a kittenish grin, and naturally curly hair that would put Shirley Temple to shame. Ali modeled for us a bikini of a colorful plaid on a white background, like the tablecloth from a country fair. I looked at her and immediately thought: ice cream cone. She needs an ice cream cone, I said to the group. Perhaps a colorful sherbet. I was confident of my first executive decision of the day. What a pro...

We were running behind schedule. I had time to run to the store to get some ice cream and a few other supplies. Our first regularly scheduled model, Rebeca, arrived and needed time to get into hair and makeup, Walter was still setting up his equipment, our assistant wasn't there yet, so off I went. When I returned, the location was bustling.

Several other women had arrived, the makeup artist and her assistant had three chairs filled, and the director was suddenly impatient, asking "who's ready? Who's ready? We gotta get this going." Nervous about time, he and Walter had already begun to shoot Ali while I was gone. With her busy modeling there was no one to organize the personnel. It was a little chaotic. I quickly assembled the ice cream cone (rainbow sherbet), took it to the location, handed it to Ali, and ran back upstairs, ready to go.

I introduced myself to Rebeca and explained a little about what we were expecting. She is a stunning, petite woman from Spain with perfect proportions, pale skin, black hair, and a piercing, dark gaze. She has a sophisticated, femme-fatale quality that we enhanced with a blood red velvet bikini (hers) and silver jewelry. I was excited to start the day with someone of such distinction and the choice to go with a sophisticated look was cemented by me and Rebeca's stylist (she was the only model to bring her own).

Sophisticated. Stylish. Refined. Every time I used those words while we were choosing wardobe, makeup and location for Rebeca, her eyes flashed a little - just for a moment - as if she was unsure about this description. Did she not agree? Was there some glitch in translation (she had only recently learned English)? I couldn't place her hesitancy. I thought it was strange but said nothing of it and moved on. Her first set-up was on a beautiful white modern chaise, plate glass windows behind her overlooking Coldwater Canyon, Hollywood and Los Angeles stretched out beyond. It was gorgeous. We were ready to feel her out, carefully directing her past any inhibitions into the sexiest poses possible. Rebeca was a natural. We quickly realized this stunning young woman had no inhibitions. Our direction to her was minimal: "move your hand", etc. She writhed around on the chaise in ways that almost made me blush. It was effortless. The photographer snapped away furiously.

Very soon, Rebeca's poses evolved into something quite a bit steamier. Her hips and face morphed from sexy into sex. We all quickly knew that this girl wouldn't need any topless pics to enhance the sexuality as we had planned for many of the set-ups. Even thought she was still dressed in her bikini, it was impossible not to get the impression that her seduction was complete, and some lucky partner was already on top of her, or behind her, or inside of her. Yikes. These were gold. Sexy, border-line pornographic gold.

I left Rebeca to change into a second outfit, introduced myself to the other models and prepared the next set-up. The director came up to check in. "Did you catch any of Rebeca's set?" I asked.

"Yeah. She's gorgeous, isn't she?"

"My God...What a pro. Knew just what to do. Very sexy"

He laughed a little, then said "That's probably because she's a porn actress. Does really raunchy stuff too. Pretty much anything."


"There's going to be a few of them today. They were in the movie. Who's ready for the next shoot? Let's keep this moving."

When I was designing and painting for theater in New York several years ago - working on Shakespeare, Ibsen, new plays, with international directors and cast members - a joke about me circulated throughout the technical staff, always getting back to me. "You're going to be designing strip shows in Vegas someday. Just wait." This was a lark. Less intended as a true prediction than an absurd one: a joke of opposites. Since the beginning of my professional career I had a reputation for doing the meaty work, the difficult and complex theater that required both an artistic eye and a practical sensibility. The technical directors, stagehands, painters, etc. were just trying to keep me real and have a laugh with me.

This prediction, the "Vegas strip show" vision, was one I've kept with me. While I was working on operas, or upstart theater in Chicago, or struggling to find the next perfect project, I would pull this little quip out from the back of my mind, just to keep myself real: don't take it all too seriously. It's all entertainment. This day, suddenly surrounded by porn stars, models and straight actresses in bikinis, everyone looking at me for direction and input, it flew into the forefront of my thoughts furiously... and straight out of my head. I had a job to do. A lot of trust had been placed in my lap to manage this difficult shoot, and I still had the opportunity to give my two cents on art direction.

"I can tell you've done this before" several of the models said to me as we chose their looks. I'd smile at them confidently and say "A couple of times." Despite the tricky schedule the day was shaping up very well. And let's face it: there's some benefit to being a straight man who knows how to accessorize a half-naked woman.

"Brett, this is Darryl Hanah. She's one of our models today."

The day had only begun. Vegas, here I come...

Thursday, May 22, 2008


When I first moved to L.A. last year I could imagine a lot of possibilities. I'm not star struck very easily and I really don't care about "the scene". I came here to work. But, I never imagined that my first time going to the famous and heavily trafficked Ivy restaurant it would be in a cheap caveman costume on a busy Saturday afternoon. Good thing I was wearing that wig.

I was recently asked to help with some promotional videos by a friend of mine who directed a caveman movie that was recently picked up for distribution. In return for some organizational work on a two day shoot, I would get the equivalent of lunch money, and even more important: credit as a "producer" for an actual film studio (albeit not for a feature).

There were a handful of segments that we needed from several locations. The director/star of the movie was to do man-on-the-street interviews in full caveman costume with movie-goers outside of several theaters . We also had to shoot a segment inside of a theater with absurd jokes concerning audiences watching the movie, plus, one of the actors from the film would be jaunting around various Los Angeles locations in costume.

The actor playing the caveman was late on the first day and I had to don the costume to join the director for the man-on-the-street stuff. Though the temperature reached about 98 degrees -- not easy to bear in animal fur and wig -- it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the reactions of the people we ambushed. Many of them were great - very game, funny and clever.

The second day inside the theater was even more fun. We had several extras participating - also very game and clever - and I had to don several costumes for many of the gags. I especially enjoyed playing the luchador, but damn, I couldn't see a thing in the mask when I got to flailing around. I don't know how they do it.

After lunch we planned the rest of the day. We had hoped to get our caveman actor out in public places - the LaBrea Tarpits (haha), the beach, Santa Monica pier, a bar, etc. - "clubbing" a bunch of women, reflecting an ongoing gag from the film. No, I don't mean the "dance-til-I-puke" variety of clubbing, but the caveman courtship activity of hitting women over the head. Yep...We had one problem though: none of our extras stuck around. We had no women to club and we weren't going to go after unwitting civilians. The solution? Riffing off another gag in the film - a play on the term "homo erectus" - we would chronicle the meeting and subsequent love of two cavemen. Which meant I got to put on the costume again.

During most of the rest of the day me and my fellow Neanderthal walked hand-in-hand around West Hollywood, a renowned gay neighborhood, carrying clubs and spears, window shopping, sightseeing, arguing, going to art galleries, crashing kitchen design showrooms, and - as I mentioned - trying to get a table at the Ivy. Which was incredibly crowded.

This was guerilla filmmaking too. No permits were solicited. Needless to say, I and my fellow faux caveman were bounced from almost every location. No one was pissed about it. Most people laughed. Some were game to play along. As my partner and I browsed inside of a high-end modern furniture store, discussing the merits of post-modernism, one of the salespeople generously asked if we wanted to look at more samples. "We have that sofa in purple upstairs," she said pleasantly, "would you like to see it?"

A lot of people thought we were shooting a Geico promo. A gorgeous couple from France enthusiastically asked to take our picture and we immediately got them involved, getting footage of them snapping pics. The manager of an art gallery invited us inside to shoot us looking at art, which got us out of the heat for a bit and gave us another good gag.

At the end of the day I found myself outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood with the director shooting some lead-ins for the movie theater gags. We fit in pretty well with all the costumed goofs who entertain the tourists (my god, it was crowded). People got excited however when they learned we weren't there just to pretend to be Jack Sparrow, but that we were promoting an actual movie with actual stars.

All in all, I had a blast, despite the brutal heat. I wish I was more brave though. I have to admit that I couldn't quite get myself to recline on the fur-blanketed bed in the window of that showroom, and I got cold feet for a minute before we went to the Ivy. But the director and D.P. said we got what we needed and it was fine. The director also said very nicely "It's okay. You just became a chicken-shit for a minute." He then told me how, for one of his movies, he and an actor actually sneaked into the Academy Awards. He got all the way backstage carrying an Oscar and wearing a top hat and a t-shirt with a tuxedo printed on it.

The Oscar thing took a lot of balls. And all I had to do was ask for a table...chicken-shit. No wait: that's Producer Chicken-Shit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Are You Ready for Some F-f-f-football...?
Super Bowl XVI, Part Two

"After 15 games in warm weather climates, Super Bowl XVI was played in the Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac Silverdome, 25 miles from Detroit. While surrounding areas shivered in below zero chill factors, 81,270 fans enjoyed 72 degree comfort in the huge, 5-year-old stadium." -

Yeah, "comfort"...

A steamy haze of sweat and cigarette smoke quickly filled the dome. It was as if the entire crowd was thawing out. After our long wait in the frigid cold we all began to sweat immediately in the warm air inside with our many layers on, peeling them off slowly as we became warmer, but I can't say I was ever comfortable. Also, the shot of warm air made we want to fall asleep. But, hell, I was at the Super Bowl.

There was a special connection to the Super Bowl for my father. Super Bowl I was played on my first birthday, January 15, 1967, with the Green Bay Packers playing. I was born in Green Bay. My father was a journalist there and had known several of the players, even reputedly having had some over to the house for barbecues and such, so it was exciting for him that the Packers were to play in the Very First Super Bowl. (Football championships had been played for decades of course, but not until the National Football League merged with its rival American Football League did these games become Super.) To this day, my father tries to go to every Packers vs. Bears game whether played in Green Bay or Chicago. It was a big deal for him to be able to take his sons to a Super Bowl, and my brothers and I are still grateful that we went.

We were spectators, however, not fans. None of us had any emotional stake in either of the teams playing - the San Francisco 49ers nor the Cincinnati Bengals - but it was just so cool to be there. My oldest brother had chosen to root for the 49ers because he had followed the exciting rise of a young Joe Montana. Knowing nothing of either team, I brushed off the San Francisco team with ignorant male adolescent and mid-western bigotry by determining that they were from California and therefore freaks, and furthermore they were from San Francisco and must be gay. I chose the Bengals largely because of the aesthetics of their uniforms. The irony of my decision-making completely escaped me at the time.

I joined in the newly minted chant "Who Dey?! Who Dey?! Who Dey tink gonna beat dem Bengals?!!" and marveled at the players' super-cool helmets, which boldly sported not a logo but tiger stripes! Hell yeah! And not gay at all...

One of the most grueling aspects of the entire event was half-time. The entertainment was by Up With People. Remember them? You MUST, they also played for Super Bowls X, XIV and XX. Now, I know the organization has done a lot of good things, and I've even known a few people who have been in their touring shows, but really...Up with People? They danced around with hyper positivism in stripey jumpsuits to clappy, kicky choreography. The music was insipid, uninspiring, and downright annoying, like twenty year olds singing stuff from Sesame Street with unwaivering seriousness. The fans in the stadium looked around, puzzled, and many booed. And it went on ENDLESSLY. This was not entertainment for the football fans. It was entertainment for the football broadcast, live muzak carefully chosen for it's complete lack of controversy, long before the days of wardrobe malfunctions and Prince. Entertainment that allowed a viewer out there in televisionland to get up, take a piss and get more beer. We, however, were locked inside the dome with them. Ugh.

The Bengals lost 26-21 despite passing San Francisco in total scrimmage yards, 356 to 275. Joe Montana was named the MVP with 14 of 22 completed passes for 157 yards. I was disappointed by the loss but I don't know if I cared that much. "Who Dey?" got old really fast. It was time to go home. The whole thing had been supremely anti-climactic. I was exhausted.

We had planned to drive back home immediately after the game. It would be another brutal, cramped trip, but the whole thing was almost over. I couldn't wait. When we left the Silverdome it was dark and even more frigid than at the beginning of the day. Everything was covered with that dirty frost that shows up only in the coldest weather when every drop of moisture is squeezed out of the air. We looked out on a sea of gray, frost-covered cars and trudged hurriedly to ours. When we got in it was like sitting in a freezer. The little Accord started right up however and my father gave himself a pat on the back for deciding to take it instead of the Cougar. As we sat there waiting for the engine and the interior to warm up, we noticed several stranded drivers around us, their cars frozen and not starting. Suckers, we thought. Ours had fired up...

The car in front of us was one of the frozen ones and needed a jump. Sure, why not. My dad was ready to oblige quickly and then hit the road. We couldn't get the other car started however because the Honda didn't have enough power. My father went to help the other driver find someone else able to jump his big car. But as my dad looked around he saw row after row of stranded cars. Grabbing my oldest brother, he set out out to help whomever he could. It was another hour before we left the parking lot.

The snow started right away. This was the big winter storm that my father had been expecting. The winds were furious and the snow blinding. It piled up into massive drifts before our eyes. We crawled slowly westward toward Chicago with almost no visibility, our front-wheel drive pulling us through the tracks of whatever car was ahead of us. Through the blowing, falling snow we saw the shadows of dozen of cars and trucks off the side of the highway, either having pulled over intentionally or slid off, out of control. Certain stretches of the interstate looked like a parking lot. Still, we chugged along.

It was an eight hour, white-knuckle ride. My cramped legs were secondary to my worry. We all studied the road ahead and around us with great intensity, and my father reminded us of what a good decision he had made in taking the Accord and not the Cougar. "Look at all those big cars sliding around the road" he'd say. We all gratefully conceded.

There was nothing easy about that trip. And though there were a lot of great things about that game, it was not very satisfying to me because I had no connection to the teams playing. But I appreciated how important this was to my father and that he had gone through so much just to give us that experience, and how great it was that I had actually been to a Super Bowl. It was cool to show the program to my friends and brag about how I had been there, where they had only been in the record-breaking 85 million or so that had watched it on TV. Pfft...yeah...And, later, that little Accord that pulled us through the snowstorm would even become a pivotal prop in one of the most life-changing events I've ever experienced.

I don't care about sports at all anymore. I don't know why. They just don't interest me, even though I've played a lot: football, baseball, track, gymnastics. But, yep, my dad was right. I'm still talking about that frigid, exhausting, but cool Super Bowl XVI experience.

PS- Just a few hours before I wrote this the Green Bay Packers lost the NFC Championship game to the New York Giants at their home field, Lambeau. The temperature at kick-off was minus 1 and the wind-chill dipped to 24 below. My father, having high hopes for another Packers Super Bowl, is very disappointed. A friend back home in Chicago just sent me a text message out of the blue: "It's 4 degrees".

Brrrr...I live in Southern California now...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Are You Ready for Some F-F-F-Football...?
Super Bowl XVI, Part One

January 24, nineteen-hundred and eighty-two. A bitter, blood-freezing wind blows across the Michigan plains, as two titans of the gridiron square off in the ultimate battle: Superbowl XVI. Or something like that...

At the time my father worked 6 or 7 days a week. So when he planned vacations or special events, he liked to plan them well. Real quality time. This usually meant long drives somewhere - Disneyland, Arkansas... One thing he wanted to do, before his boys grew too old and moved away, was take my brothers and I to a Super Bowl. We had gone on men-only vacations before, including an adventurous fishing trip, but this would be the biggie. Something to remember. Something to talk about years from now. Neither of "our" teams, the Chicago (where we lived) Bears nor the Green Bay (where I was born) Packers were in the championship that year, but my father wanted to treat us to what was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I was excited. I watched football...some. I played football...some (I was very fast, playing both offensive running back and defensive back; but my heart was never in it). I may not ever get (want) the chance again, so it was pretty cool.

We had decided to drive. It was only a 4 to 5 hour drive to Detroit from Chicago. My oldest brother had a comfy, roomy Lincoln Cougar that he had proudly restored and was offering for the trip . With me being the smallest guy in the family at the time, at 6 feet and 190 athletic pounds (uh-huh, oh yeah) comfort was a pretty important component to a long drive.

The day came to for us to leave, it was a partly sunny, crisp winter day. My brothers and I gathered outside with our luggage, and my father pulled up in the car: his 1981 Honda Accord hatchback.

Where was the Cougar? Not taking the Cougar, my dad explained. There was a big winter storm coming, and he wanted a car with front wheel drive.

What? Front what? Storm? Hatchback? What the...? Where is the...? Where am I gonna...? I was panicking. The hierarchical dictates of a family full of men stated that I, the youngest, got the shittiest seat in the car. Which was behind my dad. Who weighed 250 pounds. And had to fit in the drivers seat of a HONDA ACCORD HATCHBACK. The hierarchical dictates - and the fact that I was only 15 and didn't drive legally yet - also stated that I had no say in the matter.

We hit the road. Crammed behind the driver's seat, pushed all the way back, my legs were on fire from the start. I was extremely active at the time, with football and track. My large sprinter's legs could not be confined or immobile for long periods of time without serious cramping or pain. This was going to be a loooong trip.

I felt like a clown in a car. We were four large men, layered against the cold and crammed together. Our heads all brushed the roof. Mine, as I sat in the back seat, also bounced against the top of the sloping hatch, just behind me.

We must not have looked that imposing when my father chugged the Accord into Michigan, as we were set upon by some shithead in a tricked-out Charger with tinted windows. Threatening us with dangerous braking at high speed or side-swiping, and riding our rear bumper, the driver must have thought us an easy mark in our little four-cylinder with Illinois plates. This went on for some time. The car would disappear for awhile, ahead of or behind us, only to reappear and threaten us again. My father kept a level head, despite my brother's insistence we pull over and teach them a lesson. No, no, we had a schedule to keep, said my dad. But it went on too long and my father's patience was chipped away. Frustrated, anxious and angry, he gave in, and pulled the Honda over to the shoulder in a cloud of dust. The Charger pulled up right behind, ready for a fight, revving his engine. The four of us piled out of the car, out teeth gnashing, our fists clenched, and we began marching toward the Charger. Apparently underestimating the size of the occupants in that little Honda with Illinois plates, the driver of the Charger immediately floored it. Kicking up gravel, he sped back onto the interstate and disappeared far ahead, not to be seen again.

At least I got to stretch my legs.

Detroit. Finally. My father was anxious to get to there. He was picking up the tickets for the game from a friend of his and didn't want to be an inconvenience and make him wait. I don't remember it quite the way my brothers do, but I believe we waited for some time outside of a hotel or office building as my dad retrieved the tickets. I was so cramped up that I thought I would go crazy, and no one else thought it was any consequence if I said anything. I was the kid, so I should just suck it up. Them's the breaks.

Tickets in hand, we hit the road again toward Windsor. We were staying across the river in Canada because all the hotels in the Detroit area were filled up. It was getting dark. We hadn't eaten yet because my dad wanted to meet his friend on time, so he only then, many hours into the trip, decided to stop at a diner outside of Detroit. Again, I got to stretch my legs. This time, inside the restaurant, I pleaded for my brothers and father to switch up the seating arrangement just for the brief remainder of the trip. To my surprise they agreed, with a catch. I sat in the front passenger seat, but - unlike when I was in back - I had to push the seat all the way up, jamming my legs against the dash. I was practically leaning forward. Another battle lost by the youngest boy.

We finally reached the motel, tired, cramped and cold. The temperature had been dropping steeply all day. It would be nice to settle into a warm bed and rest well for the next day's excitement. I had to share a room - and in fact, a bed - with my dad. It was a large bed, but this is something no one past the age of two would ever want to do. Oh, well. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I guess I had to pay my dues a bit more. Sleep came uneasily, but eventually it did come. The weirdness of actually being in bed with my dad subsided enough to let me nod off.

Until the Hartford Whalers came into town. The Whalers - a hockey team, for those of you don't know - had played against the Detroit Red Wings that night, and, I'm told they won so they were especially exuberant that night. They also could not find a hotel to accommodate them in Detroit with all the Super Bowl ferver, so they chose the very same motel we were at there in Windsor, Ontario. And they were loud. One of my brothers doesn't remember them being too distracting, but my father and I do. Perhaps it was my already strained nerves, but at about 3am it sounded like they were tearing the place apart. So much for a good sleep.

I don't remember waking up, or eating breakfast or the drive to the Silverdome in Pontiac. But I do remember discovering that the temperature had plummeted overnight to sub-zero levels, and I remember what it was like as we approached the stadium. We were in the middle of nowhere it seemed, far from the bustling cityscapes of Detroit and Windsor. The stadium loomed up out of the plains like a strange rock formation, surrounded by vast fields of empty concrete that were its parking lots. It felt like we parked a mile away in some remote lot, and had to take a long overhead walkway to the dome. Overhead of what, I can't recall. More concrete, it seemed. Nothing, it seemed. The wind was ferocious and my eyes burned. Tears froze on my eyelashes and cheeks. I tried to cover every tiny spot of bare skin but it didn't seemed to work. We trudged on quickly. We would be in the dome soon, warm and excited.

We walked all around outside the stadium's perimeter until we finally found our gate entrance, and...we waited. The doors were not open yet. People crowded around us. Game time approached. And we waited some more. The temperature was deathly cold, and everyone - football fans, strangers - huddled together against the side of the building for warmth. Some people were so cold they cried, but choked back their tears so their cheeks wouldn't freeze. Closer and closer to game time and still no open doors. Ambulances arrived to treat some unfortunate fans overcome by the cold. People banged on the doors. Nothing seemed to be happening. The ultimate football championship was becoming a nightmare.

The doors finally opened, as I remember, very close to game time. There were some logistical problems - who knows what - that prevented them from opening up, but now we were all inside and thawing out. The air inside the dome quickly became a steamy, sweaty fog. All of our winter layers hung limply off our bodies. But we were finally there.