There once was a bird
who wanted to be
but the one
that he was:
an ostrich named Stanley.
Sometimes he’d act like
or a chick
(it was sick)
bird of prey
Even more than those acts
that Stan couldn’t master
other tries were plain bad,
His strut recalled peacocks
less than it did newts,
his night hunting efforts
made every owl hoot.
And when he carried on
like some bird he wasn’t
the Small Stan inside him ‘tsked,
“Big Stan you mustn’t.
“You’re an ostrich,
Be proud if your head’s in the ground!
Don’t clown cluck around
like The Birdbrain of Town!”
the first time
are loud and clear,
for some reason
for years …
So it was one day it hit Stan
And he could see,
“What I really know how to be best
The feathers of others don’t fit on my frame
And trying to force them has made me look lame.”
So Stan said to himself,
“Let’s forever agree
For you to be you
And me to be me.”
From then till forever
Stanley didn’t mince,
Nor did that old ostrich
once lack confidence.
During a job interview with NFL Films near the end of my senior year of college, I sat across from the man who named the Dallas Cowboys “America’s Team.” Older, quieter, and more serious than the rest of the 4-person panel conducting the session, he spoke up only occasionally, and throughout, appeared generally unmoved by any thoughts I had to offer.
During one answer about something else entirely I happened to mention Sports Illustrated, a side-door he immediately threw open.
“Who’s your favorite Sports Illustrated writer?” he asked.
It was a completely subjective question from the senior guy in the room, someone whose thinking I could not possibly have prepared for, and yet who could on the merits of any one answer determine the fate of my application.
Frank Deford, I replied.
“Mmmm,” he nodded. “Deford is the greatest writer that magazine has ever had.”
Never mind that a court of law would have dismissed it as an opinion. In these chambers, the fact that mattered was my taste and the head magistrate’s were the same. It was enough to calm my racing heart in the moment; it was what came back to me first when Films called with a job offer a week later; and it was what I thought of immediately upon hearing recently that Deford had died.
“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing.”
Ben Franklin wrote it. Frank Deford merely embodied it — penning himself a permanent place in the history of American letters by both writing volumes worth reading and indisputably doing something worth the writing: inspiring others. They are many, I am one. Officially, since the day in 1999 when I read “The Ring Leader” and loved it with the pure, inexplicable certainty that only the best creators spark.
Despite the example of his writing and the cosmic assist he provided in that job interview, I never did make the appropriate effort to thank Frank. Not even given the opportunity a few years into my career, when he was one of my interview subjects the first day I ever directed a documentary film crew. Be a pro, I thought. Circuitous anecdotes in which a thesis of gratitude only might be clear to the listener, well, those are a tricky species. Better to try being a competent inquisitor than come off as a stammering ink-sniff. So I stuck to the task at hand.
It was an air-ball with no do-over. So let this be my penance.
Thank you, Mr. Deford.
I’m happy to say I’m still at NFL Films, the company your inspiration helped lead me to join. The week I marked my 15th work anniversary was the same week your pen went silent forever. Since then, countless lovely words have been spilled in your honor. But unless you, Frank, got out in front of the Reaper, filing the copy for a publication to be named later, I’m certain there’ll be no written tribute to you that’s quite worthy.
For its small part, my best assessment of your influence is to offer this: that whatever accolades every G.O.A.T. of Sports’ Future may ultimately compile, all their resumes will still possess the same hole: Born too late to be profiled by as great a writer as any magazine ever had.
A flower shower
Turned the tree green
Turned the grass pinker
Than I ever seen:
It yesterday was
When into and out of it
All the bees buzzed.
Then the quick change.
Perhaps it was the breeze:
Petals went packing
To the lawn from the leaves.
Now the Pink Tree Photo
I had taken in my head
The remarkable GROUNDS FOR SCULPTURE is like no place I’ve ever been. Part museum, part botanical gardens, this indoor/outdoor art gallery contains the realistic and abstract, the sublime and ridiculous. As remarkable as the space looked during my visit, I left thinking that I could probably enjoy entirely different experiences of it in the spring, summer, or fall ; in the early morning or by the light of the scattered lampposts and landscape lights. So large and diverse is the installation, that every trip there seems as though it would offer something unique.
On the afternoon I spent at this world class exhibition — tucked into a quiet, central New Jersey town between Trenton and Princeton — the plants on the snow covered landscape were still shivering, but doing so with their leaves turned optimistically toward the sun. The scenes produced by the intersection of the natural and man-made artwork on that Eve of Spring inspired my latest STELLER STORY, readable by clicking on the photo below.
Click the photo above to view scenes from the Grounds for Sculpture.
As they headed home from Nana’s house
late one clear, dark night,
Fred said to his Mom and Dad,
“See the moon there,
big and bright?
Could I pretty please this once
take it home with me?”
“Why, Fred,” his mother said,
“that idea sure is…….
“And maybe you could,” she said,
“But how will you reach and get the moon?”
“How I get the kickball from the garage top shelf,”
“by knocking it down with the broom.”
“That sounds good,” said Fred’s Dad,
“but how’ll you catch it when it falls?”
“Easy,” said Fred,
“in Baby Jane’s old crib
where we keep all her dolls.”
“And just where would you keep the Moon,” Dad asked,
“once we got it to our place?”
“No problem,” Fred said,
“I’ll clear out my big wagon,
the red one, to make some space.
Then I can drive the moon around,
and show him our whole street.
The way he’s movin’ above the trees,
makes me think
he thinks seein’ stuff is neat.”
“Well that’s just it,” Fred’s Dad said
as their house came into sight.
“Here we are, back from Nana’s,
and the moon’s still with us,
big and bright.
That makes me think the moon loves traveling
just like you have guessed.”
“So, maybe,” Fred’s Mom said,
“leaving him to roam the sky
would be best.
And the next night that we’re out like this
and see the moon again,
I’ll bet he’ll hang out with us some more,
to prove, once more,
Fred gazed up at the sky and thought
about what his Mom and Dad had said.
“Yes, maybe you’re right,” he told them,
And the moon doesn’t quite look ready for bed.”
For the past six months I’ve had the great good fortune of working on a documentary film about a remarkable year in the life of the city of New Orleans. Here is a Steller Story photo journal behind the scenes of the production.
The film, titled “The Timeline: Rebirth in New Orleans”, tells the story of how after Hurricane Katrina, a great city, its football team the Saints, and their iconic stadium the Superdome were forced to respond to an unprecedented natural disaster. It premieres on Wednesday, September 21 at 8pm/ET on NFL Network, and features new interviews with Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and former NFL safety and ALS advocate Steve Gleason.
Late last Friday night it came to my attention that I’d lost Muhammad Ali. Not that he’d died. I’d learned that along with the rest of the world hours earlier, a newsflash that sent me in search of an Ali drawing I’d done years before. It was a pencil sketch comprised of two elements: a close-up of the fighter as modeled after the photo on the cover of David Remnick’s outstanding Ali biography King of the World, combined with a speech bubble that in graphic title fashion melded the two-word poem “Me. We.”, which Ali once delivered at a Harvard graduation.
As keepsakes go, this picture lived in the same space that much stuff does: so precious there’s no way I’d have ever thrown it out, so irrelevant to my daily life I wasn’t sure where it was, so singular that there was only a few places it could possibly be. Yet it wasn’t there, there, or there: not still attached to any one of the old sketch pads on my shelf ; not in a pile of old clips and copies and print-outs-of-note dating back decades ; not even unceremoniously folded and stuffed into the binding of the Remnick book.
I had expected to locate the image without much thought or effort, but when more of the latter was needed more of the former came along. My mind went back to an evening in the spring of 2002, the only time I stood in the same room as the Greatest of All-Time. It was in the Joyce Athletic & Convocation Center at the University of Notre Dame during the school’s annual amateur boxing tournament, known as Bengal Bouts. Notre Dame is in South Bend, Indiana, just 25 miles from Berrien Springs, Michigan where Ali had a home. He’d made previous appearances at Bengal Bouts, but that didn’t take any luster from the moment: when he entered, the building buzzed like the bee whose sting Ali had so famously claimed he could replicate.
What happened next lives in my mind’s eye like a stop-action sequence of still photos. Not because the years have made the motion fade from the memory, but because that’s how it actually felt as the moment unfolded.
First, I could see his entourage far on the other side of the floor level on which I was standing. Next, the small group in which the Greatest was at the center was halfway around the arena. Then suddenly, it was in front of me. The next two instants I recall with perfect clarity: I made blink-long eye contact with Muhammad Ali ; he noticed the female spectator beside me wearing a Notre Dame Women’s Boxing sweatshirt, and he began charmingly, playfully shadow-boxing with her.
I have no idea how well he could speak back then, or even if he had the desire to in such a crowded, fluid setting where the main objective was simply to get to his seat. But clearly, the old Champ could still kid, still joke, still float like the butterfly he’d so often promised he would resemble — and became again right then: fluttering out of the space in front of us as instantly and magically as he’d appeared.
Being delusional, selfish perhaps, I’d always felt that my Ali experience was a unique one — the way I’d seen him appear to defy physics as he moved through physical space ; by simply walking, somehow performing the unforgettable in a way that even the witnesses of it would later describe as unbelievable. But I was way off thinking there was anything unique about the stirring presence Ali had had that night in northern Indiana, and it took only the first few bits of reaction and reflection that followed his death to illustrate it. So many authors used the same language as I had to describe completely different interactions with Ali, and so striking was the shared quality of the collective memory of “meeting” him, that even if you believe just a fraction of what seeped into the world simply on the day of his death, the only comparison that feels apt for the Greatest is not to another person but to a heavenly body. Because like the Sun, Ali seems to have touched everyone on Earth.
Long after midnight the day Ali died, my Artwork Search Party of One continued. Perhaps I was clumsy enough to leave it buried inside the frame of my boxing-centric collage that it wasn’t part of ; or alongside the Bear Bryant drawing I’d certainly done around the same time, and ultimately that night found in the basement. No. It must be somewhere in the inches thick, Usual Suspects-style sedimentary formation I called a bulletin board in my office at work. Certainly, after passing the weekend, I would poke around that paper-relief sculpture on Monday morning and find my sketch faster than I could say Keyser Soze.
On Monday, no dice.
Just as he was in the ring, Ali is proving elusive rendered in pencil. I refuse to believe the picture got tossed ; searching for it has turned up far too many other pieces of less important creative driftwood for it to be plausible that THAT of all pieces is gone. I imagine someday it will appear suddenly and remarkably, just like Ali did both to the world at large and to the individuals who for even an instant were in his physical presence. I am one of those lucky ones. So even if my hand-drawing of him never surfaces, the greatest image I have of Ali will never fade.
M is the camel of letters
recognizable for its two humps.
Without them both, M would be N,
as in neasles,
M comfortably takes on the task
of being the milestone
halfway on the road
‘tween A’s aura and the Z-zone.
And though M sounds like
M starts with an e
– eh-hem –
that isn’t the case.
M is his own man:
A pivotal camel shaped pal
Midway through the race.
DON’T LOOK CLOSE: Look far. And you May just see an M in this iMage from
the Mellow Mushroom, Oak Street, New Orleans. YuMM.
Do you see?
The Man in the tree?
Way up high
A bark scaling flea.
Saw in hand has he,
Hanging from two or three
Ropes, hooks, pulleys,
And the squeeze of his knees.
How he must feel free
Like a branch in the breeze:
Breathe in sky,
That is, at least,
Till he gets company
In the form of some bees,
Who appear suddenly.
Nothing about them
At all unfriendly
These makers of honey
Always aiming to please.
To the hive they’re returning
As they do normally,
But that’s not what the Man in the tree
Thinks he sees.
So he waves and he flails
And he clings nervously
Contemplating a way he can
From here it appears
(perhaps you’d agree)
he cannot speak even
a few words of Bee.
If he could
It might change things,
The Man might agree:
He does not need an
Exit strategy ;
That the bees are no bother ;
If he’ll just let them be ;
And enjoy the beauty
At the top off the tree.
“Kids, grab your picks and shovels
and come along with me,
We’re headed on a voyage
of thrilling discovery!
It’s been so long since we’ve seen it,”
Dad with excitement said,
“And this will be like a safari …
Let’s tape flashlights to our heads!
We’ll set out like explorers
Who knows what is in store?
On this adventure quest
For the Lost Family Room Floor!
We’ll search beneath the pillows,
The building blocks and blankets,
We’ll push past all the heaps of dolls
And mountain range of trinkets!
And with hard work and good luck
If we persevere
If through drums and balls and train sets
We’re able to steer,
Maybe we can find it,
That myth from days of yore,
That deeply buried, long lost treasure
The Fabled Family Room Floor!”
Scooter Scutter, scribble junkie
drew lions, tigers, bears and monkeys,
speedboats, tractors, unicycles,
Sallys, Stevies, Mindys, Michaels,
In pens and ink, paint and charcoal,
marker, crayon, colored pencil,
on paper, plastic, ceilings, walls,
cereal box tops, basketballs.
His friends asked once, “What is it, Scoo
about drawing that soooo grips you?
The lines, the shapes, the shades, the faces?
The capturing of things and places?”
Listening, Scoo kept his eyes on his pad,
his tireless stylus moving like mad.
He said, “Not sure I have an answer for you,
‘cept I draws ‘cuz not drawin’
colors me blue.”
When she brought home
my new kid sister
“Say hello to Carrie.”
I thought that’s what Mom said,
but am I certain?
Because Dad calls the kid
“Queen of Sheba-Geneeba Sleuth.”
While Mom says to her,
“Just look at you,
My Sweet Precious Little
while strolling baby
‘round the block.
Grampa asks Dad
for pictures of
“My favorite l’il
forgetful silly tongued grownups
can be scary.
Lucky for my sister
I for one
will be sticking with her real name:
Andy asked Angie
nicely one day,
“Would you mind
if I borrowed a book?”
“Of course you may.
Here’s my library shelf.
Go ahead. Take a look.”
Andy chose a volume
“Have you read this?
How’s this one?”
“I’ve read it but
won’t spoil it ‘cause
Spoilin’s no fun.”
So Andy borrowed
the book and began it
But he didn’t want
to spoil it either.
So when his head
wasn’t stuck in that book,
Andy stored it in
My latest project is an independent film co-produced with @WeaverNFLF
It’s a short feature coming later this week. Here’s a sneak peek. We hope you enjoy the show.
A dream is a living thing. It doesn’t stay still or remain the same. It changes shapes, changes directions, looks different at different stages. It’s not always possible to say where a dream originates, or to predict where it’s headed next. But in the end, the best dreams are vibrant, singular, and unforgettable, much like the best music. Especially like the best jams.
More than a dozen years ago, it was Phish jams that inspired Holly Bowling’s still on-going dream – which in its earliest stage, resembled a concert she feared she’d never be able to attend. When the group returned from hiatus, Holly’s dream took on the shape of a ticket to her first show; then time off work; then the chance to follow the band.
Over and over, the classically trained pianist-turned Phish lover touched what seemed like the ceiling of her musical dream, only to have it rise and expand again, becoming something bigger and more dynamic. This was a cloud – a natural, inimitable thing. At first Holly admired it, then she chased it. Then after witnessing an iconic Phish performance in July 2013, she decided to try and catch it.
Once more her dream transformed, this time taking on the shape of sheet music that captured the more than thirty minutes of musical magic and light that had become instantly known as “The Tahoe Tweezer.” Holly put it on paper, then the cloud moved again, suddenly appearing as the vision of a crowd-funded album of her jam-scriptions, the first real recording of her life. In the summer of 2015, Holly held the CD and vinyl prints of that very album, which she appropriately titled “Distillation of a Dream.”
“Distillation” might have been a destination for some aspiring artists. But for Holly it was merely another milestone, along with the night that recording artist Marco Benevento unexpectedly invited her on stage to perform with him, or the afternoon Holly played a Steinway in Golden Gate Park – her sound filling the same famous hills on which her jamming fore-fathers, the Grateful Dead, first played a half century earlier. Holly fittingly joined their history in the same month that the Dead said, “Fare, thee well,” and it was a great moment. Then, the dream expanded again.
Its next shape was an opportunity three thousand miles from Holly’s San Francisco home: a Philadelphia venue that she dreamed her piano playing could fill with patrons. Just like Phish in their early years, Holly took on the risk of renting a room and the burden of selling tickets, all in the hopes that her self-propelled dream would continue to grow. Whether it moved directly or via detour, how the song might end, or what famous faces would appear in her Philly show crowd, Holly wouldn’t know until long after the lights went down at that first ever East Coast gig. The next turn in her journey, like that in a jam, was not something anyone could fully forecast back then, and it remains that way today. She’s still writing the roadmap, transcribing the sound, distilling the dream as it spontaneously woos, wheezes, and breathes.
One day we were driving
When Sister yelled, “Potty!”
So off-road Dad drove,
Then Sis whispered, “Nah. Sorry.”
One day Sis cried, “Potty!”
So Mom hit the brakes.
At the next gas station,
Sister giggled, “Nope. My mistake.”
Then one day Sis screamed, “Potty!”
This time Mom and Dad both said, no.
Only that time, we soon learned,
Sister really did have to go.
New to me are these regional spins on the iconic I HEART NY logo. I saw them for the first time just recently, alongside even more takes in which the red image between the I and NY represented other aspects of the Empire State.
Though they obviously don’t use the words BUFFALO
to my mind these two renditions can’t help but explicitly represent those cities, and as such, they had me dreaming of an “explicitly” Albany version that would feature the profile of the Capital City’s most iconic building, The Egg.
In all that I-Hearting I came across this fabulous story of the original logo, the remarkable designer who created it, and the interesting life that both man and art have led. Definitely worth a read and/or listen, via the podcast 99% Invisible.
Due to the boundaries of conventional photography, it’s necessary to see the Grand Canyon in person if you want to have any real sense of it. Even then, the limitations of the human eyeball and depth perception make it challenging to compute what exactly it is that’s before you. The scale. The structure. The origin story. They combine to form something like nothing else, and so by definition, laying eyes on it is a moment for which you cannot be prepared. Even as you’re looking at the Canyon, it’s hard to know where to direct your eyes first, next, or last. The result can be a sort of dizzying rush of astonishment and adrenaline.
As man made things go, the $1 Million Staircase — located in the New York State Capitol Building in Albany, NY — sent my head into similar spaces. Capturing a photograph that could successfully illustrate both the massiveness and nuance of the Stairs seemed impossible. In an effort to instead take a series of mental snapshots, every neck contortion and eye swivel I could muster felt insufficient. There was simply too much to the space, also referred to in Capitol parlance as The Great Western Staircase, to feel like I’d seen or digested it all. To try and add it up as I walked it was to be transported into a real-life composite of MC Escher artwork, someplace at once concrete and impossible.
The Staircase is a singular sight with a remarkable story ; for someone interested in art, architecture, or history, it’s an absolute must-see. And believe it or not, the tour is free ; not a bad deal for a look at something priceless that may just leave you speechless.
For a sneak peek and more on how the $1 Million Staircase came to be, read my Steller Story on it by clicking the photo below.
Don’t wear a cute suit
if you go to Mulch Gulch,
wear the filthiest clothes that you own.
And don’t call for help
because friends never answer,
when calls from there light up their phone.
Bring a pitchfork for heavin’
and plan to be leavin’
wearing dirt from your ears to your feet.
Because down in the Gulch,
named after its Mulch,
the Dirtiness cannot be beat.
Working so hard
That his days had no end
Dear old Alex Zandle
Burned his candle at both ends.
He worked in his shop
Then outside he toiled
He used hammers, and griddles
And extractors for boils.
In every subject
He mastered his lessons,
Well, all except one,
The Subject of Expressions.
We learned that one day
When the poor chap looked tired
And after his physical state
“What say you, Alex,
Are you feeling alright?
Your breathing sounds sniffly
And your steps don’t look light.”
“Why thank you for asking!”
Said dear Alex Zandle,
“It seems this time I’ve
Burnt myself down the candle.
But you know what they say:
Drown a cold, parch a fever,
And soon you’ll be purring
Like a Golden Retriever.”
On his head cold, soon after,
He did get a handle
But a grip on Expressions
Still eludes Alex Zandle.
Dad says what we got’s magic snow,
That somehow made our driveway grow,
That somehow made him say words that
He swears he doesn’t really know.
Dad says that each new inch that falls
Lengthens the driveway by ten feet,
That if we left right now, perhaps,
Some time next year we’d reach the street.
Dad says the thing we need most now
Is a summer-style-sun,
To melt some of this magic snow
And make our driveway a walkable one.
Mom says that sounds great but while we wait
A pass with the shovel may be in order.
Dad hears and looks nervous before blurting out,
“But I can’t! Don’t you know? I’m a magic snow hoarder!”
“It so happens that I understand David Bowie very well.
Far better than most people.”
For Jon Chalance’s #Steller take on a David Bowie classic, click the image above.
Mom by accident I put your make-up on.
Accidentally I moved the plunger in the car from in the john.
By accident I got turpentine on the ceiling fan.
Somehow I found a way to melt papayas in the van.
How all of this happened I wish I could tell you more
But I can’t escape my room, there’s gobs of gum in the lock on the door.
Why yes, you’re right it happened accidentally, of course!
A simple good wish and an even simpler pencil drawing of a globe-spanning dinner table (what?!?), were the ingredients in my first ever Christmas Card, created in 2002.