NOR’GEESETER: A Steller Story

CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW FOR THE FULL STELLER STORY

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CHRISTMAS CLOUD COVER

Christmas night rain
Was causing trepidation
For reindeer who worked
Through precipitation.

There were no good galoshes
To cover a hoof
And also give traction
To walk on a roof.

A red nosed windshield wiper
Had not been invented
A slicker for antlers
Nowhere could be rented.

So wet Christmas Eves
Rudolph would fear
Along with his team
Until finally one year,

They became so distracted
Checking the weather
Their boss caught wind of
His team’s ruffled feathers.

Mrs. Claus heard and said,
“Let me ring a friend.
I bet once and for all
Their concerns we can end.”

A couple weeks later,
It was early December,
A large package arrived addressed
KRINGLE TEAM MEMBERS.

As he opened it Saint Nick whispered,
“What have we got here …
SAINT ELLA UMBRELLA’S
REINDEER RAIN GEAR’?!?”

“Just in time,” said Mrs. Claus
walking in, “it’s arrived.
Ella said she could help.
I knew that was no jive.”

The Reindeer Rain Gear
In the box was a boon,
With it on Santa’s team
Hoped they’d face a monsoon:

Water tight goggles,
Impervious slickers,
Treaded hoof booties,
Fur sealing knickers,

All there among Saint Ella
Umbrella’s tricks,
The Reindeer Rain Gear
For a wet Christmas fix,

Thanks to Mrs. Claus
And the power of friends,
Since that year the reindeer
Viewed rain through a new lens.

STANDUP STORY

There once was a bird
who wanted to be
any bird
but the one
that he was:
an ostrich named Stanley.

Sometimes he’d act like
the macaw
(you’d guffaw)
or a chick
(it was sick)
bird of prey
(yech…no way!)

Even more than those acts
that Stan couldn’t master
other tries were plain bad,
no worse,
a disaster:

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!”

Some messages
the first time
are loud and clear,
while others
don’t arrive
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
is me.
Not them
or they
or he
or she.

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.

Better Late Than Never: THOUGHTS ON FRANK DEFORD

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.

FOR AN HOUR in New York in 2005, I conducted this interview of Frank Deford for the first long form documentary I ever worked on, “Rozelle: Building America’s Game.” On this day part of my job as director was to bring props in the event we got stuck shooting in an undesirably blank room. And so, my own typewriter, books, and portrait of my high school adorn the set behind one of my writing heroes.

FLOWER SHOWER

A flower shower

Turned the tree green

Turned the grass pinker

Than I ever seen:

Cotton-candy colored

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

Resembles Sun-dodging

confetti instead.

ALL FIGURED OUT

Want in on my Master Plan?
Come closer and listen to me.
Because the blueprint of it’s now taking shape
Oh so satisfactorally.

When’s it start, my Master Plan?
Well don’t worry it won’t be long now.
Just know by the end life will be so sweet
We’ll sweat candy bars from our brows.

Before that part, the Master Plan middle
Involves espionage and boats,
Action car chases, exotic horse races,
Fine jewelry, machine guns, fur coats.

What’s the Master Plan Step 1, you ask?
Simple: win the lottery.
Huh?
Well….
…..guess what…
If you’re gonna’ roll on the floor laughing at it,
Then out of the Plan you can be.

Lighting in a Bottle – New Orleans

WINDING DOWN WINTER: A Steller Story from Hamilton, NJ

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.

SKIN DEEP DIVE

Studying the dictionary,
Johnny Corkforbrains
Got stuck up at the top one day
Then down his knowledge rained:

“Avocado, alligator …
skins not not the same …
and an A resides
at the start of both your names!

The gator grows in swamps,
The ‘cado grows on trees,
But trees are FOUND in swamps …
How different can you be?

How leathery you feel,
How deep dark green you look,
Like pictures of each other
That I have seen in books.

Of course in person, no,
I’ve never met your kinds,
But don’t see how not doing so
Could put my views behind?

The chance you’re NOT related
To me seems mighty small,
No two such similar dermises
Could not be connected at all.

For further proof, consider:
The gator’s alias, ‘Croc’,
Which just so happens sounds just like
The ‘cado’s alt-name, ‘Guac’.

If you must, pretend they’re not the same:
Avocado, alligator.
But trust me there’ll be evidence:
Birth certificates released later.”

JOINED CHIEFS

Pow saw Wow

across the street

Pow and Wow

exchanged greets

Pow approached Wow,

“Rest our feet?”

Pow and Wow agreed:

that couldn’t be beat.

Pow and Wow

got out of the heat

Pow and Wow

found a seat

Pow and Wow

were loud and discreet as

Pow and Wow’s

talk roamed like a fleet.

Pow and Wow’s

chat got so neat that

Pow and Wow

decided to delete

Any words between them,

and that’s how

a close meeting of the minds

became called a powwow.

WINTORY LAP

On the shortest day of the year
The sun takes an extra long lunch,
So long it doesn’t end until
Almost the next day’s brunch.

Head lights and night lights get lots of action
The day of the year that’s shortest.
While that day more than any other is for
golf clubs and lawn mowers the boredest.

It seems like it should be relaxing and yet
There’s always so much around you,
On the year’s shortest day, falling as it does,
Right about when the holidays do.

Still songs like “Oh, What a Night” or “Thank
the Lord for the Nighttime” spread cheer,
Of how happy folks get after early sunset
On the shortest day of the year.

shortest_edit

Among everything else it is, the shortest day of the year is half a calendar away from its cousin the longest day of the year.

THE RIGHT STUFFING

Perhaps the best meal of the year
comes weeks after Turkey Day.
It’s a nest built from all the trimmings
That have not yet by then flown away.

Start with any bits of gobbler left
Toss them in a bowl,
Add a scoop of stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes,
Whatever you’ve got … it’s all gold.

If you still have it, stir in gravy,
Then pour it all in a crust.
Cinch the dough, bake on high, that’s it.
No other meal prep takes less fuss!

It’s the yummiest food recycling
That’s plain easy to get right,
So try Thanksgiving Pie:
Send that old crusty bird back in flight.

THE BOOT FLEECE POLICE

Mom got new rain boots
Red, rubber, and tall.
Dad asked, “How’d you choose those?”
Mom said, “They’re cool. That’s all.”

Now my Mom’s no liar
But I thought, nonetheless,
Let’s take those cool boots
And put’em to the test.

So when she was too busy
To stop my experiment
I took some cold milk
And into her boots it went.

Like a good scientist
I let my test tube be
And went off to play
For an hour or three.

Perhaps it was longer
I lost track when Mom screamed,
The unexpected milk
In her boot had her steamed.

I said, “Wait one sec, Mom,
Take a breath, cool down.
Allow me to measure that
Milk puddle on the ground.”

Once I had I said, “Mom,
I’d be angry too!
This spilled milk is warm.
So those boots? Not so cool.”

The thing that they sold you
Is not what you bought.
It seems in some faux-thermo-boot-scam you’re caught!”

Overcome with shock
Or maybe with grief
Like anyone who’s been
Taken by a thief

She said not a word but just looked at me,
And I wondered perhaps if deep down she felt glee
At her little scientist’s new discovery.
Yes, I thought to myself, pride must be what I see.

MOON TAKER

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…….
lovely.

“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,”
Fred said,
“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,
we’re friends.”

Fred gazed up at the sky and thought
about what his Mom and Dad had said.
“Yes, maybe you’re right,” he told them,
“I’m tired.
And the moon doesn’t quite look ready for bed.”

moon_edit

ROLLING in NOLA: A Steller Story from Making a Movie in New Orleans

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.

CORNER OF WORD

Not quite as far out as

Where the sidewalk ends

Is where Word Street into

Other Word Street bends.

And at that intersection

Is a Dutch French Horn

And a squirrel swirl

And a torn acorn,

And a Bizarre Bazaar

And a big clinched couch

And Dorian DeLorean

In a crazyman crouch,

Holding over his head

A zydeco xylophone

To play a song for Aunt Cake

Louder than a cyclone,

Or a superbomb blast

From an Arctic typhoon

Howling over the surface

Of a baboon lagoon.

And inevitably when

That sound causes debris,

What acceptable receptacle

Will there possibly be?

Well that stripe of insight

Might be too great an onus

To expect even from

Wizened Old Bonus Jonas.

But there where Word Street bends

To Other Word Street

The junction’s real function’s

Clear as a snare beat:

To be a place friendly

to sound percolation

And weird letter unions,

night, day, and morn,

A magic locale of

twinkling tongue twisters,

the spot on the map

where poems may be born.

painttable_edit

ONE SUMMER ROADMAP

Collected from May to today

From New Orleans to Albany

These shots together form a

FlyIreWerDelis.

Buzzing, brightening

Petals, pavement,

Earth, sky, shining sea:

A mashed-up summer roadmap bouquet,

The FlyIreWerDelis

FlyIreWerDelis

For more photos, check out my Instagram gallery at tweed_typewriter

WHAT IF

I asked,

“What if I blew my teeth?

What if I brushed my nose?

What if I ironed the leaves?

What if I raked my clothes?

What if I clipped my ears?

Pierced my nails?

Flossed my shoes?

Shined my hair?

Climbed my bike?

Rode the stairs?

Took a bed?

Went to bath?

Added letters?

Read my math?

Swam a jog?

Ran a swim—”

“Well,” Mom cut in,

Eventually folks might ask

‘Sooo…..What’s up with him?’”

teeth_edit

SEARCHING FOR THE CHAMP: Me, We, Ali

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.

fdfdffd

GOOD, BUT NOT THE GREATEST — Among the items I laid hands on during the search for my “Me, We, Ali” drawing: the David Remnick book whose cover photo helped inspire the missing design ; a pencil-mimic of a Walter Iooss, Jr. portrait of Paul “Bear” Bryant ; and two Vince Lombardi holiday season sketches that never made it onto one of my annual Christmas Cards.  Maybe this will be the year St. Vince meets St. Nick? 

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.

 

 

 

Mmm, Mmm. Good.

M is the camel of letters
recognizable for its two humps.
Without them both, M would be N,
as in neasles,
conputer,
and nunps.

M comfortably takes on the task
of being the milestone
halfway on the road
through Alphabetowne
‘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.

M_edit

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.

A MAN IN A TREE

Look Hard To See The Man In The Tree

Look hard,
Do you see?
The Man in the tree?
Way up high
Looking wee
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
Part man,
Part leaf,
Like a branch in the breeze:
Breathe in sky,
Exhale glee.
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
Flee gracefully.
From here it appears
(perhaps you’d agree)
he cannot speak even
a few words of Bee.
If he could
It might change things,
Presumably
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.

WHO HAS THE FLOOR?

“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 …
Quick!
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!”

floor_edit 2

DRAWING > BORED

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.”