"I can't remember the last time I paid to go to a movie," Jack says, feet propped up on his desk. "I just don't think any movie is worth $6.50." Despite an income close to six figures, Jack has a problem with the high rates charged at the multiplexes for smaller and smaller screens. This type of price gouging upsets Jack.
"You would think that for the kind of money they're squeezing out of people at these fancy theater chains, they would take extra precautionary steps to protect their investment," Jack says, "but sneaking into the theaters nowadays is easier than it has ever been." Jack does attend movies. And, along with his brother Rod, many other pricey events, too. But when Jack and Rod can't in good conscience meet the charge for an overpriced event, they seek alternative means of admission. Otherwise known as sneaking in. "And besides," adds Rod, "some of the more elitist affairs obviously discriminate against people who are not certified members of the jet set. One of our goals is to rectify this injustice."
Rod sits at a desk opposite Jack's in the near-north real estate office where they both work. Though one year younger than Jack, at 27, Rod was the first to land the job there; his older brother followed suit shortly after. They've been partners all their lives, playing sports together, running a sign-making business jointly as high-schoolers, and operating a hand car wash on weekends for extra money. That was around the time they honed their furtive craft. As youths, Rod says, they liked to sneak in because they couldn't afford to pay for the good seats. As adults, they like to because they don't want to pay for the good seats. And there's always the thrill.
Last spring's basketball play-off games at the Stadium were a recent triumph. Rod smiles at the memory. "It was simple really," he says. "Before the first Cleveland play-off game at the Stadium, we hung about three or four cameras around our necks, stuffed newspaper in some extra camera bags we had, carried little reporter's notebooks, wore faded blue jeans, and generally looked like photographers. Then we entered through the press gate on Madison while walking quickly and talking to each other about what shots we wanted. Nobody stopped us to ask for credentials and by about the fourth home play-off game, the security and Andy Frains were even saying hi to us as we walked by. We saw every play-off game that way.
"We watched the first half from any no-show seats we could find, because to go courtside they were very strict about checking credentials," Rod explains. "Then at halftime, when everyone is standing and moving about, we moved down to the front of the mezzanine to the short wall, which separates the $50 and $100 seats from the mezzanine. Amongst the activity around us we hopped the wall. Now, for the second half, we again played photographer and could watch the game from anywhere, because to get that close you had to have credentials and no one hassles you about them once you are that close. We usually watched the second half from behind the press tables or from under the Bulls' basket."
Rod recalls an ironic moment from the day after the first Detroit play-off game at the Stadium. "It was a very intense, very exciting game," he explains, "and we were sitting behind the press tables but close enough to the Pistons' bench that they could hear us very clearly. Jack and me were really heckling the Piston players, especially Bill Laimbeer, calling him a dirty son of a bitch and a mama's boy, and we knew he could hear us because he would turn around and look right at us with a 'say whatever you want, it doesn't hurt me' expression. Well, the next day in the paper I read where a reporter asked Laimbeer how he felt about the booing and name calling he takes when the Pistons are on the road. He said that it doesn't bother him a bit, that he believes that fans who pay good money for tickets have the right to yell at him all they want. When I read that I felt guilty because if he'd known how Jack and me, two of his main tormentors, got in, I don't think he would have been so understanding."
Rod is taller than Jack, about six-foot-two, and heavier. In a well-fitting gray Perry Ellis suit, with his short brown hair parted to the side, Rod is clean cut, honest-looking. Jack's face is darker, his hair pure black. In a finely tailored Italian suit, he has more the look of a hustler. The two do not look like brothers. It barely seems possible that they're friends.
But they share an unwillingness to be excluded. They do not like to be left out of the big events, and usually they aren't. As evidence Jack produces the ticket stubs from a David Letterman show that was taped at the Chicago Theatre last May. Jack and Rod had read that all the tickets were general admission--first come, first serve--and that there would be no VIP seating. Suspicious of these reports, the two decided to check them out.
"The second day the show was in town we went down to the Chicago Theatre about an hour before show time," Jack says. "The line was around the block, it was ridiculous. We just couldn't imagine Walter Jacobson or Kup waiting in this line. So Rod went up to the ticket window and asked if they had his will-call tickets, Johnson was the name he used. They said they didn't have any will-calls for Johnson but as the ticket agent was flipping through the envelopes of will-calls Rod was able to read upside-down one of the names on the envelopes that were will-call. After he pretended to be upset because Johnson's tickets hadn't come in, he walked around the corner and told me the name of the envelope he had seen. I then went to the window, asked for those tickets, and received them, no questions asked. We sat in the fourth row."
Rod says that his guilt about pilfering someone else's VIP tickets was assuaged by the knowledge that according to the press there weren't any VIP tickets in the first place. This, he says, is justice.
Being caught is not of primary concern to the pair, though Jack does remember a somewhat hairy DePaul-Notre Dame game at the Rosemont Horizon a few years ago. "I was kind of drunk, at least enough to make the security suspicious, and this guard came and asked me for my press pass, which I didn't have, of course, and then walked me all the way out to the parking lot, literally kicking me out the door," he says. "The guard told me that if he ever saw me there again he'd throw me into jail. I was really upset after he pulled that stunt. But I settled down and was able to sneak back in for the last seven minutes of the game. This time, though, I had to sit with everyone else. But it was a good finish. DePaul won, I think."
Being found out wasn't of much concern to Jack and Rod at last winter's Bloomingdale's opening. In fact, the brothers had so much confidence in the success of this outing they took along six formally attired friends to serve as an entourage ("We own tuxedos for just such occasions"). Fashionably late, but impeccably dressed, they strolled through the revolving doors of the main entrance as one long, elite clique. No one in their right mind, they correctly reasoned, would exhibit such poor taste as to question their right to be there. The champagne was excellent, "but I've never understood the meaning of caviar" Jack says. They yapped and laughed and drank and ate and left with the last of the cummerbunds.
A benefit at the Field Museum was even more fun. This time, in addition to enjoying some delicious food and hors d'oeuvres, Jack and Rod were able to turn a small profit.
"We put on a nice suit and I hung a couple of cameras around my neck," says Jack. "Rod carried a reporter's notebook. We tried to just wander through the main entrance but a big security guy asked us what we were doing. We said that we were the official photographers for the fund-raiser. The security guard looked us over skeptically, but before he could question us I told him that the first picture we would need was of him and we'd also need his name. This made him feel important. Then his boss or someone like that came and asked what was going on. We said we needed his picture and name too. Right after I snapped his picture Rod pointed to something inside the event and told me we needed that picture; as he crossed into the fund-raiser, I followed and we were in."
"Once we were inside we were like the hits of the party," Rod continues. "We barely had time to try the prime rib and jumbo Cajun shrimp because people began to come up to us and ask if we would take their picture for money. We charged ten dollars per picture and took the name and address of each person. One of the pictures we took was of Matt Suhey with his arms around two girls. We made about $250 doing this. I'm lucky the flashbulb was working because I sure as hell didn't have any film in the camera."
Admittance to bars and theaters requires a different strategy than fancy parties. "The same methods we use to enter theaters we use for the bars," Rod says. "Most of the time we walk around the place a couple of times and check to see if there are any side doors or fire exits. All theaters have fire exits and many times they are used as exit doors. Sometimes these exits are always open and somtimes it's a matter of waiting until the movie lets out and someone leaves through that door. Then you enter as they leave." They say Water Tower's upper level theater is the trickiest, because it's necessary to jimmy one door open by pulling from beneath the bottom, then shoulder through the next door. The Biograph is one of the simplest because it is often left unlocked the entire day, Rod says.
In 1986 Jack and Rod took their skills on a vacation to England. They thought the Wimbeldon tennis tournament, which was in play at the time, would provide a fair enough test of their ingenuity. To their amazement they found it to be one of their easiest conquests.
"We were walking around the stadium and stopped in front of this brick wall where about 20 other people were standing. Everybody, including us, was considering climbing over the wall when this little punk rocker walked up carrying an old rusty key. He walked to a gate to the right of the wall, stuck the key in, and opened it. Everyone walked right in and we were able to slide down to the second row because it was so crowded nobody noticed. We watched the semifinals that day but had to catch a flight the next." They did, however, pay for the airline tickets.
Lately, Jack and Rod have expressed concern about their 17-year-old cousin Bobby. They've taken him under their wing and are busy tutoring him in Gate-crashing 101. They are worried because some of the escapades Bobby pursues on his own lack practical objectives. For example, they say, Bobby and his girlfriend sneaked into Wrigley Field a few Saturdays ago, which is good, but they sneaked into an empty stadium after midnight for private reasons of their own. The brothers feel this stunt represents a disheartening inability to grasp the essential element of the craft: the challenge. Sneaking into a baseball stadium in the middle of the night where there are no people and there is no game, they say, is akin to making a touchdown against 11 mannequins. However, they are encouraged that these are at least mistakes of commission rather than of omission.
Through the street level window of the brothers' office we see an old Pontiac pull into a no-parking zone directly in front. A gangly blond-haired kid emerges from the auto. That's their cousin Bobby, Jack points out. After locking the driver's door, Bobby pulls a handful of Chicago parking tickets from his shirt pocket and places one under his windshield wiper; he then proceeds to place tickets under the wipers of a few more cars in the same no-parking zone.
"The kid's learning though," Jack says. "He's learning."