I’ve never been to a Super Bowl party. David and I aren’t exactly shy about letting friends know we’re not into sports. And then there’s that thing about our not having a TV. If I were to watch this year, I’m not even sure who I’d root for. If I watched here in Rhode Island, I’d probably go for the Giants, since they play in the Meadowlands, and I’m a Jersey Girl at heart. And if I watched in New Jersey, I’d probably favor the Patriots, since I’ve lived in New England longer than I ever lived in Jersey. I suppose that when it comes to sports, my strongest impulse is contrarian.
I was feeling contrarian on Super Bowl Sunday, 1988. Back then, it was still widely assumed that football was for men. Super Bowl Sunday meant men watching the game while women huddled in the kitchen, preparing nachos and pigs in a blanket to shove under the men’s faces. Liberated women might say screw that, and plan a night out with the girls, instead.
That’s what my friend Pat was thinking when she suggested we spend the evening watching the Chappendales Dancers revue. Pat and I were just getting to know each other. We’d met in a playgroup for two year olds at Burlington Public Library. Pat had two sons. I had Sophie, and was nine months pregnant. “It’ll be fun,” Pat suggested. “Your last hurrah before the baby’s born.”
The revue was booked in Memorial Auditorium, a cavernous hall best suited for mixed martial arts and political caucuses. When Pat and I arrived, the place was already packed. Seventy-five percent of the crowd consisted of middle-aged women. The other twenty-five percent were women in their twenties or sixties. Pat and I had to climb clear to the top of the bleachers to find empty seats. Seeing the stage from that height required doubling over – a position that would have been awkward in any circumstances, and was almost unbearable around a pregnant belly. The cranked-up base of the disco throbbed through my uterus. What if I went into labor right there in the bleachers?
The show consisted of a series of sets in which men dressed in various fantasy get-ups — cop, motorcycle tough, businessman, cowboy and yes, football player — flexed their muscles and gyrated their hips as they stripped down to thongs, and the crowd went wild. The guys were good-looking enough, their arm muscles oiled and their abs well defined. But I really couldn’t see what these women so damned excited about. Maybe they were just whipping themselves up for the sake of whipping themselves up, getting excited more by the idea of getting excited than by the actual show, which may have been interesting at first, but soon became tedious. But the fact that I found it so said more about me than about them.
Between sets, the lesser gods of the Chippendale pantheon, kids dressed in the iconic Chippendale collars and bow ties, came out into the auditorium to hawk calendars and kisses. Everything stopped as the women lined up by the dozens and patiently waited their turn, their five- and ten- and twenty-dollar bills clutched in their fists. If the stage show had been boring, this part was, well icky. And more than a little depressing.
What were these ladies thinking? What was going through the guys’ minds? What had I been thinking, coming? And what about my friend Pat, sitting quietly beside me? Was she as put off as I was, or was my obvious distaste spoiling her good time? I had come with a sort of ironic curiosity, and had assumed she shared my attitude. Now I wasn’t so sure what she thought, or even whether our budding friendship would survive the evening. I forget whether we stayed until the end. But I do remember what Pat said to me as we walked to our cars. “It wasn’t what I’d expected. I thought it would be more…artistic.” Her husband wasn’t in the best shape, physically, she went on. “I just wanted a chance to see some, you know, different kind of guys.”
I gave birth a week later. That baby boy turned out to be artistic, though not in the way Pat meant that night. Sam is a sculptor who works mainly with recycled cardboard. Last weekend, David and I drove to Syracuse to attend his first solo show (that image at the top is one of his pieces from the show). Pat and I did remain friends for several years. But first she moved to the Northwest, and then David and I moved to Rhode Island, and eventually Pat and I lost touch. Needless to say, I haven’t been to another Chippendales show. But I think of them each Super Bowl Sunday, when I’m busy not watching the game.