The Eyes Have It

It is one thing to say something behind a man’s back. It is another to look into a man’s eyes.

When members of Congress debate legislation, and it passes, we are told that “the ayes have it.” Yet unfortunately, too many people voting with the ayes do not look at the people that they portend to help. They do not look into their eyes.

So many people across politics, sports, music, and other facets of life communicate without even needing words. Just look into their eyes. The message is crystal clear. While I never wish to imply that being an actor or an athlete is as consequential as defending and protecting America, there is a certain fierceness and seriousness of purpose that allow some to reach true levels of greatness in whatever they do.

Starting with acting, I have always admired Dennis Farina.

In 1985 and 1986, he played Lieutenant Michael Torello on a brilliant crime drama known as “Crime Story.” On Tuesday nights, I begged my dad to let me stay up late to watch it. I am still amazed to this day that the show only lasted two seasons. Torello grappled with Crime Boss Ray Luca in 1963 Chicago, and followed him all the way to Las Vegas and Latin America in 1964.

Ray Luca had a temper. When one of his lawyers tried to bring up a jurisdictional issue, Luca shot back, “Do I look lost?!!” The attorney calmly replied, “No. You look angry.”

The reason for Luca’s worry was because he knew not to underestimate Torello. Perhaps Farina played the role so well because he was a real life Chicago cop before turning to acting. In one scene, Luca is calling out for his henchman, “Paulie, I thought I told you to buy cheaper meat.” Torello then walks in the room, dumps Paulie on the table in front of Luca, and says, “You can’t get any cheaper than this.”

One of the very best scenes was when Torello has Prosecutor David Abrams hand Luca an injunction banning him from his own casinos. An angry Luca tries to throw the injunction in Abrams’s face, saying, “The hell I am banned!”

Torello takes over. “The hell you’re not! One step Ray…one step, into your own casino, to count your own money, drink your own booze, or bop one of your own broads, and you’re going to the joint! You want to start something tough guy? Start something with me.”

Neither man backed down, but when a subordinate mentioned to Luca that “Torello is a punk. He’s nothing.” Luca knew better. He calmly told the subordinate, “Torello is no punk. Try looking into his eyes some time.”

While Robert Deniro has the famous faces and stares, I still think Dennis Farina, from Crime Story to his stint on Law and Order, was a master at letting his eyes do the talking. That stare was real.

In real life, our soldiers capture my attention. It is one thing to carp from the sidelines. Look them dead in the face. Tell them what you feel. Then listen to them. Their presence is compelling.

The War on Terror is an ongoing struggle. It is the determination to win this war that turned me from a casual admirer to a defender forever of President George W. Bush.

This is not about politics for me, although many of his critics let their politics prevent them from even showing him the slightest amount of humanity and decency. When he picked up the bullhorn on September 14th, 2001, I saw his goodness. On September 20th, 2001, his speech to Congress was when I saw greatness.

The reason why I love this man is simple. I looked into his eyes when he spoke, and I believed him. His sincerity never left him. In his final speech, he looked into the camera and said, “Some people went back to normal after 9/11. I never did.”

It is not about uttering powerful words. It is about sincerity. His predecessor and his successor are both more eloquent. Yet eloquence is no substitute for being heartfelt. Some people said stuff. He actually meant it. That shines through.

That is why, long after the irrelevant ones disappear, Ronald Reagan remains revered. “Tear down this wall,” was not a slogan or a platitude. It changed the world. Look at a videotape, and look in Reagan’s eyes when he delivers that line.

On a lighter political note, one set of political eyes that I will never forget is that of a Florida judge whose name I do not even recall. During the 2000 recount, one judge was so exhausted that his eyes bulged out when looking at a ballot. That look was lampooned on a potato chip commercial. The recount ended, and that Florida judge had his eyes put back in the sockets, similar to when cartoon characters expand and contract. The moment was lighthearted, but the context was significant.

Toughness is not just as simple as acting. It is also not as vital as issues of war and peace. Yet somewhere in between comes the world of sports.

Various eyes have lit up photographs forever. In baseball, Carlton Fisk hit the winning home run and then gazed at it, not in ego, but in wonder. Although that was only game 6, and his team would lose game 7, it remains a classic photo.

In hockey, Mark Messier was the heart and soul of the New York Rangers. Trailing the New Jersey Devils 3 games to 2, and on the road, Messier guaranteed victory in game 6. He then went out and delivered, becoming a one man ice equivalent of a wrecking crew. Down 2-0, and later 2-1, Messier scored 3 goals himself in the final period for a 4-2 win. After the Rangers won game 7, and then won an epic 7 game finals against the Vancouver Canucks, it was Messier looking into the camera that solidified the moment. He vowed. He delivered.

Yet a bigger hockey moment would be the 1980 Miracle on Ice at the Olympics in New York. Yes, the USA beat the Russians. Al Michaels asked if we believed in miracles. We did. Yet the sight of every American player trying to get on the stage was a sight. The Russian players looked on in amazement. The eyes of every player on both sides showed the world that something far more significant than sports had just happened.

Many people forget that the game was only the semifinals. In the finals the USA defeated Finland. Before the game, American Coach Herb Brooks showed the most powerful eyes in hockey history. He told his players before the game that, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your graves…your f*cking graves.”

Basketball conjured up only one man…Michael Jordan. Some say it was the flu, but others said it was food poisoning from a bad slice of pizza. Either way, a wobbly Jordan could barely walk in game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. During breaks, Scottie Pippen would towel off Jordan’s head. With the game tied 85-85, Jordan got the ball and launched a 3 point shot with seconds remaining. Nothing but net. The announcer said the phrase that was said so many times when talking about Michael Jordan.

“There’s the dagger!”

Jordan collapsed on the bench, and put his head on Pippen’s shoulders. The Bulls won the championship in 6 games, and even more amazingly, in 6 appearances in the finals, the Bulls never lost. “The dagger” may have been the clutch shots, but I maintain that Michael Jordan had a pair of daggers where most people have eyes. I have never seen another athlete with a will to win that intense. Tiger Woods in golf and Pete Sampras in tennis have come very close, but Michael Jordan truly stood alone. His stare penetrated before his shot.

Yet the toughest game has to be football. Mike Singletary is legendary on film. The famous photo of the Chicago Bears defensive standout breathing cold air, staring down an overmatched opponent, was epic. I still remember him screaming, “We’re gonna be here all day baby! I like this kind of party!” He eventually went on to Coach the San Francisco 49ers. Make no mistake about it. The players know the coach is in charge.

Dick Butkus was famous for his bloody hands and hard hits. Yet Singletary had the eyes. Only one other player comes close. That is middle linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens.

He dances before the game, and he screams intently, at his own teammates as well as the opponents. Before every game, he asks his teammates, “Any dogs in the house?!!!” They all bark back in unison. He instills fear from the opening snap. I have only seen one player ever truly get in his face. I still remember the playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens.

“Ray Lewis is in Eddie George’s face, and Eddie George isn’t backing down!”

The Titans won that game, but when told about how tough Eddie George was (the two players tangled many times and had a deep mutual respect for each other), Ray Lewis reminded the sports reporters and America watching that, “Yeah, that play was a three yard loss for him.”

Very little in music approaches the visual intensity of sports. While rock music can be intense, pop music is often fluff. Either way, music is more auditory than visual, even with videos playing a role.

Yet the power of the eyes can translate into powerful music. Kylie Minogue sings, “It’s in your eyes.”

Jeff Healey is a blind guitarist. He sings about “Angel Eyes.” Yet blindness does not diminish his swagger. His other song that got airplay was “Confidence man.” “I can talk old ladies out of all their money, talk young girls into calling me honey, you know my love, is just a flim flam…yet you can’t pull the wool over me, cause I’m a confidence man.”

Slyvester Stallone will forever be famous for being Rocky Balboa, but even his intense stare had considerable help from rock group Survivor. The story about never giving up or giving in gets off to a rocking start from the first notes. Victory then awaits the person that has the “Eye of the Tiger.” Later on in Stallone’s career, he was an arm wrestler that would not give in. His look was amplified by Sammy Hagar singing “Winner Takes it all” in the movie “Over the Top.”

Third Eye Blind brought us “Semi-Charmed Life.” “I want something else, to get me through this, semi-charmed kind of life.”

Peter Gabriel gave an understated performance of “In your eyes,” for the movie “Say Anything.”

Aerosmith also did a powerful song called “Angel Eyez,” for one of their many movie soundtracks. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have long been known for their facial reactions, especially Tyler. The word “eye” is often his battle cry, although it comes in the form of “ayayayayayayayayayay.” It sounds like Chasidic Jews chanting, although either louder or not as loud depending on the holiday or celebration.

For pure rock music, Def Leppard offers the most intense staredown with the song “Mirror Mirror.”

“Take a look into my eyes…tell me what you see…tell me is it true…when I look at you…tell me is it me…mirror mirror.” The song fades out with lead singer Joe Elliott crooning over and over again “take a look into my eyes.”

As for me, this Tygrrr once offered the song “Eyes of Rain.” A completely fictional (I wonder where these visions come from) story of a broken relationship descending into rage and violence (again, fictional thank God), it leads the story teller to lament, “Eyes of Rain…love is so insane.”

For those who care, he catches her with somebody else. At first he debates whether to kill her or kill himself in front of her. Instead he decides to destroy all their property so that they could both sit and see everything they ever worked for become rubble. I swear, in a past life, I had it bad.

I think about all of this because my first week in college brought conflict. A guy accused me of calling him a “d*ck” behind his back. I looked straight in his eyes and told him that I would never say something behind somebody’s back. I was a standup guy. I would say it to their face. Three times he made the allegation, and finally I told him for one last time that I would only say something like that to a guy’s face. He asked me how he could be sure I was telling the truth. I loudly replied, with everybody watching, “Simple, because you’re a d*ck!”

When all was said and done, his attempt to get me to back down was not happening. I knew everything was ok when I overheard him talking to his friends.

I doubt they watched Crime Story, but when one of them pointed out that I was no big deal, one of the other guys had another take on the matter. “Did you look in his eyes? He’s crazy. That guy doesn’t give a f*ck. I would stay out of his way.”

Like many people in this world, I doubt one word I said that night had any impact. The words were just icing on a cake made of ice itself.

He got my message. He looked into my eyes.


7 Responses to “The Eyes Have It”

  1. I think Bush was genuinely moved by 9/11, and I think he really believed that he handled it as best he could. When I look in hgis eyes, though, I see a bit of a vacuum. He just doesn’t seem very bright. I remember when he said he saw Putin’s soul through his eyes. Something tells me KGB chiefs’ eyes are well-trained to lie. Bush saw what Putin wanted him to see. He wasn’t capable of seeing any more. Eyes do lie. Sometimes you think you see something in someone’s eyes, but you’re wrong. Some people are masters of lying through their eyes. Polticians especially. This is not a partisan condition either. It’s accross the board. Wall Street is rife with it. The chiefs at Bear Stearn lied like there was no tommorrow – or hell. They looked reporters, boards, polticians, the press, shareholders, right in the eye and lied right their corneas. I think we like to pretend we can see through people’s eyes, but often we can’t. There are lots of ways of communicating, and looking in the eyes is just one of them. There are people that can master the art of lying through their eyes. There are few people who can master reading them.


  2. heidiannej says:

    well said – i believe the reason they don’t look into the eyes of those they are supposedly representing is because they can’t do it with a straight fave.

  3. Toma says:

    Oh those lyin’ eyes.

    Some times my eyes find it difficult to believe what they see. Some times my ears find it difficult believe what they hear. I usually let my heart decide. Right or wrong.


  4. You can’t hiiiiiiiiiiide, your lyin’ eyes!

    And you probably shouldn’t…

    Focus on the eyes turns out to be important in the learning process. In some cultures, children are forbidden to look into the eyes of their parents and elders as it is considered a show of disrespect. These children have a hard time in school because they do not look their teachers in the eyes, and so they have to be trained to do otherwise, much to the consternation of their parents. It goes to show how much culture plays into our lives and how important and necessary socialization with universal education is.


  5. Toma says:

    Sorry Jers, humans are sooooo separatist. I couldn’t find a better word.
    The world is littered with hard headed factions. Socialization with universal education is a pretty thought but not realistic.

    Children’s natural thought process is concrete, they have to learn to thing in the abstract.


  6. Toma says:

    JMJ, I almost forgot, what is the status on the pup?


  7. Micky 2 says:

    The look in Bushs eyes when he was reading to the class and got the news is the look I’ll never forget.

    It was;
    ” You sons of b*tches went and did it, didnt you ?
    How longs it take to fly to Afghanistan ?
    Games on motherf&*%#*s “

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