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Gazzolo shares his man cave with his son, Vincent. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

Gazzolo shares his man cave with his son, Vincent. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

Inside the man cave

Last Modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 11:12 AM

By Rita LeBleu / American Press

Sometimes the thing that turns our house into a home is simply carving out a small niche that’s truly our own. It’s where we keep the things we love most close at hand.

For Jim Gazzolo, American Press managing

sports editor, that place is a room in his house that’s gone from bedroom to storage room to wedding-staging room and now, finally, to man cave.

Making it even more special to him is the fact that his wife and all four kids pitched in to make it happen, contributing work and collectibles in an effort to remind him of his hometown that’s more than a thousand miles away — Chicago.

Four years ago the family moved here when his wife, Kimberlee, accepted a job in Lake Charles as superintendent of Catholic schools. At that time Gazzolo said he felt like he was always living away from home. He was “on the road” covering games while working from Los Angeles and Arizona. His first “real” job out of school, he said, was covering The Chicago Bears for the “Naperville Sun.”

“I quit writing for three years and did some coaching so that I could be at home in the evenings with family, but by that time, they could have cared less,” he joked.

The man cave was two years in the making. Like many dreams for redoing areas of our homes, working around schedules, budgets and life events can postpone the overall game plan again and again. “It’s still a work in progress,” Gazzolo said.

Laminate flooring is being laid in every room of the house, but the man cave is one of the last rooms on the list.

You can’t mistake Gazzolo’s room for a “media room.” There’s a sign that clearly designates the space as a man cave. That sign is hanging inside the room, rather than outside — per his wife’s request. (He may be king of his castle but she rules decorating decisions in every other room.)

Gazzolo doesn’t mind. Decorating in a certain style isn’t a high priority for him and, according to some of the definitions for man cave, the fact that it’s a place free of the influence of a woman’s touch is part of what makes it a man cave.

The term “man cave” came about shortly after the publishing of the book, “Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus.” In it, author John Gray explains how the communication and coping styles of the sexes are different: “To feel better Martians go to their caves to solve problems alone. ... To feel better Venusians get together and openly talk about their problems.”

Four out of the five family members who contributed sweat equity and mementos to make the room what it is are technically not allowed into it. That includes Kimberlee and Gazzolo’s three daughters, Rachel, Rebekah and Sarah.

There are other rules, he said. “What goes on in here, stays in here; I and only I, control the remote; if there’s more than one sport on, Chicago takes precedent; and pants are optional.” (That’s because sweats and pajama pants are the usual attire, but Gazzolo has on Chicago Bears shorts during the interview despite temperatures in the 30s. The fan is going. Like most people from cooler climates, he gets a kick out of Southerners’ response to ice and snow.)

Some of the decorating by family members included painting the walls what Gazzolo calls “Chicago Bears orange” and hanging a giant

Bears flag and oversized poster of Chicago.

“That’s Soldier Field, looking from the lake into downtown,” Gazzolo said. The collection of items in the room will probably grow. “It’s hard to get Chicago stuff down here. I bring things back when I go. Like I said, it’s a work in progress,” he said.

So far there’s the bear head bottle opener right by the beverage fridge, Chicago team pendants, a glowing night light helmet and wall décor with sporty sayings.

Within reach is a cookie jar that stays filled with Oreos. There’s a stuffed Charlie Brown on the back of the chair.

“Charlie Brown is the ultimate underdog. Lucy never lets him kick the ball,” Gazzolo said. When asked why have such a token in a room where winning matters, Gazzolo responded, “but it’s meant for him to try. Every day he gets up and he tries.”

In a quick save before he begins to sound philosophical, he added: “It’s like the Cubs that never win a World Series.”

The New Orleans Saints are represented in this little sportswriter’s haven by a little fleur de lis dartboard. About this, Gazzolo shrugged and said, “I’m not anti-Saints, regardless of what some of the American Press sports readers might think — but they did play the Bears in a playoff game once.” (This type of talk should be expected from someone who delights in stirring up team spirit among readers.)

But the all-around favorite object in Gazzolo’s room where he claims to “find solace,” watch his favorite games and do a little work, is the lamp that has absolutely nothing to do with sports, but everything in the world to do with having a sense of humor and making sure that when your wife gives you free reign to decorate as you like to make sure you throw in something she’s bound to detest.

It is the high-heeled, fish-netted leg lamp from “A Christmas Story.” “I like to watch that movie just to see the part about the lamp,” Gazzolo said. “Ralphie’s father didn’t care what the award was, it was just the fact that he won. I’ve always wanted one and I finally got it for Christmas.”

Like in the movie, Gazzolo put his lamp in the front window of his house and yes, you can see it from the outside.

The “window treatment” is the contribution of Gazzolo’s son, Vincent. It’s a blue and orange #54 jersey strung on a rod. “That’s an Urlacher jersey,” he said — only when asked. (Men who hang out in bear caves think that everyone should know such things.)

Vincent is not only allowed in the man cave. He’s encouraged. Being a place that’s off limits to women allows father and son to communicate more freely, according to Gazzolo. “We play Madden Football and talk,” Gazzolo said. “Sports creates that opening.”

Gazzolo remembers growing up playing catch with his father, interaction that provided the same kind of father/son communication. As Author John Gray writes in his book, “sharing” is less common among men than among women.

Gazzolo’s man cave isn’t fancy, but the chairs are comfortable. The TV works and the cookie jar and the beverage fridge are stocked. Even better — it was a gift from the people he loves most and though it’s his getaway, it’s also the place where he and his son feel most free to get together, talk and just feel at home.

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