There are days when you wake up and think that there is no wonder left in this world, no mountains left to conquer, no oceans left to explore, no frontiers left to discover. That, of course, is exactly the day you find yourself in an apartment in Logan Square surrounded by 2,700 VHS copies of "Jerry Maguire," stacked from floor to ceiling, stacked so high and in so many teetering rows that you are reminded of layers of the Earth's crust, only instead we're talking layers of Jerrys.
Which is what their owners, members of the Chicago video collective Everything Is Terrible, call the thousands of VHS copies of "Jerry Maguire" they've gathered.
They have 4,667 Jerrys.
The remaining 1,900 or so Jerrys live in Los Angeles, with Dimitri Simakis, a freelance illustrator and editor and Everything Is Terrible member. He spearheaded the Jerry Project, which began in 2009 when the group started asking fans at its live events to bring them VHS Jerrys. Three years later, they have Jerrys from Australia and Jerrys from Japan and Jerrys from England; they have received Academy Award screeners of Jerrys and Jerrys stolen from libraries and Jerrys with price tags affixed and Jerrys in original shrink-wrap, which, 16 years after Cameron Crowe's blockbuster was released (to the week, in fact), is always a shock.
I mean, look at this picture.
Look at these people! Dear God, right? Check out all of those VHS copies of "Jerry Maguire." I know, I know. I hear you. Wow.
Look at this woman.
She's the ringleader. Her name is Katie Rife ("As in 'rife with corruption,'" she says). She is a freelance writer and founding member of Everything Is Terrible, which started in 2007 as a kind of online repository of obscure video footage and developed into a stage show. Rife is official Keeper of the Jerrys. There is an "Official Jerry Drop-Off Box" at the Odd Obsession video store in Bucktown, and fans bring car trunks full of Jerrys to EIT appearances — incidentally, the Everything Is Terrible holiday show plays Lincoln Hall on Dec. 21.
But it's Rife who has the post office box where most Jerrys are mailed. It's Rife who trudges down to Roberto Clemente Post Office in Logan Square each week and schleps home a new box of VHS Jerrys to add to the collection, which, in her home, fills 22 Home Depot boxes and milk crates on her back porch.
I told Crowe.
He sounded charmed, flabbergasted. "This is so hilariously great," he said, as I explained the Jerry project. "It's seriously fantastic. I mean, I have four copies. I am honored. Bravo. It's somewhere between the highest possible praise and an archaeological dig, I suppose. It could have been 'The English Patient,' but it's not."
He asked the group's name
"Everything Is Terrible," I said.
"Huh," he said.
"But they're not doing this to make fun of the film," I backpedaled: The origins of the Jerry Project were more practical. EIT are thrift-store trawlers of videotapes. When the group began, they were constantly running into VHS copies of "Jerry Maguire." They were also running into a lot of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," but "Jerry Maguire" far outstripped it.
I told Crowe they have a theory of why "Jerry Maguire" became the focus of the Jerry Project: "Jerry Maguire" was released on VHS in 1997 just as DVD players were being released, which, until Apple introduced its iProducts, was the fastest-selling consumer technology in history. People wanted to replace their old VHS tapes of "Jerry Maguire" with new DVD copies, and besides, as Simakis said, "'Jerry Maguire' is the one movie every white person in American has owned a copy of at some point."
As far as unverifiable theories go, I sort of like it.
I instructed Crowe to check the group's website, at everythingisterrible.com, where a regularly updated "Maguire Watch" and leader board are maintained — send more than 10 copies, your name goes on the leader board. (A Denver-based art group named Team Doom, inspired by EIT, is in first place with 250 copies.) "Wow," Crowe said, keyboard clicks coming over the phone. "This is pop culture perfection is what this is! This is just … wow. I love the minutiae of this. I love that, hey, 'Tony Northside' was good for 101 copies!"
OK, OK, I hear you: Why?