Autograph Hound's Blah Blah Blog

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ichiro – A swing and a miss!

As the title implies I didn’t get Ichiro’s autograph.  Sometimes the best laid plans don’t pay off. Or sometimes life is a comedy of errors.
A few years ago, my friend DeeEss called and said he wanted to go to a weekday game. I agreed and got some awesome tickets at a great price.  
I used StubHub and was able to get the seats for list price. One thing to remember about the DFW area -it gets very hot in the summer. Hot enough that the Texas Rangers don’t have afternoon games after June or so. You will fry in your seats.
A week day game chases away a lot of the audience and an afternoon game in the heat scares away even more of the crowd.  The guy on StubHub was looking to get a little profit. Selling the tickets at face value allowed him to keep whatever discount the Rangers gave him for being a season ticket holder. If his price was higher he might not have sold the tickets at all.
The seats were 20 or 30 feet up the foul line from 3rd base. The seats were in the ‘Commissioner’s Box’ which actually juts onto the field for 2 rows.  We were in the first row of the box.
When my friend called, I wasn’t even aware of who the Rangers were playing. My excitement grew when I discovered it was Seattle.  I would love an Ichiro autographed ball.  And if I could get it for free, it would be even sweeter.
We planned on getting to the ballpark about 2 hours before the start of the game. I wanted to be there for Seattle’s batting practice.  I hoped to get Ichiro’s attention while he warmed up or took the field. Our seats were in the perfect location to see the players warm up and stretch.
DeeEss and I planned on meeting somewhere along the way as we live in different parts of the Metroplex.  Then we could car pool the rest of the way in to save on gas and parking.
A long time ago, I took Japanese at Continuing Ed.  I felt my brain was turning to mush and thought this would be a nice challenge. I knew at Continuing Ed I could take the class without the pressure of tests. It was inexpensive and it met my needs. I also knew at Continuing Ed I would not be forced to read or write Japanese. I just wanted to be able to speak it. Silly but that was my goal. I didn’t want to be fluent but I did want to know more than “Domo Arigoto Mr Roboto”.
So I dusted off my old text book and tried to piece together the phrase, “Good morning, Ichiro. Please could you sign ball. Thank you very much.”  Nothing too complicated but I’m sure it would catch his attention.  If I got his attention my odds go up of him coming over and signing.
In the past, I’ve had success with this approach with my survival Spanish.
I was nervous about my Japanese. I have a Jersey accent that has been mixed with a Texas accent and I do tend to slur my words on occasion. I even wrote down what I wanted to say and kept it with the balls I was bringing to the park.
I practiced for a good 30 minutes trying to memorize the phrase. I tried to deliver it without sounding like I was reading it.  I wanted to sound like I had a clue of what I was saying and with sincerity. Even after my practice, I knew I needed my slip of paper.
The day of the game arrived and I was ready to meet DeeEss. I had my backpack, the balls and a couple of pens, and my translation. I was ready.
I drove to the rendezvous point. I waited. And waited some more. I called and left a message. I waited. DeeEss was stuck in a meeting. After the meeting he called and said he was on his way. Okay, we’ll get to the ball park a little later than I wanted but it still should be good.
After a longer wait than I expected, I called again. He asked where I was.  Where I was!?!   No, the question was, where was he?  So we confirmed where we wanted to meet.  We both agreed on that. He said he was there. And I said I was there.
Ruh Ro, Shaggy!  I had messed up. I sat parked at the wrong location. ME, who had gotten the great seats.  ME, who had practiced his Japanese. ME, who was packed and was ready to go the night before…I was the one at the wrong location. I hate when I do that.  
Another delay. Needless to say, we didn’t get to the game as early as hoped.  We got to our seats just as batting practice was ending. I was bummed.
We had a good game in front of us. The Rangers won in the 9th with a walk off hit.  The crowd roared to life as the Seattle players left the field. Even though Ichiro was only 50 feet from me, he couldn’t hear me shouting my rehearsed Japanese over the applause. Heck, I couldn’t hear myself.
So a swing and miss but a good game and some quality time with an old friend.

Alton Brown

You know Alton Brown.  Everyone knows Alton Brown. Heck, I don’t even watch the Food Network and I know Alton Brown. When my wife is watching Good Eats, 9 times out of 10, I’ll pause to watch.  I can’t say that about Rachel or Paula.
Good Eats has something that appeals to the geek in me. He presents in a way that gives me that ‘aha’ moment while watching a cooking show.  For him to do that is remarkable. To me a cooking show is like watching paint dry. Usually a good way for me to lose my appetite is to watch a cooking show. Enough said.
Alton Brown was one of the authors for the Texas Book Festival. So when we were in Austin, we planned on getting him too.
I bought 4 copies of his new book, Good Eats 2; one more for me; one for mom’s upcoming birthday; and two for friends.  Now his new book is big; not only big but heavy. Close to 10 pounds.  It cost me $10 to mail back to mom, that’s how heavy it was. So I was dragging 4 of these tomes around for several hours.
The signing was away from the Capitol. I think Central Market did the arrangements and they picked a spot that was good for them. The signing was at night. It was also a ticketed event that no one knew about. Well, about 200 Central Market shoppers knew as they had the tickets but the other 400 people that showed up did not know.
Alton Brown and Central Market knew about the extra people and he promised to stay until everyone got their books signed. Very cool of him.
The ticketed people got to be inside and sit in chairs while Alton did a 30 minute question and answer session.  Good for the ticketed but not so good for the rest of us. Luckily it was a beautiful night although we were stuck on the sidewalk.
Every now and then we would hear the crowd inside laughing. Nothing like a little salt in the wounds. First we don’t have tickets.  Then we don’t have seats. And now we don’t get to hear the comedian, Alton Brown.
About 10 minutes later an employee from Central Market came out and related the latest joke that Alton told. She walked down the line and she repeated herself after every 30 people or so. When she reached the end of the line she started back toward the front with a different tidbit from Alton. Again very cool.
So our human tweet (the girl working the lines with Alton Bon Mots) told us he will be writing a kids book soon because his kid asked him to.
When Alton was asked what other chefs we should be watching on Food Network he responded that we should we only watching him and buying his DVD’s and books. Well, I thought it was funny.
When the signing started there was a lot of chaos. Being outside, we were in the dark about what was happening. We saw a lot of people leave the area but no one was being let in the room. Standing in line a good hour before the event started and waiting another hour and not moving caused some stress especially when the feet and lower back started complaining.
Now we saw the ‘human tweet’ come out and start looking through the line. It appeared she was counting heads.  I hate that. Is usually means they will cut off the line and not everyone will get their autograph.  A few minutes later she led a few people from the back of the line into the room.  A little later a few more people are led inside.  A lot of question marks popped up over people’s heads. One of the guys in front of me went to the people guarding the door to find out what was happening.  He was told that Alton requested that people with kids, or the elderly, or the handicapped be taken care of first.  Very nice of him. My feet hate Alton but my heart was okay with the decision. 
As I said my feet hate Alton. It was another 1 ½ hours before we got inside the room. Inside the room we waited another 30 minutes but adrenaline is pumping because we crossed the threshold.
He was very efficient and cordial. He stood at a podium to do the signing. He was relaxed and he shouted “Next!” when he finished with that person. He directed the scene. He made sure all of the parts kept moving.  He signed and chit chatted.  He chatted as he posed for a few photos.  When you were done he handed back the book and shouted for the next person.
All of the sudden he stopped. He walked away from the podium and into the area with the seats. A lady was sitting with her 6 or 7 year old daughter sleeping on her shoulder. He talked to her for a few minutes and then the lady called her husband out of line. Alton took the book from the hubby’s hand and signed it. They chatted as the kid slept. Now the kid could go to bed.
When our turn came I lifted the bag with 40 pounds of books to the podium and tried not to grunt from the effort.  He signed each book as I asked him about flying.  A friend of mine clued me in that he flew himself to location whenever he could (Thanks DeeVee!).
You could tell he was happy to have a non-cooking question.   He admitted he loved to fly and really enjoyed traveling that way. He regretted the costs in NYC were too much to house his plane there otherwise he’d commute to work that way. He handed back our books and shouted “Next!” as we turned away very content after a long day of collecting.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Texas Book Festival 2010

A few weeks ago the wife, Kae, and I traveled down to Austin for the Texas Book Festival (10/16/10).   This book fair hasn’t been on my radar. In fact, I never heard of it until a month earlier and I’m not even sure how I found out about it. Like a lot of things in life, sometimes you just trip over something that you are supposed to pay attention to.
Since it’s a 4 hour drive, we drove down the night before and stayed at hotel in downtown. The trip was uneventful except for the fact we passed 2 (count them, 2!) outlet malls. Kae, ‘suggested’ we leave early on Sunday to be sure to get some shopping done.
Does this happen to you?  Kae will hit every  mall in town and find nothing interesting or that fits properly. We go to another city and window-shop at their mall with the exact same stores that we have in Dallas and boom! she finds the perfect outfit in the perfect size with the perfect accessories.  Amazing, huh? This has happened enough times that the expectation is WE WILL GO SHOPPING.
The Books Festival has been around for 15 years. Laura Bush, when she was First Lady of Texas, started it as a way to acknowledge Texas authors.  The event brings in a couple hundred authors. Most of the authors are local and the topics of their books are local.  It is a good way for these authors to get some free publicity and meet the public.  I think most of the authors get a chance to discuss their book and then have a signing.
For the most part, the Festival holds the lectures and panel discussions in the Texas Capitol building.  The area outside of the Capitol is filled with tents. Some of the tents are for local publishers to display their wares. A tent set is up for the musical groups to perform, a cooking tent is set up to demonstrate the art of cooking and for various chefs to discuss their books. 
This was a very kid friendly event. Several tents are there to entertain the kidlets.  They had a tent filled with children books and the authors that signed. Just outside of these tents was a free vision and hearing screening for the little ones.
The ideal of this event was that you could attend the panel discussion and then still have time to wander over to the autograph tent and spend a few minutes chatting with the author as you got their signature.  After 15 years this was still the reality.  You can have your cake and eat it too.  Although you will hear from the ‘older timers’ about how big this event has gotten and how huge the crowds are but it’s possible to do it all.
The grounds surrounding the Capital are beautiful and while it’s a long walk a lot to get from one end to the other, it’s refreshing to be outside and enjoying the sunshine.
Laura Bush was first on my agenda.  My plans did not include sitting in on any of the panels because I thought there would be too many people in the lines to be able to jump from event to event. Kae did listen to her talk and thought she was witty and entertaining.  Even though it was at a local theater, it was intimate.
Unfortunately, Laura wasn’t able to hold a signing afterward. Barnes and Noble did get her to sign copies of her book and was selling them.  So I consoled myself with a pre-signed copy of her book.  A shame as I really wanted to ask her thoughts about the Texas Rangers baseball team. Her hubby was President of that team for a while.
Later that day I picked up Heloise’s autograph. Yeah, not in the same league at Laura Bush but I have read Heloise for decades and wanted to add her to my collection. Admit it, you read her too.
P.J. O’Rourke  was there and I got him too.  He was friendly and he allowed people to take pictures and pose with him.  A confession – I never read one of his columns.  I remember selling a ton of his books on Father’s Day and around Christmas when I worked at the bookstore.  For me, he was enough of a celebrity to add his book to my shelves.
I have several friends that love the series, Dexter. So I HAD to get Jeff Lindsay  to sign a few copies of his books for me and my friends. He was nice. I asked if he ever came to ComicCon.  He said no and asked me why was Dexter even at ComicCon.  I laughed and said Dexter was part of ’pop culture’ and ComicCon was very ‘pop culture’. He said the audience won’t want him.  I told him he would be a rock star there and he should think about going next year.
The next autograph I wanted but I felt weird about getting. It was Meg Cabot. She wrote Princess Diaries along with a million other books for kids.  I’ve watched that movie more times than I care to admit. If you knew the truth I’d lose my membership in the ‘man club’.
Here I am, 6 foot 3 inches tall, standing in line with a thousand 10 year old girls; girls that were squealing, snickering, giggling, and doing everything else that 10 year old girls do.  They had enough nervous energy to power the State of Texas for a year.  They were hopping up and down. They were standing on one foot and spinning. They were practicing parts of some gymnastic or cheerleading routine they were learning. They were doing everything but standing still. All of which brought  more attention to red faced me, a giant among Lilliputians.
Meg was friendly and was all grins and even posed with the girls.  The parents were taking pictures and thanked Meg as the girls were too excited to doing anything but burn off this amazing amount of energy.
Then it’s my turn at the front of the line. I got a smile. Then she asked who the book was for as she wanted to personalize it.  I told her it’s just for me.  The smile faltered.  She signed the book pushed it back to me.  She quickly held her hand out to the next 10 year and started signing again.  Did she ask if I wanted to pose with her?  No. did she want to chit chat? No.  It was oblivious I didn’t belong there and Meg was just as uncomfortable as I was.  She was a trooper though and didn’t comment or ask any embarrassing questions to make the situation last any longer than necessary. She soldiered forth and got to the next girl in line as fast as possible. Although I was chagrined at the time, I do have the book signed so all is good in the end.
Times like these I need to rent a child. I could have hovered just out of ear shot and watched it all go down. Meg would ask the kid his/her name. The kid would say it’s going to be a gift and not sure for who yet. I’m sure Meg would have arched an eyebrow over that comment but she would have signed and returned the book.  The kid would then leave the line and I would quickly swoop in claiming my prize before the kid started doing cartwheels or the like that take an insane amount of energy that someone my age would never think of doing.  I’m sure I would pat the kid on the head and hand over a bag of Skittles as a reward. Something with lots of sugar to help the child replace the energy they have been using up all day. Then there would have been no embarrassing exchange as I got my autograph.
That night I got Alton Brown to sign his book. This was several miles away in a shopping center and semi-associated with the Book Festival.  It made a great ending to a long successful day of autograph hunting.
More about Alton in the next post.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fan Days Plano Texas

Last weekend (10/23/10) I attended Fan Days in Plano, TX.  It was the first time I attended this convention and to be truthful I wasn’t very well prepared.
I started off thinking this was in Richardson, TX but luckily I clicked on the website to double check the address and saw I needed to go to Plano instead. Oops, not an auspicious start.
On the website they did have a floor plan listed but I didn’t spend enough time with it and that cost me some heartburn too.
The people running this show do several other conventions in the DFW area each year.  They also attend ComicCon where they bring in some big name guests for signings and they also are associated with the Star Wars Celebration conventions.
The show I attended was featuring William Shatner and Christopher Lloyd.  Being a big Trekkie I really wanted to get Shatner’s autograph.  Lloyd and the others attending were all just icing.
I bought my priority admission pass about 2 months in advance and about 2 weeks in advance I prepaid for the Shatner autograph online but you still need to stand in line to pick these items up.
I got to the convention center about 30 minutes before the show opened.  A huge line was wrapped around the building.  I stood in that line for a while before it dawned on me that I needed to pick up my badge (actually this convention uses wrist bands instead of badges) and not stand in this line which was for General Admission. Entering the convention center I got some vague instructions on where to stand to get my wrist band.  They already had Tom Felton doing photo ops and signing.  I thought it odd to have people signing before the convention officially started but people seemed fine with that.
I stood in the wrong line (again) when I got inside and was told to move.  I got into another line and waited about 30 minutes to get my wrist band. As I picked up my wrist band, I also was given my Shatner ticket. I was impressed with that and that was well orgainized. I had expected to be told I needed to go another location.
Afterward, I walked around just to see the lay of the land.  Obviously I didn’t look too carefully as I got into the wrong line again.
I was looking to buy some Felton autograph tickets and thought I had found the right line. I started talking to a guy and we spent 30 minutes yakking when I got to the front of the line and found out this line was selling photo ops tickets only.  While being slightly embarrassed, I asked where I needed to go.
I found the right table and bought my tickets. Then I saw a long long long line entering a room. I asked what the line was for and told it was for Christopher Lloyd. I saw that other signers were in there also and I asked if I could enter the room and get those people instead. They said I needed to stand in the long long long line.  Slightly frustrating but I have embraced my inner cow long long long time ago so I know how to stand in long long long lines and be patient.
Again, I spent the time in line listening to others and watching the people. Quite a few people dressed up. Since this was very Star Trek oriented it had a lot of Klingons and StarFleet personnel in attendance. A nice distraction was the young women (they were no longer teenagers) that dressed up as Hogwart’s school girls.
After an hour passed, a guy comes down the line starting if you wanted an autograph from someone other than Lloyd, you can enter the room. Yeah!  Reason prevails! So I got out of the line that was not moving and entered the room. The only person in the room I wanted was Tia Carrere.  The show had about 6 or 8 other people signing in that room. Each signer only had a few people in line.  So I walked up to Tia and only had one person in front of me.
She looked much prettier in person than she did on the last Warehouse 13 episode she appeared on.  She had a dozen photos to choose from but modesty (and my wife’s potential bane) kept me from choosing some of the more revealing photos to get signed. I got a black and white 8x10 that had her in several shots from True Lies.
As I was leaving realized I forgot to ask why she cancelled her appearance at the last ComicCon. I really wanted to ask her this as I thought it would be create some interaction between us. I’m assuming she cancelled for work and hopefully it would have been a good story to tell. As I mentioned, I wasn’t very organized this time.
I then found the line for Shatner. It was moving very fast. People were bringing all kinds of things for him to sign. Some I could figure out what they were and what they symbolized but others I was clueless. He had several photos to choose from and I chose the one with him in the green Captain shirt from the episode Enemy Within. The autograph process was quick, efficient, and over before you blinked.
I do understand the time constraints and I’m not complaining. The speed of the line is benefit to all. I was happy that he did look up and smile and he actually said thank you for coming. I was happy.
Then I found Michael Dorn and that was another quick line but he was taking his time to talk to people and be personal.
I had made good progress for the day. I then got in line for Tom Felton which I had already described.
I was having a good time. I was meeting people and finding out that this convention has a loyal following of attendees. Many have been coming for years and have gotten a lot of their Star Trek and Star Wars related autographs from this series of shows.
The show had a good crowd but not so large that you can’t do it all. People were attending the Q&A sessions and then getting in line for the autographs.  They were taking time out for lunch and visiting the dealers’ room. The experience was very different for me compared to ComicCon. At ComicCon I need to hack away at my wish list and constantly adjust it to make it manageable. This was a nice change.
So the only thing left on the agenda was Lloyd. I had the rest of the day to wait in line.
I got in line and not 2 minutes later a guy is pulling me out of the line and putting me in a shorter line. My priority wrist band had now come into play. They were separating people and I had trumped the general admission people. I moved ahead of about 75 people.  This time the line was moving very fast. The rumor was they told Lloyd to speed things up.  I don’t know if that was true but I only spent 30 minutes in line talking to people before I was picking out a photo for him to sign.  I chose a Doc Brown photo from Back to the Future.
He was nice and he sounded just like Doc Brown. I know that sounds stupid because he WAS Doc Brown but he did sound like Doc Brown. I could have been Marty and he could have been telling me that 1.21 gigawatts were needed to make the flux capacitor work.  It was surreal.
My work was done and I had gotten the five autographs I was looking for.  It was time to go home and put my feet up and talk my wife’s ear off about my day.
I enjoyed this convention and I look forward to the next one in the series.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grumbly in my Tummy

As I got in line for Tom Felton (Malfoy – Harry Potter) I was told he was taking a break for lunch. No problem, I was pretty much on schedule for the autographs that day and I stayed where I was.  I did ask how long his lunch would be and I was told he got 30 minutes.  I smiled and said, “Only 30 minutes?  Gosh you guys crack the whip. Do you let him eat real food? Or is it from the convention center?”  I was told he got real food and they bring in take out for the stars.  No week old hot dogs or watered down soda that the rest of us are expected to purchase.
As the seconds passed, I started listening to the conversations around me.  The Brunette behind me had the perfect husband.  He poked his head around the corner asked if she wanted a soda then dutifully got it.  After he came back with that, he then scurried off onto another chore for her.  I HAD to mention that he made the rest of us (men) look bad.  She laughed. The Blonde behind her also laughed and asked where she found him and if he had a younger brother. That started the small talk between the three of us.
The Brunette (about 30) was getting the signature for herself. The Blonde (about 20) was getting one for herself and one as a gift for her friend back in New York.  The friend in New York was going to be SOOO jealous that she met Malfoy in person.  We joked that the Blonde should tell her friend that she got a kiss from Tom or even that she slipped him her phone number. Silly stuff but it passed the time.
There was a lot of excitement over this actor. Earlier in the day he popped his head out of the room and 30 girls AND ladies that were waiting for a glimpse of him squealed like Elvis walked out of the room.  There were a lot of kids in this autograph line but a lot of women too.
My curiosity was piqued. As the Blonde and Brunette talked, I started inserting some questions about this excitement.
They both agreed a big part of the thrill was that he was in Harry Potter and they grew up with him and watched him grow up. But he was also sexy. So I followed up stating he was a bad guy. They both agreed that he was bad but he didn’t WANT to be bad. So that made him a good enough to squeal over. I laughed as it seemed so cliché – good girls love the bad boy.  They admitted it was cliché but accurate.
Before long, Tom came back from lunch.  Yes, there were a few squeaks that trumpeted his arrival.  He smiled and waved to the people in line and sat down and got to work.
A young boy, maybe 8 years old, was the first in line. He wore a cape and Potter–like glasses.  Tom smiled and apologized for making him wait. With a mild British accent, he said his tummy was all grumbly and he just had to get a bite to eat.  He asked the boy if he knew what that was like.  The boy was clueless about the exchange but Tom seemed honest in his regret about the wait he put us through.
Another young child came up, younger than the first. Tom told the little one how brave he must be to approach him.  After all, he was the dreaded Malfoy and the bully of Harry. He mentioned a lot of boys his age would cry when seeing Malfoy in person.  Again, the little one was clueless about what was being said. Hopefully the parents understood and would remember and then tell this story when the kid was older and could understand.
I found it heartwarming that he tried interacting with each child.  After the success of Harry Potter and how many years of his life were involved in the franchise, I could understand if he was jaded with the fans.  That was definitely not the case here, he seemed genuinely trying to make each encounter special.
When I got my turn to approach, I handed over the photos with the little yellow stickies on them spelling out the names for the personalization.  He asked if I was Bree and I said no, that was my nephew.  Then he asked who was Aiy was and I told him that was my niece.  He mentioned I must be a good uncle to do this for these kids. I laughed and I said I just hope they remembered this when I’m old.  Hopefully they would put me away in a good home. He laughed back.  
Later that day as I was leaving the convention and walking back to my car, I saw him behind the building away from the crowds making a phone call.  I said hello as I walked past and thank him for coming out to Texas.  He waved back with a smile. This being his personal time and he was off the clock, he still smiled and waved instead of turning his back and ignoring me.  I really think he is one of the good guys and I was glad I got to get his autograph.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jenna Bush

My parents were in town when this signing occurred. The bookstore hosting the signing had rented out the local high school auditorium and Jenna had an opportunity to do a reading from her book, Ana’s Story.
Since Jenna was the daughter of a sitting President, security was high and we had bags checked and we walked through metal detectors before entering the auditorium. Besides the police, we had secret service agents and the ever vigilant school cops to contend with.
Jenna spoke well and fielded a few questions from the crowd; nothing political and none too sensitive or personal. Her engagement was just announced so of course a couple of questions were about the wedding plans.
After the reading, my wife, Kae, begged out and promised to watch our coats and bags. So my parents and I got in line while Kae started reading Jena’s book.
The line wrapped in front of the stage and up the side stairs and through the stage curtains. Several secret service agents were present inspecting the line as they casually checked everyone out.
I did notice a second glance at my cell and pager. Not many people carry a beeper anymore and to have one and a cell phone is unusual. Before I could offer to let him look at my devices, he okayed me to approach the table where Jena sat and signed the books.
She signed my parent’s book and they walked off the stage. I got to the table and said hi.  She smiled back and started to sign.  During her reading she mentioned that she talked at a grade school earlier in the day. So while I was waiting for her to finishing signing I asked if she attended that school. She said no and asked if did.  I told her I was from Jersey and just a transplant to Texas. Then I asked why that school. She got excited and sat straighter in her chair. She told me a few things and I nodded appropriately. Before I could follow up with another question, one of the bookstore handlers was tugging on my sleeve and I knew the cue to go. I picked up my book and thanked her and left.
When I join my parents and wife they all wanted to know what we were talking about. Looking confused I asked why. They said no one else was talking to her. She became very animated with me.  I joked that I asked her out on a date but she said no.
My dating bon mot wasn’t funny as I hoped so I admitted I just asked about the school she visited earlier in the day and it seemed to be the right question at the right time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jenny who...?

Being an admittedly poor alumni I can still feel sheepish about not knowing who Jenny is; especially when everyone else in the world does.
In 2008, I was at another card show in Houston. I was there to get Cal Ripkin Jr’s and Paul Moliter’s autographs. Both were Hall of Famers and would be great additions to my collection.
I got to the show early and while hanging out I saw that Jenny Finch was signing also. To put it bluntly, I never heard of her. There was some buzz around the convention floor about her being there and I found out she went to the UofA. Since I had some extra time I figured I would pick up her autograph too.  I was going to get a couple of extra balls signed thinking it would be a Christmas present for some fellow alumni. At the time I doubted they would know who she was so I would have to send a note to explain the how’s and why’s I sent them a softball.
I was standing in line and in she came. The crowd was applauding.  Question marks went up over my head but maybe she was a hometown hero or something.  Since I’m tall I could see over most of the crowd all I saw was a very beautiful tall blond come in.  I figured the blond was the handler as softball players are usually shorter and heftier and not nearly so stunning.  No, I was wrong, that was Jenny.  
Wow, I was really off my game and feeling embarrassed for not knowing her.  So while waiting in line, I was trying to pick up on something that the people near me were saying that I could use when I got to the front of the line. Nothing that anyone was saying was intriguing enough to use. Not only was I unprepared -I DIDN’T even wear a UofA shirt.
This is a disclaimer – my wife would say I wanted something to say because I wanted to flirt with her. Jenny is SO not in my league. I just wanted something to say to create a nice ambiance because I’m a polite guy and I don’t want her to think I’m just a rude jerk that was going to sell the autographs on eBay later that day. I just wanted to show some politeness and people skills.
The people around me talked about gold and silver medals from the Olympics. While I knew we had an Olympic team I didn’t know we won. So besides being a bad alumni, I’m a bad American too.
When I got to the front of the line I did the typical: Thanks for coming here today. It’s a no brainer but polite. Then I asked before I even thought – How many people have sang the UofA fight song for you?   She stopped and laughed. She told me no one.  I told I went to the U also. Still smiling, she then told me to sing it for her. Well, I don’t sing but it’s very hard to turn down a beautiful woman when they ask you to do something. I go out the first 2 lines and quit. She laughed and I was happy I had my 15 seconds of fame with Jenny.
The next work day I‘m telling an old boss about this encounter.  She got very excited and started telling me about Jenny’s career and how her daughter worships her. They had to paint the daughter’s bedroom in blue and red (UofA colors) and the daughter had a huge poster of Jenny on her wall.  Well, that made it easy to know where one of the extra balls I got signed was going.
When I brought the ball to the old boss, she held like it was the Holy Grail.  I really laughed out loud.
I emailed one of my baseball card collecting buddies about my adventure. We grew up together in Jersey and he later moved to Seattle.  I figured there was no reason he would know about her. He didn’t go to the U and he loves baseball and not softball.  His reply email came quickly telling me I’m an idiot for not knowing Jenny. He knew all about her. When I asked why, he was quick to point out 2 Olympic medals. Plus a card collecting magazine had done a cover story on her recently. Then he told me I should read the magazine once in a while. 
The emails from my old college friends were also full of surprise that I was so clueless. They told me how she was PAC 10 player of the year and that her number was retired at the UofA and then they rolled on endlessly about her accomplishments. Of course they had to ask how pretty she really was.
Even my wife and sister knew her - from The Apprentice no less. And yes, they too had to ask if she was as pretty in person as on TV.
It became a joke that I was the only guy in America who didn’t know her.  I would bring up getting her autograph in some random conversation and the other person would instantly know her and wonder how I tied my shoes in the morning because I was so clueless.
So Jenny, let me apologize for not knowing you.  I’m very glad I got the chance to get your signature and to sing to you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The secret word: UofA

Groucho – Tell me the secret word and I’ll give you $50. Give me $50 and I’ll tell you the secret word…
At times the UofA feels like that secret word.  It’s something that pops up out of nowhere and I get a connection to someone that I didn’t expect.
I went to the UofA (Arizona - the better of the three Universities in AZ) over 2 decades ago. I am not and never was a huge supporter of their teams and I never give money to the alumni association.  My friends are astonished when I don’t know when we play or how we are ranked in the polls.  I went to one football game while I was there. I never saw a basketball game and only went to a few baseball games because it was free and we used to do a betting pool and I got stuck tracking the results and holding the money.
I really enjoyed getting my Bachelors there. It only took me 5 ¾ years but I got my 4 year degree and I must admit it was good times. I even met my wife there.
After I matriculated, I never looked back. I moved to Texas and started grinding away at a job.
One thing I started doing was wearing golf shirts; the pull overs with a few buttons at the chest and a logo on the breast. There are light weight and cool and semi-fashionable for work or home.  For one reason or another I started wearing ones that had the UofA logo on them. Silly considering how bad of an alumni I am.
The odd thing is people would stop me and ask if I was from Tucson or tell me there went there too. It was a walking conversation piece and it was amazing when and where I would get stopped.
One time my wife and I were on the ferry going to the Statue of Liberty and a couple asked the typical question. They mentioned they just moved to a small town south of Tucson. That town was the same small town my wife grew up in.  What are the odds of meeting ‘neighbors’ in NYC?
This also happens at signings.  The year I got Steve Carlton’s  autograph in Houston was the year the Phillies asked Mike Schmidt to be a spring training batting instructor. When it was my time to get a ball signed I mentioned the Phillies should have asked Carlton to spring training also. He mentioned that they did but he had other commitments.  He looked up and saw the UofA shirt and asked if I lived there. I told him I went to school there but live up near Dallas. 
This intrigued him. He finished with my ball and before I left, he asked me to stay a moment. He signed a few more balls and told me he really liked AZ. I don’t remember any more of the conversation. I just remember security wanting me to move along but Steve kept telling me to stay.
At another show, Ozzie Smith saw my shirt when he handed my ball back and told me a good friend of his went to the UofA. Thinking it was personal friend I asked who. He told me it was Terry Francona. At the time Terry was coaching my Phillies; my favorite team which I let Ozzie know. I got very excited as I didn’t know that Terry went to there also.  Terry graduated just before I got to college so I never saw him play.
A year or so later I saw Terry at the Houston ball park and got his autograph. I showed him my UofA shirt and told him I met my wife there.  He smiled and asked if she was at the game. I said yes, and pointed and he looked over and waved to her. It embarrassed my wife but that was pretty neat.
I went to several Nationals in a row so I started recognizing some of the people that work there. One of the guys must have been a people watcher too as he recognized me and commented on my shirt. He also attended the UofA.  This guy was one of the handlers for the players; he would show them where to sit and accompany them as they signed and would keep the line moving. Later at that same show he was there with Tito Francona. He told Tito I was a friend and I also went to the UofA where his son Terry had gone.  Tito gave me a big strong handshake to welcome me to the ‘club’.
At the 2010 ComicCon I was on the convention floor and saw Christopher Judge (Stargate SG1) signing at a booth. I came over and he signed a photo for me. He saw my UofA shirt and asked if I was from Tucson.  After telling him I spent 5 and ¾ years there working on my degree, he laughed and asked when I went there. Surprisingly we are about the same age and we attended school at the same time. If I had seen more games I would have seen him play…or not.  He said that he blew out his knee at Arizona Stadium and that ended his football career.  So of course I asked him how that happened.  He got so excited to talk football. He went into detail about the players on his team (Oregon Ducks) and his opponents (my Wildcats), what the assignments were and then he started describing the play.  He HAD to get out of his seat.  Words would not do the incident justice. He moved chairs out of the way so he had plenty of room. He started reenacting the play and how his foot went one way and his knee went another.  Just like a kid. Or like a million other frustrated athletes that couldn’t make it big; just like the rest of us getting waylaid on our journey through life.  I bet he beamed with happiness the rest of the day because he got to tell his football injury story.
So the secret word for me is the UofA shirts I wear. They start conversations and make connections with a lot of different people.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Erin Gray and my friend

Ess and I have been friends since my freshman year at the U of Arizona.  I must admit he is a better friend to me than I have been to him; he remembers birthdays and sends cards and calls.
When I went to my first ComicCon in San Diego in 2005 I had no idea what I was getting into. I stumbled across a reference somewhere about this big event called SDCC (San Diego ComicCon) and thought it might be fun to attend. I called my friend and asked if I could stay with him while I attended this convention.  Ess said yes and I made my plans.
The biggest expense of ComicCon is housing and I had just side-stepped that cost.  Something at the time I did not realize when I invited myself into Ess’s small one bedroom apartment.  Not only did I invite myself in, I assumed he would attend ComciCon with me so I wouldn’t need to rent a car. Yes, I have already admitted it , he is a better friend than I.
After using airline miles for the flight, I had spent a total of $50 dollars for my first ComicCon 4 day pass. I had a free flight, room, and car.  I did pay for his parking each day and I bought Ess’ dinner every night.  Yes, I was making out like a bandit. Then he had the nerve to buy 2 tickets for the Padre game that Thursday night. Awesome seats about 20 rows up behind home plate. I can be so spoiled at times.
That freed up a lot of money to get autographs and the like. Being my first ComicCon, just about everyone was on my want list.
While I was in line for Virginia Hey (Farscape), I was people watching.  I noticed Erin Gray spending a lot of time with each of her fans. I mean a long time. 5 to 10 minutes with each one. She graciously smiled and nodded and even asked questions back.  She was engaging with her fans.  As I was watching, I never noticed her rolling her eyes or giving her helper a smirk or a whisper asking for help.  She was holding court and being very friendly.
Since I had gotten Erin’s autograph a few years earlier I wasn’t going to get it again. After I finished up with Ms Hey, Ess found me and we were going to wander over to the ballgame since the ball park is a couple of blocks from the convention center.
I started telling Ess about Erin. He was impressed and I decided I wanted to give her some positive feedback.
We passed her and she was free so I stepped up and told her I thought she had the patience of Job. She looked at me sideways but smiled.  I explained I had noticed how her fans spent a lot of time with her and she was always friendly and engaging and never looked for a way to escape.
She laughed and I repeated that I thought it was very good of her and I respected that of her.  I then mentioned to Ess that she raises money for a charity by letting people take a picture with her.
Ess blithely asked what charity she was working with. To be truthful, I never thought to ask that. So she started talking about the charity.  After a few moments she slowed down.  Then Ess asked how she got involved with that charity.  Boy, was that ever the right question to ask. She started into an interesting monologue and explained how she had been associated with them for a long time.  Because the charity dealt with counseling and medical dependency, I mentioned that Ess was a nurse.
Have you seen a person’s eye light up? It’s something every guy wants to see when talking to a lady. Erin was every teenage boy’s dream girl.  And Ess was talking very casually with the lady I had a crush on as a kid. I must admit I was jealous that Erin was interested in Ess and not me.
The knowledge of Ess’ nursing degree took the conversation into new areas and the questions and thoughts were tossed back and forth.
Seriously, Erin spoke with Ess for another 10 minutes.
Even though I was left out I was idly listening. Somewhere I thought I heard her mention psychology so I piped in that Ess was a Psychiatric Nurse.
If I thought her eyes were lit last time I was mistaken because this was a new level of brightness.
Around and around this conversation went with me being on the outside. 
Again feeling slightly left out but very excited for my friend, I was half listening when I though I heard something about American Indians.  So I just HAD to mention how Ess worked on the Navajo Reservation for several years. I’m such a good wing man!
I swear she actually reached out and touched his arm. I might be misremembering but she was ecstatic. Erin Gray, Col. Wilma Deering of the skin tight white jumpsuits touched my friend’s arm.
Now, Ess should be asking if he could take her to coffee.  He should be pulling out a business card and exchanging numbers.  He should be telling her how much he was enjoying the conversation and that they would be both more comfortable in privacy of her hotel room.
But Ess didn’t do that. What he did do was politely disengage from the chat and mention we needed to be going because we got tickets to the ball game.
Yes, you read that right; Ess ended the conversation with Erin. Not the other way around.
We said our goodbyes and when I when we were out of sight and hearing range I asked him if he was nuts.
He smiled and laughed because he didn’t understand.
I explained that he could have just asked Erin Gray out for a date. He paused and mumbled something about how he didn’t want to be late for the game.  I told him, he should have asked her to the game. I would have understood. I could have found another ticket somewhere. He replied that then we wouldn’t have that time together.
And that is how Ess rolls. He’s a great friend. A much better friend to me than I deserve.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Loved you in Harry Potter...

San Diego ComicCon 2009 was a great show for me. I got to know some fellow hounds that made me feel amateurish in comparison but they still embraced me and helped me pull down some great autographs.  One of those accomplishments was Denzel Washington.  I don’t get a lot of Hollywood A listers but this was a big one.
Denzel was promoting the movie, Book of Eli.  He, along with Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, and the Hughes Brothers, were going to sign some mini posters for the movie. This signing was in a back room of the convention center and you were sternly told that no cameras or cell phones or bags are allowed into the signing. You do not interact with the actors and if you violate the procedures you will be thrown out of ComicCon and your badge removed. Pretty harsh but everyone obeys these rules as they want the signatures.
You line up outside of the room and they bring in 10 to 15 people at a time. The stars are already seated behind a series of tables and have Sharpies are in hand. The stars sign the posters in an assembly line; when one finishes they then hand it over to the next star to sign.  You move with the poster and when they finish you pick up the item and leave the room. There are lots of handlers and security milling around to ensure things go smoothly.
I was very near the front of the line. Until you enter the small room, you can only guess who will be there and what will be signed.  We're all surprised to see Denzel.  I was also very excited to see Gary Oldman.  I loved him in The Professional, Dracula, and The Fifth Element. His characters are captivating and memorable.
When my turn arrived, I walked over to the table. Denzel greeted me and asked how I was doing.  Since we aren’t supposed to interact with the stars I gave him a casual response of: I’m doing fine.
That was not the response he was looking for nor wanted. He actually put down the pen and looked up at me.  He said, "With all of the people signing here today, you’re just doing fine?”
I will admit I was in panic mode. I reeled mentally and briefly envisioned myself being escorted out of ComicCon because I had disappointed Denzel. Trying to think while he looked at me, I fell on an old turn of phrase I use a lot and said, “Sorry, I’m doing great. I’m just trying to stay out of trouble.”
He still looked at me and finally picked up the pen and said something like, “Staying out of trouble is good. We all should do that.” 
Feeling emboldened, I finished the other half of the statement, "Yeah, there’s a lot less to explain to the wife that way.”
Now he laughed. In that Denzel way of laughing; that deep happy boom of his. While I was relieved I was no longer in trouble with Denzel, I wondered if I was still in trouble with ComicCon. It was very obvious I was interacting with the stars.  Through a big grin he said he needed to remember that line. He wanted to use it.
He finished signing and pushed the poster to Mila so she could add her signature.  I took a small step to the right and Mila looked at Denzel and then me. She wanted to know what I said to make him laugh. You can tell she was replaying the conversation over in her head. Then she laughed out loud.  I think she said I was funny and slid my poster to Gary. 
Now Gary is very exciting to me. He’s one of those guys you might not recognize by name but you would recognize the face. You have seen him somewhere.  I always stop flipping channels and watch parts of the Fifth Element and The Professional when I see it.
He looked at me expectantly. I just made Denzel and Mila laugh and he wanted to be entertained also.  I have nothing to give him. Being a one trick pony, my bag of tricks was empty.  Now flop sweat started down my neck and back.  He was patient. He waited. A few seconds passed and I started to open my mouth and I could see him lean back slightly in his chair. He knew he was now getting his turn. And I said, “I loved you in Harry Potter…”
I took my poster and left.
I’m in the hallway kicking myself. “I loved you in Harry Potter?  That was the best I could say?  Harry Potter?”    I have no idea why his character, Sirius Black, popped into my head just then. While I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, it’s not a favorite of mine.  I’m still embarrassed I brought that up.
But I have my poster and memories and I made a few people laugh.