It’s always cool to instantly bond with strangers – chatting with other dog owners at the park, befriending other backpackers in a foreign country, or simply bonding with the cashier at a store. The connection is always short, but it’s often about something you’re interested in or passionate about. Last night, I was at Barnes and Noble, picking up Lee Child’s latest thriller when the cashier goes, “I’ve read all his books!” So, that was my cue to say, “Yeah, isn’t he awesome?”
So we gabbed a bit, and I tell the cashier, “He was in town recently doing book signings at the Costco in Gilbert and the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. And I thought about going, but then I realized I’m too old to get autographs!” And once I said that, it slightly depressed me. I walked out of the bookstore, pondering what I just said and what it meant. Was I really too old? Growing up, I was an uber-fan and loved getting autographs of sports heroes and writers I admired.
When mom got me Willie Mays’ autograph in the fourth grade, it was my most prized posession until dad got me Willie McCovey’s autograph in the seventh grade. In my teens, I collected comic books and baseball cards, and got them signed. When I was 16 or 17, I wrote an eight-page letter – eight pages! – to mystery novelist Max Allan Collins, telling him how brilliant he was, how he inspired me to become a writer and how I’ve read everything he has written except his first two out-of-print paperbacks. A month later, a few days before Christmas, Collins sent me a brown package. I ripped it open, and it was copies of his first two books – and they were autographed!
By adulthood, I had stopped seeking autographs, simply because it didn’t matter anymore. When I was younger, it meant everything. But now it’s just scribbled words on paper. They’re just people – like you and me. Not a big deal.
Then I thought about my daughter, and how in recent years, she’s had the opportunity to meet musicians at pre- or post-concert meet-and-greets. And how their music and lyrics give her strength and inspires her to pursue and do great things in life.
Sometimes, when I flip through or re-read one of Collins’ old mystery novels, I look at his autograph, and it brings me back to the time I got his package in the mail, or the time, I met him at a convention, and he was gracious enough to sign all the books in my backpack. I told him I was thinking about majoring in journalism, and he told me he thought it would be a good career to pursue. (When you’re a teenager growing up in a fairly traditional Asian home, and you’re expected to go into business, computer science or become a doctor or lawyer, any affirmation of what you’re doing or thinking of doing that’s out of the norm is good!)
I’ve reached a point in my life where autographs don’t mean squat, but the ones that I do have, I will treasure because it brings me back to my childhood.