Published July 9, 2004
The longhaired man paced back and forth. He had been there when I arrived earlier during the day to pick up the tickets. When I came back six hours later to see the show, he was still there. I could contain myself no longer. Almost automatically the words came out, the same question I had posed to a thousand girls in a hundred bars. “Waiting for someone?” I found myself saying. “Yes,” he answered. They all did. This was usually my cue to exit, but pressing my luck I asked: “Who?” “The band,” he answered.
Two consecutive responses. This was farther than I had gotten with most people. I started feeling an affinity with the man, a sort of friendship even. I couldn’t just let him stand there all by himself. I lit up a cigarette and started pacing back and forth alongside him. He pretended not to notice, but I knew that even if he didn’t admit it, he enjoyed my company as much as I did his.
I had just started on my second cigarette when the longhaired man addressed me again. “There they are,” he said as minivan approached and darted on after it. Our friendship, it seemed, had come to an abrupt end. Inside the minivan sat a small group of men. Even though the sky was darkening, they were all wearing shades. There was no doubt that this was the band.
I started my autograph collection at age 14. Now, at age 26, it numbered two specimens; Willie Nelson and Monica Lewinsky. My first attempt at signature hunting had occurred outside the Rica hotel in Oslo, where I patiently waited the best part of an evening for Bob Dylan to emerge. Finally, he did, and I approached him, but a bodyguard waived me away. “Never on a Friday,” he said as I stood there, pen and paper in hand, another Friday night unfulfilled.
Willie Nelson had been more accommodating. At the end of the gig he patiently stood around and signed autographs. Perhaps time passes differently in the plain he inhabits, or perhaps it’s the weed, but he didn’t seem to mind at all as time passed and he signed for everyone who wanted. He stood on the second step of the stage ramp, but even so I was a head taller. Still I felt small in his presence.
Monica Lewinsky had been at a book signing in Helsinki. Her book was available in Finnish and Swedish, and since my Finnish barely suffices to order a kebab late on a Friday night that seems on its way to leaving me unfulfilled again, I opted for the Swedish version. A bodyguard took my copy of the book and handed it to her, gesturing me away. Perhaps this was a precaution to prevent bookbuyers making some sort of cigar-themed joke. She signed my Swedish language copy, and barely audibly I could hear her saying “Thank you,” before another security guard handed it back to me.
Actually, my autograph collection did number more than two. It only had two international celebrities. But I did have quite a few local ones. After my first year of university I had spent a summer working as a clerk in a Hagkaup supermarket in the posh part of town. To keep my sanity while never-ending legions of groceries and cleaning products marched down the conveyor belt, I took to asking celebs out shopping for their autographs on the back of their receipts. This way I could also study what dietary habits were most likely to lead to stardom. Pop stars, actors and TV presenters all obliged, all but the President, out doing his Sunday shopping, refused, saying I would have to contact his office if I wanted one. Damned if I’ll vote for him again.
Lou Reed stepped out of the van. The longhaired man excitedly handed him a copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico. On it was a yellow post-it saying “To Sam,” indicating to the Master what to sign. The Master duly obliged. The longhaired man was obviously used to being in the presence of greatness to come so prepared. I was not fortunate enough to have my Lou Reed collection about my person, so I reached for my ticket and handed it to him. Lou, usually the grumpiest man in New York, at this point the grumpiest man in Dublin, and soon to be the grumpiest man in Reykjavík, looked at me like the pathetic creature that I was. Perhaps concluding that it would waste less time to be done with it, he scribbled something unintelligible on the ticket and vanished inside. And so ended the greatest moment of my life. The longhaired man strode happily off with his copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico, dedicated to someone named Pam, and I held fast to my ticket, hoping the signed bit was not the part they would tear off. I knew then that the longhaired man and I would never see each other again. But we would always have the music.