FORTY DOLLARS.

So I am not exactly an autograph person, for anyone, music or baseball or anything else. When I met Gloria Steinem I wanted a picture with her, also something I’d never really wanted to do. I can tell you stories about handing a big blue lollipop to Pete Townshend and getting a big smile in return, or talking to Eddie Vedder about the Who, or having an argument with Dave Bielanko of Marah about Gram Parsons vs. Townes Van Zandt. I’d much rather have a memorable 3 minute conversation and a human moment than a signature on a piece of paper.

But that’s not to say that the signature on the piece of paper isn’t cool. And so, when I read about Paul Lo Duca signing at Last Licks in Massapequa this weekend, I somehow convinced TBF that this was a good idea. It seemed a little less intense (not to mention cheaper) than the Hall of Heroes signings, and they had some deal going where if you bought a ticket in advance, you could also get an autograph from Joe Smith, Pedro Feliciano or Ramon Castro for free. We figured we’d get Joe Smith, because he’s new and we love him and it wasn’t much more rational than that.

When I was thinking about what we’d have signed, I rejected the traditional ball or bat or hat; I am ridiculously proud of my baseball photos and work hard on them. We have a wall in the hallway with orange and blue frames, and thought we’d use this as an excuse to add to it. So I printed off a copy of this photo of Lo Duca and this photo of Joe Smith (he’s really, really hard to shoot from the mezzanine, because he’s so fast and my camera just isn’t), and off we went to Long Island.

The signing started at 5:30. We wanted to get there at 4:15. We got there around 4:45, due to ridiculous traffic, and there were people who had been there for hours. When I went inside to pick up my ticket, I had to wait while a over-emotional girl in what could only be described as an, um, low-cut prom dress explained to everyone within earshot how she needed another two tickets for Lo Duca to sign things.

(I’ll pause while you all say, “GEE, I’M SHOCKED”)
Her name was April, as I’d learn later, because she helpfully wore a necklace with her name on it, and was standing two people behind me. She also wore too much cheap lipstick, had her hair in ringlets which would be unbecoming in anyone over the age of 4, and tottered on the sidewalk in tacky black heels. Throughout the afternoon as we waited, it wasn’t her babbling or the perfume she applied every 15 minutes that bothered me, or her friend in the gold lame knitted halter, it was the juxtaposition of the black heels with the cream-colored gown that bothered me the most. (My mother would have been proud.)

The people waiting in line consisted of:

  • Hordes of children in over-sized Lo Duca shirts
  • Hordes of children in their Little League shirts
  • The mothers of the aformentioned hordes
  • Other mothers sans children, but with their best friends, who kept walking out of the line and into the parking lot to smoke their Marlboro Menthols
  • Random taciturn single guys in their 20s who played PSP the entire time they were in line
  • Two or three idiots wearing Yankees regalia
  • April and her hootchie friend
  • Me and TBF.

It was like the Long Island version of Desperate Housewives, except think tackier and cheaper. As TBF reminded me, we were on the South Shore of Long Island, not far from where Amy Fisher came from. And the really strange thing was, besides one mother and father behind us, there were NO, repeat, NO dads. No dads with their sons, no dads with their daughters, none, except for the guy behind us (who wasn’t a baseball fan and complained more than his kids did about the long wait) and the aforementioned Yankee-wearing idiot. It made no sense at all.

People spent A LOT of money on this. They bought their signing ticket ($40 for Lo Duca, $15 for the others). And then they bought balls and ball cases and photos and photo sleeves and fake home plates and magazines, and then you have to have a signing ticket for EACH ITEM. So people were dropping $80 or $100 easily, and as we waited for the players to arrive, they would go back into the store and come out with something else. Meanwhile, TBF and I stood there with our paltry two photos and my camera and my silver sharpie (black or blue does not show up well against green grass). We probably could have felt inadequate except we viewed this as an excuse to have a few minutes to chat with two players we liked a lot and oh, by the way, could you sign our photos.

“The manager for the Cubs is called Dick Hole,” a child of at least 12 behind us announced to his friend. “No, really, he’s called DICK HOLE,” he said, louder, in case we didn’t hear him the first time.
TBF turned around and stared at him pointedly.
“Are you trying to intimidate him?” I asked.
“Just sizing him up,” he replied.
“Hey, mom, the manager for the Cubs is named Dick Hole,” the child continued, in a volume that no doubt carried across the parking lot.
“Are you sure about that?” TBF finally asked.
“Yes,” said the kid, standing his ground.
“Want to reconsider?”
“No, his name is–”
“Are you sure it’s not Lou Piniella?”
The kid took off his hat and half-hid his face in it.
“Maybe.”
The mother elbowed her offspring delightedly. “You see?”
The kid was quiet for at least the next 15 minutes, at which point he decided to start imitating what he believed was a Brooklyn accent, and started practicing what and how he was going to say hi to Paul. As I said to TBF later, the entire afternoon only reinforced my desire to never, ever reproduce.

The line just kept getting longer, and longer, and longer, and the store was happy to keep selling tickets and photos and balls and ice cream (although to their credit, they kept sending people down the line with dishes of ice cream once the delay became substantial). The security guard for the shopping center kept driving by every three minutes, talking very agitatedly on her walkie-talkie. TBF went and got a camp chair and a bottle of water from the car. We look at our two photos again, while everyone else considers purchasing more items or tries to convince their mother to let them purchase more items or to go into the store to purchase them yet more items.

The players did not arrive until well after 7. Now, you think, now MG will get to go inside and meet the Mets, right? Nooooooooo. First they have to let in the preferred line, the one that 25-30 people paid an ADDITIONAL premium of $99 to wait in, so they didn’t have to wait in the big-ass line that is now probably at this point stretching down to the beach. To their credit, it moves quickly, and then, finally, our line starts moving. We get up to the window and notice that Robinson Cano will be making an appearance at the store soon. What does Mr. Cano get for the low-end item signing privilege? ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS. That’s right. Paul fucking Lo Duca gets $40, and Robinson Cano gets $100. And from murmurs I was hearing on the line, people were planning to get in line at 8 o’clock in the morning for the privilege of doing so.

TBF and I both wanted to get pictures with the players, but then realized it wouldn’t be possible, so he was going to handle the autographs and I would take pictures. And then it bothered me, in a way, that it was too stereotypical, no matter what he said it would still look like he was the fan and I was there to take the pictures. So I mention this, and TBF says, “Give me the camera, you talk to them, this was your idea.” No sooner do we decide that than we’re ushered inside (people still walking up to the door to try to buy a ticket for the signing – it’s at least 7:45 at this point), and stand with Security Girl A, and then get sent to Security Guy A, who looks at our tickets and takes the one for Joe Smith, and tells us to step up to the table but we need to hand our ticket for Paul to Paul, so now I am juggling yet something else.

Ramon and Pedro are sitting at the table, signing photographs, and chatting with each other in Spanish. Not that I want to tell tales out of school, but TBF believes they may have been discussing an attractive woman in the vicinity. I would have liked to have said hello or something but at this point I felt like I probably needed to have paid for the privilege, and part of me is bothered that I am not taking photos of this whole thing, and although I have thoroughly coached TBF how the camera works and he is not a bad photographer by any means, he is not like me who takes 250 photos of a game and edits them down to 29, he is very measured in his photo-taking.

But here we are, there is Paul. I hand him my photo and say, “Paul, I took this about two minutes before you sprayed us with the hose.”
He looks at the photo, and smiles. Ramon stops what he is doing, leans over to take a look, and laughs out loud. Joe Smith looks over, bemused.
“We had a great time that night, so thank you for that.”
I’m about to walk away, when TBF says, “Paul, can we get a picture?”
(And before you ask where the photos are, trust me, I would have them here if they were worth seeing. TBF did a great job. I look like hell.)
Next is Mr. Smith. I ask him what his pitching song is, he tells me (“So Cold” by Breaking Benjamin).
We get a picture.
As I’m walking away, I say, “Oh, and Joe, if you’re still having trouble parking, come over to Greenpoint, the traffic cops are much more liberal.”
He laughs and tells me he got himself a parking space already (which of course we already knew, but couldn’t resist joshing him over).

And that was it. Three hours of wait time for two and a half minutes. It felt strangely anti-climactic and impersonal – it is business, after all – and feel dumb for waiting and start to think that the whole thing was a waste of time, but TBF insists that Paul and Joe enjoyed it and appreciated that we tried to make some kind of human interface and that my photo of Lo Duca will be the most interesting thing he signs all day. I guess I didn’t expect it to be so much of a mob scene, and we probably just should have said hello to Pedro and Ramon, but it’s not as though you are exactly encouraged to leisurely waltz through the line. It’s a signing; we got things signed; thank you and good night.

It’s times like this that I am just the teeniest, tiniest bit envious of baseball fans I know in other cities that are not New York where access to your favorite player is easy with some effort, where the teams have fan fests or signings on a regular basis. But then again, they are more than a teeny tiny bit envious of the fact that my team actually looks like it will make it to the post-season again.

I’ll take the latter.

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