While listening to part one of the Stuttering John spotlight on Sirius today, I was taken back to those sweet glory days that I spent in the lobby of the NBC building waiting for autographs from celebrities I probably only had a marginal interest in. In Stuttering John's "interview" with Chevy Chase (best question: Did you ever think that Garrett Morris's career would be more happening than yours?), you can hear a guy in the background rambling and then telling Chevy to mail him an autographed picture. That guy's name was Ron, or when collectors were feeling more cruel (which was quite often), Al Roker, because of a very passing resemblance to the portly weatherman. He wore a light blue shirt and navy blue pants almost every day, suggesting that he was either a stickler for consistency or just had one outfit. Hard to say which was true.
There was something off about him. I'm not sure what but it wasn't anything so profound that he couldn't function as a human being. And, to be honest, someone who was mentally off blended in just fine with the allegedly "normal" collectors on most afternoons. In any case, he was there just about every day (or at least every day I was there, which was maybe two times a week, sometimes three) and occasionally knew the celebrities whose autographs he wanted but often enough didn't. This led to many an exciting afternoon when someone dressed nice would come off the elevators and Ron or one of the other equally clueless celebrity worshippers would approach this person for an autograph. Good times. For awhile I became the Unofficial Music Celebrity Sighter, which looks nice on a résumé.
But if someone came off the elevators accompanied by NBC Security, Ron knew it was a celebrity of some sort and would thrust an index card to be signed. If the celeb wasn't in a rush, there would be some inane chatter from Ron, which the celebrity would either ignore or greet with an attempt at a polite smile. Then after Ron got that index card signed, he would give the celebrity another index card with his address on it and request that the celebrity send him (and/or, in later years, his fiancee) a signed 8x10 photo. Half the time, celebrities would take the card and say that they would indeed send a signed photo. But the other half of the time, the celebrities would just stare it and say, "What's this?" They were understandably confused that their "thank you" for signing an autograph was a request to send another one as soon as they got the chance.
And while Ron was waiting for the celebrities, he would seize upon the frequent noticeable tourist and strike up a conversation. After a few minutes of chitchat, he would whip out one of the DIY business cards and ask the tourist to tape his or her local news program and mail him the tape. Some people actually seemed completely up for the assignment, which I guess is a testament to people's willingness to please. I can't say that if a strange guy came up to me while I was visiting a new city and asked me to tape my local news when I got back if I would jump at that opportunity. Maybe I'm just mean.
When I heard Ron on the radio today, I wondered whatever became of him. Toward the end of my NBC collecting days, Ron stopped showing up. Maybe he and the fiancee moved away. Maybe he just got tired of waiting around for celebrities every day and enduring the other "normal" collectors snickering at him behind his back. And maybe Ron's at home right now, surrounded by index cards signed by people he never really knew and watching a 1995 newscast from Eugene, Oregon, still waiting for a signed 8X10 from Chevy Chase in the mail.
Godspeed Ron, wherever you are.