Autographic asphyxiation

It takes a lot to get me back to collecting autographs at NBC. And in case you were wondering, "a lot" translates into "Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Hank Williams Jr." OK, so maybe that's not all that much to you, but to a man who used to have a "Saved by the Bell" Shrine in his kitchen and who currently has Singin' and Dancin' Bocephi in two rooms of his apartment, it's a pretty big deal.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar's appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" served as the test run prior to Bocephus Day, to see if I actually had the energy at the age of 32 to place myself in the midst of a few dozen fairly to incredibly annoying autograph collectors for an hour or so. When I arrived around 6, things looked pretty good. There were only a few collectors lingering, and I began to feel reasonably confident that this mission would be pain-free. Then, a few more collectors showed up. And then some more. Followed by others. Soon there were about a dozen or so. There would be pain.

Kelly Ripa came out first, and despite the fact that she is pretty much in the city and in public about 200 days a year, people still swarmed around her for autographs and posed photos. I watched in amusement. Amadou and Mariam came out next, and I can only assume their blindness prevented any of the collectors from asking for either their autographs or pictures with them, as anyone who comes off the elevators escorted by NBC security is usually swarmed, or at least bothered by a few people. The Zack Watchers stayed put, and kept their eyes glued to the elevator bank, waiting for Mr. Gosselaar to be released.

After awhile, he came down, carrying a guitar. Security reiterated their policy of only letting celebrities sign outside of the lobby, which doesn't make much sense at all, because instead of a small crowd of people in the contained lobby, you wind up with an unruly mob on the street. But what do I know? As I made my way outside, I overheard Mr. Gosselaar saying he was only going to sign about five or six and then jet. So I needed to get in good position quickly.

The mob had already coalesced outside, so things looked grim. I tried to respectfully put forth my Bayside Tigers t-shirt, but that strategy didn't work so well (one of the security guys told me not to go over top of people, which, considering my height relative to the other collectors, was a challenge). Then, as he was getting ready to call it quits, he spotted the t-shirt and signed it, as about eight other people tried to hoist things on top of it. They failed. I won.

Good time to note I'm still single, ladies. Applications still being accepted.

And, by the way, if you haven't yet seen Mr. Gosselaar's appearance on the show, you must check it out. It's amazing.

After the successful test run, I was feeling pretty good about Bocephus Day. I figured there'd be a few collectors out with pickguards and old vinyl and that the quasi-mob of people who greeted Bocephus the last time I saw him at NBC would probably re-emerge, but, overall, I felt like I could handle it. I brought four albums, hoping to just get one signed, and to maybe get a better signature than the scrawls I got on the albums last time.

There were a lot of collectors and a few paparazzi at NBC when I got there, but it turns out they were all there for Selena Gomez, who, thankfully, I know almost nothing about, other than she's somehow involved in Disney stuff. Whatever. If you're a teenage actor and you aint on "Degrassi," I doubt I know who you are. But, apparently, she has a lot of shady-looking male admirers. Actually, they were just collectors, and I doubt most of them knew much about her either, but, really, why let something like that get in the way of wasting a few hours of your life? (Says the man wasting a few hours of his life trying to meet someone he's already met, and, really, doesn't respect all that much.)

There were only one or two other collectors interested in Bocephus, and I spent most of the time talking to one of them I remembered from the old days. We reminisced about how easy it used to be, and "Live at Five," and waiting in the lobby without being harassed by security. Soon after, we were harassed by security and told to wait outside. Since there were cars waiting on both sides of the building, we had hoped to stay inside to see which way Bocephus was headed. But with that dream dashed, we headed outside to where we thought the Bocephusmobile (an SUV we knew was his because another collector had seen him going in) was waiting. It wasn't. So we scurried to the other side. And found about 50 people blocking pedestrian traffic and staring at the revolving doors, hoping to pounce on Selena Gomez when she emerged.

My collector friend and I had just about given up hope (even if Bocephus came out this side, we surmised, he'd be swarmed, largely by people who had been completely oblivious to his existence eighteen seconds ago) and started to head over to check on the other side when the band came out. So that was a good sign. But there was still no Bocephusmobile around. My collector friend went to check the other side, and I followed behind. There was still no Bocephusmobile on the other side, so I hemmed and hawed and finally darted back to the mob. And then, Bocephus emerged.

I quickly positioned myself outside the revolving doors, along with a few other collectors (including my collector friend, who darted over at the sight of Bocephus). As the crowd began to see security and the development of a general hubbub, they braced themselves for Selena Gomez. A young girl screamed in anticipation. People jockeyed for a good photo. And then a guy in camo with an unlit cigar in his mouth came out.

Despite not being Selena Gomez, Bocephus got a hearty reception from people whispering "Who is that?" before asking if they could take a picture with him. After I got my album signed, I tried to get in a position to take a picture with him, but was being cut off by his new fanbase. However, luck shined down on Tinsel and Rot, because the Bocephusmobile was not there, so he was just stuck there in the crowd. One of the guys in his crew heard my collector friend ask for a picture with him, and said, "Sure, why not? Car's not here, so we aint going anywhere." And so pictures were taken.

And, no, I don't know what that thing on his neck is.

I still had my other three albums, and Bocephus was still standing there doing nothing, so I asked the guy who took the picture if Bocephus wouldn't mind signing my other three albums (I added, "I don't want to be greedy," because I didn't). The guy grabbed my albums and gave him to Bocephus, capping off a swell return to the world of collecting. I didn't watch the Bocephus spot on the show, but this Web-only performance is pretty entertaining. I'm definitely turning the corner on Jimmy Fallon.

I had hedged my bets a little bit, because I was one of the lucky few selected to see a live Bocephus performance at Sirius XM Studios. I figured if I didn't get any albums signed at NBC, I'd probably have a better shot at Sirius XM. Now, I had no need to bring any records with me, but, well, you know, I had a few more at home. So I brought two more because ... why not? And I was still hoping for a decent signature.

I was actually pretty happy just to be in the Sirius XM offices, since I listen every day (mainly to Howard Stern, but also to Elizabeth Cook and Mojo Nixon on Outlaw Country). The performance space (called "The Fishbowl," because, duh, it's a studio surrounded by glass, much like a fishbowl) is right when you walk in, and when I got there, there were only six people in the chairs outside the studio. I grabbed a seat in the second row with a spot-on view of Bocephus. I had my Bocephus shirt on, and I wasn't the only one. In fact, the guy in front not only had his "That's How We Do It in Bama" shirt on, but he also brought his Hank Jr. flag. Nice.

The interview/performance (for the "Artist Confidential" series, and to be aired next month) was pretty entertaining, and definitely worth taking a half-day at work. Bocephus and band played six songs, I think (including "All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down" and "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound," which was almost ruined through some Bocephusified updating of the lyrics), and the interview covered music, hunting, and war munitions collecting. Despite the constant mention of "Bobbie Rock" (Kid Rock to me and you) and your standard Bocephus grandiosity, the interview wasn't bad. One highlight came after the interviewer asked if, because Bocephus does so few concerts these days, if the shows are more special for the fans. Bocephus responded by recounting how--"I'm not gonna mention figures"--the merch haul in Evansville, Indiana--"where there's Whirlpool and not much else"--was just unbelievable. He even talked to some NFL guys about how much they took in, and they were stunned. Good answer, Bocephus.

That moment was topped only by the interview's end, which went something like this.

Bocephus: "Well, that's about it, cousin." (Bocephus apparently has attended the Cousin Brucie School of Social Etiquette, as he calls everybody "cousin.")

Interviewer: "You feel like doing another one?"

Bocephus: "Nope."

And then he got up and left.

He came out to talk to the fans (particularly a kid who came with, I assume, his dad, and, to Bocephus's amazement, was an Ohio State fan) and take pictures (my camera's batteries died, thus preventing my third photo in the series). He was quite nice, and, yes, I got my other two albums signed, bringing the two-day total to six. All scrawls, but there's something to be said for consistency.

I promise, though, that these successes will not thrust me back into the NYC autograph collecting scene.

Until that "Saved By the Bell" reunion. Make it happen, Fallon.

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