Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When a Dream Floats Away like Methane Gas

There comes a time in every little boy's life when he has to part with even the most precious of items. Items that have traveled with him lovingly and securely through bad break-ups, Midwestern floods, questionable grease fires, and TSA full body cavity searches. One such item is the above pictured John Lennon autograph on Dakota Apartment stationary, picked up at a Actors and Others For Animals Celebrity Fair auction sometime in the 70s.

Back then I was really enamored with celebrity sightings. I would see Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood eating somewhere, and I would salivate; jump up and down; squeeze tightly my Kodak box camera; and rush pell-mell towards them like a beserker screaming, "Me want autograph." I presume it is a Midwestern thing since I used to do the same thing during Packer games. The stars would never acknowledge my presence, but their Mossad trained bodyguards would clothes line me and drop kick the most sensitive part of my body across the room. They would then tear up my valet parking stub, force me to inhale the pieces, and point me in the direction to the closest body of water.

So for an autograph hound dog like myself, celebrity fairs were like walking into a candy store and then walking into another candy store. So much to choose from, who could decide? The Actors and Others For Animals Celebrity Fair was, for a time, a yearly event, always held out in the Valley on a western ranch either owned by Paramount or Warners or Columbia. And scheduled without fail on the hottest day of the summer. Fun factoid: Hollywood stars sweat just like normal humans though I suspect they have aides that suction off the excess perspiration when no one is looking.

Say what you want about Hollywood, but the stars love their animals. I love stars, and I love animals. A celebrity auction where one could bump into major television stars like Earl Holiman, or Betty White, or JoAnn Worley was like a perpetual root beer float for me. (Movie celebrities always seemed to busy to attend, so, I believe, they sent their maids with their animals instead.)

Glorious picnic foods were served.  Hot dogs and hamburgers and cokes and all sorts of foods that 40 years later would give my cardiologists wet dreams about beach front property in Hawaii. My body thanked me that I did not have to bum-rush any of the stars for their signatures. They were there to actually sign autographs.

Best part of the day came when when those in attendance could bid on a celebrity donation. On boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Autographed mugs, movie and television scripts, 8X10 glossies, signed clothing worn by the stars themselves. Over the course of several of these events, I picked up an autographed glossies of Elvis and of Ricky Nelson; a Don Rickles key chain; a basketball signed by Kareem; a Hoffa script autographed by both Jack Nicholson and Danny Devito; some crew jackets; an LP signed by Cary Grant; and much more.

I bid against a bunch of people for the Lennon autograph. The item came up and the professional auctioneer described it as a John Lennon doodle on Dakota Apartment stationary. Yoko had personally donated the piece herself. The mention of Yoko's name elicited a number of boos from the audience. Lennon was still alive at the time.

To make a long story less boring, I won the spirited bidding contest. I believe I paid between six and seven hundred dollars for the paper. I got a huge vote of applause from the audience and even shook Betty White's hand. She said I had just saved a lot of cats and dogs with that purchase. I made some stupid remark. She walked away just shaking her head. I felt all was right with the world.

So we fast forward to the present. Money is tight, and I'm still waiting for that knock on the door where a middle aged human stands before me and calls me "daddy,"  and I say, "Are you a surgeon?" So I traipse down to several auction houses to see what the John Lennon signature on Dakota stationary is worth. I had lost track of it for about twenty years, but eventually found it in a book of old race horses of the 19th Century. The autograph was in perfect condition.

While neither auction house declared the signature a fraud, their representatives did say that plenty of Lennon forgeries currently float on the open market. Well, blow me over with a slice of mayo to go. This item was bought at a closed market. It was donated by Yoko herself. I shook the hand of Betty White. I said something stupid to her. What sort of doolally craziness is this?

Well "caveat emptor!" I haven't attended a celebrity auction in decades. I now waste my time thinking about all the time I wasted simply thinking. But I am disappointed. I look around the black hole I call my apartment, and wonder whether my Don Rickles key chain is legit, or my autographed copies of forgettable films scripts are kosher, or whether Kareem's signature is actually that of Doctor J's.

Do I blame anyone for this? No. I don't even blame Yoko any longer for the break-up of the Beatles. For almost 40 years I had a "John Lennon" signature all to myself. I showed it to people. I even allowed them to touch the paper, but only if they were wearing white gloves (though none of the girls ever thought it was worth staying the night to see the same paper in the light of morning). The fact that it was manufactured by someone other than John Lennon now matters more to my creditors than to me. I'm over celebrity auctions though not over most of the causes they espouse. And if my donations allowed some cats and dogs a longer healthier life, then I'm more than happy for that.