I had never asked anyone for an autograph before I held one of the matryoshka dolls out for Joe Pavelski to sign. I still don’t understand what an autograph signifies, unless it is a legal document.
In the case of a legal document, the signature is proof that the signatory has examined the document, and presumably agrees that whatever is written there is true. It might also mean that person actually wrote the document, depending on the format of the signature line.
I suppose an autographed thing is the same, in that the person who signs it is verifying that they have seen that thing, it has been in their physical presence.
But what does the owner of the thing do with it, aside from take pictures of it to post online? Some people sell them on e-bay, or elsewhere. That really seems odd to me. That implies that the object has an increased and transferable value because it has been touched by the person who signed it. That is fetishism on a level I just can’t relate to.
On reflection, I have as much trouble getting my head around the significance of the event that was the Sharks fan meet and greet in Stockholm.
It was not well organized. As if to put us to shame, a bunch of school kids showed up. They stood in two parallel lines outside, in front of the bus doors, allowing plenty of room for players to walk between them. They waited patiently as the players made their way from one child to the next. I like to think that, had we been told to do so, most of the adult fans would have done the same. But we weren’t, and we didn’t. It was sort of like a metro crowd, without the comforting sense that we were all moving in a specific direction.
To be fair, there was no room in the “VIP something or other” space where we were gathered. Such a line would have had to snake around itself several times to contain all 80 of us. I don’t know if there was anything VIP about the space, it was far too packed for me to tell what it looked like. It was L shaped, with the majority of us in the foot of the L, with the players entering at the top of the L.
A number of the players’ expressions reflected this chaos as they entered the room. I saw several frowns and some flashes of panic in the eyes of players thus confronted by the press of bodies. Maybe if we had been more noisy, they would have had better warning before entering the room. Like bats, the way they hang there in the rafters, all silent, then you hear one squeak and look up and are startled to realize there are hundreds of them staring down at you. It’s creepy.
From what I saw, people were pretty polite. But there were a lot of us, standing around in no particular order.
Running the gauntlet was really not an option. It was a meander only sort of thing. That grim expression that some players had as they first entered the room was probably not a reflection of their attitude toward signing autographs or posing for photos with fans. I think it really was an involuntary response to the chaos. A couple did look alarmed, and did try to rush through. They were diverted by one of the tour group leaders and asked to visit the other part of the room.
I do not blame them. I sort of wanted to get the hell out of there too, and I had survived the Russian metro at rush hour and on game nights.
Notable exceptions included Joe Thornton, who should probably consider a career in politics when he retires, or else open a Zen meditation center. He was completely unflappable and cheerfully attentive to every person to step in his path. Patrick Marleau, while a little less effusive, also looked in his element, calmly making his way through the sea of people, followed by a little eddy of folks as he went.
Also Niemi. This could account for my sudden and enthusiastic change of heart. I won’t deny it. He looked a little baffled when he first came in, possibly about where he was supposed to jump in- no one was given any direction in this regard, aside from the tour guide blocking the path to the bus. Niemi jumped in anyway, off the clear path to the exit doors, and landed in front of a small group of us, including myself.
I held out the little plastic helmet thing that the tour group had provided and asked him if he would sign it. As he reached for it, I dropped it. I could argue that this was intended to put everyone at ease, dropping something on the floor in a very crowded room. Even better, drop something that rolls, sort of, so you can chase it around among the crowd’s feet. I won’t make that argument, it was an accident.
I also won’t deny that I considered mentioning “aren’t you goalies supposed to have quick reflexes? Shouldn’t you have been able to catch that?” Yes, of course that crossed my mind, I am a little evil, but I didn’t say it. We both went to pick it up, I think I got to it first but I can’t be sure. It was odd. But Niemi was not odd. He did not seem in a hurry, he looked you in the eye, he was serene in a way that momentarily made you forget you could be trampled to death in seconds if someone pulled a fire alarm. I was very impressed.
I said “welcome to the team,” meaning of course “you are adorable so I forgive you for helping to ruin the playoffs so horribly for me.” He said “thank you.”
Probably there were other players with similarly heroic people skills, but I did have to leave a little early to ease a growing sense of claustrophobia.
So what did it all mean? What is the value of this bizarre ritual? It has nothing to do with meeting people. Anyone with any sense knows that a celebrity doesn’t venture into that setting without a little mental prep, without putting on the public persona. If he did, I am sure someone would tap him on the shoulder and remind him to put it on. It is part of a job, a profession in the entertainment industry.
When kids dream about growing up to be professional athletes, they may or may not realize how much it has in common with being an actor or a musician or, for that matter, a political figure. But there it is. If you are paid to be seen doing something, you will be saddled with the duties of being seen doing nothing too, seen and touched and photographed. See line items 24-27 on the fiddler’s invoice.
But what does it mean? Why do this? I think I need to collect my thoughts on that. There’s something about the value of fiction versus fact to the social consciousness. It has to do with fairy tales and religious prophets and the fall of the Roman empire and Ibsen’s theories on character, but it is still kind of muddled in my head.