Ten or so years ago, Richie and I were invited to a bicycle fund raising event at New York’s Rockefeller Center. At the time, I was attending the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy and I was halfway through the Pathology semester. Which, for those who have taken a Pathology class, know that means that I now had, or would soon have, every disease we studied. At the time of the New York trip, I was studying hepatitis—A, B, C, D and E, and I knew if I went to New York City, there was no way I could avoid contracting one of them. You can pick it up on doorknobs, for god’s sake.
When we got to the event, I was surprised to find that it was a much smaller occasion than I had thought it would be—less than a hundred people—all milling about a catered buffet and bar. On individual daises positioned around the room, bicycles belonging to celebrities were being silently auctioned to raise money for T.E.A.M—The Exceptional Athlete Matters.
Maybe it was the smaller venue or maybe it was because you can only be terrified for so long, and but once I got into that room, something happened. Heck, I was going to be an invalid for the rest of my life, so what did it matter what I did. I threw caution to the wind and became a different person. I became a fan. A rabid, groupie, autograph hunting fan. I have always disliked even the word “fan”, but here I was, pen and paper in hand, seeking out autographs.
Lance Armstrong–fresh from winning his second or third Tour, when we all still believed him—was there. So were Greg LeMond and Diana Nyad. I went up to them all, asked them for autographs (and in the case of Lance and Greg, their wives too. Because the wives do a lot.) Their responses varied from caveman-like scowls to charming engagement.
And then I was standing, little notepad and pen in hand, next to a lawyer friend of Richie’s, and he said, “oh my god, there’s Puff Daddy, you have to get his autograph!” and I said, “who’s Puff Daddy?” And Richie’s friend looked at me like I had two heads and said “he’s a rapper,” and I said, “eh.” And he said, “no you really have to, he’s famous.” But I didn’t have the same enthusiasm to be a rabid autograph hunting fan for someone I didn’t know. And a rapper? You can’t even understand the words anyway. But the lawyer was insistent. He walked over to Puff Daddy and I watched him say a few words, gesturing at me. Then he motioned me over and I went, dragging my feet. I must have appeared horribly shy because Puff Daddy warmly shook my hand and engaged me in conversation, not waiting for me to speak first. “I go to a lot of these things,” he said earnestly, “but this—this is the real deal.” I nodded and stuck out my notepad and pen. I was afraid he would ask me something that would divulge to him that I had no idea who he was. But he didn’t talk about himself at all. He seemed genuinely moved to be there. He signed my little notebook and smiled at me, and I smiled back, like a fan.
Because that’s what I was.