Thursday, May 12, 2011

Jerry & Me

Gerald Butt & the author, before glasses

by Brendan Cavanagh

A few friends of mine headed down to St. Louis yesterday to wait in line for about five hours just in order to meet Wayne Coyne, the frontman for The Flaming Lips.  While this may seem absurd amidst increasingly costlier gas prices, it was actually very important to my friends because they succeeded in taking advantage of an opportunity to meet someone whom they admire greatly.  An experience like this serves to confirm that your favorite musician or actor or local celebrity is, in fact, very much alive.  In a way, it gives that person's repertoire a deeper sense of significance.  I can't say I've been able to meet too many famous people, but here's a short list of some notables I've come into contact with:

Jerry Lambert

When I was a child, I was fascinated by the lead anchor on ABC (then NBC) News Channel 20, Jerry Lambert.  I just thought he was much cooler than the aging, soon-to-retire Don Hickman, and the no-nonsense, albeit comfortably familiar Susan Finson.  When I was five years old, my mother took my siblings and I to some trick-or-treat Halloween festivities out at the Henson-Robinson Zoo late at night (now that I think about it, probably about 5:00 p.m.).  Based on my colorful memory, I remember crossing a wooden bridge as it was getting pitch-black out, and running into Jerry Lambert hanging out there.  Displaying the manners and confidence of an older man, I promptly approached him and introduced myself.  He was polite and friendly, and shook my hand, which was a big deal to me.  Later that year, or maybe the year after, I was at Target to do some shopping with my family around Christmas, and there was a large van parked in the fire lane with "Toys-for-Tots" plastered on the side.  At the back of the van stood a few members of the embarrassingly banterific local news team, notably the weatherman with notoriously clouded judgement, Gus Gordon, as well as Jerry Lambert!  In my zeal I approached him once again and asked if he remembered me, making sure to introduce myself once again just in case he didn't.  I seem to recall him saying he did, in fact, remember meeting me previously at the zoo.  Whether or not this was true, his affability and calm demeanor always stuck with me, and to this day I get a kick out of seeing him continue to anchor on News Channel 20.

The Morning Benders

During a brief lull in between shows I really had a desire to see on the Saturday of Lollapalooza 2010, my friend Peter and I took the chance to meet The Morning Benders at a signing booth after their hour-long show.  While waiting in line for about twenty to thirty minutes, I bought a copy of their latest LP, Big Echo, in order to have it signed when I met the band.  When we finally got to their table, we exchanged niceties and I made sure to ask each band member a question with the hope that I would be more than just another fan craving a measly autograph- because to me, it was more than simply getting an autograph.  It was a chance to interact and converse with a real band.  With the first two guys, I actually succeeded in carrying a conversation about playing the piano/keyboards, who seemed surprisingly interested in the fact that I played too.  They were very friendly- one of them even gave Peter a high five- and they encouraged me to keep up my playing.  When I came to the drummer, I didn't know what to say, so I thought back to something Peter had said earlier- that The Morning Benders are said to have recorded some songs with an 808 machine.  I had no idea what this was, but in order to facilitate conversation I asked the drummer if he had one up on stage that day.  We kind of confusedly went back and forth about that, with me desperately hoping I could seamlessly complete the conversation.  When I came to the devilishly handsome lead singer, I gave up trying to be unique from other fans, so I got his autograph, thanked and congratulated the band once again, and left.

 The signed CD

The Springfield Capitols/Rifles

For a couple summers in my childhood, my siblings and I were enrolled in a baseball camp for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (although only two of us are hearing-impaired).  This program found its supervisors and aids in the form of the local baseball team, which seemed to change its names and faces every season for a few years.  The first year I played, we were joined by the Springfield Capitols, then the Springfield Rifles the year after.  Nowadays I think they play by the Springfield Sliders.  In any case, the camp was a fun way to kill a few hours every day for a couple weeks- we would drill and train, play pick-up games (one of my only line-drives ever went straight into one boy's teeth) and eat lunch with the guys on the team, who were incredibly humble and patient.  Not only were they dealing with small children, who can tend to exert more energy than a twenty-something athlete, but also they were dealing with children who had moderate to profound hearing losses, a challenging obstacle to overcome when teaching them how to play baseball.  Anyway, these guys were not too modest to sign anything- shirts, caps, even baseball cards with their pictures them.  One might take a look at my aging, beloved Cardinals baseball cap and estimate it at a higher value than it deserves, based on the number of signatures I managed to squeeze onto the underside of its bill.  Also, there was a  guy named Gerald Butt on the team.  Butt.  Imagine you're seven and you've never heard someone with the name Butt before.

 Steve "Mad Dog"

Harper Lee

In eighth grade, I was exposed to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird in my mother's literature class.  After completing it before the rest of my classmates, I voraciously re-read the book twice more in a row.  As a result of the strong emotional response the book incurred in me, I was inspired to write a letter to noted recluse Harper Lee.  Even if she didn't respond, I figured, I hoped that she would at least read my letter and know that her sole novel made a difference in at least one life.  Motivated to finally express her similar feelings, my mother appended my lengthy letter with another one of the same length.  After a week or maybe two, the two of us were at a scholastic bowl meet at another school.  In between two heated rounds, my mother presented to me something she found in the mail earlier that day- a letter addressed to "Ms. Brenda Cavanaugh" (totally understandable) written from a Lee in Monroeville, Alabama with a stamp bearing two blue birds.  I trembled in anticipation and shock- how could a woman, known for retreating into obscurity and casting away almost all reporters, fans and interviewers, respond to a mere letter of praise from my mother and me?  With trembling hands I opened the letter, which I've since framed and hung on my bedroom wall, bearing the words:

"18 February '06

Dear Ms. Cavanaughs',

Thanks you and your son for your terrific letters, each the sort of letter every writer dreams of getting- and I got two!
You both are so generous with your praise that at 88 years old, I don't have enough time to live up to it!
My eyesight is failing, hence this [shaky? monkey? We couldn't decipher it, which I guess is the point she's making] writing, but hope you can read that it comes from my heart.

Harper Lee"

The letter

I'm sure I'm neglecting to mention a few more notable celebrities that I've met, and I'm sure that I've yet to meet many more, but this gives you an idea of the acquaintances I've made.  Mostly local faces with a few real celebrities interspersed here and there, but it's a list nonetheless.  Maybe I should write more letters...

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