To quote WWE wrestler Kurt Angle, “It’s true! It’s true!” I can now say that I have officially met, shaken hands with and said a few words to one of my idols, Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons. I’m going to let that sink in for a minute…
For those of you unfamiliar with Bill, he’s a columnist for ESPN’s Page 2, a Massachusetts-born sportswriter that first gained notoriety as the Boston Sports Guy through his website of the same name. He was discovered by ESPN and what started out as an occasional column turned into his own page on the Page 2 site. Long story short, he mixes sports with pop culture and mixes it with some of his own self-depracating humor. You can see why he might be an inspiration for my writing, eh? Simmons recently wrote his first book, “Now I Can Die In Peace,” which, via columns written during the BSG days through the current ESPN pieces, chronicles the mental hardships and joys of being a Red Sox fan born in the 1970s through their 2004 World Series victory. With updates done via sidebars, it still manages to stay current while giving the reader a good sense of what ‘growing up Sox’ really is all about.
I first got turned onto Simmons years ago when the Page-triot randomly emailed me a funny column he had written. He had gained such a cult following that if you were a card-carrying Bostonite male in your early 20s and not reading the Sports Guy, there was something wrong with you. Seriously, it was like a litmus test of how much of a Sox fan you were. Years later, Simmons expanded out and now writes on a various amount of topics that includes ‘The O.C.’ and ‘Anchorman’ mixed with the sports stuff. I’ve written him various emails through the years to which I’ve got a few brief replies. The one I regret is when he thought I implied that he had ripped off a ‘Royal Rumble running diary’ idea I was going to do for a wresting site I used to write for. I was trying to imply that it was a great idea and that he had beat me to it, but he didn’t seem to take it that way. I still wish I could take that email back, but so is idol worship. I’ve admired him on so many levels, not the least of which includes being turned onto one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman.
ANYWAY, back to the reason I’m writing this blog. With any book comes what? A book tour! But when B.S. went through his first East Coast run a few months ago, I couldn’t make any of the Boston dates. Even more disappointingly, no one else I knew made any of them either, despite my email updates to anyone within a T-trip or cab ride to their local bookstore. Apparently, it was going to be up to me to make some sort of Bill sighting happen and to relay to him how much his writing has meant to so many people I know. So on Sunday, the stage was set: a 3 pm signing at a Barnes and Noble in Kenmore Square. Would I finally meet Bill Simmons or could fate interject and deter me from the path?
After navigating the Orange and Green lines to my destination without problem (an AMAZING task if you ask people that know me. My ‘directionary’ ability is as solid as the Bruins’ chances of winning a Stanley Cup.), I spotted my destination which glowed like a cop car in an inner-city neighborhood. I’ve never been to a book signing, so I assumed I would encounter a line that would culminate in handing the book over, saying ‘Hi’ and being disappointed after realizing that it was signed with no personalization. (I experience this with former Celtics ‘star’ Dee Brown back in the 90s at a card show. Very disappointing, but I think I make more money than he does now.) However, I was really going for the experience, so if this was the reaction I would get, so be it. Simmons doesn’t strike me as this type of guy, but I was definitely intrigued as to how accurate the down-to-earth persona really was.
I walked in around 4 pm, an hour after the signing began. Holy shit…what a line! It stretched all the way around the store to the Starbucks area which was off near the front. Having cut off autograph lines before, I was hoping that karma wouldn’t come back to get me. A B/N employee asked what I wanted inscribed in the book, via a Post-It note she would write on and attach to it. Going with the standard ‘To Josh,’ I began to realize that this was actually going to happen: I was going to meet Bill Simmons! It might be in the early hours of Monday A.M., but I could wait. After a slight bit of advancement past the muffins in the coffee area, the same B/N employee said, “Looks like you’re the last one in line today” as there was no one else behind me. Stunned at potentially being the last guy Simmons saw that night, I was immediately floored. I actually had a legit shot at an actual conversation! Unreal! Amazing! Showing my enthusiasm, I said, “Ok” followed by the Philip Seymour Hoffman character in ‘The Big Lebowski’ look-alike in front of me muttering, “Last? Kind of a dubious distinction, huh?” Instead of making any small talk, I replied, “Ahhh…whatever” and thought about what I would ask or say to Bill. But within 34 seconds, a line formed behind me and my hopes were dashed. It was fun while it lasted.
Standing in lines with random strangers is always good for spotting some unusual characteristics and mannerisms. The guy directly in back of me was getting a book signed for a friend and loved to talk on his cell phone, especially to his girlfriend roaming around the store. This little jerk decided to stay on his phone while the B/N lady came around with more Post-It notes, replying, “I’m all set…I have a pen” and then saying afterwards to his lady, “I’m not going to let someone else write down what I want signed!” On principal alone, I wanted to drive my Simmons book up through his nasal cavity and toss him into the foreign newspaper rack but I was making some good progress in the line. (He would later leave as he had some party to get to. Jerk.) Another person was asked by another ‘line-mate’ to have their book signed because they had dinner reservations. C’mon! If you can’t wait, don’t get into line! This poor girl not only had to get her own stuff signed, but now, someone else’s? How awkward!
Side note: Here are some various text messages I sent to Papa Greg (my recently transposed Manchester-to-Santa Monica friend) while in line. I found they somewhat convey my mental state:
Me: Going to meet Simmons – very nervous.
Him: Find out where he drinks
Me: Working on ‘hi’ right now
Finally, the moment of truth was mere feet in front of me, separated by about five people. Dressed in a basic light-blue striped button down with jeans, Simmons appeared to be as relaxed and cool as he comes across in columns. (Four people in front of me.) Got your camera? Good. Ask if he seems cool. It shouldn’t take too long. (Three people in front.) Oh my god. What should I say? Should I tell him how much he’s inspired me? Why am I shaking? (Two people in front.) Stay cool…stay cool. Just get it signed and walk way. Don’t do anything embarrassing. Stop shaking! (One person in front.) This is really going to happen…holy shit! What the….my cell phone! Page is calling! Silence! Silence! Oh, god damn it!!!!
Then, at 5:18 pm on Sunday, December 11, my time in line was up.
I felt like Ralphie on the lap of Santa Claus in A Christmas Story, thoroughly engrossed but also mortified. What do I say? What do I say? I started out with ‘Hi,’ always a good choice when you’re trying to introduce yourself. He asked how I was and took my book to sign, never once giving away an ounce of attitude that was probably well-deserved after having signed for the previous hour-and-a-half. He then asked, “Anything specific you want me to write in here?” I froze. Here I was, standing in front of my hero and I was drawing a blank. Me – the same guy who was can talk to pretty much anyone and make them laugh while doing it – standing there in Kenmore Square in Boston, MA, in a random Barnes and Noble with nothing sparking in the gray matter. Then, it came.
“I dunno…you can write anything you want. You’ve been such an inspiration to me as a writer. I wrote you an email a few years ago telling you that and you actually wrote back. I thought that was pretty cool. Thanks.”
I think he said, “Aw, no problem. That’s great. Here you go” but at this point, everything sounded like radio static to me. With that, Simmons handed me the book but we weren’t done. I nutted up and pulled out my camera, asking if we could take a picture. 30 seconds later, I had a keepsake that I will always be proud of.
Nason (left) and Simmons (right). You could have figured that out though.
A few things of note here:
1 – My nerves were going ballistic to the point I was worried about dropping my camera. I don’t know what my deal was, but the fact I had waited for so long didn’t calm me down like I had previously thought. It’s funny, you know? I’ve met varied celebs before – The Hanson Brothers, Adam Vinatieri, WWE’s Kane and Scotty 2 Hotty – but I can’t remember being this out of my element.
2 – Bill had no interest in the usual celeb pic move of putting a hand on the shoulder or anything of that sort. His body language is actually quite the opposite. I won’t hold that against him unless he becomes a Yankees fan at which point a horrific tale will emerge. Should I have tried this move myself? What reaction would I have got? Should I have flashed up a gang sign? Chalk this up under ‘Things I’ll Try in Future Celeb Photos.’
3 – My blank gaze is pretty much summed up by everything I wrote about above. Again, think Ralphie asking Santa for a ‘nice football’ when all he wanted was a Red Ryder b.b. gun. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!
I walked away in a daze that didn’t truly clear until I was at the Sullivan Square T-stop 45 minutes later with a Dunkin’ coffee in hand. I pumped my fist and grunted – the typical guy way of celebrating a good occasion. There was so much more I could have said and so much more that I wanted to say, but that is the way celebrity meetings go, I guess. A dream of mine would be to have lunch or go to a Sox game with Simmons, so I could ask things like, “Do you ever just sit back and say ‘wow’ at what you’ve accomplished?” or “How proud was your family when you hit the New York Times Best-Seller list?” Someday, I’m confident that will happen and it will be one of the greatest experiences of my life. For now, I’m left with the following:
“To Josh, SALVATION LIES WITHIN. Bill Simmons. P.S. GOOD LUCK W/ THE WRITING!”
Indeed, Bill. Indeed.
Thanks for reading,
p.s. more blog later this week.