The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Autograph Book

Image courtesy of SWEET TEA
          In the summer before my senior year of high school I was invited to stay with a friend who lived in Cleveland, Tennessee, which is about an hour and a half away from my parents' house in Maryville, Tennessee, where I was living at the time.  My friend Dennis was about my age.  His father worked for the same company that my father worked for and we had gotten to know one another through various company functions.  He and his siblings had stayed at my family's house for a couple of weeks earlier that summer.  I guess my visit to his house was a sort of continuation of that visit.

           As it often is with young people who have much time on their hands during those long summer days in a small town, we were on a continual quest for something to do. One day we were at a shopping center and in the variety store I found a very inexpensive paper covered autograph book.  I'm not sure why I was so attracted to this book other than the fact that it was very cheap and I didn't have all that much spending money, but I bought it feeling that there was some sort of entertainment value to be derived from it.

          Since there were no celebrities to receive autographs from in Cleveland, Tennessee, I fell back on my practical joker side.  As a long time fan of Candid Camera, the television show where prank victims were caught by a hidden camera, I decided that it would be fun to just walk up to complete strangers and enthusiastically ask for an autograph.  My friend, who was just as much of a nerd as me, agreed that this would be jolly good fun and egged me on.

           At first I was hesitant.  Since I was rather shy back then, I was embarrassed about approaching strangers anyway.  The silliness of the idea drove me forward.  I started with other teenagers.  They giggled and readily complied.  Then I worked my way up to adults.  A handful suspiciously brushed me off, but most went along with my silliness and signed my book.  One older gentleman even playfully feigned great honor that I would be asking for his autograph.

          After a couple hours of autograph hounding, we tired of our little prank.  Asking strangers for autographs is something I never did after that day.  I kept the autograph book and I'm sure I still have it packed away somewhere.

           A few years later, when I was attending the University of Tennessee, I got another brilliant idea that didn't last very long, but I did think of it now and then during those years.  I decided that I was going to try to get to know every student and faculty member at the university--all twenty thousand plus of them.  I never got too far with that plan, especially since I lived off campus, but I did get to know some of the other students who commuted on the bus.

         I'll admit it was some weird thinking--autographs from strangers and trying to get to know thousands of people by name.   Perhaps it had something to do with small town thinking trying to break out into the big world.  Then again, what the heck is blogging all about?

        Are you good at approaching strangers?   What is your biggest fear when trying to meet new people?  Do you have an interesting or unusual story about trying to strike up friendships?




  1. You're a braver man than I. Here in England we barely talk to our own families without a formal introduction.

    Moody Writing

  2. I loved the post about your autograph book. I have struck up friendships with many a person when I have gone down a child's slide at the park. People have started to speak and a most enjoyalbe after/morning has been spent just talking. Call me mad....perhaps I am but I love life and why should I stop doing things I love beacause of my age.

    Enjoy the week-end.


  3. I'm not good at approaching strangers unless I need directions somewhere. Actually, I'm not even good at approachng people I know. I have no small talk. Terrible.

  4. That is so scary. I hope your parents didn't know what you were up to!! It would be interesting to root it out and see if maybe some of those people are now famous.

    My experience is the opposite. We have a lot of big names visit Leicester's De Montfort Hall. I collected some amazing autographs. I didn't get the Beatles or the Stones, though I did see them, but I got lots of others from the 1960s and then Mum saw the book and because it was full she threw it away one day when I was at school!

  5. You should find that book - you might really have someone famous in it!

  6. I wish I could say I was an outgoing conversation starter, but I'm not on the shy side. With that said, once I strike a friendship, I retain it. Im more of a people watcher. Would rather sit back and watch interactions than be apart of them.

  7. I always thought the very concept of autographs was weird....
    But I keep an autograph book, anyway. It's a Who's-Who of has-beens, and never-weres.

  8. Hello Lee
    I've been 'clearing' up some of my 89yr old elderly aunt's possessions recently and found her autograph book. There are entries in it from about 1937 onwards. 74 years ago.
    She has Alzeimers so the other day when I visited the nursing home I took it along to show her and to see what her reaction was.
    Well, the vague expression she usually 'wears' on her face disappeared and oh, I wish I could have understood the few sounds she made as I'm sure she would have had a tale to tell about some of the entries.
    Don't destroy yours (if you ever find it) it may come in handy some day
    Take care

  9. That's a hilarious story :) It would be interesting to know where those people are now!
    I never approach people for anything; I'm horribly shy. I even cringed when I first started blogging. I felt like a complete idiot and that I was embarrassing myself. I've slowly gotten over that, and so maybe one day I'll get over my social phobia as well. And, BTW, thank you Lee for being an early follower and supporter. Your encouragement meant (and still means) a lot to me. Have a great weekend.

  10. Lee, I love this post! I love that you undertook such a project and feel the comparison to blogging is justified.

  11. Hehehehe asking random strangers for autographs is a hilarious idea.

    I don't think I've ever set such lofty goals as you did, because I suck at names. I recognize faces though and have struck up more than one conversation with people because I knew I saw them somewhere before.


  12. I have no trouble striking up conversations with total strangers. The trick is to think about them and who they are, rather than to worry about what they think of you. When I whip out my knitting in public, I frequently glance around, and if someone is watching, I give them a friendly smile. I have heard some wonderful stories thereby. One old gent told me how he knit his own socks during service in the British Navy in WWII. Another fellow told how he spent one summer with a broken leg, and his mom taught him to knit bandages for the Red Cross. Older ladies wish they had brought theirs. For a few years, young people didn't even know what I was doing and many were amazed to learn that it was possible to hand knit a sock. But there has been a knitting resurgence among college students, and often we can discuss patterns and share techniques. And if I were too shy to make eye contact and speak up, I'd never hear these stories.

    In fact, I may go too far the other way. I belong to a knitting group called The Bad Grannies. Whoever posts the nicest backside on her blog during a month gets free margaritas at our next meeting. I enjoy walking up to men and asking them to flex for the camera. And for most of them, it makes their day!

  13. Great story! I could not have done it. I was very shy as a young person, well, maybe not so much as a teenage but I still don't think I would have done it.
    I think it is very cool that you wanted to get to know everyone. Maybe that is why you are such a successful blogger today:)

  14. Very inspiring.

    Most bored kids would get into mischief. At least you did something fun and different and probably gave those people a smile and good laugh.

    Luckily, I'm not too shy. Having a modeling career early in my life certainly did a lot for my people skills. When up front and center, you learn how to deal with people in all situations, and i mean ALL situations.

    Have a nice weekend Lee.

  15. Mood -- Some formality can be nice and dignified, but with one's own family it might be somewhat extreme.

    Yvonne -- I have discovered some pretty interesting people with enjoyable stories by striking up conversations and I think most people enjoy sharing like this.

    Delores -- I can do small talk fairly well when I'm in the mood and if I see the opening for it I can graduate into deeper topics. My wife says I'm nosy.

    Rosalind -- It wasn't all that scary since I was a teenager and in a shopping center. What a devastating loss to lose that autograph book. It might have been very valuable by now.

    Alex -- It's highly unlikely that anyone who signed it is famous. I will have to look for it though.

    Miranda -- I am more of a people watcher as well, but if I'm in close proximity and it looks like it's more than passing, like on a plane, then I feel like I may be missing an opportunity by not trying to find out something about them.

    Andrew -- I agree with you on the weirdness of autographs. I have that little book and my high school year books filled with autographs. On the other hand, I've met many famous people and gotten autographs from very few of them--it just seemed like an odd thing to ask for.

    Cathy -- I've heard that old people with Alzheimer's relate better to things from their pasts than recent items. It would be interesting to know the story of your aunt's book and the people who signed it.

    Li -- I'll bet most of those people are still in Cleveland, TN. I'm honored to be a member of your Friend Connect (we're not followers anymore! Has anyone noticed that?)


  16. Suze -- Thanks! The project of getting to know everyone at the university was kind of an absurd fantasy. My blogging goals have been more realistic and attainable.

    Misha -- Like you I'm bad with names. It's been more than once that I'll be talking with someone for a while and get no clues as to who I'm talking to and will have to finally have to say, "I'm sorry I have forgotten your name". I try to gracefully make myself look good over it, but it is awkward.

    Roxie -- The point you make is an important one to consider when meeting people. When I encounter a new person I try not to see it as something inconvenient or intimidating, but as a possible new friendship. We shouldn't see a stranger so much as what are they going to do to me, but what mutual benefit can we have for each other.

    Deana -- I tended to be shy, but not so much when it came to a practical joke or something silly. I think the possibility of a deeper relationship requires more investment of self and therefore makes it a more risky proposition. I do like to try to reach out to others now which is why I like having a large number of members on my Friend Connect list.

    Michael -- I will admit that I was never one for devious mischief. I enjoyed trying to have creative fun and do something that others might find entertaining. I guess it was the showman side of me. A lot of kids are overly sheltered in their lives and I think it's an important part of one's life education to learn how to interact intelligently with other people.


  17. I don't mind approaching people - as long as they don't appear angry, mentally unbalanced, or look as if they have a gun and are ready to use it.

    The past few times I've been to your blog, it pops me down to the bottom of the page while I'm in the middle of reading your post. Am I the only one having this problem?

  18. Lee -- This is a sweet post, and I can identify with it! I'm sure other people can, too. It's hard to start talking to complete strangers, and your methods (autograph book, learning everybody's name) made me smile. I do think that's kind of what blogging is about -- making some kind of personal connection with a big, wide world.

  19. I applaud your innovative approach to life. Great fun:-)

  20. This is a great story. I really enjoyed reading it, and imagining the reactions when you asked people for their autographs.

    I'm not good at approaching strangers at all, but I've tried to get over some of my shyness in recent years.

    Wonderful post. I hope you have a great weekend!

  21. I'm an introvert, so approaching random strangers is hard for me. Kudos to you for being brave! It must have been a fun, though unusual, experience! ;)

  22. Carol -- It's good to put some boundaries on what kind of strangers one approaches, but then again looks can be deceiving. And yes, I've been having that same problem with my page automatically scrolling to the bottom when it finishes loading. Blogger quirk? Or do I have something set wrong? If anyone has any ideas on how to fix that please let me know cause it's rather annoying.

    Callie -- That's what I like about blogging. It's an energy and cost efficient way to reach out to others and establish relationships.

    Jabblog --If it hadn't been fun I probably wouldn't have done it.

    Julie -- Getting out there and meeting people is the best way to beat shyness. The more you do it, the better you become doing it.

    Cherie -- I'm also an introvert and back then I was painfully so. I don't know if it was bravery as much as a wacky sense of humor that would cross boundaries for the sake of entertainment.


  23. I guess it depends on what kind of mood I'm in. Some days are better than others. But overall I'm a risk taker and I'm not terribly afraid of rejection.

  24. Ha! I like that non-star autographs idea. It seems like something I might have done once upon a time. I didn't, but might have. Had I been a friend of yours at that time and place, I'd have been in on it with ya for sure.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  25. What a wonderful story! You made strangers feel like friends long before Facebook!

  26. It took me a month to work up the nerve to attend a local writers' group. I'm not really a people person. My son agreed to accompany me for moral support. We showed up at the library at the designated day and time, and waited. And waited. Nobody else came except the guy in charge of the group. Awkward! I repelled 12 people who don't even know me.

  27. Stephen -- I think the most successful people think the way you've described.

    StMc -- When we finally get together in the future we'll have something we can do to entertain ourselves.

    Lisa from Nadir -- I guess what I was doing was an actual face to face book encounter.

    Val -- Yeah, that sounds awkward, but it's not you. I've been to some things like that. I think sometimes people put together things hoping people will show up and truly expecting it, but then they find there is either no interest or they didn't do a good enough job getting the word out. Something like a writers group can take some time to nurture and develop.


  28. I'll send you my autograph if you want it :PPP

  29. The world was so much safer back then!
    One day when I was a child, my brother and I were headed to our favorite swimming hole in the creek beside our house when we came across a woman and her son. They'd come out to the country for a picnic. Long story short--our families became friends and stayed in touch for years! And, oh my, did she spoil us with candy and soda and all sorts of treats!

  30. I have no problems approaching strangers or taking social risks. But physical risks? No Way! I'd approach 20,000 strangers before stepping foot on a roller coaster.


  31. what wonderful and creative idea i should do that when i'm at disney just ask random people for an autograph

  32. Lee,
    Hey dude, gosh, you know you can have my autograph. Despite being shy and humble, loads of folks ask me for my autograph.
    If you're really good, I shall have a word with your new friend, the Sasquatch and maybe, just maybe, you might be honoured with the autograph of the mighty and lovable Sasquatch, eh :)

  33. Dezmond -- Do you think I'd be able to sell it?

    Jan -- This is true. When I was a kid in the early 60s living in San Diego me and my sister would take off and play in the canyons for hours and never once encountered anything bad. They were great times to be a kid.

    Joyce -- I might manage a roller coaster, but mountain climbing, sky-diving, or other thrill seeking activities is not for me.

    becca -- Might be fun until security comes to remove you from the park. You reminded me of a story that I may have to tell in a blog post one day.

    Klahanie-- An autograph from Bigfoot--I mean, Sasquatch--would be definitely cool.


  34. I'm so afraid of approaching strangers and often wonder if I should try blogging in real life by approaching a runner or mother I don't know, introducing myself and starting a friendship. If I ever got the guts to try...I might find a good friend or people might think I'm crazy. It's a risk and I'm not one to take risks, but I wish I was.

  35. Fun. It's not such a silly thing, it kept you and your mate entertained, and out of trouble. The mom side of me approves, so does the silly side :) Not that you needed my approval :)

  36. I just love your stories, my friend :) You have led such an interesting life, or so I imagine (in the most awesome of ways). Thanks for yet another glimpse :) I did share you at my blog today :) Can't wait for August :)


  37. what an imagination!Love that autogragh idea! I don't have a problem approaching strangers but I am always a bit guarded. I guess that comes from living in the city til the age of 31!Great story!
    Blessings, Joanne

  38. I had a book like that as a kid. Only one who ever signed it was me, and my Teddy Bear.

    I was, and still am quite shy. I don't like approaching strangers. Silly....I fear that they won't like me. Though I am not as shy as I was in my younger years, some of that is still with me. I do find humor to be a great ice breaker though


  39. I love this post; you are a true entertainer and love to gather a crowd or get to know one, hence blogging! :D

    I use to be shy, too. I think working at the movie theater helped me get over it. People love to ask or discuss the movie with me. I think my Dad helped me make friends. He had a zany sense of humor; all of my gal friends he renamed with guy names. He helped me open up.
    The hardest class I had to make friends in was a sign language class; we weren't allowed to talk only sign. We had to get up infront of the class and speak. It was an interesting class; the instructor was deaf. Who better to teach this type of class~ He was amazing!

  40. Brianna-- I don't know if a runner would want to be stopped, but a mother usually likes to talk about her kids and the conversation can go from their. I usually look for a topic starter like a common situation we are in (waiting in a line) or a book that someone is carrying (I usually don't interrupt someone if they're reading). Most people who have nothing else to do are usually more than happy to have a conversation and you can tell pretty quickly if they're not.

    Rhonda -- Silly is fine with me if it doesn't hurt anybody or cause damage.

    San -- We all have some great stories inside of us, we just have to find creative ways to tell them.

    Joanne -- It's wise to be cautious when approaching strangers -- they're not always people who have good motives.

    Sig -- A good sense of humor usually attracts the interest of others. In your blog, your humor definitely shows, but you also come across as being outgoing. You probably need to be somewhat outgoing for the bead shows don't you?


  41. Ella -- I think the world of work usually does help many of us to break out of our shells to some extent.


  42. I used to be extremely shy when it came to opening my mouth to people I didn't know. But serving as a church missionary in Singapore and Malaysia changed all that as every single day for 2 years I was required to open my mouth and talk to strangers.

    Now I have no qualms about approaching others and building relationships :)

    P.S. I had one of those autograph books too when I got my primary school friends to sign it when we all moved up to secondary school!

    Duncan In Kuantan

  43. OMG. What an awesome idea, and how brave you were!

    I'm usually fine with meeting strangers, although when I meet a celebrity I like I can't think of anything to say. Oh, well.

    Ellie Garratt

  44. Great post. I read for a Psychology degree so asking strangers questions had to become part of my coursework.
    When I'm feeling confident it's easy, but on 'ann-aquate' days (as I call them) then I dreaded it :O)

  45. We had autograph books too. My sister and I took them to camp and had all the campers sign them. Everyone got their own page and the pages were multi-coloured! Thanks for bringing back those memories!

    I'm still awkward approaching strangers - never got past that one :)

  46. The autograph book sounds like it was a fun prank Lee. I wonder if it could be pulled off today as folks are so wrapped up in cell phone conversations when they're walking along the street. (Let alone the wariness of a stranger approaching.)

    (When I was little, I had an "autograph dog" in the shape of a dachshund that was covered in canvas. I took great pride in getting folks to sign their name, or doodle on it.) :)

  47. ha, I love the idea of asking complete strangers for autographs. I'm terrible with strangers unless I have a position of authority eg as a volunteer at a writers' festival I can talk to anyone, no worries. Go figure.

  48. Great stories! I'll bet your college plan was a wonderful way to meet girls! I'll never forget when I was at a fraternity social, and a boy actually thanked me for taking the time to say "hi" to him. A little friendliness goes a long way, so I would've found your approach charming! Julie

  49. Well, it's 50/50. I'm usually good at approaching strangers if it's on someone else's behalf and not for my own interests.

    When I worked at a film festival last year, I was comfortable approaching strangers because I had a reason to talk to was on behalf of the festival. So it doesn't take that much courage to scan tickets, pass out programs and help people to their seats or tell them where the nearest restroom is, you know, lol.

    However, I am not good at approaching strangers if it is for something that I am trying to accomplish such as promoting my films or getting feedback on a specific topic. In May, I decided to go local and offline for one of my blog posts by interviewing random strangers in my city on their thoughts about Johnny Depp, for my post titled "24 Hours with Johnny Depp" and I thought that it was going to be fun. As it turns out, this activity was easier in concept than in practice, as I was very nervous and scared to talk to people.

    My biggest fear when trying to meet new people is that they will automatically refuse to be interested in what I have to say because they already made up their minds about me before even talking to me. There is a lot of bootlegging, street vending and charity/political campaigners and religious promoters in my city so people are usually on the defensive side when approached because they think that you are trying to sell them something. Or, they just don't have time to talk because they have something to do or somewhere to be and people who approach them are wasting their time.

    I don't have an interesting or unusual story about trying to strike up friendships. Many of the friends that I have now are people that I knew since childhood, so we we all just became friends.

    I do have an interesting and unusual story about trying to maintain friendships. I guess that could be something worth writing about, since you recently wrote about writer's block in your other post :)

    The Madlab Post


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