Matt Raymond got hooked on the adrenaline rush of proximity to fame.
Propped against the frozen brick façade of the Ritz Carlton in Boston, I peel off my gloves and tap a text to my wife to put my dinner plate in the fridge. She asks when I’ll be home and the answer is always the same: “After I score.”
I’m a grapher—an in-person autograph collector. You can find me in the shadows of hotels, on the fringes of movie sets, and outside the door at charity events. Winter, spring, summer, fall. I carry a mini Sharpie on my keyring so if I’m buying groceries or in line at the bank I’ll be ready. If you’re famous, I want your autograph, but it wasn’t always this way.
As a kid I got a few autographs each year at Fenway Park or before preseason Celtics games at the Worcester Centrum. My true love was baseball cards, a hobby which could have earned me a spot on Hoarders if the show existed two decades ago. When I was old enough to address an envelope I began sending out cards to athletes for their signature.
Each day after school I would race to the front door and spread the bundle of mail across the welcome mat looking for my name. Occasionally there, amongst bills and junk mail, would be a letter addressed to me.
The first fix.
Through my teenage years I’d send a couple dozen requests each year with only moderate returns. Between school, sports and a new thing called the Internet, I didn’t have much time for autograph collecting. Before long I was off to college, leaving my parents, my hometown, and my childhood hobbies behind. But when I graduated and moved to Boston for work, everything changed.
A friend got me into it. Isn’t that always how these stories begin?
Immediately I got hooked on the adrenaline rush of getting close to a celebrity and the uncertainty of the outcome. I compare it to fishing—hours of tracking the big one come down to a few moments that determine whether you catch the prize or go home with an empty cooler. Hollywood A-listers. Hall of Famers. Rock stars. High school basketball prospects half my age.
In most cases I wasn’t even a fan. In almost every case there was no meaningful interaction between me and the celebrity. Can you please sign? There isn’t time for anything else when you’re in a mosh pit of dealers that need to make rent (I should mention that I’ve never sold an autograph). I just care about that climax. And like many one-night stands it started to feel empty.
The lows are lower than the highest highs. I quit once in 2008. I was nearly arrested this year. But nothing changed my daily routine. Each morning I read the Boston Herald’s gossip column on the train to work before scanning message boards for tips on upcoming appearances when colleagues are filling their coffee cups. If I’m not taking a long lunch break outside a hotel I’m tethered to Twitter, monitoring athletes and celebrities I know are in the area.
The thought of a celebrity passing through town while I’m chained to my desk sickened me.
While my wife has tolerated my graphing, we’ve always had a mutual understanding that when we had a baby I’d stop. Then last October we brought a souvenir back from our trip to Italy. As my wife grew outward I began looking inward, reevaluating my priorities and forming my philosophies as a parent.
I also wondered how I would detach myself from graphing—an obsession than snaked through me like a vine. I needed to explore the psychology behind why meeting celebrities and getting autographs mattered so much more to me than the average person. In Fame Junkies, Jake Halpern writes that many chase fame—and in my case, chase the famous—to fill a void opened during adolescence.
Did I crave attention and validation so much from a lonely high school experience (highlighted by no dates and two rejected prom proposals) that in adulthood I routinely propelled myself into the orbit of celebrity hoping some of their coolness would rub off on me? Did I delight in racking up Facebook Likes from friends on photos I posted with famous faces because each click said, in a way, “Matt, you’re cool”?
We may be getting warmer.
I still have more questions than answers: Have my autograph collecting days come to an end? When my kid starts hanging over the railing at Fenway holding a Sharpie will there be a teaching moment about whom we should really model ourselves after? Will fatherhood be a catalyst for remission and help me guide my child away from my footsteps?
In an interview with Dirk Hayhurst, former major league pitcher and New York Times bestselling author, I asked him about the idolization of athletes: “The desire to worship, follow, and even collect sports figures is a by-product of the contagion of celebrity obsession our culture is terminally ill with.”
My son was born on June 27, 2012. The next day I stopped reading the gossip column. I unfollowed dozens of Twitter accounts. Last week I heard there were films shooting in Boston but I have no idea who is starring.
I’m two months sober and I feel good.
Image of Jeff Bridges courtesy of the author