When I was in my late twenties or early thirties, two of my friends moved to New York City, and after learning how much I loved that city; they welcomed me to visit whenever I could. Riding the Staten Island Ferry was the most fun, I think, but I also savored the art galleries and the museums. I did a great deal of touristy things, and I am especially glad now that I went to the top of the World Trade Center (although at the time I was mostly impressed with the vast multitude languages spoken there.)

One afternoon, when my hosts were both working, I decided to roam around on my own. Laurie Anderson had just published a book and there was a book signing scheduled, so I settled on that as my eventual goal — I was planning to purchase the book anyway, so, hey, why not get an autograph, too.

In rural Michigan I saw few well-known people, let along famous celebrities. I was completely unprepared for the intense swarm of adulation. A few of the fans were funny — for instance, one person handed the musician a blank check from his checkbook. Most of the fans, however, declared that she was the singularly most important thing in their lives and they eagerly pledged their undying love to the stranger with a pen in her hand. The fan who was only two or three people a bit ahead of me in line, handed paper to the poet and implored:

My friend is going to commit suicide if I don’t get your autograph for her.

It was a very long time before the line moved again.

Ms. Anderson did provide the requested autograph, but also, in the most gracious and caring voice you could imagine, quietly and repeatedly explained to the young admirer that he needed to encourage his friend to seek professional help.

Simple inertia carried me to the front of the line with her book in my hand, but I have never asked another famous person for an autograph.

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