I recently sold some gigantic (18" x 18") enlargements of birds on a wire—three different shots. While I was signing one of them, my extra-fine Pilot Razor Point ran out of ink. It’s about time, really; I think Pilot stopped making them ten years ago. Finding a pen compatible with my personality (the Razor Point was perfect for my former sharp tongue) became a priority, even on a day when my daughter and I were both home with pinkeye.
So I took Serena to a makeup girls’ lunch at her favorite pizza joint. I usually pick her up before mass on the last day of school before Christmas, Easter, and summer breaks and take her to Mamma Lucia, but this Christmas, I was indisposed. We wiped our seeping eyes, donned our dark sunglasses, and went out for a slice.
My ulterior motive was Office Depot across the street, where I could get a new box of black extra-fine-point markers. They’re imperative, as I’m expecting a giant carton of 35 copies of The Book to arrive sometime in the next week or so, and I have to send them, signed, to a few of the people who helped me. Forget those boring black and blue felt tips! Sharpies now come in every color, in every nib size.
We returned from lunch with several of them in a few colors: The Book pink, The Book blue, black, and a single lime green of my daughter’s choosing. Signs that she’d been practicing her own autograph remain on the kitchen sideboard. (Her generation might actually need to practice it, now that they pay bills online and don’t have the exercise of signing a slew of checks every month.)
Now comes the question of what to write, besides my name. No one will even be able to read the scrawl that represents Leslie F. Miller. So what pithy slogan can I make my own? “Thank you” is not sweet enough. “Cake or Death” belongs to another. “Mmm…Cake!” another. “Did someone say cake?” is Mr. Ratburn's line and too long anyway. Pie’s easy: “Semper Pie” would be my motto. Or “Pie’s the limit.” But cake? “Leslie F. Miller eats cake and leaves”? That’s nuts.
I have collected a few autographs, mostly from musicians: handwritten notes from Ivan Kral (Patti Smith’s bassist), Rick Nielsen, and Jane Siberry. I have the names of all the members of Cheap Trick on a wrinkled piece of paper. Bob Schneider and his band, Willy Porter, and Natalia Zukerman have signed my copies of their CDs. And when I met Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs at the Marble Bar in the early eighties, I had him sign a painting I made of him, complete with a blue car potato print stamp. ("Blue cars, big beat, dead on my feet.") He wrote "Into you like a train," misleading unless you know it's a Furs song.
Most of the time, those names remind me of a meeting with them, like when Kip Winger stole my notebook at Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp to write “Rock on!” Right now, my fridge wears an autograph—just a name, no frills—from Victor Wooten, who spoke to the kids at Serena’s school. She stood in line to get it and the reminder of the time their presence was graced by the king of bass.
In two weeks, I head to Philadelphia to tape an interview for “A Chef’s Table”; afterwards, I’m supposed to go to bookstores to sign stock. My husband wants to know who would buy a book just because it’s signed. But that’s how I came to read The Frog King, a fabulous book by Adam Davies. And it’s why I had finally picked up a book on my list, Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife. My mom has a whole collection of first-edition, signed Edward Gorey books.
Marty wouldn’t stand in line for an autograph, but he wouldn’t take a picture, either. Most of the time, his memory suffices—he smiles when he remembers shaking Nelson Mandela’s hand at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, and he talked guitar with Willy Porter while I was snapping away and getting a signature.
But maybe an autograph represents something else entirely—not just proof of a meeting or a desire to increase the value of a work of art. Isn’t it the artist’s seal? Sometimes I ask people not to use my name when I’m not fond of what I was forced to create. But a signature on The Book would say: I’m Leslie F. Miller, and I approve this publication—despite the mistakes I’ve made and my persistent battles with The Suck Voice.
Maybe my signature slogan should be a reminder to myself, just as much as it is a message to the reader.