by Alina Simone
I’m writing to you in regard to my husband Kenny who has gone through surgery. My husband is a very big fan of yours. I would like to ask if you could please send him an autographed photo. If you could I know he would be thrilled and I would be forever grateful to you.
Thank You Very Much Sandy.
This message, which I received about two years ago, was followed by an address in Buffalo. My husband happened to be sitting next to me when it landed in my inbox. Immediately, he pointed at my face and said, “See? All this time you’ve been whining away about how no one loves you and no one cares about your music, while secretly there are sad men in hospitals whose entire recovery hinges on just one kind word from you!”
(Ok, I’m paraphrasing here.)
“Um, wow,” I said, the warm glow of pride already stealing over me. “Well, it would be kind of mean-spirited of me to just send him a photo, right? I should at least send a copy of my record and maybe my new book, too.”
“Totally,” Josh said. “Don’t be greedy.”
So I told Sandy to tell Kenny that I’d send something off within the next week and very much wished her husband a speedy recovery. And Sandy in turn thanked me with “Peace and Love.”
I spent the rest of that weekend contemplating my incredible act of altruism, planning the nice care package I would prepare for Kenny, whose surgery, I imagined, had left him tragically deficient in limbs and/or organs. Certainly fingers, with which to type emails.
Then Sunday rolls around and it’s raining. I have an incredibly busy week ahead of me and a two-month-old baby to take care of. I realize that I don’t even have an appropriate photo of myself to send Kenny, or an envelope of the requisite size, and that getting a photo printed and buying envelopes and braving the line at our local post office — which ranks a solid two out of five stars on Yelp, both of them undeserved — will kind of be a giant pain in the ass. But for the love of Kenny and the forever gratitude of Sandy, it had to be done.
But dark thoughts began slipping through the chinks in the otherwise impermeable armor of my self-esteem. First off, this incapacitated-Kenny-of-Buffalo did not fit my usual fan-demographic of depressed Jews and mopey hipsters. And who the hell wants an autographed photo nowadays? Didn’t that go out of fashion in the sixties? So I finger-typed “Kenny Thrun” and “Buffalo” into Google only to find this comment pasted twice on a message board on Carol Alt’s website:
Dear Ms. Alt, I’m writing to you in regard to my son who has gone threw (sic) surgery. My son is a very big fan of yours. I would like to ask if it would be at all possible for you to please send him an autographed photo. If you could I know my son would be thrilled and his Mom and I would be forever greatful (sic) to you. Thank you
This message was followed by the same Buffalo address. Also, this message was posted in August of 2008, so clearly Kenny’s medical problems were just as grueling as I’d imagined. It’s not surprising that this turned out to be a scam, and there isn’t some forlorn and hopelessly disfigured indie-rock fan in Buffalo — the Elephant Man of indie-rock fans! — pining in vain for my photograph. (What IS surprising is that Carol Alt and I have anything in common.) And yet I felt surprisingly bad about the whole thing, as though Kenny had just peed, a tiny bit, in my morning coffee. So I wrote up a post for my Tumblr that I never post anything on (it is more like a Tumblrweed) — including “Sandy’s” full email address and a note explaining s/he’s in desperate need of some ExTenze pills so feel free to get in touch — and forgot all about it.
That is, until the letters starting coming in. The first message was from Devon Dorf. He, too, had received a request from Kenny. The only thing is, Devon’s band had broken up EIGHT years ago. (If Kenny’s spelling skills are any reflection on his Googling ability, this oversight should be none too surprising.) After finding my post, he’d done some more digging and found ads “Kenny” had posted online, offering thousands of autographs for sale. Then Devon, who clearly had a first-rate sense of humor about the whole thing, suggested that he and I should now trade autographs and cut out the middleman. And I was happy that Kenny had brought us together.
A month later, a band called The Dead Stars on Hollywood sent me a similar message. This was followed by another note from Kenny, asking for an autograph, then a message from the head of a classical music label in West Sussex, England who had also received a solicitation. Next came Anita Doron, an indie filmmaker from Canada who earned my love by turning “Thrun” into a verb (subject line: Kenny Thrunned), Dasha Kelly, an artist from Milwaukee, and four different models (the last of whom seemed to be more engaged in some form of, er, unmodeling, if you get my meaning).
All these people thanked me for sparing them the trip to the post office, or the guilt of never responding to poor, bedridden Kenny. And I have to admit, I quite enjoyed playing the whistleblower. This is what those journalists on 60 Minutes must feel like after exposing a counterfeit drug/child-trafficking ring, I thought to myself.
But it had been six months since I received any messages about Kenny. Maybe he went out of business. Hardly surprising, since he appeared to be the rare collector who specialized in autographs of little or no apparent value. Still, I couldn’t help but miss the Kenny messages pinging my inbox.
Then last week I got a message from a guy I’ll call Ron.
Dear ms Simone I need a friend right now I’m going through a hard time I had my feelings hurt by those I thought were my friends they pretended to like me and now they just ignore me I say good morning to my neighbors and they don’t say good morning back some just call me names I try to prove I’m a nice guy can you please give me some advice and I’m from Chicago I’m a musician songwriter and rock and roll historian I play the guitar and harmonica please check out my uploaded videos at REDACTED and let me know what you think please send me an autograph personalized to me saying To REDACTED on this very photo thank you kindly my address is SOMEWHERE IN ILLINOIS.
Aha! I thought, Fool me once, etcetera. The bad spelling. The whimsical grammar and punctuation. The blunt and tactless play on one’s sympathies. It was time to revive my Tumblrweed and save the world from “Ron!” But before my umbrage quite reached its peak, I decided to do a Google search. I searched and searched, but could find no ads for autographs, or spammy postings on message boards. In fact, the only thing that did come up was Ron’s Facebook page and from the looks of it, he simply seems like a guy who loves music and autographs.
And who is probably going through a really hard time right now.
Alina Simone is a critically acclaimed singer who was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her music has been covered by a wide range of media, including BBC’s The World, NPR, Spin, Billboard, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of You Must Go and Win, a collection of essays. Note to Self is her first novel.