I was using a pay phone to let my wife know all was well at the card show I was attending in one of those huge piers on the Hudson when a familiar figure in a leather jacket walked past.
I almost dropped the phone and I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped open.
"Yeah, it's him," assured a guy walking not far behind Johnny Ramone, guitarist in the seminal punk rock band.
Ramones collect baseball cards too?
"Honey, I gotta go."
My buddy Rich introduced me to many important things during my three years in Connecticut, from the glories of Fenway Park to how to survive in a mosh pit. And of course, the Ramones.
We're talking a true friend here.
I was familair with a handful of the band's songs -- it was impossible to go to college in the 1980s and not hear some of them -- and had even seen them in concert once, a horrible mismatch of a bill when they opened for the B-52s in the Hofstra University field house.
All wrong, as Rich pointed out. Forget the records, you have to hear the Ramones live. And it's got to be in a small, sweaty club -- like Toads, in New Haven, where we saw them several times.
We admired the Ramones' musical philospohy: Get up on stage, say what you gotta say and get the heck out of there. If you can get a song out of the way in under three minutes, good. Under two minutes? Even better. Loud and fast, and don't look too closely for meaning in the lyrics. Guitar solos are for posers and stage banter other than onetwothreefour! is unnecessary.
It especially made sense when we saw AC/DC at the Hartford Civic Center and Angus Young spent about 20 minutes preening on the edge of the stage for was was supposed to be a solo. I remember thinking that the Ramones would have ripped through 10 songs during that same amount of time.
So there, walking among the dealer tables was Johnny Ramone, dressed exactly as he appeared on stage with ripped jeans and leather jacket.
He was just another collector with a card list flipping through commons bins.
I casually examined the stuff on the dealer's table until I got the nerve to say something.
"Are you Mr. Ramone?" I asked, immediately realizing how stupid it sounded. So much for being cool. His real name was John Cummings. Everyone in the band adopted "Ramones" as a last name.
He smiled and said he in fact was. I stammered something about how I had recently seen the band at Toads and that I liked their stuff.
He seemed genuinely friendly, humoring me a little and then said, "Would you like an autograph?"
Whoa! This was an opportunity. I couldn't give him a spot in my Mets history book, so I offered the only other thing I had, my reporter's notebook where I recorded my want list.
He asked my name, and even added "best wishes."
I thanked him and ran off. An encounter with a Ramone shouldn't last longer than "Blitzkrieg Bop."
I was at the show to get autographs from a good chunk of the 1969 Mets team, and they were neat. But I might have had more fun meeting Johnny.
Johnny died Sept. 15 of cancer, just after being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I'm still a fan -- a lot of Ramones songs take up very little space on my iPod.
In Other Words...
Derek Jeter overrated? Hey, don't take my word for it. Michael Hoban is professor emeritus of mathematics at City University of New York and a serious baseball analyst. Check out his latest article at BaseballTruth.com located here.