Monday, April 18, 2016

All Hail, Cesar!

Once upon a time I was a collector of many things, including autographs. As a teenr, I wrote letters to individual baseball players care of their teams and requested their signatures. I even bought mailing lists with players’ home addresses and sent them baseball cards to sign, which most of them eventually did. Asking for autographed pictures, I sent fan letters, too, to politicians in Congress and in state houses, and almost always got them. Granted, some of the signatures were the work of autopens and, the worst of them all, rubber stamps. And there were even some very high-quality secretary forgeries in the mix.

However, most of the political autographs were real and many of them personalized to me. As both a young man and a collector, I was completely non-partisan in this endeavor. I received autographs from everyone from Ted Kennedy to Jack Kemp; Henry “Scoop” Jackson to Tom Bradley. New York Governor Mario Cuomo personally inscribed a photo to yours truly, and so did Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, although he misspelled my name as “Nick Negro.” The Bush autograph was authenticated and—courtesy of financially hard times sometime later in the adult world—I sold it at auction for $175.

In the early 1980s, Louie, our cigar-chomping neighborhood mailman, used to open our unlocked front door in the Bronx, walk into the hall, and place the mail on the bottom step of the staircase leading to our upper-floor apartment. Aside from leaving his cigar bouquet calling card, he would sometimes cry out: “You got another letter from the government!” My autographed pictures typically arrived in 9”x 12” official manila envelopes with a piece of cardboard in them, so that Louie and his p.o. brethren would avoid their natural inclinations to bend  and batter mail. I think Louie came to believe we were a family of spies or secretive government agents. My father, a veteran post office man himself, eventually assuaged Louie's worst fears.

Beyond baseball players and pols, I also purchased a mailing list of celebrity home addresses one time and was excited to send a couple of “Joker cards" from the “Bat Laffs” series to none other than Cesar Romero on San Vincente Boulevard in Los Angeles. I was quite surprised to receive a postcard a week or so later from Maria Romero, Cesar’s older sister. She informed me that her brother was doing dinner theater in Texas, but would be more than happy to sign my "Joker cards" when he returned. Now this was going beyond the call of duty, I thought. And a couple of months later, I not only found the signed Joker cards in my mail, but two more autographs of Cesar as well—one a photograph of him as the Joker inscribed “To Nick Nigro, A big hello from The Joker” and another of Cesar as Cesar. And it was all in an envelope the man personally addressed himself. He paid the postage and affixed, too, a “Cesar Romero” return address label on the envelope—one he probably got as a "thank you" for contributing to a favorite charity. He also alerted the post office minions they would be handling a photo, which was to be treated accordingly. Of course, Cesar being Cesar said, "Please." I had always heard Cesar was a class act and liked by just about everyone—and the proof was in the Joker cards signing. All hail, Cesar!

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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