I have a confession. The only reason I originally signed up for a Twitter account is so that I could get tweets from Sean Astin. And thank goodness I do, because if wasn't in touch with Twitter I never would have seen the Vine video of Sean Astin with him shouting, "Comic Con Twenty-Thirteen! Booth Sixteen-O-Five, Booth Sixteen-O-Five!!!!"
Sean Astin is going to be at Comic Con.
But not me. My best friend Becca was going though. I'd just have to send her with some things to get signed. I'd write Sean a note for her to give him. That would probably be as close as I'd ever get.
The night Becca left for Comic Con, I tentatively sent her a text. What if. What if.
"I'd be more than willing to let you do the Sean Astin thing on Sunday!" She agreed to lend me her badge for the day. There are no words for how much I owe her.
I got back to Long Beach from a trip home to Paso Robles at 11pm on Saturday. I was sleeping by midnight. Up again at 3:30am. Couldn't sleep much anyway. My Pandora shuffle was on in the car; Howard Shore's "Concerning Hobbits" began to play. Today is a good day. The next song is the theme from Rudy. Even better.
Hours later I find myself sitting in a huge line on the concrete floor, waiting to be let into the Exhibition Hall. All I had with me to pass the time was my copy of Lord of the Rings, a battered old thing that my 12-year-old self had marked up on the pages to indicate my favorite places like "The Breaking of the Fellowship", "Frodo destroys the Ring" and "The Choices of Master Samwise." I started reading where I last left off. The hobbits are meeting Strider at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Sam doesn't trust him. He never trusted anyone where Frodo was concerned, and it makes me smile. At nine-o-clock sharp, somewhere from the front of the line a loud cheer erupted. Everyone perked up, snapping out of books and quasi-naps and hopping to their feet. The Exhibition Hall was open. It was time to go. Through the doors, down the hall to the right. Three flights of stairs. "Please don't run down the stairs folks." I wasn't running. But I wanted to be.
The exhibition hall was huge, with large numbered banners hanging from the scaffolding. I saw it immediately. The 1600 block. 1605. I was there right away. It was quiet; being the final Sunday of Comic Con, most of the commotion from the previous day had died down a bit. I was surprised that no one else was rushing to the Profiles in History booth like I had, because I was literally the first one there. I asked a man named Joseph Maddalena if that was where Sean Astin would be signing autographs. It was. He'd be there at 10.
I waited anxiously, trying to prepare myself for something I had never dreamed possible, but had been hoping for since I was eleven. I made small talk with a guy named Topher, who came to wait at the table shortly after me. For him, Sean Astin is the reason he fell in love with Lord of the Rings. For me, Lord of the Rings is the reason I fell in love with Sean. The minutes ticked by, and soon it was 10 o'clock. Sean was running late, I heard them saying, got caught up navigating the halls above. But I could wait all day.
At one point a man poked his head between me and Topher, looking down at the photos on the table, ready for autographs. "Do they have any Goonies ones in there?" He asked, excited.
"Yeah, they have some, and Rudy too." I said, shuffling through the prints to show him.
"Great! Well, I'll be right back," said the man. And then the sound of mischief in his voice; "I'm gonna go upstairs and get him now." I turned toward the man. He was taller than me, and at eye-level was the word "SECURITY" in bold red across a marigold yellow shirt. I gaped, he grinned.
"Don't believe me?" he asked as he started to walk off. I stared in disbelief. Sean was coming soon. He really was. "This one! She still doesn't believe me!" he called, pointing at me over the heads of the crowd that was forming behind me to see Sean. "This one doesn't believe me! I'm going to go get him right now! I am!"
Finally, as if awaking from paralysis, I laughed. "I believe you! Now just go get him!" Chuckles from the group. Anxious. Excited. Topher and I smiled nervously.
Some minutes later, I saw the security guard again. Still no Sean. You tricked me! I told the guard in my head. But I knew any second now… I looked over my shoulder to see if Sean was coming.
He wasn't coming. He was already there.
Standing behind me, inches away. He was in sunglasses, keeping a low profile and trying to get through the crowd to the safety rope at the booth. I turned to Topher. We grinned, his eyes were so wide. Then I looked to my right and there was Sean Astin at my shoulder, waiting for them to open the rope gate for him. He was busy talking to the Profiles in History team, but we were quite literally shoulder to shoulder. Breathe.
He finally sat himself down, shaking hands with Joseph Maddalena. Saying thank you, being polite. The glasses came off, and there was Samwise, staring up at me with his little half smile. He splayed his palms on the table, his smile turning to a grin. "We having fun here, guys?" I grin, too. Yes.
"Hold on a moment, sorry for the wait," he said, hurriedly shuffling through photographs and preparing the table for autographs. I was happy enough just to be there.
Finally he was ready. An exuberant "hi!", and then he was asking me what I wanted him to sign. "I was wondering if you could sign my book," I said, passing him my battered copy of the complete LOTR trilogy.
"I've had it since I was twelve." I said.
"Which was what, last year?" He asked, smiling at his own joke. True, I was one of the younger ones in his crowd at that point, besides Topher.
I laughed along. He signed my book, and then the LOTR book jacket I had designed for my graphic design final a few months before.
"I loved your performance as Sam," I began. "Well, I loved Sam first. You came second," I joked. He laughed and smiled, agreeing that he loved Samwise too. He looked up and smiled at me.
"I brought this for you," I said, and his eyes lit up. "Whatcha got there?" he asked as I passed him the gift. A framed print of my typographic design using the final line from Sam's speech in Two Towers. Hand lettered typography printed in white, overlayed on a photo of the Paso Robles backroads. There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fightin' for. Immediately his finger pointed at the golden hills dotted with oaks. "Where IS that? It's BEAUTIFUL!" He stared closer at the hills.
"It's my hometown, Paso Robles. Always reminded me of the Shire a bit."
"Nice!" he exclaimed, looking up at me. "It's lovely, beautiful. Thank you!" He set the print aside.
"What's your name? Gina? It is a pleasure to meet you, Gina." Thank you. He clasped my hands in both of his and gave me that winning smile. His eyes wrinkle at the corners when he smiles. I know because that's what happens every time Sam smiles at Frodo.
And then it was over. I was moving to the other side of the rope, clutching my book. But I couldn't leave. I stood close by and just watched him interact with the others. Grinning up at Topher. Signing a map of Middle Earth for someone's girlfriend. Exlcaiming to a young boy and his family that Samwise is a wonderful name for a dog. "My dog is Indy, like Indiana Jones! And he has little folded ears like this," he said, cupping his hands and holding them to his ears. Adorable. Genuine. Sincere. Just like Sam would be.
There was a shout next to me, "It's the One Ring!" A man filming with an iPad and a OneRing.net sticker attached.
"No!!" said Sean. "The Ring is gone. Threw it into the fire, remember?"
"But… I have one," said the OneRing.net staffer. The boy with the dog named Sam piped up. "Me too!"
"...........Ooooooh nooo......" Sean said, a tone of dread in his voice. We all laughed. The boy's family took a photo with Sean.
I forgot to get a photo taken. And I forgot to have him sign one of those headshots, I realized. Still deliriously happy. But… I forgot to get a photo. Now, don't bother him, you had your turn. Time to go. You're already out of line and others are waiting.
Just then a older man squeezed past with a gentle "Pardon me!" He was an eccentric little guy with hipster-esque frames and a bald head. He seemed to know Sean, because the two shook hands over the rope and chatted a bit. When they were finished, the man drew back, smiling. "Are you in line?" he asked me.
"Oh, no, I already went." I said. "I… forgot to get a picture taken and signed." I explained. "I was too excited." The man smiled at me and turned to the security guard at his right and leaned in to tell him something. The guard motioned to the other security staffer on my left, a man with curly black hair who could have passed for a hobbit if he wasn't so tall. "Can you let her back up? Poor thing paid and forgot to get a photograph signed." Sean looked up.
"You're still here? And you've been waiting? Aww, and you've been standing there so quiet and polite! Come back over here, which one do you want? Sam, right?" He signed a portrait of Sam for me, and the security guard offered to take our photo. I turned to Sean. More thanks from me. It's an honor to meet you. I have a picture of Bear , my old cat, on the back of my phone. He wanted to know about it. "Aww, you have your own little Bear!" he said. I smile. He smiles. So much smiling.
Joseph Maddelena spoke up. "She's been here since nine, Sean," he said nicely. I owe you, Joseph Maddalena.
"She's been here since-! You've been here since nine!?? Well thank you so much for waiting!" I thanked Sean once more, and the security team as well and turned to go.
"You got your photo now? There you go, you poor thing!" the black-haired security guard said sweetly. It was almost like they were taking me under their wing, like they were rooting for me or something.
Somehow I was able to wander away from the booth when I saw that older gentleman, talking with Lou Ferrigno a few booths over. You have to thank him, Gina. I waited a while for them to finish. The man turned to me, assuming I wanted a photo of The Hulk, but I said I wanted to speak with him. I thanked him for getting me back in at Sean's booth, and he smiled endearingly at me and gave me a hug. "Honey, don't be shy. Just go in there and ask for what you'd like. Sean is a person, just like you and me." Another hug, more thanks from me. Trying not to cry. Thanking him again. "You're very welcome sweetheart."
Ok. Now I can go home. But I didn't want to. I found myself wandering back to Sean's booth and was happy to see there was no line. Turns out I didn't need to pay anything if I didn't want an autograph. I just wanted to say a few more things to Mr. Astin.
My curly haired security friend looked up over the crowd to call up the next person. He pointed at me and smiled in recognition, with a look on his face that said, "again?" He motioned me forward through the crowd and Sean smiled when he saw me. "You're back!" he said, and I shrugged, guilty as charged. "I'm back." There and back again.
"I don't need an autograph, but no one was in line and I wanted to come back over before I have to leave," I said. "It's just… I've been wanting to meet you for twelve years…" I felt a little sheepish, but his smile told me that he understood. Leaning back, smiling, folding his hands behind his head, he said, "Alright then. Tell me something good!"
I began to explain to Sean that Samwise Gamgee has been my favorite literary character since I was a kid. He asked my age and figured that I'd have been about ten when the film came out? Eleven, I told him.
"You know, I always get that from people. 'So, are YOU as good as Sam?' and I say 'No!' Sam is truly the ideal literary figure. He's perfect." I agreed enthusiastically.
"He really is an inspiration. That quote from Sam's speech, 'There's some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fightin' for.' … It's become my philosophy on life," I told him.
"You know, that wasn't originally in the screenplay, or in the book nessicarily. But after 9/11 happened… we really felt like we needed to go back and rework a few things. They drew out those concepts from various places in the book and gave the lines to Sam. We thought it's what the world needed to hear."
My heart at this point was either not beating, or pounding too hard, more like. It's like Sean had confirmed what I had thought all along, all these years. "That's so amazing. The world did need to hear. And Gandalf's line in the Fellowship of the Ring—"
"'All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us,'" he finished my sentence for me and nodded seriously. He knew exactly what I was thinking.
"Yes… I was just a kid after 9/11. I was so scared, shaken up from it all… my dad's a pilot for American and it could've been him, his plane out there, you know?" Sean gasped quietly at the thought. "But hearing those words gave me hope," I told him.
"It's amazing isn't it? I mean… Fellowship came out, what… three months after 9/11? And for a movie with those themes, those words, coming at a time like that… the timing is incredible. I think to myself, is this a God thing? Probably was."
"I believe it was," I said. It was almost as if the films gave Sean as much hope as they had given me. Given us. A crowd had gathered now, listening to Sean talk of hope, faith and love. Just like Samwise would have been. Most of us were quiet, thoughtful. Then Sean smiled up at me again.
"What do you do? I mean, what's your job?"
"I'm a graphic designer—well, I just graduated anyway." I said.
"Oh! Where from? Cal State Fullerton! I know some Fullerton grads, good school." He said.
"Titans!! Teen Titans??"
No, I laughed.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" We all laugh now. Sean Astin launched into his TMNT voice. Then he was laughing and joking and showing his Vine videos to those of us standing nearby. Apparently he "just got this Vine thing" and he's pretty stoked on it.
"One last thing, before I go. Sean, your mother's performance in the Miracle Worker was a huge inspiration to my mother when she was young. I have two sisters with Down Syndrome," —another soft exclamation from Sean— "…and her performance played a big role in how my mom decided to raise them. So I wanted to say thank you to your family for that as well."
You should have seen how Sean's face and voice softened at this. "Thank you… so much. It warms my mother's heart to hear things like that and I always try to pass it on. Thank you for sharing that with me."
He clasped my hands in his again. Thank you for everything, I say once more.
"Thank you," he said with a tone of pure sincerity. "I'm so glad you could be here, I'm glad you like Sam so much, and I'm glad I got to meet you. I'm sure I will see you again in years to come. Bless your heart, and you have a wonderful day now, ok?"
I squeezed his hand, thanked him one last time, and smiled. The corners of his eyes, Sam's eyes, wrinkled up back at me.
As I turned away, my curly-haired security friend beamed at me. "Look at that! Autographs, photos, and a full conversation. That's lucky. I bet you're happy!"
He has no idea.
Thank you, Gina for sharing this wonderful story with us!