I'M PROBABLY the only person who has Jim Palmer's autograph on the inside cover of "The Feminine Mystique." "To Lucy -- Best Regards, Jim Palmer -- 1984," it reads. I'm also probably the only person who didn't know who he was that December morning he boarded the flight in Baltimore.
My husband, two daughters, and I were en route from Roanoke, Va., to New York to see the Big Apple in its Christmas splendor. The plane touched down in Baltimore to let on a few passengers.
While we waited, I walked up the aisle to talk to a woman from home. Our conversation came to a halt as an incredibly good-looking man walked by. My friend's mouth fell open and her eyes bulged.
"Oh, my God -- it's Jim Palmer!" she gasped.
"Jim Palmer. Jim PALMER. Ooooohh!" She began to flutter her hand over her heart just as the captain's voice boomed: "Please return to your seats at once."
"Who is Jim Palmer?" I asked.
"Ma'am, you must be seated," said the flight attendant. As she nudged me along, I heard my friend's fading voice, ". . . ball."
As I approached my seat, I saw this Palmer guy in the window seat next to mine. I looked across the aisle at my family who were staring in my direction with their mouths open. The folks around them were doing likewise. I checked to make sure my clothes hadn't come undone. Then I realized it was my seatmate that had everyone so agog.
I decided on the spot that I wasn't going to make a fool of myself over some ballplayer. All ballgames, in my opinion, were pretty moronic. I settled in, fastened my belt and got out my book. Mr. Palmer had his head buried in a newspaper, and his right outstretched hand was practically in my face. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a mammoth ring. I could almost make out the wording on it -- "World . . ." World? What kind of school was that? I rested my eyes briefly, then looked again.
World Series. Baseball. He must have been on a team that played in the World Series. Big Deal. I knew about the World Series. My father and brothers, usually soft-spoken, intelligent males, turned into a pack of howling idiots every October when the games came on television.
All of a sudden I felt a nudge from behind and someone shoved a piece of paper at me. "Will you ask him to sign this?" a stranger grinned. Oh, good grief, I thought.
I rattled Mr. Palmer's newspaper, and he looked up and smiled. Damn, he was good looking -- kind of like an updated Greek god. I relayed the message and handed him the sheet of paper. He smiled again, scribbled something on it and gave it back to me.
Assorted papers began to float up the aisle, passed along until they reached me. I was embarrassed but Mr. Palmer seemed to think it was normal. While he was busy writing, I studied him. He was extremely good looking, I decided. I reconsidered my opinion of athletes and decided to say something captivating.
"I guess you must be somebody famous."
He grinned. "Not really."
We began to chat about what he did. I grasped for questions since I knew next to nothing about baseball. Then suddenly I heard myself saying: "Do you recall that game between the Yankees and the Cubs when Babe Ruth hit the ball over the flagpole?"
Bingo! I also silently blessed my father for telling the story so many times and with such excitement that it was a permanent, although heretofore unknown, part of my memory bank.
When there was nothing left to say about that miraculous moment, Jim looked down at my book and asked what I was reading. I reluctantly held up "The Feminine Mystique," by Betty Friedan, figuring this would end the conversation in a hurry. After all, a big, macho athlete wouldn't be interested in a book that helped ignite the feminist revolution, I thought.
"I haven't read that, but I've heard it's fantastic," he said. "I just finished one that makes some interesting points about women -- Gail Sheehy's 'Passages.' Have you read it?" he asked.
I hadn't read "Passages" but I knew what it was about. I quickly steered the conversation to my favorite subject -- feminism. And he participated. We gradually moved on to other books, then movies. He was particularly impressed with "Amadeus." I was, I realized, particularly impressed with him.
When the captain announced that we would be landing momentarily, I panicked. "I never got your autograph," I said. He opened my book and wrote on the first blank page.
We said good-bye and filed out of the plane. As he walked away, the other passengers swarmed around and began debriefing me: "What was he like? What did you talk about?" As I graciously filled them in, my family, whose presence I'd totally forgotten, caught up with me. "Mom, I can't believe how you yakked on and on. I'm so embarrassed," the 15-year-old said.
"You don't even have your make-up on," the 12-year-old wailed. "And you're wearing knee socks."
"Well, well, well," my husband mused as he slowly raised both eyebrows and laid a serious look on me.
I felt myself blush. "Honestly, you all! He's just a perfectly nice baseball player. I'm surprised you even know who he is."
"MOM, HE'S THE JOCKEY GUY! He's in all the magazines in his UNDERWEAR!" This from the 12-year-old.
"Underwear! Oh, I don't believe that for a minute!" I wondered what kind of magazines they read.
They carried on all the way to Macy's -- our first stop for the day. As we entered the store, via the men's department, a life-size cutout of Jim Palmer, an Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher, smiled down at us over shelves of Jockey underwear. He had on nothing but . . . BIKINI underpants. I gasped.
The children giggled and turned to my husband who was laughing out loud. I just stood there turning red and thinking: "HOLY SMOLY -- I was sitting near THAT!"
Trying to regain my composure, I flipped through the mountain of underwear until I found the style Mr. Palmer was wearing on the cutout in my husband's size. I grabbed a handful and headed to the salesclerk. She rang up my purchase and handed me the bulging bag. "Merry Christmas," she said.
I gave her a big smile and quipped: "It looks like it will be."
Lucy Lee is a free-lance writer in Roanoke, Va.