50 below and the autograph


All photos Don Barone

“In your time the innocence will fall away…” 

Dateline: Jeff Gustafson and Patrick Walters 

 “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson 

My wish for you is that you are doing what you love, that you are doing what you were put on this planet to do.

In a perfect world that is how it should be. 

And while it has been an up and down struggle, feast and famine type stuff, I’m one of the lucky ones who get to be me and not someone that others think I should be. 

I remember the moment I became a professional writer. 

It was January 1980, the managing editor of the student newspaper at SUNY/Buffalo had just handed me a check for $20.

Twenty bucks for typing words on paper. 

I can’t remember her name, I do remember the tears in her eyes. I had the front page above the fold story about an elderly woman who lived on the top floor of a semi-rundown “third floor walk-up,” and who towards the end of the month bought a few cans of cat food with the money she had left from her “monthly check.”

It was 1,840 words, here are the last five words of my first professional story: “Mary didn’t own any cats.” 

I cashed the check, walked back up the three flights of stairs and put the money in Mary’s mailbox, but it was on the second landing of the walk-up where it hit me. Deep down where you mumble stuff to yourself, deep down there in the cut to the chase truth lair, deep down within my soul I heard the whisper that this here writing stuff was what I was meant to do. 

I had found where I was supposed to be. 

I had done what I was put here to do and with that, the look in my eyes changed forever that day.

Yesterday, I saw that look once again; it stopped me dead backstage in the fish tub line.

Two young men new to the Elites. 

Two young men doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Two young men were standing where they were meant to be.

Two young men with fire in their eyes. 

Meet now “50 below and the autograph.”

Jeff Gustafson (50 below)

“…feel the wind…” 

“A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.”
- Bruce Springsteen