Our topic today was going to be TV remotes and their management, but I got distracted, thinking about nicknames. Yes, they can be hurtful, but at their best they can enhance a personality. My son Ed and his friend Petey were hanging (see previous entry) with older boys at a friend's cottage a couple of years back. The big kids mostly ignored the two little kids until Ed's big brother Sam, bleary-eyed at 2:00 in the afternoon (no alarm clocks at the cottage) sat up in his sleeping bag, peered over at Petey (a skinny, quiet, self-contained boy) and said, You need a nickname. How about ... Bonesaw. He lay back down and recommenced snoring. Petey blushed. A couple of the other boys (early risers) overheard the pronouncement and nodded around their cereal spoons. Bonesaw, they muttered. Not bad. And that was it. Petey was cool. All it took was the name. That night someone asked if Bonesaw was up for poker. He was. If Bonesaw's playing, I'm in too, said a third boy, passing Petey (forever Bonesaw now) a can of Pepsi. When I was trying to come up with a cool name for an important minor character in my new book, I didn't have very far to look.
How different from my youth, when one of the kids in my class was called by everyone (including himself) Toad. What that did to his psyche I can not imagine (let alone his love life. Think about cuddling up to someone named Toad, whispering in his ear: Oh, Toady, you're so hot!) How cruel we were, how thoughtless, but it seemed perfectly natural at the time. I mean, he really did look astonishingly like a toad. More so than several toads I have met.
I was briefly nicknamed by fellow waiters at a trendy downtown restaurant in the 80s where the guys gave each other girls' names for reasons not unconnected with sexual preference. I felt Groucho Marx-ish about the club, but hated to be left out. So, what about me? I asked.