July 10, 2017
A Rose by Any Name …
There was this black guy I knew in Vietnam, whose name I can’t remember, but whose nickname I’ll never forget. He was a replacement, sent over to join our unit after we had taken some casualties.
He was introducing himself, trying to fit into a very macho, kick-ass male environment, so he tells us that back on the street everybody called him “Young Blood.” The problem was he had just arrived in Vietnam and he was sweating like a pig, and he had a plump face that glistened in the tropical sun.
“You’re not back on the street anymore,” one of the black troopers informed him. “We’re going to call you Juicy.” And from then on, that was his name. He turned out to be a good guy and when I finally shipped out a few months later, he was doing fine. I don’t really know what happened to him after that, but I hope he survived and that he’s OK and is living happily someplace with a bunch of loving young kids calling him his new nickname – Gramps.
Nicknames are a wonderful thing. I came from a family that had nicknames for everybody, and so did my wife Carmela. My dad had very kinky hair, and his nickname was “Kink” As a baby I had hair that curled into corkscrew-style ringlets, so I was called “Corky.”
I hated the name because I was a pudgy little boy. Back then, when I went out to play with the kids in the neighborhood, our moms would call us when it was time for supper. “Corky, dinner time,” my mom would sing out.
“Did she call you Porky,” the other boys would ask. “No, it’s Corky, not Porky,” I would tell them. Then, she would call again, and those nasty little bastards would say that they were pretty sure she was calling “Porky” even though they really knew that my name was Corky.
My real name wasn’t that much better. George became “Georgie Porgy pudding and pie.” I’m not complaining. The truth is I think all that teasing made me – like the boy named Sue – a little tougher and a little more prepared for life.
The best nicknames are spur of the moment tags that stick with you. A friend of mine, a short, little, wide-eyed, giggly female, tells about visiting the red light district as a tourist in Amsterdam years ago and one of the prostitutes in a window asking her, “Whatcha looking at, Small Fry?”
Years later, she still laughs about it.
My mom was Flossie, my brother William was Bill, Willie, and Billy. My brother Charles was Chuck and C.K. Carmela was Mo, and her sisters were Toot, Cat(s**t), and Nuke. Her brother Mike was both Pineapple and Haji Baba – or sometimes just Haj.
Our niece Mallory is Mal-Z, Jillian is Jilly Bean, Olivia is Livi, and Bailey is Boo, Bee, Beep, and to her father – Shorty. Our niece Amber is Ambrosia. Amber’s son had a meltdown the first day of kindergarten when the teacher called him Dennis. He knew his real name was Rat Boy.
Carmela’s talkative Deputy Sheriff dad was Silent Joe.
My buddy Larry LaRue is better known as Lash – a reference to the 50s movie cowboy Lash LaRue, who used a whip instead of a six-shooter.
Our dog Henry is also Peaches and Weasel Butt.
I’ve had bosses who have been dubbed, The Incredible Shrinking Brain (Brain for short), No Nuts, the Littlest Angel, and Mikey (who preferred to be called Spike).
And who can forget our politicians from Honest Abe, to Teddy, Silent Cal, Ike, Tricky Dick, Governor Moonbeam, the Peanut Farmer, Tip, “W,” the Obamanation, and The Donald.
So what’s the point? Nicknames are seldom flattering. The best ones are bestowed on us by others. And the more they sting, the better they are. Or as our families used to say: We only tease you because we love you.
Sometimes, you wish they would just love you a little less.
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