Curly died the other day. He was 73 years old.
Yes, I know. You didn't know him. Neither did I. I'm pretty sure that he wasn't one of The Three Stooges, and while I could probably fathom a guess, I'm not really even sure why he was known as "Curly." To tell you the truth, as I scanned over his name in the obituary column of the newspaper, I was still mesmerized as to how and why it is that people always seem to die in alphabetical order.
Not knowing Curly or his family, I can only presume (and hope) that his nick-name was attributed with affection and not malice. Yet there still seems something unsettling to me about a 73 year old guy that people still call "Curly."
As I scan the obits, ever grateful that my name doesn't appear among them, I can't help but notice on an almost daily basis some poor slob getting planted in the ground in perpetuity with the same nick-name that some little brat probably affixed to him in the third grade.
Why is it that people die but nicknames never do? Well into the golden years we are burying "Spike," "Scooter," Butch," "Skip," "Curly," " Ace," "Frenchie," "Duke," "Dutch," "Sparky," "Bubba," "Slim," "Stretch," "Red," "Tiny," "Junior," "Buddy," "Buck," "Blackie," "Whitie," "Chip," "Chubby," etc.? While some of these names paint pictures of physical attributes, they tend not to be flattering. As for the rest, once you surpass 60 years of age, 300 lbs of weight, and/or have more hair sprouting out from your ears and nostrils than on your scalp, maybe it's time to convert back to your grown-up name, you know, the one formally and officially given to you as a child by your parents.
Furthermore, why is it that for the most part, it is we men who are cursed with such altered names? Perhaps if women shared some of this wealth, some uncomfortable situations could be avoided. One in particular comes to mind when at work a few months back, I needed to cancel an appointment with a client who insisted on being called "Slim." Just imagine my humiliation when I confused his phone number with that of another client, whose morbidly obese wife answered the phone when I dialed the wrong number and I asked for "Slim," before I realized what I had done. Suffice to say that "Buttercup," (my own sarcastic nick-name for this less than demure little flower) didn't take it real well.
Nick-names seem to be a rite of passage for the Mafia, and rightfully so. After all, who in his right mind would ever want to mess with anyone with a name like, "Fingers," "Knuckles, " "The Blade," "Bones," "The Forehead," or for that matter, why even take a chance on a ruthless southpaw named, "Leftie"? Yet from my own Italian heritage (from umpteen generations back), I have also noticed that the Italian people have a warm and affectionate way of adding the letter "y" or an "ie" combo on the end of your name if they like and accept you, hence, "Louie," "Frankie," "Johnny," and a couple that never really sounded quite right to me "Sally" (for a man), and "Mikey," a version for which a law should have been enacted long ago prohibiting such annunciation in public.
I also have some Irish blood running through my veins as well, also from umpteen generations ago. The Irish tend to keep it simple with either "Lad" or "Lass." Sometimes those names are used with affection, other times when some of the synapses are misfiring and the real name doesn't easily come to mind. Women for some reason never seem to have this problem, but we guys do, which is why we carry a virtual emergency arsenal of benign names to call someone whose name we cannot readily recollect. Such examples include, "Guy," "Bro," "Brother," "Cuz, "Cousin," "Boss," "Chief," and of course, the nauseatingly and currently ever popular, "Duuuuuuuuuude,"for those whose chronological age or maturity level is at 25 years or younger. You might have noticed that these names only work when we are talking to another guy. If we're speaking to a woman whose name we cannot remember, we usually tend to just blush and stutter. I once knew a guy who couldn't care less what your name was. If you were a guy, he called you by the same name he called every other guy he knew, "Virgil." That was a long time ago, though, and with the current advances in medical science, I'm relatively certain that condition is now treatable.
Sometimes even our own names can be an unsolicited burden. Had anyone ever had the courtesy of soliciting my input as a baby, I never would have voted for "Douglas," but it is what it is. Barring formal situations, I almost always inevitably go with "Doug," and if you knew me, you would most likely agree. I even look and act like a "Doug." I'm a "Doug," definitely, not afraid to get my hands dirty, and if you ask me if I would like a glass for my beer, I will give you my usual reply, "It already comes in one." I picture a 9 CDouglas" as a stiff kind of older guy, wearing a tuxedo and serving some old rich fart a dry Martini at three in the afternoon off of a silver platter. On some very rare occasions, mostly in my childhood, someone, usually another kid would call me "Dougie." The entry pertaining to "Dougie" should have been subsection (b) under the same law prohibiting public annunciation of "Mikey." To me, it's like fingernails on a blackboard. My brain strains to even create a graphic of a "Mikey," but a "Dougie" to me is some little tyke riding a tricycle with a blue suit, bow tie, shorts, knee high socks, saddle shoes and a little beanie with a propeller on his head as he peddles along and rings the bell on the handlebars. I don't care how you choose to spell it, "Dougie" to me is a four letter word. A very dear and long time friend of the fairer sex used to call me "Dougie." It took several years before I could muster the gumption to diplomatically tell her that I really didn't like that name. Unfortunately, I failed to elaborate further. Heeding my request, given my myopic limitation of it, she has called me "Douglas" ever since. I think I'll just let that one ride.
Sometimes nicknames spring up from our real names, but the connection seems befuddling. I still ponder how we get Bill from William, Jack from John, Jim from James, Bob20from Robert, and Peggy from Margaret. I also am curious as to how Dick ever came from Richard, but even more curious as to why someone named Richard would prefer to be called Dick. I'll end that rant here and now for obvious reasons.
Which brings us back to "Curly." Everyone seems to have their own story as to how they acquired a nick-name. I can remember an old skit in a 70's sitcom in which some guy flies off into this whole routine in which he admonishes another guy, "You'se doesn't have to call me Ray. You'se can call me Jay, or you'se can call me John, or you'se can call me Johnny, but you'se doesn't has to call me Ray." (I think I would rather call him long distance!) However Curly and many others got stuck with their nicknames, while these names may seem poignant to their inner circle, they still seem undignified to the rest of us. I can't even remember the guy's real name. All I remember is "Curly." See what I mean? Whatever the condition of the poor guy's scalp or hair style, I just can't picture any senior citizen still being known by "Curly," let alone getting buried with the name. There seems to be an injustice to the permanent infinity of burying someone with a nick-name that maybe they weren't necessarily even that fond of in the first place.
As those who know me well could testify, I'm really not that fussy what I'm called. In fact, I have seen more erroneous variations over the years of my seemingly simple, five letter, one syllable last name than I ever even dreamed possible. As I often chide and remind folks, eating is serious business, so whatever you call me, just don't call me late for supper. (I've been called worse!)
In a supermarket in which I worked in my (very clumsy) teen years, all of us had nick-names, and yours truly was soon known by all as "Un-Do-It," including when I was beckoned over the store's PA system. Thankfully, that era ended when I later changed jobs.
But in life, and especially in death, if it's all the same to you, I'll just stick to "Doug."
Rest In peace, Curly, as best you can.