Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 16, 2010
The boy’s nickname was Terry. He didn’t particularly like his name, because a lot of girls had the same one, and it sounded like a child’s name anyway. He’d started out with Terrance, but in 1st grade the other boys called him Clarence instead. It always got a laugh, but not from Terry. It sounded like the name of a clown, or some snooty rich kid in a story.
After grade school, he changed his name to Bob, although Bob didn’t have much of a ring to it. Still, it seemed a nice unambiguously masculine name, and much more adult sounding than Terry, or Terrance.
Bob, as a name, worked fairly well for Terry. People didn’t stumble all over it, like they did with Terry, confusing his name with Gerry, Perry, Harry, but most often, oddly enough, with Larry. He wondered if it had to do with Larry, Moe and Curly, since the most common misunderstanding of his name was always Larry. He tried emphasizing the T whenever he said Terry, but it didn’t help. People just don’t get Terry usually until the third try. It made introductions tedious, even though people always smiled, and often apologized.
Terry went by Bob all through high school. He liked it. People seemed to respond better. He was older than he’d been of course, but high school boys are not generally known for their maturity, and Terry, or even Terrance could still have been disastrous. If there was one thing Terry hated more than anything else, it was being teased. Still, boys will use just about anything to tease another boy. The school insisted that everyone wear ties.
Terry had a hard time waking up in the mornings, and taking the time to tie a perfect Windsor knot every day had gotten old fast. Terry discovered the clip-on tie: perfect knot, perfect length, and impossible to discern. Somehow, one day, a classmate noticed, and snatched it from him. He chased after the perp, grabbing the tie and pushing the perp onto the ground. Generally, Terry had always been very easy-going. His father often said Terry would let someone take the shirt off his back, but that was what “turning the other cheek” meant in the real world. In the religious world, “turning the other cheek” meant martyrdom, and martyrdom was preferred to violence. However, just ignoring all the jibes and taunts was not easy, and that one time, Terry ran his attacker down and won his self-respect. Or so he thought.
Instead of congratulating him on standing up for himself, his other classmates made light of it, pointing out that the other boy, although the same age, was shorter. This made Terry into little more than a cowardly bully. “But, what was I to do?” he asked, “let him take it?” No one answered that. Whining was not allowed. However, this incident provided the catalyst for another far more embarrassing one, since the real bullies felt Terry was an easy mark, and could only defend himself against smaller adversaries.
Terry’s family didn’t have a lot of money, and clothes were patched, sewn and worn until they fell apart. It so happened one day, as Terry bent over to pick up a fork he dropped in the school cafeteria, that his pants split. He was mortified, but no one had seemed to notice. The pants were brown corduroys, with lots of vertical lines, and baggy enough that Terry thought it would pass unnoticed if he walked slowly and kept his butt cheeks pinched together. He sat down opposite his peers, and relaxed. He made it through lunch without a single comment. In fact, he relaxed too much, because as he stood, the gap widened enough for someone to see. Ellis, agent provocateur, class clown, and always an outlaw, took it upon himself to take full advantage of the situation. He grabbed a slice of pickle off his lunch tray and ran up to Terry, dropping the pickle in the rip as Terry stood up. The indignity of this was just too much.
That someone would see the tear no longer mattered. Ellis was going down. Terry lunged for him, and Ellis, cowardly as most bullies are, took off running. Ellis laughed at Terry, sidestepping and ducking through the cafeteria. Terry chased him into the hallway. Lunch break was not yet over, so there was no one in the hallway. Terry chased him, gaining on him, running full tilt down the hallway. Of course, yelling and running past the principal’s office, in a school that prided itself on self-discipline, was not a particularly bright thing to do. They were caught.
Now, Terry was in the equally uncomfortable position of trying to explain that someone had put a pickle in his pants. Fortunately, it had been the principal who’d caught them. The vice-principal was in charge of discipline, and he would have come down hard on them. As it was, the principal referred Terry to Student Court, a disciplinary board wholly run by the students.
Terry explained the pickle incident, (picklement?) and the court, laughing behind their hands, let it go. To add to Terry’s shame, all decisions by the Student Court were published in the school paper, although the rip in someone’s pants became a rip in someone’s shirt. In 1965, no newspaper would dare even allude to something sexual , much less the innuendo of a pickle in someone’s pants. It wasn’t journalistic integrity, but everyone knew the real story anyway.
Terry could see, by now, that the name didn’t make any difference. He was kind of an oddball, it seemed, and names were nowhere near as important as he’d always believed. After high school, he kept using Bob, although his employer and coworkers were not the types to care about a name one way or the other. By now, however, Terry noticed that Bob was an extremely common name. In every room, it seemed, there was a Bob. In a restaurant, in a garage, on the street, or at work, Bob was as ubiquitous as Tom, Dick and Harry. Terry, realizing that, as an adult, he could have his name changed legally, thought about changing his name to Bilbo Baggins. It was not a bad name, far out of the ordinary. That would have been alright, but he knew his family wouldn’t like his dropping the surname. But, what would Bilbo be without a Baggins to go with it? He thought about just using Frodo, but few people had read the half a million word sequel to The Hobbit, so he would have had to spend a lot of time explaining the Lord of the Rings character to every person he met.
Of course, changing one’s name is a very superfluous thing to do anyway, as Terry had found out. And now there were far more important things to worry about in the world, like sex and war, and getting to work on time. He took night classes at the University where he worked, but he really wanted to go to school full time. He applied for, and was accepted at another University a few years later, still calling himself Bob. He kept his job on a part-time basis, as a sort of contract employee. However, those aforementioned things, sex and war, took over most of his thoughts, as he sought one but wanted to avoid the other. That took him to rallies and demonstrations, as well as into drug and sexual experimentation, and his studies suffered. His thoughts were always elsewhere. Dismissed from school on probation for a year, he decided to travel.
After a few years of odd jobs and traveling, he took a job one day in a small foundry in Arizona. The foreman must also have thought Terry an oddball when he asked him his name, because Terry paused. It was a normal question, but suddenly, and without having given it any thought in years, he told the foreman his name: Terry. It was, after all, how his family had known and still knew him. No one he had ever met was as important as family, and he never changed his name again, even though he rarely got through another introduction without having to say his name at least three times.