Journal entry: September 13, 1982 (age 13) – Nicknames
My buddy, Vinny Gallagher, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Your brother Dan is out in the hall.” I turned around in my chair/desk combo to see Dan and a few of his friends talking and laughing just outside our classroom. The kids sitting around me turned to look, just in time for Dan’s buddy, who we’ll call “Paul,” to point at me and yell “Hey, it’s Twit! What’s up, Twit?!” Variations on this delicious bon mot continued for a minute or so, until the first period bell rang and the door closed.
I’ve been around Paul enough to take solace in the fact that he is a demonstrated failure at creating nicknames. He makes frequent, unsuccessful attempts to stick kids with nicknames that defy logic and assail humor. Marty Hull was momentarily dubbed “Skulldog.” At least his had a rhyming syllable. Not so for Mark Scoville, who was fleetingly referred to as “Bozy-boy.” One girl in Paul’s class was briefly saddled with the nonsensical but foul-sounding moniker “Smelvin.” I won’t disclose her name here, but suffice it to say she neither smelled nor had the first name “Melvin.”
Vinny and I are among a handful of 8th graders from St. Patrick’s Middle School who begin the school day at Seton Catholic Central High School. We are taking high school math a year early, and are joined at the “big kids’ school” by contingents from other Catholic middle schools in the Binghamton area. Each contingent, it seems, is uniformly outfitted with low self-esteem, combination skin, and protractors.
Today was our first day of class, so I didn’t know most of the kids. I prayed that Paul’s semantic strike-out streak continued, and that my new classmates wouldn’t forevermore think of me as “Twit.” Happily, Paul had chosen a pejorative that isn’t exactly in vogue with our age set. “Dork” or “geek” would have had some legs. But, in terms of current usage, the word “twit” is on a par with “cad” or “rapscallion.” I was tempted to challenge him thusly, with a threatening wave of my Trapper binder: “Fie upon you, worthless cur!”
The only thing worse than being a freshman in high school is being an 8th grader in high school. Having an older brother there should help, but it doesn’t necessarily. They assume you can take abuse at least as well as you do at home. Luckily, I have a solid group of friends, so I can deal with a certain amount of chops-busting. But what will happen when Paul assigns a truly troubled kid a nickname like “Buttface Jones?” All I know is that I will be standing next to that kid and mopping his brow, like a miniature version of fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco. I’ll be wearing a black longshoreman’s cap and barking things like “You’re doing great, Champ – now fie upon the cur’s kidneys with a good poundin’!”
Oops, I said that out loud, and it has nothing to do with the algebraic equation…