What’s in a name

I changed my name about a dozen years ago. I didn’t change it to anything as spiffy as, say, Mark Twain, or offbeat as Kate Winslet’s husband Mr Rocknroll, but it met the main criteria of being different from that which I’d spent 20 years vaguely dissatisfied with. (If the math doesn’t add up to my age, that’s because I wasn’t always bothered.) I did it because I could, and it was easy. Except for the explaining part.

How do you tell your father you’re discarding the family name, apparently dissing him and the line of fathers which begat ungrateful you? If you’re a girl (sorry) getting hitched, it’s not an issue even in these days of fewer nées; patriarchy has its silver lining. Boys are expected to display the marque. That’s one reason for the extra enthusiasm with which cigars are handed out, at least in the movies.


“Eeny, meeny, miny, Moe. OK, you’re Moe. Don’t cry, your brother got stuck with Sue.”

I didn’t tell him at first, even going so far as to carefully remove all luggage tags when my parents would meet me at the airport for my annual visit to the homestead. But eventually it seemed prudent to gingerly let the cat out of the bag and hope for the realistic best, i.e., a shrug and a sad smile of acceptance. I honestly still don’t know how he took it; I don’t remember if his body language was mute with shock or I averted my eyes at the crucial moment. Other than a steady stream of perhaps-not-always offhand remarks which suggests it remains a sore spot, we’ve never discussed it in any depth. It helps to have cultivated a reputation for being [pick an adjective] odd/‘creative’/difficult.

It’s hard to gauge the importance of the name that’s been stuck on the birth certificate. On one hand it’s—sorry, papas everywhere—meaningless. On the other, it’s your bloody name, innit. Tends to crop up on a daily basis. Gets called over the loudspeaker, machine-printed in junk mail, chiselled onto your gravestone. In my case, constantly misspelled or at least mispronounced.

If I’d been born Native American and followed traditional conventions, my parents would’ve called me boy-who-cries-a-lot, thanks to colic. In my teens this might’ve then become hogs-mirror-with-comb, perhaps finally culminating in adulthood with naps-on-couch.


Not exactly a role model, but we all have our redeeming qualities

As it was, I went from something howmanyofme.com informs me only 28 other Americans shared, to a meeting hall of closer to 300.

The transition wasn’t too great of a lurch in the small family unit of me and my wife. She’d known me as my now official first name since the 80s, the initials my parents had bestowed having formed a perfectly serviceable moniker that happened to appeal.

I retained my middle name as a kind of keepsake. My new surname came more or less out of a hat, like my father’s, at least from the point of view of a zygote swimming in a universe of possibilities. (I know, a zygote doesn’t do much paddling. It’s more a wallflower waiting to blossom.)

My wife didn’t follow suit. There’s no reason she should have. She chose it; I didn’t. Who could have guessed she’d be landing on what was to be my maiden name.

Not long ago I started visiting my hometown on a regular basis via the local newspaper, which has been giving me space to write about life as an expat. Call it boy-who-crossed-pond. As a byline I chose my old name. It made sense; my parents and their friends would be reading. I wanted them to be able to say “Yeah, he’s ours” should they be pleased with the result, without resorting to tedious explanations. (On the flip side, should they feel the need to cringe, well, tough luck. Heh.) Though pen names are common enough, it’s an unnecessary obstacle in a conversation.

I’ve also reverted to my given name on Facebook. Not only is it easier for relatives who haven’t been kept apprised of my idiosyncrasies to process, it’s pleasing to feed data-hungry Zuckerbeasts white lies.

Ironically, as I have a bit of a lisp, my self-chosen name appears to be difficult to convey to anyone needing to take it down. “Fam?” I’m frequently asked over the phone. <Sigh>


Original art spotted in a gallery. Afford it I couldn’t.

PS. Walker, Sam Walker. 007½, licence to drive on the left.

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Merry Grimace

Camilla and Charles in their 2013 Christmas card, looking pretty much as you’d expect them to if you stumbled upon them: Want to trade hats? Not now Charles, maybe when we get home.

2014: Cheers

2015: Have a cozy Christmas

2016: Duty callsThe Croatian on the right is, as they say, hungry like the wolf.

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Faceplant

What blogs? you ask, if you don’t mind my conjuring you up and dropping you seemingly in mid-paragraph. Present company excluded, those would be Another Cycling Forum, since retired except for the slowly expanding l’image vidage collection, and Not Another Cycling Forum. Clearly I like forums, even when they’re not. I’m intimately familiar with the software, and prefer how threads work to posts on a more typical blogging platform.

This is a confession: I finally fell into Facebook. Not wholly; I’m not even using my real name. More accurate to say I’m using the old one. It’s one way of kidding myself I haven’t capitulated.

It’s not so bad. I mean, it’s the devil’s handiwork, but otherwise not as terrible as I’ve long been telling myself.

Not that I’m really getting anywhere with it. Few of my Friend requests have been RSVP’d.


credit where it’s due

I still don’t do Likes. Viral vids give me the hives, too many emoticons a case of eyeroll. Most sorrowfully of all, not everyone finds reimagining pivotal scenes in Shawshank Redemption conducive to carrying on a conversation. (To keep that little photoshopping project from having been a complete waste of energy, I cc’d it to Twitter, to be absorbed into the public commons in the fullness of time.) So far it’s been most useful as an outlet to vent my insomnia.

Where to next? Having placed myself in exile from all the forums in which I’ve ever taken up residence, I may have finally reached a social media dead end: the dreaded Zero Club, where everybody knows my name. Even Medium.com, with its almost perfect interface, offers no solace: who needs sad stats floating on the screen in silent rebuke?

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Halftone memories

As a kid I spent five years delivering the local paper. Wednesdays were thickest with ads, Thursdays thinnest. Saturday mornings coldest. The most replayed mental video clip of my young life was an impossible shot from the street to a postage-stamp sized porch which was surely a mile away. My final tally was 2 broken windows and countless dented aluminum doors. I never left them on the lawn, though that would have been quieter.

It started a lifelong fascination with the press.

The paper was staffed by a talented photographer who made a lasting impression. He was allowed to spill acres of beautiful black ink over countless spreads. He left around the time colour was arriving. It was never the same (and neither was he, from what I saw of his career).

Lately I’ve been writing for the media I used to damage property with. They don’t have a big budget for this sort of thing; in fact I’ll be making about what I made as a paperboy.

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Sugar Addicts Anonymous

[Takes a symbolic 12 steps to the podium.]

Hello. My name is Sam, and I’m a sugar addict.

[Pauses for “Hello Sam.” The sympathy in the air is palpable.]

It started when I was a child. Candy bars bought with paper route money. My grandmother’s peanut butter cookies. Easter baskets with chocolate eggs as god intended. The dark bounty of Hallowe’en. Coke or Pepsi (depending what’s on sale) guzzled at all family functions and regularly in between.

oldpepsi
Pepsi sadly couldn’t teach the world to sing

You wouldn’t know it to look at me. Always running around or riding my bike, I sweat it off as fast as I can suck it in. But true addiction is born.

scarface
Sugarface

Fast forward to early adulthood
Still eating crap, still mostly getting away with it. I’m in deep.

bassetts
Words would be superfluous here

Later…
My wife gets a job at an ice cream shop in Brooklyn. Needless to say it comes with fringe benefits. Chocolate dipped sundries. A gummy menagerie. Ice cream by the pint. Bassetts butterscotch, OMG. By conservative estimate I gain 35lbs. I could blame my metabolism, but really, who’s kidding who.

weighstation
Scale says what?!?

It’s a mad mad mad mad world
We move to the UK. Not long after arriving I decide to go vegetarian (thanks mad cow disease) then vegan, also cutting out refined sugar, if not sugar substitutes (hello agave syrup). The weight falls off… then over the years, creeps back up again, though not as much as the Bassetts era. I take up bicycling in a big way, which helps. From time to time I binge. I’m never again clinically obese, but I am clinically annoyed with myself.

stop
OK you made your point

Three months ago
After one big sigh too many I completely stop eating foods with added sugar. I’m not obsessive about it?—?things like ketchup are allowed on the table?—?but anything that can be unambiguously labelled a dessert is verboten.

The first few days are headache-ridden. I rough it out. Soon I settle into a routine. This involves savouring everything I still allow myself, which is plenty, and not giving in to psychological hunger for empty calories. As long as I’m at it I cut out snacks and keep a food diary, giving myself a reasonable caloric allowance for my activity level.

fudgelove
Fudge loves you too

It’s not really that hard. It helps that I often tell myself it isn’t forever; one day I will have fudge again. It’s just that today, then today, then today again, is not that day.

My pants (after 20 years in this country I still can’t quite bring myself to call them trousers) loosen their grip around my waist. No wonder, a stone and the better part of another stone has disappeared, who knows where. I’m no whippet, but I’m fighting trim. It feels good to be here again. Whenever my resolve weakens I hike up my pants and think, well, not today.

I’ll always be a sugar addict.

Thank you for listening.

[Sits down without a glance at the table of biscuits and root beer. They don’t go together anyway.]

***
109

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How To Deal With People You Disagree With

bernerslee
Photo credit: Whoever was standing in front of Tim Berners-Lee

Dealing with people in real life is beyond the remit of this advice column. With any luck you won’t meet many, as live human beings are notoriously difficult to hammer into shape. We shall concern ourselves with replying to those in the splendid human construct known as social media.

You see a contrary opinion online. An itch starts in your brain, impossible to ignore. It must be scratched! But how do you get to it?

newbrain

Through your keyboard. (Real warriors use keyboards, not touch screens.)

1. Take a deep breath, it will oxygenate your blood. Maybe have a nice cup of tea before getting down to work, if tea’s your cup of tea.

2. The time-honoured practice of cracking your knuckles is an over-used trope, but do it if it you’re superstitious. Just don’t overdo it, you’ll be needing those fingers in good working order.

3. We’ll dispense with the numbering system; the point is made that this is a logical process.

Examine the enemy’s argument closely for flaws. (‘Enemy’ is merely convenient shorthand.) You might get lucky straight off the bat: have they even made an argument? Opinions are like bowling balls—they’re bound to have holes in them.

1-eroclp2egkamt0rxg-tduq
one metaphor at a time please

Be polite. It’s a rare skill, often confused with cowardice. It will confuse the enemy.

If this is a factual fray, document, document, document. Be meticulous with your sources and be ready at a moment’s notice to provide links, preferably more than one should your adversary show an indifference to your preferred authority. Bear in mind that both The Guardian and the Daily Mail (two well known mines to go digging for fool’s gold), which both employ professional journalists (not necessarily a compliment), are equally unreliable in matters of opinion, which often masquerades as fact.

Determine if the opinion is theirs or somebody else’s. Have they put in the work to hold it all by themselves? Are you going to attempt to knock them off a bandwagon, or are they standing on carefully prepared ground? If the latter, you may wish to retreat to fight another day, or better yet, accept that perspectives can differ. Even the itchiest brain can learn to accept this as a scratch of sorts.

Look for signs of hypocrisy. Should you find it, consider the labor-saving strategy of allowing them to tie their noose with their own words. Note that any gratification derived may be a private affair, given that hypocrisy is usually vampiric in nature.

1-0zg-rkwanbcyaklgxdtb4w
it’s obvious who’s the fairest of them all

Use spellcheck if you don’t trust yourself, it’s right there on Google. Generally conform to accepted grammatical norms. Teasing grammar Nazis crosses the line into cruelty.

Common mistakes
Don’t say “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” Whoever says this first, loses. While some may see this as politely sweeping away the gauntlet laid down, in truth it is the equivalent of loudly stomping off. There is no need to belabour the obvious.

Whatever you do never announce that you’re leaving the discussion. This cannot be stressed enough. If you want to go, just go. Some warriors are amazed this is even an option.

Refrain from posting immediately prior to a period of being out of contact with the www, e.g., going to a wedding or funeral, a session of lovemaking, etc. I know you pride yourself on your ability to multitask, but should you think up a better comeback whilst indisposed, the itch will be visited upon you tenfold.

If you think your opponent is reading what he or she wants to read rather than what you wrote, well, everybody thinks this. Almost everybody is right. The mistake here is to openly parade your amazement.

Do not ‘Like’ as an 11-dimensional chess gambit, should your chosen media platform offer this or a similar cheesy option. Duel with words, not rancid marshmallows.

What to do if you ‘win’
Disabuse yourself of the notion that you have. Hardly anybody ever ‘wins’, no matter what humble admissions are uttered in the aftermath. The skull is a hardened silo impervious to penetration by even the most sensible argument; while the brain inside may be slammed and partially flattened by the impact of a new idea, it reliably pops back into its original shape.

There are, however, documented cases of people who actually have had their mind changed by a disembodied consciousness filtered through this thing we call the internet:

 

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