Last August, the new old house needed a chimney, and as we are not third-generation bricklayers, someone else was going to do it.
Builder Dan gave us a list of proposed subcontractors. He wanted Company X, or maybe Company Y, but he did not want Dick Chilton. As in, “I hope we don’t need to go to Dick Chilton.”
Why? It seems Dick was a masonry prima donna, and had built two reputations: one as “the best around,” and the other as an abrasive, thick-headed jerk.
When X and Y weren’t available, we were forced to go with Dick, and he more than lived up to his reputation. He worked at a glacial place without interruption, glaring at assistants and scowling at bricks. He also scowled at mailmen, truck drivers, birds, leaves, and the stupid people who were paying him well.
We started referring to him as “Dick Chimney,” and don’t bother asking why – I don’t remember, and who among us knows how private jokes begin, anyway? He didn’t speak to us, he would not be introduced to us, would not look at us, but his name was Dick and he worked on the chimney, so he was Dick Chimney.
I confess that between us, we have a lot of private names for people. But this one struck us as especially hilarious, because let’s face it, the title had a certain X-rated ring.
”Who’s on site today?” we’d say. Heh.
“Dick Chimney.” Heh heh heh.
I think we play this shorthand game as a function of both humor and ignorance. We are either cowards who snigger at people from afar, or we really just don’t know their name. Maybe it’s funny, or maybe it’s not, but it is an unbreakable habit, the naming.
Let’s take the petite young barista with a haughty tone – clearly it was our privilege to receive her coffee – Princess Pissypants. Credit Josie for the brilliant Pissypants part.
It is a neverending list of shame. The waiter who rushes dinner is Abrupt Guy. The crunchy fifty-something Nepal trekker is Buddhist Woman. (my e-mail to Greg – “Buddhist Woman’s here. Headed home.”) A pear-shaped retiree holds court in the coffee shop daily at nine. He is Pontificus Blohardus.
Our friend’s southern husband, the one who looks like Morrissey? Kentucky-Fried Morrissey – KFM to those in the know.
I’m sure that listening to us would be quite appalling. I might hate us.
The pale local weather girl is Ghosty. Dreemy is the Thai food server from another planet, and the restaurant host who habitually over-estimates the wait time is The Voice of Doom, as in, oh great, the Voice of Doom is working today.
Some of our other Hall of Namers include Chuck Wagon (sweaty and stout, brings onion sandwiches to the library) Suspicious Guy (why is he looking at us?) and certainly Senor Crappuccino, a barista who repeatedly made lousy drinks and what’s more, filled them only halfway.
But we talked, he improved, and guess what? Senor Ex-Crappuccino.
I’m afraid it’s too late for Josie, who frequently knows people by their pretend-names. Regarding one young college neighbor who likes to run in a rather bouncy manner:
“Booby Girl got home really late last night,” she’ll say. “She was wearing shorts and she was not alone.”
I fear that both of our moms are right, that we are in fact mean and terrible people, but then again, we amuse ourselves and we hurt no one. Come on, if a guy worked on your house every day for six months wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with “P-O-R-N,” wouldn’t you call him Porn T-Shirt Guy?
The Name Game generally doesn’t apply to anyone we like, and though we’re not looking too kind right now, believe me, there are a few. There was the nice quiet guy our handyman used to bring around – the one with no nose. It’s true – he lost his nose in some freak prison accident years ago, and now breathes through two little holes like a gentle, pint-sized Voldemort. So we named him No-Nose.
Mean! Oh, mean, you say? Don’t kid yourself. Once you see a guy with no nose, that is their name.
And then there is Old Shoe. Old Shoe has since moved away, but one night, years ago, his wife drank too much Pinot and casually told me that sleeping with him was like putting on an old shoe.
Oh, Shoe, I’m so sorry. In our little naming world, you are among the sad and unjust. Don’t get me wrong, it gives me a giggle, a fine old Dick Chimney giggle.
But Shoe, I’m just so glad you don’t know who you are.