Monday, September 26, 2016

En Attendant Godot

Difficult to tell when you came by your fondness for the names of characters and places. Kipling's The Jungle Book was sure to have been an early nudge in that direction, with its Mowgli, Shere Kahn, and Bagheera. 

You do recall the Shell Station a scant block away from you, and their willingness to give you the occasional map of the Western States, which you poured over, in search of agreeable place names, which at the time meant places you thought you might like to visit.  

Until you were well into your matriculation at the university, the mere mention of Walla Walla, Washington could send you into gales of laughter. Indeed, at one point during your stay, and suspicious that your examination papers were not being read by the professor but rather by a particular teaching assistant you did not like, you wrote in one essay question comparing and contrasting Dickens with Thackeray your opinion  that Dickens' major strength as a storyteller came from his ability to invent memorable names for his characters. 

To bolster your assertion, you mentioned the number of Dickens' characters who'd found their way into the Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary, which was the dictionary to use if you were going to cite to a dictionary.

"Not so! See me!" was written in the margin of the booklet in which the provocative statement was written, indeed in the hand of the professor. You prepared for the meeting with a counterargument about Dickens' strength (his ability to write stage-like, dramatic scenes). Continuing the preoccupation of names with your university days, you were granted a dispensation by one or more editors of the daily newspaper, on which you served a variety of roles, including night editor, desk editor, proofreader, and sports night editor.  

Each issue had a box listing the names of the writers and editors contributing to that day's text. Your dispensation was to be able to add one funny name per day, after promising you would never add a bogus name to a news story. Some of your favorite inventions were O. Leo Leahy, T. Hee, Justin Case, Lotte Nichols, and D. Freishutz, all indications of how young and impressionable you were, even amidst moments of maturity.

Toward the end of those years, you dated with some persistence a young woman with the surname of Offczyrczyk. Her elegant presence had much less effect on you than her name, which you enjoyed repeating, in particular when the occasion arose where you introduced her to someone. 

True enough, many thought you were sneezing, In addition to her name, she exuded a trait you were discovering in texts and conversations all about you--gravitas. This is not to say she was lacking in humor; her observations were often keen in their comparisons of two things that appeared unlikely at first blush, then came rushing together to cause you a gush of laughter. You were at the time a firm believer in the attraction of opposites.

Somewhere in a folder you keep of early rejection slips and acceptance letters, there is still a pencilled note on the first page of one of your stories, "I'd buy more stories like this if your characters didn't have such impossible names." Indeed, there was a character in that story with the surname Offczyrczyk. 

By this time, you'd also blundered into two years of Italian, thinking to impress the teacher. Instead, you came to understand that perhaps your first crush, while enrolled in Public School Number Ten, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, had a name even more magical that you thought at the time. 

What did Passacantando mean to a ten-year-old California Kid, who knew how to swear in Spanish? To a twenty-one-year-old, it meant "Walks by, singing" and, of course, another long, foreign-sounding name to your short stories, most of which took place in Los Angeles, others in Limbo, New York, Walla Walla, and Wytopitlock, ME.

Let us add some years and experience to your tool kit, going straightaway to characters in your last published work of fiction, and dipping into your notes and early drafts on newer ones. Not a Passacantando or Offczyrczyk in the batch, not even a 
Baccigaloupe, which you were delighted to learn meant "kiss a wolf." Not even a trace from the years when you had two students from Iceland, Baldvinsson and Ragnarson, who, because of his then girlfriend, was instrumental in you having a character--also from Iceland, named Ragnfridursdottir, who allowed herself to be called Frid, but only by close friends.

Everything is still reeling from the effects of trying to collaborate with Digby Wolfe, whose idea of a surname was Coe or, grudgingly, Evans.  "Try to remember what it's like to call people or animals with two- and three-syllable names."

En attendant Godot.


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