Dibs on Naming Rights
When he was in 4th grade, he was turning out impressive self-published books about the beloved adventures of Soda Popinski and the Bubble Gum Kid.
When I was in 4th grade, I was tracing Garfield from the Sunday comics.
And growing up with my brother, who is five years older than me, I was forever the weakling of the family. No, not just in the obvious area of physical prowess, but also when it came down to wit.
Yes, wit. An often overlooked but nary overused weapon that comes in handy in the midst of contentious sibling discourse.
He was particularly quick with a nickname. In fact, I looked to him to name my stuffed animals. When other girls drug around their stupid bunny foo-foos, I had my brilliant bunny Hazel — a nod to the novel Watership Down. And my favorite teddy bear was not wimpy Teddy, but a valiant Perseus from Clash of the Titans. My brother did fall into a temporary dry spell where things got repetitive. Thus, I had a stuffed bear named Cambridge and yet another named Boston.
For no apparent reason, for about two weeks, my brother took to calling my dad Billy. Or, as he said it using the Jamaican pronunciation, “Bih-LEH.” It didn’t go over well with my dad for multiple reasons.
For starters, his name is Larry.
Where Billy derived from remains a mystery. And the meaninglessness of it, launched it to an even higher plane of hilarity.
“My name is not Billy. I am your father. You call me Dad,” I overheard one evening.
Soon after that very serious talking-to, we were sitting around for a family meal when my dad gave his “compliments to the chef.” Dads are legendary for this digestional breach of etiquette. Commonly no one dares acknowledge what just occurred. But my brother was feeling punchy and blurted out in the tone of a throwback Steve Martin, “Excuuuuuse you, Bih-LEH.”
At that very moment at our kitchen table, you could hear a pin drop on the linoleum floor. Which is saying something if you’ve ever dropped a pin on linoleum. I’m guessing you haven’t. Which is probably a good thing because under normal circumstances you’d never hear it fall. And days later it would inevitably pierce right into your foot pad, sending you straight to the ER.
I’m talking seriously soundproof and in serious trouble. And I’m talking pins that can dismember you.
I’m sorry to report Billy did not survive past that dinner. My brother barely did.
Childhood nicknames are pesky things to shake. Which is not always bad. My son calls my daughter Sissy. And she in turn calls him Mister. Which causes my heart to flood with sweet molasses. And right about then, I long to gather them up in my arms, shrink them down to the size of two sugared gumdrops and pack them into a tiny snowglobe that I can carry on a string around my neck for always and forever.
It’s safe to assume my mother didn’t feel the same.
When I was seven, I was Nicotine.
I didn’t mind. I didn’t know Nicotine was inside the tarry substance in cigarettes that forces human lungs to implode and people to talk through a robotic device held to their vocal cords.
Nicotine sounded quite lovely in fact. Not too far off from some other very nice names I would’ve loved to be called back then. Specifically:
When we went about town on our regular rounds, blowing our allowance on Pez dispensers and Archie comic books, my brother would use Nicotine as his cattle call to signal from across the store that it was time to go home.
I can imagine, at the very sound, I probably took off in a sprint in his direction, tail wagging happily behind me like a loyal frisby dog named Buttjam. It must’ve been heart-wretching for spectators to witness. That po’ child. I s’pose her momma didn’t know better. (I didn’t grow up in Mississippi, but I thought a Southern voice sounded more sympathetic here.)
But Nicotine was not like Bubba. No, I knew right away that Bubba was no good. Nothing about it sounded like the name of a beautiful sitcom waif. And it didn’t matter that it was embedded in the brand of my favorite food in the world, second only to Pop-Tarts.
On one particularly sensitive day, after erupting into tears, my brother offered me the opportunity of a lifetime. If he could keep calling me Bubba, guilt-free, I could pick a nickname to call him. With no fear of retaliation.
The actual terms of the agreement were arranged as such:
1.) He could continue calling me Bubba.
2.) I could pick out his nickname.
3.) We would choose our own last names.
4.) These new combined nicknames would be fair game for all of time.
Okay, let’s start with #2. My brother knew I didn’t stand a chance at throwing anything that could stick to, let alone penetrate, a protective forcefield. But I was willing to gamble that, with my time spent riding in the neighborhood kids’ carpool, I had accrued a lot of zingers.
So I dug down deep into my bag of nonsensical gibberish. My Yosemite Sam curse words, if you will. And I came up with . . .
Yep, brutally cut him right down to the quick. He certainly didn’t rebound from that bruiser anytime soon.
Getting down to #3, for his last name, my brother selected a name with dignity and fortitude. A man who knows his way around the boardroom, can select a fine wine and play a mean game of tennis. Hixon.
Naturally, Barbie Rosebush got hired for all professional positions. It helped that she always wore her lucky spandex aerobics suit to interviews.
Unfortunately, Rosebush didn’t work out for Bubba the way it did for Barbie. No, I’m pretty sure Bubba Rosebush was turned down for every job. Even the one at Mel’s Diner emptying grease from the potato cake fryer.
Initially, I felt pretty confident in my selections. In time, I realized I’d failed.
The key is, you’d have to hear the name said repeatedly in the way of my brother. Somewhat like a cross between Louis Armstrong and a high school basketball game sports announcer drunk on spiked Gatorade.
Again and again he’d pummel me with that verbal cannonball.
I’d collapse in searing pain. And then fire back with my cap gun.
Dee Dee Hixon. Dee Dee Hixon. Dee Dee Hixon.
And that’s when it’d smash into me again, tearing right through my vital organs.
It’s moments like these that a kid wishes her name was Nicotine.
No, really. It’s pretty. Pretty like a tobacco field princess asleep in an iron lung.