Years before fatherhood—and I’m talking many years—it seemed that everyone in my neighborhood had a nickname. The skill of nicknaming appears to be on a downtrend and it makes me wonder. Back then, nicknames were earned and for the most part endearing. The nickname was carefully considered and spoke to something singular in a person’s nature. I recall a grade-school friend we called “Caveman” and despite our age our immature brains really got it. Caveman was a legend, and even in 1st grade, he walked with a swagger and a knowingness that if society didn’t work out, he’d be just fine. I’m sure his toothbrush was always dry and if he owned a comb he didn’t know how to use it. But put him in the dirt and he had it all: technology, artillery, and the occasional snack.
Me, I’ve had a few nicknames over the years. My father rarely called me by my name, one that was given in honor of his father. To my dad, I was always “Duke.” Maybe he pictured my future as a cowboy, an actor or a jazz musician. Not sure, except for nearly six decades I’ve been Duke to him and none of those callings have called me.
In childhood, I barely remember others referring to me by my given name—except when mom got mad and used first, middle, and last in an operatic crescendo. Later on, I became “Zip” and that is a story for another time. But one bucket-list adventure has some of the best nicknames for some of the most memorable characters.
The story begins with Zip meeting best friend “Ronbo” at LaGuardia. This yearly ritual revolved around an event, The US Tennis Open, but this year the ritual took a left turn. After the flight from North Carolina to New York and months of anticipation, Ronbo offered: “I have bad news. I wasn’t able to get tickets.”
We made one final attempt to get into the sold-out event calling on “Lenny Tickets.” Lenny Tickets could get you in anywhere in the days before StubHub. But not the US Open on this day. So, we put out heads together and I just happened to have my bucket-list in mind. Turns out Ronbo was on the same page and neither of us had been to the hallowed grounds of Fenway to see a Boston Red Sox game. It was on.
Well, the Red Sox game was sold out as always. So, we called Lenny Tickets and asked about, well, tickets. This is where it gets good. Lenny Tickets was going to make a call to a friend in Beantown. The friend’s name (he was also in the ticket “business”), was “Pumpkin.” You can’t make this up. On faith, we headed up I-87 on a 6-hour trip to Boston to meet Pumpkin in front of Fenway. About three hours into this Ronbo and Zip had the same thought: How will we know who Pumpkin is?
We arrived about two hours before game time and when we spot Pumpkin, we both know it. But Pumpkin doesn’t have the tickets “just yet.” What? No! He tells us to go have a bite to eat and come back in an hour. We follow the plan in a town we don’t know hoping Pumpkin is still there when we get back.
And Pumpkin comes through! We get to our seats and marvel at the adventure and the connections in this strange web we became a part of. Then an usher asks to see our tickets and tells us that these aren’t our seats. Gulp. For a brief moment, the connection between Ronbo, Zip, Lenny Tickets and Pumpkin is about to explode as I consider our cash only exchange. Duped? The usher walks us to our real seats… down… down… down… better, best, best ever… so close you can smell the grass and hear the hum of a fastball.
Check an item off the bucket-list. And I chuckle to myself every October at the first sight of a carved out Jack-O-Lantern. Over time you may forget names. But faces and nicknames–that’s a different story.