The Name Game

This morning I saw a moth hanging out above the mirror as I was putting on my makeup. I scowled at it and said, “I don’t want to catch you near my wool sweaters, Bernice.” Then I shook my head because realized I’d just addressed an insect by name, and given it an instruction I evidently expected it to follow.
 
I’d think I was insane (or possibly just stupid), but I have a friend I know for a fact does something similar. She names the squirrels that come up on her back deck. To be fair, she only names the ones she can recognize as “repeat visitors.” They come up to try to eat from the bird feeder, and she scolds them through the glass by name. You know, to deter them. Because, yeah, that makes it much more rational. About as rational as addressing a moth.
 
Another friend has confessed she regularly scolds things—animate and inanimate—that surprise her. Her husband is constantly asking her who she’s talking to when she’s startled by a fly and exclaims, “Henrietta! You scared the shit out of me!”  She used to be kind of shy about this fact, but the embarrassment of admitting she was scared by a fly, or possibly an end table, has apparently faded over the years, because she now freely admits to everyone that she does this.
 
Because you don’t think the circles I travel in are strange enough yet, I will also tell you that have at least two friends who have named their various cars. A college friend had “Beeper” in our Freshman year, and graduated to “Puff” (an Escort wagon—get it, “Puff the Magic…” yeah, I know).  Then there’s Lydia, who has had both “Norman” (the Neon) and “Tim” (the Toyota) in the time I’ve known her.
 
Lydia has also been known to name extremely random things, like her purse or her toaster. The only thing that bothers me about this habit of Lydia’s is she expects me to know who “Oscar,” “Petunia,” and “Maurice” are (her gym bag, vacuum cleaner, and cell phone, respectively). It’s hard to follow a conversation when she says things like, “I totally forgot Oscar today, and he had my work badge in him, so I couldn’t get into the office.” How the fuck am I supposed to make sense of that? It’s gotten so bad in the past I’ve had to ask for a scorecard, because of course she replaces something, and it doesn’t get the same name as the old one. When you replace Sylvester the hair dryer, you can’t call the new hair dryer Sylvester. Apparently.
 
I would think all of this was odd, and that my friends were all certifiable, except there is a memory I have from about age ten that has stayed with me. This memory makes me think the naming of things is a hereditary trait, something that one simply can't help doing.
 
Probably in the fall of the year, we had a very large spider in our dining room, way up by the crown molding. I suspect it was fall because that’s when these critters normally invaded our house. We once had a cricket who got in and ostensibly chirped for three months before we realized, in fact, the cricket had died after a week in our house, and the chirping was the warning noise of a low battery in a smoke detector that picked up right on cue and made us think we had an immortal cricket in our basement. We commented several times that it was an extremely hardy cricket. However, as usual, I digress.
 
Anyway, this spider hung out by the crown molding for about a week. He ranged around the room, checking out the corner by the plastic ivy plant hanging from the ceiling (providing that detail leaves no doubt that this was in the 70s), then the corner above the sideboard, taking in the sights. As spiders do. My dad started calling him “Abe.”
 
“There’s Abe—over by the picture.”
 
“Oh look, Abe’s on the other side of the room this morning.”
 
One day, Abe was gone.  My dad, of course, commented on the fact that he was missing.
 
You’d think that would be an end to it, but you don’t know my family. I swear to god, for years—years—well into my twenties, occasionally, not often, but perhaps every five or seven years, when a silence would fall over us at the dinner table, or when we were mindlessly watching a TV commercial, and my dad would say:
 
“I wonder what ever happened to old Abe?”
 
The thing is, when he said that I’d think, “Yeah, what did?"
 
Heredity. It's a sketchy game.
 
 
photo credit

11 comments:

Cassandra said...

My mom named all of our cars when I was growing up. We had the Green Frog, The Golden Goose, and the Piggy Blue Tank.

Tracy said...

I actually know a LOT of people who name their cars. I mean, it IS kind of handy--we have three Hondas: a minivan, a CRV and a convertible sports car. So you can't say, "We're taking the Honda," because that's still not very helpful. We call them "the silver car" or "the minivan," "the green car," and "the sports car." Giving them handles would make it easier ("We're taking the Green Machine" or whatever). We've just never done it :)

Cassandra said...

Don't tell me you have a Del Sol. I had a Del Sol when I was young, but had to trade it in for a Minivan (also Honda) when my daughter was born. Hardest day of my life.

Tracy said...

Not a Del Sol--an S2000. We bought it in 2000 (first year they were out) and it was "my" car for years until we had kids and had to buy the CRV, and then the minivan. But I refused to sell "my" car, no matter how impractical is it (and it is VERY impractical!).

Cassandra said...

Good for you! I've been regretting that day for 19 years. Just now thinking about buying a new sports car now that we're coming out of the minivan years. Maybe I can find an old Del Sol kicking around.

Gigi said...

I don't name things (cars, spiders, etc.) but I have no problem scolding and/or trying to cajole them into doing what I want.

Yes, my co-workers think I'm crazy but by now they are used to me carrying on a conversation with the computer, printer, stapler....

Tracy said...

I talk to inanimate things too. Usually in words that would require asterisks if they were spelled out in any public forum...

spokenlikeatruenut said...

I talk to inanimate objects at least half a dozen times a day, I named my car Dragonfly, and there used to be a resident spider called Larry who lived under a lamp by our computer and would come out on his web late at night to listen to music with me. I've been thinking of naming a couple of spiders on our balcony because they've been there a while and it seems kind of rude to just keep calling them "Big Guy" and "Little Dude".

Tracy said...

Our outdoor spiders seem to die too fast for us to name them. And if I did name them, they would all most appropriately be named things like "Killer" and "Fang." I swear there must have been some kind of radiation leak here at some point, because we have spiders the size of freakin' house cats. I had one HISS at me once! HISS. A SPIDER. They scare the shit out of me. I just have to hope they remain peaceful and don't decide to rise up against humans. Because they'd win.

Opticynicism said...

Ohhhhhhh, you have an S2000!!! I have drooled over having one of those from the moment I first saw one. It never fit into the budget. I'm hangin' on to the dream.

Tracy said...

Silver 2000 S2000. Had a license plate that read "MM SMM" in Virginia. (M = 1000 in Roman numerals. Also saw "Y2K S2K" on a red one in Virginia.)

When I worked for AOL, I was having a work conversation with a coworker in Tucson on my cell phone on the drive home, and I made some comment about "sixth gear" and he said, "Sixth gear? What'ya drive?" and I told him, and he said, "Oh, I can't talk t'you no more, because that's a very beautiful car that I don't drive."

I will say, I love my S2000. We've been in some seriously tight financial positions in the last 7-10 years, and we've talked about selling it, but we've always gotten around it, because I love that fucking car. It's one of those, if you had to save one possession from a burning whatever, what would you save things.