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.