What’s in a name?
Emily, Gus and I are at an allyou-can-eat buffet in Minnesota. We’re dining with a couple of friends and their two young daughters. Because there’s only a few days left before Labour Day, I’ve decided to wear white pants. It’s something I only do a couple times a year and never while eating tandoori chicken. This is the closest I come to feeling like a daredevil.
I’ve been prepping for this all-you-can-eat buffet the way I imagine an athlete trains for an event – fasting, napping. At one point, the six-year-old ends up waiting patiently behind me as I load my plate. I do so carefully so as not to splatter my pants. “That’s a lot of food,” she says. “I’m sharing it with my wife,” I stammer.
“I just lied to a child,” I tell Emily back at the table.
I explain what happened, she asks why I said we were sharing and I explain that I felt both shamed and on the spot.
“But I don’t want butter chicken,” she says. “I’m a vegetarian.”
“Would you rather that I’d have lied to a child?” I ask. “That’s morally worse than eating meat.” Emily plucks uncertainly at the basmati rice on my plate. Later, Emily and I are flying back home. While I stare at the TV, she stares at Gus’s face.
“It’s like watching a kaleidoscope,” she says. “Sometimes he looks like you, sometimes me. Sometimes he looks like my father, my mother, and your mother.”
“When he chews on his pacifier, I find he looks like Edward G. Robinson.”
“But no matter what, he always looks like Gus,” she says. “That name suits him.”
“You’d think that whatever his name was,” I say. “Names hardly matter.” “I don’t think so.” Maybe Emily’s right. I wouldn’t see a weeping willow as quite so melancholically majestic if it were called “an overflowing slop bucket bush.”
“I guess names are important,” I concede. “Look at the Wright brothers.” “How do you mean?” “They had the misfortune of being named Wilbur and Orville,” I say. “Must have made them try harder. Would they have jumped off the barn roof flapping their arms like chickens if their names were Steve and Eric Wright? Probably not.”
And thanks to those terrible names I can now sit, tens of thousands of feet above the world drinking Clamato Juice and watching reruns of Friends in my white Clamato juice stained pants. What a world.