I'm very honored to have Anna from abdpbt guest posting on Oscarelli today. Anna is a fantastic writer and a mom with a little boy just about Oscar's age. She's from L.A. so that means she's basically famous so I'm obligated to stalk her. And so should you. Don't worry; she likes it.
My father is a collector of names.
As far as I know, there is no official term for this practice, and perhaps he is its only practitioner, there's no real way of knowing. The collections he creates are not tangible: they exist only in his head, and in the folklore surrounding his life's experience. Once his mind is gone, a process I can see beginning even as I write these words, my brother and I will be the only ones around to keep the name-collecting memories alive for our own children. Which, you know, we probably won't do.
Name-collecting, as it is practiced by my father, consists of a man--short, bald, humor leaning heavily on the sarcastic side--going through his life and looking for names of things, people, places, what have you, that strike his fancy. I don't know how it started. But I have to assume growing up in a household with a Aspergian father and a former model mother had something to do with it. My father has always referred to his parents as Jack and Vi, not Dad and Mom, and when I've asked him for an explanation, all I've received is my grandmother's overly ornate non-sequitur explanation that my father, aged 12, walked into the room one night, performed Jacques' speech from As You Like It (i.e. "All the world's a stage . . ."), and forever after that they were "Jack and Vi." And I guess this was OK with them. Which is even more troubling, when you consider the fact that, were I to attempt to call my own parents by their first names, I'm pretty sure I'd get smacked across the face. Or something equally dramatic but less violent.
But the names, back to the names. My father would often answer questions to which he did not know the answer--the kind of questions a child asks, such as "Why is the sky blue?" "Why do I have to have a brother?" "Who is the admissions officer at Harvard?"--with a name. A weird name that he had picked up somewhere along the way. By way of example, I will tell you that one of his go-to names was Lance Rentzel. Lance Rentzel might come up as the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, on the odd occasion that my father didn't know the answer, or if you asked him, "Hey, guess who sings this song/writes this show/is the star of this movie?" Who? Lance Rentzel.
And then he would laugh. And then you would say, inevitably, "Who is Lance Rentzel?" Because it must be some joke that you're too young to get, right? And Dad would say something like, "Roger Staubach hit Lance Rentzel on the open fly pattern," another reference that you didn't get, but that was--apparently--even funnier than the name "Lance Rentzel" alone. And years later, you would find out that there was some kind of situation in which Lance Rentzel, a football player from the seventies who once dated Victoria Principal, had been in some public situation with his fly down. And vague references to this moment were--apparently--really funny, particularly if repeated to little children.
Slowly, painfully, over the course of my childhood, I would learn from these instances that what my father says is mostly bullshit. Especially when he says something that involves an unusual name. I knew that any unsolicited name he provided me with was likely to just be another dumb, arcane reference to the popular cultural imagination of yesteryear. Or worse, fabricated out of wholecloth, such as when my father kept saying, "Phoebe," and I was like, "What?" and then he said, "Phoebe Garbo." And I said, "Who is Phoebe Garbo, Dad?" And he said, "Greta Garbo's sister." And so I would go through my life thinking that Greta Garbo had a sister (named Phoebe), because why would anyone lie about something so retarded? Until one day I was with friends and Greta Garbo came up, and I would mention Phoebe Garbo, and they'd be like, "Who?"
And I'd think, "Dad!" Only it would sound in my head the way Jerry says "Newman!" on Seinfeld.
So, finally, there was the day at Rockefeller Center. We had been making visits to various colleges I had applied to, and were spending a couple of days in New York City. We were watching the people ice skating, because that is what tourists do, particularly when those tourists come from a place where there is no such thing as "weather," and like three ice skating rinks in their entire state. I had ice skated once before, and was way too cool and self-conscious to do it again this time. But we were standing there, waiting for my brother to finish, I believe, when suddenly everyone cleared the ice. I didn't hear any kind of announcement, but people were moving off the ice in one swift motion, so I asked my father what gave.
"The Zamboni man is going to come out now!""COME ON, DAD! Don't you think this name thing has run its course?! I mean, maybe it was funny when I was a little kid, but--"
And, mid sentence, I was interrupted by a large machine, not unlike a car, driving across the ice. On its hood was the word, "Zamboni."