Thursday, May 15, 2008

Two kinds of people in this world

I keep coming back to this thing about meanness.

I once heard somewhere that there are two kinds of people in the world -- those who give nicknames and those who receive them. One of the most unpleasant characteristics about our lame-duck president is his penchant for giving nicknames to everyone he comes into contact with.

Yes, even the Easter Bunny.

Don't ask.

I'm ashamed to admit that I was a nickname person for a long time. In fact, I think it's a little like being an alcoholic. You don't stop it -- you just recover from it, one day at a time.

The saddest part of it is that all too often the people who receive the nicknames -- usually meant to denigrate them in some way -- accept them in the mistaken hope that they're being accepted.

This might be a little of a reach, but I think there's an element of the Stockholm Syndrome operating here.

In the summer of 1970, I was working as a night manager at the old Red Barn fast-food outlet in Fairfax. Along with a Navy enlisted man who worked for me, we gave nicknames to almost everyone else in the place.

There was one kid -- just 16 that summer -- who was all too eager to please, to be part of the "in-crowd," as it was. I remember his full name, but rather than embarrass him totally, I'll just call him Gary.

We called him "Sack."

It wasn't short for "Sad Sack," or anything only halfway obnoxious. No, we let him know that "Sack" was short for "Sack of ...."

Nice, huh?

It would have been one thing if he had protested, but he didn't. He answered every time we called him, as in "Sack, clean up the lobby" or "Sack, cook some hamburgers."

But what I remember the most about it was one afternoon when I answered a ringing phone.

"This is Sack. I can't come in tonight."

I wish I could apologize to him.

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