Let’s face it, if you come into this world with a name like Gooby, you’re pretty much done for.
I can’t believe that after decades (centuries, maybe!) of kids getting pummelled in playgrounds, the world hasn’t figured this one out by now. Hey, attention parents – newsflash! This just in! Don’t land your kid with a stupid name!
Jeez, you’d think they’d have done studies on it or something, proven what a nightmare effect it has on a kid’s formative years. Not that anyone really needs to do a study. I mean, take a look around you at school, and you have your answer. How easy a time is a kid going to have if his name is, I don’t know, Dilbert or something? Not exactly a name that screams “leadership!” But maybe if some brainiac were to write it up in a scientific journal, parents would actually take notice. I could write the whole thing myself, but even if I wrote in letters ten feet high, my parents still probably wouldn’t get it.
I guess not all kids have parents who are as clued-out as mine. The Mike Thornleys of the world, for instance. Their parents get it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to totally diss my folks. I mean, they’re nice and all. But they’re kind of living in this stuck-in-the-seventies la-la land. (And another thing: am I really supposed to believe that kids didn’t make fun of the name Gooby in the seventies? I have a hard time buying that my dad didn’t go through the same welcome-to-life, by-the-way-you’re-screwed boot camp.)
Gooby’s not my first name. Thank. Freaking. God. Can you imagine? I’ll give my parents credit for at least giving me a halfway normal first name. Oh no, wait – I won’t. Jay might sound normal at first, but then you realize it could be a girl’s name. Couple that with the whole Gooby thing, and life is pretty much over before it’s begun.
It’s okay for a girl to have a guys’ name. Like Charlie or Jamie – it’s kinda cute. Sexy, even. But on no account should a guy ever, EVER be called Stacy, Leslie or (thank God for small mercies) Vivian. But Jay is almost as bad. Trust me on this one.
“Hey Goober!” a voice calls out.
Nickname number one.
Takes a real genius to come up with that one. I don’t even turn around; I already know the genius in question is Mike Thornley. It’s the hey-world-look-at-me, I’m MIKE THORNLEY in his voice that gives it away. Oh, that and the fact he’s been calling me names for nine straight years now. I could probably pick his voice out of a screaming crowd of a thousand people. While wearing headphones.
Nickname number two.
There’s Gooby, Goobs, Goober, Goobster, and then my personal favourite: Booger. That one doesn’t even make sense. But try explaining that to someone like Thornley. It’s not that the guy’s dumb, just that there isn’t much call for him to be smart. In school, smart is a niche, and it’s reserved for the kids who aren’t athletes, good looking, overflowing with confidence, blah, blah, blah. Thornley is all of those things, so smart doesn’t really get a look-in.
“Thornley,” I say, which makes me wonder if I really am so smart, after all. I mean, NINE YEARS of name-calling – you’d think I could come up with something better. But go on, you try – come up with a nickname out of Thornley.
I once thought about the ‘Booger’ nickname and how it wasn’t really close to my name at all, so I took the ‘ley’ from Thornley and figured at least I could do something with that, but all I came up with was Leafy. So then I thought, hey, that’s neat, ‘cause leafy is like a bush and so are thorns, so I called him Leafy and he just gave me this strange look and then I realized how stupid it sounded.
Thornley. Damn. Sounds good no matter what. Kinda tough. Even a bit, I don’t know, classy. Like a make of hockey stick or something.
Ow. Textbook. Head.
I swing around, ready to nail Thornley with my backpack, but he’s already jumped out of the way. He’s always hitting me with books or tripping me up or slamming me against lockers.
Nine years is a long time. I should know; I’m fourteen.
“So Goob-Goob!” (Oh, did I forget to mention that one?) “You going to practice tomorrow?”
I turn to look at him. He’s smiling. He’d actually look friendly if it weren’t for all the years of nicknames, jokes, punches, wedgies, and general roughhousing on his slate.
“Yeah, I’m goin’.”
“Great! ‘Cause my team really needs you, man.”
This would sound nice if I weren’t on a different team.
“The way you let those pucks fly in…” He grins.
I grit my teeth. “I’m not playing goal any more.”
His jaw drops and he actually stops in his tracks. Is it because he might have to learn how to aim, now? Because our team might get a halfway decent goalie?
“Coach moved me up, I’m playing forward.”
“GOOB!” He actually sounds happy. Goes to high-five me. I put my hand up but crouch a bit, waiting for him to slug me in the stomach when my arm’s up. He high-fives me anyway, but because I’m not ready for it, he whacks my hand down. It’s a kind of screwed-up high five. As usual, I feel stupid.
“So it’ll be you and me out on the ice, man! Finally!” Then he lowers his voice like he’s the narrator of Star Wars or something: “THE FACE OFF.”
Oh, yeah, great. Just what I’ve been waiting for, all these years. Now it won’t only be legal for him to kill me, but encouraged. It’s times like these I gotta wonder about hockey being our national sport. Full body combat, with blades, and sticks, on ice. Great combination. Oh, and throw some testosterone into the mix, for that extra little somethin’.
“I’ve played forward before,” I say.
D’oh! Why did I tell him that? Now I’ve gone and lost any element of surprise – my one possible advantage. Now that ‘extra little somethin’ will probably be a couple pints of my own blood. (Can you sign up for transfusions in advance? Is there a waiting list?)
“Can’t wait, buddy! See you Saturday.”
“Yeah. See you.” Can’t wait.
And to think I had been looking forward to playing out on the ice again. Welcome to my life. The Curse of the Goob.
The screen door bangs shut behind me. I drop my backpack on the floor and yell “I’m home!”
“Hi, Jay!” my dad calls back, his voice muffled from the basement.
To make matters worse, my dad’s a stay-at-home parent.
I know what you’re probably thinking, that I should lay off my folks around about now. And that I’m way overblowing this whole name thing, right? Like my dad couldn’t help giving me the last name Gooby. Well, get this: my mom kept her last name when she married him. That’s right, she chose to take this guy, and even she didn’t want to be a Gooby. Why didn’t I get a choice? I could’ve taken Mom’s name. Or Dad could’ve taken hers – I mean, it was the nineties, for Pete’s sake! (Pete is a nice ordinary name, too.) This one guy in my class, his parents combined both their last names to make a brand new name. Of course, they ended up with DeLaSpitzburg so maybe that’s not such a good example, but the point is, Dad could have invented a whole new name. He is an inventor, after all.
That’s right, my dad’s an inventor. When I was little, it was really cool. How many kids can say that about their dad? He was selling a lot more back then, too, or maybe it just seemed that way. I remember one year, he made a whole bunch of sales and we went out for pizza and ice cream all the time. He sold a couple of hardware tool designs – those are his mainstay – and some electrical circuit thing to do with engineering. So you can imagine, Show and Tell was great. Hey everyone, my dad invented this!
But the Goob Factor was already kicking in. (It’s not a name that escapes attention. You’ve got a grace period of right up ‘til, oh, the first time someone hears it.) Would you buy something with the word ‘Gooby’ on it? Exactly. My dad’s last great invention? Something to do with a toilet. That’s right, A TOILET. Try living that one down at school.
Anyway, after that, things kind of went down the tubes. I guess Dad was sticking to tools (although thankfully, no more toilets) when the world wanted computers, software, and cell phones. He had an office for a while, but he packed it up and settled into the basement. He gets enough money from his older inventions to keep us going (yes, my life is financed by a toilet), but he hasn’t made much of anything for a long time. I looked at his income tax form once and he’d changed his job title to “unemployed”, which made me feel really embarrassed and awful.
So now the inventor thing seems kinda, well, cringe-worthy. I feel bad saying so, but that’s the truth.
And just in case I don’t have an unusual enough role model? He really loves the stay-at-home-dad thing. Loves it!
As I grab a soda out of the fridge, he comes bounding up the stairs – I can hear him on the old, wooden steps – and the door booms open and he says, “Hi, Son!” like this is some after-school TV show. He’s wearing brown corduroys and a green sweater, and his beard is looking straggly. That was the dad uniform of the seventies, apparently. He doesn’t get out much, so he doesn’t understand that time has moved on.
“How was school?”
When will parents learn not to ask that question?
“Learn anything new today?”
“No, I think they sucked some knowledge back out. They need to recycle it for the younger kids.”
He laughs, but it’s that nervous, my-son-is-a-teenager-please-tell-me-how-to-react kind of laugh. “How are your friends?”
I sip my soda.
I do have friends. I’m not a total loser. I can joke around with the guys, I do get picked for teams, it’s not like I eat lunch on my own or anything. But things sorta shuffled around when we started high school, and now I feel like I don’t really have a best bud. I don’t know what happened, exactly. It’s like in P.E., when the teacher yells for everyone to grab a basketball for drills and we all make a dive for the box, ‘cause everyone knows that at the bottom is this one ball that’s partially deflated, and I’m late in the scramble and get left holding the doofy ball. It’s not like anyone meant to do it or hated me (except maybe Mike Thornley, who also manages to get the super-inflated, cement-hard basketball), it’s just that it was every man for himself, and that’s way the way the cookie crumbles. Or basketball bounces. Or doesn’t bounce, but sorta goes ‘thiff’ instead, and sits there like it’s suffering a bout of manic-ball-depression.
“They’re…” I don’t have an answer. “…they’re okay, Dad.” It’s amazing how much people can lie to each other.
“That’s great, son! Well, it’s a nice day out. You want to go throw a baseball around or something?”
He’s a pretty good guy. Sucks at sports, but he’s always cheerful, and he really does try. I have to give him credit for that.
We grab the baseball mitts and head out to the back yard. I live in a small town, and everyone has big lots. Ours is even bigger. Our house is old, but the yard is pretty cool; there’s this huge, hundred-foot cedar, a couple smaller trees, some bushy plants and stuff that Mom looks after, and lots of lawn.
Dad throws the ball. Underhand. Groan.
I’m nice and don’t throw back too hard, ‘cause it practically knocks him over when I do. Once, when I was in a bad mood, I started just pelting the ball at him. I could tell he could barely catch it, that I was almost knocking his hand off, but he kept on playing and playing, anyway.
I feel kind of guilty for complaining about my parents when I think about stuff like that.
I hear the familiar growl of the car, and Mom pulls into the driveway. Dad and I wave. My mom works from home, too. She’s a therapist. She works with a lot of… oh, what’s the politically correct term this week? ‘Challenged’ kids. I guess my mom is good at what she does, because the kids’ parents bring them all the way from other towns to see her. Anyway, these kids are nice and all, but sometimes I just want to have normal people over at our house.
Jermine climbs out the car. He’s about six or seven years old, one of Mom’s ‘challenged’ kids. He sort of slap-runs over towards me, his legs slightly knock-kneed, his feet doing this windmill thing.
“Ball!” he calls out. “Ball, ball, ball!”
“Hi, Jermine,” I say, and throw the ball to my dad.
I know I should be extra nice to these kids. Believe me, I am never, ever mean to them, no way. But sometimes it feels like I have to try so hard, and I don’t always want to. I’m not good with them the way Mom and Dad are. Plus, Jermine’s kinda drooly, so I really don’t want to give him the ball.
“That’s right!” Mom calls out. “It’s a ball. Hi, Jay!”
Jermine’s running and jumping up to get the ball. Of course, Dad gives it to him, and Jermine immediately goes thwock with his mouth, over top of the ball.
“Gasbplat,” Jermine seemed to be saying through the ball and the drool.
Poor Jermine. I mean, living proof of my name theory. What chance does a kid have with a name like that? No wonder the kid doesn’t want to talk to anyone. (I know, I know. I’m going on about it again. But remember: NINE YEARS. And it ain’t showing any sign of letting up.)
“We’re going inside to do a lesson,” Mom says. “You two need a snack?”
“I can get us something,” Dad says. He pries the drooly ball out of Jermine’s mouth and throws it back to me.
I catch the ball with my mitt but there is NO way I’m touching it with my hand. “Maybe we should quit now, Dad. Go have that snack.”
“Great!” He looks relieved.