Last week, I wrote about the time I was branded with a nickname in high school because I mispronounced a word in Spanish class. One little slip of the tongue and I became Jugamos, pronounced HOO-gah-mose.
I'd like to say that's the only nickname I ever earned, but over the years there have been many. Several of them were based on variations of my name. They included the inevitable "Seymour," which anyone named Moore has a chance of acquiring. It can be found in my high school annuals, in those messages that classmates wrote to me at the end of the year. Right next to Jugamos.
In those same yearbooks, several people addressed me as "Joe." Now, none of my names is Joseph, so it might seem strange to make the jump to Joe. As with anything, though, there's a story behind it.
In my senior year of school, my English teacher was a very sweet lady who had taught many years. In fact, she was closing out a distinguished career, and her faculties by then were about what mine are today: that is to say, pretty well exhausted.
The previous year, a student named Joe Moore (no relation) had been in her class, and one day she confused us in her mind.
"Joe, would you read the next passage from Shakespeare for us?"
I looked around. I knew there was no Joe in class. Whom was she talking to? I noticed she was looking at me. Soon, everyone was looking at me. So I took the easiest route and began reading from Hamlet.
After that, I became Joe Moore. We would be discussing a topic and a classmate might tell the teacher, "I think Joe made a good point, ma'am."
Until graduation, I was Joe.
A couple of years later, I was stationed at a Navy base. It was so far out in the boondocks that those of us who didn't have a car had to stay on base even when we had days off.
Despite the availability of ponds to skate on, horses to ride and pools to swim in, we still had a lot of time on our hands. We lived in an old wooden barracks made up of cubicles, and our off-duty life chugged along with a steady, monotonous rhythm. So in the tradition of many a military man who came before, we whiled away our hours playing cards.
We played whatever anyone knew: poker, hearts, spades. When one man stood up to go to work, another would pick up his hand and take over. It was all for fun, if you can call boredom fun. No money was involved.
I've never been good at cards or, for that matter, any game involving strategy. At any given time, I can plan only 15 seconds into the future, so trying to keep track of everyone's cards was daunting. I was slow.
One day, as the other guys waited for me to throw down a card, one of them said: "Come on, hurry up. Don't be so pokey."
Another Fulbright scholar piped up: "Pokey. Gumby. Ha, ha. We'll call you Gumby."
"Yeah, right," I answered, and went back to thinking about what card I might eventually play.
But that was all it took. From then on, I was Gumby, named for the lopsided, green clay character from children's cartoons who had a horse friend named Pokey. On my next birthday, two girls gave me claylike Gumby dolls. I started getting mail addressed to "Gum B. Moore." People I didn't know hailed me by that name across crowded rooms.
If you've ever been in the military, you know there's no way to fight a nickname. The more you protest, the worse it gets. So I went along for the ride.
Actually, it was preferable to another military tradition: being called my your last name. I hated that; it sounded so impersonal. Gumby, I could live with.
Now that you know all about me, dear reader, it's your turn. Tell me about any nicknames from your past. It will make you feel better to get them off your chest. Take it from me; I'm Gumby.
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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