My Name Is __________

October 18, 2011

Celebrities name their kids some pretty crazy things. Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance, named her kid Apple. I know there’s some celebrity kid named Rocket, and another named Diesel, and frankly, it’s all gotten very out of hand. I won’t pretend to understand it. However, my parents must have because, despite their decidedly non-celebrity status, they took it upon themselves to name me Fire.

Now, there are two kinds of weird that could have resulted from my name. I mean, either way, I’m still Fire and my life still sucks. I’m just saying, that maybe if I had, say, three other siblings who might be named after other “elements” like Water, Earth, and Air, and my parents were crazy Wiccans or something, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, my siblings – all two of them, that is, there never was a third – have perfectly normal names. Both my brother and my sister, James and Kara respectively, are older than I am. My mom was thirty-nine and my dad forty-two when I was born, so mostly, I’ve chalked my crazy name up to some kind of insane midlife crisis. Honestly, I’m just glad I was too young when that was going on to remember any of it (except for that one time my dad danced around in a feather boa for a week).

Right, so the two kinds of weird. Like I said, it would have sucked if we all had dumb element names. And that’s one kind of weird. But it’s even weirder being the only one with a crazy name, and it kind of sucks even more that I don’t even have a sibling who can empathize. Come to think of it, I don’t have anyone – friends, mentors, whatever – who can empathize.

Well, except for those poor celebrity kids like Apple and maybe Johnny Cash’s boy named Sue, neither of which are easily accessible to me due to their celebrity and fictional status.

Anyway, you can see how this might be a problem for me. When I first met my friend Derek – who insisted I called him my wingman and he the same for me – he thought it was totally cool being named Fire. He considered asking his mom to legally change his name to Panther or something equally stupid. Personally, I think it’s a physical self-esteem thing, if you get my drift. He did not seem to realize how obnoxious it was to have people make stupid comments (none of which were ever original once I reached age two) or flick water at me, claiming they were just “putting out the Fire.” Yeah, I was put out all right.

I guess it took a strange name for me to realize that the entire world is insane. I don’t know if it was worth the price, but at least it amused the people around me. Even if I wasn’t particularly amused, I supposed it was better to be thinking of all the people I had entertained while lying on my deathbed sometime in the future rather than how stupid my name was and wondering what people would think when they saw my name carved into a gravestone: Fire Murdoch.

Oh, yeah, did I mention my parents didn’t bother with a middle name?

You get the idea. Derek thought having a name like mine would totally help with picking up “chicks” – hence his request to change his – but really, it was a hindrance. Except maybe this one time.

On a rainy Saturday, Derek decided he was into smart girls. It was during the summer, and I knew he wouldn’t be into “smart” girls if it were beach weather. Anyway, I humored him and we went to a bookstore/café combo downtown and, after browsing through the magazines, Derek declared it was time to pick up some chicks. Again, his word, not mine.

Somewhat reluctantly, I followed him to the women’s health section. I knew it was a bad idea the moment I realized in which direction we were going, but there was really no stopping him. Seeking an alternative to embarrassing myself as well, I ducked my head low and stuffed my hands in the kangaroo pocket of my hoodie. When we arrived, for good measure, I flipped my hood up, too. There was no knowing who I could find over here and I wasn’t in the mood to explain myself.

I guess we started to look creepy because a few older women browsing the menopause section seemed to be giving us looks. One of them must have alerted a clerk or something because we were promptly advised by an employee that loitering was not allowed. Derek went to protest, but I spoke over him, apologizing and saying we were just going.

“I guess we’ll have to try the erotica,” Derek said. He was a little too enthusiastic.

“I’d rather not,” I mumbled behind him.

“Aw, come on, Murdoch, it won’t kill you. In fact, we might actually get a little pulse out of you!” Derek slung his arm over my shoulder and drove me towards the erotica section. I kept my eyes on the floor again, embarrassed. Maybe it was totally normal for two eighteen-year-old guys to be hanging out in this area, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. If we had been younger, I would have insisted on leaving – for all I knew it was illegal for minors to even be within a ten-foot radius of whatever trash was within the pages of these books.

Finally, after Derek realized there weren’t a whole lot of people – women included – venturing over to the section, he had a final idea.

“To the Twilight section!”

“You mean young adult fantasy?” I corrected.

“Yeah, sure, that. There’s got to be some really desperate girls over there, right? I mean, they all faun over this totally fictional freak who sparkles in the sunlight. Seriously, tell me he’s not gay.”

“Uh, right.”

I followed Derek to the upper level of the book store. He had been right. Partially, anyway, from what we could tell. There were at least four girls chewing at their lips and staring at the lines of books on the shelves. They were generally concentrated in the young adult fantasy section. It seemed the Twilight craze had infected other authors, pushing them to publish similar novels. Death Kiss, was one of the titles. I rolled my eyes and stood back while Derek tried to make his way between a few girls.

Eventually, he started chatting with one of them. I tried to get his attention to let him know I was going to head down to the café because, to be honest, I was dead bored, but he was totally engaged (or, was making it out as he was, which I didn’t understand) so I decided to just go.

There was a Starbucks downstairs and, while I felt the coffee was entirely overpriced, I was thirsty and kind of cold from the rain, so I figured once couldn’t hurt my wallet too badly.

The thing with fancy coffee shops like Starbucks, is they like to try to make you think you’re special and they’re fancy. One of the ways they do this is, when you order your coffee, they ask your name so they can write it on your cup and call it out when you’re ready. Meanwhile, you can sit in the sitting area and listen for your name. I don’t really understand why you don’t just wait up at the counter. It’s not like it takes an hour to brew coffee and most it is already made anyway. Plus, the sugar and cream and everything was located on a little island by the seating area so they weren’t going to be doing that. In any case, I got up there, prepared to give my name.

I’d known kids who would give fake names like “Butt Crack” or “Ima P. Ness” because they knew the person taking the order had to assume they weren’t lying because the customer is always right and all that bull, but that all seemed pretty stupid and immature to me. Even if I was going to lie about my name, it would be something normal like Ben. I was kind of worried that if I did do a fake name, I might forget it and then the poor employee would be up there calling “my” name for, like, ten minutes, and then finally just throw out the coffee and I’d lose out.
Turns out it didn’t really matter because, when I actually got up to the front of the line, I kind of forgot everything but my name. It took me a second to regroup myself and remember what I wanted to order. The barista was, well, to use one of Derek’s words, a babe. She had straight blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. It wasn’t that ugly platinum blond like Paris Hilton’s, but a natural sandy color with lots of different tones and shades, which was just really nice. It looked really soft and I was half-tempted to reach out and touch it, but I imagined there would be some kind of unpleasant consequences on the other end of that so I kept my hands to myself. Instead, I scanned her brown apron for a nametag. It was clipped to one of the straps and said, “Hi! My name is ___________!” and there, written on the line in what appeared to be handwriting appropriate for her age and sex, was the name Carol.
“Hi, what can I get for you?” she asked.
My mouth went dry. “Uh, hi, Carol.” I felt like a total idiot for saying that after and mentally smacked myself. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Can I have, just, like, a regular coffee?”
“Classic brew?” she asked to clarify.
I nodded stupidly.
“What size?”
I almost groaned when I looked up and saw those dumb “grande” names. Wasn’t grande a small? Why was it listed first? Grande was kind of like grand, which meant large to me. I was taking forever. She was going to think I was slow or something. Then, I saw a display of the cups to the side, showing the sizes with letters written on them. I had been right, the smallest size had a G written on it.
“Grande, please.” Again, I felt stupid saying that out loud, but for a different reason. It sounded so pretentious.
“Great!” she said, smiling big and scribbling the order on a paper grande cup with a permanent marker.
“I hope that doesn’t leak through and poison me!” I meant it to come out as a joke, but I guess it didn’t sound that way because she gave me a funny look and then shook her head. “Oh, good,” I said, mumbling again to the floor.
“Right,” she said, once she had written the order on the cup. “Name?”
“Fire.” I said it without even thinking. It just kind of spilled out of my mouth the way her hair was spilling down from her head and –
“Um, yeah. Sorry, I—”
“I can’t put that on here!” she protested. “I mean, it’s like shouting ‘fire’ in a theater, right? I knew boys were dumb, but, come on.”
“No, really,” I said, reaching for my wallet. “That’s my name. See? Here’s my license. My parents were – are – morons.” It was too late to take the name back without looking like an idiot or confirming her “boys are dumb” statement.
She gaped at it for a moment, reading over my name (and probably whatever other information that was on there, which kind of made me uncomfortable). Then she looked down and slowly began writing my name on the cup under the order.
“Two sixty one,” she announced, setting the cup aside.
Stupidly, I had put my wallet away after she was done acting amazed at the name on my license. I dug it back out and fished for some ones. Eventually, I found three of them and handed the bills to Carol. While she got my change, I looked around at the machinery in the back. There was a lot of stainless steel and I could see vague reflections of myself. It occurred to me I was very glad not to be a redhead, which would have made my name even more tragic. Instead, I had dark brown hair, nothing unordinary. I could not make out my eyes in the reflection, but I knew they were brown – again, nothing special.
Carol handed me the change and flicked her eyes towards the tables, indicating I should sit down. A line of two or three people had formed behind me so I shuffled out of the way. I had originally intended to grab a magazine or something off a nearby shelf to look busy with while I waited, but instead I found myself watching Carol handle the customers capably. She moved quickly and efficiently, turning her head to call things out to the other employees. It all sounded like some kind of beautiful, but foreign, language.
I don’t know why I was watching so closely. It was probably kind of creepy and chances were she had a boyfriend. Not that I was totally invested or anything, but like I said, she was attractive in a cute sort of way that captivated me. At least for the moment. Maybe I would forget about her after I left. I would within a few days. I had to. Derek certainly shouldn’t find out about her, though. If I told him, I would never hear the end of it and he might insist we practically stalk her for a number or something equally stupid. I would have to check myself on the drive home, keep the conversation away from the café at all, in case I slipped up.
Carol – who I decided, upon more name analysis, had an appropriate name as her voice had a sort of musical quality about it which reminded me of bells and Christmas carols – called out a few names while I waited.
I was surprised there were so many orders that came before mine. Still, people went up, retrieved their coffee and pastries, in some cases, and then sat back down, often to a book. It took almost ten minutes before Carol finally called out my name.
My name she spoke a little softer than the others, but I still heard it and, based on the reactions of the rest of the café, they had, too. Everyone looked up alarmed, turning their heads rapidly to find this “fire.” Cheeks warm, got up to shuffle back over to the counter to pick up my drink.
A middle-aged man approached the counter, sort of waddling and looking somewhat out of breath. He stared down Carol as she handed me the coffee, then at me.
“Carol,” he said. “What the h*ll was that?”
“His name is Fire,” she explained, apparently knowing exactly what he was referring to. I stood there with what I hoped was a sort of combination of dumb and innocent expressions on my face and waited to see if she or I was in trouble. She glanced at me, seeming to plead for help.
Carl – whose name I also found on a nametag located on an apron strap and decided was somewhat ironic given it was one letter away from Carol’s – breathed heavily. I could almost see Carol’s hair moving each time he exhaled.
“The kid’s pulling your leg,” Carl said. “You know better than to yell that out in a building. Especially when we’ve got hot coffee all over the place. Someone could’ve gotten hurt.”
I wanted to interject – to show him my license as I had shown Carol. Instead, I watched the people in the seating area go back to their books and laptops, unconcerned with the small scene playing out. Then I counted the number of times my shoelaces crossed the tongue of my shoe. Carl was still going on to Carol about how what she did was wrong and dangerous.
“Carol, you’re suspended until further notice.”
“But Carl, I swear, that’s his name!” she protested. “You know I’m saving up for school. I can’t lose this job, not in this economy.”
“Sorry, Carol.” He stared down at her, still breathing heavily, apparently not actually sorry.
She rolled her eyes – something I did not expect from her – and then looked at me.
“Hey,” I said to Carl. “My name really is Fire. Look.” I held my license out to him and he squinted at it.
“She should have known better. To ask you for a last name or some alternative. Carol, you can finish your shift but I’ll get someone else to cover the rest of the weekend and you won’t be scheduled next week.”
“What? Carl, you can’t do this!”
“I have to,” he said. Then he turned away and stalked off to what appeared to be a back office. I swore I saw a game of solitaire in the reflection of a picture frame behind his desk.
“He’s an *ss,” I declared.
Carol smiled a little.
“I’m sorry.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Me too.” Carol took the ponytail holder off and shook her hair out. Following this, she lifted her apron over her head and tossed it on the counter. “Forget it,” she said as much to herself as to me, “I’m not staying for the rest of my shift.” Taking a glance around behind the counter, she hopped over. “If I’m going to be suspended,” she said to me, “then I might as well leave with style.” Carol shrugged then gave me a look as if to say, “Come on,” so I did.
While we walked away from the seating area, Carol continued talking. “I’ve had it with that place anyway. I won’t put up with it anymore. Carl can stuff it.”
“So what now?” I asked, half-interrupting her rant. “Do I just follow you home like a lost puppy?” To be honest, I wasn’t sure at all what she wanted me to do. As always, I tried to joke my way out of it.
Carol turned and faced me abruptly, forcing me to stop short. “Are you hungry?”
I realized I had left my coffee behind on the table. “Um, sure. Not really, but. . . .”
“You’re a boy. You’ll find room for it. You at least owe me a sandwich.”
I nodded. “Fair enough.”
“Great! Is, like, McDonald’s okay? I’d die for a cheap hamburger.” Carol grinned at me as we neared the entrance/exit of the store.
It was then I remembered Derek.
“Uh, yeah, one sec. Let me just let my friend know I’m leaving.” We stood by the doors while I shot Derek a quick text. “Do you have a car or am I driving?” I asked.
“We can take my car, if you like.”
Derek responded with an “OK,” and I let him know that I would be back in an hour or so. He did not respond after that so I assumed he was busy chatting up the girls and probably creeping them out to no end.
“Ready?” Carol asked, holding out her hand.
I stared at her for a moment.
“I don’t have cooties,” she said.
What the h*ll, I decided, and took her hand before letting her lead me outside in the rain.

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