Click <By Any Other Name>
I sensed from a young age that there might be a family genetic propensity to “weak knees.” From his mid-30s my father’s knees would just “go out” on him. A knee would buckle, he’d fall, and his knee would swell and lock-up for days or weeks. I recall once his sister, my Auntie Ruth, was visiting, and he was showing off his vegetable garden. Boom, down he went. She had to help him into the house.
That’s not to say he was not athletic. He was. He’d developed quite a few athletic skills, and one very special skill, much to my benefit. It wasn’t until years later, when I was well into fatherhood, that I appreciated and realized how skilled he was. Namely: consistently hitting a baseball with self-toss to high pop-ups a distance of 40 to 60 feet (to fit within our small lot) is very difficult. Thanks to his skill and perseverance with me, I became a very serviceable outfielder for decades.
He always took an active role, either coaching or assistant coaching, in all his kids’ sports teams. Especially baseball and softball. I recall one episode clearly. I was about 11 or 12 years old. Dad was hitting short fly balls (we’d graduated to distances of perhaps 120 feet) to kids on my baseball team and me. There were three of us taking turns, and we were kind of being goofy, saying stuff like “One, two, three … Monkeys in the cocoanut tree.” That goofiness ended suddenly. A return throw to my dad was a bit wide … he lunged to reach it … and was down on the ground, unable to get up. His knee had buckled and locked up.
He was not yet 40. We three carried him to the car. That was the end of practice. Somehow, he drove me home. He nursed that knee along for decades. Finally, at age 75, he had it completely replaced.
Nicknames. I think the best ones have little to nothing to do with one’s formal name (like “Joe” for “Joseph”) but reflect something of a person’s appearance or nature. The only nickname I know of for my dad was “Duck”, a name he went by as a young adult; it was a dual reference to his name (via “Donald Duck”) and his dapper appearance when young; apparently he sported a DA (“duck’s ass”) for a while.
Nicknames usually fade away, either during a person’s life, or shortly after.
My dad’s mom was nicknamed “Dolly.” She went by that name her whole life, except for when we called her “gramma.” Only a few cousins and I remember that. She passed away in 1973, and, when we cousins are gone, I suspect all references to her will revert back to the formal name found on legal documents and in census reports: Cora.
I have a friend who had a college buddy decades ago whose name he can only recall as “Ferret Face.”
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok
Evidently he had the appearance of having been delivered from his mother’s birth canal by having the wide-end of a funnel applied to his face and high powered vacuum hose attached to the other end. He went by that name through college, and – in my friend’s recollections – still goes by that name today.
Some nicknames are eternal, since they’ve been attached to very memorable or historical figures.
“Wild Bill” Hickok (James Butler Hickok) was so named for his huge nose – a bill, if you will. He died young, only 39, shot in the back while playing poker in, of all places, Deadwood, Dakota Territory.
“Billy the Kid” (William Bonney) was so named because he was young and looked younger. Bonney, in trying to look more mature, had grown a straggly wispy beard that dangled from his chin, giving the appearance of a billy goat. Another story is that a bartender with a death wish insulted him when he asked for a drink by saying the boyish-appearing Bonney looked like a scared little billy goat. Young goats are called “kids.” The Kid died at 21 or 22 (many details of the Kid legend are ‘wispy’ too). The only extant photograph of him lends credence to the latter story.
This shows that a truly great nickname outlives the real name. A wonderful example is a nickname that has survived and supplanted the real name for millenia: that of the Greek philosopher Plato. His real name was Aristocles. Plato means “wide” and was probably a nickname given to him by his wresting coach (oh, those ancient Greeks and their wresting) as he evidently had a rather stout figure, even as a youth.
The Billy Goat
Nickname fates still to be determined are the nicknames of those recently departed. For example, the “Tappet Brothers.” If you’ve listened to Public Radio on weekends, you’ve probably heard “Car Talk”, hosted by brothers Tom & Ray Magliozzi. Of course, they never went by those names. To listeners, their on-air names were the names they signed off with:
- “We’re Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers.”
- Ray: “Whatever you do, don’t drive like my brother.”
- Tom: “And don’t drive like MY brother.” (or some variation).
Their show was a learning experience about more than just cars. It was about how to engage people, have fun and not take life so serious. You’d never know they were both MIT-educated. Their show was literally “a hoot.” Fun and educational.
So which was “Click” and which was “Clack”? I don’t think they ever divulged that fact.
Billy the Kid (William Bonney)
To me, the oldest – that’s Tom – comes first. He’s Click.
Tom, the elder Magliozzi, passed away last month, age 77, from complications of Alzheimers.
Sounds like a horrible way to go … at least for his family, and that includes poor Ray (Clack). Tom lived a full life, made more so by his zest for life and his ability to give a laugh, some wisdom and weekend enrichment to others.
Tom and Ray shared genes as evidenced by their similar outlooks and senses of humor. One of my brothers and I share the “weak knee” gene from our father. We’ve both struggled since young adulthood with fragile knees. He had both replaced (at age only 48) last Christmas.
As for me, many years ago I nicknamed my knees “Click and Clack”, probably thinking of those guys on “Car Talk.” Click, on the left has had five surgeries, including a full ACL replacement and micro-fracture (yuck); Clack has had only one. Since the 1990s my orthopaedists have been telling me that “Click’s days are numbered. If you live a full life, then Click won’t.”
It’s appropriate then that today I say goodbye to Click. He will join the fate of Click the Tappet brother.
Tom & Ray Magliozzi (Click & clack, the Tappet brothers)
By tonight I will have a new metallic left knee.
Here’s to you Click. Thanks for all the memories!
Wishing you all Peace and happy holidays!
Joe Girard © 2014