I'm in a bar with three men. Three very masculine men who refer to
each other by vaguely vulgar nicknames, drink copiously and talk about
their fondness for "fun-loving women."
I haven't come to San
Francisco to be drunk under the table by a guy named "Golden Flow." I
have come to San Francisco to attend a lesbian couple's baby shower.
But I'm staying with Lisa, and she's clearly in love with one of these
fellas, so, I'm happy, at least, to toast to that.
we're drinking with go way back: They served in the military together
in Okinawa. Lisa and I go way back, too. So much so, we know intimate
details about each other's lives. Like our names. The same cannot be
said for the drinking buddies.
The men are all "hashers,"
members of a mostly military social club that – as they explain it – is
known for hosting biweekly races that end in excessive drinking and the
occasional life-threatening vehicular stunt. The only other detail I
learn about hashing is that every participant is benighted with a
No one questions his nickname. No one uses any name
other than his nickname (Lisa's man honestly couldn't tell us the real
names of the men we were meeting that night). And no one really answers
questions about his nickname.
In fact, each time I inquire about a name – I take it you weren't named "Golden Flow" because you rock the mic– I'm shrugged off.
something sacrosanct about the nicknames, and it becomes clear that I'm
annoying everyone when I keep asking the guys to explain each one.
don't normally hang out with men like this. I should say Men like this.
My guys are more likely to launch into a debate about "Lost" than pick
a fight at an Irish bar in Japan. They throw punch lines, not punches.
And none of them have nicknames.
With few notable exceptions, I
have never hung out with men who ascribe nicknames to their friends,
and now I know why: It's an impenetrably elite, masculine thing to do.
"Hulk Hogan," was likely not his given name. And he'd probably ignore
me, too, if I prodded him about it. A nickname is not just about the
moniker; it's about branding someone as a member of your group – and
keeping your Average Joes out.
The monikers I have had as a
kid have all been derivatives of my actual name. I've never been a
"Pinky" or a "Flashdance" or anything cool like that. One of my former
Register colleagues occasionally calls me "Pinhead," but – I think for
HR reasons – it never caught on
Listening to stories about
"Slap" and "Care Bear," and other racier nicknames, I suddenly feel as
if I've missed out on a significant social bonding experience. Women
don't give each other nicknames. We pour our hearts out to each other,
offer advice when it's needed and support even when it's not. But I
can't imagine Lisa ever turning to me and saying, "Hey, Curly-Que,
how's it hanging?"
When I find myself nodding off in my brew, I
signal to Lisa that it may be time to leave the cast of "Top Gun" at
the bar and head home. The whole way back, I think about how ridiculous
the monikers are – and how badly I want one.
Best way to get
a nickname, I figure, is to give one, so I work on creating a handle
for Lisa. She's a horseback-riding, museum-curating, animal-loving
artist. It should be easy to come up with a name, but all I can think
of are funny, fond memories.
Like the time we showed up to
breakfast wearing the identical outfit and having ordered the exact
same meal. The all-nighters we pulled. The way we can never remember
each other's birthdays – even though they're only a few weeks apart.
go to bed, calling out, "Good night …" searching for something to say,
and coming up with nothing funny or clever or goofy. Lisa isn't a
"Slap" or a "Toad" or a "Golden Flow." She's a real and legitimate
friend. So I settle for what she's always been to me … "Good night,
Lisa," I say.
"Good night, Mayrav."
No, I didn't get a nickname. But I guess I don't need one.