BABY BOY NAMES: OMISSIONS FROM A LARGER COMPENDIUM
Every writer, editor, anthologizer, compiler, whatever the nature of the book on which he is working, inevitably consults his friends and associates. It was three years ago, during my tenure as the department chair, when my colleague Dr. Brane approached me, determined in the planning and preparation of his compendium, to solicit the collective experiences of as large a pool of compilers as he could possibly reach. Understanding the value of my unique experience and perspective on Dr. Brane's topics, I therefore happily volunteered a list of seventeen entries — nearly twice the number I initially promised, and yet still a meager contribution to the anticipated volume of his compendium. Prior to publication, copies of Brane's under-studied research were sent to professors of Anthropology, English, Mathematics, Biology, and Philosophy at colleges and universities throughout the country, who were asked to proofread, fact-check, and endorse at least fifty entries of their preference, as no official grant or legal entity funded Brane's research, leaving him a budget that he remarked on several occasions to me as “unconfirmed". Forty-three professors responded to the mailings. Thus, his compendium represents, at least in part, the experience and judgment of those men and women, whose profession is teaching, and I welcome this opportunity to thank them, my and Dr. Brane's colleagues, for their friendly cooperation.
Needless to say, as a scholar I cannot wholly overlook many of the severe arguments I had with Dr. Brane, who frequently left our revision dialogues in disownment of my entries, opinions, and, eventually, my philosophy to life entirely; but no compiler can manage to satisfy every contemporary. Moreover, I passed over in silence several colleagues’ suggestions to be credited in the publication, for fear that I might unfairly divert readers from its true “architect."
My basic editorial impulse in choosing the order in which to present the following entries was, naturally, a challenge. Any compiler making a selection from his inventions is imposing an even greater shape on the material itself. Undoubtedly a different compiler, making other choices, would arrange my entries in a considerably different order, and perhaps with a somewhat different emphasis. With that and what I anticipate to be an expansion in critical thought of Dr. Brane’s work, the following excerpt, despite their exclusion in his final compendium, is a delicate but illustrative sampling of a singular text. For the ultimate publication of these seventeen entries, I, as compiler and author, am of course entirely responsible.
ZEPPELIN (b. 1998 – 2014)
Zeppelin did not know what his mother meant, after she whispered to her husband that their son was, “losing his hair,” and it disturbed him that they said this on the evening of his fifteenth birthday, in a completely different room, with the door closed, but he was still pleased to have had his favorite meal for dinner: cucumber salad and whipped cream.
GORDY (b. 1989 – 1999)
During the first night without a nightlight, Gordy heard breathing from inside his bedroom, which got louder, for ten minutes, and after a few suggestive, sudden movements, his father turned on the lights and, with a wide grin, spread out his hands and legs as if to say, “Surprise,” but instead followed with a moment of silence. Gordy began to scream, after realizing that this was not, in fact, his father, but a peculiar man, a tall man, regularly seen walking the railroad tracks behind Gordy’s house. “Thank god I was asleep,” his mother said the following morning to Gordy, who overnight developed a turned-in eye.
KOY (b. 1971 – 1989)
Koy’s favorite day of the year was September nineteenth, his mother’s birthday. On that morning in 1981, Koy made a third revision to her birthday card, sweating, and using a ruler to guide his penmanship. On the eighth revision Koy misspelled the word “argyle;" on the seventh, the word “sandals"; on the fourth and third, the word “polyester;" on his first attempt, he forgot to leave enough room for the greeting, date, and his name (which he wrote in large, cursive capital letters and underlined four times in bold); on the second, sixth, and, now eleventh attempts, Koy drooled on his hand and the paper.
ROPER (b. 1983 – 2029)
“I love you,” Roper said dully, staring almost without recognition at his reflection in the mirror. “Will you be my girlfriend?” He paused to collect a thought. “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” It was minutes before his school’s senior high semi-formal, and Roper had changed into his fourth outfit. This one, which ended up being the one, was a tuxedo, with peppermint tails, daffodil silk lining, previously worn only three times by his late father, a concert pianist, who included in his will to be buried wearing it. “The outfit’s too nice to throw away,” Roper’s mother said to him, hunched on the floor, circling articles in a newspaper.
VICTOR (b. 1995 – 2016)
While in the hospital for routine surgery, Victor experienced a dream so utterly unique and terrifying that it killed him. In the dream Victor sat on a couch in front of a familiar fireplace, alone in a cabin completely unfamiliar to him. Then a door opened and Victor appeared in front of himself with a stain across his well-pressed sleeves. Victor’s mother appeared alongside him on the couch, smiled at the two of them, the other Victor and her son, Victor, who looked from one to the other as if in search of the one who appeared the most shocked. “It’s all right,” said Victor, pointing at the stain on his well-pressed sleeves, “This will all wash right off. The trick is to rinse it in tap water, and a little bit of red wine,” and then, Victor, the other Victor, without ever realizing that he was dreaming, experienced a brief but lethal heart attack in his deep anesthesia-induced sleep, so as to not feel pain during his routine surgery.
WALDEN (b. 1990 – 2076)
Walden paces around his halls for a few hours at a time, usually with a hammer in his hand, looking for something to hit. When he realizes that he has been staring at an object for some minutes, staring at it blankly, he suddenly decides that he should not hit something, such as his porcelain doll collection displayed across the house in, what he would deny, a perversely curated fashion—since that would create a scene in front of his guests, who are already a bit stunned after he took out a hammer. It occurs to Walden that, unless things improve in his life, he should probably no longer have people over. Besides, in isolation he would likely foster a respectable library, or learn calligraphy. One time, during an entirely different get-together, Walden remembered out loud what people — specifically his mother and father — say to each other during the holidays, after they receive one of his Christmas cards. “What a talented writer he is,” Walden yells into the reflection of his soup. “He must have quite the life.”
LINCOLN (b. 1946 – 2039)
At forty-two years old Lincoln’s brother, Thurber, like their parents, died unexpectedly. In a note Thurber left were special instructions to be cremated and placed into the same urn as his brother’s, assuming that Lincoln would want to be cremated. This offended and confused Lincoln so much that, out of spite, he buried his brother in a casket a week later. His brother’s note also included pictures of Thurber, their parents, the dog, but none including Lincoln. “I took all of the photos,” Lincoln said to each person who shook his hand during his brother’s wake, which Lincoln insisted, against the professional discretion of the funeral director, to be open casket. “Mother said I had a real flare for the camera,” he added while arranging the photos across his brother’s crossed arms, thirteen minutes into the service. Completing this arrangement of images was followed by a kind of excitement so pronounced that Lincoln had to excuse himself to the toilet, where he loosened a tension such as he had not experienced since childhood.
DONALD (b. 2000 – 2033)
It was a great disappointment to Donald that no one who was cool, pretty and fun — even as cool, pretty and fun as he was — had invited him to parties, or ate near his lunch table, or talked to him. For one semester, however, a freshman named Russell had lunch with him everyday. Although Donald finally received company, he made no effort to get to know Russell, until the boy later became hospitalized after leaping from the second floor of the school library. “Trying to catch a butterfly,” the Vice Principal whispered to Donald at a faculty meeting. That Saturday Donald visited Russell, who lay asleep in his infirmary bed, and put his hands over the boy’s cheeks until he woke up. Before seeing Donald and screaming, Russell noticed an arrangement of drawings, hung from a cork board and signed by Donald, of a boy chasing butterflies with a net.
COREY (b. 1991 – 1999)
The room was long, high, and narrow. There was a door. This door, equipped with functioning hinges, a knob, even a keyhole, did not, however, lead to another room even though his father always kept it locked and checked it each night before tucking Corey in. The peculiar thing was that, every night, Corey regularly heard light tapping from the other side of the door.
HERSHEY JR. (b. 1961 – 2003)
Hershey Sr. waited all day for the police to break through his door and take him away, but they never showed up. “What if they never show up?” Hershey Sr. said to his stuffed Doberman. As he said that, there was a knock at the door. “Must be the cops,” Hershey Sr. said, out of the corner of his mouth, so he picked up the closest object he could find — his stuffed Doberman — and crept toward the door. Hershey Sr. knocked back twice. “I’ve got a gun,” he yelled, and then paused to listen. “It’s Hershey,” his son said, faintly, from behind the door.
GLENN (b. 1988 – 2020)
At thirteen Glenn went through something, physically, much less common than the usual changes for boys his age, wherein his eyelashes shed and never grew back. Although initially embarrassed by the sudden loss, Glenn took to the new look and became very confident — bold, even. Fiver years later he was elected president of his school’s speech club. The win encouraged Glenn to shave his eyebrows off entirely. During his tenure as president he also began to regularly shave his head, legs, and arms — priding himself on the suggestively scalped body. “I’m a clean bird,” He told his mother, after his high school graduation speech. A few weeks later she began to mutter and, eventually, walk in her sleep. “He used to have such thick hair,” she said to a checkout lady at the twenty-four hour supermarket, during one of her more intense episodes of somnambulism.
ENNIS (b. 1810 – 1898)
An underground explosion left a 75-foot wide crater where Ennis’s house once stood. When the people in the hamlet (pop. 98) saw the hole in the ground, they at once forgot that a house had stood there, or that a man had been living inside that house with a precarious, makeshift stove. Particularly, no one will remember how it prided Ennis to think, from time to time, that for his entire life he lived contently in a peaceful community, still no larger than a frontier settlement, set atop some of the country’s most fertile carbon deposits.
CHARLESTON (b. 1948 – 2018)
“First, of course, you open the container.” Charleston said to his son Francis as he withdrew a large spoon from their kitchen drawer. Charleston took the spoon, opened the container and with a finger pointed to a thin layer of cloudy liquid at the top. “You have two options here, Francis: you pour it out, or you mix it in. What do you do?” He held the spoon in front of his son like a microphone. Francis stood silently for moment, and then leaned toward the utensil to hesitate, “You... you pour it out.” Charleston dropped the spoon, clenched his jaw, drew his hands to his head as he looked out the window, over the sink, at their neighbor’s white fence, and began to pull tufts of hair out from his head. “Although it may gross you out, Francis,” Charleston said as he sprinkled a chunk of hair in the sink, “What you should have done was grab this spoon here and mix it all together.” He began stirring the yogurt quickly and with so much abandon that driblets of white goop spattered across Francis’s face. After, Charleston grabbed a washcloth and flung it at his son. “There’s really nothing finer than giving your yogurt a good stir,” he said, as Francis cleaned up for breakfast.
QWERTY (b. 2015 – 2017)
Qwerty kicked over his entire building block structure with a single rash, excessive, and totally uncharacteristic act that disturbed his mother, who had always considered Qwerty to be a serene boy. “If he ever does that again,” she murmured to her husband shortly after the incident, staring vacantly out their bedroom window, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
GAVIN (b. 2001 - 2015)
For one day, Gavin did not think of a good reply to anyone with whom he interacted. He gave up trying around lunchtime; by that point, if a classmate said anything to him, even a “Hi, Gavin!” he gathered up his belongings, if he had any, and exited the conversation without uttering a word, which often involved running out of whatever room he was in at the time. In the evening, while his mother and father moved furniture in their bedroom, Gavin wrote in his journal that he was the victim of a conspiracy designed to make him look foolish and feel bad without any good reason. The following day, Gavin was so mantled with gloom that five hours passed before he realized that he wore his mother’s pantsuit to school.
FRANKY (b. 1968 – 2009)
The moment Franky took his place at the altar and locked eyes with the priest, a fog of terror blew into his mind and reacted with his stomach to produce an uncontrollable nausea, which caused him to vomit into his hands, halting his and thirty-seven other children’s First Holy Communion. Perhaps Franky was nervous that his mouth would be too dry for the Father, or that his breath would smell ugly. He wasn’t scared or anything, Frankie insisted to his father, who drove his son home with a guarded silence.
BERTIE (b. 1970 - 2010)
Bertie went to a shop in the fancy part of town and bought himself a pair of tweed trousers and leather gloves. He declined to accept a bag and receipt, instead choosing to wear the items out of the store, and each time he found the opportunity to wave at someone on his jaunt home he said, loudly and without pause:
“Sorry I cannot stretch my fingers out so far.
“These are brand-new gloves; I just bought them so I’ll have to give them some time to break in.
“They cost me a pretty penny, too, real leather.
“Well, so long.”
Once home, Bertie tossed the gloves and trousers into his wastebasket, knowing that he will purchase the same items again the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that, and so on.