Monikers, by Candance Booth | When Names Change

I have acquaintances who are changing their names. I say “acquaintance” rather than “friend” because I never actually have lunch or anything with these people. I just know their names when I see them on a phone list. Except now all the names are changing. What’s interesting about this is that the new names are all East-Indian derivatives, even though genetically their ancestors come from places like Norway or New Jersey. The mapping looks something like this.

Grandmother’s Name: Agnus. Mother’s name: Sarah. Daughter’s name: Mary. Daughter’s new spiritual name: Annapurni Mukthananda.

So now I’m thinking of changing my name, too. Only I’m flipping through stories by Damon Runyon and leaning toward “The Feet” or “The Brain,” depending on whether I make any money in the stock market this year, the stock market being the 20th century version of Runyon’s race track.

My youngest brother, Matthew, joined a blues band a couple of years ago, when he took up playing the mouth organ (a.k.a. the harmonica). Matthew lives in Kansas City and plays for a band called The Pretenders. They spent a couple of nights at my house recently, because they got a two-night engagement in Austin, down on 6th Street. I’m not much for night life, but even I was impressed. Austin is advertised as the “live music capitol of the world,” and 6th Street is the main—although certainly not the only—location for music clubs and people watching.

I hadn’t seen my brother in about three years. I’d never heard him play an instrument, and he was turning 40 this fall. Well, I take that back. I think he took violin for a few months in 3rd grade. But I’m pretty sure I never heard him practicing. I invited some friends to hear him play at the club in Austin, but when they asked me if he was any good, I said, “How would I know?” I went to The Pretenders website, to see if they had any MP3 files to download.

On the band’s website, Matthew is listed as “Mad Mouth.” Apparently nicknames are pretty common among blues musicians—for example, McKinley Morganfield (a.k.a. Muddy Waters) or Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Matthew “Mad Mouth” Moore turned out to be good. The whole band was good. They play blues dance music, and during the five-hour show (five sets of 45 minutes each), they never repeated a song. I found that remarkable, because I can’t remember all the words to one song. I can pick out a couple of bars on the piano, and then that’s it. My mind goes blank. Sort of like it’s doing right now.

The Pretenders’ last set ended at midnight. After that we walked up and down 6th Street. They close the street against traffic around 10 p.m., so you only have to dodge mounted police (you know, cops on horses) and drunks. Actually, I didn’t see any stinking drunks. A lot of people are drinking in these clubs, but they’re also dancing and eating. I didn’t see anyone staggering, except me. I tripped a few times staring at people. One guy who walked by me looked like Edward Scissorhands: Renaissance Spaceman. He had long, pointed, metal finger attachments, a silver metallic body suit, spiked hair, black lips, and his shoes were pointy court jester things. Made me reel. The Pretenders, an all-man band, were more inclined to notice all the young girls wandering around. It’s a college town. It certainly helps to be young if you are going to stay out until dawn.

Originally, when I knew I would have to go watch the band play, I was going to use the geriatric nightclub approach: get off work at 6:00, go down to Barton Springs for a swim and a long nap under the pecan trees, wake up for dinner and espresso at 8:00, and show up at the club around 9:30. But in the end I did what the college freshmen were doing, hanging out from 7:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. two nights in a row. So I wasn’t looking all that swell by Sunday, in case you see the video the band made when they were packing up and driving away. Just call me “Sleepy” or “Dopey” and talk about what a great hostess I am.


Astrologically it was a bad month
for everyone. If you didn’t chip a tooth,
have a fight with your husband, or
get fired from your job, you got sick
or your bathtub developed a leak.

Somebody suggested that we
all change our names and step
through a green vine and thereby
thwart the karmic mail delivery.
But it found us anyway.
You know what they say:

A rose by any other name
smells the same
and lives in the same house.

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