Thursday, October 03, 2013

I Do Know Jack

We all have our little crosses to bear in life.  Mine are fairly mild in the grand scheme of things, but they still get under my skin.  One of my minor pet peeves is my name.  I love my name.  It's part of me.  But I cringe when folks misuse my name in some sort of way.  You see, my name is Jack.  And I dislike it when people say, "You don't know Jack."

Jack is a perfectly good name.  Lots of famous people have been named Jack including Jack Benny (Comedian), Jack Nicholson (Actor) and Jack Black (Actor).  And then we have a group of people who think the name Jack is so cool that they go by it even though it isn't their real name like Jack Kennedy (President).  And we can't forget the long list of fictional characters like Jack Frost and Captain Jack Sparrow.  I wasn't named after any of these people though.  I was named after my dad of whom I was very proud. His name was also Jack.

The first time I really ever thought much about my name occurred when I went off to school on my first day of kindergarten.  I had been anticipating kindergarten for a long time.  Well, as long of a time as it is possible for any five year old to anticipate anyways.  My mother took me to school, kissed me on the top of my head and faded back to the door of the school and probably expected me to run after her.  I didn't though.  I fortified myself and marched right up to the teacher's desk with all of the confidence that I could muster.  The teacher said, "Good morning young man.  What is your name?"  Aha, at least the teacher was asking me a question that I was sure I could answer.  I proudly stated, "My name is Jack."  What a piece of cake.  I hope that I get a few more softball questions like that.  I might be the valedictorian.  I wasn't prepared for her reaction though.  The teach looked over her glasses at me and said, "Tsk, Tsk, Tsk, No, That will not do young man.  That will not do at all.  Jack is a nickname and we do not use nicknames in this classroom. Your real name is John and in this classroom, you shall be called John." What? I might as well tear up my valedictory speech now.  I'm so stupid that I don't even know my own name. And by this point, I was really starting to second guess everything.  I was wracking my brain to try and remember what my real name was. I didn't remember anyone ever calling me John.  My family always called me Jackie.  My friends always called me Jackie.  I was pretty sure that was just a form of Jack though.

So, I sat there for the rest of the day in a funk while wearing my "John" name tag and wondered about what other lies my family had told me.  If they really were my family. When my mother came to pick me up after school, I ran over and hugged her.  She got a confused look on her face when she looked at my name tag. She asked, "Why are you wearing a name tag that says John?"  I told her that my real name is John.  As if she didn't know.  She blinked once or twice and then said, "Who told you that?"  My teacher of course! "Your name is not John.  It is Jack. I named you myself. That is the name that is on your birth certificate." And then she marched into the classroom and punched the teacher right in the eye.  Well, not really.  As a child I always hoped that she would  would punch my teacher in the eye, but she never did. She did straighten out the confusion over my name though.  My teacher stated that she honestly didn't know that people could have the name Jack as their given name.  That was back in the 1960s.  She would probably have a heart attack if she was alive today and had children in her classroom with names like Jeevika, Navaryous, Xenon, and Hailo.  But in those days, having a child named Jack was apparently pretty exotic.

So, I made it through a few years of school without too much trouble.  In school my name was Jack.  At home though they called me something else.  As I said earlier, I was named after my father Jack H. Mast, Sr. Yes, that makes me Jack H. Mast, Jr.  Of course you can't have two people named Jack in the same house. All kinds of chaos would have resulted from that arrangement.  You don't want multiple people to come running every time you call out a name.  I suppose that they could have called me Junior.  That is a good rednecky sounding moniker.  My family didn't do that though.  Instead of Junior, they called me Jackie. When I was really young, it didn't bother me in the least, because I didn't know any better.  As I got a little older I found out that boys named Jackie can have a hard time.  As a result, I made sure that all of my family members called me Jack in front of my school friends.  That arrangement seemed to work for the most part. Jackie at home and Jack in school.  But then one day in the sixth grade, those two worlds collided.  One of my female classmates called the house to ask about a homework assignment. My mother answered the phone and was apparently surprised to have a girl calling the house looking for me.  So she called out in her very loudest mother voice and without covering the mouth piece on the phone, "Jackie! There's a phone call for you!  And it's a girl!"

Oh good lord.  What has she done?  I hoped beyond hope that Beth, the girl who had called, had either not heard what my mother had said or at least wouldn't make a big deal out of it. With much trepidation, I went off the school the next day.  I casually walked onto the playground where we grouped up prior to school. I didn't make eye contact with anyone.  I just tried to maintain a low profile.  For a few minutes, this strategy seemed to be working. OK. I'm OK. Nothing bad is going to happen.  It's all good.  Phewww.  I dodged the bullet.  And just then, it happened.  I heard Beth's voice screaming from across the playground,.  "Jackie! There's a phone call for you!  And it's a girl."  Oh why didn't I just stick with the name John when I had the chance?

Over the years I've come to grips with all of the variations of my name.  Jack, Jackie, and even occasional Jacques.   I am even amused when people will say to my face, "You don't know Jack!"  Hmmm.  How can that be possible? And having lived pretty far away from my hometown in Pennsylvania, I am almost always called Jack now because that is how I introduce myself.  But every once in a while when I travel back to the homeland, I am caught off guard when one of my family members, old friends or old neighbors gives me a hug, shakes my hand and calls me Jackie.  And somehow that name that used to send shivers up my spine no longer does.  Now it just feels like coming home.  So when people say to me that I don't know Jack, I politely tell them that I disagree.  Not only do I know Jack, but I also know his inner child Jackie.  Cheers!

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