We acquire many names as we spin through life. The first one is “The Baby.” How’s “The Baby” doing? Is “The Baby” walking yet? Has “The Baby” started teething? Then we move on to our birth certificate name or a nickname. In my case, I became “Butch.” Everyone in the neighborhood called me Butch, so often that I thought it was my real name. Then came kindergarten, I officially became Merlin, as in, “Merlin Lessler stop throwing sand at Butchy.” Butchy was really Peter, but somehow, he kept his street name. I was only throwing sand at him because he was a bully and had just yanked a toy truck out of my hands.
I shrugged and accepted the Merlin label. Then came 1st grade; we were assigned seats, boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. The teacher prepared an alphabetical seating chart in preparation for the first day of school. I was assigned a seat on the girl’s side of the room. There I sat, in a sea of giggling, finger pointing first graders. The teacher finally noticed; she claimed she thought Merlin was an alternative spelling of the girl’s name, Marilyn. I got moved to the boy’s side, but she got even for having to redo the seating chart.
She continued to call me Marilyn. This went on for weeks. Finally, I’d had enough. She asked “Marilyn” to come to the blackboard to write the spelling words. I stayed seated. She asked again. I didn’t move. Then again, this time with her face inches from mine. My reaction? “Marilyn? Who’s Marilyn? I’m Merlin! Everyone here knows that but you.” My insubordination earned me my first trip to the principal’s office. I had to sit in the cool-down room with Butchy, who welcomed me with a slug to the arm.
That experience and the aftermath turned me sour on my unusual name. I spent the next several decades with different name tags: Nick, Knurling, Les, Shooter (as in pool player), Jim Steel (fake electrician) and several others, best of them being: Hubby, Daddy and Grandpa. I settled on Merl, and then finally embraced, and switched to, Merlin. It was like getting back together with a long-lost friend.
It has some positives. I can go by one name, like Cher. I don’t need a last name; I’ve only met one other person named Merlin. It happened in a Starbucks in Florida. The clerk shouted out, “Merlin, your drink is ready.” I hadn’t ordered yet, so I knew it wasn’t for me. I went over and introduced myself. My first Merlin! When I see him now, he calls me, “Other,” as in, the “other” Merlin. It’s not hard to tell us apart. I’m the skinny guy; he’s the one in Teddy Bear pajama bottoms.
Now, little by little, my Merlin moniker is slipping away. More and more people refer to me as the Old Coot, or just plain Coot; finally, a name that’s a perfect fit. At least I don’t have to sit on the girl’s side of the room.
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