What’s in a name?

I’ve been called a number of things åin my life. Some of the names, at least, have even been respectable.

Many old timers still call me Mannie. In my childhood, I must have been given that moniker by one of my parents. It stuck, and now, when someone (probably an alumnus of Immaculate Conception School in Las Vegas) calls me that, I generally recognize that person as a former classmate.

And there have been other names as well. In high school, when I wrote sports for the Optic, my name became Clark Kent. Remember that fellow who wore glasses, worked for a newspaper and doubled as Superman?

And there was also “There.” It’s a noun that comes from an adverb, and I give credit to Janice Odom, the former public information director at Highlands. I called her once, as her job had connections to the Highlands University journalism department of which I was a member. I introduced myself, and Janice responded with, “Oh hi, There.”

It didn’t take long for me to leave messages like, “Hi, Janice, this is your friend, ‘There.’” In fairness, the late Alnita Baker, to whom I delivered the Optic when I was 11, would also say, “Hi, There.” But it was Janice who got more mileage out of the Christening.

The most freedom anyone took with my name came from a staffer at the Naperville (Ill.) Sun. One of my earliest bylines with that weekly newspaper in suburban Chicago read, “By Tra Ollijurt.”

I didn’t write my byline that way, but another newsroom member did. I asked him about the total reversal of the letters, and he said, “Well, ‘Tra Ollijurt’ is pronounceable, and besides, there aren’t too many Mexicans in DuPage County, so I reversed the letters.”

I don’t recall much feedback on that issue, but I soon came to agree with that staffer, as I found myself the only Latino in Warrenville, then a town of about 5,000. That was back in the early ‘60s.

At a Christmas party last week, our host, John Geffroy, mentioned the name Etaoin Shrdlu (pronounced Eta-oin Sherd-Loo) and I wondered, “Exactly where in eastern Europe did that name come from?” Well, John explained, and I later realized, that that patronym had an interesting origin. You see, most typewriters have the “qwerty” keyboard, understood by just about everyone. These particular letters go above the “home keys.” A linotype machine, however, has both uppercase and lowercase keyboards. These massive machines, which for years were used to set the hot type that produced your Optic, operated on melted lead.

I suppose that to clear the machine, operators ran a finger from the top of the left row to produce “etaoin” and did the same for the second row for “shrdlu.” That lesson made me think of acquiring yet another name for people to call me. Maybe even “Pat” would do. But I changed my mind.

The matrixes in the Linotype machines dropped pieces of metal down a slot into which flowed molten lead. These were expensive, massive machines that produced virtually every character that made up the newspaper’s pages.

While working in Gallup, I met a linecaster named Pete Goad who sat at his machine with his left leg stretched outward. I asked him whether the injury came from a “squirt,” a term for hot lead that occasionally shoots out of the machine, and aims for the nearest unprotected foot. Pete said yes and told others how perceptive I was. But later Pete confessed that he’d been joshing me; he was born that way and walked with a limp all his life.

And once I’d read that Linotype machines contain 10,000 moving parts. So I asked Bob Phillips, a long-time operator at the Optic, if such were true. He answered, “I don’t know; I’ve never taken the time to count them.”

My fascination with words and letters and the intricacies of operating huge machines in a smoky composing room fascinated me.

Before I left my Illinois job I asked our then-boss how he intended to dispose of the four linotypes when the Sun weekly switched to offset printing. The switch totally obviated the need for lead-melting, odor-producing, keyboard-jamming, smoke-belching, squirt-causing machines.

I even fantasied about buying a Linotype machine, inasmuch as many of them returned to the earth, to be buried where they stood and probably performed a post-mortem squirt. One of my bosses in Illinois seemed willing to pass one on to me, his reasoning being that it would be cheaper for me to take it than for his newspaper crew to haul it to a Chicago junkyard.

It seems ludicrous now that I’d even dreamed of a 1,200-mile transfer of a 2,000-pound machine that would be obsolete by the year 1965, and would cost $1,000 to hire 100 men to unload and bury it in our 1,000-square-foot yard. Of course, my ability to operate a Linotype was less than zero.

After about 17 years with the Optic, I still find myself driving to Lincoln Avenue, where the “old” Optic used to live. Once, my wife, Bonnie, implied I’d had a senior moment, as the new-improved Optic is at Eighth and University, three blocks away.

She says I’m becoming forgetful in my 70s. Of course, I need to correct her, explaining I’m simply driving past the “old” Optic for nostalgia’s sake.

• • •

The New Year is here. Let’s resolve to:

  • Always over tip our breakfast server,
  • Do good works,
  • Love and admire God’s creation,
  • Work for world peace,
  • Help feed the hungry,
  • Donate to the right charities,
  • Love and care for pets,
  • Support your place of worship,
  • And donate blood.

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