Nice guy or mean guy?

“Are you the nice guy or the mean guy?” What? I hadn’t been asked that question in years. Hearing it, I harked w-a-y back, to 1966, when I still lived at my birthplace, at 906 Railroad, in a barrio we called “Tuff Street.”

Every house got a little tuffer, and I lived in the last house. The person who inquired about my naughty- and nice-ness used to live in the second-to-the-last house.

When I moved back to Las Vegas, I lived next door to three little boys, sons of Mel and Bella Martinez. I may have snubbed one or all of them the first time; the next time I saw them, I have been told, I was friendly. That prompted the oldest boy, Ralph, to ask why I was sometimes mean, sometimes nice.

But instead of conjuring up an answer, I came up with a clone. “I’m the nice guy. The mean guy is someone else, but he looks just like me, so be careful,” I explained.

And that’s what got Ralph and his brothers always to ask, “Are you the nice guy or the mean guy?” Once, in the back yard, as I visited with my mother, the three oldest boys came by and asked the inevitable question. Feeling feisty, I roared, “I’m the mean guy!” as I lunged toward him. He fell off a little stool, setting off a giggling spurt in my mom that I’d never witnessed before.

So, when I heard the nice/mean question last Friday at the Rec Center, I naturally caught the allusion. Ralph, now in his 40s, remembered having asked the question many times in the past. Now a driver for Ross Oil, Ralph recalls the many times he’d alternately meet either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

So, Ralph, when you saw me Friday, you were speaking to the “Nice Guy.” However, that label is subject to change without warning.

• • •
Several columns have involved looking back. I’m pleased when people call, write or stop to tell me they remembered some of the people and things I’ve referred to.

Last month, I wrote a retrospective for the new Senior Review supplement to the Optic, about businesses that no longer exist here. And a large number of businesses have merely changed their name but not location.

A while back, a woman in an SUV stopped me to point out an error I’d made when referring to an Old Town drugstore. In an earlier column, I must have confused the erstwhile Delgado’s Drugs with Cokie’s, now the Plaza.

The column was about my first date in high school, when I arranged to meet the girl at a place she called “Cokie’s.”

“Where’s Cokie’s?”

My date said, “That’ll be Plaza Drugs to you.”

As a product of New Town, I wasn’t familiar with all the businesses on Bridge Street and on the Plaza, and I’ve been reminded there was Saibe’s Drugs and Leo’s Pharmacy in that area as well.

Well, so much for what I thought was a good memory. The SUV driver, Evelyn Wootton Harris, however, apparently doesn’t forget a thing, or let an error go unpunished, as she informed me that Cokie’s and Delgado’s Drugs were not one and the same.

In the Senior Review column, I listed 15 old businesses, such as T.J. Maloof Pontiac, Art’s Market, The Lobby Newsstand, Brownie’s Cleaners, The Sorority Shoppe and Charles O’Malley’s.

And I invited readers to identify these places. Evelyn was able to name all the businesses of yore, and she convinced me she should be quizzing me.

For example, I’d referred to a place called Dean’s Pharmacy, at Sixth and University, but Evelyn pointed out two names even before that. So, the chronology now appears to be: 1) The Pepper Pot, 2) the Ice Cream House, 3) Dean’s Pharmacy, 4) Graham’s Pharmacy, 5) Del Norte Pharmacy.
• • •

From the (e-mail) bag:

A column in October on Joe Six Pack, the iconic ideal voter, in the mind of Sarah Palin, used expressions like “darn tootin’” and “ya betcha” to illustrate the southward direction of the English language.

I’m glad there are people who care about proper English, as illustrated by this e-mail from Tito Chavez, a retired English teacher:

“Thank you for your continuing clarifications regarding standard English. When I taught English, I usually stated to my students up front that I was teaching Standard English as a Second Language. They didn’t like this very much because they always asserted vigorously that they already knew how to read and write English.

“It didn’t take long before I was able to show, through simple testing and oral questioning, that, in fact, high school students are sadly deficient in their knowledge of standard English.

“After doing this exercise early in the semester, I always let the whole subject drop and proceeded to teach English literature, grammar and composition, always hoping to increase student skills and make it possible for them to pursue higher education or at least be able to communicate with the rest of the world in creditable English.”

• • •

A previous column in which I pondered why “I,” of all the pronouns in English, requires a capital, drew an e-mail from Ben Moffett, a retired sports editor. He wrote:

“I’ve wondered about … discrepancies in capitalization related to Christianity. For example, we not only capitalize ‘Jesus,’ as we should, but we capitalize most of the personal pronouns. ‘Jesus said He would return to Earth.’ ‘I have walked with Him all my life.’. . .

“Another thing that confuses me: We go to all the trouble to capitalize ‘His’ pronouns and then, in Spanish, at least, ‘He’ gets the ‘tu’ and the ‘ti’ all the time. ‘Tu eres…’

“Shouldn’t ‘He’ be entitled to ‘Usted’ for God’s sake?”

My reply was merely to agree that languages are strange. Why, for example, do buddies in Shakespeare refer to one another as “thee” and “thou” and use “you” when speaking to royalty?

More on this next year.

What’s the first word you’ll speak in 2009? What’s the last word you’ll utter in 2008?

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