Friday Free for all #48: Friends, nicknames, traits

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website, although it’s been on hiatus since the Christmas Countdown began. Here, I resume with this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the strangest way you’ve become friends with someone?

I’ve certainly had some unusual circumstances under which I’ve met people who have become lifelong friends — like a post-audition conversation in a tiny theater lobby that turned into a two-hour chat, or a random mime tennis match at four in the morning after a college party with someone I didn’t even know.

But the strangest, actually, is the most straight-forward because it happened exactly like this.

Back when my play Bill & Joan was in rehearsal before its early 2014 premiere, and we were at an early table reading. Only a couple of the actors at that point went on to be in the final production, although one of them was the person who brought the work to the company, so he was always slotted for the lead.

Anyway, I think it might have been the second table read with this group, and we were sitting around beforehand chatting and whatnot. And then the assistant director, who’s sitting a few seats to my left, looks at me and says, “I think we should be friends.”

Honest, to be sure, but I know very few Americans who are that honest. Plus it was no secret at all to the cast or crew that I was gay, while I had no idea about this dude at the time (he’s straight), except to think that I’m not attracted to him in that way.

Not that he’s unattractive at all. He actually is. He’s just not my type. But, anyway, through the gay male filter, everything said, “He’s hitting on you.” So I sort of replied, “Uh… okay…?”

It took us both a bit to figure out that neither of us wanted to do the nasty, and when I realized that he had made the offer because reading my script had convinced him that we had like minds, that was it.

And we’ve been close friends ever since. Even though he moved across country just before the plague, we’re still in touch — but none of this would have happened had he not just balled up and said, “I think we should be friends.”

I’m going to have to try that tactic in future.

What nicknames have you had throughout your life?

I never had any nicknames growing up, which annoyed me, really. My grandfather John always went by Jack, and I wished that I could follow suit, only maybe as Jak or Jaq to reflect the difference in spelling.

Meanwhile, on my dad’s side, my step-grandfather’s real first name was Leonard, but he always went by Sam for some reason, which I never learned.

It wasn’t until college that I started acquiring nicknames, although our freshman dorm was a hotbed of coining nicknames.

For example, we had one student who came from Hawaii and had gone to the Punahou School there. My roommate found that hilarious, so stared calling him Punahou, and it stuck. (Ironically, his last name was the same as a rather famous Jesuit University other than the one we attended.)

Another student wound up with the nickname JOW, pronounced like it’s spelled, for a simple reason. He had long blond hair and a beard and was also kind of a free-spirited hippie to boot. The dorm we lived in was Whelan, so he wound becoming “Jesus of Whelan,” or JOW.

I can’t remember whether he was from Arizona or New Mexico, but one of his distinguishing traits was that he’d get up in the morning to go shower just about the time the rest of us were heading out to breakfast, and he didn’t bother to wear a towel or anything else. He’d just walk down the hall holding his washcloth and soap sort of in front of the goodies, but not really.

Many a cleaning lady were known to look away when he came down that hall.

As for my nickname, it also came from my roommate, whose own nickname was just an exaggeration of his own surname: “Boooo-lock!” Yes, with that many O’s and the exclamation mark. He was just that kind of a guy, and I mean that in a good way.

Anyway, one day for reasons unknown, he looked at me and said, “You look like a Fred.” So he started calling me that, and I really didn’t mind, although I didn’t see the connection. Sometimes, he expanded it to Fred Hald, but never explained what that other part meant.

So a lot of my fellow dormies from Freshman year, especially on my wing and floor, called me Fred for the next four years. But then I got into theatre, and nicknames became practical.

This became obvious when I was cast in the musical Brigadoon, when the director said, “Jo(h)n, can you move three steps to your left?” and five of us did.

Oops. Of course, not all that odd at a Catholic university. But still.. the director told each of us to pick a unique nickname, and then had us announce, in reverse age order.

So… the senior John stayed John. After that we had Johnny, Jack, and Jay. I couldn’t think of anything, really, except to pull the old back-half nickname, so Jonathan became Nathan. Needless to say, this led to a lot of “Nathan, Nathan, Nathan Detroit” references, although people also honestly compared my singing voice at the time to Sinatra.

Truth to tell, I really liked Nathan, and encouraged it outside of theatre. It was also my first online handle right after college. Although, none of them really lasted, so I can’t say that I’ve had any nicknames throughout my life — only through the wonderful four years I was in college, and a couple of years after that.

What personality traits are people proud of but shouldn’t be?

Oh, damn. The biggest one is learned helplessness, and I run across this all the time when I try to teach coworkers how to do something on the computer. Keep in mind that I’m usually the youngest one in the room, and this time around is no exception, and it just drives me nuts when I try to explain to one of my older co-workers how to do something on the PC, and their eyes glaze over and they come back with, “Oh, I can never understand that, just do it for me.”


Office PCs were ubiquitous by 1984, when the oldest Boomers were 39, and this was only 37 years ago. The internet became a thing in 1994, when you were 49 — 27 years ago. The first iPhones came out in 2007, when y’all were 62, and that was only 14 years ago.

But in all that time, think of the technology you used to use and had to abandon, and all the new stuff you had to learn and, maybe, also abandon.

For example, you had to know how to work rotary phones, but didn’t have much of an issue learning touch-tone. In fact, this divide was probably a point at which you thought of your own parents as fogeys because they didn’t like this new “beepy weird thing.”

See how that works?

You also probably adapted pagers and fax machines fairly quickly in the 80s, especially if your pushing-40 asses were in executive positions at the time. Answering machines? Snail mail? Screw ‘em! This is technology!

You were probably also big on PDAs. No, not public displays of affection. Personal digital assistants, which were basically clunky, chunky, and expensive blocks of tech that combined calendars, contact lists, and memos, but didn’t connect to anything else.

But, I do digress, because the original question was, “What personality traits are people proud of but shouldn’t be?” and my short answer is this: Anyone who brags about being stupid or unable to keep up with tech or says something like, “Oh, I could never learn that,” needs to turn in their meal card and waltz off the planet now.

Especially considering the rapid advancement of human technology over the last seventy years, it really is an “adapt or die” situation. Keep up with what’s going on, or curl up and die. Period.

And so, to me, the “I can’t do it, it’s hard!” personality trait is one that should earn that person a one-way trip into the dead-end bucket of evolution. Oops, sorry…

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