Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter storm names may be catchy on TV, but may leave lasting stigma

As winter storm Iago grazed New Jersey’s lower reaches, I couldn't help but think about Shakespeare’s immortal pondering, “What is in a name?”

This winter season the Weather Channel has begun naming winter storms they deem “noteworthy” in order to “raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.”

And while “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” names tainted by a disagreeable experience tend to stink to high heaven.

My wife and I had such trouble naming our first child. Whenever she would propose a name, I inevitably dismissed her suggestion because all too often I related that name to a former student. Fred? Oh, he never turned in homework on time. Craig? Talk, talk, talk. Alexander? Always fidgeting.

My wife had especially liked the name Jared. Very gentlemanly and proper, just like our son would be, she had said. She told me she had always loved that name and thought about naming one of her children Jared since she was young. I could only shake my head and cringe. Surely an exception could be made, she pleaded. Yes, there could be exceptions – but not Jared. You see, I am able to build a decent rapport with most students. In fact, there have been very few students in my teaching career who had been a thorn in my side for an entire school year. There was one, however. And his name was...Jared.

The name still gives me shivers. Jared was in my class during my first or second year of teaching. He had the uncanny ability to frustrate, enrage, and utterly demoralize a novice teacher and all with a smile.
It took a trip to a diner and a kid in the next booth who was being yelled at by his father for us to overhear the name we would eventually agree on.

Just think of all the names that have been tainted throughout history. Adolf was once one of the most popular names in Germany. Is anyone ever again going to refer to his child as O.J.? The name Monica died out in the 1990s. And what about Judas?

Names tend to carry a great deal of baggage all on their own, so it doesn't help that we will now associate yet another name with miserable weather; horrible commutes; wet, cold and often ruined clothes; overly excited or disappointed children; canceled activities; and, as always, runs on eggs, milk, and bread.
We already have hurricanes that have tarnished good names. It will be interesting to see how many kids named Sandy there will be in the next decade or so.

Young parents will have a hard enough time settling on the perfect name without sensationalized weather forecasting getting in the way.

A mall's closing can mean more than just bottom-dollar bargains

A few weeks ago, I read that the Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County, was closing at the end of the month, and that the bulk of the building was slated for demolition. I realized that I couldn't just sit idly by; I was compelled to do something. So I loaded up the minivan with the family and took the hour or so drive for one last look.
The sense of place has a way of weaving itself into the fabric of one's being, and certainly, the Shore Mall is woven into mine like fine, majestic denim.
I took the “back way” to the mall, the same route my dad always took when I was a kid. My dad never like highways. He would go miles out of his way, along roads with no shoulders or curbs, just to avoid a little traffic. I was amazed by the many housing developments that now populated areas that were considered the middle of nowhere decades ago.
The vast back parking area of the mall looked pretty much the same except for the notable absence of parked cars. This was the place where for many years my parents would take my brothers and me to watch Santa Claus land in a helicopter.
We pulled up to my old go-to entrance. I was thrilled to get one of the best parking spaces I'd ever gotten there. Inside felt like Mad Max meets Mall Rats. Workers were carting out a Tetris of display fixtures. Many stores were dark, empty, and gated. Those that were still open appeared sparsely stocked and disheveled. There were a few people roaming about possibly looking for bargains or, like me, reminiscences.
I showed my kids where the old Sears catalog pick-up used to be. My mom did all our back-to-school shopping by catalog. Weeks later we'd go to the small catalog pick-up area, take a number, and wait an eternity.
“That's where I bought my first pair of Levi's,” I told my kids. Since all our back-to-school clothes were from the Sears catalog, all my jeans were Toughskins, a unique type of denim that did not resemble anything my friends were wearing, which they often reminded of.
I pointed out where the music store used to be. That was the place I bought the Grease soundtrack record that got me in so much trouble. My older brother and I had taken the bus to the mall. The last thing my dad had said to us was to make sure we keep enough money to get back on the bus. When I saw how much the Grease album was, I had a dilemma. Needless to say, my father was very angry and yelled at me through most of the back roads home.
There were so many places with their stories. Here was the shell of a department store I worked at when I was in high school. They assigned me to the linens department. It was very awkward at first. But, let me tell you, I can still fold a fitting sheet like nobody's business. There was the space where the t-shirt kiosk used to be where I once bought a Cheap Trick t-shirt that my aunt thought inappropriate for a boy to wear until I explained to her that they were a rock band. And where I got a John Lennon t-shirt a couple of days after he was killed.
While my wife took our five year old daughter to the bathroom, I stood with my two youngest boys, put my arms on their shoulders and told them that how this mall was one of the ruins of my life in progress, my Parthenon, a monument to what was that helped create in me what is, and in a few short months, it will be a flat empty space.
I told my kids to look around, but not just here. I told them to remember to look around in their own lives, to appreciate the places they go because it will all be woven into who they will be.
As we walked out the door by the old pizzeria, my daughter looked up to me thoughtfully and said, “You mean we're not even going to get anything!”