Rants, raves, readings, and talks about things I read, see, watch, run over in the road, believe, don't believe and whatever else might be on my mind. I'm blogging because blogs are no longer cool. They're not cool any longer, right? I should be tweeting now. Let me know when that isn't cool and I'll start doing it.
So there it was, staring me in the face as I entered the
bathroom of a non-descript office building in Irvine, California.
No Smo ing.
The K in the no smoking sign was gone.Not an issue for most people as there isn’t anywhere
to smoke in California anyway and people don’t sneak into the boy’s room to
smoke anymore either.But this sign now
meant something deeper. To me. Specifically me.
You see, I’m Smo.
No Smoing?Does that
mean I can’t go in there?Or maybe I
can’t be myself when I am in there?Or
people have to call me by my given name while I am in the bathroom?What a conundrum.More importantly, at forty, how is it
possible that the nickname ‘Smo’ is still following me wherever I go, even to a
bathroom thousands of miles away from my hometown.
The Horribly Uninteresting Origin of a Nickname
Like millions of other boys over the last seventy years, I was
given the first name Michael at birth.How popular of a name is Michael?Well, from 1954 to 1998, Michael was the most popular name given to boys with the exception of 1960.And that
year it came in a close second to David.Jacob replaced it as the top name in 1998, but Michael remained number
two through 2008, then fell to 3 for 2009-2010 before falling out of the top
five.It remains among the top ten,
although Jayden, Liam, Noah, and Ethan have replaced Matthew, Christopher,
James and David.In its peak years, 2
percent of all babies born were name Michael (some, but very few, girls were
named Michael as well), making it so roughly 1 out of every 25 boys was named
Michael.That is what my parents
In first grade, there were eighteen kids in my class.Three of us we named Michael.The other two generally went by Mike and I
was called Michael, but at some point our teacher, the fabulous Miss Quinn, was
tired of the confusion.She started
calling me ‘Smo.’Yes, my first grade
teacher gets all the credit.Soon, everyone
in school started to call me that.
succinct. Easy to pronounce. Notice there is no CH in
it.It is not Schmoe, like the infamous,
yet hardly ever seen, Joe Schmoe we all hear so much about.It’s much easier to pronounce than Smolarek. I’ve
learned that when in a crowd and a name is called and the person starts by
saying Michael, then starts with the S sound but stops while trying to figure
out the name, they are generally talking about me, so I save them the
embarrassment of trying to say it correctly and just volunteer myself.I think I’ve won some raffle prizes intended
for other Michaels who have unpronounceable last names that start with S.
By the end of first grade, everyone called me Smo and I was
alright with it.Now, I didn’t go around
introducing myself that way, but the name itself didn’t bother me.Everyone wants a good nickname.It’s not like they were calling me Chunk, or,
Boner, or Tiny or Dipshit.
After first grade, our school closed due to declining enrollment
and we merged with a neighboring school.Second grade with forty new kids along with the thirty six from my
original school.By some miracle, no new
Michaels. But all of the kids from my old school called me Smo, so even at
James Whitcomb Riley Elementary, I was known as Smo.
Four elementary schools into my junior high school, Cooper
Junior High.Lots of Michaels.Smo followed me there as well.Coupled with my record setting cross country
times, I came up with a brilliant campaign slogan for my run for school council
representative. Are you ready for this? Hold on to your hats. It is some witty
for Smo, he’s not slow.”
You see, it has all the hallmarks of brilliant campaign
slogans.It is short, it rhymes, and it
takes into account what I was most known for at the time.Sadly, the slogan was dog-eared and tired
when I tried it again in eighth grade while running for Vice-President.The voters rejected me as a career politician
who had no new ideas (now I know how Jeb feels).
High school.More new
kids.More Michaels.I remained Smo.Most of my teachers called me that.All of my coaches did.Every year as part of the senior issue of the
highs school newspaper, we voted for students for “most likely to succeed,” and
“best hair,” “most into music” and “best athlete.”I figured I was a shoe in for best nickname,
but not only did I not win, I didn’t even make the top three.The top spot went to Tippy Taplin, if I
By this point I was ready to NOT be called Smo.Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the
name.It was kind of cool having a
nickname, a very simple nickname that has no great amazing story behind like
some of my other friends, like Donk, Chickenhead, Parm and Whitey. I had
finally gotten people who didn’t use Smo to call me Mike instead of Michael not
matter how many other Mikes were around. So maybe at college I’d get to be
called Mike.Only two people from my
highs school went to college with me and neither of them called me Smo.So, for a short while, I was just a regular
Mike among the many Mikes on my floor. Then one of my close friends from high
school visited for a weekend.While a
group of my floor mates were around, he called me Smo.
I love it,” said Rob, who lived across the hall.
Schmo, just Smo,” corrected my high school friend.
The name spread like fire through the 3rd floor
of Seton Hall, then to the rest of the building.By the end of freshman year, some people had
forgotten my first name and the RA on my floor had given me his old monogrammed
day planner because his initials were S.M.O.The name stuck with me the rest of college.To this day, there are people from DePaul University
who do not know my first name.
Then I graduated college.Got my first real job.Professional.I wore dress pants
and the occasional tie.Lots of people
around me in suits.Fancy offices.Surely here everyone would call me Mike,
right?Nope.A college friend who had gotten me the
interview also worked there.He called
me Smo on day one.Our boss picked up on
it and nineteen years later, I am still Smo. Even my boss’s kids call me that.
I was at a wedding for a high school friend.I introduced myself to one of his friends I
had never met as Mike.He looked at me
sideways like he’d never heard of me before.“You may know me as Smo.” I said.“Oh, Smo! Matt talks about you all the time! It’s awesome to finally
meet you!”Smo followed me to Texas,
where I have never lived.People who I
don’t know at all know Smo.
Smolarek is a difficult name to pronounce.I get that.My children have a hard time pronouncing it (they have trouble saying
animals instead of aminal, too).Checkers at grocery stores try to read the name off the receipt, then
just mumble something that sounds like it starts with an S.My childhood doctor pronounced it incorrectly
for so long my mother finally gave up trying to correct him.My sixth grade basketball coach couldn’t
pronounce it either.Well, he couldn’t
remember it either.He called me Polack
at first.Then he remembered part of it
and called me Smolack.Thankfully, that
one ended when the basketball season did.
Ultimately, I am the Smo. The REAL Smo.And I’m okay with that.No sign on a door is going to stop me.I pushed hard on the door, and tried to enter, but the door wouldn’t budge.I pushed again.Still nothing.Then I looked at another sign, the sign near the handle that said ‘Pull.’Then I pulled it and went in.
The best way to sum up Fake Fruit Factory by Patrick Wensink is
that it is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Ludacris, even. And that’s a good
thing. It’s the story of the Ohio town, Dyson, which is fighting for its
survival against the decline and decay that has happened to small towns through America
over the last fifty years. Lead by Mayor Bo Rutili, (the fourth youngest mayor
in America we are told multiple times), Dyson and its impassioned citizens hatch
a plan to revive their sagging town, only to learn that NASA is expecting a
falling satellite to crash land into Dyson, obliterating the “speck of pepper”
from the map.
Desperate times call for desperate actions and Dyson’s
citizens are desperate to save their town. The Mayor’s girlfriend, Marci, often
ignored by the Mayor himself, dreams of the most famous person in Dyson’s
history, who ran the Fake Fruit Factory. Her sister, the failed actress,
desperate to escape Dyson, clinging to anyone who smells like they might be
famous. The former big city DJ, Cody Kellogg, Mr. Razzle Dazzle, now stuck at a
small station in Dyson where no one can hear him. The police chief, a former
opera star, desperate to win back the love of his former opera partner and
ex-wife. The proprietor of the local tavern, who keeps his shit list tattooed
on his hand. the former basketball star, still stung by the death of his wife
fifteen years ago, on his own crusade to save the town’s history. The current
owner of the factory, intend on having a parade. The rich lottery winner, Donna
Queen, intend on saving the town by force if she has to, but lost for the right words and the right
actions, who opens a casino. The former Mayor, Old Man Packwicz, down on his
luck after missing out on the lottery prize and ousted from office, who tries multiple
times to end his own life. The town’s only attorney, who thinks he is smarter
than the rest of the town but lives in fear that his wife is going to leave
him. The government agent, Eggelston, who seems to turn up everywhere. The First Lady, who
seems to be a roulette junkie and who also loves a good mudslide. Throw in a
map to a long lost treasure for these people to hunt down. Oh, and a mummy who
drops off gifts to the citizens of Dyson, including foie gras and opera music. There are a lot of characters.
These characters all have feelings and wants and needs and
things from their past they cannot escape. Although they try, they can’t to do
the right thing to help each other or Dyson. Even though they keeping making
the same mistakes, by the end of the book, you’ll be rooting for them to succeed.
So yes, this book is ridiculous. It’s also hilarious. Wensink
words made me laugh out loud. When you think things can’t take
another turn for the worse, or the more ridiculous, they do. And how does it
end for the citizens of Dyson? Who is the hero? Who saves the town? Does anyone
outside of Dyson itself even care? Well, that I can’t tell you.