Friday night, at my local watering hole, I met a guy named Israel. Israel works at a chain pasta place, another fine establishment in the strip mall which houses the karaoke bar with the bartender who knows what I want before I open my mouth and waves at me when we drive past each other in the neighborhood. Israel seemed jittery and anxious when I was introduced to him by the Norwegian guy we call Axl Rose. Israel and Axl didn’t really know each other, but Israel had seen Axl sing a metal song the last time he was in. They spent the first five minutes of conversation trying to name the song Axl had sung. When they finally agreed it must have been “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth, Axl headed back in for a rendition of something Metallica, and Israel explained that he only recently learned of the existence of my favorite people-watching venue.
“I can’t believe I’ve been here like five years and had no idea about this place.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of hidden. And I guess it’s not like you expect to find it between Trader Joe’s and the martial arts studio.”
“It’s great, though…. I’m a singer…. I sing in bands a lot….” He paused between each short sentence to suck on the end of his cigarette, which was wedged too close to where his first and middle fingers meet.
“Except I’m not really in a band right now…. So, I’m not really singing much…. I mean, except in the shower…. Everyone does that…. Sings in the shower….” His eyes darted away from mine whenever he realized I was looking at him, which I was doing the entire time he was speaking, so I don’t think he actually looked at me for more than a tenth of a second.
“But it’s not the same in the shower…. I mean, no one’s really listening…. It’s different than being on a stage…. When people are looking at you…. And since I haven’t been on stage for awhile….”
“Man, last time I was here…. I was really nervous…. At first…. Then it got better…. So, now I’m back…. Cool place….”
Had Israel been the only person named after a place that I encountered that night, I might not have thought much of it. But earlier, I had done a double take when I saw the name Nevada splayed in large font on the flat-screen that ensures even completely inebriated people that don’t know the lyrics to a song can sing along anyway. It reminded me of a handful of other people I know who were named after places.
When I was in high school, there was a family that named all their boys after cities that start with the letter ‘D.’ One from Texas, one from Colorado, and one from Ohio (I suppose they could’ve done worse with major cities from Michigan or Iowa). We used to wonder what prompted this particular pattern – did the parents travel a lot and just happen to be in those places when their sons were conceived, or was there no meaning to it at all? I never found out but I still wonder.
A former co-worker of mine named his son after the Vermont ski resort where he met his future wife while snowboarding. So, that makes six regular people I now know of who were named after places I would classify as rather uncommon: Dallas, Dayton, Denver, Israel, Nevada, and Stratton. I guess that’s one way to decrease the chance your kid will have the same name as someone else in his or her class…