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December 03, 2008
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Jerry's Ink


Nicknames


I hope they put that idiot Plaxico Burress in jail and throw away the key. I can't wait to see if he plans to wear his prison hat crooked on his head the way he wears his Giants football cap. In the meantime, here's a column I first wrote a few years ago. In my old neighborhood, Plaxico would have been called "Plax the Moron."

I ran into an old friend from Brooklyn the other day. I hadn't seen him since I was 16.

"Yo, Hooks," he said. "It's me, Dog."

"Yo, Dog," I said. "Whatcha doin'?"

"Liddle a dis. Liddle a dat."

I was suddenly aware of how my whole speech pattern had changed the minute "Dog" identified himself.

At that moment I was back in time standing in front of Hy and Ann's candy store under the Culver line "El" at McDonald Avenue and Avenue U.

I was a duck-tailed kid with pegged pants and pistol pockets wearing a black leather jacket and flirting with girls with names like "Bubbles" and Barbara "Black."

"Ya see any of the guys?" I asked.

"Yeah," he answered. "I went back to Avenue U to see my Aunt Mary, God bless her she's 92, and I saw Frankie Nuts and Blackie and Baldy. I looked for Hoppy but he wasn't around.

"Ya know Joey Beans got killed. He turned into a bust-out gambler . . . was into the shies for thousands . . . too bad, he was a nice guy."

"Yeah, a nice guy," I answered, thinking of Joey Beans playing softball at the PS 95 schoolyard — a fresh-faced 17-year-old who couldn't wait to join the Marines. He lasted six months and they discharged him for striking a superior officer. He came out and the neighborhood gambling monster chewed him up and spit him out.

"Curly just went away," Dog said, shaking his head.

"Yeah, I read about it. Too bad, he was a nice kid," I said, trying to bring back the handsome young boy into my memory and trying to forget the pudgy old guy whose grainy picture was in The New York Post when he was sentenced.

"I think he's going to be away forever," Dog said.

"Yeah, at this age forever is a lot closer than it was when we were 16," I said.

We both continued the small talk in our own particular verbal shorthand, then we awkwardly hugged each other and turned in different directions and came back to our lives this year.

I hardly knew Dog in my old neighborhood — he was part of an older, tougher group of boys, many of whom "went away" — the neighborhood term for incarceration. I didn't have the nerve to ask Dog what a "liddle a dis, liddle a dat" meant.

Was it just my neighborhood in Brooklyn where everybody had a nickname? Did they have nicknames in the Bronx and Queens? New Jersey?

My kids all call their friends by their proper names. There isn't a Frankie Nuts or a Baldy to be found.

Are nicknames a thing of the past? Was it an attempt by the kids of my generation to give everyone a distinct identity, or did we all just have a lousy memories for names?

I was called Hooks because the only basketball shot I would take was then called a "hook shot."

Dog was called Dog because when he went to the racetrack he would always bet on the long shot or the "underdog." My friend Frankie, at the age of 15, lost his temper and slugged a gym teacher twice his size. Thus, Frankie Nuts was born.

Barbara's family was from Sicily and so she had dark skin, thus she became Barbara "Black." I won't tell you how Bubbles got her name except to say it was a sexual reference related to a popular song of the time.

It was a different time.

It was a different place.

Sometimes late at night I think about it and I wish I could be Hooks again and have it all back.

If you wish to comment on "Jerry's Ink" please send your message to jerry@dfjp.com

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