On Nicknames

HArd HAt

Ah, nicknames—a good nickname is one that suits the recipient, one that clings to him or her like a newlywed, and ideally, one that he or she loathes. When I was in high school, one witty chap dubbed me “Death” my sophomore year due to my propensity for dressing all in black and a painful shyness that rendered me as quiet as, well, death. He wasn’t a bad fellow, and I eventually opened up to him enough that he changed my name to “Satan” the following year.


I figured when I left the awkward, sleepy years of high school behind, I would leave the mischievous monikers behind as well. I did not know it at the time, but carpenters (one of which I would later become) have a great affinity for—nay, obsession with—bestowing unwanted appellations upon people. An apprentice at twenty-four, I felt like a kid who was forced to repeat sixth grade until he received his driver’s license. All around me were people descended from long lines of builders, born into the trade, who had probably built themselves cribs to sleep in. I didn’t learn how to properly swing a hammer until the start of my third decade. Let the awkward years begin anew.


A carpenter’s apprentice (a lucky one like me anyway) is cheaper to employ than a union laborer. Sweeping gypsum up off concrete—concrete you helped form and pour six months before—while wearing hand-me-down Bob Vila bags turned around backwards is frankly embarrassing, especially when you’re not a teenager. The laborer foreman on one job, probably due to some personal inadequacy, had a special dislike of apprentice carpenters. One friend of mine with a loping walk was quickly dubbed “Jar Jar” (as in “Binks”). And me you ask? The near-ancient-for-an-apprentice carpenter? I was called “Cherry”. Unlike “Jar Jar”, “Cherry” stuck like a nail in a foot. Every GD place I went on that huge jobsite I heard something like “What’s up, Cherry?” or “How’s it hangin’, Cherry?”


After I had gained some respect from the boss, he decided to overrule the laborer foreman and give me a new name. He could not abandon the “ch” sound when he talked to me—perhaps he was not the, ah, sharpest tool in the Connex—so he renamed me “Chuck”. To his delight, I’m sure, every morning he (and others) could then greet me with, “What’s up, Chuck?”


About Jeff Opfer

Jeff is a carpenter and freelance writer born and raised in the Reno area. View all posts by Jeff Opfer

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