Why it was that I woke up this morning all bent out of shape about not having a middle name I don’t know. But I did. And believe me; I’d rather it hadn’t happened. I had things to do today.
I was born without any name at all, the result, apparently, of indecision on my parents’ part. My birth certificate attests to this fact: ‘Baby Boy’ Handwerger, it reads. Eventually my folks settled on Alan; but the process obviously exhausted them before they got around to the middle – a middle that has remained conspicuously blank on countless forms throughout these intervening sixty years.
Well, all of that is about to change. I’ve given this matter a lot of thought all morning, and I’ve decided that what I’m after is not a middle name after all, but rather a middle initial. I’m gravitating toward Q.
Why Q? Well, it’s distinctive; I think you’ll all agree. And rare. Of the 60,000 entrees in the Random House dictionary on my lap, only 152 begin with Q. And if you don’t count abbreviations, proper nouns and words that use the “quad” prefix, that number comes down to just 114.
But my partiality comes less from Q’s scarcity than from the spirit of playfulness that imbues so many Q-words: words like quaff and quandary and quibble and quintessence and quahog (I’m from Rhode Island). Words that make a language rich.
And then there’s Quixotic: 1. excessively romantic, tending to take a romanticized view of life 2. Impractical, motivated by an idealism that overlooks practical considerations 3. Impulsive, tending to act on impulses. (After Don Quixote, hero of Cervantes’ novel of the same name.)
If the shoe fits...
Still, this is a life-altering decision. Who exactly was this Don Quixote? I know I read his story when I was young. But I’d better read it again. I’ll be right back …
(625 PAGES LATER)
Yes. Q it is.
It’s been three days now that I’ve been presenting myself to the world as Alan Q. Handwerger; and I have to admit that I’m a bit self-conscious about the whole thing. I remember feeling the same way when I started wearing a broad-brimmed hat. The difference is that people definitely noticed the hat, whereas the Q. has been met with seeming indifference.
Thus far I have sent at least a dozen pieces of correspondence in which I have included my Q, and not one recipient yet has deigned to mention it.
Is it possible, then, that people could care less whether I have a middle initial or not? Certainly wasn’t the case when I was growing up and the other kids would taunt me viciously over the gaping hole between my first and last names. “He don’t got a middle name. Let’s call him (blank).” Childhood abhors a vacuum.
I suppose it was frustration that led me to the Land of Forms, city hall, where I changed my voter registration, the deed on the house, my birth certificate and the owner’s name on both of the dog’s licenses. Nothing. Four different clerks. Three hours in lines. Not a word about the Q.
It wasn’t until I went to the bank late this afternoon, after a stint at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, that the dream of being acknowledged as a man of nominal stature became a reality. “I’d like to open a savings account,” I said to the teller.
“According to our records, Mr. Handwerger, you already have a savings account.”
“Yes, yes I know. But I need another one.”
“Very well then. If you’ll just fill out these forms.”
“Gladly,” I said, practically snatching the forms from her hand.”
… I was back at the counter in a jiffy with my completed forms
And then it happened. “Q.,” the teller said. “You don’t see many Qs, do you? Does it stand for something?”
As much as I had longed for this moment, she had caught me off guard. Ought I to reveal the genesis of my Q? Or would I come across as that much more the man of mystery were it to remain my little secret?
“No. It’s just a Q.” And I could swear that she now looked me up and down. She was the first; but she would not be the last. Not by a long shot.
(SIX MONTHS LATER)
“So what does it stand for?” the pretty customs inspector at Montreal’s Dorval airport asked me when I presented my passport at her immigration kiosk. “I know that that Q. stands for something.”
“If I were to tell you,” I answered with seduction in my smile, “would you have dinner with me tonight?”
“No,” she answered, but I sensed that she was about to cave. “Well, maybe.”
“Then maybe I’ll tell you.”
“Alright, then. Dinner would be nice.”
Ma Maison? Say seven thirty?”
The power of Q.