A Man Called Boris: What’s In A Name?

Today — as I always do on a Saturday — I headed out mid-morning with things to do: post a parcel, go to the Prahran Market, get a haircut, buy cigarettes, and multiple sundry little jobs; one of my stops, if the journey takes me to Southland, is the Boost Juice bar, either en route to JB Hi-Fi to buy DVDs, or as a punctuation point for refreshment whilst navigating the rest of Westfield’s monolithic answer to eastern suburbs rival Chadstone.

It struck me this afternoon, as I chatted with the girl on the counter who recognised me from previous visits, that an ancient old party trick I had invented many years before really was becoming old hat; they don’t even ask me what my name is at Boost at Southland any more, because they know who I am: or they think they do, at any rate.

My name is Boris.

Before anyone thinks I’ve gone barking mad, I should explain.

I have never really had a nickname as such, not that it bothers me; there were those during my high school years who decided to call me “Sledge” on account of my penchant for complete bluntness and candour — often perfectly innocent of any tact, too, just for good measure.

Fortunately, one mellows with age 🙂

But before the 1996 federal election (and no, we’re not going down a tangent to discuss politics, never fear), I spent some time working at Liberal Party headquarters in Brisbane, helping out with the nightly telephone polling the party was conducting in marginal electorates in and around Brisbane and near the Sunshine Coast, where there were a couple of seats the party was looking to win as well.

I had never really felt comfortable calling what I presumed were strangers, saying “Hi, it’s Yale from (fabricated research company name); would you have a couple of minutes to answer some questions about the coming federal election…” as first, I am cursed with one of those names that is not only distinctive, but very rare; Murray and Tracey and Susan had the cover of relative anonymity, but I was…well, me.

Secondly, the polling company we said we were calling from didn’t exist; the director of the Liberal polling outfit found a listing in the White Pages for an organisation by the same name, and it goes without saying that this was a source of great mirth and merriment.

It also went without saying that it sure as hell wasn’t us, ensconced in our Liberal Party bunker on Lutwyche Road.

And thirdly, my suspicion that sooner or later one of these presumed strangers would turn out to be someone I knew (and potentially knew well) was confirmed with a jolt one Tuesday night, when I was handed a call sheet with the name, address and telephone number of one of my high school teachers on it to canvass.

I don’t intend to identify her, of course, but there were a couple of female teachers the senior boys found rather appealing, if I might put it like that; this one was the “appreciation point” of choice for those of us with rather higher IQs and more sophisticated outlooks than, say, members of the football team. Not that there was anything wrong with the footy side, mind, but this sassy, stunning, smart, pouty, attitude-exuding spunk, with her sports car and her chic outfits, was someone quite a few of us wondered openly — and naively — about her marital status.

Boys will be boys…

I knew what this disarmingly forthright girl would say if anyone called her — that she was a Labor voter — but this was someone I knew from the 1980s, before the ALP ran off the rails to pander to inner-city elites as a foil to the Greens; most teachers voted Labor, and I knew for a fact that this one certainly did. However, and despite the fact my own affiliations were well known by all of my teachers at school (moi? A conservative voter? Really?), I doubted whether I would get any further than the headline “voting intention” question if I called her myself.

So I passed the call sheet off to the guy sitting beside me; he called, she deigned to have the conversation, and the affirmation of her intention to vote for Paul Keating was so emphatic that I heard the word “Labor” from a distance of five feet. As I suspected she might, she kept my colleague chatting for about ten minutes, and — with not so much as a word to him before the call of the background story I have just shared with you — when he eventually hung up, he remarked that she sounded like an awfully good sort.

That was it though: from that moment, I couldn’t call anyone as a pollster and tell them my name; there was a copy of the Courier Mail sitting on the coffee table in the middle of the room with a picture of Boris Yeltsin on the front page, and before I knew what I was doing, my next call started out, “Hi, it’s Boris calling from (silly company name)…” and the really silly thing about that is that nobody flinched.

Of course, Boris needed a surname; someone suggested “Boris Kalashnikov” as a suitably well-heeled moniker for a fictitious Russian exile, but eventually — after a fair bit of discussion in the tearoom — the decision was made that “Boris Farkovski” was a better fit, owing to the fabricated nature of the research company, because “Boris” was, in fact, just a piss-take, and on account of the response that was all too often forthcoming when some unknown resident of the boondocks we were calling into grasped the fact that we had the nerve to demand to know who they voted for.

Boris has had his uses over the years, I assure you all, and he has also come in handy when people simply don’t listen, but more on that in a moment.

But all my life — on account of my name — I have had to endure the same handful of conversations hundreds, if not thousands of times; people who might in fact be showing some genuine interest, but who instead are actually demonstrating just how dim the great herd we all belong to can really be.

Yes, it’s just like the University. Ha. Ha. Ha. Yes, I am very secure at night, thank you very much: how obliquely predictable for you to causally mention Yale locks. Me? Do I do my fair share of heavy lifting? Pull my weight? Of course I do, because there’s a forklift company named after me.

Never mind the fact the name is from Old English, and means — get this for special — “a sloping hill.” Even if anyone found that interesting at all, it’s no match for stupid gags about universities and forklift companies. If I had a dollar for each time I have heard them I would — quite literally — be a millionaire. There’s nothing original or amusing in it. It just illustrates how deep stupidity can really be.

Around the kids at school when I was younger, I quickly learned that “Yale” rhymed with all sorts of things. I got told I was slow because I was a snail. I must have been very ill, for I was always getting told I looked pale. Apparently one hell of a blowout must have happened that I sleepwalked right into, because I also resembled a whale. You get the picture.

By the time I got to high school, someone must have imagined National Socialist tendencies of me that could only be the result of hallucinogens or hard narcotics, because all of a sudden I was hearing “Heil Yale” wherever I went, replete with that ridiculous fascist salute made famous by dickless criminals in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

And my best mate, since we were both 10 years old in 1982, was and continues to be a rather sterling fellow with the surname “Oxford.” And if anyone asks me — as they asked the pair of us too often all that time ago — where Cambridge is, I will come through their screen and garrote them.

For a time after I left school, I seriously flirted with changing my name: not to Boris, of course; he was still some years away from entering the picture.

But I contemplated “Howard” — after my favourite 1980s British singer, Howard Jones — very seriously; so seriously, that for a solid portion of the few years I spent working part-time in a chain of well-known all-you-can-eat restaurants as a student, I had a name badge with “Howard” on it. Some of my Uni friends even knew me as Howard.

But I began to retreat from the whole name-change thing when I realised that rather than listening to brain-dead gags and spelling my name out for people who simply didn’t listen when I told them (and I speak very, very clearly), I would instead spend most of my life explaining why I changed it.

And when people began to suggest “Howard” had something to do with John Howard — then still a few years away from reclaiming the Liberal leadership and going on to beat Paul Keating in 1996 to become Prime Minister — rather than Howard Jones, the decision to abandon the plan completely became final, and irrevocable.

Sorry about that, HoJo.

 

I’ve always sympathised silently with those other poor unfortunates who, like me, got names that put them in the firing line, and there are many who fared far worse in this respect than I did.

I’m talking about those awful, awful bogan names that screech “I’m from Dandenong/Woodridge/Liverpool!” (select the appropriate option for your state) in crisp, compact soundbursts like Jaxxen, Rybekkah, D’mel and Kaydence. The worst one I’ve ever heard of was a girl called “Abcd,” which — apparently — is pronounced “absidee.”

Quite.

No, if people who can’t clean the shit out of their ears (or simply don’t listen) when I tell them who I am is the worst thing to worry about, I’ll take it. Especially when there are others walking around permanently branded as trailer park trash every time they identify themselves, courtesy of well-meaning but fuel-fumigated parents in beanies and sheepskin boots.

Which brings me back to Boris.

I have a rule: if some customer “service” policy at a quick service food outlet, meticulously followed by some kid who doesn’t really care anyway, means I have to give them my name so they can herd me back out the door in land speed record time, I tell them I’m Boris.

After all, it saves them the time and trouble of asking me to repeat myself. It’s simple, unmistakable, and doesn’t rhyme with anything except “Doris” and “Horace.” I’m not a girl, and anyone who gets Boris and Horace confused has a problem with themselves that extends well beyond impaired hearing. I figure I can’t go wrong.

And it saves the efficient, officious kid the trouble of typing “shale oil fracking implement” or something else they think they might have slightly misheard into their system if they simply opt to use their initiative, and decide that to be the lesser evil than asking me to say my name again just so they can be sure they’ve taken their customer “service” duties as serious as the policy manual says they have to.

Next week, when Boris turns up in his Carlton Football Club shirt for his usual smoothie order on his way to JB Hi-Fi, he’ll be greeted — as always — like an old friend. And secretly, on the inside, I’ll smugly allow myself a little smile.

 

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