February 27, 2012
Last month, my mother held a family contest. The fact that my brother never named his boat was a topic of some concern for her. I don't know what kind it is—some center console fishing type boat. Anyway, I think she heard it's bad luck for a boat to not have a name, and it had been over a year since he bought it, so she set out to get it one. "Two bucks an entry," she told us. We could enter as many name ideas as we wanted, and he'd pick the name he liked best. Whoever came up with the winner got the money.
It was a great idea. Except that most of us promptly forgot about it for the entire three weeks until the deadline. I should mention, too, that my brother couldn't have been less interested. I'm not even sure he was aware there was a contest. But when the entries came due, most of us were home for the weekend (the contest coincided with his 30th birthday) and Mom subtly reminded us that we'd ignored her. Which means she wasn't subtle at all, and said something like, "That's fine if you don't want to take part. The rest of us will just make do.... Deadline's in an hour."
Being one of two writers in the family, I found myself under enormous pressure. One sister even said, "We all know you're going to win." So I holed myself up in an upstairs bedroom and sweat my way through a list of brilliant words, rhymes, idioms. I was GOING to win, I HAD to win. To me, it came down to strategy. Everyone had one. My mom's was to incorporate my brother's wife's name. Sweet idea, but not smart. Right or wrong, his macho friends would kick his ass from here to the Pacific if he named his boat after his wife. My sister's strategy was to incorporate his favorite beer, Natural Light (yessss.... really). She entered Nautey Light. Clever. Not classy, but clever.
Anyway, it didn't hold a candle to mine.
See, my brother's a canine cop. And his attachment to his intensely terrifying attack dog, Tango, is the stuff of Hollywood. They do everything together, and I'd bet he'd lay down his life for that dog. Sooooo.... Bingo Tango, thanks for the golden ticket. This was going to be the easiest $34 I ever made. All I had to do was throw that dog's name into my boat name idea and that money—and all the glory—was mine. I floated down the staircase, confident, waving my entry in front of my sisters' faces. I pronounced the contest over, sewn up.
Incidentally, both of my younger sisters offered their kids a chance to enter names, too. In response to which, this happened:
My three-year-old niece immediately launched a simultaneous contest to name her imaginary horse's friend. It's the same horse's friend that gets bit by a rattlesnake every day, dies, comes back to life, and won't let anyone ride him.
My five-year-old nephew shouted out his uncle Jimmy's name, to which his mother said, "No, I'm not paying for that."
My eight-year-old niece entered "Cold Beer Express," which was a hint to the entire family we should work on our subtlety when it comes to our drinking. (The other hint was at Christmas, when I gave my mom this pretty glass angel statue, and my niece asked if it was something to drink our wine out of.)
And then there was my five-year-old niece. She looked at the boat, thought about it, rolled it over in her mind, and said....
I opened my mouth to let the questions fly—I'd never been this fasinated. I immediately wanted to get her a glass of water, sit her down for an interview, and find out everything about how she came up with that name. But I stopped myself. Why spoil it? God's Friggin' Chandelier.
It was right after dinner when my brother looked over the entries and casually said, "Nautey Light." That's right. He named his boat after the most terrible beer ever marketed to man. Or maybe they just exclusively market it to him now, because I can't think of a single other person who drinks it on purpose.
No one handled the loss worse than my dad and me. And that was only AFTER the news finally sunk in. See, I thought my brother was just naming the ones he'd narrowed it down to. Or reading the whole list aloud? But when he put the list down and went back to eating his ice cream, I promptly got mad. I accused him of going "low-brow" and told him he'd hate the name in a year. "Did you even READ all the ideas?" I demanded.
"Why, which one was yours?" he asked.
(Heavy sigh.) "Tango's. Booty," I told him. "Tango's Booty. Get it? Booty, like pirates? Tango, like your dog?"
He raised his eyebrows. "I thought one of the kids came up with that."
It was crushing.
Then there was my father, the other "creative type." Well, that's not true. He's a newspaperman—I think creative types get on his nerves.
Anyway, he reacted just as badly. He sat across from my brother, loaded glass of wine in hand, and said, "Get it? Mellow Yellow. You know, because your godd*** boat's yellow. And sh**, you drink on the boat, and Mellow Yellow's a drink. Get it?" Takes a sip of wine. "You know what the word mellow means, right?" Then, he throws his arms in the air and starts doing the wave, but.... I don't know, maybe it was a seizure. Picture a 64-year-old Irishman thrashing his arms like he's drowning, but in slow motion, and you've got it.
Oh, and also? My father refused to pay the $2 entry fee. "He lives on my land, I'm not paying."
"But Dad, that's not how it works. Whoever the winner is--that's who gets the money."
"Nope," he said defiantly. "Everybody in this room has lived under my roof at some point. Nobody's getting a dime."
So that was our family-friendly contest. Despite the cursing and the tears and beer names that he's going to hate in a year, it wasn't all bad. God's Chandelier came in second.