I knew I would be able to have relations with Todd’s mom when we were introduced. There was something about her. Something that we don’t discuss in polite company. Todd’s mom would give me “extra” looks when Todd wasn’t looking, and she said things that let me know that all she needed was a thumbs up to start the proceedings. If Todd’s mom was attractive, my humility wouldn’t permit me to write such a thing, but there was a reason that a forty-something female made it clear that her intentions with her son’s twenty-year-old friend were not honorable, and most of the reasons had more to do with her marketability than mine.
The mom wore a frayed, yellow T-shirt that said something along the lines of “smell the magic” with an arrow pointing downwards. Her hairdo led the observer to believe that she had spent quite a bit of money on oils, and a considerable amount of time curling. I wasn’t able to determine if either of these enhancements were natural or not, but judging by her overall appearance I made an educated guess that the woman hadn’t been to a beauty salon since Gorbachev stepped down as General Secretary. She also had a “What are you looking at?” expression on her face that led one to feel an apology might be necessary, in the introductory phase, until it could be determined that this was her natural expression.
Todd’s mom was the first parent I met that didn’t have puritanical notions about underage drinking, smoking pot, and premarital sex. She was free spirited and open in her disregard for the conventions of our constrained society. Todd’s mom was the first cool parent I ever met, in other words. She was so cool that she offered to drink and smoke with us once she was off work. When that offer was extended, and Todd gauged my reaction to it, the mother shot me an “extra” look that told me “those pants of yours will be coming off!” A full grown woman hadn’t been attracted to me at that point in my life, so it was quite a turn on, even though there were things going on with her that my young mind could not yet process.
Her cynical bitterness did not cause her to name her only begotten son Todd, I’m quite sure, and I do not believe that his mother’s near palpable hatred of men had anything to do with her giving her son a life of misery with a name. I’m sure she just liked it.
Most people don’t consider it possible to curse a child with a name. Even a person with an odd, one syllable sound attached to their identity is not cursed, naysayers might add, not in the manner you suggest anyway. A child can go onto achieve great things as an adult, no matter what their name is, look at Aldous Huxley. They can gain acceptance among their peers, they can be happy, and they can escape anything put before them. A name is a trivial concern in the grand scope of things, is something they might say. Contrarians might admit that there are names out there that could cripple a child, such as those names that rhyme with body functions, but how many parents would set out to cripple their child in such a manner?
And there’s Todd. Todd is not a cruel name you say. It’s a common male name in American society today that dates back to a medieval period in England. It means fox, as in clever or cunning. I know a number of people named Todd, and they’re not cursed in the manner you suggest, and there’s no such thing as boxing a kid into some sort of predestination by giving him a name. The very notion is irrational. Most of these naysayers, I challenge, are not named Todd.
When I first met Todd, I thought he was an idiot. That assessment was unfair, of course, because it was based on the sound of his name. Yet, when I learned that Todd couldn’t tie his own shoes, I considered that a bit of a stretch beyond even my initial assessment.
“Come On!” I said, “He’s nineteen!” I was a naïve twenty-year-old that was not difficult to fool. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I sensed a certain susceptibility I had that I knew I would have to expend effort to defeat. Even with that though, I thought this idea they were trying to sell me was beyond the pale.
This revelation occurred when Todd asked his girlfriend, my friend Tracy, to tie his shoes. I joked that I considered that an excellent domination technique I would consider exploring the next time I was around my girlfriend. That stopped the room. If Todd considered it funny, he didn’t show it. He feared Tracy in the manner a lamb will fear a border collie, and she wasn’t even smiling a polite smile. She had a “Don’t go there!” glare on her face. My initial thought was that that glare had more to do with the “domination” theme of my joke, and I felt a little guilty, because they knew my girlfriend. My girlfriend was Tracy’s best friend. This bad feeling ended for me when I said I was joking, but the cloud continued to loom over us, until I realized that this “Don’t go there!” glare had less to do with my joke, and more to do with a subject matter that began to gather so many elements in the silence that followed, that I began to feel trapped in it. I thought that I had tripped some kind of wire that would reveal domination techniques, or some sort of sexual peccadillo that I didn’t care to explore with them, and their continued silence suggested they were ready to share if I was ready to hear it. I thought that I may have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal details of their relationship that I might have to fight Todd over, until Todd broke down and told me the story of how he never learned how to tie his shoes.
This revelation continued when this tension reached a point where it had to be ended, or clarified.
“So, if you don’t know how to tie your shoes,” I said believing the shoes were symbolic of a greater story that I might regret opening. “Why would you buy tennis shoes that have shoe strings?”
The answer to this question was “a funny story”. The funny story involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and slip on shoes for her son throughout the entirety of his youth. It involved that rebellious, young man finding it a way to break the shackles of a mother’s hold with the first paycheck he had earned. The funny story involved the shoe store attendant tying the shoes for him, and Todd walking around the store, saying “I’ll take them” with the pride so many young people experience with their first, individual purchase. It involved that young man arriving home for the night and preparing to take those shoes off for bed, as he had on every other night. The funny story involved Todd’s realization that once he untied those shoes for bed, he would never be able put the shoes on again without assistance, and it ended with Todd sleeping in his shoes that night.
I was the only one not laughing.
“It was like buying a sweater with a stain on it,” he said to expound on the funny story. “And you don’t see the stain until you get home.”
I was prone to seek out the weakness in my fellow man, anytime I was around a fella man my age, but the information I was receiving was beyond the typical examples of frailties that I used to tease, mock, and ridicule my fellow man. This was just sad, and I didn’t want to know how sad it was, because I did not want to think less of Todd, but I could restrain my curiosity. I had to know the answers to questions that I did not want to ask.
“How did you get out of the first grade without tying your shoes at least once?” I asked. “Don’t teachers have to check a box before you can get out of the grade?”
The answer to that question was another funny story that involved a mother protecting her son by continuing to purchase slip ons and Velcro for her boy, regardless what Todd’s teachers told her to do. I had more questions, but I feared that they may involve answers that might lead to other revelations about a single mother’s stubborn attempts to protect a son that bordered on neglectful. I finally realized the full import of Tracy’s “Don’t go there” glare, and I shut the curiosity switch off. I kept that switch off for much of my friendship with Todd, and I even defended him against the ridicule from those that had been trained to go after another’s weaknesses in a manner similar to Pavlov’s dog, until I learned of Todd’s lifelong fear of cotton.
“Oh, Come on!” I said. I was naïve as I’ve explained, and I had had some difficulty coming to grips with certain characteristics I learned about the various Todds I’ve met, but I was now being asked to believe one of them was afraid of cotton? It was the second “Come on!” hurdle that our friendship would have to cross. Todd and I had to work through the fundamentals of his fear. Todd had no fear of towels, for example, and he wasn’t afraid of the 50% of my shirt that wasn’t polyester. It was the unmanufactured cotton and cotton balls that Todd feared. It was the type of cotton that aspirin companies put atop their tablets for the purpose of preserving them that he feared. It was the type of fear that couldn’t be explained. It was a subject matter that called for a loyal girlfriend to step in and defend her man.
“Who has unexplainable fears?” Tracy asked me. “Everyone does!” she answered. “That’s what fear is … an irrational, emotional reaction. Can you explain all of your irrational fears?”
“Yes!” I said. “Yes, I believe I can!”
I informed them that I had an irrational fear of heights, but that irrational fear was based on the prospect of falling.
“I fear falling more than I do being high up,” I said. “Whether it’s learned behavior, or primal instinct, I’ve learned that hitting the ground at a high rate hurts, and that it could end up damaging something that I enjoy using, and I’m not just talking about reproductive organs here. I’m talking about arms, and legs, and brain matter, and if you have a problem with that, you’ll have to take it up with my brain. My brain is the epicenter of self-preservation. It has learned, over the years, and through the many mistakes I’ve made, to use the emotion of fear to prevent me from harming myself, in the manner falling from on high might, and I think my brain has been doing a pretty good job thus far.
“I do accept the premise that most fears are irrational, and they can provoke emotion explanations that can be difficult to explain,” I continued. “But if you are arguing that my fear of falling and Todd’s fear of cotton are to be placed on equal ground, someone is going to have to explain to me how a brain, that I can only assume is equipped with all the same tools as mine, and is undamaged, can convince a person that a ball of cotton presents a danger to a person equivalent to falling.”
The silent reactions I received suggested I wouldn’t have to pound the point home by listing off the numerous experiences I had had with paraplegics that had assumed their condition based on falling. I wouldn’t need to recount the number of fatalities that had resulted from falling, and I wouldn’t need to compare those numbers against the number of people that had been maimed or killed as a result of an experience with a cotton ball. I wouldn’t need to go into these numbers, because the point was made. I wasn’t the type that engaged in verbal touchdown dances anyway, because I knew that doing so made a fella look bad in front of his girlfriend. I was fully prepared to allow the matter to die right then and there, no harm no foul, until I remembered that I had a cotton ball in an aspirin bottle in my medicine chest.
I was old enough to know that refraining from anything that might make a man look bad in front of his girlfriend should be the goal of any man that wants to remain friends with another, but I was still young enough to follow my impulses for the purpose of having a moment.
I hoped that I hadn’t followed my usual routine of throwing the cotton ball out the minute I opened an aspiring bottle. I hadn’t. I was excited at the prospect of having a moment that I smiled anxiously when I discovered that I hadn’t thrown the cotton ball away. I knew this would be an obnoxious moment, and I knew Todd’s feelings would be hurt by it, but when you’re twenty-years-old these considerations take a back seat to having a moment so hilarious that it could be historic.
I was so anxious that when I grabbed that cotton ball, I spilled aspirin all over my bathroom counter. I didn’t even bother pick them up. I thought timing was of the essence, and I could pick the tablets up later. I raced towards Todd and Tracy with the cotton ball dangling from fingertips, saying: “Ooga Booga!” Ooga Booga were not the words I incorporated into my ritual of striking fear in others. I reserve other exclamations for that purpose, but I felt Ooga Booga captured what I considered the perfect hybrid of comedy and horror. I would reminisce about the decision to enhance that “Ooga Booga!” later, and I would think about how I made what I considered the perfect “Ooga Booga!” face to frame the moment, but all of the decisions I made, at the time, were impulsive.
“Don’t! Dude! Don’t dude! For the love of God DON’T!” Todd said leaning back against Tracy, clutching her in a position that approached fetal.
Todd was the first “Dude!” I ever met. He was the first fella I met that could use the word as a noun, a verb, a transitory verb, an adjective, an introductory declaration, and as punctuation in an interrogatory sentence. I would meet many “Dudes!” later, and I would call them “Dudes” in a derogatory fashion, but Todd was the first.
In the moments preceding the “Ooga Booga” moment, I considered Todd’s fear of cotton to be the equivalent of the much-spoken about fear of clowns. A number of people say they have a fear of clowns, and they qualify this with a: “I don’t know why. They’re just creepy.” When the nuts are screwed into the bolts, however, the audience of this provocative joke find that while most of these provocateurs may be “creeped out” by clowns, but they don’t fear them as much as they want their audience to believe. They just want to be the center of attention for a moment.
This “Ooga Booga!” moment revealed that Todd did, in fact, fear cotton. He was clutching his girlfriend, he was in a near-fetal position, and when I threatened to put it on his skin I sensed that he might shriek.
Even with Todd’s reaction, I maintained that this was funny. That did subside somewhat when I considered the idea that unusual fears are often based upon unusual circumstances that can alter an otherwise normal thought pattern, and that my “Ooga Booga!” moment may have opened some cavern in Todd’s soul that housed these deep seeded, childhood fears that if explored any further could land him on a psychiatrist’s couch recounting the “Ooga Booga!” moment for the next twenty-five years. If this future event never occurred, we still had to deal with the present predicament I had created by putting Todd in a position where he was all but clawing at his girlfriend to get away from me. We still had to deal with the fact that I brought my party to a crashing halt, and everyone in attendance was now staring at Todd. I ruined my own party. I ruined Todd in the eyes of those attending the party. I had my moment, the moment I sought when I remembered I had a cotton ball in my medicine chest, but I did feel a little bad about it.
Even after that moment, and all of those moments that occurred before and after the “Ooga Booga!” moment that further revealed the eccentricities of this man named Todd, girls loved him. He had a degree of vulnerability about him they loved. He also had eyes those eyes. A pair of crystal blue eyes, I was informed, that could melt a girl. Could one call them dreamy? Why yes, his eyes made him a little dreamy. They could cause a girl to swoon. He also had that hair. I thought he had the same oiled and curled hair that his mother had, but it was blonde. He was a natural blonde. It was a little dirty, and somewhat unkempt, but he fit the mold of one that could get away with all of this.
He was also dumb, and girls like dumb. Now, no self-respecting, ambitious girl will admit to such a thing, but they love dumb guys. “That’s ridiculous!” is the reaction I receive when I pose this notion to the women I’ve met in my post-Todd life. This reaction is so unanimous among women, from all walks of life, that I’m forced to note it. Experience with this subject has informed me, however, that if a guy has all of the ingredients listed above, and he has a way of making a woman feel smarter on top of all that, he’s bound to find himself a permanent resident on “hotty” isle, as long as he doesn’t say, or do, anything to tarnish his presentation, and Todd never did anything to ruin this presentation.
I don’t know of many men that would want to follow Todd’s blueprint for landing women, but when those discussions arise among young men looking for a key to becoming what they call a player, I would tell them I witnessed one successful formula firsthand. I inform them that I’m as in the dark as they are on the topic, in general, but I’ve witnessed a real-life asterisk in the equation for them to consider. I tell them about how a man named Todd would work a room of girls without effort. I inform them that I witnessed Todd move from one girl to another without leaving any of them upset in the aftermath. He could have one night stands with a girl that was not his girlfriend, I would tell them, and the two girls involved would begin yelling at one another without even considering the role the Todd –the man that sat between them– may have played in the situation. What I did not tell them, because such things are impossible to relay without knowing the man, is that Todd did all this without considering the true import of his actions.
There was no carefully orchestrated plan for Todd’s success with women, in other words. He did not, as far as I know, accentuate certain aspects of his personality to appeal to women, and he didn’t work on his faults. He did not, as far as I know, sit around and develop schemes that would land him more women. He was just Todd. When fights would erupt between scorned women, Todd would sit in the middle, hoping it would end, even though he was the one that scorned them. He would play peacemaker at times, and he would do everything a man could do to prevent them from harming one another, but when the smoke would clear Todd would sit between them hoping, with sincerity, that they could all be friends. I’ve tried to explain this to those that never met him, and they naturally assumed that he was probably much smarter, or craftier than I ever gave him credit, if he had as much success as I purport. He did have as much success as I detailed, I say, but he wasn’t craftier or smarter, he was just Todd.
There’s no form of research that concludes that naming a child Todd, Gil, or Ned, can affect that child’s life in anyway. There is no sociological evidence to suggest that the Todds, the Neds, or even the Gusses of the world, live a life any different than anyone else, but if you’ve ever known one of these unfortunate (and I say cursed) individuals you know that there is a fundamental difference about them that they will spend most of their life trying to overcome. Something about their existential existence has been affected by a life lived with an odd, one syllable sound attached to their identity. They don’t all become square pegs in a round hole society composed of more pleasing sounds attached to them, but their slide to the outer layer is greased by the preconceived notions those of us have of such sounds.