Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Nickname

I've only ever had one nickname in my life: Butch.

In seventh grade I got into a fight. In morning homeroom, a friend of mine was playing around, so I playfully pushed him, and he punched me in the mouth. I got him into a headlock and hit the top of his head a couple times. We both immediately cried. No harm done. The teacher wasn't even in the room, so nothing came of it.

Til first period.

Mr. Ramsey, my social studies teacher and one of the best teachers I ever had, may he rest in peace, stuck his head into my math class while everyone was still getting to their rooms and settling. He pointed at me. "You. Butch. Come out here." Naturally everyone in our grade knew what had happened ten minutes prior, and word got to Mr. Ramsey. I knew, and he knew I knew.

I went out into the hallway where he was standing with Mrs. Wilson, my English teacher and also one of the best teachers I ever had (seventh grade was a good year). "Did you get into a fight this morning?"

"Yeah, sort of."

"What were you thinking? Don't ever do that again."

That was it. Except everyone in my math class heard him call me Butch. It stuck immediately, and I was fine with it. Mostly for the irony. I'm kind of nerdy now. You should have seen me in junior high. How many kids called Butch won their school spelling bee? As we got older, fewer people still used it, but at least three people signed my senior yearbook addressing it to Butch.

So naturally when we got online in 1996 I had to come up with an AOL screen name. Ah, AOL. Remember how many trial discs were floating around back then? If only we could have harnessed them for energy...

Well, what name could I possibly use other than Butch? Specifically, BUTCH22054. For some insane reason, Dad got it into his head that we needed to use all caps for our names (DELRT, CELTICC736, screaming our handles at strangers as if AOL were some virtual retirement home). And of course hundreds of people I would soon meet had claimed various forms of Butch, so when he put in BUTCH2 the program suggested BUTCH22054.

Welcome! You've got mail! My, the gay community on AOL is certainly friendly. And why are they all gravitating towards me? What's this, someone sent me a picture. Of a fully frontally nude Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat. I don't remember that movie.

I feel I should mention that in the halcyon days on the rising edge of the dot-com bubble, we were blissfully naive. The various strangers chatting me up were surely all perfectly polite homosexuals who were misled by my nickname. And funny, isn't it, how the name works for both sexes? It didn't matter that I was just 16. There was no "To Catch a Predator" yet. JonBenet Ramsey was still alive. For a little while. And "alive" inasmuch as a child beauty pageant contestant can be alive. Not "alive" like normal people. The internet was more like Main Street, less like the filthiest darkest hallway of Studio 54.

For some reason this flood of attention from the gays ebbed after a few months, never to flow back. I had to assume they were all meeting somewhere, regularly, conferring about new potential members. "No, no, BUTCH22054 is some straight kid. But have you met BUTCH22153? He is FABulous." I wasn't an actor yet. Perhaps if that had been on my profile, the attention would have lingered a bit longer.

I kept the screen name into college, where we learned you could mainline the internet without the throttle of AOL. AIM was always on, though, where you could find me chatting with my friends a few dorm rooms down. It wasn't until the proto-hipster LiveJournal era that I felt the need to change my online name to something less shouty, without numbers.

But if you were to see me walking down the street today and shouted "Butch!" I'd turn around. All thanks to Mr. Ramsey.


  1. Love this one Colin. I could have sworn it was BUTCH22051 though. That feels really solid in my memory. Do you remember getting into AOL chatrooms and trying to annoy people? Like when we would get into a room where people were pretending to be dragons and we would say things like ::poops in dragon hand and then smells it:: ?

  2. I remember that very fondly. Trolling before we even knew there was a word for it. I also remember how you could make a .wav file play in chatrooms, and we all had that like 30 second clip from Top Gun on our computers, so we'd make it play and you couldn't stop it. It makes me wonder what some other AOL chatroom shortcuts were. There was that dice roll thing too.