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Shell Shocked: What’s in a name?

By ART STEVENS - | Nov 10, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Art Stevens

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to count his chickens before they hatch. I have exactly 2,486 chickens which haven’t hatched as yet. At least that’s what my accountant reported to me recently.

He was kidding around, of course. He knows full well that all my chickens have already hatched and I don’t have any more around the chicken pen. All I have left are pigs which, as you all know, don’t hatch the same way chickens do. Piglets are born not hatched.

Which raises a question. Would you rather be born or hatched? I can’t imagine what it’s like for a hen to sit on an egg for what seems like an eternity and wait for it to burst open and greet a tiny hatchling with motherly love, can you? Can you imagine your wife sitting on an egg and having the same result? I don’t think hens have mid-wives. But our species does. The females of our own species seem to have a tougher time giving birth than hens do. Well, female pigs, or sows as they are called, give birth to letters of around twelve piglets at a time. That’s common for sows but not for females of the human species.

But I’m getting ahead of myself which is the same thing as counting a chicken before it hatches, or a pig before it’s born. I’m free associating because I’m reminded of an experience that had no chickens or pigs in it whatsoever but it had an escape hatch. Hence, my reference to hatchlings.

I was sitting at a bar in a Chicago hotel in between meetings some years ago when a stranger approached me. He walked right up to me, looked into my face and had a questioning expression which indicated that he thought he might know me but wasn’t entirely sure. I ignored this intrusion for a spell but I finally turned to him and said: “Do I know you?”

He kept looking at me and nodded his head. He then said “no, it couldn’t be. Could that really be you?” “Who?” I said.

“Bart Ramus, it is you, you old son of a gun,” he said and began to laugh loudly. “The last time I saw you was with Martha Jones in the third grade when she was beating you over the head with an ink blotter. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“I think you’re mistaking me for someone else. I don’t recall that incident nor do I recall any Martha Jones.”

He was not to be denied: “Bart, you were always good at hiding your true feelings. Every time something embarrassing happened to you in class you pretended afterwards as if nothing had happened. There you were with ink all over your face but you calmly took your seat and pretended to study. I know I couldn’t have handled that the way you did. You always found an escape hatch for your embarrassing moments.”

Was I finding an escape hatch again for embarrassing moments? Was I counting my chickens before they hatched? “Sir, to begin with, my name isn’t Bart Ramus and it never was. Secondly, I would have definitely remembered being hit over the head with an ink blotter. I don’t remember it because it never happened.”

He sat down next to me and never stopped chuckling. He ordered a drink and told the bartender to freshen mine up. I was getting nervous.

He didn’t miss a beat. “Bart, it has been a long time and it just might be that you’re not remembering experiences from your past the way you used to. I can understand that. We’re not as young as we used to be.”

I said nothing. But he continued. “And do you remember the time you were riding on the side of a fire truck and fell off right into a puddle of mud? You were brown all over. I remember your mom picking you up and slapping you on the side of your head all the way home.”

I almost jumped off the bar stool. “Listen, friend, that wasn’t me. I never fell off a fire truck and my mother never inflicted bodily harm on me. She was a pacifist. You must surely have me confused with someone else.”

The bartender was taking all this in and began to chuckle himself most likely thinking that I was some kind of clumsy, unhinged freak. I found myself being more defensive than I usually am. “I don’t know who you are, friend, but I don’t know you or if I did I don’t remember you at all. What’s your name and where did this supposedly happen?”

He began to laugh and said “Oh, my God, Bart, I remember another incident when the entire class threw board erasers at you because you belched out loud. Do you remember that?” And then he began to laugh more loudly to the point where his face turned a bright shade of red. Suddenly he clutched his chest and fell to the floor. The bartender and I tried to come to his aid. It looked like he might be having a heart attack.

I told the bartender to call 911 and I tried putting some pillows under my presumed old friend’s head. He whispered to me, “This is so embarrassing. Please don’t tell my wife.” I then reached into his jacket pocket to get his name so that I could call someone he knew. And that’s when I truly began to question the sanity of the world.

His name was Bart Ramus, the name he kept calling me. Oh, mighty chicken. Hatch away.