I was walking through the newsroom, minding my own business the way my mommy always taught me, when I heard:
"Get a grip on yourselves, Americans! Here he comes, that gentleman, that scholar, that leader of men, but mostly that raconteur of racy and ribald tales, the one, the only, Robert Heevy-Jeevy Levey!"
"Where'd you get that one, genius?" inquired I, of a newsroom inhabitant who has sat near the soda machine for years and whose brain has obviously suffered from prolonged exposure to the cold.
"Hey, don't you want to be like all the cool athletes?" my friend asked. "You're nobody if you don't have an ama-a-a-a-zing nickname. And you're nobody if you don't go to court to ask a judge to make it your legal name."
With that, the free world's oldest deliberative body, The Water Cooler Caucus, began to convene once again. We dispensed with the opening prayer and the reading of the minutes, and got right down to business.
"It's getting completely out of hand," said one fellow. "You know this guy Mark Duper, who plays wide receiver for Miami? He asked a judge to change his name legally to Mark Super Duper."
"And then there was that pro basketball player, Lloyd Free," noted the soda machine's neighbor. "Nothing wrong with that name. But he wanted to change it legally to World B. Free. And some bonehead judge actually allowed it."
"Why shouldn't he have?" asked another member of the caucus, who fancies himself something of a legal scholar. "Would you prefer World B. Enslaved? But it's more than that, gentlemen. Do you want a judge going around telling people what they can be named and what they can't? It would be the worst of Ellis Island all over again. It's a little like those vanity plates Levey is always writing about. As long as a name isn't libelous or obscene, I say it should be allowed."
"Besides," I piped in, "whether a judge approves somebody's name legally doesn't really make any difference. Example? That dumpy little guy waddling around named Lawrence Peter Berra. He used to manage a certain enterprise called the New York Yankees. The whole galaxy calls this man Yogi. When the Yankees fired him, the headlines didn't say LAWRENCE BERRA FIRED. They said YOGI FIRED. Now, Yogi is not his legal name. But do you think those headlines would have been the slightest bit different if it were?"
"Of course not," another member said. "But why should the law help create ridiculous situations? Stop laughing; I'm serious. Have you thought about what's going to happen to Mark Duper? He'll call up for an airline ticket some day. The reservation agent will ask, 'And what's your full name, please, sir?' He'll say, 'Mark Super Duper.' And she'll have to ask him to repeat it. And he will. And then she'll start giggling. And he'll have to say, 'Hey, no, I'm serious.' It wastes money and it wastes time. Do we pay judges to do this to reservation agents?"
"The same thing could happen without a judge's approval," our legal expert noted.
"And how can the law be responsible for whether a reservation agent giggles or not?" asked a late arrival.
"Fellas, here's what I'm saying," replied the man who had imagined the airline phone call. "The law is there to protect the common good, right? The common good includes a lot more people than a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins and the sportswriters who are delighted to get such a funny tidbit to write about. The common good means that Mark Duper can call himself anything he wants when he's in the shower, or when he's having dinner at his mother's house. But it's not in the public interest for Mark Duper to be able to tie up phone lines at United Airlines, and no judge should help him do that."
"The public interest! Whooooo-eeee!" said I. "I've been a sports fan most of my life, and I have never heard a wide receiver and the public interest mentioned in the same breath."
"Stick around a while, hotshot," said my antagonist. "What comes out of my mouth gives new meaning to the word incisive."
"You're almost as humble as Mark Duper," I said.
"Neutral corners and a standing eight-count," ordered the legal expert. "Gentlemen, the managing editor has now glared at us four times, by my count. My considered judgment is that we'd better break this up and get back to work. Anybody have a last word?"
"I do," said the soda machine's neighbor. "Back when I covered General Sessions Court, a man filed for a name change one time. His name was Archimedes Telemachus Snedeker IV. He wanted to change it to Nice And Easy. Not Nice And Easy Snedeker. Just Nice And Easy. And the judge allowed it. He said anybody whose mother named him Archimedes Telemachus Snedeker IV needed the full protection of the law. I laughed for days. But think of it this way: If there's somebody running around named Nice And Easy, Mark Super Duper doesn't seem quite so bad."