Monday, August 18, 2008

It's All Dennis Miller's Fault

© 2008 Leighann Lord

"A good rule of thumb is if you've made it to thirty-five and your job still requires you to wear a name tag, you've made a serious vocational error." — Dennis Miller

When I heard Dennis tell this joke on TV years ago, I howled. I loved it. Although it smacked of elitism I still found it to be a flat out funny line. So imagine my horror when the cruise line I do shows for asked me to wear one.

New security rules require that all staff members – even the funny ones – wear a name tag while on board ship. I understand the need for tighter security but with Dennis' words echoing in my ears I couldn't help feeling that I had somehow made the vocational error of which he joked.

I'm no stranger to wearing a name tag. I had one many moons ago when I worked at B'Dalton Bookseller. But it's been my experience that no good comes from wearing a name tag. Customers only want to know your name when they're angry and want to report you to someone. We can't have that now can we?

Given it's uniqueness, I've become a bit proprietary about my name. The last thing I want is someone leering in the general direction of my left breast and butchering the pronunciation. There are not a lot of Leighann's in the world and even fewer who spell it the same way I do. The 'gh' seems to trip people up. I didn't always like my name. When I was seven years old I announced to my parents at the dinner table that I had changed it to Clarisse. I fancied it because it was the name of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer's girlfriend. Surprisingly it didn't catch on.

Family truths be told, Leighann wasn't even supposed to be my name. My parents had originally planned that if they ever had a daughter they would name her Rhonda. However, by the time I was actually born they had forgotten. It's just as well. I don't look like a Rhonda, but that's the name I give when they ask at Starbucks.

It doesn't happen at every location, but at the very busy ones they take your order, ask your name, and then scribble it on your cup. Wary New Yorker that I am, this makes me uncomfortable. Sell me the coffee and stop invading my privacy. To preserve my anonymity, Rhonda has become my Starbucks identity. Coincidentally, we both happen to love Caramel Macchiatos.

But I digress.

Part of my resistance to wearing a name tag is that the successful trajectory of my career should put my name up in lights, not attached to a plastic pin on my shirt. Stand-ups by nature want to stand out, not be tagged and lumped with the group. The characteristics that make me a good comic don't necessarily help me play well with others.

As with most neuroses much of this stems from childhood. Stereotypically, I was horrible at sports and was always one of the last kids picked for any group athletic activity. There are two ways to cope with this: buy a trench coat or find the funny. I chose the latter. My motto is "Those who can, do; those who can't, mock."

I was an academic loner as well, detesting group projects. I remember damn near weeping in disgust when Brother Philip, my sophomore year Speech teacher, announced that our final grade depended on a group presentation. I didn't get to choose who would be in my group either. Brother Philip did the honors and I was saddled with more than my fair share of academic dead weight: mediocre students and slackers who's sole purpose in life was lowering my GPA. To stave off grade degradation I did all the work myself and thus missed the entire point of the lesson: how to work well with others.

The Big Beefy Men in gleaming white uniforms who work security on the cruise ship seemed unmoved by childhood traumas, and were even less enthused by my artistic sense of self importance. They gestured vaguely to the vicinity of my left breast and demanded to know the whereabouts of my name tag. Preferring not to walk the plank, I dug out the offending name tag and pinned it on.

How am I coping? Not very well -- damn you, Dennis -- but as long as she gets an occasional Caramel Macchiato, Rhonda seems fine with it.

Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

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