HARLEM — We had just gotten back from lunch recess when a girl in my class got up to use the old pencil sharpener bolted to the wall. This was as a mini-event in our class, because if you turned the handle of the sharpener fast enough, the grinding of metal blades shaving down wooden pencils was loud enough to drown out our teacher’s voice.
For easily-entertained fifth graders, this was good times.
But not this time. At least, not for me.
Before the girl could even start turning the pencil sharpener, she stopped in her tracks and turned to face the entire class.
“Marc,” the girl said. “Lester?”
“Your name’s Marclester*?”
For five-straight years, I managed to keep my secret hidden away from my classmates, dodging detection even when I should have been caught. The first day of school, field trip sign-ups, back-to-school night, they all came and went and my secret remained safe. I was lucky.
But for some reason, which I have yet to figure out and suspect never will, my teacher posted a full copy of the roll sheet on the wall. And he made sure to put it in one the most conspicuous spots possible, just above the pencil sharpener.
“Oh my god,” the girl said, now realizing the full destructive power of her discovery.
“Your name is… Marclester!”
Yeah, that made for a really shitty week.
Somehow, I got through high school without an issue. But in college, I once got too sick to pick up a prescription. A friend of mine volunteered to run the errand. I thought it was a nice thing until I realized that the doctor used my fill name. So when my buddy dropped off my medicine, he couldn’t resist:
A few years later, at a conference I attended when I was still in college, somebody in the group found out. Yeah, there’s nothing like hearing an Ivy League honors student laugh hysterically as she put it all together:
One day, I asked my mother the obvious question: Why? I expected a decent explanation, maybe a funny story. Instead, she shrugged, lit a menthol, and phoned a friend.
Good talk, mom. Thanks!
* Technically, my birth certificate reads Marc-Lester, two words, hyphenated. But somewhere down the line, some negligent school clerk decided to mash the two together, and nobody bothered to change it. And I doubt it’s ever been right on any driver’s license I’ve ever had. Whenever I fill out the application with a hyphen — Marc-Lester — it gets dropped so it’s just Marc Lester. But that damn school clerk must have gotten a job working for the Nevada DMV, because in the Silver State I was again Marclester. Of course, dad could have fixed this nonsense by making me Franklin Jr. Instead, that honor went to my kid brother, who we called J.R. and eventually, just Jay. Good name. Not that I’m bitter or anything, pops.
** I once considered changing my byline to sound snottier. The choices were M.L. Carig or M. Lester Carig. I thought the latter sounded appropriately snotty, except I couldn’t shake its resemblance to “Molester!”