This column was published Sunday, June 16, 2019, in The Manhattan Mercury.
Today, when you encounter a baby in the United States, chances are better than even the child will be named Olivia or Milo or Amelia or Asher. Their parents are quite likely named Brandon or Jessica or Andrew or Ashley.
Toward the ebb of the baby boom generation, pick any dozen of us at random and it is a virtual certainty you will find a Mike, Debbie, Steve, Mary, David or Julie.
I was never the only Mike in my class/peer group/clique.
Over the years, teachers, scout leaders, other assorted and sundry authority figures used variations of my name to distinguish me from this vast sea of omnipresent Mikes: Matson, Mike M., Michael, Mike Matson, Hey You.
As I grew older and expanded my circle, Mikes remained ubiquitous. You cannot swing a dead cat in my generation without popping a couple of Mikes. We Mikes were born, grew up, came of age, lived, loved and learned, together. We many, we happy many, we band of brothers.
In my late teens/early 20’s, my best friend was named Mike. So, my homies hung a new tag on me. Since we each sported long hair, wire frame glasses, polyester and platforms, maybe they encountered difficulty telling us apart?
He got to remain Mike. I became Michael J., indicative of the era. Think Saturday Night Fever characters: Double J, Bobby C. Since my middle name is James, I guess Michael J. made sense.
As a dues-paying member in good standing of the aforementioned like-minded clique, I raised no objections. Groupthink occurs organically when you travel in packs. Harmony and conformity trump conflict and critical evaluation of alternatives.
I guess it could have been worse. They could have called me Robby Benson.
At the time of my birth, my parents and then two-year old sister lived in an 18-foot trailer (you couldn’t really call it a “mobile home,” it wasn’t big enough) in the Blue Valley trailer court just north of Allen Road in Manhattan. My father was earning a degree in agronomy on the G.I. Bill, during the Bob Boozer era at K-State.
Joining us in our expansive portable palace was a cat.
You can see where this is going.
Hold that thought.
My sister, Viki Beth, my parents’ firstborn, has the distinct honor and high privilege of being named after our grandmothers, Victoria and Elizabeth. Our younger brother, David, can trace his name to a righteous King of Israel, acclaimed warrior and musician. An Old Testament hero. A freaking Psalm writer, for God’s sake. Literally.
I can imagine the conversation on the day of my birth at what was then the Riley County Hospital.
Mom: “He's so adorable, our little bundle of joy. What shall we name him?”
Dad: “Hmm... I kinda like that trailer cat’s name.”
Not sure whatever became of Mike, our cat-in-a-trailer. Perhaps he escaped the cramped confines, fell in with a peer group of like-minded felines named Debbie, Steve, Mary, another Mike or two, and lived the rest of his days and nights, happily roaming the Blue River floodplain with the pack, munching on mice and leftovers tossed in Blue Valley trailer court trash cans.
Harmony and conformity.
I do know that shortly after my birth, we became a dog family.
I try not to take it personally.