Over the Labor Day weekend, Leigh and I took our friends Dan and Michele Piscioneri to Baltimore for the Navy-Ohio State football game. As we worked our way from the Metro light rail stop towards the stadium parking lot and the Class of ’81 Tailgater, I sensed Dan really enjoyed taking in the whole scene. He had never been to a Navy football game before. I could tell he was impressed with the energy level and camaraderie of the Navy supporters, even as we were seemingly swimming in a red sea of Buckeye fans. More focused on locating our class gathering somewhere “under the overpass”, I wasn’t giving much thought to what might happen when I introduced my “college buddies” to my “real world friend”.
There is always that potential, when worlds collide, for awkward moments created by unexpected revelations. Whether it’s running into somebody from the gym while shopping with Leigh at the grocery store, or having coffee with a business colleague when a neighbor suddenly appears. There is always the opportunity for something new to be revealed about me that otherwise would not have. It didn’t take long for Dan to find out something about my past.
“Woody!” I reflexively barked as I raised my hand to signal his attention when I recognized him working his way to the tailgater. I can’t tell you the last time I saw classmate Dave “Woody” Woods, but the recognition of the towering, affable classmate was instantaneous.
“Animal!” He shouted back, smiling.
After a few minutes of catching up on each other’s lives, I introduced Woody to Dan.
“What did he call you? Animal?” Dan asked me, laughing out loud.
“I’ve never heard that one before.” he said. I thought I had heard all your stories!”
“Are you serious?” I asked laughing.
By this point Woody, chuckling himself, began to shake his head. After sharing a couple Disco Dahlgren memories he exercised the diplomatic skills that helped earn him a promotion to Rear Admiral, and excused himself to head toward the crowd of classmates now grazing over the table of food and libations.
Dan is one of my closest friends in the world. We have known each other for nearly 30 years, introduced through mutual friends shortly after we moved to Mechanicsburg in 1986. He has seen me fly the highs of life as well as mire in the muck physically, professionally and spiritually. It’s almost inconceivable that he doesn’t know everything about me. This parking lot exchange with Woody reminded me that no matter how much we think we know somebody, one can never know everything about their past.
“Animal” was the nickname I originally “earned” during my Naval Academy Plebe Summer in 1977. Caught up in the wave of class spirit and a desire to distinguish my lifelong disdain for all things Army football, I stood on my chair in the dining hall and chugged an entire bottle of Tabasco Sauce. While I don’t remember what placed that thought into my brain, I have never forgotten the experience (specifically, I haven’t forgotten Tabasco’s ability to retain its thermo-genic properties throughout the entire digestive process!) Although I would only repeat this feat once more during the balance of Plebe Year, the nickname “Animal” stuck: Allegedly, there were other non-Tabasco inspired incidents (hey – it was the ‘70’s!) which may have perpetuated the handle, It is still fascinating to me how many classmates remember me as “Animal”. I must have made an impression.
Although “Animal” is the nickname with the most enduring legacy, there have been other short-lived monikers I’ve attracted along the way. Obviously my Irish heritage has demanded that Paddy, Patty-boy, Padraig, P., P-McB, Mick and Mac have all been used at one time or another to get my attention.
In 7th grade, Aiokoa Street neighbor Rick Fram called me ‘Taco”, saying the freckles on my face “looked like pieces of beef.” As far as I can remember, Rick was the only person that had called me Taco, but it still sticks in my mind.
“Pug” was was the nickname coined by my fellow Junior Officers on my first ship, USS Independence (CV-62). This was a tribute to the similarities they found with the main character, Captain Pug Henry, in Herman Wouk’s WWII Navy novel, “Winds of War”. I’ve always appreciated this literary reference as a compliment from my peers.
Pastor Pat is another nickname I’ve been called. This is usually accompanied by a shake of the head and the roll of the eyes. Sometimes it’s a compliment, sometimes it’s not.
My latest and most treasured moniker is “Daideo”, the Gaelic word for “grandpa”. While some will read it as “Daddy-o”, its proper pronunciation is “dadj-oh”. Like Sean, Seamus and Siobhan, (‘Shawn’, ‘Shay-mus’, and ‘Che-von’) Daideo just sounds different than it looks. It seems those crazy Micks have a different pronunciation for everything!
Hopefully Levi and Grace, and any siblings they may have, will be calling me “Daideo” with a big smile and open arms long before they can spell; make no doubt about it, being a part of their lives is my life purpose. Perhaps one day tales from the ‘70’s of a man called Animal will make them giggle and shake their heads, but I hope they always know there is nothing but love in the arms and heart of their Daideo.
As for my friend Dan, he seemingly survived the collision with a sliver of my sordid past. I think that is a defining characteristic of a good friend. As for his last name, Piscioneri, as he likes to say, “it rhymes with ‘missionary’.”
And nobody can blame that one on the Irish!