30 June 2011


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 01 July 2011

"Proper names are rigid designators." Saul Kripke

Let's see, New York's governor falls from grace--after caught cavorting with a young hooker. South Carolina's governor, married with children, makes rendezvous in South America--on the sly and state dime--with his Argentine chick-on-the-side and avowed "soul mate." Weird, derelict of duty, but refused to resign. California's former governor, married with children, is shamed via a loose zipper and proof thereof. And now two consecutive governors of Illinois move from the state house to the big house. The latest, Blagojevich, convicted of fraud, kickbacks, extortion, etc. A seedy scoundrel, his casual ties to Mr. Obama--whose vacant Senate seat was up for auction and the centerpiece of action--intriguing. With the president's former Chief of Staff--Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel--in the mix it's more interesting still. The truth, as to who knew what when, would be nice to know. Not likely. Mouths are closed, for now. It's not too hard to figure it out, anyway. Disheartening. But the jury's work refreshing.

So who are we entrusting with public office? Governors. Representatives. And Senators, too. Presidents? Good grief. It matters not party, if not disgusted, and outraged, by these "skit-fågels" (that's Swedish--English breaches forum rules of civility) then what's it going to take? 

But enough. Neither the heart nor stomach for politics today. So tabling, well, maybe not completely, for something lighter that will seem to meander but come together, and certainly be more entertaining.

And so...

If unfamiliar with Saul Kripke, author of the opening quote, it's worth 15, 20 minutes or an hour or more to read about him. Interesting gent, Kripke. He's a contemporary philosopher and logician. Peer philosophers voted him as among the ten most important philosophers of the past two centuries. Whoa and Wow! Heady stuff. And of course that distinction, along with a ten spot, buys a couple gallons of gas and a Starbucks half caf. But Kripke's words cited today because he has some fascinating, if not confusing, ideas about names and language and environment and learning etc. relative to today's comment. Kripke's science, and explanations thereof, is complex. If able to easily make heads or tails of what he thinks then a tip of the hat and golf applause to you.

Moving on...

Trout Fishing In America. Uppercase letters F, I, and A a hint there's more than just wading and fly casting for trout in icy streams at hand.

In 1961 Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) penned the novella, "Trout Fishing In America." He published it in 1967. His title, as you might suspect, is misleading and used for multiple purposes in his story. I'll not spoil it. Take a few minutes to research or pick up a copy.

Anyway, 27 years after Brautigan's work hit the public domain, a teenager named Peter Eastman, Jr., hailing from California, legally changed his name to "Trout Fishing In America." True. No kidding. But the kid dropped "Shorty" (the fifth word in the name of a character in the novella title).

I actually remember reading a newspaper article about the peculiar court proceeding and the judge asking Mr. Eastman if he understood the ramifications of taking on such an unusual name. For instance, the judge asked if the court was to address him as Mr. Trout, Mr. Trout Fishing, or Mr. America? And as I recall, Eastman politely replied something along the lines of, "Trout Fishing In America, your honor." As if implying the question silly. The judge smiled, forewarned of confusion and problems, and wished him well.

At last report, Trout Fishing In America was residing in Japan and teaching English. He's so koi.

And, by the way, honoring Brautigan there's a moon crater named "Shorty"--so awarded by an Apollo astronaut. And there once was, and maybe still is, a rock band named "Trout Fishing In America."

"Vinciata." Ever heard of this character?

No, not an Italian from the old country. And, no, not a philosopher--at least not proper.

Vinciata once gained notoriety for hiring a woman to wear a flesh-hued body suit, so as to appear nude, and reenact Lady Godiva's famous horseback ride in protest of city taxes.

I first heard of Vinciata some 22 years ago. We met a few months later.

Vinciata was a pen name. I don't know if court-approved or not.

Vinciata's given name was Joseph Wallace King. Friends called him Joe. The day we met, spending several hours, I called him Mr. King. He smiled when I mentioned knowing about Vinciata. He told me the Italian-sounding name tied him, if only emotionally, to a country he loved, helped his public image, and sold work. It sure did. He sold a lot of work.

Vinciata was an artist--a painter. And a damn good painter of portraits, figures, landscapes of Italy, and just about anything. And he was indeed a character. The Lady Godiva gag one example. A friend forewarned me the day before visiting the studio to not be surprised if Vinciata was working when I arrived--that is, painting with a nude female model spread before him. He enjoyed seeing visitors startled and momentarily uncomfortable. As it was, he'd correctly suspected a fellow artist would not be surprised, and I was disappointed, upon arrival, he was not working.

Vinciata gave me valuable advice about painting, and the business thereof, that chilly Spring afternoon we met in 1989. Oh, did I mention he only had one arm? His right one. No one had mentioned that tidbit to me.  If his "handicap" (he did not wear prothesis) posed challenges for him it sure didn't show.

Vinciata, aka: Joe King (1911-1996), called Winston-Salem, NC, home. He painted the not-so-famous. He painted corporate America bigwigs, kings, queens, and presidents. And it was my good fortune to have befriended him. "Vinciata"--as I recall, a name he said he made up. A true artist. For his last hurrah, he  published an autobiography--"There Ain't No Rags in Beverly Hills" is worth reading.

Peter Falk died last week. The one-eyed guy, once told he had no future in pictures, finally made it big as "Columbo." But first, in 1963, he had a small part as a cabbie in the big comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

I always liked Peter Falk. Mere hours after hearing of his death and beginning research for today's comment, I stumbled upon a guy named Aron William James Brown. Mr. Brown legally changed his name to "Aron Mufasa Columbo Fonzerelli Ball In A Cup Boogie Woogie Brown." The "Columbo" came from his obsession with Falk's character. And "Fonzerelli" from Winkler's 1970s "Happy Days" role as the "Fonz." "Ball In A Cup"? Who knows. Golf? Athletic supporter? I have no idea. To give his new name some pizzazz, Brown added the "Boogie Woogie." Cool name. But I'd drop the "Mufasa."

American actor Robert Schenkman changed his last name to Trebor. Why so common? Take a closer look. His legal name is a palindrome.

One Andrew Wilson, who hails from somewhere in Missouri, in 2004 legally changed his name to "They." This one's a head scratcher. Why? First thought is it sounds perfect for an Abbott and Costello shtick (Where's They? They who? You know, They? How should I know. Maybe They went with them...and so on and so forth...), and a lot of trouble (They said or They did it or They told me to...).

And some folks go so far as to adopt numerals in their name. I recall hearing of a young woman who took on 8, or maybe it was 9, as her middle "name." And there are others.

The rocker Prince adopted an unpronounceable symbol for his "name" but eventually dropped it returning to "Prince." Funny, while carrying his symbol identity, media printed the symbol and usually clarified it with, "The artist formerly known as Prince"--thereby defeating the whole point. Whatever.

So what started interest in name changes as subject for today? A couple of headlines in last week's papers.

First, an article about Osama bin Laden and how some of the confiscated materials from his compound indicated he'd been scratching out new monikers for "al-Qaida." Apparently even terrorism needs re-branding to remain relevant. Among a handful of possibles, the name that caught my attention was "Wal-Jihad"--which led me to think Wal-Mart might have taken exception and filed suit to stop. Wal-Mart. Wal-Jihad. Some folks, especially small business owners, think one and the same.

And then there was an article about NBA Los Angeles Laker Ron Artest (unknown to me before reading the article) who applied to change his name to "Metta World Peace." Seems shortly after that announcement there was word former Governor Schwarzenegger directed his counsel to file papers to stop Artest from proceeding. Oddly enough, seems Arnold had already applied for the same moniker. Calm was restored when the court's clerk pointed out Artest's new last name submission was spelled with "ea." So went the rumors and snickering.

And finally...

How relieved The White House with Campaign 2012 underway--now back to doing something they actually know a little bit about. But this go round, "Barack Obama" isn't going to be the fad brand name it and he was in 2007/2008. The thrill is gone. So, aliases expected to be heard even more: "Beabush S. Pfalt"; "Inherited D. Mess"; and "Lettmee B. Klear." While opponents have already tagged him, "Hesanot Up 2 DeJob" and who knows what else.

All's fair in love, war, politics, and name changing. Just ask aloha state native, Barry Soetoro. 

And with that and in the name of sanity, thank goodness for icy streams, fly rods, and trout fishing in America.

And in closing,

God Bless the United States and all of her odd ducks; all 310+ million of them.

Post Script

A couple of short, interesting videos featuring "Vinciata."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKBvylxmkc4 (1960s)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHCgYket5ZE&feature=related (1980s)

Author's Endnotes

1. Thanks, readers, for all the cards and letters last week. Keep 'em coming!

2. Shout out--"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Trevorman!"

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