I began work as a telephone operator at Michigan Bell in Flint in 1975. One of my co-workers, Jeannie Dick, had also graduated from Flushing High School but a few years before me, and because of that connection and our wickedly similar sense of humor, we soon became good friends.
One day she was sitting next to me at the long switchboard, daydreaming, while I was busy helping a customer place a long-distance call.
Right in the middle of my conversation with my customer, she leaned over to me and whispered, “I’m so glad my parents didn’t name me Anita.” When I quickly put that first name together with her last name and said the whole thing under my breath, “Anita Dick”, I burst out laughing right in my customer’s ear.
I stammered an apology and told my customer that I had to put her on hold for just a minute, and then I kept laughing so hard, I had tears in my eyes and I couldn’t catch my breath.
The supervisor came walk-running up to me and tapped me on the head with her pencil, as she was always prone to do, and sternly told me to get busy while Jeannie innocently pretended to be busy on a call.
But I vowed to get back at Jeannie somehow. Later that day, when I had returned to the switchboard room after my last break, I persuaded the operator sitting next to Jeannie to let me sit there.
Jeannie grinned, knowing I was going to do something, but I began answering calls, letting the tension build. So after an hour, while Jeannie was in the middle of a call, I leaned over and whispered to her, “It could have been worse, your parents could have named you Rhoda!”
Jeannie did the same thing I had done earlier: she busted a gut laughing right in her customer’s ear. I told her, “Gotcha!” as I continued to work as busy as a bee, but grinning all the time as she got into trouble too with the supervisor.
In 1978 I started a new job as a telephone operator for a physicians’ answering service. I told that first story to a new co-worker, Kathy Eleazer, who laughed very hard and then told me a similar story of her own that had happened about a year before.
Kathy’s last name is pronounced “E-lays-her” so that is important to the humor of this tale.
Kathy has an older brother, Steve, who had been married for almost three years. Kathy, her brother, the brother’s wife, and Kathy’s parents were all having a dinner celebrating the parents’ wedding anniversary in a very nice restaurant. After the waitress had taken their orders, Kathy’s mom asked Steve when him and his wife were going to have a baby.
Apparently Kathy’s mom had been asking and asking Steve and his wife when they would have a baby soon after the marriage and had continued to keep asking. The two of them were getting very tired of telling her repeatedly that they weren’t ready yet to have children.
So when they told her, again, that they were not ready yet to have a baby, Kathy’s mom waited a patient ten minutes. Then she sighed, and said, “Oh, wouldn’t it be so nice to have our first grandchild with us on our anniversary next year?”
Steve, fed up, then told her, “Okay, mom, we will make you happy. We will go home right after dinner and get to work on making a grand-child for you. And if it’s a girl, we will call her Shirley Hope.”
His mom became giddy with excitement. “Do you mean that? Oh a baby to hold at last! And Shirley Hope! What a wonderful name! Shirley Hope Eleazer!”
And when the sound of the whole name dawned on her (Shirley Hope E-lays-her), while the rest of them were trying to stifle their giggles, Kathy’s mom sternly exclaimed, “Steven Eleazer, that is not funny, not funny at all!”
Steve told her, “Mom, it is funny, but if you don’t stop bugging us and bugging us about exactly when we’re going to have a baby, we swear we WILL name our baby girl, if we have one, Shirley Hope. And then she will have nobody to blame but you for her horrible name! So knock it off!”
His mom meekly agreed and never asked them again when the first grandchild would arrive, in fear that Steve and his wife really would follow through on their threat. Then the baby would grow up to hate her grandmother for that awful name! Shirley Hope Eleazer, eek!
When my daughter, Tara Behme, was in 3rd grade, she was madder than a wet hen when I picked her up after school one day. I asked her, “What’s wrong, honey?” but she refused to talk to me, as she sat, fuming, in the car.
After she had stomped into the house, thrown her bookbag onto the couch, she turned to me and angrily asked, “Why did you name me Tara?”
Surprised, I told her, “You know why you were named Tara. I named you after the Hill of Tara in Ireland because we are part Irish and also after the plantation, Tara, in the book and the movie, “Gone With The Wind.” Why are you angry about your name?”
She asked, “Do you know what Tara says when it’s spelled backwards?” So I said, out loud, “A-R-A-T. Arat. A rat! Oh my god, that’s funny!” And I started to laugh.
She replied, angrier still, “It’s not funny! This kid at school kept calling me A Rat all day long! I want you to change my name! How could you give me such a horrible name!”
I told her, trying hard to not laugh any more, “Honey, this is one of the hard lessons you will learn in school. That sometimes kids are mean and stupid and will tease you about anything, but that you have to learn to shake it off and not let them see that their teasing bothers you or they will just continue and continue until you lose your temper. Your name is very pretty, and it’s even prettier because it has wonderful meanings to it. No parent ever spells the name they give their children backwards to see if it means something else. I’m sorry you were teased today, and I understand that being teased is not fun at all. But honey, it really is funny! And you’re going to have to see that it is funny too or that kid will just continue to tease you about it just to make you mad.”
She then said, “I don’t think it’s funny and I never will!” I gave her a big hug and a kiss and I apologized to her for laughing, but inside I still was. A rat! O wow!
The next day when I picked her up from school, she was madder than the day before. When I asked her if that kid had teased her any more, she told me, “He teased me differently today,” “What did he say now?” “Mommy, what are my initials?” “T.B.” I replied. “What does TB stand for?” she asked me. Trying hard to stifle a giggle because I had a pretty good idea where this conversation was going, “Well, it can stand for tuberculosis”, I answered her.
“Well today all day long he kept calling me a DISEASED RAT!!!” And I lost it, I started laughing and laughing! I told Tara, “I have to meet this kid! He sounds really smart! How could he have known that in 3rd grade?”
Tara just sat there, looking at me in disbelief, as I tried to stop laughing but doing a poor job of it. I finally told her, after I was able to maintain control, “Tara, I’m sorry, but this whole thing really is just too too funny! Now you know you really aren’t a rat, and you know you really aren’t a diseased rat. So why are you letting that kid bother you? Ignore him, or laugh along with him, because the stuff he is cleverly coming up with really is funny! And I will bet he started the ‘TB’ thing when you didn’t get mad when he started calling you ‘a rat’ again today, right?”
And she reluctantly agreed that that is exactly what had happened. But she said, with tears in her eyes, “But it doesn’t feel good to get teased like that!” And I agreed with her, that no, it doesn’t feel good, so she had to remember how that feels like if she ever wanted to tease somebody or be mean to somebody herself, that it doesn’t make that other person feel good at all.
I also told her, “Now tomorrow, just ignore that kid if he tries calling you a rat or a diseased rat, and if you can do it, laugh at him, and that will let him know he can’t get the better of you and make you lose your temper. If you lose your temper, he wins, and you really do lose, okay?” She reluctantly said okay she would try to do that.
Tara did laugh at that kid and he stopped calling her a rat or a diseased rat. And the funny part is, “Arat” eventually became a nickname for her, one that she embraced with humor and laughter. Many years later she got a job in an auto-parts manufacturing plant. Then she attached that nickname with the nickname that is used locally for people who work in any auto plant shop and called herself, “Arat, the shop rat!”