About our names

Photograph of B.J. Smith
AKA B.J.

Let us suppose you like your first name, your “given” name.

It’s yours. You respond to it.

You feel good when you hear it, except maybe when a parent says “Bernard Joseph Smith, you’re going to be sorry…!” for whatever you just did.

Even then you might not mind the tone so much if your first name is pronounced correctly. In my experience, you can count on parents getting it right.

Also in my experience, most people get Bernard wrong when talking to me, at least for the first time. They default to the common U.S. pronunciation, as if we’d all been named for a legendary breed of dog that rescues people in the Alps.

Some members of my extended family, and maybe your own, can attest to how important it is to at least attempt to pronounce names correctly. It’s a matter of courtesy and respect.

A tiny, tiny percentage of people who see my full first name in writing ask how to pronounce it. I smile, pronounce it for them, and thank them profusely for asking.

It’s understandable, of course. There is more than one way to pronounce many names. You can’t tell from the spelling if Bernard is BER-nerd or ber-NARD, but to me they are quite different. One is mine, the other is not.

If you don’t know for sure how to say someone’s name, just ask.

B.J.

P.S. A man of many names and nicknames, I’ve been known to some as B.J. since U.S. Navy bootcamp in 1973 when one of our first chores was stenciling last name and initials on every shred of government-issued clothing, down to and including the white boxer shorts. Recruits on laundry detail would yell out names and initials so you’d get the right skivvies back.

On flying or burning the flag

It is difficult to keep track of how many times newspersons, politicians and others have said indicting Donald Trump will tear this country apart.

Somehow they don’t understand, or they pretend they don’t know, that the damage has already been done. We need to acknowledge that reality.

Pixabay image

If Trump and numerous accomplices in his criminal enterprise are not indicted, tried, convicted and punished, we will have said goodbye to the pretty myth that no one is above the law.

Already torn apart, the U.S. will fracture further, maybe irreparably. Our justice system, deeply flawed as it has always been, will have failed more magnificently than ever before.

Justice? We will finally have to remove the very word from our vocabulary and leave a note in our collective memoirs explaining what it meant on the off chance that future generations are allowed to read about the truth.

The next step — for me, anyway — will be to get rid of a special keepsake I’ve kept around for years, the last thing I removed from my childhood home in Des Moines when our mother could no longer live there.

My siblings and I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America every day in elementary school. We proudly displayed our own flag on the front porch at home on Independence Day. In the U.S. Navy, I learned the proper, respectful way to raise, lower and fold the flag.

For the past few years I’ve been reluctant to fly the flag at my house. I see it so often used to represent things I abhor that I can no longer unfurl it with pride. People fly huge flags next to their cowardly Let’s Go Brandon penants as they drive down the road in oversized pickup trucks. They dress in red, white and blue clown suits to attend Trump rallies. On July 4, I watched young baseball star wannabes solemnly listen to the Star-Spangled Banner before trampling three flag-themed bases with their dusty, cleated feet.

Does anyone who waves the flag actually respect the republic for which it stands or is it now just fetishism and fashion?

We will find out.

For my part, I will either fly the flag again when we actually start living up to our pledge of justice for all, or I will burn it with all due respect, as is recommended when an American flag is no longer fit to display.

No one should pledge allegiance to a flag that means nothing.

B.J.

Dry Heat

A few lizards hotfooting across the pavement. Three solitary squirrels scurrying to their own shady spots. A butterfly, fluttering by.

Those were among the few signs of life on the Colorado Riverfront Trail as I pedaled along on my lunch break today. It was not yet 95 degrees F, as it is now, and climbing, climbing. There was time to think.

Colorado River, Mesa County, Colorado

Dry heat means nothing
like what it once meant to us
before we came here.

High desert has its charms and wonders, but it is hard not to wonder how long it will be before this lonely planet will be so hot and so dry that one can’t sweat at all, high or low, far inland or on a sandy beach by an ocean.

That this heat is dry is no consolation.

Say no to racist theocracy

I’ve been thinking about what my mother and my sister Kathie would be doing at a time like this. 

Rosemary would be doing everything she could to elect Democrats, from rallying voters in her precinct to driving candidates between campaign events to making phone calls and writing letters and whatever else she could. 

Kathie would be doing some of those same things, and if necessary she would sit down in an intersection and block traffic, as she did one night in 1972 in Iowa City when civil disobedience was necessary. She risked arrest and moved on only when a state trooper lifted her to her feet and physically forced her to move on.

These two set the bar pretty high, and they were gone too soon, and we need people like them more than ever.

Do what you can to stand against oppression by those who are stripping away our civil rights – your individual rights – based on their deeply flawed or deliberately distorted views of the U.S. Constitution. They will undo whatever constitutional amendments they can, ignore others, and overturn more precedents they dislike to turn our democracy into a pseudo-Christian, racist theocracy.

Do not underestimate your individual power and value in this fight.

Do not underestimate your individual power and value in this fight. Start with something you can do today, like contacting the lawmakers and lawbreakers who represent or purport to represent you in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Demand that they act to protect your rights and tell them what you want.

For those of us who live in Colorado, support Democrats who share your values. Look here for ways to get involved.

I no longer trust the current Democratic leadership to do what needs to be done when it comes to the filibuster and the Supreme Court. Biden, Pelosi and Schumer have had multiple opportunities to end the filibuster, expand the court, and even impeach the justices who lied their way onto the court and otherwise failed to live up to their oaths.

We need new leaders. We need people to stand up and demand better.

We need to demand better and accept nothing less.

B.J.

Nobody “falls off” a bicycle

Enough of this nonsense about Joe Biden falling off a bicycle.

Nobody falls off a bicycle unless said bicycle was stationary and remained upright after the person who was on top of it somehow ended up on the ground or pavement or garage floor or wherever the bicycle remains stationary.

If a bicycle is moving and rider and bicycle suddenly both end up on the ground or pavement … or whatever, the cyclist has crashed.

As an experienced bicycle operator who has crashed a number of times – and in the process broken multiple ribs and one pelvis, incurred at least one minor concussion, and experienced countless bloodied knees and elbows – I can testify that in none of those mishaps did my bicycle remain upright.

I have never fallen off of my bike, even when I was new to those so-called “clipless” pedals and slowed down and forgot – as everyone does, sooner or later – to unclip.

I crashed. Joe Biden crashed. I watched the video and his bicycle clearly ended up on the pavement with him.

If you’ve never crashed while riding your bicycle, you need to get out more. If you’ve fallen off a stationary bike, I don’t know what to say.

Pedal on, my friends. Pedal on.

B.J.

P.S. Yes, as a professional writer and editor, I think words are important. Editors get paid for being those people who distinguish between falling and crashing. Being a pain in the ass is one of the benefits.