No one in our group ever gets to choose their own nickname. Some people come with some good ones that have been gradually adopted, having proved themselves to be worthy. For instance, Layton Ford came with the nickname, “Tigger”. Now that’s cute even for a 55 year old man. With Layton, it is more than cute, it is explicit. He loves life! He has no functional, remaining “pain sensors”. He doesn’t run, he bounces. Adjusting this nickname is like watching the “Fonz” step in the mens room, take out his comb, look at his coif and then silently decide that there is no need to mess with what he is looking at.
I believe that one of my major gifts, and this borders on the “divine right of kings”, is to name those who wander innocently into our company. While the tendency is to quickly name the new recruits, my method is to “watch” for dominant flaws or foibles that bring much joy to the already flawed group. The great “glee” is to watch as people surrender to the inevitability of being discovered to be actually human, and then once discovered to learn to revel in their own laughability. This is therapy at its finest, for we all come as “masters of disguise”, having practiced our performances to perfection for the sake of those who never discover their own nicknames. (for lack of questionable company) Consequently “Murph” is now able to laugh at his tendency to discover new ways to hurt himself. (Murphy’s Law, Runners Corollary 1 – “If there is a way for me to injure myself on a given run, I will do it.”) Or, “Gringo”, the name bestowed on our only Argentinian runner. Now “Gringo” means “white guy”. This is irony at its best. Gringo is one of our most beloved runners. It is amazing that in this company, none are over-sensitive to ethnic reference because there is this unusual commitment to one another that makes words irrelevant and relationship supreme.
My name is Pumba. I never gave myself this name. It really came to me from my father, . . . not the name but the flaw. It is an act of Providence that a runner with this particular flaw, should have shorter legs than anyone else. Aside. My son recently passed me in height. I love that. I was telling someone who had not seen him in some time that he was 6 feet tall. That insensitive individual remarked that he must have gotten his height from the other side of the family. Now that was a clever piece of deduction! I said, “Yes. On my side of the family our genes were . . . too long. Get it? Genes/jeans . . . . . ?
I have never in my lifetime participated in a sport that would be natural to me. At 5’8″, I was a fair basketball player. I should never have played basketball but on Grand Manan Island, it was that or nothing. And I became a runner . . . but I am built more like a Humvee. Now when you try to move 28” inseams to keep up with the more graceful runners in our group, it puts you in one place alone. That is at the back of the pack. For 28 years, this has been my accustomed pole position. This is not flattering but it is what it is.
Providence is rarely flattering. But most any runner in our group is thankful for my short legs. A runner gasping for air is better served by fresh air, something that I fear I would spoil for the others if I were a “front-of-the-pack” kind of guy. (remember the nickname now) Truthfully I might never have developed a “following” if this had been the case. Instead, I have become my own following. There is a life lesson that I have learned as well. For people like myself, there is great freedom that comes when you discover that there is more room at the back of the “rat race” then there is at the front. On the highways, driving under the speed limit will produce a greater expanse of open road than driving over the speed limit. My wife lovingly tells me that, in this respect, I am weird. I think she is right. I also use less gas at the back of the pack.