Ms. Smith, Meet Mr. DoverMcHenderSmasherSonField

Generally, the terms “last name,” surname” and “family name” are used interchangeably to mean the same thing:  the name that comes, you know, last in your given sequence of names, handed down through the, you know, family, that associates you as a member of said family.

However, in the modern society of this millennium, the surname is mostly used for tax purposes.  Surnames can no longer be considered “family” names, as it is so infrequent that everyone in the family has the same name.

Throughout the course of history, the purpose of names has changed significantly.  The last name, the family name, the surname – this was invented when there were simply too many “Johns” running around, and we needed to start keeping them straight:

“Who stoleth the eggs from thine chicken coop?”

“Twas John, sir!”

“John?  It could not be, for John was beheaded the day before last.”

“No, sir, not that John.  The other John.”

“The widower?”

“No, sir.  The other John.”

“The jester?”

“No, sir.  The other John.”

They cropped up around the world at different times, but eventually everyone seemed to catch on that this two-name convention avoided a lot of confusion and saved a lot of time.

When adopting a family name, most cultures seemed to go with the practical.  For example, if a guy travelled, his last name typically became his place of origin.  (Welcome to the world, Mr. Lisbon.)  Or if he didn’t travel, but there was nothing interesting about him either, they’d just name him after whatever was closest to him.  (Hey, Mr. Hill.  Don’t take it personally.)

But typically, your job became your name:

“Hello, we are the Millers.”

“Nice to meet you.  What do you do?”

“Um…we’re the millers.”

Got a thatcher?  You’re Mr. Thatcher.  Got a Mason?  You’re Mr. Mason.  Got a blacksmith?  A goldsmith?  A locksmith?  A wordsmith?  Guess what, you’re all Smiths.

After the adoption of a surname, it got handed down and became a family name.  It wasn’t just the actual carpenter who was a Carpenter, the whole family became Carpenters, regardless of their propensity for woodworking.  Ten generations later, even after the sixth Mr. Carpenter’s son, Mr. Carpenter, shunned the family business and decided to be a drummer instead, the name remained the same.

Of course as the names were handed down through generations, they became a paradigm of membership.  Mr. Brook married, and his wife became Mrs. Brook, and she became a member of the Brook name.  Then their children became Brooks, and the whole family is a singular unit of Brook.

Today, however, surnames are a lot more fickle than they used to be.  It is no longer the expected norm that a woman will take a man’s name if they choose to marry – and that’s if they choose to marry, because many life partners choose not to.

Nor is it assumed that a child will be given his father’s surname upon birth.  Sometimes it’s the mother’s, sometimes the father’s.  Sometimes it’s hyphenated.  There is no right or wrong way to do it, and convention is no longer the convention.

Many couples that do marry, that do have children, divorce.  Families break apart, then the parents find new partners and remarry, taking their respective children with them, all with different surnames.  Now you have one household in which there are any number of people featuring any number of surnames.

Perhaps in an attempt to renew a sense of family cohesiveness, when families come together a new name can be made for everyone to adopt together.  The single Mr. Gardner marries the widow Mrs. Fletcher and her adopted children Pedro Valdez and Erin McGillicutty.  And upon their union they all become the family “McGardenFletchAldezIcutty.”  And together, they are again one.

Those Time Travel Clauses Always Get Caught Up in Court


Like everyone else, many things come across my desk that require my signature.  Most recently, I was handed paperwork for life insurance.  And as I literally signed my life away, I noticed that the effective date for this life insurance policy was dated May 31 – two weeks before I signed it.

Pre- and Post-dating materials is not an odd occurrence.  Shady bureaucrats (that seems a little redundant) do it all the time, for whichever reason might justify their needs at the moment:

“Here is the check for the Girl Scouts.”

“Sir, the Girl Scouts disbanded three months ago due to lack of funds.”

“Oh.  …Well, predate the check, then just say it got lost in the mail.  Damn, I am going to miss those Thin Mints.”

I could see the justification for predating a health insurance policy; then maybe the trip I took to the ER after that trampoline/umbrella accident last week would be covered.  (Never.  Dating.  An acrobat.  Again.)  But predating life insurance is of no use at all to me, because I’m at least 80% sure that in the past two weeks I haven’t died.

Perhaps my insurance company is just really good, and they want to go the extra mile to protect against any unforeseen time-travel related deaths that will have occurred in the last two weeks, but haven’t happened yet (providing we don’t live in a fixed-time universe, in which case said time travelling would have already taken place, and I’d already be dead.)

Perhaps my insurance company is aiming to guard me against any raging Terminators that are due to show up in the past two weeks.  Or men appearing and asking if I know about the Army of the 12 Monkeys.  Without the fine print, I’m only left to assume it’s a very generous clause on their part.

It kind of reminds me of the “double-lifetime warranty” I have on my windows.  I guess that if I become a zombie, any damage my windows suffer in the apocalypse will be covered.  Which is inevitable; windows are the first thing to go in an apocalypse.

Or perhaps the window company covers me in my next incarnation as well:

“Hey!  You!  Stop throwing rocks at my windows!”

“It’s cool, man.  I lived here in my last life.  I literally got you covered.”

I like the coverage I have.  My life insurance gives me peace of mind.  For one thing, should anything happen to me, my family won’t be left with the scads of debt I’ve incurred because I’ve decided to be a writer instead of getting a real job.

And also, should The Doctor land his TARDIS anywhere in the universe, at any point in time, and a fight with a Dalek interrupts the time-space continuum in such a way that my life is blinked out of existence somewhere between May 31 and today, well, it’s good to know I’m covered.

The Case for Killing Grandma


Killing is Wrong.

Unless of course some wacko breaks into your house in the middle of the day, wearing nothing but a ten-gallon hat and a pair of flip-flops.  Then you pop a cap in that nutjob, before he gets to your Labrador and starts doing unspeakably inappropriate things.

Or unless someone assaults you in the mall parking lot, and you “accidentally” hit them in the temple with a jagged brick.  Cause that’s self defense.

And you know, I mean, who wouldn’t kill Hitler, if given the chance?

The point is, it is universally recognized that sometimes taking the life of another human can be justified.  Sometimes it may even be lauded.  So, in a system where the taking of a human life is only criminal in a case by case basis, I want to know why I can’t kill my Grandma.

My grandmother is ninety-seven years old.  Her mind is sharp – sharp enough to know it’s not as sharp as it used to be.  Her only passions are painting and reading, which of course she can’t do because of arthritis and near-blindness.

Her husband is dead.  Her sisters are dead.  Her friends are dead.  Everyone she cares about is dead.  (I know, you’re all “But K. Jean King, she still has you!”  Yeah.  She doesn’t care.  …Love you too, Grandma.)

So all she is left with is eighteen waking hours a day to sit around on her memory-foam donut-cushion and “pray for the good lord to take her.”  Every moment of her life is torture because she is literally being tortured by life.

My question is, if she wants to die, and all of those who love her agree she would be happier dead, why can’t we kill her?

Let’s call it a living will.  Usually a person draws up a living will so that their family has explicit, legally-binding instructions, should that person become a bed-laden cucumber being kept alive only by mechanical assistance.  The idea is that no one should have to be kept alive against their will.  I suggest this qualifies, with the minor difference being that, instead of being kept alive artificially by machines, she’s being kept alive by some cruel, cosmic joke.

Or maybe we could call it a kind of preemptive last will and testament.  A person draws up a will in order to ensure that their affairs are properly handled by their loved ones after they die – that everything is distributed and handled the way they want.  What about an addendum saying, “I would like Brenda to get my antique bedroom set, and also dose me in case I haven’t achieved natural death by age eighty-eight.”

Then, of course, there is always suicide by proxy:

“Oh, I heard that Agnus committed suicide.  That’s terrible.  What did she use to do it?”

“The sympathies of her family.”

People frequently say that killing is the worst crime.  I am always inclined to disagree.  I’ve never heard of a “justifiable rape.”  Nor have I ever heard the claim, “He staged that cockfight in self-defense.”

I don’t know when the Old Lady is finally going to kick the proverbial bucket.  All I do know is that every time I visit her, surrounded by the paintings she can no longer paint, and the books she can no longer read, and the pictures of those who she wishes to meet in heaven, it feels like cruel and unusual punishment.

And that is in violation of the 8th amendment of the Constitution.  Just sayin’.

Tag, You’re It…I Mean, Out

Baseball is touted as America’s “National Game.”  (You know, at least it was America’s National Game until 1958, when everyone realized that American football was way more interesting.)  Baseball is defined as an offensive/defensive, bat-and-ball team sport. 

Which begs the question, what is a “team sport”?  Because, quite frankly, I don’t think that baseball qualifies. 

The technical definition of “team sport” is “any sport which involves players working together toward a shared objective.”  And now you’re all, “Well then of course baseball is a team sport.  There are nine guys on the field.”

And now I’m all, “Yeah, but only one and a half of those guys is working.”

The golden ring of baseball is the No Hitter:  a game where no runs are scored by the losing team.  In a true No Hitter, that is exactly what happens – the losing team completely fails to hit the ball.  Twenty-seven at-bats and not one guy can make contact between his bat and that damn ball.

In this scenario, the only guy doing any work is the pitcher.  One guy on the field, continuously throwing the ball over and over.  Throwing the ball over and over in such a way that the batter can hit it but will fail to.  …Not exactly a team effort.

Now of course the catcher is catching those pitches.  Cause, you know, someone has to.  Then he throws the ball back to the pitcher so he can throw the ball again.  The catcher is moving – but is he working toward the end goal of winning?  Because what he looks like is a glorified ball-return – the personified version of that thing that spits up your ball at the bowling alley.

So what you have is one guy working to win, and one guy providing him with the ammunition.  And you then have seven other guys placed strategically around the field, just in case that first guy screws up.  And sometimes he does.  Sometimes the ball is hit, and then one of two things happen:

In the first scenario, the ball goes flying into the air.  Then one guy catches it.  The end.  This again does not exemplify a team effort.  This is one guy getting a falling orb to land successfully in his gloved hand.  And then the batter is out and the play is over.

In the second scenario, the hitter gets chased around the bases while the fielding team uses the baseball as a prop to get him out.  That isn’t team sport, that is tag.  Whoever is holding the ball is It.  No wonder the safety zone in a game of tag is called “base.”

I suppose to decide if baseball is a team sport one really has to explore the nature of what it means to “work together.”  Baseball is a string of individual efforts which all happen to be geared toward the same goal.  Does that count as “working together”?

Or is working together a simultaneous effort, as displayed in…every other team sport.  In games like basketball, soccer, football, or hockey, even if a player is not in control of the ball (or puck or whatever) he is still an active team player.  He is constantly exercising coverage over other players of the opposing team, either defensively or offensively.  Even without the ball (or puck, or whatever), he is still an active member of the team, constantly working toward the end goal.

Can you really say the same thing in baseball?  Can we really call the third baseman an “active” team player when the ball is nowhere near him?  Because from where I sit, it looks like the mascot is doing more for the team as a general distraction than I’ve ever seen the left fielder do.