I got another postcard from Howard today, said he was in Harrisburg, staying at the Howard Johnson’s there. It was part of his cross country Howard Johnson stays at Howard Johnson’s tour. “They’re going out of business. Pretty soon there won’t be any left, so this is my last best chance,” he’d said before he took off. He already had a framed autographed photo of Howard Johnson, the ex-Met (“To Howard Johnson, thanks for being a fan. Yours, Howard Johnson”). I thought he was taking his famous name campaign too far, but he never asked my opinion.
He was trying to own his childhood trauma—those school yard taunts about orange roofs and ice cream flavors. He was making his name his.
Fact is, I have a bunch of friends with strange names; I can’t figure it out. Kids named after their mother’s pregnancy cravings (Basil, Peaches, Sasparilla), those whose surnames echoes their firsts (Robert Roberts, Jack Jackson), and a few who shared a name with famous people: Lacey Lyn–L.L.–Bean, Charlie Schwabb). I fit right in: my mother named me JFK. No periods. These aren’t initials. Just JFK Viccione. She was trying to put her immigrant roots behind her, though she barely learned any English, even after she’d been here 30 years.
Most of us put aside whatever adolescent angst comes stapled to our signature, but not HoJo. HoJo was 35 and still working through it. Or else working through the latest break up. He remained convinced that once a woman’s friends or family heard she was dating a guy named Howard Johnson, the relationship was well on its way to the crusher.
“I don’t know,” I said to him once. “I met someone who would look past JFK. When there’s love, what’s in a name?”
“That’s different. You’re named after a great man—a president. A good president, it’s not like you’re named Nixon Viccione. Get real. I’m named after a failing hospitality chain known for ice cream and boss-secretary liaisons.”
“Could be worse.”
“Yeah, I know. I could be Ronald McDonald.”
We’d both laughed.
A week later he broke up with Denise.
Soon he was cashing in a month of sick days and vacation time to drive from Howard Johnson’s to Howard Johnson’s, blogging the whole thing. I wasn’t sure if he’d ever return, though I do get these postcards. I sure hope he’d hurry back because I just met this woman I want him to meet. Her name’s Betty Crocker. She might be perfect for him.
Gerry LaFemina’s numerous collections of poetry include The Parakeets of Brooklyn, Vanishing Horizon, and Little Heretic. His collection of essays on poets and prosody, Palpable Magic, came out in 2015 from Stephen F Austin University Press and his textbook, Composing Poetry: A Guide to Writing Poems and Thinking Lyrically was recently released from Kendall Hunt. A new book of poems, The Story of Ash, is forthcoming this year. He teaches at Frostburg State University and as a mentor in the MFA Program at Carlow University