The man across the counter in the coffee shop politely said: "Excuse me, but I'd like to chat with you about names and sensitivity."
I hope your name isn't John.
"No," he said, with a chuckle. "I am not a John of any kind."
Good, I've heard from more angry Johns than I can count since I innocently described a men's room as a john.
"Yes, I noticed that," the man said.
And there were the Peters and Dicks who were mad because I made reference to the crude slang usage of their names. I don't know why they got mad at me, since their moms and pops gave them their names, not me.
"No," he said. "I'm not a Peter or a Dick, either."
Good. Then my guess is that you are a George or a Bill.
"Why do you say that?"
Because you are a solid, reliable, unassuming and friendly looking person. It is my experience that guys named George and Bill are as solid and reliable and unassuming as a Labrador retriever. And you wear brown. About 70 percent of all brown suits, topcoats and shoes are bought by guys named George or Bill. The rest by guys named Ed or Joe.
"Amazing," he said. "You're right. My name is Bill."
Of course. There was no way you could be a Vic or a Nick or a Rick because you aren't wearing a gold chain. And you are too old to be a Kevin or a Shawn. Nor could you have been a Tyrone, a Leroy or a Jawon, since you are of the honky persuasion.
"Yep," he said, as guys named Bill are inclined to do, "I'm just plain Bill."
There is a song by that name, you know. Just Plain Bill. I believe it is the only song written about you Bills.
"No, there is also, 'Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey,' in which a guilt-laden woman tries to reach out to the man she mistreated. But as wild guys go, Bill Bailey was kind of straight, since all his woman promised to do was wash the dishes and cook his meals. That's really all that we Bills need to live the good life."
Yes, solid, reliable, unassuming. If every man in America was named Bill, this would be Norway.
"I guess that's a compliment."
Whatever. So, I suppose you wanted to talk about how comforting it is to be a Bill, a handle nobody mocks or takes in vain.
"No," he said, becoming somber, as Bills will do whenever the opportunity arises. "Being a Bill isn't without its moments of pain. I think every Bill would tell you that, if we weren't so darned unassuming, pardon my French."
I wasn't aware of that.
"Oh, yes, because of my name, I have psychological wounds that go all the way back to my childhood."
Those are the worst kind.
"Yes, I was a mere lad when one day the mail came and I heard my mother shout: "Bills, bills, nothing but lousy bills. I hate bills."
And you misunderstood?
"Of course. I was a stunned and heartbroken little tyke. And it got worse when my father said, 'Everybody hates bills, but we're stuck with them. And then my mother said, 'I'd like to tear every bill to shreds.' Then I was not only stunned and heartbroken, but I was terrified."
I can imagine. I hope you asked your parents why they hated you.
"No, being a Bill, I was too unassuming to do that. So I just grew morose until a teacher asked me why I wrote so many suicide notes as my English essays. And I told her that my parents hated me and wanted to tear me to shreds."
I hope that this led to understanding.
"No, they sent a social worker to our house. And my parents agreed to take me to see a psychologist."
He cleared things up, I assume.
"No, as a matter of fact, at the first session my parents admitted that I was their least favorite child. Too unassuming, they said. They liked my older brothers Lance and Brett much better. Lance is a ski instructor and Brett is a CIA agent, by the way."
Aren't they all? But I hope that you finally straightened out the misunderstanding.
"Yes, I eventually underwent shock treatment, and my parents joined a Family Anonymous group, and I realized that they didn't want to tear me to shreds. At least not as much as I thought they did. And we now see each other for family dinner every Sunday, although I begin throwing up Saturday afternoons."
Good. All's well that ends well.
"But I just thought you might want to tell people that they might give some thought before they talk negatively or venomously about bills. That kind of talk can cause pain and suffering for those of us named Bill, and can even make us wince."
I can understand that and I'll pass your thoughts along. By the way, Bill, what do you do for a living?
"I'm a bill collector. Isn't that a coincidence?"