More from the August Notebook:
It was early August and I was spending midweek with Whinkla. We had just finished erecting a monolithic sculpture he had made (it reminded me of something by Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth) and were sitting with our backs against a giant Ponderosa Pine. Whinkla had fished two cool bottles of beer from the nearby creek and we were quietly celebrating our success, though the concrete monster was not yet upright.
We had been silent for some time, watching the rufous-sided Towhees flitting back and forth in the meshed branches of the thicket bordering the stream, and the unpredictable antics of two ground squirrels cavorting only a few yards away when suddenly Whinkla said, "You know Larry I've been reading a book about the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire." Then he took a long swallow of beer and lapsed into his previous stoic silence. I said nothing, but made a throaty sound of acknowledgment.
Perhaps another three or four minutes had slipped into the past when he said, "I like the idea of giving people descriptive nicknames, especially those people in positions of power or prominence. Creatively they can be verbal caricatures, tell us more about the person than history" He took another sip of beer and looked reflectively at some unseen object on the edge of his imagination. Suddenly he said, "Louis II The Stammerer, Charles II The Bald, Albert I The Pious, how perversely beautiful those titles have become. I wonder if these appellations were given them while they still ruled, or were even still alive? Many of the names don't seem particularly flattering, but perhaps that's because today we judge everything we say or do in terms of its political correctness instead of its truthfulness?"
I tried to think of a response but the only names I could think of were William The Conqueror, and Richard The Lionhearted, and I really had little idea of who they were or what they had accomplished except take time out to conquer something or someone, or been brave.
"Duke Godfrey The Bearded," Whinkla sighed, "Pepin The Short." And then, after a prolonged sigh, "Cloderic The Parricide, . . .do you know what parricide means Larry?"
"Parricide," I said, "No, but my meager Latin tells me it's probably something to do with killing, like homicide."
"Correct, pater and caedo; from father, and, to cut down. Cloderic apparently killed his father King Siegbert to gain the throne. Interesting times, what?"
Whinkla got up quietly and retrieved a bottle of Cabernet from the creek. "I'll fetch a couple of glasses from the house while you open this," he smiled, "there's a corkscrew on the fallen fir by the mixing trough. A few moments later we raised crystal goblets to the night's anticipated full moon.
"I wonder if our ancestors were inclined to give their clan or tribal chiefs nicknames," Whinkla asked, "you know, names like Og The Hairy, Anwuk The Tiger Lover. And what about today? We seem to have grown away from such customs. Perhaps it's time for a revival."
"Ah," I said, "Aragon's Paris Peasant had Baron The Boxer, and it wasn't written that long ago."
Whinkla seemed to ignore my comment and continued, "God knows there's no dearth of possibilities with the present world leaders." He nodded to himself and refilled our glasses. "And we exclude no one"
"Hillary The Hilarious," I said, "Bush II The Diabolical. Cheny The Conniver."
"Perhaps," said Whinkla, "but remember, these appellations are for history, not just the present, they need to possess inscrutable appropriateness. And how about ourselves? How would you like to be identified?"
"Are we going to try to lever your latest endeavor into the vertical this afternoon, or wait until tomorrow?" I asked.
"Larry The Impatient," Whinkla laughed.