Monday, March 30, 2009

A Boy Named Stacy

Sometimes I get questions about my name: "Should I call you Robert? Stacy? R.S.? What do you go by?" And I answer facetiously: "You can call me Mr. McCain." But I also answer to "Hey, Stupid."

Little Miss Attila tries "R. Stacy McCain," which was my byline until I moved to Washington. (Attila also says she was "a bit underwhelmed by Animal House," which makes me want to react like Otter when Mandy Pepperidge tells him it was "not that good.") Since I so frequently get questions about the name, I will endeavor to explain.

Using my full name as my byline is not an effort to be one of those Pretentious People With Three Names. I go by my middle name, but unfortunately, it got hijacked by girls.

This is not my fault. The well-known tough-guy actor Stacy Keach (b. 1941) is proof positive that "Stacy" used to be a perfectly respectable name for a man. The guy played Mike Hammer, for crying out loud. But shortly after I was born, "Stacy" -- along with virtually all other ending in "y" -- were taken over by the girls.

Like many other Anglo-American given names (including Sidney, Kelly and Lindsey), "Stacy" was originally a surname, a patronym. Genealogical records reveal no Stacy ancestors in my lineage and, while my mother never said anything one way or another about it, my assumption is that she borrowed the name of our family's pediatrician, the late Dr. Stacy Burnett of Atlanta. Who was also a man and who, I assume, was named for some of his Stacy family ancestors.

Coincidentally or not, I am the middle of three brothers in my family. My parents never had a girl, though I'm sure they wished they had, and one can forgive my suspicion that I'd have been named "Stacy" either way.

As fate would have it, I was born with hair that grew into golden ringlets, which my mother adored and refused to cut until I was about age 3. This was 1959-62, when most boys wore crew cuts. My father used to tell about going through the grocery store with Baby Stacy riding in the shopping cart, and all the ladies would exclaim, "Oh, what a pretty girl!"

Can you say, "overcompensation," Dr. Freud? I became a thoroughgoing hellion of a boy -- a crazy daredevil of boyish energy. This hellion streak was aggravated by the fact that my older brother Kirby, two-and-a-half years older, was the charming, clever, dark-haired joy of our mother's heart, so that I strove eagerly to match or outdo his efforts. For example, there is a scar over my left eye that is the result of 6-year-old Stacy's placing second in a rock-throwing contest with 8-year-old Kirby, whose hand-eye coordination was always far superior.

And of course, Dr. Freud, I was girl-crazy at a precocious age. Kirby was naturally attractive and, in my constant rivalry with him, I suppose I made myself less attractive simply because of my overeagerness to be liked by girls. The first girl I remember having a crush on, in kindergarten, was Priscilla Yates, a chubby brunette with big brown eyes, freckles and the cutest little gap between her front teeth.

Priscilla was followed in sequence by Carol Purdy (first grade, and also brunette), redhead Joanna Richardson and blonde Janet Howton (who shared my unacknowledged fascination in second grade), then back to Carol Purdy for a couple of years. There was also Carol's friend Rhonda Pilgrim and Ginger Whiteside, both blondes, as was the adorably dimpled Darlene Goza. Darlene was a cheerleader for my youth football team, the Sweetwater Valley Red Raiders, and one memorable night in 1970 became the first girl who willingly let me kiss her on the cheek.

OK, so you get the picture there, Dr. Freud. And then there were the playground taunts: "Stacy? That's a girl's name!"
My daddy left home when I was three
And he didn't leave much to ma and me,
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don't blame him cause he run and hid,
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me "Sue."
-- "A Boy Named Sue," written by Shel Silverstein, recorded by Johnny Cash, 1969
Now, it happens that I was extraordinarily intelligent as a child. If I live long enough to write a memoir, one chapter will be titled, "Confessions of a Former Boy Genius." Being born in October, I started first grade at age 5 and was nearly always the youngest boy in my grade. Which would not have been such a source of memorable woe, had it not been for the fact that I was also relatively small for my age.

Being the wee lad on the grade-school playground required survival adaptations, especially when you're the smart-aleck class clown. Ignorant Yankees up here in D.C. think I'm a wild dangerous redneck but, as any of my childhood friends would tell you, a real redneck would whup my ass. And many did, or tried to, anyway.

You see, older brother Kirby has always been a fighter, and he considered whupping my ass to be sort of a proprietary fraternal privilege. If I did something sufficiently stupid (which certainly wasn't unheard of) as to actually deserve an ass-whupping, I was on my own. But woe unto any bully who thought he was going to pick on Kirby McCain's little brother without facing the most severe and violent repercussions. So I had that going for me. Plus, I had a fiendishly quick mind.

Never much of a fighter -- "Turn the other cheek" made a strong impression on me in Sunday school -- I did become adept at wrestling, so that I could usually keep from getting hit more than once in a fight. (Man, I've been sucker-punched so often . . .) And I also developed a knack for befriending guys whose tough reputations could help ward off attacks on their smart-aleck little friend. Enter D.W. "David" Brook.

Now, it's kind of ironic that every week on this blog, I celebrate "David Brooks Fisking Day," when my best childhood friend has such a similar name. My friend's name, however, was Brook, not Brooks, even though in middle school our posse of hoodlums was notorious as The Brooks Gang. And his actual first name isn't "David," either, but there is no need to go into that here. He is the only one of my friends to call me "Bobby," and I call him "D.W.," and if he hadn't grown up to be such an eminently respectable citizen of his community, man, could I tell you some stories on him. To say nothing of the stories he could tell on me. But I digress.

From 'R. Stacy' to 'Robert Stacy'
An aspiring cartoonist as a lad, who used to make a nickel or a dime selling unflattering caricatures of unpopular teachers, I took to signing myself "R. Stacy McCain," and maintained that as my byline when I made my debut as a rock-music critic for the Jacksonville (Ala.) State University Chanticleer in 1981. That byline followed me all the way through until, in November 1997, I left the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune to join the staff of The Washington Times as an assistant national editor.

Working in small-town Georgia newspapers over the years, I'd sometimes have to deal with readers who called up asking to speak to her, this "Stacy McCain" girl who'd written some story they wanted to gripe about. Such misunderstandings had been relatively rare, however, because (a) these were small towns, where most readers eventually had a chance to meet me personally, and (b) from the time I joined the staff of the Cahoun (Ga.) Times in the fall of 1987 until I departed for D.C. a decade later, I had my own column, which was accompanied by a thumbnail mug shot that made it obvious that I was a guy. Or else the ugliest woman in the newspaper business, not excluding even Helen Thomas.

Of course, my secret hope was that my award-winning ability as a columnist would eventually land me a regular spot on the op-ed page of The Washington Times, a hope frustrated by circumstance. My advice to would-be D.C. newspaper columnists: Never go to work doing news for a paper. The high (and transparently phony) wall between "news" and "opinion" in D.C. means that, if you want to be a newspaper columnist in the nation's capital, your best bet is to get a Ph.D. and hire on at a think tank. "Journalist" and "columnist" are almost mutually exclusive in Washington. To my knowledge, neither George F. Will, nor Charles Krauthammer, to name a couple of examples, ever did a day's work as a reporter. Again, however, I digress.

Because my photo would never appear in The Washington Times, and because D.C. is not the kind of place where I could hope to meet every reader, it seemed the smart thing to switch from my accustomed "R. Stacy McCain" byline to "Robert Stacy McCain." Whereupon, relieved of the problem of people calling to speak to "her," I suddenly became aware of a previously unanticipated problem: Some other guy named McCain.

Crazy Cousin John
When I got to Washington, I would often find myself in a situation familiar to any D.C. journalist: On the phone with a government receptionist who was paid way more than me and who understood her job to be making sure nobody ever spoke to her boss. It was perhaps unethical when, after the government receptionist finally agreed to take a message and asked me how to spell my name, I would reply, "Robert Stacy -- S-T-A-C-Y, no 'e' -- M-C-C-A-I-N," like the Arizona senator." (Ethics, schmethics, I always say.)

Now, if the receptionist asked if I were related to the senator, I'd honestly answer, "No." But usually they didn't ask, and their bosses usually returned my calls.

However, in February 2000, as the GOP primary battle between George W. Bush and John McCain was heating up, one of my bosses assigned me to do some research on the Arizona senator. During the course of that investigation, I read his book Faith of My Fathers, and discovered that we were in fact distant cousins, descendants of a McCain whose name appears on the 1790 Census of South Carolina. (I learned to do research spooling microfilm in libaries, and geneaology was a keen interest of mine for a while in the early '90s.) My investigation of John McCain never turned into an actual story because he flamed out in the South Carolina primary and then befouled himself by attacking Christian conservatives in a notorious speech in Virginia, but . . . knowledge is power, eh?

You might say I'm a victim of reverse nepotism, having suffered for the unsavory reputation of my more famous kinsman. John McCain's vicious backstabbing habits made the family name an epithet among conservatives. It is a fact that, although Rush Limbaugh at times over the years would read my news articles on his radio show, it would always be "there's this story in The Washington Times." He never once said my name, obviously because he figured it would confuse his listeners, who had learned to associate "McCain" with all that is treacherous and unworthy. Sigh.

So this explains why when I launched this blog, I called it "The Other McCain" and have habitually referred to the Republican from Arizona as Crazy Cousin John. Under no circumstance would I want to be confused with that son of a bitch or any of his RINO supporters. (Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Bob Barr! ) Since Crazy Cousin John bears an enormous burden as the incompetent fool who lost the election and inflicted the Obama presidency on America, I congratulate myself for having had the foresight to distance myself from him as best I could.

Having now spent half a day explaining my name, I will tell you that I spent a lot of time thinking of what I should name my own children, and my children all have very classy names: Kennedy, Bob (Jr.), James, Jefferson, Emerson and Reagan.

Each of those names, including their middle names, has a little story behind it. For example, I was a raised a Georgia yellow-dog Democrat, remained so until my mid-30s, and my Ohio-born Republican wife was gracious enough to let me name our first child Kennedy Catherine McCain.

The "Kennedy" was actually less in tribute to the slain president (his funeral, when I was 4, is my first clear memory of seeing something on TV) than it was a quest to find an elegant, distinctive name. Say her full name aloud, and the effect is obvious -- the triple alliteration, the rhythmic cadence, and the "president-and-a-queen" factor all work to the same purpose. Furthermore, we were at that time living in Calhoun, Georgia, where my radio DJ buddy Kevin Casey was "K.C. in the Morning," and it occurred to me that if my daughter ever aspired to a career in Top 40 radio . . .

However, in agreeing to let our first child bear a Democratic name entirely of my own choosing -- I thought it up one afternoon while driving to Chatsworth to cover a football game -- my longsuffering bride insisted that our next daughter should be named "Reagan." Four sons and 13 years later, Reagan Elizabeth McCain weighed in at a whopping 11 pounds. Again, the president-and-a-queen motif, the attention to rhythm and, as I'm typing this, Our Little Princess is playing Barbies in the den.

Back during the fall of 2008, Jeremy Lott was assistant online editor at The American Spectator and urged me to write a column about Crazy Cousin John. I started it, but never finished it, because I became so enraged when I recalled the Kennedy-McCain Illegal Alien Shamnesty Bill.

That worthless two-faced son of a bitch named that un-American piece of treasonous villainy after my daughter and it would have been inappropriate during the height of a presidential election campaign for a conservative journalist to vent his spleen upon the Republican candidate over what was, after all, a deeply personal insult. So I held my peace. But I swear to God, if I should ever own a campground, lady visitors to McCain's Rural Retreat will have the privilege of attending to calls of nature in the Meghan McCain Outhouse. (The men will just use The John.)

So that's my story. I will add only that, for several years in the late '60s and early '70s, my mother worked as a bookkeeper/secretary in the Atlanta offices of RCA Records. Through that job, she had the opportunity to meet many of the big names in music, including Johnny Cash, whose autograph adorned the album that included a song that my parents thought was hilariously funny. In retrospect, I guess they kind of had a point.

He said: "Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in your guts and the spit in your eye,
'Cause I'm the son-of-a-bitch that named you 'Sue.'"


  1. I've never thought of Stacy being a girl's name when applied to you. So I will keep calling you Stacy.

  2. Whenever I ask google to find "rsmccain" for me, it always asks me:

    Did you mean: mrs mccain

    In some ways, I think that's actually worse than "Hey, Stupid"

  3. Stacy's nice, but I'll continue to refer to you as my illustrious mentor, a diabolical genius, or the bastard solely responsible for my blogosophere addiction.

  4. Giving daughters names they won't be ashamed of isn't something a lot of men consider. Thank you, from Kaitlin Irene Duffy Brown's mama, and Kaylee Irene Brown's grandma.

  5. This reminds me: I've been meaning to ask when you'll stop being the "Other" McCain, and become "The McCain."

  6. Since you made reference to "A Boy Named Sue," it struck me as funny that a radio station I was listening to this evening played "Stacy's Mom."

    Stacy's mom has got it goin' on
    She's all I want and I've waited for so long,
    Stacy can't you see your just not the girl for me,...

    Troll rumor has it that the title 'The Other McCain' is not an effort to differentiate the author from Senator McCain, but rather from the transvestite trying to pass for Stacy's mom.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  7. Stacy (now I know what to call you),
    This would make a great first chapter or selection in your book. I'd buy it.
    And I second what Troglo said.

  8. R. Stacy ShermanWed Dec 02, 11:57:00 PM

    I just stumbled across this. Good story. I'm also a guy with the middle name of Stacy (no E!). My parents always called me by my middle name and I was probably 10 before I figured out Stacy WASN'T my first name. I was also the small, smart aleck but I guess I was quick witted enough not to get into too many fights.

    Either that or there's no glory in kicking the butt of a little guy named Stacy.

    I never got too mad about people thinking I was a woman. It just comes with the territory. That notwithstanding, I can see where you're coming from. People ask me all the time if I've thought about changing my name. Personally, I think that smells of insecurity. Kind of like that episode where Peter Brady walks around with a cane and an English accent.

    Oh, and I've been to Gaitlinburg, Tennessee.