This week, I registered to be a card-carrying New York Public Library patron. My first foray was online as I visited, yet again, the web site for some precious performing arts collections that are maintained at the NYPL Lincoln Center branch, two blocks from my apartment building. http://www.nypl.org/locations/lpa. I now have a “temporary barcode”, and will have a permanent one as well as an actual card, once I visit a branch. My stop to complete this task will be at this Lincoln Center branch, I am quite sure.
As I moved through this mechanical “pre-registration” procedure, I heard two voices from theatre and cinema history. Nick and Murray Burns. Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns. Young Nick finds meaning in words, and in names, as I do. Nick finds concrete meaning in a name on a library card. A New York City library card. This sequence of dialogue, and my new life, converge.
Nick: The past couple months I have been thinking about different names and considering different names because in four weeks I’m gonna be thirteen and I gotta pick my permanent name, like we said.
Murray: Why don’t you just go on calling yourself Nick? You’ve been using it the longest.
Nick: Nick is a name for a short person. And since I am a short person I do not believe I should put a lot of attention on it. … So for a couple of months I considered various tall names. Last month I considered, for a while, Zachery, but I figured there was a chance Zachery could turn into a short, fat, bald name. Then I thought about Richard, which is not really tall, just very thin with glasses. Then last week I finally, really, decided and I took out a new library card to see how it looks and today I figured I would make it definite and official.
[He takes a library card out of his pocket, hands it to Murray.]
Murray: [Looks at the card, confused] This is my library card.
Nick: No, that’s the whole thing; it’s mine.
Murray: But it says “Murray Burns” on it ….
Nick: Right, that’s the name I picked. So I took out a new card to see how it looks and make it official.
A Thousand Clowns, Act Three. It’s time to make it official.
© Martha Wade Steketee (August 17, 2010)