My son’s given name is Vishnu Islam Apollo Poseidon. His surname, like mine, is Chaucer, but with the addition of a hyphen, followed by his mother’s maiden name, Townsend. So, his full name is Vishnu Islam Apollo Poseidon Chaucer-Townsend. Alice, my wife, insisted on an impressive name for the boy. Her thinking was this: a child’s name establishes expectations from the beginning, therefore we should set the bar high for the boy. But, as anyone who has had children knows, diminutive nicknames, from the first breath, fall from the sky like raindrops. Our boy was variously known as Vishy, Ap, Posie, and other less family-friendly appellations. In hindsight, Alice’s insistence on an expectation-setting name was a mistake. But once you’ve filled out the paperwork, it’s hard to undo a baby’s identity. We were stuck with the names. I should say he was stuck with the names.
He hated us for saddling him with built-in bully magnets. And I don’t blame him. My recognition of what we’d done to the boy is what led me to train him in the practice of krav maga. Krav maga was developed by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). It focuses on fierce hand-to-hand combat, incorporating grappling, wrestling, and hand strikes. It also teaches the student to use virtually any ordinary object in the environment—a stick, a cane, the lid of a garbage can, etc.—to fend off virtually any attacker, even one much heavier and larger.
After about a year of intense instruction, Viap (we called the boy by his acronym) became a spectacular practitioner of krav maga. Though he was only eleven years old at the time, he readily took down much bigger, stronger men. One evening, as part of his training exercises, I took him to an extremely dangerous neighborhood in the city, an area known for brutal muggings, murders, rapes, and fierce beatings. As expected, we were accosted by a group of hoodlums who taunted us and wasted no time in demanding we give them our wallets. Before I had a chance even to reply, Viap snatched a pipe from the ground beneath his feet and laid out one of the bastards with a brutal strike to the windpipe. At the same time, he kicked another man in the knee, causing a simultaneous loud “CRACK” and a howl of pain that was so horribly wretched that it wounded my soul. Finally, Viap jabbed his thumbs into the eyes of the third unfortunate, popping them out of their sockets onto the man’s cheeks. All of this was over in an instant. Before I even had a chance to move.
The exhilaration of that night lit a fire in Viap. He begged me to return to the neighborhood, where he could continue to practice his krav maga skills in the real world. Thus began a three-day-a-week tour of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit. Viap maimed at least eighty would-be predators and killed another twelve. The crime rate in those areas and, indeed, throughout the city, plummeted. People still locked their doors, though, because they had no idea who was ripping through the bad guys; rumors swirled about a monster ready to snatch people out of their houses and eat them.
Six years later, just before his eighteenth birthday, Alice and I told Viap he was free to go out on his own, without the requirement that one of us approve of his ventures in advance. He was grateful, though he had known for years that we could not have stopped him had he chosen to do as he pleased. On his eighteenth birthday, Vishnu Islam Apollo Poseidon Chaucer-Townsend went to a tattoo parlor, where he had his full name permanently affixed to the length of each arm in multi-colored ink.
Tragically, the needles used in the tattoo process were dirty. Viap developed a terrible infection and died. What could have been an inspirational story about overcoming obstacles became, instead, a cautionary tale about the dangers of body ink. We could have been writing here about a boy who became the god-like being his name suggested. But, thanks to a conspiracy between parents, one with delusions of grandeur and the other with delusions of protection, the boy became no more than a footnote in fiction, an imaginary tale with neither message nor meaning.
And that, as they say in the newsroom in some newspaper somewhere, is a wrap.