Zelda is my alter-ego. Zelda used to be Mom’s nom-du-bar, but I assumed the mantle of deception long before her demise. It’s okay – she wanted me to carry on the great tradition of obfuscation and mirth.
Until June 23, 2010, there were two Zeldas…Zelda Sr. and Zelda Jr. Ironically, Zelda Jr. is the one who bestowed that moniker upon the maternal unit. She wore it well. She wore it with aplomb. She delighted in the skulduggery.
But, one might ask, how and why was it necessary to devise Mother-Daughter fake names? I’ll tell you why…
I think it started in college. My college – the University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley was a wonderland for a college coed. Yes, the academics were world-renowned. Yes, I felt fortunate every day to be part of such a magnificent learning experience, surrounded by bright and inquisitive minds. Berkeley was like Books and Circus for me. By day, I enriched my mind. By night, I took advantage of the cultural offerings of Berkeley and San Francisco.
My sorority sisters and I would sometimes visit the local watering holes. Thankfully, many of these were rather lenient in their ID checks, as I didn’t turn 21 until halfway through my senior year. I really enjoyed the time with my girls. We frequently did not like strange men approaching us with amorous intentions. In addition to trying to fend off the attention of drunk men in bars, there were some seriously odd campus men who needed to be deterred.
I will digress for a moment (here’s where you may don your “shocked” face) to discuss one particularly annoying campus weirdo. I think now I could get him arrested as a stalker. Back then, we didn’t know what that was. I forget his name, so I will call him Wilbur. Wilbur was the stereotypical nerd, so I brushed him off as harmless at first. I don’t know how we crossed paths – he was not in any of my classes – but he showed up at my sorority house one day. It seems he’d been following me around for awhile; first around campus, and then as I walked home after class. Initially, I was kind to him. I didn’t like hurting peoples’ feelings, and I didn’t realize just how big a pest he’d become. Wilbur started phoning me. My roommate and I had a phone in our room, and our house had two phone lines: Line one was listed; line two was an unlisted number. I got to the point where I would not answer a call on line one. That meant that I either did not know the caller or did not like him / her enough to disclose line two’s number. I certainly didn’t like the individual enough to give him / her my personal phone number.
When someone called the sorority house, the person who answered the phone would announce, over the intercom, the callee’s name and the phone line. It was fairly civil, truth be told. Wilbur called me on line one. A lot. He may have been the reason I stopped taking calls on that number. It got so bad that I enlisted the help of my sister and roommate, Joyce. Thankfully, she had a terrific sense of humor and didn’t mind a little subterfuge. After refusing to answer line one for several evenings, Joyce took the call for me. As we suspected, it was the Dread Dork Wilbur on the other end. By this time, I had ceased all pretenses of being nice. I told him to stop following me. I told him to leave me alone. He flagrantly disregarded my wishes, started trying to be sneaky when he followed me and persisted in calling the sorority house. Joyce very calmly informed Wilbur that I was no longer in the state of California. I was, she continued, in Arizona to recover from my severe allergies. (It was true, I suffered from severe hay fever). Neither one of us thought this through very well. I could only cut classes and avoid campus for so long…and then Wilbur would find me again.
When Wilbur inevitably found me, he seemed wounded. I was even more irate than before – he’d started to show up outside my classes. You see, back in the day, one could look up a student’s schedule in the lobby of Sproul Hall. There were banks and banks of card holders, the kind one would find in an ancient library. If you knew the name of the student, you could find them. I hope that Cal has stopped providing this information. Really, it just encourages nut jobs. Wilbur no longer hung out in front of my sorority house – he told me he was obeying my wishes – but he believed that he could follow me around public places. I was at my wit’s end. Then, one of my male friends stepped up to help me. Steve was one of my fraternity “big brothers” and also a large rugby player. Steve waited for me after class, picked me up in his arms, twirled me around, planted a big smooch on my lips and loudly declared his undying love for me. Steve was a good actor. Steve was also a scary, scary man to someone of Wilbur’s stature. The next thing Steve did was to pick Wilbur up by the scruff of his shirt and tell him to leave me the hell alone or he’d inflict all sorts of bodily harm. Wilbur, Steve continued, did not want to find out how rugby players dealt with ruffians who harassed their womenfolk. That was the last I saw of Wilbur.
But, to return to our regularly-scheduled story, I still had a problem. I didn’t have random men skulking about campus, following my every move. I did, however, have too many people who knew my name and could find a phone number. I needed an alter ego. I needed a way to deter unwanted attention. I needed it STAT!
I turned to Joyce, Justine and some other sisters. We all had similar problems, and we all needed a solution. Aha – we declared – we’ll use different names when approached. Joyce chose “Isabelle,” Justine chose “Muriel” (probably not, but it’s my story) and I chose “Catherine.” This worked well, but it didn’t solve the problem of phone numbers. For awhile, we opted to tell unwanted suitors that we didn’t have phones where we lived. That worked. It worked very well. All but the most clueless clod got the message when told there were no phones in our domicile.
Joyce and I were in Doe Library one night. We both had stack passes, so we could study in the carrels upstairs, amongst the stacks, rather than on the long, communal tables surrounded by the masses. That particular evening, we took the elevator back downstairs, arms full of books, at closing time. There was a phone in the elevator. I picked up the receiver, and got a dial tone. I didn’t expect THAT – I thought it might only be to call for help when the antiquated lift stopped lifting. Not only was there a dial tone, but there was a phone number assigned, and prominently displayed. What ho! Hurray. Our problems were solved.
We shared our new phone number with several sisters. I always wanted to be in the elevator when a spurned and tricked dude tried to call one of us. To this day, that thought amuses the crap out of me.
<Ring, ring>. Unsuspecting person picks up the phone in the Doe Library elevator: “Uh, hello?”
Spurned suitor: “Good evening. I am calling for Muriel.”
Unsuspecting elevator passenger: “What? Who? You must be kidding. You’ve called an ELEVATOR. Is this Candid Camera?”
Spurned suitor: “Foiled again.” <Click>.
Catherine and her other friends enjoyed the rest of their college days, with the comfort of anonymity when required. Catherine survived for many years.
Fast forward about ten years. I lived in Greece. Mom visited several times. Sometimes, she was accompanied by her second husband, the vile Fulldemerde. On two occasions, she visited alone; once she stayed for several weeks, and we had a grand time. The first time Mom visited alone, I introduced her to many of my friends and colleagues. She and Bev hit it off immediately. The three of us girls went out to dinner a few times, usually to our favorite little French bistro on the waterfront. Yes, Nea Makri had a French restaurant, the name escapes me, and it was delicious. We also liked several tavernas in town and in Athens. The French place was convenient for weeknights. One evening, we were having such a glorious time at Chez Gigi that we moved to a local bar / club for après-dinner libations. We’d probably had escargot that night. We were very cosmopolitan! We snagged a table in the corner and continued our hooting and hollering.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of three men approach our table. We did not want to be bothered. And bother us they did. Holy cow, never underestimate the persistence of liquored-up Mediterranean men. They introduced themselves politely. I introduced the table: Catherine, Zelda and Margo. Zelda and Margo tried not to spit out their beverages. I hadn’t given the proper pre-mission briefing, so they were unprepared. They both rallied like champs, and Zelda launched into one of her far-fetched and entertaining tales of adventure. Margo and Catherine sat back, nursed their adult beverages and enjoyed the show. Finally, the three amigos left us and we burst into laughter. It was that night that Zelda came into her own. Margo and Zelda loved each other. Bevvie (aka Margo) called my Mom “Zelda” for decades. Bev still refers to Mom as “Zelda,” but accepts the fact that I am Zelda Jr.
Catherine always suffered from ennui. Catherine needed a change of identity. Zelda fits. Zelda is both an homage to my Mom and an act of defiance. An act of incorrigibility, in fact. “’Cogito ergo sum Zelda.” To this day, Zelda has a twitter account, Zelda has an email account, Zelda gets tables at restaurants and provides her name gleefully whenever a name is required. People often remark that Zelda is a lovely, albeit unusual, name. I respond that it’s all my Mother’s fault. She had, you see, a lifelong obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald and named me thusly. Thankfully, she wasn’t enamored of James Joyce, I continue, or I could have been named Leopolda.
Whenever I unabashedly declare Zelda to be my name, I think of Mom. I think of carefree times in Greece with good friends. I recall my days at Cal with my sisters. Zelda, therefore, is priceless. Although Mom reveled in calling herself Zelda, this time it really was all my fault.
21 June 2015