I live in central Los Angeles in a gated community called Park La Brea. There are something like 14,000 of us here. Many of us are Korean, and many others are Indian, the Miwok and Tolowa tribes being particularly well represented. Much of the signage in the community is in both English and Korean. The Indians, about whom I was only kidding a moment ago (they’re the Taj Mahal, rather than indigenous, kind), are on their own. To make the gates lift, one need only wave cordially at the security person in the guard kiosk. None of them can be expected to recognize all 14,000 of us, and they have apparently chosen to err on the side of hospitality.
We are generally a humble people, we Park La Breans, which may explain why I was the object of so many censorious glances yesterday when I returned late in the afternoon from the Rodeo Drive (as in Beverly Hills) Bed Bath ‘n’ Beyond with my new ermine bedspread. Most Park La Breans disdain conspicuous consumption, but it was my birthday this past week, and after a year during which I’d beaten myself to a pulp pretty regularly, I felt that I should be generous with myself for a change. It isn’t, after all, as though I’d gone for the far more expensive (specific numbers would only make you hate me) chinchilla.
I had an interesting conversation with the salesperson in BBB’s endangered species bedspread section before making my purchase. It turned out that she, as I am too, is fascinated by the distribution of given names in the various professional sports. In baseball, whose players continue to slobber all over themselves in homage to the tobacco-chewing stars of eras long past, most non-Latino players, including the black ones, have sensible, familiar given names, as witness the Los Angeles Dodgers’ three black stars being named Carl, Howie, and Jimmy. It’s always been my understanding that Latinos name their children after saints, but lately strange Y-names (Yasmani, Yasiel, Yonder) seem to have proliferated among them to the extent that one wonders if there will be a single Carlos, Jose, or Pablo left in 10 years. The NBA has its share of LeBrons and Udonises, but the large majority of players have names you’ve encountered before. It’s in the National Football League that you find a great many players with names like L’Various and D’Brickashaw.
You will be relieved to learn that I have a theory about this phenomenon. All non-net sports demand a certain level of physical courage, but none more than football, in which one can suffer a concussion or paralyzing spinal injury at pretty much any moment, except those during which play is interrupted so those watching at home can be tricked into believing that it’s manly and pleasurable to drink something called Bud Lite. A young man who is enrolled at a ghastly inner-city school with a name like L’Various must develop extraordinary toughness from the jump, or spend his educational career being taunted or even anally raped. My hunch is that said toughness propels them toward the sport in which they need it most.
Once having gotten my new bedspread (which cost a cool $1763.21 with tax and tip, but you only live once) upstairs and on my bed, I watched a documentary about Joe Namath, and a biopic, starring Queen Latifah, about Bessie Smith. I was struck by the current, in-his-early-70s Namath’s rotten posture and appalling sartorial choices, and saw a little of myself in his obvious adoration of his daughters, though I of course have but one, who doesn’t speak to me. His are surely the most beautiful eyes in the history of American sports, and I wonder if his brown-eyed girls feel genetically short-sheeted, as I'm pretty sure I would.
I shouldn't neglect to mention that I find very odd that black Americans give their children Islamic names like Sharif and Rahim and Jamal in view of the fact that it was Muslim slave traders who sold their ancestors into slavery. Such names seem equally popular among NFL wide receivers and safeties (generally the fastest players on any given team) and NBA point guards. It is very rare to encounter an NFL lineman with an Islamic name.