Back in the day, everyone in my neighborhood had a nickname, and it stuck with you…forever.
Take my friend “Tommy Bagels”. His family owned the bagel store on Francis Lewis Blvd in Whitestone. So his nickname was “Tommy Bagels”. Even when Tommy sold the bagel store and bought a Powerhouse Gym, his nickname didn’t change…it only got longer. Now, we refer to him as Tommy Bagels who owns the Powerhouse Gym.
Most nicknames were slights created by your best friends to mock you or your physical appearance. Like my friend Anthony, whose little head sat atop a huge, veiny, muscular neck. Naturally, he became known as “The Neck” or “Tony the Neck.” Then, there’s my friend Gerri, “The Gerbil.” He got his nickname because he has intestinal problems and can only take in little, tiny bites of food at a time. He nibbles when he eats, just like a gerbil. My friend Chris looks like a monkey, and since he was 14-years-old, he’s been known as “MiMu”– Greek for monkey. I don’t know how or even when Nick lost his left eye, but as long as I’ve known Nick, he’s always been called “Nick the Eye.”
One summer, a group of us went to Seaside Heights, NJ for the weekend. At the beach, I noticed my friend Pete wouldn’t take off his T-shirt. So we busted Pete’s balls all day long… and when he finally removed it, there was a big hole right in the center of his chest – a hideous birth defect. Because we are who we are, we all started laughing at him uncontrollably and then someone yelled out “Chester!” The rest is history.
Sometimes, your nickname might evolve. I had a crazy friend named Harry who was fat. We called him “Fat Harry”. Fat Harry had blonde curly hair and one day, someone called him “Farrah” to take a jab at his hair. And it stuck, just like that. Fat Harry had blossomed into Farrah.
Some guys had two nicknames; “B.B.” was also known as “the Buzzard”. Other guys were known just by their first names, like Enzo or Josepi. Back then in Astoria, there were probably a hundred Josepi’s running around. But everyone knew there was only one Josepi – and he worked for B.B.
A lot of times your nickname was just your first and last name fused together in one word. My friend Tommy White had no “nickname”, he was just Tommywhite. Louie Manderelli wrote graffiti and had a “tag name” but, for some reason, he was always just Louiemaderelli.
There was Steve Tank, Nick the Greek, Jimmy Blazed, Nicky Budda and his little brother Yanni Buddha, Maurice – better known as Mo Brown, George Zooki, Tony Kawasaki, Greg Trech, BaBa Joe, Bustle and his brother Zeek, the Funhouse Twins, Pat the Rat, Pete the Freak, George Playboy, Tony Girly Ass, Brillohead, and the Lard. Everyone had a nickname.
Some girls had nicknames, too, but they weren’t nice and you never called them by their nicknames to their face. Unless, of course, you wanted to get smacked or be beat up by an older brother. There was Tina Rubber, Donna Do-You-Wanna?, Sticki Vicki, Hop-Along Kallie, Trish the Dish, and Maria Boom Boom, to name a few.
My favorite nickname of all time has to be “Malaysian.” Malaysian was 100% Italian, but he looked Malaysian. I’ve known my buddy Malaysian for 25 years but if you put a gun to my head, I could not tell you what Malaysian’s legal name is.
My nickname was “Fresh” because I used to break dance in a crew and “Kid Fresh” was my break dancing name. Even today, if I bump into one of my boys from the old neighborhood, they’ll probably yell out, “Yo, Fresh! What’s up?” A grown man being called “Fresh” may sound silly, but it’s way better than the nickname my friend MiMu, desperately tried to stick me with – “Chewbacca” or “Chewy,” because I was very tall and had a big, bushy mullet.
Back in the day, everyone had a nickname. The guys who gave you your nickname were the ones closest to you, your extended family. Your nickname was anything but politically correct and probably hurt your feelings and killed some self-esteem. But no matter how much your nickname hurt you back then, hearing it again today would probably bring a smile to your face, because the only people that still call you by your nickname are the people you grew up with, your best friends from back in the day.