When I went to work in Washington in 1987, my father asked that the first call I make upon arriving in D.C. be to Oftie (pronounced “Uff-tee”), one of his old pals from Ludlow.

As chief of staff for Sen. Wendell Ford, Jim “Oftie” Fleming was a legend on Capitol Hill. Along with having been at Ford’s side since his days as governor of Kentucky, Fleming had a reputation as being more than a bit gruff. The idea of calling one of D.C.’s power brokers weighed heavily on my mind.

My first instinct was to not make the call. However, at Dad’s insistence, I called Fleming. Of course, he did not take the call and I left a message. There was no such thing as voicemail at the time and the pink slip with my name and number scribbled on it was likely shoved to the bottom of Fleming’s tall stack of calls to be returned.

Such was not good enough for my old man. “Call him back,” he insisted. “Tell his secretary the message is for Oftie and is from Bucky’s boy.”

I did.

The call was returned within minutes.

I grew up in a world where nicknames were handed out like Mafia handles. Any gathering at any bar could have sounded like a scene fromGoodfellas, except the Ludlow Mob was ruled by people called Chippy, Jelly, Duke and Skipjack. Growing up in most small towns without a nickname was like a professional sports team not having a mascot. It just did not happen.

Sometimes the nicknames were a matter of family right. As my father was “Bucky,” I was “Little Bucky” to all his friends. The patriarch of one family was “Ducky.” His sons were all called “Ducky” and they also passed it down to their boys, which I assume always made the family reunions quite confusing.

Sometimes nicknames grew from unfortunate personal circumstances. A young boy who had his head shaved in the second grade due to lice might be known forever as “Baldy.”

My wife grew up in a neighborhood where one woman took it upon herself to give childhood monikers. One time she nicknamed a set of unruly siblings “Ugly” and “Double-Ugly,” proving you should never get on the wrong side of the person responsible for handing out nicknames.

Some folks had multiple nicknames. My dad was alternatively known as “The Angel.” My grandma thought it was based upon personal behavior choices, when, in fact, Dad looked like the big-time wrestler in the early days of television. One of my friends has so many nicknames, he’ll answer to just about anything.

In fact, reread the latest online political rant that made you angry. It would be far less abrasive if posted by someone generally known to you as “Cat Head.”

Oh, and in my call to Oftie, he told me if I ever needed anything (including—despite being from the other political party—a job), I should call him. It seems the bloodline of my nickname was thicker than political water.



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