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Entries in Tongue firmly in cheek (1)

Tuesday
Dec132011

Plight of the ApOstracized 

Most people don't even notice my struggle. Most people probably wouldn't even consider it a problem. Most people probably think this much ado about nothing, but I consider it a slight on my humanity.

I am an ApOstracized American.

Being ApOstracized is not a choice, I was born this way, but the government doesn't see it that way. Hell, pop culture doesn't even see it that way.

Born an "O'Brien", I have long suffered the indignity of people getting my name wrong. On government forms I'm either "OBrien", "O Brien" or the infuriating "Obrien" - assuming they didn't spell my name with an "a".

I was introduced to these injustices at an early age, where they first tried to disenfranchise my people of our proper name.

Standardized tests are a cause of anxiety for many young children, but for me - and people of my ilk - they were also a cause of oppression. The oft misused apostrophe, a dominant and important feature of my surname, was often cast aside by anti-apostrophe bigots.

I remember taking my first standardized test and while given instructions to fill in the circles in the name box, "Last name, then first leaving a space between them. Then fill in the corresponding bubbles." I immediately noticed that I did not fit into this perfect little circle. I was the proverbial pencil mark outside the line.

Patiently, I raised my hand and waited for Mrs. Carrol to call on me. Obviously there was some mistake - I didn't see an apostrophe bubble anywhere. I mean, I had an older brother and sister and I knew other apostrophe families, surely someone had to have a protocol for me and my people. Maybe they just forgot to give me the right form.

"Mrs. Carrol, what do I do since I have an apostrophe?"

The question hushed the otherwise precocious class.

Quietly, my teacher - my authority figure - looked around, perplexed. Finally, after meeting eyes with her teacher's assistant and shrugging, she told me to just separate the "O" and the "B" with a space.

A thousand questions raced through my head. Would the machine think I was named Brien O? Could I live as a boy named Brien O? Could we bring this error to the attention of someone with greater knowledge of this situation?

I learned early in life, separate is not equal.

No one validated my apostrophe, and by third grade I was done asking what to do. I had become docile, acquiescent.

But as I grew older, I grew bolder. Proud of my name, I would fill in the "space" bubble but defiantly write the apostrophe in the box above it. Take that society.

As my passion for sports evolved as I grew, I decided to partake in sports, sports video games and bought much sports paraphernalia.

Fortunately, I only played sports for teams that went NNOB. However, sports games like Madden or NBA2K refused to allow the apostrophe in my name in their game. No league, even those like the NBA, NHL or FIFA that have players with apostrophes already in the game, would allow me to Create-A-Player with my distinguishing feature.

The bigotry stung like salt in a wound; I couldn't be Tim O'Brien but I could be Tîm ÒBríèñ.

Why wouldn't EA or SEGA allow me to be who I am? I wanted to write them letters, but Microsoft Word told me my name was spelled wrong.

Even my fandom was called into question. For my 16th birthday, my golden birthday, I wanted a White Sox alternate jersey with my name and my favorite number, 16. I had tried this once before. The NFL would not tolerate my people.

A miracle happened that summer, my family found a sports paraphernalia store owner who would - without consulting MLB - place my apostrophe onto an authentic White Sox jersey. And thus my wish was granted.

I have since become more accepting of my lot in life and tolerate the bigotry I deal with on a near daily basis (mail doesn't get delivered on Sundays). But to this day, four out of the five major US sports leagues do not recognize the rights of ApOstracized Americans.

Major League Baseball's response to an apostrophe: "Not allowed."

National Football League's response to an apostrophe: "Not allowed."

The National Basketball Association's response to an apostrophe is also, "Not allowed," but their stance softens for player specific jerseys or if you select a current apostrophe-having player.

The National Hockey League - even on teams with three completely different ApOstracized players - refuses to grant our right to exist. In fact, their box wont even let you type in the apostrophe while are charging you $80 for the right to not do so.

Only lowly Major League Soccer will allow everyone their right to an apostrophe, though I'll believe it when I see it.

But I dream of a day, when I will not be judged by the punctuation in my name, but content of my of my character.

We're here, we're clear, we want to see our apostrophe.