My Ben Davis Problem
A quirky new essay in Human parts about my frustratingly common name.
If you Google me, my name auto-fills with ‘pants’. The first thing people want to know is whether I fit like ‘Dickies.’ I have an uncle named Dickie so there is a small chance this is a misguided fan with deep knowledge of my family and poor grammar. Sadly no — it’s likely because my name, first and last, is a clothing company.
On many, many occasions in my life, people have said, “I saw someone wearing your name on a shirt!” And I think — oh, this again? That’s nice. I appreciate that they call it my name. Their words imply that they’ve found someone who loves me so much they’ve put my name on a shirt. In reality, the Ben Davis clothing company has been around since 1935. So, really, someone should be looking at that shirt then coming to me to ask, “So, hey, when your parents were naming you, do you think that someone just walked by with a ‘Ben Davis’ shirt on and they thought, “Well — that sounds nice.”
No — actually, they named me the same way they named all of my brothers. My mom said a name, and, if my Dad couldn’t make fun of it, that’s what they went with. Clearly, this was not a research-driven exercise.
Some people might have unfortunate names like George Clooney, Neil Armstrong, or Robert Lee. They will be frustrated — unable to get notoriety because their name is that of a famous person. Well, hey — I’d love to feel bad but my namesake is pants and a t-shirt. George Clooney will die, Neil Armstrong will be replaced as soon as people step foot on Mars, and they’ll eventually remove all of Robert E Lee’s statues. But apparently, Ben Davis makes long-lasting clothing of classic design and reliable quality.
When I was younger, this was a fun novelty. It made me feel special. People would send me pictures of Ben Davis bumper stickers, people they met in bars with Ben Davis T-shirts on, and signs for Ben Davis clothing stores. When I first discovered this in college, I felt like a celebrity. I bought an ‘I Love Ben Davis’ T-shirt and wore it around like a badge of honor. People would ask, “You made a t-shirt that says you love yourself?” and I said, proudly, “Nope. Someone already made a shirt that says they love Ben Davis. I just bought it.”
Which, in vivid retrospect, is much sadder.
Now that I want to actually be special — which, in the age of the internet means being findable — I’ve got limited options. I am not an ‘instantly recognizable American clothing line.’ I look vaguely European and even my Dad will occasionally mistake me for one of my brothers.
But let’s say I manage to reality jump into a dimension where Ben Davis clothing was never made — where that laughing monkey was laughing at someone other than me. Things only get more frustrating from there. Clothing burns — but everyone remembers where they went to high school.
That’s right. Ben Davis is a high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. And no — in case you are an optimistic dreamer — that high school is not named after me. Ben Davis high school has a graduating class of around 500. It was founded in 1892. Are you kidding me? So, I’d have to become a demolition expert and track down roughly 100,000 people before I’d be able to take a swing at beating Ben Davis High School.
This high school made it through the Great Depression — I can barely make it through seasonal depression. So, sure, alright — I get a time machine, go back to 1982 and convince the people to name their high school after a different railroad executive because — yeah, that’s also a thing. Surely — surely, after that, I’d be in the clear, right?
Of course not. Because I’m also an apple. Like, a legit apple.
Malus domestica Ben Davis. Sounds like a joke, yeah? No. I was crossbred with the McIntosh to create the Cortland. Apparently, I’m great in pies.
According to New England Apples, “Ben Davis is a handsome red apple with green and deep red striping and coarse, pale yellow-to-white flesh. It is a large, moderately juicy, and crisp fresh-eating or baking apple, its flavor rather mellow. Ben Davis is harvested in mid-October and not only holds up well in storage, its flavor improves as well.”
It sounds like a poem some high school sweetheart wrote about me — aw, damn — just the thought of high schools makes me sad. Double burn.
So, how did this apple get its name? Let’s go back even further now to the early 1800s in the American South — oh boy. First grown by Captain Ben Davis — aw, hell. No one has called me “captain” since I ran high school frisbee club — and even then, three kids refused because, well — to their credit — it was frisbee club.
So — I need to reality jump, time travel, or manage to do something in my life so astounding — so earth-shattering — that I can shake all of these other Ben Davises out of the tree of history. Or — as is more likely, one day I’ll die, relatively unknown, and as my grief-stricken loved ones walk the streets, they can pass by the periodic Ben Davis T-shirt, break down, and weep.
This essay has been a long time coming. I had the idea many years ago but only recently found the rhythm to write it down and make it publishable. It was picked up by Human Parts. You can read the rest for free by clicking the button below: