It’s been just over two years since I’ve made the move from my roots on the near south side of Chicago, a neighborhood called Bridgeport, to the trendy northwest side area called Bucktown. I’ve always loved where I grew up but seeing that I do stand-up a few times a week and all of the showcase rooms and open mics are up north, it only made sense for me to move closer to the action. And while much is made of the great dichotomy between these two city halves, they’re not that different. Not now in 2006. You want to hit a great restaurant? Hit either side. Baseball fan? Either or. Blues music? Both. Irish bars? Shit, you can go east and find an Irish bar. Beautiful parks? Condo for a half-mil.? Starbucks? Head either direction from downtown. There really wasn’t that much I had to get used to when I moved up north. Except the names. You just can’t find a Gerks in Bucktown.

It’s not that the names are bad up here, they’re just boring. My neighborhood has a knack for throwing away someone’s birth name and handing them an absurd moniker that sticks for life. Which is nice because it really spices up conversation. I once asked a guy in Shinnick’s (the local watering hole) who was standing up in his wedding. He replied, “Sambo, Ticker and Peckerhead.” I knew precisely who he was referring to.

All Bridgeport nicknames can be traced back to three distinct origins. The first of those origins is grade school. These are names a kid will get by the time he’s 8. They are usually as simple as a play on the last name or a reference to a pronounced characteristic. I’m still great friends with Bull and Meatball. I don’t see Gooch too much anymore but I am pretty good buddies with his younger brother Chewy. My brother went to school with Impy, Wubby and Bucky. His best friend Timmy was Moose when he was a kid, and Moose’s old man was Floppo. Timmy lived across the street from Baudy the Baptist. Even in the third grade, we were talented at creating a clever nickname while simultaneously isolating a kid for his different beliefs.

The second group is the self-explanatory tags. These are the ones that no one will ever have to contemplate, “How in the world did he get that nickname?” I mean, seriously, take a wild fucking stab at what Bubble Head looks like. Yep. It’s gigantic. And if you ever walk in to a bar on the near south side and some guy in the corner is running his yap non-stop, and the guy next to you leans in and says, “Someone needs to tell Loud to shut his goddamn mouth.” You will, with no uncertainty, know who he’s talking about.

The final group is reserved for the older guys, and their names are steeped in Irish folklore. On paper, it would appear that every man over the age of seventy in my neighborhood is a leprechaun. There’s Porky Norton and Whiff Huels. Mush Carey and Stubby Sheehan. “The Dobber” Dapper Dan Sheehan and of course, my father’s good friend Gerks McCarthy. While I’ve never seen Gerks near a rainbow or pot of gold, I have seen him drink a handle of whiskey and piss himself while awake.

I moved next door to a bar when I first got to Bucktown. I stopped in there for a beer after a long day of moving.

“Hey, my names Jimmy, let me know when you’re ready,” the bartender said.

“What do they call you?” I replied.

“Jimmy,” he answered, with a confused look on his face. Where’s Meatball when you need him.”

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