I was a freshman in college when my friend Mark urged me to call his cousin Iris and ask her out.
As shy as I was then and still am now, I put off making that call until he sat down with me and watched me dial her number on an old rotary phone. Her mother’s raspy voice answered, and I asked to talk to her daughter. Unfortunately, Iris was not home.
After a few more calls, I made contact. I introduced myself to her as Jerry, a nickname I had adopted in high school.
The timbre of her voice surprised me. It was a high falsetto, charming in its innocence. I told her that her cousin Mark encouraged me to call. We spoke briefly until I worked up enough courage to ask whether she would go out with me and Mark. I figured there was safety in numbers.
What she didn’t know was that I was hoping she wouldn’t ask me my real name. Thankfully, she did not.
I told her that we would pick her up at 7 and go to the movies. When Mark and I arrived at the house, Iris’ mother ushered us to the den, several steps down from the main hallway. Iris wasn’t ready yet.
When she finally came down, I was taken with the blonde beauty greeting us. She was a senior in high school. Her voice was a refreshing waterfall of sound to this 18-year-old male.
Mark introduced us and I was glad that I did not have to stammer out a name that I felt would end the evening early.
Some other friends joined us and we went to see “Robin and the Seven Hoods,” a Rat Pack movie. The pizzeria across Newbridge Road from the theater in North Bellmore made steamy, mozzarella-laden pizza.
Afterward, we took her home. At her front door, I asked whether we could go out again, and she politely agreed. I was elated.
We talked on the phone several times. Before our second date, her mother again greeted me at the door. I was alone this time. She invited me to wait in the den.
After several minutes, I heard her call out “Jerry!” several times. I did not answer. I could hear Iris coming downstairs and some quiet mumbling between her and her mother.
When she walked into in the den, she looked concerned.
“Why didn’t you answer when my mother called you?” Iris asked.
The moment of truth had arrived. I turned deep red.
“I forgot,” I said with a groan. “She called out, ‘Jerry!’ — and I have to admit that it is not my name. It’s a name I use in school to avoid being called by my real name.”
I didn’t know how Iris would react.
“So what is it?” she asked.
Quietly, I squeaked, “Seymour.”
She nearly tittered, as most people did when they heard the name. We Seymours are a dying breed.
“Seymour,” she said. “My mother thought you were a nut not answering when she called you.”
“Now you know why I called myself Jerry.”
We went out that evening and she told me that she hated her real name as well. Instead, she called herself Bobbie.
After a period of dating, we adopted the names Tiggy and Kitten, terms of endearment for birthday cards and Valentine’s Day.
We married in 1968 and had three children. As it happened, the two boys didn’t particularly care for their names — Kurt Marshall and Brandon Sean. Only my daughter, Stephanie Leah, never objected to her name.
Iris stopped complaining about her name long ago. I took to calling myself Sy. I retired good old “Jerry.” He had done his job.
Reader Sy Roth lives in Mount Sinai.