Friday, April 27, 2007
SENIOR COLUMN: Hey, I Spelled My Name Wrong
For the past four years, every article I have written has contained (at least) one major factual error.My name is not Jimmy Vielkind; it's Jim Vielkind-Neun. At least, that's the name I learned to spell in kindergarten and carried until I walked into this campus and filed my first story for these pages.
There is no good reason why. Neun is my father's surname, Vielkind my mother's. He reads every word dutifully and lovingly, never complaining that it is alone branded with his wife's maiden name-and the closest thing to an explanation I've ever provided him is, well, this column.
It might have something to do with rhythm. Jimmy Vielkind has a nice iambic ring to it, I tell myself. Girls think the diminutive nickname is cute, and sources underestimate a reporter whose balls they can bust by simply saying the word Olsen. And who wants to look at a clunky hyphenated byline? No one. Maybe it's that I didn't have any input into the decision-making process when it happened, so damn it, I rebelled. You always said you would make fun if I got a tattoo, Dad.
As I watched classmates storm stages, occupy plazas, and teach in about issues surrounding identity conflict, I kept mum about my own existential inconsistency. That's the reporter's role, after all, and while people engaged the world, issues, and injustices omnipresent on this most vibrant campus in the world's greatest city, I took notes. I wrapped my head around the conflicts without ever taking a side. Except in my byline.
Freshman year, I found solace in a girl down the hall who was now calling herself by her middle name. Those were heady days, a time that felt, as Fitzgerald said, like it had "all the iridescence of the beginning of the world." We were all new to each other and freed for the first time from the influence of our parents and the shadows of our pasts. Jimmy was going to be a much different person than Jim was.
I was as white bread as the suburbs from which I came, and then I met New York, the great love of my college life. I walked her streets at all hours. I followed her government, learned about her buildings, and read of the famous deeds of her sons and daughters hardly able to contain my daydreams. But through-probably because of-that iridescence, the shadows of the world from which I had been so insulated shone stronger.
There were the meetings in St. Mary's, where people would vent their fears and frustrations about Columbia's latent juggernaut pawing at the place they called home. There was the time Spanish class stopped cold so we could hang our heads out the windows and watch as a banner begging for a "Union NOW" was hung on Alexander Hamilton. Or my classmates wearing signs shouting that they were being silenced on campus.
The neighborhood changed, too. The seven dollars that bought a pitcher of beer at the West End when I was 17 is only enough to cover the price of a cocktail. AmCaf barely exists in a blurry memory. The building on 110th Street and Broadway fell, then rose. The city got richer, and the last nagging doubts as to whether New York will be a bastion of the good life for years to come have all but evaporated. We have a new Congress. Newly created support structures on campus. Financial aid reforms. We've made our mark on this place as much as it's shaped (or scarred) us.
I've been educated by more than just the schooling meted out here, but in the end, I'm the same person I was when I came in.I went the other day to fill out a pronunciation card for graduation and paused for a moment before filling in James Vielkind-Neun (P.S. If the person who's saying the names is reading, it's veal like the meat, kind like the type of person you are, and noon like 12 o'clock). I don't think anyone will get tripped up.
The author was the was the 129th city editor./