I spent a fair amount of time in high school trying to figure out what I was going to change my name to when I could afford to pay a lawyer to handle the legalities of becoming someone else. To me, Larry Daily just seemed so incredibly plain. So boring. There was no proud history to my name despite the fact that I was named after my father. My parents split up when I was in first grade, so I never got to know my Dad enough to be proud that I was carrying his name. At the time I really wanted to grow up to be John Denver (or at least the East Coast version of John Denver). I loved the Blue Ridge Mountains, but there were no cool cities near them that I could name myself after (Larry Sperryville? Larry Luray? Larry Front Royal? See what I mean?). For awhile after reading MASH I tried being Trapper John, but that didn’t work out so well. Looking back, I had no role models. I really didn’t know who I was, and my name didn’t really offer any clues.
There were bits and pieces of me floating around in my teenaged body. The Professor from Gilligan’s Island and Benton Quest were in that primordial identity soup (see my first posting). I was also influenced by Gandalf the Gray (Lord of the Rings) and Ged (from the Earthsea trilogy). There was a big dollop of John Denver in the mix as well. Then I got my job at Kmart. As I discussed in my last posting, I learned a lot from John Lipp. But there was another person at the store who impressed me and who I tried to emulate.
His name was Ted.
That’s all I remember now. I know he had a last name. At one time I might have even have known what it was. But around the store he was Ted. As I recall, Ted had worked (in management?) for the Kresge Company when Kresge stores still existed. In our store, he was the manager of the hardware department. He didn’t carry keys, but he did most of the other things that we assistant managers did.
What impressed me about Ted was that he knew his department. He knew what sold and what didn’t. He knew what he had in stock, what was on order, and when it was expected to arrive. He was the expert. And Mr. Lipp knew it. If I had an item coming up on sale in my department and Mr. Lipp asked if I had enough on order, my claim that I did was always followed by, “You better check to make sure.” Actually, almost anyone’s claim in those same circumstances was followed by, “You better check.” But not Ted. If Ted said he had enough on order, Lipp would nod and move on to the next item on his agenda. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be an expert. I wanted that kind of respect and one of my first important revelations was that you didn’t demand that kind of respect. You earned it by being very good at what you did.
It was at Kmart that I began signing my name as Larry Z. Daily. I’m not sure why I started doing it that way, but I know why I still do. I was a department head, in charge of rugs, furniture, and plastics (the faux Tupperware stuff). I stocked the shelves, kept them neat and in order, and placed orders for needed merchandise (which were reviewed by the assistant manager I reported to). One afternoon the district manager was in the store and ended up touring my departments with me. At one point he asked me what the best selling color was for bathroom rugs. I knew what he wanted to hear – conventional wisdom in the company was that brown was the most popular color for bathroom rugs – but in my store I sold pink and powder blue bathroom rugs. Tons of them. So, that’s what I told him. He, of course, didn’t believe me. He made me get my order book and show him what I’d been ordering. He saw tons of orders for pink and powder blue. Then he made me show him through my stockroom, to make sure I didn’t have all those mountains of pink and blue rugs moldering away back there. There really weren’t any pink and blue rugs in the stockroom. At that point I saw something in his eyes that I hadn’t seen directed at me before. Respect.
He asked me my name and I told him: Larry Z. Daily. For some reason he got hung up on the Z and I was forever Larry Z to him. I’m not sure he ever really knew my last name. But I got something from that experience. I began to realize that who I was didn’t come from my name. My identity, the meaning of my life weren’t handed to me when my parents named me. It was the other way around. The meaning of my name came from me. Whether my name was something to be proud of depended on what I chose to do, how I chose to live. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes since then. Some were small; some still give rise to pain and shame when I think about them. On the whole, though, I like to think I’ve done ok.
So, I’m Larry Z. Daily.
Who are you?
 Call me Junior and I will have to hurt you.
 The Kresge Company grew up to be Kmart. Ever wonder what the K was for? Now you know.
 No, I will not tell you what Z stands for. And no, I will not confirm it if you guess it.
 Why he was touring my departments with me rather than the assistant manager is one of the enduring mysteries in my life.