Of Nicknames and Embarrassing Moments

It’s a little early for me to post my response to the weekly LinkedIn challenge, but this week’s prompt “My Most Embarrassing Moment” struck a chord with me immediately. A few of my readers will recognize this story, at least in part.


Heehee Marie

As nicknames among adolescents go, “Heehee Marie” wasn’t that bad, even for a serious kid like me. It  out-ranked names like “Leetle Ree-chard” and “Frogger,” which were thrust upon friends of mine.

The problem with being called “Heehee Marie” was that I didn’t understand it. I understood the nicknames of others in the youth group. Joy acquired the name “Surprise” when the quiet 12-year-old hollered “Hail, Hitler!” during a lull in a lunchtime conversation about relatives from the Soviet Union. The youth group quickly explained the difference between Nazis and Communists to her, but the nickname stuck. Tommie earned the nickname “Photo Dweeb” after snapping over 260 pictures during a single trip to Texas. Since these nicknames were doled out justly, I could only assume that mine also had been somehow earned.

Taking everything seriously was in my nature, so I dutifully asked members of the group why they called me “Heehee.” Usually I received a non-committal shrug. Jason, nicknamed “Hobie” after a brand of clothing he often wore,  had originated my nickname, and he finally pacified me by stating that the name just rhymed.

I wasn’t upset by the nickname, and it had already stuck, so I let the matter lie. To some people, I would always be “Heehee Marie.” Since most of those people liked me well enough, I could live with the nickname. It rhymed. I guess that made them happy. Why shouldn’t I be happy as well?

I spent the bulk of my teenage years with that group. A few like Angela, also known as “Giggles” because she actually had a sense of humor, graduated ahead of me while other, younger teens came into the group.

Eventually, I graduated high school and said my goodbyes. Before leaving for college, I had one final event in which to take part—a national quiz bowl tournament. For six years, I had competed in quiz bowl, and my goal was to earn a place in the top 10 individual quizzers in the nation. At my previous national quiz, the pressure had overwhelmed me. This time would be different.

During the final four rounds, the tournament was being recorded as well as televised locally. Since my team and I were scoring well, I began to relax from my typically serious bent of mind. One of my team members even discovered that I indeed had a sense of humor and took pleasure in tickling it at inopportune moments. Toward the end of a round, he whispered something in my ear that made me giggle just before the quiz master announced, “Question number . . .” After the next question, the captain of the opposing team decided to challenge the quiz master’s ruling. The quiz master requested the audio technician to replay the answer so he could review it.

The technician wound the old-fashioned reel-to-reel recording backward too far, to the exact moment when I had laughed at my team member’s joke. The auditorium sat in silence. Throughout the room and across the airwaves came my squeaky, high-pitched laugh, “HeeHEE!” Snap. The technician fast-forwarded the reel, stopped it at the correct spot and replayed the answer.

Suddenly, the reason for my nickname dawned on me—in front of the entire world. I could feel my face turning crimson. As the team captains and the quiz master came to some decision, I rationalized to myself—maybe no one else realized that was my laugh. After all, there were several others within range of the sound equipment.

Just before the final question of the round, my humorous team member leaned over and whispered in my ear, “HeeHEE.” Once again my face turned crimson. My hopes were dashed. Everyone knew, as I now knew, exactly why my nickname was “Heehee Marie.”

HeeHee Marie and Joy, aka "Surprise," at the pinnacle of Pike's Peak, circa 1992

Heehee Marie and Joy, aka “Surprise,” at the pinnacle of Pike’s Peak, circa 1992