The other day at coffee my friends and I were checking to see if any of us had names that were listed in the top 100 for our gender. Nobody made the top 10 list of male names. My friend John came in at 26; my friend Mark was way down the list at 66, as I recall; my friend Parker was 89; etc. But none of us was as dissed as my friend George, whose name didn’t appear anywhere in that list. Mind you, there are dozens of such lists, and it would have taken a week to cull them all, but in the half-a dozen or so we checked there was no sign of George, which we all thought was pretty amazing, as among us we know about a dozen Georges, including our friend George, or the person we consider our friend George most of the time, though there are days that are designated Be Nice to George Days, which is not to imply that we are usually not nice to George, but it is an old joke at coffee, and George is always a good sport about it, or as good a sport as one can be when one’s name does not seem to appear in any list of 100 top male names.

I know, as mine does not, though it is the list of the top 100 female names from which I am excluded, my name being Carolyn, not Caroline, which does appear near the bottom (that would be in the high 80s, as number one is at the top, which could be as confusing as first-degree murder and third-degree burns, a puzzling and to my mind totally unnecessary lack of logical thinking on the part of whoever is responsible for vocabulary, though I do not labor under the misapprehension that vocabulary or anything else is logical, a stunning conclusion to which I came when I first walked into the office of the very nice man who would represent me in my divorce and saw what seemed like thousands and thousands of books, all of them addressing the relationships between men and women and men and men and women and women and setting certain standards and boundaries for those relationships, and it seemed to me then, as it does now, very sad that our human-ness, or whatever it is that makes us caring, thinking beings, is hedged about with so many thorns, nor it is so far-fetched to compare laws to thorns, since if you act in defiance of either of them you’re in trouble), even if my boy husband did call me Caroline from time to time, perhaps thinking that because I had lived in London long enough when we were married there, as we were, to be described as “a spinster of this [Kensington] parish,” I had also taken on Caroline, which is British for Carolyn, in which form, as I said earlier, it does not appear on any lists of the top 100 female names, or none that I have found, though I doubt very much that I will spend much more time looking. There are, after all, worthier ambitions than making the list of the top 100 male or female names, even if I suspect that I would feel otherwise if I’d made the list.

Speaking of making the list, I had a rather surreal experience at the transfer station the other day at the Swap Shop (if it is still called the Swap Shop, but I have a faint recollection of its name being the Pick of the Litter, unless that was a benefit I once appeared in wearing something from that very Swap Shop — or POL, if you like — the details of which have escaped my mind for now). I had exchanged all the plastic toilet seats in my house for wooden ones, which make so much nicer a noise when they bang shut, or open for that matter, though as for comfort that is something everyone must gauge for her- or himself, and personally I think it is too intimate a subject to be discussed here, so I shall proceed.

I had cleaned them all thoroughly (that is not to say that they weren’t clean to begin with. Clean toilet seats, and clean everything else, are what I have a housekeeper for) and stuck on them with Scotch tape all the bits and pieces that attach them to the toilet itself, but when I presented them at the Swap Shop, the guardian at the gate looked at them and then me with equal suspicion and said “What have we here?”

“Toilet seats,” I said, refraining from asking her what she thought they were.

“Used?” she said.

“Yes,” I replied, “but barely [my friend Tug will like that one],” truthfully, as if you are one person in a house with three bathrooms and doormats that say go away (if I had been able to find doormats that said go away please I might have bought them instead, but I wasn’t, and on second thought I wouldn’t have bought them anyway, as go away please does not send the same message that go away does), you will find there are a number of things that don’t get used very often.

“Can’t use them,” the doorkeeper said. “Only if they’re new.” It had never occurred to me that I could buy something new and take it to the Swap Shop. In fact, it still doesn’t occur to me, and if I’d had the time and the inclination I might have asked the wardress what she had inside that was new, but instead I put my spurned offerings back in the car, turned around and dumped them in the Demolition area.

While I am speaking of the dump, it still amazes me that people will pull up on the concrete slab from which the big yellow bags are tossed into the hopper and stop right in the middle instead of moving ahead so that the trunk of the car is right about where the hopper is and in addition another car can fit on the slab instead of waiting forever while the driver of the car in the middle of the slab throws out what appears to be almost everything in his life.

I once beeped my horn at one of these dump hogs, and he (it is usually, but not always, a he) strolled back to my car and asked me what my hurry was. If I could have, I would have tossed him in the hopper, with or without a yellow plastic bag, but instead I tapped my foot which since it was on the accelerator made the engine roar a tiny roar, and I’m not sure if it was that unspoken threat or the murderous gleam in my eye that made him retreat hastily to his car and pull away so fast that he left the trunk open. Haha.


Carolyn Marsh is communications director for the Picker Institute in Camden.