When I was a child I resented being called “Marty”—from my middle name—and I couldn’t wait until I went off to high school, where I reclaimed my real name of Michael Cohen. I published an essay a few years back about this resentment and reclamation, called “Names.” There I tried to explain my chagrin at sharing a nickname with Paddy Chayefsky’s nebbish character, played in the movie by Ernest Borgnine, and my satisfaction in taking back my real and proud, you could even say arch-angelic, name of Michael. In recent weeks I’ve thought wistfully about the advantages of being Marty, since the infamous Trump-fixer with my name has been so much in the news. Yet I have taken some pleasure in the public way in which Trump’s lawyer has performed his last, truest service for the client he was willing to do so much to help.
I don’t get many double takes or questions about my name in the little western Kentucky town where I live half the year. Cohen is not a common name here, and most people have only vague or no memories of having heard it on Fox news—a dullness that perhaps helps explain an electorate that continues to send Mitch McConnell to the Senate. In Arizona, where I live the rest of the year, I get more reactions. A hotel manager in Bisbee, an editor in Mesa, and lots of people in Tucson have asked whether that’s really my name and commiserated with me when they found it was. How would it be in New York, where there are columns of Michael Cohens in the virtual phone book?
It’s not the reaction of others that annoys, but my own to the constant iteration of the name on radio and TV news, the name that jumps out at me from the printed page, day after day. Yes, I want to answer, what is it? At least for the first three dozen times. That’s not me, I think, that guy who looks as if he’d been dressed by a tailor with OCD and talks as if he’d never been out of Long Island.
After the annoyance of hearing and seeing my name so often, there was only numbness. Whenever I heard “Michael Cohen” it was if it were a name not my own. Such numbness is unnatural; we should be alive and alert to a human voice that speaks our name.
I look forward to the day when Trump is gone, though he won’t be soon forgotten, and when the name of his fixer is truly forgotten. I will still be only one of many Michael Cohens, but happy in my name and its lack of notoriety. How unconscious we are to the quiet joy of anonymity. Imagine for a moment that your name were Sarah Sanders or Mike Flynn, neither an uncommon name. Convince yourself that it is so. Let your irritation build throughout your day of glancing at newspapers and catching your name in half-heard news reports. You have my sympathies.
This Michael Cohen lives on the Blood River in western Kentucky and in the Tucson Mountains. He has been publishing personal essays (Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, The Humanist and other venues) since his retirement from teaching. His last book was A Place to Read (IP Press, 2014). Neither he nor his cell phone has been to Prague.