Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mooch is a Mooch

I just finished reading the book "Mooch", by Dan Fante. I consider reading this book highly appropriate since my nickname, and the name of this blog for that matter, is Mooch. I enjoyed the book. Here is the overinflated, 5-star review, I posted on Amazon.com. How could I help but give it rave reviews?

" Brilliant! What Orwell would have written had he tried telemarketing instead of dish washing. What Fitzgerald would have written had he known about the "Big Book". What Kerouac did write except for his audience in the late 40's required PG-13 only. Fante get's it right. You are down and out, on the road, and in love with a muse that is every bit as crazy as Fitzgerald's own Zelda. It's all there. The insanity, the recovery, the obsession and the biggest mooch of them all, Fante himself. Since a mooch can be a free loader, a drug addict, a wanderer, or a sucker, you have to read the book to decide which definition Fante is using. I'm off to find the rest of his books."

Well perhaps I'm not actually off to find the rest of Fante's books -- but I was definitely taken by his writing and I may, one day, venture into some of his father's novels as well. Apparently John Fante, was quite the novelist, however never really being recognized during his actual life, he was reduced to scraping out a meager living writing for TV and Hollywood. Just like Fitzgerald. But for today, I am interested in a subject much closer to home. I am interested in my very own nickname, "Mooch". Why do I have it? What does it mean? It has been a natural name in some instances, it has been the source of interesting reactions from some people, perhaps a bit to polite to call me "a" mooch. Which, perhaps, if you use all of Fante's definitions might not be too far from the truth. But let's explore this word "Mooch" , just for a little, before we decide.

As I have mentioned, Fante has, I am sure, been playing with all four definitions of Mooch. He wouldn't have used the word for his title if he didn't have some affinity with the word itself and perhaps it's multiple meanings. The first definition, and the one with the most universal negative connotation has to be that of a free loader. A mooch is someone who, well, mooches. You can mooch cigarettes, mooch money, mooch places to stay. If there is anything to be had for free, a mooch is probably close by trying to ply their moochy trade. We all mooch off our parents for at least the first 16 years of our life -- some of us much (or mooch) longer. A mooch can be a sponge or a parasite. I'm personally glad the kid's cartoon, however, is named after the sponge. I'm not sure there is room in our world for me and a yellow mooch with square pants.

Now whereas I could be guilty of mooching from my parents, from time to time, I could never be guilty of being the mooch known as the drug addict. The sorry sort who is so addicted to their chosen drug that all other pursuits in life become irrelevant. This sorry mooch is in a never ending quest for their next fix. Most of us, fortunately, never become the addicts of such destructive behaviour that we commit crimes in search of our chosen high. However, don't be so sure that a seemingly innocent obsession, doesn't necessarily qualify you as a mooch. Most of us do know the addition of Love, for instance, either for a spouse or a child. The obsession, or the tie, to such another type of addicting drug that happens to comes with our emotions. Fools rush in. Perhaps a fool is a mooch -- a fool certainly fits the definition of mooch yet to come. But do we have to look so far to find coffee or caffeine junkies. Certainly, these addictions too, could or should qualify for the mooch moniker. Do the Dew, Mooch! The voice of the entire Generation X. So high adrenaline, highly addictive sports are probably in. But what about other activities we simply pursue with passion. Soccer, for instance, in my case.

Aside from my own personal morning fix of Mountain Dew, soccer could be my greatest addiction. And, as it turns out, the fundamental reason I am called Mooch. Calling Mooch, on the soccer field, it seems, is the quickest way to receive a pass from, well, Mooch. But what of this Mooch. Where did it come from? My name is Muccio. Americanized by my grandfather in New York City in the early part of the 19th Century. He was an immigrant from Italy it seems the family he brought with him was Mucia -- pronounced "Mew-Cee-Ah". In Italian the single "c" is pronounced as a soft "cee". My grandfather was not the only Mucia in New York City and he kept receiving the other guy's mail. So one day he went down to the court house and changed the final "a" in his name to an "o" and added the second "c" to the middle of his name. Muccio was the result. He pronounced it "Mew-Cee-Oh", instead of, it seems, the more appropriate actual Italian pronunciation of the double "cc" as a "ch" as in "church", or "Mew-Chee-Oh". However, since no one can be bothered to make the effort to pronounce the "Mew" and the "Chee" together, it's too difficult. You can either make the effort to say "Mew" or make the effort to say "Chee", never both. So the result is that, the family pronounces our name "Mew-cee-oh". But Italian's who come across the name, instinctively want to say "Chee" and a soft "Moo" slips out ahead of it. The end result is a pronunciation of the form "Mooch-ee-oh". Verse the more Americanized "Moose-ee-oh", which resulted, of course, in my father being called "Moose" for most of his life. For some reason, "Moose" never caught on with me -- perhaps because I ran track with an upperclassman named "Moose" -- and he already laid claim. My father, has admitted however, that some of his friends in New York, did in fact, call him "Mooch". But for him, it was "Moose" that caught on. Conveniently leaving Mooch for me to use and ponder.

Back to the book. Dan Fante's main character, Bruno Dante, however is not addicted to Mountain Dew or soccer. He is an alcoholic. For most of the book, though, he is struggling to stay on the wagon. It is the characters around him that fall, and, eventually drag him back into the hell that is drug abuse. His friend's, his business associates, just about everyone he comes in contact with is either an addict or a recovering addict. And everyone in this story is looking for a hand out. Everyone is looking to survive as best they can, taking what is given to them, trying to take what is not given to them, and attending to their given addiction. They are all mooches of the first and second sort. In the process, they move about from place to place. They drift. A third definition for a mooch is a wanderer. The route of this definition is not clear, at all, but the use of the phrase, "too mooch around", literally means to wander around, from place to place. Bruno Dante wanders too. He mooches from place to place and he is a mooch, taking what he can from who he can. And finally, he is an addict. Not just for his chosen drug but for the love he has for for the girl in this great American Novel. The crazy muse that gives his life meaning and drives him to the brink of despair and almost death. She is also a mooch -- wandering from job to job and from addiction to addiction, taking what she can from who she can. When she runs into Bruno, she has met her moochly match.

Oddly, of all these meanings, definitions, and human behaviour Fante uses to illustrate his story, he only explicitly defines Mooch once, and it's none of these definitions. Fante define's mooch in it's forth state. A mooch is the target of a telemarketer's sale. It is used in a derogatory manner to refer to a client who has just been hooked and closed into a sale. This is the definition given to the word by grifters, or two-bit con-artists to discuss their mark, or the sucker to be taken advantage of during the con. A mooch is to a con-artist as a John is to a prostitute would be the appropriate and necessary seedy analogy. But to make the definition more general, just about anybody who is suckered into doing something they would rather not, or once in possession of all the facts, would not do. A sucker by any other definition, and of course, as we all know, a sucker is born every minute. "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Indeed, by this definition, couldn't we all be considered, "Mooch"? Is not being a mooch a part of the universal human condition. Fante hit's the nail on the head with this definition. So the struggle, the actual human drama that the hero must overcome in order to move forward in this story comes from this definition of mooch. It is the mooches that can lift his life out of poverty -- if he can sell enough unwanted product too them. But it is the mooches around him that can drag him just as quickly down. Put another way, we all have something to sell in this world, we are just looking for a Mooch to buy it. Conversely, everybody has something to sell us, we just hope we don't play the Mooch every-time. Fante has, infact, touched us all. Isn't that the essence of the Great American Novel?

So, in the end, and we find Bruno, discovering his mooch-hood, and it takes his obsession and love for the biggest mooch of them all to lead him to the promised land. It is in the very last line of the book that he chooses to stop the madness. And as his mooch, begs him for one more sale, as he plays her mooch, he decides to no longer stay in the game, and ironically hangs up the phone, no longer willing to be the mooch. I will need to read the sequel to "Mooch" to discover if the main character, has truly shed his Moochliness.

As for me, call me Mooch. I'm sure I have been a Mooch at somepoint in my life, maybe more than once.