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Metallica and The Dog Family: What’s In a Nickname

A couple years ago I saw a young boy, about ten, sitting on the lawn outside his home. His dirty blond hair hung to his waist. He was working on his skateboard and jamming to Metallica, Enter the Sandman to be exact. The song played from an old-school boom box resting on the porch, so it was loud, and I instantly recognized it.

Looking at that young kid listening to that music, my music, it suddenly hit me that the tunes I grew up on are now considered classic rock. It was one of those painful moments when I realized time keeps churning forward, even if I don’t feel any older. From then on, I called that kid Metallica. It never occurred to me for a single second he had a nickname for us too.

It didn’t occur to me because Metallica normally makes a habit out of ignoring us. We see the boy around town a lot. Mostly we spot him skating in parking lots, but we’ve also passed him at the grocery store, a local bar-b-q joint, and the dog park. We see him so much that I know his dog’s name, Big Mac, 100 pounds of pure mutt. On average, we probably see Metallica and his family three times a week, more since quarantine.

In the beginning, I had tried acknowledging him with a wave or a hello, but he always blew me off. By the fifth time, I gave up trying. And yes, I was offended. I was offended because every snub reminded me of how old and uncool I felt on the day I nicknamed him.

Over the past couple of years, our relationship morphed into one of mutual indifference, the kind that can only exist between a middle-aged woman who doesn’t have or understand kids and a young boy on the verge of becoming a teenager. And it remained that way until a few days ago.

Don’t get me wrong. There were signs of interest. Metallica can’t make that much of an effort of ignoring us if he didn’t care at all. When he lands a solid ollie or a kickflip, I’ll catch him glancing my way, just a glance but he wants to know I saw. And he should be proud. He’s good. In any major city, he might be competitive. But we don’t even have a skate park in Springfield, let alone anyone near his level.

Then, last weekend we were walking our four dogs past his house. It was the first hot afternoon of spring, so our pace was slower than normal. His mom sat on the porch reading a book. Big Mac snoozed by her feet, and Metallica sat on the hood of his family’s Honda.

His hair hung in a low-riding ponytail, so I could clearly see his ear buds. His foot bounced to whatever beat he listened to. I’d bet 100 bucks it was heavy metal. His skateboard rested on the lawn and four decks were scattered around it. Each one looked more beat up than the last. Big Mac saw us, stood, and started barking his customary gruff hello.

“It’s the Dog Family,” Metallica told his mom.

It took me a second to process his words. For one, I felt honored. There’s no other nickname I’d rather. The Dog Family. It fits us. More importantly, it was the first time Metallica ever acknowledged my existence. Beyond that, I swear I heard tenderness in his voice. That little aloof shit cared enough to give us a nickname. Somehow, it made me feel a little less middle-aged, a little less uncool.

His mom must have noticed the huge smile I couldn’t hide.

“The Dog Family. That’s what he calls you,” she said.

I glanced at Metallica, and he smiled right back. It only lasted a second, but it was there.

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