So, I googled myself today. Come on, you’ve done it. Call it narcissism, vanity, or just plain curiosity. It’s certainly okay to do this. We live in a world where employers google you before your job interview, so you better fire up your browser and check yourself out. What do you find?
Unfortunately for me, I have a namesake Sex Offender hogging the top spot on a google search for my name, Nicholas Gustavson. Please be assured, this is NOT me. This guy lives in Connecticut (I’m in California.) He got convicted in 2013 of Second Degree Sexual Assault against a “25 year old female who is a resident in a mental health facility.” The charge description reads like a horror version of Eric Puchner’s short story “Children of God.” Good grief.
My other famous namesake was a day laborer named Nicholas Gustavson who was shot dead by Jesse James or Frank James, or somebody in their gang or the Younger Gang, back in 1876 during a bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota. I already knew about this famous namesake as a kid, from reading a book my parents displayed on their coffee table “Wild & Woolly An Encyclopedia of the Old West” This fantastic ’70s tome taught me all about the demise of Custer, the Gold Rush, Billy the Kid, and Jesse James and his gang. What a shock I felt reading this as a boy, that I had been gunned down by outlaws. Who was this man, my namesake? Apparently he was a recent immigrant from Sweden, who didn’t understand enough English to realize he was about to die. Apparently, you need to understand English in order to deduce that a gang of outlaws with rifles and pistols yelling at you to get off the street means you should get the hell out of there or maybe duck and cover.
“What? But I need to use the ATM? Excuse me, I just need to deposit my check, Mr. James, can you not park your bank-robbing horse in the handicap spot?” I mean, come on, Nicholas Gustavson. Either the history books got this encounter completely wrong or you were just a complete idiot. See the gun, buddy? You can’t translate what a G-U-N in your face means? Did they really need to say gevär for you to understand you are about to die? And oh the shame and embarrassment I felt as a child reading this. Why couldn’t he have been a valiant western character, a Swedish “Shane” who could have at least died gun fighting the bad guys?
I guess real life, unlike the movies, is a desultory pay day, just putting one foot in front of the other to the bank, trying to cash your paycheck before the bank closes. Head down, sweating, dog tired from the hard labor of building up America in the 19th Century. Maybe he worked so hard for that paycheck that he was going to cash it, come hell or high water, or Cole Younger getting up in his face and trying to take it from him. Did they have federal insurance for bank deposits back then? I doubt it. Maybe Nicholas Gustavson represented Thoreau’s famous statement “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Maybe he knew the stakes, but he kept on walking, looking to turn that paycheck into an American dream. Rest in peace, my namesake.