MAD DOG: It Would Be An Honor

Having something named after you is a sure sign that you've made your mark. Look at Thomas Crapper, who invented the flushing toilet. And Samuel Morse, who had a code named after him. Alexander Graham Bell was so honored he had a huge telephone company preserving his name, at least until the government broke it into a bunch of little companies with names like Bell Atlantic, Pacific Bell, and Nynex, the latter not being named for Alex but rather the Greek god of busy signals.

There are many ways to honor people. Some have airports named after them, like Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately no one told the people of Washington, D.C. who still call it National Airport. Others have sandwiches named in their honor, though that's mostly a New York thing where delis add pastrami and cole slaw to whatever else they find in the back of the refrigerator that doesn't have green stuff growing on it, naming the concoction after a dead Jewish comedian. Still others have streets named after them. This is very common, so much so that there's hardly a city in the country with a stoplight that doesn't have a Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Now Hugh Hefner is joining these ranks. In one city anyway. Chicago, the home of the Playboy empire, has decided to make the site of the first Playboy Club at Michigan Avenue and Walton Street "Hugh Hefner Way". And why not? If they can name streets for Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan, and Gene Siskel, why not for the man who did more for flesh-colored airbrush paint than anyone in history?

Meanwhile in San Francisco there's a battle going on over how to honor Joe DiMaggio, the ball player who grew up in the North Beach section of the city. Some people think naming a street after him is the way to go. Others argue that Mr. Coffee Lane just doesn't do him justice. That's why the city is naming a playground near DiMaggio's old neighborhood in his honor. Unfortunately Morris Engleberg, DiMaggio's attorney and executor, has threatened to sue if they do. He claims it's demeaning to his former client and that nothing short of the airport, the Bay Bridge, or the city will do.

Most people don't have any say in what's named after them. Hefner might have, DiMaggio definitely doesn't. Presidents, on the other hand, spend the second half of their term defending themselves in court. I mean, arranging to have a library built in their honor. They carefully preserve documents, catalog mementos, and ask independent prosecutors to return cigar wrappers so they can be put on display for future generations to study and admire.

Presidents aren't the only ones who build their own museums. Roy Rogers did it too. Not long ago I stopped by his museum in Victorville, California, not because I'm a big fan but rather because I'd heard that Roy had stuffed and mounted Trigger. Hopefully in that order. It turns out to be true. Trigger is there, rearing up on his hind legs, right next to Dale's horse Buttermilk and Bullet the Wonder Dog who I'd never even heard of. I was disappointed that Roy wasn't on display too, since a few years back he was quoted in a Virginia newspaper as saying "When I die I hope they skin me out and put me up on Trigger." I'm not sure who the executor of his will was, but if you ask me they should be fired and replaced by DiMaggio's.

While virtually anything can be named in someone's honor, it's not often that it's a balcony. In Washington, DC, home of monuments, memorials, and an airport named after Don National, one of the lesser known tourist attractions is the Robert J. Dole Balcony. If you missed it on your last trip it's probably because it didn't exist until about five years ago. The balcony existed, it just wasn't a national treasure yet.

It came into being when Dole resigned from the Senate so he could concentrate on annoying the Democrats, or as he called it, run for president. His congressional colleagues knew they had to honor him since he was the longest running Senate Republican leader in history who hadn't ended up behind bars. Maybe the only one.

While most businesses give retirees a watch after thirty-five years of service, the United States Senate gives out balconies. As retirement honors go, this isn't much. It doesn't tell time, you can't use it to hypnotize anyone, and worst of all, it's too big to wear on your wrist. On the up side, it's easy for tourists to find since it's near the Howard Baker Suites and down the hall from the Albert Gore Buddhist Temple Night Depository.

Most people are lucky to have anything named after them. Others are happy they're dead so they don't have to see what their name is being slapped on. But for my money the epitaphial jackpot may just go to German inventor Ferdinand von Zeppelin, a man who will be remembered in memoriam as the namesake for both a dirigible and a rock band that won't go away despite having self-destructed twenty years ago and being grossly overplayed ever since. Take that, Mr. Hefner.

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