Who hasn’t heard of Alexander the Great? How about Suliman the Magnificent? How about Braveheart or Robert the Bruce? Or Louis XIV, the Sun King. Seems like people way back when had names that certainly were more than the ordinary. Don’t you think it’s time to go back to this tradition? I do. So the story I will tell you is about a kid who thought he could be “great” too. His parents had named him Jack, but as he got older he begged and pleaded with them to change his name to “Jack the Great.”
“Not so fast, young man.” said his father, “you may be great someday, but not yet you’re not.”
That didn’t stop Jack from continuing to pester. He even tried his hardest to do great things, both at home and at school to support his cause. In fact he even won the elementary school science fair with an excellent project on tadpole evolution. His parents had to admit that was pretty great. “But there are other areas that need work,” his mother told him. “You could try to do a great job of cleaning up your room.” That was really hard, but Jack worked diligently and did it. His mother was impressed. Of course his parents thought Jack was just a great kid. So did his grandparents too and all his teachers and playmates. But they just didn’t think he was up to the level of history’s Alexander.
Jack kept pleading. Finally, just to shut him up, his parents decided they would officially change his name to “Jack the Pretty Good.” This would only be temporary they told him. It could be changed again if he deserved it, or if he wasn’t truly great by the time he graduated from high school, his name would go back to just plain Jack.
What his parents didn’t tell him was that they hadn’t actually “officially” changed anything. They supposed it was technically possible and legal, but would be difficult to explain, especially to Grandpa. As much as they loved him, they didn’t really expect that he would achieve true greatness, not on a name-changing scale anyway. They were also secretly hoping that this strange urge of his would pass as he got a little older. But they did allow him to use “the Pretty Good” as part of his signature. His teacher that year, Mrs. Hollingsworth, wasn’t so sure she agreed with Jack’s parents, but she did agree to go along with it for awhile, as long as it didn’t disrupt the classroom.
As it turned out, all of his friends at school thought this was a pretty neat idea. They didn’t tease him about it at all. A few did make fun of it at first, but the novelty wore off quickly. All of his school friends had to admit that Jack was a great kid, always at the top of his class, and really great at dodge ball at recess too. He even got the lead role in the school play that spring, “The Wizard Comes Back To Oz”, and did a great job
Jack was definitely living up to the “Pretty Good” part of his new name, but then his parents knew he would, because he was just continuing to be the good kid he naturally was. “What would make Jack really ‘great’?”, his father asked his mother one evening after dinner, while Jack was off playing with his friend Ernie across the street. “He is only twelve years old remember.”
“How old was Alexander when he first had the word ‘Great’ added to his name?” Jack’s mother pondered? They looked it up on the internet and discovered that Alexander was only 22 when he won the first of his many battles. They also found out he was dead ten years later. “He didn’t get to be great for long, did he?”
“If our Jack ever becomes really great, I hope he can enjoy it for a long long time.” added Jack’s father.
Meanwhile, Jack had all his many brain cells thinking furiously – what could he do that would be so really really really great that the matter would be closed? “Hmmmmmm,” he thought. There are hundreds of doctors at work coming up with cures for dreaded diseases – too late for that. Astronauts have already been to the moon and to space stations. Jack had actually designed and built a rocket when he was only nine, with some help from Ernie to be fair, but it never made it into space. It crashed and burned right there in the driveway. You can still see the slightly melted spot of asphalt. He thought about Alexander – what had made him great? As near as he could remember from school it was that conquering the world thing. “Wow, would that be fun,” Jack said out loud, it excited him so. But then Alexander was the King of Macedonia and had an army of thousands of soldiers. All Jack had was himself, and Ernie. Jack also remembered that ever since Napoleon, guys who set out to conquer the world hadn’t had much lasting success, so maybe that was no longer the way to go.
He tried his hand at inventing. Removing the wheels from his skateboard, he fastened fourteen slinkys there instead and hopped off the garage roof, fully expecting to bounce. But of course he had forgotten that the normal mode of a slinky is compression, not expansion, and so he broke his right leg in two places. “Well, that wasn’t such a great idea after all.” Jack freely admitted.
One afternoon, Jack and Ernie were busy attaching some of those Slinkys from the skateboard onto legs from old GI Joe dolls and having gladiator fights with the resulting characters. “Reminds me of a robot,” said Ernie.
“Hmmmmmm.” said Jack, as another idea formulated itself in his mind. Over the next several months, he and Ernie created just that – a robot. It had rubber tracks from an Erector set, lots of Lego components, a small battery operated motor, a CD player, lots of blinky diode lights, a motion detector, all built around a coffee maker and a George Forman grill. They thought it was great. In fact they named it JAEARG, which meant Jack and Ernie Are Really Great.
To be honest, the boys’ mothers were quite impressed, mostly because it would bring them fresh coffee and hot sausages in the morning. Neither one of them was a morning person. Jack’s mother got JAEARG Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; Ernie’s mother got it on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday they let it rest. Everyone else was a little less impressed, but all had to admit that it was a clever device.
The biggest effect the robot had was on Jack. Working with Ernie had been fun. He hadn’t fully realized that Ernie was as intelligent and creative as he liked to think he was. If he was great, Ernie was just as great. He began to suspect that maybe there were other kids who were pretty great too. Jack decided to quit pursuing greatness. He would just be the best he could be and let greatness find him! One night at the dinner table, he asked his parents if they would change his name back to just plain Jack? After much “Hmmmm”ing and scratching their chins, they agreed to take care of that request, “But only if you’re really sure?”
Needless to say, Jack continued to be a joy to his parents. Of course he and his younger siblings annoyed each other much of the time, but nothing out of the ordinary. He excelled in school, was an accomplished Bassoonist and Ping-Pong player, got a couple of college degrees, and, the last I heard, is a petroleum engineer somewhere in northern Manitoba. Did he ever achieve greatness? Who’s to say?