Metonymy


Metonymy (me-ton’-y-my): Reference to something or someone by naming one of its attributes. [This may include effects or any of the four Aristotelian causes {efficient/maker/inventor, material, formal/shape, final/purpose}.]


Where I grew up he was known as “The Man of Steal”—if you’re reading this, and not hearing it, you know I’m not talking about Superman. I’m talking about stealing, robbing, pilfering, ripping off, boosting, heisting, and all the other words for depriving people of their property, stealthily, quietly, and undetected, or, by force with punches, blunt force, or bullets. In the inverted order of values operative where I grew up, The Man of Steal was a celebrity. His convenience store robberies were fabled. “The Robbery of the Nighty Mart” was a song that we learned as boys and would sing instead of the “The Star Spangled Banner” at school assembly. There was also a poem that could be sung to the tune of “Davy Crockett.” “Born in a Warehouse in NYC, The most Dangerous City in the Land of the Free, Killed him a cockroach when he was only three, Man of Steal, Man of Steal, King of NYC.”

Man of Steal was the first thief to wear a black balaclava in an armed robbery. In his first attempt, the balaclava he wore had Frosty the Snowman printed all over it. The store owner laughed at him and Man of Steal hit him over the head with a carton of eggs from the store’s refrigerator. Now, the owner was slumped in a corner by the door dripping raw egg. Man of Steal probably thought “You’re not laughing now Mr. Yo-yo.” With the store-counter phone, he called the fire station to come and hose the owner down, emptied the fresh produce display, grabbed a chocolate Yoo-Hoo drink, and went out the door. After the “Frosty” incident, Man of Steal wore only solid-black balaclavas. Prior to “The Great Balaclava Innovation,” robbers wore folded handkerchiefs over their faces. Folded corner-to-corner, they would be draped over the nose, leaving the eyes uncovered, and tied in the back. They would frequently slide down the face and get stuck around the robber’s neck, revealing the robber’s identity. The balaclava was a godsend: put it on coming through the door, pull it off going out the door. How convenient! How effective!

I met Man of Steal when I was 11. Ma had sent me to “Cole’s Convenience Corner” to get a fresh chicken, 4 baking potatoes, 1 package of frozen peas and 2 packs of “Lucky Strikes” for grandpa. He had recently switched to “Luckies” from “De Nobili” cigars. The doctor had told him he would die less quickly if he smoked “Luckies.” Ma promised to subsidize his tobacco habit if he would switch. So, he switched. Anyway, I was walking up to the entrance of Cole’s when the door burst open and a man tearing a black balaclava off his head charged out the door carrying a box under his arm. He knocked me flat on the pavement. It was Man of Steal—and I had seen his face! I was a dead boy. He said, “You forget me & l’ll forget you.” I said “Ok.” He said: “That’s good. Now I don’t have to shoot you.” He walked away like nothing happened. But I recognized him.

It was Father Carmody, our parish Priest. I had promised to forget him, and I would honor my promise at all costs, especially since he was a Priest. But as time went by, and “The Man of Steal” was still ripping off convenience stores, I considered breaking my promise. I decided to go ahead and break it. I would do it in the confessional where both of us would be anonymous. So, I told him I knew who he was. I heard the unmistakable sound of an automatic pistol cocking from his side of the confessional. “Let me confess to you, son.” I was stunned. “First, I don’t have gun, what you heard were the grass trimmers I was using before I came back into the Church. I should’ve left them outside. My confession is short: everything I have stolen from the convenience stores has been donated to the Church’s food bank, except for a random soft drink or two. Over the years, I have saved countless people from going hungry because they can’t afford the high-priced food at the convenience stores and they have no way to shop elsewhere.” Even though I was only eleven, I almost said “Jesus Christ!”

But instead, I said, “That’s not totally disgraceful, but you could go to jail. I tell you what. Make me an Altar Boy with unlimited access to the sacramental wine, and I will forget your confession forever. Are we good?” He pulled a .45 out of his vestment, cocked it and pressed it between my eyes. He said, “Ok, we’re good. Just keep your mouth shut.”


Definition courtesy of “Sliva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu). Bracketed text added by Gorgias.

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