Look, I’m proud to claim the name Kafka and to share with Franz a common ancestor. I blame my mother, not him, for the absurd pairing of my names. Sure, it’ his fault that my last name is synonymous with dark unfunny gummed-up absurdity, with torture machines, with crushing heartless totalitarian bureaucracy. You hear Franz Kafka and you think hellscape, but it’s not like Cousin Franz consciously set out to make that his legacy. I doubt he’d be happy to know that thanks to him our family name has mutated into a negative adjective, the suffix esque attaching itself like a cancer to the Czech-German word Kavka, which means “jackdaw.” It’s my mother’s fault; she should have known better to turn my names into an oxymoron.
To me, Jackdaw sounds sort of cool, like a bird baked in a pie fit for the king. And as it turns out, jackdaws are avian, crow kin found in Africa and Eurasia. They’re famous for nesting in towers and ruins and also for taking bright objects back to their nests. Although not as black or glossy, they look a lot like carrion crows. Hey, it could be worse. My mother could have named me Carrie Crowe, Carrie short for Carrion.
Could have named me that because, weirdly enough, my father’s name was (or is) Crow but without an “e.” So I come from crows on both sides – ha ha! He was an Indian of the reservation variety and split forever before I was born, so my retro hippie mother laid her last name on me and slapped the adjective “sunny” in front of it. That’s exactly what it reads verbatim on the birth certificate, Sunny Kafka, just those two names, not even a middle initial.
She says she named me after the girl in the song “Sunny.” If you haven’t heard it, you can listen to it in the YouTube below. Sounds like parakeets and canaries. Chirpy. I’m more of a jackdaw caw-caw Tom Waits, Velvet Underground kind of gal. She should have named me Cloudy Kafka.
I hope I don’t sound too whiny. To tell you the truth, my name’s rarely an issue. After all, I’m a bartender on Folly Beach. Only a skinny fraction of my customers have heard of Franz Kafka, much less read him, and I suspect not a single one has “Kafkaesque” in their speaking vocabulary, though a few might know what an oxymoron is.
Which reminds me. I met a guy at Snapper Jacks who taught English at Trident Tech. When he asked me what my last name was, I told him, and he smiled but didn’t say anything after that, so I broke the awkward silence by squawking, “So I’m a walking oxymoron – Sunny Kafka!”
He chuckled and said, “Pleased to meet you, Sunny Kafka,” then launched into a tedious mini-lecture on Kafka’s being the great great grandaddy of Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Larry David, and especially Richard Lewis. I guess I had a sour look on my face because he interrupted himself and asked if I was Jewish.
“Do I look Jewish?” I asked in my trademark snarky tone.
“How should I know? I’m blind as a bat.”
He took off his sunglasses.
He looked like a white Willie McTell or a thirty year old Doc Watson, squinty-eyed. By the way, did you know that Roy Orbison wasn’t really blind?
 And if you, listen, they do sound somewhat alike, both two syllables, accents on the first, the vowels rhyming sort of.
 I’m picturing a sepia-tinged abandoned Albanian factory, krow-like kafkas (sic) flitting out of its windows like black tears but coming back with Rubrik cubes in their beaks.
 I’m not making any of this up. Charlie Marlow’s my man. I wouldn’t lie to you.