I don't remember how I stumbled onto this theory, but at some point I reached the conviction that the best way to truly know a person is to a) sneak a good look at their nightstand, or the plastic crate/cardboard box/bookshelf that doubles as their nightstand and b) ask lots of personal, probing questions about their past and present nicknames.
We'll start with nightstands. Now, I'm not recommending that you invite yourself into your friends' homes and create excuses to get some alone time in their bedroom so you can investigate their nightstand. That's what we like to call creepy. I'm just saying that if you happen to sneak a peek, or at least ask lots of those personal, probing questions, there is a lot to learn. Last night I used my cell phone as a flashlight to review the contents of my own nightstand by way of testing this theory (Jeremy was already asleep so I couldn't turn on the lamp without waking him up and being forced to answer some awkward questions; I'm just looking at my stuff. At two in the morning. Is that a crime?). But I climbed back in bed feeling incredibly pleased with myself. Everything you need to know about me, everything that is important to me, is somehow cataloged in my nightstand, right down to the Lindt chocolate wrapper, my DVD of Persuasion, and the unopened MP3 player I received for Christmas (I'm still waiting for Jeremy to show me how to make it work).
Now on to nicknames. I used to know a boy called Scooter. He had a perfectly decent given name, and yet for reasons that my twelve year old self could never fathom, he allowed himself to be called, even introduced himself, as Scooter. If this were a young man who might some day ask for your daughter's hand in marriage, wouldn't you want to get to the bottom of the Scooter business? Now, I'm not asking anyone to take responsibility for their parents' creativity or sense of humor when it comes to nicknames, but at some point I believe a person becomes old enough to assert their independence. And this is coming from a girl who was called "Fry" during her entire childhood, and every now and then is still casually referred to as "Fry" at family gatherings. I can't account for my family's general weirdness in sticking with that nickname, except to say that the story does indeed reveal a great deal about my background and why I chose names like "Katherine" for my own kids.
In conclusion, if you're asked to give a character reference for someone, or you have a shiny new boyfriend or girlfriend that you're hoping to pick out curtains with, do yourself a favor and ask them why their parents refer to them as "Stinky" or "Chairman Mao." And then try to sneak a look at their nightstand. If they're a little off in that "maybe we should take a break" kind of way, you'll know.
Note: If you're already married and this blog post inspires you to snoop through your spouse's nickname history and nightstand, I'm not accepting responsibility for the outcome.