In the late ’80s, ads for Domino’s Pizza featured a character called the Noid. The costumed claymation creation — in a red costume with bunny ears — was to Domino’s Pizza as Wile E. Coyote is to the Roadrunner. Using various contraptions, the Noid tried to delay the delivery of Domino’s pizzas, or make them less than fresh and piping hot upon delivery, and was always thwarted. Thus, the sales pitch ran, buy Domino’s and “avoid the Noid.”
The Noid was very popular — so popular that it had an extended run by advertising standards and was turned into a hit video game. Children dressed up as the Noid at Halloween and late night comics cracked jokes about it. Even today, over a decade later, a restricted search for the phrase “avoid the Noid” produces 1,000 hits on the king of all search engines, Google.
However, one Kenneth Lamar Noid was not amused. In 1989, tired of being taunted by people for his last name, Noid held two Domino’s employees in Atlanta, Georgia, at gunpoint in their pizza parlor for nearly six hours (and forced them to make him a pizza) before he surrendered to police. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Over the past week, it’s been hard for me not to sympathize with crazy old Lamar Noid. Nearly everybody I’ve talked to has seized on my odd last name to ask whether I might be related to Sen. Trent Lott (Stupid Party, Miss.) and they won’t take a simple “no” for an answer. It’s come up at bookstores, the video store, the bank, the local supermarket and even during conference calls — to Canada! — on my immigration status. I’ve started paying in cash at checkout lines to try to duck the issue.
Such comparisons had been made before, of course. When I worked in politics several years ago, people often asked me about the coincidence. But this is the first time that the connection has been made by non-political types. Another first: The question has turned into accusation. Previously, it was an idle query: “Hey, are you related to Trent Lott?” Now, the flippancy is gone and the inquiries are much more in the vein of “You’re not related to Trent Lott, are you?” (as they back toward the door). And they don’t just want a denial of genetic resemblance — what distant relative of Sen. Lott wouldn’t deny it right now? — they want it to sound convincing. They want me to deny Lott three times, and claim to be a life-long supporter of the NAACP, Jesse Jackson and reparations for slavery.
At least, that’s what I think they’re after. Even the use of “they” would normally strike me as unbalanced, but when your grocer, bookseller and banker all pursue the same line of questioning, you begin to wonder if dark forces have it in for you: The whole event has probably given me a touch of paranoia. The headlines, for instance, read like a bill of indictment to which I feel compelled to respond: “Lott was ‘too much in the moment'” (I wasn’t that drunk); “Lott fought to keep blacks out of college frat” (Did not!); “Lott should go!” (Oh, shut up already.).
The hell of it is that, in a very distant sense, the inquisitors could be on to something. My branch of the Lott family is more of a tangled vine, and it may even be an assumed name, but we don’t know. My great-great-grandfather and his nuclear family moved out West in the dead of night, severed all ties to friends and relatives and took their reasons for doing so to their graves.
(As family lore has it — and in the Lott family, family lore is never too far from the truth — they were either escaping creditors or a lynch mob. In one exaggerated telling of the story, old man Lott was, in fact, a horse thief, and this was back in the days before the Supreme Court decided that hanging horse thieves was cruel and unusual punishment.)
But now the name Lott, already loaded down with enough baggage to sink a small fleet, has taken on additional ballast — all because a senator with a particular fetish for shoe leather decided to let it rip.