What’s in a Name?
I posted to Facebook recently that it had struck me it had been decades since I’ve had an active nickname. This is noteworthy because till I was around 30 it was fifty-fifty chance that if I saw you on a daily basis you didn’t know my given name.
But why? What’s up with this drought? An obvious guess is that in the same way gay guys don’t hit on me anymore, we just age out of certain conventions. But if you put a gun to my head, I’d say it was because I started working in environments dominated by a bunch of uptight white people, and still do.
All this ruminating got remembering how these names came to be, and for both your edification, and my rapidly deteriorating memory I thought I’d share these origin stories with you. (I’m omitting some of the earlier childhood sobriquet’s which were basically my initials “GJ”, which I always thought my sisters found cute and therefore something I had to escape.)
Sasquatch (or the diminutive “Squatch”)
The first, and most powerful of the nicknames came in high school. I was at football practice and as an insult some of the guys started calling me Sasquatch, possibly due to my slow, shambling ineptitude. On the way home, it started to bug me, really got under my skin. But the more I stewed on it, the more I wanted to take the power back in this hormone addled name calling. That night I took a marker to my practice jersey, and wrote SASQUATCH (in the same way you see names on jerseys) on the back. Slowly throughout the next day, everyone from the coaches to the players found this hilarious, and within three days or so it was the only name I was known by. This quickly left the field and followed me into the High School proper, and soon teachers and administrators would call me by my new name. It also followed me to my job at the gym, which meant that it lasted well into my twenties as I continued my association with those knuckleheads.
Going to college, it seemed inappropriate to introduce myself by my high school nickname, so I operated under my given name for the first couple of months. I had some excellent roommates, two in particular Felton and Raymo who were both from Richmond, opened my eyes to the wonders of terrible television. Two programs took on almost totemic importance to the overall geist of the apartment – Jim Bakker’s circus “The PTL Club” (for younger readers, you owe it to yourself to learn about this nutbag), Felton had dissected the scheme of the show the way other guys dissected Dean Smith’s Carolina playbook. He would give play-by-play, including when Bakker would begin to weep. Mind you, there were ample amounts of cannabis driving the level of amusement we felt, but I will never forget those afternoons. The second show was “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” the worst cartoon ever raised to high comedy via Felton and Raymo’s Mystery Science Theater-esque commentary. With that back story in place, we didn’t just watch t.v., all of us enjoyed playing basketball, football, tennis – whatever was handy. I am not a gifted b-ball player, but what I lacked in skills I made up for in aggression for rebounds, which led to the observation that I “go after it like Battle Cat”. Soon, that was the only name by which I was known till I left VCU.
For a dark period of my life I lived in Indianapolis, I was lured there by fantasies of wealth and independence, woven by my pals who ran the gym I worked at in DC. Long story short, they bought three clubs in Indy, and wanted me to help get them up and running. Sasquatch was still in full force, and remained so with that cohort. A fast and promising start was quickly replaced by a nightmarish collapse leaving me penniless and without prospects. A contractor who had done renovation work at the clubs, took pity on me and gave me a job in his fish tank cabinet making assembly line. He called me Big Daddy, I think to raise my spirits given my precipitous fall in life (and it sort of did), it was a kindness. It lasted as long as I did in Indy, and like everything else about that black time, I quickly erased it from my memory.
Big Boss Man
When I finally got a “real” job at Amtrak as a graphic designer, I periodically would get my luxurious brown locks shorn into a Johnny Unitas style flat top, just because it was a hard core thing to do. I never thought much about it, but I worked in a print shop with a lot of guys who really loved them some WWF (before the lawsuit changed them to WWE) and when I’d walk in with the flat top they’d scream “Big Boss Man”! across the press room. I had no idea what they were talking about, but when I finally saw a picture of that drooling redneck I couldn’t argue the resemblance. For a brief period, one of the pressmen named Michael who was an aficionado of Iceberg Slim referred to me a G-money, but that never really caught on. The mood of the Amtrak job grew dark due to long simmering resentments that predated my presence, but nonetheless wiped a lot of the joy from the place. From that point on, I’ve only been known by names on official documents, which is fine. My parents have gotten good mileage from what they chose for me.
But every now and then, I hear the echos of “Sasquatch” being yelled in exultation and joy as it often was, and it still has the old magic.