The Return of FSWPYPYC
We’ve just moved back to Oregon, my home state, and I’m having some serious high school flashbacks.
And though we’ve moved to Portland, three hours north of Roseburg, where I grew up, it’s my hometown that dominates these flashbacks, these subconscious offerings.
The high school summers I spent at the tennis courts, with my crappy racket, trying to carve out a serve. My friend Lonnie’s big laugh across the court. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation in my backpack.
The thrill, the electric upsurge of freedom, when the last of my siblings went on to college, and our ’68 VW Karmann Ghia was mine for the year. I drove on every road in my hometown, just to know how it felt, to own them. Drove myself to work at the movie theater, drove my friends wherever they wanted to go. Drove towards the future, digging into that stick shift, that old Volkswagen smell of gas and leather.
The feeling of wanting to get away, to get to somewhere bigger, more central. And the fear of being unworthy of those bigger, better places. And the going forward, anyway.
Forward then. The lazy weekends of my college summers, with no responsibilities dogging my freedom. The river cool and quiet, salamanders spotting the shallows. I had no goals but to read the world’s great books, and get a decent tan.
And back again. Senior year, at the Denny’s near my house: Dave and Dave have gone to the bathroom, returning with a nickname. Finally. Everyone else has one, except me. I am to be known as FSWPYPYC. They let the rest of us wait, what can it mean, and then they reveal the secret. On the paper towel dispenser next to the sink in the Denny’s bathroom, the customary sign: Food Service Workers, Protect Yourselves, Protect Your Customers.
That’s it? That’s my nickname? I remember searching for the deeper significance, coming up empty-handed. Can’t I be Lynx, or Firefly? But FSWPYPYC was my name from then on, with those friends, my only friends.
Luckily it was hard to say, so that it was pulled out only on occasion. F-S-W, P-Y P-Y C. A reminder to wash your hands. Meaningless. If there are, in fact, many things in my life that have kept me humble, this one goes on that long list. And yet it also transcended the list, because it was conceived in that spirit of complete ridiculousness that made any nickname utterly unnecessary, and the wanting of one, laughable.
It’s all there in a flash, my shoulders slumping a little as Dave and Dave giggled to each other from their side of the table. Probably, I reached for the french fries to stifle my disappointment. It was too funny not to acknowledge, too tough-love not to cause a hard swallow. Too late to do anything but embrace it.
So I return to the great Northwest, after half my life in California, as the one, the ONLY, FSWPYPYC.