Friday, January 21, 2011

The Name Fairy

About a year ago, my coworker and I were visited by The Name Fairy.

I work at a magically delicious bookstore, much like Lucky Charms in that books are also a form of crack. It's in the middle of nowhere.

Well, not quite.

Just down the street from my store is the fun-and-perky mental hospital's day office, for those who no longer need four padded walls, but could still use bumpers when bowling, if you get my drift. This makes my walk to work very interesting. Sometimes the work day is too interesting. Especially in winter, when it's cold and the former patients decide to see what's up in all the downtown shops.

Most of them are perfectly nice people, and very interesting to boot. The Man in Black, named for the character in Stephen King's Dark Tower series, dresses in a black trench coat and floppy black cowboy hat. He is very open about his schizophrenia and likes to talk about how much he hates Nazis. Hop (nickname only slightly changed) is older and rather quiet - his favorite pastime, that I can tell, is taking naps on our couch. And muttering to himself. Stinky Cheese Man is pretty self-explanatory.

About a year ago, a new one came to town.

We didn't know, at first, that he was from down the street. He seemed like a Typical Local Customer - wanted to buy books, but had no money and was fresh out of good bartering items (like signed first editions of famous literature). Coworker Greta and I were in the children's section, in the back, far away from actual grown-ups. There's even a wall separating the two, so adults don't have to worry about catching the contagious "enjoyment of life" disease. We may have been playing make-believe that we weren't working.

And Typical Local Customer came up to us.

Greta was about to amble up front, but he stopped her. "I know you," he said.

She froze and gave me a look of how-the-hell-does-this-guy-know-me. Odd, I thought to myself. She's in high school and this 40-year-old knows her? Maybe he's a teacher she just doesn't remember.

"You do?" she asked tentatively.

"Yes. Your name is Hoptina."

The look on his face was rather serious as he said this, with only a faint smile. He rocked back and forth from one foot to the other. That was the last sign I needed - this man was not the most colorful Fruit Loop in the box. He was the loopiest.

Greta and I looked at each other, trying desperately not to break out laughing. Our lips quivered. Her eyes screamed OH GOD WHO IS THIS NUTJOB. "My name's Greta," she corrected.

"No, it's Hoptinna!" he insisted, and listed three different spellings of the "name," in case we were unsure of which version he meant.

Oh. Okay. Thank you. Now we understand. That Hoptinna. Yes, have a good day, sir. And he walked out, to the front of the store.

Three. Two. One. Mount St. Giggles exploded. No corner of the children's section was safe from the attack. They spewed on EVERYTHING. But wait! He came back again. "Here, I'll show you."

Please do, sir.

"It's spelled like this-" scribble scribble "-or like this-" scribble "or like this." scribble scribble.

Submitted for your approval, the three spellings were: Hoptinna, Hoptina, Hoptyna. Later, I looked up each of these spellings, and found exactly what I'd suspected. Translated from the Indo-European root, these three spellings all mean the same thing: crazy.

But he wasn't done.

"I know your grandma," he said, looking at me.

I froze, an antelope caught in the high beams of a Crazy Train, bearing down at unreasonably high speeds.

"Your name is Joanna Campbell. Your grandma's name is Sharon." He wrote the next (much less crazy) name below the alternate spellings of Greta's delightful new pseudonym.

(Her name is Mary Ann. She's 1300 miles away.)

He left us with awesome new names (if we ever need to get out of the country fast, we won't have to think twice about what name to give), and the business card he scribbled them on. Apparently some of the crazy also rubbed off on me, because I kept that card, and I swear to God I saw it sometime in the last three days.

And now I can't find it.

And I've torn the apartment asunder in my desperate search.

I bet that's just how The Name Fairy got started.

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