The Name Spat
"And if you have five seconds to spare,
Then I'll tell you the story of my life.
16, clumsy and shy."
Everyone always asks me where I got the name Spat from. So I figure, let me write it down and never have to tell the damn story again. It all started back in High School during those magical years known as the 80's...
High school was the best ten years of my life, and I'm very sad it's over. Actually, it was only four years, but it seemed like a lot more.
When I was younger, I always dreamed that High School would be this dramatic event. Four years of good times, good friends, and memories to last a lifetime. I guess I had been watching too many John Hughes films.
I was living in Staten Island at the time, one block shy of being one mile from the school. This means that I'm not entitled to a free bus pass, and have to either walk, or pay the fare. I chose to walk. My friends and I would take a short cut through a hole in the fence that led onto Millers field, and from there we would continue on to the school.
Millers Field was an airstrip during the war (don't ask me when Staten Island was ever in a war, I don't know), and is still littered with pillboxes and other strange towers lining the small filthy beach (of which I have many stories, but we'll get to them some other time).
New Dorp Public High School's construction was completed one year before it was time for me to attend. Clean, comfortable, with air conditioners that usually worked, and well-lit halls and classrooms. My father's sheet metal factory actually did some work on the school when it was being built. My straight-laced, dead-pan serious father actually told me about how they built a pool on the third floor of New Dorp (he knew I would never fall for a story about a pool on the roof). So I told all my friends about this wonderful school we would be attending, and the grand third floor swimming pool.
Everyone I told believed me whole heartedly; we were soon to be Freshman and very gullible. It helped a lot that I was completely convinced myself. When they finally discovered there was no pool, they never once thought I was wrong; they all thought they had fallen for some huge practical joke concocted by me.
That pretty much summed up most of my High School career--witty, devious, and cutting edge, by mistake.
You see, up until my Junior year of high school, I always figured there was some rule to life. Some guidebook that explained everything. It always seemed to me that everyone else had read it. I was always clueless as to what was going on around me, while everyone else seemed so well trained. By now, I've come to understand that everyone was as confused as I was, just better at faking it. I think most adults do the same thing, but I don't have any proof (except that it's how I get by).
When everyone stopped believing about the pool, I changed the story, and told everyone that they were going to install a pool, but instead spent the money on "Harry," the elephant sculpture on the stairs in front of the building.
If you're ever on Staten Island for some reason, take Hylan Boulevard to New Dorp Lane, and turn towards the water. On your left side will be the school, and on the steps, facing the water, will be a huge, gray, supposedly elephantine piece of modern art. If you ask me, it looks nothing like an elephant, and no one knows why it's called Harry. It's made out of a material that was purported to be graffiti proof, but this later proved to be wrong (tee hee).
My best friend at this time in my life was a guy named Tom. I've lost track of him over the years, but haven't stopped looking for him. Tom had a habit of calling you the first thing that occurred to him when he saw you in the morning. Now, back then, I wasn't known as Spat. I was called by my (Gasp!) REAL NAME! Except by Tom, who had a new name for me everyday. When I wore a shirt with a lot of zippers on it (it was the 80's), I was called, "Zip." When I broke my ankle, I became, "Crutch," "Gimp," "Lurch," etc.
The rest of the malcontents that I hung around with all had nicknames of their own, except me.
One day, I decided to make little badges for each of us to wear (not that anyone didn't already know we hung out together). I took some large buttons (with pins on the back) and painted them flat black. A few months later I decided to finish them, and painted a red smiley face wearing a helmet in front of crossed bones above each person's name. "Gloom," "Banshee," "Thompson," and "Cig" were all done, but I couldn't find a name to give myself. I decided to give myself a week to think one up, or I'd have to resort to picking at random from the dictionary.
One day it was raining, and after having walked nearly a mile without an umbrella, I arrived at school drenched. Tom looked at me, and decided that I looked to him, like a wet gooey oyster. Tom was like a living thesaurus, and somehow knew that a baby oyster was also known as a spat. So for the rest of that day, he called me Spat.
When I got home that night, I broke out my paints, and put "Spat" on my button. For the rest of the year, we all wore them, but no one ever called me Spat, except as a joke.
Once, we all got together and drew a comic book about our group being super heroes from Staten Island, and my super hero character was known as Spatman. That was as far as anyone ever really went acknowledging the name.
During the summer of 1985, I moved off Staten Island and moved in with my father. My parents had been divorced since I was two, and I figured it was time to give the guy a chance. My mom wasn't too happy with the idea, but if you spend too much time on Staten Island, suicide starts looking like a welcome change. Every person I've ever known from there has the Ferry schedule memorized just in case they get desperate to leave, they can do so at a moments notice.
So at the age of 15, I moved to Queens. A borough in which I know not one living soul.
I transferred to Bayside High School to start my Junior year in a school where everyone has been friends since childhood. There were already well established cliques and specific rules governing behavior that I had no way of knowing about. Also, in Queens there was quite the ethnic blend, as opposed to my area of Staten Island. In New Dorp, it was mostly Italian and Irish, with a good helping of other races as well. Bayside was like 30% Jewish, with a lot of Koreans, and a few other races besides them.
During one of my summers visiting my dad, I was on a bus talking to a total stranger when she asked me if I was a JAP. I thought she meant Japanese, and couldn't figure out how she could make that mistake. She meant Jewish American Prince(ss), but I had never in my life heard that term before. On Staten Island, there was only one person that I knew that was Jewish, and that was Tom, and apparently he didn't know this colorful euphemism either. When I mentioned that incident, he was as confused as I.
Staten Island was a lot like Gilligan's Island. We were a little behind the times, but we still had a lot of cool stuff, and if the Harlem Globetrotters ever dropped by, it was turned into a primetime special, but when they left, we went back to building radios out of coconuts and looking for ways to escape.
First day of school, I show up. The hallways are dark, barely illuminated by these 75 watt exposed bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The rooms were cramped and filthy. The school was built in 1936, and looked to me like it hadn't been cleaned since. Every face in the hallway belonged to a stranger. I got lost continuously. There were different wings, and you couldn't get to some areas of the school from some wings without going back down to the lobby. It was quite a strange experience, and more than a little scary. I'm sure people were looking strangely at me. After all, I am "The New Guy." I was wearing a black trench coat, black jeans, black sneakers. I had my hair slicked back and had grown an early pubescent mustache. I didn't talk to anyone because I didn't know who anyone was. Apparently it was taken as a sign of aloofness, or so I'd been told later. I walked to class by myself, ate lunch by myself and, let me say it again, never spoke to anyone.
If my life HAD been a John Hughes movie, that attitude would have made me cool. All the guys would have become instantly afraid of me, and jealous when I passed them, and all the women would swoon in my presence. I would have become an icon. I would have been mysterious, enigmatic, or at the very least, interesting. In reality, everyone thought I was some kind of weirdo-freak.
Years later, talking to the friends I was destined to make, they explained this to me better than I could, only because they could see it in detail.
The only way they could describe me to each other, when mentioning "The New Guy," was to mention the only outstanding part of my outfit--a small black button with a red smiley face wearing a helmet, crossed bones, and the word "SPAT" written underneath it. So I became known as "That Spat Guy" in casual conversation among the other students, and even some teachers.
Sooner or later (it seemed like later to me), I did make friends. Over the next two years at this school, I ended up knowing just about everyone, and everyone knew me. More importantly, they knew me as Spat. By the time I graduated, it was as if I didn't have a real name. The teachers called me Spat; the students called me Spat; even the Principal called me Spat (usually he called me Mr. Spat when I was in trouble). There were a few teachers that I never had for a class, but knew from various extra-curricular activities (and so they didn't have an attendance sheet in front of them to find out what my real name was), that actually came up to my mother at graduation and asked her either why she named me Spat, or what my real name was (if they knew it wasn't Spat).
The name stuck through college and on into my "real" life. I've even thought about changing my first name to Spat, or making it another middle name legally. Sometimes I even think of changing my name to just plain Spat. First and last name all in one, like Cher, Roseanne, or Lassie.
I'll probably never get around to it, but who knows.
People always ask why I don't just go by my given name. I'm told that it's a nice name, and fittingly unique in its own way, but it's just a name. While Spat is a personality in itself. It's the ever changing name. It can be whatever it wants to be and changes with each situation. I'll give you some examples:
On March 17th, I'm Saint Spatrick; On Halloween, I'm Count Spatula, or The Vampire LeSpat; If ever in ancient Rome, I'm Spatacus; In my super hero alter ego, I'm SpatMan; My car is the Spatmobile; My dorm room in college was the Spatcave; If I owned a guitar, it would be a Spatacaster; In Warsaw, I'm Spatinski, or Spatski... Spataroonie... Spatalicious... Spatty... Spat-tat-tat... Spat-attack... The Spat in the Hat...
If you have any questions, E-Mail me. Spat@spat-nospam-cave.com