On the etymology of Chiggi

I just searched this blog to see how many times I've referred to Roo as Chig or Chiggi here, and the number seems to be zero. Which is amazing, because that's what I call her as often as Roo. In fact, I usually say "Roo," the way one might say, "Young Lady," as in, "If you dare jump in the Mississippi, Roo, you're in for it," three seconds before the young lady jumps in the thickest part of a Mississippi River algae bloom she can find (to use an example that is fresh in my mind and soaking through the quilt on the bed as I type); or when she has developed an acute case of sudden onset ear poisoning that prevents her from hearing me say, "You get away from that dumpster, Roo!" Just substitute Young Lady for Roo and you get the idea.

The name Chig came about one afternoon in the Sonoran desert where it meets the Sea of Cortez, just east of San Carlos, Mexico. A few of the rogue gusts of wind that have vexed mariners there for centuries had filled the air with dust and grit. When it stopped, I found that I was standing next to an ancient rock on which was sitting a small, skinny, toothless man in jeans and a plaid shirt that was missing one of its sleeves. He had been slow-baked over the course of many years to a leathery brown consistency. You can always tell when someone has the talent for large-scale drinking, and in this man's case there was no question about it. He may have been the greatest drinker ever produced by San Carlos, which would be saying a lot (it verges on the non-sequitorial to point out that San Carlos once produced the smallest woman in history, but I’ll do it anyway). There was a run-down combination horse farm and junkyard a mile or so away, and my guess was that, for reasons of their own, doubtless good ones, his compadres there had set him out in the desert to dry out a little.

When he saw Roo he turned the corners of his mouth down in grave approval and, nodding, said what sounded like, "Chiguelpka." I said before that this gentleman was toothless. That was an exaggeration. He still had one of his front teeth, but that only garbled the signal more.

"Chiguelpka?" I said.

"Si, si," he said, the way a storekeeper might assure you that the cigar you had just picked was the finest in his or any shop, a label familiar only to initiates. “Chiguelpka,” he repeated.

I struggled to understand. I pointed at Roo, who was holding the sun-bleached skull of a young javelina in her mouth, and said, "Chi-guelp-ka?"

This began to strain his patience. He said, "No no no no. Chi," he pointed at Roo as if she was a distant galaxy to which he possessed the naming rights, and spoke slowly, as one is often reduced to doing when forced to speak to foreigners, "guelp-KA.”

"Ah," I said. "Ah, ah, ah, ah ah. Bueno. Si, si. Chi-guelp-ka."

With a benevolent smile he said, "Si. Esto.”

"Si," I said, mystified.

Another gust of wind blew onshore from the sea, the surface of which, when viewed from the foot of Tetakawi, looks like a miner’s pan full of cut sapphires and silver flakes. It raised another sudden cloud of dust. Big pieces of grit—pure silicon, ten times harder than steel— filled my eyes. I turned my back to the wind (no amount of detergent was ever able to remove the brown ring from the collar of the shirt I was wearing that day) and when I turned back, the man was gone. Occam’s Razor dictated that a dust devil must have carried him off, because no other explanation for his disappearance made any sense.

Roo got tired of her javelina skull and put it down. Thinking that in her old age she might appreciate it as a souvenir, I picked it up. As we walked I kept wondering what the man was trying to tell me. I repeated the word and reworked it and pronounced it with every variation I could think of. Nothing but “Chiguelpka” came out of it.

Over the next couple of days, I had repeated it so many times that it turned into a sort of ear worm. It wouldn’t go away. It was worse than the time Across the Universe got stuck in my head in the middle of a five-week dilaudid binge administered to me by a tanned gang of orthopedic surgeons in a Palm Springs hospital. I started calling Roo Chiguelpka, in the hope that it might ring a bell with her. It did not. She did, however, absorb it as a name and begin to respond to it. 

A few days later, Roo was getting groomed by the incomparable Manuel of San Carlos. While he worked, he told Roo that she was guapa—pretty, and that’s when what the man in the desert was trying to tell me dawned on me. He wasn’t saying, “Chiguelpka.” He was complimenting Roo, saying, “She’s guapa.” She’s pretty. My failure to have learned Spanish, combined on his end with beer, heat, mescal and dental obstacles, had all mangled it.

The upshot was that ever since then, Chig or Chiggi have been Roo’s principle nicknames.

The other day, we wound up in the small town of Peterson, Minnesota. What a great little town. They let you camp under a maple tree right off Main Street in a field next to the baseball diamond. Several freethinking dogs happened by and none of them were afflicted by a leash. If that’s not the sign of a great town, I don’t know what is.

In Peterson, there’s a liquor store called Chiggy’s Liquor. Chiggi found it; I just took the picture. Now. Another variation on Roo’s nickname Chiggi is Chigolope, pronounced Chig-go-loh-peh. On the last of the three days we were there, Roo started running around with a couple of dogs in the field. Their mom, who had already heard me call Roo Roo (when I trying to get her to come back), and then Chiggi, when she did, asked me what her name was. So I told her about the Roo/Chiggi dichotomy. And she told me that the owners of that store, now departed, had been named Chigolo. Not quite Chigolope, but close enough to squeeze this tortuous blog post out of.

Now that I’ve written all this down, I can see how there seems to be no story here. So, in a demonstration of the power of the press, this story is hereby declared an extended caption.