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It started as a joke.
“How do you say your name?” asked the lady in the main office, perplexed by the foreign spelling. To save her the trouble of treating my name like an abracadabra, and to subtly dismiss her inquiry, I answered quickly, “I go by Phy.”
“Like fee-fi-fo-fum?” she blurted, followed with a hysterical laugh.
She wasn’t the only one who had made the connection to the giant’s rhyme. It almost sounded like a mockery, the hidden desire of a diminutive 5Ƈ" girl. So I turned it into a shtick, a phrase I often used to introduce myself, making it a head fake of my sense of humor while killing the fun of those who would otherwise have made the reference themselves.
In essence, I did resemble the giant. We both fit the stranger prototype: foreign and unusual, something others would fear or ridicule. Fee-fi-fo-fum connoted an unknown danger, captured attention, and for its odd sounds, had a mysterious, almost deceptive quality,
as if linking the giant to little Jack’s mischief.
I was curious enough to skim through the summary of “Jack and the Beanstalk” when I read a short narrative by writer Saïd Sayrafiezadeh in which he recounted acting out the fairy tale with his mom. I could relate to many of Sayrafiezadeh’s works, mainly because we shared an analytical mind for small details and a socialist childhood in a dysfunctional family. To Sayrafiezadeh, fee-fi-fo-fum stood for the moment he held high his imaginary ax and rid his father from his home – the fight between the oppressor and the oppressed.
To me, fee-fi-fo-fum marked the embarrassing moment when the lady in the main office pointed out how foreign I was, not only because of my strange name but also for not understanding the reference to the fairy tale – that awkward moment when I stood like a statue, then pretended I understood, laughing politely but frigidly.
I gave the story a try today. The phrase, it seemed, transformed from an intimidating message to an expression of frustration when the giant could not figure out where Jack was. Anger, perhaps.
Maybe fee-fi-fo-fum was the giant’s defense mechanism. Maybe it spoke for Jack, whose presence, despite being petite, was somewhat alarming. Maybe I resembled Jack more by climbing up the sky and intruding in a foreign world. Could a person gradually morph from the hideous giant to the courageous Jack?
But why didn’t the giant and Jack compromise? Why did fairy tales only depict fights, not handshakes?
To Wayne Shorter, the greatest living jazz composer, fee-fi-fo-fum was a tune he wrote that resonated with the mythical creature.
I could be either one, Jack or the giant. Regardless of where I go, I say my shtick. People think that despite my foreign accent I have a good sense of humor. In reality, I’m subtly asserting my presence. People will remember my name. Fee-fi-fo-fum, here I come.