08/04/2008 By Shawn Burns

Have I ever told you that I was a University of Toronto dropout? I left after my first year, to, well, see about a girl. This girl. She has a nickname for me: "dumbass". Or "babe". Or other squishy terms that I won’t load on you.

While I was at the University of Toronto not going to classes on political science, Shakespeare, European history, and music, I was also mostly not going to my philosophy class. I lived in the Innis residence, the newest one at the time, and I spent a lot of time just in the residence itself. It had great apartments, and I loved hanging out with my roommates and the roommates of my high school friend who joined me at U of T. We were a pack, and I was the baby 18 year old in a group of legal drinkers. Their nickname for me was "lightweight" and I spent a lot of time trying to get them to change that one.

And there were girls everywhere. And I was, uh, 18. And there were girls. Class wha??

I did go to class, occasionally. There was a pretty redhead in my philosophy class who also happened to live in the Innis residence. The building was small, and we were all mostly the same year (1st year, frosh, freshmen), so the readheaded girl and I ran into each other at the many social functions the college held. We had overlapping circles of friends. I went to the philosophy class more than any other. I’m not saying that this fact was related in any way to the pretty redhead. I like philosophy. That’s why I went to class.

Where was I?

Oh, right. One night some of my friends were hanging out with the pretty redheaded girl. And I proved myself a total "busting-out-the-guitar-and-playing-stupid-songs" dork, and the pretty redheaded girl and her friends were listening all rapt because 19 year old girls eat that stuff up. Or, maybe they were laughing to each other. I don’t remember. (I don’t even remember busting out the guitar, but I’m pretty sure I did that on more than one occasion during that year at the University of Toronto, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear that this night was one such night.) And the girls started talking about the other Shawn. Somebody said something like "No, it was Gay Shawn, not TPS."

The other Shawn, who wasn’t there that night (not that I recall), was, apparently, gay. I had never noticed, or noted, this about him. But for a second I thought that they meant me.

Did I come off as gay? The Man Spa notwithstanding I don’t think I project much of a gay vibe. I have been hit on by gay men, while sitting next to my wife, who they were aware of: I mean total "here is my room key" hit on. But I don’t think I come off as gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I soon realized that they didn’t mean me. But they were differentiating "Shawns". If I wasn’t "Gay Shawn" then I must be "TPS".

TPS. What the hell could that mean?

Totally Psycho Shawn?

Truly Phat Shawn?

Traumatized Pinky Shawn?

I pressed the giggling gaggle a little: "What the hell does "TPS" mean?"

They were so embarrassed about letting "TPS" slip out in front of TPS that it took me a little while to get the truth out of them.

"Well, uh, it’s just a dumb nickname, okay? Just because there are two Shawns and we would just try to keep them separate in conversation…"

I was getting really nervous by this point. How bad was it?

"It’s, well, it stands for TightPantsShawn."

Tight. Pants. Shawn.

In my defense, my pants were tight. In their defense, my pants were extraordinarily tight.

So: Reevaluate every look, glance, giggle, whatever from anyone in this group or anyone they know which is also everybody I know. Crap.

Tight Pants Shawn.

Well, you know what? It could have been worse. And they were genuinely mortified, so I don’t think I gave them too much crap about it. And then I embraced the name.

My pants aren’t nearly as tight anymore, but every now and then I’ll slip into some snug jeans and Emily will announce that Tight Pants Shawn is on the loose. I am completely comfortable with that part of my past, and I’m actually kind of flattered that they even bothered taking the time to make up an entire acronym for me instead of just going with "Loser Dork Shawn" in full English.

The pretty redheaded girl? Well, guess what? She is still mortified by that nickname. I haven’t seen her since I was 18 years old but I received a Facebook message one day a while ago asking if I was Tight Pants Shawn.

Facebook is funny like that.

Her name is Ange, she has a blog, and you should all totally go over there and give her either shit or mad props for mocking me when I was skinny and could fit into size 30 jeans. She writes a great Toronto-based blog about awesome music and movie topics (she hits the Toronto Film Festival, which I never had a chance to do so I live vicariously through her, and she wrote an entire post about how fantastic Wes Anderson is.)

She may have another nickname for me now.