Thursday, September 1, 2011

what's your name?

Perhaps you've had this experience when ordering a beverage in a crowded Starbucks; you tell the counter person what you'd like to drink, then he or she asks your name before ringing you up and relieving you of your three or four dollars (depending on how fanciful your thirst). Then he or she scribbles your name on the side of a cup, and sets it in its chronological place next to a frantically milk-steaming and syrup-squeezing barista.

When this name-asking business started happening a few years back, and I'll admit, I was going through a rather angry period, my thought process was "Fuck you! This is just another invasion of my privacy. It's none of your fucking business what my name is!" and then I'd resentfully tell the counter person that my name was Mario, or Hezekiah, or Duke. But as this name-asking began to happen on a more regular basis (which also happened to coincide with my angry period merging into my having a more all-around accepting attitude of most things) I started to see that this what's-your-name-system made pretty good sense, in order to avoid any kind of beverage identity confusion when they all wind up sitting there on that little elevated beverage shelf at the far side of the espresso machine, huddled together in their steaming, half-caf, sweetened and unsweetened, non-fat, soy-chai succulence, just waiting for their parched owners to claim them and delicately sip at their deliciousness. So I reluctantly conceded to giving the counter person my name. But after doing this a couple of times, and after hearing my name mindlessly shouted out into the store by the barista, I thought "Not only is it not any of their business what my name is, but now everybody in the store knows my name too!" This indiscriminate announcement of my identity undercut my comfortable sense of New York anonymity to the core. So I started giving the counter people different names, and I noticed that the funnier or more unusual the name, the more they would make eye contact, or smile, or be momentarily taken away from the monotony of their quotidian and mindless money-taking, coffee-making responsibilities. Not only would the initial name exchange elicit a smile or pleasant response, but when the barista read it on the cup, he or she would smile or giggle, and when they shouted it to the store, it was an opportunity for others to smile as well. I don't know that I have the power to make a great many people happy at any one given time, but this miniscule opening may be an opportunity for me to lighten peoples' day, even if just for a moment. I see it as a kind of selfless-service to working folks who might not otherwise be able to get a break from the tedium of their day.

The name I usually give the counter people in this situation is, Pickles. There's something about the silliness, or the incongruity of that name that always makes people smile. "I have a grande Americano with extra room for ... Pickles! (tee hee)."

It works every time.

Today I went into a Starbucks, ordered my beverage, and the young woman behind the counter asked my name. I was a bit surprised as this Starbucks wasn't very crowded, but it was kind of loud, and there were a few people waiting for their drinks to be made. "Pickles," I said. She blankly looked across the counter at me, and paused for a moment before scribbling on the side of the cup. I found this a bit odd, but thought, Oh well, maybe she's just having a bad day. Then, after waiting for a little while with the few other folks at the far end of the counter for our drinks, I noticed that the barista wasn't calling out people's names, he was just calling out the different kinds of drinks that he was making. He called out the name of the drink that I had ordered, and then he placed it on the elevated beverage shelf. I took the drink, and as I walked over to the cream and sugar island against the wall, I read the side of my cup, and it said, Nick.

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