It happened again this morning. There must be something in my name that particularly appeals to the aurally dyslexic in the population. It was a simple task – make a call to arrange a time for a haircut. Instead it has now become another clandestine mission in which I am forced to take on an assumed name and identity.
“And what name shall I put you under?”
“Uh, just Seex.”
“O.K. Mr. Peaks, we’ll see you at eleven.”
So now Mr. Peaks is going to the barbers instead of me. I know I won’t correct them and will announce myself as, yes, Mr. Peaks. I only hope they don’t ask me for my first name. ‘Seex Peaks’ could seriously compromise my customer integrity.
But I’m not alone. A good friend of mine is also living a lie. Stuart
went through the set-up process with his new ‘phone company with apparent ease. Everything was, to quote the call center “Fantastic.”
“That’s fantastic Stuart, thank you so much. Now we just have a few more details to take to activate your account with us…Details given…Thank you Stuart, that’s fantastic. Finally could you confirm your date of birth, Mother’s shoe size and your auntie’s brother’s nickname at school?….Details made up…That’s fantastic Stuart, thank you so much, you’re all set.”
Well, true to their word (hmm, perhaps the ‘fantastic’ one) his first bill arrived a few weeks later addressed to: Sturt. And he hasn’t told them of their mistake. Month on month they send bills to the imaginary Mr. Sturt, who, to be fair, dutifully pays them, although he doesn’t actually exist. (‘Though he does have to suffer the ignominy of being known as ‘Sturt, the famous spelling mistake.)
But at least ‘Sturt’ is in the same ball park, phonetically speaking, as ‘Stuart.’ My favourite example so far is way, way outside the city limits, let alone the ball park boundary.
Although we would normally prefer to sample local delicacies over international brands, on this occasion – a rainy day in downtown Manhattan – Starbucks won out. We were just looking for a warm, dry place to sit and pass the time with a cup of coffee and the familiar sign drew us in. As it was not the first time we had sampled the chain’s coffee we thought we knew the drill. Until it came to ordering. Tagged at the end of my order for a vanilla latte (yes, you guessed it, that was “Fantastic” too), was the question:
Looks stupidly at the barista, a la confused tourista.
“Your name?” Seeing the pen held in his hand, my sluggish mind slowly processes the conclusion that:
a) he isn’t trying to get to know me
b) we haven’t met before
c) I haven’t asked for an illicit concoction
d) He is going to call my name when the coffee is ready.
“Oh, my name. Uh Seex.”
“John, o.k, that’ll be at the other end of the counter.”
John? John! How do you get John from Seex, even allowing for accents and confused mumbling? But no, he definitely wrote ‘John’ on the cup. Fantastic.
As I wait at the service end of the bar I begin to realise that this could get nasty. I’m an interloper. What if there’s another ‘John’ in the café?
“Latte for John!”
“Uh, that’s me.”
“Ah, I’m John.”
“No, I’m John. Mumbles Well, at least today I am.”
“Vanilla Latte for John?”
At this point no doubt someone in our party would call out “But you’re not John.”
“No, I know, but he said…”
“You’re not John?”
“No, Yes! Yes I am, that’s what he wrote on the cup for me.”
“Hey buddy, what’s the deal? I’m John, that’s me. Is this your coffee or not?”
“Yes, No! I’m not John, but that is my coffee. I definitely asked for that, but I’m not John.”
“Then that’s my coffee buddy, because I am John and I asked for a latte and it says John on the cup.” At which point I somewhat sheepishly point out,
“But my middle name’s John.”
“My middle name’s John. So when he put that on the cup I thought…somehow…he’d…was a mind reader…had special barista powers…you know what…you take the coffee John. I’m going to order again.”
So I return to our table trying not to hear the acerbic references to ‘crazy English’ and attempt to placate the inevitable questions of “What was that all about?”
Yes, it’s sad but true that I did make the connection with my middle name and thought that this was a mistaken identity I could accommodate. But perhaps there are other, darker forces at work here. It is the English way, after all, to not make a fuss about such things, and so far at least, the occasions have all been fairly low key. Most of the time it feels as though it would take more effort to repeat the conversation or transaction than to just accept it as it is. However, I cannot deny there is a tiny thrill in holding the truth in such situations. ‘Ha, you think I’m Mr. Peaks, but only I know that I am, in fact…’
(Whips out caped disguise and astonishes plethora of blue-rinsed customers with his lycra clad legs.)
It’s a small victory to hold the upper hand against a hairdresser, but I definitely concur with my friend Stuart who, when asked why he doesn’t let the telecommunications giant realise their mistake says, “It’s not often that you can feel you have got one over on a big company like that. They may think they have all your details, but only you know that they actually don’t even know your name. And that feels fantastic.”