The Name Game

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Have you ever played “the name game”? When, within the first few moments of seeing a new stranger, you rack your brain in hopes of coming up with the best guess for a person’s name given your first impression of them? OK, so maybe I’m the only one who does this. But, either way, participating for me means adding a splash of fun to what may otherwise have been an ordinary day.

During my first visit to a local coffee shop, I quickly noticed something much different from other establishments – when ready; every order and customer name was called out loudly through a microphone at the front counter.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: surely she’s been to a place with this routine. But, nope. Not like this.

“Marrrry! Your order is ready. Order ready for Mary,” the gentleman at the front loudly exclaimed, as if trying out as the announcer of a local baseball team.

This caught me off guard because it was abnormally loud, but also because it spoiled any plans I had for playing “the name game”.

Just as I saw a new customer and began making a list of name guesses, a loud, drawn out announcement was made.

“Ssssstephanie! You have an order at the front counter!”

At first I was a bit annoyed and turned off by the nuisance. But then I decided to use the obstacle as a jumping off point for inventing a new name game. For the next 30 minutes, I listened and took note of customer first names. Among them: Ashton, Jessica, Don, Faith, Buddy, Judy, Jason, Brian, Valerie, Lane, Barb, Caroline, Kate, Gavin, Phyllis, Mike, Sherry, Elizabeth and Donna.

No real rhyme or reason to the names, but interesting nonetheless.

I’ve recently noticed multiple articles claiming older names are “in” and are becoming increasingly popular for those parents looking to name their new babes. Perhaps it’s because I personally know of 11 women pregnant right now,  but I couldn’t help but think of these statistics when hearing names belted over the loudspeaker because, well, these customers were babies once, too.

According to TODAY Moms, baby name trends for 2012 are fierce and heroic. Baby Centre gives a nod to and blames the “100-year rule” for old-fashioned names being “cool” again. Parenting Magazine also released a list of 20 vintage names moving back into style. Of those, none of the coffee shop names made the list.

My attention was steadily captured by the man announcing each order until a gentleman sitting near me loudly shared his thoughts about the ordeal.

“Is it just me or should he take it down a bit?” he said, making eye contact with me. “I’m just waking up.”

I just smiled.

He then looked up at me before making a candid suggestion.

“You know, it would be much smoother if you went up and asked him to calm down his announcements,” he said. “If I went up there, I’d just simply look like a jerk.”

I smiled again and told him the noise wasn’t bothering me. (What I didn’t tell him is I was taking notes.)

After jotting down a series of names and packing up my belongings, I started toward the door. While doing so, I passed two older gentlemen sharing a newspaper.

“Do you like to look at the obituaries?” one of them asked.

“Yes, I like to see if someone with my name is in there,” the other man answered.

Hmm, I thought. Looks like someone else has a name game to play, too.

An Hour of Strangers

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“Daddy, do you like sand in your sandwiches?” a little boy asked, sitting on his father’s shoulders and lowering his head, careful not to hit his head on the coffee shop entrance.

My initial thought was – how funny. A little boy, who is clearly too young to understand ‘sand-wiches’ does not imply sand is actually in the food. An hour later, I started to think he may be on to something. 

Two middle-aged women sat at a two-person table in the corner of the establishment, obviously engaged in what seemed to be a serious conversation. They sat close, both leaning forward as if waiting for the climax of a good book. It was one of those “closed” conversations; the kind you see in a public place, and as a courtesy, sit far away.

What was interesting with this one, though, was there were two gentlemen who weren’t able to see the situation this way, and with coffee in hand, confidently sat down at the table two feet away.

“Whatchall talkin’ about?” one of the men asked the women.

“The benefits and secrets of shea butter.”

I smiled.

The men seemed genuinely interested and went on to ask questions about why people use the “expensive stuff” – referring to name brand cosmetics. In a matter of minutes, these folks went from complete strangers to more than acquaintances.

I looked to the left, as the jacket of a young man walking by brushed my side. He was looking for a place to sit in an overcrowded coffee shop on a busy afternoon. I began to feel guilty for sitting by myself at a four-person table and was a few seconds away from offering him a seat.

He started toward the only couch in the place – a small; beat up, two-cushion piece of furniture. A man in his late 60’s sat on one side of the couch, deeply engaged in a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal. As the young man approached and began to sit down, they exchanged a friendly greeting, introduced themselves with a handshake and went back to reading.

No longer strangers.

A woman rushed into the coffee shop. Her hair was a mess, keys hanging out of her purse and chomping a piece of pink bubble gum.  She shot a snarky look at a man sitting by himself at a nearby table and then sat down.

“So what do we need to do?” she said.

From what I could hear, the two were recently divorced and meeting face-to-face for the first time to discuss their high-school aged daughter. At first, the conversation replicated an exchange between two co-workers meeting for the first time.

How odd, I thought. Two individuals who seemed to have once had a loving, intimate relationship, now trying to get to know one another again.

Topics of conversation ranged from typical custody details to explaining their situation to their frustrated daughter. By the time they got up to leave, the two seemed less like new strangers and more like old friends.

And, then, just after the new divorcees left the building, a man in his late 40’s or early 50’s walked in the coffee shop with a set of keys in hand.

“Did someone lose their keys?” he asked loudly, trying to speak over a crowded coffee shop. “These keys were left in the trunk of the white car parked on the street out front.”

It only took a few seconds for a college student to come running to the front door.

“Thank you so much! Someone could have taken these and I appreciate your honesty for bringing them in,” he said.

“David,” the older man said with a smile as they shook hands.

 “I’m Joe. Thanks again.”

“Not a problem. It’s what I hope someone would do for me.”

David walked out the door and continued walking down the busy street. Joe returned to studying at a table in the back corner.

After witnessing these interesting exchanges between strangers, I thought back to the little boy’s question.

“Do you like sand in your sandwiches?”

It didn’t seem so odd now, because it helped me realize something about strange -ers. They might not be so strange, after all.

I don’t like the”strange” in strangers. And, I don’t like sand in my sandwiches, either.

Have a Little Faith

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By now you’ve probably already started playing the tune of “Have a Little Faith” by John Hiatt in your head, if not humming out loud. Good.

This classic song, coupled with Mitch Albom’s book and new movie by the same title, serves as a good reminder of letting go of what we cannot control. What do I mean by this? I’m talking about putting all fears aside. Stepping out of comfort zones. Taking leaps in a new direction. And, just trusting — ourselves and others.

Too often the word “faith” gets associated with religion or belief. While I practice both of these things, I’m learning doing so is only scratching the surface of the true definition of the word. In his book Albom writes “”‘faith is about doing.  You are how you act, not just how you believe.”‘

Touché, my friend.  

Is “faith” — whatever the definition — hard to have? You better believe it. But, faith comes in many forms.

A little girl recently sat near her mother at a coffee shop and was visibly upset. Not upset in the way of throwing a child-like temper tantrum. This fit of expression seemed to have more substance than that. She sat with her mother and older brother in a small coffee shop, located inside a popular grocery store, running her tiny fingers through her unbrushed hair as if trying to avoid the topic of conversation.

The mother and her children were not ordering coffee or truffles. Instead, they bought a loaf of bread in the grocery store and were sharing the snack while waiting for the bank to open on the same side of the store.

“Mommy, is she in heaven now?” she said.

My ears perked up.

“Yes, hunny she has gone to doggy heaven,” her mother answered quietly.

My heart sank. Having been in the shoes of that little girl earlier in my life, I felt her pain. I didn’t know her dog and I didn’t know their story. But, I’m not sure I needed to. (I imagine their story is similar to this one of another little girl coping with the loss of a pet)

The clock struck nine ‘o clock in the morning. The mom and her two children stood up, pushed in their chairs and put the twist tie on the loaf of bread before starting to leave.

“Don’t forget the bread,” the boy said.

“Someone else needs it more than we do,” she said.

Faith.

As the holidays draw near, we are reminded of traditional religion and routine. But, not necessarily of traditional faith.

Following a life-changing move this summer, I will spend Christmas without my family for the first time this year. My husband will be working, and until about two weeks ago, my plan was to watch Christmas movies and listen to Kenny G’s Holiday CD with my 15 month-old daughter in our pajamas.

My daughter and I have received three invitations from families in our new city after just meeting. At first, I felt like they were offering because they felt they had to. Or, it was the “right thing to do”. But after one kind woman extended an invitation an hour after meeting her, I realized they are offering because they want to and might truly enjoy our company.

If this would have happened last year, I probably would have politely declined the offers and stayed home at the risk of feeling uncomfortable. This year, my daughter and I will spend time baking cookies to share with our new friends and celebrate Christmas in a new way. Not uncomfortable,  just different.

I challenge you to step out of your box this season and trust a complete stranger. Have a little faith.

And, watch this video. It’s sure to raise your spirits this holiday season.