Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's in a Name?

I’m not used to being called by my actual name. People calling me “Justin” is a recent change.

My mom tells me she named me Justin to avoid an easy nickname. It didn’t work.

By third grade I was “Little Hoffman.” It made sense. I was little, my last name was Hoffman, it was sort of inevitable. Really it’s Mom’s fault for not giving me normal-people size genes. I know the small people genes came from you Mom, you’re like, 5’ 2.”

By high school I was answering to Scott, Skinny Hoffman and Twitch, depending on how violent and/or drunk the crowd I was running around with was. There were some other names, but I’ll have to call around and ask.

In college the names Bobby and Roberto “’Berto” got tossed into the mix. Scott was used in moderation, usually when I was lying to girls to get myself or my friends laid.

Over the recent holiday break I was on the phone with my friend Skunk (what is with these nicknames?). She doesn’t smell. She just has a white streak through her black hair. I told her what I was up to in Columbus while she gave me the down-low on her life in Seattle.

“Did you hear Ajay is actually going to grad school?” Skunk asked, “I thought for sure he was going to drop out.”

“Who’s Ajay?” I asked.

“Ajay,” she said, slowly and loudly, as if I was a foreigner and repeating herself at full volume would make me understand her strange language.

“Who the fuck is Ajay? Was he one of Alex and Dexter’s friends?”

“Bobby, for fuck’s sake you dated him for like, how many months was it?” she asked.

“I can say with absolute certainty that I have never dated anybody named Ajay.”

“You practically blew a load every time he played that fucking guitar. Oh my God…” she trailed off and started giggling.

“What?” I asked.

“I’m talking about Jason,” she said, “You remember Jason, right?”

Jason and Ajay are the same person.

Jason’s family consists of Muslims from Pakistan. When he was born, they named him Ajay, but called him Jason around the American families (racist white people) of their uptight suburban neighborhood. It sort of stuck, and it wasn’t until very recently that he started going by Ajay publicly, a coming out, if you will.

Surprise! I’m Muslim!

I never knew his real name until Skunk told me.

Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever telling him that my real name was Justin. I was introduced as Bobby and answered to Bobby. It was the name he whispered in bed and it was the name he asked for a second chance when I decided it was time to stop seeing him.

Because my mind usually dives into chaos at the slightest nudge, I instantly started questioning the reality of my time with Jason, or Ajay… fuck what name do I go with now? He was Jason but now he’s Ajay, but I don’t know him as Ajay, but he doesn’t prefer Jason anymore and… fuck. I sifted through distant memories: drunken nights, concerts, car rides, rough mornings, delicious meals, parties.

We were walking to the bar. Jason was to my left, probably wearing those ridiculous skinny jeans and a flannel shirt of an unreasonably bright color. Skunk and other friends were trailing behind us. The summer heat and the walk made me sweat and my shirt was clinging to my back. I was holding the driver’s license of a friend-of-a-friend, eying it critically. He looked like me, but my cautious side was skeptical.

“Are you sure this is going to get me in?” I asked, “It says my last name is ‘Alvarez.’”

“Marty’s I.D. will work fine,” Jason reassured me, “The name doesn’t matter as long as the face is the same.”

“I guess you’re right,” I mumbled.

Jason laughed, “We should start calling you Marty.”

The feelings Jason and I shared were real. Some were created by pheromones and chemicals, some were trivial and misguided and silly, but they still existed in the odd little world we had created together.

Like KFC trying to call itself “Kentucky Grilled Chicken,” the names may change, but the reality remains.

Signing off,
- Marty Alvarez

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