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My Starbucks Name

I like my name. It is not common, it has certain distinct characteristics of distinction. For the Greeks, it was synonymous with being victorious or crowned. On several occasions I have been told that I look like an Esteban, and it is gratifying to know that my name is in harmony with my appearance. Gabriel García Márquez went even further and exalted my name in the story The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World, in which the deceased man’s name was Esteban. Isabel Allende also did her part, assigning this name to the main protagonist of The House of the Spirits. Names give identity. They can even stigmatize the people who wear them or predispose them to success or failure. According to my family history, I should have been named Peter, like my father, his father, and his father's father. However my maternal grandmother, an admirer of a certain soap opera actor, decided that my name had to be Esteban, fortunately breaking with my destiny. I think I have only met two Estebans in my life (one in New York) and I like that.

But as it turned out, in New York I stopped being Esteban.

The intonation is different here; it's pronounced Estebán, strongly accentuating the letter "a,” and I feel that a third of my name no longer represents me. But when my name is written down and that graphic aberration is verbalized, it ceases to be mine entirely and a plethora of personalities that I must accept as my own, are fertilized.

This is something new, it's an identity crisis that I began to suffer at the Starbucks on Seventeenth Street and First Avenue in Manhattan.

I almost always go early in the morning, around seven-thirty, and I am attended by a skinny cashier with glasses, Woody Allen as I call him. I remember the first time I went, at the end of February. There was a lot of snow on the streets and it was dark. Woody Allen attended me, he wrote my name down and I paid. Other cashiers kindly ask me to repeat my name, but he never did. Then I sat down to read. A few minutes later, the barista, a brunette with the voice of Dinah Washington, shouted from the pickup station, Astephan...! Astephan! Since I was new to the city and my ear was not yet accustomed to the accents, sounds and variations of my name, I stayed focused on reading my book. After almost thirty minutes, I got up and went to Woody Allen to demand my latte. So he asked in a nervous voice.

  • Your name?

  • Esteban!, I replied.

He went to the pickup station to look for it, raised a few cups, reading the names until he found one. Then, looking at me and pointing at the obvious he said, “Here it is, Astephan!” Yes, of course, I thought. Since then I have become aware that my name in Starbucks in New York can be Estevaun, Astephan, Stephan, Steve, Stehen, Stella, Sti, or anything according to the imagination of the cashier on duty. Although it makes me uncomfortable having to answer to and accept a name that is not my own, it also has given me the freedom to invent new lives for myself, and to play with different personalities.

Of all the names, the one I like best is Astephan. I imagine a fun and impetuous young man who likes to wander around the West Village, Bleecker Street or Brooklyn at night, talking to strangers in a bar or on a dirty sidewalk, always with just a few dollars and his metrocard in his pocket. I imagine Astephan at dawn, singing old songs by Ricardo Cocciante with his guitar in some subway car. In contrast, the name I like least is Steve. Steve is a boring guy, one who lives solely to achieve recognition and social status. Money moves Steve. Steve reminds me of the man I was in Chile and Astepahn the man I would like to be in New York.

But something unexpected happened today.

When I go to the pickup station and look up my Starbucks name, the cup says Esteban. In an absurd act of denial, I keep looking through all the cups once, twice, three times. I feel disturbed or perhaps disappointed. I head to the cashier to demand an explanation and she tells me that her father's name is Esteban, too, and that her family is from Puerto Rico. She wants to tell me something else, but I don’t give a damn and leave in a hurry to walk down Fourteenth Street. I feel the echo of my frantic steps and the Mexican and Chinese restaurants, pizza shops, bars – their smells and sounds pass by like mirages. I cross streets, Second and Third Avenues, Irving, walking without looking at the traffic lights or the people who, annoyed, dodge my march. Then I turn onto the next avenue, where I finally enter the Starbucks on Union Square and line up with the hope of discovering another new identity to continue dreaming with in New York.

Manhattan, May 12, 2019

Manhattan, April 2019

Translation: Esteban Escalona

Translation Corrections: Aurelie Cotugno - Richard Beck- Frances Early

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