What’s in a Name?

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I am setting up a square space website because I want to be well-represented in the ether. It makes me feel like an adult. That’s not the point of this. Anyway, I’m clicking Yes I’ll try a free trial – which we all know isn’t actually free because who actually remembers to call and cancel, I mean, really – and it asks me to create an account. I sat staring at the first two fields, my thumbs poised and ready to fire: First and Last name. And I hover. Frozen. 

The cursor blinks at me. Tapping its foot. It warps and wiggles as it transforms into a cursor-sized girl. Let’s say 10 years old. Mary Janes and ruffle socks. A pink corduroy jumper and a headband holding heroism pigtails back. She leans against the field bar. Crosses her arms. 

-Hello!!! 

-First and Last name? Easy. Sam Callahan. 

-Whoa whoa whoa!! Sam Callahan??? This page is serious. This is It. You decided long ago that your SAG name would be Sam Callahan and your nom de plume would be Samantha Devon. 

-But what if this is It, also? The other It…?

-What other “it?”

-What if this is all I do. What if this is all I’m good at. Wouldn’t I want it to be my real name? My superstar name? This was all thought up when I was convinced I’d reach Golden Celebrity status before ever thinking of writing a book. Who wants to waste their Best Name on their secondary fame, that may not even come!

-You know that being a famous actor is way sexier than famous writer. And you know Sam Callahan is a sexier name. Samantha Devon is an intellectual and a poet. Sam Callahan is a–is a —

-Entertainer. 

-Entertainer! 

-But you are so proud of your family name, just like me. 

-I am…

-Wouldn’t you want to see that name – Your Name – on the lists of the New York Times? On the bestsellers’ section at  McNally Jackson’s?(~support local book stores!~)

-Yes…

-What’s the point of a pseudonym anyway?

-Lots of reasons… Protection, is one. 

-From whom?

beat. She scowls, takes a breath. She paces along the field box– Inner demons, I guess. Publishing anonymously tricks us into thinking no one will read it. If no one knows it’s you, it’s not as embarrassing.  

-It is terrifying, isn’t it?

-Mortifying.  –beat– Your name is your identity. For most of us. Our name = us. Our sense of self. You see your name written, you recognize it. Not in your mind. But in your fingertips. In your belly button and your ears. Little tugs and glows that remind us who we are. I am Sam Callahan. I’ve read it, heard it, said it, and embedded it for years and years and years… –takes a breath– …There’s a level of freedom that comes when you write under a Not-Your-Name name. You allow yourself to act rashly. To pursue vehemently. Explore reckl— –stops– you allow yourself… to be completely honest in the moment. Raw on the page. When you remove yourself – your Self; your Name – you remove the shame, guilt, and visceral fear. Perhaps most importantly, you remove The Pride. With The Pride out, you are more open to what makes for a well-rounded character and an interesting story: flaws, fuck ups, and failures. 

  So…should I use a nom de plume? Should I stick with what identifies me? Or don the mask?  

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We Just Need Your Birth Certificate

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Let me tell you about my day. Let me preface it by saying that I lost my California Driver’s License when I moved from the Upper East Side in Manhattan to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and I’ve been venturing around New York City sans ID for the past two months. This is not a safe practice for many reasons.
1. You never know when you may be attacked or murdered, and it is always helpful for law enforcement if you have an ID on you.
2. You never know if you’ll be served in a bar when you go out, so you need to pick your establishments with precise, which generally means you can’t frequent the more uppity of lieux.

So, finally, after much deliberation and a few overnighted FedEx packages from my mother in California, I finally went out to procure a new ID. I’ve been living in New York for a year and three months, so I am long overdue for a state-issued ID card. (after 90 days, you’re considered a resident of New York…) I went on the website, printed the application form, filled it out to perfection, and collected my necessary paperwork to prove identity: Birth Certificate and Social Security Card (thanks, Mom), health insurance card, and bank-issued debit card. The website says I only needed “4” points: 2 pts for my social security card, and one point each for the debit card and health insurance card. The Birth Certificate doesn’t actually hold any point value, but is useful to provide evidence of my birth – which is just ridiculous because look at me: I’m here; I’ve been born. And before any of you throw out that it’s proving that I was born in this country, halt! Because it’s not! They don’t care if you were born in this country or not.

Anyway, so all my paperwork neatly stacked, clipped, and stowed, I went to the DMV in Midtown Manhattan. I walk in and announce my business to the bored-looking man near the information kiosk.
“You need six points.” he says with a drawl.
“The website said four.” Me.
“You need six,” he repeats.
Then he starts listing off other options, and when he gets to “pay stub” and “credit card,” I say “YES! I HAVE THOSE! Thank you! See you tomorrow!”
And I run out of there and text my mother immediately to recount my failure.
“Why don’t you renew your passport?” She texts. “You can fly with that.”
“Where do you get a passport?” I text back, passing the beautiful monstrosity that is the New York Post Office.
“The Post Office.” Her.
“PERFECT!” and I run inside.

The colossal foyer of the New York Post Office is marble and echoing. It feels so regal with its gold bars at the teller windows, its impressive American Flags hanging at each end, and the seal of the State of New York in the center on the ground. I wait in line with a few impatient customers, dancing to and fro, tapping their feet and fingers on their packages. After 20 minutes, I approach the bench when called and ask “How do I get a passport?” The guy directs me to the opposite end of the long, narrow foyer, where I find a young guy at a podium.

After a series of seemingly non-sequitur questions, he gives me a few forms to fill out and lets me know he’ll be available to help me when I’m done. Ten minutes later, having finished my forms, I look around me for this young guy, and he’s nowhere in sight. I walk up and down along the closed windows in the passport section, walk out into the foyer, walk back into the passport section, trying to peer through any cracks in the windows. Nothing. Nobody.

After a few passes stalking around, looking for anyone who could possibly help me, a slightly older gentleman surfaces from a door in the passport section. He comes up to me and asks me if I’ve been helped. I affirm and proceed to explain my situation again. He was very accommodating and helpful. He offered to copy my paperwork (for $0.50/ea) and looked through everything to be sure I have all the information I need. He then asked for my picture ID, at which point I explained that I didn’t have one, and that is precisely why I’m here looking for a passport. He told me that’s no problem, I just need somebody to come down and sign witness to my existence – somebody who has known me for two years. I chuckle to myself at the absurdity of that, and call my roommate and ask him if he can make it down here before work at 5pm. He obliges, kind guy that he is.

Once he arrives, I try to get somebody’s attention again, because – once again – the podium attendant, my dear older friend who was so helpful, has disappeared. I catch a middle-aged woman with a caribbean accent behind the window where the camera is. I ask her if the attendant can come back out – I’m in need of assistance. She says someone will be right out. I say “We’re in a slight hurry.”
“Yes, ma’am, someone will be right out,” she repeats, same tone.
“Terrific.” Brandon and I walk back to the podium and wait.

And wait.
And wait.

We help two other people who are looking for the passport center.
“Yes, it’s right here.”
“great.”
“No, ma’am. behind us, please. we’re in line.’
“Ah, ok.”
“Yes, sir. It’s right here.”

And we wait.

Finally that same Caribbean woman of small stature comes waddling out and sits down at the podium.
“How may I help you?”
“Well, I was being helped by two of your colleagues. They know that’s going on. Are they back there?”
“No.”
“Okay. Well I’m trying to get a new passport – and I don’t have a photo ID, so I have my friend here to give witness. He just needs to sign the witness form so he can go.”
“No, ma’am. What do you have? Show me what you have.”
“Yes, here it is. I have the application form, my birth certificate, and my friend here to sign the witness form –”
“Ma’am, you’re reporting your passport as lost.”
“Yes, I am. I don’t have my old, expired passport, and don’t know where it is. So your colleague said I should report it stolen first, and then apply for a new passport.”
“Do you have your pictures?”
“Yes, ma’am, your colleague took my picture.”
“You have to have your pictures.”
“Right. your colleague took my picture about 30 minutes ago.”
“You have to make copies of these papers.”
“Yes, your colleague did that — really, ma’am, your colleague already knows my case, it would be easier if you could just find him, please, and you can help the people behind me.”
“No, ma’am.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I need a photo ID.”
“As I explained to the two gentlemen who helped me before you, I don’t have one. My roommate is here to give witness to my existence.”
“I still need a form of ID with a picture.”
“Ma’am, I explained to your colleagues that I don’t have one. That’s why I’m here. To get one. I have other forms of ID iwth no picture. My health insurance card, credit cards, bank cards, bank statements…” and I lay out all those forms.
“No, ma’am. I need a form of ID with your picture.”
“I’m sorry; I just don’t have one.”
“High school ID –”
“Don’t have one.”
“College ID with your picture–”
“Don’t have that, either.”
“Driver’s license–”
“I really don’t have an ID with a picture of it.”
“Ma’am, I need –”
“I understand that you need that,” I say, my patience wearing thin. “Your colleagues said all I needed was my roommate-” I point to Brandon “-to testify my continued existence.” People are starting to stare.
“Ma’am–” She began again, shaking her head.
“Oh! You have my expired passport on record! My picture is on that. Use that!”
“We don’t have that.”
“You have my passport on record,” I say, a bit bitingly, my patience wearing more and more thin as the moments pass on, my ears getting hot.
“At the state department, ma’am.”
“My mom has a picture of my passport! If she texts me the picture, can I just show that to you?”
“Yes, ma’am.” (!!!) Terrific!

I step aside with Brandon to let the people behind me get some help. I text my mom with a few profanities and a lot of angst, and she responds very quickly with two pictures of my passport book, opened to my information page.

I then step forward again and wait for the current customer to finish with her business. After many questions that had nothing to do with passports, I slide my phone under the attendant’s nose. “Here!” I say, triumphantly.
“Terrific,” she says, with a smile. “Now go across the street to Kinko’s and print it.”
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!”

And I leave.

Overheard New York (1st Edition)

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This is a collection I’ve started, and I’d like to call it “Overheard New York.” 

They’re bits and pieces of conversational gems I’ve collected over the last eight months living in New York. Enjoy.

 

Basket of apples in front of the register. Guy Walks up.
Guy: I’ll just take an apple.
Cashier: We don’t sell apples.
He picks one up and shows her
Guy: They’re right here.
Cashier: We don’t sell those.
Guy: Then why the fuck are they sitting here?
Another employee whispers to cashier. (“we do sell those”)
Silence.
Cashier: That’ll be 75 cents, sir.       –  May 16, 2014, Chelsea

 

“I don’t know if I’m staying. I don’t have cash. I only have card.”
“We are a cash-only establishment, sir.”
“You know the presence of good cannot exist without the present of evil.” And he leaves.– Caffe Reggio, Greenwich Village

 

Patron: “What’s on tap?”
Bartender: “Me”
Patron: “Great. I’ll have 2 Merlots & a pitcher of you.” – Dec 6, 2013, Upper East Side

 

New Yorker: What am I saying? I grew up in NY. Idk what a lawn mower is. – Oct 14, 2013, Greenwich Village

 

“I mean, you’re so right. Everything’s, like, connected. The brain to the stomach, ya know, the heart, the brain … the stomach.” – May 9, 2014, West Village

 

“There’s someone for you. Like what you used to tell me when I was young: when I wanted the white pony with the blonde mane? ‘There’s someone out there for everyone.’” – bald middle-aged Russian man on a phone in Central Park (overheard NY)

“You don’t have to be congress to pass a bill.” – homeless man, panhandling, 6 train.

 

“Those girls? Nah, all the only recommendation I’d take from them is ice cream shops in Brooklyn.” – June 3, 2014, West Village

 

“The Path Train”
“The what?”
“The PATH train. It’s like the subway, but less glamorous.” May 21, 2014 (Brendan Comfort’s facebook)

minou et jade

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I’m so pathetic. Every time I leave my house to do whatever it is I have to do, I have this strange tugging at my heart. Most people would recognize it as homesickness or a deep longing, bordering on despair. But to me? I know exactly what it is: I miss my cats. I leave my cats behind to go about my day. They realize what I’m doing halfway through doing it. I’ll yank my jacket on, tug on my shoelaces, and there they’ll be – sitting on the WiFi router box, and I swear they’re pouting. I run my fingers over their heads, scratch a little between their ears and prop their chin with my knuckle and say, “I love you.” Then I lock my door, walk out the building and I can still feel them. “Mommy? Where did you go? Why aren’t you cuddling with me? Rubbing my belly? Picking me up and twirling me around? Can’t we hang out all day watching TV and napping? Why are you leaving me? I promise we can watch Doctor Who!”   Oh, just fucking kill me.

 

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