A few weeks ago on an early Sunday afternoon in February, I was at the Think Coffee on 4th Avenue between East 12th and East 13th streets. My husband was meeting someone at a different nearby coffee shop and I was spending the time with an Americano and a book until his meeting was over so we could go out for lunch. My drink in hand, I stood looking for a place to sit when a man approached me.
“Are you Sloan(e)?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
The man smiled in apology and resumed his seat. Our interaction made clear the unoccupied chair at his table was not up for grabs so I crossed over to the sunny front window and asked a young man sitting there if I could have the empty seat across from him. He nodded and by gesture I showed he did not need to move his laptop. There was plenty of space at the table.
The seat was perfectly located for observing the coming and going Manhattanites and tourists. This early Sunday weekend scene was different from the usual work and student crowd of weekdays. It was an eclectic mix: strollers pushed by parents still in pajama pants under their parkas, young twenty somethings obviously still wearing last night’s party clothes, a guy wearing sweatpants but also yellow tinted steampunk goggles atop his head, tourists dressed as mountaineers with overstuffed strappy backpacks. I played into this quirky group as well, wearing black leggings and a metallic silver dress that draped down to my calves, my hair styled high on top of my head. The sunlight from the window brilliantly illuminated the dress fabric.
In my window seat I had a book in hand but it spent more time laying open in my lap than being actively read. I was distracted in daydreams about being named Sloan(e) and if I were, would I spell it Sloan or Sloane? I thought about this much longer than I would normally entertain such thoughts, even imagining how it would look on paper when I signed my name. When the real Sloan(e) entered the cafe and met with the man who was saving her a seat I decided that with my dress and hair done up I looked much more like a Sloan(e) than the woman did with her messy blonde hair and lint covered black wool coat. If anyone looked like a Jessie it was her, not me. By the time my husband met up with me I still had not decided if I was a Sloan without an e or a Sloane with an e, but secretly resigned myself that I was likely a Sloane with an e who wished I could drop the last letter and be a standalone Sloan.
A few days later I was at the large Starbucks inside the Empire State Building. Usually when I find myself in this neighborhood I go to a smaller coffee shop but the day made it convenient that I stop at this over-trafficked super-brand. I ordered an Americano.
“Your name please,” the barista asked.
“Jessie,” I responded.
As soon as I moved from the order line to the drink pick-up corral I kicked myself. I should have told her my name was Sloan(e), I thought. This happened on several more occasions. The barista would ask me my name and I would autopilot with an honest answer.
Weeks passed and a good friend was visiting for the weekend. I confessed to him my latest thoughts about the name Sloan(e) since my interaction with the man at Think Coffee. After all, the man had not inquired if Sloan(e) was my name, but if Sloan(e) is who I am. Are you Sloan(e)? I had become philosophical about it. Am I Sloan(e)?
I even divulged my internal debate on how to spell it.
“Definitely with an e,” my friend responded without hesitation.
“I’m not so sure,” I replied. “The next time I order coffee and they ask me for my name I’m totally going to tell them it’s Sloan(e). It’s not like they care.”
And just a few days after having the Sloan(e) conversation with my out-of-town visitor I found myself at the Starbucks on the corner of Broadway and East 9th Street in Manhattan. This was my first time at this particular Starbucks. It boasts itself as a “Starbucks Reserve” location. It was fancy with caramel colored leather benches, chairs, and stools. Behind the long counter, there was all sorts of shiny, complicated espresso machines marking this as an anomaly amongst a sea of normal, uniform non-Reserve Starbucks. The barista asked if I wanted some sort of limited edition espresso from a remote location only available at this specific store. I said ok until I saw it raised the cost of my drink to nearly six dollars.
“Uh, I didn’t realize it would cost that much,” I said.
“It’s ok,” she replied. “I’ll take it off and give you the regular espresso.”
“Your name please?”
This was my chance.
“Thank you Sloan(e), that will be $3.54.”
I immediately felt like a huge phony, which was appropriate because I was the 37 year old woman lying about my name to a Starbucks barista. I began to pull out my debit card. One of the reasons I stopped at Starbucks in the first place was so I wouldn’t have to pay cash. As I slid the card out of my wallet, I realized it had my full not-Sloan(e) name embedded on the front. While the barista did not handle my card it was probable my name may flash on the screen of her computerized cash register. Panic washed over me at the thought of the woman behind the counter knowing I’d given a false name.
Even if she didn’t call me out as Jessie, or accuse me of fraudulently using someone else’s debit card, she would know I was full of shit using a wannabe posh name like Sloan(e).
“Uh, let me pay cash,” I said as I returned the debit card to its place in my wallet and fumbled through my small reserve of cash, hoping I had enough. I was still wearing my winter gloves, so the simple transaction did not go smoothly.
“Take your time,” the barista told me. She could see I was flustered.
I paid. Then I couldn’t find the tip jar. When I finally found it, the barista thanked me though she was in the middle of helping the person who was waiting behind me. I got out of the way and moved over to the counter designated for drink pickups.
I regretted lying to the barista. The name felt absolutely ridiculous instead of glamorous and sharp. Perhaps I would have felt better about it had I not been makeup free and wearing sweatpants and a parka on account of the run (ok, slow jog) I had just completed at the gym. As I waited for my drink I picked up my phone and texted my out-of-town friend.
“I did it! I told the Starbucks barista my name is Sloan(e). I didn’t expect to feel like an idiot.”
I shoved my phone and into my parka pocket, already bulging with my gloves.
“Sloan(e)? Americano for Sloan(e),” a different barista called out.
Oh god, why do they keep saying it? I lamented in my head. My face reddened with embarrassment. I knew I looked guilty. I felt guilty.
I took my drink and found a bench seat in the window. Sharing the table with a twenty-something guy on his laptop, it dawned on me that the name would be printed on the side of the cup. I turned it towards me, and there it was printed in all caps: “SLOAN.”
Despite my embarrassment and regret upon seeing the name in print on the side of the cup, I try to laugh it off in my head: They spelled my name wrong. I’m definitely a Sloane with an e. I certainly do not expect to feel this overwhelming negative reaction. For over three weeks I’ve been wanting to be called Sloane and not once harbored a contradictory feeling about it. I wonder if maybe it’s because I’m not dressed up and not feeling the best about my appearance. Maybe it’s because an hour earlier I found out I was only waitlisted for one of my top choices for graduate school.
Then it hits me. What I am feeling is imposter syndrome.
I am graduating college, new opportunities are opening to me now. I’ve grown as a person over the last few years, and the silly facade of wanting to be called a different name awoke my subconscious to call it out for what it is. I feel like an idiot for telling the barista my name is Sloane because I am Sloane: meaning, I am deserving of all the things I’ve worked so hard for. There is no reason to put opportunity and possibility on a pedestal, out of reach. They are not limited to other people, more deserving people, people who have names like Sloane. They are mine for the taking.
Green Coffee (c) Josè Almonte
Author photo courtesy of the author