I’m embarrassed to admit this, but there are several people with whom I interact on a frequent basis and yet am still utterly unfamiliar with. I think this is true for many people in our densely populated city. You start going to a laundromat or a coffeeshop, and then after a few weeks, you realize you’re a regular there, and it already seems too late to ask the name of a person you see more frequently than most of your friends. As a result, some New Yorkers who have $10 in their bank account can end up taking on the affectations of an aloof billionaire (“I was talking to the driver about the chef and the nanny…”) when discussing their “bodega guy” or “barista.”
I recently decided to no longer be that guy. So before picking up my laundry, I practiced smiling and saying “What’s your name, by the way?” with a little laugh at the end, in a way that I hoped conveyed: “Isn’t it crazy that I’ve never asked this before? I’m such a rude idiot!”When I arrived at my laundromat, I asked the employee what her name was. “Marisala,” she said, smiling. “Nice to meet you,” I said to someone I’ve been seeing once a week for more than three years. “You too! See you soon, Will.”
I quickly discovered that “What’s your name, by the way?” is a magical spell I can use to bring joy to myself and others. I said it to my barista (Chris), and we were both soon smiling and chuckling over, I assume, what a boorish dummy I’ve been all these years. Same deal with my bodega guy (Sonny) and the doorman to my office building (Javier). I even kept saying “Nice to meet you” after, because even though it felt awkward, it also felt true.