The A/C is always what hits me first. Every inch of my skin feeling that cold embrace as the smell of fries and onion rings takes care of my nose. The tables are all full, and a crazy kid or two dashes past me as I walk in. I see a familiar face all the way behind the counter smiling. “Number 35, ready,” comes out of the intercom in a bored voice. Before I even make it to the line that face already announces in that jolly Mexican voice of hers “chicken strips for Alejandro papas crispy.” I wait in line just for the sake of paying (though they would gladly let me pay for my food later) and having a quick chat about how our families are doing. It’s been like that since Louis’ Burgers opened nine years ago. Still coming all the time, still getting the same thing, still the same looks of confusion on the people’s faces.
When I’m waiting for my order I always know that what I’ll hear over the intercom isn’t “number 36” or anything boring like that. It’ll always be “Alejandro.” That’s right, they call me up by name when my food is ready. The people around me always have a funny look on their face, asking themselves why would that kid get called by name? It’s a brief curiosity- makes them think about the complexities and stories that might be going on in the lives of the others around them. It fades away quickly and they get back to munching on their burgers.
It’s a point of decent confusion when I bring my friends. “Did they just say Alejandro?” “Yeah, yeah they did.” “But, that’s not even your name. Why don’t they call you Alex?” “Cause I kind of like the longer version, I never get to be called that.” It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve gone there and all of the employees still call me Alejandro. In all honesty, it’s a nice feeling to hear it over the intercom, makes me feel special to have the monotonous pattern of “Number 33, 34, 35, 36…” broken up by me.
My parents enjoyed the history behind my name, Alex. It means protector of others in Greek, Alexo. Well known to just about anyone, it’s the shortened version of Alexander, a name that has been owned by eight popes, and many a king, including Alexander the Great himself. Nowadays a female named Alex isn’t very strange, but its traditional role was serving as a name for newborn Greco-Roman babies with aspirations of becoming soldiers. At the time, the most common of occupations for a white man, thus the name grew well in its crib, then disseminated through conquest. It’s very rare someone doesn’t know an Alex.
The name Alex has issues though, it’s so… normal. My name drifts into commonality, the usual, just one of many. Being forgotten is a thought that haunts me to my very core, and I try to avoid it all costs. Having a name like Alex makes that tough at times. Sometimes, I’d rather have a name like Ezekiel or Leonardo or something that you need to use your whole mouth for. I remember those people, and I’m sure when they feel the flip side of it, that their name is too long, they can shorten it to Zeke or Leo. But my full name is just Alex. I can’t nickname myself to something longer, that defeats the purpose. So when I hear that name over the intercom, Alejandro, it feels right, meaningful.
My parents though, attach my middle name to it. Alex-Enrique… Enrique. Something you can roll the r’s in and feel when you say. That’s not boring; the whole mouth is forced to leap into action, resulting in a more vivid memory. For a lot of kids the sound of their middle name erupting from the mouth of one of their parents makes them shiver. But… adding Enrique is a thing I enjoy, and most of the time to my parents that is my name.
It just makes it so much more interesting to add a little something. Replacing the x with a jandro or adding a whole Enrique. These things make the name different, more interesting, and memorable. Nobody in that restaurant will remember “number 34” or “number 35” and tie it to a pair of faces. But they will remember that little glitch in the matrix, that break in the infinite series, a kid’s name over the intercom.