I RECENTLY SAW A FACEBOOK POST THAT CONTAINED A PHOTO OF A FOURSOME OF OLD GALS WITH NAUGAHYDE FLESH, STUFFED IN BATHING SUITS. EACH OF THEM HAD WIDE, TOOTHY (AND NOT-SO-TOOTHY) GRINS AND KNOWING EXPRESSIONS, AS IF TO SUGGEST THEY EACH HAD THE GOODS ON THE OTHERS AND THEY WEREN'T AFRAID TO SPILL.
Somewhere in the caption, it was noted that the women have traveled to every imaginable destination together each year for something like 250 years. On each trip, they made up new names and referred to one another by those names for the duration of the trip. Along with the names, the women fabricated interesting backgrounds that they would share with strangers.
The timing of the Facebook post was perfect, as I’m just days away from taking a girls’ trip to New York City with my two best friends – whose names must now be changed to mark the occasion. I doubt they’ll be shocked at my suggestion, since I’ve been changing my name for yeeeeeeeeeears. I’m a big fan of the pseudonym and rely on it often.
I was raised to be friendly to everyone I meet, to talk to and take candy from strangers and, eventually, to ask them for a ride.
Strangers, on the other hand, never seem to understand that friendliness is a habit, like saying, “excuse me,” after a sneeze, touching the roof of the car when a train is passing on the bridge overhead or stepping over the crack to spare my mama’s back. Friendliness – and this may be breaking news for some of you – is not romantic interest.
Over the years, I’ve come across quite a few strangers who have confused my chipper demeanor with an unspoken vow of lifelong devotion in this way:
I say: “Good morning! How are you today?” (Extra-chipper, with glitter coming out of my breath.)
The stranger hears: “In five minutes, I’m ditching my husband, buying us an island and fulfilling your every desire!! CALL ME!!!”
It’s precisely in those oh-s@%t moments that I feel compelled to unleash my inner sociopath and assume the identity of the oft-named twin I ate in the womb … usually Monica, Stacy, Jennifer or Janet, each with her own phone number that the caller might have to try a few times before he realizes there is no island and his every desire will have to keep floating high above the ethers, unfulfilled for at least another day.
Is it mean to give the interested party a completely false name? You betcha. But it’s an inescapable social necessity that speaks the subtle message: “I see you’re unaware that we are so very awkwardly mismatched, which is why I cannot possibly utter my true name. So that I might avoid crushing your budding dream like a butterfly’s wings in my tightly clenched fist, just call me Janet.”
Managing a mental Rolodex of assumed names is trickier than it sounds. At the risk of forgetting my name-of-the-awkward-moment (or just being mistaken for Sybil), I’ve found that it’s best to narrow the list of alter egos down to a handful of believable possibilities, which rules out a cool, Italian name or something exotic and island-y.
For most of the women I know, the fake name is an accessory as standard as a handbag. When I’ve asked my girlfriends about whether they occasionally use an assumed name, they look at me as if I’ve asked them if they sit down to pee. Guys, on the other hand (with the frequent exception of the gay man), tell me they haven’t used a fake name since college.
Maybe it’s the scrutiny of personal identification during the pre-boarding process, but it seems that most people feel perfectly comfortable throwing out a concocted name on an airplane. Vegas-bound planes are probably most susceptible to the phenomenon, but any flight with a chatty passenger in the next seat will do. Is everyone just taking their new names for a test drive before they arrive in the destination city?
It’s exactly what I’ll be doing this weekend, once I’ve cleared security as Lauren Hammack. Among millions of people who probably don’t even give a flip, my friends and I will be introducing ourselves and, no doubt, hitting it off with one stranger after the next in New York City – and really, is there a better city in the world for assuming a new identity?
No, there’s not. Just ask … Monica Reid.