My name is Mateo. Most people remember my name once we have met, but for some inexplicable reason, there are a number of Costa Ricans who upon seeing me a second time, call me ‘Tomás’.
It is not as if this has happened one or two times—indeed, it occurs with such startling frequency, that it makes me wonder why I am never misremembered as ‘Marco’ or ‘Miguel’, or another name that begins at least with the same letter as mine. But no– 100% of the times that a previous acquaintance calls me by the wrong name, it is always Tomas. It is a weird personal mystery. There are some similarities:
Both names have 5 letters, 4 of which are the same. But that does not explain why so many people become temporarily dyslexic when they see me coming. Every time I am called ‘Tomás’, I wonder if there are others out there who have similar experiences. Are there any David’s out there who hear themselves always misremembered as ‘Vidal’?
Any Anita’s who have to deal with often being called ‘Tania’? Recently, a Costa Rican man stopped me on the street while I was walking with my daughter. He was vaguely familiar but greeted me warmly and I chatted with him for a minute. When we parted, my daughter had two questions:
1) Did you know that guy?
2) Why did he call you Tomás?
And it’s not as if it is people I have met but once or twice. Last month a good Tico friend I have known for years greeted me as Tomás before quickly correcting himself. I shook my head, laughed out loud, and explained to him that this was an occurrence so frequent that it was a bit spooky.
I asked him if there was any logical explanation as to why so many Costa Ricans, after meeting me and learning I am Mateo, will later call me “Tomás”. “Obviously,” my friend said, “You look like Tomás.” It was as good an explanation as any, and it got me thinking: Why not use this alter ego to my advantage? For some time, I have harbored the idea of carrying a high-powered airhorn with me while driving. It would be used judiciously, against fools who impeded traffic with thoughtless actions.
Forced to slow down for a group of seemingly brain-dead pedestrians walking four abreast, I always imagine easing past them and leaning out to give a nerve-shattering blast. Forced to stop for a cab driver who has decided that the best place to discharge his fare is at the painted crosswalk right smack in the intersection, I dream of pulling up next to him and BWWWAAAAHHHHing him into next week as an impromptu lesson. Of course, the fear of being easily recognized has always tempered any such fantasies.
Mateo could never actually do this. As for Tomás–maybe Tomás could. I recently purchased two new pairs of eyeglasses, one pair lightweight and fashionable, the other pair protective glasses for bike riding, etc. Far from fashionable, the protective glasses look like I told the optician to please give me the ugliest pair in stock, a prosthetic device for the eyes.
They are clunky enough to slightly change my appearance, and I like the idea of a sort of reverse Clark Kent effect—putting on the eyeglasses to change oneself—voila! —no longer Mateo, but Tomás.
The more I consider it, the more I embrace the possibility of running with this. Like a child who blames mishaps on an imaginary friend, I could pin any regrettable public behavior on Tomás. So, if some day, anyone I know happens to see a guy who resembles me, wearing a weird and homely pair of glasses, engaged in actions that might be considered embarrassing or unacceptable— Just blame it on Tomás.