Paging Jill

I’m a chronically honest person. I feel tremendous amounts of guilt when I lie about even the smallest thing — “No, your new haircut is great (inwardly cringe at the lie).” So when the barista would ask for my name after I ordered my tall non-fat latte, I’ve always sighed and said “LaDonna . . . L-A-Donna . . . like ‘Madonna’ but with an ‘L’.” They invariably looked at me with a mildly frightened expression, furrowed their 19-year-old brows and laboriously wrote down what they think I said. It was always interesting to hear the kid at the end of the line try to pronounce such classics as ‘Ladawnna’.

We moved to Marin County in the Bay Area last year and I quickly found ‘my’ Starbucks — the one on my way to work, when I needed it most. For the first few visits, I used my real name only to have the same trouble as usual. Then it struck me — an idea I couldn’t believe I’d never contemplated before, which I blame on my honest streak. I needed a Coffee House Name! Yes, it would be ‘lying’ but these kids don’t really give a damn what my real name is. They just want to make sure the coffee gets to the right person.

The guilt relieved, I now needed to come up with the perfect Coffee House Name. It needed to be short, preferably one syllable, easy to pronounce, and had to have only one accepted spelling. I bounced around a few names — Sue, Jane, John — but all were disqualified for one reason or another. My new name, my new persona, hit me like a lightning bolt: Jill. Only a freak would spell it any other way, the letters were all pretty much one line — no compound curves — so it would be a quick write, and everyone knows how to pronounce it. Success! How creative and innovative am I?

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The switch from LaDonna to Jill only confused one barista because he remembers everyone’s name. He still calls me LaDonna and occasionally, to screw with the new coffee pullers, will write “Jilladawnna” on my cup. Always good for a laugh, that one.

One pleasant morning I was waiting for my drink when the new kid on the line put a tall non-fat latte for Jill on the counter. I reached for the cup at the same moment as another lady. She’d been standing there for awhile so it was obviously hers but we laughed at the coincidence that there would be two Jills waiting for the same drink at the same time. Then she leaned over and whispered conspiratorily “My name’s not really Jill, but my real name’s too hard for them.” When I caught my breath from laughing, I told her my story.

I guess I’m not so original after all.

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