My given name is Matthew, but for better than 20 years I have also been known as Mateo, the Spanish equivalent of Matthew. In my early years here, like many wishing to reinvent themselves in one way or another, I sought to be called only by my new Spanish name. I became Mateo—to my wife, kids, friends and acquaintances of all nationalities. Over time, I have introduced myself as ‘Mateo’ to countless people. Most remember my name, but for some unexplainable 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.
Admittedly, there are 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’?
Just last week, a Costa Rican man stopped me while I was walking with my daughter on the calle central of Quepos. He was vaguely familiar, but greeted me warmly and I chatted with him for a minute. When we parted, my daughter had two questions:
- Did you know that guy?
- Why did he call you Tomás?
And its not as if it is people I have met but once or twice. Recently a good Tico friend I have known for years referred to me as Tomás before quickly correcting himself. I shook my head, laughed out loud, and explained to him that this was an occurance 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 altar ego to my advantage? For some time I have harbored this fantasy of carrying a high-powered airhorn around town while driving the narrow broken streets. 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 at an intersection for a cab driver who has decided that the best place to discharge his fare is where the painted crosswalk would be if painted crosswalks existed in Quepos, 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 one’s self—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 on some hot, bright Quepos summer day, you happen to see a guy who resembles me, and he is wearing a weird and homely pair of glasses, engaged in actions that might be considered embarrassing or unacceptable—don’t consider it a hallucination brought on by the power of the sun. Just blame it on Tomás.