The first customer I attached a name to was a sweet-natured, white-haired gentleman in a Korean Veterans baseball cap. It was probably only my second or third day working in the produce department, right next to the door, that I heard Cecil, our people greeter, address him as “Charlie”. He responded with a big, warm smile and they stood and talked for several minutes before he went on to do his shopping.
Our Cecil, I should mention, is a lady and, oddly, not the only female named Cecil in this small town. She is a singular character, well-loved by customers and coworkers alike. Cecil and her family have lived here for years and she knows everyone in town and everything that happens.
The gentleman in the Korean Veterans cap came in almost every day. For the next six years, I never failed to greet him with a cheerful, “hi, Charlie!” and he always responded with a big, warm smile and stopped to pass the time of day.
Then one day, a couple of years ago, he was chatting with Cecil as I sorted through some fruit displays nearby. When he left to continue his shopping, Cecil wandered over to me and said, “he’s the nicest man! You know, I always call him Charlie and he always answers me.”
This gave me pause. “Isn’t that his name?” I asked.
“Oh, no. His name’s Marvin. I just always call him Charlie. I don’t know why.”
This is the point for an emoticon. This one: o.0
“Cecil!” I said. “For six years now I’ve been calling that man Charlie because you called him Charlie! Why didn’t you ever tell me that wasn’t his real name?”
Cecil wasn’t bothered. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just call him that. It’s okay, though. He always answers.”
The next time Marvin (as I now knew him to be) came in, I explained to him that I’d just learned I’d been calling him the wrong name and apologized. “I thought that was your name because I heard Cecil use it.”
He just laughed. “Yeah, she always calls me that. I don’t know why.”
“Well, now that I know your real name,” I said, “I promise that I’ll call you by it.”
A couple of days later I saw him halfway across the department, looking at a produce display.
“Hi, Marvin!” I called out cheerfully.
… nothing …
I walked a little closer. “Hi, Marvin!”
… still nothing …
I went right up next to him. “Hey, Marvin!”
He wandered away.
I let him get halfway across the department.
He turned back to me with a big, friendly smile and a wave.
I’ve called him Charlie ever since. It seems we’ve changed the poor man’s name.