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When greeting someone who shares your first name, it is simply impossible to address that person without any kind of coy inflection in your voice. I've tried it, and it just can't be done. And the thing is, both parties are painfully aware of this awkwardness but they're helpless to its sucking energy.

I have a friend named Todd and whenever I see him my voice hitches for a moment, trying to erase any difference in pitch. It's not funny that we both share the same name. He knows this and I know it as well. Just like I know it's not funny when you have a friend named River and someone asks, inexplicably, if he's "related to River Phoenix." (It's also just plain not funny when you have a friend named River. Take a mental note of that.)

But no matter how hard we try, we fall into that idiotic back-and-forth. "Hey, Todd." "Hey, Todd." And then we both google our eyes, and jump backwards, like Bazooka Joe reeling from one of Mort's zingers. And we hate it. I'm thinking about cutting off my friendship with Todd, and he's probably been thinking about it for a while, too.

There are certain behaviors and judgments I am powerless to resist. That office-humor-laced exchange is one of them. I feel like I've commented on this before, but I have one very specific fear of judgment that is (hopefully) entirely self-motivated. I cannot help but feel other people are regarding me with anti-Semitic prejudice anytime I eat cole slaw. It's so irrational, but if I'm in a restaurant and I scoop some cabbage out of a slaw cup I get this creeping feeling that everyone in the room is looking down their noses at me, thinking, "Will you look at that Jew? He's like an animal, hunched over that cole slaw."

Do other Jewish people suffer from a weird insecurity about their eating habits? Are they extra tidy or withholding of pleasure when eating pickles or spare ribs for fear of being rounded up? It surely sounds insane to everyone else, but I wonder if other minorities experience similar anxiety from their own ordinary, innocuous behaviors. Are Mexicans incapable of divorcing themselves from a touch of self-conscious embarrassment whenever they sit down for a nice long nap beneath a tree, with their sombreros lazily tipped forward?

WE FIRST MET ON 06.27.2006

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