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Ordering a bagel gets awkward

Who is this 'Jay?' (Photo by Teague Alexy)

I was worn to a frazzle when I approached the counter at Rockin' Dave's Bagel Bistro in Bend, Ore. My band, Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, had been on the road for three weeks. We'd played the previous night in Bend and would soon be on the road to Seattle.

"One everything bagel egg sandwich, one toasted salt bagel with plain cream cheese and a large coffee."

"Would you like a local organic egg for an extra dollar?" The young woman behind the counter had large tortoiseshell eyeglasses and a pencil stuck in her dark brown ponytail. She also had more personality than I was ready to deal with. Rockin' Dave's was packed and loud with chatter. This barista's positive attitude and ability to multitask were the strings holding together an otherwise chaotic scene.

"Sure," I said.

"Here's a cup for your coffee. Name?"

"Jay," I said. I rarely give my real name at shops where you order at the counter. 'Jay' is my standard reply. It can't be mistaken or mispronounced. My real name, 'Teague,' is often misunderstood as Steve, Keith or Tee.

I am proud of my name's complex Irish history, meaning everything from traveling poet to a derogatory slang and back to an ironic self-identifier. 'Teague' has played a big part in me being 'Teague.' But on mornings such as this, it's easier to just be 'Jay.'

"Jay?" She looked at me with one raised eyebrow. Maybe she was at our show last night and knew my name wasn't Jay.

"Yeah," I said, determined to keep the conversation simple. No hassle. No explanations. Just bagels. And coffee.

"OK, Jay."

Bagels and coffee may not be the healthiest way to begin a day on the road, but camaraderie is food for the soul. The band's routine of discussing the quality of our morning bagels and coffee helps calm our nerves amidst the madness of touring.

I walk through a maze of fellow bagel lovers to the coffee area at the opposite end of the Bistro. We're not the only rockers rockin' Rockin' Dave's bagels on our way out of town. The guys in my band are joking with The Motet's monster bass player, Garrett Sayers, whom we knew when he played with The Miracle Orchestra in Boston. Everyone in the bistro is running into old friends. I'm using all my mental energy to fix my coffee.

"Jay. Bagels for Jay."

I'm gazing out the window at red, yellow and blue kayaks tied atop Subaru Outbacks and Jeep Cherokees. Bend is known as one of the best kayaking and whitewater rafting areas in the country. The coffee's not bad, either.

Anywhere else, I prefer morning tea. Coffee tortures my stomach. In the Pacific Northwest, however, I can handle it. The dark roast is so divine that drinking tea while passing through this region is blasphemy.

"Jay. I'm calling your name, Jay."

Where's the half-and-half ... I can never open these darned pour spouts ... This better not be soy milk, man. Rockin' Dave probably doesn't condone disposable stirrers. Alright, don't spill it. Where are the lids? It's hard to concentrate with all the noise in here.

"I'm walking towards you, Jay. I-AM-TAPP-ING-YOU-ON-THE-SHOUL-DER, JAY!"

Ugh! My moronic alter ego hasn't learned to respond to his own name. It's not that I didn't hear her; everyone heard her. The folks around us smile as she pokes my shoulder eight times to accent the last eight syllables. My senses were aware of her a split-second before she poked me. My reflexes were just a bit slow.

I wanted to apologize for being a space cadet, an idiotic liar. I wanted to tell her how, upon hearing my real name, a waitress once replied, "What? That sounds like a disease!" I wanted to tell her that I grew up in the sacred bagel land of South Jersey and that I considered her a saint for her noble work. I wanted to compliment her work ethic, her character and her support of local chicken farmers.

But I didn't say any of that. Instead, I simply winked at the peppy ponytailed barista. "Yeah, that's me," I said. "Jay."

Teague Alexy

Teague Alexy is a Duluth-based musician and writer who grew up in Somers Point, N.J. teaguealexy.com

Check out the podcast version of Wisecracks & Roadside Flats on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.

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