The Perils of Z


That’s how you pronounce it. It being my name. Yes, some people have names like that. Weird. Inconvenient. Almost impossible to spell. Hell, because of my name, all of my life I’ve had to stand at the end of the line. For as long as I can remember I’ve always been the last man on the totem pole. And all because my old man was an uneducated pig-headed fool who didn’t have the good sense to realize that just about everything in this world is alphabetized, and that if your name is Zzptersczi you’re always going to miss the boat, because everyone and his brother will have come before you. Oh, some people change their names for business reasons or for social convenience, but seeing that my old man didn’t have much to do with business and that he was never one who did much socializing, well, it never occurred to him it might be reasonable to change his name into something nice and simple, as well as into something that sounded good old fashioned red, white, and blue. And, by God, if he’d only had the good sense to do something like that, maybe just once and a while his kids might have gotten a shot at something before everyone else had eaten the whole pie.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t greedy. I didn’t always want to win, place or, for that matter, even show — but maybe, just once upon a time, I’d like to have come in somewhere around the middle.

But here I am, 34 years old, in the prime of my life, and like a damned fool I still go by the name Zzptersczi. Why? I guess because after a while a body gets used to something, or maybe it’s just that one tends to get sentimental about certain things one has suffered for. Hell, even my vain and vindictive brother, Stephen R. Zzptersczi couldn’t see fit to completely dissolve our surname, and although he has long since gone by the last name of Sczi, the few times we’ve spoken to one another in recent years he’s suggested to me that he is thinking of restoring his now extinct prefix.

Look, my name is weird, but the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of others who are in the same boat. I didn’t really find this out until one afternoon sometime during my sixteenth year I found myself in the library flipping through the pages of telephone books looking for other people who’d had the misfortune to be cursed by the alphabet. Along the way, I looked up how many Browns there were in Chicago, and the number of Wongs in Cincinnati, and the sum of Smiths in San Francisco. I computed the number of Clevelands in Cleveland, Houstons in Houston, and Baltimores in Baltimore. On my journey through what proved to be better than a quarter of a million pages, I discovered that there were more people by the name of Rome residing in Rome, Georgia than in Rome, New York. Oh, I was a great one for playing games with the telephone book! You might just say that names became something of an obsession with me — and all because long ago someone saw fit to jumble the letters of the alphabet and come up with some crazy concatenation like Zzptersczi.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fool. Like I said before, I sure as hell know there are plenty of others who are in the same boat as I am. People called Zzdunk and Ztos and Zsittnik and Zbuska. And what about Quynh and Quacwda and Aababa and Ahahaazwada? Sure, they all have their problems. But in the end, I imagine I’m different from all of them. In fact, I suspect I am totally unique because this fascination I have with letters has obliged me to spend an inordinate amount of time scrutinizing various and sundry ancestries, but most specifically those who have the misfortune to have their surname prefixed with the very last letter of the alphabet. Z!  That magic and too often troublesome notation that most people view to be little more than a source of amusement, or perhaps just ten points in a game of Scrabble, yet which to a select few like myself is the source of considerable inconvenience. So, as an expert in Zs I can tell you there’s a Zzyro in St. Louis and a Zysswell in New Orleans and a Zzyzz with the first initial Z in Miami. And if you look through enough telephone books you’ll find out there are fools who go by the name Zzulch and Zzmbrano and Zzych and Zzycrad. And Zyx and Zzyd and Zzee and Zzyzx. But last and foremost are one J. Zzzzee in New York and Zachary Zzzzra in San Francisco. Zachary! That seems to be a favorite among Z mongers. And, of course, I myself have since the day I emerged from the womb gone by the name of Zachary Zzptersczi.

So, you say to me, what’s in a name? Well, I’ll tell you. Plenty. Yes siree, just like a Goldberg has a long nose and a Kwong has pale yellow skin, well, you just know a Smith is plain and a Szeuts is someone who’s always soaked with perspiration. And a Quacwda is short and fat and has a nasal twang like a duck, while someone who goes by the name of Zebra is lean and well-muscled and exhibits a preference for striped shirts decorated in monochromatic tones. And what of Zzptersczi? Well, a Zzptersczi is angry! Mad! Bitter! Anyway you cut it, I imagine you get the message — that I’m more than just a little bit fed up. So, you say I’m some sort of crazy? That I’ve got one of those persecution complexes, and that I’m just some fucking crazy paranoid who’s shooting off at the mouth. Because you figure that people whose names begin with the letter A also have a right to complain. After all, if you’re always the first one picked, some of things you get grabbed for aren’t exactly always going to be too terrific. Okay, I’ll concede there’s something to that, but take it from me, in the long run it’s a hell of a lot better to be an A than a Z — that the guys who really get screwed are the Xs the Ys and the Zs. But especially the Zs! Why, not more than six months ago when the good old U.S. government was mailing out income tax refunds, and that big old computer in Washington that was spitting out a couple of thousand checks a day went on the fritz, just who do you think it was at end of the list who had to wait an extra 96 days to get his check mailed out? Yes siree, good old Mr. And Mrs. Z! They were the poor bastards who had to do without all those goodies they’d planned on getting with all that extra cash. As for me, I had to put off a root canal and because of it I lost a couple of teeth, and now because of that it seems I need a bridge that’s going to cost me four times as much as the root canal would have. But the clincher, the absolute fucking clincher was the way the alphabet killed my daddy. All of you must remember those recall notices about a certain make of car, the name of which most definitely doesn’t begin with the letter Z. Something about the brake lines disintegrating in the hot weather. Now, my old man owned one of those cars, and since he was a dumb, uninformed, pig-headed fool who didn’t bother to read the papers or catch the news on the radio or the tube, he sure as hell couldn’t have known that by August his brakes were shot to shit. Naturally, Zachary senior didn’t get his recall notice until last week, because, naturally, as always, the notices had been mailed out in alphabetical order. The only problem was that dear old dad had been dead and buried for a good month and a half by the time the mailman finally arrived. Brake failure for X, Y, and Z, but not for A, B, and C. So, there you have it! That’s the way it is. And that’s why I’m holed up in George Washington’s Monument with a satchel filled with fifty pounds of TNT. And that’s why if you don’t do what I tell you to do I’m going to blow away George’s fucking monument along with some thirty triple A offices in which I’ve planted a bunch of atomic bombs. Why AAA? Because I absolutely hate, despise, and abhor any organism or entity which happens to be identified by a word that begins with the first letter of the alphabet.

And now for my demands. For beginners, I want a national holiday named after someone whose name begins with Z. And you’re going to build a monument in Washington just like George’s and Abraham’s and Thomas’ for that soon to be infamous Mr. Z. And within two years I want one thousand new words added to the English language that begin with, you guessed it, the letter Z. And for at least the next 100 years I figure you should turn around the letters of the alphabet so as to give us Z people a chance to be first. And lastly, I want free psychoanalysis for every man, woman, and child whose name begins with the letter Z, and because of that happen to be suffering from the worst neurosis of modern times — Z anxiety!

And, by the by, when you decide that it just isn’t cricket to give into some nut like me right away and you want to spend a little time negotiating, don’t fucking patronize me and send some cop up here whose name begins with Z. Also, if you happened to get lucky and have one of your sharpshooters put a bullet through my brain, don’t send some Father Z up to give me the last rites of the church.

Well, now you have it. Those are my demands! Take them or leave them! Oh yes, there is one more little thing I want. One zillion dollars!



David Sheskin is a writer and artist whose work has been published in numerous magazines including The Dalhousie Review, Quarterly West, The Satirist and Shenandoah. Among his recent books are David Sheskin’s Cabinet of Curiosities and Outrageous Wedding Announcements. David recommends contributing to any organization that promotes the welfare of abandoned and abused animals.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Wednesday, June 7, 2023 - 20:35