Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What's in a Name?

With a last name like “Kazmierczak,” I thought I was pretty safe. I don’t envy the Bundys or the Dahmers of the world. At what point does a kid realize he shares a last name with one of the world’s most renowned serial killers? You’d practically have to follow every personal introduction with a disclaimer: “Hi, I’m Joe Menendez. No relation.” I’m sure Ted wasn’t the only Kaczynski. So, believe me, Steven isn’t the only Kazmierczak.

“There are a lot of Kazmierczaks,” my mother insisted when I called to see if she’d heard the news.

“Yeah, in Poland,” I replied. “Not wandering the streets of Chicago with a couple of automatic weapons.”

I suppose we Kazmierczaks can take some consolation in our name’s high potential for mispronunciation. Sure, Steven and I share the same last name via spelling, but no one will ever pronounce it the same way twice. I’m an avid talk radio listener, and I’ve heard reporters pronounce the name a different way every half hour for two hours straight. I’ve grown up with “kaz-meer-zak,” but, with Steven, folks tend to prefer “kaz-meer-chek,” which obviously boasts a much more sinister, foreign hard consonant sound. Such a pronunciation demands the clenching of the jaw, the curling of the lip, the possibility of a disdainful spray of spit. This “Kazmierchek” could be a Russian spy, a James Bond villain.

He isn’t. At best, Steven was a victim of depression and psychiatric medicine, neither of which can justify his murderous actions. At worst, Steven was a two-faced killer who was able to elicit his girlfriend’s sympathy one day then slaughter a bevy of innocents the next. He played the saxophone. I don’t know why reports include this detail. I’d rather not know what Steven did in his free time. I need to picture him as a gun-toting loser so I can make some sense of what he did. When you tell me he played the sax, or liked Lost, or went mountain-biking once a month, I start to wonder how far I am -- any of us are -- from becoming another name associated with tragic, violent death.

Alas, some of us already have that name. Now we’re wondering what to do with it. Should we embrace some Jungian inclination to clear it? Every time a telemarketer calls and begins his pitch with, “Can I speak to Mr. Kazmier -- oh, uhm, Kazmierchek,” should I promptly respond, “I’m not related to Steven Kazmierczak and I work with children!” Does every Bundy feel compelled to live their lives definitively unTed-like, and, just to be safe, unAl-like, too? Or is it just me?

You know the old saying. “Would a rose smell any sweeter if it were called by another name?” Well, if the one rose you stumble across stinks, I think you’d steer clear of them altogether, at least for awhile. Maybe that would be best. For my own safety.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Just wanted to let you know I have been enjoying your blog. It makes me laugh, and that's always a good thing. Keep it up and I hope we can see you guys again the next time you come through AZ.