The other day I was signing up for a class at the local CUNY campus. This was a class in financial planning and I was looking forward to learning how rich people manage their money, just in case I get some one day.
As I added my name to the sign up sheet I took satisfaction in the notice at the top saying “Attendees will be admitted in alphabetical order.”
I've always felt pretty good about my position in the alphabetical scheme of things. My last name starts with D which is fine with me. Far enough from the A's to prevent me from having to sit right up front, yet, at 4 of 26, still in the respectable 85th percentile.
I can't imagine the pressure that must be felt by someone named, say, Aaron Aarne. Just think: no matter where you go, no matter what you do, you’re going to sit in the front row and when attendance is taken it's going to be your name they call first.
It makes me shudder.
As we started to line up to enter the lecture hall a young girl with a clipboard asked me to point out my name on the sign up sheet. When I did, she said “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to go to the back of the line.”
“What? No, look. I’m in the D’s.” I pointed frantically at the clipboard, then my heart sank.
Somehow, on the sign up sheet I had put my last name in the first name column, and my first name in the last name column. Worse yet I had speedily scrawled my first name so instead of "Jim" it looked like I had written "Zim".
"This is a mistake. My name starts with D," I sputtered.
"Yes, it does," she said patiently, "but we go by the last name, Mr. Zim."
"No, no, no. What happened is I put my first name ..."
"Hurry it up, Zee-boy," said a rather surly man standing behind me. "End of the line."
"But I..." I started to protest when a stoop shouldered, slightly built man with oily black hair and a pale complexion took my arm. "Don't bother arguin'", he said wearily. "Just come on back." He slowly shuffled me back to the end of the line.
"Zachary Z. Zygby." he introduced himself. The flickering florescent lighting cast a greenish tinge to his sallow skin.
"I'm Jim...” I began.
"Jim Zim?" he queried. "Interesting name."
"No, no, no. What happened was..." I began, and then gave up. Why bother? I had to face facts. I was in the Z ghetto.
"I guess you've been put at the end of a lot of lines, eh?" I asked.
"Enough." He sighed. "Enough to last a lifetime."
"Well," I said, philosophically, "at lease you haven’t given up. You keep going on even when you know the true sting of alphabetical bias."
“You must think I’m a fool.”
“Not at all”. I put an encouraging hand on his arm. "In fact, I think you deserve an 'A' for effort."