He could be impish, he could be sweet and sometimes he could be downright irritating.
But even in those moments when he would try your patience, you couldn’t help but smile afterward.
I remember my first tour of duty at the local newspaper. He learned where I lived and on a Saturday morning minding my own business I was taking a shower.
Then I didn’t think much about locking doors.
As I’m enjoying the warmth of my shower, I hear a voice with a little bit of Swedish lilt say something like, “Time to turn on the cold water.”
At the time I lost it, told him in no kind way to get out of my place and learned to start locking the door.
Years later I think back to that moment and smile. That was him. That was ZZ. Whose fault was it? I’m the one who didn’t lock the doors and he, by happenstance, had figured out where I lived.
Now I sit back and think of the person we lost Sunday — someone who is as much of a local icon as Norma Rae, Rosemary Mill and, of course, that historic high school he loved so much.
There are too many stories to mention and many of you all have yours I’m sure.
In certain ways, he seemed ageless. Even then, unless you asked him, it was hard to figure out and I’m not one who cares about a person’s age.
But as the years progressed, I saw the toll age took on him. He was slower before the collision that put him in the hospital.
There was still that Swedish lilt when he would tell someone, “You look just like a Coach Buck,” or “Steak and baked potatoes and peanut butter bars at Lance Martin’s house.”
Somethings never change and age probably changed us more than it changed it him. There was still that childlike innocence and that love for all things sports — especially those Yellow Jackets.
My friend Dave Buck, a former coach at both Chaloner and the high school, would still come to Roanoke Rapids for a haircut and lunch and when we would run into ZZ there was the same banter and a request for some Northern Nash gear.
Buck would come through and what he said for Monday’s article on ZZ’s death was true — he was so overcome with gratitude he was nearly in tears.
For the pest he could be sometimes, there was always that humanity, that pathos, that understanding when you were under deadline you had to leave.
I wasn’t always happy about the way those in charge sometimes dealt with him on deadline — thought it was a way to show they were in power when a simple “come back later” would have been sufficient.
Unfazed, ZZ would go about his rounds like the unofficial mayor of Roanoke Rapids, greeting business owners, maybe asking for a soda or nabs, talking to people, pulling the old steak and baked potatoes line sometimes on complete strangers, or people I thought were strangers — who really knows.
I believe the last time I saw him was in Carini’s. Me and my friends joked with him as usual and if I’m not mistaken there were some city cops in there telling him to be careful on the tricycle he was now riding.
The crash which put him the hospital happened three days before the ordeal which put me in the hospital and I lost touch with all things news-related for a week.
I would ask after I got out and didn’t really know which way to turn. HIPAA laws make it difficult these days to even get a condition update.
He had been in Rocky Mount and when I asked someone about going with me to see him, he was no longer there, but what I would learn Monday was he was in High Point.
Monday was a revelation to me. There were things I suspected about ZZ — some of them obvious but some he kept beneath a thin veil of steak and baked potatoes and you look just like a Lance Martin.
Reverend Joe Sandoval Monday explained that side with more clarity — the worry ZZ had living with aging parents, the love he had for his mom. The interview painted a more complete picture of a man, who despite his limitations was loved by this community even when he would threaten to turn the cold water on you while enjoying your shower.
Steak and baked potatoes with a side of humanity is what came to me Monday night.
Rest in peace, ZZ, and know you were loved and were and always will be an icon in Roanoke Rapids — Lance Martin