Thursday, August 25, 2016

"How to Bathe a Dog"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Over many years of living in a household where the fur frequently flies, I have learned that the best way to get rid of fleas, ticks and other pests, and to stop incessant scratching, is to bathe the itchy sufferer with a liberal application of special soap, rinse thoroughly and follow up with a treat.

It works on dogs, too.

My wife, Sue, whose grooming is impeccable, recently suggested that our granddog, Maggie, be given a bath. Maggie doesn’t have fleas, ticks or other pests. In fact, she is impeccably groomed herself. But she does have dry skin that causes her to do what people often tell me to do: go scratch.

So Sue thought it was time for a bath.

“Can’t I just take a shower?” I asked.

Sue sighed and said, “Hook up the hose outside and get the doggy shampoo.”

It’s a good thing we weren’t doing this in the bathroom because Maggie doesn’t like to be bathed. She’s totally unlike our late pooch, Lizzie, who loved being given the spa treatment. She’d just stand there, soaking it all in. After she was dried off and brushed, she’d go back inside and preen. Then she’d plop down and take a nap.

That is the difference between dogs and humans: After a bath or a shower, a person has to go to work to keep man’s best friend in the style to which he or she has become accustomed.

And we call dogs dumb animals.

To bathe a dog, you will need the aforementioned hose and shampoo, as well as a towel. That’s for the dog.

For you, there’s a much bigger list: three pairs of rubber gloves, a bathing suit (or, if it’s chilly, a raincoat), flip-flops (or galoshes), goggles, a shower cap, fishing waders or, depending on how much the dog shakes, rattles, rolls and otherwise dislikes the bath, scuba gear.

You’ll also need a collar and a leash. So will the dog.

Step 1: Put the collar on the dog, attach the leash and, with one hand, hold firmly. With your other hand, hold the hose. With your third hand, turn on the water. If you have an assistant, he can turn on the water. I was assisting Sue, so that was my job. Since dogs have four hands, you wonder why they just can’t bathe themselves.

Step 2: Wet the dog, being careful that the dog, in its excitement, doesn’t wet you. Then hold on to the leash for dear life because most dogs won’t like this and will pull you with such force that one arm will end up being six inches longer than the other one. If you have a mastiff, you may also be dragged for three blocks. It will hurt like hell if fences are involved.

Step 3: If the previous step goes well, apply the shampoo or soap and rub it into the dog’s coat. At this point, your fingers will pop through your first set of rubber gloves. Put on another pair and continue washing. Be sure to get behind the ears, around the haunches and along the tail. If you have a bulldog or a schnauzer, or if you are washing yourself, this last part will be unnecessary.

Step 4: Don your last pair of rubber gloves and rinse the dog off. Then stand back or the dog will shake enough water on you to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. At this point, fur will be all over your legs, feet and face, in your hair and wedged permanently under your fingernails.

Step 5: Dry off the dog with a bath towel.

Step 6: Burn the towel.

Step 7: Brush the dog to get off the rest of the loose fur. You will notice that the dog has dandruff. Ignore it and give the dog a treat.

Step 8: Give yourself a treat. A beer will do.

Step 9: Have another beer.

Step 10: Take a shower. Just like your dog did, you’ll need one.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Do the Ride Thing"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a geezer who has learned that life has its ups and downs, as well as its twists and turns, especially with small children who aren’t prone to motion sickness, I have often been taken for a ride.

That’s what happened recently when I took my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, to the Mattituck Strawberry Festival on Long Island, New York, and accompanied her on all the best kiddie rides.

This brought back fond if unnerving memories of the many times I took my daughters, Katie and Lauren, on roller coasters, Ferris wheels and other vertiginous vehicles designed to scramble brains, overturn stomachs and test the bladder retention of adults whose young companions were required to complete the physical and psychological damage by screaming directly into your ears and causing a lifetime of auditory damage before the white-knuckle experience was mercifully over.

As it turned out, I loved these rides even more than my daughters did.

We were regular (and sometimes irregular) visitors at the St. Leo’s Fair and the Annunciation Greek Festival, both in our hometown of Stamford, Connecticut; Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut; Lake Compounce Family Theme Park in Bristol, Connecticut; Playland in Rye, New York; Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey; and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

We never visited Disney World in Orlando, Florida, possibly because I didn’t want to get in line while the girls were in kindergarten and finally reach a ride after they would have graduated from high school.

Also, I wasn’t keen on the idea of having to take out a bank loan just to buy a day pass and then melting to death in the blazing heat.

That’s why the Strawberry Festival was so much fun: It was low-key and inexpensive.

As soon as I arrived with Chloe and her daddy, Guillaume, we scoped out the rides, some of which were tame and meant for younger kids like Chloe, and some of which were wild and meant for older kids like me.

I went on the tame ones with Chloe anyway.

We couldn’t find the Teacups (maybe because it wasn’t 4 o’clock), so we went to the Carousel, where Chloe shunned the horses (she won’t grow up to be an Olympic equestrian, I guess) and instead rode the bench (which I used to do in Little League).

First, Guillaume went with Chloe, then I did.

“Are you having fun, Sweetheart?” I asked as we went around and around and waved to Guillaume every time we passed by.

“Yes, Poppie,” Chloe answered, though I could tell she wanted to go on something a bit more exciting.

She’s too young (and short) to go on crazy rides like the Octopus and the Giant Swings, so we settled for the Wiggle Wurm, which not only proved, as every fisherman knows, that worms can’t spell, but was so cramped for adult riders that, as my knees rammed into my nostrils and my boxer shorts rode up into an area generally reserved for medical specialists, I could have been the lead singer for the Vienna Boys Choir.

It bounced and jounced along, swooping up, down and around at a speed that seemed excessive under the constrictive circumstances but probably wasn’t much greater than that of a car driven by a little old man creeping in the left lane with his turn signal on.

Finally, we went on the Fun Slide, which required Chloe and me to climb a set of stairs not appreciably shorter than those in the Empire State Building and then, settling onto a canvas bag, whoosh down at a speed that could have broken all existing records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

It was so much fun that we went three times.

Next year, Chloe will be old enough to go on some of the bigger rides. My heart, stomach and boxer shorts can’t wait.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Duke of Oil"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
It’s not every day that you get the oil changed in your car (in fact, it’s every 3,000 miles) and drive away feeling like you’ve just struck oil.

But that’s the way I felt recently when I spoke with Tony Didio, a service adviser at Hyundai 112 in Medford, New York, where my car routinely goes for oil changes, filter replacements and medical procedures such as open-hood surgery.

Tony is a car doctor who has prescriptions not only for a healthy vehicle (“If you can’t stop, those are the brakes”), but for a healthy lifestyle (“Never stand in front of a shooter at an archery range”).

Tony also is an archer who has a point.

“I’m right on target,” he told me.

“That pun made me quiver,” I responded. “Do you know what Custer wore at Little Bighorn?”

“What?” Tony said.

“An Arrow shirt,” I answered.

Since I don’t have a Pierce-Arrow, which stopped manufacturing automobiles a decade and a half before I was born, I asked Tony about my 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe.

“When you change the oil in my car,” I wondered, “do you use extra-virgin olive oil?”

“No,” Tony said. “I’d use that on pizza. But we don’t serve it here.”

Ironically, Tony began his automotive career at his father’s pizzeria in Plainview, New York.

“I was 12 when I started working there,” said Tony, who’s now 65. “But I was always interested in cars. I used to clean off the ones that came over on boats from Germany, so I switched from olive oil to motor oil.”

In 1971, Tony officially entered the car business when he went to work for a guy who was a mechanic for legendary race-car driver and designer Briggs Cunningham.

“Did you ever want to race in the Indy 500?” I asked.

“No,” said Tony. “But I’d have a better chance there than I would here. New York drivers are crazy.”

“You’re a New York driver,” I pointed out.

“Yes,” Tony acknowledged. “But I’m not crazy enough to ruin my car. Then I’d have to fix it.”

He’s had to fix plenty of other people’s cars in his 45 years in the business, during which he has learned that women know just as much about cars as men do. And they’re not as cheap.

“Like the guy whose brakes were worn down to the rotors, metal to metal, so I changed them,” Tony recalled. “The guy got all bent out of shape, just like his brakes, and insisted I put the old ones back in because he didn’t want to pay for new ones. Then he drove off. I was waiting for him to come back with a smashed front end because he couldn’t stop. I should have put him up on a lift and examined his head.”

Tony hasn’t repaired cars since he slipped on a patch of ice while carrying an engine and threw his back out.

“I threw it out, but nobody would take it,” Tony said with a deadpan expression, which he admitted is better than an oil-pan expression. “You have to have a sense of humor in this business,” he noted.

Tony, who loves to joke around with his customers, recalled the time a woman heard a ticking sound in her car and thought her husband had planted a bomb in it.

“I guess they weren’t getting along,” Tony said perceptively. “So I told her I was going to call 911. I kept her in suspense for about 10 minutes. Then I said, ‘I’m only kidding. There’s no bomb in the car.’ She was greatly relieved.”

Tony said people are always telling him that he should be a stand-up comic.

“I can’t stand up that long,” he said. “My feet get tired.”

But not too tired for this husband, father and soon-to-be grandfather to stand in the kitchen occasionally and, recalling the pizza days of his youth, make a delicious Italian dinner.

When I told Tony I’m not handy enough to be either a mechanic or a cook, he gave me the secret of his success: “If you just remember that motor oil goes in cars and olive oil goes on pizza, you’ll be OK.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Fat Cat on a Thin Roof"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
It has been said, probably by Andrew Lloyd Webber, that a cat has nine lives. If that’s true, it means the cats in our humble home had 36.

It also means I should win a Tony Award because my version of “Cats” ran even longer than Lloyd Webber’s, 27 years to his 18 and 9,855 daily performances to his measly 7,485.

Unfortunately, the show ended recently when Bernice, the last of our four flaky, friendly and frequently flummoxed felines, went to that big litter box in the sky.

My wife, Sue, and I got our first cat in 1989, when we bowed to the pressure of our daughters, Katie and Lauren, who were then 9 and 7 years old, respectively, and adopted Ramona, a little black and white cutie named for Ramona Quimby, the star of the Beverly Cleary children’s books.

Ramona’s claim to fame was that she made it into “Who’s Who of Animals,” even though, as it said in her entry, “An intelligence test pitting Ramona and a loaf of Wonder Bread proved inconclusive.”

Ramona went from aloof to affectionate in 1995, when we adopted a dog named Lizzie, who was so sweet and lovable that Ramona must have figured, if indeed she was capable of rational thought, that if she didn’t shape up, she would stop getting all the attention and lose her crown as the family princess.

That did not stop her, however, from eating the boiled chicken that was part of Lizzie’s diet. Lizzie, in turn, ate Ramona’s cat food.

In 1998, when we moved from Stamford, Connecticut, to Long Island, New York, I started getting strange calls at work.

“Meow,” purred the voice on the other end of the phone.

“Who is this?” I asked the first time it happened.

It was Lauren, who said she wanted a cat.

“You already have a cat,” I told her.

“I want a real cat,” Lauren insisted. “Ramona’s an idiot.”

Enter Kitty, another black and white cutie whose personality was the polar opposite of Ramona’s. She was Miss Congeniality and, at a year old, proved it by getting pregnant.

One of Kitty’s kitties was Bernice; another was Henry, the only other male in the house besides me, but since he was a mama’s boy who loved Sue and Lizzie exclusively, it didn’t even count.

Ramona, who turned out to be sweet and even smart in her own way, despite not getting along with the other three cats, lived to be almost 20. Henry, who was never the same after Lizzie passed away, was stricken with a sudden illness a year later and died at 12. Kitty died last year at 17.

That left Bernice, who was perhaps the quirkiest of them all.

While her mommy, Kitty, was a little bit of a thing, Bernice was the feline equivalent of the Goodyear Blimp. And she hated to be picked up, which was just as well because anyone who tried would have either gotten a hernia or been scratched to death.

This did not explain how Bernice, who was not appreciably smarter than Ramona, hoisted herself onto the roof of our two-story house. Practically every day, Sue and I would discover that Bernice was stuck up there and was meowing at a bedroom window.

We theorized that she climbed a nearby tree and dropped with a thud onto the roof, though we are still not sure how she did it considering the tree was a fair distance from the house and Bernice weighed about as much as a full-grown male orangutan.

The tree was old and starting to rot, so we had it taken down before both it and Bernice crashed through the roof. Perhaps not coincidentally, her climbing adventures abruptly ended.

But her quirkiness didn’t. She loved to be petted and would jump onto Sue or me while we were watching TV, purring contentedly during shows that were appropriately mindless.

Now she’s gone, the last of our four family felines, and it’s the end of an era. Like Ramona, Kitty and Henry before her, Bernice was the cat’s meow.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Chloe and Poppie's Excellent Adventure"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When it comes to writers who are famous for turning real-life adventures into literary gold, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway had nothing on me. That’s because their idea of adventure was to go rafting down the Mississippi, prospecting for gold, deep-sea fishing or big-game hunting.

These pitiful excursions are walks in the park compared to spending two full days with a toddler.

That’s what I did recently when I was in charge of watching my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, with whom I actually did go for a walk in the park and who has turned my life into one giddy adventure after another.

The latest one began at 8:15 on a sunny morning, when my wife, Sue, and I arrived at Chloe’s house, which later that day would become her old house because she and her mommy and daddy were moving into a new house. Sue’s job was to help coordinate a mission that turned out to be more complicated than the invasion of Normandy.

My job, for however long it took, was to watch Chloe. It took 11 hours. And the whole next day. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, I got off easy.

The first thing I did was to take Chloe to one of her favorite places: Dunkin’ Donuts.

“D!” Chloe exclaimed as she reached for the letter-shaped door handle. “For Dunkin’ Donuts!”

I stepped up to the counter and ordered a bag of Munchkins, which I shared with Chloe, and a cup of coffee, which I didn’t. Contrary to what the surgeon general might say, sugar and caffeine are absolutely essential for any geezer who is about to spend an entire day trying to keep up with an active child.

Next we went to Safari Adventure, which sounds like something Hemingway would go on but actually is a children’s recreation center that would have knocked even him for a loop. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations, although the new owners, Lindsey and Daniel, kindly gave Chloe a cup of ice cream with sprinkles on top.

It was 9:30 a.m. and already she had enough energy to power Manhattan. I figured she could burn it off at the playground. Instead, it almost burned me out.

For two hours, we ran around, going from slide to swing and back again. On the biggest slide, I took her up the stairs and hurried back down to catch her at the bottom. En route, I cracked my skull on a low-hanging bar that blessedly was made of plastic. If it had been steel, I would have bent it. If it was wood, I would have splintered it. Either way, I’d owe the playground a new slide.

Next we went to my house, where I made Chloe her favorite lunch, chicken nuggets, which I cooked in the oven without, somehow, burning the place down. Afterward, we went outside and spent the afternoon running around the yard. Then we came back in, where we ran around some more. I turned on Chloe’s favorite TV show, “Peppa Pig,” and caught my breath before making dinner (you guessed it: chicken nuggets) and playing with her until Sue came home.

That night, Chloe and I slept like babies.

The adventure continued the next day, when I set up her plastic pool outside and frolicked with her in the 6-inch-deep water. Then we ran under the sprinkler and, like Peppa Pig, jumped in muddy puddles. We also swung in my hammock, where I usually have a beer but refrained this time, even though I needed one because soon we were blowing bubbles and running around the yard again.

Around dinnertime, Chloe’s mommy and daddy came over to pick her up.

“Did you have fun with Poppie?” her mommy asked her.

“Yes!” Chloe chirped. “I had fun with Poppie!”

“Did you have fun, Poppie?” I was asked.

“Yes!” I chirped. “I had fun with Chloe!”

That night I slept like a baby again, outdoing Twain and Hemingway and dreaming of our next adventure.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"You Have to Hand It to Him"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Whenever my wife asks me to tidy up the bathroom, I feel like throwing in the towel because I could never get it to look as nice as the porcelain convenience at a place like the Waldorf Astoria.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I met a guy whose job is to throw in the towel in the porcelain convenience at you guessed it the Waldorf Astoria.

I recently attended a dinner at the famed New York City hotel, which is ritzy enough to rival the Ritz but does not, to my knowledge, serve Ritz crackers, at least not in the bathroom, where I went to answer the call of nature, which called collect.

As I was washing up (according to some people, I have been washed up for years), I was handed a towel by a gentleman dressed to the tens, which is even better than the nines. He was nattily attired (if we were in the ladies’ room, he would have been Natalie Attired) in a white, pleated, wing-collar shirt; a black, crisply tied bow tie; a neat black vest; sharply creased black pants, and shiny black shoes.

I, dressed to the sevens in a wrinkled gray suit, took the perfectly folded paper towel, which was embossed with the Waldorf logo, and dried my hands, though not before dripping water all over my dull black shoes.

“Would you like another towel, sir?” washroom attendant Alex Giannikouris asked politely.

“Thank you,” I replied as he handed me one. “Now I can shine my shoes.”

I also took a shine to Alex, who has worked at the Waldorf for 32 years and, judging from the many visitors who stopped in to get tidied up themselves, is even more popular than the celebrities who frequent the premises.

“Alex!” exclaimed one gentleman (we were, after all, in a room marked “Gentlemen,” which made me wonder what I was doing there). “Como esta?”

“Muy bien,” responded Alex, a native of Greece who speaks about half a dozen languages.

The two men carried on a brief conversation in Spanish, at the end of which Alex said, “Adios!”

Another man, tall, handsome and bedecked in a tuxedo, greeted Alex with a handshake after, of course, drying his hands on the towel Alex gave to him.

“Are you a regular?” I asked the visitor.

“What?” he replied indignantly.

“A regular,” I explained. “Not irregular.”

“Yes,” said the man, who seemed relieved. “I’ve known Alex for years. He’s a great guy.”

That was the consensus among the other visitors, one of whom spoke with Alex in French and another in Greek.

“I even know a little Korean,” Alex said, in perfect English.

Then he regaled me with stories of the celebrities who have stopped in to admire themselves in the mirror.

“The best,” Alex said, “was Frank Sinatra.”

“Did he do it his way?” I asked.

Alex smiled and said, “Yes. He was very nice and very generous. A big tipper.”

“How much money did he give you?” I wondered.

“I can’t say,” Alex replied. “The IRS might find out.”

At least Alex won’t get in trouble with the Social Security Administration. That’s because Bill Clinton, when he was president, signed Alex’s Social Security card. Alex pulled it out of his wallet and showed me the inscription: “To Alex: Thanks, Bill Clinton.”

“Are you going to vote for his wife?” I asked.

“I don’t talk politics in here,” said Alex, who was happy to talk about George Burns (“a funny guy”), Al Pacino (“he washed his face in the sink”) and Ingrid Bergman.

“Ingrid Bergman was in the men’s room?” I spluttered.

“No,” said Alex. “I saw her upstairs. She was very beautiful. One other time, I saw Pope John Paul II upstairs. As he walked past, he gave me a blessing.”

But Alex said he feels especially blessed to be married to Maria, his wife of 39 years.

“One woman for all that time? Why not?” Alex said with a broad smile.

“Do you show your appreciation by tidying up the bathroom at home?” I wondered.

“No, she does it,” admitted Alex, who leaves the tidying up at the Waldorf to a cleaning crew.

He and Maria have three grown children and two young grandchildren.

“I’m a grandpa, too,” I said. “My granddaughter calls me Poppie.”

“I’m called Papou, which is Greek for grandfather,” said Alex, who is 63 and plans to retire soon.

“I’ve had a good career at the Waldorf,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of nice people. But one of these days it will be time to go. And then,” he added, “I’ll really throw in the towel.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 3, 2016

"A Traffic Ticket Hits Home"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Today’s Ridiculous Banking Question is: What’s the faster way to lose your house: don’t pay the mortgage or don’t pay a traffic ticket?

If you don’t know the answer, you are probably living in your car.

That’s the lesson my wife, Sue, and I learned during a home refinancing odyssey that took three attempts in as many years and was almost ruined by, of all things, a red-light camera.

The first attempt failed because my credit score was considered more important than my pulse, which before the housing bubble burst was pretty much all you needed to qualify for a loan.

The second attempt failed because Sue and I committed the unpardonable sin of actually paying both our mortgage and our line of credit on time each month. We would have been better off if we had fallen hopelessly behind and blown the money in Atlantic City.

Praying the third time would be the charm, I went back to the bank and spoke with Kim Delman, a senior mortgage loan officer who is so nice, so smart and so good that she ought to run the Federal Reserve System.

Kim, who worked diligently with us in our first two attempts, was determined to see us succeed this time.

In trying to combine our mortgage, which was at another bank, and our line of credit, which was at Kim’s bank, I went through the Process From Hell: countless phone calls in which I had to listen carefully because the menu options had changed (restaurants change their menu options less often than the average company); give the last four digits of my Social Security number and my date of birth, just to prove I’m a geezer; and come up with yet another seemingly irrelevant thing the underwriter wanted, which surprisingly did not include my high school transcript or my underwear receipts.

Then came the clincher: After we shelled out $455 for an appraisal, which valued our house at $315,000, Kim informed us that we were in danger of being rejected yet again, this time for a three-year-old unpaid traffic ticket worth a grand total of $75.

“There’s a lien on your house,” Kim said.

“Nothing’s leaning on my house,” I replied. “Not even a ladder, because I’m afraid of heights.”

“You have to get this cleared up,” Kim warned, “or the bank won’t let you close.”

I was put in touch with Leticia Glenn-Jones, a very pleasant home services specialist (“a fancy title for processor,” she explained), who said the underwriter did, indeed, want this black mark off my criminal record.

“Let me get this straight: $75 is worth more than $315,000,” I said. “Is this the new math?”

“I’m afraid so,” Leticia said sympathetically.

It turned out that a red-light camera caught Sue going through, yes, a red light. She received a notice in the mail in 2013 but forgot about it until the underwriter kindly noted that if we didn’t pay up, we couldn’t close. Sue sent a check for $75, plus late fees, which brought the total to $105 and, at long last, allowed us to refinance.

“It happens more often than you think,” Kim said afterward. “It’s those red-light cameras. Since they were installed, there have been tons of cases like this.”

In 21 years at the bank, she has seen just about everything.

“You and Sue may have set the record for the longest time it took to refinance,” said Kim, adding that her most unusual customer was a guy who applied for a mortgage  in 1995 and, under assets, listed a cow.

“He said it was worth $500,” Kim said.

“Was he trying to milk the bank for money?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Kim. “But believe it or not, he qualified.”

“I guess he didn’t have any traffic tickets,” I said.

I thanked Kim for all her hard work and promised that Sue and I would keep up on our payments.

“From now on,” I said, “we’ll pay the mortgage online. After all, we don’t want to drive to the bank and risk losing our house by getting another ticket.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima