Thursday, April 17, 2014

"The Hole Truth"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I am not a Rhodes Scholar because I have holes in my head, but I recently became a roads scholar because I learned how to patch holes in a road despite being suspended after only 10 minutes on the job.

I earned my street smarts with the help of a terrific crew from the Brookhaven Highway Department on Long Island, N.Y., which kindly took me out on pothole patrol and allowed me to help smooth out a rough situation without once telling me that I was a pain in the asphalt.

That did not, however, prevent me from getting into hot water actually, it was oil, which is used on the equipment because I got off on the wrong foot by having the wrong footwear.

My day began at the town yard, where general foreman Dan Curtin assigned me to a crew that would perform pothole repair on a residential street in the hamlet of, appropriately enough, Rocky Point. Dan gave me a bright yellow vest, which was more stylish than my bland blue shirt and faded jeans, and a hard hat, which wasn’t as hard as my head but which I had to wear anyway.

I was introduced to road crew worker Billy Lattman, who showed me the hot box attached to the truck we would be riding in.

“It holds four tons of asphalt that’s heated to 290 degrees,” Billy explained.

“I guess it’s safer to think outside the box,” I said.

“You’re catching on already,” said Billy, who drove with me to Asphalt Supply of Long Island to pick up three tons of the stuff.

“This past winter was one of the worst ever,” said Billy, who has been working in the highway department for 13 years and also is a volunteer fire chief. “So there are a lot of potholes to fill. And some of them are pretty big. I saw one with a hubcap in it. Another one had a bumper in it. It made me wonder what happened to the rest of the car.”

“Do you have potholes on your street?” I asked.

“Yes,” Billy replied. “We haven’t gotten to them yet. My wife keeps asking when we’re going to fill them in. I told her that we don’t get any special treatment. But at least I’ve never lost a hubcap or a bumper in a pothole. I avoid them because I know where they are.”

When we got to the work site, a narrow residential street named Friendship Drive, I met the rest of the personable and hardworking crew: Rob Nolan, John O’Sullivan, Gary Grob Jr. and Mario Desena.

I also met Tony Gallino, chief deputy of the Brookhaven Highway Department, who took one look at my ratty sneakers and suspended me.

“Not even 10 minutes on the job and already you’re suspended,” Tony said, adding that I should have worn safety boots. “You’re lucky the union won’t let me fire you.”

But Tony did compliment me on my work, which entailed shoveling hot asphalt into the ruts and potholes that pocked the street, smoothing it out with a long metal rake and going over it with a roller.

“You’re doing OK,” said Tony. “Still, I wouldn’t quit my day job.”

I learned that the crew’s day job is pretty tough. But they perform it with professionalism and good humor.

“You guys have real camaraderie,” I said.

“That’s because you’re here,” Billy responded. “We’re on our best behavior.”

It’s a good thing I was, too, because at that very moment, Dan Losquadro, superintendent of highways, came by.

“I hear you’ve been doing a good job,” Dan told me.

“I don’t like to brag, but you see that spot?” I said, pointing to an area that I worked on. “I did that.”

“Very nice,” said Dan. “You are no longer suspended. I am reinstating you.”

“Thanks,” I said. “On the next job, maybe the crew can do something about the holes in my head.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 28, 2014

"A Twin-Win Situation"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In the year since my precious little granddaughter was born, during which time she has become smarter and more mature than I am, even though I am constantly telling her stupid jokes and acting more like an infant than she is, I have said that Chloe is twice as beautiful as any other baby in the world.

It turns out I am right. That’s because it took two babies to win the Gerber Photo Search, a nationwide contest sponsored by the infant and toddler food company. The latest competition, the fourth annual, drew 156,000 entries, including Chloe.

The winners are Levi and Paxton Strickland, 1-year-old identical twin brothers from Wernersville, Pa., who are, I must admit, adorable.

In a press release, Bernadette Tortorella, integrated marketing manager at Gerber, said, “There were so many entries that fit our criteria, but the judges were in awe of the Strickland twins,” adding: “Every baby is a Gerber baby.”

That includes Chloe, who likes to snack on Gerber Graduates Apple-Cinnamon Puffs.

But in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I called Levi and Paxton to congratulate them on winning the contest, which comes with a grand prize of $50,000 and the chance to appear in a Gerber advertisement.

The twins must have been busy playing, which is, at this point, their job, because their mother, Amanda, answered the phone.

“Winning the contest is very exciting,” Amanda said, “but the boys haven’t let it go to their heads.”

I found that out when I asked Amanda to put the phone to those two handsome heads, which are topped with light hair and dominated by big blue eyes and wide smiles.

“Here’s Levi,” said Amanda.

“Congratulations, Levi!” I said. “You’re a star.”

Levi was too modest to reply, but he must have been doing something funny because I heard giggles in the background.

“Paxton’s laughing,” Amanda explained. “He’s the laid-back one. Levi is our little jokester. He’s always making his brother crack up.”

“My granddaughter, Chloe, loves to laugh, too,” I said. “She has a great sense of humor. And she’s really smart. She gets that from her mommy and daddy, not me.”

“I bet the boys would like to meet her,” Amanda replied.

“Maybe we could set up a play date,” I said, adding that with the twins and her husband, Matt, Amanda is surrounded by guys. “It’s the opposite with me,” I noted. “My wife and I have two daughters and now there’s Chloe, so I’m surrounded by women.”

“The boys love their daddy,” Amanda said. “But I’m with them during the day and we have fun.”

Amanda, 24, has started a home-based business selling essential oils; Matt, 26, is the production manager for a technology company.

Amanda and I compared notes on the kids. Levi and Paxton, who were born on Matt’s birthday, are about a month older than Chloe, but all three are babbling (“I do that, too,” I admitted) and are about to take their first steps.

“Time for the grown-ups to buy track shoes,” I said, adding that the prize money could pay for a lot of them.

“That’s going into the boys’ college fund,” said Amanda.

“Save some of it to buy them track shoes, too,” I said. “It could lead to college scholarships. The prize money is nice, but it won’t cover everything.”

As for being in a Gerber ad or doing personal appearances, nothing as been set up yet, said Amanda, adding: “The boys would like it.”

“If they can’t make it to an appearance, Chloe could fill in,” I suggested.

“I’m sure she would be great,” said Amanda.

“Congratulations again to Levi and Paxton,” I said.

“The twins appreciate your call,” Amanda said. “And they send their love to Chloe.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Pun and Only"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a guy who has always loved puns, and has been known to use as many as 10 at a time (even if they don’t work, I can say, “No pun in 10 did”), I had long looked for a venue where my wordplay would be ear relevant.

That’s why I was happy as a clam, I will admit for shellfish reasons, to find out about Punderdome 3000, a monthly contest for people who have grown to love puns and audience members who have groaned to hear them.

Punderdome is the brainchild of entrepreneurial comic Fred Firestone and his real child, funny daughter Jo, who together, if you consider their surname, are two tires, though fortunately they are not too tired to put on a great show.

The latest one was held, as usual, at Littlefield, a fabulous performance and art space in Brooklyn, N.Y., where a tree grows because, of course, everything happens in trees.

I signed up, showed up and found myself in a crowd of about 400 young, happy and friendly people who were so eclectic that they must have paid the eclectic bill and so hip that I, clearly the oldest among them, figured I’d need a hip replacement.

I also was one of 17 contestants, who included individuals and two-person teams, which brought the total number of participants to about two dozen if you add them up, though you shouldn’t divide them, especially if you are division-impaired.

When I registered with Jo in the Littlefield lobby, I had to pick a punny nickname, so I selected JZ because, I said initially, “They’re my initials.”

Fred and Jo took the stage (and gave it back) to explain the rules: Contestants would be given a topic and have a minute and a half to prepare. They would then be called up to a microphone and have two minutes to be off and punning.

Their scores would be registered on a “human clap-o-meter,” on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), based on the reaction of the crowd.

The first round was divided into three parts. My group, composed of six contestants, went last. The topic: sea creatures.

After the first contestant went, I stepped up to the microphone and said, “Before we started, he and I decided to swap puns. It was a squid pro quo.”

The crowd went wild. “Your applause is so loud,” I continued, holding my hand to my head, “I have a haddock.”

I rattled off a stream of sea-creature puns. As my two minutes ended, I said, “Everything I said up here was on porpoise.”

I got thunderous applause that registered at 9.5 and, along with two other punsters in my group, made the first cut.

The second round’s topic: yoga. Since I don’t do yoga, it was, I said, “a stretch,” but after saying that the practice was invented by a famous baseball player, “Yoga Berra,” I scored a 10 and went on, with three other contestants, to the semifinals.

The topic: the names of people you went to high school with.

I said I went to high school so long ago that many of the boys in my class became Founding Fathers. “Then there was the guy who became big in coffee: Joe. And the girl who became a lawyer: Sue.”

I ended by saying that I went to college at Pun State.

My score: 10. I was in the finals! It was me against One-Two Punch, a team of two bright and funny young guys, Dylan DePice, 26, and Noah Berg, 24. There was no preparation time. We would stand at separate microphones and, for four minutes, volley puns. The topic: babies.

“My little granddaughter is so smart, she’s studying Shakespeare,” I began. “The other day I heard her say, ‘To pee or not to pee, that is the question.’”

This gave birth to a series of infantile comments (“We’re in a womb with a view”) that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

My score: 10. I won! I was Punderdome champ.

My prize: a chocolate fountain and fondue maker. I brought it home to my wife, who has had to put up with my puns all these years. It was the least I could fondue.
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, February 28, 2014

"The Lord of the Rungs"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have never climbed the corporate ladder because I have acrophobia, which is an irrational fear of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head.

But business must be booming for millions of guys who aren’t afraid of climbing to the tops of houses like mine, a two-story Colonial that could give a mountain goat nosebleeds, because I have noticed that most of the trucks and vans on the road these days have ladders on them.

The economy may be down, but ladder sales seem to be up. My buddy Tim Lovelette has a theory about the rise of the ladder industry.

“Everyone has at least one ladder, which lasts for eternity, and everyone dies,” Tim explained. “At the point of death, these ladders need to find their way to new owners. That’s one of the big reasons for yard sales. Yet, hardware stores worldwide continue to sell new ladders. There has to be a point in time where ladders will outnumber people.”

Tim suggested that the world is “ladder happy” and said we must be approaching the point where we can’t even give ladders away.

“Considering that we have more ladders than are needed, there must be some sort of secret ladder subsidy buried in legislation somewhere that supports the manufacture of new ladders,” Tim said. “Perhaps it’s coupled with our foreign aid programs. Are we dumping ladders on Third World countries simply to support new ladder manufacture here? If that’s the case, we’re really headed for trouble. In a global ladder race, the Chinese will beat us every time. We’ll have developing nations full of starving people and ladders.”

Tim acknowledged that he has a philosophical bent because he majored in philosophy at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., where he and I were in the notorious class of 1975. He also said that, like me, he has a great fear of heights.

“I think that’s the reason I didn’t attain the lofty distinction of graduating magna cum ladder,” Tim said. “I was a step down at cum ladder.”

The last time Tim was on a ladder, he said, was in 1974.

“Jane and I were just married and living for the summer in a rental house on Cape Cod,” said Tim, a Massachusetts native who married his high school sweetheart in junior year of college. “A friend of mine gave me a television antenna. Yep, it was the Dark Ages: No cable. In any event, I got to this little ranch-style house, set up the ladder and installed the antenna on the roof. Now comes the good part: I couldn’t get off the roof. I was on that roof for well over two hours before I could muster the courage to get back on the ladder. I could have jumped off the roof and not injured myself, it was that low. It was at that point that I gave up my lifelong ambition to be Batman.”

Tim added that he doesn’t know where he got the ladder.

“Outside of a stepladder, I don’t own one,” he said. “But don’t mention that to anyone. I’m afraid people will find out and start dumping their excess ladders on me.”

That would be the second-worst thing that could happen to Tim, or to me, or to anyone with a fear of heights.

The worst thing, according to Tim, would be a home improvement Armageddon.

“I had been satisfied with thinking about how the world will end,” Tim said. “It was the old question: Will it end by fire or ice? I guess the answer was right in front of my face and I was blind to it. I’ll be a son of a gun if God didn’t orchestrate the whole thing back when the universe was created. The world will end in ladders.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Mighty Jerry Has Struck Out"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If you don’t see me in spring training, hitting baseballs over the fence and signing autographs for adoring fans, it will be because I was recently on steroids, which unfortunately did nothing to help me hit baseballs over the fence and explains why nobody wants my autograph.

My dream of making it to the big leagues began when a sore throat put me on the disabled list. So I went to Stat-Health, a walk-in clinic in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., and sat down with enough people to fill the bleachers at a spring training game. All that was missing was a guy selling beer, which would have helped my throat considerably.

Instead, I saw the next best person, Dr. Richard Goldstein, who looked at my throat and said, “It’s really inflamed. I am going to give you a strep test.”

“Strip?” I asked, indicating that my ears were affected, too. “You mean I have to take my clothes off?”

“No,” said Dr. Goldstein. “I am going to take a culture.”

“The only culture I have comes from yogurt,” I informed him, adding that my throat was so sore that I almost couldn’t talk, gratifying my family and friends.

“You don’t have strep,” Dr. Goldstein said when the test results came back a few minutes later.

“I guess it’s true that when it comes to being sick, men are babies,” I said.

“Yes, we are,” Dr. Goldstein acknowledged. “But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. It’s part of our doctor-patient confidentiality. Still, I want to get rid of the inflammation in your throat, so I am going to prescribe steroids.”

“There goes my baseball career,” I told Dr. Goldstein, who also prescribed antibiotics, which I had to take after I finished the steroids.

I was on steroids for six days. I didn’t feel any stronger, maybe because my idea of weightlifting is doing 12-ounce curls, but I wondered if the steroids could help me hit a baseball, something I hadn’t done with any regularity since Little League. And even then, half a century ago, I was terrible.

To find out, I went to Matt Guiliano’s Play Like a Pro, an indoor hitting and pitching facility in Hauppauge, N.Y.

One of the staffers, Chris Ingram, 20, who has played college ball as a pitcher and an outfielder at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and hopes to make it to the big leagues, led me to a batting cage.

“I don’t think the steroids you’re taking are the same ones that guys like Alex Rodriguez have used,” said Ingram, who added that he has never taken them and never would.

“Cheaters shouldn’t prosper, which is why I don’t want to be like A-Rod,” I said, noting that I would be known as J-Zez. “But I wouldn’t mind having his bank account.”

After I picked out a bat and put on a helmet, Ingram asked, “Do you want me to set the pitching machine on fast, medium or slow?”

“What’s slow?” I replied.

“Forty-five miles per hour,” said Ingram, pointing out that the speed is about half of what the average major-league pitcher throws.

“Let’s go slow,” I said, stepping up to the plate and waiting for the first pitch, which whizzed past me before I was even halfway through my swing.

Except for a couple of foul balls, I hit only one of 16 pitches. And it wouldn’t have come close to being a home run.

“Maybe a grounder to short,” Ingram said.

For the next batch of pitches, I tried batting from the left side. I had a more natural swing, Ingram said, but it didn’t help because I whiffed on all but one, which I fouled off.

“The steroids didn’t work,” I said afterward.

“How’s your throat?” Ingram asked.

“Much better,” I replied. “The soreness is gone.”

“Then they did work,” he said.

“Now I can go to spring training,” I said. “If I can afford a ticket, I’ll sit in the bleachers.”


Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, January 31, 2014

"Say It Ain't Snow"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Because I am a flake, and have been perpetrating snow jobs my whole life, I appreciate the wonders of winter.

The two things I wonder most about winter are: Why do some people throw away their snow shovels every year and have to buy new ones? And why do these same people go to the supermarket when a snowstorm is forecast to buy bread and milk when they never eat and drink those things when it doesn’t snow?

I got some insight before a recent snowstorm from Chris, who works at a nearby home improvement store.

“Do you have a snow blower?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “but it doesn’t work. It did work until we had a blizzard a few years ago, then it conked out. When I had it tuned up the following year, we didn’t have any snow. Last year it worked fine. Now it’s on the fritz again.”

“Do you have gas?” Chris asked.

“You’re getting a little personal, don’t you think?” I said.

“I mean, did you put fresh gas in your snow blower?” Chris clarified. “Stale gas left over from last year can cause it to stall. You have to mix the new gas with oil.”

“Do you have a snow blower?” I inquired.

“No,” Chris admitted. “I have a 2-year-old, and it was either buy a snow blower or pay for day care. So I bought a manual snow blower.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A shovel,” Chris responded.

“How come, whenever it snows, people rush to a store like this to buy shovels?” I wondered. “Do they throw their snow shovels away at the end of winter and have to get new ones the following year?”

“I think they keep their shovels, but they put them in the shed and can’t find them the next time it snows,” Chris theorized. “The shovels move to the back of the shed and hide. Sometimes it happens in the garage. I think they have a union, and they have meetings where they decide how to outwit their owners and drive them crazy. The humans can’t find the snow shovels, so they come here to buy new ones. It is,” Chris added with a smile, “good for business.”

At this moment, my wife, Sue, came by.

“There you are,” she said to me. “I couldn’t find him,” Sue said to Chris. “He’s always getting lost.”

“I can’t help you there,” said Chris. “But husbands are often told to get lost, so we’re just following orders.”

“We should buy a snow shovel,” said Sue.

“We already have one,” I noted.

“Do you know where it is?” Chris asked me.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s in the garage. I wedged it against the door so it couldn’t hide.”

Sue said we should get a second shovel. Then she said we should hurry up because she had to go to the supermarket to pick up some groceries before the snow started to fall.

“I hope you don’t mean bread and milk,” I said.

“No,” Sue said. “We already have them.”

“Why,” I asked Chris, “do some people always rush out to buy bread and milk before it snows? If you go to their houses on a nice summer day, you’ll never find them sitting at the kitchen table, eating bread and drinking milk.”

“I don’t know,” said Chris. “I would think that before it snows, you’d want to buy beer. Or at least hot chocolate.”

“Thanks for your help,” I said to Chris before we headed for the checkout counter.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Make sure you put your new shovel in a place where it can’t get away. And don’t get lost yourself. After all, you’re the one who’ll have to get rid of the snow.”

Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, January 17, 2014

"The Big 6-Oh"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

According to an age-old maxim that has never appeared in Maxim, the racy men’s magazine whose target audience is not exactly geezers like me, age is relative, especially if you have old relatives.

I am one of the oldest relatives in my family, not counting those who are dead, and recently proved it by reaching the ripe old age of 60. In fact, I was so ripe that I had to take a shower.

Because I have passed this milestone, which is better than passing a kidney stone, I am offering some pearls of wisdom to all you people who are younger than I am, which these days is just about everybody. Those few who are actually older either don’t need my wisdom or do but will promptly forget it.

Here is the first pearl, which I got at a pawnshop: Wisdom comes too late in life to be useful to you and is best passed on to your children, who aren’t wise enough to realize that you finally know what you’re talking about.

As my children will swear, and not even under oath, I have never known what I was talking about, so what’s the point in starting now?

A lot of people my age say they don’t want to be a burden to their children. Not me. Being a burden is my goal.

Fortunately, my kids don’t have to worry just yet because 60 is the new 50. Or maybe even the new 40. At least that’s what baby boomers believe. As a boomer who is bad at math (and has the checkbook to prove it), I think this makes perfect sense.

I have had people tell me (because I have asked them to) that I don’t look 60. Each time, I have responded: “You mean I look even older? I must be having a bad face day.”

These people will invariably smile and say, “No, you look younger.” Then they will make some lame excuse about being late for a root canal and walk swiftly away.

Still, this is the best time of life because you can do everything you have always done, but if there is something you don’t want to do, you can pull the age card.

“I don’t think I should be shoveling snow anymore,” you might say to no one in particular, because no one in particular will listen to you.

Or, “I don’t think I should be lugging furniture anymore.”

Or, “I do think I should be lying in a hammock with a beer.”

This last one may not work, especially on a nice summer day when you really ought to be doing something that won’t give you a heart attack, like cutting the grass, but it’s worth trying anyway.

Here’s another pearl: Exercise and health food will kill you. Eat what you want because at some point in your life, someone will discover that the supposedly good things you have been eating for so long are now bad for you and that the bad things are really pretty good after all. And for God’s sake, don’t take up running because you will be hit by a car driven by either a young maniac who is texting or a little old man who can’t see over the steering wheel.

Speaking of driving, you can’t do it if you don’t know where you put your car keys. Check your right pocket. If they’re not there, look on the kitchen counter.

Here is the last pearl, which I plan to give to my wife before the cops find out it’s missing: Never grow up. I have lived so long because I am shockingly immature, which makes me feel young.

My wife, who is the same age and is as beautiful as ever, is the real reason for my longevity. If it weren’t for her, I would be either dead or in prison.

So enjoy life, fellow sexagenarians, don’t forget where you put your car keys and know that there are plenty of good times ahead.

Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima