Sunday, June 23, 2019

"The Height of Folly"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Because I suffer from acrophobia, which is an irrational fear of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head, I would rather have a root canal while listening to a telemarketer than get up on the roof of my house, a two-story Colonial that could give a mountain goat nosebleeds.

But I got up there recently with a fearless young man who came over to give me an estimate for a new roof.

“I never realized I was petrified of heights until we bought this house and I had to clean the gutters every fall,” I told Anthony Amini, who owns the company that my wife, Sue, and I were considering for the job. “Even the word ‘fall’ makes me nervous.”

“You should have gotten gutter guards,” Anthony said.

“I did,” I replied. “Now I don’t have to get up on the roof anymore.”

“Except for today,” said Anthony, who agreed to my frankly stupid request to accompany him on a trip atop the Mount Everest of houses.

As Anthony put a ladder against the family room extension, which at one story has the lowest of our three roofs, I asked, “Are you afraid of heights?”

“No,” Anthony responded.

“Have you ever fallen off a roof?” I wanted to know.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” he said.

“What’s your secret?” I inquired.

“Don’t look down,” Anthony answered.

I didn’t even want to look up. But I had to as I began my ascent, which took so long that it could have been timed with a sundial.

“This isn’t so bad, is it?” Anthony said as I stood, knees shaking, next to our leaky skylight, which he said needed to be replaced.

“Skylights are great on sunny days,” I told him, “but otherwise, they’re floods waiting to happen.”

Even though we were only about 10 feet up, Anthony complimented me on my bravery after I was back on terra firma, a Latin term meaning “the place where you will be buried if you fall off the roof.”

But the coward in me came out, in pathetic whimpers, when I had to climb to the top of the house.

Remembering Anthony’s admonition not to look down, I stared into a second-story window and saw my reflection, which bore a frightening resemblance to the Edvard Munch painting “The Scream,” except with a mustache.

When I had reached the summit and surveyed my kingdom, which costs a king’s ransom in property taxes, I exclaimed, “Look, it’s the Great Wall of China!”

“That’s your fence,” Anthony noted.

He said our altitude was about 30 feet. It seemed like 30,000 feet. A plane flew past. I waved to the pilot.

“You’re doing great,” Anthony said as I stood stock-still, my feet straddling the crown of the roof, afraid to move. “You can join my crew. I’ll have you carry up shingles.”

“I may have to be carried down,” I stammered.

Then I noticed that my right sneaker was untied. Anthony bent down to lace it up, making a double knot.

“I’ve done it for my kids,” he said.

I slowly made my way back to the ladder and climbed down, only to climb up again, this time to the roof above the garage, kitchen and laundry room, a mere 18 feet high.

As he did on the other parts of the roof, Anthony took measurements and showed me what needed to be done.

Later, as Sue and I sat with Anthony in the kitchen, where he gave us a reasonable estimate, I said, “I just renewed my life insurance policy.”

“Looks like I’ll have to wait to collect,” said Sue.

“Your husband is very courageous,” Anthony told her.

“Coming from you,” I said with a sigh of relief, “that’s high praise.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 9, 2019

"Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
When it comes to dancing, I have two left feet, which makes it extremely difficult to buy shoes. If I were on “Dancing With the Stars,” the judges would all give me perfect scores — of zero. Len Goodman would add insult to injury by saying that only an injury could improve my dancing.

But take it from me, Dread Astaire: I know a winning performance when I see one. And I just happened to see one recently when I attended a dance recital starring my granddaughters, Chloe and Lilly.

They weren’t technically the stars because they were among a cast of dozens in a show whose theme was “The Wizard of Oz.” But they did stand out because they executed their routines perfectly.

Their grandfather, after his routine, would have been executed.

When I was a kid, I took dancing lessons at the Phil Jones School of Dance in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, but I was so bad that: (a) none of the girls wanted to be my partner and (b) the school closed.

My wife, Sue, and I took dancing lessons before the wedding of our older daughter, Katie, and her husband, Dave, but like cramming for a geometry test, I forgot everything as soon as the lessons were over. At the wedding, Sue and I did basic geometry by dancing in circles.

We didn’t even bother with dancing lessons before the wedding of our younger daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Guillaume, who are Chloe and Lilly’s mommy and daddy.

At the recital, which drew a large crowd, the girls wore colorful tutus.

I didn’t wear a tutu, which would have been tutu much for my family to bear. Besides, my outfit would have been ruined in the rain because I had to drop off Sue at the door and leave the car about half a mile away.

“I guess they don’t have ballet parking,” I said when we took our seats.

Everyone ignored me. And for good reason: The show was about to begin!

Shortly after the curtain went up, the little kids, including Lilly, who is 2 and a half, pranced out and formed a line. Lilly, dressed in blue with a bright red bow in her hair, was last but not least. She wiggled and sashayed, earning appreciative chuckles from the audience.

To the strains of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” the group exited stage left. Lilly clapped for herself. The crowd clapped back.

Not long afterward, another group, including Chloe, 6, came out. Each girl was carrying a giant peppermint lollipop. Chloe’s was as tall as she is. In her black and red outfit, she danced to the beat of — you guessed it — “Lollipop.”

“Lollipop, lollipop, oh, lolli, lolli, lolli, lollipop!” went the piped-in lyrics, over and over, filling my normally empty head.

Chloe and the other girls put their right feet out, then their left, bent over and jumped. It was all perfectly timed.

Applause filled the auditorium. It did so again as the troupe exited to “We’re Off the See the Wizard.” Chloe waved to the crowd. Everybody waved in return.

“That was great!” I gushed when the 90-minute show was over. “And Chloe and Lilly were fantastic.”

Befitting their new status as theater celebrities, the girls got flowers backstage and posed for pictures. The only thing they didn’t do was sign autographs, probably because nobody thought to bring crayons.

I can see them in a Broadway musical or the Joffrey Ballet. They might even be on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Or they could open their own school of dance. Their grandfather will be the first one to take lessons.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 26, 2019

"A Tale of Two Fridges"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
One man’s junk, as the saying goes, is not his wife’s treasure. That’s why she will tell him to haul it to the dump so there will be room for not one but two new refrigerators, which will keep his beer cold so he’ll have the strength to get rid of all that junk.

That was the messy situation in which I found myself after our 19-year-old kitchen refrigerator conked out. The auxiliary fridge, which was in the garage and was 21, making it legally old enough to consume my beer, was on life support. It was only a matter of time before it pulled the plug on itself.

So my wife, Sue, and I had to purchase a pair of fridges and clear space for their delivery. This meant getting rid of the junk that had accumulated in the garage since we moved into our house in 1998.

It included boxes of old newspapers and other stuff belonging to me, boxes of old ornaments and other stuff belonging to Sue, and boxes of old clothes and other stuff belonging to our adult daughters, Katie and Lauren, who moved out of the house during the administration of George W. Bush.

I loaded my SUV (shambles utility vehicle) and made three trips to the dump, where I met Chris, who manned the attendant booth.

“You have a lot of junk,” he said.

“I also have gas,” I told him through the open driver’s-side window.

“You should take something for it,” Chris said as he stepped back. “This place smells bad enough.”

“No, I mean I have cans of old gasoline,” I replied. “Where do they go?”

Chris pointed to a section behind the booth, then told me where to put my other stuff, such as paper, glass, paint, recyclables, clothing, metal, wood and household garbage.

“I’m getting rid of all this junk to make room for two new refrigerators,” I said. “My beer got warm, so I had to take drastic action.”

Chris sympathized because he owned a bar for 15 years and knows the importance of cold beer.

“My customers loved it,” said Chris, adding that he used to feed them Spam fries, which were made with the maligned luncheon meat. “My customers didn’t love them.”

Chris told me that Spam is popular in Hawaii because GIs brought cans of it there during World War II.

“My wife and I honeymooned in Hawaii,” I said.

“Did you have Spam?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “But I did have poi, which I washed down with Hawaiian beer.”

In a box of random junk, I found a Spam can that had been turned into a piggy bank. It contained 39 cents.

“Now my wife and I can afford to go back,” I told Chris.

But first I had to return home and await delivery of the refrigerators.

Jose and Mario took out the old kitchen fridge and replaced it with the new one. They did the same with the old and new ones in the garage, which had been cleared for passage.

“Do these refrigerators come with beer?” I asked.

“No, but it would be a good idea,” said Jose. “Sales would increase if refrigerators came with beer.”

“I’d offer you some,” I said, “but it’s warm.”

After Jose and Mario left, Sue stocked our two new fridges with food and I put in the beer, which was soon cold again.

I opened one and made a toast: “To running refrigerators and a clean garage. And a second honeymoon in Hawaii.”

“First,” Sue said, “we have to pay for the appliances.”

“I have 39 cents,” I told her.

“Good,” said Sue. “Buy yourself a can of Spam. It’ll go great with your beer.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 12, 2019

"My Four Decades of Lip Shtick"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a man who has sported a mustache for the past 40 years, following in the grand tradition of such hirsute heroes as Mark Twain, Groucho Marx and my late grandmother, it gives me great pleasure and a persistent itching sensation to announce that I was recently named Mustached American of the Day.

This honor was bestowed upon me by the American Mustache Institute, an esteemed organization that not only is dedicated to fighting discrimination against people with facial hair, but does not, technically, exist anymore.

“Congratulations on the 40th anniversary of your mustache!” AMI president Adam Causgrove said when I called to thank him for lowering the otherwise high standards of the institute, which ceased formal operations late last year but “will live forever in our hearts and on the internet.”

AMI, which Causgrove said is headquartered “in my bedroom” in Pittsburgh, will next year resurrect the International Mustache Hall of Fame, whose members include Theodore Roosevelt, Salvador Dali and Burt Reynolds.

“You could be eligible,” he told me, adding: “You don’t have to be dead to get in.”

But AMI no longer bestows the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award, which Causgrove won in 2012 and I came close to winning in 2010.

“That was an impressive showing,” said Causgrove, referring to my second-place finish, in which I received 80,000 votes, presumably from people who now suffer from RSI (Repetitive ’Stache Injury).

I lost by a whisker to a Florida firefighter named Brian Sheets but beat out such alleged celebrities as then-major league pitcher Carl Pavano, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten and entertainer Brandon Wardell, who was endorsed by model and actress Brooke Shields.

I was endorsed by my even more beautiful wife, Sue, who is the reason I have a mustache.

In 1979, a year after we were married, I had surgery for a deviated septum and afterward was swathed in bandages that covered my tender nose and naked upper lip. I bore a frightening resemblance to Boris Karloff in “The Mummy,” mainly because I was not yet “The Daddy.”

When the bandages came off, I had a chevron mustache, which does not, unfortunately, get me a discount at Chevron gas stations.

“I like it!” Sue exclaimed, politely not mentioning the rest of my face.

So I kept the lip rug, which I have been told by people with astigmatism makes me look like Tom Selleck, minus the talent, charisma and money.

“What a heartwarming story!” said Causgrove, 35, who works in corporate relations at Carnegie Mellon University and who for the past eight years has sported his award-winning handlebar mustache, which has the endorsement of his wife, Chelsea, whom he lovingly calls “the first lady of mustachery.”

In recognition of my four decades of mustachery, Causgrove issued a proclamation that read, in part:

“Jerry Zezima Ruby Anniversary of Acclaimed Mouthbrow

“WHEREAS, In the year 1979, a young Jerry Zezima embarked on a brave and noble journey into the sexually dynamic Mustached American lifestyle.

“WHEREAS, By embracing his facial foliage … Jerry has risen to the peaks of his profession in the Stamford, Connecticut-based humor columnist community …

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, Chief Executive of the American Mustache Institute, Dr. Adam Paul Causgrove, declare that through a rigorous review process, steeped in the science of nuclear mustacheology and augmented with fine American bourbon … the Honorable Mr. Jerry Zezima … is to be saluted, ogled, venerated and praised — in that particular order.”

“Thank you from the bottom of my mustache,” I told Causgrove. “For once in my life, I’m speechless.”

“I’m sure your wife would endorse that, too,” he said. “And she would agree that it’s not just lip service.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 28, 2019

"Date Night at the Diner"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
When it comes to life in the fast lane, my wife, Sue, and I are on the side of the road with a flat tire. That’s why we can’t make it to the airport to fly to some exotic locale like the Greek islands.

But on a recent Saturday night, we did the next best thing and drove to the hottest spot in a city that never wakes: the diner.

This one is owned by a very nice guy named Gus, who was born in Greece.

“Tell me when you want to go and I’ll tell you where to go,” Gus said.

“People are always telling me where to go,” I responded.

“I mean,” Gus clarified, “I’ll suggest the best places to visit when you and your wife go to Greece.”

“Greece is the word,” I said, doing him and everyone else in the place a big favor by not singing for my supper.

Instead, Sue and I ordered it from a menu with enough delicious selections to turn me into Zezima the Greek, even though I’m Italian and, according to a DNA test, Martian.

“Would you like anything to drink?” our waiter, Michael, asked pleasantly.

“I’ll have a Corona,” Sue replied.

“There’s no smoking in here,” I told her.

“Not a cigar,” Sue said with a sigh. “A beer.”

Michael dutifully wrote it down, then asked me, “And you, sir?”

“I’ll have a Blue Moon,” I said.

When Michael returned with our brews, I said, “We don’t go out too often. In fact,” I added, holding up my bottle, “it’s only once in a …”

“Blue moon!” Michael exclaimed with a laugh. “I got it!”

“Please,” Sue said. “Don’t encourage him.”

I couldn’t be discouraged from ordering a jumbo burger with bacon, fries, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, cole slaw and, the piece de resistance (I speak fluent Greek), a pickle.

“I’m really in a pickle now,” I told Michael, who laughed again (I think he wanted a generous tip, which he deserved) and took Sue’s order, which was the same as mine, minus the bacon.

“Date night at the diner,” she said with a smile after the burgers arrived. “Isn’t it romantic?”

“Umph, umph, umph,” I replied with a mouthful of food.

The burgers were cooked to perfection by Carlo, whom I later visited in the kitchen.

“My wife doesn’t like the way I cook burgers because they end up like hockey pucks,” I said.

“I don’t play hockey,” said Carlo, who added that his wife likes the way he cooks everything.

“Customers like it, too,” said a waitress named Margaret. “I’ve worked in places where I didn’t eat. The food here is fresh and delicious.”

That was evident by the gluttony of the family sitting next to us. Some of them ordered porterhouse steaks the size of anvils.

“That’s my favorite item on the menu,” Gus told me. “I could eat one every day.”

“So could I,” I said, “but I want to keep my boyish figure.”

When Sue and I were done, Michael, who is Gus’ nephew, returned and asked Sue if she wanted a doggy bag for the half-burger she couldn’t finish.

“Yes, please,” she said.

I had only a leaf of iceberg lettuce left.

“I don’t think I’ll take it home,” I said. “It could be dangerous.”

“Why?” asked Michael.

“Because,” I explained, “an iceberg sank the Titanic.”

He laughed again, earning a $10 tip for a meal that came to $32.

“You spare no expense for me, dear,” Sue said sweetly after I also paid for a baklava for her to take home.

“Let me know when you want to go to Greece,” Gus said.

“I will,” I replied. “And the next time we go out on a hot date, we’re coming back to the diner.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Bellying Up to the Genius Bar"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
If this column is being read by Apple CEO Tim Cook, known to a certain ubiquitous Twitter user as Tim Apple, it means two things:

1. He has way too much time on his hands.

2. He should acknowledge that I am a genius.

I attained this lofty status after I bought a new iMac and enlisted the services of Yash Sharma, who works in a nearby Apple store.

I went there because my previous iMac was 10 years old, slower than a tortoise with a broken leg and the technological equivalent of me: a geezer.

I took the new computer home and called Apple Support for help in setting it up because I was afraid I would plug it into the wrong outlet, hit “Control-Alt-Delete” and bring down the nation’s power grid.

Everything was fine except for the unfortunate fact that I couldn’t transfer data from my old computer to my new one. So I had to take both machines to the store.

“Are you backed up?” Yash asked.

“I had an upset stomach after dinner last night, but I’m feeling much better now,” I replied. “You’re getting a little personal, don’t you think?”

“No,” Yash said, very patiently. “I mean, do you have an external hard drive?”

“I have a hard drive, but it’s not external,” I said. “I didn’t want to put it outside. What if it rains?”

This, of course, was before I became a genius.

At 21, Yash has already achieved that designation, which qualifies him to help customers like me who otherwise would have to rely on their grandchildren for technical assistance.

“Sometimes with older computers, you have to reboot,” said Yash.

“My definition of rebooting,” I told him, “is to put your foot through the screen. We have a new computer system at work and the best thing I can say about it is that it makes the old one look good. Still,” I added, “I don’t think anybody ever ran through an office yelling, ‘The typewriters are down!’ ”

“Probably not,” Yash said. “So it’s a good thing you came to the Genius Bar.”

“Do you serve beer at this bar?” I asked.

“We don’t have a liquor license,” Yash replied.

“That’s too bad,” I said. “Since you’re 21, you could have a cold one with me.”

“After your computer problem is fixed,” he said, “you could go to another bar and celebrate.”

That was easier said than done because even Yash had trouble transferring the data, so he had to bypass the hard drive and hook both computers to each other so my information could go directly from the old one to the new one.

“This could take a while,” he told me.

The estimated time for completion was 8 hours and 49 minutes. The store closed in about an hour.

“You’ll have to leave them here overnight,” Yash said.

“It’ll be like a hospital stay,” I noted. “My machines will have a double room in the ICU: Intensive Computer Unit.”

“It usually costs $99 for this,” Yash said, “but we won’t charge you because you’ve already done $99 worth of work yourself.”

“I’m 65 years old and I haven’t done $99 worth of work in my whole life,” I said. “But thanks.”

I received a call the next morning to say that the operation was a success. When I picked up the computers after work, I said to Yash, “I’ve learned a lot from you. In fact, I feel like a genius.”

“Maybe you could work here,” he suggested.

“Tell that to Tim Cook,” I said. “And tell him to start serving beer at the Genius Bar. The first round is on him.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima