Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Isn't It Organic?"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Whenever I go food shopping, which is once in a blue moon, at which time I head directly to the beer aisle so I can buy a six-pack of Blue Moon, I accompany my wife, Sue, who clips coupons, knows what’s on sale and always carries a circular. This baffles me because circulars are rectangular, which is the admittedly feeble excuse I use for rarely going to the supermarket.

But I recently got a crash course in food shopping — the crash occurred when I hit another shopper’s cart with the one I was pushing — from Christine D’Angelo, a certified nutritional counselor.

I won a raffle for a free grocery excursion with Christine, who met me and Sue on a weekday evening after work at the store where Sue does her food shopping.

With Sue holding a rectangular circular and me pushing the cart, which in accordance with federal law had four wheels that all went in different directions, we set off with Christine, who brought budget shopping tips and a weekly meal plan for Sue and a Groucho Marx mask for me.

“Does this mean I have to buy animal crackers and duck soup?” I asked Christine, who should have gone with Harpo, the Marx Brother who didn’t talk.

I put the mask in the cart and we headed up the first aisle, where Christine gave us her top tip: “Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry.”

“I haven’t had dinner yet,” I said. “Would you mind if I nibble while we shop?”

“No, but you’ll have to pay for whatever you eat,” said Christine, who was on the last day of her three-day bone broth diet. “It cleans you out,” she explained. “No solid foods, only liquids.”

“I could do that with beer,” I said.

“Beer builds bodies,” acknowledged Christine, adding that women sometimes use it as shampoo. “We like it on our heads.”

“I don’t shampoo with beer,” I said, “but it goes to my head, too.”

Christine’s second tip: “Buy in bulk.”

“If you buy too much food,” I pointed out, “you’ll end up being bulky.”

“Now you know why I don’t take him grocery shopping too often,” Sue said to Christine, who nodded sympathetically. Then she extolled the virtues of a Mediterranean diet because it saves money.

“How could it save money,” I wondered, “when you’d have to travel to Italy every day?”

Christine, wisely ignoring the remark, continued: “Consider eating more natural foods. Go organic. We’re not made for synthetics.”

“I know,” I said. “Polyester is kind of chewy.”

“I like greens,” Sue said.

“That’s good,” Christine replied.

“Sue’s even married to a vegetable,” I noted.

Christine did not disagree. Instead, she gave us more tips: Buy seasonal produce, buy only what’s on your list, look for store brands.

“And,” she said, “look on the lowest shelf because food at eye level is the highest-priced.”

“What if I bent over and couldn’t straighten up?” I wondered.

“Then you’d save money every time you went shopping,” said Christine, who walked us through the condiment aisle and talked about the benefits of olive oil.

“You know who loves olive oil?” I asked.

“Popeye!” chirped Christine, referring to the sailor man’s girlfriend, Olive Oyl.

“Very good,” I said. “I’m impressed.”

I was even more impressed when Christine also talked about the benefits of organic beer.

“American beer contains ingredients that aren’t allowed in Europe,” she said, suggesting I try Spaten Optimator, a German brew. “You could be the terminator of the Optimator,” Christine said.

I put a six-pack in the cart and said, “It’s good to know I’ll not only be eating healthy, but drinking healthy, too.”

“You could even be shampooing healthy,” Christine said as she walked Sue and me to the checkout.

“Thank you,” said Sue, who already was an educated food shopper but appreciated Christine’s tips, expertise and, especially, patience in putting up with my stupid jokes.

“Tomorrow, when you come off your bone broth diet, you should have some organic beer,” I told Christine.

“Good idea,” she replied. “After shopping with you, I think I need it.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Worth the Weight"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
As a 175-pound weakling whose idea of lifting weights is doing 12-ounce curls, I had always vowed that I would never go to any gym that wasn’t situated next to a bar.

I recently found such an unlikely combination when I won a one-day trial membership to Blink Fitness, which has gyms in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California.

Because going to the West Coast would entail hopping on a plane, a form of exercise frowned upon by the Federal Aviation Administration, I drove to the Blink location in Melville, New York, which happens to be situated next to Blackstone Steakhouse, an establishment that has a bar where powerlifters such as myself can do 12-ounce curls.

My brief membership began after work, where I didn’t work up much of a sweat, and ended an hour and a half later in the upstairs equipment room, where I didn’t work up much of a sweat, either, because I was too busy talking to members who were trying to work up a sweat but couldn’t because, of course, I was talking to them.

“How’s it going?” I asked Scott Grimando, 48, an illustrator who was in the middle of a workout on the shoulder press machine.

“OK,” Scott replied between huffs and puffs. “Trying to keep in shape.”

Except for a woman who was working out with a personal trainer and appeared to be even older than I am (63 physically, 12 mentally), Scott was one of the more senior members, most of whom appeared to be in their 20s and already in such good shape that they shouldn’t have bothered working out.

“I have a one-day membership,” I told Scott.

“Make the most of it,” he said, adding that he’s a pescatarian.

“I’m Catholic,” I responded. “And I may need last rites before the night is out.”

Scott patiently explained that a pescatarian is a person who doesn’t eat meat but does eat fish. “It’s a good diet to be on,” he said, returning to his shoulder presses.

I sat down next to him and did 10 at a weight that probably didn’t exceed that of a Chihuahua on a pescatarian diet.

Next I spoke with David Kahn, 50, a lawyer who was on a pedal machine.

“I want to look buff,” said David, who did. “Also, I got hurt Rollerblading, so coming to the gym is safer.”

David, who used to play soccer and softball, practices corporate law and said he couldn’t represent me if I got hurt working out.

“But I could represent the gym,” he said with a smile.

“In that case,” I said, “I’ll take it easy on the machines.”

And I was on plenty of them. There was the treadmill (where I watched Charlie Sheen in a rerun of “Two and a Half Men”); the moving stairs (which I climbed steadily but didn’t get anywhere); the calf exerciser (I didn’t see any livestock); and the dumbbells (I was the biggest one).

All in all, it was an invigorating experience. The gym was clean and spacious, the people were friendly and the equipment was top-notch. And I didn’t need last rites.

“How was it?” assistant manager Christian Dellosso, 23, asked as I was leaving.

“Terrific,” I said. “Considering I’m 40 years older than you are, I feel really good.”

“Great,” Christian said. “I hope you’ll join.”

“I’m thinking about it,” I said. “But first, I have to go next door for one more workout.”

I strolled over to Blackstone Steakhouse and ordered a beer from bartender Vinny Fodera, 59, who sported a sweeping mustache and a muscular build.

“Do you work out?” I asked.

“No,” Vinny said. “I used to lift weights, but they were too heavy.”

“If you don’t mind,” I said, lifting a cold one, “I’m going to do some 12-ounce curls.”

“Be my guest,” Vinny said. “For guys our age, it’s the best exercise you can get.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 19, 2017

"Don't Quit Your Day Job"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
When my kids were young and had already fallen into the expensive habit of eating every day, I came to a sad realization: If people waited until they could afford to have children, the human race would die out.

Now that my kids are grown and have kids of their own, which means I don’t have to feed them anymore, I have come to another sad realization: If people waited until they could afford to retire, most of them would die at their desks.

This, I fear, is the fate that awaits me. My bosses would argue that nobody could tell the difference because I’d be just as effective as I am now. At least they wouldn’t have to pay me anymore.

Still, to get an idea of how long I could survive once I quit my job, or if I’d have to continue working until my kids retired, at which point they could feed me every day, I recently met with Jeff Sena, a regional consultant with Fidelity Investments, a multinational financial services corporation that is based in Boston and does business with the company that, in its limited wisdom, employs me.

“How old are you?” Jeff asked me at the start of the hourlong session.

“Old enough to know better,” I replied.

“Do you?” he wondered.

“No,” I said.

“Then I need to know your age,” he said, “because Social Security won’t accept ‘old enough to know better’ on your paperwork.”

“OK,” I conceded, “I’m 63.”

“You don’t look it,” Jeff said. “And you don’t act it.”

“I’m shockingly immature,” I responded. “It makes me seem younger.”

“I wouldn’t put that on your paperwork, either, or you’d have to work even longer,” said Jeff, who is 65 but doesn’t look or act it himself.

“You’re 65 and you’re not retired?” I said incredulously. “Can’t you afford it?”

“I can, but I love what I do,” said Jeff, who also loves hiking and belongs to the Appalachian Mountain Club.

“You must have clients from all walks of life,” I noted, adding: “People are always telling me to take a hike.”

“You should,” Jeff said with a smile. “But don’t take one now because we have to go over your finances.”

“That shouldn’t take long,” I said, producing the required documents, including bank statements, income information and investment records. “As you can see, I haven’t won Powerball.”

“Neither have I,” said Jeff, who scanned the figures and told me that I have a good RPM.

“My car has a good RPM, too,” I said. “And it will retire before I do.”

“I’m talking about your Retirement Preparedness Measurement,” Jeff said. “But more important than that is your FRA.”

“My car doesn’t have one of those,” I said.

“No,” countered Jeff, “but you do. It stands for Full Retirement Age.”

The standard FRA, Jeff said, is 66, though people can draw on Social Security beginning at age 62.

“I can’t draw on anything except my granddaughter’s coloring books,” I said.

“If you were retired, you’d have plenty of time for that,” Jeff said. “But you’d be better off working until you were 70 because Social Security payments go up 8 percent a year until that age.”

Jeff said he could plan a retirement strategy for me until I am 94 and for my wife, Sue, until she is 96. “Women live longer than men,” he noted.

“If it weren’t for my wife,” I said, “I would have been dead long ago.”

Nonetheless, I told Jeff, longevity runs in the family.

“You must have good genes,” he said.

“Of course,” I responded. “My wife does all of my clothes shopping.”

“The question is,” Jeff said at the end of the session, “would your wife want you around all the time if you were both retired?”

“I’d probably drive her crazy,” I said.

“Then you should keep working,” Jeff suggested. “You can drive your bosses crazy instead.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Stomping With the Stars"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
If I ever get my own sitcom, which I am actually working on, I’d call it either “Everybody Loves Jerry” (Ray Romano can star) or “I Love Jerry” (Lucille Ball can’t star because Lucy’s in the sky with Desi).

In the pilot episode, I would re-create Lucy and Ethel’s famous grape stomping routine. It would be based on real life because I recently went to Riverhead, New York, for a Grape Stomp Party at Martha Clara Vineyards, where I am a member of the wine club.

To steal a line from Groucho Marx, who also is dead and can’t sue me, I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member, but in the case of Martha Clara I have made an exception because the wines are really good and I had grape expectations (ditto Charles Dickens) for the party.

I do not pretend to be an oenophile with a discriminating palate, mainly because my files are disorganized and I don’t like to paint, but I prefer red wine because it is, according to my doctor, over-the-counter heart medicine. And for a geezer like me, that’s very important.

So when I received an email invitation to the Grape Stomp Party from Gina Messa, Martha Clara’s bubbly hospitality manager and empress of fun, I readily accepted. Then I had a glass of merlot, just to set the mood.

Merlot grapes, as it turned out, were one of two kinds that attendees would be stomping, the other being riesling, a white variety that my wife, Sue, prefers. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to the party, so I chose merlot and hoped the grapes I stomped with my bare feet wouldn’t make their way into a bottle of Martha Clara Merlot Jerry 2017, the sniffing of which would certainly be something to sneeze at.

“No,” Gina assured me as the party got underway, “we wouldn’t do that to our customers. In fact, the grapes you stomp will be thrown out.”

That must have come as a relief to the other 130 attendees, who ate a light lunch  in the vineyard’s converted barn before going out back for the stomping.

There, all in a row, sat eight bins, each of which could hold a quarter-ton of grapes but contained only half of that to give attendees room to stomp them.

“The world of wine can be pretentious and snobby,” said Juan Micieli-Martinez, Martha Clara’s winemaker and general manager, “but this is going to be fun.”

No one had more fun than Juan’s 5-year-old son, Benecio, who had already stomped both red and white grapes.

“They’re squishy!” he told me.

“He can’t drink wine yet,” said his mother, Bridget, who used to work in the industry, “but he can help make it.”

When it was my turn, Gina asked me to take off my flip-flops. She looked at my naked tootsies and said, “You should have worn nail polish.”

“Since I’ll be stomping merlot grapes,” I replied, “I’ll get a red-icure.”

“You’re really getting into the spirit,” said Gina, who then helped me get into the bin, where we immediately started dancing in a shin-deep mass of merlot makings.

A crowd of attendees, wineglasses in hand, cheered us on as Gina twirled me around so dizzily that it felt like I’d already had a couple of glasses of wine.

After a few minutes, she helped me out of the bin and hosed off my feet, which were covered in juice and had crushed grapes between the toes. Benecio was right: They were squishy. His father was right, too: It was a lot of fun.

“A couple of years ago,” Gina said, handing me a towel, “two women showed up dressed as Lucy and Ethel.”

“If I don’t get my own sitcom,” I told her, “we could have a dance show, ‘Stomping With the Stars.’ ”

“I bet we’d win,” Gina said. “And we could celebrate with wine.” She smiled and added, “I know a guy who makes a mean merlot.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Lions and Tigers and Beers, Oh, My!"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
In the immortal words of Dr. Doonothing, otherwise known as yours truly, if I could talk to the animals, what a neat achievement that would be. But would a tiger or a camel, bird, reptile or mammal, really, truly want to talk to me?

That’s what I hoped to find out, without being eaten in the process, during my recent trip to the Bronx Zoo, where I trekked with my wife, Sue; our younger daughter, Lauren; and our granddaughters, Chloe, 4, and Lilly, 11 months, both of whom were first-time visitors who soon learned that some of the most fascinating creatures walked on two legs and talked to the animals with a New York accent.

We heard them chatter (most of what they said was either incomprehensible or unrepeatable) during a stampede into the zoo, which was overrun with humans because it was Wednesday, when admission is free and the animals get to see what wildlife is really like.

The first denizens we saw were bison, which were once almost hunted to extinction, prompting Lauren to remark, “They make really good burgers.”

Then we flew into the World of Birds, which housed, among other fine feathered friends, a guira cuckoo.

“Who’s a cuckoo?” I asked Chloe, who looked up at me and chirped, “Poppie!”

The next exhibit was Tiger Mountain, featuring a massive Amur (or Siberian) member of the species that earned its stripes when Chloe commented, “Just like Tick and Tock, the Tiger Twins,” referring to the feline siblings who star in a book that teaches kids how to tell time.

By then it was time for lunch (not, thank God, for the tiger, which looked directly at me and licked its chops), so we found a shady spot and gobbled up turkey sandwiches. I didn’t feel guilty because turkeys are among the few animals that don’t reside at the zoo. It wouldn’t have been the case with bison burgers.

As we were finishing, a visitor started yelling at one of her kids (not the goat variety), who ran off faster than a cheetah, further incensing the woman, who brayed, “My house is more of a zoo than this place!”

The scene drove me to drink, so I went to the watering hole and ordered three beers for the adults in our group.

“May I please see an ID?” Tiffany D. asked me.

“God bless you!” I gushed. “I haven’t been carded in decades.”

“You’re looking young in those sunglasses and that hat,” she said with a wink and a smile. “In fact,” added Tiffany, who couldn’t have been more than 30, “you’re looking younger and younger all the time.”

“I’m going to come back,” I said after I paid her (and left a nice tip).

“OK!” said Tiffany. “Come back and I’ll card you again.”

As we strolled off, a woman pushing a stroller stopped so her young daughter could say hello to Chloe and Lilly, each of whom was in a stroller, too.

“That’s a good idea,” the merry mom said when she saw our refreshments.

“You’re going to get a beer?” I asked.

“Of course,” she answered. “Why do you think I come to the zoo?”

Another woman passed by with her kids in tow and said, “I wish someone would push me around in a stroller.”

Sue, who worked up a sweat pushing Chloe, said, “It’s a good thing I go to the gym.”

A good thing, indeed, because there was plenty more to see, including a polar bear, two grizzly bears, several giraffes, a herd of zebras and a caravan of camels, which Chloe liked because, as she noted while the beasts of burden masticated disgustingly, “It looks like they’re chewing gum.”

The only creatures smart enough not to come out were the lions, which disappointed everyone because they were, naturally, the mane attraction. But we did hear them roar from wherever they were hiding, which I hoped wasn’t behind my car, where we headed after a long but exciting day.

If I weren’t driving, I would have gone back for another beer so Tiffany D. could card me again. At the zoo, it’s called animal magnetism.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"No Bed of Roses"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and sore as hell, especially if he has to move not just one bed but two, after which he is convinced he will soon be on his deathbed.

My wife, Sue, considers me a strange bedfellow, which is why it took both of us to drive up to our hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, disassemble a bed, load it into a rental truck, drive it back down to our house on Long Island, New York, unload it, deposit it in our living room, disassemble a bed in an upstairs bedroom, bring it downstairs, load it into my car, drive it to our younger daughter’s house, go back home, bring the first bed upstairs and reassemble it in the aforementioned bedroom. All of this involved headboards, footboards, box springs and mattresses.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

And I didn’t even mention that more furniture, including a kitchen table and a set of chairs, was involved.

Fortunately, it didn’t happen all in one day. Also, we had help. And we are grateful to Sue’s mother and sister for their generosity (and, in the case of Sue’s sister, physical assistance) in giving us, respectively, the bed and the kitchen set.

Still, for someone my age (old enough to know better), it’s hard work, which I have always tried to avoid.

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

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

Sure enough, it fell on deaf ears. And those ears belong to Sue, who pretended not to hear my feeble excuses (hernia, heart attack, death) about why we could live  without all the exertion.

I must say, however, that we are a good team: Sue’s the brains, I’m the pawn. So we joined forces to get the job done.

The worst part of bedding against the odds involves: (a) mattresses and (b) stairs.

The mattress of one of the two beds has handles; the other doesn’t. With the former, at least you have something to grab hold of; with the latter, you have to try to grasp the smooth edge and lift, pull, push, slip, slide or, if you are not careful, drop it down an entire flight of stairs. Or vice-versa, though it’s impossible to drop a mattress up a flight of stairs because it will only slide back down with you holding on, handles or no handles, until you both crash to the floor.

It’s not that a mattress is heavy (any Olympic weightlifter can hoist one for at least three seconds before EMTs have to be called), but it’s definitely unwieldy. That is why Sue and I had so much trouble navigating each of them, not just up and down stairs, but around corners, over railings and past a wall full of family photos that include one of me when I was a baby (it was taken last week).

Then there are the headboards and the footboards, which are meant to be dropped on your head and your foot, respectively. These not only are unwieldy but are approximately as heavy as a full-grown rhinoceros, without the horn but with posts that can do just as much damage if they hit you in the wrong spot. After one such near-catastrophe, I was lucky I didn’t have to go to Vienna, either for medical treatment or to join the Boys Choir.

Finally, Sue and I got the first bed upstairs and put it together, a herculean feat that called for several infusions of cold beer.

That night, we collapsed on our own bed. It was the best night’s sleep we ever had.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima