Sunday, August 18, 2019

"Pooling Our Resources"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Now that we are in the dog days of summer, and the heat makes dogs pant so much that they don’t even wear pants, it can safely be said that most people would give their right arms for a pool, which kind of defeats the purpose because they’d end up swimming in circles.

Nonetheless, a pool not only provides watery fun for homeowners — as well as their neighbors, who may or may not have been invited for a swim and often refuse to leave, causing the owners to either call the cops or put the house on the market — but it is a sure sign of status.

This leads neighbors without such luxuries to ask the following questions:

How can the Zezimas afford a pool?

Why don’t they invite us for a swim?

And, most pertinent, what the hell is gunite?

According to Merriam-Webster, who has a dictionary-shaped pool, gunite is “a building material consisting of a mixture of cement, sand and water that is sprayed onto a mold” and is used in luxury swimming pools.

I don’t want to brag, because the neighbors might hear me, but we have not one, not two, but three pools.

That they are of the kiddie variety is beside the point.

The kiddies are my granddaughters Chloe, 6, and her sister, Lilly, 2 and a half, who love to frolic in four inches of grass-flecked water while my wife, Sue, and I sit poolside in rickety beach chairs, attired stylishly in saggy T-shirts and ketchup-stained shorts while quaffing lukewarm summer ales straight out of the bottle, a sure sign of status.

Instead of gunite, these pools are made of good, old-fashioned, earth-destroying plastic and come in small, medium and large.

The biggest is 70 inches across and is lined with pictures of dinosaurs, which probably reminds the kids of their grandparents. It is filled not with special water from massive delivery trucks used by the rich and famous for their elaborate pools, but with what comes out of a garden hose. It is invariably cold enough to give a walrus pneumonia.

We use an energy-efficient heating system powered by either the sun or, if it is playing peekaboo with the clouds, boiled water from a teakettle.

Whereas the elite surround their pools with sophisticated landscaping that includes colorful pavers, sculpted rocks and finely manicured hillocks, we have a natural look featuring a broken walkway that hasn’t been repaired in more than a dozen years.

On one side is monstrous vegetation that includes an out-of-control holly bush, two ugly hydrangeas and Sue’s garden, which has so far produced only a handful of hot peppers and even fewer tomatoes. On the other side is an above-ground oil tank that is utterly useless for heating pool water.

You may have seen how Hollywood stars adorn their pools with elaborate waterfalls or artificial geysers that shoot water high enough to splash their private jets.

We have a little round sprinkler with plastic flowers. It sends water about 10 feet into the air. The girls like to run under the falling spray, which sometimes gets cut off if there is a kink in the hose. It is my job to fix the problem and get soaked in the process.

This vastly amuses my granddaughters, who then want me to stand in ankle-deep pool water with them and play with their toys. These aren’t battleship-size floats but squirt guns and action figures we otherwise keep in a soggy shopping bag.

For the girls’ next pool party, Sue has gone all out and bought a box of ice pops. The neighbors, I am sure, will be jealous.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Don't Call Me, I'll Call You"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a man who has always had a lot of hang-ups about the telephone, especially since the only people who want to talk with me are scammers and telemarketers, I wouldn’t be sorry to know that Alexander Graham Bell is spending eternity being bombarded with robocalls.

It used to be that all you needed to know about the telephone was that you said “hello” when you picked it up and “goodbye” when you put it down. Now you have to take a class to learn how to use the latest system.

That’s why I recently found myself, along with about two dozen colleagues, in the auditorium at work to get a crash course in the “softphones” we would soon be using.

The phones are soft not because they are made of Silly Putty, which would at least make them fun, if a bit messy since they’d stick to our ears, but because they don’t, physically, exist.

According to two very nice IT guys named Brenden and Vinny, who conducted the class, the phones will be embedded in our computers.

“You won’t have phones on your desks anymore,” Brenden told the group.

“If you want to make or receive a call,” Vinny added, “you’ll have to do it on-screen.”

I raised my hand.

“If I’m doing something on the computer and a call comes in, I have to stop, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” Brenden said.

“So if I’m on the phone all day,” I wondered, “does that mean I don’t have to do any work?”

“I guess so,” Vinny replied.

“That’s all I wanted to know,” I said to the appreciative chuckles of my co-workers.

One of them, Christine, who works in advertising, sat next to me.

“Let’s exchange phone numbers,” I said.

“If I talked with you all day, I wouldn’t make any sales and I’d lose my job,” Christine noted.

“If I lost my job,” I countered, “nobody would notice.”

“What do you do?” she asked.

“As little as possible,” I told her.

Someone else asked a question that, unlike mine, was actually pertinent: “If I’m having computer problems and need technical support, how am I supposed to call you?”

Brenden and Vinny looked at each other.

“We haven’t quite figured that out,” said Vinny.

“Call us on your cellphone,” Brenden suggested.

Christine leaned over to me and said, “So we need two phones to replace the one we’re losing.”

“Modern technology marches on!” I responded.

The technology is named Cisco Jabber. According to an online dictionary, which I couldn’t use if I were on the phone, jabber means to “talk rapidly and excitedly but with little sense.”

“I do that even when I’m not on the phone,” I told Christine, who smiled politely but did not disagree.

Brenden and Vinny used a large screen to show us the new system, which was pretty impressive. A week after they finished the employee classes, the system went live, though we still, for now, have our old phones, too.

That gave me a chance to call myself. I put on my headset, logged on to Jabber on my computer, punched in the number of my desk phone and clicked. My desk phone rang. I picked it up.

“Hello?” I said in a loud, clear voice. “Oh, it’s me. How are you? Slacking off again, I see. Don’t you have any work to do or are you going to stay on the phone all day?”

My colleagues stopped what they were doing, which included the work I wasn’t doing, and listened.

“Well,” I continued, “I have to go. It’s time for a coffee break. Bye!”

Then I called Christine, but she didn’t answer. I guess she was on her new softphone, making a sale. It beats talking with me all day.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Lesson No. 1: Those Are the Brakes"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Here is today’s safe driving question:

If you are approaching the stop sign in front of my house, do you: (a) stop, (b) slow down to the posted speed limit, look to see if a cop is parked on the corner and breeze past or (c) pretend you are at the finish line in the Indianapolis 500 and blow right through?

If you answered either (b) or (c), you are part of the vast majority of vehicular maniacs who menace my neighborhood and deserve not only to get a ticket but to have the accelerator shoved up your nose.

You also should take an online refresher course so you will be a better driver and, ideally, not obliterate my car as I am backing out of the driveway.

I am proud, happy and really fatigued to say that I recently took a six-hour safe driving course sponsored by AARP, which wants older motorists such as yours truly to be more aware of the rules of the road, to compensate for diminished physical and mental skills and — this is most important — to stop driving 20 miles per hour in the left lane of a highway with their blinkers on.

As a person who always puts safety first, I took the course for a vital and selfless reason: to get a discount on my car insurance.

After logging in to the AARP Smart Driver Online Course and paying the $25 fee, I was introduced to two nice instructors named Joe and Maria, who would be guiding me through the class and giving me quizzes at the end of the half-dozen sections.

It was like taking driver’s ed in high school except that I didn’t actually have to drive and give the teacher a heart attack while accidentally flooring it and jumping the curb as I pulled out of the parking lot.

The first thing I learned is that I probably should let somebody else drive. That’s because I am 65 years old and, according to Joe and Maria, who look to be 45, no longer have the reflexes, dexterity and keen eyesight of 25-year-olds. I must admit that they are far better equipped to speed, weave in and out of traffic, run red lights and give one-finger salutes while texting, playing video games, drinking steaming hot coffee or — and this takes special skill — applying eyeliner.

Maybe they shouldn’t be driving, either.

But I was encouraged because Joe and Maria told me that I could sharpen my skills and continue to be a safe driver if I remembered the valuable lessons taught in the course. They included approaching intersections, merging into traffic, knowing the effects of prescription medication, preparing for trips and checking the tires, though not while the car is moving.

In extreme circumstances, they strongly implied, I should just pull over and get the hell out of the way.

Joe and Maria have never driven with me, but I appreciated their confidence.

It turned out that I still know a lot about safe driving because I aced all the quizzes. And I picked up some important tips, like avoiding drivers who are going either too fast or too slow. Joe and Maria didn’t state the obvious, but that includes everybody else.

Nonetheless, I am glad I took the course, which I did over several evenings. I would encourage all drivers of AARP age to take it, too.

In fact, now that I have graduated, motor cum laude, I am volunteering to join Joe and Maria as an instructor.

If I could only get all those idiots to stop blowing through the stop sign in front of my house, I’d feel a lot safer.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 7, 2019

"Field Day Comes Off My Bucket List"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Anyone who knows me and is willing to admit it, which severely narrows the field, knows that I always have a field day with my grandchildren. But I recently had a real one at my granddaughter’s elementary school, where I was a volunteer for — what are the odds? — Field Day.

I signed up for the water relay, one of several events that would give me a heart attack if I competed in them. But it was the only one that proved, as if anyone needed verification, that I am all wet.

My granddaughter Chloe, 6, and her kindergarten classmates were the youngest of the participants, all of whom showed an unbeatable combination of athletic ability and sportsmanship.

I will modestly admit that I was a pretty fair athlete in my day. Unfortunately, that day was June 12, 1960, when I was Chloe’s age. I have been regressing ever since.

My partner in officiating the water relay was Jimmy Smith, with whom I have worked for many years (that’s only half right: he’s worked, I haven’t) and whose daughter, Sarah, 7, a second-grader, also was one of the participants.

The object of the relay was for students to dip a plastic cup into a bucket of water, run to another bucket several yards away, dump the cup of water into the second bucket and run back to the first bucket, where it was the next student’s turn. This was repeated until either time or water ran out and I was splashed so much that I looked like I had just emerged from a deep-sea expedition.

“I’m glad we put this on our bucket list,” I told Jimmy. “I just hope we don’t kick the bucket.”

“Then people could say we were in the bucket brigade,” he replied helpfully.

Jimmy used the watch on his phone (only Dick Tracy has a phone on his watch) to time each relay, which lasted for five minutes.

Two teams — blue and yellow — competed in the various events, which included obstacle course, potato sack race, hippity-hop race, hoop relay and 50-yard sprint.

Unwittingly, which is how I do almost everything, I wore a blue T-shirt. It was perfect because blue is Chloe’s favorite color (along with pink) and she was on the blue team.

But she wasn’t in the first few relays. Instead, she was competing in other events, being cheered on by her little sister, Lilly, who is 2 and a half, and my daughter Lauren, who is their mommy.

My job was to stand by the blue team’s second bucket and exhort the players by saying: “Hurry up!” (if they weren’t hurrying), “That’s OK!” (if they slipped or got more water on my shoes than in the bucket) and “Good job!” (if they did a good job, which all of them did).

One of the best players was Sarah, a sweet and funny girl who is a natural athlete.

Either because of or in spite of my dubious coaching efforts, the blue team won most of the relays.

During one of the breaks, I went back to my car to get a wide-brimmed hat to shield me from the relentless sun.

“Are you going on safari?” Jimmy asked.

“Safari, so good!” I retorted.

“With us,” he suggested, “all that’s missing is the third Stooge.”

Until the last relay, Chloe had been missing, too. But she showed up with her blue team classmates for the final run. I asked her to help demonstrate what to do and she pulled it off flawlessly.

During the relay, all the kids did a great job. That was especially true of Chloe, who ran fast and didn’t spill a drop.

It was a fitting conclusion to a Field Day of Dreams.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

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