Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Out on a Limb"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Because I have acrophobia, which means I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head, I could never imagine being a tree trimmer.

It’s a condition I share with Ralph Serrano, who owns a tree company but is, unlike his brave and acrobatic employees, afraid of heights.

Even though I was standing on terra firma, which is Latin for “the ground you will land on, and then be buried under, if you fall out of a tree,” I was dizzy just watching one of the crew members from Aspen Tree Service of Long Island, New York, who came over recently to trim some dead branches from a couple of big oaks in my backyard.

The man on the flying trapeze was Lucio, a sinewy and fearless 19-year-old who attached a pair of spikes to his boots and breezed up the larger of the trees until he reached a height that would give a squirrel vertigo.

As I jerked my head to look up, which made me not only a jerk but a pain in my own neck, Lucio waved for me to get out of the way. And no wonder: I was standing directly beneath a branch so massive that if it crashed onto my dense skull, I would have had a year’s worth of firewood, the result being that the house would have burned to the ground because, unfortunately, I don’t have a fireplace.

After I had backed safely away, Lucio revved up his chainsaw and started cutting the branch. Sawdust rained from the sky, covering my noggin and giving me a bad case of woody dandruff.

A minute later, the branch fell, its descent slowed to a gentle thud by a rope that was attached and handled by one of the other four crew members.

Lucio, a rope around him, too, swung to another branch and then to the adjacent oak, felling more lifeless limbs before gliding back down, a smile on his face and nary a drop of sweat on his brow.

I fainted.

“He’s good,” said Miguel, the foreman of the crew, which cut up the downed limbs.

“Aren’t you afraid to be up so high?” I asked Lucio.

He shook his head and said, “I like it.”

When I met Ralph, I told him that his workers were fantastic.

“They’re braver than I am,” he said. “The first time I saw them go up, I said, ‘You guys are nuts.’ You couldn’t pay me to do that.”

Ralph, who worked for another tree company before founding Aspen 20 years ago, recalled the first time he did a pruning job.

“I started to climb,” he said. “It took me about an hour. The homeowner was staring at me. ‘What are you trying to do?’ he asked. I couldn’t even get up the tree. I had to come back with a regular climber. I was petrified. Now I leave it to my guys to do the job.”

“If tree climbing were an Olympic sport, Lucio would win a gold medal,” I said.

“It’s definitely a circus act,” said Ralph, who’s 57.

“And the height of your profession,” I noted.

Ralph nodded and said, “We have plenty of puns. When people ask how business is, I’ll say, ‘We’re branching out.’ And we always go out on a limb for our customers.”

“You don’t,” I reminded him.

“Not literally,” Ralph said. “But I make sure to give them good service.”

“So you’re not a bump on a log,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “But we do haul logs away. And we offer free wood chips.”

“Is that your stump speech?” I asked.

“Now it is,” Ralph said.

I thanked him for a great job and told him to give Lucio and the other guys a raise.

“When it comes to tree trimming,” I said, “they’re a cut above.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Nothing but the Tooth"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
If I were a lawyer — which I always thought I should be because I have been admitted to the bar many times — I’d have a retainer.

I’m not a lawyer — because I have been thrown out of the bar many times, too — but I have a retainer anyway.

I refer not to the advance fee a lawyer gets so he or she can pay the bar tab, but to the device that holds your teeth in place so you will have a nice smile when addressing a jury or, in my case (the People v. Zezima), pleading not guilty to Larceny, Chicanery and Mopery, attorneys at law, for failing to pay the bar tab.

“You need a new retainer,” said Dr. Ammar Alsamawi, a third-year resident at the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine on Long Island, New York. “If I give you one, you could be my lawyer.”

“If you want me to be your lawyer,” I said, “I’d advise you to plead insanity.”

Dr. Alsamawi, 29, who was born and raised in Iraq and immigrated to the United States almost nine years ago, is a third-year resident at Stony Brook, where I had undergone a lengthy but happily successful treatment to straighten two teeth that had been knocked out of alignment by the foot that’s usually in my mouth.

When the treatment concluded a few years ago, I got retainers. Unfortunately, the top retainer recently cracked and one of the teeth, a lateral incisor, was beginning to turn back out of alignment.

“I have to rotate it,” Dr. Alsamawi said.

“You mean like a mechanic rotates tires?” I asked. “Will you have to put me on a lift in a garage?”

“No, you can stay in the chair,” the good doctor replied. “And I won’t even give you an oil change.”

But he did make impressions of all my teeth, top and bottom, and said he would see me the following week to apply my new retainers.

When I went back, I greeted Dr. Alsamawi by pronouncing his last name correctly.

“I’ve been practicing all week,” I said.

“Wow,” he replied. “That’s a real skill. Most of my colleagues still can’t pronounce my name. But I’m impressed that you practiced. You have too much time on your hands.”

“On my feet, too,” I said as I propped them up on the chair and leaned back so Dr. Alsamawi, which I couldn’t pronounce this time because my mouth was wide open, could fit the new retainers over my baby grand piano keys.

“Did I make a good impression?” I inquired after he snapped them into place.

“You mean did I make a good impression?” said Dr. Alsamawi, adding that he made the clear retainers in a small laboratory at the school.

“They fit like a glove,” I noted.

“That’s because I was wearing gloves when I made them,” said Dr. Alsamawi, whose own teeth are perfectly straight.

“Did you ever have braces?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “I just got done with my treatment a year ago.”

Like me, Dr. Alsamawi had Invisalign, the brand name for what are commonly known as invisible braces.

“You know the worst thing about them?” I said.

“What?” he replied.

“You can’t find them.”


“Because,” I said triumphantly, “they’re invisible.”

Dr. Alsamawi flashed a Hollywood smile.

“You could be a movie star,” I said.

His handsome visage blushed as he said modestly, “I’m no movie star.”

“If this orthodontic gig doesn’t work out,” I suggested, “you should get an agent.”

“You don’t want me to leave before your incisor is straightened out, do you?” he said.

“No!” I exclaimed. “You’re going to get me on the straight and narrow. Or, in the case of my mouth, the straight and wide.”

Dr. Alsamawi explained that incisors are the “meanest, most annoying teeth” because they have “a mind of their own.”

“That’s more than I can say for myself,” I said.

“Keep the retainers on about 18 hours a day for six weeks,” Dr. Alsamawi said. “By then, your incisor will have taken a good turn.”

“As your lawyer,” I told him, “I can say without fear of prosecution that one good turn deserves another.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Mr. Sunshine"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Of our planet’s many great meteorological mysteries — including why, since I am full of hot air, no hurricane in the past 30 years has been named after me — this one is the most baffling of all: What the hell is the difference between partly sunny and partly cloudy?

I never knew the answer because, with my limited comprehension of weather patterns, I get very few brainstorms. As I have sadly come to realize, it’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.

But I now have a much clearer understanding of weather forecasting, which explains why it rains every time I wash my car, thanks to my favorite TV meteorologist, Lonnie Quinn.

I recently visited Lonnie, the lead weather anchor for WCBS-TV, at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, the City That Never Sleets.

I had watched Lonnie’s forecast the night before and, based on his prediction of a shower, which I took before I left the house, brought an umbrella. As usual, Lonnie was spot-on, mainly because the showers were spotty.

“Most people think I’m all wet, even during droughts,” I told him, “but today you helped me avoid being a real drip.”

“That’s my job,” said Lonnie, who has a sunny disposition, even on rainy days.

Since he’s famous for rolling up his sleeves, I asked him if I could roll up mine, too.

“Go for it, big boy!” said Lonnie, who believes in the right to bare forearms.

On a roll, he said he was born and raised in Cheshire, Connecticut, about 50 miles from my hometown of Stamford.

“My brother Jeff was born in our house on Jan. 11,” said Lonnie, who’s 54.

“That’s my birthday!” I said. “The only other person I know of who was born on that date was Alexander Hamilton, which means I will either have a hit Broadway show or be killed in a duel.”

“You deserve a show,” said Lonnie.

“Not as much as I deserve to be shot,” I replied.

Too nice to argue the point, Lonnie said Jeff was born during a blizzard.

“Me, too,” I said. “I’ve been perpetrating snow jobs ever since.”

“But this storm was so bad that my mother couldn’t get out to go to the hospital,” Lonnie said. “My father delivered the baby upstairs and tied off the umbilical cord with a shoelace. Not long afterward, a cop arrived on a snowmobile. The next day, there was a story in the local paper. The headline said, ‘Hero cop delivers baby.’ That was the family’s first big weather event.”

“So how come your brother isn’t a meteorologist?” I asked.

“He’s smart,” Lonnie answered. “He went into finance.”

Lonnie, a multiple Emmy Award winner and a former soap opera actor, said his mother is smart, too, but she doesn’t always watch his weather forecasts.

“I’ll say, ‘Mom, did you see me on TV last night?’ and she’ll say, ‘Oh, honey, the news is so depressing, so I didn’t watch.’ Of course,” Lonnie said, “I know she watches regularly. And I know she’s proud of me.”

So is his 5-year-old daughter, Lily, one of his three children, the others being son Nate, 20, and younger daughter Savy, 3. Lonnie’s wife, Sharon, is director of international communications for the National Basketball Association.

Said Lonnie: “When I take Lily out for ice cream, she’ll say to the person behind the counter, ‘My daddy is a weatherman.’ When the person says, ‘That’s nice,’ Lily will say, ‘He’s on TV!’ And when the person asks what channel, Lily will say, ‘I don’t know.’ But I know she’s proud of me, too.”

And I was proud of Lonnie for educating me on meteorological terms such as “partly sunny” and “partly cloudy.”

“What do you think the difference is?” Lonnie asked.

I thought for a moment and said, “The spelling.”

“I didn’t see that one coming!” Lonnie exclaimed as he gave me a high five. Then he said, “When it’s partly cloudy, only part of the sky has clouds and there is more sun. And when it’s partly sunny, only part of the sky has sun and there are more clouds.”

“I often have my head in the clouds,” I admitted, “but now you have cleared them up for me.”

“Glad I could let a little sunshine in,” Lonnie said with a bright smile.

“When it comes to TV meteorologists,” I told him, “you rain supreme.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"The Mother of All Rehabbers"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Some people get all the breaks. That goes especially for my mother, Rosina, who recently fell and broke three vertebrae in her back. Fortunately, rehab professionals have her back, which is good because my mother would like to get rid of it.

It was the third time in five years she has fallen and broken something (first it was a leg, last year it was a wrist) and she has bounced back each time, though she didn’t bounce each time she fell, which is why she has needed physical and occupational therapy.

I should mention that my mother is 93 years old and, as a legend of the fall, is in better shape, physically and mentally, than I am. She’s absolutely amazing, which she demonstrated when I visited her in the Van Munching Rehabilitation Unit at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut.

“Look at the bright side,” I told her. “You’re running out of things to break.”

“At least my head is still in one piece,” my mother pointed out.

“So is mine,” I said, “except it’s empty.”

My mother, being a good mother, just smiled.

In fact, she did a lot of smiling in Van Munching, which ought to be the name of the cafeteria. And she had a blast, especially with her friends Elaine and Eleanor, who also were there for therapy.

One evening, I joined my mother for an informal party in Elaine’s room. If there had been a curfew, they would have, of course, broken it. By the time they called it a night, I was exhausted. I guess, at 64, I’m too old to keep up with these nonagenarians.

I had a blast, too, when I met Mason, a therapy dog in training who was visiting from Indiana and has a foot fetish.

That was amply evident when the 2-year-old tri-colored Pomeranian, who has a tri-colorful personality, became infatuated with my size-11 sneakers.

“He loves feet,” said his owner, Barbara, whose sister, Cathy, was a patient in the rehab unit.

“Mason,” I said as I lifted my left foot and turned it over, “would you like to do some sole searching?”

Mason sniffed my foot and sneezed. Then he ran back to Barbara.

My mother didn’t need a therapy dog because she had a therapy son. And I found out first hand, followed by my second hand, how tough therapy can be.

It wasn’t tough for my mother, who’s an old pro at things like the arm ergometer, a machine with two handles that a patient must push in a circular motion.

“You’re doing great,” said Colette, an occupational therapist who watched my mother breeze through the 10-minute exercise.

“May I try?” I asked when my mother was done.

“If you think you can do it,” Colette said.

I grabbed the handles and started pushing. After three minutes, my arms were burning.

The conflagration continued when I tried to replicate my mother’s performance with two-pound weights, which she lifted upward, outward and sideways in reps of 30 each.

“I’ll never make the Olympics,” I admitted.

“No,” Colette said. “But your mother might.”

“She could have her own gym, Planet Rosina,” I said.

“You should sign up,” Colette suggested. “You have work to do.”

That sentiment was echoed by Ed, a rehab tech, and Chris, a registered nurse who trained at The Villa at Stamford, another excellent rehabilitation facility.

“Your mom’s fantastic,” said Ed, who talked with her about Italian food, obviously the key to good nutrition.

“We’ll have to get her out on the ice,” said Chris, who like Ed is a hockey player. “Skating is good exercise.”

My mother, a retired nurse who complimented Chris by saying he is a credit to their profession, replied, “I could be the puck.”

Everyone in the rehab unit said my mother is amazing, not just because she is, injuries aside, in remarkable shape for someone her age, or even mine, but because she has such a positive attitude and keen sense of humor.

“You’re fortunate to have such a great mom,” Chris told me.

I nodded and said, “Just call it a lucky break.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"A Hole Lot of Fun"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
My granddaughter Chloe, who’s 5, is so sweet that she doesn’t mind that I have a hole in my head. She’s also sweet on doughnuts, most of which have holes that rival mine.

So it was only fitting that, in keeping with the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial in which Fred the Baker said, “Time to make the doughnuts,” we recently went to Dunkin’ Donuts because it was, as Chloe the Baker said, “Time to make the doughnuts.”

We arrived at the Dunkin’ Donuts store in Coram, New York, where Chloe and I often go so she can have her favorite doughnut (strawberry frosted with rainbow sprinkles) and I can have mine (jelly with powdered sugar), and were warmly greeted by shift leader Dinora Ramos.

“Is it time to make the doughnuts?” I asked.

“Yes,” Dinora replied. “How did you know?”

“I have a hole in my head,” I said.

“Doughnuts have holes, too, Poppie,” Chloe told me.

“Also,” I said to Dinora, “I’m half-baked.”

“That’s why Chloe will be making the doughnuts,” said Dinora, who asked me to help Chloe wash her hands (I had to be useful somehow) and then gave her a pair of clear plastic gloves so she not only would be abiding by health standards but wouldn’t get frosting and sprinkles all over her fingers, which happens when she eats doughnuts.

After donning an apron, so she wouldn’t get frosting and sprinkles all over her clothes, either, Chloe stepped up on a stool and got ready to decorate a batch of bare doughnuts that sat on a counter behind the store’s display case.

“These have already been made,” Dinora explained, “but you can put on any kind of topping you want.”

Dinora gave Chloe a spreader, which she dipped into a container of strawberry frosting. Then she spread the pink mixture over the first doughnut well enough to impress Dinora and the rest of the friendly staff.

“She’s a pro,” said Carlos Rivero, another shift leader.

“I use a spreader when I put spackle on the walls at home before I paint,” I said.

“It’s a good thing you’re not making doughnuts,” Carlos noted.

“That’s true,” I answered. “Spackle wouldn’t taste too good, even with sprinkles.”

“Speaking of sprinkles, would you like to put some on your doughnut?” Dinora asked Chloe, who chose the rainbow variety, which she sprinkled, very neatly, over the frosting.

“Great job, Chloe!” I said.

Chloe beamed proudly and replied, “Thank you, Poppie! Can I do another one?”

Dinora kindly let her do several more, including one for me, a jelly doughnut that Chloe topped with powdered sugar.

“Now,” said Dinora, “let’s go to the kitchen.”

Safety rules prohibited Chloe and me from getting near the oven, but Chloe actually did make doughnuts by filling a couple of them with jelly (she pushed the button on a pump machine) and spreading powdered sugar on others.

“She could be a baker,” said Johnny, one of the store’s three bakers, who make about 10,000 doughnuts a day for the area’s 11 stores.

After Chloe made two more jellies, we went back out front.

“You’re quite a chef, Chloe,” said Dinora.

“I know,” Chloe replied.

“Did you have fun?” asked Dinora.

“Yes!” Chloe exclaimed.

We both thanked Dinora, who handed us two boxes of doughnuts and said, “I know they’ll be really good because you made them, Chloe.”

Then we drove back to Nini and Poppie’s house, where my wife, Sue, aka Nini, waited with Chloe’s mommy, Lauren; her daddy, Guillaume; and her little sister, Lilly.

Chloe’s creations ran the gamut from vanilla to chocolate to jelly to Boston cream, topped with all kinds of sprinkles, chips, sugar and frosting.

As we got ready to savor her delicious treats, the little baker sat at the kitchen table and, holding a strawberry frosted with rainbow sprinkles in soon-to-be-messy fingers, smiled and said, “Time to eat the doughnuts.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima