Friday, December 15, 2017

"The Zezimas' 2017 Christmas Letter"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the daughtersiarch; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch; and Chloe, Lilly and Xavier, the grandchildreniarch.

Dear friends:

It sure has been an exciting 2017 for the Zezimas!

The year got off to a rocky start when Jerry had a kidney stone. He is sorry to have to number them like the Super Bowl, but it was Kidney Stone VI. Mercifully, this, too, did pass.

Also on the medical front, Jerry took a CPR class in which the instructor used him as a dummy. The other class members couldn’t tell the difference.

To keep in good physical condition, Jerry won a one-day gym membership. He didn’t exercise very strenuously, proving to be the biggest dumbbell there, but afterward he went to an adjacent bar and did 12-ounce curls.

Continuing to show his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, Jerry attended a Wine Stomp Party at a vineyard and, re-creating a famous “I Love Lucy” episode, climbed into a vat of grapes and stomped them with his bare feet. To ensure the health of the vineyard’s customers, the grapes were thrown away.

Jerry may not have made his own wine, but he and Chloe did make their own ice cream. They went to a shop where the owner, impressed by Chloe’s natural ability to pour in the ingredients but not by Jerry’s pathetic incompetence at measuring them, allowed the dynamic duo to make a batch of honey-cinnamon. It was delicious, prompting the owner to tell Chloe, “Now you can say you taught your grandfather how to make ice cream.”

Jerry, Sue and Lauren took Chloe and Lilly on their first visit to the zoo, where humans were the wildest creatures and Jerry, an acknowledged oldster, was carded by a flirtatious young woman while buying beer for the adults in the group. He roared louder than the lions.

One of the proudest moments of the year occurred when Chloe graduated, magna cum little, from preschool. She had a prominent role in the ceremony, which was attended by Jerry, Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Lilly, and was tops in her class. Afterward, everyone had milk and cookies. Yale or Harvard couldn’t have done better.

A milestone was reached when Lilly celebrated her first birthday. Big sister Chloe, who’s 4, helped her blow out the candle on her cupcake and, as their little friends applauded, helped her eat the cupcake, too. Talk about sisterly love!

And there was an addition to the family: Xavier, Katie and Dave’s beautiful boy, made his grand entrance into the world. Sue and Jerry, aka Nini and Poppie, went on a road trip to meet him and Jerry quickly learned that changing diapers on a boy is a lot different from changing them on a girl. That’s because boys have an apparatus that is not unlike a water cannon or, considering the oscillation, an in-ground sprinkler system. It was a geyser on a geezer.

But Jerry didn’t mind because he got to do some male bonding. On a subsequent visit, Jerry introduced Xavier to the Three Stooges, making him giggle uncontrollably by doing Shemp imitations. The women, naturally, were thrilled.

Xavier met cousins Chloe and Lilly on a visit to Nini and Poppie’s house. The three adorable children had a ball, laughing, playing and, not surprisingly, proving to be more mature than Poppie.

We hope your year has been fun-filled, too.

Merry Christmas with love and laughter from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"The Benefits of the Doubt"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
When it comes to health care, the most important question facing the American people is this: Is the pain reliever you need to get rid of the headache caused by your employer’s open enrollment covered under medical insurance or do you have to spend thousands of dollars in deductibles before you can write off a bottle of aspirin?

That’s what I asked a very nice and very knowledgeable human resources coordinator named Luann, who recently helped me navigate the process because my 4-year-old granddaughter, who is more technologically advanced than I am, isn’t on the payroll and is already covered under her father’s plan.

“My niece is better on the computer than I am, although I’m an online shopper, so I’m really good at this,” said Luann, who had been on the job for only three weeks before the rollout.

“Too bad the company isn’t rolling out the barrel,” I said.

“That would help,” Luann replied as we sat at a monitor in the HR department and she showed me how to log on to the program.

There were four categories: benefits, health, money and protection.

“Is there a Powerball option?” I asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Luann replied. “If there was, I wouldn’t be here.”

Then we hit the initials: HSA (health savings account), FSA (flexible spending account) and, the one that really stunned me, STD.

“Please tell me it doesn’t stand for what I think it does,” I spluttered.

“It stands for short-term disability,” Luann assured me. “Why?” she added with a smile. “What did you think it stands for?”

“Something that I’m sure isn’t covered,” I said.

I was already signed up for the company’s dental and vision plans, but for the past two years I have been on my wife’s medical plan because it’s less expensive.

“Her deductible isn’t as high as ours,” I explained. “But no matter what plan you’re on, with deductibles these days, you pretty much have to be in a train wreck for them to take effect.”

“There’s a simple solution,” Luann said. “Don’t take the train.”

“Good advice,” I said. “But if something happened, I’d have to pay out of my own pocket. And my pocket isn’t big enough to hold all that money.”

“So what’s the answer?” Luann asked.

I told her the absolutely true story of my three unsuccessful campaigns for vice president of the United States, in 1992, 1996 and 2000, when my running mate, media prankster Alan Abel, was the presidential candidate.

“He ran under the name of Porky,” I told Luann. “I used my nickname, Zez. We were the Gershwin-inspired ticket of Porky and Zez. We ran under the banner of the Cocktail Party. We came up with our health-care plan in New York City, so we called it Big Apple Coverage. Since an apple a day keeps the doctor away, we proposed a 10-cent co-pay on every apple. That way, everyone could afford medical care.”

“I would have voted for you,” Luann said.

“Some people did,” I told her. “They probably couldn’t afford their prescription medications.”

“So there still isn’t an answer to the health-care problem,” Luann said.

“Yes, there is,” I responded. “Porky and I had another proposal: Everybody in America becomes a member of Congress. That way, we’d have the same plan they do and we’re all covered. Either that or kick Congress off their plan and make them shop for insurance like the rest of us.”

“It’s too bad you didn’t run again last year,” Luann said.

“I’m old now, so if I ran, I’d sprain an ankle or blow out a knee,” I said. “And I wouldn’t meet the deductible.”

I thanked Luann for her help and good humor but said I was going to stick with my wife’s medical plan.

“Stay healthy,” Luann said, though after dealing with me, she no doubt needed a pain reliever. I hope it’s covered.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

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