Sunday, August 2, 2020

"This Electrician Is a Live Wire"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

I have always been considered a dim bulb, except for the fact that I married a bright woman, who proves it by making me the one to risk electrocution whenever a light bulb needs to be changed.

So fearful am I when it comes to wattage that I was shocked — shocked! — to find myself helping out with electrical work being done at our house.

The track lighting in the family room had to be dismantled and replaced with high hats. And the ceiling fan and the chandelier in the kitchen both had to be updated. Because I could never perform these tasks without turning myself into a lightning rod, I hired Ed Knopf, a licensed electrician who, against his better judgment, made me his apprentice for the day.

“Do you know anything about electricity?” Ed asked.

“Of course,” I replied. “How do you think my hair got so curly?”

In his 40 years in the business, Ed has gotten a jolt or two himself.

He said, “You have to watch out for live wires.”

That includes hot women.

“I’ve had a few who were scantily dressed and were coming on to me,” Ed said.

“Did they want to make sparks fly?” I asked.

“I guess so,” he said. “Nothing happened because I was married at the time. But I did make sparks fly for a guy who wouldn’t leave me alone. He was standing right next to me to see what I was doing.”

“Was he making you hot under the collar?” I inquired.

“He was burning me up,” Ed said. “So I shorted out the wires on purpose. Sparks flew and he was gone. I had to reset the circuit breakers, but it was worth it.”

I’m not sure it was worth it to have me as an apprentice, but I tried to help.

“Here,” Ed said as he stood on a ladder and handed me the track lighting. “You have to do something. You can’t just stand there and look pretty.”

I looked plastered when plaster fell on my head while Ed cut holes in the ceiling so he could run wires through. After handing me a handful of screws, he said, “Don’t screw up.”

I handed Ed the high hats and listened as he told me about more wacky customers.

“At this one house, the power was off and the homeowner wanted to turn the lights on,” he said. “I told her I would get shocked. Then I said, ‘Don’t you know electricians can see in the dark?’ She said, ‘They can?’ She wasn’t too bright herself.”

Then there was the guy who thought Ed and his then-girlfriend, who was helping him install a fan, were having sex in the attic.

“It was 90 degrees and we were up there for a while,” Ed said. “But we were just working. Honest.”

The worst customers are the ones who try to do electrical work themselves.

“I’m surprised they don’t burn their houses down,” said Ed, adding: “My favorite line is: ‘I have no idea where these wires go.’ I always say that to people.”

As he was installing the new ceiling fan in the kitchen, he said, “I was working with a friend once and he said, ‘Quiet, can’t you see I’m thinking?’ I said, ‘I thought I smelled something burning.’ The woman who owned the house said, ‘Burning? What’s burning?’ She panicked. I said, ‘Lady, that’s a figure of speech.’ You run into some real doozies in this job.”

The biggest doozy, I’m sure, was me. But at least I made myself useful and didn’t turn on the power before Ed was finished.

“You did a good job,” he said. “Your wife will be happy to know that you’re not so dim after all.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 26, 2020

"One for the Ageless"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Age, goes an old (of course) saying, is just a number. As a geezer who flunked math in school and now has the checkbook to prove it, I believe this adage for a number of reasons. I’m not sure how many because I am, you know, bad at math.

At any rate, the whole thing recently dawned on me, even though it wasn’t dawn, when my older daughter, Katie, turned 40.

When I reached that age, 26 (thank you, calculator!) years ago, I was reminded of another adage: Life begins at 40.

If that’s true, I realized, I had just wasted 39 years.

I also realized that milestones are like kidney stones: They’re hard to pass, but at least after you pass a kidney stone, you feel better.

I say this from hard experience because I have had about half a dozen of the boulder-like calcium compounds. Unfortunately, they still don’t outnumber the rocks in my head.

But reaching birthdays ending in zero has never bothered me. That’s because I am a baby boomer, a member of the generation that used to say, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now that we are at least twice that age, we have developed a mathematical formula that would have earned all of us failing grades in school.

Here it is: 60 is the new 50. Or, even better, 60 is the new 40.

I don’t know if this makes Katie feel better (I doubt it), but it does wonders for me, except for one thing:

If I insisted I was 40, not only would I be the same age as my daughter, which would entail flunking both biology and algebra, but I’d have to unretire and go back to work. Even I’m not that stupid.

To any baby boomer who worries about those accumulating birthdays, I would tell you that this is the best time of life. Not only can you still do everything you have always done, but if there is 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 anyone who is younger, which these days includes almost everyone.

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

What you should say is: “I do think I should be lying in a hammock with a beer.”

This seldom works on spouses who not only are the same age but have a whole list of chores, errands and household projects for you to do.

There are two ways around this:

(a) Misplace the list. “I’m old,” you can then say. “What did you expect?”

(b) Do the chores so badly (“You mean I can’t use toilet bowl cleaner to wash the dishes?”) that you will never be asked to do them again.

The most difficult part about getting older is putting up with candle jokes. Like:

“What are you going to light them with, a flamethrower?”

“You’ll have to call the fire department to put them all out!”

“What’s the difference between you and your birthday cake? Answer: You’re not so hot anymore.”

Still, I am encouraged by the fact that longevity runs in my family. My mother, Rosina, is 95 and is sharper than I am. I admit that this isn’t such a great accomplishment because the same could be said for bathroom sponges. But my mom has grown old gracefully, as well as gratefully, with a positive outlook and a fabulous sense of humor.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she reaches 100. We will, of course, invite the fire department to the birthday party.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 19, 2020

"All Creatures Great and Annoying"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

As a longtime practitioner of animal husbandry, which makes me a husband who has had a lot of animals, I love all of God’s creatures, except certain creepy insects and other lower life forms, some of whom I have voted for.

Sue, whose husband I am, is even more of an animal lover. She would, I admit, hurt a fly, which is why, flyswatter in hand, she prowls the house in a relentless hunt for the little winged invaders.

But otherwise, she’s as gentle as a lamb, one of the few domestic creatures we have not had as pets over the years. Our menagerie has included a dog, a granddog, four cats, several hamsters, half a dozen gerbils and countless fish, one of which lives in a bowl on the liquor cabinet. I put it there so I could say our finny friend drinks like a fish.

But lately Sue has been at war with a pair of squirrels and an indeterminate number of rabbits (the population is uncertain because they breed like rabbits), all of whom are eating her flowers and the fruits and vegetables in her garden.

The squirrels are the worst. Sue thinks they are either siblings or a young married couple honeymooning on our property. I can just see the postcard: “The menu is wonderful. Wish you were here.”

I think they are cousins twice removed, though even if I removed them, they would return twice.

The problem is catching them. Because I am afraid of heights and lack a prehensile tail, which fell off when I was in college, I don’t climb trees.

Not that it matters because these rambunctious rodents frequently stay on the ground, taunting us. Most normal squirrels would beat a hasty retreat up a nearby oak when they saw a human. Or at least one that looks like me.

Our antagonists sit on the grass and stare directly at us. I could almost hear them say, “Nyah, nyah!” Then again, maybe it’s the wind.

The rabbits are just as bad. I’ve gone out and yelled, “Eh, what’s up, doc?” But they just twitch their noses at me. It’s infuriating.

Because Sue and I don’t want to resort to violence, although I hear there’s a sale on dynamite at the Acme Company, we have tried to come up with less harmful means of ridding the yard of these persistent pests.

My sister Elizabeth suggested cutlery.

“We don’t want to eat them,” I said.

“You don’t have to,” she replied. “Get some plastic forks and put them in the garden with the tines sticking up. That will discourage the critters.”

It worked for a while, until the critters figured out a way to get at Sue’s squash and string beans anyway.

“I hate squash, so they can have it,” I told Sue. “But I like string beans, so we’ll have to try something else.”

I suggested putting up a scarecrow with my picture on the face, but Sue said it would be cruelty to animals.

Then there was the coffee ground defense, which entails spreading grounds on the ground. It didn’t work.

“No wonder,” I said. “The coffee probably kept the critters up all night.”

Finally, Sue came up with a solution, which is, ironically, a solution containing water and hot red pepper. They are put into a plastic spray bottle and spritzed on the flowers and whatever grows in the garden, repelling squirrels, rabbits, birds, warthogs and any other creatures that have designs on your flora.

Unfortunately, it’s worked on only one creature.

“Eat your vegetables,” Sue said one evening at dinner.

“No, thanks,” I replied. “Give them to the squirrels. I’d hate to see any of God’s creatures go hungry.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 12, 2020

"A Fence Goes From Holey to Heavenly"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Good fences, as every homeowner knows, make bad property taxes. Bad fences make trouble, unless you have good neighbors, who are a blessing when a fence needs to be replaced.

And, lo, I was blessed not only with good neighbors, but with the fence guy for the pope.

Chris Curcio installed the fence around St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City when Pope Francis came to town in 2015.

“Did you meet the pope?” I asked Chris when he and his assistant, J.B. Becak, arrived to replace my backyard fence.

“No, but I saw him drive by,” said Chris. “He waved and gave me a blessing.”

“I’ve never met the pope, either,” I said. “But a cardinal lives in one of our trees.”

Chris told me that his full name is Christian.

“Does the pope know that?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Chris said. “But I hope it helps.”

“Have you ever been the fence guy for any other celebrities?” I wondered.

“Yes,” Chris replied. “I got the job when Trump and Hillary Clinton debated at Hofstra University in 2016.”

“Where do I rank among your customers?” I wanted to know.

“You’re just below the pope,” said Chris, “but way above the politicians.”

It was a great compliment considering that Chris, who’s 60 and owns Complete Fence and Railing of Long Island, N.Y., has had countless customers in his 40 years in the business.

“You know who a fence guy’s best friend is?” Chris said.

“Who?” I responded.

“A nosy neighbor,” he answered. “It will make somebody say, ‘I need a fence.’ There’s the old saying, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ But bad neighbors are good for me.”

“Do you have good neighbors?” I asked Chris, who has a four-foot-tall chain link fence bordering his property.

“Not the one who lives to the right of my house,” he said. “She’s getting a six-foot privacy fence. And I’m going to install it.”

As Chris has learned over the years, installation can lead to confrontation.

“On one job, there was a corner post and four people were involved,” he recalled. “They were fighting over where I was putting it. I said, ‘Leave me alone.’ People fight over inches. I’ve put up fences where I couldn’t step on the neighbor’s property.”

Nonetheless, people aren’t the greatest challenge.

“You know the No. 1 enemy of fence guys?” Chris said.

“What?” I replied.

“Lawn sprinklers. We bust them for a living,” he said, adding: “I saw your sprinklers. They’re safe.”

Unfortunately, our old fence wasn’t. It had holes big enough for dogs and cats to come through. One spot could have accommodated a grizzly bear.

So I asked my good backyard neighbor, Ann Marie, who had put up the fence many years before, if she wanted to split a new one, though not a fence of the split rail variety. Her good next-door neighbor, Leo, was replacing his perfectly usable stockade fence, which bordered the backyard of my good next-door neighbor, Bob, with a PVC fence.

Ann Marie kindly agreed and we got a great price from Chris, who is also the fence guy for Leo.

Chris and J.B., who both look like Olympic weightlifters, dismantled the old fence with tools and muscle.

“It’s good exercise,” said J.B., 47, who also owns J.B. 24-Hour Towing Service.

“My truck broke down the other day,” he told me. “I had to call another towing company. They double-charged me.”

Chris and J.B. attached the stockade fence to several posts, none of which was The Washington Post or the New York Post, and the improvement was remarkable.

“Now grizzly bears can’t get through,” Chris said.

“Great job,” I told him. “This is the answer to my prayers.”

“When you’re the fence guy for the pope,” Chris said, “miracles do happen.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 5, 2020

"Strawberry Fields for Joking"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
If I were to write a nursery rhyme about a garrulous geezer on a fruitful foray with his giddy granddaughters, it would go like this: “Punny Poppie picked a peck of perfect produce.”

That precious pair of pumpkins, Chloe, 7, and her sister, Lilly, 3, are the apples of my eye. Actually, both eyes, since there are two of them. And we love to go pumpkin and apple picking, though not at the same time because I couldn’t lug that much fruit without collapsing in a field of screams.

But we recently found ourselves in strawberry fields — not forever, but for an hour’s worth of picking pleasure.

Chloe, Lilly and I were accompanied by my wife, Sue, and our younger daughter, Lauren, the girls’ mother. We all wore masks, except to take pictures, and kept a social distance from other strawberry pickers, primarily to ensure physical safety but also to protect the mental health of innocent bystanders who might otherwise be exposed to my stupid jokes.

Like this one:

Me: “Knock, knock.”

Chloe and Lilly: “Who’s there?”

Me: “Berry.”

Chloe and Lilly: “Berry who?”

Me: “We’re having a berry good time!”

Chloe and Lilly giggled. Other pickers picked up the pace.

Two who bravely didn’t were a very nice woman named Jenny and her equally nice granddaughter, Abby.

“Hi!” Chloe chirped. “My name is Chloe and this is my sister, Lilly. What’s your name?”

“Jenny,” said Jenny.

“What’s your name?” Chloe asked Abby.

“Abby,” said Abby, who is the same age as Chloe.

“Nice to meet you,” said Chloe, who pointed to me and said, “This is my grandfather, Poppie.”

“Hi, Poppie,” said Jenny.

“Hi, Grammy,” I replied when she told me what Abby calls her. “Are you a singer?”

“I wish,” said Jenny.

“I can sing,” said Abby.

“You must be good,” I said. “You have a Grammy.”

That joke and another one I told about not being Chuck Berry went over Abby’s head (she’s short), but that didn’t stop Chloe from repeating my earlier one: “We’re having a berry good time!”

Jenny and Abby laughed.

“Chloe is funny,” Jenny said. “She must take after her grandfather.”

Sue and Lauren shook their heads and kept walking.

After saying goodbye to Jenny and Abby, the girls and I took a strawberry shortcut, moving over to an untouched row to select the plumpest, juiciest berries.

“Look at mine, Poppie!” exclaimed Lilly, who tossed away a few that weren’t up to her standards and filled her basket with only perfect pickings.

Chloe also had discerning tastes and even faster fingers, loading her basket in what must have been record time.

After an hour, the Strawberry Alarm Clock went off in my head and we headed back to our cars. On the way, Chloe introduced herself to a girl named April, who said she has a brother named Colton. As he passed by, Chloe said, “Your name is Colton!”

The kid blanched and said, “How did you know?”

“You’re famous,” I told him.

He stared at me incredulously.

“Your sister told me,” Chloe explained. “Look at our strawberries!”

“Wow,” said Colton.

“We left some for you out in the field,” I said. “But you better hurry up. They’re going fast.”

Colton looked at me warily and walked away.

We stopped at the stand for an orchard pie filled with blueberries, raspberries and, of course, strawberries.

When we got to our cars, Lauren said she was going to use her berries to make smoothies for the girls.

Sue said she was going to make strawberry shortcake.

After popping a sweet berry into my mouth, I said I was going to make my own creation: strawberry daiquiris.

“After listening to your stupid jokes,” Sue said, “I could use one.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 28, 2020

"Where There's a Grill, There's a Way"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
When it comes to grilling, I am usually cooking with gas. Unfortunately, I couldn’t cook on our new grill for a month after we bought it. And even with the gas off, I almost blew my top.

The hot-button issue began when my wife, Sue, and I went to a home improvement store for a new grill to replace our old one, a pathetic contraption we had for several years, during which time it charred countless hamburgers, hot dogs, spareribs and (yuck!) vegetables. Eventually, rust and grease were the words.

So Sue and I got a new grill that would be delivered already assembled. A good thing, too, because I put together the first grill we ever had. It took me a week. When I finally got the stupid thing assembled, there were about a dozen parts left over.

Like a mobster who makes his wife start his car every morning, I told Sue that if she wanted me to cook on the grill, she’d have to light it.

Luckily, we didn’t have a blowup. All the grills we’ve had since then have come pre-assembled.

That included this latest one, which was delivered about two weeks after we bought it. The problem was that, unlike the others, it wouldn’t start. At first I thought it was the tank, so I bought a new one with, of course, fresh gas, which is frequently the result of my cooking.

I stood on the patio, put my finger on the ignition and said, “Gentleman, start your grill.” Not even a spark. So I called, paradoxically, the hot line and spoke with a very nice customer service representative named Savanna.

“I’m not a griller,” admitted Savanna, who had been on the job for only four months. “I’ve never tried. I didn’t know that gas tanks expired until I started working here. I’ve learned so much.”

One of the things she learned was the bubble test.

“Get a spray bottle with soap and water and spray the hose and regulator to see if there’s a gas leak,” Savanna said.

“I’ve never even taken a bubble bath,” I said while doing as instructed. No bubbles, bubbles, but there was toil and trouble, which entailed lighting a match and trying, futilely, to start the grill that way.

“Apparently, there’s not a leak, but we’ll send you a free replacement hose and regulator anyway,” said Savanna, who got the apparatus to me in about week.

When it arrived, I fetched a wrench and, while removing the original hose and regulator, gashed my middle finger. It was appropriate.

After stanching a Niagara-like torrent of blood, I got the new thingamajig attached. Then I tried to start the grill.

It was still the mechanical equivalent of a mime. I wanted to hit it with the wrench but feared it would erupt like the Hindenburg, causing Sue to exclaim, “Oh, the stupidity!”

The next day, I called the hot line again and this time spoke with an equally nice representative named Nipa, who is a vegetarian and, like Savanna, doesn’t grill.

I gave her the whole sad story. Nipa listened patiently and said, “Remove the ignition button.” I did. Then she said, “Is there a battery in there?”

“No,” I answered sheepishly.

“Get a double-A battery and put it in,” Nipa instructed. “Insert the negative first and the positive facing the cap.”

Voila! The grill started on the first try.

“You’re a genius,” I told Nipa, who was too polite to say that I’m not. “And you’re invited over for our first cookout on the new grill. I’ll even make you some veggies.”

“Thank you,” Nipa said. “What can I bring?”

“How about some batteries?” I suggested. “Without them, I wouldn’t be cooking with gas.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 21, 2020

"It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Because I am full of hot air, which could earn me a spot as a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff.

Instead, I save it for the big stuff, like installing air conditioners, which works me into such a sweat that I need to turn them on immediately so I won’t pop like a helium balloon and go flying out the window.

That’s why this year, like the previous 21 years we have been in our house, my wife, Sue, and I have vowed to get central air-conditioning next year.

“This is the last time I’m doing this,” I told Sue as we headed for the storage area of the garage, where I dumped the bedroom and office air conditioners after I took them out of their respective windows last year.

“You’re too old,” Sue stated.

“I am not,” I responded defensively, even though I am clearly a geezer. “I just don’t want to wrench my back like I did a few years ago and end up looking like Quasimodo. I have a hunch it will happen again.”

This was the worst year because we rearranged the storage area to make room for a new refrigerator, with the result that the two air conditioners were buried under and surrounded by so much stuff that, if it were put on a scale at a truck stop, the stuff would have outweighed the air conditioners.

And trust me, each unit weighs approximately as much as a baby grand piano, which I can’t even play.

Since we have been waiting during the quarantine for a new kitchen cabinet to be installed, the stuff included enough dishes to feed the entire population of Liechtenstein if we invited them over for dinner. For this and other reasons that made no sense, there also were coffee cups, soup bowls, a sugar bowl, three chairs, a large metal pot, toilet paper, popcorn, a stool, board games, paper towels, Christmas lights, Easter baskets, a wreath, several tote bags and a big plastic bin filled with Christmas decorations.

“You can maneuver your way around this stuff,” Sue said.

“I can’t maneuver around you,” I said as she stood in my way.

“You’re always looking for the easy way out,” Sue replied.

“There is no easy way out of this,” I noted as we cleared a path.

With each unit, I squatted, tried to get a firm grasp, gritted my teeth and, with a jerk (me), rose to my feet, one of which, I was sure, would be flattened like roadkill if I dropped the metal monstrosity.

Through the garage, the laundry room, the kitchen, the family room and the front hallway I lurched, resting at the bottom of the stairs before climbing the domestic equivalent of Mount Everest.

It was a miracle I didn’t rupture a vital organ.

I got the bedroom AC in the window, which I took the precaution to open first, but had to take it back out when Sue noticed that it was resting so precariously on the sill that it would undoubtedly wait until I was outside, directly underneath, before falling two stories onto my skull, which wouldn’t faze me but would damage the unit so badly that I’d have to buy a new one.

I repeated this process with the office AC, the installation of which required me to move a bookcase — after taking out all the books, of course — so I could plug the stupid thing in.

Both are working nicely, making the upstairs comfortable for sleeping and working, which I often do simultaneously, but this time I mean it: Next year, we’re getting central air.

“If not,” I told Sue, “I will definitely lose my cool.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima