Sunday, May 24, 2020

"Here's the Dirt on Vegetables"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Jerry, Jerry, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Not too well, unfortunately, because my green thumb is probably a fungus and my wife, Sue, is the real gardener in the family. I just provide the fertilizer.

But since the weather was nice and we wanted to get out of the house, where Sue has been stuck with me since the quarantine began, I decided to help start her garden, where she will grow all the vegetables I don’t like but have to eat anyway because, as Sue often tells me, “they’re good for you.”

To which I invariably reply, “I’m a vegetable myself. Isn’t that good enough?”

Apparently not, so Sue and I went to the landfill to get free topsoil.

“It’s even better than dirt cheap,” I said as I shoveled the stuff into two large lawn and garden bags, which weighed so much that lifting them into the car was a pain in the asparagus.

When we got home, I unloaded the loam, sweet loam and went to the shed, a dilapidated structure housing tools that, to call a spade a spade, I hate. That’s because they are dangerous weapons in my hands, which often bleed as a result, and are used to grow the vegetables I hate even more.

One of the tools I brought out looked like a spade, but Sue corrected me.

“That’s an ice chopper!” she said incredulously. “Wrong season. A lot you know about planting a garden.”

I knew enough to bring out more appropriate tools, including a shovel, a hoe, a leaf rake, an iron rake and a trowel.

I ripped open the bags of soil and dumped them into the garden, a small patch measuring 10 feet by 5 feet in which Sue planned to plant beets, onions, string beans, peppers, basil, cucumbers and, with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

She also will grow tomatoes, which I like because botanically they aren’t vegetables but fruits, and squash, which I dislike more than anything that grows in nature with the possible exception of poison ivy, though it probably tastes better.

“Why don’t you like squash?” Sue asked.

“Because,” I replied, “I’d rather play tennis.”

Sue rolled her eyes, through which she noticed that I was standing there, a shovel in one hand, an iron rake in the other, like one half of the famous Grant Wood painting “American Gothic.”

“Are you the Farmer in the Dell?” Sue asked.

“I’m more like the Farmer in the Dull,” I responded.

Sue didn’t disagree.

“Or,” I added, “if you pickle the cucumbers, I’d be the Farmer in the Dill.”

Sue ignored the remark and said, “Last year, I had red hot chili peppers.”

“I must have missed the concert,” I noted.

“I put them in the freezer,” Sue said.

“I guess they’re not hot anymore,” I told her.

She told me to get going, which meant using the leaf rake to remove leftover autumn leaves, the shovel to dig up clumps of dead grass and the iron rake to spread out the dirt.

Then Sue got down and dirty as she planted rows of onion and beet seeds.

“Do you want me to help?” I asked. “I’ve gone to seed.”

Sue declined my generous offer but warned me to watch out for her chamomile flowers.

“The chamomile fits you to a tea,” I said.

“Too bad I can’t plant grapes,” Sue remarked. “I’d use them to make wine. After being out here with you, I need a glass.”

Still, it was a successful start to the garden, where Sue will grow all the greens that are supposedly good for me.

“Thanks,” I said as I put away the tools. “Now I can throw in the trowel.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 17, 2020

"Just What the Doctor Ordered"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
If I have learned anything during this pandemic, aside from the fact that it’s extremely difficult to eat while wearing a face mask, making starvation another health risk, it’s that having a good doctor is very important.

I also have learned that it’s not a good idea to go to the doctor because you could get sick. Then, of course, you’d have to go to the doctor.

That’s why I was happy to see my doctor without having to leave the house.

I used my cellphone to have a virtual visit with Dr. M, which stands for mirth because he believes that laughter is the best medicine, not to mention the cheapest, even with a copay.

He proved it by telling me a joke that’s too risqué to repeat in a family newspaper. It involved dogs.

“You’re not even a veterinarian,” I told Dr. M.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It was a good joke.”

“Are you going to prescribe flea powder?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Just dog biscuits.”

“How do I look?” I wondered.

“Very healthy,” Dr. M said.

“I always look better from a distance,” I noted.

“Are you more than six feet away?” the good doctor asked.

“Try about three miles,” I said.

“Good,” he said. “That means you don’t have to wear a mask.”

“Should I stick out my tongue and say ‘ah’?” I wanted to know.

“Did you brush your teeth?” he asked.

“This morning,” I said. “Or was it yesterday morning?”

“Don’t bother,” said Dr. M, who told me that his medical assistant, Jennifer, was going to ask me some questions.

She popped up on the screen wearing a mask, through which she said, “Hi, Mr. Zezima.” Then she said, “How tall are you?”

“I’m sitting down, so I’m about 3-foot-8,” I replied.

“How tall are you when you’re standing up?” Jennifer asked.

“Six feet,” I said. “But I need a haircut, so I’m probably more like 6-5.”

“How much do you weigh?” Jennifer asked.

“I had a big lunch, so I feel like I’m 400 pounds,” I said. “Ordinarily, I’m 175.”

“How old are you?” Jennifer inquired.

“According to Social Security, I’m 66,” I said.

“You don’t look it,” said Jennifer.

“You mean I look even older?” I said. “I must be having a bad face day.”

“You’re a young man,” said Dr. M, who is older than I am.

I rolled up my sleeve, extended my arm and asked, “Are you going to take my blood pressure?”

“We haven’t figured out how to do that through the computer,” he said. “But you seem to have a pulse. How are you doing in this pandemic?”

“Fine, except I’m bothered by two things,” I said. “First, everyone tells me that everything I’m doing to stay safe is wrong. They think they’re all experts.”

“Tell them to call me,” said Dr. M. “What’s the other thing?”

“Those TV commercials for medicines that are supposed to help you, but they come with warnings about how bad they can be,” I said. “Some of the side effects include death.”

“If a medicine can kill you,” Dr. M said, “don’t take it. Water is good for you, but if you are under it, you can drown. If it’s too hot, it can kill you. If it’s too cold, it can kill you. Everything in moderation. Have a glass of red wine at dinner. It’s good for the heart.”

“You have a very good phone-side manner,” I said.

“Thank you,” Dr. M replied. “And I didn’t keep you waiting.”

“My time is not valuable,” I said, “but I appreciate it.”

“Stay healthy,” Dr. M said before signing off, “and you’ll always have the last laugh.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 10, 2020

"How to Wash Your Hands"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
If, at the end of this pandemic, the world is hit with a biblical drought, which means there won’t be enough water to make beer, there will be only one person to blame.

That would be yours truly. And the reason is simple: I wash my hands approximately 147 times a day.

I also throw potentially contaminated jeans, pants, sweatpants, shirts, sweatshirts, T-shirts, boxer shorts, socks, pajamas, face masks, hand towels, bath towels, dish towels, dishcloths, washcloths, handkerchiefs and anything else made of a washable material in the laundry at a rate that will undoubtedly cause a flood during the rinse cycle and the washing machine to sink like the Titanic.

But doctors, nurses and other medical experts, who do not include politicians, even though some of them think they are, say it’s important to wash your hands. This not only kills germs, but it can dry out your hands so much that you need to keep washing them to get the moisture necessary to dry them out again.

I have washed my hands so often that I am convinced one of two things will happen: (a) they will fall off, in which case I will either starve to death or be known as Stumpy, or (b) my skin will become so leathery that I will be classified as a reptile, which will give my wife an excuse to say, “See you later, alligator,” or it will peel away in sheets and be used to make jackets, boots and whips, in which case I will be known as Kinky.

Still, handwashing is de rigueur mortis, a French phrase meaning “socially required dead skin.”

According to the aforementioned experts, and possibly the music industry, you should sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice while washing your hands. Unless you sing either too fast or too slowly, or can’t remember the lyrics, or even your own name, this will take 20 seconds, which is how long it takes to eradicate the germs.

But according to those very same experts, who just won’t shut up, most people wash their hands incorrectly because they don’t get enough soap between their fingers and under their nails.

Also, when you wash your hands, you are supposed to go all the way up to your elbows. The third or fourth time I did this, because I don’t catch on too quickly, it dawned on me that maybe I should roll up my sleeves.

But why stop at your elbows? Why not your armpits (which could probably use some soap) or your shoulders? Hell, why not strip naked and get in the shower? (Hint: Turn on the water or it won’t work.)

But here’s the real question: What if you wash your hands for only 19 seconds? I guess that means it won’t work, either, and you’ll have to begin all over again.

One good thing to come out of this, aside from the fact that I should get a birthday cake every day, is that I sing so badly that even if I were around people other than my wife, it would ensure six feet (and maybe six miles) of social distancing.

One of the bad things is that if you go out, you have to wear gloves to keep your hands clean, but when you take them off, you have to wash your hands again. And you’re not supposed to touch your face except, I suppose, to wash it, after which you should — that’s right — wash your hands.

So it’s a good idea to listen to the experts, even at the risk of creating a worldwide water shortage.

And after this pandemic is over, I am going to wash my hands of the whole damn thing.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 3, 2020

"Look Who's Walking"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
For years, countless people, many of whom I can’t count on, have told me to take a hike. Now that we’ve been quarantined in a house where social distancing is impossible, unless you stay in the bathroom all day, my wife, Sue, has been telling me to take one, too. 

So I recently went on what I thought would be a leisurely stroll with her and almost ended up being a dead man walking.

That’s because Sue is a power walker. I’m more like a Johnnie Walker. In fact, I should have scotched the walk as soon as it became apparent, approximately three yards into it, that I could never keep up without suffering some sort of cardiac event.

“It’s a nice day,” Sue said. “I need to get out or I’ll go stir crazy.”

“If you don’t stir anything,” I replied helpfully, “you won’t go crazy.”

Sue rolled her eyes and said, “Let’s go.”

And go we did, often at a pace that must have exceeded our neighborhood’s speed limit of 30 miles an hour.

“You’re going to get a ticket,” I yelled as Sue zipped down the street.

If this had been the Kentucky Derby, in which I’d be the back end of a horse, Sue would have won going away.

“I can’t keep up with you furlong,” I said to Sue, who either couldn’t hear me or refused to acknowledge the kind of remark that made her want to get out of the house in the first place.

Unlike racehorses, we weren’t running, though I would have had to sprint to keep up with Sue, whose legs are much shorter than mine but evidently work like pistons, whereas mine operate more like the hands of a broken clock.

I knew our jaunt was dangerous when I saw her blow through two stop signs.

“Is that the way you drive?” I shouted.

Sue jammed on the brakes and idled at a third stop sign so I could catch up.

“Thanks,” I said, gasping so violently that I was surprised I didn’t inhale a passing Chihuahua, which was walking with a larger dog and two human companions.

“Hello!” I chirped. “It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”

They ignored me and kept going.

“They’re not practicing social distancing,” I told Sue.

“They’re probably married,” she responded.

“The dogs?” I said.

Sue sighed and said, “On the next leg, we’re going down this street and around the corner. Can you keep up?”

“If not, I’ll die trying,” I answered, having recovered enough to give up on the idea of pulling out my cellphone and calling 911.

Sue took off like a drag racer, which made me realize that behind every good woman is a man who’s about to have a heart attack.

I stopped in front of a nice Colonial, not just to catch my breath, which must have smelled awful, but to let the operator of an SUV make a left turn into his driveway.

“I didn’t want to collapse in front of your car,” I told the guy, who had rolled down his window.

“Then you would have been a speed bump,” he said with a smile as he pulled in.

I almost ended up being one anyway as I followed Sue, who was crossing the double yellow lines in the middle of the road. Cars that didn’t come near her seemed to be aiming for me.

I imagined my obituary: “Elderly man becomes roadkill.”

Finally, around the bend, what did I see? Our house! Sue, a former Girl Scout, stopped at the corner and helped me cross the street.

“We killed an hour,” she said.

“You almost killed me,” I replied.

Inside, I went to the refrigerator for a beer. It was the safest walk of the day.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
To say that the quarantine has been hair-raising would be the unkindest cut of all. I know this because I hadn’t had a haircut in a month and a half and was starting to look like Medusa, the mythical monster with snakes coming out of her head, so I risked shear hell and gave myself a trim.

On the plus side, I found out from my barber, Maria Santos, that my natural hair color is blond.

“Dirty blond,” Maria said when I called her for a consultation in which she advised against using a hedge trimmer on my unruly locks, which were starting to sprout more gray matter than I have on the inside of my head.

Maria is to dye for. That’s what she does when I go for a haircut. At my age (old enough to know better), I need a little touch-up to prevent me from looking like the geezer I really am.

The good news is that 66 is the new 46. The bad news is that I haven’t looked 46 since I was 36.

At that age, I sported an Afro. I looked like legendary musician Billy Preston, whose massive mane probably prevented him from fitting through doorways.

I also resembled legendary comedian Harpo Marx, who had dirty blond curls and didn’t speak, a characteristic that family, friends and even complete strangers wish I would adopt.

“If you are going to cut your own hair,” Maria said, “get a pair of professional hair-cutting scissors.”

The problem, she added, is that if I ordered them online, they might not be delivered for weeks, at which point I’d need a landscaper.

When I asked about an electric hair clipper, which I also would have to order, Maria said, “If you start buzzing and make your hair too short, it could be a disaster.”

“Then I’d look like Curly of the Three Stooges,” I said. “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”

“You could always wear a do-rag,” Maria suggested.

“All I have is a don’t-rag,” I replied.

I decided to use a pair of regular household scissors, which I didn’t tell Maria about because she had already warned me that in the wrong hands (mine), they also could cause trouble.

“Your hair is coarse,” she explained.

“Maybe I could sell the clippings to Brillo,” I said.

But I did tell her that I had bought a popular men’s hair color product that, in my case, should be renamed Just for Morons.

“What shade did you get?” Maria asked.

“Medium brown,” I answered.

“That’s too dark,” she said, adding that I should have gotten something lighter.

“I’ve always been lightheaded,” I told Maria.

“That’s because you’re a dirty blond,” she said.

“Do dirty blonds have more fun?” I wondered.

“Yes, but only if they don’t mess up the color,” said Maria, who added that leaving it in for five minutes, as recommended on the box, was excessive. “Men are impatient anyway,” she said. “And you still want a little gray to show through so you can look distinguished.”

I thanked Maria for her expertise and told her I’d make an appointment when it’s safe to come out again. Then I went upstairs to the bathroom and, scissors in hand, took a little off the sides and around the ears. Fortunately, I didn’t end up looking like Vincent van Gogh.

I applied the hair color to my head, mustache and eyebrows, waited three minutes and washed it out in the shower.

“Not bad,” said my wife, Sue.

“I should open my own salon, Mr. Jerry’s House of Style,” I said.

“Don’t even think about cutting my hair,” Sue said.

“I can’t wait until the quarantine is over,” I said. “It sure has been a hairy situation.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 19, 2020

"Love at the Landfill"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Love, as a newfangled saying goes, means never having to say you’re sorry for practicing social distancing.

My wife, Sue, and I, who have always believed in social togetherness, recently celebrated our 42nd anniversary in the most romantic way possible in this age of quarantine:

We got out of the house and took a trip to the dump.

Our passion burned intensely as we contemplated a pile of logs that would never burn intensely in our backyard fire pit.

So, after they were cut up from a tree that was struck by lightning, which did not create sparks between us, Sue and I decided to load the logs into my car for a scenic drive to a nearby landfill.

While Sue, wearing gloves and a scarf, was at the grocery store to buy our pre-made anniversary dinners (spaghetti and clams for me, calamari for her), I was in the yard, plopping wood into a wheelbarrow.

At the same time, three cable guys showed up to do fiberoptic work.

“You couldn’t have picked a better day,” I told them. “It’s my anniversary. And I’m celebrating by taking my wife to the landfill.”

“Are they open?” the crew chief asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Just for me and my wife.”

“That’s so nice of them!” another guy exclaimed.

“Do they have champagne and strawberries for you?” a third one inquired.

“I hope so,” I said before asking the crew chief if he was married.

“Yes,” he said.

“Have you ever done anything this romantic with your wife?” I queried.

“No, you got me beat,” he said.

When I told one of the other guys that Sue gave me the wheelbarrow for our anniversary a few years ago, he said, “What did she get for you this year, a shovel?”

Just then, Sue arrived back home.

“Happy anniversary!” the guys said to her in unison.

“Thank you!” Sue gushed.

“Are you going to the dump now?” one of them asked.

“Yes,” said Sue.

“Do you have a picnic basket and a blanket?” the crew chief asked.

“That would have been a great idea — lunch at the landfill,” I said.

“Have fun, you lovebirds!” the crew chief said as he and the other guys again wished us a happy anniversary and headed for the yard next door.

Sue and I put roughly 17 tons of logs into the back of my car. As we buckled up in the front seat, I said, “You can’t say I’m a bump on a log today.”

Sue sighed and said, “Just drive.”

When we got to the dump, I told the lady in the booth about our special day.

“It’s our anniversary and we’re spending it here,” I said.

“Well,” she responded, “it’s a unique way to celebrate.”

After parking in the designated area for brush and wood, we met a nice guy named Anthony, who was unloading logs from his car, too.

“I don’t know if I would bring my wife to the dump for our anniversary,” he said, “but she does help me with yard work.”

Anthony helped Sue and me by taking a picture of us.

“It’ll be a keepsake,” he said. “You’ll always remember your anniversary at the landfill.”

Sue and I thanked Anthony and drove home. We had so much fun that we loaded the car with more logs and made a second trip to the dump, where I told another booth attendant about this landmark event.

“Happy anniversary!” she chirped.

It was happy indeed. After Sue and I got back home, we had a candlelight dinner and toasted each other with wine.

“I don’t know how we can top this next year,” I said.

“I do,” said Sue. “You can take me on a trip. And not to the dump.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 12, 2020

"What's the Good Word?"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a man of many words, not all of them repeatable in a quarantine, I will say that “quarantine” would be a great word to use if you were playing Scrabble.

That’s because it would be worth 19 points, most of them coming from the letter Q, which by itself is worth 10. And if you got a triple word score, it would be worth 57 points.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough of the right letters to spell “quarantine” during a game of Scrabble that my wife, Sue, and I played when it became sadly apparent that there was nothing else to do while we were quarantined.

You might think that because I’m a writer, I would be a great Scrabble player. Not so. Sue, a teacher’s assistant in a preschool, was an English major in college, where I, then a man of few words (“Another beer, bartender”), majored in stupidity.

My chances were slim (6 points) because I always lost when I played Sue’s late grandmother. (She was alive then, which gave her an unfair advantage.) I was even defeated by my daughters, Katie and Lauren, when they were adolescents.

This was embarrassing (17 points), which is why I hadn’t played Scrabble in years (8 points).

But on a rainy afternoon, after we got tired of watching HGTV (no points because acronyms and proper names aren’t allowed), Sue suggested we engage in a war of words.

“Let’s have some wine,” said Sue, who had a glass of white (11 points) while I had a glass of red (only 4 points).

We sat at the kitchen table with the board and tiles.

“You go first,” I told Sue, who replied, “You’re such a gentleman.”

“That would be worth 12 points,” I remarked.

Sue took a sip of wine and said, “This is going to be a long game.”

Her first word was “hand,” which was worth 8 points.

Mine was “ham,” which also was worth 8 points.

“It describes you,” Sue commented.

Back and forth we went, up and down the board, trying for big scores with letters such as X (8 points), which Sue used to spell “fix” (13 points), and Z (10 points), which I used to spell “zonk” (17 points).

“Don’t cheat by making up words,” Sue said when I came up with something that is not, technically, English.

After Sue spelled “harp” (9 points), I added an O to make “Harpo,” one of the Marx Brothers, but Sue immediately nixed it by saying it’s a proper name.

“Imagine the score I could have had with Zeppo,” I noted.

The game dragged on, with short, safe, low-impact words such as “mutt” (6 points), “dire” (5 points) and “gun” (4 points).

“Is ‘ya’ a word?” Sue asked.

“Ya,” I responded.

It garnered Sue a grand total of 5 points.

“I’m out of vowels,” she said.

“You can buy a vowel,” I told her.

“That’s on ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ not in Scrabble,” Sue reminded me. “Besides, who would get the money?”

“Who else is here?” I said.

“Forget it,” Sue said. “Your turn.”

The game continued. So did the wine. Our battle (8 points) lasted so long that we each had a second glass.

“This is the only way the words ‘Chardonnay’ and ‘Cabernet’ are allowed in Scrabble,” I said.

“Cheers,” Sue replied.

Words such as “wet” (6 points), “trim” (6 points) and “lob” (5 points) appeared on the board before we ran out of tiles and the game was over.

Final score: Jerry 266, Sue 222.

“You wouldn’t have won if my grandmother had been playing,” Sue said.

I nodded and said, “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima