Saturday, February 16, 2019

"Moving Company Declares Chapter 60"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
The best thing about being a baby boomer, aside from believing that 60 is the new 40, which explains why I can’t balance my checkbook, is that you can still do everything you have always done, but if there is something you don’t want to do anymore, you can pull the age card.

Lugging furniture falls into this category. If you are the lugger, you will fall, too, wrenching your back in the process.

That is why the Zezima Moving, Storage and Hernia Co. is going out of business. I will say for legal purposes that the corporation is liquidating. The liquid, I hasten to add, is beer, which is what I have needed after each of the many moves I have made for family and friends over a painful period dating back to the Carter administration.

The last one occurred recently when I was assigned to remove a couch from my mother-in-law’s house in Stamford, Connecticut, load it into a rented truck and drive it to Long Island, New York, where it had to be unloaded and replaced by another couch that then had to be driven to the landfill, where I also would have ended up if I could afford the dumping fee.

There were three main problems:

(a) My mother-in-law’s couch weighed approximately as much as the truck.

(b) The house was evidently built around it.

(c) It was raining so hard that I should have rented an ark.

This required brains and brawn. Since I am sorely lacking in both, and have the soreness to prove it, I enlisted the help of my nephew Blair, who has a prodigious quantity of each, plus something I haven’t had in the 40 years since I was his age:

(d) Youth.

As the rain rained down, I had a brainstorm: I covered the couch with a drop cloth to protect it from the downpour. Unfortunately, the cloth was not waterproof. It was like putting a napkin on your head before walking under Niagara Falls.

To compound matters, the couch was leather. I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t leather kinky? Answer: Yes, which is why I got a massive kink in my back.

Leather is also slippery, which makes it hard to grasp, so I had to bend down and lift one end. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning coursed down my spine and stopped directly above my end.

Then Blair and I had to tilt the couch this way and that to get it through the narrow doorway and were instantly drenched by the monsoon outside.

With the aid of my wife, Sue, and our younger daughter, Lauren, we got the couch down a walkway, over a wall and into the truck. I drove back in the pathetic vehicle, whose original owners must have been the Flintstones, and headed to Lauren’s house.

There, my son-in-law Guillaume and I risked further back trouble (he already had sciatica) by carrying the couch up a flight of stairs. We looked like Laurel and Hardy doing the same thing with a piano in “The Music Box,” for which they won an Oscar.

Guillaume and I deserved a Harry because we were harried by our wives to get the couch into the house, from which we had to remove another couch, which thank God was lighter, and drive it to the dump.

“I’m too old for this,” I told Sue after we had returned the truck and got into my car for the ride home. “The next time furniture needs to be lugged, someone else can do it.”

Later, I settled my sore back onto our couch, which isn’t going anywhere, and had a beer. It was the best move of the day.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, February 3, 2019

"A Long Bout of Social Insecurity"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Now that I have turned 65, which makes me old enough to know better but still less mature than my grandchildren, I am contemplating retirement because, according to the Social Security Administration, it doesn’t pay to be working posthumously.

So I went to my local Social Security office to sign up for Medicare and encountered so many people that I figured I’d still be there when I turn 66, at which time I can get full benefits.

“You can die of old age in this place,” I said to a nice couple named Janice and Andrew, who sat next to me in the back row.

“Medicare won’t cover it,” said Janice, who’s 69 and still works as a school secretary.

“And if you’re dead,” added Andrew, 66, who lost his job as a machinist at a company with offices in Connecticut and on Long Island, New York, “you can’t get Social Security anymore.”

“It pays to stay alive,” Janice said.

“If you can call this living,” added Andrew, noting that it was the third time he and and Janice had been in the Social Security office.

“This is my first time,” I told them.

“You always remember your first time,” Janice said with a wink.

I figured my visit would be unforgettable when I arrived at 10 a.m. and walked into what looked like a Cecil B. DeMille epic.

“I’ve been here since 8:41,” said Harry, 50, who sat on my other side. He used crutches because he had leg surgery and was on temporary disability.

“What’s your number?” I asked.

“D606,” he said.

“Mine is A228,” I told him.

“You’ll probably get called before I do,” said Harry. “They won’t take pity on me.”

“You’re just using that as a crutch,” I said.

Harry got up and limped away. He returned about five minutes later.

“Was it something I said?” I wondered.

Harry shook his head and replied, “I had to go to the bathroom.”

In less time than it would take a kindergartner to read “War and Peace,” my number was called.

“Bye, everybody!” I said and walked up to, appropriately, Window 0, behind which was a nice young woman who asked why I was there.

I told her I wanted to apply for Medicare, adding: “I would get COBRA, but I’d be covered only if I was bitten by a poisonous snake.”

“May I have your Social Security number?” the woman asked.

I didn’t want to yell it out in a place containing the approximate population of Luxembourg, so I wrote it on a piece of paper and slipped it under the window.

“You can sit down until you’re called again,” she said pleasantly.

When I returned to my seat, Janice, Andrew and Harry said in unison, “Welcome back, Jerry!”

I scanned the room. Some people were on their phones, others were chatting, one woman was reading a book (not one of mine, unfortunately) and a fellow geezer was snoozing.

Another guy was wearing a sweatshirt with the skull-and-horns logo of the heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch, which prompted Janice to say, “I’d like to give this place a one finger death punch.”

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. The Social Security folks were courteous and helpful. And the people I sat with, despite their grumbling, were friendly and funny.

“If you don’t laugh,” Janice remarked, “you’ll cry.”

I cried for joy when my name was called. I went to Window 1 and was told by another nice young woman that the earliest appointment was in two months.

“See you then,” Janice said as I left. “We’ll still be here.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, January 20, 2019

"The Grandkid Olympics in Poppie's Gym"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a lean, mean geezer machine, I have managed to keep my boyish figure all these years by strictly adhering to Zezima’s First Rule of Physical Fitness: Exercise and health food will kill you.

That’s why my regimen is limited to 12-ounce curls, which are performed with bottles containing corn, hops, barley, water and other healthful ingredients; the avoidance of all vegetables except, of course, myself; and a daily glass of red wine, which is, according to my doctor, over-the-counter heart medicine.

But I have reached the age (old enough to know better) where I really should be more active than getting up twice a night to go to the bathroom.

That’s where my grandchildren come in.

Chloe, who will be 6 in March; her sister, Lilly, who turned 2 in October; and their cousin, Xavier, who will be 2 in March, are the proprietors of Poppie’s Gym, a floating health club and potential emergency care facility that is situated wherever the kids and I happen to be.

The various sites include my house, their houses, the backyards of the aforementioned places, the kiddie pool, the playground, the vineyard, the orchard, the amusement park and whatever store, outlet or mall where my wife and/or daughters are shopping while I am watching or, more likely, chasing the children.

Activities include walking, running, hopping, skipping, jumping, crawling, scampering, splashing, dancing, throwing, batting, kicking and weightlifting. If there were a grandfather competition in the Olympics, I would have won gold in all these events and appeared on boxes of Wheaties, my smiling visage covered with an oxygen mask.

I recently ramped up the exertion level when all three grandchildren visited. It was invigorating, especially when I hoisted Chloe, who weighs almost 50 pounds; Xavier, who tips the scales at 30 pounds; and Lilly, the peanut of the bunch at 23 pounds but whose squirminess in my arms amounts to a clean and jerk, the former involving a diaper change and the latter describing me.

Then there was the 100-inch dash, in which I chased Chloe and Lilly across the family room and back again so many times that a calculator would have exploded like the Hindenburg.

Xavier preferred the biathlon, which entailed playing peekaboo and then running around the room with Poppie on his heels. It’s a miracle I didn’t wear out my heels.

On numerous occasions, all the kids wanted to take my hand and play with me individually. This would require me either to be three people (as my wife would say, isn’t one enough?) or to have three hands, which would make it extremely difficult to buy gloves.

After several days, the Olympics were over and Xavier went back home. My wife and I will soon get on a plane to visit him and the athletics will continue. We often see Chloe and Lilly, who live only about 45 minutes away, so Poppie will be sure to keep in tip-top shape.

In fact, shortly after the sporting events had ceased, I went to the doctor for a checkup. My heart rate and blood pressure were perfect, my weight was normal and overall I was declared a remarkable physical specimen.

“What do you do to stay so fit?” the doctor asked.

“I play with my grandchildren,” I replied.

“Keep it up,” she advised. “It beats getting up twice a night to go to the bathroom.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Shanks for the Memories of Rikers Island"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a fugitive from justice who has committed countless crimes against journalism (I plead insanity to all of them), I am not ashamed to admit that I was on Rikers Island.

Now my past has caught up with me because I recently found out that one of the security guards at work was a correction officer at Rikers when I was there.

“I recognize you!” Kenneth McDougall said when I flashed my pass at the company entrance. “They let you out?”

“They had to,” I replied. “I was a bad influence on the other inmates.”

Here’s my confession: Several years ago, I was asked to speak about writing to detainees at the New York City correctional institution. After a few hours of corrupting the minds of dozens of young men, all of whom promised to reform after being subjected to my cruel and unusual punishment, I was released on my own recognizance because no one else would loan me theirs.

“Rikers is a rough place,” said Kenny, as he is popularly known. “You survived. The question is, how did Rikers survive you?”

“Probably because you were there to keep the peace,” I told Kenny, who was a New York City correction investigator with the Intelligence Unit. He worked at Rikers for 23 years before retiring in 2013. Now Kenny, who’s 52, works in corporate security.

“It’s not as interesting as being in prison,” he acknowledged as he showed me photos of confiscated weapons, including shanks, ice picks and a toothbrush with a razor in it. “And those were the little ones,” Kenny said. “The big ones were like arrows. I saw guys with shanks sticking out of their backs. They don’t die. If you or I got stuck with a pin, we’d bleed to death.”

“In this place,” I noted, “the most dangerous weapons are No. 2 pencils.”

“Then you’d have to get the lead out,” said Kenny, who was known as “the Shank Hunter” because he confiscated about 4,000 weapons. He added that a sense of humor is the best weapon in a place like Rikers. “That’s how you survive,” he said. “Correction officers are some of the kindest, funniest people you’ll ever meet. They’re unsung heroes.”

Kenny found a lot to laugh about in “the Hooch Caper,” when he confiscated two bottles of moonshine that some inmates were making.

“I brought the bottles to the security office,” Kenny recalled. “These guys used apples and moldy bread as yeast and closed the tops. If you don’t go back daily and release the caps, the bottles will explode. That’s what happened. They blew up all over the place. There was hooch on the ceiling and the walls. My buddy Bill was in there. He said, ‘Who did this?’ I confessed.”

“Did you taste the stuff?” I asked.

“Are you kidding?” Kenny said. “It smelled terrible.”

For Kenny, humor runs in the family. His father-in-law, Tony Ricco, was a stand-up comic.

“He played the Catskills, the Poconos and Vegas,” Kenny said. “He’s 87 now. My wife and three daughters have good senses of humor, too. With me around, they have to.”

“I’m glad you were around when I was at Rikers,” I said. “But what if I went back?”

“You’d be on your own,” Kenny said. “I wouldn’t be there to protect you. But I think you’d be OK because you have a good sense of humor, too. Just don’t make any hooch. If it explodes, my buddy Bill wouldn’t find it too funny.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"This Crew Gets a Pave Review"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
I may not be a Rhodes Scholar, because I always thought it was spelled r-o-a-d-s, but I have been told to hit the road so many times that I know a true roads scholar when I see one. And recently, I saw two.

It happened when a road (of course) crew was repaving the road (ditto) in front of my house to prepare for the long, hard road (stop!) of winter.

“I’m happy to see you,” I told Chris Vecchia, president of Suffolk Asphalt Corp., which was doing the job. “This road has more holes than I have in my head.”

“We can fill the holes in your head when we’re finished with the road, but it may take a lot more asphalt,” said Chris, who’s 34. He thanked me for the neighborly welcome but noted that not everybody is happy to see road crews.

“People complain that their roads are in rough shape, but when we show up to fill in potholes or repave the street, they complain that we are inconveniencing them,” said Chris, adding that the worst offenders are drivers who don’t obey detour signs.

“One time this old lady drove right into a trench we were filling in,” Chris recalled. “We had the whole trench barricaded off and were directing one-way traffic when this Honda Accord went around us and landed in the trench. The car was driven by a woman who had to be in her late 70s. She had a cast on her arm and a leg brace from the knee down.”

“Did she tell you what happened to her?” I asked.

“No, but I’m guessing it was a car accident,” Chris replied. “We asked her why she disobeyed the detour and she said she was on her way to the doctor’s office and this was the only way she knew how to get there.”

“Did you get her car out of the trench?” I inquired.

“Yes, but it took a lot of effort,” said Chris. “The front was about a foot down with the back sticking up. We got the lady out. Then we got a bunch of guys, including Big Sal, and they lifted the car out. She got back in and drove off without even saying thank you.”

“You must have been pretty steamed,” I said.

But not as much as Chris’ esteemed colleague, Donna Bubla, also known as Mama Donna, who operates a steamroller.

“There aren’t many women in this job,” said Donna, who’s 59 and has been doing it for 30 years. “But it’s fun.”

And crazy.

“We were repaving a road when this woman came out of her house and said she didn’t want us to do it, so she sat down in the street,” Donna recalled.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“We went around her,” said Donna.

“Good thing,” I noted. “Otherwise, you would have left her flat.”

“Another time,” Donna related, “a guy who was going through a bitter divorce had this ugly pewter statue that his wife was supposed to get. He asked me to run it over. I couldn’t do it, but somebody else did. We gave him the pieces. I’m sure his wife was thrilled.”

I was thrilled with the great job that Chris, Donna and the rest of the crew did.

“Now that you see what we do, you really are a roads scholar,” said Chris, adding that they’d be back to do other streets in the neighborhood. “We’ll bring extra asphalt for the holes in your head,” he promised. “Looks like it’ll be a big job.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"The Zezimas' 2018 Christmas Letter"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
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 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 2018 for the Zezimas!

The year got off to a colorful start when Jerry got a pedicure and had his toenails painted bright red. Sue, a pedicure veteran, was both impressed and jealous. Fortunately, it was winter, so Jerry didn’t wear flip-flops and subject everyone else to the shocking sight of his glossy hoofs.

The fun continued when Jerry went to a brewery to make beer (it went down smooth and didn’t come back up the same way) and then went to a winery to take a paint and sip class (he festooned a wineglass with a portrait of himself, which drove his classmates to drink).

Jerry went back to the winery with Sue for a Wine 101 class. Jerry graduated with flying colors (red and white) despite telling the instructor that he wanted to “make America grape again.”

Jerry got a new cellphone (his old one was the Stegosaurus 4) and needed Chloe, who had just turned 5, to show him how to program it. Aside from telemarketers, she’s the only person who wants to talk with him.

Speaking of grandkids, Chloe’s little sister, Lilly, turned 2 and their cousin, Xavier, turned 1.

Sue and Jerry went to Washington, D.C., to see Katie and Dave and take Xavier to the Smithsonian. At the entrance, Jerry opened Xavier’s diaper bag and told the security guard, “At my age, it comes in handy.” She let him in anyway.

Lauren and Guillaume brought Chloe and Lilly to Sue and Jerry’s house when Katie and Dave visited so they could play with Xavier. The children had a blast, splashing in the kiddie pool, coloring the patio furniture with chalk and proving to be more mature than Jerry.

Jerry took Chloe to Dunkin’ Donuts so she could help make doughnuts, including her favorite, strawberry frosted with rainbow sprinkles. It was a sweet time.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Chloe lost her first tooth and was visited by the Tooth Fairy, who left her more money than Jerry typically has in his wallet.

Jerry could have used the money because he bought a new car. At Chloe’s request, it’s blue. She also wanted the car to have pink polka dots, which means Jerry has to buy a paintball gun.

Jerry published his fourth book, “Nini and Poppie’s Excellent Adventures: Grandkids, Wine Clubs, and Other Ways to Keep Having Fun.” Like his first three books, it’s a crime against literature. It also comes in handy for propping up wobbly table legs. If you suffer from insomnia, you might even want to read it.

The highlight of 2018 was Sue and Jerry’s 40th anniversary. They took the week off and celebrated in grand style: Jerry had his teeth cleaned and Sue had a root canal. It doesn’t get more romantic than that!

We hope you and your family had a great year, too.

Merry Christmas with love and laughter from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Laughter Is a Nurse's Best Medicine"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Being a guy these days is nothing to sneeze at, especially since we are often needled about what wimps we are. This point was made recently by a nurse who tickled my funny bone while giving me a flu shot.

“Men really are babies,” said Cristina Donnelly, who has been a registered nurse for 20 years, during which time she has seen guys scream, cry and even faint at the sight of a needle.

“I promise not to do any of those things,” I said as I rolled up my sleeve. “I can withstand a lot of pain, as long as it’s somebody else’s.”

“You’re very brave,” said Cristina. “I can’t say that about most guys. The worst are the ones who are all tatted up. I’ve said to them, ‘Somebody used a needle to give you these tattoos. It must have taken a lot longer and hurt a lot more than a flu shot.’ I think the reason they don’t mind getting tattoos is that they’re drunk.”

“Does this mean I should have done shots before getting a shot?” I asked.

“No,” Cristina answered. “But you might want to consider it if you get a tattoo.”

“Never,” I said. “With my luck, there’d be a typo.”

“I’m also a baby delivery nurse,” said Cristina. “You wouldn’t believe the guys whose wives are giving birth. One time a cop almost passed out while his wife was in labor. We had to tell her to stop pushing while we gave him oxygen. It took us five minutes to resuscitate him.”

“When I had my first kidney stone, a nurse told me it’s the male equivalent of childbirth,” I said. “I told her that at least I wouldn’t have to put the stone through college.”

“I bet you needed a shot to ease the pain,” Cristina said.

“I sure did,” I replied. “And I didn’t faint.”

Cristina’s husband, Pearse, wouldn’t have fainted, either.

“He’s a paramedic,” she noted. “He’s a wimp at home, but on the job, he’s amazing.”

Cristina, 46, said older daughter Olivia, 16, wants to be a nurse and younger daughter Madison, 14, wants to be a psychologist.

“She can analyze guys who are afraid of shots,” I said.

“She’d make a fortune,” replied Cristina, who wanted to be in theater.

“As an actress?” I wondered. “You’d have to break a leg and you’d need a nurse to give you a shot.”

“No,” Cristina. “I was a production assistant intern for an Off-Broadway show called ‘Four Dogs and a Bone.’ I met Debra Messing before she became famous. She couldn’t have been nicer. Then I decided I wanted to be a nurse, so I went back to school. After I graduated, I worked at New York Presbyterian and saw celebrities like David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld.”

“Were they wimps?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Cristina said. “I didn’t give them shots. But like them, I’m a comedian on the job, although I’m funnier in Spanish.”

“What’s the secret of giving a flu shot?” I inquired.

“Distraction,” Cristina said. “And humor. I talk to people to put them at ease. Before they know it, I’ve given them the shot.”

“I’m ready for mine,” I said.

“Too late,” Cristina said with a smile. “I’ve already given it to you.”

“It didn’t hurt,” I said.

“And you didn’t scream, cry or faint,” Cristina said. “I’m proud of you.”

“When it comes to being a good nurse,” I told her, “you’re a real shot in the arm.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima