Friday, December 28, 2007

"Unfit to Be Tied"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I am fit to be tied. Or, I should say, unfit to be tied. That’s because neckties, the bane of baby boomer men who had to wear them if they wanted to dress for success (this actually had the opposite effect because food stains on ties exposed most of us as real slobs), are back in style among guys who are too young to know better.

According to a recent New York Times story, which ran under the headline "After Years of Being Out, the Necktie Is In," sales of ties to men 18 to 34 were up more than 13 percent from March 2006 to March 2007.

"Necktie sales may have foundered in the decade or more since the words ‘casual Friday’ entered men’s vocabularies," the story said, "but in the last year or two, stylish men in their 20s and early 30s have embraced the old four-in-hand as a style statement."

Maybe it’s because I have a fashion plate in my head, but I was appalled to read this. Granted, a necktie can make a man look respectable (unless, of course, he’s not wearing anything else), and I enjoy getting dressed up once in a while, except if I am going to the funeral of a guy who was strangled by a Windsor knot. But one of the reasons I became a writer, aside from the fact that I am spectacularly unqualified to do anything else, is that I wouldn’t have to wear a tie every day.

The new popularity of neckties is, according to the Times story, "a news flash that will either amuse or dismay men in their 40s and 50s, who, after years of wearing a tie to work, finally won the right to hang up the old choke chain."

I am dismayed because, let’s face it, neckties not only are the stupidest fashion items ever invented, they are the cause of most of the world’s problems. Think about it. What is a necktie? It is a strip of cloth that a man must knot around his neck, effectively cutting off the air supply to his brain. I believe I can speak for most men when I say that we can’t afford this.

Over the past several decades, women have made tremendous strides. They have achieved positions of power and authority. And that’s just in the home. Nonetheless, most of the key decisions in this world are still made by men. And that is why the world is so messed up. All of these horrible decisions are being made by oxygen-deprived men wearing neckties.

My solution: Either ban neckties or let women run the world. We men should be left alone to do what we do best, which is to drink beer and watch football.

Several years ago, I showed up at a fancy restaurant in New York City wearing a sport jacket and an open-collar shirt. The maitre d’ stopped me at the door and said, "You’re not wearing a tie."

"You’re lucky I wore pants," I replied.

He wasn’t amused. Instead, he fetched me a necktie that I had to wear in the restaurant. I got food stains all over it. I was going to ask if he had an extra pair of underwear, but I thought better of it.

Speaking of skivvies, there is good news on the fashion front. And it involves young men. Actually, it involves 8-year-old twin brothers from Columbus, Ohio. According to a recent story from The Associated Press, Jared and Justin Serovich have invented what is being billed as "wedgie-proof underwear."

Using rigged boxers and fabric fasteners to hold together some seams, the boys came up with the "Rip Away 1000."

"When the person tries to grab you – the bully or the person who tries to give you a wedgie – they just rip away," Justin explained.

I once interviewed Diane Peoples, an underwear inspector for Hanes, about wedgie prevention. She told me that snug leg holes are the key to avoiding this other bane of men’s existence. I am sure she would applaud the Serovich brothers for their revolutionary new design.

In fact, I predict that Jared and Justin will grow up to make good decisions that will benefit mankind and ultimately make the world a better place. As long, of course, as they don’t wear neckties.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Christmas Letter"

By Jerry Zezima
The 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 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 childriarchs; and Katie’s husband, Dave, the son-in-lawiarch. Happy reading!

Dear friend(s):

It sure has been an exciting 2007 for the Zezimas! The most memorable event occurred when Jerry competed in the 10th annual USA Memory Championship in New York City. He remembers it well because he couldn’t remember anything during the competition. Not only was Jerry the sole returning player from the inaugural event in 1997, but at the advanced age of 53, he also was the oldest one this year. Maybe that’s why he finished 38th in a field of 41. He was further humiliated when his dismal performance was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal story. A national TV audience also got to see how pathetically Jerry did when he was interviewed on "CBS News Sunday Morning." Looking on the bright side, Jerry knows that pretty soon he will forget all about it.

Lizzie, the family dog, fared much better when she competed in a prestigious national event. She won a regional championship in the Petco Stars Search for America’s Most Talented Pet Contest. Lizzie blew away the field, which included two other dogs, when she beat Jerry in a game of blackjack; demonstrated her mathematical ability by counting treats; showed her skill as a ventriloquist (Jerry was the dummy); imitated a mime; and convinced the judges that she is the world’s kissingest canine by planting smooches all over Jerry’s face. A video of Lizzie’s dazzling performance was even posted on YouTube. Unfortunately, she didn’t win the national title, but at least she proved that she has more talent than Jerry.

And, it might be argued, more brains. Jerry proved that he is (cue the theme from "Jaws") dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb, dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb by going on a shark dive. This thrilling adventure occurred in a 12-foot-deep, 120,000-gallon tank at Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead, N.Y., where Jerry had close encounters with six sand tiger sharks, the largest of which measured 7 feet long, weighed 300 pounds and was named Bertha. Fortunately, Jerry was locked in a cage so he wouldn’t end up as dinner for Bertha, who added insult to what could have been injury by finding Jerry extremely unappetizing.

Jerry had another thrilling adventure when he took a ride in a hot-air balloon and set the record for the shortest flight since the Wright brothers barely got off the ground in the first airplane more than a century ago. His ride lasted five minutes. In case you are wondering, the hot air was provided by propane tanks, not Jerry.

On the domestic front, Jerry and Sue helped Lauren move into a new apartment. While lugging several heavy items, Jerry banged his knee, which bled through his jeans, and sliced his finger, which had to be bandaged with one of Lauren’s Hello Kitty Band-Aids. He’s lucky he didn’t end up in the hospital.

That is more than Sue could say. A few weeks earlier, she went to the emergency room with a rash that covered practically her entire body. She had to wait almost three and a half hours for a doctor to tell her that she’d had an allergic reaction to a prescription medication and not, as originally thought, Jerry.

Jerry went to the emergency room recently after he got into a car accident that was caused by a guy who suddenly turned left in front of him at an intersection. The clueless idiot (the guy, not Jerry) went the wrong way down a one-way street because, as he explained later, his GPS told him to. Jerry was unhurt because the airbag deployed against his skull.

The highlight of the year was a trip to Mohegan Sun to celebrate Sue’s birthday and the birthday of Jerry’s mother, Rosina, which both fall on the same day; the 90th birthday of Jerry’s father, Jerry Sr.; Lauren’s birthday; Katie and Dave’s first anniversary; and the fact that Jerry wasn’t killed in the car accident. It was Jerry’s first visit to a casino and he had what appeared to be beginner’s luck by winning $11.50 on a slot machine. Then Sue pointed out that he had spent $25 and actually lost $13.50. Now Jerry doesn’t have any money for Christmas presents.

Well, that’s the news from here. We hope your family has also been blessed with unusual events and is in better shape than we are.

Merry Christmas with love and confusion from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 30, 2007

"High Roller"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who is so bad at games of chance that I was once beaten in blackjack by my dog, I never thought I would be a high roller at a casino. That is why I had never been to a casino until I recently visited Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, where I defied the odds, despite being a bit odd myself, by hitting the jackpot on a slot machine and pocketing a grand total of $11.50.

My bonanza was the icing on the cake of my wife, Sue, and my mother, Rosina, whose shared birthday was being celebrated with a trip to the aforementioned gaming emporium. The party included my father, Jerry Sr.; my older daughter, Katie, and her husband, Dave; my younger daughter, Lauren; and my sisters, Elizabeth and Susan, all of whom had been there before but did not, in case the IRS is reading this, come home in a higher tax bracket.

The first thing I noticed about Mohegan Sun was that it is approximately the size of Rhode Island, which it is near and might invade after a planned expansion. The main differences between the two places are that the casino has: (a) a surplus and (b) a roof.

So it was not surprising that I did what a great many people (including some of those I was with) have been telling me to do for years: I got lost. I must have spent half the day wandering aimlessly, calling or receiving cell-phone calls from everyone except my father, who wisely doesn’t have a cell phone. They were all wondering where the hell I was. One time I said: "Rhode Island." It didn’t help.

Shortly after we arrived, I spotted a pleasant-looking, grandmotherly lady sitting at a slot machine. She looked like she knew what she was doing, so I went over and sat down next to her, hoping some of her expertise would translate into beginner’s luck for me.

"I just hit the jackpot for $750!" she announced excitedly before identifying herself as Frances Ruzzi of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Not only was she indeed a pleasant grandmother, but she was celebrating her 86th birthday with her family, including her daughter, Donna Yantorno of Danbury, who noted that her mom is a casino veteran.

"We’re celebrating my wife’s and my mother’s birthday," I said. "Maybe it’s a good omen." Then I asked Frances, as she kindly allowed me to call her, about her secret of gambling success. She smiled and said, "I have no idea."

"Neither do I," I said. "It’s my first time in a casino."

"I bet you’ll win," Frances said. "Good luck."

I got up and, as visions of moneybags danced in my head, promptly got lost.

Eventually I met up with everyone for a late lunch, followed by a round of cocktails to toast the birthday girls. Then it was time to see if I could break the bank.

I accompanied Dave, the best gambler in the family, to a craps table and, as I watched him lose $80, found out how the game got its name. Figuring I would lose my shirt, not to mention my pants, in which I had only $25, I didn’t even bother playing and instead went over to the blackjack tables. Two things prevented me from getting into a game:

1. Most of the tables had a minimum opening wager of $25.

2. My dog, Lizzie, defeated me in a tournament we played at home one night a couple of years ago. It’s too humiliating to explain how she did it, but I will say that it’s a good thing we weren’t playing for money.

So I went over to a roulette wheel with Dave and won the first game before losing the next two. The only thing left to try was a slot machine. I found one next to Catherine Mitchell, a retiree from Warwick, R.I. Like me, she was making her casino debut. "I just lost $200," said the mother of 10 and grandmother of 13. "I’m never coming back."

This did not bode well. Neither did the fact that Sue and Lauren, whom I found at another bank of machines, hadn’t won anything. I put some money in the one-armed bandit and used one arm of my own to pull the lever. Then I pulled it again. And again. By the time I was done, I had won $11.50.

I took my ticket to the redemption window and handed it to a cashier named Dora. "Do you have a wheelbarrow so I can cart away all this money?" I asked. Dora didn’t even smile. She handed me two fives, a one and a couple of quarters. Then she put a sign on the counter that said: "NEXT WINDOW, PLEASE."

I felt like a high roller until Sue pointed out that I had spent $25 to make $11.50, which means I actually lost $13.50. I’d love to go back to the casino, but maybe I should quit while I’m behind.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Bumper Cars"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In the nearly four decades since I got my driver’s license, during which time I’ve compiled an excellent record of driving people crazy, I have learned that men are prohibited by law from asking for directions. That is why navigation systems were invented.

Unfortunately, there are some men for whom this sophisticated technology doesn’t work. I know because I recently ran into one.

At an intersection.

In my car.

I took this crash course in masculine geography when I crashed into a car that cut in front of me. As I was cruising through a green light, traveling well under the speed limit, the driver of the other car suddenly turned left because, as he explained later, his GPS told him to.

His GPS must have stood for Guy Positioning System, designed to help guys who don’t know where the hell they are going, but like most guys it had a poor sense of direction. I say so because it told the other driver, whom I will call "John" because that is his real name, to go the wrong way down a one-way street.

In that one terrible instant, my life flashed before my eyes. I am sorry to admit that it was pretty dull. Then, BAM! It was like playing bumper cars at an amusement park except that it wasn’t so amusing because my car was parked in the left lane with me inside, an airbag spewing acrid smoke directly into my nostrils after deploying against my head.

Later on, after family, friends and co-workers had been told of this little mishap, my two sisters showed great sympathy for my plight with words of comfort. "I always wondered what would happen if an airbag deployed against an airhead," Susan said. To which Elizabeth added, "You mean an airbag against a windbag."

Obviously nothing happened because I was able to walk away without a scratch. I wish I could say the same for my car, the right front side of which looked even worse than I did the morning after my older daughter’s wedding last year.

Amid the mayhem of honking horns and rubbernecking motorists, I looked around for the other car and found it across the street, sitting in front of a truck at the corner. The impact had spun the car around so it was, unlike its original direction, facing the right way.

"I’m sorry," John blurted after he rolled down the window. "It’s all my fault."

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "Are you?"

"Yes," I replied.

"I don’t know what happened," John moaned. "I was looking at my GPS and it told me to turn left."

I helpfully pointed out to John that if he had been looking at the road instead of his GPS, he would have seen two things: (a) an arrow indicating he was going the wrong way and (b) me.

The crash occurred at 11:05 a.m. I am supposed to be to work by 11, but I was born more than three weeks past my due date and haven’t been on time for anything since. This all happened about half a mile from my office in Melville, N.Y., which also is home to the Long Island National Cemetery. This means Melville is not a one-hearse town, as I found out when I got back in my car and attempted to pull out of the left lane and onto the right shoulder. I couldn’t do so right away because there was a line of cars coming through. It was, incredibly, a funeral procession.

The guy driving the lead car, with the deceased in the back, rolled down his window and said, "Can I do anything for you?"

"Not today," I responded. "You’ll have to wait before you get any business from me."

He smiled, rolled up the window and drove through. What he didn’t know was that I was the late Jerry Zezima even before the accident.

When I went back to John’s car, I noticed it had Connecticut plates. I asked him where he was from. "North Haven," he replied.

"Howdy, neighbor!" I said. "I’m originally from Stamford."

"Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances," said John, who told me that even though he lives in Connecticut, he works for a company that is headquartered in Canada but that his car is registered to another company in New Jersey.

"No wonder you need a GPS," I said.

Pretty soon a cop showed up and took statements from me and John, who admitted he was at fault and said his insurance company would take care of everything. But I still had to call mine to report the accident. Thank God my wife, Sue, came to help me take care of everything.

Here’s a tip for anyone with a driver’s license: Never get into an accident because it is a pain, both figuratively and literally, in a lower portion of the anatomy. Even though my insurance company has been very good, I was at the accident scene for more than two hours, about half of which was spent on the phone talking with various claims people, not to mention the tow truck operator, who took my car to a garage where it is scheduled to undergo open-hood surgery. It has been estimated that there is a lot of damage but not enough to declare the vehicle totaled. Just my luck.

Speaking of a lower portion of the anatomy, mine was sore as a result of the accident, so that evening I went to the hospital as a precaution and had X-rays taken. Fortunately, I remembered my mother’s words of wisdom, "Always wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident," and was wearing a pair of freshly laundered "I (Heart) Dad" boxer shorts. The X-rays, by the way, were negative.

Now that I have been in an accident and lived to tell about it, I have my own words of wisdom for all you guys out there: Never trust a GPS. If you don’t know where you are going, break the law once in a while and ask for directions. Or, if at all possible, move over and let your wife drive.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 2, 2007

"A Healthy Outlook"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

There is good news and bad news on the medical front. The good news (for me) is that I probably will live to be 100. The bad news (for my family and friends) is that I probably will live to be 100.

I came to this healthy conclusion recently while attending an event at work called a "wellness fair," where I was diagnosed as being (at least from the neck down) well.

I was not surprised because my father, the original and by far the best Jerry Zezima, recently turned 90 and is still going strong. His only concessions to age are that he doesn’t drive anymore and he has stopped climbing ladders. That’s because he fell off of one earlier this year. He escaped with barely a scratch, much to the relief of my mother, Rosina, aka Foxy Roxy, who is almost 83 and is still going strong herself. In fact, they’re both sharper than I am, which admittedly isn’t saying much but is nonetheless impressive.

So I have genetics on my side. This has given me a great excuse – as if I needed one – to be lazy.

Three years ago, when I turned 50, I went for a checkup with Dr. Leonard Vinnick, a physician with a practice in Stamford. "You’re in great shape," he said. "What do you do for exercise?"

"I get up once a night to go to the bathroom," I answered.

Vinnick remembered this when I went back recently for my annual physical, which I again passed with the proverbial flying colors. "Still on the same exercise program?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "I’m as active as a sedentary person could be."

My philosophy: Why start exercising now? It would only be a shock to my system and I’d drop dead. I figure I’m saving my own life by not doing anything. Besides, I drink red wine, which is essentially over-the-counter heart medicine. If my liver holds out, I’ll be fine.

Speaking of hearts, which are worth more than diamonds, except to my wife, Sue, who doesn’t play cards, I recently read about a study in which British scientists found that a bad marriage can damage your heart. Speaking of Sue, I am in a great marriage, which so far has lasted almost 30 years and, at this rate, will continue for at least another 40. This may not, unfortunately, be good for Sue’s heart.

Anyway, I had all of this going for me when I went to the wellness fair. First, I got a massage from Alan End, a massage therapist from Plainview, N.Y. "I’m not a dead end," said End, who added that he has heard all the jokes about his last name but that, "in the end, they don’t bother me."

"I guess they don’t rub you the wrong way," I said.

"I’ve heard all the massage jokes, too," End said as he helped me into a special chair in which I sat backward with my head in a circular opening so I was facing the floor. Then he went to work, deftly using his fingers, palms and elbows to invigorate the seldom-utilized muscles in my shoulders, ribs and back.

"You’re nice and loose," End said. "You have no stress."

"That’s because everything rolls off my back," I told him.

"I haven’t heard that one before," he noted, adding that I was in fantastic shape. "Keep doing what you’re doing," End said.

"I don’t do anything," I replied.

"Keep doing it," he suggested.

Next I got a posture and spinal exam from Dr. Michael Berlin, a holistic chiropractor and wellness coach who also is based in Plainview. After filling out a stress survey in which I indicated that I have no stress, I sat down with Berlin, who asked me to turn my head as far as I could both ways. I felt like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." He detected a little crick ("I’m a pain my own neck," I told him) but otherwise said I was in fine form.

So did Esther Morrissey, a health care enrollment specialist who examined me with a fat-loss monitor and said that my body mass was perfect. "That’s because most of the fat is in my head," I said.

All in all, the wellness fair went well.

Afterward, I said to Sue, "It looks like you’re stuck with me for another 40 years." She started having heart palpitations. I don’t know if it was love or stress. Maybe I should give her some of my red wine.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 19, 2007

"The Not-So-Great Pumpkin Carver"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

One of the most hallowed of Halloween traditions – the one that makes mere mortals susceptible to vampires because it involves not fake blood but the real stuff – is the carving of the pumpkin.

When my two daughters were young, I would take my life in my hands by taking my knife in my hands and attempting to carve a pumpkin without either: (a) severing a major artery or (b) doing such a horrible job on the face that the girls would giggle and say, "That pumpkin looks just like Dad!"

These cherished memories came flooding back recently when I read a story in the 2007 edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac about Michael Valladao, a jack-o’-lantern of all trades from San Jose, Calif. Under the headline "Carving Cues from a Pumpkin Pro," the story tells how "Farmer Mike" has become famous not only for growing a specimen of pumpkin known as the Atlantic Giant, which can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, but for being the official carver at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

"The whole concept here is to have fun," Farmer Mike said. "The only thing that you really need to carve a pumpkin is imagination."

It also helps, Farmer Mike added, to have tools. His favorite: a pocketknife. I’m not sure how you can carve a half-ton pumpkin with such a puny blade, unless you are a fanatic with lots of free time, in which case you probably shouldn’t have access to sharp implements anyway, but a paring knife or a steak knife also works.

Among Farmer Mike’s other tips: "Use a water-based marker to outline the face that you want to carve" and, of course, "Carve with care."

I hate to argue with Farmer Mike, especially since he is handy with knives, but I have more practical tips for carving a pumpkin. Here, as I recall from my days of performing reconstructive surgery on gourds, which made me, in my daughters’ eyes, out of my gourd, are the five things you need for a successful job:

1. A chain saw.

2. A gas mask.

3. A tourniquet.

4. A transfusion.

5. A priest.

Because your spouse is not likely to let you use a chain saw in the house, except maybe to slice meat loaf, you will have to settle for a steak knife. You will notice that the top of the pumpkin doesn’t come off easily. That’s because it is attached to the disgustingly pulpy interior mass, which smells bad enough to curl the wallpaper. Here is where the gas mask comes in handy.

Once you have scooped out the seeds, you should place them on a piece of newspaper (ideally, this column, which is about all it’s good for). Then you are required by federal law to knock the seeds all over the floor.

Now you are ready for the actual carving. See Nos. 3-5.

In a fit of nostalgia, my wife and I recently went pumpkin picking. The girls weren’t with us because they are all grown up and out of the house and wouldn’t want to relive the nightmare of being seen in a pumpkin patch with me.

Our journey took us to Lewin Farms in Wading River, N.Y. We were growing pumpkins in our yard (not Atlantic Giants, but another species, Long Island Midgets), but I mowed over the vines while cutting the grass.

So we picked a pair of perfect pumpkins and paid a pittance. Actually, it cost $7 for the healthy specimens, which weighed 9 pounds each. While wandering through the patch, my wife and I came upon a shoe that apparently belonged to someone who never made it out.

"We’ll send in a search party," said Bob Mudaro, who was manning the stand with Megan Donahue, whose family owns the third-generation farm.

When Mudaro mentioned that he has a 4-year-old daughter, I asked him for pumpkin-carving tips. "Let your wife do it," he said. "That’s what I did last night. My wife carved the pumpkin with our daughter and I watched." Mudaro held up his hands and added, "I still have all my fingers."

I guess it’s up to my wife to carve our pumpkin this year. Unless, of course, Farmer Mike wants to come over and do it.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 5, 2007

"Big Daddies"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Now that I have reached middle age, that wonderful stage of life between changing your kids’ diapers and needing them yourself, I have begun to grow a bit more reflective. This isn’t easy to take, especially in the morning, when my reflection in the bathroom mirror tells me that I am getting old.

The passage of time really hit home when I found out that the first guy in my circle of friends (at our age, it’s too difficult to form a trapezoid) became a grandfather.

My wife, Sue, and I went to college with Tim Lovelette, who with his wife, Jane, are now grandparents of Anna Grace Lovelette, daughter of Tim and Jane’s older son, Marshall, and his wife, Sara, if you are scoring at home.

Last year, our older daughter, Katie, married her husband, Dave, which made me the first person in our obtuse triangle of friends to be father of the bride. Now it is Tim’s turn because his and Jane’s daughter, Amy, is getting married next year to her fiancĂ©, Mel, which will make him (Tim, not Mel) father of the bride.

This recently allowed Tim and me to give each other unsolicited advice, which, if we are smart, and there is ample evidence to the contrary, we won’t take.

The meeting of the minds, or what passed for them, since cocktails were involved, occurred when Sue and I visited Tim and Jane at their home on Cape Cod. Tim reminisced fondly about the moment when he found out he was a grandfather. "I demanded a paternity test for Marshall," he said. "I’m still not a grandfather. In the absence of the test, I’m not sure the whole thing is going to stick."

According to an official source (Jane), it will, so Tim picked the name he wants Anna, who is 5 months old, to call him when she learns to talk. His choice: Big Daddy. "Not for any other reason than that Jane will have to be known as Big Mama," said Tim, who acknowledged that he has to lose a few pounds for Amy’s wedding. Jane, a marathon runner, is anything but big.

Then, inevitably, the subject of changing diapers came up. Will Tim do it? "Not at all," he said firmly. "I’m world-famous for not performing my fatherly duties, so it’s advancing one generation."

What about bottle feeding? "I’ll bring a quart of liquor and a nipple," Tim said. "I’ll outdrink the baby."

And what words of wisdom did Tim give to Marshall? "Hide. Get out of the house. Pretend you have to go to work. Your qualities as a father will be pretty limited, so take up fishing, boating, get a second job if you have to."

Speaking of jobs, Marshall works for Tim at Lovelette Insurance, a third-generation agency on the Cape, and recently brought Anna to the office. "Every woman in the place had to hold her," Tim recalled. "There was zero production. It set business back three years in one trip. She’s the most expensive baby ever born."

Tim, of course, said all of this with tongue in cheek, which made him pretty hard to understand, and even though he thinks he’s better-looking than the baby (sorry, Tim, but no one else does), he’s thrilled to be a grandfather, which was obvious when Sue and I met Anna. She is, without question, the best-behaved baby in the world. She developed a regular sleeping pattern her second night home, although, Marshall said, "That first night was tough. I’ve been recovering ever since." A chip off the old block!

Also, Anna didn’t scream or cry when she saw me. In fact, she cooed and laughed and let me hold her while Marshall snapped a picture of us and e-mailed it to Katie, who drove out with Dave the next day and met Anna.

When, the question was asked, will Jerry be a grandfather? Immediate answer: Not just yet.

Besides, the next big event will be Amy and Mel’s wedding. "Your chief role as father of the bride," I informed Tim, "is to be like a bobblehead doll: Just keep nodding and sign everything that is put in front of you. Otherwise, stay the hell out of the way."

"I’ve already done my part," Tim said. "I’ve agreed to show up."

What more could you ask of two guys who not only love their growing families, but who have promised to be burdens to everyone in their old age? Then again, that’s what everyone says about us now.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 21, 2007

"Giving Painting the Brush-off"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

For the past nine years, I have had a brush with disaster. Now that I have barely survived, I am going to put down my brush, wash my hands of the whole miserable business and retire from painting.

That is the announcement I made to my wife, Sue, after I recently spent two days painting our bedroom. It was, I declared, the last in a series of projects in which I painted (and repainted) practically the entire house, including the family room (once), the living room (twice), the dining room (twice), the downstairs and upstairs hallways (twice each), the downstairs bathroom (three times), both upstairs bathrooms (twice each), our older daughter’s bedroom (once), our younger daughter’s bedroom (once) and, of course, our bedroom (twice).

That adds up to more than two painting projects a year. It may not seem like much, but when you hate to paint as much as I do, and are as incompetent at it as I am, which means it takes me twice as long to finish a project as it would take someone who knows what he’s doing, it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

My only salvation has been beer. For every gallon of paint I have used, I have consumed the equivalent in beer. Maybe that’s why it has taken so long.

At any rate, I am now officially retired as a painter. Even Michelangelo hung up his brush, although that was because, if I am not mistaken, he died. I am getting out of the game before it kills me.

For anyone who is either foolish enough to take up painting (you must already be drunk) or whose wife insists that he take it up (refusing to be subjected to this torture should be a key clause in any prenuptial agreement), here is what I have learned.

The worst part of any painting project is not the painting itself, but the preparation work. This includes the painstaking act of bordering the ceiling or the wall with masking tape. I conservatively estimate that over the years I have used eight dozen rolls or 125 miles, whichever is more, of tape. About half of that amount became stuck on my fingers and had to be thrown away.

Next on the list is plugging holes, including the one in your head, with Spackle. This is an excellent product, although it doesn’t taste as good as it used to. I know this because I have gotten some in my mouth every time I have painted. It must have come off my hands when I was drinking beer.

As for the actual act of painting, neatness counts. You should use a drop cloth so you don’t ruin the floor or the furniture or whatever you are going to ruin anyway. This will happen when you mix the paint, or dip your brush into the can, or use a roller on the walls or the ceiling.

Speaking of the ceiling, this is the worst part of any room to paint. I’m lucky I am not blind from looking up and having large gobs of paint land in my eyes. I’m also lucky that Sue is only 5-foot-1 and therefore can’t see what a horrible job I have done on all of our ceilings.

The worst room to paint is the bathroom, especially one without a window, because if you don’t slip while standing on the edge of the bathtub or the toilet and crack your skull on the sink, you will be overcome by paint fumes and nearly all of your brain cells will be destroyed. In my case, no one can tell the difference.

So there you have it. Good luck on your next project. I may be joining you after all because Sue just announced that she wants me to repaint the hallway. I think it’s time to buy more beer.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 7, 2007

"Car Wash"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a veteran road warrior who has owned some of the worst cars ever made, including one jalopy I dubbed the Hatchback of Notre Dame, I like to wax nostalgic about my various vehicles. Every once in a while, however, my current vehicle gets so dirty that it needs to be waxed, as well as washed, vacuumed and fumigated.

So I recently took my SUV (sloppy utility vehicle) to Island Car Wash in Centereach, N.Y., where it was miraculously transformed into another SUV (shiny utility vehicle).

In the process, I learned that life at a car wash can be a soap opera.

My first clue was the ceramic jar that sat on a shelf above the register and was embossed with the words "Ashes of Problem Customers."

"If you behave yourself," owner Ron Kass told me, "you won’t end up in there." I promised to be good while Kass, manager Eduardo Valladares and cashier Kristine Koehler regaled me with stories of some of the characters who make working there such an adventure.

There was, for example, the guy who accused workers of stealing his marijuana. "He said, ‘You took my weed!’ So I said, ‘We can call the police and file a report.’ For some reason, he didn’t want us to do that," Koehler recalled.

"We looked in the vacuum," Valladares added, "and sure enough, there it was."

"Did you put the ashes in the ceramic jar?" I asked.

"No, but the guy took back his joint," Valladares answered. "It was, you might say, the high point of the day."

Then there was the hunter who came through in a pickup truck with a dead deer in the back. "He wanted us to wash the deer," Koehler said. "This thing was dripping blood, so he thought it would be a good idea to run it through the car wash."

"I told him that we wash cars, not deer," Valladares said.

Death paid another visit the day a hearse stopped by on the way to a funeral. "There was a corpse in there," Koehler remembered. "We just did the exterior because the guys were afraid to vacuum the inside."

"It’s nothing unusual," Kass said. "There was a lady who put dishwashing detergent all over her car because it was supposed to rain and she thought it would get the dirt off. But it only drizzled, so she came here." Kass smiled and said, "There’s enough material in this place for a TV series."

The show would, of course, be good, clean fun. That’s what I found out when my car went through the wash with Valladares and me inside.

First, we stopped at the booth where sales executive Shayna Tufano asked which wash I wanted. The choices ranged from basic ($15.50) to platinum ($24). "Give me the works," I said. Then Tufano asked which car scent I wanted. The choices were strawberry, cherry, vanilla and baby powder. "Vanilla is the most popular," said Valladares, who was in the driver’s seat, "but I think your car needs baby powder."

"Why not?" I said. "It’s about time I babied my car."

"There are a lot of crumbs in here," Valladares noted. "It looks like you’ve been eating corn flakes." I told him it was just dirt. Then he made sure all the windows were shut as we started to go through the wash.

It was better than an amusement park ride. The car was scrubbed, soaped, brushed, power washed, hosed, waxed, buffed with a giant shammy and blow-dried. It took three minutes for my car to make its way over the 100-foot conveyor.

When we came out, Valladares drove the car to an area where I got to help a couple of workers, a young man and a young woman, hand-dry it. Valladares gave me two towels and showed me how to fold them properly. Then he showed me how to dry the doors, the door frames and the windows. As I fumbled with the towels, he said, "Don’t quit your day job."

The two workers did the rest, which included the vacuuming and the application of the baby powder scent. When they were finished, my car looked and smelled brand-new.

"You guys do a great job," I told Kass before I drove away.

"You’re a good customer," he said. "We didn’t even have to put your ashes in the jar."

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 31, 2007

"Up, Up ... and Finally Away!"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

If I ever write a book about my fantastic ballooning adventures, which I will dedicate to Jules Verne even though he is dead and can’t sue me, I am going to call it "Around the Island in Five Minutes." That’s because I recently spent several days trying to arrange a hot-air balloon ride that turned out to be the shortest flight since the Wright brothers barely got off the ground in the first airplane more than a century ago.

My incredible journey began at 5 a.m. on a calm and mild Thursday at Taylor Farm Park in Norwalk, Conn., where nearly a dozen balloonists had gathered for a race across Long Island Sound to the North Shore of Long Island, N.Y., for the official kickoff of the Metro NY Balloon and Music Festival.

I was assigned to a balloon piloted by Jon Thompson, 44, of Kissimmee, Fla., who flies for the Children’s Miracle Network, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for children’s hospitals. "I fly a balloon better than I drive a car," said Thompson, who got his balloon pilot’s license before he got his driver’s license.

That made me a little less nervous because his balloon was 70 feet high and 60 feet across and could fly up to 16,000 feet. Ordinarily, I don’t like to be any higher off the ground than the top of my head. And in this case, I’d be over water.

"If we run out of hot air," crew chief Pat Woods said after the balloon was inflated with propane, "we’re expecting you to provide a backup supply."

I never got a chance because the race was called off. "The conditions on the ground may seem perfect," explained Bill Corbett, the public relations man for the balloon festival, "but the winds above us are blowing west." That meant we’d be carried about 50 miles to LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

"We wouldn’t want to be hit by a 747," Thompson said. "We’d lose our frequent flyer miles." As a consolation, he said he would take me for a ride the next morning at the festival, which was held at Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Brookhaven, N.Y.

Unfortunately, the ride was called on account of rain. Saturday at 5 a.m., I showed up at the festival and was told that, even though conditions seemed good, the Federal Aviation Administration wouldn’t let any of the balloons fly. I went back with my wife at 6 p.m. only to find out that Thompson wasn’t even being allowed to inflate his balloon.

Sunday, the last day of the festival, I was back at 6 a.m., but some pretty-boy meteorologist from Eyewitness News was doing a series of live reports with Thompson, effectively killing any chances I had of flying with him.

Thompson kindly put me in touch with a fellow pilot, Bob Carlton, who was flying his balloon several miles to the east. I drove out to the middle of farm country and spotted Carlton’s balloon in a field, where he was waiting to pick me up. I parked at a vegetable stand and trudged through a gigantic cabbage patch, ruining my shoes in the process.

"Welcome aboard!" Carlton said cheerily as I climbed into the basket, which contained Carlton; his wife, Harriet; and their passengers, Steve Socko and his girlfriend, Dina Selimaj. Carlton, who used to fly the Mickey Mouse balloon at Disney World, now owns Balloons and Beyond in Polk City, Fla.

As the balloon ascended and started to fly, a feeling of exhilaration came over me. There, several hundred feet below us, lay a carpet of lush green farmland that stretched for miles in all directions. My reverie was snapped about two minutes later, when Carlton said, "I have to look for a place to land." My first thought was: Is that all there is? My second thought was: Where the heck is he going to touch down? The answer to the first question was: Yes. The answer to the second question was: In the back yard of the only house in view.

Carlton gently and expertly landed the balloon on the edge of the yard. As we got out, he shook my hand and said, "Congratulations! You just set the all-time record for the shortest balloon ride I’ve ever given." It lasted all of five minutes.

Socko and Selimaj had paid $175 each for an hour-long trip. Mine, at least, was free. But Carlton, 55, a terrific guy who has been flying professionally for three decades, had a small surprise in store.

He walked to the farmhouse, which was built in 1758, and returned with the owners, Tony and Diane Caliguiri, who were extremely hospitable even though the sign on their fence reads: "No trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again."

The Caliguiris’ 10-year-old daughter, Amanda, spotted the balloon as it landed. "Actually," Amanda said, "Bill spotted it first."

"Who’s Bill?" I asked.

"My groundhog," Amanda replied.

The little critter apparently sounded the alarm that woke up the family. "Don’t worry," Tony Caliguiri assured me, referring to the sign on the fence, "I’m not going to shoot you."

But we did, at 9 a.m., have some shots anyway. In a tradition that began in France in the 1700s, when balloonists would bring gifts to the homeowners on whose property they often landed, Carlton opened a bottle of champagne and poured some bubbly for everyone (except Amanda, of course). He raised his plastic cup and proposed a toast: "Propane and champagne, the balloonist’s breakfast."

Jules Verne couldn’t have said it better.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Talking Dirty"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In 29 years of living in wedded bliss, I have discovered that the key to keeping the romance in marriage is for a husband and wife to talk dirty to each other. That is why my wife will often give me a come-hither look and, in her sexiest voice, say, "Would you clean the bathroom?"

And I will gaze into her beautiful brown eyes and reply, "Sure. You want me to do a load of laundry, too?"

"Yes. And vacuum upstairs."

"I love it when you talk like that."

"And don’t forget to take out the garbage."

So I was not surprised to read that the Pew Research Center, which was probably named by a spouse with a dirty bathroom, recently conducted a survey of married people and found that the sharing of household chores is considered the most important element in a good marriage.

According to the survey, 62 percent of the 2,000 respondents put chore-sharing at the top of their list, ahead of child-rearing and, yes, sex. I’m not sure who these people are, but I’m glad I don’t know them.

Still, it is a fact that housework is the glue that holds a marriage together. Unfortunately, the glue must be cleaned up, preferably with a damp cloth so it doesn’t ruin the furniture.

Not to be outdone, I conducted my own survey, with the sole respondent being my wife, Sue. When I asked her about the importance of doing chores, she said, "I wish I had a housekeeper."

"You don’t need a housekeeper," I told her. "You have me."

Sue acknowledged that I am "cheap labor," adding, "You’re much better than you used to be." Then she pointed out that it took me 25 years to learn how to use the washing machine.

I am ashamed to admit that for a long time, I was laundry-challenged. It was probably due to a traumatic experience I had in college. I went to a Laundromat, stuffed my dirty clothes into one of those industrial washers, threw in a box of detergent and walked up the street for a beer. When I returned, the entire Laundromat looked like a scene from "The Blob," with suds creeping across the floor. Naturally, they were coming out of my machine.

With Sue’s guidance, I am much better now and have even been known to do multiple loads without flooding the house.

When I asked Sue which chore is my strong point, she said, "Cleaning the bathroom." I am flush with excitement to say that I could give the Tidy Bowl Man a run for his money.

My worst chore: vacuuming. "Your vacuuming skills aren’t the greatest," Sue said. I hate to vacuum because I keep running over the cord. I’m lucky I haven’t been electrocuted. I can best describe this chore with a word that also describes what a vacuum cleaner is supposed to do.

Here are some of my other chores.

Loading the dishwasher: This used to be my weak point. One night I put in too much detergent. Like my college laundry experience, the result was a cascade of suds. Sue often criticized how I loaded the dishwasher, but now I can do it without breaking a glass that might sever a major artery and cause me to bleed all over the floor, which I would then, of course, have to clean up.

Taking out the garbage: I create most of it, so I might as well get rid of it. It’s a dirty job, but, well, you know the rest.

Dusting: I am dust and unto dust I shall return. Until then, I solemnly Pledge (lemon-scented) to keep our furniture clean.

Sweeping the kitchen floor: I also use the broom to sweep Sue off her feet.

After returning home from a recent trip to the supermarket, Sue remarked, "The house looks spotless." That’s because I had cleaned the bathroom, loaded the dishwasher and taken out the garbage. I even vacuumed. "You did a very good job," Sue said. "I guess I don’t need a housekeeper after all. I have you."

I was going to say that I should get a French maid’s outfit, but I figured it would kill the romance.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Doggie Star"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

If anyone in my family ever gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which isn’t so far-fetched because the entertainment industry is going to the dogs, it will be my dog, Lizzie. As her star-struck daddy, I am proud and excited to report that Lizzie recently was a winner in the Petco Stars Search for America’s Most Talented Pet contest.

This national event, sponsored by Petco, the pet supply and product chain, had regional competitions at stores across the country. Videos of the winners, including Lizzie, are being posted on YouTube. A panel of judges will select 12 finalists. From Aug. 6 to Aug. 18, visitors to the chain’s Web site, petco.com, can vote for the grand prize winner. The grand prize, by the way, is a trip to Hollywood.

This was a great incentive for Lizzie, who enjoyed a Hollywood moment last year when she met Lassie in New York City, where the canine legend (Lizzie, I mean, although Lassie is famous, too) spent an afternoon with the popular collie, who was promoting her latest movie.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a poster for the talent contest at the Petco store in Selden, N.Y., where I had brought Lizzie for a spa treatment, which she will have on a regular basis if she goes to Hollywood. As visions of fame, fortune and poolside cocktails danced in my head, I signed her up.

Lizzie’s competitors were Daisy, a Bichon Frise who stood on her hind legs to beg for treats, and Bella, a singing Pomeranian. The field wasn’t large, but it was extremely competitive.

Lizzie, a multitalented mutt, blew them both away.

She was introduced to the small but enthusiastic crowd of onlookers (and now, I must say, fans) by Derek Gerardi, an assistant manager at the store. The distinguished judges were Rose Sofia, director of the Paw House, an animal rescue organization on Long Island; Susan Ennis, a field representative for Eukanuba dog food; and Nicole Ciardulli, a small-animal specialist at Petco.

For Lizzie’s first trick, she played me in a game of blackjack. "Cut the cards," I told her. Lizzie tapped the deck with her paw. Then I dealt her two cards and gave two to myself. Lizzie had a 9 and a 3. "Stay?" I asked her. "Or hit?" When I said "hit," Lizzie gave me her paw. I dealt her a 6. "You have 18," I told her. "Stay or hit?" She thought about it. "Stay?" I said again. This time, she gave me her paw. I had a 10 and a 5, so I dealt myself another card. It was a queen. I busted. Lizzie won. The crowd went wild. "Lizzie is playing with a full deck," I said. "I’m not." Everyone agreed.

For her next trick, she did math. I put one dog treat on top of another and showed them to her. Then I blocked them from Lizzie’s view and added two more treats to the pile. "How many treats did I add?" I asked Lizzie. She gave me her paw twice. The crowd gasped. "Next year," I said, "I am going to have Lizzie do my taxes."

Then I knelt next to Lizzie and barked while she just sat there. "Lizzie," I announced, "is a ventriloquist." Huge applause. "And I’m her dummy," I added. Several people nodded.

Next I told the judges to listen carefully to Lizzie. She didn’t say anything. "Lizzie’s also a mime," I said. By this time, the crowd was delirious.

Finally, I said that Lizzie had won the blue ribbon in the Pooch Who Can Smooch competition a couple of years ago at Puttin’ on the Dog, the annual Adopt-A-Dog fund-raiser in Greenwich, Conn. Lizzie proved it by smothering me in kisses. With that, we both took a bow and received a standing ovation, probably because there were no chairs.

Nobody was surprised when Lizzie won. And the judges were effusive in their praise.

"Lizzie seems very intelligent," said Ciardulli, who didn’t say the same about me.

"She dispelled the old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks," said Ennis, who immediately apologized for calling Lizzie old. "Sorry, I should have called her a senior dog." Lizzie, who is 12, accepted the apology by licking Ennis’ knee.

Sofia summed it up when she said, "Lizzie is amazing."

Now we’ll see if she’s amazing enough to win a trip to Hollywood. As Lizzie said, "Woof, woof, woof!" (Translation: "Move over, Lassie!")

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Pie Fight"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a sensitive modern man with only the most sophisticated tastes, I have never had any pie-in-the-sky illusions about the Three Stooges. As a lifelong Stooges fan, however, I have always had pie-in-the-face aspirations. That’s because I have long dreamed of being in a social situation where I could emulate Moe, Larry and Curly by actually hitting someone in the face with a pie.

I am happy and totally unashamed to say that I recently got my chance. Not only did I hit a high-ranking corporate executive right in the kisser with a plate of whipped dessert topping, but I allowed him to return the favor. And, unlike the Stooges, who often started pie fights at swanky parties where the cream of society ended up with faces full of cream, neither one of us had to run away because somebody called the cops.

In fact, it was all officially sanctioned and held for a good cause.

The company for which I work sponsored an event called Field Day, which was appropriately named because employees were invited to spend the day in a field on company grounds. In addition to plenty of food and nonalcoholic beverages, which were served under a large tent, there was a softball game for which I, microphone in hand so I could be heard by everyone, including all the big bosses, was the announcer. As of this writing, I still have a job.

Other activities included pool dunking and, of course, pie throwing. The only requirement was that participants had to make a contribution to the United Way.

Throughout my life I have been guided by one shining principle: What would Moe do? In this case, the answer was easy: He’d hit someone in the face with a pie. So, because I am a proud member of the Amalgamated Association of Morons, I immediately signed up.

Although this was my first chance to participate in the ultimate Stooge activity, I have had plenty of Stooge-related experiences. In 1990, I was the runner-up in the National Curly Sound-Alike Contest. Participants had to call a 900 number and do Curly imitations over the phone. I worked up a routine in which I barked like a dog and uttered such famous phrases as "Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk," "Woo, woo, woo" and "Soitenly!" The contest drew thousands of entries. About a month later, I got a phone call informing me that I was the runner-up. I never found out who won (he was probably an inmate somewhere), but I did receive $100 and some Stooge paraphernalia.

In the mid-’90s, I attended a couple of Three Stooges conventions in Trevose, Pa., at which I met various members of the Stooges’ families, including Moe’s daughter, who, at my request, poked me in the eyes. My only disappointment was losing the Curly Shuffle Contest to a 4-year-old girl.

I was thus well-armed with Stooge experience to use my arm well in the pie toss. Rob Rosenthal, my executive target, told me that he also is a Three Stooges fan. As he sat in a chair with a plastic poncho protecting his clothes, one of the people running the event handed me a plastic pie plate filled with whipped cream.

"Are you ready?" I asked Rob. He responded, and I quote, "Woo, woo, woo!"

I took three steps back, cocked my arm and let the pie fly. I scored a direct hit! The cream splattered upon impact and covered Rob’s face. As soon as he wiped it off with a towel, I hit him with another pie. "Now I know how Curly felt," Rob said, gagging slightly.

Then it was his turn. I donned a plastic poncho and sat down. "The rules just changed," I told Rob. "You have to stand on the other side of the parking lot." The words were no sooner out of my mouth than a huge gob of whipped cream was in it. Rob had scored a direct hit, too, covering my face with cream and sending some into my eyes and up my nose. I had officially been christened an honorary Stooge.

Was the experience all I had dreamed it would be? In the immortal words of Curly: Soitenly! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 29, 2007

"No Business Like Show Business"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Stewart F. Lane, the Broadway impresario who recently won his fourth Tony Award, wants to break my leg. Wait, sorry, that’s not right. A lot of other people, most of them readers, want to do that. Lane wants me to break a leg. That’s because he plans to put me on the stage, after which he will probably tell the driver to make the horse run as fast as it can and take me out of town.

This is the only thing, aside from a complete lack of performing talent, that can prevent me from being a big star on the Great White Way.

That was the promise made to me recently over dinner and, especially, drinks at the Friars Club in New York City, where Lane and Jules Feiler, the mad genius at 5W Public Relations, plotted to put my name in lights. With my luck, the lights will be above the 9th Precinct, which covers Manhattan’s theater district, after I am charged with crimes against art for a planned one-man show I may have to call "Bullets Over Broadway," because when people see it, they’ll want to shoot me.

I got the idea (not to be shot, but to put on a show) after reading Lane’s excellent new book, "Let’s Put on a Show!" In it, he tells great stories about life on and off stage. One of the best is about the time Lane’s mother walked out on one of his shows because he had turned off the air-conditioning in the theater. "My own mother!" Lane writes.

Mainly, though, "Let’s Put on a Show!" provides invaluable tips for anyone who wants to put on a show. Lane knows his stuff because he has won Tonys for producing "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "The Will Rogers Follies," "La Cage aux Folles" and, most recently, "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only," in which Johnson recounts his career as a ventriloquist.

"I could have played the dummy," I told Lane, who – I was very encouraged by this – agreed.

Lane was even more encouraging when I said I am such a bad performer – can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t act – that I couldn’t pass an audition for the role of myself.

"This is the biggest challenge of your career," I said. "Can you make me a star?"

Lane responded by telling an old tale about a king who asked his prime minister if he could make the king’s dog talk. The minister said no, so the king had him beheaded. The king then asked his grand wizard if he could make the dog talk. "No," said the wizard, who also was beheaded. Finally, the king asked a rabbi if he could make the dog talk. "Yes," the rabbi replied, "but it will take 10 years." When the rabbi’s wife heard this, she said, "How are you going to make the dog talk?" The rabbi said, "I don’t know. But in 10 years, the king will be dead."

"What’s the moral of the story?" I asked.

"Give me 10 years," Lane promised, "and I’ll make you a star."

In fact, he added, it probably won’t take that long. There are roles, such as Roxie Hart in "Chicago," in which the character is supposed to be a bad performer. "Not that I would ever cast you as Roxie," Lane said, "but in your case, having no talent could be an asset. If you play a character who can’t sing, dance or act, you could pull it off. And you’d get a great review in The New York Times."

Still, Lane added, I’d do better in a one-man show.

"Because nobody would want to be on stage with me?" I wondered.

"No," Lane said. "Because you’re funny and you can talk. You’d have to do it for an hour and a half, eight times a week, which is physically demanding, but you could do it."

Now I have to think of a name for my show. I am leaning toward either "The Jerry Zezima Follies" or "La Cage aux Fool."

Finally, and most important, I have to find someone who believes in me enough to bankroll the show.

"Is your mother still alive?" Lane asked.

"Yes," I answered. "And she won’t walk out because I’ll keep the air-conditioning on."

So it’s all set. I’ll begin rehearsals in the bathroom mirror tomorrow morning. Lane, who may never win another Tony Award after this, might want to break my leg after all.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Locked Out"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In nearly three decades of marriage, my wife has never locked me out of the house. That’s because she needs me on the premises so I can let her in after she locks herself out.

This recently happened, for approximately the 247th time if you are scoring at home, which you can’t do if you are locked out, when Sue shouted to me from the front yard to let her in.

I was upstairs, in the bathroom, wearing only a towel because I had just stepped out of the shower. So I had to go downstairs, dripping wet, and open the front door in full view of the entire neighborhood. I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested.

Because we are empty nesters, there is no one else to let Sue in. That includes the dog, who can’t reach the doorknob. If Sue is outside, banging on the door because she is locked out, the dog just barks, as if to say, "Call Daddy."

That’s exactly what Sue did during another lockout a few weeks ago, except she had to call me from next door because, instead of being in the house, I was at work. "I locked myself out," she whimpered after she had gone outside to give some water to our dog and our daughter’s dog, for whom we were puppy-sitting, and closed the door behind her. I had a choice: I could drive home, which would take about 45 minutes, or I could tell Sue to call a locksmith, who would charge us a figure rivaling the cost of the key to Fort Knox.

I must admit that I had previously needed the services of that very same locksmith when I broke my key off in the lock on the front door. This time, Sue was at work. I couldn’t call her because the phone was in the house and the neighbors weren’t home. So I had to risk breaking my foot in a futile effort to kick the door down. As it turned out, I broke two of my fingernails, which I used to pry the broken key out of the lock. Cost of a new key: $125.

Not wanting to risk bankruptcy, which would get both of us locked out of the house, I drove home to let Sue in. Because of heavy traffic, it took me an hour. I arrived to find that Sue and both dogs were with our next-door neighbors, who had once house-sat for us but, being honest people, had given back the key, which at that moment was locked inside the house.

Unfortunately, Sue isn’t the only family member with a key problem. Last year, before she left the nest and adopted the aforementioned puppy, our younger daughter, Lauren, called me at work to say she had gone outside to get something in her car and had locked herself out.

"How could you remember to bring your cell phone with you but not your house key?" I asked.

"My phone is more important," Lauren answered.

I happened to be busy doing something inconsequential and told Lauren I would leave as soon as I could. About 10 minutes later, Lauren called back to say that I had left the kitchen window open and that she had climbed through it to get back into the house. Sue later confessed that when she had locked herself out a few weeks before, she also got in through a window I had left open.

This came as a great relief because now there’s a chance that when Sue gets locked out, I won’t have to rush home to let her in. But it also was disconcerting because a burglar could get in and take everything we own, including the house key that Sue would undoubtedly have left inside. And if he doesn’t clean us out, he could always come back and, unlike Sue, use the key to let himself in.

Even worse, if I ever lock myself out and have to climb through an open window, our next-door neighbors would probably see the whole thing, mistake me for a burglar and call the cops.
With my luck, the judge would lock me up. And, for good measure, he’d throw away the key.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 1, 2007

"Shark Dive"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

One of the scariest things about the movie "Jaws," the heartwarming tale of a great white shark who loved people so much he just ate them up, was the music. Playing ominously in the background was John Williams’ Oscar-winning score, which went like this: "Dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb, dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb."

That described me recently when I went to Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead, N.Y., for what I feared would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience called a Shark Dive.

Instead of encountering a great white, or even a mediocre white, I came face-to-face with nine sharks that had a combined total of what appeared to be several million teeth, each of which could sever a major artery, such as Interstate 95 or the Long Island Expressway. Six were sand tiger sharks, the largest of which measured 7 feet long, weighed 300 pounds and was named Bertha, and three were nurse sharks, in case Bertha was hungry and I needed medical care. Unfortunately, there were no doctor sharks, but there was a gigantic loggerhead turtle that weighed more than Bertha and was named – this was the really scary part – Jaws.

The Shark Dive took place in the aquarium’s 12-foot-deep, 120,000-gallon tank, which also is home to lots of other creatures, including a stingray and a moray eel, neither of which is mentioned in my life-insurance policy.

Speaking of which, I had to sign several waivers absolving Atlantis Marine World and, though not mentioned specifically by name, Bertha from any blame in case I needed the services of the Davy Jones Funeral Home ("For all of your at-sea burial needs").

I should point out that I was in a metal cage that provided protection against the tank’s most dangerous creature: me. It seems sharks are in more danger from humans than the other way around, probably because the most frightening sharks are called – you guessed it – lawyers.

"We hear a lot of lawyer jokes," said marine biologist Chris Paparo, who with Kate Hanson, the aquarium’s head shark dive educator, told me everything I wanted to know about sharks but was afraid to ask. For example, sharks can smell one drop of blood from a mile away. They also can detect the heartbeat of a potential meal.

"Don’t worry," Hanson assured me, "sand tiger sharks eat only fish and other long, soft-bodied creatures."

"Wait a minute," I said as my heartbeat picked up. "I’m a long, soft-bodied creature."

I thought I was nervous until I met Anthony Esposito, who would be going on the Shark Dive with me. Esposito’s wife, Idina, had given him the dive, which costs $155, for his 39th birthday. She and their children, Anthony Jr., 13, Brendan, 10, and Giulia, 8 months, were there to watch and, because you never know what might happen, kiss him goodbye.

Even though Esposito is a trainer for Brazilian jujitsu welterweight champion Matt Serra, requiring him to spar with Serra in a cage, which to me would be worse than being in a shark cage, he admitted: "I’m scared."

There really was no reason to be. Dive master Ken LaPeters, who would be in the cage with us, made sure we were thoroughly schooled in what to do, from donning our wet suits to putting on our masks, which had microphones so we could talk with each other. The masks also were hooked up to air tanks, which made me breathe a lot easier.

LaPeters’ son, Ken Jr., 10, who said he wants to be like his dad when he grows up, helped me on with my rubber shoes. "Have fun!" he said before the three of us were locked in the cage and lowered into the tank.

Fun was an understatement. For half an hour, I had the most exhilarating and educational experience of my life. I chatted away with LaPeters, who is funny, dedicated and knowledgeable; gave the thumbs-up sign to the visibly less nervous Esposito, who waved as his wife and kids took pictures from outside the glass tank; and said hello to Bertha, who swam by several times, as did the other sharks, but apparently – and fortunately – found me extremely unappetizing.

I now have a greater appreciation for sharks and other undersea life, which is the point of the Shark Dive. And, unlike a lot of people in "Jaws," I lived to tell about it.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 18, 2007

"A Clothes Call"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Every time I write about something that happens in our house, which I do almost every time I write about something, my wife says I am airing the family’s dirty laundry. This time I am really doing it because our dryer died recently and my wife sent me to the Laundromat with – you guessed it – the family’s dirty laundry.

Actually, it was the family’s clean laundry because the washing machine was still working. But the clothes were all wet, just like me, so I had to take them to a nearby establishment to run them through a couple of huge dryers, which, also like me, were full of hot air.

Because this might have made me a basket case, my wife kindly gave me a basket, in which she had put the color clothes, and a large shopping bag, in which she had put the whites. "Don’t mix them up," she said as she handed me a bunch of quarters and sent me on my way.

When I arrived at the Laundromat, I discovered a world where life is cyclical: Some people had their clothes in the wash cycle, others in rinse, still others in dry. I skipped the first two and went straight to the dryers, which were lined up in a long row, two deep, on the left side of the place. Each was big enough to swallow a full-grown man. Fortunately, most men don’t go to the Laundromat, and those who do probably couldn’t figure out how to run a dryer after falling in, so there were no casualties.

After I put the color clothes in Dryer No. 13 and the whites in Dryer No. 14, I struck up a conversation with Mary Ann, the co-manager of the Laundromat, who was folding clothes for a customer who had dropped off his laundry, not only because he didn’t have time to do it, but also because – and this was the main reason – he didn’t know how to do it.

"Some men are completely helpless," said Mary Ann, a friendly, witty, middle-age woman who declined to give her last name but who did say that she has one husband, four sons and a daughter.

"I do laundry for all of them," said Mary Ann, who performs the same service for many of her customers. "At least they pay me. My husband and kids don’t," said Mary Ann, adding that men aren’t the only ones who need help. "I do laundry for wives and college students, too," she said. "Girls in college don’t do their laundry because they’re princesses."

The most extreme example was a student whose mother went to the Laundromat for her every week, then drove five hours to return the clean clothes to her daughter at college and pick up the next load of dirty laundry. "I told this mother that she was out of her mind," Mary Ann recalled. "I asked her to give me her daughter’s name because I wanted to make sure that none of my sons ever marries her."

Then there were two guys who came into the Laundromat so they could have cocktails. "They would sit in the back and mix drinks," Mary Ann said. "They drank vodka and Hawaiian Punch. I told them they couldn’t stay here unless they had clothes to wash, so the next time they came in with vodka, Hawaiian Punch and a basket of laundry. At least these guys were clean."

The biggest problem Mary Ann has encountered at the Laundromat is what she calls the Mystery of the Missing Sock. It’s a subject that was made famous about 40 years ago by Erma Bombeck, but it still, according to Mary Ann, is baffling. "No one knows where the mates go," she said. "A lot of my customers claim the dryers eat them, but I am not taking responsibility."

When my clothes were dry, Mary Ann gave me a lesson in folding, which she said is the hardest part of doing laundry. "Underwear is the worst for most people," she said. As for socks, or at least those that are still in pairs, "Don’t put the top of one inside the top of the other because you’ll wear out the elastic," advised Mary Ann, who sent me on my way with a big smile and a basket and a bag full of perfectly folded clothes.

My wife was impressed, although I admitted that I had some help. Still, she won’t mind if this time, I air the family’s clean laundry.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Saturday, May 5, 2007

"Moving Pains"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As loving and devoted parents who would do anything for our two daughters except pay their cell phone bills, my wife and I can honestly say that over the years, we have had many moving experiences with our children. The latest one occurred recently when we had to help our younger daughter, Lauren, move into a new apartment.

I am at the age, which is listed on my driver’s license as "old enough to know better," where I shouldn’t be lifting anything heavier than a bottle of beer. That’s what I needed after lifting a couch, a couple of bureaus, a bedspring, a mattress, a kitchen table, a hutch and other massive items that collectively weighed as much as either my car or Luciano Pavarotti, whichever is more.

My wife, Sue, who is exactly my age and half my size but is in much better shape, which isn’t saying much because some dead people are in better shape than I am, contributed muscles that get a regular workout from picking up after me.

Lauren was moving because one of her neighbors, a real creep, had given her so much trouble over the past several months that she decided to transfer to another apartment in the complex. Unfortunately, her new place is not far enough away from her old place to have justified renting a truck, which would have made moving the heavy stuff easier, but it’s not close enough to have significantly cut down the number of steps Sue and I had to take while hauling all of Lauren’s worldly possessions.

We stuffed a lot of stuff, which is why it’s called stuff, into the back of my SUV and drove it diagonally across the parking lot, from Apartment No. 66 to Apartment No. 12, where we unstuffed it and, speaking of steps, carried it upstairs.

I forgot to mention, possibly because of a ruptured blood vessel in my head, that Lauren’s old apartment was on the first floor and that her new apartment is on the second floor. This added the maximum amount of exertion to the move. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

In fact, it reminded me of two of the worst moves of my life:

1. The time we moved from an apartment to a condominium that was exactly 23 feet from the back door of the apartment. I must have made a thousand trips back and forth, once just to get a cookie jar. It would have been easier to pack up and move to California.

2. Any time we moved our daughters into and out of college. Four years per girl and two moves per year for each one meant we had to move them 16 times. They both had enough stuff to fill the Taj Mahal. One time, the elevators weren’t working. Every time, I was elected to carry the big stuff. I’m lucky I wasn’t hospitalized, which almost happened anyway after I got the tuition bills.

This latest move, which came less than a year after we moved Lauren out of the house and into her old apartment, had the worst elements of both. What Sue and I couldn’t cram into my car, we carried, slowly and awkwardly, across the parking lot and up the stairs of Lauren’s new place. Once, while lugging a huge box containing cups, saucers and plates, I tripped on the steps and banged my knee. It began to bleed. At least I didn’t fall down the stairs and break my neck.

While carrying a bedspring with Sue, I also sliced my finger. The only thing that held it on was one of Lauren’s Hello Kitty Band-Aids. Sue suffered her share of scrapes and bruises, too. Fortunately, we had help from Mike and Heather, who live next to the jerk who was bothering Lauren, and from Lauren’s friend Stephanie and her boyfriend, also named Mike. Lauren pitched in, too, although mostly she supervised. She was very good at it.

It took 10 hours, from 1 in the afternoon until 11 at night, to move Lauren in, but it was well worth it because her new apartment is bigger and nicer than her old one. It also overlooks the water. Best of all, the cuts and bruises have healed and the aches and pains are gone. And Lauren is very happy.

As for her creepy former neighbor, I have filed a formal complaint against him in the hope that he will be evicted. If he needs help moving, he better not call me.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Feuding With Fredo"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I am the proud father of two wonderful daughters who aren't Daddy's little girls anymore but who can still count on the Old Man to protect them from anyone who would bother or annoy them or otherwise make their lives miserable. This does not include me.

But my love and loyalty were put to the test recently when I was faced with the ultimate parental challenge: Would I have to rearrange the already disagreeable features of a punk who was harassing one of my girls?

That was the situation in which I found myself after my younger daughter, Lauren, who had moved into a nearby apartment complex, began having problems with the slimy little weasel (I apologize to any other vermin that may be reading this) who lived upstairs.

This loser looks like Fredo from "The Godfather," except that Fredo is a genius in comparison, even though he was murdered in the sequel, which gave me an idea I decided not to follow up on, but it's never too late, if you know what I mean.

Here, in a nutshell, was the problem: Lauren's mere existence irritated Fredo. I should explain that Fredo is divorced (what a surprise!) and that he lives alone (ditto) and that he is a middle-age man who seems to have trouble with women. Specifically, he appears to have it in for young, single women who, like Lauren, are smart, witty, lovable, talented and, of course, beautiful. In other words, everything Fredo isn't.

As soon as Lauren moved in last year, Fredo began complaining about the noise she was allegedly making. It seems Fredo has a job (I think it was outsourced from Neptune) that requires him to get up at 4 a.m. Apparently he needs his beauty sleep, although for it to have any real effect, he'd have to lapse into a coma. He also complained about Lauren's dog, a little whippet named Maggie, who Fredo said shouldn't be there. He failed to realize that if the complex banned animals, he wouldn't be there, either.

If Lauren did so much as breathe (an admittedly nasty habit she can't seem to break), Fredo would go ballistic, stomping on the floor, banging on the wall, cursing, screaming and otherwise making so much noise that he should have complained about himself. He also showed up at her door, peered in her window and left her menacing notes.

One night I got a phone call from Lauren, who was obviously scared. She begged me to come over and deal with Fredo. As a Three Stooges fan, I asked myself an important question: What would Moe do? I envisioned poking Fredo in the eyes, followed by a slap to the face, a punch to the stomach and a bop to the head. Then I would call him a lamebrain and threaten to tear his tonsils out. When I asked if he had learned his lesson, he would reply, "Soitenly!" and that would be that.

I arrived at Lauren's apartment and told her I would take care of Fredo. So I knocked on his door and waited. When he came down, I had all I could do to keep from laughing. He was this pathetic gnome for whom I would have felt some measure of sympathy except that he was belligerent. I glared at him, moved to within an inch of his homely mug (he had bad breath) and, as I towered over his scrawny figure, yelled at him to stop harassing my daughter. He immediately backed down. Lauren later told my wife, "Dad really got in his face."

Unfortunately, the truce didn't last long. Fredo went back to being the south end of a horse headed north.

One night recently, I got another call from Lauren. Fredo had lost it. When I arrived, I met Lauren's neighbors, a very nice young couple named Mike and Heather, who live upstairs next to Fredo and had come down to assist my daughter. They instantly became my friends for life. Then I banged on Fredo's door, but he had locked it and, like a sniveling coward, didn't have the guts to confront me. Instead, he called the cops.

A pleasant and thoroughly professional officer arrived and first went upstairs to take Fredo's statement (all lies) and then came down to talk with Lauren, who told him all about Fredo and his harassment. Mike and Heather backed up her every word. The officer put it all in his report, a copy of which is being sent to the complex's management. Calling the cops had backfired on Fredo. Lamebrain indeed!

Two nights later, he was at it again. He appeared at Lauren's front door, which was open, demanding to know why she was telling her dog to bark. Is this guy a nut job or what? Lauren slammed the door in his face, but he came back. So she called me again. She also called the police. The officer filled out another report that made Fredo look like a jerk. I hate to say it, but Fredo isn't the sharpest tool in the shed.

Fed up with this creep's antics and unwilling to go through the lengthy process of having him evicted, Lauren moved out, though not without another cop-related incident that backfired on Fredo. Tim, the building manager, a good guy who has been sympathetic to Lauren's plight, told her that a bigger and nicer apartment across the complex, overlooking the water, had just become available. Lauren snapped it up. The rent is higher, but it is well worth it to Lauren (and me) to be rid of Fredo.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, April 6, 2007

"Disorder in the Court"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have been admitted to many bars in my life (and I've been thrown out of a few, too), but because I didn't go to law school, I never took the bar exam to be a lawyer. That's why I have to plead nolo contendere (a legal term meaning "your fly is open") to being mistaken for an attorney when I accompanied my wife to traffic court recently.

Let the record show that my wife, Sue, also known as the defendant, Susan P. Zezima, represented by Jerry Zezima, Esquire, which is better than being known as Jerry Zezima, Newsweek, received a criminal summons to appear in Lake Grove Village Court on the charge of having an uninspected vehicle sticker on her car.

In this landmark case, People of the State of New York v. Susan P. Zezima, Case No. 06120082, the summons read: "Accusatory instruments filed with this court charge you with the charge(s) shown above. Therefore, you are ordered to appear in person before this Court for arraignment. Failure to appear on the arraignment date shown will result in a warrant for your arrest."

"I'm not a criminal!" the defendant screamed into the phone when she called the court after receiving the summons in the mail. That, of course, would be for the justice system to decide. And the evidence seemed overwhelming: The defendant had been given a ticket for failing to have her car inspected. Her defense: She did, indeed, have it inspected, albeit two days after getting the ticket, but had failed to notify the court of said inspection. Now she was a wanted woman.

It was up to me, in my first case, to clear her good name. This naturally made the defendant nervous because I'm lucky I'm not in jail myself.

Off the record, I showed up merely to offer moral support to my wife. In a calculated effort to sway the judge, I was nattily attired because Sue's original attorney, Natalie Attired, couldn't make it. I wore a crisp blue shirt along with a jacket and tie. I also wore pants because, to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I don't own a pair of court briefs.

When Sue arrived at the courthouse, accompanied by yours truly, she had to register with a woman who was taking attendance. "Are you her lawyer?" the woman asked me. Before I could answer, Sue said, "He's my husband." The woman didn't see Sue's name on the docket, so she sent us to the court clerk's office. The clerk found Sue's name and said her case would be heard. Then he asked me, "Are you her lawyer?" Before Sue could answer, I said, "I'm her husband."

We sat among the 40 or so other alleged scofflaws who were waiting to have their cases heard. One of them, a man named Jeff, said to me, "Are you her lawyer?" Sue and I, in unison, identified me as her husband.

The district attorney and the assistant district attorney, both of whom were beautiful young women, just like on "Law & Order," asked, "Are you her lawyer?" I was going to say yes but figured I'd be charged with perjury or lying to a grand jury or some other offense and, as a result, be disbarred. So I said, "I'm the defendant's husband."

Everyone at the courthouse thought I was an attorney. I don't know who should have been more insulted, me or the legal profession.

"All rise!" the court clerk announced as the judge, the Honorable Scott D. Middleton, Village Justice, entered the courtroom. Sue looked scared, so I tried to put her at ease with the best legal advice I could think of: "Plead insanity."

In the disposition of the cases before him, Judge Middleton showed a good disposition. He was fair and, as his title implied, honorable. He did, however, go by the letter of the law, so when he fined Jeff $100 for a parking violation, I became concerned for my client.

When Sue's name was called, she rose and approached the bench. I rose, too. "Are you her lawyer?" Judge Middleton asked.

I replied, "I'm Exhibit Z, Your Honor."

"He's my husband," Sue explained.

The assistant DA motioned to me to sit down.

In a moment, it was all over. The judge dismissed Sue's case, meaning she didn't have to pay a fine and her record was clean. Justice was served.

If I do say so myself, Perry Mason couldn't have done better.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Thanks for the Memory"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I'm a guy who often can't remember where he parked his car, which becomes a moot point if I don't know where I put my keys, so I was the last person who should have competed recently in a national brain-teasing event whose name unfortunately escapes me. Wait, now I remember: the USA Memory Championship, which was held amid much fanfare and media coverage at the ConEdison Building in New York City.

Actually, I wasn't the last person who should have competed because I did not, much to my shock, finish last. I can't recall exactly where I finished (I hope to locate the final standings before the end of this column), but let's just say that if I had any shame, I would have been humiliated.

Also, I was the only returning contestant from the inaugural USA Memory Championship 10 years ago and this time I was the oldest competitor (at 53, I am old enough to know better). That, of course, is not why I turned in such a pathetic performance, because many middle-age people have fantastic memories, except when it comes to finding their glasses, but I am not above making lame excuses.

As I parked my car in a garage a block from the event, I wondered whether I could possibly do any worse than I did in 1997, when I finished 14th in a field of 18. That included two contestants who didn't show up, probably because they forgot.

When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by Tony Dottino, a management consultant who founded the USA Memory Championship. He remembered me even after a decade because, he said, "You are not easy to forget."

With 41 contestants from across the country, the field had more than doubled since I last competed. Because the primary purpose of the USA Memory Championship is educational, there also were three high school teams whose members reminded me nothing of myself at that age, when the only things I could remember were baseball statistics and girls' phone numbers.

The organizers gave me a name badge that read: "Jerry Zezima, Mental Athlete." I'm no athlete, but they got the other part right.

In a futile effort to get inside the mind of one of my numerous mnemonic nemeses, I introduced myself to Dave Thomas (not the late founder of the Wendy's hamburger chain), a Britisher with dual citizenship: He lives in both Sandston, Va., and Yorkshire, England, from where he had flown for the event. Thomas, 38, is the author of "Essential Life Skills: Improving Your Memory." Since there was no way I could have read his book before the competition started (and even if I did, I'd never remember it all), I asked for his advice. Thomas answered, "Relax." Easy for him to say.

I sat down at a table with Paul Mellor, 48, a memory systems trainer from Richmond, Va. Most tables had two competitors, as well as a judge who administered a series of memory tests. Our judge was Colette Silvestri, a composer, playwright, lyricist, teacher and former legislative aide from Harrisburg, Pa. She asked if we had any questions. I said, "Can you be bribed?" She said, "No." I said, "Forget I ever mentioned it."

The first of the four qualifying events, which would narrow the field to seven finalists, was "Names and Faces," in which we had to memorize the names and faces of 99 people. I was so totally lost in the recall portion that under the photo of a guy with a beard, I wrote: "Grizzly Adams." Under the photo of a cute blonde, I wrote: "555-1234."

Still, I scored 13.5 points and was doing much better than I expected: I was only next-to-last. My standing didn't improve after the next event, "Speed Numbers," in which we had to memorize 25 rows of 40 numbers each. My score: 0.

I couldn't help but do better at "Speed Cards," in which we had to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards. For once in my life I was playing with a full deck. I didn't ace the event, but I did score 11 points.

I got 21 points in "Poetry," in which we had to memorize an unpublished poem, meaning I had gone from bad to verse. But it wasn't enough to put me in the finals. In fact, I finished a dismal 38th. The winner, not surprisingly, was Thomas, who will compete in August in the World Memory Championship in Bahrain. For me, it was a no-Bahrainer.

Still, I had such a good time at the USA Memory Championship that I plan to go back in another 10 years. My only other consolation is that I actually remembered where I parked my car.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Paste Makes Waste"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who has been living in wedded bliss for almost three decades, I am keenly aware that half of all marriages end in divorce. That is why I prefer to look on the bright side: The others end in death.

Still, I have been a husband long enough to know that there is one marital problem that can't be brushed off. I refer, of course, to the toothpaste cap.

If there is one reason why many marriages go down the tubes, it's because either the husband or the wife doesn't put the cap back on the toothpaste. In our house, that person would be my wife.

Sue is perfect in every way except one: She either can't or won't secure the top of the toothpaste tube. In the early days of our marriage, all toothpaste tubes came with screw-on caps. The idea seemed simple enough except that Sue would never screw on the cap all the way. When I picked up the toothpaste, the cap would invariably fall off and land in the sink, on the floor or, God forbid, in the toilet. (That's what I got for being a man who is genetically incapable of putting the toilet seat down.)

Apparently, this was not a problem unique to the Zezima household because in recent years, toothpaste companies have designed tubes with attached caps that could be lifted and snapped back into place so they wouldn't, despite the best sabotage efforts of certain spouses, fall in the toilet.

Unfortunately, the technology was flawed because toothpaste would build up on the opening of the tube and harden into a substance remarkably like Spackle, thus preventing the cap from being snapped closed. To complicate matters, those same certain spouses would put the tube on the vanity face down, creating a gummy mess.

But recently I beheld a scientific breakthrough that could save millions of marriages, at least among people who brush their teeth regularly. Sue came home with a tube of Colgate Luminous, which had an attached cap that was different from the others in that it was larger and looked more like a hood, meaning it could still be closed if toothpaste had built up on the tube. And that couldn't happen anyway because there was an X-shaped slitted opening in the tube that prevented such a buildup.

For the record, this is not an endorsement of Colgate because: (a) the company isn't paying me and (b) an endorsement from me is usually the kiss of death. But I was so impressed by the ingenious design, which made it impossible even for Sue to make a mess of the toothpaste, that I decided to track down the inventor.

His name is Joe Norris, a packaging development engineer from Cumming, Ga., who holds United States Design Patent No. US D531,504 S. In layman's terms, he got it for inventing the spouse-proof toothpaste cap.

When I called him last week, I spoke with his wife, Terri, who said she and Joe have been married for 27 years and added, with no small amount of pride, that she may have been the inspiration for his invention. "I used to complain about the toothpaste," she said. "There was always a mess. He brought home all different tubes he was working on, but this was the only one that was clean. I don't know if he did it because of me, but I was very happy when he came out with it."

Joe Norris began his career at Coca-Cola, where he designed the plastic soft drink can. He worked for Colgate for 14 years before going back to Coke a year and a half ago. He started working on his toothpaste cap and slitted tube opening in 2002 (with help from John Crawford, Scott Walsh and Peter Stagl) but didn't finish until 2005. He was awarded the patent last November.

"I gave Colgate my 'Field of Dreams' speech: Let me build it and they will come," Norris said, adding that he was responding to consumer complaints. "You're not the only one who had a toothpaste problem," he assured me.

"This must be your greatest triumph," I said. "You deserve to win the Nobel Prize."

"I wouldn't go that far," Norris said modestly, "but I do remember my kids' friends saying, 'Wow!' when I brought it home. And my wife liked it."

My wife likes it, too, although I think she's a little disappointed because she can't sabotage my toothpaste anymore. That's a feather in Joe Norris' cap.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Making Scents"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Over the years, readers of this column have often remarked that I stink. Even though I haven't taken a bath since the 1960s (a morning shower is how I stay clean and fresh), I have never taken this personally. Still, as a sensitive modern man with an uncanny ability to sniff out trouble, I recently went to Bloomingdale's in New York City for a fragrance consultation.

My wife, Sue, who always smells good, and who buys my cologne because she knows which kind masks the odor of beer, accompanied me on this olfactory adventure.

After a quick detour to the jewelry department, where the diamonds made Sue swoon and the prices caused me to break out in a cold sweat that made a splash of cologne imperative, we arrived at the men's counter and were greeted by a pair of very nice fragrance specialists named Jaime Mancera and Sheresa Rohoman.

"What brand do you use now?" asked Mancera, a sophisticated young man from Colombia with a charming accent, movie-star looks and a jet-black ponytail.

"Eau de Heineken," I replied.

Rohoman, a beautiful young woman from Guyana, giggled. "I can smell it from here," she said from behind the counter.

I obviously needed help. Mancera started handing me these little fragrance-imbued cards so I could sniff them to see if they made scents.

"They smell beautiful," I said as my nose began to run.

When Sue said that she wears Beautiful by Estee Lauder, Rohoman remarked, "With patchouli."

"Gesundheit!" I said.

"No, silly," Rohoman replied. "It contains patchouli, which is a flower."

"If I smelled like a flower, it would be stinkweed," I said, noting that I once created my own signature fragrance, which I called Zez. Going for a scent both flowery and manly, I included beer, barbecue sauce, some grass and evergreen clippings and a few drops of a lily of the valley and peppermint mixture I had received in the mail. I put them all in a blender. The result was putrid.

"I don't think I have ever smelled anything that bad," Sue recalled.

Mancera suggested that I leave signature fragrances to the professionals, such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Paul Smith.

"Paul Smith?" I said. "Who's he?"

"An English fashion designer," Mancera answered.

"Sounds like some guy who uses the name on hotel registries," I said.

Rohoman said Smith probably does stay in a lot of hotels but that he's a big name nonetheless.
"Especially in Europe," she added.

"I've never been to Europe," I noted. "I guess he's never heard of me, either."

"I'm sure he would love to meet you," said Mancera, who sprayed the back of my right hand with Paul Smith Story. "It just arrived today," he said. "It's very popular. In fact, I'm wearing it."

"How could it be popular if it just arrived?" I asked.

Mancera ignored the question and said, "What do you think?"

I sniffed my hand. It had a nice touch of citrus. Sue liked the fragrance, too.

"That's one of your pulse points," said Rohoman, adding that another one, which should also be sprayed, is on the back of my neck.

"So I'll smell good even if I'm being followed?" I inquired.

"Exactly," she said.

I tried other fragrances, including Sunset by Escada, Eau Fraiche by Versace and another Paul Smith creation, Extreme. I also sampled V by Valentino, which Mancera said was "more aggressive," adding that it is meant to be worn at night. To which I replied, "I'm usually sitting in front of the TV at night, trying to stay awake for the 11 o'clock news."

"I think you should stick to the lighter stuff," said Mancera, who sold me a 1.7-ounce bottle of Paul Smith Story, which cost $50 and which Sue kindly paid for.

Maybe I'll make another batch of Zez and send a bottle to Paul Smith. Then he can smell like beer.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima