Friday, January 25, 2008

"Another Fine Mess"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

My life is such a mess that if I ever won the lottery, I’d never collect the money. That’s because my wife, Sue, the kind of person who throws everything out, would inadvertently toss the ticket in the garbage or I, the kind of person who saves everything, would put it somewhere in the house and never find it again.

My special hiding place would be either my office, which is a pigsty; my bureau, which might contain the remains of Jimmy Hoffa; my closet, which has no skeletons but plenty of dust balls; or the garage, which looks like a bomb hit it. If you looked in the dictionary under the word "clutter," you would see a picture of one of these four places. Unfortunately, in my house, you couldn’t find the dictionary.

So, in a long-overdue effort to de-clutter my world, I recently went to the Nesconset branch of the Smithtown (N.Y.) Public Library for a program called "De-clutter Your World." It was run by Jennifer Ryan, a certified professional organizer whose company, Create New Order, was founded six years ago to help people like me and the 18 other disorganized souls who attended the program.

One of them was a woman who carries all of her bills in her pocketbook, which she lugged along as proof. "In a strange way, you’re pretty organized," Ryan told the woman, "but your pocketbook is a mess."

Speaking of messes, Ryan said she was once hired by a man whose house was so messy that he couldn’t find the $87,000 he received in an estate clean-out. "He knew it was in there, but he didn’t know where," said Ryan, who unearthed the cash in a storage area.

There are even messes in Ryan’s house, thanks mainly to her 18-year-old daughter. "Her room is such a disaster area that I just close the door," said Ryan, who listened in disbelief as I told her that I once called both the governor’s office and the White House to see if I could get my younger daughter’s room officially declared a disaster area so Sue and I would be eligible for state or federal funds to clean it up.

"What did they tell you?" Ryan asked.

"Close the door," I replied.

I was so impressed with Ryan’s program that I invited her to my house for a consultation, which is part of her service (information is at

"Here’s my philosophy," I said as Ryan sat at the uncluttered kitchen table with Sue and me. "Men don’t know where anything is. Women do – except if a man asks. Then it’s never there."

"My husband is very structured, but generally speaking, you could be right," Ryan said. "Let’s find out. We’ll do the worst first."

"That’s definitely the garage," Sue said as she led Ryan in there.

"I’m hoping you can help us find $87,000," I said.

"Did you have $87,000 to begin with?" Ryan asked.

"No," I admitted.

"Then I can’t help you find it," she said.

Ryan would have had to do an awful lot of digging because there are still unopened boxes from when Sue and I moved in almost 10 years ago. "That’s nothing," Ryan said. "I had a client with 35 years’ worth of junk."

She waded through the clutter and said, "Buy some shelving, create a hole by moving some of this stuff over, and put the boxes, tools and other stuff on the shelves."

After Ryan saw my office, which she said wasn’t so bad because she could actually walk in without breaking her neck, she suggested shelves, another bookcase and a third filing cabinet.

As for my bureau, which is in the bedroom and contains, among lots of other things, my underwear, Ryan said, "We all have drawers in our drawers. Learn how to fold clothes properly and you’ll be amazed at how much more room you’ll have."

I didn’t come out of the closet because I couldn’t get in there, but Ryan said it wasn’t that terrible, even though I have pants that I got years ago and have never worn. "Give the old stuff to Goodwill or you’ll never get on the cover of GQ," she said.

All in all, Ryan added, there is hope. "You can be saved," she told me. "And if you ever win the lottery, remember where you put the ticket."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Dental Dilemma"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have often been told, generally by people who need glasses, that I have a nice smile. I don’t know how they can tell because these same people are always saying that whenever I open my mouth, I put my foot in it.

So I would like to get something straight: my teeth.

Over the past several years, a couple of my pearly whites – one on the top, one on the bottom – have begun to wander. This is what my mind frequently does. At such times, my eyes will glaze over and I will break into a goofy grin that exposes 26 flawless teeth, as well as the two crooked ones that apparently have been pushed out of alignment by my size 11 foot.

To correct my dental dilemma, I have decided to get braces.

According to my dentist, Dr. Salvatore Trentalancia, who has a practice in Stamford with Dr. Craig Clabaugh, this is not uncommon among baby boomers who, like me, did not have braces when they were young.

How well I remember my unfortunate classmates who answered to the name "metal-mouth" and were warned, by sympathetic friends such as myself, to watch out for flying magnets. Now, at the ripe age of 54, I may end up looking like the grille of an old Ford Mustang. At least I don’t have zits anymore.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be fitted with something new called "invisible braces," which supposedly aren’t detectable to people who think you have a nice smile.

To find out if I qualify for braces, either traditional or trendy, I recently went for a consultation at the Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Dental Center, which is close to my house and has an excellent reputation as a teaching facility.

Dr. Ben Murray, an orthodontic resident who graduated last year from the University of Connecticut, was assigned to straighten out the situation.

Although Murray is, at 29, young enough to be my son, in which case he’d never have gone to dental school because I couldn’t afford the tuition, he immediately won my confidence. Not only does he have an easy manner and a playful wit, but he also has good roots: His father is an orthodontist and his grandfather was a dentist.

"Did you have braces when you were a kid?" I asked.

"Yes," Murray replied. "For four months. I was in fifth grade and I was a horrible patient for my father. I wouldn’t come in for appointments. Finally, I had enough of braces and asked my father to take them off."

"Are they that bad?" I wondered nervously.

Murray smiled, showing off nearly perfect teeth, and said, "No. I bet you’ll be a better patient than I was."

But first, I had to make a good impression. This entailed getting impressions made of my teeth. After a battery of X-rays numerous enough to make my head glow, even without a battery, I settled into a chair and opened wide as Murray gently inserted a pair of lip retractors into my big mouth. They made me look like the Joker on "Batman," only this time the joke was on me.

Then Murray stuck a mirror in there and began taking pictures. The inside of my mouth resembled the Grand Canyon with molars. I was going to suggest that the photos be sold as postcards, but I couldn’t talk. For this outstanding achievement, Murray deserves to win the Nobel Prize.

After the photo shoot, Murray took out the lip retractors and inserted some waxy matter so I could make a wax bite, which is probably the closest I will ever come to being in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Murray then asked me if I was having a gag reflex. I was going to say that my reflex is always to pull a gag when Murray said, "Last week, an 8-year-old boy threw up on me." As a good patient, I decided not to bring the matter up.

Now it was time for my impressions. Murray handed me a bib and some napkins. "You are going to drool," he assured me.

"There’s no drool like an old drool," I said, at which point Murray shut me up by putting some seaweed-based material into my mouth, first on the top, then on the bottom. The stuff was like Play-Doh, only not as tasty.

"Don’t bite down," Murray warned, "or you won’t be able to open your mouth again." I think he was trying to use reverse psychology.

When it was over, Murray said that my case would be reviewed by the staff, including Dr. Richard Faber, director of postgraduate orthodontics at Stony Brook, to determine what kind of braces I would need.

I am waiting to hear back. In the meantime, I guess I should take the foot out of my mouth.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima