Friday, December 25, 2009

"The Big Dig"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who has been perpetrating snow jobs all his life, which is 55 years and counting, I can safely say that the recent blizzard dumped more of the white stuff on my driveway on Long Island, N.Y., than anywhere else on the East Coast.

I know because I got two feet, which I used to trudge out to the driveway to shovel the two feet of snow that buried my car, my wife’s car and, very nearly, me.

At first I tried to use the Little Snow Blower That Couldn’t, which gasped when it saw the winter wonderland and said, "I think I can’t, I think I can’t." Then it coughed, wheezed and breathed its last. I was going to bury it in a snowdrift, in a solemn service with the words "died of fright" etched into the frosty tomb, but I feared that prolonged exposure to the elements would kill me, too.

Ordinarily, when it comes to snow removal, I am a wuss, which stands for "wait until spring starts." But I figured this accumulation wouldn’t be gone until the Fourth of July, so I got out my trusty shovel.

Of course, I didn’t want to have a heart attack, so I smartly decided to pile the snow in front of the mailbox so the bills couldn’t be delivered. If they don’t give you a heart attack, nothing will.

After half an hour, I had made excellent progress, having pushed approximately six inches of snow out of the way. Then my next-door neighbor Ron, who had just finished clearing his driveway, came over with his snow blower, which was still working, and kindly cleared most of mine.

It was a big help because I had to get my car out of the driveway so I could drive my younger daughter and her boyfriend to the airport. They were flying to Paris, which they’ll always have, and their flight was still on, but the limo driver who was supposed to take them to JFK got cold feet.

It was up to me to get them to the terminal on time. By then, my condition was terminal.

After a quick lunch, I went back outside to get into my car, only to see that a plow had come along and dumped a huge mound of snow at the bottom of the driveway. At that point, I felt like getting plowed, but it’s never a good idea to drink and drive, so I grabbed my shovel and started to dig out again.

Fortunately, my neighbor Mike, who lives next door on the other side, came over to help. Mike, who is younger and stronger than I am, which doesn’t distinguish him from most other people, did the bulk of the work.

As we tossed aside the last shovelfuls of snow, a car got stuck at the intersection in front of my house. In the vehicle were two young women in their late teens or early 20s.

"You’re the only person I have ever seen actually stop at the stop sign and look what happened," I told the driver. She and her friend giggled.

Mike and I dug them out, then gave the car a push to get it going. "Thank you!" chirped the girls as they drove away, waving and honking in appreciation.

As proof that no good deed goes unpunished, as I was about to put my shovel away, not one but two other plows came along and dumped more snow at the foot of the driveway. I shouted a cheery holiday greeting that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

Eventually I got out; drove my daughter and her boyfriend to the airport; marveled at how the storm had brought people, both friends and strangers, closer together; and realized that I am a man for all seasons except winter.

Next time it snows, I am going to drive back to the airport and get on a plane myself.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Christmas Letter 2009"

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 once again 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 2009 for the Zezimas! The highlight was when Jerry went to jail. Specifically, he went to Rikers Island for crimes against journalism, which he shared with three writing classes at Horizon Academy, a school for detainees in their teens and 20s. Jerry gained early release, after only a few hours, on bad behavior, even though the school administration said he was a good influence on the inmates.

Jerry had another brush with the law when Sue discovered that someone had stolen his identity. The thief, who was never caught, was putting charges on Jerry’s debit card for $1.13, prompting Jerry to wonder if that was all he’s worth. He also wondered who would want to be him. A bank official, who issued Jerry a new card, said, "I guess there’s at least one idiot out there."

On the positive side, 2009 was a year of celebration. Jerry’s parents, Rosina and Jerry Sr., celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with a party at Sue and Jerry’s house. Not to be outdone, Jerry celebrated the 30th anniversary of his mustache. This impressed Dr. Aaron Perlut, chairman of the American Mustache Institute, who urged Jerry to enter next year’s Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Contest. "If you win," Perlut said, "it won’t be lip service."

Jerry took a yoga class. When the instructor informed him that they would be doing hatha yoga, Jerry said, "Hatha yoga is better than none." He is no longer taking the class.

Sue couldn’t take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers Program (the government wouldn’t take Jerry on a trade-in), but she still got a new car, which some jerk promptly scratched in a parking lot. Figures.

Sue and Jerry went on a whale watch. Almost everyone on board except Jerry and the captain got seasick. Sue got sick five times. The whales must have been sick, too, because they never showed up. The trip gave new meaning to the old whaling term "Thar she blows!"

On a sad note, Ramona, the world’s dumbest cat, went to that big litter box in the sky. She was two months shy of her 20th birthday. The good pet news is that Lizzie, the family pooch, is back in playing shape after tearing her ACL. Jerry thinks she should be a pro athlete.

Katie, Dave and Lauren, who came over for Thanksgiving, all had better years than Jerry, who had his hair colored at a spa (no one in the family noticed), made his own pizza at a pizzeria (nobody had to be hospitalized after eating it) and got to taste the merlot he helped make at a vineyard (a professional wine critic said it would go well with his pizza).

Last but certainly least, Jerry wrote his first book, "Leave It to Boomer: A Look at Life, Love and Parenthood by the Very Model of the Modern Middle-Age Man." It will soon be available on and Jerry proudly calls this column collection "a crime against literature." Can a return trip to Rikers Island be far behind?

Well, that’s the news from here. Merry Christmas with love and confusion from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, December 4, 2009

"The Smoke's on Me"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Everybody knows that cigar smoking can kill you, but very few people know why. Here’s the reason: Whenever a man wants to smoke, which he can do almost nowhere these days but in his own home, his wife makes him go outside. And there, depending on the season, he either freezes to death or dies of sunstroke.

As the Bible says, ashes to ashes.

Still, I like a good cigar once in a while. And I have had none better than the one I smoked recently. That’s because I rolled it myself.

I got a lesson in the fine art of cigar rolling from Julio Polanco, who runs a cigar company called, oddly enough, Polanco Cigars.

The first thing I found out when I went to his shop in Port Jefferson, N.Y., was that Polanco and I have a lot in common. Like me, he has a wife and two grown daughters.

"Does your wife let you smoke in the house?" I asked.

"No," Polanco said. "She makes me go outside."

"My wife doesn’t let me smoke in the house, either," I said. "If I get a hankering for a cigar and the weather is lousy, I go in the garage."

"You’re lucky you have a garage," Polanco said. "I live in an apartment, so I have to park on the street."

"I guess you can’t smoke in the car, either," I said.

"No," Polanco replied, "but I solved the problem by opening a cigar shop. Now I smoke here."

The shop, which is small but nice, has two couches and a large-screen TV.

"A lot of my customers come in to watch soccer," Polanco said. "One guy always wants me to put on Dominican music so he can dance."

"Has anyone ever wanted you to show him how to roll a cigar?" I asked.

"Yes," Polanco said.

"How did he do?" I inquired.

"Not so good," Polanco said. "But at least he didn’t cut off any of his fingers. I bet you’ll do better."

As I sat at a table behind the counter, Polanco said I could choose one of three kinds of wrappers: Brazil, Sumatra or Connecticut.

"I’m originally from Connecticut," I said. "Can I get frequent flier miles if I choose either Brazil or Sumatra?"

"I don’t think so," Polanco said.

"In that case," I replied, "I’ll take Connecticut."

The tobacco used for Connecticut wrappers is mild, explained Polanco, who is from the Dominican Republic, where his father, Pablo, founded the company, which fills orders from around the world on its Web site:

"The filler for our cigars comes from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, which gives them a better taste," said Polanco, who gave me a wrapper and said the veins should go on the inside.

"My veins are on the inside, too," I said as I laid the wrapper on the table and tried pathetically to wrap it, not too loose and not too tight, around the filler. My fingers fairly fumbled as Polanco looked on in amusement.

"You have to put the wrapper at the right angle," he said as he showed me how it’s done.

I got the hang of it, sort of, until it came time to use a brush to apply a naturally grown glue (made with tree powder and water) to the edge of the wrapper. I got more glue on my fingers than on the wrapper. Then I had to use a rounded knife to cut the excess wrapper and the tip of the cigar without, somehow, giving myself an extreme manicure.

"You did it!" exclaimed Polanco, who added that it would take me a while (perhaps years) to become a master roller but that I wasn’t as bad as that other customer.

I took my cigar home and, a couple of days later, on an unseasonably mild afternoon, went outside for a sensational smoke.

Would my wife have let me smoke my very own creation inside? Close, but no cigar.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Construction Project"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

When I think of history’s classic constructions – the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Green Monster at Fenway Park – I naturally think of the Seven Wonders of the World. But there is another one that is so impressive, so outstanding, so absolutely fantastic that it should be added to the list.

I refer to the braces on my teeth, which ought to be called the Great Project of Geezer.

This architectural marvel has been engineered and constructed by Dr. Ben Murray, an orthodontic resident at the Stony Brook University Dental Care Center on Long Island, N.Y.

I have braces because a couple of my teeth have shifted, which is pretty remarkable considering I can’t shift for myself. According to Murray, this isn’t uncommon among baby boomers, especially those who, like me, didn’t have braces as a kid.

I got mine about a year ago in the right upper side of my mouth. Every month since then, Murray has worked on this construction project. He hasn’t worn a hard hat or used a jackhammer. And he hasn’t, thank God, needed dynamite. But he has employed tools such as a screwdriver and, during one memorable appointment, a blowtorch, which fortunately wasn’t applied directly to my mouth. None of it has hurt a bit.

In a recent office visit, Murray drew up a blueprint of his work and explained it in layman’s terms so even I could understand it.

"We’re working on the right buccal segment of the maxillary arch to distalize that area and correct the Class 2 malocclusion," he said.

"Ong, ong, ong," I replied, because Murray was still working on my teeth. When he was done, he explained further.

"The lateral incisor is severely rotated," he said. It sounded like one of the tires on my car. At least he didn’t call it a snaggletooth. Then I would have been like Snaggletooth, also known as Snagglepuss, the cartoon mountain lion ("Heavens to Murgatroyd!") on the old Yogi Bear TV show.

"The whole right side has moved forward," Murray continued. "This mesial shift is common in adults."

To straighten out this mess, Murray has embarked on an engineering job involving screws, springs, wires, brackets and anchor pins. It’s like a suspension bridge. The only thing missing is an E-ZPass lane.

When Murray showed me his drawing, which resembled either a football play or plans for a housing development, he said, "I have put braces on the upper right teeth from the second molar to the canine. Then I put a TAD, also called a temporary anchorage device, between the premolars and I distalized the second molar. The pin stabilizes the second molar and the first premolar. I retracted the first molar off the second molar and pushed the second molar back off the first premolar."

It all made perfect sense. The only glitch came when the pin, which was inserted in the outside of my gums, loosened due to hard brushing and wasn’t strong enough to anchor the wire pulling my teeth backward. So Murray ingeniously put another TAD in my palatal mucosa on the inside. It has worked like a charm.

Even though they are mostly hidden by my cheek, these aren’t your ordinary braces. Murray must keep adjusting them to move my teeth backward so there will be room to rotate the incisor to its original position. This should take a few more months, at which point I will be fitted with "invisible braces," which will cover all my teeth and straighten not only the incisor but the other crooked tooth, which is on the bottom in front. Or Row A, Seat 2 in your theater program.

In the meantime, I am going to start a campaign to nominate Murray for an International Architecture Award. The best way, of course, is by word of mouth.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Lip Shtick"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I may not be British, even though my favorite breakfast cereal is Cheerios, but for the past three decades, I have kept a stiff upper lip. Now, after all these years of hair-raising adventure, I am celebrating the 30th anniversary of my mustache.

I had never thought to grow one because mustaches are not common in my family. Two of the only relatives who ever had them were my Uncle Bill, who sported a dapper mustache, and my grandmother, who wasn’t dapper but had inner beauty and made a mean dish of spaghetti and meatballs.

Then, in 1979, I had surgery to correct a deviated septum, which in my case was like repairing the Lincoln Tunnel. For more than a week, I was wrapped in bandages and couldn’t shave. When the bandages came off, I had a mustache.

My wife liked the new look (anything was better than the old one), so I kept it.

Ever since, I have been told I look like Groucho Marx, who is dead and can’t sue me. In fact, I like to go out on Halloween dressed as Groucho so I can get candy and beer from startled neighbors. I also was once mistaken (by friends, co-workers and even my own mother) for the infamous Groucho Robber, who struck several banks in Stamford until his photo, showing him in a Groucho disguise, appeared on the front page of the paper. He was subsequently caught and I, saying the secret word ("innocent"), was exonerated.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I recently found out about the American Mustache Institute, a St. Louis-based advocacy organization that, according to its Web site (, is dedicated to "protecting the rights of, and fighting discrimination against, mustached Americans by promoting the growth, care and culture of the mustache."

"We are the ACLU of downtrodden mustached people," Dr. Aaron Perlut, the group’s chairman, told me over the phone, adding that AMI is "the only mustache think tank in the United States." Its slogan: "A mustache is a terrible thing to shave."

I quickly realized the immense value of the American Mustache Institute because, as I had long suspected, there is a lot of discrimination against mustached Americans. For example, the last U.S. president to wear a mustache was William Howard Taft, who left office in 1913. Perlut said that the last mustached major-party presidential candidate was Thomas E. Dewey, who did not, despite a famous newspaper headline, defeat Harry S. Truman in 1948.

Mustaches made a comeback in the 1970s, when, according to Perlut, "every man had three things: a mustache, a perm and a turtleneck." But lip hair suffered a big blow in 1981, when, said Perlut, two things happened: "Ronald Reagan became president and ushered in a clean-cut, corporate culture, leaving mustaches to the fields of nail technicianry, motorcycle repair and refuse disposal. And Walter Cronkite, who just died, God rest his soul, left the air. From that time on, it became unfashionable for TV newsmen to wear mustaches."

Now, however, mustaches are on the upswing. "When people like Brad Pitt and George Clooney grow them, it’s good for the movement," said Perlut. "And the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder has a mustache is very important to our way of life."

To keep the momentum going, AMI hosts the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award. This year’s contest had a field of 100, including 18 finalists, and drew almost 100,000 votes. The winner was Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada, who sports a handlebar mustache. He beat out the likes of hero pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. I voted for journalism’s only representative, hirsute humorist Bill Geist, whose neatly trimmed mustache gets plenty of face time on "CBS News Sunday Morning."

Perlut, who has a doctorate in international studies and, he said, "nuclear mustacheology," congratulated me on the 30th anniversary of my mustache.

"Since you represent our way of life so well," he said, "you should nominate yourself for next year’s Goulet Award. And if you win," Perlut added, presumably with a straight, mustached face, "it won’t be lip service."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Mr. and Mrs. Excitement"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I don’t want to bore you with tales of my marital exploits, although I don’t see why this column should be different from any other one, but my wife, Sue, and I are anything but boring. In 31 years of wedded bliss, we have led the most exciting lives that two people who haven’t done much can possibly lead. This includes puttering around the house, sending out for pizza and, the high point of any boomer couple’s thrill-packed day, trying to stay awake for the 11 o’clock news.

So when I read a recent study on avoiding boredom in marriage, I fell asleep in a rocking chair in front of the TV and woke up when the news was over. Then I woke up Sue, who was snoozing in an easy chair, and we both went to bed.

The next morning, I went to see the co-author of the study, Dr. Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y.

For Aron, who worked on the study with Irene Tsapelas of Stony Brook and Terri Orbuch of the University of Michigan, this was his latest scientific triumph. His previous study, conducted last year, showed that brain activity in longtime spouses who are still in love is the same as the brain activity in MRIs of newly romantic couples.

"You could take an MRI of my brain," I told Aron, "but you probably wouldn’t find any activity."

"That would mean you are still out of your head in love with your wife," he suggested.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that Aron is brilliant. He proved it in the boredom study, which was published in Psychological Science, by finding that "couples need to make their lives together more exciting."

Aron knows what he’s talking about because he has been married for 35 years to Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychotherapist who is the author of several books, including "The Highly Sensitive Person."

"I’m not bored in my marriage because my wife and I like to go out on little dates," said Aron. "We enjoy doing different things, like finding new places to eat."

"My wife and I do, too," I said.

"Maybe," Aron replied, "my wife and I will run into you and your wife some Saturday night."

If they do, it will probably be at the burger joint that Sue and I recently found. It’s actually a neighborhood bar called Reese’s 1900 Pub, which is a few miles from another neighborhood bar we also frequent, Billie’s 1890 Saloon.

Finding a new place to have delicious burgers and cold beer has added considerable excitement to our marriage. Just the thought of deciding whether to have fried onions or bacon as toppings, or whether to go with cheddar or Swiss cheese, is enough to make us giddy with the spark of first love. Then again, it could be the beer.

Still, like many empty nesters, Sue and I have discovered that it’s the little things that prevent boredom from creeping into a marriage. That’s because, after putting both of our daughters through college and marrying one of them off, we don’t have enough money left for the big things.

True, we went to Barbados last year for our 30th anniversary, the first time we had been away together, just the two of us, to a place with postcards and palm trees, since our honeymoon in Hawaii. We vowed to go back this year but ended up staying home and going to a local beach that did not, I regret to say, have postcards or palm trees, although it did have a snack bar.

Now that the weather is cooler, Sue and I spend our exciting Saturday nights either at home watching rented movies and trying to stay awake to the end or going out on little dates for burgers and beer. And if we should happen to run into Arthur and Elaine Aron, the first round is on them.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Identity Crisis"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

At the risk of being sued by Popeye, I am what I am. Unfortunately, what I am can’t be printed in a family newspaper. I don’t even know who I am anymore. That’s because my identity was recently stolen.

I never thought this would happen because you’d have to be crazy to want to be me. Even if you were caught and went to trial, you could easily get off, either by pleading insanity or by claiming the cops had the wrong man. Then I’d get arrested.

In contrast to the old Sammy Davis Jr. song "I’ve Gotta Be Me," I don’t want to be myself. It’s a terrible predicament, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Despite the prospect of being married to someone richer and a lot more interesting, my wife, Sue, decided to do something about it when she noticed charges on my debit card for $1.13.

"Is that all I’m worth?" I asked. "What an insult!"

"There are three charges," Sue pointed out, "so you’re worth $3.39."

That made me feel a little better, but I still couldn’t understand why anyone would want to steal my identity, especially since I had to take a vow of poverty when I went into journalism.

In fact, my life is lived in increments of $20 because I use my debit card almost exclusively at the ATM, which in my case stands for Abominable Transaction Machine. I usually withdraw $20 so I can put enough gas in my car to go to work so I can earn enough money to put gas in my car to go to work. At least I have a job. Then again, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have to put gas in my car.

At any rate, Sue called the bank to find out what was going on and spoke with a very nice customer representative named Renee, who wanted to speak with me because those little charges were being put on my card.

"Someone is probably downloading songs on an iPod," Renee said.

"I don’t have an iPod or iTunes, although I do have iTeeth," I told her. "I’m not technologically advanced."

"Neither am I," said Renee, adding that she would put a block on my card but that I would have to go to a bank branch to get a new one.

A little while later, Sue and I were sitting in the office of Friday McGraw, a small-business specialist who is as terrific as his name.

"Identity theft is a big problem," said Friday, which also happened to be the day we were there. "I’ve already done three this morning." Then he handed me a pair of scissors and asked if I wanted to cut up my card.

"I’ve always been a cutup, so why not?" I said. Friday looked on as I snipped away. "Wow!" I chirped. "I’m literally performing plastic surgery!"

"I guess you don’t do that for a living," Friday commented. "You’re too excited." He also said that identity thieves typically put small charges on a card at first. If the card holder doesn’t do anything about it, the thieves will then put on charges that could total thousands of dollars.

In trying to figure out where the theft might have occurred, Friday asked, "Where was the last place you ate?"

"My parents’ house," I replied, explaining that we had stayed overnight.

"If your identity got stolen there, you’re in trouble," said Friday, who has helped my parents with their banking and knows they’re honest people.

"Still," I wondered, "why would anyone want it?"

"I guess there’s at least one idiot out there," Friday answered with a smile. He issued me a temporary card, changed the number on our checking account, arranged for me to get a new debit card and new checks, and otherwise handled the whole transaction with great professionalism and good humor.

"Now you can be you again," he said.

"It’s small consolation," I replied. "But at least I can put gas in my car."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 18, 2009


By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Call me Ishmael. Call me captain. But don’t call me seasick.

That’s more than I could say for most of the 80 people – including my wife, Sue – who recently went out on a boat to watch whales but instead, in a stunning display of mass disgorgement that even Herman Melville couldn’t have imagined, gave new meaning to the old whaling term "Thar she blows!"

Our high-seas adventure began aboard the Viking Starship, a 140-foot-long vessel out of Montauk, N.Y. Under the able command of the friendly and experienced crew – Capt. Joseph DiLiberto, mate Alex Georgiev and naturalist Artie Kopelman – the Starship set sail at 9:30 a.m. on a six-hour tour, a six-hour tour (sorry, "Gilligan’s Island" fans) about 15 miles into the Atlantic. Destination: the feeding grounds of majestic marine mammals, including the fin whale, the second-largest species, which can grow to 80 feet in length.

Before Sue and I boarded, I noticed a sign on the dock next to the ship. It read: "No firearms allowed onboard." Now I know why: If you get violently sick out on the water, you’ll want to shoot yourself.

A storm had passed offshore the night before and the morning broke cloudy and chilly, but the conditions, if not ideal, weren’t bad enough to cancel the trip.

Kopelman stood on deck with a microphone as the boat chugged out of the harbor and, in a funny and informative routine that included fascinating facts about the creatures we hoped to see, explained what we should do in the event of seasickness. Ill passengers should not use bags but should go "over the rail," Kopelman said, adding: "And not into the wind."

The first sign of trouble came about five miles out, just past the Montauk Point Lighthouse, where the Viking Starship acted more like the Jefferson Starship: It was rocking and rolling in the increasingly churning ocean. Several people, who had turned greener than the water, clutched the rail. Others, disregarding Kopelman’s instructions, clutched bags. Sue clutched me.

Apparently, I was the only passenger, in addition to a group of little kids, who was having a good time. It was like being at an amusement park except that no one else thought it was amusing.

Among the afflicted was Sue, who got sick five times. It may have been a record. At one point, I went inside to get her some napkins and spoke with Kobi Kobayashi, who runs the snack bar.

"I guess business hasn’t been too good today," I said.

Kobayashi shook his head and replied, "I made three breakfasts – sausage and eggs – but they probably went over the side."

Kobayashi, a former commercial fisherman from Japan, has also been a filmmaker. He was the cinematographer on the 1977 Oscar winner for best short documentary, "I’ll Find a Way."

"If you made a movie about this trip," I noted, "you could call it ‘I’ll Find a Wave.’ A lot of people have." Kobayashi didn’t disagree.

About 12 miles out, Capt. Joe decided to cut the trip short and turn around. "It’s too bad," he said, "because we’ve had an 80 percent success rate this year. We’ve been out 20 times and have seen whales 16 times. None today, though."

"Maybe they’re sick, too," I suggested.

"Seasickness is mostly mind over matter," said Capt. Joe, adding that he used to get sick as a boy when he went on fishing trips with his father and uncles. "You grow out of it."

On the way back in, the water had calmed considerably, so Capt. Joe let me take the wheel. For five minutes, under strict supervision, I was Capt. Jerry.

About half an hour later, after the real captain docked the boat under sunny skies, Sue and I, along with scores of ashen-faced, wobbly-legged, would-be whale watchers, disembarked. I was going to ask Sue if she wanted to get some clams for lunch, but I didn’t want to end up sleeping with the fishes.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 4, 2009

"Day at the Museum"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Aside from fame, fortune and talent, Ben Stiller has nothing on me. That’s because I recently spent a day at the museum.

Yes, it was the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the site of Stiller’s 2006 box office hit, "Night at the Museum." I didn’t spend a night at the museum for two good reasons: It closed at 5:45 p.m. and I am not, for better or for worse, Ben Stiller.

Still, my wife, Sue, and I decided to spend an afternoon at this famous institution, which we hadn’t visited since our daughters were kids about 20 years ago, to see if anything would come alive.

"Oh, wow, things come alive all the time," said Abiba Ouattara, a guard who has been working at the museum for four years. "Especially at night."

Ouattara should know because she sometimes works the night shift. "The dinosaurs are more interesting than Ben Stiller," she said.

"Maybe I could be in an exhibit," I told her. "I’m a fossil."

"No, you’re not," replied Ouattara, whose love of her job and delightful sense of humor make her a great ambassador for the museum. "But you could be in the human origin section. That’s where we all belong."

Sue and I decided to start with an even older exhibit, in the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing, which is oddly named because dinosaurs didn’t have wings, unless you believe, as do many paleontologists, that they were closely related to birds, especially on their mother’s side.

We saw all the biggies, including T-rex (my, what big teeth you have!) and apatosaurus, formerly known as brontosaurus, a name it must have used as an alias to escape meat eaters such as allosaurus, who was there, too.

We also saw stegosaurus, a huge armored creature that had a brain the size of a walnut, making it the congressman of dinosaurs.

"No wonder it’s extinct," Sue commented.

"I have a small brain and I’m not extinct," I said.

"No," Sue noted, "not yet."

All the dinosaurs died out tens of millions of years ago from one of three causes: climate change, a comet that hit Earth or, as cartoonist Gary Larson theorized in a famous "Far Side" strip, smoking.

Even though the skeleton crew didn’t come alive, it was great to see them again. But an even bigger thrill awaited in a new exhibit called "Extreme Mammals," of which I, of course, am one.

Just as I knew the names of all the dinosaurs when I was a kid because I was, and still am, an encyclopedia of useless information, I also was familiar with the prehistoric mammals, including the woolly mammoth, the saber-toothed tiger (not really a tiger, but it’s dead, so why quibble?) and the giant ground sloth. All of them were here, as was a gigantic hornless rhinoceros named Indricotherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived. It was even bigger than Orson Welles before he, too, became extinct.

Sue and I also made it to the human origin section, where I spotted many of my ancestors, who could easily be distinguished from me because none of them, even the women, had a mustache.

The museum is so large and so fascinating that no one could possibly see it all in one day. Or even one night, as Martin Hollander, a volunteer at the information desk, told me. There is, indeed, a "Night at the Museum" program, but it’s for kids 8-12 years old.

"You’d have to bring a brat," Hollander said.

"I’m a brat. And intellectually, I’m about 8," I said. "Could my wife bring me?"

"Yes," Hollander replied. "You could be Benjamin Button."

Unfortunately, I couldn’t be Ben Stiller. But if he doesn’t want to star in another "Night at the Museum" movie, I’ll gladly take his place.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Grape Expectations"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

My favorite Latin phrase, which must have been translated improperly when I was in high school, is "Veni, vidi, vino." It means, "I came, I saw, I drank a lot of wine."

That is what I have been saying since I introduced my very own merlot.

Actually, the wine has just been introduced by Castello di Borghese, the oldest vineyard on Long Island, N.Y., and it's called Borghese 2004 Reserve Merlot. But I can say with great pride, a pleased palate and a slight buzzing in my ears that I helped to make it.

Since wine needs time to age (I don't because I get more decrepit every day), the process began in 2002, when I drove out to Castello di Borghese and, with the permission of the owners, Marco and Ann Marie Borghese, picked a bunch of cabernet franc grapes so I could take them home to make my own wine.

Back at Chateau de Zezima, I decided to re-create the famous scene in "I Love Lucy" in which Lucille Ball crushes wine grapes with her feet. I put my grapes in the bathtub, removed my shoes and socks, and stomped away. Then I plopped the crushed grapes into a stainless steel pot, covered them and let them ferment. A week later, I strained the mess, poured the juice into an empty wine bottle, which I capped with a party balloon to trap the vapors and prevent the house from blowing up, and let it ferment for another week.

When I took my wine, which I dubbed Cabernet Jerry 2002, back to Castello di Borghese, the winemaker took one sip and spluttered, "It tastes like nail polish remover!"

After assuring me that my feet were not responsible for the disaster, he took me down to the cellar so I could help make real wine. This required me to again take off my shoes and socks, put on a T-shirt and a pair of swim trunks, and climb through a small porthole leading to the inside of a 3,000-gallon stainless steel tank containing 4 tons of thick, soggy merlot grape skins.

My job was to stand knee-deep in the bone-chilling gunk and, using an orange plastic shovel, dump the skins into an auger-driven pump that funneled them into a 900-gallon press. After a fermentation process that would last slightly longer than the two weeks it took to make my cabernet, the result would be the 2004 Reserve Merlot.

Slow forward to 2009. My wife, Sue, and I, along with our older daughter, Katie, and her huband, Dave, drove out to the vineyard to see if my merlot was ready.

"You're in luck," said Marco Borghese. "We're just coming out with it now."

Although the label year is 2004, Marco explained, "Wine has to stay in barrels for at least three years and in bottles for as long as you want."

Since the winery has been voted best vineyard on Long Island (more info at, I had no doubt that Marco knew the proper time to come out with my merlot. "It's not our very finest," he acknowledged. "And it's not because of your feet. Still," added Marco, who gave me a bottle with his compliments, "I hope you enjoy it."

At home, I opened the bottle and, like a true oenophile, took a whiff of the cork. It smelled like cork. Then I poured some of my merlot into glasses for Sue, Katie, Dave and yours truly. I took a sip, let the wine sit on the back of my tongue and swallowed. "Magnifique," I announced.

"It's good," Sue said. "Very peppery."

"And sharp," Katie added.

Dave said, "I smell pepper. No feet as yet. Very good."

My merlot had passed the family test, but what would a professional wine critic say? To find out, I asked my pal Peter M. Gianotti, a respected food and wine critic for Newsday, to give me his unbiased opinion.

Because there are no wine glasses in the office, Peter used a paper cup. "It's plummy," he said after taking a sip. "And it has a back bite. It might need a little more time in the bottle, but I would have it with pizza."

The ultimate compliment! What more could a winemaker want? I don't know how you say it in Latin, but I do know that, if she were still around, Lucy would be proud.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Growing Pains"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Jerry, Jerry, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Not too badly considering I am more of a vegetable than anything I've planted this year.

Actually, the little patch of earth on the side of the house is the first garden I have ever had. My wife, Sue, who has a green thumb (she really ought to see a doctor), could grow tomatoes in Death Valley. I, on the other hand, which has a dirty thumb, am responsible for making parts of our property look like that famous desert.

So when the only plant I could not kill, a gigantic butterfly bush, was removed earlier this year, I decided to put in herbs (nobody named Herb was harmed during planting) and various veggies (not including broccoli and zucchini, which I will consume only at the point of a gun) and turn the place into a Garden of Eatin'.

I was inspired to get into agriculture, which is the only culture I have, by President Barack Obama and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, who recently planted a White House garden that is approximately the size of Rhode Island.

Mine is somewhat smaller (83 by 64 inches, to be exact), but you have to start somewhere, and I didn't think the Secret Service would let me do so outside the Oval Office.

I went with Sue to one of those home-improvement warehouses to pick out what I wanted to plant.

"Do you like squash?" she asked as we walked through the garden department.

"I'd rather play tennis," I replied.

Sue ignored the remark and suggested we get vegetables I would actually eat, which narrowed the choices considerably. They included tomatoes, eggplants, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, string beans and cauliflowers. We also got parsley, as well as basil and rosemary. In fact, Basil, Rosemary and Herb are having a nice little menage a twine, which I am using to hold up the tomato plants.

The planting itself was pretty hard work. I was about to throw in the trowel when I realized I wouldn't see the fruits of my labors. And since tomatoes are also considered fruits, I wasn't taking any chances, even though they were tough rows to hoe.

Speaking of rows, I could have used a rowboat -- or maybe even an ark -- after we had what seemed like 40 days and 40 nights of rain, which nearly caused a flood of biblical proportions. Sue said it was God's way of telling me that I couldn't be trusted to water the garden.

I got the hint, however, and when the rain finally stopped, I began giving the garden a shower every evening. I give myself a shower every morning, but not outside.

To break up the monotony, I started talking to my tomato plants. But I stopped after I heard a report on the radio about how men can stunt the growth of their tomato plants when they talk to them. According to a study conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society in Surrey, England, tomato plants will respond to a woman's voice much better than they will to a man's and will grow up to an inch more when they hear soothing female sounds.

I thought only cauliflowers had ears, but I guess our world isn't called Mother Nature for nothing. When I told Sue about the study, she said, "Shall I go out to the garden and have a conversation with the tomato plants?"

She must have done so because we now have tomatoes the size of baseballs. (Imagine if it were basketball season.) I think the real reason the plants are doing so well, and haven't been affected by the current fungus that has ruined many tomato crops, is that I no longer tell them stupid jokes when I water the garden.

At any rate, because of my tender care, or perhaps despite it, my garden is growing just fine. We have had several delicious meals featuring string beans, jalapenos and parsley, and there will be plenty more when the tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers and cauliflowers are ready to eat. Maybe then, if they're not too busy tending their own garden, we'll invite the Obamas over for dinner.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Color My World"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Because I have more gray matter on the outside of my head than I do on the inside, I am often asked why I don't dye my hair. "I do," I always respond. "I dye it gray so I'll seem more mature." To which people invariably say, "It's not working."

So when my barber, Maria Vieira, recently told me about a new kind of hair coloring treatment that covers enough of the gray to make you look younger but not enough so people will think you put shoe polish on your head, I decided to go for it. This wasn't just because my cranium resembled a snow-capped mountain peak, which could be why I frequently had brain freeze and was considered over the hill, but also because I wanted to see if anyone would notice that some of the snow melted.

As I sat in a chair at Charmed Salon & Spa in Miller Place, N.Y., Maria confirmed my theory that very few people, young or old, know what their original hair color was.

"They range from teenagers who have already dyed their hair a dozen times to seniors who went gray years ago," said Maria, who admitted that she can't remember exactly what color her hair used to be. It's now a rich brown with blond highlights and looks, if I do say so, beautiful. I was hoping she could make me look the same. Or at least young enough so Boy Scouts wouldn't start offering to help me cross the street.

But first, Katie McConnach, Maria's assistant, put color block along my hairline, my sideburns and the back of my neck. "We don't want to color your ears," said Katie, who then put some of the stuff around my mustache, which looked like a giant Brillo pad and also had to be dyed.

Next, Maria rubbed Menz Natural Hair Color Gel by Scruples into my curly locks, which she said were very thick. "So is my skull," I replied. Maria didn't disagree, although she did say that she was giving me a light ash brown color. "I know it's your natural shade because you still have brown in the back," she noted. "Besides, it will keep you lightheaded."

Then she got a paintbrush and applied the gel to my mustache and my eyebrows, after which she set a timer for five minutes. I felt like an egg.

Fortunately, the yolk wasn't on me. After the timer went off and the gel had been rinsed out, I looked in the mirror and saw a younger but not entirely different me. "Now you have more pepper in your salt," said Maria, adding: "Let's see if anyone notices."

The first test came when my wife, Sue, arrived home. It was a Friday afternoon and I helped her carry in some groceries, after which I talked with her in the kitchen. She looked right at me. "Wow," I thought, "she can't tell."

Later on, my older daughter, Katie, and her husband, Dave, who live in Boston, came down for the weekend. Neither one said anything about my hair.

The next day, we all saw my younger daughter, Lauren, for whom hair is a way of life. You'd need a calculator to figure out all the different shades of blond and brown she has colored it. She is very hair-aware, yet she failed to notice that I had colored mine.

On Sunday morning, before Katie and Dave left, I gathered them and Sue in the family room and asked if they noticed anything different about me. "You look thinner," Katie said. Sue and Dave were stumped. When I said I had colored my hair, Sue, who colors hers, said, "I've been married to you for 31 years and I didn't even notice." Katie, a journalist who colors her hair, said, "I feel terrible because it's my job to notice things." Dave, also a journalist (he doesn't color his hair), said, "I thought your mustache looked a little darker, but I didn't want to say anything."

That afternoon, I asked Lauren, who had come over with her friend Jen, if she noticed anything different about me. "I saw you in the sunlight before and thought your hair looked browner," she said. "Did you color it?" I said yes and added that it took her, a hair goddess, two days to catch on. Jen said, "It's very natural."

So now I look younger but still distinguished, if no more mature. It was an experience to dye for.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 26, 2009

"Rolling in Dough"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, that's a mess. Or it would have been if I had tried to make my own pizza without the help of a pair of professionals who recently had me rolling in dough while creating a thin-crust pie that was, considering the lunar analogy, out of this world.

As a person of Italian heritage, I consider pizza one of the four food groups (the other three being Twinkies, Slim Jims and beer). When I lived in my hometown of Stamford, Conn., I gorged on pies from such fine establishments as Cove Pizza and the Colony. Since moving to Long Island, N.Y., I have become a frequent diner at Paradiso, a restaurant that is, true to its name, a paradise for pizza pies.

On a recent trip to pick up a takeout order (a large spinach and meatball pizza, my favorite), I asked co-owner Pietro Ribaudo if he would risk indigestion -- better known in pizza parlance as agita -- by letting me make a pie.

"Sure," he said. "And to minimize the risk to me and my customers, you are going to eat it."

A few days later, I stood behind the counter at Paradiso, in Mount Sinai, N.Y., with Ribaudo and his pizza partner, Keith Lindblad, ready to make culinary history. Or at least a large spinach and meatball pie.

The first thing I had to do was put on a white apron, which actually was the hardest part. I fumbled pathetically with the string, trying to knot it behind me, until Lindblad kindly pointed out that it's supposed to wrap around and tie in the front.

Then I had to make the dough. Ribaudo, who was born in Sicily and has been making pizza for most of his 50 years, took me in the back, where he instructed me to dump a 50-pound bag of enriched, high-gluten, bromated flour into a 60-quart bowl without rupturing a vital organ.

Next I put in three gallons of water, five pounds of semolina flour, 12 ounces of salt, 12 ounces of sugar and three ounces of yeast. Then I set the mixer for nine minutes, during which I found out that Lindblad, 43, is of Irish, German and Swedish extraction. "You don't have to be Italian to make good pizza," he said. To which Ribaudo replied, "But it helps."

When the timer went off and the mixture was dumped onto a flat surface, Lindblad told me, "Now you knead the dough."

"I could use a few extra bucks," I said.

"No," Lindblad responded. "I mean, you have to roll it."

This entailed taking a ball of dough, folding it over so there are no creases and putting it into a small tin. I thought I got the hang of it pretty quickly until I saw Ribaudo rolling a ball of dough in each hand at warp speed. "I'm ambidextrous, too," I noted. "The difference is that I'm incompetent with both hands."

The tins are refrigerated for a couple of days, so I had to make my pizza with pre-made dough, which was fine with me because if I had to wait that long, I would have starved.

Back behind the counter, on a table in front of the big stoves, Lindblad showed me how to remove dough from a tin and stretch it out while tossing it back and forth from one hand to another. "Contrary to popular belief," he said, "you don't twirl it in the air. I tried it once and the dough hit the ceiling fan, which shot it across the counter. It almost hit a customer."

Then I smoothed out the dough on the table while creating a ridge along the edge, after which I poured on the sauce, sprinkled on some cheese and oregano, and adorned the whole thing with spinach and meatballs. I put my pie in the oven and waited 10 minutes. When it was done, Ribaudo, Lindblad and Emily Werfel, who usually takes my telephone orders, all nodded approvingly.

"It looks delicious," said Lindblad, who put the pie in a box for me to take home.

"Mangia," said Ribaudo.

At dinner that evening, my wife, Sue, said, "This is very good. The crust is nice and crispy."

Our younger daughter, Lauren, who had come for a visit, added, "You didn't scrimp on the toppings, either."

But the biggest compliment came from Lauren's dog, Maggie, who wolfed down a piece that Lauren fed her and, in begging for more, gave me two paws up.

That's amore.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 12, 2009


By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

No man who has a cat can ever claim to be king of his castle. (No man who has a wife and children can ever make that claim, either, but that's another story.)

I found this out in 1989, when my wife, Sue, and I moved with our young daughters, Katie and Lauren, from an apartment to a condominium in Stamford, Conn. The girls, who longed for a "real pet," had grown tired of goldfish whose life expectancy was approximately as long as the Super Bowl halftime show. They wanted something that could return their affection, that had some semblance of intelligence, that would respond to their every command. True, they already had me. But they wanted something more. Specifically, they wanted a cat.

So, on an overcast Saturday, we went to the Humane Society and saw cats of every conceivable make and model. Asking not one child but two children, ages 9 and 7, to pick out the pet of their dreams borders on cruelty, not necessarily to the children, who would gladly devote their lives to such an endeavor, or to the cat, who couldn't care less because there's a sucker born every minute, but most definitely to the parents.

Ultimately, the decision was in my hands. Or, more accurately, on my feet. That's because one little kitten, a black and white cutie of almost unimaginable softness, climbed out of her box, scampered over to me and began to rub up against my size 11 sneakers. When I picked her up, she snuggled against my cotton shirt and purred contentedly. It would be years before she showed me such affection again. Of course, I couldn't have known that. But it was late, the girls were hopelessly confused and I was hooked, so I announced, "This is the one."

Katie named her Ramona, after Ramona Quimby, the title character in a series of books by children's author Beverly Cleary. It was a monumental misnomer: Ramona, the fictional 8-year-old girl, was charming, lively and smart; Ramona, the real-life 8-week-old cat, was grumpy, boring and stupid. But the girls were happy. Sue and I were, too, because for all her mental deficiencies, Ramona quickly learned how to use the litter box. I like to think she followed my example because, of course, I was already housebroken.

Ramona became internationally famous in 1992 as a charter member of "Who's Who of Animals." Here was her entry in that prestigious publication:

"Ramona Geraldine Zezima

"Stamford, Connecticut

"Ramona is a 3-year-old domestic house cat. She is small, sleek and coal black except for her white paws and whiskers and a white hourglass patch on her throat and chest. Ramona's greatest claim to fame is that she is even dumber than our goldfish, Pumpkin, out of whose bowl she likes to drink. A recent intelligence test pitting Ramona and a loaf of Wonder Bread proved inconclusive. She also is lazy, aloof and virtually unemployable. Still, we all love her because, frankly, we are only human."

Ramona's cushy lifestyle as a pampered princess who rarely deigned to associate with commoners ended in 1995 with the arrival of the newest member of the family, a puppy named Lizzie. Sensing competition, Ramona finally began warming up to us.

Her miraculous transformation into an affectionate sweetheart continued in 1998, when we moved to Long Island, N.Y., and got another cat, Kitty, who then had her own kitties, Bernice and Henry, all of whom ignored Ramona, who was only too happy to reciprocate and focus her attention on us.

Just before her Sweet 16th birthday party, Ramona began emitting a series of loud, strange, agonizing cries that sounded a lot like me when I get out of bed in the morning. Sue didn't help matters when she shook her head sadly and said, "It's her time."

I rushed to Jefferson Animal Hospital with Ramona, who sat calmly as Dr. Jeff Rose checked her teeth and, at the other end, took her temperature. Then he listened to her heart and began feeling her stomach. "Have you watched her when she uses the litter box?" he asked.

"I don't make a habit of it," I replied. "Why?"

"Because," Dr. Rose announced, "she's constipated."

"You mean I worried myself sick over this stupid animal, thinking she was at death's door, and the only thing wrong with her is that she can't have a bowel movement?" I said incredulously.

"I'm afraid so," said Dr. Rose.

The bill: $165.10. The prescription: a stool softener.

Our first "real pet" enjoyed good health for four more years, until about three weeks ago, just a few days before the end. She was two months shy of her 20th birthday.

For two decades, Ramona had us all wrapped around her little paw. She lived on her own terms and was loved unconditionally.

I guess she was pretty smart after all.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Crash Course"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

If my wife and I wanted to have an impact on the people around us, we would teach a crash course in driver’s education. That’s because we have been in three crashes caused by people who had an impact on us.

The first mishap occurred about a year and a half ago, when some idiot cut in front of me at an intersection because his GPS told him to go the wrong way down a one-way street. In this case, GPS must have stood for Guy Positioning System, since the guy obviously was lost and, like most men, wouldn’t stop to ask for directions.

The second mishap occurred a couple of months ago, when a little old lady pulled out of a side street in front of my wife’s car because, as the woman admitted, she wasn’t paying attention. I can only assume her GPS stood for Granny Positioning System.

The third mishap occurred only two weeks later, when an older man rear-ended my wife’s car at a red light, damaging her brand-new bumper, which she got as a result of the previous accident. His GPS apparently stood for Geezer Positioning System.

I don’t know where the drivers are worse, on Long Island, N.Y., where my wife and I live and where all three accidents occurred, or in our hometown of Stamford, Conn., where you take your life in your hands every time you get behind the wheel.

But I do know this: Everyone on the road these days is certifiably insane. Except for my wife and me. And we have the insurance settlements to prove it.

To get a driver’s education in the fine art of vehicular mayhem, I recently went to King O’Rourke Auto Body in Smithtown, N.Y., where my wife and I have had our cars repaired after each accident, and took a real crash course from manager Bobby Lombardi.

"The main problem," Lombardi said, "is that people don’t pay attention when they’re driving. Of course," he added with a smile, "it’s not a problem for me because it’s good for business."

There was one driver in particular who convinced him that auto body repair could be lucrative. The driver’s name: Bobby Lombardi.

"I totaled a cop car when I was 17," he recalled. "I was driving a van for a printing company. There was a misty rain and this lady in a station wagon with kids in the back cut me off. I remember thinking, ‘I can hit this lady or hit the cop car.’ The cop had gotten out of his car to write a ticket, so I said to myself, ‘I’ll hit the cop car.’ I hit it so hard that it slid and hit the car he was writing a ticket for. I jumped out of the van and said, ‘Get that lady’s plate!’ The cop gave me a ticket."

After a few more mishaps, which mainly involved clipping taxis in New York City and putting a notch for each hit on his dashboard, "I decided to get into this business," he said. "I figured, at the very least, I could fix my own vehicles."

Lombardi, 53, who has been in the business for 30 years, is now, by his own account, "an excellent driver." That’s more than he can say for a lot of other people.

"They drive while they’re texting or talking on the phone," Lombardi said. "Some people read the paper. I’ve seen women putting on makeup. It’s ridiculous."

But the biggest causes of accidents, according to Lombardi, are GPS devices.

"They’re worse than anything," he said, adding that he once got into an argument with his GPS. "It could speak different languages. I was looking for a place in Massapequa. The GPS said, ‘Do you want to speak Italian?’ I said, ‘No! I want Massapequa!’ It said, ‘No comprendo.’ I was actually talking with my hands to this thing, like a real Italian. I was yelling at it. Finally, I shut it off, went to a gas station and asked for directions. I know guys aren’t supposed to do that, but I had no other choice."

Lombardi and I, who are both of Italian descent, agreed that his GPS stood for Goomba Positioning System.

Lombardi, who has done wonderful work on our family cars, had this final piece of advice for drivers everywhere: "Pay attention. Don’t drink and drive. And if you see Jerry or his wife coming down the road, get the hell out of the way."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Sole Mates"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Even though I have a feminine side, which I’m usually sitting on, I am proud to say that I’m the very model of the modern middle-age man. In fact, I am so secure in my masculinity that I recently helped get a fundraiser off on the right foot, followed by the left, when I went to a beauty salon for a dueling pedicure with my wife.

The event, which raised money for the Scoliosis Association, was held at Charmed Salon & Spa in Miller Place, N.Y., where I get my hair cut.

While Sue gets pedicures all the time, this was only the second time I had gotten one. The first time was in 2006, when I was father of the bride and wanted my feet to feel good when I walked my older daughter, Katie, down the aisle. It worked: I didn’t fall on my face.

When Sue and I arrived at the catered affair, which featured vendors who were donating their services, salon owner Maria Vieira introduced us to Nicole McConnach, a licensed and very nice pedicurist who didn’t know what she was getting herself into. That was obvious when I showed Nicole my tan, navy and white argyles and said, "I’m not wearing socks. The doctor thinks this rash will clear up in a few days. Still want to give me a pedicure?"

Sue, Maria and Nicole simultaneously rolled their eyes.

Before going in the back to the private pedicure room, Nicole asked what color nail polish I wanted. "Well," I said, "the beach season is coming up and I want to look good when I dig my toes into the sand. I’d also like to impress the fish when I’m in the water. How about red?"

"Clear," suggested Nicole, who said guys shouldn’t wear red, which Sue picked, or even black, which is considered a hot color.

"I guess red would attract sharks," I noted. "And black would make me look like I had some sort of foot disease. Clear it is."

The well-appointed pedicure room contained two plush chairs and all kinds of lotions, towels and equipment – except, curiously, a gas mask, which I figured Nicole would need when I removed my shoes and the aforementioned hosiery.

As Sue and I settled into our respective chairs, rolled up our pant legs and stuck our bare tootsies into small whirlpool tubs that were filled with hot water and mint-scented foot soak, Nicole asked who wanted to go first.

"Me!" chirped my sole mate.

"You can save the worst for last," I told Nicole.

"You have very pretty and delicate feet," Nicole said to Sue, who wears a size 6 shoe.

"Wait until you see Jerry’s," replied Sue, who thinks I have the ugliest feet on earth.

"My shoes ought to come with oars," I said, noting that I’m a size 11. "My feet look like two huge Limburger cheeses with really long toes."

When Nicole finished giving Sue the deluxe treatment, capped with an application of bright red nail polish, she turned her attention to me.

"Your feet aren’t so bad," Nicole said as she examined them. "I’ve seen worse."

After Nicole applied lotion to my toes, she pushed back the cuticles with something that looked like a surgical instrument.

"What do you call that thing?" I asked.

"A cuticle pusher," Nicole answered. "It’s all very simple."

She said that most men don’t understand why women love to pamper themselves by getting pedicures, adding: "Usually, guys pamper themselves by buying more expensive beer."

After applying an exfoliant to my feet and calves, Nicole started buffing and rubbing until I exploded in a paroxysm of giggles that must have made the people out front wonder what the heck was going on.

"You’re ticklish," said Nicole, giggling herself.

The rest of my pedicure was so heavenly that I vowed not to wait until my younger daughter, Lauren, gets married to have another one. After Nicole applied clear polish to my nails, I walked out front wearing the largest flip-flops in the salon to show off my glowingly pink feet.

"They look beautiful," Sue admitted.

For a donation of $10 each, Sue and I helped raise nearly $1,000 for the Scoliosis Association. The fundraiser was so successful that Maria is hoping to have a benefit for breast cancer in October.

"I’ll be there," I promised. "And this time, I’m going to put the ‘man’ in manicure."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Out of Shape and Into Yoga"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a dedicated couch potato who would eat potatoes on the couch if my wife would let me, I firmly believe that exercise can kill you. After decades of being ridiculously sedentary, I still have not only my boyish figure but, on most mornings, a pulse.

Lately, however, I have begun to think that, at 55, I really ought to do more than what is now my main form of physical activity, which is to get up once a night to go to the bathroom.

So I recently took a yoga class.

I signed up for one very important reason: It was free. And, all modesty aside, I figured I was worth every penny.

Also, I received great encouragement from my older daughter, Katie, who is something of a yoga guru. She has been taking classes for the past few years and once participated in a "yoga challenge," which required participants to do yoga every day for a month. I would have been dead on Day Three.

"Are you doing hot yoga or regular yoga?" Katie asked.

"What’s the difference?" I replied.

"About 40 degrees," Katie said, explaining that regular yoga takes place at room temperature, whereas hot yoga is done at 110 degrees. At that rate, I’d have to be in either a sauna or Death Valley, so I was guessing – and hoping – it was the regular kind.

Then Katie said that I had to buy a yoga mat.

"What’s that?" I inquired.

"It’s a mat," Katie said, very patiently, "on which you do yoga."

Who would have guessed? So I forked over $12 for a baby blue mat that perfectly matched the baby blue T-shirt I planned to wear to the class. After all, sometimes a boy just likes to feel pretty, especially when he’s sweating like a stuck pig.

The first thing I noticed about the yoga class, which was held at work, was that there were 20 women and one guy. That guy was, of course, yours truly.

"Is this your first time?" asked Diane, who took a spot behind me.

"Yes," I said bashfully as I unfurled my yoga mat. Then I asked if anyone knew CPR, which I figured I would need, although I was worried that my T-shirt would blend in with my mat and nobody would notice that I had collapsed.

"You’ll do fine," Liz, another participant, said reassuringly.

I hoped I could say the same for the women around me because the instructor, Dawn, suggested that we do the session in bare feet. Fortunately, when I removed my sneakers and socks, nobody keeled over.

Dawn began the class by talking about positions, none of which was third base or, the place where I am always accused of being, left field. Instead, she said we would be doing down dog, plank, cobra and warrior 2. They involved gently stretching, twisting and otherwise contorting our bodies in ways I didn’t know a body could move. I must have looked like a cloverleaf on the interstate highway system.

Dawn instructed us to extend one arm while crossing the opposing leg over our bodies as we lay on our yoga mats. Then we had to get on all fours and extend one leg, then the other. I was so confused that I resorted to cheating by looking at the other participants to see which limb I was supposed to be lifting, extending or stretching at any given moment.

At the end of the 45-minute class, I had a sense of both peace (the soothing music helped) and accomplishment (because I didn’t have to be hospitalized). In fact, I have seldom felt better.

"You did very well," Dawn told me afterward. When I said I hadn’t exercised in years, she said, "You look like you’re in really good shape."

"Looks can be deceiving," I noted, "but this made me feel great. I’m not sore at all."

"That’s because we did hatha yoga," Dawn explained.

"Well," I replied, "hatha yoga is better than none."

Dawn politely ignored the remark and said that hatha is the regular kind of yoga, while Bikram is the hot version.

Either way, I had such an enjoyable experience that I would definitely take another class. Until then, maybe I can be a couch potato on my yoga mat.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Beating Around the Bush"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In "Duck Soup," the Marx Brothers’ 1933 war satire, Groucho is reading an important document when he says to Zeppo, "A 4-year-old child could understand this." Zeppo nods in agreement, at which point Groucho adds, "Run out and find me a 4-year-old child. I can’t make head or tail out of it."

That’s the way I felt recently when I went to war with a butterfly bush that threatened to attack the house and I needed the help of a 4-year-old child to defeat it.

The tyke was Brian Heidrich Jr., son of my landscaper, who came over with his crew to clean my yard and to slay the floral monster that made Audrey II, the man-eating plant in "Little Shop of Horrors," look like a petunia.

As Brian Sr. knows from his annual cleanups, my green thumb is really a fungus. That’s why, under my tender care, the lawn looks like it was manicured with a flamethrower. In fact, the whole place has gone to seed, so this year I asked Brian Sr. to drop some seed, as well as fertilizer (which I usually spread around pretty well myself) and lime, though not the kind that goes well with a gin and tonic, which I like to have in the summer after I have mown what little grass remains.

But the main job was getting rid of that butterfly bush, which was big enough to swallow a man (in this case, me) whole. It also drew so many winged creatures that our property often looked like something out of "The Birds." I was the birdbrain because every plant, flower and blade of grass I touched died except, of course, for the butterfly bush.

Recently, my wife, Sue, who has grown several normal-size butterfly bushes around the yard, asked me to get rid of the big one so she would have room for a garden. It was a frightening task because the thing was about 12 feet tall and couldn’t be transplanted. Its branches, which were more like tentacles, extended across the side yard and were within striking distance of the laundry room door.

At first I tried hedge clippers. The bush just laughed at me, although it could have been the wind. Then I got an electric trimmer. It was like using a plastic knife on a giant sequoia.

Finally, I called Heidrich Landscaping of Coram, N.Y. A few days later, a truck pulled up, followed by a car, out of which stepped the two Brians. I’m pretty sure Brian Sr. was driving.

"This is Mr. Zezima," Brian said to his son, who was clearly unimpressed. But being a little gentleman, he shook my hand. Then he said to his father, "I want to help."

Brian Sr. called over one of his workers, Luke Martinez, and asked him to give the young man something to do.

"Is he your assistant?" I asked Luke, who patted little Brian on the head and said, "He’s my boss."

"Are you Luke’s boss?" I asked little Brian. He smiled and nodded.

As head of the operation, little Brian supervised while Luke used an ax to chop down the butterfly bush. "Is Luke doing a good job?" I asked little Brian, who chirped, "Yep!"

To show he is not too important to get his hands dirty, little Brian helped cart away the branches, most of which dwarfed him. Still, he managed to drag a few of them to the truck. He also brought over a rake so Luke could smooth out the area where the bush had stood.

"If the bush hadn’t been taken down, it would have gone through the door," Brian Sr. said. "You could have had it arrested for breaking and entering."

Thanks to little Brian’s expert supervision, there was no need to call the police. "You did a good job," I said to little Brian. He grinned proudly and replied, "I know."

Before the Brians left, Brian Sr. gave me a few yard-care pointers, like keeping the flower beds clean and making sure the lawn gets enough water.

"A 4-year-old child could do it," I said. "And if I need help, I know just where to find one."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Show Me the Money"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In these challenging economic times, when a middle-class guy like myself can’t get a federal bailout or an AIG bonus, even though my tax dollars are helping to pay for it all, it’s nice to know that there are some people who are willing to give me lots of money.

I refer to the kind folks who have been sending me e-mails from all over the world with an offer I can’t, they hope, refuse: In exchange for my assistance in transferring huge sums of cash to the United States, which would entail giving them vital personal information, these generous individuals will give me a significant percentage of the millions of dollars in their foreign bank accounts.

They include Dr. Bakary Sawadogo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa; Mr. Zuma Camara, who is from Liberia but now lives in the United Arab Emirates; Mr. Egor Fillipenko, who works for a large oil company in Moscow, Russia; Sgt. Joey Jones, who is stationed with the U.S. Army in Iraq; Mr. Ken Ahia, an attorney representing a late relative of mine somewhere in the Middle East; and Miss Jessica Yao, a desperate young woman who lives in the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, formerly known as the Ivory Coast in West Africa.

To all of these people I responded with the following message: "Show me the money."

You can imagine my surprise and delight when I actually heard back from some of them. Here is the reply I got from Mr. Ahia:

"Dear Zezima,

"I am Barrister Ken Ahia, a solicitor at law. I am the personal attorney to the late Mr. Ali Zezima, who bears the same last name with you, a national of your country.

"See my attached message.

"Best regards,

"Barrister Ken Ahia"

Naturally, the attached message contained a plea to help Mr. Ahia transfer a large sum of money to the United States through my bank account. Here is my reply:

"Dear Barrister Ahia:

"Cousin Ali is dead? I am desolated beyond words at this terrible news! Is it true he died in a tragic bungee jumping accident? Or that he was bitten in a sensitive area by a poisonous spider? Or that he was caught in flagrante delicto (Flagrante Delicto is a popular resort where cousin Ali often went to escape his legal troubles) by the husband of the wealthy woman with whom he was having a torrid affair?

"Please write back to fill me in on the scandalous details and to arrange to send all of his money to my bank account here in the United States.

"Best regards,

"Jerry Zezima"

Strangely, I have not had further contact with Mr. Ahia. But I did hear from Miss Jessica Yao, an orphaned college student who has been targeted for murder by the thugs who killed her father, a wealthy cocoa merchant. They want to get their bloody hands on her father’s fortune, which is why she wishes to transfer the money, through me, to the United States. Miss Yao wrote to me, in part, as follows:

"My Dear,

"Thanks for your prompt responds and my heartily greetings to you this day. I am glad for your interest in helping me with the funds transfer and investments in your country. Please promise me that you will not betray me when my inheritance is transferred into your account. ... God bless you.

"Best wishes with love,

"Yours sincerely,

"Miss Jessica Yao"

Here is my reply:

"Dearest Jessica:

"It grieves me to read of your troubles, which have touched my heart. I was already touched in the head. You probably think I am an easy touch, which is why you have written to me.

"I am a newspaper columnist who had to take a vow of poverty when I went into journalism, so I could use the money. Your story will be of great interest to readers around the world, including, I am sure, the authorities.

"Please respond quickly, dear one, for I desire to transact with you. It will be chaste, unless you are chased, by the police, who may want to arrest you for fraud, in which case I will have the funds to bail you out. At the very least, I’ll send you a postcard from the new vacation home your money will enable me to buy. God bless you.

"Best wishes with love,

"Yours sincerely,

"Jerry Zezima"

Unfortunately, I have not had further correspondence with Miss Yao or any of the other nice people who wanted to make me rich. But I am not giving up. Maybe, with the help of our elected officials, I can get some money from AIG.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Jailhouse Talk"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a columnist whose work has no redeeming social value, which has no doubt contributed to the decline of the newspaper industry, I knew it was only a matter of time before my journalistic crimes landed me in jail. I just didn’t think I would end up on Rikers Island.

But New York City’s famous maximum-security prison is exactly where I found myself recently after I was asked by a teacher – not sentenced by a judge – to spend a day at the facility. The purpose of my visit was to address three writing classes at Horizon Academy, a school for detainees in their teens and 20s.

When I asked the teacher, Martin Flaster, how to get to Rikers Island, he said, "Rob a bank." Of course, a bank is the last place to go for money these days, but I knew I was in for a memorable time.

Mary Runyan, a secretary at Horizon Academy, picked me up at the guard post and drove me over the Francis R. Bruno Memorial Bridge (the word "memorial" made me nervous) to the 400-acre site, which sits in the East River near LaGuardia Airport.

"I feel safer here than I would at a regular high school," Runyan said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because," she replied calmly, "there are no guns here."

That made me feel better, and although Runyan didn’t mention knives, shivs, blades or other dangerous weapons, I was sure the inmates had more to fear from me, at least psychologically, than I did from them. I figured a day of listening to me talk about writing would have most of them begging for solitary confinement.

It was only when I was escorted in and heard a barred door lock behind me that I thought: "Uh-oh."

As it turned out, I could not have felt more welcome or comfortable. Gloria Ortiz, principal of Horizon Academy, and her entire staff, including Flaster and senior program specialist Cherie Braxton, were wonderful. So were the guards. The inmates I passed in the halls were respectful. Some even said, "Good morning." Others just ignored me. So, unfortunately, do most people on the outside.

I am not some bleeding heart (I hate the sight of my own blood), so I believe that if you do the crime, you should do the time. And the crimes here can be pretty serious. Let me put it this way: Nobody goes to Rikers Island for jaywalking.

But the young men in Horizon Academy, which has about 300 students in six buildings, haven’t been convicted of anything. True, they have been charged with various offenses and most of them are awaiting trial. And even though they are officially called detainees, they get locked up like all the other inmates. But they are in school, some to improve their literacy skills and others to get their general equivalency diplomas.

I met the first class at 11 a.m. in the school annex. The group was so large (36 students) that it had to be held in a hallway, where desks were lined up against both walls. This didn’t bother me because I’m off the wall, so instead of standing at one end, I walked among the students and talked about different kinds of writing. A student named Emerson asked if I could write a rap song.

"Well," I said, "my initials are J.Z., which makes me a rapper."

"Let’s hear one," said Urena, another student.

I happily obliged: "My name’s J.Z. and I love to rap. / Unfortunately, I sound like crap."

It was politely suggested that I shouldn’t quit my day job.

Then I read one of three columns I had sent to the school before my visit. It was a recent piece in the form of a letter to President Barack Obama, from one family man to another, giving the new commander-in-chief advice on moving into the White House and what to do when he gets his two young daughters the puppy he promised them.

The students applauded when I finished, and not because they were glad it was over. I felt good about the session, but the other two went more smoothly because they were smaller and were held in classrooms.

Teacher John Parada’s English class had eight students: Danny, Cary, Adam, Kenny, Donovan, Travis, Martinez and Anonymous. They were engaging, sharp and interested in writing. They also had good senses of humor.

"How do you know when to use a colon?" asked Travis, setting me up for a bathroom joke.

When I read my Obama column, which contained the story of the time I called the White House to see if then-President George W. Bush would declare my younger daughter’s room a federal disaster area, Adam asked, "Did you really call Bush?"

"Yes," I told him.

"Man," Adam said, smiling and shaking his head, "you’re crazy."

"Thank you," I replied. "I was dropped on my head as a child."

Cary said I was "cool," adding: "For your age."

When I said I’m 55, Kenny, also known as "Tornado," commented: "You don’t look that old."

The class was fun – we talked about humor, fiction, nonfiction, language and editing – and went by quickly. When it was over, Martinez, a poet, asked if he could send me some of his work. "Of course," I said. I hope he does.

After a late lunch in another building, I spoke to the third group, Martin Flaster’s English class, which consisted of Eduardo, Lil Haye, Strictly 50, Lorenzo, Fever, HOV, James, B.B., Naquan and Leon, who used to live in my hometown of Stamford. Teacher and site coordinator Leila Riley helped Flaster conduct the class.

These students also were sharp and engaging. And creative: Instead of listening to me read my column, Eduardo, also known as "A-Rod," suggested that each student read a paragraph out loud. Around the room went the column, provoking laughs, chuckles and smiles.

"Good job," Eduardo said to his classmates when they were finished.

Lorenzo said to me, "You did a good job, too." The class laughed. Then he read an essay he had written. It was a letter to a young woman that Lorenzo said "could be" autobiographical. It was eloquent and touching.

James and Leon talked about books that are made into movies, with Leon saying that the film adaptations usually aren’t as good as the books because "a lot of stuff has to be left out."

At one point, James politely criticized my word choice when, in explaining the differences between writing and other professions, I said that airplane pilots need degrees to fly. "That’s wrong," James noted. "They need certificates."

"I stand corrected," I said.

"You mean you sit corrected," Lorenzo remarked. More laughter.

At the end of the class, Eduardo said to me, "You were really good because you were honest with us."

Flaster said the students would write essays about the session and send them to me. Then he asked if I would keep in touch. "Yes," I promised.

As I told the guys in each of the three classes, "potential" is one of the most overused words in the English language, but it applies to them because they all have it. I said they should use it in a positive way so they can improve their lives, adding: "If an idiot like me can make it, there’s hope for you."

To the charge of enjoying my day in prison, I plead guilty. Since the staff of Horizon Academy didn’t consider me a bad influence on the students, and the students seemed to agree, I would definitely go back. And I wouldn’t even have to rob a bank.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 6, 2009

"The Electric Company"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have always been interested in current events except when it comes to electrical work. That’s because I am afraid a current will zap me in the event I tried to perform some mundane task like replacing a fuse, in which case I would either be eulogized with the words "ashes to ashes" or, even worse, get hit with a whopper of an electric bill.

So I was pleasantly surprised – but not shocked – when I recently passed a test from an electrician who showed me how to do simple repairs without burning the house down.

I required his services because I couldn’t answer this question: How many homeowners does it take to change a light bulb? Most people would say it takes only one – unless, of course, the homeowner is yours truly. Then I would need the help of a professional.

Not only couldn’t I change the bulb in one of the two lights outside the front door, but I couldn’t replace the fixture in the hallway or figure out how to rewire the microwave without ending up like charred meatloaf.

That’s why I called Shawn Krueger, owner of Luminaire Electric on Long Island, N.Y. Krueger came over for an estimate, quickly ascertained that I’m not the brightest guy on the circuit and said he would send over one of his best men, Jose Lucero, who not only would solve my problems but would give me a crash course in Light Bulb Changing 101.

At 8 a.m. the following Saturday, Lucero was at the front door, which I didn’t realize at first because the doorbell doesn’t work.

"Basically," Lucero said as he started to replace the fixture in the hallway, "electrical work isn’t that hard."

"It is for me," I told him. "Maybe I’m not wired right."

Lucero, who kindly ignored the remark, said that the first rule is to turn off the power where you’re working.

"I’m usually asleep at the switch, but even I know that," I replied. "It’s the rest of it that has me baffled."

I explained that I was actually able to change a light bulb in the fixture but couldn’t get the cover back on because the screw wouldn’t fully attach to the threaded stem, which was loose and couldn’t be tightened. This wasn’t surprising since the fixture was old and corroded (like me) and needed (unlike me, I hope) to be replaced.

This necessitated undoing the wires, which I figured would be my undoing.

"All you have to remember," Lucero said, "is that the white wire is neutral and the black one is for the power. In the middle is the ground."

"So we’ve reached a middle ground," I said.

Lucero also ignored this remark and – after turning off the power, of course – showed me how to disconnect the old wires and connect the ones in the new fixture, which my wife bought after I couldn’t get the cover back on the old one.

She also bought new outside lights. In one of the old ones, which also were corroded, the bulb had broken off and couldn’t be removed without either a screwdriver or a pair of pliers. Owing to my fear of being electrocuted, which would have made my hair stand on end even more than it does now, I let Lucero do it.

Then I got brave and asked if I could try to connect one of the new fixtures. "Sure," Lucero said. "Just make sure you attach the right wires."

It took a while – if I had charged myself by the hour, I couldn’t have afforded it – but I finally managed to get everything hooked up. Then came the test. I flicked the switch. The light Lucero changed went on. Mine didn’t.

"You didn’t attach the wires tightly enough," Lucero said when he examined my work, "but at least you connected the right ones."

Lucero, who is only 23 but already a seasoned pro, gave me a passing grade. I didn’t want to push my luck, so I let him fix the microwave by putting a new fuse in the fuse box.

I still may be a dim bulb, but now, at least, I know how to change one.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, February 20, 2009

"One for the Ages"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Now that I have reached 55, which means I am only 10 years from retirement, although at this rate I will be working posthumously, I realize how much I have in common with the highway speed limit: Nobody obeys either one of us.

Nonetheless, I have reason to be happy, not only because I am still alive (maybe I should get a second opinion), but because, according to AARP, I am officially eligible for senior discounts.

As a baby boomer who still acts like a baby even though the boom is over, I firmly believe that people my age deserve a price break. This belief is rooted in one unshakable truth: I’m cheap.

So I recently called Luci de Haan, a spokeswoman for AARP in New York City, to find out how much I could save.

"You can get discounts from hotels, airlines and companies that are licensees of AARP," de Haan told me. "You can also go to movie theaters with your AARP card. There’s not an official arrangement between smaller vendors and AARP, but you can try."

Shortly after my birthday, I went to a CVS pharmacy on Long Island, N.Y., to buy some toiletries. But when I put a can of shaving cream, a pack of razor blades and a stick of deodorant on the counter and asked if I could get a senior discount, cashier Christina Hendrickson said, "You tried this five years ago when you turned 50. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now."

"But I’m officially eligible," I pleaded.

"You could have one foot in the grave and you wouldn’t get a discount," said Hendrickson, who is in her 30s. "It’s against company policy."

I paid the full price, which came to $15.72, and went to Port Jeff Beverage Center to see if I could get a senior discount on a six-pack of beer.

"You tried this five years ago when you turned 50," said manager Frank Stoutenburg, echoing Hendrickson at CVS. "It didn’t work then and it won’t work now."

Stoutenburg, who recently turned 50, said that when he got his first mailing from AARP, he threw it in the garbage. "I’m in serious denial," he acknowledged.

Owner Bruce Bezner, 52, said that age is relative. "I have a grandson who’s 6 and a son who’s 5," Bezner noted. He paused and added: "Different wives."

"Besides," Stoutenburg said, "55 is the new 35, so you wouldn’t qualify for a discount anyway. You’re way too young and way too good-looking. With the exception of a few more gray hairs, which make you appear distinguished, you look the same as you did when you turned 50."

That made me feel a little better, so I paid the full $10 for my beer and headed over to Charmed Salon & Spa to see if I could get a senior discount on a haircut.

"Sure, why not?" said owner Maria Vieira, who has been cutting my hair, both gray and brown, since I was in my 40s, which is the age group she is in, although, like me, she looks a lot younger.

Maria – we’re on a first-name basis – said she would charge me the regular price for a haircut, a very reasonable $17, but would throw in a free shampoo and conditioning treatment for an overall saving of 30 percent.

That sounded good to me, so I went in the back to be worked into a lather by an assistant shampoo specialist named Luz, who declined to give her age but hinted that she, too, might be considered a boomer. She also might be considered an angel because her Angel Wash treatment was heavenly.

Afterward, I got my hair cut by Maria, who pointed out that 55 is middle age because the average life expectancy is between 90 and 100. I don’t know if those figures are accurate, but since 55 is the new 35, they must be.

"When you turn 65," Maria promised, "I’ll clip your nose hairs for free."

I can’t wait! Until then, I’ll enjoy getting older. And even if I can’t get senior discounts anywhere else, it beats the alternative.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Million Problem Password"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

One of the sad realizations of my life, which has been complicated beyond endurance by an electronic conspiracy that threatens what little is left of my sanity, is that I will never be a winner on my favorite game show, "Million Dollar Password." Even if you paid me a million dollars, I could never remember every password I need to continue my daily existence.

Like most people who are not legally dead, I have approximately 150 passwords for virtually every aspect of my life. I can’t keep track of them all. To make matters worse, some of them change regularly.

For example, every month I have to come up with a new password for my office computer. And I can’t use any of the previous dozen. I have used various combinations of my name, my wife’s name and our two daughters’ names, along with numbers (you need them, too) based on anniversaries, birthdays, shoe size, my decreasing IQ, anything I can think of. When I run out of possibilities, I do the same with the names of our dog and four cats. Once I even used an expletive. It worked!

Why, you may wonder, don’t I write all my passwords on a piece of paper? I am not glad you asked, but I’ll answer anyway. The reason is twofold: (a) I would forget where I put the piece of paper and (b) somebody else would find it and steal my identity, though why anyone would want it is beyond me. I don’t want it myself. Nonetheless, it would further complicate things.

Recently I became so flummoxed and desperate, which I may have to use as passwords, that I sought help from Tony Dottino, a management consultant who founded the USA Memory Championship, a national brain-teasing event that will be held March 7 in New York City (more info at

I was in the inaugural competition in 1997 and finished 14th in a field of 18. I came back for the 10th anniversary two years ago and, as the oldest contestant at 53, fared even worse: 38th out of 41.

"I remember you," Dottino said when I called him. "You are not easy to forget. Unfortunately, passwords are, which is why most people can’t remember them."

Even Dottino, a memory expert, said he has trouble with passwords.

"They drive me nuts," he admitted. "The whole idea of having a password for everything is just brutal."

"How can I keep track of them all?" I asked.

"It’s almost impossible," Dottino said solemnly. "The worst are the ones that have both letters and numbers and a minimum of eight characters. They’re a royal pain, especially if you have to keep changing them. I must confess that for me at times, it’s hopeless."

If this password problem can baffle a mnemonic maven like Dottino, who could possibly help me? You guessed it: Regis Philbin, host of "Million Dollar Password."

"Jerry!" Regis exclaimed when he returned my call. "This is exactly why I am computer-free and cell-phone free! I live my life without wondering what my name is! Everything you have these days has a code or a password! Then you have to punch the stupid thing in! It’s ridiculous! It’s not worth it, Jerry! You’ve got to give it all up! Live a new life, Jerry! You’re joining my computer-free club! You’re an important guy, Jerry! You don’t need people knowing your password!"

Yes, it’s true: Regis Philbin has no passwords. He has simplified his life the way I and millions of other people wish we could simplify ours, but can’t.

Still, he did help me come up with a solution to my problem. From now on, I am going to use only one word, with a series of numbers starting with 1 and going, if necessary, to infinity, for every computer, telephone and bank account in my life.

The password is: "Regis."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Family Guys"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your inauguration. It was a defining moment in American history, but you must realize that as you enter the White House, you will be faced with many challenges, not the least of which is the puppy you promised your two young daughters.

I also am the father of two daughters, Katie and Lauren. They’re all grown up now, but when they were 9 and 7, about the same ages as Malia and Sasha, my wife and I got them a cat named Ramona. In August, Ramona will turn 20. She’ll probably outlive me. Anyway, Ramona was the first in a menagerie that includes three other cats and a dog named Lizzie.

Lizzie is a mutt like us. We got her when Lauren was 12. A woman who lived near Lauren’s friend Holly was looking to give away a 6-week-old puppy and wanted to know if Lauren would take her. Initially I said no because we lived in a condo. Still, the woman told Lauren to take the dog overnight. If we didn’t want her, we could return her. If we did want her, she was ours.

Naturally, I fell in love with the little pup, so we decided to keep her. The next morning, however, the woman called to say that she wanted the dog back. Lauren started to cry, at which point I got on the phone. Words were exchanged, threats were made, a custody battle ensued. Finally, in an effort to be fair, and mature, and reasonable, I told the woman I had veto power.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"If you won’t let us keep the dog," I said firmly, "I am going to call my Uncle Vito."

And that, Mr. President, is how Lizzie became a member of our family. She’ll be 14 in July and she’s the sweetest creature God ever made. By the way, you can use the Uncle Vito line when dealing with Congress.

You must know, of course, that once you have fulfilled your campaign promise to Malia and Sasha, you will have to walk the dog. You may be the president, but you are a father first, and that will be one of your chief duties.

Another important job will be to make sure that Malia and Sasha clean their rooms. This will be a great challenge. I found that out when Katie and Lauren were young. And it doesn’t get any easier as they get older.

When Lauren was home from college one summer, her room was so messy that my wife called it a disaster area. That gave me an idea: I phoned the White House to see if Lauren’s room could officially be declared a disaster area so we’d be eligible for federal funds to clean it up. Your predecessor was in office at the time, but I also felt a kinship with him because he has two daughters about the same ages as Katie and Lauren.

I never spoke with the president, who had his own messes to deal with, but I did speak with Noelia Rodriguez, Mrs. Bush’s press secretary. When I asked if President Bush had ever declared Jenna and Barbara’s rooms disaster areas, she said, "That would be classified information."

Speaking of rooms, you will have to keep yours clean, too. You can’t be like me and leave your dirty underwear all over the floor – unless you want them to be news briefs. After all, it’s the White House, and your wife, Michelle, will want it to look good when she gives tours.

As for the kitchen, you might want to find out what’s in your cabinets after you fill your Cabinet. Wives get miffed when their husbands don’t know where things are.

And don’t worry about unpacking everything. My wife, Sue, and I have been in our house for almost 11 years and I still haven’t unpacked some of the boxes in the garage. The longest you’ll be in the White House is eight years, so if Michelle gives you grief about this, tell her to call Sue so they can commiserate.

Can we guys do better when it comes to domestic policy? To borrow a familiar phrase: Yes, we can.

Well, Mr. President, from one family man to another, that’s all the advice I have for you. Good luck settling into your new home, give my best to your family and don’t forget to walk the dog.

Jerry Zezima

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima