Friday, December 24, 2010

"Missed by a Hair"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride: It’s the story of my life. But the hairiest part of the story is that I am the only bridesmaid I know with a mustache.

That is why I was not surprised to find out that I recently finished second in the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Contest.

This was the third time I have finished second in a national competition. The first was in 1990, when I was runner-up in the Curly Howard Sound-Alike Contest. Was I thrilled? Soitenly! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! The second was in 1998, when I was second in the pasta sauce division of the Newman’s Own & Good Housekeeping Recipe Contest for a dish I called Zezima’s Zesty Ziti Zinger. Paul Newman himself tried it and didn’t have to be hospitalized. That he is currently deceased is merely a coincidence.

But the mustache contest was special because I not only was up against some stiff-upper-lipped competition, but because I lost by -- you guessed it -- a whisker.

The third annual Goulet Award competition -- sponsored by the American Mustache Institute (“Defending the rights of the Mustached American community since 1965”) and named for the late mustachioed singer -- was the largest yet.

According to the AMI website,, there were more than 300 entrants this year. In addition to yours truly, the 19 finalists included such notables as Minnesota Twins pitcher Carl Pavano, TV personality Pat O’Brien, filmmaker Morgan Sperlock, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten.

I also was up against two inanimate objects: Paydirt Pete, a cartoon mascot, and Carstache, a mustache for cars.

Of the more than half-million online ballots cast, I got about 85,000 votes. For this unbelievable outpouring of support, I must thank my vast network of People With Too Much Time On Their Hands. My mother alone probably accounted for half of my total. I apologize to anyone who, as a result of constant computer clicking, has come down with RSI, which stands, of course, for Repetitive ’Stache Injury.

My supporters also can take pride in the fact that the Goulet contest raised money for Movember (, an international charity that not only helps fund cancer research but encourages men to grow mustaches.

“Your performance was clearly admirable and your chevron mustache is very impressive,” Dr. Aaron Perlut, chairman of AMI and the self-described “most ruggedly handsome man in America,” told me by phone. “It was nice to see that your supporters came out in droves. You have quite a following.”

But not as large a following as the winner, Brian Sheets, a firefighter from Osceola County, Fla., who got about 120,000 votes. He was honored at ’Stache Bash 2010, which was held under the world’s largest mustache, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, where he received the coveted Goulet Award and a $3 crown.

“I’m humbled,” Sheets told me when I called to congratulate him. “When my students at the Central Florida Fire Academy found out about the contest, they nominated me. Then friends and family started voting. It spread like wildfire.”

It was the only fire that Sheets, who sports a Fu Manchu, didn’t want to put out.

“I’ve always talked about the power of the mustache,” said Sheets, 39, adding that he will never shave his. “I burned it once, but I just trimmed the singed parts. I’d rather have my heart burned out of my chest than shave my mustache.”

I must admit that Sheets is a very brave and worthy winner, which is why, even though he is from Florida, I won’t demand a recount.

All I can do is start preparing for next year’s contest and hope I’m not a bridesmaid again. Maybe I’ll join the fire department and grow a Fu Manchu.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Christmas Letter 2010"

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 2010 for the Zezimas! The highlight of the year was the engagement of Lauren to a wonderful young man named Guillaume. Everyone in the family is thrilled for the happy couple, who will be married next year. In fact, there will be not one but two weddings, the first in France (where Guillaume is from) and the second in the United States (where Lauren is from). Is Jerry saving his euros? Oui!

In related developments, Sue and Jerry hosted Lauren’s bridal shower, for which they rented a tent that was never used, and Jerry opened a father-of-the-bridal registry at Home Depot. (Hint: He needs screwdrivers. Don’t worry about the orange juice. Just buy him vodka.)

Katie turned 30. She and Dave celebrated by going to Costa Rica, where Katie hurt her shoulder zip-lining and has needed physical therapy. It's tough getting old.

Sue and Jerry went to Cape Cod. They had a great time. And nobody got hurt.

In fact, Sue and Jerry had many excellent adventures in 2010. Sue won two tickets to a taping of “Late Show With David Letterman” in New York City. They didn’t meet Dave, or even announcer Alan Kalter of Stamford, but they did have lunch at the Hello Deli and met famous owner Rupert Jee, who made Jerry “The Letterman,” a heart-healthy hoagie inspired by Dave’s past cardiac troubles. It was delicious.

Sue and Jerry went to Upton, N.Y., to visit Brookhaven National Laboratory, home of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, where the origin of the universe is studied, and got a tour from Guillaume, an accelerator physicist at the lab. Jerry, who is not exactly a rocket scientist, didn’t blow anything up.

Speaking of adventures, Sue and Jerry attempted to clean the garage in anticipation of a home refinancing appraisal. They got rid of a lot of junk but not all of it, so they still can’t fit a car in there.

And speaking of cars, Jerry took his to be serviced and got a massage while he waited. Now he wants to have the oil changed every week. He also was a Target Boy for the Great Throwdini, the world-famous knife thrower, and made a point of living to tell about it.

If that weren’t a close enough shave, Jerry was a finalist in the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Contest. In a field of about 300, he finished second, losing by a whisker.

On a sad note, Lizzie, the family dog, who once beat Jerry in a blackjack tournament, passed away, a month shy of her 15th birthday. She was the sweetest creature God ever made and will always be missed.

The highest achievement of the year was when Jerry took the first solo flight of his life. He traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to be a speaker at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, where he signed copies of his book, “Leave It to Boomer.”

Yes, Jerry actually became a published author in 2010, and his book, he is proud to say, is a crime against literature. He even won it in a raffle at a dinner in Darien, Conn. Someday he might read it.

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

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Have a Knife Day"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

I am proud and slightly flummoxed to say that I have done some incredibly stupid things in my life, which is why I am not considered the sharpest knife in the drawer. And I proved it recently when I was a target for a knife thrower known as the Great Throwdini.

Throw, as he is called by his many friends and admirers in the impalement arts, is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s fastest and most accurate knife thrower. According to his website,, he received magic’s highest honor, the coveted Merlin Award, in 2009; he is the only artist to perform the Veiled Wheel of Death; and he has made many television appearances, the most recent being humorist Bill Geist’s profile of him on “CBS News Sunday Morning.” His slogan: “Throwetry in Motion.”

Because Throw lives a knife’s throw from my house on Long Island, N.Y., I arranged to pay him a visit and, for once, do something that wasn’t pointless.

The first thing I noticed about Throw is that he wears glasses.

“I’m blind as a bat without them,” he admitted.

I gulped. What was I getting myself into? Even more unnerving, what would be getting into me?

But Throw took great pains, so to speak, to put me at ease. His real name is the Rev. Dr. David R. Adamovich. He is a minister in a nondenominational Christian church. “I’ve never had to give anyone last rites,” he assured me.

He also has a doctorate in exercise physiology and for 18 years was a college professor of electrocardiography.

“I didn’t get into knife throwing until I was 50,” said Throw, who is 64.

He is so good that he can throw 10 knives in 3.9 seconds. Even more impressive is that he performs with a Target Girl who stands against a board or is attached to a spinning wheel while Throw throws knives that land within inches of her.

“It’s fun,” said Lynn Wheat, one of Throw’s several Target Girls. Lynn, 27, who teaches theatrical carpentry on the college level, said she enjoys motorcycles and fast cars, adding: “I like to do crazy things.”

One of them was being on the Wheel of Death for the “Sunday Morning” segment. As the wheel spun with Lynn attached to it, Throw tossed the tools of his trade. When the wheel stopped, Lynn was closely surrounded by a chilling array of large, glistening knives.

“My mother saw it on TV,” Lynn related. “Her only complaint was that I showed too much cleavage.”

I wasn’t showing anything except the tiniest hint of sheer panic as the three of us headed up to the attic, where I was about to make my debut -- but not, thank God, my farewell -- as a Target Boy.

“What advice would you give me?” I asked Lynn.

“Go with the flow,” she answered.

“Of blood?” I stammered.

Lynn shook her head and smiled. She said I should enjoy the experience and have complete confidence in Throw. “I do,” she said. “And I’m still here.”

She was still there after Throw stood her against a 6-foot-high, 4-foot-wide red wooden board and threw eight 14-inch knives around her in rapid succession from a distance of 7 feet. Then she turned sideways and clenched a black cocktail straw between her teeth as one of Throw’s 16-inch knives snapped off the spangled tip.

Next it was my turn to throw knives -- but not at Lynn, who wisely had no confidence in me. Throw showed me how to hold a knife, cock my arm and release the fearsome implement. My first one thudded off the board, but most of my subsequent throws stuck firmly in the wood.

“You’re good,” Throw said. “Now comes the real test.”

I stood with my back to the board and looked straight at Throw. A strange sense of calm pervaded me. Thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap went the knives to my left; thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap to my right, the closest impaled 3 inches from my ear.

“You didn’t flinch,” Throw said. “You’re an excellent Target Boy.”

Just call me the Great Throwdummy.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 12, 2010

"It's About Time"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

I was born more than three weeks past my due date and haven’t been on time for anything since. In fact, I have such a reputation for tardiness that people have said I will be late to my own funeral, which is fine with me because I am in no big hurry to get there.

From the day I entered this world, I have been the late Jerry Zezima. But now, at long last, there may be hope for me.

It comes in the form of a study that has just been released by my favorite mad scientist, Dr. Alan Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.

In the study, “Effects of Odor on Time Perception,” Hirsch found that the smell of baby powder can make time seem shorter, while the smell of Colombian coffee can make time seem longer.

I use baby powder because a boy just likes to feel pretty, and I drink coffee because a geezer just needs to stay awake, but since I am always running late, I had never taken the time to smell them. So I called Hirsch to get up to snuff on his latest scientific breakthrough.

Hirsch, the author of several books, including the recently published “How to Tell If Your Teenager Is Lying,” said that, like me, he is notorious for being late.

“I’m always running behind,” he acknowledged. “Maybe I should put baby powder out for my co-workers to make it seem like I’m on time.”

The people in Hirsch’s study wore surgical masks that had the scent of either baby powder or Colombian coffee. They didn’t do anything they would ordinarily like or dislike. Instead, they sat in chairs while Hirsch recorded their perceptions of the time that had elapsed. But the masks could work in everyday situations, he said.

“If you are doing something pleasurable, like eating chocolate cake or having social interaction of an intimate nature, you could put on the coffee mask and you will perceive time to be longer,” said Hirsch. “Of course, it’s tough to eat cake while wearing a surgical mask,” he admitted. “And the mask may discourage further social interaction. But it could be fun to try.”

Conversely, the smell of baby powder can make a bad experience, like waiting in a doctor’s office, seem shorter. “It could be part of the new health-care initiative,” Hirsch suggested. “Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work with my patients because they can’t smell.”

I can smell -- and often do if I don’t use baby powder -- so Hirsch mailed me two scented masks. “You can use them to conduct your own study,” he said.

After they arrived, I was going to ask my wife to have social interaction with me while I wore the coffee mask, but I thought better of it. So I wore it while watching a football game. It went into overtime. Or at least it seemed like it did.

The next morning, I wore the baby powder mask so I wouldn’t be late for work. The main reason I am always running behind is that I take long showers, but since the mask would get wet, I put it on afterward. I took it off to have breakfast and put it on again to get dressed.

The morning seemed to fly by and I left the house a little earlier than usual. I had to stop at the bank, so I took the mask off because I didn’t want to get arrested, which really would have made me late for work.

Unfortunately, after I ran my errand, I hit a lot of traffic, which I tried to avoid by taking an alternate route. I got lost and arrived at the office 15 minutes past my start time.

As we tardy people always say, better late than never.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Grease Is the Word"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

I will never be in a NASCAR pit crew, mainly because my automotive skills are the pits, but I do know that when it comes to car care, it’s never too late to be oily.

That’s what I learned recently when I went to Mid-Island Hyundai in Centereach, N.Y., so a certified mechanic could show me how to change the oil in my car.

As a certified cheapskate, I knew I could save money if I learned how to do it.

“In a tough economy, every little bit helps,” technician Naresh Ramjet said as we stood under my car, which was on a lift in the dealership’s garage. “Besides,” he added, “it’s not that difficult, even for an amateur.”

That, of course, would be me.

“You can’t be any worse than the guy who hacked off the end of a spark plug and put it in the oil pan to hold the oil,” said Ramjet. “Rule No. 1: Don’t do that!”

As Ramjet showed me how to remove the splash shield and the filter, and how to drain the oil into an oil catch, service adviser Rich Heins gave me another piece of advice: If you’re going to pull a robbery, make sure your getaway car starts.

“This guy with a Corvette came in complaining that his car wouldn’t start after he shut it off,” Heins recalled. “So we left the car idling. Somebody came along, saw this nice car running, jumped in and took off. He drove to a hospital, parked the car, went inside and robbed the place. He ran back outside and jumped in the ’Vette. It wouldn’t start. It was just going, ‘Click, click.’ There was a cop standing next to the door, tapping on the window. This idiot had the ultimate getaway car and he couldn’t get away.”

Service adviser Mary Husson remembered the time an older gentleman came in and said his car was making noises. “Nobody else could hear these noises,” Husson said. “It turned out the guy had a hearing aid and he was getting feedback.”

“Then there was the time a woman came in to say that her car smelled,” Heins said. “It really did. The smell was awful. This was in the middle of a heat wave in August. The woman said the smell started about a month before. Apparently she had gone food shopping in July and forgot to take the groceries out of the trunk. We couldn’t do much about the smell, but we did take the groceries out. It’s all part of the service.”

Heins also recalled the man who complained that there were holes in the interior roof over the backseat. “I asked him who drove the car besides him. He said, ‘My daughter.’ We figured out the holes were made by pump heels,” Heins said. “His daughter was doing more in the car than just driving. The guy’s face turned beet red. He never came back.”

I was getting quite an education in car care. Learning how to change the oil wasn’t the most exciting part, but it was the most useful, thanks to Ramjet, a class A technician -- the highest grade -- who keeps up on technology by going back to school twice a year.

After he showed me how to replace the filter and put the splash shield back on, he lowered the car and showed me how to put in new oil and measure it with a dipstick.

“You may not qualify for a NASCAR pit crew,” Ramjet said, “but now you can change your own oil.”

And I’ll save money. Because an oil change is $36, and should be done every 3,000 miles, and I drive about 15,000 miles a year, it’ll amount to $180 annually.

“You’ll keep your car running well,” Heins said. “Just make sure some stupid crook doesn’t try to steal it.”

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Get the Picture?"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

If there is one thing I have found out from being on Facebook -- aside from the incredible fact that I have more friends than the guy who founded it -- it’s that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

I made this fascinating discovery recently when I posted a new profile photo of myself. I had it taken because my old photo, which was taken half a dozen years ago for my 50th birthday, was being used in bars all across this great land by drunken dart players. This just added to the holes in my head.

So I opted for an updated profile picture.

After being on Facebook since last year, I figured it was about time. Besides, practically everybody in the United States is on Facebook. My mother was on it before I was. Even my younger daughter’s dog has her own Facebook page. And all of them are constantly changing their profile photos or posting new shots of themselves. Sometimes these pictures are not exactly flattering.

Therein lay my dilemma: Would my new photo actually look like me? Would my more than 400 Facebook friends mistake me for Freddy Krueger? Would people start sending my wife condolence cards?

Fortunately, I had the good sense to ask a colleague named Andreas, a talented photographer and a very patient guy, to shoot me. After the trouble I put him through, he probably wanted to.

But the result was worth it. The new photo, I must say with all due modesty, will not scare small children.

“It’s nice,” said Martha, who works at a nearby Apple store. I went there because I am so technologically inept that I needed a lesson in how to post my photo in places other than the post office.

The procedure is so astonishingly simple that even a kindergartner could do it. Unfortunately, I don’t know any kindergartners, so I took a computer lesson.

Along with my original profile shot, photos of me have been posted, or “tagged,” by other people. This was the first time I attempted to do it myself.

The reaction has been very gratifying.

Wendy wrote: “You don’t age. Not fair.”

My response: “I’m shockingly immature, Wendy. It makes me seem younger.”

Bozena wrote: “Nice shot, Jerry. Nice coat, too.”

My response: “Thanks, Bozena. I had to give the coat back after the photo shoot. I kept the pants.”

Leland wrote: “What a great picture. That should be your ‘If I ever get kidnapped, use this picture’ picture.”

My response: “If anybody kidnapped me, it would turn into ‘The Ransom of Red Chief.’ ”

No comment yet from my younger daughter’s dog, but I am sure she likes the picture, too.

This got me thinking: I wonder if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would like my new profile photo?

Except for money, power and influence, I have a lot in common with Zuckerberg, the subject of the new movie “The Social Network,” because, of course, our last names begin with Z.

So I went to his Facebook page. There was Mark, in all his geeky glory, grinning goofily in a black-and-white photo.

I wanted to friend him, and ask what he thinks of my new profile picture, but I couldn’t. All I could do was click on “Like” and read his postings, one of which was about his “great day” on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Incredibly, and a little sadly, the genius behind Facebook has no friends.

Don’t worry, Mark. I’ll be your friend. But first, get a new profile picture.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Jerry Appleseed"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

Everyone knows the story of Johnny Appleseed, who introduced apples in the Midwest by saying, “Granny Smith, meet McIntosh. Mac has invented a newfangled device called a computer. You can get a year’s worth of free lessons if you buy one now.” Granny rebooted Mac out the door and had Johnny arrested for littering after he dropped appleseeds all over her yard.

But very few people know the story of Jerry Appleseed, who recently dropped a bunch of Granny Smiths and McIntoshes all over an orchard when his bag broke while he and his wife, Sue, were apple picking.

I, of course, am that seedy character, and I am a lot like Johnny because, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

That’s the lesson I learned when Sue and I drove out to Lewin Farms in Wading River, N.Y., to partake in an autumn ritual that did not, unfortunately, involve staying home to watch football.

The first thing we discovered was that approximately half a million people had the same idea. Sure as God made little green apples, we found ourselves competing with packs of pome-picking persons who either wanted to eat so many apples that they turned green or hoped to turn their bounties into apple pies, apple crisps, apple tarts, apple candies, applesauce, applejack, apple juice or apple cider. Not among them was R.W. Apple, the legendary New York Times reporter who is, at the present time, dead.

When Sue and I got to the entrance, we saw a sign that read: “Baskets $5, bags 5 cents.” I may be a basket case, but I’m also really cheap. “Let’s bag it,” I said.

Sue grabbed three bags, the flimsy plastic kind you get at the supermarket, and together we headed into the orchard, where I got a lesson in apple picking from a 6-year-old boy named Adam, who brought his parents, Paul and Samantha, because he couldn’t possibly carry all those apples by himself.

“First you twist them,” Adam said authoritatively. “Then you look at them.”

“I’ve been doing it the opposite way,” I confessed. “No wonder I’m not a good apple picker.”

Adam smiled. So did Paul, who sprang for a basket, which was full of fruit. “I’d rather be watching football,” Paul said as he lugged the heavy load from tree to tree.

“I’ll never hear the end of this,” Samantha said.

“Are you a football fan?” I asked Adam.

“No,” he said as he put another apple in the basket. “I like baseball.”

A few minutes later, I felt something fall on my foot. Then I heard something hit the ground. Then something else. I looked down. Apples were cascading from my bag, which had broken because I had overloaded it. I put them back in the bag and carried the whole kit and caboodle in my arms.

“You should have brought a wagon,” said a guy named Tony, who was walking with his family. Tony’s son, A.J., was pulling a wagon belonging to his 2-year-old daughter, Norah. The wagon contained three baskets full of apples.

I asked Norah, who was on her first apple-picking adventure, if she was having a good time. The little girl didn’t answer.

“She’s coming off a cold,” said her mom, Angel.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” I advised.

Norah sneezed.

When Sue and I were finished, we brought our three bags to a woman who weighed them. “That’ll be $34,” she said. I only had a 20. “Look at the sign behind you,” the woman said. The sign read: “What you pick, you buy.” The apples were priced at a buck a pound. The woman took back my bag and said, “Two bags, $20. But please watch out next time.”

There won’t be one because next year, I’m staying home to watch football. How do you like them apples?

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Mr. Clean"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

If it’s true that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, I must be the richest man on earth. Or so I thought recently when my wife, Sue, and I embarked on the herculean task -- which even Hercules couldn’t accomplish by himself -- of cleaning the garage.

As it turned out, I’m the man with all the junk. That’s because there wasn’t much to treasure in everything that had accumulated since we moved in a dozen years ago.

I had tried to clean the place a couple of times before, but my efforts were half-hearted and no-brained. Now, Sue said, I had to put my nose to the grindstone, which was hidden in a corner, next to the garage door opener my parents gave us for Christmas 2005, I think, but which we haven’t installed because, let’s face it, why open the door when you can’t get in?

“This place is a mess,” Sue announced as she surveyed the hellhole from the other door.

“It’s not so bad,” I replied as I tripped over a box and almost broke my foot, which would have given me a good excuse to put off the project for another few years.

The box was sitting next to two folding tables, two baby gates, a dog cage, a large wooden board and an oven door.

I found photos of our two grown daughters when they were kids. “Wow, look at these,” I said nostalgically. There also were some shots of Sue and me when we moved into the house. “That was when this mess started,” I remarked.

“You spend more time looking at stuff and reminiscing than actually cleaning up,” Sue retorted.

My main job, I soon learned, was to dig through things that had no earthly value and try to convince Sue that we should keep them. One such item was a book titled “101 Elephant Jokes.” It was in a box with such other literary classics as “How to Eat Fried Worms” and the Britannica Book of the Year for 1971.

Sue, meanwhile, was working diligently to decide what stayed (two old bureaus and a long-lost water bottle) and what went (the aforementioned books and, if I didn’t watch out, me).

We also kept -- for now, at least -- the BubbleMate, a luxury foot bubbler that I don’t think has ever been used; a treadmill that, if we someday decided to get in shape, would give us a reason not to throw away the foot bubbler; and a vintage Christmas record by the Chipmunks.

We also found records by such baby boomer icons as Neil Young, Cat Stevens and Steppenwolf. “I’m putting them on eBay,” Sue said.

I found an open box of tissues that probably dated back to the Clinton administration. “Do you want them?” I asked Sue.

“No!” she shot back. “They’re disgusting. I wouldn’t blow my nose in them.”

Speaking of disgusting, I also found petrified goldfish food. Since we no longer have any petrified goldfish, I threw it out.

I kept four toolboxes, three bicycles, two ladders and a partridge in a pear tree, which was in a box of Christmas ornaments.

By the end of the day, we had filled 10 bags and one box for Goodwill. We also filled several garbage bags and a recycling bin. And we’re still not done, though the place is less of a fire hazard and we are a lot closer to actually being able to fit a car in there.

Now Sue wants to have a garage sale. “How are we going to sell the garage without selling the house, too?” I asked. Sue ignored me.

There are, it seems, a few treasures after all, some of which we will try to sell to other people who like to collect junk.

The garage door opener, which may finally come in handy, is not one of them.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Down to a Science"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to write a newspaper column, but sometimes it helps to be a nuclear physicist.

Aside from realizing that I’m not smart enough to be either, which is why I write a newspaper column, that’s the lesson I learned recently after my wife, Sue, and I went on a tour of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.

We were among the approximately 1,800 people who saw the lab that day as part of Brookhaven’s Sunday Summer Tours. The program allows the public to view virtually every major part of the sprawling laboratory, which is operated in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy and has won seven Nobel Prizes.

Our group was welcomed by nuclear physicist Phil Pile, who said, “The world’s most perfect liquid was discovered here.”

“Wow!” I whispered to Sue. “They’re going to serve beer.”

No such luck. Phil was referring to a type of matter thought to have existed microseconds after the Big Bang. This means, I guess, that it was microbrewed.

The Big Bang is the prevailing cosmological theory of how the universe was created and is not to be confused with the Big Band, from which popular music was created.

Brookhaven is famous for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, aka RHIC, pronounced Rick, which makes the laboratory Rick’s Place. “Of all the lab joints in all the towns in all the world, you had to walk into ours,” Phil didn’t say to the group.

He did say, however, that RHIC, where the origin of the universe is studied, is the first machine capable of colliding ions as heavy as gold.

“Maybe I’ll get some jewelry out of this,” Sue suggested.

Phil said that accelerated particles in RHIC have been known to travel 700 million miles per hour, which is almost as fast as some drivers go on Interstate 95 or the Long Island Expressway.

Phil also talked about protons and neutrons, though he didn’t mention morons, probably because he didn’t want to embarrass me. But he didn’t spare Albert Einstein (e equals MC Hammer), who was shown in a photo riding a bicycle without a helmet. “Not very smart,” Phil said.

Our group then got on a bus headed for STAR, one of two detectors we would see. STAR stands for Solenoidal Tracker At Relativistic. Xian Li, a brilliant doctorate student, told us how heavy ions are smashed together in a structure that looks like a huge roulette wheel. Even more brilliant was a 12-year-old girl named Mikaela Egbert, who showed me how to use my cell phone to take pictures.

Our next stop was the other detector, PHENIX, which stands for Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interactions eXperiment. Aside from not being in Arizona, PHENIX also is where scientists collide heavy ions. Protons are collided in both detectors as well.

The last stop was the Tunnel, where an accelerator physicist named Mei Bai said the lab spends $600 million on parts.

“Do you go to Home Depot?” I inquired.

“When we need ladders,” she responded.

Accelerator physicist Todd Satogata talked about the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor, or BGRR. “It’s affectionately known as Booger,” he said.

Our group was given a tour by Guillaume Robert-Demolaize, an accelerator physicist who also happens to be my future son-in-law. He is even smarter than that 12-year-old girl and will one day win the Nobel Prize. You read it here first.

“This is where the magic happens,” said Guillaume, adding: “The person who asks the best question wins a T-shirt.”

“Can you use E-ZPass in this tunnel?” I asked.

I didn’t win the shirt.

But Guillaume gave a winning presentation, which included a detailed description of the 2.4-mile-long tunnel’s two concentric rings, which are made up of 1,740 superconducting magnets. “They’re not the kind you put on your refrigerator door,” he said.

After the tour, Sue said, “This was like being with Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

The whole day was fun and fascinating. The best thing I learned is that, when it comes to riding a bike without a helmet, Albert Einstein was no smarter than me.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 20, 2010

"The Wedding Planner"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

Because I am going to be father of the bride for the second time -- which puts me ahead of both Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin, just in case any Hollywood producers are reading this -- I was extremely interested to read about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

My wife, Sue, and I weren’t invited, probably because, in 1992 and 1996, I was a candidate for vice president of the United States on the Cocktail Party ticket. Both times, my running mate, Alan Abel, and I lost to Bill Clinton and Al Gore in what can only be considered great upsets because Alan and I were greatly upset that we lost.

Still, I am willing to let bygones be bygones, which is why I want to invite Bill and Hillary, as well as Chelsea and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, to my younger daughter’s wedding next year.

Of course, Sue and I can’t afford to spend $3 million on the big day, which is what Bill and Hillary reportedly spent on Chelsea’s wedding. That’s because we have already spent at least that much over the years on things like Girl Scout cookies, school fundraisers, clothes, shoes, college tuition and, when our two daughters were living at home, phone bills.

Then there was our older daughter’s wedding, in 2006. The cost included not only the big day but a kitchen renovation, which Sue commissioned because, in a brilliant plan to “save money,” we had the bridal shower at our house.

Now, Sue and I are planning our younger daughter’s wedding and have decided to invite a lot of the people who reportedly were on Bill and Hillary’s guest list.

That includes, of course, Bill and Hillary.

As a former president, Bill will add prestige to the event. He also has proven to be an effective fundraiser for worthy causes, and I can think of no worthier cause than the Jerry’s Kids Wedding Fund.

The goal is $3 million. If any money is left over, Sue and I will blow it on frivolous luxuries like food and shelter. After all, you only live once.

Hillary will be a great guest, too. As secretary of state, she can help with diplomacy when it comes to the seating arrangements. And since our future son-in-law is from France, Hillary can use her expertise in international relations to make already warm relations even better.

We’ll also invite Barbra Streisand, who I am sure will not mind providing the entertainment. She was interviewed recently on “CBS News Sunday Morning” and she still has a terrific voice. People who need people at their daughter’s wedding are the luckiest people in the world.

Then there is Barbara Walters, who can announce the happy couple at the reception and perhaps conduct a short interview. She can ask about the rings, the bride’s dress and the honeymoon plans. She should avoid asking, “If you two were trees, what kind would you be?” Think about it, Barbara. We’re in touch, so you be in touch.

Ted Danson can be the bartender. During the cocktail hour, Ted, everyone will know your name. Cheers!

Finally, there is Oprah Winfrey, who can host a video of the big day. She can also give away cars or even cash to lucky attendees, most notably yours truly.

What do you say, folks? As far as Sue and I are concerned, your presence is more important than your presents. It will be a wonderful time. Bill and I can even put aside our political differences and swap funny stories about being father of the bride.

The wedding is set for June 5, 2011. Save the date.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima