Friday, October 28, 2011

"Confessions of a Class Clown"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

If life begins at 40, I am 17 years old, which was exactly my age when I graduated from high school 40 years ago.

This was the belated math lesson I learned recently when my wife, Sue, and I attended our 40th high school reunion.

We are both proud members of the Stamford Catholic High School Class of 1971. I was the class clown, even though, still crazy after all these years, I have no class.

My goal in life was to be silly and irresponsible and actually get paid for it, which is why I went into journalism. My decision could be encapsulated in one word: algebra.

Here, as I dimly recall, which is how I recall most things these days, is the typical algebra problem:

The Smiths are leaving New York for Boston at 9 a.m., averaging 55 mph. The Joneses are leaving Boston for New York at 10 a.m., averaging 50 mph.

Question: At what point in the 200-mile journey will they pass each other?

Answer: Who cares?

This was my attitude toward high school algebra, which explains why I got a D, which stood, of course, for Dumb.

I always did better in classes where I really didn’t have to know the answers. I was especially good on essay tests because I could bluff my way through them. If high schools gave BS degrees, I would have graduated magna cum laude.

In an English class, each of us was assigned to write an essay on the same topic (I forget what it was) and get up in front of the class to read it. Nobody wanted to do this -- except me. Everybody took it seriously -- except me.

I wrote the silliest, stupidest, craziest, funniest stuff I could think of. When it was my turn, I got up in front of the class, read my essay and got big laughs. I thought: Maybe I could do this for a living.

All the teachers at Catholic High were extremely supportive. Even though they were too kind to say so, they strongly implied that I was spectacularly unqualified to do anything else.

One teacher, a very smart, decent and patient guy, wore an obvious toupee. I’d often go up to him and say, “What’s on your mind?”

Yes, it was sophomoric. Then again, I had his class in sophomore year.

Another teacher, also a terrific guy, caught me playing floor hockey in home room. He told me to go home that night and write, 100 times, on lined paper and in my best handwriting, “I will not play floor hockey in class,” and bring the paper back to him the next morning.

“Very good, Mr. Zezima,” the teacher said when he saw I had completed my punishment. “I hope you have learned your lesson.” Then he gave the paper back to me.

Instead of throwing it out, I put it in my notebook. The following week, I was caught playing floor hockey again. The teacher once more assigned me to write, 100 times, “I will not play floor hockey in class.”

I went home that night and watched TV. The next morning, I handed the teacher my original paper. “Very good, Mr. Zezima,” he said. “I hope you have learned your lesson.”

I did, indeed. From this teacher, I learned creativity and ingenuity. In fact, I learned a lot at Catholic High and had a good time in the process.

The best thing that happened to me in high school was that I met Sue, who at the time was dating someone else. On the advice of my attorney, I can’t say who or where he is, but he didn’t show up at the reunion, which was a lot of fun.

Sue and I laughed, danced and reminisced with old friends. And everyone looked great, especially Sue.

I did, however, resist the urge to play floor hockey. Maybe, if I can find my notebook, I’ll do it at our 50th.

Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Branching Out"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

For centuries, nature lovers and people with too much time on their hands have asked a perplexing and frankly ridiculous question: If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, will there be a sound? For weeks, I had asked an even dumber question: If a tree falls in my backyard, and I am there to hear it, will it land on my head?

I got the answer recently when a tree did fall in my backyard. It landed on the ground and did, indeed, make a sound, which wasn’t nearly as loud as it would have been if the tree had landed on my head.

A few years ago, a large oak on the edge of my property fell on the house next door. My neighbors got the firewood, which I happily gave to them, not just because they were so nice and understanding (insurance paid for the damage), but because it would have been extremely dangerous to use the wood to start a fire in my house for the simple reason that I don’t have a fireplace.

This year, my wife, Sue, and I worried about falling trees every time a violent storm was forecast. We also worried about the skylight in the family room. Skylights are nice when the sun is out, but essentially they are floods waiting to happen. And our skylight would leak during a drought.

“If a tree fell on our house, and we were there to collect the insurance money, would we get a new roof and skylight?” I asked Sue.

“What a ridiculous question,” she replied, adding: “Although it worked next door.”

Storm after storm raged, we lost power, we lost food, we lost patience, but no trees fell. Then, one day, Sue noticed that a slender oak was leaning precariously, its branches almost touching the power lines and its roots coming up from the soggy ground.

“It’s going to fall on the lines,” she predicted. “You better call the power company.”

Two days later, a couple of beefy guys came over to size up the situation.

“The company isn’t going to send anyone to take the tree down,” one of them said.

“Maybe you can take it down yourself,” the other one suggested. “Do you have a chainsaw?”

“No,” I said. “Just a handsaw.”

“Get a rope, tie it around the tree, tie the other end of the rope around this other tree,” the first guy said, referring to a larger oak several feet away, “and start cutting.”

By this time I was at the end of my rope and was about to make a cutting remark when the second guy, who looked like Paul Bunyan, suggested all three of us try to push the tree over.

I felt like Paul’s pal, Babe the Blue Ox, not because I am strong but because I am dumb as an ox, which I proved by saying, “Good idea!”

It actually turned out to be brilliant. We huffed and we puffed and we pushed the tree down. It landed far from my head. The sound, which we all heard, wasn’t deafening.

“Now you’re a lumberjack,” said the guy who looked like Paul Bunyan.

“Or a lumberjerk,” I noted.

After the men left, I got my trusty handsaw and, with the help of WD-40 and beer, started seeing that the sawing was easier than I thought. By the end of the afternoon, I had cut off all the branches, cut up the trunk and dragged the whole kit and caboodle to the curb.

The next morning I could barely get out of bed.

If another tree looks like it is going to fall, and I am there to cut it down with a handsaw but am afraid it will land on my head, will I say the hell with it and call a professional tree service?

What a ridiculous question.

Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima