Friday, November 23, 2012

"Mr. Clean"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In my early days as a journalist, when newsrooms looked like landfills and the remains of Jimmy Hoffa could have been safely hidden from prying reporters who had the story right under their noses, my desk was so messy that it should have been condemned by the board of health.

Over the years, however, I have cleaned up my act. Now my desk is so neat that it looks like I don’t do any real work, which I don’t.

Still, it made things much easier recently when my colleagues and I moved downstairs. The man in charge of the operation, which seemed as complicated as the invasion of Normandy but turned out to be remarkably smooth, was building services manager Tom Perrotta.

“I’ve seen a lot of messy people,” Tom said as we sat in his office, which was, of course, immaculate. “Some of them have tons of newspapers that you actually have to dig through to get to their desks.”

“I don’t read the newspaper,” I said.

“Really?” Tom replied quizzically.

“Actually, I do,” I said. “But we get it delivered. I leave tons of papers on the kitchen table until my wife bags them for recycling.”

“At least you’re not messy in the office,” Tom noted. “One guy needed 15 boxes to pack up all his stuff.”

“I used only one,” I said. “And I didn’t even fill it.”

“I noticed,” said Tom. “It’ll make it easier when you leave.”

“Do you know something I don’t?” I asked nervously.

“No,” Tom replied. “But you are closer to the door now. Maybe we can put your desk in the parking lot. The only thing you won’t have out there is climate control.”

Tom knew which box was mine because it contained a picture of the Three Stooges.

“How come you don’t have a picture of your wife and kids?” Tom inquired.

“I know what they look like,” I responded. “But the Stooges are my inspiration. Besides, the photo of them adds a touch of class to my work space.”

Speaking of family, Tom said he and his wife are very neat and that they have passed their cleanliness on to their sons, ages 8 and 3.

“My wife is neat, too,” I said. “At home, I’m not.”

“Sometimes, opposites attract,” Tom said.

“If we ever won the lottery, we’d never collect the money,” I said. “Either my wife would inadvertently throw out the ticket while cleaning the house or I’d put it somewhere for safekeeping and never find it again.”

“How about your kids?” Tom asked.

“They’re out of the house now, but the nest isn’t empty because we still have a lot of their stuff,” I said. “Once, when my younger daughter was home from college for the summer, my wife said her room was a disaster area. I called the White House to see if we could have it officially declared a disaster area so we would be eligible for federal funds to clean it up.”

“What happened?” Tom wanted to know.

“The first lady’s press secretary suggested we close the door,” I said.

“If our boys play with something, they put it away when they’re finished,” Tom said. “The younger one is in nursery school, where they sing ‘The Cleanup Song.’ It teaches the kids to be neat.”

Tom played the song for me on YouTube. It’s pretty catchy, although I couldn’t get the jingle out of my head for two days.

“You should pick up your toys when you’re finished playing with them,” Tom told me. “Be as neat at home as you are at work. I’m sure your wife would appreciate it.”

I told Tom that my colleagues and I appreciated the fine work he and his crew did in moving us downstairs.

“It wasn’t that bad,” he said. “But we never did find the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.”
Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Diary of a Mad Storm Survivor"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Gray, wet and windy. And that just describes me. It also describes Sandy, who is due at my house in a few hours. I put out a welcome mat. It blows away.
I am worried about two things: a skylight that would leak during a drought and a double-trunked oak that I am sure will fall on the house. At least it would give me hardwood floors.
My wife, Sue, calls me at work to say Sandy has arrived.
“Don’t let her in,” I say.
Miffed at our lack of hospitality, Sandy knocks out our power and leaves.
Speaking of leaves, Sue says they are strewn all over the yard. So is a huge branch that has just missed the shed. But the skylight is not leaking. And the oak is still standing.
I can’t make it home, so I stay in a hotel where the company has kindly put me up with several colleagues. One of them brings cheese and crackers and two bottles of wine. We play Scrabble in the restaurant. Words are suggested to describe the situation. None can be repeated here.
I shower at the hotel, which gratifies my colleagues when we return to the office. At the end of my shift, I go home to survey the damage by flashlight. Trees have fallen in the yards of neighbors on all three sides of us. For once in my life, I have lucked out. But we still have no power. Dinner is cold chicken I have to cut with a steak knife. Brrr appetit!
Halloween. Tricks but no treats. It is too cold in the house to shower, so I brush my teeth and go to work.
A female colleague says, “Your hair is neatly coiffed. What did you do to it?”
I reply, “I slept on it.”
Sue, a teacher, is home because school is closed indefinitely. She drives more than half an hour to the house of our younger daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Guillaume, who have power. Sue showers and does our laundry.
Later, after we both get home, we have a romantic candlelight dinner: cold meatloaf. For dessert, there is melted ice cream.
I take the coldest, fastest shower of my life: 1 minute 47 seconds. Then I go to a convenience store to get coffee for Sue.

“Do you have gas?” a woman asks.
“I haven’t even had breakfast,” I respond.
I bring Sue her coffee and go to work. On the way back home, I stop at the Chinese restaurant next to the convenience store for a quart of wonton soup to go with the rest of the cold chicken. Yum.
Sue is sick.
“The Weather Channel should declare this house the cold spot in the nation,” I tell her.
“Achoo!” she responds, adding: “I’m going to Lauren and Guillaume’s. Meet me there later.”
After work, I go home to pack a bag in the dark. Then I drive to a nearby gas station. I sit in line for more than an hour. When I finally get to the entrance, Joseph, who manages the station with his brother, John, says they are out of gas.
“Come back in 10 minutes,” Joseph whispers through my rolled-down window.
When I go back, Joseph lets me in and waves the other drivers away. John fills my tank.
“You are a good customer,” says Joseph.
“And you and John are good guys,” I reply gratefully.
I drive to Lauren and Guillaume’s and have my first hot meal in days: Lauren’s homemade chili. It is not chilly. But it is delicious. Sue and I climb into a warm bed and sleep like babies.
For the first time in nearly a week, Sue and I wake up not feeling like frozen fish sticks. The highlight of the day is waiting in line with Guillaume so he can fill his car’s gas tank. I keep calling our house phone to see if (a) we have power or (b) a burglar answers. No power. No burglar, either. Still, there is no chance we are going back home.
Guillaume and I spend the day watching football. Sue calls the power company’s hotline, which apparently is the only line the company has that isn’t cold, to see if our house has power. It doesn’t. We stay another night. I am beginning to feel like the Man Who Came to Dinner.
Sue and I get up early, thank Lauren and Guillaume for their fabulous hospitality and drive back to our house, which feels like a meat locker. The carbon monoxide detector is beeping, so we call 911. The fire department shows up and determines it’s only a dying battery. Later, Sue discovers that the battery in her car is dying. Our neighbor Ron kindly jump-starts it.
On the way home from work, I pick up a hot meal from the Chinese restaurant. Sue and I decide to spend the night in the house. I go out at 10:30 p.m. to get gas. Two and a half hours later, I drive back home with a full tank. It’s 1 a.m. I dress like I am going on an Arctic expedition (boxer shorts, flannel pajama bottoms, a T-shirt, a long-sleeve cotton top, a sweatshirt, sweatpants and two pairs of socks) and climb into bed with Sue. We shiver ourselves to sleep.
Election Day. A nor’easter is coming. Bluster on all fronts.
At 5:55 p.m., toward the end of a busy day at work, the call comes from Sue: “We have power!”
I let out a whoop. My colleagues applaud. A chill (the good kind) runs down my spine.
I arrive home to a beautiful sight: lights. I enter to a beautiful feeling: warmth.
I think about all the people who have lost their homes or, worse, their lives. I know that Sue and I are lucky.
Good riddance, Sandy. From now on, the only thing around here that’s gray, wet and windy will be me.
Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima