Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Isn't It Romantic?"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
When you’ve been married for 40 years, as my wife, Sue, and I have been, you want to celebrate your anniversary in a big way, by doing something wonderful and memorable during a week of fun and frolic, all while expressing your eternal devotion to your beloved spouse.

So I got my teeth cleaned and Sue had a root canal.

These were only two of the many romantic ways we marked this landmark event, which was so action-packed that we needed five full days to cram it all in.

It should be noted that we spent this time at home, not in some tropical resort with postcards, palm trees and swim-up bars, which only would have distracted us from doing such exciting things as shoveling snow and babysitting our granddaughters.

That’s exactly what we did on our anniversary, when Mother Nature spared no expense in gifting us with a spring storm that dumped six inches of snow on our driveway.

Instead of wearing a bathing suit and flip-flops, with a margarita in hand, I donned a parka and boots, with a shovel in hand, and headed out into the arctic air.

“Have fun!” Sue said as she blew me a kiss.

When I came back in, cold and tired, I found a waterfall — not like in Hawaii, where Sue and I honeymooned — that was cascading through the ceiling from an upstairs bathroom, where our son-in-law Guillaume had just taken a shower.

“Shall we call a plumber to help us celebrate our anniversary?” I asked Sue.

She declined when the leak stopped and said that she and our younger daughter, Lauren, were going shopping. Since Guillaume was going to work, I would be in charge of babysitting our granddaughters, Chloe, 5, and Lilly, a year and a half. It was the most fun I had all day.

Later, after everyone left and Sue and I were alone, we had a romantic candlelight dinner featuring leftovers.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said as Sue and I toasted each other with boxed wine.

“Happy anniversary, dear,” she replied sweetly.

The next day, which was Tuesday, I proved that I would do anything for my wife short of painting the hallway by driving her to the orthodontist’s office so she could have a root canal.

“Don’t worry,” I said reassuringly. “It won’t hurt.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Sue replied nervously.

“I know,” I told her. “That’s why I said it.”

As it turned out, I was right: It didn’t hurt at all. It didn’t hurt Sue, either. But it did knock her out, which is why she spent the afternoon napping while I made myself useful by having cocktails.

On Wednesday, I had an appointment with my dermatologist, who will turn 40 later this year.

“I’ve been married as long as you’ve been alive,” I said.

“I’ve been married for 12 years,” he responded, “but it feels like 40.”

By the afternoon, Sue was feeling much better, so we spent the rest of the day at the outlets, shopping for sneakers, shoes and, most important, a new pair of boots.

“In case,” I explained to Sue, “it snows again.”

On Thursday, the action continued when I got a haircut. After I told my barber, Maria, about my anniversary week, she said, “You’ll need another week to recover.”

That afternoon, Sue and I went to a travel agency to see if we could book a vacation to a warmer locale later in the year.

Lindsay, our travel consultant, said, “You’re having a busy week. You need to get away.”

Friday morning, I got my teeth cleaned. After I told Margaret, the hygienist, all about the exciting things Sue and I had done to celebrate our anniversary, she said, “All that’s missing is a colonoscopy.”

That night, Sue and I went out to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant called Grana, where we were serenaded by Brett Chizever, a bartender who also has theater experience and once played Rooster Hannigan in a road version of “Annie.”

In a beautiful operatic voice, Brett, 30, sang us a Gershwin tune called “Love Is Here to Stay.”

His rendition earned a round of applause.

“Happy 40th anniversary, you two lovebirds,” Brett said.

“Thank you,” Sue replied with a wide smile.

“Believe me,” I added, “this is the most romantic thing that’s happened to us all week.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Que Syrah, Syrah"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
When it comes to wine, I have a discriminating palate, so I know that whites go with lighter foods, such as Twinkies and Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish sticks, and that reds pair well with meatier offerings, like hot dogs and Slim Jims.

But even I, a person whose prodigious proboscis has sniffed so much wine that I often need a decongestant, had a lot to learn when I met Jeff Saelens, a true oenophile who recently taught a Wine 101 class at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, New York.

Accompanying me was my wife, Sue, who is something of a wine connoisseur herself (she prefers a glass of chardonnay, out of a box, with one ice cube). The only other students were Brittany Rosen and Chase Smith, a very nice young couple who not only were delightful to talk and drink with, but who guaranteed that, unlike in high school or college, I would graduate no lower than fourth in my class.

Jeff, 78, a wise and witty wine wizard (say that five times fast after you’ve had a snootful of sauvignon), isn’t snooty or snotty even though he is sophisticated. He also is a retired business development expert who used to own a wine shop in Saratoga Springs, New York, and has a degree in neurochemistry from Harvard Medical School.

“Can I call you doctor?” I asked him as the class began.

“I’ve been called worse,” Jeff replied with a wry smile.

Then he handed out the course materials, including a map of France, which Sue and I visited in 2011 for our younger daughter’s wedding. In preparation for the trip, I learned such important French words as “bonjour,” “bon appetit” and, of course, “Bon Jovi.”

The map was divided into France’s premier wine regions, such as Loire Valley and Rhone Valley but not Silicon Valley, where California grapes, not to mention Apples, are grown.

In front of each student were two wineglasses, into which Jeff poured Tang instant breakfast drink.

No, actually, he poured wine, starting with reds, which I prefer, and finishing with whites, which Sue likes.

“First, we will try pinot noir and Syrah,” Jeff said as he gave us a small amount of each.

“The Syrah is drier and the pinot is sweeter,” Sue remarked, to which Brittany and Chase agreed.

Showing my impressive expertise, I noted, “They’re both better than Boone’s Farm.”

Jeff said the grapes for both wines grow better in “a cold, miserable climate,” adding that the best Syrah is from Rhone Valley and the best noir is from Burgundy.

“Syrah dates back 2,000 years,” Jeff said. “Pinot noir is even older: 3,000 years. Bordeaux, on the other hand, is only 200 to 300 years old. Still,” Jeff added dryly, “that’s even older than I am.”

Our education continued as Jeff talked about different kinds of grapes, as illustrated in our materials, as well as various types of soil, including the sandy loam of Long Island, where the maritime climate also contributes to what we all agreed is the excellence of Martha Clara’s wines.

Having sipped our way through the reds, which made my eyes the same color, we went to the whites, which I really liked even though I don’t normally drink them.

Jeff also discussed food pairings, the fermentation process and wine consumption by countries (France and Italy consume the most while the United States is near the bottom).

“Don’t blame me,” I told Jeff. “I’m doing my best to make America grape again.”

Jeff thanked me for my patriotic efforts and finished by saying that we all passed Wine 101 with flying colors.

“The colors are red and white, right?” I asked.

“Don’t make me revoke your diploma,” Jeff said.

Brittany, Chase, Sue and I didn’t get sheepskins, or even grape skins, but we did get a well-rounded education from a man I would nominate as teacher of the year.

“You’re a good student,” Jeff told me.

“Thank you,” I replied. “In Wine 101, I’m tops in my glass.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Here's Looking at You Grow Up, Kids"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
If I have learned anything since becoming a grandfather, aside from the fact that diaper bags can be a great way to pull jokes on unsuspecting strangers, it is that time flies when you’re having grandkids.

As proof of just how fast life whizzes past, my grandson, Xavier, will celebrate his first birthday tomorrow. Next week, my granddaughter Chloe will turn 5. And her little sister, Lilly, isn’t so little anymore because she’s almost a year and a half old.

This stuff happens every time you turn around. So here is a valuable grandparenting tip: Don’t turn around. Not only will you hold time at bay, but you won’t become disoriented and walk into a wall, which will, I know from experience, amuse your grandchildren.

I did this recently when my wife, Sue, and I visited Xavier, whom we have seen only a handful of times because he lives almost 300 miles away. Chloe and Lilly, on the other hand, live about 25 miles away and, on frequent visits to our house or when we go to theirs, never fail to be amused when I turn around and walk into a wall.

Still, the question is: Where does time go?

I believe it goes into the Federal Witness Protection Program. I also think time has frequent flier miles, so it probably goes to the Caribbean. And it doesn’t even have the decency to send us postcards.

Speaking of flying, that’s what Sue and I did when we visited Xavier, who is, I can proudly say, the smartest and most mature person in Washington, D.C.

We were picked up at the airport by our older daughter, Katie, who is Xavier’s mommy. She and Xavier’s daddy, Dave, were going out of town on business later that day, which meant Sue and I would be babysitting Xavier overnight. We often FaceTime, but we hadn’t seen him in person since the holidays.

“I hope he remembers us,” Sue said.

“I hope he remembers my Three Stooges routines,” I added, referring to our previous visit, when Xavier giggled uncontrollably at my Shemp imitations.

We had nothing to worry about. Xavier loved being with us. He still giggled when I did Shemp, chortled when I gobbled like a turkey while changing his diaper and laughed even harder when I turned around and walked into a wall.

“He’s gotten so big,” Sue remarked.

“This is what happens to kids when you feed them,” I said as I fed Xavier in his highchair (he was in it, not me, though I should have been since I acted more like a baby during our five-day visit than he did).

That was amply evident when, after Katie returned, she, Xavier, Sue and I went to the Smithsonian.

Katie put Xavier in an Ergo, a baby carrier she wore with him facing forward so he could see what was going on. Sue carried the purses. I had the diaper bag.

When we got to the entrance, a museum guard welcomed Katie and said hello to Xavier, who smiled. Then she greeted Sue and inspected the purses. As I stepped up, I opened what I was carrying and said, “It’s a diaper bag. At my age, it comes in handy.”

The woman blanched. Then she broke into a broad grin and said, “I can see who the real child is here.”

We had a great day at the museum, which Xavier loved. He even won friends and influenced people in the gift shop.

The next day, Dave got home, which made the rest of our visit even better.

As we were leaving, Sue and I kissed Xavier and wished him a happy first birthday.

“You’re growing up fast,” Sue told him.

I gobbled like a turkey, which made him laugh again. Then I flapped my arms and repeated the phrase that grandparents know so well: “Time flies.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"The Call of the Riled"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
If you were to call me on my old iPhone to ask when telephone technology reached its peak, I would have told you it was the day Alexander Graham Bell invented it and that the entire industry has been going downhill ever since, except you wouldn’t hear me because the reception would be so bad that it would seem like the nearest cellphone tower was on Pluto, which would give Disney an excuse to charge me for phone service.

Now that I have a new iPhone, I would be happy to discuss telephone technology with you, unless I didn’t recognize your number, thought you were a scam artist and refused to pick up.

Still, I owe my technological upgrade to Josh Frankel, a retail sales consultant who knows more about phones than Bell himself, which admittedly isn’t difficult considering the inventor died almost a hundred years ago and isn’t on my list of contacts.

Speaking of which, the contacts mysteriously disappeared from my old phone, ascending into the iCloud on a day when it wasn’t even iCloudy. It was the final insult from a device that had no doubt been the inspiration for an advertising campaign that asked the eternal telephonic question: “Can you hear me now?”

“Yes, I can,” Josh said when my wife, Sue, and I went to a nearby AT&T store to exchange our old phones for newer models that, in my case, wouldn’t do much good anyway since nobody wants to talk with me.

My enthusiasm over the fact that Josh could actually hear me was tempered somewhat by the additional fact that I wasn’t on the phone at the time.

“You’re sitting right next to me,” Josh pointed out. “If I couldn’t hear you, a phone wouldn’t do me much good, either.”

I heard Josh when he politely told me that I had the stegosaurus of phones, the iPhone 4, which I bought in 2012 and hadn’t really learned how to use aside from: (a) forgetting where I put it, (b) butt dialing complete strangers and (c) punctuating almost every conversation with indelicate language when, because I was invariably in a dead zone, it seemed like I was talking to a mime.

“You have to move up,” Josh said.

“You mean I’d get better reception on the roof?” I asked.

“No,” Josh replied. “I mean you need a better phone.”

Then he said that most people don’t use the phone part of phones anymore.

“Wouldn’t that be like not using the driving part of cars anymore?” I wondered.

“I guess so,” Josh said. “But if someone calls me, I know it’s not important. If it’s important, they’ll text me.”

Josh, who’s 27 and has been working in the wireless industry for eight years, knows whereof he speaks, even if it’s not into a phone. That’s why he was so helpful to me and Sue, who had problems of her own because her phone, an iPhone 5S, lost all of her emails.

“Fortunately,” Sue told Josh, “I have an iPad.”

“Do you have an iPad?” Josh asked me.

“No,” I responded. “But I do have iTeeth.”

Nonetheless, we both needed new phones. Josh suggested the iPhone 8, which has a larger screen and more advanced features.

Josh transferred everything from our old phones to our new ones, though he couldn’t recover my contacts, which numbered about 100 and probably included people I had never heard of.

“You’ll have to start all over,” Josh said.

“That’s OK,” I told him. “One of the first people I am going to put on there is you. What’s your number?”

Josh gave it to me, then showed me how to set up my contact list.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’d ask my 4-year-old granddaughter, who knows how to break into her mother’s phone by circumventing the password, but she isn’t here.”

“Put her on your contact list, too,” Josh suggested. “I’m sure she’d love to talk with you. And now that you have a new phone, you’ll come through loud and clear.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Monday, February 26, 2018

"Portrait of the Artist As a Wine Man"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
As a painter specializing in bathrooms, bedrooms and cats, who used to get splattered when I was painting the first two, I will never be mistaken for van Gogh (when I go for a haircut, I still get both ears lowered) or Picasso (my wife would kill me if I painted a nude model instead of the hallway). I can’t even draw a good salary.

But I recently exchanged walls and fur for a canvas of glass when I took a Paint & Sip class at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, New York.

It was the first time I had ever painted wineglasses, but I was assured by the very nice and very talented instructor, Maggie Carine, that my artwork would be worth toasting.

“It may not end up in the Louvre,” said Maggie, 22, a steward at Martha Clara and a graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, “but it will hang proudly on your wine rack at home.”

Each attendee in the 30-person class, which cost $35 for wine club members such as yours truly, was treated to a glass of either Solstice Blanc or, my preference, Syrah, because red wine is not only good for the heart but, as Maggie noted, “good for the art.”

She also gave me several kisses (of the Hershey’s variety) to add to the palate, if not the palette.

As I took my seat at one of the tables, I noticed that everybody was given two wineglasses to paint.

“If you mess up,” Maggie told the class, “you have an extra chance.”

Also in front of each attendee was a clear plastic plate with dollops of red, pink, purple and white paint, as well as two paintbrushes, one small for delicate work, the other large in case I got carried away and, fueled by wine, painted the entire vineyard.

In addition, we each had two sets of stencils with the shapes of lips, hearts and the letters XO, all of which signified love. We also were given foam-tipped stampers so we could festoon our glasses with polka dots.

“Tape the stencils to the inside of your glasses and trace around them on the outside,” Maggie instructed us. “Then color in the shapes. Be creative!”

That was all I needed to hear. Like van Gogh, I painted a self-portrait on my first glass. Using my stamper, I dotted two white eyeballs. I dabbed my small brush in red paint and made the eyes bloodshot. For the finishing touch, I painted a pair of purple pupils, which isn’t easy to say when you’ve been drinking wine.

Then I stamped a big red nose under the eyes. Under the nose I drew a purple mustache. Under that, I traced white lips. I topped it all off with purple eyebrows.

“That’s genius!” exclaimed Dianne Sykes, who sat at my table with her sister, Cat, and their mother, Suzanne, all of whom got into the spirit of things with creative paintings of their own.

Cat, for example, wrote “Girls rule, boys drool” on one of her glasses.

“How much wine have we had?” she asked, to which Dianne and Suzanne answered in unison: “Not enough!”

Maggie also was impressed with my artistic creation.

“Awesome!” she declared.

Thus inspired, I finished my first glass with a red heart, a pink XO and a series of multicolored polka dots. I used my stamper and small brush to create a dotted and striped base.

On my second glass, I flipped the letters and drew a pink, red, white and purple OX. “I’m as dumb as one,” I explained to the ladies, who politely disagreed. I also drew a red heart with an arrow through it, stamped some dots, painted the base red with my big brush and, with my small brush, put the finishing touch near the top of the glass by autographing it with a red “Jerry.”

“You did great,” Maggie told me when the class was over.

“Thank you,” I replied modestly. “As Picasso might have said, I’ll drink to that.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, February 8, 2018

"This Caveman Is a Cool Guy"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
People who know me and are willing to admit it (which narrows the field considerably) will gladly tell you that I have frequent bouts of brain freeze and that everything I say should be taken with a million grains of salt.

Aside from margaritas, which I like because they’re cold and salty, and have been known to reduce my brain cells to practically zero, never has this sensational combination been more welcome than when I recently spent time in a salt cave and later was flash-frozen in a cryotherapy chamber.

The place to enjoy these invigorating experiences (not including margaritas) is Port Jeff Salt Cave in Port Jefferson, New York. Billed as “an integrative wellness center,” it’s owned by the husband-and-wife team of Rich and Marcy Guzman, both of whom are nurses who know that laughter is the best medicine.

As Marcy told me before I sat in a group session in the cave, “Salt doesn’t cure anything but ham.”

“I’m a ham,” I replied.

“Then you’ll be cured,” she said.

Inhaling salt air can decrease inflammation (good news for my big head), detox the blood (I’m not type O, but I do occasionally have a typo) and send nutrients to my organs (too bad I don’t play the piano).

I joined seven other people, ranging in age from 12 to 84, in the salt cave, which looks just like — you guessed it — a hockey arena.

No, actually, it looks like a cave. It also looks like a beach because it contains 10 beach chairs, arranged in a circle, but instead of sand, the floor is covered with salt crystals. The room is dimly lit with twinkling ceiling lights that resemble the night sky. There also are vents that release salt air and a sound system that pipes in a soothing recording by Marcy.

At the beginning of the 45-minute session, which costs $45 per person, Marcy said the salt air would open our sinuses.

“My sinuses are already open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays,” I said.

The other customers shifted nervously in their beach chairs.

But everyone relaxed when Marcy closed the door and started the recording, which took us vicariously on a nature walk, over the river and through the woods, where we bypassed Grandmother’s house and encountered several creatures that evidently had escaped from either a zoo or “The Jungle Book” but proved to be good omens that led us back to where we started, safe, sound and satisfied.

“How do you feel?” Marcy asked afterward.

“Salty,” I responded. “And peppery. It was wonderful. I have an inner warmth.”

I had an outer cold when I went back a week later for my own version of the movie “Frozen.”

I was greeted by Rich, who asked me to strip to my skivvies and don a pair of socks and gloves before entering the small, cylindrical chamber, where the temperature would drop to 265 degrees below zero.

“I’ll end up being like a Mrs. Paul’s fish stick,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Rich replied. “Your wife can thaw you out in the microwave.”

He added that during the three-minute session, which costs $40, I’d be enveloped by a nitrogen vapor that would, among other benefits, help my body release endorphins, kill fat cells and block pain.

“The first minute is refreshing,” Rich told me as I stood in the one-person chamber with my hands at my side and my head peering over the closed door. “The second minute is invigorating. And the third minute is ‘talk me through this.’ Ready?”

I gulped and nodded. Rich turned on the machine. Vapor started to rise and caress my skin, invading my pores and turning my body into what seemed like a block of dry ice. I felt, as Rich promised, refreshed and invigorated.

“Talk me through this,” I said as he counted down the last minute.

“No need,” he said. “You’re doing great.”

When it was over, I stepped out of the chamber, the coolest guy on earth.

“Between the two sessions,” I told Rich and Marcy after I got dressed, “I feel like a new man.”

“The salt air and the cold air really help,” Marcy noted.

“The only thing cryotherapy couldn’t help is my brain,” I said. “It’s already frozen.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima