Sunday, September 13, 2020

"A Coffee Maker's Brew Haha"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

I have reached the age (old enough to know better) where getting a good night’s sleep depletes me so much, especially if I dream about something exciting, like sleeping, that I need a liquid boost to start the day.

No, silly, not gin. I refer, of course, to coffee.

And it’s my dumb luck to make it better than my wife, Sue, which is why, on most mornings, I have to get up first to brew a pot of rich, dark, steaming hot java that gets the blood circulating and puts smiles on our faces, at least until the caffeine wears off.

Often I will detect, after getting up quietly to use the porcelain convenience, that Sue is awake on her side of the bed, pretending to be asleep so I will stay up, instead of climbing back in the sack, and make the coffee.

Down the stairs I thump, yawning and stretching, attorneys at law, and stumble into the kitchen, where I put a filter into the basket of the coffee maker and begin the meticulous process of measuring the exact amount of ground beans: nine even scoops, one bulging scoop and — this is the key — a pinch that would barely cover an ant, which you definitely don’t want in your kitchen, and especially in your coffee.

Then I fill the pot with precisely a dozen cups of faucet-fed water, flick the switch and — voila! — realize I haven’t plugged in the machine. Once I do, the percolation commences.

Ten minutes later, five beeps indicate that the coffee is done, at which time Sue enters the kitchen. I pour her a large cup of coffee and put in a splash of milk. She takes a sip, smiles and says, “Good! You make it better than I do.”

She’s right. I have had Sue’s coffee. It’s not so strong that it will take the paint off the wall (I’m off the wall, so I should know) or so weak that it will fail to awaken the aforementioned ant.

It’s just, well, not as good as mine.

Such is the curse of the man who never used to drink coffee. In fact, I had always considered coffee a stupid drink. It’s made from beans that are grown on mountains and brought down by mules so they can be ground into grounds, through which hot water is run.

I prefer a sensible drink. Like beer.

I once brewed my own brew, which I called Jerry’s Nasty Ale. It went down smooth and came back up the same way.

Actually, it wasn’t bad. It had an inadvertently smoky taste, which I couldn’t figure out since I didn’t put cigar ashes in it, and earned raves from Sue and a couple of neighbors, who did not, thank God, have to be hospitalized.

Another sensible drink is wine, which I have also made. The first time, I got grapes from a vineyard, brought them home, stomped on them in the bathtub like Lucille Ball did in “I Love Lucy,” bottled the concoction, let it ferment for a couple of weeks and brought it back to the vineyard, where the winemaker tried it and exclaimed, “It tastes like nail polish remover!”

I went back the following year to help him make the real thing, mainly by shoveling grape skins out of a vat and watching him do the rest. The resultant vintage was dubbed Merlot Jerry. It tickled the palate. Then I sneezed.

But it wasn’t nearly as good as my coffee, which I serve in two of the approximately 85 mugs that are crammed into a couple of our kitchen cabinets.

“Good!” Sue said this morning after taking her first sip.

“I’m glad,” I replied, waiting for the caffeine to kick in, “that you don’t have grounds for complaint.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 6, 2020

"Beach Blanket Birdbrain"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Whenever I go to the beach, which is about once a year, thus sparing regular beachgoers the horror of witnessing me in a bathing suit, running into the water and getting eaten by a shark, I imagine myself as Frankie Avalon, star of the “Beach Party” movies of the 1960s.

My wife, Sue, takes the Annette Funicello role, though she’s not very good in it because she doesn’t like to dance in the sand — unless, of course, she’s bitten by a crab.

So it was with very little fuss, and no rock and roll music, that we recently staked out a slice of shore, slathered on some sunscreen and plopped ourselves down in rickety chairs for what was probably the last beach day of the season.

For me, it was the first. And my unexpected presence must have excited a fine feathered flock of aquatic birds because they welcomed me with open wings, which they used to zoom over, past and around me. One of them squatted nearby, eyeing me with either friendly curiosity or, more likely, open hostility.

It was boy meets gull. We got into a staring contest. I looked over. The bird looked away. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye (though I don’t know how anything round can have a corner) and noticed her staring again.

I made a stupid face. She screeched, which prompted another gull to sit on the opposite side of me. I was surrounded.

I shifted in my chair and almost fell over. The birds flew off and came back moments later with reinforcements, some of which circled overhead before a couple of them dive-bombed me.

I felt like Tippi Hedren in “The Birds.”

The only place to escape was the water, but I didn’t want to go in because: (a) it looked dirty, (b) it looked cold and (c) it looked like just the place where Jaws would be waiting for me.

With apologies to John Williams, taking a dip would have been “dumb-dumb, dumb-dumb, dumb-dumb, dumb-dumb.”

So, while Sue snoozed and sunbathed, left mercifully alone by my avian adversaries, I got up and walked on the beach. I wore flip-flops to prevent the rocks that studded the shore from hurting my feet, which, even at size 11, are very delicate.

Speaking of studs, I noticed a couple of young women looking at me. At first I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger, muscles rippling and glistening in the sun, before I realized that with my physique, I would never be in the male version of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Instead, I’d be the cover boy for GQ (Geezers’ Quarterly).

I saw a guy with a fishing pole.

“What are you going for?” I asked.

“Porgy and bass,” he replied.

“A Gershwin classic,” I said, referring to the George Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess.”

For some strange reason, the guy didn’t get it. But he did say he also hoped to hook a bull shark, adding: “They’re dangerous.”

“That’s no bull,” I stated.

He didn’t get that joke, either, so I moseyed back to our little patch of sand, clumps of which became embedded under my nails and between my toes, and plopped down in my chair. I nearly tipped over again, which woke up Sue.

“Let’s go,” she said.

I struggled to fold the chairs, one of which, I was sure, would slice off a finger. We gathered everything and started to walk back to the parking lot when the birds began harassing me again.

I screeched. One of them whirled to fly away and nearly collided with another one.

I smiled with satisfaction, knowing I probably wouldn’t see them again until next year.

As they say at the beach, one bad tern deserves another.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 30, 2020

"Home, Sweat Home"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

In the 22 years my wife, Sue, and I have owned our house, we have had an open-door policy: Whenever work needs to be done, we open our door to a variety of handymen, licensed professionals and other skilled workers who can do what I can’t, which is practically everything.

As the Least Handy Man in America, even I knew that we should have installed a revolving door (which would have required the services of yet another laborer) because so many things needed fixing recently that our humble abode looked like the set of a Hollywood blockbuster.

The cast included Anthony the Contractor, Chris the Carpenter and Painter, Mario the Spackler, Andy the Plumber, Ed the Electrician, and Luis, Don, Richard and Raul the Burner Boys.

The work included ripping up the family room carpet, installing a vinyl floor, spackling the ceiling and then painting it, all of which needed to be done because of water damage that also ruined a kitchen cabinet, which had to be removed, as did part of the soffit above the sink. The empty space, which contained traces of mold, had to be cleaned before a new corner cabinet, which was tough to find, could be installed by Anthony and his son Mateo.

Then there were plumbing and electrical issues involving a bleeder valve in an upstairs bedroom (the water leaked down to the kitchen) and the conking out of the downstairs thermostat, which made the house feel like a sauna. It didn’t help that we had to pay for everything in cold cash.

“The Money Pit” had nothing on us. As I told Sue in the midst of all this craziness, “Home is where the heart attack is.”

But it was actually fun. And all the guys, who wore face masks and kept a social distance, were great. So was their workmanship.

Every morning, Anthony and Chris (and sometimes Mario or Andy) would come over for a hard day’s work, which couldn’t begin until Sue and I gave them breakfast. On the menu were coffee, bagels and doughnuts. Butter, cream cheese, milk and sugar also were available.

“Service with a smile!” Sue chirped.

“I’d make eggs,” I said, “but I’m afraid I would burn the house down.”

“Even we couldn’t fix that,” said Anthony.

The guys would work until lunch. I am always out to lunch, but on these days I stayed in. Sometimes Anthony and Chris went out, too, but on other days they also stayed in. I ordered pizza a couple of times and once Sue served corned beef sandwiches. There were homemade cookies for dessert.

“You’re making us fat,” Anthony said.

“Growing boys need their nourishment,” Sue told them.

“Besides,” I added, “you’re really working it off.”

One day, the work started at 7:30 in the morning, when Mario came over to spackle, and ended at 7:30 at night, when Luis came over to check out the thermostat. (Long story short: We had to order a new one.)

Another day, Jason and Mike the Pest Control Guys came over but stayed outside when I told them I was the pest inside.

“I don’t think we could control you,” Jason said.

After Andy fixed our plumbing problem, Sue said, “We’ll call you if we have any more cracks.”

I pointed to my head, which prompted Andy to say, “I don’t think I could fix that one.”

When Ed, who had done great electrical work for us before, came back to check out some wires, Sue said, “Let’s have a party!”

It was a party every day. But all good, noisy, dusty things must come to an end.

“I miss them,” Sue said when Anthony and Chris left.

“They’ll be back,” I replied. “A house is not a home unless there’s something to do.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Out on a Limb With Yard Work"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Ask any robin, blue jay or birdbrained homeowner and they will tell you that everything happens in trees.

I know this, and not because a little bird told me, after seeing the debris that several trees recently left in my yard. Actually, two yards, front and back, which were littered with leaves, twigs and branches when a storm blew through and knocked out our power for six days.

My power, never in great supply, was knocked out over the course of three days, when I founded Jerry’s Landscaping, Tree Trimming & Myocardial Infarction Service.

The crew consisted of yours truly, president, and my wife, Sue, treasurer, a job that entailed no work because money, unfortunately, doesn’t grow on trees.

But the aforementioned arboreal appendages do, along with acorns and assorted other nuts, one of whom, as you may have guessed, was me.

I thought I was through with yard work forever when I gave it up seven years ago and hired a company to do spring and fall cleanups and, every other week, cut the grass. Or what little there is of it because, thanks to a shady oak in the front, the yard looks like it was manicured with a flamethrower.

Speaking of oaks, they are the root (sorry) of the problem. They are supposedly the strongest trees, but like big, burly, macho guys who faint when they get a flu shot, they’re really wimps.

Even in a light breeze, they’ll turn into litterbugs, leaving my property strewn with leaves, twigs, branches, acorns and, in the spring, that disgusting brown gunk that falls on my car, which becomes so messy with sticky stuff that it couldn’t be thoroughly cleaned unless I drove it under Niagara Falls.

So you can imagine what my yard looked like after the recent tropical storm, which should have minded its own business and stayed in the tropics.

The really exasperating part was that countless healthy limbs came crashing down while several dead branches, probably associated with my bank, remained attached to the trunks of our biggest oaks.

I feared that when I went outside to clean up, the trees would know how much this annoyed me and would wait until I was directly underneath, at which point the lifeless limbs would drop on what would soon be my lifeless torso.

After dinner on the day of the storm, Sue and I went out to the front yard and, with one old rake between us, started cleaning up. The rake was of minimal use because it looked like a skinny boxer who’d had a couple of teeth knocked out.

“How come we have only one rake?” I asked Sue.

“Because,” she shot back, “you don’t do yard work anymore.”

So we took turns: One would rake, the other would break up fallen limbs, twigs and branches and stuff them into a large lawn and garden bag. We worked until dark, then went back in the house, which also was dark.

The next day, I spent five hours cleaning up the backyard, which was a disaster area because it’s dotted with oaks that teamed up to see how long it would take me to throw my back out.

I couldn’t do that, of course, because it wouldn’t have fit in a bag already overflowing with woody debris. Since Sue was out, the only person who could help me was Woody Debris, but he must have been cleaning up his own yard.

A few days later, Sue and I finished the job. All in all, we filled 16 bags.

As I brought our pathetic little rake back to the shed, a brazen robin taunted me with chirps.

“There’s a lesson in all of this,” I told Sue. “Tropical storms and mighty oaks are for the birds.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 16, 2020

"Diary of a Powerless Homeowner"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Since I am always in the dark, mainly because I’m lightheaded, the recent storm didn’t throw shade at me. But it left my house in the dark, too. For six days. So I got a pen and a flashlight and kept a diary because, unfortunately, I was powerless to do anything else.

Tuesday: Tropical Storm Isaias breezes in and knocks out the electricity at 12:30 p.m.

“How could the power go out?” I ask my wife, Sue. “It’s just drizzling.”

The power comes back on at 2 p.m.

“What a wimp of a storm,” I say.

Isaias must have heard me because half an hour later he blows through with a vengeance and knocks out the power again.

The storm leaves twigs and branches all over our property. Sue and I go outside after dinner (chicken salad — yum!) to clean up the front yard and see Corrie, our next-door neighbor, who says the power isn’t supposed to come back on until Thursday.

I call the power company but can’t get through.

“They must be out, too,” I chortle.

Darkness descends. I light candles and nearly burn off my fingertips. My phone is almost out of juice, so I get in my air-conditioned (thank God!) car and drive around while charging it. When I arrive back home, it feels like a sauna.

“Let’s wear towels!” I tell Sue.

She frowns. I grab a flashlight and try to read a book. It’s one of mine. I get drowsy.

We go to bed but can’t sleep. Sue gets up and goes into another room, possibly because I forgot to brush my teeth. I’ll do it in the morning.

Wednesday: I finally get through to the power company. A recording tells me there is no information about our outage but that crews are “working hard” to restore electricity, which should be back up by Friday.

I wonder how many times I can flick the bathroom light switch before remembering that we have no power.

I spend the entire day cleaning the backyard. I smell to the high heavens. So does some of our food, which Sue throws out.

Thursday: I finally take a shower. The water is so cold it could induce cardiac arrest in a walrus.

Power update: It should be back up by Saturday. I drive around after dark to charge my phone again and notice that every house in the neighborhood but mine and several others in a two-block area are illuminated like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Friday: Sue and I drive to the home of our younger daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Guillaume, who have power. Our granddaughters Chloe and Lilly are happy we are staying over.

Sue and I sleep in the air-conditioned living room on an air mattress that Lauren’s friend Tara kindly lets us use. It’s the best rest we’ve had all week.

Saturday: I play with the girls outside, first on the swings, then in their inflatable pool. Afterward, I have a beer that, unlike the brew in our house, is actually cold.

Power update: They’re shooting for Sunday. I’d like to shoot them.

Sunday: Sue and I thank Lauren and Guillaume for their hospitality and drive home. We arrive at 2:45 p.m. and find that there’s still no electricity. As Sue throws out the rest of the food, I call the power company and speak with Patti, who apologizes and says, “There are no words.”

“There are plenty of words,” I tell her. “But I can’t repeat them over the phone.”

Then, at 6:09 p.m., the house alarm starts blaring.

“We have power!” I squeal.

“Finally!” Sue exults.

I flick the bathroom switch. The light goes on. I’m not in the dark after all.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 9, 2020

"Banks for Nothing, Moneybags"

 By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

If I ever won Powerball and survived the shock, a technical necessity since you can’t collect if you are legally dead, I still wouldn’t be in the money. That’s because my wife, a neat person, would inadvertently throw out the ticket or I, a messy person, would put the ticket somewhere in the house for safekeeping and never find it again.

But I am happy to report that my heart is still beating, albeit at a much faster rate, because I have just won 1 million euros in the Spanish Lotto Lottery and am eligible to win $1.3 billion in the year-end drawing of the Euro Millo Lottery.

The timing couldn’t have been better because approximately half an hour before receiving the good news via email, it took my bank exactly three seconds to reject my online application for a line of credit.

Stunned at the speed with which I was rejected, which was even faster than what I experienced on the dating scene before I met my wife, I called the bank’s 800 number and was connected to the “fulfillment department.”

After hearing a disembodied voice say that the call “may be monitored and/or recorded for quality assurance purposes,” I spoke with a “customer service specialist” named Tesshana.

“There is some delinquency on your credit,” she said.

“I used to be a juvenile delinquent,” I told her. “I’m all grown up now, but I’m still juvenile. Will you give me credit for that?”

“I’m afraid I can’t,” said Tesshana.

“The bank must have set the world record for fastest rejection,” I noted.

“It doesn’t take long at all,” Tesshana explained. “Thank you for being a valued client and have a good day.”

The rejection caused dejection until I got an email from Paul Schmiitz, award consulting director of the Spanish Lotto Lottery, informing me of my fabulous winnings.

I phoned him but got this recording: “Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and call again.”

So I sent him the following email:

Dear Mr. Schmiitz:

I’m Jerry Zezima, an internationally syndicated newspaper columnist whose work, I am proud to say, has no redeeming social value.

Because I had to take a vow of poverty when I went into journalism, and because I was just rejected for a bank loan, and because the price of beer has gone up during the pandemic, I was beside myself (my wife was in another room) with excitement to receive your email informing me that I have won 1 million euros in the Spanish Lotto Lottery.

If that weren’t generous enough (the mortgage is due, so it isn’t), I am eligible to participate in the Euro Millo Lottery’s year-end drawing for $1.3 billion. That’s a lot of beer money. I’m not sure I would take it all in one lump’s sum because it would only weigh down my pants and put me in a higher tax bracket.

Still, I am so excited about this windfall that I would like to write a column about you and the lottery. As proof of just how low journalistic standards have sunk, my columns run in papers around the world, so you would be getting lots of free publicity. After giving me all that money, it’s probably the only kind you could afford.

Thanks very much, Mr. Schmiitz. I await your reply (and the 1 million euros) with bated breath. In the meantime, I guess I should brush my teeth.


Jerry Zezima

P.S. Pay the phone bill. Your number is out of service.

I am shocked to say that I have not heard back. But the bank and the lottery can keep the money. As long as I have enough for beer, I’ll consider myself a rich man.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 2, 2020

"This Electrician Is a Live Wire"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

I have always been considered a dim bulb, except for the fact that I married a bright woman, who proves it by making me the one to risk electrocution whenever a light bulb needs to be changed.

So fearful am I when it comes to wattage that I was shocked — shocked! — to find myself helping out with electrical work being done at our house.

The track lighting in the family room had to be dismantled and replaced with high hats. And the ceiling fan and the chandelier in the kitchen both had to be updated. Because I could never perform these tasks without turning myself into a lightning rod, I hired Ed Knopf, a licensed electrician who, against his better judgment, made me his apprentice for the day.

“Do you know anything about electricity?” Ed asked.

“Of course,” I replied. “How do you think my hair got so curly?”

In his 40 years in the business, Ed has gotten a jolt or two himself.

He said, “You have to watch out for live wires.”

That includes hot women.

“I’ve had a few who were scantily dressed and were coming on to me,” Ed said.

“Did they want to make sparks fly?” I asked.

“I guess so,” he said. “Nothing happened because I was married at the time. But I did make sparks fly for a guy who wouldn’t leave me alone. He was standing right next to me to see what I was doing.”

“Was he making you hot under the collar?” I inquired.

“He was burning me up,” Ed said. “So I shorted out the wires on purpose. Sparks flew and he was gone. I had to reset the circuit breakers, but it was worth it.”

I’m not sure it was worth it to have me as an apprentice, but I tried to help.

“Here,” Ed said as he stood on a ladder and handed me the track lighting. “You have to do something. You can’t just stand there and look pretty.”

I looked plastered when plaster fell on my head while Ed cut holes in the ceiling so he could run wires through. After handing me a handful of screws, he said, “Don’t screw up.”

I handed Ed the high hats and listened as he told me about more wacky customers.

“At this one house, the power was off and the homeowner wanted to turn the lights on,” he said. “I told her I would get shocked. Then I said, ‘Don’t you know electricians can see in the dark?’ She said, ‘They can?’ She wasn’t too bright herself.”

Then there was the guy who thought Ed and his then-girlfriend, who was helping him install a fan, were having sex in the attic.

“It was 90 degrees and we were up there for a while,” Ed said. “But we were just working. Honest.”

The worst customers are the ones who try to do electrical work themselves.

“I’m surprised they don’t burn their houses down,” said Ed, adding: “My favorite line is: ‘I have no idea where these wires go.’ I always say that to people.”

As he was installing the new ceiling fan in the kitchen, he said, “I was working with a friend once and he said, ‘Quiet, can’t you see I’m thinking?’ I said, ‘I thought I smelled something burning.’ The woman who owned the house said, ‘Burning? What’s burning?’ She panicked. I said, ‘Lady, that’s a figure of speech.’ You run into some real doozies in this job.”

The biggest doozy, I’m sure, was me. But at least I made myself useful and didn’t turn on the power before Ed was finished.

“You did a good job,” he said. “Your wife will be happy to know that you’re not so dim after all.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 26, 2020

"One for the Ageless"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Age, goes an old (of course) saying, is just a number. As a geezer who flunked math in school and now has the checkbook to prove it, I believe this adage for a number of reasons. I’m not sure how many because I am, you know, bad at math.

At any rate, the whole thing recently dawned on me, even though it wasn’t dawn, when my older daughter, Katie, turned 40.

When I reached that age, 26 (thank you, calculator!) years ago, I was reminded of another adage: Life begins at 40.

If that’s true, I realized, I had just wasted 39 years.

I also realized that milestones are like kidney stones: They’re hard to pass, but at least after you pass a kidney stone, you feel better.

I say this from hard experience because I have had about half a dozen of the boulder-like calcium compounds. Unfortunately, they still don’t outnumber the rocks in my head.

But reaching birthdays ending in zero has never bothered me. That’s because I am a baby boomer, a member of the generation that used to say, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now that we are at least twice that age, we have developed a mathematical formula that would have earned all of us failing grades in school.

Here it is: 60 is the new 50. Or, even better, 60 is the new 40.

I don’t know if this makes Katie feel better (I doubt it), but it does wonders for me, except for one thing:

If I insisted I was 40, not only would I be the same age as my daughter, which would entail flunking both biology and algebra, but I’d have to unretire and go back to work. Even I’m not that stupid.

To any baby boomer who worries about those accumulating birthdays, I would tell you that this is the best time of life. Not only can you still do everything you have always done, but if there is something you don’t want to do, you can pull the age card.

“I don’t think I should be lugging furniture anymore,” you might say to anyone who is younger, which these days includes almost everyone.

“I don’t think I should be shoveling snow anymore,” you might say to no one in particular, because no one in particular will listen to you.

What you should say is: “I do think I should be lying in a hammock with a beer.”

This seldom works on spouses who not only are the same age but have a whole list of chores, errands and household projects for you to do.

There are two ways around this:

(a) Misplace the list. “I’m old,” you can then say. “What did you expect?”

(b) Do the chores so badly (“You mean I can’t use toilet bowl cleaner to wash the dishes?”) that you will never be asked to do them again.

The most difficult part about getting older is putting up with candle jokes. Like:

“What are you going to light them with, a flamethrower?”

“You’ll have to call the fire department to put them all out!”

“What’s the difference between you and your birthday cake? Answer: You’re not so hot anymore.”

Still, I am encouraged by the fact that longevity runs in my family. My mother, Rosina, is 95 and is sharper than I am. I admit that this isn’t such a great accomplishment because the same could be said for bathroom sponges. But my mom has grown old gracefully, as well as gratefully, with a positive outlook and a fabulous sense of humor.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she reaches 100. We will, of course, invite the fire department to the birthday party.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 19, 2020

"All Creatures Great and Annoying"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

As a longtime practitioner of animal husbandry, which makes me a husband who has had a lot of animals, I love all of God’s creatures, except certain creepy insects and other lower life forms, some of whom I have voted for.

Sue, whose husband I am, is even more of an animal lover. She would, I admit, hurt a fly, which is why, flyswatter in hand, she prowls the house in a relentless hunt for the little winged invaders.

But otherwise, she’s as gentle as a lamb, one of the few domestic creatures we have not had as pets over the years. Our menagerie has included a dog, a granddog, four cats, several hamsters, half a dozen gerbils and countless fish, one of which lives in a bowl on the liquor cabinet. I put it there so I could say our finny friend drinks like a fish.

But lately Sue has been at war with a pair of squirrels and an indeterminate number of rabbits (the population is uncertain because they breed like rabbits), all of whom are eating her flowers and the fruits and vegetables in her garden.

The squirrels are the worst. Sue thinks they are either siblings or a young married couple honeymooning on our property. I can just see the postcard: “The menu is wonderful. Wish you were here.”

I think they are cousins twice removed, though even if I removed them, they would return twice.

The problem is catching them. Because I am afraid of heights and lack a prehensile tail, which fell off when I was in college, I don’t climb trees.

Not that it matters because these rambunctious rodents frequently stay on the ground, taunting us. Most normal squirrels would beat a hasty retreat up a nearby oak when they saw a human. Or at least one that looks like me.

Our antagonists sit on the grass and stare directly at us. I could almost hear them say, “Nyah, nyah!” Then again, maybe it’s the wind.

The rabbits are just as bad. I’ve gone out and yelled, “Eh, what’s up, doc?” But they just twitch their noses at me. It’s infuriating.

Because Sue and I don’t want to resort to violence, although I hear there’s a sale on dynamite at the Acme Company, we have tried to come up with less harmful means of ridding the yard of these persistent pests.

My sister Elizabeth suggested cutlery.

“We don’t want to eat them,” I said.

“You don’t have to,” she replied. “Get some plastic forks and put them in the garden with the tines sticking up. That will discourage the critters.”

It worked for a while, until the critters figured out a way to get at Sue’s squash and string beans anyway.

“I hate squash, so they can have it,” I told Sue. “But I like string beans, so we’ll have to try something else.”

I suggested putting up a scarecrow with my picture on the face, but Sue said it would be cruelty to animals.

Then there was the coffee ground defense, which entails spreading grounds on the ground. It didn’t work.

“No wonder,” I said. “The coffee probably kept the critters up all night.”

Finally, Sue came up with a solution, which is, ironically, a solution containing water and hot red pepper. They are put into a plastic spray bottle and spritzed on the flowers and whatever grows in the garden, repelling squirrels, rabbits, birds, warthogs and any other creatures that have designs on your flora.

Unfortunately, it’s worked on only one creature.

“Eat your vegetables,” Sue said one evening at dinner.

“No, thanks,” I replied. “Give them to the squirrels. I’d hate to see any of God’s creatures go hungry.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima