Sunday, December 3, 2023

"Withering Heights"

By Jerry Zezima

All my life, I thought I would end up in the gutter. And last week it almost happened. So it’s a good thing I have gutter guards.

I got them because leaves, twigs and acorns had clogged the gutters so much that there was barely room for my mind, which was in there, too.

When my wife, Sue, and I moved into our house 25 years ago, the gutters didn’t have guards. I had to climb to the top of the two-story Colonial to clean out the leaves every fall.

I came to the frightening realization that the word “fall” could also apply to me. That’s because I have acrophobia, which is an extreme fear of heights. Since I am 6 feet tall, this means I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head.

So we got gutter guards, which enabled me to stand safely on terra firma instead of shaking like a leaf on the roof, where I could almost see people in passing airplanes laughing at me.

When we got a new roof a few years ago, our ace contractor, Anthony Amini, took me up there to check out the job and alleviate my fears. It didn’t work because one of my sneakers became untied and I just stood there, frozen in terror and afraid to bend over to lace up my size 11 shoe. Anthony kindly did it for me.

After I climbed down, which took roughly as long as the Super Bowl halftime show, I vowed never to go up on the roof again.

A couple of years ago, Anthony and his great crew replaced the siding on the house and installed new gutters. Unfortunately, they didn’t come with guards.

Not wanting rain spillage to get behind the siding and damage the walls, and refusing to relive haunting memories of the days when I had to clean the gutters myself, I arranged for Anthony and his terrific assistant, Carlos Garcia, to put on new gutter guards.

They came over with several boxes of the thick metal strips, which are perforated to allow rain through but which prevent gutters from being filled with ugly brown foliage and other disgusting gunk.

Before installing them on both the dizzying upper roof and the two lower but still scary roofs, Anthony and Carlos cleaned the gutters.

After the guards had been attached, Anthony invited me up to a lower roof to check them out. Even though it’s only about 10 feet above the backyard, I was petrified at the prospect.

“I’ll hold the ladder,” he assured me. “Climb slowly and don’t look down.”

Things were looking up because I made it without sliding off and landing on my head, in which case, of course, I wouldn’t have been hurt.

“What do you think?” Anthony asked.

“I think I’m about to go into cardiac arrest,” I stammered.

“No, I mean the gutter guards,” he said.

“They’re great,” I replied. “Nice and shiny.”

“And they’ll keep all that nasty stuff out of your gutters,” Anthony promised.

“Wonderful,” I said. “Can I get down now?”

After taking a picture of me admiring my new gutter guards — “It could run with my obituary,” I suggested — Anthony tried to help me get one foot onto the top rung of the ladder.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I have a better idea.”

I pulled out my cellphone and called Sue so she could let me into the house through the bathroom window on the second floor.

She didn’t answer, but Anthony finally succeeded in getting me onto the ladder and talking me down.

Just then, Sue came outside.

“You didn’t fall,” she said.

“Disappointed?” I asked.

“Not really,” she answered with a smile.

“Good,” I said. “At least I didn’t end up in the gutter.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, November 26, 2023

"My Cheddar Is Better"

By Jerry Zezima

I have never been a big cheese, even in my own house, but my house is now home to a big cheese — a box of Vermont cheddar — which recently arrived on my doorstep thanks to a lovely lady with big brown eyes, long lashes and a beefy figure.

She is none other than Snookums the cow.

I learned about Snookums after seeing an ad in the Old Farmer’s Almanac for a Massachusetts company called Rent Mother Nature, which allows humans to lease sheep, goats and, of course, cows and buy the wool blanket or the cheese that a chosen animal helps to produce.

Because I love cheddar and went to college in Vermont, which in the 1970s had more cows than people, I got the cheese ball rolling by going to the company’s website ( and seeing that I could lease any number of things, animate or inanimate, including trees (apple, cocoa, coffee, grapefruit, maple, peach, pecan, pistachio or tangerine) and the aforementioned farm animals.

I decided to lease a cow because I could milk this for all it was worth, which amounted to $54.95.

And I could choose from a bevy of bovines: Angel, Crumpet, Eliza, Prudence, Tallulah and, the one I picked, Snookums. She’s the most beautiful, has the best name and is easy to take care of, mainly because she lives more than 300 miles away.

I would also get a personalized, gold-embossed cow lease, plus a gift card. In addition, I’d get what the company said were “fun, newsy progress reports describing the process of cheese-making and the latest ‘moos’ from the herd.”

And I would get, in four weeks, three 8-ounce bars of cheddar — made exclusively from milk given by Snookums.

I couldn’t be cowed into rejecting this fabulous offer, so I called Rent Mother Nature and spoke with owner Richard Hill, who told me that Snookums is a Jersey cow who lives on a small family farm in Vermont.

“Could I speak with her?” I asked.

“From what I understand,” Richard said, “she’s kind of shy. Besides, she’s probably out in the pasture and there’s no cellphone service.”

“How about the farmer?” I wondered. “Is he in the dell?”

“He might be,” Richard replied. “And he’s the extreme Yankee taciturn type, so he probably wouldn’t want to talk with you anyway.”

“What’s your favorite product?” I inquired.

“I love the goat cheese,” Richard said. “But I’ve tried everything. I get a peach tree lease every year.”

“How about the cow cheese?” I asked.

“That’s good, too,” he answered. “And it’s one of our most popular products. I’m sure Snookums will do a great job on yours.”

The following week, I got my cow lease in the mail. It read, in part: “This is to certify that Jerry Zezima, Lease No. 14921-1, is a lessee of a Rent Mother Nature Vermont Jersey cow.”

The lease was signed by — you guessed it — Snookums.

No, sorry, I mean Richard Hill.

Three weeks later, a box was delivered to my door. I brought the box inside and eagerly opened it to discover, nestled among a bunch of styrofoam packing peanuts and four small cold packs, the promised three bars of cheddar cheese.

“I can’t wait to try it!” I told my wife, Sue, as I got a knife, cut a slice and took a bite.

“How is it?” she asked.

I sighed contentedly and replied, “Heavenly. It’s thick and rich.”

Then I cut a piece for Sue, who let the taste settle on her tongue before saying, “It’s a bit heavy, but it’s delicious. I really like it.”

So, on a visit a couple of days later, did our two daughters and their husbands.

“Snookums really delivered,” I said. “Her cheese is an udder delight.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, November 19, 2023

"The Heat Is On"

By Jerry Zezima

I never thought I was hot stuff — especially when I look in the mirror to shave, a reflection that leaves me cold — but I sure am hot stuff now.

That’s because I have just tried the world’s hottest sauce. And I can proudly say, with some difficulty due to a scorched tongue, that I resisted the urge to call 911 so the fire department could extinguish an inferno that nearly sent smoke billowing from my mouth.

The sauce is made by the PuckerButt Pepper Co. of Fort Mill, South Carolina. The company’s owner, president and self-proclaimed “mad scientist,” Smokin’ Ed Currie, has developed and grown Pepper X, a volcanic veggie that was recently certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chili pepper.

It is the key ingredient in the torrid product, known as Gator Sauce, which could turn the cold-blooded reptile hot-blooded. And that’s no croc.

Anyway, my good buddy Hank Richert, who lives a short drive from the PuckerButt store, alerted me to Pepper X. Since my wife, Sue, and I would soon be seeing Hank and his wife, Angela, he promised to bring a bottle of the stuff for me to try.

Sue loves hot, spicy food. I’m rather cool to it, so I was not the ideal candidate to sample a sauce that could turn my otherwise empty skull into Mount Vesuvius.

For a pep (short for pepper) talk, I called PuckerButt and spoke with Smokin’ Ed’s wife, Linda, who admitted that she doesn’t have a high heat tolerance.

“I can’t eat the hot stuff,” she said. “I go for the mild sauces. Ed is the one who can tolerate hot stuff better than most people. And he does all the cooking. I don’t touch the peppers. I don’t even let him cook in the kitchen. He has to cook in the factory or at the farm where he grows the peppers. But he’s a card. And a genius. We have a lot of fun. I’ll soon be 62 and he just turned 60. We’re not spring chickens.”

“Could I put the hot sauce on chicken?” I wondered.

“Ask Ed,” Linda said.

So I did.

“Yes, it’s good on chicken, but I love it on scrambled eggs,” he told me.

“Your wife called you a genius,” I said.

“My wife calls me a lot of things,” said Ed, who also developed the Carolina Reaper, the pepper that since 2013 had held the record as the world’s hottest.

“Why did you develop Pepper X?” I inquired.

“To top myself,” Ed said. “Nobody else had done it, so I figured that after 10 years, I would come up with an even hotter pepper.”

He added that Pepper X has been measured at 2.69 million Scoville Heat Units, making it the world’s hottest.

“I wanted to shake things up in the pepper world,” said Ed, adding that citric acid is the best thing for tempering the blazing effects of Pepper X.

“Should I put a lemon slice next to my scrambled eggs?” I asked.

“It couldn’t hurt,” Ed replied. “Good luck!”

A few days later, when Sue and I saw the Richerts, who hadn’t tried the hot sauce, Hank handed me a bottle of the stuff.

“Wear asbestos underwear,” he warned me.

“And make sure Sue is with you,” Angela added. “You might need immediate medical attention.”

The following Saturday morning, I cooked my usual weekend breakfast: scrambled eggs with link sausages, toast and a glass of orange juice. I also cut a fresh lemon into slices and placed one next to my dish.

I donned a pair of clear industrial vinyl gloves and opened my bottle of hot sauce. I put a drop on my eggs, lifted a forkful to my mouth, took a deep breath, shoved it in, chewed and swallowed.

Nothing happened for about two seconds. Then, an explosion ripped through my palate. My tongue throbbed, my eyes watered and my whole mouth felt like it was on fire.

“How is it?” asked Sue, who sat next to me at the kitchen table.

“Ugh, ack, orf!” I stammered.

Then I grabbed the lemon slice, pressed it against my lips and sucked it dry. The juice did its job. The three-alarm blaze was extinguished.

My tongue tingled, but I survived.

“I’m hot stuff,” I assured Sue. “And I didn’t even need asbestos underwear.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima