Friday, June 29, 2007

"No Business Like Show Business"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Stewart F. Lane, the Broadway impresario who recently won his fourth Tony Award, wants to break my leg. Wait, sorry, that’s not right. A lot of other people, most of them readers, want to do that. Lane wants me to break a leg. That’s because he plans to put me on the stage, after which he will probably tell the driver to make the horse run as fast as it can and take me out of town.

This is the only thing, aside from a complete lack of performing talent, that can prevent me from being a big star on the Great White Way.

That was the promise made to me recently over dinner and, especially, drinks at the Friars Club in New York City, where Lane and Jules Feiler, the mad genius at 5W Public Relations, plotted to put my name in lights. With my luck, the lights will be above the 9th Precinct, which covers Manhattan’s theater district, after I am charged with crimes against art for a planned one-man show I may have to call "Bullets Over Broadway," because when people see it, they’ll want to shoot me.

I got the idea (not to be shot, but to put on a show) after reading Lane’s excellent new book, "Let’s Put on a Show!" In it, he tells great stories about life on and off stage. One of the best is about the time Lane’s mother walked out on one of his shows because he had turned off the air-conditioning in the theater. "My own mother!" Lane writes.

Mainly, though, "Let’s Put on a Show!" provides invaluable tips for anyone who wants to put on a show. Lane knows his stuff because he has won Tonys for producing "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "The Will Rogers Follies," "La Cage aux Folles" and, most recently, "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only," in which Johnson recounts his career as a ventriloquist.

"I could have played the dummy," I told Lane, who – I was very encouraged by this – agreed.

Lane was even more encouraging when I said I am such a bad performer – can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t act – that I couldn’t pass an audition for the role of myself.

"This is the biggest challenge of your career," I said. "Can you make me a star?"

Lane responded by telling an old tale about a king who asked his prime minister if he could make the king’s dog talk. The minister said no, so the king had him beheaded. The king then asked his grand wizard if he could make the dog talk. "No," said the wizard, who also was beheaded. Finally, the king asked a rabbi if he could make the dog talk. "Yes," the rabbi replied, "but it will take 10 years." When the rabbi’s wife heard this, she said, "How are you going to make the dog talk?" The rabbi said, "I don’t know. But in 10 years, the king will be dead."

"What’s the moral of the story?" I asked.

"Give me 10 years," Lane promised, "and I’ll make you a star."

In fact, he added, it probably won’t take that long. There are roles, such as Roxie Hart in "Chicago," in which the character is supposed to be a bad performer. "Not that I would ever cast you as Roxie," Lane said, "but in your case, having no talent could be an asset. If you play a character who can’t sing, dance or act, you could pull it off. And you’d get a great review in The New York Times."

Still, Lane added, I’d do better in a one-man show.

"Because nobody would want to be on stage with me?" I wondered.

"No," Lane said. "Because you’re funny and you can talk. You’d have to do it for an hour and a half, eight times a week, which is physically demanding, but you could do it."

Now I have to think of a name for my show. I am leaning toward either "The Jerry Zezima Follies" or "La Cage aux Fool."

Finally, and most important, I have to find someone who believes in me enough to bankroll the show.

"Is your mother still alive?" Lane asked.

"Yes," I answered. "And she won’t walk out because I’ll keep the air-conditioning on."

So it’s all set. I’ll begin rehearsals in the bathroom mirror tomorrow morning. Lane, who may never win another Tony Award after this, might want to break my leg after all.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Locked Out"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In nearly three decades of marriage, my wife has never locked me out of the house. That’s because she needs me on the premises so I can let her in after she locks herself out.

This recently happened, for approximately the 247th time if you are scoring at home, which you can’t do if you are locked out, when Sue shouted to me from the front yard to let her in.

I was upstairs, in the bathroom, wearing only a towel because I had just stepped out of the shower. So I had to go downstairs, dripping wet, and open the front door in full view of the entire neighborhood. I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested.

Because we are empty nesters, there is no one else to let Sue in. That includes the dog, who can’t reach the doorknob. If Sue is outside, banging on the door because she is locked out, the dog just barks, as if to say, "Call Daddy."

That’s exactly what Sue did during another lockout a few weeks ago, except she had to call me from next door because, instead of being in the house, I was at work. "I locked myself out," she whimpered after she had gone outside to give some water to our dog and our daughter’s dog, for whom we were puppy-sitting, and closed the door behind her. I had a choice: I could drive home, which would take about 45 minutes, or I could tell Sue to call a locksmith, who would charge us a figure rivaling the cost of the key to Fort Knox.

I must admit that I had previously needed the services of that very same locksmith when I broke my key off in the lock on the front door. This time, Sue was at work. I couldn’t call her because the phone was in the house and the neighbors weren’t home. So I had to risk breaking my foot in a futile effort to kick the door down. As it turned out, I broke two of my fingernails, which I used to pry the broken key out of the lock. Cost of a new key: $125.

Not wanting to risk bankruptcy, which would get both of us locked out of the house, I drove home to let Sue in. Because of heavy traffic, it took me an hour. I arrived to find that Sue and both dogs were with our next-door neighbors, who had once house-sat for us but, being honest people, had given back the key, which at that moment was locked inside the house.

Unfortunately, Sue isn’t the only family member with a key problem. Last year, before she left the nest and adopted the aforementioned puppy, our younger daughter, Lauren, called me at work to say she had gone outside to get something in her car and had locked herself out.

"How could you remember to bring your cell phone with you but not your house key?" I asked.

"My phone is more important," Lauren answered.

I happened to be busy doing something inconsequential and told Lauren I would leave as soon as I could. About 10 minutes later, Lauren called back to say that I had left the kitchen window open and that she had climbed through it to get back into the house. Sue later confessed that when she had locked herself out a few weeks before, she also got in through a window I had left open.

This came as a great relief because now there’s a chance that when Sue gets locked out, I won’t have to rush home to let her in. But it also was disconcerting because a burglar could get in and take everything we own, including the house key that Sue would undoubtedly have left inside. And if he doesn’t clean us out, he could always come back and, unlike Sue, use the key to let himself in.

Even worse, if I ever lock myself out and have to climb through an open window, our next-door neighbors would probably see the whole thing, mistake me for a burglar and call the cops.
With my luck, the judge would lock me up. And, for good measure, he’d throw away the key.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 1, 2007

"Shark Dive"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

One of the scariest things about the movie "Jaws," the heartwarming tale of a great white shark who loved people so much he just ate them up, was the music. Playing ominously in the background was John Williams’ Oscar-winning score, which went like this: "Dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb, dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb."

That described me recently when I went to Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead, N.Y., for what I feared would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience called a Shark Dive.

Instead of encountering a great white, or even a mediocre white, I came face-to-face with nine sharks that had a combined total of what appeared to be several million teeth, each of which could sever a major artery, such as Interstate 95 or the Long Island Expressway. Six were sand tiger sharks, the largest of which measured 7 feet long, weighed 300 pounds and was named Bertha, and three were nurse sharks, in case Bertha was hungry and I needed medical care. Unfortunately, there were no doctor sharks, but there was a gigantic loggerhead turtle that weighed more than Bertha and was named – this was the really scary part – Jaws.

The Shark Dive took place in the aquarium’s 12-foot-deep, 120,000-gallon tank, which also is home to lots of other creatures, including a stingray and a moray eel, neither of which is mentioned in my life-insurance policy.

Speaking of which, I had to sign several waivers absolving Atlantis Marine World and, though not mentioned specifically by name, Bertha from any blame in case I needed the services of the Davy Jones Funeral Home ("For all of your at-sea burial needs").

I should point out that I was in a metal cage that provided protection against the tank’s most dangerous creature: me. It seems sharks are in more danger from humans than the other way around, probably because the most frightening sharks are called – you guessed it – lawyers.

"We hear a lot of lawyer jokes," said marine biologist Chris Paparo, who with Kate Hanson, the aquarium’s head shark dive educator, told me everything I wanted to know about sharks but was afraid to ask. For example, sharks can smell one drop of blood from a mile away. They also can detect the heartbeat of a potential meal.

"Don’t worry," Hanson assured me, "sand tiger sharks eat only fish and other long, soft-bodied creatures."

"Wait a minute," I said as my heartbeat picked up. "I’m a long, soft-bodied creature."

I thought I was nervous until I met Anthony Esposito, who would be going on the Shark Dive with me. Esposito’s wife, Idina, had given him the dive, which costs $155, for his 39th birthday. She and their children, Anthony Jr., 13, Brendan, 10, and Giulia, 8 months, were there to watch and, because you never know what might happen, kiss him goodbye.

Even though Esposito is a trainer for Brazilian jujitsu welterweight champion Matt Serra, requiring him to spar with Serra in a cage, which to me would be worse than being in a shark cage, he admitted: "I’m scared."

There really was no reason to be. Dive master Ken LaPeters, who would be in the cage with us, made sure we were thoroughly schooled in what to do, from donning our wet suits to putting on our masks, which had microphones so we could talk with each other. The masks also were hooked up to air tanks, which made me breathe a lot easier.

LaPeters’ son, Ken Jr., 10, who said he wants to be like his dad when he grows up, helped me on with my rubber shoes. "Have fun!" he said before the three of us were locked in the cage and lowered into the tank.

Fun was an understatement. For half an hour, I had the most exhilarating and educational experience of my life. I chatted away with LaPeters, who is funny, dedicated and knowledgeable; gave the thumbs-up sign to the visibly less nervous Esposito, who waved as his wife and kids took pictures from outside the glass tank; and said hello to Bertha, who swam by several times, as did the other sharks, but apparently – and fortunately – found me extremely unappetizing.

I now have a greater appreciation for sharks and other undersea life, which is the point of the Shark Dive. And, unlike a lot of people in "Jaws," I lived to tell about it.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima