Friday, November 30, 2007

"High Roller"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who is so bad at games of chance that I was once beaten in blackjack by my dog, I never thought I would be a high roller at a casino. That is why I had never been to a casino until I recently visited Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, where I defied the odds, despite being a bit odd myself, by hitting the jackpot on a slot machine and pocketing a grand total of $11.50.

My bonanza was the icing on the cake of my wife, Sue, and my mother, Rosina, whose shared birthday was being celebrated with a trip to the aforementioned gaming emporium. The party included my father, Jerry Sr.; my older daughter, Katie, and her husband, Dave; my younger daughter, Lauren; and my sisters, Elizabeth and Susan, all of whom had been there before but did not, in case the IRS is reading this, come home in a higher tax bracket.

The first thing I noticed about Mohegan Sun was that it is approximately the size of Rhode Island, which it is near and might invade after a planned expansion. The main differences between the two places are that the casino has: (a) a surplus and (b) a roof.

So it was not surprising that I did what a great many people (including some of those I was with) have been telling me to do for years: I got lost. I must have spent half the day wandering aimlessly, calling or receiving cell-phone calls from everyone except my father, who wisely doesn’t have a cell phone. They were all wondering where the hell I was. One time I said: "Rhode Island." It didn’t help.

Shortly after we arrived, I spotted a pleasant-looking, grandmotherly lady sitting at a slot machine. She looked like she knew what she was doing, so I went over and sat down next to her, hoping some of her expertise would translate into beginner’s luck for me.

"I just hit the jackpot for $750!" she announced excitedly before identifying herself as Frances Ruzzi of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Not only was she indeed a pleasant grandmother, but she was celebrating her 86th birthday with her family, including her daughter, Donna Yantorno of Danbury, who noted that her mom is a casino veteran.

"We’re celebrating my wife’s and my mother’s birthday," I said. "Maybe it’s a good omen." Then I asked Frances, as she kindly allowed me to call her, about her secret of gambling success. She smiled and said, "I have no idea."

"Neither do I," I said. "It’s my first time in a casino."

"I bet you’ll win," Frances said. "Good luck."

I got up and, as visions of moneybags danced in my head, promptly got lost.

Eventually I met up with everyone for a late lunch, followed by a round of cocktails to toast the birthday girls. Then it was time to see if I could break the bank.

I accompanied Dave, the best gambler in the family, to a craps table and, as I watched him lose $80, found out how the game got its name. Figuring I would lose my shirt, not to mention my pants, in which I had only $25, I didn’t even bother playing and instead went over to the blackjack tables. Two things prevented me from getting into a game:

1. Most of the tables had a minimum opening wager of $25.

2. My dog, Lizzie, defeated me in a tournament we played at home one night a couple of years ago. It’s too humiliating to explain how she did it, but I will say that it’s a good thing we weren’t playing for money.

So I went over to a roulette wheel with Dave and won the first game before losing the next two. The only thing left to try was a slot machine. I found one next to Catherine Mitchell, a retiree from Warwick, R.I. Like me, she was making her casino debut. "I just lost $200," said the mother of 10 and grandmother of 13. "I’m never coming back."

This did not bode well. Neither did the fact that Sue and Lauren, whom I found at another bank of machines, hadn’t won anything. I put some money in the one-armed bandit and used one arm of my own to pull the lever. Then I pulled it again. And again. By the time I was done, I had won $11.50.

I took my ticket to the redemption window and handed it to a cashier named Dora. "Do you have a wheelbarrow so I can cart away all this money?" I asked. Dora didn’t even smile. She handed me two fives, a one and a couple of quarters. Then she put a sign on the counter that said: "NEXT WINDOW, PLEASE."

I felt like a high roller until Sue pointed out that I had spent $25 to make $11.50, which means I actually lost $13.50. I’d love to go back to the casino, but maybe I should quit while I’m behind.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Bumper Cars"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In the nearly four decades since I got my driver’s license, during which time I’ve compiled an excellent record of driving people crazy, I have learned that men are prohibited by law from asking for directions. That is why navigation systems were invented.

Unfortunately, there are some men for whom this sophisticated technology doesn’t work. I know because I recently ran into one.

At an intersection.

In my car.

I took this crash course in masculine geography when I crashed into a car that cut in front of me. As I was cruising through a green light, traveling well under the speed limit, the driver of the other car suddenly turned left because, as he explained later, his GPS told him to.

His GPS must have stood for Guy Positioning System, designed to help guys who don’t know where the hell they are going, but like most guys it had a poor sense of direction. I say so because it told the other driver, whom I will call "John" because that is his real name, to go the wrong way down a one-way street.

In that one terrible instant, my life flashed before my eyes. I am sorry to admit that it was pretty dull. Then, BAM! It was like playing bumper cars at an amusement park except that it wasn’t so amusing because my car was parked in the left lane with me inside, an airbag spewing acrid smoke directly into my nostrils after deploying against my head.

Later on, after family, friends and co-workers had been told of this little mishap, my two sisters showed great sympathy for my plight with words of comfort. "I always wondered what would happen if an airbag deployed against an airhead," Susan said. To which Elizabeth added, "You mean an airbag against a windbag."

Obviously nothing happened because I was able to walk away without a scratch. I wish I could say the same for my car, the right front side of which looked even worse than I did the morning after my older daughter’s wedding last year.

Amid the mayhem of honking horns and rubbernecking motorists, I looked around for the other car and found it across the street, sitting in front of a truck at the corner. The impact had spun the car around so it was, unlike its original direction, facing the right way.

"I’m sorry," John blurted after he rolled down the window. "It’s all my fault."

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "Are you?"

"Yes," I replied.

"I don’t know what happened," John moaned. "I was looking at my GPS and it told me to turn left."

I helpfully pointed out to John that if he had been looking at the road instead of his GPS, he would have seen two things: (a) an arrow indicating he was going the wrong way and (b) me.

The crash occurred at 11:05 a.m. I am supposed to be to work by 11, but I was born more than three weeks past my due date and haven’t been on time for anything since. This all happened about half a mile from my office in Melville, N.Y., which also is home to the Long Island National Cemetery. This means Melville is not a one-hearse town, as I found out when I got back in my car and attempted to pull out of the left lane and onto the right shoulder. I couldn’t do so right away because there was a line of cars coming through. It was, incredibly, a funeral procession.

The guy driving the lead car, with the deceased in the back, rolled down his window and said, "Can I do anything for you?"

"Not today," I responded. "You’ll have to wait before you get any business from me."

He smiled, rolled up the window and drove through. What he didn’t know was that I was the late Jerry Zezima even before the accident.

When I went back to John’s car, I noticed it had Connecticut plates. I asked him where he was from. "North Haven," he replied.

"Howdy, neighbor!" I said. "I’m originally from Stamford."

"Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances," said John, who told me that even though he lives in Connecticut, he works for a company that is headquartered in Canada but that his car is registered to another company in New Jersey.

"No wonder you need a GPS," I said.

Pretty soon a cop showed up and took statements from me and John, who admitted he was at fault and said his insurance company would take care of everything. But I still had to call mine to report the accident. Thank God my wife, Sue, came to help me take care of everything.

Here’s a tip for anyone with a driver’s license: Never get into an accident because it is a pain, both figuratively and literally, in a lower portion of the anatomy. Even though my insurance company has been very good, I was at the accident scene for more than two hours, about half of which was spent on the phone talking with various claims people, not to mention the tow truck operator, who took my car to a garage where it is scheduled to undergo open-hood surgery. It has been estimated that there is a lot of damage but not enough to declare the vehicle totaled. Just my luck.

Speaking of a lower portion of the anatomy, mine was sore as a result of the accident, so that evening I went to the hospital as a precaution and had X-rays taken. Fortunately, I remembered my mother’s words of wisdom, "Always wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident," and was wearing a pair of freshly laundered "I (Heart) Dad" boxer shorts. The X-rays, by the way, were negative.

Now that I have been in an accident and lived to tell about it, I have my own words of wisdom for all you guys out there: Never trust a GPS. If you don’t know where you are going, break the law once in a while and ask for directions. Or, if at all possible, move over and let your wife drive.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 2, 2007

"A Healthy Outlook"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

There is good news and bad news on the medical front. The good news (for me) is that I probably will live to be 100. The bad news (for my family and friends) is that I probably will live to be 100.

I came to this healthy conclusion recently while attending an event at work called a "wellness fair," where I was diagnosed as being (at least from the neck down) well.

I was not surprised because my father, the original and by far the best Jerry Zezima, recently turned 90 and is still going strong. His only concessions to age are that he doesn’t drive anymore and he has stopped climbing ladders. That’s because he fell off of one earlier this year. He escaped with barely a scratch, much to the relief of my mother, Rosina, aka Foxy Roxy, who is almost 83 and is still going strong herself. In fact, they’re both sharper than I am, which admittedly isn’t saying much but is nonetheless impressive.

So I have genetics on my side. This has given me a great excuse – as if I needed one – to be lazy.

Three years ago, when I turned 50, I went for a checkup with Dr. Leonard Vinnick, a physician with a practice in Stamford. "You’re in great shape," he said. "What do you do for exercise?"

"I get up once a night to go to the bathroom," I answered.

Vinnick remembered this when I went back recently for my annual physical, which I again passed with the proverbial flying colors. "Still on the same exercise program?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "I’m as active as a sedentary person could be."

My philosophy: Why start exercising now? It would only be a shock to my system and I’d drop dead. I figure I’m saving my own life by not doing anything. Besides, I drink red wine, which is essentially over-the-counter heart medicine. If my liver holds out, I’ll be fine.

Speaking of hearts, which are worth more than diamonds, except to my wife, Sue, who doesn’t play cards, I recently read about a study in which British scientists found that a bad marriage can damage your heart. Speaking of Sue, I am in a great marriage, which so far has lasted almost 30 years and, at this rate, will continue for at least another 40. This may not, unfortunately, be good for Sue’s heart.

Anyway, I had all of this going for me when I went to the wellness fair. First, I got a massage from Alan End, a massage therapist from Plainview, N.Y. "I’m not a dead end," said End, who added that he has heard all the jokes about his last name but that, "in the end, they don’t bother me."

"I guess they don’t rub you the wrong way," I said.

"I’ve heard all the massage jokes, too," End said as he helped me into a special chair in which I sat backward with my head in a circular opening so I was facing the floor. Then he went to work, deftly using his fingers, palms and elbows to invigorate the seldom-utilized muscles in my shoulders, ribs and back.

"You’re nice and loose," End said. "You have no stress."

"That’s because everything rolls off my back," I told him.

"I haven’t heard that one before," he noted, adding that I was in fantastic shape. "Keep doing what you’re doing," End said.

"I don’t do anything," I replied.

"Keep doing it," he suggested.

Next I got a posture and spinal exam from Dr. Michael Berlin, a holistic chiropractor and wellness coach who also is based in Plainview. After filling out a stress survey in which I indicated that I have no stress, I sat down with Berlin, who asked me to turn my head as far as I could both ways. I felt like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." He detected a little crick ("I’m a pain my own neck," I told him) but otherwise said I was in fine form.

So did Esther Morrissey, a health care enrollment specialist who examined me with a fat-loss monitor and said that my body mass was perfect. "That’s because most of the fat is in my head," I said.

All in all, the wellness fair went well.

Afterward, I said to Sue, "It looks like you’re stuck with me for another 40 years." She started having heart palpitations. I don’t know if it was love or stress. Maybe I should give her some of my red wine.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima