Friday, December 26, 2008

"Crime Is Not On Their Side"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In the criminal justice system, there are two separate but equally important groups: the attorneys, who prosecute or defend people accused of crimes, and the crooks themselves, some of whom are really stupid. These are their stories.

I got them from Michael D. O’Donohoe, commissioner of jurors in Suffolk County, N.Y., where I live. I met O’Donohoe in his office a few weeks ago to find out why I wasn’t selected to be on a case after receiving a summons for jury duty. After regaling me with funny juror stories, O’Donohoe said that if I wanted to make another appointment, he would tell me about some of the dimwits who have gone to court in Suffolk County.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I recently went back to see O’Donohoe for a follow-up. All of his stories are true. The names have not been used to protect the guilty.

"My favorite story involved a guy who was on trial for attempted murder," O’Donohoe told me. "The detective on the case was called to the stand and the prosecutor asked him what happened. The detective said the victim appeared to have been shot three times. The defendant, who had pleaded not guilty, turned to his attorney and, in a loud voice, said, ‘He’s lying. I only shot the guy twice.’ The attorney said, ‘Will you shut up!’ But it was too late. His client was convicted."

What did the defendant in, aside from blatant stupidity, O’Donohoe said, was that he actually did shoot the victim twice, but because of an exit wound, there were three bullet holes.

"I think the defendant had a hole in his head," O’Donohoe said.

So, apparently, did the guy who stole a car so he wouldn’t be late for court on a charge of grand auto theft.

"He pulled into the courthouse parking lot with a stolen vehicle," O’Donohoe recalled. "A check was run on the plates and it showed that the car had been reported stolen. Now this guy had stolen the car a couple of days earlier. If he had stolen it a couple of hours before he was due in court, it wouldn’t have shown up on the report yet. So when he went in front of the judge on a charge of grand auto theft, for another car he had stolen, the judge asked him why he had stolen this one. The guy said, ‘I didn’t want to be late for court.’ He was taken away in handcuffs." O’Donohoe chuckled and added, "You can’t make this stuff up."

Another strange but true case involved a thief who ought to consider another line of work.

"This guy was charged with petty larceny," O’Donohoe said. "The assistant district attorney saw the police report and asked him why he stole the merchandise. Instead of saying he was needy or it was for his family or something like that, the guy said, ‘I always steal things because I never get caught.’ He wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer."

Neither was the idiot who tried to pay his bail with the money he had used to bail himself out a couple of days earlier.

"I was down in arraignments when this guy was brought before a judge," O’Donohoe remembered. "He didn’t have an attorney, so he was assigned one. The guy was charged with disorderly conduct, I think, and his attorney pleaded not guilty for him. The judge set bail at $250. Then the guy turned to his attorney and whispered something. The attorney told the judge that his client had already paid the $250. The judge said it was impossible since he had just set bail a moment ago. The attorney said his client wanted to know if he could use the $250 he paid for his bail two days before on another charge. The judge said, ‘No, you can’t use old bail money,’ and then doubled the guy’s bail to $500, which of course he couldn’t pay, so he went to jail."

O’Donohoe said that while criminal stupidity certainly isn’t limited to Suffolk County, he has enough crazy stories for a TV show.

"If the producers of ‘Law & Order’ want some funny storylines," O’Donohoe said, "they ought to come here."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Christmas Letter 2008"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; and Katie’s husband, Dave, the son-in-lawiarch. Happy reading!

Dear friend(s):

It sure has been an exciting 2008 for the Zezimas! The highlight of the year was Jerry and Sue’s 30th wedding anniversary, which the happy couple celebrated with a trip to Barbados, their first vacation alone, to a place with postcards and palm trees, since their honeymoon in Hawaii. Jerry almost ensured that there wouldn’t be a 31st anniversary when he took a surfing lesson. Instead of "hanging 10," he couldn’t even hang one. In fact, he almost hanged himself on the tether that connected his foot to the surfboard, which caught a wave on its own and hit him in the head. Naturally, Jerry wasn’t hurt, but he was washed up.

Still, it was a memorable week that would have been even more memorable if it weren’t for all those tropical drinks. A candlelight dinner on the beach, only a few yards from Jerry’s surfing misadventure, brought the trip to a romantic (and, in Jerry’s case, gluttonous) conclusion.

Speaking of anniversaries, Jerry and Sue marked 10 years in their dream house, which gave Jerry nightmares when he tried to power wash it. Unfortunately, the rented power washer didn’t work, so Jerry had to return the stupid contraption, go back home, get a scrub brush and do the two-story Colonial by hand. It took three days. When he had finally finished, Jerry was cleaner than the house.

At least a tree didn’t fall on it, which is what happened to the house next door when a large oak in Jerry and Sue’s yard collapsed and landed on their neighbors’ garage. Nobody was hurt, thank God, who was to blame for the incident. But since God can’t be sued, insurance covered the damage.

Because Jerry took a vow of poverty when he went into journalism, the money got him thinking about a different career path, so he tried his hand at other jobs, including modeling. Yes, he was the model at a women’s jewelry show that was hosted by his sister Susan. The ladies who lunch loved Jerry, who is out to lunch, which may explain why he also was an apprentice dog groomer. He took the family pooch, Lizzie, for a day of beauty and ended up watching the fur fly when he assisted in giving her the royal treatment.

Speaking of Lizzie, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (or, in sports terms, ACL) when she jumped out of the car at Jerry’s parents’ house right after Labor Day. At first the vet thought Lizzie would need surgery, but she has recovered nicely and is back in playing shape, which is more than can be said for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who tore his ACL around the same time and is out for the season. Wimp.

Jerry also was a barista for a day at the Starbucks store Lauren used to manage. Although Jerry’s coffee wasn’t bad enough to run the company into the grounds, Lauren subsequently got a new job with Apple. She also got a new car. Jerry, of course, got roped into being the co-signer.

Getting back to dogs and injuries, Lauren tore the tendons in her foot when her dog, Maggie, pulled her down the stairs outside her apartment. The mishap put Lauren on crutches and prevented her from attending the wedding of a family friend on Cape Cod. Lauren now thinks Maggie should go to obedience school.

Katie and Dave celebrated their second anniversary by going out to dinner. Over the summer, Katie’s bike was stolen by some idiot who left behind her helmet, probably because it wouldn’t do much good anyhow. In September, Katie ran in a 210-mile relay race, after which she knew the thrill of victory and the agony of the feet. Dave, being a good husband, provided moral support and, more important, beer.

Last but certainly least, Jerry got braces. You really can’t see them, so he won’t be the star of a TV show called "Ugly Jerry," but with the way things are going, the story of the Zezima family will end up being a sitcom.

Well, that’s the news from here. We hope your family has also been blessed with unusual events and is in better shape than we are.

Merry Christmas with love and confusion from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Amazing Braces"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have fallen arches. This would be bad enough if they were in my feet, or even worse, if they fell while I was eating at McDonald’s. But these arches are in my mouth, which is often stuffed with either Chicken McNuggets or one of my feet.

Actually, my maxillary arch is the site of a dental dilemma. So, in an effort to defeat this archenemy, I recently got braces.

My oral adventure began when I went to the Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Dental Care Center to see Dr. Ben Murray, an orthodontic resident who told me that while most of his patients are kids, some of them, like me, are baby boomers whose teeth have begun to wander. In this way, they are not discernibly different than my mind, except my teeth can be fixed.

Of my 28 pearly whites, 26 are straight. The other two, one on the top and the other on the bottom, are as crooked as some of the bigwigs on Wall Street. Unfortunately, my teeth don’t qualify for federal bailout money.

Murray, a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the father of a baby boy who doesn’t have teeth yet, told me I could get "invisible braces," which would not, I regret to inform family and friends, make my head disappear. But I know they work because Murray himself wears them and I couldn’t tell. Then again, my eyes are in even worse shape than my teeth.

First, though, Murray and the Stony Brook staff had to review my case. Then I had to see Dr. Eugene Oh, an ace periodontist who gave me a series of "deep cleanings" that entailed freezing my face so I couldn’t talk for most of the day. The aforementioned family and friends were very grateful.

Three weeks ago, I made an appointment with Janet Argentieri, an extremely nice orthodontic coordinator. "You’ll see Dr. Murray next Wednesday at 10 a.m.," she said with a bright smile.

At the scheduled time, I was sitting in a reclining chair as Murray and certified orthodontic assistant Celeste DeGeorge peered into my big mouth, which resembles a cave but without the bats. All my bats are in the belfry.

I decided to get braces with ceramic brackets instead of the conventional metal ones, not just because they are more aesthetic, but because they match the cookware at home.

But these weren’t the invisible braces I thought I was getting. Those, Murray said, would be applied in a year or so, after these braces do their job, which is to push back the tightly packed teeth in the upper right side of my mouth so there will be room for my lateral incisor to be rotated to its original position. The invisible braces will then be applied to both my top and bottom teeth. A year after that, Murray promised, I’ll have the smile of a Hollywood star. I assume he wasn’t referring to Freddy Krueger.

"For now," Murray said, "we’re working on the right buccal segment of the maxillary arch to distalize that area and correct the Class 2 malocclusion."

"You took the words right out of my mouth," I replied.

What Murray put into my mouth was a track resembling a stretch of the Long Island Rail Road. It was a construction project that, I was relieved to find out, would not involve either jackhammers or dynamite.

"But we will have to use a blowtorch," Murray announced, adding that the flame would be applied to a wire not already in my mouth.

"You have very shiny teeth!" DeGeorge exclaimed. "What do you use on them?"

"Turtle Wax," I told her.

The procedure lasted less than an hour. It didn’t hurt at all, even without Novocaine, and the braces, which begin on my second molar, are mostly hidden by my cheek. This means I won’t be the star of a TV show called "Ugly Jerry."

I can’t chew gum (especially while walking) and I have to avoid such hard or sticky foods as peanut brittle, caramel and pizza crust. But I can still eat Chicken McNuggets to my heart’s content. And I don’t have to worry about fallen arches.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 14, 2008

"The Eyes Have It"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have always viewed myself as a farsighted person, a visionary who, like a great leader, could clearly see the world around me. After a visit to the eye doctor, however, I know I’m a nearsighted person, a double-visionary who, like Mr. Magoo, can’t see much past my nose.

Fortunately, my nose isn’t my most delicate feature, so I’m not totally blind to the world around me.

That’s how Dr. Howard Weinberg saw me when I went to see him.

I recently walked into Eyecare Unlimited in Coram, N.Y., humming Jackson Browne’s "Doctor, My Eyes" because I hadn’t gone to an eye doctor since the Clinton administration, which is what I put on the paperwork I had to fill out.

Weinberg, an optometrist who also is an optimist, looked at the form through a pair of stylish glasses and asked, "Why did you wait so long to get your eyes examined? A change of administrations?"

"It’s going on two administrations," I pointed out. I also thought I heard him humming "Jeepers Creepers, Where’d You Get Those Peepers?"

It must have been what he was thinking when he peered into my orbs through a machine that looked, at least to the untrained eye, like a small version of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Then Weinberg asked me to look at the chart on the wall.

"What wall?" I said.

He ignored the remark and told me to read the first three lines. They were:


"Very good," he said. "Now read the next three."

They weren’t so easy. Here’s what I thought I saw:


"You’re myopic and you have a touch of astigmatism," Weinberg said. "Do you wear glasses?"

"Yes, but only for driving," I said, handing him the pair I got a decade and a half ago. "They’re bent, so they make my head look lopsided," I added.

"Maybe it’s not the glasses," Weinberg replied with a smile. Then he explained that with my prescription, a 9-by-9 room will appear to be 9-by-12.

"You mean my house is bigger than I thought?" I asked.

Weinberg nodded. "Good news in a bad market," he said. "Maybe I should go into real estate."

Then he gave me a glaucoma test, which entailed using drops that dilated my pupils. While waiting for the solution to take effect, I thought of the Three Stooges and how Moe would poke his fingers into the eyes of Larry, Curly and, depending on the episode, Shemp.

"If they were my patients," Weinberg said, "I’d make a fortune."

Keeping with the musical theme, Crystal Gayle’s "Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" started playing in my head, except the drops made them red, which is their primary color.

"You don’t have glaucoma," Weinberg said, adding that I have 20/40 vision. "That’s not bad," he said. "You can keep the same prescription, but you might want to get more stylish glasses."

Weinberg’s wife, Jill, the smartly bespectacled office manager, helped fit me for a new pair. "I’d go with a more rectangular look," she suggested. "You have nice eyes. They’re very large."

"Like Barney Google’s?" I said.

"And you have an oval face," the good doctor noted.

"You mean I’m an egghead?"

The Weinbergs, a terrific couple with excellent senses of humor, chuckled and assured me that I’d look even better with "more modern" glasses. Because I’m a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, I chose a pair that will help keep my secret identity and might even put me on the cover of GQ.

"Now, when you drive," Jill said, "you’ll not only be able to see traffic lights and stop signs, but you’ll look good to other drivers."

As I left the office, I glanced in the mirror and hummed "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 31, 2008

"If I Had a Hammer"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As the Least Handy Man in America, a title I bestowed on myself when my wife and I moved into our house 10 years ago, I have been known to throw a monkey wrench into every home improvement project I have ever undertaken. Unfortunately, a monkey wrench is often the only tool I can find.

Or at least it was until I met Jerry Guirlinger, who not only may be the Most Handy Man in America, but who knows an Allen wrench from a monkey wrench. He also knows that a screwdriver is not necessarily vodka and orange juice but concedes that it can be a valuable tool in a difficult home improvement project.

The only other person I know who is as handy as Guirlinger is another Jerry, my father, the original and by far the best Jerry Zezima.

The only other person I know who is as inept as I am is yet another Jerry, Jerry Howard, better known as Curly of the Three Stooges.

I never knew Curly personally because he died before I was born, but I once met his daughter and granddaughter at a Three Stooges convention. Neither one had a shaved head, but they were very nice and said Curly was, too, so I felt like I knew him.

Anyway, the Stooges wielded tools in a way that was painfully funny, which is why my mother didn’t want me to watch them when I was a kid. I guess she was afraid I would get a hammer from my father’s tool cabinet and hit one of my sisters over the head with it. I would never do that because it would have ruined the hammer.

But at least I knew where the hammer was. That’s because my father was – and, at 91, still is – so organized. Unfortunately, his organizational skills have skipped a generation with me.

That was evident when my father visited recently and saw first hand, in which he has expertly used many a hammer, wrench and screwdriver over the years, just how disorganized I am when it comes to tools, most of which he has given to me. They are tossed, willy-nilly, which would be a good name for me, in several toolboxes in the garage.

"You should know where all your tools are," my father said.

"I do know where all my tools are," I replied. "It’s just that I can never find the one I want."

Enter Guirlinger, who made a house call recently with his handyman invention, Mobile-Shop, a portable organizer than can hold 230 tools and even has a small shelf that serves as a bar where you can make yourself a screwdriver.

"Sometimes you need one," said Guirlinger, who is based in Columbus, Ohio, but had come east on a business trip. He stopped by one morning with his vice president of sales, Angelo Mazzella, who drove down to New York from Milford, N.H.

"The good news," Guirlinger said as he surveyed the chaos in my garage, "is that you’re actually pretty normal. The bad news," he added, "is that you have a lot of chaos."

Mazzella was especially amused by my vintage collection, including a wooden extension ruler that I didn’t know I had and obviously hadn’t used in a long time. "This is pretty old," he noted.

"Well," I said, "there’s no tool like an old tool."

I’m surprised he didn’t hit me over the head with a hammer. Then again, he probably couldn’t find one.

That wouldn’t be the case with Mobile-Shop (more info at because everything would be at my fingertips, which I am lucky to still have considering the way I use saws. In addition to the aforementioned 230 tools, which come with the wheeled contraption and are kept in labeled pockets, there is a first-aid kit.

"That might come in handy for you," Guirlinger said.

I was pretty impressed with Mobile-Shop, which is 40-by-26-by-21 inches and weighs 140 pounds fully stocked, but I couldn’t find a drill to extract $3,167 from my bank account, so I haven’t purchased one yet.

But Guirlinger and Mazzella did give me some valuable tips on how to be handier and more organized with my tools. Will I ever be in the same class as my father? No. Am I now better than Curly? Soitenly! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Law & Disorder"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I’m the very model of the modern model citizen, although I’m not as beautiful a model as Heidi Klum, which explains why I have never been featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Still, I am proud and slightly flummoxed to say that I do not (as yet) have a criminal record. On the advice of my attorney, who is in jail, I can’t say anything else except that I am disappointed I wasn’t chosen to serve on a court case when I was called recently for jury duty.

After I received my summons in the mail, I eagerly called the telephone standby number every day for a week, only to be told by a recorded message that my services weren’t needed. At the end of the week, I was excused and was told I wouldn’t be called for another six years.

I was so crestfallen at this miscarriage of justice that I went to see Michael D. O’Donohoe, commissioner of jurors for Suffolk County, N.Y., where I live, to find out why I wasn’t picked.

"Don’t take it personally," O’Donohoe told me as we sat in his office just off the jury room. "We’re looking for anyone who is reasonable."

"I guess that’s what eliminated me," I reasoned.

Actually, O’Donohoe said, failure to be called for a case isn’t unusual. "It happens," he explained. "At least you wanted to serve. There are some people who will do anything to get out of jury duty."

Like the guy who filled out his juror information form by writing, "I hate everybody." Then he added epithets about various religious and ethnic groups.

"He thought we wouldn’t pick him because he was prejudiced," O’Donohoe said. "He also blackened out his name and figured we would never find him. But he didn’t realize there was a bar code on the form, so we tracked him down and put him back in the system. When he came in, he said, ‘How did you ever find me?’ I told him I had my ways. Then I reported him to the bias crimes unit. He wasn’t anything but a knucklehead. In this job, you have to deal with idiots like that."

Even O’Donohoe’s wife couldn’t get out of jury duty.

"Not that she wanted to," he said. "During questioning for a civil case, an attorney asked if she was any relation to the commissioner of jurors. She said, ‘Yes, I’m married to him.’ The attorney said, ‘You’re his wife and you can’t get out of jury duty?’ My wife said, ‘I’m sleeping with him and I still can’t.’ Then the woman behind her said, ‘I guess my excuse isn’t going to work.’ My wife got picked. So did the other woman."

And if you think being a celebrity can get you off the hook, O’Donohoe said, think again. That’s what actor Alec Baldwin found out after failing to report.

"He didn’t show up for his first court date and he didn’t show up for his next one, either," O’Donohoe recalled. "I said to his attorney, ‘I am going to give him another date and I want him to show up this time,’ but he didn’t show up again. I called his attorney back and said, ‘Let’s not play games.’ Finally, Alec walked in and said, ‘I’m very sorry, Mr. Commissioner.’ He wasn’t selected to be on a jury, but he went through the process."

So did other Hamptons celebrities such as Christie Brinkley, Billy Joel and Alan Alda, whom O’Donohoe called "a gentleman," adding, "He was a really nice guy."

There was, however, one person O’Donohoe did excuse from jury duty: his mother.

"One day a letter came across my desk," O’Donohoe remembered. "It said, ‘My car can make it but I don’t think I can.’ And it was signed ‘Helen O’Donohoe.’ I said to myself, ‘That’s my mother!’ So I called her and said, ‘Why didn’t you call me instead of writing a letter?’ She said, ‘I didn’t want to bother you.’ I get thousands of these letters, but I excused her anyway."

O’Donohoe, 60, a former legislator, has been on the job for 15 years and loves it. "The system really does work," he said, adding that I wouldn’t have to wait six years to be back in the jury pool. "You can volunteer after two years," he suggested.

When I asked what I had to do to get on a case, O’Donohoe smiled and said, "Just make sure you’re not the defendant."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Fast Paul and the Ping-Pong Kid"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Paul Newman had such a delightfully wry and self-deprecating sense of humor that he probably wouldn’t mind if I said I’m glad I’m not the reason he’s dead. But I came close to killing him several years ago, when the legendary actor and popcorn pooh-bah almost choked on a bowl of Zezima’s Zesty Ziti Zinger.

The first ingredient in my recipe for near-disaster was a ping-pong ball, which came into play when someone from the office of Newman’s Own, the Westport, Conn.-based food company that sells salad dressing and gives lots of lettuce to charity, called to ask if I wanted to play Fast Paul in a game of table tennis at the Rainbow Room in New York City.

I immediately accepted the challenge because the game would be played at the awards luncheon for the annual Newman’s Own and Good Housekeeping Recipe Contest and, being a serious journalist, I knew there would be free eats.

The place was filled with more than 100 people, not just contest winners from across the country but celebrities such as Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford and writer A.E. Hotchner, Newman’s Westport neighbor and his partner in the food company. And right in the middle was the ping-pong table, at one end of which stood Newman, paddle in hand. I was at the other end. A woman from Newman’s Own wore a striped shirt and carried a whistle. She was the referee.

I quickly learned one thing about Paul Newman: His propensity for cheating was, I am sorry to say, even greater than mine.

He hit a shot into the net. The ref said, "Point, Mr. Newman."

I hit a forehand smash past the athletic star. "Point, Mr. Newman."

One of his shots was long. "Point, Mr. Newman."

It continued in this fashion until I was utterly defeated.

The crowd roared. Newman shook my hand and said, "Nice game, kid."

At least he fed me.

Being not just a glutton for punishment but a glutton, period, I went back for more the next year. But the luncheon was delayed because there was a fire in the kitchen at the Rainbow Room. By the time it was out, the entertainment portion of the program had to be shelved.

"Is it true that you used some of your hot sauce to start the fire so you could weasel out of playing me in a rematch?" I asked Newman.

He winked one impossibly blue eye and replied, "You might want to say that."

The following year, I created a dish and brought it to the luncheon for Newman to try. The ingredients were garlic, onions, chicken, hot sausage, red and green peppers, salt, black pepper, red pepper and a jar each of Newman’s Own Bombolina and Sockarooni sauces. I also poured in some red wine and vodka and served the whole thing over a bed of pasta.

I fed the concoction, which I dubbed Zezima’s Zesty Ziti Zinger, to my family. Miraculously, nobody had to be hospitalized, so I put some in my wife’s best Corningware dish and brought it to the luncheon.

For some reason or other, Newman never got a chance to try it. To make matters worse, the Corningware dish got misplaced and was never found. To this day, my wife has not forgiven me. But Waldy Malouf, executive chef of the Rainbow Room, sampled my creation and said it was delicious. "You should enter it in next year’s contest," he suggested.

So I did. I filled out the entry form with my recipe and mailed it in. A few weeks later, I got a phone call informing me that I was the runner-up in the pasta sauce division. I, a man who can barely make toast, had finished second in a field of thousands.

I made another batch and fed some to my dog, Lizzie, just to make sure it was OK. Lizzie wolfed it down and wanted more, but I put the remainder in a Tupperware container – no Corningware this time – and brought it to the awards luncheon.

Afterward, I went up to Newman with my plastic bowl of Zezima’s Zesty Ziti Zinger and asked if he wanted to try it. "Sure, kid," he said, grabbing a fork.

As he was shoveling in the first mouthful, I told him I had fed some to my dog and that if it was good enough for her, it would be good enough for him, too.

"Gack!" Newman said in mid-chew. Then his eyes bulged, his face flushed and he gasped for air.

"Oh, God!" I thought. "He’s going to choke to death on my recipe. I’ll forever be known as the man who killed Paul Newman."

Fortunately, he recovered, swallowed the mouthful and asked, "Is your dog still alive?"

"Yes," I assured him.

That was all Newman needed to hear. He scarfed down the rest of the Zinger, saying between bites, "Mmmm! This is – umph, umph, umph – delicious! You could have been a winner, kid."

Thanks to the man with a great appetite for life and a twinkle in those famous eyes, I sure felt like one.

Point, Mr. Newman.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Dirty Driving"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

The good news in the Zezima family is that my younger daughter, Lauren, has a new car that she has somehow managed to keep spotlessly clean since she bought it in July.

The bad news is that the remains of Jimmy Hoffa were not found in her old car, which would have given her enough money so I wouldn’t have had to co-sign a loan for her new car.

To say that Lauren’s old car was messy is like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground. In fact, she could have filled that hole with all the junk that had to be removed from a vehicle that was essentially a garbage dump on wheels.

I must admit that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (I think Lauren did, indeed, find an apple in that mess) because until I got my present car, none of the many automobiles I have had the displeasure of owning could have passed the white glove test, although gloves were definitely needed to avoid contracting some horrible disease.

The worst was a jalopy I dubbed the Hatchback of Notre Dame. Not only was it so messy that it made Lauren’s old car look as sterile as the surgical unit in a hospital, but it took on water every time it rained. No one could ever find the source of the leak, which created a pool on the floor of the front passenger side. It also created tides: When I drove uphill, the water rushed to the back. When I drove downhill, the water rushed to the front.

I finally totaled the stupid thing when the brakes failed at an intersection. It was, of course, a lucky brake for me.

My next two cars, as well as the clunkers I had before the hatchback, also could have been condemned by the board of health except that no inspector in his right mind would have been seen dead in them, probably because that’s the way he would have ended up.

Four years ago, when I turned 50, I got a new car. Suddenly, I turned over a new leaf and, for the first time since I got my driver’s license, cleaned up my act. I gave my old car, which contained old leaves, to my wife, who in turn gave her car to Lauren. It’s the one Lauren was driving – and filling with so much stuff that there was barely enough room in the backseat for her little dog, Maggie – until she got her new car.

A few weeks ago, Lauren decided to go car shopping. She went to a Volkswagen dealership because she had her eye on a Jetta. She had her other eye on my wallet, which contained my driver’s license, which I would need to verify my meager existence so I could co-sign her loan, which Lauren, to her credit (my credit is lousy), is paying.

Anyway, she saw a 2005 model, which was shown to her by an automotive associate named Anthony, who is about my age and, like me, has adult children. He spent a lot of time with Lauren each of the three or four times she visited the dealership; went over all the details with my wife, who accompanied Lauren on one of her visits; let me test-drive the car when I went to see it; and didn’t put any pressure on any of us. In short, Anthony gave used-car salesmen a good name.

But he was no match for Lauren when it came to negotiating the price, which he lowered to what she said she could afford and not a penny more.

So now, at 25, which is half the age I was when I cleaned up my act, Lauren has done the same. Her car has been spanking clean for almost three months. Even the dog is impressed.

The downside is that my wife’s car is messy. And she wants a new one, too.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 5, 2008

"Out on a Limb"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

"I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a ... TIMBER!"

This is how Joyce Kilmer might have begun his most famous poem, "Trees," if he had been alive and in my yard recently. That’s because one of my trees, a lovely oak, fell like a drunken reveler and landed on the house next door.

I was in my own house on a rainy weekday morning when I heard what sounded like an explosion. I looked outside and saw that a massive tree had collapsed, crashed through the fence on the edge of the property and come to rest on the garage of the home owned by Mike and Corrie, a very nice young couple who took this act of nature in stride by saying that their insurance company would cover the damage, which wasn’t small.

First, though, Mike called Peter Fiore, who owns Pete’s Arbor Care Services of Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.

"You have root rot," Fiore told me when he came over with his crew.

"I shampoo regularly," I replied.

"No, I mean the tree," he said, adding that I also had ants.

"Yes, Aunt Jo and Aunt Jenny," I said.

"Carpenter ants," Fiore explained. "They can take down an entire tree."

Actually, they took down half the tree, which had a double trunk. The other half, about 60 feet tall, was still standing. "It’s been compromised, so we’ll have to take it down before it falls down," Fiore said. "And if it does, it will land on your house."

That’s all I needed to hear. I told Fiore and his crew to take down the rest of the tree, cut it up and give all the wood to Mike and Corrie.

"Don’t you want to burn it?" Fiore asked.

"That would really destroy the house," I said. "We don’t have a fireplace."

Later, I told Fiore that I am a Connecticut Yankee by birth and that I had always loved oaks until my wife and I moved into our house, which is surrounded by them. "Now I hate the damn things," I said.

"I love all trees, especially if they have root rot and carpenter ants," said Fiore, 42, who has been in the tree business for 16 years. In that time, he has never fallen out of a tree, although he has occasionally had a falling out with humans, dogs and various other creatures.

Fiore recalled the time he warned a homeowner about the double maple next to her house. "I told her it should be removed because it had root rot and trunk separation," he said. "When I gave her the estimate, she said I was out of my mind and told me to leave. Five days later, half the tree fell. It was leaning against the house and destroyed her chimney. She took me to court, but the judge said she was out of her mind and dismissed the case."

Then there was the time Fiore was doing work for a customer who had a Newfoundland. "The dog was huge," he said. "It was supposed to be behind a gate, but it got loose as I was bending over and bit me in the butt. My crew thought it was the funniest thing they ever saw."

They also thought it was funny when Fiore had to answer the call of nature on another job. He went into the woods wearing only a pair of shorts and climbing spikes when he stepped into a nest of yellow jackets. "I was getting stung and tried to run away with the spikes attached to my legs, which made me look really stupid and clumsy," Fiore remembered. "The guys were hysterical. They said, ‘Hey, look, it’s Forrest Gump!’ It’s not always easy being a tree guy."

Nonetheless, Fiore said he loves his job and that the vast majority of his customers are wonderful, Mike and Corrie among them.

"They’re great people," said Fiore, adding that I was a good customer, too, but that I would be even better if I had him take down another double oak at the far end of the property. Since I don’t want that one to fall, either, I am going to call him for an appointment.

I think that I shall never see a yard as lovely without that tree.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Doggie Dynamo"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

If I ever star in my own sequel to "Father of the Bride," in which I had the title role in 2006 when my older daughter, Katie, got married, I may have to put paramedics on the guest list. That’s because my younger daughter, Lauren, has literally fallen into the bad habit of needing emergency medical care whenever she is invited to a wedding.

And it’s all because of my granddaughter, Maggie.

Lauren is a single mother and Maggie is her baby, a playful little pup of whippet and various other breeds who will be 3 in October. To say Maggie is in the terrible 2s would be barking up the right tree.

This is why she may have to go to obedience school.

The trouble began about a week before Katie and Dave’s wedding. I was sitting in the office, trying to figure out how I was going to pay for everything without having to continue working even after I am dead, when the phone rang. It was Lauren.

"Dad," she moaned, "I think I broke my face."

"Are you all right?" I asked.

"No," Lauren said, sobbing.

"What happened?"

"I was walking Maggie, and she pulled me, and I fell face first into the bricks on the outside of my apartment. I might have a concussion and a broken nose."

It turned out that Lauren, who was the maid of honor, had neither, although she did have bumps and bruises that healed enough to be covered by makeup on the wedding day.

Fast forward to this past May, when my wife, Sue, and I, as well as Katie, Dave and Lauren, were invited to the wedding of Amy and Mel. Amy is the daughter of Jane and Tim, who in 2003 became the first couple in our circle of friends to marry off a child. It was their older son, Marshall, who married Sara, who last year gave birth to Anna, making Jane and Tim the first couple in our circle of friends to be grandparents (of a human, not a dog).

I was the first guy in the group to be father of the bride, the role Tim played in Amy’s wedding. The night before, Sue and I got a call from Lauren.

"Dad," she moaned, "I think I broke my ankle."

"Are you all right?" I asked.

"No," Lauren said, sobbing.

"What happened?"

"I was walking Maggie, and she pulled me, and I fell down the stairs outside my apartment."

To make a long story even longer, Lauren tore the tendons in her right foot and ankle and couldn’t drive to Cape Cod for the wedding. She ended up in a cast and had to use crutches to get around. Her ankle still bothers her.

Maggie is taking the rap for both incidents. She’s really very sweet, in a slobbering sort of way, but she’s also – I say this with great affection because Maggie is, after all, my own fur and blood – insane.

Whenever she visits Nini and Poppie, as she did last weekend, when Sue and I doggie-sat because Lauren went to Boston to see Katie and Dave, she runs around like a madwoman, terrorizes our four cats, chases squirrels and completely dominates our dog, Lizzie, who just became a teenager and is a bit long in the fang.

Maggie doesn’t have a job, but she ought to be on an excavation crew because she’s such a proficient digger that she could have tunneled her way to China for the Olympics.

She also is a miniature cyclone when being walked, which is why Lauren thinks she should enroll Maggie in obedience school.

I don’t know if Maggie will pass with flying colors or, more likely, flunk out, but I do know that when Lauren gets married, the dog’s not invited.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Baby Face Zezima"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Baby face, I’ve got the cutest little baby face.

Those are the lyrics I am singing to myself these days, not just because I smell like a baby, but because I look like one.

That is what I was told when I went to the makeup counter at a department store after finding out that wearing makeup is the latest fashion trend among men.

I had heard about it when I went to that same store with my wife, Sue, to buy cologne.

According to a recent story by The Associated Press, baby powder scent is popular in women’s perfumes. As a man who not only has been called a big baby but is often told to take a powder, I wondered if the same were true for men’s cologne.

"It’s true that baby powder scent is popular with women because they love that new baby smell," said a fragrance specialist named Phyllis. "I imagine men feel the same way."

"I have two daughters who are all grown up, but I can still remember what they smelled like when they were babies," I said. "I don’t think I want to smell like that."

"He never wanted to change their diapers," Sue explained.

Phyllis nodded knowingly and introduced me to Michael, the fragrance manager, who took me to the men’s counter to see if there was anything that would make me smell like a freshly changed infant. After being sprayed with an array of colognes, I picked Touch by Burberry, which is aptly named because it has a touch of baby powder.

"Baby powder is good," Michael said, "but the real trend among men these days is makeup. A lot of guys are buying it. It’s not for me, but if you want to look better, go for it."

That’s what I did a few days later, when I went back to the store, this time without Sue, and headed for the makeup counter, where I met Jenna, a makeup artist, and Keri, a beauty analyst.

"I sell a lot of self-tanners to guys," Keri said. "One application lasts for a week and makes you look bronzed."

"It also covers up acne," Jenna noted.

"My zits cleared up a long time ago," I said. Then I added, "I’m 54."

"Wow, you sure don’t look it," exclaimed Jenna, who is 19.

"You mean I look even older?" I wondered.

"Not at all," said Jenna. "You look very young – you know, for your age."

"You have very healthy-looking skin," said Keri, who is 23. "And no wrinkles."

"Except for these crow’s-feet around my eyes," I remarked. "It looks like a flock of birds landed on my face."

"Those aren’t crow’s-feet," Keri assured me. "They’re smile lines."

I smiled. "I guess I don’t need plastic surgery," I said, "although I ought to cut up my credit cards. That would really be plastic surgery."

Keri and Jenna smiled. They didn’t have crow’s-feet. But they did have a color chart they used as a guide to determine my skin tone.

"On this spectrum," Keri pointed out, "you are in the red and orange range. They’re warm colors, which means you would look good wearing brown, green or gold."

I was wearing blue, but I guess it didn’t matter.

Keri then dipped a buff brush into a small jar of powdery makeup and started applying it to my face. "This helps cover pores and blemishes," she said, "but you really don’t have any. Your face is very clear. And very smooth."

"Like a baby’s?" I asked.

"Yes," said Keri, adding that some guys buy makeup to cover blotches and even use eyeliner. "They want to hide their imperfections," she said.

"It’s probably a clever rouge to attract women," I guessed.

"I think that’s the reason," said Keri, who handed me a mirror.

"I don’t notice any difference," I said.

"You don’t need makeup," said Jenna, who saved me a lot of money because the stuff that Keri applied costs $32.50 per 0.31-ounce jar.

When I got home, I told Sue about my makeup session. "I look like a baby and I smell like a baby," I said.

Sue nodded and replied, "So when are you going to grow up?"

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Move Over, Don Juan"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In my dreams, which occur every night and even during the day while I am at work, I often picture myself as a hot-blooded Latin lover. I have hesitated to admit this publicly because I am afraid not only that Antonio Banderas will sue me, but that my wife will laugh and say, "In your dreams."

Now I know I am a regular Don Juan. That’s because I have been classified as "the universal romantic" in a recent study on Mexican food.

The study, which was conducted by my favorite mad scientist, Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, explored the relationship between Mexican food preference, personality and romantic capability.

According to the methodology, "2,621 literate, English-speaking adults in the U.S. were queried regarding basic demographic as well as Mexican food hedonics." Among the participants, 71 percent were women and 29 percent were men. Seventy-three percent were married.

The food preferences were as follows: tacos, 31 percent; quesadillas, 26 percent; burritos, 22 percent; taco salad, 9 percent; chips and salsa, 8 percent; and nachos, 4 percent.

I may not be in the most popular group, but I am in the best because burritos are my favorite Mexican food and, according to the study, people who prefer burritos are "dramatic, they love being the center of attention. Craving novelty, excitement and stimulation, they are seductive and flirtatious in romance and gregarious, witty and charming in social situations." They also are described as "the universal romantic, compatible with everyone."

"This is great news for your love life," Hirsch said when I called him to discuss the study. "You are such a romantic that your wife will never leave you."

I decided to put our compatibility to the test when I took Sue to a Mexican restaurant called Cinco de Mayo, which means either "sink full of mayonnaise" or "the fifth of May," I am not sure which because in high school and college I took ocho anos de Espanol and I still can’t hold a decent conversation.

The only phrases I know are "Cerveza fria, por favor" ("Cold beer, please") and "Donde es el bano?" ("Where is the bathroom?").

Fortunately, there was no communication problem with our waiter, Marcel Salazar, 40, a handsome charmer who was born in Acapulco, Mexico.

"What can I get for you, mi amigo?" he asked me after Sue and I had studied the menu.

"I’ll have the burrito supreme because I am the universal romantic," I said. Marcel smiled and replied, "I can tell." Then he asked Sue, "What will you have, senora?"

Sue ordered a chicken quesadilla. According to the Mexican food study, people who prefer quesadillas are "dependable and true friends" and "the rock and driving force in the relationship." As for romance, "Quesadilla lovers are most compatible with those who prefer tacos."

When I explained the Mexican food study to Marcel, he smiled at Sue and said, "I like tacos."

I thought, "Uh-oh."

Luckily for me, Marcel, a divorced father of two, has a girlfriend. Besides, he said, "I prefer fajitas," which weren’t in the food study.

I don’t know if he was looking for a big tip or what, but Marcel said he could see why I am the universal romantic. "You are very charming and easygoing and you have a good sense of humor, which women like," he said.

As for Sue, Marcel said, "She is muy bonita – very beautiful." Sue blushed.

"Food preference doesn’t really matter because you two are already compatible," Marcel said. "I can see that you are very happy together, which is muy importante."

"Si," I said.

It turned out to be a very romantic dinner. The food was delicious and the service was fabulous. The margaritas helped, too.

Unfortunately, I was a little short of cash, so Sue paid the bill and left Marcel a nice tip. But I did go outside in the rain to get the car, which I drove to the front of the restaurant so Sue wouldn’t get wet.

When it comes to love, just call me Senor Romance.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Lost and Found"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I believe I can speak for most men when I say that most women not only want us to get lost most of the time, but that most of us actually do, which is why most women become so annoyed at our stubborn refusal to ask for directions that they have to tell us where to go, after which they want us to get lost again.

It’s a never-ending cycle, even though men generally don’t ride cycles because there is no room for their wives. That’s why they drive cars.

But now that we are in the summer vacation season, and it’s too expensive to fly anywhere, and with gas prices so high it’s unlikely anyone wants to drive cross-country, people will be forced to make trips to places that are close to home yet far enough away for the driver to get lost.

And the driver will invariably be a man, who will be sitting behind the wheel with a woman in the passenger seat, pointing to a map that clearly shows he is headed in the wrong direction.

Is this an accurate description of a situation that women have been complaining about since the days of Henry Ford, who of course was a guy, or is it a stereotype that, if you will pardon the expression, drives men mad?

To find out, I called Peter Hans, who not only is president of Resort Maps, a Vermont-based company that helps people stay on the beaten path across the United States and in Great Britain, and will soon do so in Puerto Rico, but who also happens to be a man.

In addition to the masculine connection, Hans has a lot in common with me: He went to Saint Michael’s College in Vermont (he graduated in 1983, I got out in ’75), he has a wife named Sue and he has two daughters. He also has been known to get lost.

"The stereotype is absolutely true and fair," said Hans, who has traveled extensively and lived in Europe for 12 years. "Guys are guilty as charged. I have a good sense of direction, but when I get lost, I don’t like to ask for directions."

Once, right after college, Hans got hopelessly lost – and he wasn’t even driving.

"Some buddies and I were headed from St. Mike’s to Boston, but the guy who was driving got on the wrong highway and we ended up in western Massachusetts," Hans recalled. "Nobody noticed because we were, after all, guys."

Now Hans owns a map company. That’s like a guy who flunked math owning an accounting firm. Still, his business is booming. In fact, on the company’s Web site (, there is this testimonial from a man who was visiting Monterey, Calif.: "That’s great! Oh, I love Monterey! Now I have a great map of Monterey!" – Barack Obama, United States senator.

"Sen. Obama liked our product, although I’m sure he wasn’t driving," Hans said.

"As you know," I pointed out, "if another guy were behind the wheel, he could still get lost."

"True, but I’d like to think a map would help," said Hans, who added that he is not taking sides in the presidential election. "We’d like to sell a map to John McCain, too," he said.

I told Hans the story of the guy whose car collided with mine at an intersection last year because he was lost and his GPS told him to turn left going the wrong way down a one-way street.

"I think GPS stands for Guy Positioning System," I said.

"The technology is good," Hans said, "but sometimes the users aren’t."

Interestingly, Hans’ wife thinks that when it comes to navigation, women are even worse than men.

"Most people think men are bad, but I think it’s the opposite," said Sue Hans. "I’m terrible with directions. In fact, I have to look to Peter for help."

"You’re in big trouble," I noted.

"I could have used him a couple of weeks ago," said Sue, explaining that she and a girlfriend were driving around Montreal, terribly lost, when they stopped to ask directions of a man walking down the street. "He told us to take three rights and we ended up back in the same place," Sue recalled. "We kept going in circles."

"Don’t feel bad," I said. "Remember, it was a guy who gave you the directions."

"That’s right!" Sue chirped. "It was his fault!"

The lesson, according to Peter Hans, is that guys should always ask for directions but should never give them. In lieu of a map, he added, and despite the misadventure in Montreal, it also helps to have a wife named Sue. As my wife likes to say, "You’d be lost without me."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 27, 2008

"Horsing Around"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who is often compared to the back end of a horse – which a reliable source does not endorse because it would force remorse for the horse, of course – I am proud to announce that I have come up with the solution to America’s gas crisis.

I am not suggesting that we stop eating baked beans, although that might help. Instead, I think we should all ditch our fuel-guzzling automobiles and, as the old saying goes, get a horse.

That’s what I did last weekend when I got in my SUV and drove all the way out to Montauk, N.Y., home of Deep Hollow Ranch, which not only is billed as "America’s Oldest Cattle Ranch (est. 1658)," but also is eastern Long Island’s only horse dealership.

"What make and model are you looking for?" asked Rusty Leaver, who runs Deep Hollow Ranch and is the firm’s top salesman.

"Nothing fancy," I said. "Something that gets good mileage and doesn’t cost a lot to run."

Rusty (all salesmen like to be called by their first names) sat me down to crunch numbers.

"Would you like to buy or lease?" he asked.

"What’s the better deal?" I replied.

"Leasing is an option," Rusty said, "but it’s more economical to buy. You can get a good horse – not a 2008 model and not with a full warranty, but something very reliable – for $2,000 to $3,000."

I was almost sold right there because a good car costs 10 times that much. I was even more enthusiastic when Rusty told me that it costs only $150 a month to feed a horse.

"I spend about $80 a week on gas," I said.

"So you’d be cutting your fuel outlay by more than half," Rusty pointed out.

Considering that gas is $4.29 a gallon for regular where I live on Long Island, I could save thousands of dollars a year. I could save even more, Rusty said, if I didn’t board my horse, which costs about $500 a month.

"I have a garage, so the horse could stay in there," I said. "Or it could stay in the back yard. In fact, the horse could cut my grass."

"That way," Rusty said, "you’d save on gas for your power mower."

I could also save on service costs because the annual veterinary bill for a horse is about $500. With tuneups, inspections and other regular maintenance, I spend more than that on my car.

Insurance is another saving. According to Rusty, it costs only $200 a year to insure a horse. Insurance on my car is more than $1,500 annually.

True, it costs about $50 a month (or $600 a year) to shoe a horse, which is more than I pay for tires, but I’d still be way ahead if I made the switch.

As for going to work, a horse is much slower than a car, even though, of course, it has more horsepower. But a commuter can make the ride easier, Rusty said, by getting a carriage. "Here," he added, "is where the Amish are way ahead of us."

Rusty’s sales pitch was great, but I wanted to go out for a test drive, so I went to the showroom to look over the inventory. Rusty’s wife, Diane, whose family has owned Deep Hollow Ranch for six generations (more info at, said I could take Junior for a spin.

Junior, "a pre-owned vehicle with a lot of mileage," according to Diane, is 15 years old, but he is in "excellent condition." Then she added, "And he starts right up."

Junior was everything a middle-age guy could want: a convertible with bucket seating and, with a mere flick of the reins, power steering. Granted, he couldn’t go from 0 to 60 in three seconds, but he offered a smooth, comfortable ride. A driver’s-side hair bag, which makes use of his mane in case of a collision, is standard equipment.

Accompanying me on the test drive was trail guide Kalila Fahey, 14, who was riding Zip, 8, one of about 120 horses at Deep Hollow Ranch. Kalila, who doesn’t have her driver’s license yet, said, "You don’t need a license to ride a horse."

Half an hour later, we were back in the showroom.

"How did you like Junior?" Diane asked.

"I’ll take him," I said.

Now all I have to do is go to the bank for a horse loan.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Home, Sweat Home"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In the 10 years since my wife and I bought our house, which the bank actually owns but kindly allows us to pay for, I have come to realize that home is where the heartburn is.

In fact, I am having chest pains just thinking about all the work I have done around the house over the past decade.

Because Sue and I spent the first 20 years of our marriage in either an apartment or a condominium, I was pathetically ill-equipped to be a homeowner. I had such limited knowledge of tools that I thought a screwdriver was vodka and orange juice. I don’t even want to tell you what I thought a hoe was.

"But now," Sue said the other evening at dinner, as we marked a decade in our dream house, which occasionally gives me nightmares, "you’re getting better, although you still have a lot to learn. Like how to use a power washer."

She was referring, unfortunately, to my latest failed project, which began that morning when I went to a home improvement center to rent a machine that a sales associate named Fred started on the first try.

When I got the thing home, of course, it wouldn’t start, which was all right with me because I would have had to climb a ladder to wash the upper part of the house. We have a Colonial that is high enough to give a mountain goat nosebleeds and I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head.

So I brought the power washer back. Fred easily started it again.

If I am good at anything, Sue said, it’s mowing the lawn. "You do that well," she acknowledged. "It’s one job you have perfected. At least you don’t get frustrated and swear and throw things like you used to."

That’s because it’s hard to throw a lawn mower. But I do like to cut the grass because it gives me an excuse not to go inside to paint.

Every painting project has been a brush with disaster. Since we moved in, I have painted 20 times, which amounts to two projects per year. The worst was when I painted the living room for the second time. I had to pull down three huge ceiling beams that Sue said, after I had painted the room the first time, she didn’t like.

One beam almost came crashing down on my head, which would have shattered it (the beam, not my head). All three left holes that I had to plug up before I painted. Fortunately, Sue is only 5-foot-1, so she thinks the ceiling looks good.

Last year, after I painted our bedroom for the second time, I announced my retirement from painting. "You’re not retired," Sue said the other evening. "You’re just on hiatus."

Great. She probably wants me to paint the downstairs bathroom again. I have already painted it three times.

Speaking of bathrooms, we once had to hire a contractor to gut and refurbish all of them, including the two full baths upstairs. When they were finished, of course, I had to paint them.

Two years ago, when our older daughter was engaged to be married, Sue suggested we have the bridal shower at our house because, she reasoned, "We’ll save money." Then she announced that the kitchen had to be redone. We hired another contractor. We didn’t save money.

To make matters worse, our underground oil tank ruptured a week before the shower. The side yard had to be dug up and an old, rusty, above-ground tank was temporarily placed on the lawn in full sight of the guests. The tank was festooned with balloons and a sign that read: "Congratulations!"

The kitchen was finished the day before the shower. We had it wallpapered, so at least I didn’t have to paint again.

In the last 10 years, I have learned that a house is not a home unless there is something to do. And there always is. In fact, my next project is cleaning out the garage, which is filled with boxes that haven’t been opened since we moved in.

Frankly, I’d rather power wash the house.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Honeymooners"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Every three decades, like clockwork, my wife and I drop whatever we are doing and go on a trip. Call us impulsive, but we hadn’t been away together, just the two of us, to a place with postcards and palm trees, since our honeymoon in Hawaii in 1978. So we celebrated our 30th anniversary with a week in Barbados.

Sue and I decided not to go to Europe because the dollar is even weaker than I am and the only foreign language I speak is Pig Latin. With the help of a travel agent named Lisa, who suggested Barbados because it offers both fun and relaxation, Sue booked us at the Turtle Beach Resort in Christ Church.

Turtle Beach, so named because it is on a beach and has turtles, though not actually in the hotel itself, which would really slow up room service, is an "all-inclusive" resort. This means you pay a very reasonable price (in our case, about $3,500) for all your food, cocktails and hotel-sponsored activities for the week, in addition to your room and airfare. The deal enables you to eat, drink and be merry for what seems like nothing. Ever since we got back, I have had the uneasy feeling that somebody is going to show up at our house and demand more money.

That won’t happen because American currency is worth half of its Barbadian counterpart, so why would anyone want it?

The first thing Sue and I discovered about Barbados is that the residents, called Bajans, pride themselves on two things: Rihanna, the Grammy Award-winning singer, and being the nicest people in the world. They are, in fact, so nice that if you challenge them on this, they will be too nice to argue the point. Except if you challenge them on Rihanna.

The second thing we discovered is that because of the heavy British influence (Barbados is a former British colony and most of the tourists are British), the people drive on the wrong side of the road. They make up for it by politely obeying the rules. This includes going the speed limit and yielding to other drivers at roundabouts, or rotaries, which are so prevalent that the roads must be maintained by the Rotary Club.

That was evident on a shopping excursion to Bridgetown, the capital, which is composed primarily of banks and, to the dismay of visiting husbands, jewelry stores.

The van from the hotel was packed, so I sat next to the driver, Martin Grimes, a 41-year-old family man who is studying to be a minister at Barbados Bible College and has been driving professionally for 20 years.

"I’ll drive," I suggested.

"Where are you from?" Grimes asked.

"I was born and raised in Stamford, Conn.," I said, "but I now live on Long Island, N.Y."

"You’re from New York?" he shrieked. "You people are crazy. You drive on the wrong side of the road. You’ll get us all killed."

During the ride, I found out that, like every Bajan I spoke with, Grimes has relatives in the tri-state area.

"Where do people from Barbados go on vacation?" I inquired.

Grimes said, "New York."

Speaking of getting killed, I nearly ended up in Davy Jones’ locker, which would have ruined his gym clothes, when I took a surfing lesson. This was not the fault of my instructor, Amra McDowall, who has been surfing for half his life. He is 17.

"I usually teach little kids and teenagers, so you are definitely the oldest student I have ever had," Amra said when I told him I am 54. "But I know you can do it."

I got a similar vote of confidence from two of Amra’s other students, Jamie Tarallo, 16, and his brother, Cory, 14, who were vacationing with their parents, Dawn and Nick Tarallo of Bedford, N.Y.

"Take your time and don’t stand up too fast," Cory said.

Jamie added, "And don’t get sand up your nose."

That would have been the least of my problems. I was so bad that I couldn’t even stay on the board while paddling out.

"You’re wearing too much sunscreen. It’s making you slide off," said Amra, who suggested I put on a T-shirt. It didn’t work.

Finally, after I made it out a fair distance, Amra had me turn around and try to catch a wave. I remembered Cory’s advice about not standing up too fast, except I couldn’t stand up at all. The board flipped and hit me on the head. Fortunately, I didn’t break it (the board, that is; my head is too thick to be damaged).

This continued for half an hour, after which I trudged back to the beach.

"Don’t worry," Amra said consolingly. "Sometimes it takes older people a lot of years to learn."

"I don’t have a lot of years left," I said as I thanked him for trying to make a surfer out of me.

I wanted to be the epitome of the surfing mantra "hang 10, dude." Sadly, I couldn’t even hang one. I went from dude to dud. At least I didn’t get sand up my nose.

Since I had water on the brain, I signed up to go snorkeling with sea turtles, even though turtles don’t need snorkels.

Sue and I boarded a catamaran called the Wildcat 1, which was captained by Michael Fedee, 35, who had stocked plenty of rum, the national drink of Barbados, for the dozen guests on board. Fedee and Rico Blackman, 18, the first mate, drank soda.

We anchored in Payne’s Bay and slipped into the warm water, which was so clear you could easily see 15 feet to the bottom. Immediately, we were surrounded by greenback turtles, the largest of which, named George, was 4 feet long and weighed about 400 pounds. He introduced himself by letting me shake his flipper. In Barbados, even the turtles are nice.

The highlight of the week came on the last night, when Sue and I had dinner at our own private table on the beach. It was arranged for our anniversary by Sherrie-Ann Waldron, the hotel’s guest relations officer.

In fact, everyone at Turtle Beach – including Charles, Racquel, Hermanius, Kim, Wayde, Beyanker, Melissa and Petra – was wonderful.

Sue and I had such a good time that we may go back next year instead of waiting another three decades. At this rate, it will take that long for me to learn how to surf.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"To the Rescue"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Being the kind of person who is calm in any emergency, which means I am more likely to faint than spring into action, I always thought I could save a choking victim by performing the Heineken maneuver. This involves clearing the victim’s air passage with beer and then calling 911 so people who actually know what they are doing could be the heroes.

Now that I have taken a CPR class, however, I am trained to save people’s lives without killing them in the process.

Before I took this class, which was offered at work, CPR stood for comically pathetic response, which was pretty much all I could offer to anyone in trouble. Now, I realize, it stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which is easier to perform than pronounce.

The instructor for the eight-person class was John Cannon, a 32-year-old former Air Force medic whose name makes him sound like an action star.

"You were destined to be a hero," I told him.

"Shucks," replied Cannon, who is as modest as he is muscular. His secret identity is as a mild-mannered security guard.

Cannon, who achieved the rank of senior airman E4 in the Air Force, told me about his most memorable emergency response. "Someone slipped doing laundry," he recalled. "She was a young woman, 22 or 23 years old, and she was on the floor. I don’t know if she slipped on soap or what, but the fire department showed up in full gear with a backboard brace and everything. The woman was yelling, ‘I’m fine!’ But she had to be taken out on a stretcher. The laundry got left behind."

"I should pull that on my wife," I told Cannon.

"You do laundry?" he said, clearly impressed. "What a guy!"

"Shucks," I replied modestly.

The class opened with a video of a man who falls off a ladder at work. A colleague rushes to his aid.

"What should the co-worker do before calling 911?" Cannon asked us.

"Call the guy’s lawyer," I suggested.

"Maybe later," Cannon said. "But first he should ask the guy if he’s all right and assess the situation to see if he needs CPR. Then he should call 911."

After showing us how to perform CPR on a dummy, Cannon set up a similar situation for the class, which he split into teams of two. My partner was Peggy Brown, a colleague who played the responder. I, of course, was the dummy.

Following Cannon’s instructions, Peggy rushed up to me and asked, "Are you OK?"

"Help!" I moaned while sprawled on the floor. "I’ve fallen and I can’t get up."

"You’re supposed to be unconscious," Cannon informed me.

"I talk in my sleep," I said.

"He’s delirious, which is nothing out of the ordinary," Peggy remarked. Then she rolled me over and checked my air passage.

"Don’t worry," I whispered, "I brushed my teeth this morning. Or was it yesterday morning?"

Peggy ignored me and, even though she had every reason not to, took action that would have saved my life.

We then switched roles, after which we learned how to dislodge objects that can block air passages. I played the victim. This time I was standing up.

"Are you choking?" Peggy asked.

"Gack, gack, gack!" I responded.

Peggy turned me around and performed the Heimlich maneuver, which made me giggle because I’m ticklish. She also bent me over slightly and used her palm to hit me on the back, which Cannon said is more effective.

We watched more videos, followed our instruction booklets and did more drills. We learned the ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation), CCCs (check, call, care) and AEDs (automated external defibrillators) of CPR.

I even got a perfect score on the written test that Cannon gave us.

At the end of the four-hour class, I was certified in CPR. Now I can save people without risking their lives. It’s a good feeling. And very important, which is why I would recommend emergency training for everyone.

That way, if my life were in danger, you could save me, in which case CPR would stand for crazy person resuscitation. Afterward, I’ll show my appreciation by teaching you the Heineken maneuver.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Putting On Heirs"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I, Jerry Zezima, being of unsound mind and decrepit body, hereby bequeath to my wife, Sue, all of my worldly possessions, including my Three Stooges videos, the six-pack of beer in the refrigerator and all the loose change on the top of my bureau.

That is how I wanted my last will and testament to be worded, with slight variations in case I finished the beer before I died. But because my financial situation had changed in the two decades since I signed my first will and testament, I knew I would need legal advice. So I decided to bite the bullet, which could have made me a habeas corpse, and hire a lawyer.

Sue and I engaged the services of Charlie Brennan, an avuncular gentleman of 75 who has been practicing law for 50 years. "Practice makes perfect, so I’m bound to get it right sooner or later," Charlie said as we sat in his office to discuss my demise (I want a second opinion) and what will happen (probably a big party) after I am gone.

We had the same discussion about Sue, who is convinced that she will go before I do and that I will become a crushing burden to our daughters, Katie and Lauren, even though they would describe me that way now.

"Do you have any concerns about your children?" Charlie asked.

"Yes," I said. "I want them to support me in my old age."

"It’s not going to happen," said Charlie, a widower who has two children and three grandchildren. "My son and daughter are both marvelous, but they would have a tough time pulling the plug. They want me to live to be 107."

"My kids want me to live to be 55," I told Charlie.

"How old are you now?" he inquired.

"Fifty-four," I answered.

Charlie said I should have something known as "per stirpes."

"It sounds like a disease," I said. "And if I had it, Sue would kill me, so I guess I’d need a will anyway."

According to Charlie, "per stirpes" means "to my children" in Latin. "It shows that you won’t forget them," he said.

"How could I?" I replied. "Practically all the money I have ever made has gone to my children."

"And now they’ll get even more," said Charlie, who told us the story of a client with a secret past. "This couple came in to make out their wills and when the subject came to heirs, I asked them about any children from prior marriages," he recalled. "They said there were none. The next day, the wife called me to say she did have another child her husband didn’t know about. That’s not the case here, is it?"

Sue and I assured Charlie that we didn’t have any other children, although we did ask him to put our dog and four cats in our wills, just to make sure our daughters would take good care of them in case any of the pets survived us.

"They’d live better than we would," I said. Sue agreed.

We also discussed living wills and what would happen if I became incoherent. "Can I collect now?" Sue wondered.

And we talked about organ donations. "I can’t play the organ, although I was once the guest triangle player in a symphony orchestra," I said, adding that I planned to leave my brain to science. Sue said it might lead to a cure for stupidity.

When the subject of burial came up, I said, "I’d like an open casket, but I want to be turned around so my feet are showing. That way everyone could remark on how good I looked."

Afterward, as Sue watched me sign my will, my head was filled with the strains of a very worrisome song: "The Merry Widow."

These are tough things to discuss, but they have to be faced, and Sue and I couldn’t have picked a better person for the job than Charlie, who not only gives lawyers a good name, but who loves what he does and doesn’t plan to retire because, he said, in a shameful admission for an attorney, "I don’t play golf."

As Sue and I left, Charlie wished us many more years of life together.

"Thanks," I said. "Where there’s a will, there’s a way."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Love and Marriage"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Now that my wife and I have been married for 30 years, family and friends have suggested that for putting up with me for so long, Sue deserves to be the first living person canonized by the Catholic Church. I, they add, deserve to be shot from a cannon.

What is the secret of our long and happy marriage? The answer, according to researchers at the University of Michigan, is that we get on each other’s nerves.

In a recent study, the researchers found that as a couple ages, a lifetime of closeness rubs up a rash of irritations. Participants in the study, which was presented at the Gerontological Society of America, were asked who in their lives – spouse, children or friends – "gets on my nerves" or "makes too many demands on me." The older the couple, the more likely the answer was "spouse."

But, strangely enough, rubbing each other the wrong way may be the right way to conduct a marriage. One of the reasons that couples quarrel is that they are closer and more comfortable with each other. As we age, the researchers concluded, "it could be that we’re more able to express ourselves to each other."

Sue and I seldom quarrel, not only because I know I will lose but because I am almost always wrong. Even Sue will concede that I am right about this.

Nonetheless, I risked getting on her nerves by conducting my own study on our 30th anniversary.

Being a couple of real swingers, Sue and I celebrated by going out to lunch. Of course, Sue thinks I am perpetually out to lunch, but it was nice to be together without quarreling.

When we got back home, I began my study by asking Sue to list all the things about me that irritate her. I expected her to think it over, perhaps straining to come up with an answer, but she responded immediately.

"You get on my nerves all the time," Sue said. "You are the only person I know who can look busy every day and do nothing."

This rubbed me the wrong way. "That’s a great skill," I replied defensively. "Not everyone could pull it off."

This rubbed Sue the wrong way. "You go upstairs and sit in your office for a while, then you take a shower," she said. "Or you go outside and putz around, then you come back in and take a shower. By then, it’s cocktail time and you’ve done nothing."

"All that putzing and showering can build up a thirst," I said.

Then I asked Sue if I have any good points. This time she didn’t respond immediately. Finally, she said, "When I give you a list of chores, you do them. Only recently did you take the initiative to do the laundry. You do empty the dishwasher and I don’t even have to tell you. And you do vacuum the house. You’re always very proud of yourself and I have to say, ‘Good job, dear,’ and that makes both of us happy."

Sue admitted that I don’t always do nothing and added, "You do have a lot of positives. You are caring and loving and you’re always good for a laugh. And you’re a great father. I love you, dear," said Sue, who asked me what it is about her that rubs me the wrong way.

I could think of only one thing. "You don’t put the cap back on the toothpaste," I said. "Even on those tubes with the attached tops, you never snap them shut. Then you put the tube face down on the vanity, which gets all messed up. It’s really annoying."

"I don’t care about the stupid toothpaste," Sue shot back. "Deal with it."

Another argument lost. But I saved the day by listing all of Sue’s positives, which include being loving, kind, generous, thoughtful and extremely beautiful and sexy. "I love you, too, dear," I said, giving her a kiss. I poured each of us a glass of wine and set the table for a romantic candlelight dinner, even though it was still light out.

Sue had the rest of the chicken salad sandwich she couldn’t finish at lunch and I had some leftover chicken wings that had been in the freezer since the Super Bowl. Afterward, I helped her do the dishes.

That night, just before bed, Sue left the cap off the toothpaste again. I didn’t let it get on my nerves. Now that’s the real secret of a long and happy marriage.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mr. Coffee

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a coffee maker whose coffee maker was constantly sabotaging my morning brew, either by turning itself off before the coffee was made or by leaking all over the counter, I often had grounds for complaint. But because my wife has never had such problems, it was obvious that when it came to making coffee, I didn’t know beans.

That’s why I turned to the ultimate source for help and ended up being a barista for a day at Starbucks.

My lesson in Coffee Making 101 was given by my younger daughter, Lauren, who is the manager of a Starbucks store in Smithtown, N.Y. Lauren is, of course, smart, talented and beautiful, which means she takes after her mother.

Lauren began working at Starbucks at age 17, when she was in high school, and continued with the company through college. Now, at 25, Lauren has gone from being a barista to a shift supervisor to an assistant manager to a store manager. I’m not saying that Starbucks founder and chief executive Howard Schultz has to worry about his job, but when he retires, I know a good replacement.

Anyway, Lauren is a walking encyclopedia of coffee and can make it better than anyone I know. She also, it must be pointed out, sold us the coffee maker that had given me so much trouble.

"It’s not the machine, Dad," Lauren said recently. "It’s you."

So when she suggested that I go to her store for a crash course in coffee making, I jumped at the chance, probably because I’d had too much caffeine.

After I showed up for my late-morning shift, Lauren gave me a green apron, signifying my status as a barista in training. Then she sat me down and, like a parent teaching a child, told me everything I ever wanted to know about coffee but was afraid to ask.

I learned about the four fundamentals of coffee making: water, proportion, freshness and grind. I also learned to use two tablespoons of coffee per six-ounce cup.

Then Lauren opened three bags of coffee – Ipanema Bourbon from Brazil, Kenya from Africa and Komodo Dragon from Asia – and gave me a geography lesson while expounding expertly on the beans that are grown in each region.

She used those beans to make me three small cups of coffee, which she said I was supposed to sniff and then slurp. It was like a wine tasting, except that I didn’t need a designated driver.

Speaking of which, the Brazilian coffee didn’t contain bourbon, but it did have a touch of citrus. The Kenyan brew was slightly earthy with a grapefruit flavor. But my favorite was Komodo Dragon, which was very earthy with an herbal taste.

"That’s the one you’re going to make," said Lauren, adding that I would be using a French press.

"I can’t speak French," I replied.

Lauren, who thinks I talk too much in English, informed me that I have three French presses in the garage at home. Considering the mess in there, I’ll never find them.

Finally, it was time to go behind the counter to see if I could make coffee without either flooding the store or ruining the company.

Following Lauren’s instructions, I put 0.12 pounds of beans into a grinder. Then I poured the coarse grounds into the eight-cup French press, which I filled with 200-degree water. After waiting exactly four minutes, I attached the top, which had a metal mesh filter, and slowly pushed down to trap the grounds.

Next, I poured some of my coffee into a small cup and handed it to Lauren. She sniffed it, then slurped. "Wow, Dad, this is delicious!" she exclaimed. "You did a good job. I’m very impressed."

Then I filled a small cup and gave it to a customer named Nick, who had come in with some of his buddies from work. I told him I was a barista in training and asked what he thought of my coffee.

"It’s really good," Nick said after taking a sip. "Wanna try some?" he asked his pal Dominic, who emphatically refused by saying, "After your lips have been on that cup?"

"Well, I think you made good coffee," Nick told me. "I’m a satisfied customer."

Lauren, who runs a highly successful store and is well-liked and respected by her staff, said I am now certified to make coffee, not only at Starbucks, but also at home.

"What about that stupid machine?" I asked.

Lauren looked at me as if to say that it’s not the machine that’s stupid. She suggested that I simply press the "on" button and wait until the coffee is done. "It’s really not that difficult, Dad," Lauren said.

She was right. The next morning, I made a perfect pot of coffee without swearing at the machine or pushing the button half a dozen times.

"You did it!" my wife said after taking a sip. "You’re now a coffee master."

Too bad I couldn’t keep that green apron.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Back to School"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Even though I partied so much in college that I graduated magna cum lager, I went to class often enough that I still have a dream that is common among people who subconsciously recall the old alma mater. It starts with a beautiful co-ed in a filmy negligee – oops, sorry, wrong dream!

The one I mean begins with me sitting in a lecture hall where I am about to be given a test I didn’t study for. After I wake up in a cold sweat, I wonder what would happen – aside from bankruptcy, considering the cost of tuition these days – if I went back to college.

I found out recently when I enrolled in One Day University, a traveling institution of higher learning that allows people who are thirsty for knowledge, if not beer, to spend a day taking college classes without having to take tests that will come back to haunt them in their dreams.

This presentation of One Day University was given on the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y. When I entered Hillwood Lecture Hall, I was greeted by Steven Schragis, a Tufts University graduate who co-founded One Day University.

"Did you bring your homework?" Schragis asked.

"My dog ate it," I replied.

This did not affect my scholarship – Schragis waived the $219 fee because I am a newspaper columnist and therefore was considered a hardship case – but it did prove that while I have a B.A. in political science, I have a B.S. in life.

I am a 1975 graduate of Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., where I got a great education despite being on the dishonor roll for four years. But because I also am an encyclopedia of useless information (I can proudly say that I am one of the world’s leading authorities on the Three Stooges), I thought it would be beneficial to go back to school so I could learn something that might actually do me some good.

One of my classmates at One Day University was Jayme Wolfson, a friend and co-worker who graduated from C.W. Post in 1979. "I’m having flashbacks!" Jayme said as we took our seats in the third row of the large hall.

Since she was the only student I knew in the class of more than 200, I asked if I could cheat off of her. "Sure," Jayme said. "If you want to flunk."

Fortunately, that wasn’t possible because there were no exams, which meant I was guaranteed to get an A in all four 70-minute classes. "In college," I told Jayme, "I had a 4.0 average, but it was on a scale of 100."

The first class, taught by John Tomasi, a professor of political science at Brown University, was "Capitalism and Wealth Inequality – John Locke and the Birth of the American Dream."

Tomasi gave such a compelling lecture that there was no giggling, no note passing and, most impressive, no spitball shooting. He spoke with authority and wit about Locke, the 17th-century English philosopher who famously wrote, "God gave the world to the industrious, not to the lazy," which explains my sad lot in life.

The second class, taught by Anne Nelson, an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, was "The Untold History of Resistance in Nazi Germany."

It was an eye-opening presentation, which means I did not, as sometimes happened when I was an undergraduate, fall asleep. Nelson’s well-researched stories of bravery and heroism were sad, illuminating and, ultimately, inspiring.

After lunch in the cafeteria, where I resisted the urge to start a food fight, we all went back to the lecture hall for the third class, "Words and Where They Come From," which was taught by Joshua Katz, an associate professor of classics at Princeton University.

This was my favorite lecture because Katz opened with the Latin phrase "In vino veritas." Translation: "In wine there is truth." He also used philology (not, as I thought, the study of guys named Phil) to explain the ancient linguistic derivation of the English phrase "Thank you very much, Bob!"

One Day University director of group sales and "dean of students" Bob Sadin replied by saying, in English, "You’re welcome, Joshua!"

The last class, "The Industrialization of Everything We Eat," was taught by Gabriella Petrick, an assistant professor of food studies at New York University. It was, of course, food for thought. And it was served with relish, a welcome ingredient because one of the main parts of Petrick’s lecture was a learned discourse on iceberg lettuce.

I can now say with great pride that I am a 2008 graduate of One Day University (more info at In fact, I feel so smart that I’d like to be a lecturer. My class will be called "The Three Stooges 101."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 7, 2008

"A Real Gem"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I’m the very model of the modern man. And I proved it recently when I made my debut as a model at a women’s jewelry show.

This sparkling event was hosted by my sister Susan, an independent representative for Silpada Designs Jewelry. She wanted to celebrate the opening of her business with a party where she could showcase her merchandise and where the invited guests – ladies only – could chat, laugh, gossip, try on jewelry, place orders, nibble on snacks, sip coffee and otherwise behave in a sophisticated and civilized manner that did not involve beer and belching, thus distinguishing it from a gathering of guys.

My wife, Sue, couldn’t make it because she was working, so I decided to crash the party, which was held at my parents’ house, and look for something to buy for her.

In exchange for being the only man except my father, who lives there and couldn’t very well be kicked out even though his jewelry consists of cufflinks and tie clasps, I agreed to be the model.

Amy, a Silpada representative who was sponsoring Susan, who was hosting the party even though the hostess was actually my mother (there is never this kind of confusion when guys get together to watch a game), predicted that I would be the life of the party.

That sentiment was echoed by the guests, who included my sister Elizabeth and Susan’s daughter, Whitney, who is 11. The other guests were Linda, Sally, Joanne, Patty and Kathy.

"You will be good for business," Amy told me.

"I’ve been giving Susan the business since we were kids," I replied, "so I’m happy to help."

The first of the many compliments I received was from Amy, who said that my baby-blue-and-white, vertically striped shirt was "very slimming." She didn’t say anything about my jeans and sneakers, but I could tell she was impressed by my sense of style.

Then I tried on my first piece of jewelry, a beautiful garnet lariat. I swept out of the bathroom and sashayed across the rug in the finished basement, turning gracefully so the ladies could get the full effect. When they applauded, I knew my modeling debut was going to be a smash.

"Garnet is my birth stone," I announced, prompting cheers. "It’s better than a kidney stone," I added, prompting groans.

Next Amy gave me a matching garnet bracelet, but it was too small, so she added an extender. She winked and said something about putting me in handcuffs. I blushed. The women giggled. And I thought guys were bad.

To complete the set, Amy gave me a pair of earrings. I don’t have pierced ears, although I do have a hole in my head, so she had to clip them to my earlobes. One earring stayed on but the other kept falling off. "They must be from the van Gogh collection," I said to Amy, who attached the earrings to my collar.

"You look fabulous," Joanne commented.

"Sometimes a boy just likes to feel pretty," I replied.

After taking off the ensemble, I donned a gorgeous turquoise necklace. "It’s you," Linda said. "But you need something to go with it."

"How about a silver chain?" Kathy suggested.

Sally spotted an item that definitely was not part of the collection – a leash my parents keep for my dog, Lizzie, and Elizabeth’s dog, Lucie, both of whom also attended the party. The leash had a silver chain.

"That’s for later," Amy said, nodding toward me and eliciting hoots from the guests.

"Ladies, please!" I protested. "What would my wife think?"

Actually, she thinks I’m wonderful because I bought her the turquoise necklace. My mother got the garnet lariat. The other women looked through the catalog (more info at and made plenty of purchases.

"Thanks to you," Susan told me afterward, "the show was a huge success. You should be a model again."

It looks like I’ll get the chance because my wife has agreed to host a jewelry party. Being a sex symbol is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Sole Searching"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

When it comes to shopping, men usually get off on the wrong foot. So I recently took my wife, Sue, with me when I went shopping for sneakers.

As soon as I stepped into the store, I found myself in a dilemma, which would be a good name for a sneaker brand.

"What do you want to do in your sneakers?" asked Joe Karl, manager of the Athlete’s Foot at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, N.Y.

"Walk," I replied. "Or stroll. Maybe, if I’m feeling frisky, I’ll amble. But I don’t want to run. I can’t run. If I did, I’d drop dead and then my wife would have to pray for the repose of my soles."

Karl explained that there are, indeed, walking shoes, as well as running shoes, not to mention basketball shoes, tennis shoes and cross-trainers, but that if I got running shoes, I wouldn’t necessarily have to run in them. "You can walk in running shoes," he said. "You also can run in walking shoes, but you don’t have to."

It had been several years since I last bought a pair of sneakers, and I had mercifully forgotten about the complexity of such a purchase, so this put my mind, or what little was left of it, at ease.

I felt even better when Karl turned me over to Charles Seales, a bright, young sales associate who took one look at my grungy old leather sneakers, which really ought to be burned except that the fumes would only add to global warming, and suggested a different kind that would help my feet breathe.

"When I take these things off, you might not be able to breathe," I warned Seales.

But first, I had to choose among innumerable brands, including Jordan Retros, the most expensive shoes in the store. "How much do they cost?" I asked.

"Three hundred dollars," Seales said.

I had the same reaction I expected Seales to have when I removed my sneakers: I nearly fainted. "My entire wardrobe isn’t worth that much," I said.

Sue, who buys me all my clothes and was acting as my shopping consultant, agreed. "He really does need help," she told Seales. "That’s why he brought me along."

When I saw that Seales was wearing a pair of clean, white sneakers that were stylish but not too flashy, I asked, "What kind do you have on?"

"New Balance," he replied.

"I’m unbalanced," I said to Seales, who didn’t look surprised. "Maybe I should try on a pair."

After asking my size, he brought out two pairs of New Balance 621s, which he said are walking shoes. I prayed that the 621 didn’t stand for the price.

One pair was size 11 regular, the other was size 11 wide.

"Try a wide one on your right foot and a regular one on your left," Seales suggested.

As I put them on, I mused about my own brand of sneaker. "How about Air Zezima?" I asked Sue.

"How about Air Head?" she responded.

Anyway, the wide sneaker was too wide, but the regular one was just right. I put on both regulars, which were white and navy blue, and looked at my big feet in the mirror.

"Those sneakers are nice," my shopping consultant said. "I think you should get them."

At $59.99, they were a bargain. And because Sue bought them for me as a birthday present, I got the best deal possible.

"Have fun walking," the manager said as we were leaving.

"Thanks," I replied. "Now, when people tell me to take a hike, I can do it in style."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, February 8, 2008

"Hair of the Dog"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Have you ever wondered, while grooming yourself in the bathroom mirror the morning after a hard day’s night, where the expression "hair of the dog" came from?

Neither have I. But I found out anyway one recent morning after an easy day’s night, when I took my hairy dog, Lizzie, for a canine coiffure and ended up being an apprentice groomer.

My day as a doggie beautician was spent at the PETCO store in Selden, N.Y., which has a salon and spa for furry customers in need of makeovers.

This palace of pooch pulchritude, which also caters to cats, is run by grooming manager Kathy Welborne, who started in the business when she was 16 and has 41 years of experience. That makes her 57, although, Welborne noted, "I’m only 8 in dog years."

Lizzie, who is 12, or 84 in human years, still has the intellect and playfulness of a puppy, just like her daddy, who is 54, or almost 8 in dog years, which means I am old enough to know better, but, unlike Lizzie, I don’t.

At least I know how to keep my dog looking shiny and clean because I was Welborne’s right-paw man during her session with Lizzie, which began with a light brushing.

"She has a good coat," Welborne said. "It’s beautiful."

Lizzie, a mixed breed (Lab, border collie, Zezimanian), gave Welborne a kiss and wagged her tail appreciatively.

After meeting Tinkerbell, a 2-year-old cocker-poo who actually smiled as she was being brushed by pet stylist Melissa Garveric, we went into the spa so Lizzie could have a bath. Welborne and grooming assistant Kim Sciacca lifted her plump, 68-pound figure into an elevated tub. My job was to remove Lizzie’s collar and assure her that Welborne wouldn’t get soap in her eyes.

She didn’t, but that didn’t stop Lizzie from getting soap in my eyes when she shook herself off after being lathered with a tearless shampoo and rinsed with a soothing stream of warm water.

"Sorry I don’t have a rubber apron to keep you dry," said Welborne, who wore a waterproof smock.

"That’s OK," I replied. "I’m all wet anyway."

So was Lizzie, who loved every minute of it. The shampoo Welborne used on her had a gingerbread scent, which prompted Sciacca to remark, "She smells like a cookie!"

"I could use some of that shampoo," I said, pointing to my unruly mop.

"What do you use now?" Welborne asked.

"Woolite," I replied.

When I asked who has better hair, me or Lizzie, Welborne said, "You don’t want me to answer that, do you?"

"Yes," I said.

Welborne’s emphatic response: "Lizzie."

Next, she clipped the dog’s nails. "Lizzie’s getting a pet-icure," I remarked.

Welborne sighed. So did Lizzie.

It was my turn to sigh when Welborne regaled me with stories of memorable customers, including the woman who dressed her dog in a wedding gown. "This woman was going to take her dog to a breeder," Welborne recalled, "so after I gave the dog a beauty treatment, the woman put a dress on her so she could meet the groom."

"I guess they exchanged wedding bow-wows," I noted.

Welborne nodded and said, "I don’t even want to think about the honeymoon."

After Sciacca helped Welborne lift Lizzie out of the tub, I held her while Welborne sprayed her with a hair-taming, static-free styling aid and dried her off, first with a towel and then with a low-temperature, hand-held hair dryer. Next, Welborne gave Lizzie a comb-out as I watched the fur fly.

Then Lizzie was placed in a kennel large enough to accommodate me and relaxed while being gently air-dried by three large hoses. I declined the invitation to wait in the kennel next to Lizzie’s and instead went back out front to meet Welborne’s pooch, Sophie, a 3-year-old Shih Tzu who was working as the maitre dog, greeting customers as they came in for appointments.

"She gets paid in treats," said Welborne, who also has two cats and is a member of the Nature and Wildlife Photographers of Long Island.

After 45 minutes, Welborne took Lizzie out and brushed her teeth, then put her back in the kennel to finish drying. About 10 minutes later, she was all done. Welborne gave Lizzie an extra spritz of gingerbread and put a pink and red bow on her collar.

"You’re beautiful, Lizzie!" Welborne exclaimed.

"Woof, woof!" Lizzie replied in gratitude.

Welborne thanked me for being such a good assistant and invited me back.

"How about next week?" I said. "I could use a haircut."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima