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