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