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