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