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