Friday, January 23, 2009

"Family Guys"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your inauguration. It was a defining moment in American history, but you must realize that as you enter the White House, you will be faced with many challenges, not the least of which is the puppy you promised your two young daughters.

I also am the father of two daughters, Katie and Lauren. They’re all grown up now, but when they were 9 and 7, about the same ages as Malia and Sasha, my wife and I got them a cat named Ramona. In August, Ramona will turn 20. She’ll probably outlive me. Anyway, Ramona was the first in a menagerie that includes three other cats and a dog named Lizzie.

Lizzie is a mutt like us. We got her when Lauren was 12. A woman who lived near Lauren’s friend Holly was looking to give away a 6-week-old puppy and wanted to know if Lauren would take her. Initially I said no because we lived in a condo. Still, the woman told Lauren to take the dog overnight. If we didn’t want her, we could return her. If we did want her, she was ours.

Naturally, I fell in love with the little pup, so we decided to keep her. The next morning, however, the woman called to say that she wanted the dog back. Lauren started to cry, at which point I got on the phone. Words were exchanged, threats were made, a custody battle ensued. Finally, in an effort to be fair, and mature, and reasonable, I told the woman I had veto power.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"If you won’t let us keep the dog," I said firmly, "I am going to call my Uncle Vito."

And that, Mr. President, is how Lizzie became a member of our family. She’ll be 14 in July and she’s the sweetest creature God ever made. By the way, you can use the Uncle Vito line when dealing with Congress.

You must know, of course, that once you have fulfilled your campaign promise to Malia and Sasha, you will have to walk the dog. You may be the president, but you are a father first, and that will be one of your chief duties.

Another important job will be to make sure that Malia and Sasha clean their rooms. This will be a great challenge. I found that out when Katie and Lauren were young. And it doesn’t get any easier as they get older.

When Lauren was home from college one summer, her room was so messy that my wife called it a disaster area. That gave me an idea: I phoned the White House to see if Lauren’s room could officially be declared a disaster area so we’d be eligible for federal funds to clean it up. Your predecessor was in office at the time, but I also felt a kinship with him because he has two daughters about the same ages as Katie and Lauren.

I never spoke with the president, who had his own messes to deal with, but I did speak with Noelia Rodriguez, Mrs. Bush’s press secretary. When I asked if President Bush had ever declared Jenna and Barbara’s rooms disaster areas, she said, "That would be classified information."

Speaking of rooms, you will have to keep yours clean, too. You can’t be like me and leave your dirty underwear all over the floor – unless you want them to be news briefs. After all, it’s the White House, and your wife, Michelle, will want it to look good when she gives tours.

As for the kitchen, you might want to find out what’s in your cabinets after you fill your Cabinet. Wives get miffed when their husbands don’t know where things are.

And don’t worry about unpacking everything. My wife, Sue, and I have been in our house for almost 11 years and I still haven’t unpacked some of the boxes in the garage. The longest you’ll be in the White House is eight years, so if Michelle gives you grief about this, tell her to call Sue so they can commiserate.

Can we guys do better when it comes to domestic policy? To borrow a familiar phrase: Yes, we can.

Well, Mr. President, from one family man to another, that’s all the advice I have for you. Good luck settling into your new home, give my best to your family and don’t forget to walk the dog.

Jerry Zezima

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, January 9, 2009

"Withering Heights"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

One of the things I discovered when I bought my house is that being a homeowner is the height of folly. This was frighteningly evident the first time I went up on the roof to clean the gutters and discovered that I am petrified of heights.

It doesn’t help that I live in the Mount Everest of houses. To the untrained eye (I have two, so the house seems twice as high), it’s a two-story Colonial, but for me that’s high enough. All it took was one climb to realize I was over my head.

That’s why I recently called in a specialist to help me get over my acrophobia, a Greek word meaning "Don’t look down!" His name is Rob Disalvo. He’s not a shrink (imagine bringing a couch up there) but a roofer I had hired to fix a leak around the skylight above the family room.

Originally, my wife wanted me to go up on the roof to see if I could solve the problem. Even though the skylight is above the first-floor addition, only about 10 feet off the ground, I hate being up there. I am afraid I will slip, fly off the roof, do a triple somersault that would win me a gold medal in the Olympics and land on my head, in which case I wouldn’t get hurt. But it would be pretty embarrassing.

So you can imagine how I felt when I had to go up on the roof above the second floor, where I could practically see passengers with window seats on passing airplanes. Instead of getting used to being up there, I was more frightened every year, until I finally got smart (or, at least, less stupid) and bought gutter guards.

When my pathetic efforts to fix the skylight failed, I called Disalvo, who owns RGI Construction in Miller Place, N.Y. He came with his ace assistants, Brian Lavoie and Brian Hurst.

"We’re going to cure you of your fear of heights," Disalvo promised.

"Or die trying," Lavoie added.

"Who’s your next of kin?" Hurst asked.

"Very funny," I muttered as I slowly climbed a ladder that Lavoie held. When I got up to the low part of the roof, Disalvo explained what had to be done to the skylight. Then he said, "It’s not so bad up here, is it?"

"I guess not," I replied with a weak smile.

"Good," he said. "Now we’re going up to the highest part of the house."

This entailed climbing up to another low roof above the kitchen and the garage and, from there, making the last climb to the summit. It took me approximately as long as it would take a kindergartner to read "War and Peace."

When I was finally up there, I swore I could see the Great Wall of China, though it may just have been the fence surrounding my yard.

"We’re only 24 feet off the ground," said Disalvo, who had taken measurements.

"That’s 23 feet higher than I would like," I responded nervously.

To allay my fears, Disalvo and the two Brians told me stories of rooftop adventures, including the one about a co-worker who fell through a roof and climbed back up before anyone had noticed. Disalvo, 38, said he once walked off the back of a roof. "Accidentally," he noted. Hurst, 32, and Lavoie, 23, have had minor mishaps, too, but they haven’t been hurt because they’re careful and they use safety equipment.

"I actually like heights," said Lavoie. "There’s nobody to bother you up here."

"Except Rob," Hurst pointed out.

"See what I have to put up with?" Disalvo said.

It was great putting up with all three of them, not just because they did a good job on the skylight, but because they really did lessen my fear of heights, mainly by helping me climb down.

Now that I am back on terra firma – and the firmer the terra, the better – I can honestly say that it was one of the high points of my life. And if my wife ever wants me to go back up there, she can call the roofers.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima