Friday, May 29, 2009

"Crash Course"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

If my wife and I wanted to have an impact on the people around us, we would teach a crash course in driver’s education. That’s because we have been in three crashes caused by people who had an impact on us.

The first mishap occurred about a year and a half ago, when some idiot cut in front of me at an intersection because his GPS told him to go the wrong way down a one-way street. In this case, GPS must have stood for Guy Positioning System, since the guy obviously was lost and, like most men, wouldn’t stop to ask for directions.

The second mishap occurred a couple of months ago, when a little old lady pulled out of a side street in front of my wife’s car because, as the woman admitted, she wasn’t paying attention. I can only assume her GPS stood for Granny Positioning System.

The third mishap occurred only two weeks later, when an older man rear-ended my wife’s car at a red light, damaging her brand-new bumper, which she got as a result of the previous accident. His GPS apparently stood for Geezer Positioning System.

I don’t know where the drivers are worse, on Long Island, N.Y., where my wife and I live and where all three accidents occurred, or in our hometown of Stamford, Conn., where you take your life in your hands every time you get behind the wheel.

But I do know this: Everyone on the road these days is certifiably insane. Except for my wife and me. And we have the insurance settlements to prove it.

To get a driver’s education in the fine art of vehicular mayhem, I recently went to King O’Rourke Auto Body in Smithtown, N.Y., where my wife and I have had our cars repaired after each accident, and took a real crash course from manager Bobby Lombardi.

"The main problem," Lombardi said, "is that people don’t pay attention when they’re driving. Of course," he added with a smile, "it’s not a problem for me because it’s good for business."

There was one driver in particular who convinced him that auto body repair could be lucrative. The driver’s name: Bobby Lombardi.

"I totaled a cop car when I was 17," he recalled. "I was driving a van for a printing company. There was a misty rain and this lady in a station wagon with kids in the back cut me off. I remember thinking, ‘I can hit this lady or hit the cop car.’ The cop had gotten out of his car to write a ticket, so I said to myself, ‘I’ll hit the cop car.’ I hit it so hard that it slid and hit the car he was writing a ticket for. I jumped out of the van and said, ‘Get that lady’s plate!’ The cop gave me a ticket."

After a few more mishaps, which mainly involved clipping taxis in New York City and putting a notch for each hit on his dashboard, "I decided to get into this business," he said. "I figured, at the very least, I could fix my own vehicles."

Lombardi, 53, who has been in the business for 30 years, is now, by his own account, "an excellent driver." That’s more than he can say for a lot of other people.

"They drive while they’re texting or talking on the phone," Lombardi said. "Some people read the paper. I’ve seen women putting on makeup. It’s ridiculous."

But the biggest causes of accidents, according to Lombardi, are GPS devices.

"They’re worse than anything," he said, adding that he once got into an argument with his GPS. "It could speak different languages. I was looking for a place in Massapequa. The GPS said, ‘Do you want to speak Italian?’ I said, ‘No! I want Massapequa!’ It said, ‘No comprendo.’ I was actually talking with my hands to this thing, like a real Italian. I was yelling at it. Finally, I shut it off, went to a gas station and asked for directions. I know guys aren’t supposed to do that, but I had no other choice."

Lombardi and I, who are both of Italian descent, agreed that his GPS stood for Goomba Positioning System.

Lombardi, who has done wonderful work on our family cars, had this final piece of advice for drivers everywhere: "Pay attention. Don’t drink and drive. And if you see Jerry or his wife coming down the road, get the hell out of the way."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Sole Mates"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Even though I have a feminine side, which I’m usually sitting on, I am proud to say that I’m the very model of the modern middle-age man. In fact, I am so secure in my masculinity that I recently helped get a fundraiser off on the right foot, followed by the left, when I went to a beauty salon for a dueling pedicure with my wife.

The event, which raised money for the Scoliosis Association, was held at Charmed Salon & Spa in Miller Place, N.Y., where I get my hair cut.

While Sue gets pedicures all the time, this was only the second time I had gotten one. The first time was in 2006, when I was father of the bride and wanted my feet to feel good when I walked my older daughter, Katie, down the aisle. It worked: I didn’t fall on my face.

When Sue and I arrived at the catered affair, which featured vendors who were donating their services, salon owner Maria Vieira introduced us to Nicole McConnach, a licensed and very nice pedicurist who didn’t know what she was getting herself into. That was obvious when I showed Nicole my tan, navy and white argyles and said, "I’m not wearing socks. The doctor thinks this rash will clear up in a few days. Still want to give me a pedicure?"

Sue, Maria and Nicole simultaneously rolled their eyes.

Before going in the back to the private pedicure room, Nicole asked what color nail polish I wanted. "Well," I said, "the beach season is coming up and I want to look good when I dig my toes into the sand. I’d also like to impress the fish when I’m in the water. How about red?"

"Clear," suggested Nicole, who said guys shouldn’t wear red, which Sue picked, or even black, which is considered a hot color.

"I guess red would attract sharks," I noted. "And black would make me look like I had some sort of foot disease. Clear it is."

The well-appointed pedicure room contained two plush chairs and all kinds of lotions, towels and equipment – except, curiously, a gas mask, which I figured Nicole would need when I removed my shoes and the aforementioned hosiery.

As Sue and I settled into our respective chairs, rolled up our pant legs and stuck our bare tootsies into small whirlpool tubs that were filled with hot water and mint-scented foot soak, Nicole asked who wanted to go first.

"Me!" chirped my sole mate.

"You can save the worst for last," I told Nicole.

"You have very pretty and delicate feet," Nicole said to Sue, who wears a size 6 shoe.

"Wait until you see Jerry’s," replied Sue, who thinks I have the ugliest feet on earth.

"My shoes ought to come with oars," I said, noting that I’m a size 11. "My feet look like two huge Limburger cheeses with really long toes."

When Nicole finished giving Sue the deluxe treatment, capped with an application of bright red nail polish, she turned her attention to me.

"Your feet aren’t so bad," Nicole said as she examined them. "I’ve seen worse."

After Nicole applied lotion to my toes, she pushed back the cuticles with something that looked like a surgical instrument.

"What do you call that thing?" I asked.

"A cuticle pusher," Nicole answered. "It’s all very simple."

She said that most men don’t understand why women love to pamper themselves by getting pedicures, adding: "Usually, guys pamper themselves by buying more expensive beer."

After applying an exfoliant to my feet and calves, Nicole started buffing and rubbing until I exploded in a paroxysm of giggles that must have made the people out front wonder what the heck was going on.

"You’re ticklish," said Nicole, giggling herself.

The rest of my pedicure was so heavenly that I vowed not to wait until my younger daughter, Lauren, gets married to have another one. After Nicole applied clear polish to my nails, I walked out front wearing the largest flip-flops in the salon to show off my glowingly pink feet.

"They look beautiful," Sue admitted.

For a donation of $10 each, Sue and I helped raise nearly $1,000 for the Scoliosis Association. The fundraiser was so successful that Maria is hoping to have a benefit for breast cancer in October.

"I’ll be there," I promised. "And this time, I’m going to put the ‘man’ in manicure."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Out of Shape and Into Yoga"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a dedicated couch potato who would eat potatoes on the couch if my wife would let me, I firmly believe that exercise can kill you. After decades of being ridiculously sedentary, I still have not only my boyish figure but, on most mornings, a pulse.

Lately, however, I have begun to think that, at 55, I really ought to do more than what is now my main form of physical activity, which is to get up once a night to go to the bathroom.

So I recently took a yoga class.

I signed up for one very important reason: It was free. And, all modesty aside, I figured I was worth every penny.

Also, I received great encouragement from my older daughter, Katie, who is something of a yoga guru. She has been taking classes for the past few years and once participated in a "yoga challenge," which required participants to do yoga every day for a month. I would have been dead on Day Three.

"Are you doing hot yoga or regular yoga?" Katie asked.

"What’s the difference?" I replied.

"About 40 degrees," Katie said, explaining that regular yoga takes place at room temperature, whereas hot yoga is done at 110 degrees. At that rate, I’d have to be in either a sauna or Death Valley, so I was guessing – and hoping – it was the regular kind.

Then Katie said that I had to buy a yoga mat.

"What’s that?" I inquired.

"It’s a mat," Katie said, very patiently, "on which you do yoga."

Who would have guessed? So I forked over $12 for a baby blue mat that perfectly matched the baby blue T-shirt I planned to wear to the class. After all, sometimes a boy just likes to feel pretty, especially when he’s sweating like a stuck pig.

The first thing I noticed about the yoga class, which was held at work, was that there were 20 women and one guy. That guy was, of course, yours truly.

"Is this your first time?" asked Diane, who took a spot behind me.

"Yes," I said bashfully as I unfurled my yoga mat. Then I asked if anyone knew CPR, which I figured I would need, although I was worried that my T-shirt would blend in with my mat and nobody would notice that I had collapsed.

"You’ll do fine," Liz, another participant, said reassuringly.

I hoped I could say the same for the women around me because the instructor, Dawn, suggested that we do the session in bare feet. Fortunately, when I removed my sneakers and socks, nobody keeled over.

Dawn began the class by talking about positions, none of which was third base or, the place where I am always accused of being, left field. Instead, she said we would be doing down dog, plank, cobra and warrior 2. They involved gently stretching, twisting and otherwise contorting our bodies in ways I didn’t know a body could move. I must have looked like a cloverleaf on the interstate highway system.

Dawn instructed us to extend one arm while crossing the opposing leg over our bodies as we lay on our yoga mats. Then we had to get on all fours and extend one leg, then the other. I was so confused that I resorted to cheating by looking at the other participants to see which limb I was supposed to be lifting, extending or stretching at any given moment.

At the end of the 45-minute class, I had a sense of both peace (the soothing music helped) and accomplishment (because I didn’t have to be hospitalized). In fact, I have seldom felt better.

"You did very well," Dawn told me afterward. When I said I hadn’t exercised in years, she said, "You look like you’re in really good shape."

"Looks can be deceiving," I noted, "but this made me feel great. I’m not sore at all."

"That’s because we did hatha yoga," Dawn explained.

"Well," I replied, "hatha yoga is better than none."

Dawn politely ignored the remark and said that hatha is the regular kind of yoga, while Bikram is the hot version.

Either way, I had such an enjoyable experience that I would definitely take another class. Until then, maybe I can be a couch potato on my yoga mat.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima