Friday, December 25, 2009

"The Big Dig"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who has been perpetrating snow jobs all his life, which is 55 years and counting, I can safely say that the recent blizzard dumped more of the white stuff on my driveway on Long Island, N.Y., than anywhere else on the East Coast.

I know because I got two feet, which I used to trudge out to the driveway to shovel the two feet of snow that buried my car, my wife’s car and, very nearly, me.

At first I tried to use the Little Snow Blower That Couldn’t, which gasped when it saw the winter wonderland and said, "I think I can’t, I think I can’t." Then it coughed, wheezed and breathed its last. I was going to bury it in a snowdrift, in a solemn service with the words "died of fright" etched into the frosty tomb, but I feared that prolonged exposure to the elements would kill me, too.

Ordinarily, when it comes to snow removal, I am a wuss, which stands for "wait until spring starts." But I figured this accumulation wouldn’t be gone until the Fourth of July, so I got out my trusty shovel.

Of course, I didn’t want to have a heart attack, so I smartly decided to pile the snow in front of the mailbox so the bills couldn’t be delivered. If they don’t give you a heart attack, nothing will.

After half an hour, I had made excellent progress, having pushed approximately six inches of snow out of the way. Then my next-door neighbor Ron, who had just finished clearing his driveway, came over with his snow blower, which was still working, and kindly cleared most of mine.

It was a big help because I had to get my car out of the driveway so I could drive my younger daughter and her boyfriend to the airport. They were flying to Paris, which they’ll always have, and their flight was still on, but the limo driver who was supposed to take them to JFK got cold feet.

It was up to me to get them to the terminal on time. By then, my condition was terminal.

After a quick lunch, I went back outside to get into my car, only to see that a plow had come along and dumped a huge mound of snow at the bottom of the driveway. At that point, I felt like getting plowed, but it’s never a good idea to drink and drive, so I grabbed my shovel and started to dig out again.

Fortunately, my neighbor Mike, who lives next door on the other side, came over to help. Mike, who is younger and stronger than I am, which doesn’t distinguish him from most other people, did the bulk of the work.

As we tossed aside the last shovelfuls of snow, a car got stuck at the intersection in front of my house. In the vehicle were two young women in their late teens or early 20s.

"You’re the only person I have ever seen actually stop at the stop sign and look what happened," I told the driver. She and her friend giggled.

Mike and I dug them out, then gave the car a push to get it going. "Thank you!" chirped the girls as they drove away, waving and honking in appreciation.

As proof that no good deed goes unpunished, as I was about to put my shovel away, not one but two other plows came along and dumped more snow at the foot of the driveway. I shouted a cheery holiday greeting that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

Eventually I got out; drove my daughter and her boyfriend to the airport; marveled at how the storm had brought people, both friends and strangers, closer together; and realized that I am a man for all seasons except winter.

Next time it snows, I am going to drive back to the airport and get on a plane myself.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Christmas Letter 2009"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; and Katie’s husband, Dave, the son-in-lawiarch. Happy reading!

Dear friend(s):

It sure has been an exciting 2009 for the Zezimas! The highlight was when Jerry went to jail. Specifically, he went to Rikers Island for crimes against journalism, which he shared with three writing classes at Horizon Academy, a school for detainees in their teens and 20s. Jerry gained early release, after only a few hours, on bad behavior, even though the school administration said he was a good influence on the inmates.

Jerry had another brush with the law when Sue discovered that someone had stolen his identity. The thief, who was never caught, was putting charges on Jerry’s debit card for $1.13, prompting Jerry to wonder if that was all he’s worth. He also wondered who would want to be him. A bank official, who issued Jerry a new card, said, "I guess there’s at least one idiot out there."

On the positive side, 2009 was a year of celebration. Jerry’s parents, Rosina and Jerry Sr., celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with a party at Sue and Jerry’s house. Not to be outdone, Jerry celebrated the 30th anniversary of his mustache. This impressed Dr. Aaron Perlut, chairman of the American Mustache Institute, who urged Jerry to enter next year’s Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Contest. "If you win," Perlut said, "it won’t be lip service."

Jerry took a yoga class. When the instructor informed him that they would be doing hatha yoga, Jerry said, "Hatha yoga is better than none." He is no longer taking the class.

Sue couldn’t take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers Program (the government wouldn’t take Jerry on a trade-in), but she still got a new car, which some jerk promptly scratched in a parking lot. Figures.

Sue and Jerry went on a whale watch. Almost everyone on board except Jerry and the captain got seasick. Sue got sick five times. The whales must have been sick, too, because they never showed up. The trip gave new meaning to the old whaling term "Thar she blows!"

On a sad note, Ramona, the world’s dumbest cat, went to that big litter box in the sky. She was two months shy of her 20th birthday. The good pet news is that Lizzie, the family pooch, is back in playing shape after tearing her ACL. Jerry thinks she should be a pro athlete.

Katie, Dave and Lauren, who came over for Thanksgiving, all had better years than Jerry, who had his hair colored at a spa (no one in the family noticed), made his own pizza at a pizzeria (nobody had to be hospitalized after eating it) and got to taste the merlot he helped make at a vineyard (a professional wine critic said it would go well with his pizza).

Last but certainly least, Jerry wrote his first book, "Leave It to Boomer: A Look at Life, Love and Parenthood by the Very Model of the Modern Middle-Age Man." It will soon be available on and Jerry proudly calls this column collection "a crime against literature." Can a return trip to Rikers Island be far behind?

Well, that’s the news from here. Merry Christmas with love and confusion from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, December 4, 2009

"The Smoke's on Me"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Everybody knows that cigar smoking can kill you, but very few people know why. Here’s the reason: Whenever a man wants to smoke, which he can do almost nowhere these days but in his own home, his wife makes him go outside. And there, depending on the season, he either freezes to death or dies of sunstroke.

As the Bible says, ashes to ashes.

Still, I like a good cigar once in a while. And I have had none better than the one I smoked recently. That’s because I rolled it myself.

I got a lesson in the fine art of cigar rolling from Julio Polanco, who runs a cigar company called, oddly enough, Polanco Cigars.

The first thing I found out when I went to his shop in Port Jefferson, N.Y., was that Polanco and I have a lot in common. Like me, he has a wife and two grown daughters.

"Does your wife let you smoke in the house?" I asked.

"No," Polanco said. "She makes me go outside."

"My wife doesn’t let me smoke in the house, either," I said. "If I get a hankering for a cigar and the weather is lousy, I go in the garage."

"You’re lucky you have a garage," Polanco said. "I live in an apartment, so I have to park on the street."

"I guess you can’t smoke in the car, either," I said.

"No," Polanco replied, "but I solved the problem by opening a cigar shop. Now I smoke here."

The shop, which is small but nice, has two couches and a large-screen TV.

"A lot of my customers come in to watch soccer," Polanco said. "One guy always wants me to put on Dominican music so he can dance."

"Has anyone ever wanted you to show him how to roll a cigar?" I asked.

"Yes," Polanco said.

"How did he do?" I inquired.

"Not so good," Polanco said. "But at least he didn’t cut off any of his fingers. I bet you’ll do better."

As I sat at a table behind the counter, Polanco said I could choose one of three kinds of wrappers: Brazil, Sumatra or Connecticut.

"I’m originally from Connecticut," I said. "Can I get frequent flier miles if I choose either Brazil or Sumatra?"

"I don’t think so," Polanco said.

"In that case," I replied, "I’ll take Connecticut."

The tobacco used for Connecticut wrappers is mild, explained Polanco, who is from the Dominican Republic, where his father, Pablo, founded the company, which fills orders from around the world on its Web site:

"The filler for our cigars comes from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, which gives them a better taste," said Polanco, who gave me a wrapper and said the veins should go on the inside.

"My veins are on the inside, too," I said as I laid the wrapper on the table and tried pathetically to wrap it, not too loose and not too tight, around the filler. My fingers fairly fumbled as Polanco looked on in amusement.

"You have to put the wrapper at the right angle," he said as he showed me how it’s done.

I got the hang of it, sort of, until it came time to use a brush to apply a naturally grown glue (made with tree powder and water) to the edge of the wrapper. I got more glue on my fingers than on the wrapper. Then I had to use a rounded knife to cut the excess wrapper and the tip of the cigar without, somehow, giving myself an extreme manicure.

"You did it!" exclaimed Polanco, who added that it would take me a while (perhaps years) to become a master roller but that I wasn’t as bad as that other customer.

I took my cigar home and, a couple of days later, on an unseasonably mild afternoon, went outside for a sensational smoke.

Would my wife have let me smoke my very own creation inside? Close, but no cigar.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima