Friday, October 29, 2010

"Grease Is the Word"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

I will never be in a NASCAR pit crew, mainly because my automotive skills are the pits, but I do know that when it comes to car care, it’s never too late to be oily.

That’s what I learned recently when I went to Mid-Island Hyundai in Centereach, N.Y., so a certified mechanic could show me how to change the oil in my car.

As a certified cheapskate, I knew I could save money if I learned how to do it.

“In a tough economy, every little bit helps,” technician Naresh Ramjet said as we stood under my car, which was on a lift in the dealership’s garage. “Besides,” he added, “it’s not that difficult, even for an amateur.”

That, of course, would be me.

“You can’t be any worse than the guy who hacked off the end of a spark plug and put it in the oil pan to hold the oil,” said Ramjet. “Rule No. 1: Don’t do that!”

As Ramjet showed me how to remove the splash shield and the filter, and how to drain the oil into an oil catch, service adviser Rich Heins gave me another piece of advice: If you’re going to pull a robbery, make sure your getaway car starts.

“This guy with a Corvette came in complaining that his car wouldn’t start after he shut it off,” Heins recalled. “So we left the car idling. Somebody came along, saw this nice car running, jumped in and took off. He drove to a hospital, parked the car, went inside and robbed the place. He ran back outside and jumped in the ’Vette. It wouldn’t start. It was just going, ‘Click, click.’ There was a cop standing next to the door, tapping on the window. This idiot had the ultimate getaway car and he couldn’t get away.”

Service adviser Mary Husson remembered the time an older gentleman came in and said his car was making noises. “Nobody else could hear these noises,” Husson said. “It turned out the guy had a hearing aid and he was getting feedback.”

“Then there was the time a woman came in to say that her car smelled,” Heins said. “It really did. The smell was awful. This was in the middle of a heat wave in August. The woman said the smell started about a month before. Apparently she had gone food shopping in July and forgot to take the groceries out of the trunk. We couldn’t do much about the smell, but we did take the groceries out. It’s all part of the service.”

Heins also recalled the man who complained that there were holes in the interior roof over the backseat. “I asked him who drove the car besides him. He said, ‘My daughter.’ We figured out the holes were made by pump heels,” Heins said. “His daughter was doing more in the car than just driving. The guy’s face turned beet red. He never came back.”

I was getting quite an education in car care. Learning how to change the oil wasn’t the most exciting part, but it was the most useful, thanks to Ramjet, a class A technician -- the highest grade -- who keeps up on technology by going back to school twice a year.

After he showed me how to replace the filter and put the splash shield back on, he lowered the car and showed me how to put in new oil and measure it with a dipstick.

“You may not qualify for a NASCAR pit crew,” Ramjet said, “but now you can change your own oil.”

And I’ll save money. Because an oil change is $36, and should be done every 3,000 miles, and I drive about 15,000 miles a year, it’ll amount to $180 annually.

“You’ll keep your car running well,” Heins said. “Just make sure some stupid crook doesn’t try to steal it.”

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Get the Picture?"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

If there is one thing I have found out from being on Facebook -- aside from the incredible fact that I have more friends than the guy who founded it -- it’s that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

I made this fascinating discovery recently when I posted a new profile photo of myself. I had it taken because my old photo, which was taken half a dozen years ago for my 50th birthday, was being used in bars all across this great land by drunken dart players. This just added to the holes in my head.

So I opted for an updated profile picture.

After being on Facebook since last year, I figured it was about time. Besides, practically everybody in the United States is on Facebook. My mother was on it before I was. Even my younger daughter’s dog has her own Facebook page. And all of them are constantly changing their profile photos or posting new shots of themselves. Sometimes these pictures are not exactly flattering.

Therein lay my dilemma: Would my new photo actually look like me? Would my more than 400 Facebook friends mistake me for Freddy Krueger? Would people start sending my wife condolence cards?

Fortunately, I had the good sense to ask a colleague named Andreas, a talented photographer and a very patient guy, to shoot me. After the trouble I put him through, he probably wanted to.

But the result was worth it. The new photo, I must say with all due modesty, will not scare small children.

“It’s nice,” said Martha, who works at a nearby Apple store. I went there because I am so technologically inept that I needed a lesson in how to post my photo in places other than the post office.

The procedure is so astonishingly simple that even a kindergartner could do it. Unfortunately, I don’t know any kindergartners, so I took a computer lesson.

Along with my original profile shot, photos of me have been posted, or “tagged,” by other people. This was the first time I attempted to do it myself.

The reaction has been very gratifying.

Wendy wrote: “You don’t age. Not fair.”

My response: “I’m shockingly immature, Wendy. It makes me seem younger.”

Bozena wrote: “Nice shot, Jerry. Nice coat, too.”

My response: “Thanks, Bozena. I had to give the coat back after the photo shoot. I kept the pants.”

Leland wrote: “What a great picture. That should be your ‘If I ever get kidnapped, use this picture’ picture.”

My response: “If anybody kidnapped me, it would turn into ‘The Ransom of Red Chief.’ ”

No comment yet from my younger daughter’s dog, but I am sure she likes the picture, too.

This got me thinking: I wonder if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would like my new profile photo?

Except for money, power and influence, I have a lot in common with Zuckerberg, the subject of the new movie “The Social Network,” because, of course, our last names begin with Z.

So I went to his Facebook page. There was Mark, in all his geeky glory, grinning goofily in a black-and-white photo.

I wanted to friend him, and ask what he thinks of my new profile picture, but I couldn’t. All I could do was click on “Like” and read his postings, one of which was about his “great day” on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Incredibly, and a little sadly, the genius behind Facebook has no friends.

Don’t worry, Mark. I’ll be your friend. But first, get a new profile picture.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Jerry Appleseed"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

Everyone knows the story of Johnny Appleseed, who introduced apples in the Midwest by saying, “Granny Smith, meet McIntosh. Mac has invented a newfangled device called a computer. You can get a year’s worth of free lessons if you buy one now.” Granny rebooted Mac out the door and had Johnny arrested for littering after he dropped appleseeds all over her yard.

But very few people know the story of Jerry Appleseed, who recently dropped a bunch of Granny Smiths and McIntoshes all over an orchard when his bag broke while he and his wife, Sue, were apple picking.

I, of course, am that seedy character, and I am a lot like Johnny because, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

That’s the lesson I learned when Sue and I drove out to Lewin Farms in Wading River, N.Y., to partake in an autumn ritual that did not, unfortunately, involve staying home to watch football.

The first thing we discovered was that approximately half a million people had the same idea. Sure as God made little green apples, we found ourselves competing with packs of pome-picking persons who either wanted to eat so many apples that they turned green or hoped to turn their bounties into apple pies, apple crisps, apple tarts, apple candies, applesauce, applejack, apple juice or apple cider. Not among them was R.W. Apple, the legendary New York Times reporter who is, at the present time, dead.

When Sue and I got to the entrance, we saw a sign that read: “Baskets $5, bags 5 cents.” I may be a basket case, but I’m also really cheap. “Let’s bag it,” I said.

Sue grabbed three bags, the flimsy plastic kind you get at the supermarket, and together we headed into the orchard, where I got a lesson in apple picking from a 6-year-old boy named Adam, who brought his parents, Paul and Samantha, because he couldn’t possibly carry all those apples by himself.

“First you twist them,” Adam said authoritatively. “Then you look at them.”

“I’ve been doing it the opposite way,” I confessed. “No wonder I’m not a good apple picker.”

Adam smiled. So did Paul, who sprang for a basket, which was full of fruit. “I’d rather be watching football,” Paul said as he lugged the heavy load from tree to tree.

“I’ll never hear the end of this,” Samantha said.

“Are you a football fan?” I asked Adam.

“No,” he said as he put another apple in the basket. “I like baseball.”

A few minutes later, I felt something fall on my foot. Then I heard something hit the ground. Then something else. I looked down. Apples were cascading from my bag, which had broken because I had overloaded it. I put them back in the bag and carried the whole kit and caboodle in my arms.

“You should have brought a wagon,” said a guy named Tony, who was walking with his family. Tony’s son, A.J., was pulling a wagon belonging to his 2-year-old daughter, Norah. The wagon contained three baskets full of apples.

I asked Norah, who was on her first apple-picking adventure, if she was having a good time. The little girl didn’t answer.

“She’s coming off a cold,” said her mom, Angel.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” I advised.

Norah sneezed.

When Sue and I were finished, we brought our three bags to a woman who weighed them. “That’ll be $34,” she said. I only had a 20. “Look at the sign behind you,” the woman said. The sign read: “What you pick, you buy.” The apples were priced at a buck a pound. The woman took back my bag and said, “Two bags, $20. But please watch out next time.”

There won’t be one because next year, I’m staying home to watch football. How do you like them apples?

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima