Friday, January 21, 2011

"Hot Stuff"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

If you can’t stand the heat, get into the kitchen. That’s the lesson I learned recently after the oven lost heat in the kitchen and I couldn’t stand the prospect of having to eat cold dinners until the apoplectic appliance was fixed.

Fortunately, my wife, Sue, without whom I would have starved to death long ago, is at home on the range, otherwise known as the stovetop, which she uses to cook hot meals that sometimes include Stove Top stuffing.

The meltdown began just before Christmas, which we were going to host for 13 people, two dogs and me.

Enter Larry, a very nice and very knowledgeable repair specialist, who examined the oven, performed all kinds of sophisticated tests and came up with an unsettling diagnosis: “This thing is possessed.”

I took his word for it -- and added a few choice words of my own -- because the lights kept flickering. It looked like something out of a horror movie. Even worse, Larry asked me several times to hit the circuit breaker, which I figured would either fry me or bake him, leading to the following spectacular headline: “Oven cooks repairman: Last job not well-done.”

I knew the situation was critical because the oven was running a low temperature of 0 degrees. Normal is 350.

“I have to order a new control board,” Larry said, referring to the electronic gizmo that runs the oven like the Starship Enterprise.

“When will it be here?” I asked.

“After New Year’s,” Larry replied.

When Sue heard this, her temperature skyrocketed. “How am I going to cook Christmas dinner?” she cried.

Even without Santa’s help, the holiday meal was sensational because the smaller bottom part of the oven worked, as did the stove. Our younger daughter and my mother pitched in by bringing food. Everyone -- including the dogs -- loved it.

A few days later, the board arrived, but we couldn’t get an appointment until almost a week after New Year’s.

Enter Larry again.

“You’re back!” I exclaimed.

“Yes!” he said.

I knew Larry was the man for the job when he told me that he used to repair military equipment. “I did jet engines,” he said. “In fact, I used to do everything. Now I’m an oven and dishwasher specialist.”

“Sue has always said that no man in America knows how to load a dishwasher the right way,” I told Larry.

“I don’t even have a dishwasher,” he said. “I wash the dishes myself.”

“At least if your oven needed to be repaired, you could do it,” I noted.

“No,” he said. “I’d throw it out and get another one.”

Larry also said he does most of the cooking at home.

“I can barely make toast,” I admitted.

“My wife likes my cooking,” Larry said, adding that he started when he was a teenager working in restaurants. “I specialize in Italian dishes, but I also do a lot of barbecuing. You don’t need an oven for that.”

Appliances have changed a lot in the 40 years that Larry has been repairing them.

“You almost have to be a rocket scientist these days,” he said, referring to the computer technology.

“It also seems like you’re a doctor on call,” I noted.

“Except we don’t get paid like doctors,” Larry said. “But I do have a lot of patience,” he added, laughing at his own joke.

With the skill of a surgeon, Larry replaced the board and had our oven running like new. Then he printed out the bill, which came to $653.67. Fortunately, it was covered under the warranty.

“I’m very happy to get my oven back,” Sue said.

“Me, too,” I chimed in. “Now I won’t starve.”

“Maybe,” Sue said to me, “you should learn how to use the oven.”

Larry nodded and said, “Now you’re cooking.”

Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Home, Sweetly Appraised Home"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

In the nearly 13 years since my wife, Sue, and I bought our house, I have come to realize that a man’s home is his hassle. That’s because Sue frequently asks me to undertake projects I could do in no time if my name happened to be Bob Vila. Or even Pancho Villa.

As the Least Handy Man in America, a title I have copyrighted until an even more incompetent guy can prove otherwise, I am surprised I have been able to accomplish these tasks without either destroying the place or suffering life-threatening injuries.

Fortunately, Sue not only is handier than I am, she has much better taste.

Because of our hard work and the money we have spent on these home improvement projects, the Zezimanse, as I have dubbed our humble abode, is one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood.

At least that’s what we hoped an appraiser would say when he came over one recent morning to tell us how much our house is worth.

The appraiser, whom I will call “John” because that’s his real name, had a measuring tape, a camera and a clipboard on which he would grade our home and property but not, alas, Sue’s pumpkin pie. She gave him a slice with a cup of coffee because we wanted to be hospitable. After all, a little buttering up (a little butter was in the recipe) never hurt.

“This pie is delicious!” John exclaimed.

“Will it increase the value of our home?” I asked.

“No,” John replied, “but it shows that your wife puts the kitchen to good use.”

John started the appraisal by walking around the yard, which I made sure was devoid of droppings after a recent visit by our younger daughter’s dog. “We didn’t want you tracking anything into the house,” I told John, who finished up inside with an inspection of the upstairs, the downstairs and the garage.

“Your house is very nice,” John said. “You keep it neat and clean. Some people call up to make an appointment and I go to their house a week later and it’s a falling down wreck. They’ll say, ‘Sorry, we didn’t have time to clean up.’ I’ve been to places where you can’t even see the floor.”

“I’m not the neatest guy in the world,” I confessed. “Sometimes I leave my dirty socks and underwear on the floor in the bedroom. Sue made sure they were picked up before you came over.”

John admitted that he wouldn’t win any Good Housekeeping awards himself but said his wife, like Sue, puts a premium on neatness. “She was very strict with our two sons and wouldn’t allow them to be messy,” said John. “They’re all grown up now and are out of the house, though we still have some of their stuff.”

“Our two daughters are out of the house, too,” I noted, “and we still have some of their stuff in the garage. You probably saw it.”

John nodded and said, “I always blame the kids.”

He was impressed when Sue and I told him about our home improvement projects, including the kitchen and bathroom renovations. “Did you do them yourself?” John asked me.

“Are you kidding?” I responded. “I can barely handle a paintbrush.”

“Sometimes I get involved in projects that are a little beyond me,” John said. “I’m not the world’s handiest guy, either.”

“How would you appraise your own house?” I inquired.

“Very well,” John said. “I give a lot of credit to my wife.”

Sue looked at me and smiled.

“I meet a lot of nice people in my job,” John said. “But it’s not without its hazards. One time I was bitten by a dog.”

“Were you appraising a doghouse?” I wondered.

“No,” he said. “But I’ve been in some pretty weird places.”

Ours wasn’t one of them because John gave it a generous appraisal.

“It’s one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood,” he said. “If I could include the pumpkin pie, it would be worth even more.”

Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima