Friday, March 30, 2012

"Scrambled Egghead"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

I’ve never had breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I have had breakfast at Zezima’s. And I can tell you from personal experience -- because I’m the one who has made breakfast -- that my eggs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

That’s why I recently went to my favorite diner, CookRoom in Middle Island, N.Y., to learn how to cook eggs without having to scramble out the door and go somewhere, like my favorite diner, for a real breakfast.

Every Saturday morning, I make myself two eggs, often sunny side up but sometimes scrambled, especially if I accidentally break the eggs I am trying to cook sunny side up. I also have link sausage (if there are missing links, I use bacon) and either toast or a bagel, along with coffee and orange juice, though not in the same cup.

The meal is usually passable (no further explanation needed) but not really delicious. So I went to CookRoom to take a short course in short-order cooking.

My teacher was Roberto Benitez, who taught me a very important lesson: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. CookRoom doesn’t have a kitchen because it’s a genuine diner, so it only has a griddle behind the counter. Still, Roberto is always as cool as a cucumber.

“I don’t put cucumbers in eggs,” he said, “but you can if you want to.”

In fact, Roberto’s favorite breakfast isn’t eggs. “I like Oreo pancakes,” he said as he prepared an order of three regular pancakes that were the size of Frisbees.

“I’ve seen only one person finish a whole stack of pancakes,” said manager Debbie Sweeney, “and it was a thin girl. Not even grown men can finish them.”

“I can,” said Roberto, who is a thin guy, “but I work it off.”

He had to work pretty hard to teach me how to cook breakfast without either making a mess or burning the place down.

According to waitress Dawn Millwater, my order was “CR No. 1 up, rye,” which meant two eggs sunny side up, with bacon, sausage, home fries and rye toast, as well as coffee and orange juice.

“I thought my order would be ‘JZ 911,’ which you’d have to call after I made breakfast,” I told Debbie.

“It won’t be that bad,” she assured me. “But just to be on the safe side, you won’t be making breakfast for any customers.”

As I stepped up to the griddle, Roberto showed me how to crack an egg. “One quick hit,” he said. “Not too hard or you’ll break it.”

“Then the yolk would be on me,” I replied.

Roberto politely ignored the remark and handed me the second egg. I hit it against the side of the griddle. Nothing happened. “Not too gentle, either,” he said.

“I’m pathetically out of shape,” I explained. Then I hit the egg again. This time it cracked. I separated the shell and poured the contents onto the griddle. The eggs sizzled.

“You have to keep the griddle very hot,” said Roberto, adding that I should watch the bacon, sausage and home fries so they wouldn’t end up frazzled.

I was frazzled trying to keep track of everything. When the eggs were done, Roberto handed me a large spatula and said to slide it under them. I tried, but the spatula didn’t move.

“Harder,” he said.

My next attempt almost sent the spatula flying. The third time was the charm. I slipped the spatula under the eggs and, without breaking the yolks, placed them gently on my plate, followed by the rest of the meal.

Then I sat down at the counter to the most delicious breakfast I have ever had.

The following Saturday morning, I made the same thing at home. It wasn’t nearly as good as Roberto would have made, but at least I didn’t have to call 911.

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 16, 2012

"That's the Ticket"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

I am not a lawyer, although I have been admitted to many bars, but at the risk of being sentenced to life in prison for felonious stupidity, I decided to represent myself recently when I went to traffic court to fight a parking ticket.

I got it when I drove with my wife, Sue, and our younger daughter, Lauren, to the Port Jefferson train station near our house on Long Island for a trip to New York, N.Y., it’s a hell of a town, the city that never sleeps, a place where I could be king of the hill, top of the heap, and come back to find a $100 ticket on the windshield of my car.

The problem was that I couldn’t find a parking space at the train station, so I parked in an adjacent lot I thought was affiliated with the station. It wasn’t.

The Zezimas took Manhattan (and politely gave it back after spending considerably more than the original $24 selling price), then returned to find the parking ticket. About three weeks later, I got a piece of mail that read:

“Re: Vehicle plate number JZEE


“You are hereby ordered to appear for a conference at:

“PORT JEFFERSON VILLAGE COURT to determine the final disposition of the outstanding summons(es) issued to the above-mentioned vehicle plate number.

“Failure to appear will result in rendering a default judgment.”

Since it was not the fault of my judgment, rendering me innocent, I didn’t fail to appear in court at the mandated time of 7 p.m. Neither did about 100 other people, who were there for parking tickets, moving violations and various misdemeanors.

It was standing room only, so it was not asking too much for me to stand, which I was already doing, as the Hon. John F. Reilly entered the courtroom.

Judge Reilly, who was indeed honorable, opened the proceedings by explaining that defendants could either plead guilty or ask for a conference with the district attorney. This, he said, could result in a subsequent guilty plea with the possibility of a reduced fine or a trial to be held at a later date.

I imagined my case going all the way to the Supreme Court -- for a parking ticket.

My reverie was interrupted when Judge Reilly called my name.

“How do you plead?” he asked as I stood before him.

“Clueless, your honor,” I replied.

“Clueless is not an option,” Judge Reilly said. “You have to plead either guilty or not guilty.”

“Not guilty,” I said firmly.

I was instructed to sit down, if I could find a seat, and wait for my conference with the DA. About 10 minutes later, I was called over by Dara Martin, the village prosecutor, who also was honorable. I was about to explain why I was so clueless in my failure to notice signs in the parking lot next to the train station (it’s for a residential complex) when she said I had two parking tickets.

“The first is from 2006,” prosecutor Martin said, showing me the ticket. “It’s for a black Chevy Suburban and it has your plate number, JZEE.”

“My wife got me the plate because she said I had that name before Jay-Z,” I said, “but it was only three or four years ago. And I have never driven a black Chevy Suburban. I have a gold Hyundai Santa Fe.”

Since the ticket was six years old, the cost would have been in the hundreds of dollars, said prosecutor Martin, who tossed it out and asked me to explain the cluelessness that led to the second ticket.

“OK,” she said, going easy on me. “I’ll reduce it to $40 if you plead guilty.”

“Guilty as charged,” I said. “Now I don’t have to go to the Supreme Court.”

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Too Cuticle for Words"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

As a man with his finger on the pulse of America, which could get me into legal trouble, I am happy to report that I still have a pulse after surviving an infected finger.

The trouble was caused by a hangnail that developed into paronychia, a bacterial hand infection that can lead to banishment from nail salons or, in extreme cases, death.

I can just imagine the lead of my obituary: “Jerry Zezima, a longtime newspaper columnist and certified public nuisance, died yesterday of complications from a hangnail. He was 58.”

Actually, I am old enough to know better. But I didn’t, which is why I plucked the stupid thing instead of using a nail clipper or, even better, a Ginsu knife, which is advertised on the company’s website as being able to “cut through a nail,” as well as a tin can or a radiator hose, “and still slice a tomato paper thin.”

Fortunately, I don’t have a Ginsu knife or I might have amputated my finger. Which may have been necessary anyway because the infection, according to several trained medical professionals, was pretty severe.

The first one I saw was Julia Leydon, an occupational health nurse at work. When I walked into her office on a Friday morning, she immediately noticed my right index finger, possibly because it was so big and so red that if I had been standing on a street corner with my hand raised, cars might actually have stopped.

“That doesn’t look good,” she said ominously.

“It doesn’t feel good,” I replied. “If it gets any bigger, I could be a float in the Thanksgiving parade.”

Julia, who is certified in case management, stated certifiably that my case needed immediate management. She took me downstairs and said she was going to make me a cocktail.

“I could use a drink,” I said. “It might numb the pain.”

“It’s a little too early in the day for the kind of cocktail you have in mind,” said Julia, who whipped up a concoction of hydrogen peroxide and warm water, into which she gently immersed my finger.

“Soak for 20 minutes,” she instructed. “Then repeat three or four times a day. After each soaking, put some Bacitracin on your finger and cover it with a Band-Aid.”

Julia gave me a few packets of Bacitracin, an antibiotic ointment, and several Band-Aids.

“Are you right-handed?” she asked.

“I’m ambidextrous,” I said. “I’m incompetent with both hands.”

“If you notice red lines starting to go down your finger,” Julia warned, “you should see a doctor.”

By the next morning, my finger looked like it was about to be the cause of one of those Hollywood movie explosions in which a fireball erupts and blows a guy (in this case, me) across the street.

Since it was Saturday, and I couldn’t see my doctor, I went to a clinic, where an attending physician winced when she saw my finger and suggested I continue to soak it. “Add epsom salt to the water,” she said, giving me a prescription for an antibiotic. “If your finger isn’t better by Monday, come back and we’ll lance it.”

By Monday, my finger seemed almost as big as my head, except that my head is empty and my finger doesn’t have a mustache. I went back to the clinic and another physician said he would relieve the pressure by draining the humongous digit. The stuff that came out could have clogged a drain, but I felt greatly relieved.

I continued to soak my finger and finished the antibiotics.

“It’s looking much better,” Julia the nurse said when I saw her for a follow-up visit. “Next time you get a hangnail, don’t pull it out.”

“At least it didn’t kill me,” I said. “Then I would have been a victim of the fickle finger of fate.”

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima