Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Dirt on Lawn Care"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Spring has sprung, and a young man’s thoughts turn to love. Unfortunately, a middle-age man’s thoughts turn to yard work, which he doesn’t love. That’s especially true in my case. The situation is so bad that I would put a “Keep Off the Grass” sign on my front lawn, but there isn’t much grass to keep off.

So I went to a nearby Home Depot store to take a lawn-maintenance class.

The teachers were Frank, a lawn-care specialist, and Anita, a gardening specialist. The students were Susan, a new homeowner, and yours truly, an old homeowner who isn’t a specialist in anything, especially lawn care or gardening.

The two most important things I learned in the class were: (a) have your kids do your yard work or (b) hire a professional to do it.

Since (a) my kids are out of the house and wouldn’t do yard work anyway and (b) I can’t afford to hire a professional (some, including my kids, might say I’m too cheap), I have to do it myself.

“My lawn looks like it was manicured with a flamethrower,” I told Frank.

“Did you spread fertilizer?” he asked.

“I’ve been spreading fertilizer for years,” I replied. “And not just on my lawn.”

Fertilizer is very important for grass. So -- surprise! -- is grass seed.

“Water also is very important,” Frank said.

“I prefer beer,” I told him.

“I can see why you’re here,” he commented.

I’m glad I was because I found out that what I had already done -- drop seed and then, a few days later, spread fertilizer -- was, according to Frank, “totally wrong.” He said, “You should do one or the other.”

Anita agreed, adding: “Use a thatcher.”

“You mean Margaret Thatcher?” I asked. “I don’t think she’d come all the way over from England to help me take care of my lawn.”

After hearing this, Susan, my classmate, must have felt like a genius, though she admitted, “I just bought my house and I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I bought my house 14 years ago and I still have no idea what I’m doing.”

But Susan and I got a good education from Frank and Anita, who talked about various kinds of grass seed, fertilizer and soil. They also went over subjects such as weed and fungus control and showed us how to use tools such as spreaders and rakes.

“An iron rake is very effective,” Anita said.

“I should use one to comb my hair,” I remarked.

“You need a special kind with teeth,” she noted.

“Will I have to bring it to the dentist?” I asked.

“No,” Anita replied. “But you will have to bring it outside and use it to go over bare patches and mossy areas of your lawn.” That, she added, will help grass seed take root instead of just sitting on top of the hard ground. Same goes for fertilizer, which should be spread in the spring, summer and fall. The period in autumn just before the leaves drop is best for seeding, she said.

“Who does your lawn?” I asked.

“A lawn guy,” Anita admitted. “But I seeded it first. My husband helps. My kids used to help -- I have a boy and a girl -- but they’re in college now.”

Frank said, “I have two teenage boys, but I do the lawn myself. It looks good.”

I was so inspired by these two specialists, who said I graduated second in my class, that I am taking their advice: I will seed and fertilize at the proper times, water regularly and set my lawnmower higher so the grass -- or what there is of it so far -- won’t be too short.

In the meantime, I am going to put another sign on my lawn: “Keep Off the Dirt.”

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Jerry Duty"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: Report to jury duty for a mob trial or wake up next to a horse’s head. My wife, Sue, who wakes up every morning next to the other end of a horse, said it would be safer to do my civic duty than to end up on trial myself.

So I drove to the United States District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see if I would be selected to sit on the jury for the trial of two alleged mobsters who were charged with murder, robbery, extortion and -- perhaps the most serious offense -- having silly nicknames.

I was one of about 225 prospective jurors in a pool of more than 400. I don’t know what happened to the others (maybe they’re in the witness protection program), but our group had to sit around so long that we could have watched three episodes of “Law & Order.”

Finally, we were led from the juror waiting area to a long hallway where we were told to break into double file. Then we had to step up to a table at which two jury administrators gave us juror numbers (mine was 390) and told each of us to take a pencil, which we would later use to fill out a questionnaire.

“If I keep the pencil, will I get nabbed for stealing?” I asked one of the administrators.

“It’s the property of the federal government,” she replied, pleasantly but firmly. “You have to return it on your way out.”

My grand larceny case would have to wait because I was on my way into a courtroom so large, it could have hosted a Hollywood premiere.

“Am I going to see a movie?” I asked deputy court clerk Melissa Burke, who ushered me into the second row.

“No,” she said, “but you will be entertained.”

Burke turned out to be so entertaining that she should be in Hollywood.

“Welcome to U.S. District Court,” she said. “We’re very happy to see you.”

Burke instructed us to stand and raise our right hands so we could be sworn in.

“This is a criminal trial,” she continued. “It could last 10 weeks. You will be reimbursed for your travel expenses. Make sure you get parking and bridge receipts. Don’t worry about figuring out mileage. We’ll do that. We’re the feds. We know where you live.”

When someone asked if the trial would be held on weekends, Burke replied, “No. The judge has a life. I have a life. We won’t sequester you. We’re not here to put you up in a hotel. Don’t think we’re going to give you the keys to a suite at the Marriott. You have to go back home to your spouses whether you like it or not.”

A woman raised her hand and said, “I’m pregnant.”

“Congratulations,” said Burke. “You can put that down under hardship.”

“I might try that excuse myself,” I said to the person sitting next to me. Then I raised my hand and asked, “How come you don’t have your own talk show?”

Burke smiled and said, “People have asked me that, but it’s not my passion. I want to be a lawyer.”

A guy in the back muttered, “My condolences.”

Before each of us filled out a 43-page questionnaire, Burke said those of us who were called back would have to report the following week.

“Don’t tell your boss that you have to report for the rest of this week and then go to Atlantic City or Las Vegas,” she warned. “Your employers will be calling us. We will tell them the truth.”

After filling out the questionnaire, I returned my pencil to the jury administrator and went straight home. I was called back but wasn’t selected to sit on the jury.

“Thank you for serving,” Burke told me.

“You’re welcome,” I said. “Here’s my verdict: Get an agent. And if you’re ever an attorney on ‘Law & Order,’ I want to be one of the jurors.”

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima