Friday, April 26, 2013

"Car Talk"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In the four decades since I took a driver’s ed class, I have become such a proficient motorist that I could teach a class myself except that I have two speeding tickets on my record and my name isn’t Ed.

Still, in an effort to become less of a menace to society and, in the process, reduce my insurance rates, I recently took a refresher course from a guy who not only was named New York State Driving Instructor of the Year in 2011 by the National Safety Council, but has only one speeding ticket on his record.

“I was driving my son to college and I guess I was going a little too fast on the highway because I got pulled over,” Marty Hirschfield explained. “My son was laughing at me in the backseat.”

In fact, Hirschfield isn’t even the best driver in his family.

“My wife is better than I am,” he said.

“I could be in NASCAR,” I told Hirschfield before the first of the two three-hour defensive-driving sessions, “but my SUV, which has 183,000 miles on it, can’t do 200 miles per hour.”

“Then it’s a good thing you’re taking this class,” he replied.

Hirschfield, who has worked for Driver Education Consultants ( for 17 years, told me and my 25 classmates that we had to remember four important things: “One, if I ask you a question, humor me. Two, stay awake. Three, pay attention. Four, I need you to laugh at my bad jokes. And they’re pretty bad.”

Example: “In one class, I asked people to fill out the form all of you got. Where it said ‘sex,’ one woman wrote, ‘Sometimes.’ I said, ‘Lady, that’s more information than I wanted to know.’ ”

Hirschfield said that a lot of people take his course every three years but that very few of them remember what he said.

“I can tell the same jokes I told three years ago,” he proclaimed. “I don’t have to write new material.”

Much of Hirschfield’s material, which I was hearing for the first time, was pretty serious, such as the dangers of excessive speed, drinking and driving, texting and driving, and talking on a cellphone while driving.

“Nobody talks on a cellphone while they’re watching their favorite TV show,” Hirschfield said. “They don’t want to be distracted. So why do they talk on the phone while they’re driving?”

Good question. He asked plenty of others, as when he said to me, “Jerry, in the real world, what does a yellow light mean?”

My response: “Floor it!”

The class laughed knowingly. Hirschfield smiled and said, “That’s right. Pedal to the metal. But what is it supposed to mean?”

“Caution,” I replied.

Hirschfield said, “That’s right. Slow down.”

It was basic stuff that most people either forget or flout. But Hirschfield told us something that all but one person in the class didn’t know.

“Can you ever make a left turn on red?” he asked.

Dorothy raised her hand and responded, “Yes, if you are coming out of a one-way street and turning onto another one-way street.”

Hirschfield exclaimed, “That’s right! You took my class three years ago. You must remember my bad jokes.”

The scariest part, aside from the 10 short films we saw, involved the penalties for drunken driving in other countries. In Malaysia, for example, a DWI offender is jailed, and if he is married, his wife is jailed, too.

“If that doesn’t get you to stop drinking and driving,” Hirschfield said, “nothing will.”

All in all, the class was terrific, and our witty and insightful instructor was, of course, the driving force behind it. I even have a certificate to show I graduated.

“Drive home safely,” Hirschfield told me on the way out. “After all, you don’t want to get a speeding ticket.”

Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, April 12, 2013

"This Guy Really Delivers"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

With apologies to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is dead and can’t sue me, I live in the House of the Three Gables. When the vent in the main one, the Clark gable, was gone with the wind after a recent storm, my wife, Sue, asked me to fix it, to which I replied, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

So we hired handyman extraordinaire Arnie Larsen, who happens to be our mailman. In addition to his day job at the U.S. Postal Service, Arnie is a carpenter who also does roofing, flooring and all kinds of other work.

“I can pretty much build a house except for major plumbing and electrical,” said Arnie, who has even worked on a clamming boat.

“You’re a man of many hats,” I said, “although it would probably be difficult to wear them all at the same time.”

“Especially in the mail truck,” said Arnie, adding that he enjoys his job as a letter carrier and has worked hard in the 14 years he has been with the post office.

“Do the people on your route ask you to stop bringing them bills?” I wondered.

“All the time,” he said. “They also want to know if it’s cold enough for me or hot enough for me.”

“So it’s true that neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays you from the swift completion of your appointed rounds?” I asked.

“Yes,” Arnie said. “Except if there’s a blizzard like the one we got this year. It’s tough to make it through three feet of snow.”

“At least you didn’t bring me any bills,” I noted.

“Most people are very nice,” Arnie said. “On really hot days, they’ll bring me bottles of cold water. Or they’ll leave one in the mailbox. Some of them tell me the neighborhood gossip, like who’s having an affair and stuff like that. Then there are the women who shop online or order things from a catalog and don’t want their husbands to know how much they bought, so they ask me to leave their packages next door. It doesn’t matter because a lot of guys don’t even open the mail.”

“How about dogs?” I asked.

“They don’t open the mail, either,” Arnie said. “I like dogs, but I did get bitten once. I made friends with this cute Jack Russell terrier and petted him every day. One day he decided to see what I tasted like. It was only a nip, but I guess he didn’t like the flavor because he left me alone after that. There was also this boxer that chased me. I had to hide in the bushes.”

Arnie’s adventures haven’t been confined to his postal career.

“When I was a young man,” recalled Arnie, who’s 42, “I was on a home improvement job when the homeowner’s wife came downstairs naked to do the laundry. I had to hide behind a wall. I sat on a spackle bucket until she went back upstairs. I told my boss and he laughed. The homeowner laughed, too. When it came time to collect my money, the boss said, ‘You already got paid.’ ”

Another homeowner tried to help Arnie and fell through the ceiling.

“He came down in the kitchen,” Arnie said.

“You won’t get any help like that from me,” I assured him. “I couldn’t even fix the gable vent.”

“I bet you could have,” said Arnie, who climbed up to the roof and replaced the vent in no time. His work was so good and his fee was so reasonable that we may hire him to put a new floor in the living room.

“Don’t worry about paying me right away,” Arnie said. “I’ll just leave a bill in the mailbox.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima