Friday, July 19, 2013

"Sleeping My Way to the Top"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a dedicated employee who has often been accused of sleeping on the job (I seldom hear the accusations because I am, of course, asleep), I knew it was a dream come true when I found a job on which I would actually be required to sleep.

I refer to a position (horizontal) with the impressive title of snooze director, which opened up recently at Sleepy’s, the mattress company that doesn’t rest on its laurels when it comes to giving people a good night’s sleep.

Emily Barrett, 25, was hired in 2011 as Sleepy’s first snooze director but left the company a couple of months ago to become a production assistant for MTV. When I read that the job was open, I applied. Then I took a nap so I would be refreshed and coherent enough to make a good impression.

I did just that when I went to Sleepy’s headquarters in Hicksville, N.Y., for an interview with marketing manager Andrew Jedlicka, who asked why I thought I was qualified to be the new snooze director.

“I was born for this job,” I told him. “In fact, I was born more than three weeks past my due date. My mother later said that I was sleeping happily and didn’t want to come out. Also, I have a lot of experience because I’m a geezer who has been sleeping for decades. And I’m a newspaper columnist whose work frequently puts people to sleep.”

Then I told Jedlicka about the message on my answering machine at work: “Hi, this is Jerry Zezima. I’m either away from my desk or at my desk but fast asleep. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”

“Those are excellent qualifications,” Jedlicka acknowledged. “What if we made you an offer?”

I yawned and replied, “I’d have to sleep on it.”

The interview went so well that I was called back for the decisive round at the Sleepy’s store in New York City, where I learned that I was one of five finalists out of 70 applicants.

The other four finalists were women in their 20s.

Unlike the first interview, this one was recorded by a camera crew. I repeated my spiel (now it can be used as a cure for insomnia) and emphasized the health benefits of a good night’s sleepespecially, I added with a wink, on a quality mattress. And I said I knew that the job of snooze director entailed more than snoozing. I would have to stay awake long enough to make appearances at Sleepy’s stores and talk to the public about the restorative effects of sleep.

I also performed the “pillow test,” in which I explained how to tell if you have a good pillow (it should snap back to its original position after being folded in half, preferably not with your head on it); demonstrated my nightly sleeping positions (none vertical); and stressed the importance of lying on the proper side of the mattress (the top).

Though I performed well, I lost out to Elizabeth Murphy, 25, of Floral Park, N.Y., Sleepy’s smart and personable new snooze director.

“I’m very excited,” Murphy told me over the phone after the decision had been announced a week later. “I think my ability to talk to people helped. It’s also a good thing I’m a morning person, since the interview was before lunch.”

Murphy added that she sleeps with Daisy, her 50-lb. beagle, who is an even better sleeper than she is. “It’s conceivable that Daisy could have gotten the job,” said Murphy.

“We loved Elizabeth’s energy,” explained Jeff Lobb, chief marketing officer for Sleepy’s. “But we loved you, too. You made a compelling case, with all your sleeping experience and the fact that you’re a writer who helps others fall asleep. Still, we felt that Elizabeth was the right choice. I hope you’re not too disappointed.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t lose any sleep over it.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, July 5, 2013

"The Polo Pony Whisperer"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of courseunless, of course, you’re a newspaper columnist who gets an exclusive interview with a champion polo pony.

That’s what I did recently when I hoofed it out to Riverhead, N.Y., for the Sandy Relief Charity Polo Match at the Dorothy P. Flint Camp. The match drew about 400 people and raised more than $10,000 for the 4-H program at the camp, which is run by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County.

The first thing I noticed was that Prince Harry wasn’t there. Harry recently played in a charity polo match in Greenwich, Conn., but was conspicuously absent from the Long Island event.

“He’s missing a good time,” said Nick Aliano, owner of Aliano Real Estate, which sponsored the match.

The sport of kings would have liked to have the prince, but it got several of the next best things in players who are rated as high or higher than Harry by the United States Polo Association.

That includes Aliano, 57, who took up the sport 13 years ago and is rated at 1 goal. Ratings go from minus-2 to 10, with 97 percent of players being rated at zero goals or fewer.

“You’re as good as Harry,” I said after finding out that the prince also is rated at 1 goal.

“I guess that makes me a prince of a guy,” said Aliano, who showed me some of his horses, all Thoroughbreds that are the real athletes in the sport.

“Ninety percent of the game is the horse,” said Alberto Bengolea, a player and trainer who has a reputation as a horse whisperer.

“I whisper, but the horses don’t listen,” said Bengolea, 61, who has worked with the animals for most of his life.

When I introduced myself to Catherine, one of Aliano’s horses, she looked at me and sighed. Then she looked away.

“She’s saying, ‘I don’t care about you. Let’s just get this over with.’ Right now, she’s napping,” Bengolea told me.

“I put her to sleep?” I said. “I have that effect on people. I had no idea I could do it to horses, too.”

Fortunately, the other horses I spoke with (or whispered to) didn’t doze off. But I had to wait until halftime of the match, a spirited affair between Aliano Real Estate and the 4-H Crusaders.

At the intermission, I had the honor of interviewing Pinton, on whom Aliano was riding when he scored a goal to help give his team a 4-1 lead.

“He scored the goal,” Aliano said of Pinton, who actually nodded when I asked him if it felt good to help his club.

“He’s a team player,” said Aliano, who allowed me to mount a horse named 69, a gentle veteran that graciously stood still while Bengolea handed me a polo mallet. He showed me the proper way to hold it and how to swing it should I ever find myself playing in a polo match, in which case I would surely be rated minus-2.

“Or maybe I’d be off the charts,” I suggested.

69 nodded, too.

The second half was even more exciting than the first, as the Crusaders rallied to tie the match, 7-7. But Aliano, who had three goals and was named best player, scored the decisive tally in a 9-7 victory.

As his team was awarded the Cornell Cup, the players sprayed each other with Champagne, some of which got on Pistola, who was named best playing pony.

“She doesn’t drink Champagne, but she likes the spray,” said her owner, Lobo Fernandez, 35, who scored three goals atop the 12-year-old gray speckled champion. “She’s a really great horse.”

“Congratulations, champ,” I said to Pistola. “How does it feel?”

Pistola looked at me and lowered her head in modesty.

“She doesn’t like to brag,” Fernandez said. “But she feels good. She had a terrific match.”

And it was all for a good cause. Too bad Prince Harry missed it.
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima