Thursday, July 31, 2014

"On the Fence"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have never believed the old saying that good fences make good neighbors because, really, who wants to live next door to a guy who deals in stolen merchandise?

Fortunately for me and my wife, Sue, the neighbors on both sides of us are friendly, law-abiding citizens.

Still, we needed a new fence recently because the two front sections of the old one were rotting, sagging and generally in deplorable condition, which our neighbors are too nice to say about me.

So we called Suffolk Fence Co. of Port Jefferson Station, N.Y. As its name implies, the company specializes in fencing (not with swords, thank God) and offers an array of styles, all of which come with doors that don’t, like the one on our old fence, have to be held up by ropes.

At 9 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, Herberth and David arrived to install our new fence.

“I’ve been here before,” said Herberth, who remembered coming over several years ago to replace a side-yard fence that was crushed when one of our trees fell on the house next door.

“The tree crashed through the roof of the garage,” I said. “Fortunately, we have good neighbors. Their insurance company covered the damage and they got a lot of free firewood.”

“My father-in-law says that when a hurricane is coming, you should go up on the roof and rip it up, then call the insurance company and say, ‘I need money.’ Of course, he’s only kidding,” said Herberth, who kidded me about my Three Stooges T-shirt. “I used to watch them in Spanish when I was growing up in El Salvador,” he recalled.

“I can just imagine Curly saying, ‘Buenos dias. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!’ ” I said.

Herberth pointed to the image of Moe on my shirt and said, “He’s the smart one, but he’s really pretty dumb.”

“Can you imagine if the Stooges installed fences?” I said.

“It would be crazy!” Herberth exclaimed.

Just then, David walked by, playfully flipping a hammer.

“If it hit him in the head, it would be funny,” Herberth said.

“If it hit me in the head,” I added, “he’d need a new hammer.”

“Just like the Stooges,” said Herberth, who asked if we have a dog.

“We used to,” I replied, “but she went to that big backyard in the sky.”

“I wanted to make sure that if you had one, she wouldn’t get away when we took the old fence down,” said Herberth, adding that his dog used to dig under the fence at home. “She’d go over to my neighbor’s house for a visit. My boss gave me a fence, which was very nice of him, but I had to put another one outside the den door so the dog would have her own area.”

Herberth has had his share of both dog and people trouble on the job.

“One time I was taking a customer’s fence down and his neighbor got angry. He said he was going to send out his pit bull so it could eat me,” Herberth remembered. “I said, ‘Go ahead. I have a hammer.’ I love animals and would never hurt one, but I wanted to see what this guy would do. It turned out that he didn’t have a pit bull, just this little dog that was pretty cute. One other time, a little dog bit me on the knee, but it was cold and I was wearing thermal pants, so it didn’t break the skin.”

“Do good fences make good neighbors?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Herberth, who has been on the job for 13 years. “I have good neighbors. So do you. But some people don’t like their neighbors. One time I had to put a 4-foot-tall section of lattice on top of the fence we had installed so this guy’s neighbors couldn’t look over and see him.”

Herberth and David took down the two old sections of fencing, which were made of wood, and installed new ones, which are PVC. They worked hard and did a fantastic job.

“That looks much better,” I said.

“It’s a good fence,” Herberth noted. “I guess that makes you a good neighbor.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"How to Babysit a Grandma"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.

My granddaughter, Chloe, doesn’t have to take such a circuitous route to visit her grandmother, who also happens to be my wife, Sue, because our house is on a residential street and, besides, at 15 months old, Chloe can’t drive.

But she knows how to babysit Sue when she comes over because I got her a new book called, appropriately enough, “How to Babysit a Grandma.”

The book, a New York Times bestseller, was written by Jean Reagan, who authored last year’s kiddie hit “How to Babysit a Grandpa,” which has been enormously helpful to both me and Chloe because I am, at this point, less mature than she is.

Sue, who should be the subject of a book titled “How to Babysit a Husband” because without her I would be either dead or in prison, loves the grandma book.

“It’s adorable,” she told me after reading it.

“How to Babysit a Grandma,” delightfully illustrated by Lee Wildish, opens with a little girl’s parents dropping her off at her grandmother’s house.

“When you babysit a grandma, if you’re lucky ... it’s a sleepover at her house,” it begins. “What should you do when you get to her door? Put on a disguise and say, ‘GUESS WHOOOOOO?’ ”

The girl is shown wearing a Groucho Marx disguise.

“That’s what I am going to get for Chloe,” I told Sue.

“Don’t you dare,” she retorted.

The best part of the book is “How to Keep a Grandma Busy.”

Among the suggestions: “GO TO THE PARK. Bake snickerdoodles. Have a costume parade. GO TO THE PARK to feed the ducks. Do yoga. Look at family pictures. GO TO THE PARK to swing. ... GO TO THE PARK to slide. ... GO TO THE PARK to take photos.”

“Chloe loves it when I take her to the park,” Sue said.

“You mean when she takes you,” I corrected.

“Right,” said Sue. “She especially loves the slide and the swings.”

The next part of the book is about the sleepover, which features lots of fun things for the girl and her grandma to do, such as making dinner (“Add sprinkles to anything”) and finding places to sleep (“In a tent, on the floor, on the couch”).

The final part takes place the next morning, when it’s time to leave.

“How to Say Goodbye to a Grandma: Let her borrow some sprinkles, some books, some stickers, some ribbons. Say ‘I love you!’ without making a sound. Give her a BIG hug and ask, ‘When can I babysit you again?’ ”

“I’m glad your wife liked the book,” Reagan said when I called her to talk about it. “I wanted to make the grandma fun, as I’m sure Sue is. And I know Chloe thinks you’re fun.”

“She sure does,” I replied. “People have often asked me if I spoil her. I say no, that’s Sue’s job. My job is to corrupt her. I told Sue I’m going to get Chloe the Groucho disguise. She didn’t think it was a good idea. But when Chloe gets a little older, I am going to introduce her to the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.”

Chloe already loves books, even though she can’t read yet. So Sue and I read to her when she comes over or when we go to her house.

I haven’t read either of my books to Chloe, because they are below her intellectual level, but I did read both the grandpa and grandma books to her recently.

“What did she think?” asked Reagan, who is not a grandma yet.

“She loved them,” I said. “She pointed to the slide and the swings in the grandma book. But for some reason, she seemed to understand that the grandpa needed a little more help.”

“Next time she comes over,” Reagan suggested, “she can help Sue babysit you.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"Mr. Zezima Goes Back to Washington"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Before my recent visit to Washington, D.C., a town populated by clueless people, so one more wouldn’t hurt, I had been in the nation’s capital twice once on purpose.

The other time, I took a wrong turn off the highway, found myself in Washington and promptly got lost. Because the statute of limitations has expired, I can now admit that I violated federal law and asked another guy for directions. They did no good. It took three hours to find my way out of town.

I then realized that this is the reason the aforementioned clueless people are in Congress for so long: Even they can’t find their way out.

In the best-laid-out city in America, the most important people are limo, cab and bus drivers because they’re the only ones who know where they are going.

To test this theory recently, I hailed a cab for an educational trip around town. Imagine both my chagrin and delight when I found out that my cabbie, a friendly 27-year-old guy named Yared, was on his first day on the job. I was his second customer.

“I don’t know how to get around Washington,” Yared admitted after I had buckled myself into the front passenger seat and he pulled away from my hotel.

“How did you get your taxi license?” I asked as he navigated the streets uncertainly.

“I used GPS,” replied Yared, an Ethiopian immigrant who came to America eight years ago. “I live in Maryland because Washington is too expensive,” he explained.

Before he became a cabbie, Yared parked cars.

“You must have wanted to take a step up and drive them,” I said.

“Yes,” Yared said when we were stopped at a red light and he consulted his GPS for the best way to get me back to the hotel. “I needed to make more money.”

Approximately half a second after the light turned green, the guy behind us blasted his horn and Yared tentatively turned left onto a street whose name I don’t know. Yared didn’t seem to know it, either.

“You could be in Congress,” I told him. “I’d vote for you.”

“Thank you,” Yared said with a smile.

We ended up making a big circle (or perhaps a trapezoid) back to the hotel. The fare came to $6.45. I gave Yared $10, told him to keep the change and wished him luck in his new career. He thanked me again and drove slowly away.

Later, I spoke with Yared’s first customer, Michelle Freed, a fellow scribbler who, like me, was in town for the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, an estimable organization that had to lower its otherwise high standards to let me join.

“He didn’t know where he was going,” Michelle said. “I didn’t know where I was going and I had to give him directions. He was sweet, but it was just my luck that I got a cabbie who was on his first day on the job. I guess it was an honor to be his first customer.”

That evening, on a bus ride to the Capitol, where the society had arranged to have dinner and bestow the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award (if you guessed that I didn’t win, you would be right), I spoke with Robert Tabor, who said he has been driving a bus for 37 years.

“Your backside must be sore,” I suggested.

Robert chuckled and confirmed my theory that these guys are in Congress for so long because they can’t find their way out of town.

“They don’t seem to know where they are going even when they’re not in Washington,” observed Robert, 64, who proudly said that D.C. has “the best transportation system in the country.”

This isn’t to say that he hasn’t had his challenges as a driver.

“One time a guy got shot on my bus,” Robert remembered, adding that the perpetrator was outside the vehicle. “The guy who got shot fell out. I closed the door and peeled rubber.”

Robert, who said things have gotten much better in D.C. over the years, also noted that he has never been afraid to ask for directions.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” I said.

“What?” said Robert.

“You can’t run for Congress,” I told him.

“That’s OK,” said Robert. “I can do more good driving a bus.”

Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima