Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Laundry Basket Case"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Life is a vicious cycle because there is always a laundry list of things to do. This is especially true if you have to do the laundry, in which case there are three cycles: wash, rinse and spin.

But you can’t do the laundry, as my wife, Sue, and I found out recently, if your washing machine is on the fritz. Unfortunately, we don’t know anybody named Fritz, so we called a plumber named Harry.

Harry, who owns Brookhaven Plumbing and Heating on Long Island, N.Y., came over because our laundry room was beginning to flood, though not enough to open an indoor swimming pool.

The problem, we thought, was coming from the washer, a decrepit machine that had many clothes calls in its 15 years (that’s about 100 in appliance years) but now seemed to be a victim of death by drowning.

Then we discovered a leak coming from the pipe under the slop sink, into which the washer regurgitated water, suds and lint, which is not immaterial. In fact, I have a navel reserve of lint, but that’s another story.

The real story, according to Harry, was that the elbow was leaking.

“Will I have to see a rheumatologist?” I asked.

“Not your elbow,” Harry answered. “The sink’s elbow. You need a plumbing doctor. That would be me.”

“Thanks for making a house call, doc,” I said.

“That’s my job,” said Harry, who noted that most insurance claims are the result of plumbing problems. “A washing machine hose will blow and cause a flood,” he said. “I’ve gotten calls from people who had four feet of water in their basement.”

“I’ll never have that problem because I don’t have a basement,” I said.

“The water would just go through the garage,” said Harry.

“Then my daughters would have to get all their stuff out of there,” I said.

Harry’s daughter has two daughters who are, of course, Harry’s granddaughters.

“They’re 5 and 2 years old,” Harry said. “And they’re always asking questions, like ‘Papa, why is the sky blue?’ ”

“Do they ask plumbing questions?” I asked.

“I haven’t gotten that yet,” Harry answered. “But they know I can fix anything. They’ll say to their mother, ‘Mommy, call Papa. He knows how to do it.’ ”

“My granddaughter is only 16 months old,” I said, “but I think she already knows that I can’t fix anything.”

Harry fixed the problem under the sink and attached a new hose from the washer to the slop sink, which he guessed was installed by the house’s previous owner, a handy guy who had his own workshop in the garage.

“He probably came in here to wash his hands before he went into the kitchen so his wife wouldn’t yell at him,” surmised Harry, whose wife does the laundry in their house. “We have one of those high-tech machines, like the Starship Enterprise, with all these fancy features. It’s just one more thing to go wrong. I employ the ‘kiss’ method: ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ When we get another washer, it’s going to be a simple one.”

The next day, our washer conked out. Sue went to a nearby appliance store and bought a new, high-tech model that plays a tune when the wash is done.

The day after it was installed, I called Harry to tell him that he did an excellent job on the sink but that we ended up needing a new washer after all.

“You jinxed me,” Harry said. “The day after I was at your house, our washer conked out, too. My wife got another high-tech model.”

“Don’t worry, Harry,” I said. “It all comes out in the wash.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Call of the Wildman"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a homebody whose idea of communing with nature is to open the windows, I could never see the forest for the trees, or even the mushrooms for the pizza, which is why I went on a nature walk recently with a guy who knows all about trees and mushrooms. He also makes his own pizza.

I naturally refer to “Wildman” Steve Brill, a naturalist who is a natural at taking people on nature walks, not just because he knows which mushrooms are good on pizza and which can kill you, but because for him, joking is second nature.

“I’m a funny guy,” Wildman told me when we met at Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon, N.Y. “And when I see mushrooms,” he added, “I’m a fungi.”

Like a fungus, Wildman’s delightfully corny jokes grow on you, even though the 25 people who had signed up for the walk didn’t see any corn.

“If you walk far enough,” he told me, “you may develop corns.”

Wildman, whose beard and mustache grow on him, and whose glasses and pith helmet make him look like a jungle professor, is billed on his website ( as “America’s Go-to Guy for Foraging.” At 65, he has seen the forage for the trees for 32 years, during which he has taken nature lovers and mushroom pizza aficionados on excursions throughout the Northeast.

He was even arrested by park rangers in 1986 for eating a dandelion while giving a tour in Central Park in New York City.

“I was charged with criminal mischief,” Wildman remembered, adding that the case was eventually dropped. “I guess they were afraid I would eat the whole park.”

There was no such concern on our walk.

“Will we see a lot of flora?” I asked Wildman as we got started.

“I don’t think Flora is in this group,” he replied, “but it would be nice to see a lot of her.”

The first thing we saw was the common plantain, a lawn and garden weed that not only can be used on mosquito bites (you have to apply the juice to the affected area), but also can be eaten, as Wildman proved by producing some leaves he had cooked at home and passing them around so we could munch on them.

“I garnished them with parsley, sage and rosemary,” he said.

“Not thyme?” I asked, referring to the lyrics in the Simon and Garfunkel song “Scarborough Fair.”

“That’s Scarborough unfair,” said Wildman, who also showed us a plant called Curly Dock. “Not to be confused,” the Three Stooges fan noted, “with Moe Dock and Larry Dock.”

Then we saw and tasted succulent, delicious wineberries. “They’re dangerous because you can die of happiness,” Wildman said as he popped some in his mouth. “They’re berry good.”

One thing that can kill humans is poison ivy, but only if you light it on fire and breathe in the smoke. “Do you know the only person who is immune to poison ivy smoke?” Wildman asked the group. When no one answered, he said, “Bill Clinton. He doesn’t inhale.”

Poison ivy flowers, Wildman added, are “beautiful but deadly, like my ex-girlfriend.”

Then there are mushrooms, only about 1 percent of which are poisonous, such as amanitas. Wildman held one and said, “It’s even worse for you than school lunch.”

Most others, he added, are perfectly safe to eat, like the bolete we found.

“It's good with just about anything,” Wildman said as he showed us a large specimen he had dug up from the ground.

“It’s a ’shroom with a view,” I offered.

“I’ll have to remember that one,” Wildman said.

His entire nature walk was memorable, the perfect combination of education and entertainment.

“I make foraging fun,” Wildman said when the walk was over. Then he handed me a hunk of bolete to take home.

“It’ll make a great mushroom pizza,” he said. “Any way you slice it.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima