Thursday, January 29, 2015

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Steven's Court"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a Connecticut Yankee born and bred or perhaps I should say born and white-bread, which is how most people think of Connecticut Yankees I have always loved history, not just because I am old enough to be historical myself, but because I could never do algebra.

That’s why I was so grateful when Joe Courtney, the Democratic congressman from Connecticut’s Second District, defended our brave little state from the slander perpetrated against it in the 2012 film “Lincoln.” The offenders were director Steven Spielberg, who is from Ohio, and screenwriter Tony Kushner, who is from New York, though they both might as well be from Neptune (and not New Jersey, either).

The movie showed how the president (William Henry Harrison — sorry, I mean Abraham Lincoln) pushed for the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

In the key voting scene, two of the three members of the Connecticut delegation were wrongly depicted as voting against the amendment. In reality, there were four members and they all voted for it.

Incredulous after seeing the movie, Rep. Courtney wrote an open letter to Spielberg, pointing out the flub and asking for a correction on the DVDs, which the director had promised to send to middle and high schools across the country, presumably so the lie about Connecticut could be perpetuated for the current generation of students.

The letter prompted a snotty, half-baked response from Kushner, who threw Spielberg under the horse and buggy by saying the director approved the intentionally erroneous scene because it gave the audience “placeholders” (was he planning a dinner party?) and was a “rhythmic device” (which would have been more appropriate if he had been making a movie about George Gershwin).

Kushner also said he and Spielberg wanted to show how the closeness of the vote was the “historical reality.” Truth be told, the historical reality was that they got it wrong on purpose. How stupid was that?

It had to be the biggest mistake of Spielberg’s career, not only because it was easily avoidable and completely unnecessary, but because the resultant controversy was probably the main reason why he, Kushner and the film itself didn’t win Oscars in 2013.

Now that it’s 2015, the 150th anniversary of the passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment, Rep. Courtney is again coming to Connecticut’s defense.

This time he and his staff have produced a resource guide titled “Honoring Connecticut’s Role in Abolishing Slavery, 150 Years Later.” Intended to accompany any school showing of “Lincoln,” which probably would put kids to sleep anyway, the guide shows how the state’s four representatives Augustus Brandegee, James English, Henry Deming and John Henry Hubbard braved hardships and personal attacks to vote for the 13th Amendment when it passed on Jan. 31, 1865.

“Did they sail from Connecticut to Washington on their yachts or did they drive BMWs?” I asked Rep. Courtney in a phone conversation.

“I think they rode horses,” he responded.

“Spielberg would be shocked,” I said. “The photos of the four representatives in your guide show that they didn’t wear polo shirts, so I assume they weren’t wearing khakis and boat shoes, either.”

“Probably just woolen suits,” Rep. Courtney said.

“Another Connecticut myth exploded,” I declared.

Unlike Spielberg, Kushner and the late, great singer Sam Cooke, whose 1960 hit, “Wonderful World,” opens with the lyrics, “Don’t know much about history,” Rep. Courtney, 61, was a history major at Tufts University and graduated in the class of 1975.

“I wouldn’t say I was magna cum laude,” he acknowledged, “but I got pretty good grades.”

“Do you think Spielberg and Kushner got good grades in history?” I asked.

“Based on what they did to Connecticut in ‘Lincoln,’ they might have flunked,” said Rep. Courtney.

“I’m glad you set the record straight with your guide,” I told him (it can be accessed at “In fact, it would make a great movie.”

“I can see it being a documentary,” Rep. Courtney said.

“And I have just the guys to make it,” I said. “Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner.”

“I don’t know about Kushner,” Rep. Courtney said.

“You’re right,” I replied. “He’s a brilliant writer, but he never met a fact he didn’t hate. How about if I wrote it and you produced it?”

“If you can find an agent and a backer,” said Rep. Courtney, noting that politics in Hollywood are even worse than they are in Washington, “it could work.”

“And if Spielberg promises to get it right this time, he can direct,” I said. “Who knows, he might even win an Oscar.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"The Inside Story"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If there is one kind of doctor I could never be, it’s a gastroenterologist. Aside from the fact that I’m a gasbag, the reason is simple: When it comes to invasive medical procedures that involve the exploration of cavities not treated by a dentist, I don’t know which end is up.

Fortunately, my gastroenterologist, Dr. Emily Glazer, doesn’t have that problem. That’s why she could make both head and tail of my problem (a cast-iron stomach that was getting a little rusty) by performing an endoscopy and a colonoscopy on me at the same time.

It had to be one of the most remarkable feats in medical annals (not to be confused with a similar word that would be an appalling but appropriate typo, especially if my blood was type O).

During treatment for my most recent kidney stone (I have had four, enough to make another Mount Rushmore), a CAT scan showed that I had an abnormality in my upper gastrointestinal tract. As opposed, of course, to the abnormality in my upper cranial region.

“It’ll be one-stop shopping,” Dr. Glazer said of the double procedure as I sat in her office for a consultation.

“I don’t like to shop,” I replied.

“Trust me,” she said. “You’re getting a good deal.”

The next evening, I had to prepare for the colonoscopy. I hadn’t had one for at least a dozen years and was, according to Dr. Glazer, “long past due.” The preparation involved the ingestion of a vile liquid that had the same effect on my innards as dynamite would have on the Hoover Dam.

Feeling flushed, I arrived at 7 o’clock the following morning at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, an excellent facility in Port Jefferson, New York, where I have been treated for kidney stones so many times that I should have my own parking space. My wife, Sue, drove me there because I would be too loopy to drive myself home, not that such a state of discombobulation would be anything out of the ordinary.

The first thing I had to do was get undressed and put on a johnny coat, the flimsy gown that opens in the back, meaning I couldn’t even turn the other cheek. Thankfully, I didn’t have to because I got to put on a second johnny coat and wear it the other way around so I was fully covered. I hoped the insurance company would agree.

“Poor Johnny,”  I said to a nice nurse named Margaret. “I’m wearing both of his coats. He’ll catch cold.”

“Don’t worry,” she responded. “We’ll take good care of him.”

Margaret and everyone else at Mather took good care of me. When a catheter was hooked up to the back of my left hand, I asked, “Can I still wave to people?”

“Yes,” Margaret said. “But they might move you to the psych unit.”

Instead, I was moved to the operating room, where Dr. Robert Bernstein, the anesthesiologist, said I’d be getting a GI procedure.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I’m not in the Army.”

I could tell he couldn’t wait to knock me out. But he said that first he would spray my throat with a local anesthetic.

“I don’t care where it comes from,” I said.

“It’s to prevent a gag reflex,” Dr. Bernstein explained.

“I’m always pulling gags,” I told him.

“I can see that,” he said, adding that after I was put under, I would have some air pumped into me to open my internal equivalent of the Lincoln Tunnel.

“I’m already full of hot air,” I noted.

Dr. Bernstein smiled and nodded in agreement.

Dr. Glazer came in and said the whole thing would take less than half an hour.

“We’ll do the endoscopy first,” she said, noting that the procedure would be done through my mouth. “After that, we’ll spin you around and do the colonoscopy.”

“You mean it will be like a spin class?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Dr. Glazer. “Except you won’t be awake.”

A moment later, it was all quiet on the western front. In what seemed like another moment, I was awake again and lying in the recovery unit. I was, predictably, even loopier than usual. But considering the abnormality turned out to be the only thing about me that’s normal, I did very well, thanks to the wonderful doctors and nurses who had a great deal of patience with the silliest of patients.

As I said to one of them before Sue drove me home, “It all came out in the end.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest Stories of 2014"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Now that 2015 is here, meaning it will be at least three months before we stop writing 2014 on our checks, it is time for a look back at the top stories of the past year.

These are not goofy little news items dealing with such inconsequential matters as health care, the midterm elections and various conflicts around the world. Rather, they are the kind of important, socially significant and absolutely true stories that are the lifeblood of this column.

So here, without further delay, are the top stories of 2014.

As proof that last year was for the birds, our fine feathered friends made plenty of news. That includes Nigel, a parrot that spoke with a British accent when he disappeared from his home in Torrance, California, in 2010. But when Nigel was reunited with his owner last year, he spoke Spanish.

Nigel’s owner, the appropriately named Darren Chick, said the bird seemed happy to be home and that he asked, in Spanish, “What happened?” As Nigel also might have said, everything turned out muy bien.

In other avian news, police in Epping, New Hampshire, sheltered, then released a confused homing pigeon that went the wrong way in a race. But it didn’t go far after rainy weather affected its ability to navigate. The birdbrain, a male that obviously refused to ask for directions, could have used a GPS, which stands, of course, for Global Pigeon System.

Not to be outdone, dogs found out that 2014 was a ruff year. One of them was Cato, a Siberian husky that was apprehended after robbing a convenience store in Clinton, South Carolina. According to police, Cato was seen on a surveillance camera taking pig ears, beef bones, dog food and treats.

The four-legged bandit left the store, buried the stolen goods nearby and returned for more. Police filled out a report, but they couldn’t get Cato to confess, even though he was caught red-pawed.

Cato never would have been nabbed if Cash had been on the case. That’s because Cash, a Belgian shepherd in Cannon Beach, Oregon, was fired from the police department’s K-9 unit for dogging it on the job.

You can’t get anything done when you’re trying to get him to find dope and he’s just barking in your face,” said officer Josh Gregory.

Seems like Cash was the real dope.

In dopey human news, a man in Albany, Georgia, contacted the wrong person while looking for marijuana. He sent his probation officer a text message that read, “You have some weed?”

The probation officer notified police and the pothead ended up back in prison. I wonder if his case was tried in a high court?

At least he didn’t steal a car to get there, which is more than I can say for an idiot in Sonora, California, who was arrested after allegedly using a stolen car to get to court, where he was ordered to appear on a previous charge of you guessed it auto theft.

That wasn’t the case with two would-be carjackers who almost who got away with a vehicle in Ocala, Florida, but didn't know how to drive a stick shift. I hope they got accelerated rehabilitation. 

Other important — and absolutely true — stories from 2014:

A herd of gassy dairy cows nearly lifted the roof off their barn in central Germany when methane released by the animals caused an explosion. Fortunately, they weren’t hurt, but it could have been udder devastation.

A naked Australian man who became stuck in a washing machine as part of an ill-planned practical joke was freed with the help of olive oil. It must have been applied down under.

A motorcyclist brought traffic to a standstill on one of Madrid’s busiest highways after he pulled over to look for his false teeth, which flew out of his mouth when he sneezed. It had to be the first time a chopper lost a set of choppers.

Finally, I am proud to say that one of the best stories of 2014 happened in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, where a city man fabricated his own demise to avoid marrying a woman he met in college. Till faked death did they part.

In that same stupid spirit, here’s hoping 2015 is another great year.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima