Thursday, January 28, 2016

"The Paper Chase"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As an old newspaperman living in a digital age, I am often asked if print will survive. My answer is yes, and for a very important reason: You can’t wrap fish in a website. Besides, what are you supposed to do, housebreak your dog on an iPad?

That’s why my columns, aside from their obvious benefit of being a cure for insomnia, are so valuable.
If one thing has irrevocably changed, however, it’s newspaper delivery, which used to be done by kids on bikes. Now it’s done by adults in cars.

In my never-ending quest for column material that can be used by puppy owners to keep their carpets clean, I recently rode with Lucille Marshak, a newspaper carrier whose best delivery on a dark and stormy night wasn’t the newspaper but, fittingly, a dog.

I met Lucille at a gas station at 3:45 a.m. and climbed into the back of her 2011 Kia Sedona, which already has nearly 200,000 miles on it and was filled with hundreds of newspapers that Lucille unfailingly delivers, every day except Christmas, through rain, snow, sleet and gloom of night.

On this gloomy night, it was rain that Lucille had to drive through.

I told her that my younger daughter used to deliver our hometown paper, The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut, when she was about 12 and that I once took over for her on a Sunday morning when she was sleeping at a friend’s house.

“It was murder,” I added. “I had to lug those heavy papers in a bag around the neighborhood. And I didn’t even have a bike.”

“Kids don’t do that anymore,” said Lucille, who is 61 and for the past 25 years has been delivering Newsday of Long Island, New York, where I now live.

As we made our way through the wooded back roads of Lucille’s long and winding route, which was eerily illuminated by the headlights of her car, a dog suddenly appeared out of the fog.

“I spoke with the owners earlier,” said Lucille, who began at 1 a.m., “and promised I’d  be on the lookout for the dog.”

The dog apparently was on the lookout for Lucille, who pulled over and, at my suggestion, opened the back door. The pooch, a beautiful husky, hopped in and shook herself off, giving me the shower I didn’t have time to take.

“Do you have to go to the bathroom?” I asked the dog. “We have plenty of newspapers.”

The grateful canine, who didn’t take advantage of my offer, for which I was grateful, slobbered me in kisses.

When Lucille pulled up to the dog’s house, her sibling owners, Chris and Jenna Dooley, both in their 20s, came running out. Their father, Charles, stood at the door.

“I was walking on the wet road in a pair of socks, calling her in the rain,” said Chris, adding that the dog’s name is Dakota and that she’s almost 2 years old. “My friend was over and when he opened the door to leave, she scooted out.”

It was now 4:15, way past Dakota’s bedtime.

“Come on, Dakota, let’s go inside,” said Chris. But Dakota didn’t want to leave, preferring to snuggle with me. Eventually she relented and went with Chris, who put her on a leash. “Thank you so much,” he said.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” asked Lucille, who extended her hand out the driver’s-side window and said, “Here’s your paper.”

For the next four hours, Lucille regaled me with stories, like the one about the woman who came out to get the paper naked, and the one about the angry guy who chased her in his car and tried to run her off the road because he didn’t want an advertising supplement.

She also showed me how to make a perfect hook shot, left-handed (she’s a righty) and over the roof of the car, to get the paper to land in subscribers’ driveways.

Then there was the Stolen Paper Caper, which occurred on the route of Lucille’s husband, Ron, who co-owns the family delivery service, which has included their three now-grown children.

“Two women were arrested for taking papers because they wanted the coupons,” Lucille recalled. “Ron and I were interviewed on TV.”

Ironically, a guy in my neighborhood has been stealing papers, including mine, while he walks his dog.

“Maybe the dog isn’t housebroken,” suggested Lucille, who has two dogs of her own and plenty of canine friends on her route.

“If it will help,” I said at the end of a fascinating night in which I saw how hard Lucille, Ron and other newspaper carriers work, “I’ll give the guy copies of my column. His dog will be greatly relieved.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"The Skin Game"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
For the past 40 years, which is how long I have been in journalism, I have had a nose for news. So I guess it was not surprising that the news I received recently involved my nose.

Who knows what news you will receive about your nose until you go to the dermatologist, which is what I did and was told I had skin cancer on you guessed it my ear.

No, actually, it was on my nose, which is my most prominent feature with the notable exception of my mouth, a cavelike aperture made even larger because it frequently contains my size 11 foot.

But back to my nose, which is nothing to sneeze at.

“I think I know what this is,” said my dermatologist, Dr. Adam Korzenko, who has a practice in Port Jefferson Station, New York.

“Yes,” I replied helpfully, “it’s my nose. Believe it or not, it was this size when I was born. I couldn’t lift my head until I was 3 years old.”

“No,” the good doctor told his patient patiently, “I mean this little red spot.”

“In my case,” I countered, “the red spot isn’t so little. If I stood on a street corner, cars might actually stop.”

“I am going to do a biopsy,” Dr. Korzenko said, “but I am 99 percent sure this is a basal cell carcinoma. It’s not life-threatening, but you should have it removed.”

“My nose?” I exclaimed. “That would involve dynamite and jackhammers. You’d have to hire a construction crew.”

“You can keep your nose,” Dr. Korzenko said reassuringly.

“Good,” I responded, “because nobody else would want it. But I have to ask a question: How could I have skin cancer? I am not a sun worshipper. And if I go out on a sunny day, I always slather myself with sunscreen.”

“This probably goes back to when you were a kid,” Dr. Korzenko said. “It’s very common. I see 800 cases a year. And it’s really nothing to worry about. But you should have it taken care of.”

The skin, Dr. Korzenko said, is the body’s largest organ (sorry, guys), which is why it is important to have it checked regularly.

A few days later, the biopsy came back positive.

“Are you positive?” I asked the nice person who called with the news.

“Yes,” she said. “We’ll book you with a surgeon.”

Not long afterward, I went to East Setauket, New York, and sat in the office of Dr. Evan Jones, who was ready to do a Mohs procedure.

“Mohs?” I inquired. “Please tell me Larry and Curly won’t be assisting.”

“They’re on vacation,” said Dr. Jones, adding that he would numb my nose with a local anesthetic.

“I don’t care where it comes from,” I said. “You could even use something imported, like beer. I could go for one.”

“Then,” he explained, “I’ll take off a thin layer and run a test on it. If I need to take off another layer, I will until there are no more cancer cells.”

The procedure lasted about an hour, most of it spent waiting for the results to come back. Dr. Jones took off one layer and a tiny bit more before saying, “OK, you’re all done.”

The next day, I went to see Dr. Gregory Diehl, a plastic surgeon in Port Jefferson Station.

“I don’t want to end up with a third nostril,” I told him.

“You can breathe easy with two nostrils,” he said.

“Maybe you can use spackle,” I suggested. “Of course, then you’d have to throw in the trowel.”

“I have a better way,” said Dr. Diehl, who explained how he would take skin from the upper right side of my nose and use it to seamlessly cover the cancerous area that was removed during the Mohs procedure.

It was ingenious. And artistic. And swell, even though my nose didn’t swell any more than it did before.

Now I am cancer-free, on the mend and looking as lovely as ever. And I owe it to Drs. Korzenko, Jones and Diehl, all of whom are credits to their profession and good guys to boot.

I may not be a doctor myself, but I am going to give everyone a prescription: Go to the dermatologist regularly and wear sunscreen.

The nose knows.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima