Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Bonjour, French Doors"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
According to an old saying, which I just made up, when one door closes, your finger will get caught in it.

That’s what happened to me recently, which is why I became unhinged. The door didn’t, but it did lose its weatherstripping, so my wife, Sue, and I went to a home improvement store to buy not one but two (because they come in pairs) French doors.

The old doors, which led from the family room to the backyard patio, wore out because they were constantly being opened and closed for ourselves and other family members, including our granddog, Maggie, a canine alarm system that went off loud and clear when Kevin Morales and Matt Feeley, of A-Plus Quality Designs of Long Island, New York, came over to hang the new doors.

“I was always afraid to get French doors,” I said.

“Why?” Kevin asked.

“Because,” I admitted, “I don’t speak French.”

“So you don’t know how they work?” he wondered.

“I found out when we got the old doors,” I said. “Maggie knows, too. She stands there and understands what I’m saying when I ask if she has to go oui oui.”

“And she’s not even a French poodle,” Kevin noted.

As Maggie, an American mutt, continued barking (in English), Kevin said that his stepmother is French and frequently goes back to visit her family in Paris.

“Our son-in-law Guillaume is from France,” I said. “Sue and I went over when he and our daughter Lauren got married. It was wonderful.”

“My stepmom’s aunt still lives there,” said Kevin. “She’s 85, but she looks like she’s 65.”

“What’s her secret?” I asked.

“She drinks wine and smokes cigarettes,” he said. “And she has an apartment on the French Riviera. They live forever over there.”

“Do they have French doors in France?” I inquired.

“I don’t know,” Kevin said. “I’ve never been there.”

(I later asked Guillaume the same question, to which he replied, “In France, they’re just called doors.”)

As Kevin and Matt got themselves into a jamb, and then out of it, they unlocked some of their secrets.

“One time,” Matt recalled, “we were in a cat house.”

“Really?” I spluttered.

“Yeah,” Matt said. “There were hundreds of cats. The place was a total mess.”

“Then,” Kevin chimed in, “we had a job at a mother-daughter home. In one of the rooms, they had a stripper pole. They said it was only for exercise. Meanwhile, there was a couch in there, too. You had to wonder what went on.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “that was the real cathouse.”

Matt, 22, who studied masonry and carpentry at Alfred State College in Alfred, New York, stood outside and used a table saw to flawlessly cut strips of wood for the door frame.

“If I tried that,” I told him, “my nickname would be Lefty.”

“Some of my teachers were missing fingertips,” Matt said. “They were really good, and I learned a lot from them, but they had been doing that kind of work for 30 years. In all that time, accidents are bound to happen.”

Kevin, 42, who used to build modular homes and worked on the pier at South Street Seaport in New York City, said he learned his trade from his grandfather.

“He had hands of gold,” said Kevin, adding that his father isn’t handy at all. “It skipped a generation,” he said. “In fact, nobody else in my family is handy. When something needs to be done, I’m the guy.”

He and Matt were the guys to do fantastic work on our new doors. That included adding insulation, which wasn’t in our old doors.

“Wasn’t it freezing in this room in the winter?” Matt asked

“Now that you mention it,” I said, “it was a tad chilly.”

“Now it won’t be,” he said.

Sue and I, who had warmed up to the pair, thanked them for a job well done.

“As our son-in-law would say,” I told them, “our new French doors are magnifique.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Out on a Limb"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Because I have acrophobia, which means I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head, I could never imagine being a tree trimmer.

It’s a condition I share with Ralph Serrano, who owns a tree company but is, unlike his brave and acrobatic employees, afraid of heights.

Even though I was standing on terra firma, which is Latin for “the ground you will land on, and then be buried under, if you fall out of a tree,” I was dizzy just watching one of the crew members from Aspen Tree Service of Long Island, New York, who came over recently to trim some dead branches from a couple of big oaks in my backyard.

The man on the flying trapeze was Lucio, a sinewy and fearless 19-year-old who attached a pair of spikes to his boots and breezed up the larger of the trees until he reached a height that would give a squirrel vertigo.

As I jerked my head to look up, which made me not only a jerk but a pain in my own neck, Lucio waved for me to get out of the way. And no wonder: I was standing directly beneath a branch so massive that if it crashed onto my dense skull, I would have had a year’s worth of firewood, the result being that the house would have burned to the ground because, unfortunately, I don’t have a fireplace.

After I had backed safely away, Lucio revved up his chainsaw and started cutting the branch. Sawdust rained from the sky, covering my noggin and giving me a bad case of woody dandruff.

A minute later, the branch fell, its descent slowed to a gentle thud by a rope that was attached and handled by one of the other four crew members.

Lucio, a rope around him, too, swung to another branch and then to the adjacent oak, felling more lifeless limbs before gliding back down, a smile on his face and nary a drop of sweat on his brow.

I fainted.

“He’s good,” said Miguel, the foreman of the crew, which cut up the downed limbs.

“Aren’t you afraid to be up so high?” I asked Lucio.

He shook his head and said, “I like it.”

When I met Ralph, I told him that his workers were fantastic.

“They’re braver than I am,” he said. “The first time I saw them go up, I said, ‘You guys are nuts.’ You couldn’t pay me to do that.”

Ralph, who worked for another tree company before founding Aspen 20 years ago, recalled the first time he did a pruning job.

“I started to climb,” he said. “It took me about an hour. The homeowner was staring at me. ‘What are you trying to do?’ he asked. I couldn’t even get up the tree. I had to come back with a regular climber. I was petrified. Now I leave it to my guys to do the job.”

“If tree climbing were an Olympic sport, Lucio would win a gold medal,” I said.

“It’s definitely a circus act,” said Ralph, who’s 57.

“And the height of your profession,” I noted.

Ralph nodded and said, “We have plenty of puns. When people ask how business is, I’ll say, ‘We’re branching out.’ And we always go out on a limb for our customers.”

“You don’t,” I reminded him.

“Not literally,” Ralph said. “But I make sure to give them good service.”

“So you’re not a bump on a log,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “But we do haul logs away. And we offer free wood chips.”

“Is that your stump speech?” I asked.

“Now it is,” Ralph said.

I thanked him for a great job and told him to give Lucio and the other guys a raise.

“When it comes to tree trimming,” I said, “they’re a cut above.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima