Sunday, August 30, 2020

"Home, Sweat Home"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

In the 22 years my wife, Sue, and I have owned our house, we have had an open-door policy: Whenever work needs to be done, we open our door to a variety of handymen, licensed professionals and other skilled workers who can do what I can’t, which is practically everything.

As the Least Handy Man in America, even I knew that we should have installed a revolving door (which would have required the services of yet another laborer) because so many things needed fixing recently that our humble abode looked like the set of a Hollywood blockbuster.

The cast included Anthony the Contractor, Chris the Carpenter and Painter, Mario the Spackler, Andy the Plumber, Ed the Electrician, and Luis, Don, Richard and Raul the Burner Boys.

The work included ripping up the family room carpet, installing a vinyl floor, spackling the ceiling and then painting it, all of which needed to be done because of water damage that also ruined a kitchen cabinet, which had to be removed, as did part of the soffit above the sink. The empty space, which contained traces of mold, had to be cleaned before a new corner cabinet, which was tough to find, could be installed by Anthony and his son Mateo.

Then there were plumbing and electrical issues involving a bleeder valve in an upstairs bedroom (the water leaked down to the kitchen) and the conking out of the downstairs thermostat, which made the house feel like a sauna. It didn’t help that we had to pay for everything in cold cash.

“The Money Pit” had nothing on us. As I told Sue in the midst of all this craziness, “Home is where the heart attack is.”

But it was actually fun. And all the guys, who wore face masks and kept a social distance, were great. So was their workmanship.

Every morning, Anthony and Chris (and sometimes Mario or Andy) would come over for a hard day’s work, which couldn’t begin until Sue and I gave them breakfast. On the menu were coffee, bagels and doughnuts. Butter, cream cheese, milk and sugar also were available.

“Service with a smile!” Sue chirped.

“I’d make eggs,” I said, “but I’m afraid I would burn the house down.”

“Even we couldn’t fix that,” said Anthony.

The guys would work until lunch. I am always out to lunch, but on these days I stayed in. Sometimes Anthony and Chris went out, too, but on other days they also stayed in. I ordered pizza a couple of times and once Sue served corned beef sandwiches. There were homemade cookies for dessert.

“You’re making us fat,” Anthony said.

“Growing boys need their nourishment,” Sue told them.

“Besides,” I added, “you’re really working it off.”

One day, the work started at 7:30 in the morning, when Mario came over to spackle, and ended at 7:30 at night, when Luis came over to check out the thermostat. (Long story short: We had to order a new one.)

Another day, Jason and Mike the Pest Control Guys came over but stayed outside when I told them I was the pest inside.

“I don’t think we could control you,” Jason said.

After Andy fixed our plumbing problem, Sue said, “We’ll call you if we have any more cracks.”

I pointed to my head, which prompted Andy to say, “I don’t think I could fix that one.”

When Ed, who had done great electrical work for us before, came back to check out some wires, Sue said, “Let’s have a party!”

It was a party every day. But all good, noisy, dusty things must come to an end.

“I miss them,” Sue said when Anthony and Chris left.

“They’ll be back,” I replied. “A house is not a home unless there’s something to do.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Out on a Limb With Yard Work"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Ask any robin, blue jay or birdbrained homeowner and they will tell you that everything happens in trees.

I know this, and not because a little bird told me, after seeing the debris that several trees recently left in my yard. Actually, two yards, front and back, which were littered with leaves, twigs and branches when a storm blew through and knocked out our power for six days.

My power, never in great supply, was knocked out over the course of three days, when I founded Jerry’s Landscaping, Tree Trimming & Myocardial Infarction Service.

The crew consisted of yours truly, president, and my wife, Sue, treasurer, a job that entailed no work because money, unfortunately, doesn’t grow on trees.

But the aforementioned arboreal appendages do, along with acorns and assorted other nuts, one of whom, as you may have guessed, was me.

I thought I was through with yard work forever when I gave it up seven years ago and hired a company to do spring and fall cleanups and, every other week, cut the grass. Or what little there is of it because, thanks to a shady oak in the front, the yard looks like it was manicured with a flamethrower.

Speaking of oaks, they are the root (sorry) of the problem. They are supposedly the strongest trees, but like big, burly, macho guys who faint when they get a flu shot, they’re really wimps.

Even in a light breeze, they’ll turn into litterbugs, leaving my property strewn with leaves, twigs, branches, acorns and, in the spring, that disgusting brown gunk that falls on my car, which becomes so messy with sticky stuff that it couldn’t be thoroughly cleaned unless I drove it under Niagara Falls.

So you can imagine what my yard looked like after the recent tropical storm, which should have minded its own business and stayed in the tropics.

The really exasperating part was that countless healthy limbs came crashing down while several dead branches, probably associated with my bank, remained attached to the trunks of our biggest oaks.

I feared that when I went outside to clean up, the trees would know how much this annoyed me and would wait until I was directly underneath, at which point the lifeless limbs would drop on what would soon be my lifeless torso.

After dinner on the day of the storm, Sue and I went out to the front yard and, with one old rake between us, started cleaning up. The rake was of minimal use because it looked like a skinny boxer who’d had a couple of teeth knocked out.

“How come we have only one rake?” I asked Sue.

“Because,” she shot back, “you don’t do yard work anymore.”

So we took turns: One would rake, the other would break up fallen limbs, twigs and branches and stuff them into a large lawn and garden bag. We worked until dark, then went back in the house, which also was dark.

The next day, I spent five hours cleaning up the backyard, which was a disaster area because it’s dotted with oaks that teamed up to see how long it would take me to throw my back out.

I couldn’t do that, of course, because it wouldn’t have fit in a bag already overflowing with woody debris. Since Sue was out, the only person who could help me was Woody Debris, but he must have been cleaning up his own yard.

A few days later, Sue and I finished the job. All in all, we filled 16 bags.

As I brought our pathetic little rake back to the shed, a brazen robin taunted me with chirps.

“There’s a lesson in all of this,” I told Sue. “Tropical storms and mighty oaks are for the birds.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 16, 2020

"Diary of a Powerless Homeowner"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Since I am always in the dark, mainly because I’m lightheaded, the recent storm didn’t throw shade at me. But it left my house in the dark, too. For six days. So I got a pen and a flashlight and kept a diary because, unfortunately, I was powerless to do anything else.

Tuesday: Tropical Storm Isaias breezes in and knocks out the electricity at 12:30 p.m.

“How could the power go out?” I ask my wife, Sue. “It’s just drizzling.”

The power comes back on at 2 p.m.

“What a wimp of a storm,” I say.

Isaias must have heard me because half an hour later he blows through with a vengeance and knocks out the power again.

The storm leaves twigs and branches all over our property. Sue and I go outside after dinner (chicken salad — yum!) to clean up the front yard and see Corrie, our next-door neighbor, who says the power isn’t supposed to come back on until Thursday.

I call the power company but can’t get through.

“They must be out, too,” I chortle.

Darkness descends. I light candles and nearly burn off my fingertips. My phone is almost out of juice, so I get in my air-conditioned (thank God!) car and drive around while charging it. When I arrive back home, it feels like a sauna.

“Let’s wear towels!” I tell Sue.

She frowns. I grab a flashlight and try to read a book. It’s one of mine. I get drowsy.

We go to bed but can’t sleep. Sue gets up and goes into another room, possibly because I forgot to brush my teeth. I’ll do it in the morning.

Wednesday: I finally get through to the power company. A recording tells me there is no information about our outage but that crews are “working hard” to restore electricity, which should be back up by Friday.

I wonder how many times I can flick the bathroom light switch before remembering that we have no power.

I spend the entire day cleaning the backyard. I smell to the high heavens. So does some of our food, which Sue throws out.

Thursday: I finally take a shower. The water is so cold it could induce cardiac arrest in a walrus.

Power update: It should be back up by Saturday. I drive around after dark to charge my phone again and notice that every house in the neighborhood but mine and several others in a two-block area are illuminated like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Friday: Sue and I drive to the home of our younger daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Guillaume, who have power. Our granddaughters Chloe and Lilly are happy we are staying over.

Sue and I sleep in the air-conditioned living room on an air mattress that Lauren’s friend Tara kindly lets us use. It’s the best rest we’ve had all week.

Saturday: I play with the girls outside, first on the swings, then in their inflatable pool. Afterward, I have a beer that, unlike the brew in our house, is actually cold.

Power update: They’re shooting for Sunday. I’d like to shoot them.

Sunday: Sue and I thank Lauren and Guillaume for their hospitality and drive home. We arrive at 2:45 p.m. and find that there’s still no electricity. As Sue throws out the rest of the food, I call the power company and speak with Patti, who apologizes and says, “There are no words.”

“There are plenty of words,” I tell her. “But I can’t repeat them over the phone.”

Then, at 6:09 p.m., the house alarm starts blaring.

“We have power!” I squeal.

“Finally!” Sue exults.

I flick the bathroom switch. The light goes on. I’m not in the dark after all.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 9, 2020

"Banks for Nothing, Moneybags"

 By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

If I ever won Powerball and survived the shock, a technical necessity since you can’t collect if you are legally dead, I still wouldn’t be in the money. That’s because my wife, a neat person, would inadvertently throw out the ticket or I, a messy person, would put the ticket somewhere in the house for safekeeping and never find it again.

But I am happy to report that my heart is still beating, albeit at a much faster rate, because I have just won 1 million euros in the Spanish Lotto Lottery and am eligible to win $1.3 billion in the year-end drawing of the Euro Millo Lottery.

The timing couldn’t have been better because approximately half an hour before receiving the good news via email, it took my bank exactly three seconds to reject my online application for a line of credit.

Stunned at the speed with which I was rejected, which was even faster than what I experienced on the dating scene before I met my wife, I called the bank’s 800 number and was connected to the “fulfillment department.”

After hearing a disembodied voice say that the call “may be monitored and/or recorded for quality assurance purposes,” I spoke with a “customer service specialist” named Tesshana.

“There is some delinquency on your credit,” she said.

“I used to be a juvenile delinquent,” I told her. “I’m all grown up now, but I’m still juvenile. Will you give me credit for that?”

“I’m afraid I can’t,” said Tesshana.

“The bank must have set the world record for fastest rejection,” I noted.

“It doesn’t take long at all,” Tesshana explained. “Thank you for being a valued client and have a good day.”

The rejection caused dejection until I got an email from Paul Schmiitz, award consulting director of the Spanish Lotto Lottery, informing me of my fabulous winnings.

I phoned him but got this recording: “Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and call again.”

So I sent him the following email:

Dear Mr. Schmiitz:

I’m Jerry Zezima, an internationally syndicated newspaper columnist whose work, I am proud to say, has no redeeming social value.

Because I had to take a vow of poverty when I went into journalism, and because I was just rejected for a bank loan, and because the price of beer has gone up during the pandemic, I was beside myself (my wife was in another room) with excitement to receive your email informing me that I have won 1 million euros in the Spanish Lotto Lottery.

If that weren’t generous enough (the mortgage is due, so it isn’t), I am eligible to participate in the Euro Millo Lottery’s year-end drawing for $1.3 billion. That’s a lot of beer money. I’m not sure I would take it all in one lump’s sum because it would only weigh down my pants and put me in a higher tax bracket.

Still, I am so excited about this windfall that I would like to write a column about you and the lottery. As proof of just how low journalistic standards have sunk, my columns run in papers around the world, so you would be getting lots of free publicity. After giving me all that money, it’s probably the only kind you could afford.

Thanks very much, Mr. Schmiitz. I await your reply (and the 1 million euros) with bated breath. In the meantime, I guess I should brush my teeth.


Jerry Zezima

P.S. Pay the phone bill. Your number is out of service.

I am shocked to say that I have not heard back. But the bank and the lottery can keep the money. As long as I have enough for beer, I’ll consider myself a rich man.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 2, 2020

"This Electrician Is a Live Wire"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group

I have always been considered a dim bulb, except for the fact that I married a bright woman, who proves it by making me the one to risk electrocution whenever a light bulb needs to be changed.

So fearful am I when it comes to wattage that I was shocked — shocked! — to find myself helping out with electrical work being done at our house.

The track lighting in the family room had to be dismantled and replaced with high hats. And the ceiling fan and the chandelier in the kitchen both had to be updated. Because I could never perform these tasks without turning myself into a lightning rod, I hired Ed Knopf, a licensed electrician who, against his better judgment, made me his apprentice for the day.

“Do you know anything about electricity?” Ed asked.

“Of course,” I replied. “How do you think my hair got so curly?”

In his 40 years in the business, Ed has gotten a jolt or two himself.

He said, “You have to watch out for live wires.”

That includes hot women.

“I’ve had a few who were scantily dressed and were coming on to me,” Ed said.

“Did they want to make sparks fly?” I asked.

“I guess so,” he said. “Nothing happened because I was married at the time. But I did make sparks fly for a guy who wouldn’t leave me alone. He was standing right next to me to see what I was doing.”

“Was he making you hot under the collar?” I inquired.

“He was burning me up,” Ed said. “So I shorted out the wires on purpose. Sparks flew and he was gone. I had to reset the circuit breakers, but it was worth it.”

I’m not sure it was worth it to have me as an apprentice, but I tried to help.

“Here,” Ed said as he stood on a ladder and handed me the track lighting. “You have to do something. You can’t just stand there and look pretty.”

I looked plastered when plaster fell on my head while Ed cut holes in the ceiling so he could run wires through. After handing me a handful of screws, he said, “Don’t screw up.”

I handed Ed the high hats and listened as he told me about more wacky customers.

“At this one house, the power was off and the homeowner wanted to turn the lights on,” he said. “I told her I would get shocked. Then I said, ‘Don’t you know electricians can see in the dark?’ She said, ‘They can?’ She wasn’t too bright herself.”

Then there was the guy who thought Ed and his then-girlfriend, who was helping him install a fan, were having sex in the attic.

“It was 90 degrees and we were up there for a while,” Ed said. “But we were just working. Honest.”

The worst customers are the ones who try to do electrical work themselves.

“I’m surprised they don’t burn their houses down,” said Ed, adding: “My favorite line is: ‘I have no idea where these wires go.’ I always say that to people.”

As he was installing the new ceiling fan in the kitchen, he said, “I was working with a friend once and he said, ‘Quiet, can’t you see I’m thinking?’ I said, ‘I thought I smelled something burning.’ The woman who owned the house said, ‘Burning? What’s burning?’ She panicked. I said, ‘Lady, that’s a figure of speech.’ You run into some real doozies in this job.”

The biggest doozy, I’m sure, was me. But at least I made myself useful and didn’t turn on the power before Ed was finished.

“You did a good job,” he said. “Your wife will be happy to know that you’re not so dim after all.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima