Sunday, October 25, 2020

"These Candidates Left Voters Speechless"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

Fourscore and seven beers ago, our fathers brought forth, with incontinence, a new notion, conceived in lethargy and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created clueless.

It has been 20 years since these immortal and perhaps even immoral words were uttered in a stump speech, which left listeners stumped, for one of the great presidential campaigns in U.S. history.

I refer, of course, to the Porky and Zez campaigns of 1992, 1996 and 2000. They are remembered here today as proof that politics not only makes strange bedfellows, but can be practiced by jolly good fellows who don’t have to resort to vituperation and vindictiveness, attorneys at law, to gain a loyal following and, incredibly, get votes.

In 1992, for the sound patriotic reason that I had nothing better to do, I declared my candidacy for vice president of the United States. I wanted to be VP because I wouldn’t have to do any actual work. This made me extremely qualified for the job.

My next move was to find a running mate. So I wrote letters to President George H.W. Bush, the Republican incumbent; Bill Clinton, the Democratic nominee and eventual winner; and Ross Perot, the vertically challenged billionaire who was running as an independent.

Bush stuck with Dan Quayle, who was no Jack Kennedy.

Clinton responded three times, thanking me for my support. I wrote in a column that I wouldn’t support him unless he picked me for vice president, so he picked Al Gore.

Perot never replied, probably because he couldn’t reach the mailbox.

Eventually, I found Alan Abel, the famed media prankster who once hoodwinked The New York Times into running his obituary, a major journalistic coup since he was not, at the time, dead.

Alan ran for president under the name of Porky. I was Zez. Together, we were the Gershwin-inspired ticket of Porky and Zez, proudly carrying the banner of the Cocktail Party.

Since our campaign got a late start, we were upset on Election Day.

We learned our lesson and got an earlier start (10 o’clock in the morning) in 1996.

That was our best year. Porky and I were the opening act for Debate ’96 in Hartford, Connecticut. We also were involved in the New Hampshire primary and had headquarters at the Road Kill Cafe in Bartlett, New Hampshire, where campaign manager Tim Lovelette suggested that we run “in an off-year because you would have a better chance.”

We even had a televised convention at a hotel in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut. And we actually got votes. Unfortunately, they weren’t enough to propel us to victory.

We hoped the third time would be the charm, so we tossed our hats, not to mention our dirty socks and underwear, into the ring in 2000. That was the year of the “hanging chad” in Florida. It must have been our campaign that threw everything into disarray. After George W. Bush was declared the winner, Porky and I figured we couldn’t do any more damage, so we retired from politics and took up needlepoint.

Alas, Porky really did die in 2018, but our legacy is secure in the important issues for which we fought.

There was, for example, Big Apple health care coverage, so named because it was conceived in a taxi in New York City and operated on the principle that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

We also proposed eliminating Wednesday from the calendar to establish a four-day workweek. And we wanted to put truth serum in the Senate drinking fountain.

There may be no more Porky and Zez campaigns, but this year you can do your part, not only by voting, but by toning down the rhetoric.

And remember the great Cocktail Party rallying cry: Four more beers!

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"This Customer Is Always Right"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

As a “valued customer,” which is better than being a “customer nobody cares about,” I can’t go to the store to buy a toothbrush without being asked to fill out a survey.

The survey is usually at the end of a receipt that is long enough to encircle my car, in which I drive home so I can go online and answer questions about the store, the service and, of course, my new toothbrush.

Sometimes I receive an email from the store, asking: “How did we do?”

Then I am expected to take the survey again.

Stores aren’t the only places that want to know how I feel about them. I also am asked to fill out surveys from the bank, the post office, the pharmacy, the supermarket and other places that want my opinion, which in my own home is regarded as worthless.

One of these days, I’ll get a survey from the lunatic asylum, which is where I will end up if I keep getting requests to fill out surveys.

It made me wonder: If all these places want to know what I think of them, what do they think of me as a “valued customer”?

So I recently conducted my own surveys.

I started at the post office, where Kenny asked how he could help me. I told him I wanted to mail an envelope containing a book.

“Are the contents potentially hazardous?” he asked.

“It’s a book I wrote,” I replied, “so the contents are potentially hazardous if you read it.”

Kenny smiled, gave me a “media rate” and handed me a receipt with a tracking number and — you guessed it — a survey.

“You’re an exemplary employee,” I told Kenny. “But how am I as a customer?”

“I really can’t complain,” he answered. “So far, so good. You did well. I’ll give you a good review.”

I thanked Kenny and went to the bank, where I was helped by Ranisha.

“I have two checks totaling $44.47,” I said. “I’d like to deposit them. I’m sorry they aren’t for a million dollars, but every little bit helps.”

Ranisha chuckled and said, “With interest, you might become a millionaire after all.”

When the transaction was completed, I said I was taking a survey.

“Am I a good customer?” I asked.

“You’re very good and very nice,” she said. “I give you high marks.”

Later, I asked Maria, my barber, to rate me as a customer.

“You’re great,” she said as she snipped my wiry locks. “You’re polite, punctual and considerate. What more could I ask for? You’re doing very well. In fact, you’re a dream.”

“Some dreams are nightmares,” I noted.

“You’re not one of them,” said Maria, whom I have known for 20 years.

“How would I rank on a survey?” I inquired.

“You’d get top marks,” Maria said.

For my last survey, I headed to the store to buy a toothbrush and spoke with Christina, whom I also have known for 20 years.

“When you started coming in, I was in the photo department. Now I’m a shift supervisor,” Christina said. “I owe it all to you.”

When I asked her to rate me as a customer, Christina said, “You’re the hostess with the mostest! I’d absolutely give you high marks.”

I got a toothbrush and brought it to the counter.

“Are you ready to check out?” Christina asked.

“Not for many more years,” I responded.

“You are too much!” said Christina, who handed me a long receipt. “You can wear it as a scarf,” she suggested.

“Thanks for taking my survey,” I said.

“I wish we had surveys to rank customers,” said Christina. “A lot of them would get bad marks.”

“How about me?” I asked.

“Believe me,” Christina said, “nobody could top you.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 11, 2020

"You Don't Have to Pardon My French"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

I have long considered myself a Francophile, which is defined as someone who loves ballpark franks, because my son-in-law Guillaume is from France.

So it was only natural that I decided, during a recent car (voiture) ride with Guillaume, who was on a hands-free phone call with his mother (mère) and father (père) while I ate a bag of French (français) fries, to learn French (ditto).

Guillaume has been teaching Chloe, his 7-year-old daughter (fille) and my granddaughter (petite fille), the beautiful language (langue) of his homeland.

This is being done with an app called Duolingo. It features Duo, a little green owl (chouette vert) who helps monolingual (I am not even going to look it up) people such as me (moi) learn French, Spanish and many other languages, including the most wonderful of all: Pig Latin.

Guillaume downloaded Duolingo on my cellphone, which also has apps for the weather (météo), the news (actualités), a calculator (calculatrice), a camera (caméra) and my bank account (empty).

I started by answering several questions, the first being: “Why are you learning a language?”

The answers included: family and friends, culture, brain training, school, job opportunities and travel.

Because I get my culture from yogurt, I don’t have a brain, I don’t go to school, I don’t want a job and I can’t travel, I chose family and friends, even though, for what must be obvious reasons, I don’t have too many of the latter.

Then I had to pick one of four goals: casual (five minutes a day), regular (10 minutes), serious (15) and intense (20).

“Pick casual,” Guillaume suggested. “You should start slow.”

“Merci,” I said, thanking him in French, before adding: “I’ve always been slow, even in English.”

But I got off to a fast (rapide) start when I was given questions such as: “How do you say croissant?”

The choices were: le garçon, le homme, le chat and le croissant.

I hesitated a minute (une minute), figuring it was a trick question, before answering: “Le croissant.”

A musical flourish — ta-da! (French translation: ta-da!) — burst from the phone.

“Amazing!” it said under my correct answer.

After correctly answering several other easy (facile) questions, I finished the day’s lesson with a perfect (parfait) score.

“Great job!” it said on the screen. “You reached your daily goal! Lesson complete!”

Duo himself popped up and, with his tiny wings (ailes), applauded me.

I felt like a million euros.

I felt even better (meilleur) the next day, when I breezed through Lesson 2 (deux), translating such sentences as: “Je suis un chat.” (“I am a cat.”)

This meant, of course, that I was the chat’s meow.

On the third (troisième) day, I was asked this question: “Tu es un cheval?” (“Are you a horse?”) I was glad that after horse, it didn’t say “derrière.”

The next day I was informed that “34 hours on Duolingo teaches you as much as one semester at a university.”

I hadn’t learned enough French to ask if I would go bankrupt paying tuition. Fortunately, the app is free (gratuit).

The last day was so easy — at one point I was shown pictures of an orange, a croissant and a pizza and was asked to identify the pizza — that I would have tipped my hat to myself, except I don’t own a beret (béret).

When I told Guillaume I did well in my first week, he said, “Yes.”

“You mean oui,” I corrected him.

When I spoke with Chloe, she was even more impressed.

“Très bien (very good), Poppie!” she said.

In looking back on a memorable (mémorable) week, I can truly say that, at least on my cellphone, I’ll always have Paris.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 4, 2020

"The Spouse in the House"

By Jerry Zezima

Hearst Connecticut Media Group

After I retired last year, which raised the question of how I could stop working when I never really started, I realized that I still had two jobs: babysitting my grandchildren and driving my wife crazy.

The first was easy because the kids, who range in age from 7 to 1 but are more mature than I am, ended up babysitting me.

The second was difficult because Sue was still working, so she wasn’t around every day for me to tell her stupid jokes, botch everything on my to-do list, follow her around like a puppy and generally, though absolutely without question, make her want to scream.

Now that she has retired, it’s a lot easier to get that reaction from her.

When I offered, on one of the first days of her retirement, to go to the supermarket for her, which would have entailed calling home every three minutes to ask where each item on her shopping list was, Sue said, “You stay here and I’ll go to the store. I have to get out of the house.”

Such is the situation when an otherwise loving couple, who have been living in wedded bliss for 42 years, find themselves together 24/7.

Sue had been a teacher’s assistant for three decades. Working with children is the highest calling. It’s the world’s most important job — except, of course, for being my doctor.

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Sue started working remotely, which meant she didn’t have to get up at 5:30 every weekday morning. She could sleep later, do a minimal amount of work and have the rest of the day to spend with me.

It gave her a good idea of what she had to look forward to.

“Is this what retirement is going to be like?” she moaned on more than one occasion, usually after I had just made some typically inane remark.

“Yes!” I chirped. “Isn’t it great?”

Since Sue’s retirement became official, right before the new school year began, we have found plenty of fun things to do together.

Like applying for Medicare Part B and finding supplemental insurance.

“This is enough to give you a headache,” Sue said.

“Is aspirin covered?” I asked.

“Forget aspirin,” Sue said. “How about wine?”

Then there’s the joy of calling the unemployment office every week.

Because I am an old hand (actually, I have two old hands, one of which I use to hold the phone, the other to dial the number), I have helped Sue navigate the system.

“Just remember,” I told her the first time she called, “you didn’t work last week and you didn’t turn down any job.”

“I don’t want another job,” Sue stated flatly.

“See how easy it is?” I said.

Unlike me, Sue doesn’t still have two jobs: Because of the quarantine, she can’t babysit our grandchildren and, because I’m already of unsound mind, she can’t drive me crazy.

What she can do is enjoy her newfound freedom. She loves to go for walks and ride her bike. Even more, she loves sleeping in and letting me get up first to make the coffee because it’s probably the only thing I do better than she does.

When the lockdown is finally over, she’ll fill her time by volunteering at the hospital or taking classes at the library.

“I’m thinking of taking up knitting,” she said recently.

“Maybe I should, too,” I told her. “I’ll have you in stitches.”

Sue rolled her eyes. I rolled them back and poured each of us a glass of wine.

“Have I driven you bonkers?” I asked.

“Not yet,” Sue said as she took a sip.

“Good,” I replied. “This is what retirement is all about. In fact, you’ll be crazy about it.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima