Sunday, March 28, 2021

"Put a Cork In It"

By Jerry Zezima

Because I am a connoisseur of fine wines, and have the liquor store bills to prove it, I can say with great authority and a slight hangover that when it comes to pairing wine and food, reds go with Slim Jims and whites go with Twinkies.

For this impressive expertise, I am known to oenophiles, Francophiles and especially juveniles as a real corker. But until recently, I had never corked wine or even bottled the stuff.

So I went to Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, New York, to see how the professionals do it.

My instructor was Patrick Caserta, Shinn’s talented winemaker, who was working with Jon Sidewitz, Carlos Magana and Rosa Ulan to bottle and cork 230 cases of cabernet franc.

“Would you like some?” Patrick asked.

“It’s 10 o’clock in the morning,” I pointed out.

“Wine for breakfast is pretty good,” Patrick said.

“Cheers!” I replied as I sipped and savored the fruity red nectar.

“This cab franc has been aged in a stainless steel tank for a short time,” Patrick explained. “It’s young.”

“Unlike me,” I said. “I’ve been fermenting for almost seven decades.”

“You have quite a vintage,” Patrick noted.

“It’s just sour grapes,” I said.

The grapes in Patrick’s cabernet were anything but sour. In fact, they were wonderfully refreshing.

“When we harvest these grapes, we don’t add sulfur,” Patrick told me. “It’s a fruitier kind of wine that should be chilled at cellar temperature.”

“I don’t have a cellar,” I said.

“Then you should drink it right away,” Patrick said.

I stuck my large nose in the small glass that contained the cab franc, inhaled without drowning and swallowed the rest of the wine.

“It tickles the palate,” I declared.

“It also tickles the pallets,” said Patrick, adding that each one holds 60 cases.

“I rest my case,” I told him.

“Good,” said Patrick. “Now you can help bottle and cork the wine.”

The bottling part involved putting an empty glass container under an apparatus that would feed the wine into the bottle.

“You have to fit the top of the bottle against the rubber seal,” Patrick instructed. “If you don’t do it right, the bottle will keep filling and the wine will spray all over like a geyser.”

“With me,” I said, “it would be a geyser on a geezer.”

No such mishap occurred because I put the bottle directly into the seal and watched as the wine flowed freely and flawlessly, stopping exactly at the top.

“Nice job!” exclaimed Patrick, who said the wine was being pumped from a tank by gravity.

“Sir Isaac Newton must have discovered it when a grape fell on his head,” I theorized.

Patrick nodded and began to tell me about ethyl acetate.

“Who’s she?” I wondered.

“The wife of Norman Acetate,” replied Patrick, adding that it’s an organic compound in fermentation.

After my successful bottling, I attempted to put a cork in it. This entailed bringing the bottle to the corking machine, pressing a thin metal trigger and watching the cork be plunged snugly into the top of the bottle.

“You’re a real pro!” said Patrick, who’s 46.

“You were born when I reached the legal drinking age,” I said.

“No wonder you’re so good at this,” said Patrick, who let me fill and cork several more bottles. “You’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into it.”

“Maybe this batch should be known as Cabernet Jerry,” I suggested.

“You can tell Mrs. Zezima you had a hand in it,” Patrick said, referring to my wife, Sue, who, like me, is a Shinn Wine Club member.

“What about Franc?” I asked.

“We won’t tell him,” said Patrick, adding that my cab would pair well with chicken or hamburgers.

“It’s the best wine I’ve ever had,” I gushed. “I can’t wait to try it with Slim Jims.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Smooth Selling in the Showroom"

By Jerry Zezima

As a man who couldn’t sell snow shovels in Alaska, surfboards in Hawaii or beer in Death Valley (I’d drink it first), I never thought I could sell cars to anybody but myself. And because my driveway is short and my garage is full of junk, where would I put them all?

So I decided to visit the best salesman I know, James Boyd, of Hyundai 112 in Medford, New York, to see how it’s done.

James, who’s 42 and has been in the business for 20 years, has sold me my last two cars, both SUVs named for Santa Fe, another place where I couldn’t sell anything, even the artwork for which the city is famous.

“Welcome, JZEE!” James exclaimed when I entered the showroom on a busy weekday afternoon. He calls me by that name (pronounced Jay-Z, like the rapper, except I’m the original) because that’s what is on my license plates, which my wife, Sue, got for me several years ago. “They’re the best I’ve ever seen,” James said. “Now, what can I do for you? Do you want another car?”

“Not yet,” I said. “But since I’m retired, and have nothing better to do, and need to get out of Sue’s hair, I thought I’d try to sell cars.”

“You’ve come to the right place,” said James, who then excused himself to take care of some of the many customers he had that day.

While he was gone, I struck up a conversation with two of them, Vickie and Bret, who were there to pick up a car James had sold them a couple of days before.

“James is very good,” Bret said. “He’s friendly, knowledgeable and professional.”

“We planned to go to another dealership after this,” Vickie added, “but we met James and we never left this one.”

Just then, James came back to his desk to pick up some paperwork.

“You’re supposed to be making the plates,” he told me.

“I’ll probably end up doing it in prison,” I said. “And I should have a plate in my head. By the way, do I get a commission for talking with these nice people?”

“We’ll see about that,” James said before dashing off again.

“You’ll owe him money,” Bret said.

“Could I be a salesman?” I asked.

“Sure,” Vickie said. “You chat up customers, you have a good personality and a great sense of humor, and you’re outgoing. You could sell anything.”

Vickie should know because she works in sales at a home improvement store.

I decided to try out my sales technique on Bret when Vickie said he would be getting their old car and she’d get the new one.

“Why should you drive the old one when you can have a beautiful, brand-new car just like Vickie got?” I told him.

“No!” he said firmly.

“Think of the prestige,” I said.

“Think of the money,” Bret replied.

When James returned again, I asked, “Who’s your best customer?”

“You, JZEE!” he said.

“And now I want to be your best salesman,” I said, though I knew I could never be as good as James because, as he has told me, he loves his job and enjoys working with people, and that the secret of his success is having a good sense of humor, not putting pressure on customers, being straightforward and working hard to make them happy.

“Did you sell Bret a car?” James asked.

“I’m trying,” I said.

“I’ll tell you what,” James said as he handed Vickie the keys to her new car and the delightful couple started to leave. “If Bret buys one, you can have the commission.”

“What do you say, Bret?” I said.

“I’ll think about it,” he replied.

“They’re going fast,” I said.

“OK,” Bret said. “I’ll come back.”

“And when you do,” I said, “just ask for JZEE.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, March 14, 2021

"A Shot and a Beer"

By Jerry Zezima

For anyone who is nervous about getting the coronavirus vaccine, I will allay your fears by saying that I recently got my first injection and suffered no ill effects aside from the lightheadedness I have had since birth.

On the negative side, you can’t, no matter how hard you try, get a shot and a beer.

I found this out when I went to Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York, and saw many helpful volunteers, security officials and health care professionals but not, unfortunately, a bartender.

Of course, the fact that it was 9:30 in the morning may have had something to do with it.

I got the idea to ask for a cold one from my buddy Tim Lovelette, who said that when he got his first shot, he asked if he could have a brew, too.

“I said, ‘Where’s my beer?’ They were giving me a shot and I even offered to pay for the beer, but they wouldn’t give it to me,” Tim said. “For my second shot, I’ll bring my own.”

I should have thought of that when I went for my first one, although my wife, Sue, who got her first shot 10 days earlier and accompanied me for moral support, would have said that I was being even more ridiculous than usual.

When we pulled up to a spot where a cop was directing traffic for people with appointments, I said, “I brought my wife in case I pass out.”

He nodded and said, “Good idea.”

We parked the car and walked into the building where shots were being given.

A young woman put a digital thermometer to my forehead to take my temperature.

“Is my head empty?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” she replied.

“Obviously, this isn’t an X-ray machine,” I said and moved on to a table where I had to show my paperwork. After that, Sue and I walked down a corridor and met a volunteer who asked, “Is this your first shot?”

“It’s my ninth,” I responded.

“Wow,” she said. “You’ll really be protected.”

We moved on to another table and met Elana, who asked if I am allergic to anything.

“Only to myself,” I answered.

“You’re a standup comic,” Elana said.

“If I sit down,” I told her, “no one can see me.”

“But we can still hear him,” Sue chimed in.

“Can I get a shot and a beer?” I asked.

“No,” Elana said. “It’s a bit too early for beer, but some people have a little whisky to calm their nerves.”

“Are guys wimps when it comes to needles?” I wondered.

“We all know that,” Elana replied. “But don’t worry, this will be painless.”

She was right, as I found out when I met Tina, who would be giving me an injection.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Old enough to know better,” I said. “But if you must know, I’m 67.”

“You look great,” Tina said. “What’s your secret?”

“I eat like a horse, drink like a fish and get absolutely no exercise,” I said. “That’s all there is to it.”

“In which arm do you want me to give you a shot?” Tina asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “I’m ambidextrous. I’m incompetent with both.”

“Pick one,” she said.

“My left,” I said as I rolled up my sleeve. “It’s a good thing I’m not an octopus or I’d never make up my mind.”

It was over in a flash.

“It didn’t hurt,” I said.

“Of course not,” Tina replied.

“Can I get a beer?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Tina replied again.

It figured. Still, I felt so good about getting my first shot that I went home with Sue and relaxed before having lunch. Afterward, I celebrated with a beer. It really hit the spot.

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, March 7, 2021

"A Hello to Arms"

By Jerry Zezima

In an impressive act of bravery, I recently stood six feet away and, while wearing a bright red face mask that made my nose itch, watched my wife, Sue, get her first coronavirus shot. As I will happily tell Dr. Anthony Fauci when he calls to congratulate me, I didn’t even faint.

Of course, Sue deserves credit, too, because she suffered no ill effects aside from a headache that was probably caused by me. But it was just the first step in my superhuman fight to eradicate the virus. And it won’t end until Sue and I have had both of our shots.

My first one will happen soon, but it was a long time coming because it took weeks for us to get appointments. And they wouldn’t have happened without the help of our daughters, Katie and Lauren, who went online and got us registered.

Our longtime friend Tim Lovelette knows the feeling: His older son, Marshall, got appointments for him and his wife, Jane.

“That’s why God gave us kids — to keep us alive,” Tim said. “Otherwise, we would have been dead long ago.”

Tim and Jane got their first shots in an abandoned Circuit City building on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

“It went smooth as silk,” Tim reported. “And we both feel fine.”

Hank Richert, another longtime friend, had an even better experience: He and his wife, Angela, who live in the Carolinas, have already gotten both of their shots. And they were given, of all places, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We made it to the finish line,” Hank joked.

And he didn’t need help from either of his sons to get appointments.

“Our medical group set it up for us,” said Hank, who has a Ford Mustang GT convertible but instead drove his Hyundai Santa Fe to the speedway.

“We actually got to drive on the racetrack,” Hank recalled. “They funneled us into a garage where race cars are serviced. We got to a station, rolled down the window, handed over our paperwork, stuck out our arms and got our shots. That was the first time. I had a shot on a Saturday evening and Angela had hers the next morning. The second time, we got our shots on the same day. It was easy-peasy.”

“Did they wave the checkered flag when you left?” I asked.

“No,” answered Hank, who said he and Angela felt fine after both shots, “but it would have been a nice touch.”

On the morning of Sue’s initial injection, I revved up my Hyundai Santa Fe, an SUV that in this case stood for Shot Utility Vehicle, and drove to Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.

We pulled up to a spot where a police officer sat in her patrol car.

“My wife has an appointment for a vaccine,” I said, pointing to Sue.

“Hello, wife!” the cop chirped. Then she told me what to do: “Make a U-turn, go to the end of the road, turn right and follow the signs.”

“You’re a cop and you just told me to make a U-turn?” I said incredulously.

“It’s legal,” she assured me. “And you won’t go over a double yellow line, so I can’t give you a ticket.”

When I got to the second spot, another cop told me to follow the road and added, “Watch out for potholes.”

“I bet Hank and Angela didn’t have to do that at the speedway,” I told Sue.

We parked the car and walked into the building where vaccines were being given. About 10 minutes later, we arrived at a station where Sue turned over her paperwork, rolled up her sleeve and got her shot.

“It was easy,” she said afterward. “Everything was well-organized. And I didn’t feel a thing. Next,” she added, “it’s your turn.”

When it is, I’ll know just what to say: “Paging Dr. Fauci!”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima