Sunday, August 29, 2021

"Wheel of Misfortune"

By Jerry Zezima

I know I’m not letter perfect — my last name begins with the last letter of the alphabet, which is good only for catching some Z’s — but I never realized just how imperfect I am until I flunked an audition for “Wheel of Fortune.”

I applied to be on the show by going on the “Wheel” website and filling out a questionnaire with basic information, starting with my name, which I spelled correctly.

Then I recorded a video on which I said I am a longtime “Wheel of Fortune” fan who could bring a lot of good-natured humor to the program.

“Who knows, I might even win,” I added. “And I’ll bring some loose change so I can buy vowels.”

About a week later, I got an email inviting me to try out. If I did well, I could get on the show, where I’d meet host Pat Sajak and letter turner Vanna White. And if I had good luck spinning the wheel and I solved enough puzzles, I might win a fortune.

Little did I know that I would hit “BANKRUPT” before I even started.

My audition, which was conducted on Zoom, was hosted by Jackie Lamatis, the show’s personable contestant coordinator.

Also trying out were Meaghan Polensky and Bianca Addison, who were very nice, very young and, unfortunately for me, very smart.

In the first round, Meaghan and Bianca solved all the puzzles. I did buzz in first on one of them and shouted, “Volleyball tournament.” But I didn’t realize until a nanosecond too late that the last word was plural, which prompted Bianca to buzz in and say, “Volleyball tournaments.”

“Was the S really the dollar sign I didn’t get?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Jackie, who asked us to introduce ourselves.

Meaghan said she is a fourth-grade teacher and Bianca said she wants to get into the entertainment field.

When it was my turn, I noted that both women are in their 20s, making them four decades younger than I am. To compound matters, I added, I am on the same intellectual level as Meaghan’s students. I also said I am a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist whose work has no redeeming social value. And I’m the author of five books, all of which are crimes against literature.

“You’re really funny,” Jackie told me.

“If you insist,” I replied. “At this rate, it’s probably the only thing that would qualify me to be on the show.”

Sadly, I proved it in the subsequent rounds. A few days earlier, when I practiced online, I solved every puzzle. Of course, I wasn’t competing against anyone. In the audition, two things stood in my way of victory: Meaghan and Bianca.

Round 2 was a blur. The only thing I remember was the jingle that played while I tried futilely to guess the answers. It sounded like this: Dumb-dumb-de-dumb-dumb DUMB DUMB!

In the last round, each contestant played alone while the other two waited, unable to see or hear what was going on.

Naturally, I went last. Jackie showed me four groups of four puzzles, each of which was partially filled with letters. The first three categories were “Thing,” “Before and After” and “Place.”

I didn’t solve even one puzzle.

The last category was “TV Show Titles.” Miraculously, I got three of the four.

“How come you didn’t have ‘Wheel of Fortune’ as one of the titles?” I asked.

“We get asked that question a lot,” Jackie replied.

But my rally clearly wasn’t enough to make up for my overall performance, which was — to use a word that would have been perfect in the “Thing” category — pathetic.

At the end of the hourlong audition, Jackie got me, Meaghan and Bianca back on and thanked us for participating.

“Wait a month,” Jackie said. “If you haven’t heard back from us, you probably weren’t chosen to be on the show.”

“Would I get some lovely parting gifts?” I wondered.

“Back in the day you would,” Jackie stated.

“I guess this isn’t the day,” I said.

“No,” said Jackie. “But you’ve been a lot of fun.”

“Give my best to Pat and Vanna,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t be called back. “And now that I don’t have to buy vowels, I can keep my loose change.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 15, 2021

"The Bricklayer's Apprentice"

By Jerry Zezima

A man’s home is his hassle. That’s especially true if he’s me, the Least Handy Man in America, a guy who thinks a screwdriver is vodka and orange juice.

But being dumb as a brick didn’t stop me from using bricks to help lay the foundation for a job that shored up the foundation.

It was all part of a home improvement project in which the house got new vinyl siding, not just on the side, but in the front and the back, for what my wife, Sue, and I hope will be the vinyl time.

The work was done by a terrific contractor named Anthony Amini, who owns Performance Contracting and Management, the company that Sue and I previously used for putting on a new roof, installing a new floor and, yes, changing light bulbs, a task so simple that it is beyond my comprehension.

How many columnists does it take to change a light bulb? One — if he hires someone else to do it.

Anyway, Anthony and his hardworking crew replaced the faded old siding with beautiful, Nantucket gray strips, which give our Colonial a look so fresh that a real estate agent, who’s selling the vastly inferior ranch across the street, raved about it.

It’s so good that drivers even slow down at the stop sign in front of our house (instead of blowing through, as they usually do) to admire Anthony’s handiwork, which includes new gutters, window moldings and all kinds of other things I’m not familiar with because I am, after all, dumb as a brick.

But I got somewhat smarter when I helped Andy Campanile, a bricklayer par excellence, fix a broken corner of the foundation.

“It looks like your joint failed,” Andy told me.

“I’m old,” I replied. “All my joints are failing.”

“No, I mean this,” he said, pointing to a separated block the approximate size and consistency of my skull.

“Does that make me a blockhead?” I wondered.

“If you say so,” said Andy, who also does masonry, plumbing and tiling.

“How about electrical work?” I asked.

“My uncle and cousins do that. I do pretty much everything else,” said Andy, who’s 54 and got started at age 12 with his late father, Andrew Sr. “I carried his homemade toolbox when I was a kid. It was so heavy! I learned a lot from the old guys. Now I’m the old guy.”

“You’re a youngster,” I said, adding that I’m 67. “My father was the handiest guy I ever knew. Unfortunately, it skipped a generation.”

That didn’t stop Andy from accepting my generous offer (it was free) to help him repair a corner of the foundation.

“We’re going to use mortar mix,” Andy said.

“The mortar the merrier!” I chirped.

The remark amused Anthony’s 16-year-old son, Mateo, a wonderful young man who is learning handiness from his father the way Andy learned it from his.

My father, who was my hero, tried to teach me handiness but soon realized I was ambidextrous — incompetent with both hands.

Undeterred, Andy showed me how to pour the mortar into a pan, add water and mix it with a mason’s trowel. Mateo, who also asked to help, displayed a natural talent that made me want to throw in the trowel.

“What if you get the mortar on you?” Mateo asked.

“You become part of the foundation,” I said.

Then Andy showed us how to use the trowel to put wet mortar on a brick, one of many that would be used in place of the failed joint.

Andy did most of the rebuilding himself, after which he stuccoed the corner using another trowel, this one with a sponge finish.

“May I try?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Andy, who handed me the trowel and told me that his last name means “bell tower” in Italian. “When I was in Venice,” he recalled as I worked away, “I went into this bar called Bar Al Campanile. I said, ‘I have to be related somehow. Where’s my free drink?’ They wouldn’t give me one.”

I thought Andy would need a drink after seeing my handiwork, but he and Anthony thought I did a good job.

“Perfect!” Anthony declared.

“You must be Italian!” Andy chimed in.

“Actually, I am,” I said. “And for the first time in my life, I don’t feel dumb as a brick.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 8, 2021

"My Chair, Lady"

By Jerry Zezima

As a guy who takes most things sitting down, I couldn’t stand the thought that my favorite chair had hit bottom.

But that’s what happened recently when the seat of power was pulled out from under me for a major reupholstering job.

My throne (the only one in the house not situated in the bathroom) had seen better days. And nights, because that was when I used it the most, mainly to watch movies or sporting events, the endings of which I seldom saw because I had dozed off while holding popcorn or beer that slipped from my grasp and — you guessed it — spilled all over the chair.

But that’s not the main reason why this mangy piece of furniture, which is 25 years old (175 in human years), needed repair.

The primary cause of its pathetic condition was feline frolic.

We used to have cats. Before they went to that big litter box in the sky, the destructive demons used the chair as their own personal scratching post. The poor thing looked like it had been attacked by a mountain lion in heat.

My wife, Sue, covered the chair with a chair cover (sorry if I am getting too technical) and made me move it to the living room, where I was banished when I didn’t want to watch one of the approximately 700 home improvement shows that Sue loves to watch while seated comfortably in her newer, much nicer chair in the family room.

In fact, Sue’s chair used to be mine. It’s the latest in a series of seats that were originally mine but fell into the hands (or paws) of various humans (or animals), including my wife, our daughters, our grandchildren, the aforementioned cats and even a dog that would plop herself down in my former chair and either watch Animal Planet or fall asleep while snoring and drooling, probably because she had seen me do the same thing.

Finally, Sue decided that my present chair — which used to be mine, was taken over by her, then went to the dog and, since the purchase of two better chairs, is now mine again — needed an upgrade.

So she called Loli’s and Carlos’ Upholstery. The day after Sue and I visited the store to pick out new upholstery (Sue picked it out while I stood there like a bobblehead doll, silently nodding and smiling at her choice), Loli’s and Carlos’ son, Danny, and son-in-law, Juan, came over to pick up the chair.

“It’s old,” Danny said after Sue had taken off the cover to reveal leg wounds, arm scars and cushion lumps.

“I’m old, too,” I remarked. “Will I get reupholstered?”

“No, you’re in pretty good shape,” said Danny, adding that guys often lose their chairs to their wives and kids. “And,” he noted, sizing me up as a geezer, “their grandkids.”

“Have you guys ever lost your chairs?” I asked.

“Yes,” Danny answered.

“Yes,” repeated Juan.

Then the terrific twosome carried my chair out the front door, lifted it into the company truck and drove away.

A week or so later, they were back with a chair I didn’t recognize.

“Wow!” Sue exclaimed.

“Is this the same one?” I wondered.

“Yes,” Juan said.

“My father reupholstered it,” Danny told us.

“Does he have a chair?” I asked.

“He has a recliner,” Danny replied. “He reupholstered it, too.”

“Has your mother taken it?” I wanted to know.

“No,” Danny said. “He won’t let her.”

I looked at Sue, who didn’t look back. But she did sit in the repaired chair, which sported beige upholstery with a diamond pattern.

“Now it’s comfortable,” Sue declared. “No more sagging in the middle of the cushion.”

When Sue got up, I sat down.

“This is great!” I said. “I may sit here all day.”

I stayed in the chair after Danny and Juan left.

“Is there a game tonight or a movie?” Sue asked. “Are you going to have popcorn? Be careful! Don’t drop kernels so they get wedged under the cushion.”

“Do I have to wear clean pants?” I inquired.

“Yes,” said Sue. “And no greasy hands!”

“OK,” I said. “Just don’t take my chair. It’s the one thing I won’t stand for.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 1, 2021

"May the Pest Man Win"

By Jerry Zezima

My house is bugged. Not with listening devices because the listeners (the CIA, the FBI, Russia) would soon be fast asleep after discovering that I lead a singularly dull life.

No, I mean with real bugs.

This really bugs my wife, Sue, who hates the little critters so much that she prowls the house with a flyswatter, ready to annihilate the latest winged or crawly invader and add it to her daily scoresheet. She is an otherwise gentle person who would, indeed, hurt a fly.

One day, Sue killed nine of them.

“That’s enough for a baseball team,” I said. “I guess they don’t know about the infield fly rule.”

Sue ignored the remark and asked, “Where do they come from?”

“Mommy flies,” I answered. “We should put up a sign saying, ‘No fly zone.’ That would keep them out.”

Sue ignored that remark, too, and used a shoe to smash a spider that was roughly the size of a Chihuahua.

“I’m going to call an exterminator,” she said.

“For me?” I stammered.

“I’ll have to see how much they charge,” said Sue.

A couple of days and a dozen dead insects later, we were visited by Jack the Pest Control Guy.

“My wife says I’m a pest,” I told Jack. “You’re not going to exterminate me, are you?”

“No,” Jack said reassuringly. “I don’t have enough bug spray for that.”

“What’s the critter that people complain about the most?” I asked.

“Ants,” Jack answered. “I find them in basements and bathrooms, on chairs and tables, and in kitchens for sure.”

“Has anyone ever told you that they had ants in their pants?” I wanted to know.

“Actually, yes,” said Jack.

“It must have been a brief encounter,” I said before telling Jack about one of my favorite 1950s sci-fi movies, “Them!”

“It’s about ants that grow to a gigantic size after being exposed to nuclear radiation,” I explained. “They end up in the sewers of Los Angeles and have to be killed with flamethrowers.”

“I guess my bug spray wouldn’t work on them, either,” Jack said.

“If I used a flamethrower to kill the ants in our kitchen, I’d burn the house down,” I said.

“Then your wife would call me back here to get rid of you,” Jack predicted.

“How about spiders?” I inquired.

“We get lots of calls about them,” said Jack. “But they’re actually good because they kill other bugs.”

“They might be costing you business,” I said before telling Jack about another classic science fiction flick, “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” the story of a man who is exposed to a mysterious mist and begins to melt away.

“At the end, he’s so small that he’s attacked by a spider,” I said. “He kills it with a pin that looks like a spear compared to him.”

“I’d need a lot of pins to kill all the spiders I’ve dealt with,” said Jack, adding that he has never seen “The Incredible Shrinking Man” but did enjoy “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

“Are you married?” I asked.

“No,” Jack said, “but I have a girlfriend.”

“Does she hate bugs as much as my wife does?” I said.

“Yes,” said Jack. “She’ll call me to say there’s a fly behind the refrigerator.”

“Does she expect you to leave work and go home to get rid of it?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jack said. “She’s scared of spiders and ants and things like that.”

“You could be her hero,” I said.

Jack smiled, looked down at his shirt with the pest control company’s logo on the front and said, “She likes a man in uniform.”

“My wife and I are a swat team,” I said. “I find the bugs in the house and she swats them.”

“You should have a lot less of them now,” Jack said when he was finished.

“Thanks,” Sue said. Then she pointed to me and added, “If I find any other pests in the house, I’ll give you a call.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima