Sunday, September 26, 2021

"Weather Stick Rains Supreme"

By Jerry Zezima

Maybe it’s because my head is in the clouds, or the heat is really getting to me, but I like to think I can predict the weather better than the National Weather Service.

And unlike such respected TV weather anchors as Lonnie Quinn and Al Roker, I don’t use radar, satellites or European models. In fact, I have always thought the best European model is Heidi Klum.

At any rate, I owe my prodigious prognosticating powers to the greatest meteorological device ever devised.

I refer, of course, to the Davis Hill Weather Stick.

It is, yes, a stick that rises or falls depending on, yes, the weather. If it’s sunny and dry, which is perfect for lying in a hammock with a beer, the thin piece of wood points upward. But if it’s cloudy and humid, often a harbinger of rain, which means I have to go inside for a brew, the stick points downward.

What could be simpler? Or, at $6 a pop, cheaper?

To find out more about the amazing properties of the weather stick, several of which are now on my property, I called the Davis Hill Company in East Hardwick, Vermont, and spoke with “chief cook and bottle washer” Tim Hartt.

“I’ve been doing this for 36 years now and I sell 25,000 of these things a year,” said Tim, who’s also a pig farmer. “The sticks keep me honest and put gas in the truck.”

Because he grosses about $70,000 a year, that’s a lot of gas.

“There’s no money in farming,” said Tim, who has “a little 22-acre place with 400 free-range meat birds, three or four hogs and a laying flock of 100 birds that lay a couple of dozen eggs a day.”

“So in order to make ends meet,” I suggested, “you have to get on the stick.”

“I’m glad you said it, not me,” replied Tim, who told me that the weather sticks are made from balsam fir trees. “Every tree in nature reacts to moisture in the air,” he said, “but balsam firs react more dramatically. Their branches go up and down depending on how much moisture there is. So friends and I go into the woods during harvest, strip wood off the trees and make weather sticks.”

“Do they really work?” I asked.

“You bet,” Tim answered. “And I have lots of satisfied customers to prove it. One of them, Donna from Medford, Oregon, called me the other day to say she needs more sticks to give out. She bought a dozen in 2018 to give to special people in her life. My typical customer is a little old lady who will call me to say she needs another stick because her first one was eaten by a chipmunk.”

“If meteorologists had weather sticks,” I said, “their forecasts would be more accurate.”

“As long as they can keep the chipmunks away,” said Tim, 63, a husband, father and grandfather who said he just looks out the window to see what it’s doing.

“Animals are pretty good at predicting the weather,” I noted. “I had a dog that knew when it was going to rain. She’d hide under the table because she was afraid of thunder. She should have been a forecaster on TV.”

“Chickens know, too,” Tim said. “They can tell when it’s time to go in. The laying ones are smart. The meat birds are definitely dumber.”

Even though I have been called a birdbrain, I was smart enough to order a weather stick from Tim, who had to cut the conversation short because, he said, “the chickens are calling me.”

A few days later, a bunch of sticks arrived in the mail. I nailed one to a door frame outside, under an eave, as recommended, and told my wife, Sue, that it was going to rain.

“How do you know?” she asked.

“The weather stick is pointing downward,” I told her.

Sure enough, it was soon raining cats, dogs and chickens. When it cleared up and the sun came out, the stick pointed upward.

“Works like a charm,” I said. “I should send one of these sticks to the National Weather Service.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 19, 2021

"The Story of Jerry Applehead"

By Jerry Zezima

According to the history books, which I used to read only before final exams, there once was an American pioneer named Johnny Appleseed, who introduced apple trees to large parts of the Midwest, where they produced fruit that personal computers were eventually named after.

An updated part of the story concerns Johnny’s disreputable cousin, Jerry Applehead, who took his wife, Sue, apple picking and littered the orchard with his stupid jokes.

Our adventure began when Sue and I drove to Lewin Farms and met Gabrielle, a very nice young woman who worked at the orchard stand.

“Would you like a basket?” she asked.

“I’m a basket case, so why not?” I answered.

“That will be five dollars,” Gabrielle said.

“Do you have change of a hundred?” I inquired.

“Yes, I do,” said Gabrielle.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have a hundred, so here’s a five,” I said, handing her the fin and taking the basket.

Then Sue and I headed out into the orchard.

The apples were, if I do say so (and I’m about to), ripe for picking. And there were plenty to choose from, mostly Mac, Gala and Honeycrisp, though the orchard also has Delicious (both Red and Golden), Royal Court, Cortland, Cameo, Rome, Fuji, Granny Smith and Stayman.

When our daughters, Katie and Lauren, were kids, we took them apple picking every year. We’ve also taken our granddaughters Chloe and Lilly. But this year, Sue and I went solo and pretty much had the place to ourselves, thanks to Sue’s brilliant idea to go during the week so we could avoid traffic that would have rivaled rush hour in New York City, otherwise known as, yes, the Big Apple.

“There are a lot of big apples here,” I said as I plucked several Macs and dropped them into the basket.

Sue, meanwhile, picked some of her favorite apples: Golden Delicious.

“You’re going for the gold,” I told her. “And I bet they’re delicious.”

I’m surprised she didn’t bop me on the head with one. At least it would have made apple sauce.

I rattled off all kinds of other apple products: apple pie, apple cobbler, apple juice, apple cider, apple butter, apple fritters, apple strudel, baked apples and candy apples.

“How do you like them apples?” I asked.

Sue looked like she needed a bottle of applejack.

When the basket was full, I lugged it back to the stand, where Gabrielle put it on a scale.

“The apples are 23 and a half pounds,” she said. “So it comes to $50.”

I searched my wallet, but I had only $40. Sue had no money.

“We only take cash,” Gabrielle said.

Another customer offered to give me 10 bucks, but I politely declined.

“There’s an ATM in the farm store,” said Gabrielle, adding that she would hold our apples until we returned.

Sue and I drove about a mile down the road, withdrew some money and drove back to the orchard, where I gave Gabrielle $50.

“Does ATM stand for apple teller machine?” I wondered.

“It should,” said Gabrielle. “We had a customer recently who said we should accept Apple Pay. And there was another customer who spent $198 on apples. He came with a dolly.”

“I guess he had his own apple support,” I remarked.

“Just ignore him,” Sue told Gabrielle.

“Why?” I said. “Because I’m rotten to the core?”

Then I asked Gabrielle what her favorite kind of apple is.

“Honeycrisp,” said Gabrielle, a recent college graduate. “They’re pretty much everyone’s favorite.”

“And they’re bright red, just like your fingernails,” I noted.

“My nails were supposed to be pink,” Gabrielle said. “But I guess red is more appropriate here.”

“I’m lucky I didn’t break a nail when I picked all these apples,” I said.

“When we get home,” Sue announced, “I’m going to make an apple crisp.”

“That sounds delicious,” said Gabrielle.

“Delicious?” I said, pointing out her inadvertent pun. “You’re catching on!”

Gabrielle smiled and said, “Thank you, guys, for brightening my day.”

“This adventure will go down in the history books,” I told Sue as we headed back to the car.

“Except for your stupid jokes,” she replied.

“In the immortal words of Donny Osmond,” I said, “one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 12, 2021

"It All Comes Out in the Wash"

By Jerry Zezima

This may sound like a shameful admission — and it would be if I had any shame — but my body hadn’t been cleaned, my top scrubbed and my rear end buffed in more than a year.

So I went to the car wash.

It was the first time since I got my SUV (sloppy utility vehicle) that I had brought it in for a bath. And there was a lot to bathe away: bird droppings, tree gunk, flower pollen, road salt, street dirt and all kinds of other stuff that made my car a partner in grime.

I drove to Island Car Wash and encountered the automotive equivalent of a Cecil B. DeMille epic. When I finally reached the booth, a friendly attendant named Jason asked which treatment I wanted.

I looked over the sign with all the choices and said, “Give me the works.”

“That would be the Platinum package,” Jason told me. “What scent would you like?”

“How about beer?” I replied.

“We don’t have that one,” said Jason, adding that the fragrances included strawberry and black ice. “They’re my favorites,” he said. “We also have new car scent.”

“My car isn’t new, but this is its first wash, so I’ll take it,” I said, handing Jason my debit card so he could charge me $47.

“Don’t forget to roll up your windows,” he reminded me after giving the card back.

“Thanks,” I said. “I didn’t bring my bathing suit.”

Going through the car wash was like being on an amusement park ride in Niagara Falls.

Slowly I rolled, step by step, inch by inch, until my vehicle came out the other side. I turned left into an empty space, exited the car and watched as a quartet of cleaners armed with rags, spray bottles and vacuum cleaner hoses descended on the dark green auto, making it pristine inside and out.

“They’re doing a great job,” I told supervisor Celso Bocchini.

“My four best people are working on your car,” said Celso, who told me that the Premium package included “vacuuming, car wash, windows in and out, waxing, rims, shiny stuff on the tires and scent.”

“My car was filthy, but it’s looking good now,” I said. “At least the inside wasn’t too bad.”

“You’d be surprised at what we find in some cars,” said Celso. “You don’t know what will be in there. We find a lot of popcorn and french fries. We once found a couple of hot dogs that were almost walking. I don’t know how people can drive around with that kind of stuff in their cars.”

“Can I help clean my car?” I asked.

“You can do anything you want,” Celso answered. “It’s your car.”

He handed me a damp cloth.

“A dry one will scratch your car,” he said. “Now put some elbow grease into it.”

The grease had already been washed off, but my elbow was sore after buffing the hood and the front passenger-side door.

“Did I do a good job?” I wondered.

“Yes,” said Celso. “Make believe you do something and take credit.”

“Is your car nice and clean?” I asked.

“It’s a mess,” Celso confessed. “It gets washed when I have a chance, but it’s less than anybody else here. That should tell you something.”

“It tells me that you’re a busy guy,” I said.

Celso nodded and pointed to his car, a 2001 Hyundai Sonata that was parked across the lot.

“It has only 80,000 miles on it,” he said. “I bought it for $2,000 five years ago. I’ve put only 30,000 miles on it in five years. I drive five miles a day. I don’t need a BMW, but if you want to give me one, I’ll take it.”

“I’ll have to get a job so I can afford it,” I said before getting in my shiny, spanking clean, beautifully scented vehicle.

“You can work here,” Celso said. “Maybe then I can get my car washed.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 5, 2021

"Farmer Pepper's Lonely Heartburn Band"

By Jerry Zezima

I like to think I’m hot stuff, even in winter, but whenever I look in the mirror to shave, I come to the sad realization that I’m not so sizzling after all.

Still, I almost needed to call the fire department when I ate some peppers I picked at a farm whose owner is one cool dude.

“What does it take to be a farmer?” I asked Doug Cooper, who owns Cooper Farms in Mattituck, New York.

“A strong back and a weak mind,” he replied.

“I have both,” I assured him.

“You’re just the man for the job,” he said.

Mr. Cooper, as he is known in these parts, resembles the late actor Gary Cooper, who was tall, dark and handsome, and has the same laconic way of speaking.

When I said I like his corn, he said, “Shucks.”

I wasn’t surprised because his farm stand features these signs:

“ ‘Lettuce’ supply your farm fresh needs!”

“Our beets are ‘unbeetable!’ ”

“Ask about our ‘eggcellent’ eggs!”

“What about your eggs?” I asked.

“We let our chickens take care of them,” said Mr. Cooper, who not only has a flourishing flock of fowl, but also a pair of peacock parents and, he added, “two baby ones.”

“This place is for the birds,” I said.

At that precise moment, a rooster crowed, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

It’s been a wake-up call at the family-owned farm for 200 years.

“I’m not that old,” said Mr. Cooper, who is 73. “I was born on April 2, 1948. My mother said, ‘I’m having twins.’ My father said, ‘April Fools’ Day was yesterday.’ It was no joke. My brother, Donald, is 10 minutes younger than me.”

I put my arm around my wife, Sue, and said, “April 2 is our anniversary. No fooling.”

Mr. Cooper then regaled us with the story of “The Squirrel That Got Away.”

Years ago, the rascally rodent came in the house through a window screen and was trapped in a box by Mr. Cooper’s late father, David, who took the box outside and blasted it with a shotgun. The squirrel survived and ran away, only to come back through the window screen and was trapped again, this time in a burlap bag, which the elder Cooper took outside and blasted with a shotgun. The squirrel escaped through a hole in the bag and came back a third time.

“That was the charm,” said Mr. Cooper. “It wasn’t the smartest squirrel, but it was lucky, so we took it down to the field and set it free.”

It was that very field to which Sue and I towed a wagon that Mr. Cooper gave us to pick vegetables, including hot peppers, which Sue loves and I don’t.

“They’ll blow your brains out,” she said.

“Not mine,” I responded. “I don’t have any.”

Sue nodded as we made our way through rows of peppers — cherry, chili, corkscrew, habanero and jalapeƱo — that I dutifully picked and plopped into a cardboard box in the wagon.

Mr. Cooper had left by the time we got back to the stand with our bounty, which included corn, beets and tomatoes. We paid a grand total of $17.25 and drove home with a vehicle of veggies.

A few nights later, Sue made pork chops with onions and the cherry peppers I had picked.

I took one bite. A smoke alarm went off in my mouth.

“Ung, ung, ung!” I cried as I fanned my tongue with a napkin.

“Is your nose running?” Sue asked.

“It’s lumbering,” I said, choking out a response.

I tried to douse the invisible flames with water. It didn’t work.

“Have some bread,” Sue said.

It helped. So did red wine, which probably prevented me from having a heart attack.

Sue smiled as she calmly ate the chops and peppers, which had no effect on her.

I tried to be brave by having a few more forkfuls, but each time, I repeated the routine: gag, gulp, gong.

“Dinner’s delicious,” I told Sue, “but if I eat any more, I’m going to buy the farm.”

“Tell that to Mr. Cooper,” she said.

“He already knows I have a weak mind,” I said. “Now I can tell him I’m hot stuff, too.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima