Sunday, April 24, 2022

"An Open and Shut Case"

By Jerry Zezima

When one door closes, goes a new version of an old saying, the other one won’t open.

For many years, that described the twin doors of my two-car garage, where I couldn’t park even one car because of all the junk in there. But I did, depending on the weather, have snow, sleet, rain and autumn leaves because one of the doors had a gap I could stick my empty head through.

Then there were critters, especially crickets, which sang for their supper while my wife, Sue, and I were having ours. I’m surprised we didn’t have a plague of locusts. Or a family of squirrels. They would have driven me more nuts than I already am.

The door that wouldn’t open covered the half of the garage that the previous owner of our humble home used as a workshop. Since I am the least handy man in America, I turned it into a storage area where I don’t store tools. But there is a refrigerator where I do store beer.

The other door was off-kilter, kind of like me, which meant it could be opened and closed, but it had to be secured with a piece of wire that served as the world’s most inefficient lock.

So Sue and I decided to get new garage doors.

This meant that half the garage had to be cleaned out.

The suburban renewal project included lugging a heavy bureau and a bulky cabinet out to the curb, as well as removing scores of other items that had been parked in the garage for no discernible reason aside from the highly questionable fact that we would one day need them. We never did.

Stuff belonging to our two grown daughters, both of whom have been out of the house since the administration of George W. Bush, also was in there.

On a sunny weekday morning, Jeff Ried and his apprentice, Mike Skuba, arrived to remove the old garage doors and install the new ones.

“Ninety percent of the people I see on this job can’t fit a car in their garage,” said Jeff.

“Can you fit a car in yours?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“How about you?” I asked Mike.

“I live in an apartment,” he said. “I don’t have a garage.”

It was a comfort, however small, knowing that ours wasn’t so bad.

“One time I found a suit of armor in somebody’s garage,” Jeff said. “In another one, there was a big bag of weed that the owner said belonged to his son. He screamed and said, ‘I’m gonna kill that kid!’ But the weirdest was this woman who hadn’t opened her garage in about 20 years. She had three freezers full of dead animals. Her late husband was a taxidermist.”

“Was her husband in there, too?” I inquired.

“Fortunately, he was not,” Jeff said. “But there were deer and ducks. They were all petrified.”

“The refrigerator in our storage area has a freezer,” I said, “but it contains fish sticks and french fries.”

“You’re relatively normal,” Jeff told me.

“Yes, relatively,” I responded. “But thanks.”

The first order of business was to dismantle the door on the storage side of the garage.

“It’s called a dummy door,” Jeff said.

“It could be named after me,” I noted.

He politely didn’t agree but could have when I asked if the door came in one piece.

“It wouldn’t fit in the truck,” Jeff said as he and Mike installed the new door, which came in four sections.

So did the new door on the other side. But first, the old, rickety one had to be taken off the track. Then a new track had to be installed, followed by the new door.

I helped when I handed Jeff a box he couldn’t reach.

“You saved me the trouble of walking all the way around,” he said.

I also helped Mike clean up afterward by using a magnet with a long handle to pick up loose screws from the floor.

“I have a few loose screws myself,” I said.

“I hope the magnet doesn’t get stuck to your head,” Mike said.

When the guys were finished, Sue and I marveled at how great our new garage doors looked.

“Now we don’t have to worry about snow and critters getting in,” I said.

“And one of these days,” Sue added, “we might actually be able to get a car in here.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 17, 2022

"The Sound of Joking"

By Jerry Zezima

At the risk of plagiarizing William Shakespeare, whose relatives can’t take me to court because he wanted to kill all the lawyers, I implore friends, Romans, countrymen and anybody who is not on the phone: Lend me your ears.

I make this urgent plea because my wife, Sue, thinks I can’t hear. I say the same about her. It has, unfortunately, fallen on deaf ears.

So I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist to have the potatoes removed from my auditory canal and to find out if spouses have failure to communicate because they really ought to be in a hearing-aid commercial.

I raised the subject with Sue — and had to repeat myself — after the following conversation.

Sue: (Inaudible)

Me: “What?”

Sue: “I was talking to myself.”

Later, we had this exchange.

Sue: (Inaudible)

Me: (No response)

Sue: “You don’t listen to a word I say.”

Me: “I thought you were talking to yourself.”

Sue:  “I was talking to you.”

Me: “What?”

I don’t talk to myself even though no one else, principally Sue, wants to hear what I have to say. And when we are watching TV and she has the remote, I frequently have to ask her to jack up the volume to a decibel level that is high enough to blow out the windows.

“You need the wax taken out of your ears,” said Sue, who suggested I go to the medical group where she had her own earwax removed.

A week later, as I sat in the office of otolaryngology, which I can’t pronounce and couldn’t spell without looking it up, nurse practitioner ToniAnn Savage said, “Sometimes I feel like a therapist for couples who can’t hear each other.”

“My wife’s hearing seems much better since you took the wax out of her ears,” I said. “Her only complaint is that she can now hear all of my stupid jokes.”

When ToniAnn pointed a light into my left ear, I asked, “Can you see all the way to the other side?”

“Very clearly,” she said with a smile.

Then she began to remove wax from both of my ears.

“You could cut the time in half if I were Vincent van Gogh,” I told her.

ToniAnn sighed and said, “I think your wife is just ignoring you.”

“It looks like I have quite a potato crop,” I said when ToniAnn showed me what she had removed.

“It’s not that bad,” she said. “By the way, did you recently get a haircut?”

“Last week,” I answered. “Why?”

“Because,” said ToniAnn, “you have two hairs in your left ear. The next time you get a haircut, you should ask the barber to put cotton in your ears.”

“Then I really won’t be able to hear,” I said.

After ToniAnn had finished, she introduced me to Deena Palumbo, a doctor of audiology, who would be giving me a hearing test.

“My wife passed the test and says she can now hear all of my stupid jokes,” I said.

“Are you getting a divorce?” Deena asked.

“No,” I replied. “I wouldn’t hear of it.”

For my test, I sat in a soundproof booth and put on a pair of earphones, through which Deena, who was just outside, sent a series of words and beeps at different decibels. I had to tell her what I was hearing.

“You scored very well,” Deena said afterward. “You can definitely hear your wife, but if you don’t want to tell her the test results, it will be our secret.”

“How is your hearing?” I asked.

“Pristine,” Deena said proudly. “I can hear everything my husband and kids say. But if I diagnose a patient with hearing loss, the advice I give is to call the spouse’s name before you say something. If you have to say, ‘What?’ three times, it’s like baseball: You’ve struck out.”

When I got home, Sue asked, “How did you do?”

I cupped my hand to my ear and said, “What?”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Our Potholes Are Out of This World"

By Jerry Zezima

Space — the one between my ears — is the final frontier. Or at least I thought so before I took a voyage in the car ship Zezima. My mission: to see an eminent astronomer and find out why lunar craters, Martian chasms and other galactic bumps in the road are nothing compared to the potholes on my street.

“It’s like driving on the surface of the moon,” I told Fred Walter, a professor of astronomy at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. “I’m afraid I’ll hit a pothole and go into a black hole.”

“There’s a hole on Mars called Pavonis Mons that’s 35 meters across and 20 meters deep,” said Prof. Walter, calculating that the measurements equal 115 feet by 65 feet. “That’ll stall your car.”

“That’s nothing. There are some on the expressway that must be even bigger,” I said. “I hit one the other day and thought my car would explode. Now I know how the astronauts felt when they drove those lunar rovers.”

Prof. Walter knew I was referring to the vehicles used in the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 moon landings of 1971 and ’72.

“They’re like convertibles — no roofs,” he said. “And no doors.”

“The astronauts were lucky they didn’t get thrown out when they hit a crater,” I said. “I hope they were wearing seatbelts.”

“Rovers don’t have them,” Prof. Walter said.

“At least there were no cops on the moon to give them a ticket,” I noted.

Even though some lunar craters are comparable to terrestrial potholes, the astronauts never had to worry about blowing out a tire.

“The edges of moon craters tend to erode, so they’re not as jagged as the potholes here on Earth,” Prof. Walter said. “And rovers have metal mesh wheels, so they are a lot stronger than the tires on your car.”

“I guess the astronauts didn’t have to call AAA,” I said, referring to what should be named the Aeronautical Assistance Association.

I told Prof. Walter that I took astronomy in college because I thought it would be fun.

“How did you do?” he asked.

“I almost flunked,” I replied. “I didn’t realize — because I was a stupid college student — that it involved math.”

“I do as little math as possible,” said Prof. Walter, who’s 67 and graduated from MIT in 1976.

“I knew all the planets,” I said. “And I once saw a meteor shower. I figured that was enough.”

“Astronomy is an observational science,” Prof. Walter said, “but it’s a lot more than just knowing the planets.”

“Speaking of which,” I said, “I was devastated when Pluto was demoted.”

“It deserved to be,” he said about the decision in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union to downgrade Pluto to the status of “dwarf planet.”

“I bet the Disney Company had something to do with it,” I said. “They probably thought the planet was competing with their cartoon dog.”

“Nonsense,” Prof. Walter said. “Pluto is tiny and far out. What would you rather be, the runt of the planets or the king of the dwarf planets?”

“I’m not even a star here on Earth,” I said.

Another planetary controversy, I posited, is the correct pronunciation of “Uranus.”

“It’s not how you think it’s pronounced,” Prof. Walter said, a disappointing revelation for a jokester like yours truly. “But you can say it the funny way, too.”

“Good,” I said. “It’s appropriate for a planet that’s made of gas.”

Uranus and the other gas giants — Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune — don’t have potholes because their surfaces aren’t solid.

“But Pluto has them, right?” I asked Prof. Walter.

“In a manner of speaking,” he said, explaining that the little rocky ball is covered in ice. “The surface has craters. If you want to call them potholes, go right ahead.”

In addition to Earth and Mars, two other terrestrial planets — Mercury and Venus — have  craters.

So, of course, does the moon.

“Some are very big and some are very small,” said Prof. Walter, who has been teaching astronomy at Stony Brook for 33 years and is a fan of the original “Star Trek” TV series.

“I use a flip phone and it’s usually turned off,” he said. “I miss my old phone, which was the size and shape of a ‘Star Trek’ phaser. I could flip it open with one hand.”

He also drives a 2007 Honda Civic.

“It has a stick shift,” said Prof. Walter, who is married with two grown daughters and three grandchildren. “I taught one of my daughters to drive a stick shift when she was in high school. She said it impressed the boys.”

“Have you hit any potholes?” I asked.

“Yes,” he admitted. “There’s one on Sheep Pasture Road that’s huge. I hit it recently, but the car wasn’t damaged. It’s really well-built.”

It helps, Prof. Walter said,  to drive slowly.

“I go only 5 miles per hour over the speed limit,” he said. “Maybe 10. I try to go around them.”

He added that asteroid and meteor strikes and the freeze-thaw cycle contribute to the creation of craters and, of course, potholes.

“The universe surprises us,” Prof. Walter told me. “It’s always expanding. Everything gets emptier with time.”

“My head has already achieved that,” I said.

“No comment,” the good professor replied.

“Admit it,” I said. “The space between my ears would make for a pretty good pothole.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 3, 2022

"Getting Carded at the Wine Bar"

By Jerry Zezima

You don’t have to be clairvoyant — or even Clair Voyant, who was in my class in grade school — to know that there are two reasons why I am not a tarot card reader:

(a) I’m not playing with a full deck.

(b) I have yet to win Powerball.

But that didn’t stop me from seeing an actual tarot card reader who recently gave me some fascinating insights into my otherwise unremarkable life but, alas, not the winning numbers.

I went with my wife, Sue, to Bridge Lane Tasting Room, where we are wine club members, to see Michelle, who has been doing tarot card readings for 10 years.

When I made a reservation over the phone, I asked Delia, the very personable manager, why I had to register.

“Wouldn’t the tarot card reader know I’m coming?” wondered.

“That’s a good one!” Delia replied. “I’ll pass it along.”

She did just that because when I was introduced to Michelle, Delia said, “Jerry’s the guy I told you about.”

Michelle smiled, shook my hand and said, “I predict this will be fun!”

Then she took me to a corner of the bar that was separated by a partition so we could have privacy. On the bar were candles, gold stars and, of course, tarot cards. Conspicuously absent was a glass of wine, which really would have gotten me into the spirit.

“Have you done this before?” Michelle asked.

“Sure,” I answered. “I come here all the time.”

“No,” Michelle said. “I mean, have you ever had a tarot card reading?”

“Yes, about 20 years ago,” I said. “I was told I would live to a ripe old age, which didn’t exactly thrill my children. I’m now officially a geezer, so I guess the reader was right.”

“Let’s see what the cards have in store for you today,” said Michelle, who asked me to cut the deck.

I divided it into two piles. Michelle picked a card and placed it on the bar. Then she selected three more cards and put them in a row beneath the first card.

“Your main card is a female figure,” Michelle told me.

“I have a feminine side,” I said. “In fact, I’m sitting on it.”

“This figure,” Michelle continued, “is gentle, smart and creative. She’s not confrontational.”

“That perfectly describes my wife,” I said.

“She’s the primary person in your life,” Michelle said.

“If it weren’t for my wife,” I said, “I would be either dead or in prison.”

Another card, Michelle explained, showed mentorship.

“A teacher is on the way,” she said.

“My wife is a retired teacher,” I told Michelle, adding that Sue was next in line for a reading. “But I can’t imagine any other teacher wanting to have me again. I was the class clown. I graduated because my teachers couldn’t wait to get rid of me. The only way one of them would come back is to revoke my diploma.”

Then Michelle pointed to the destiny card.

“It’s a great one,” she said. “Even if change happens that you’re not expecting, there is an eye out for you, a greater destiny.”

“I guess it was my destiny to marry Sue,” I said.

“Absolutely,” said Michelle.

“Since this reading has been more about her, what about me?” I asked. “Aside from very little, what do you think I do?”

Michelle thought for a moment and guessed, “Are you a reporter of some kind?”

“I’m some kind of reporter, all right,” I said, explaining that I am a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of six books. “My columns have no redeeming social value,” I added. “And my books are crimes against literature.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” said Michelle.

“How old do you think I am?” I asked.

Michelle picked a card and said, “There’s no number on it.”

“That must mean I’m ageless,” I said.

“How old are you?” I inquired.

“I’ll be 34 in a couple of weeks,” Michelle said.

“You’re half my age,” I noted.

“Can you guess my birthday?” she asked.

I closed my eyes, envisioned a date and said, “April 8.”

“That’s right!” Michelle exclaimed.

“Maybe I should do a reading for you,” I said.

“Is there anything else you’d like to know?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Can you pick the winning numbers in tonight’s Powerball drawing?”

“I’ll try,” said Michelle, who turned over six cards: 1, 2, 6, 7, 17 and 20.

“If I win,” I said, “I’ll give you a share.”

“If you win,” said Michelle, “you can keep the money. I’ll play my own numbers and win every week.”

I thanked Michelle and waited while she did Sue’s reading, which showed that my wonderful wife possesses strength, hope and resilience.

“Michelle also told me that wealth will be coming,” Sue said later.

“That’s because she gave me the winning Powerball numbers,” I said.

Michelle was terrific, but unfortunately I didn’t even come close to being a multimillionaire.

“Oh, well,” I told Sue the next day. “It just wasn’t in the cards.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima