Sunday, November 27, 2022

"Cause for Alarm"

By Jerry Zezima

The most alarming thing about being home alone, aside from being cast in a geezer version of the famous Macaulay Culkin movie, is setting off the house alarm and having to tell my wife, Sue, who left me home alone, that I could have been arrested for being in our own house.

That’s exactly what happened when Sue went out of town for five days and left me — you guessed it — free to have a wild party that also could have gotten me arrested.

No, actually, I was all by myself the entire time, which would have been pretty boring if I hadn’t accidentally set off the alarm on the first morning of Sue’s absence.

After turning it off and putting a merciful stop to the shrieking godawful noise that I’m surprised Sue didn’t hear from 600 miles away, I convinced Heather, a nice and understanding person from the alarm company, not to send the cops.

“Everything is good,” Heather assured me over the phone, though I had to ask her to repeat what she said because my ears were still ringing. “As long as you disarmed the alarm, you’re OK.”

“I’m home alone because my wife is out of town,” I said. “She left me with a week’s worth of leftovers to prevent me from starving to death or burning the house down.”

“You’ll survive,” Heather said. “My husband is pretty dependent, too. He would eat at McDonald’s every day. And he burns water.”

“Has he ever set off the alarm in your house?” I asked.

“He doesn’t touch it,” Heather replied. “But if setting off the alarm is the worst thing you do while your wife is away, you’re pretty good.”

I thanked Heather for her help and for not getting me in trouble with the law. After hanging up, I surveyed my list of chores: clean the bathrooms, dust the furniture, vacuum the house, throw out the garbage and water the plants.

I also had to heat up dinner every night, although I decided, on a rollicking Saturday evening, to send out for Chinese food. Afterward, I made microwave popcorn, which I munched while watching a movie on TV. Halfway through, I fell asleep.

Yes, I was a swinging bachelor. In fact, I spent part of one afternoon swinging in my hammock. But first, I went to the beverage warehouse to buy beer.

“My wife left me home alone,” I told Paul, who rang up my purchase.

“Beer will help,” he said.

“Has your wife ever left you home alone?” I inquired.

“My wife left me, period,” Paul answered. “I’m divorced. I can go to sleep when I want, I can wake up when I want and I can drink beer when I want.”

“The first thing I did was set off the alarm,” I said.

“At least you can tell your wife you didn’t end up in jail,” Paul said.

Arnie the mailman was sympathetic to my plight.

“I prefer being home alone,” Arnie said as he handed me a bunch of bills. “I work on projects my wife didn’t want me to work on.”

“For me, a project is making coffee,” I said. “And setting off the alarm.”

“You’re lucky the cops weren’t called,” Arnie said. “Enjoy your time off. And don’t get in trouble.”

Then I saw Mike, my next-door neighbor, who was outside with his wife, Corrie.

“How’s Sue?” Mike asked.

“She’s out of town,” I replied. “She left me home alone. I hope you didn’t hear the alarm. I accidentally set it off.”

“I was away for a weekend recently,” Corrie said.

“How did you do?” I asked Mike.

“Fine,” he said. “I barbecued. I didn’t burn the house down. And I didn’t set off the alarm.”

“Sue left me with food and instructions,” I said.

“Not me,” Corrie said. “I told Mike, ‘You’re on your own, buddy.’ He did all right.”

Ultimately, I did, too. When I picked up Sue at the airport, I told her about my adventures.

“At least,” she said with a sigh, “I didn’t have to bail you out of jail.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, November 20, 2022

"How Sweet It Was"

By Jerry Zezima

It’s a good thing I’m not a business magnate because I couldn’t sell refrigerators in Death Valley. If I could, I’d be a refrigerator magnate.

But it turns out that I can sell peppermint pretzels and mint truffles. And I did, in astonishing amounts, when I recently worked for two days as a brand ambassador at Costco.

I got the idea to be one of those nice folks who give out food samples at the big-box retail stores when my wife, Sue, said that if I went shopping with her, she would buy me lunch.

Sparing no expense, Sue shelled out $1.50 so I could have a hot dog and a soft drink in exchange for pushing a cart that was filled with cereal, toilet tissue and so many other household items that I felt like a trucker who had flunked his driver’s test.

On our rounds of the store, which is approximately the size of an airport terminal, except without the luggage carousels, I encountered a friendly guy named Gerald, who was giving out samples of white rice with soy sauce.

“Do you like your job?” I asked.

“I love it,” replied Gerald, who is retired. “It gets me out of the house. And I’m doing something constructive.”

“I’m retired, but I seldom do anything constructive, which is why my wife wouldn’t mind it if I got out of the house,” I said.

Sue nodded.

“I’m going to apply,” I told her.

The process was long and complicated, requiring me to furnish so much information that I was shocked it didn’t include my underwear size. I felt like I was applying for a job with the CIA, which in my case would stand for Comically Inept Associate.

But it was worth the trouble after I met Saima Iqbal, a very pleasant event manager for CDS (Club Demonstration Services), the company that hires the people who give out food samples at Costco.

After informing me that I had somehow made it through the application process and was being hired — at minimum wage, working six-hour shifts with a half-hour food break and another break of 15 minutes — Saima gave me a blue apron, a CDS visor and a name tag with JERRY in bold letters. Below that was my title: “Sales advisor.”

“This will get me out of my wife’s hair,” I said.

Speaking of which, I had to wear a hair net and a face covering for my mustache. Also, I was required to wear disposable gloves. And I was shown how to prepare a food cart for selling products and how to wash and sanitize the cart and other equipment afterward.

“We place a premium on cleanliness,” said Saima, who started as a sales advisor 11 years ago. “There’s room for advancement,” she added. “But we are going to start you slow.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve always been a little slow.”

That meant I wouldn’t be using a microwave or an oven to prepare food.

“My wife doesn’t trust me in the kitchen,” I said.

“You should also know that members, as our customers are called, may ask you where certain items are in the store,” Saima warned.

“I don’t know where anything is at home,” I confessed.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Your job is to sell. Good luck and welcome aboard!”

I began on a Sunday, which was very busy. My shift started at 10:30 a.m. and lasted until 5 p.m.

Saima wasn’t working, but I was in good hands with Melissa, a personable senior shift supervisor who showed me how to set up my big metal cart, which contained a bowl, a stand and other necessary items, including the product, Snack Factory pretzel crisps with white creme and peppermint.

I had to put two pretzel crisps in a small paper cup and put several cups of them on a tray under the stand.

“Remind people that they’re on sale,” said Melissa, pointing to an adjacent display with dozens of bags of peppermint pretzels.

I was in the most highly trafficked location in the store, right near the checkout area, so members who were lined up with their carts, waiting to be checked out, stood in front of my cart.

“Wow, peppermint pretzels!” was the typical reaction from members young and old.

“They’re sweet and salty! And they’re on sale!” I gushed, pointing to the $4.99 price tag.

“How much do they usually go for?” one woman asked.

“A hundred bucks a bag,” I answered. “But there’s a special deal today.”

She laughed and put two bags in her shopping cart.

“They’re selling like hotcakes,” an older man said.

“Maybe I should sell them, too,” I replied.

He smiled and took a bag from the display.

The peppermint pretzels, which ordinarily sold for $6.99, were indeed a hot item.

“They could sell themselves, but they can’t talk,” I told a nice mom.

Her small son wolfed down four of them.

“Yum!” he declared.

The hardest part was keeping up with demand. I had to open bag after bag, pour the pretzel crisps into a bowl and put them in the small cups, which I then had to place on the trays. As soon as I did, they were snatched up.

At the end of my shift, I was tired and my feet were sore, but I felt good.

“It was fun,” I told Gerald, who helped me clean up.

My second — and last — day was Tuesday.

Again, I was working from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This time, though, I was selling Utah (that’s the brand) milk chocolate mint truffles, which are “individually wrapped.” They were on sale for $6.99, a saving of $3.

Saima, who was back to work, was dismayed when I told her before my shift that I would be quitting because of a scheduling conflict and not any dissatisfaction with the job.

“That’s too bad,” she said. “You did great on Sunday and everyone likes you.”

“This must be the shortest career ever,” I said. “Will I be eligible for a pension?”

“Sure,” Saima answered with a smile. “And you’ll get a 401(k).”

“How about a going-away party?” I asked.

“Why not?” she said.

When I went to my previous post in the front of the store, a sales advisor named Lee, who was selling chocolate-covered almonds, told me I was in the wrong spot.

“You’re supposed to be in the back near the freezers,” she informed me. “Look for the display with your product.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“I don’t mean to bust your chops,” Lee said sympathetically.

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’m not selling chops.”

I set up my cart and launched into my sales pitch: “These truffles are a sweet treat that’s good to eat and can’t be beat. And they have a hint of mint. I like saying that because it rhymes.”

In addition to scarfing down samples and buying bags of truffles, a lot of people asked for directions.

“Where can I find milk?” a woman inquired.

“In cows,” I told her.

A guy asked, “Where’s Celsius?”

“On a thermometer,” I answered.

“I mean the energy drink,” he explained.

“I have no idea,” I said.

Fortunately, both of them laughed.

One woman looked at a bag of truffles and said, “They’re individually wrapped?”

“Yes,” I said. “They were wrapped by individuals.”

She laughed, too.

And they all bought the product.

Toward the end of my shift, Saima stopped by because she was leaving for the day.

“Goodbye,” she said. “And thank you.”

“How did I do?” I asked.

“Excellent,” she said. “If you want to come back, let me know.”

The experience was excellent, too, thanks in large part to my fellow sales advisors, most of them retirees, including Alfonso, Andrew, Aquib, Christina, David, Frances, Gerald, John, Jon, Lee, Marianne, Nieves and Sondra. They were all very nice and extremely helpful.

Even without the peppermint pretzels and mint truffles, two bags of which I bought for Sue, it couldn’t have been sweeter.

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, November 13, 2022

"What's Up, Docs?"

By Jerry Zezima

Laughter, goes an old saying, is the best medicine. And, I would add, because I’m old myself, the cheapest.

It was the prescription for a smooth transition from my old doctor, who always told me jokes but is now retiring, to my new physician, who not only has an excellent sense of humor but is the only doctor I have ever had who is younger than I am.

My former medicine man, Dr. Antoun Mitromaras, is hanging up his stethoscope after more than half a century of doctoring.

“What are you going to do in retirement?” I asked him during my last office visit.

“Watch TV,” said Dr. Mitromaras, who is 81.

He’s the guy who gave me the best medical advice ever. I once asked him if he had seen those commercials for prescription medications with side effects that include death.

“Yes,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“Have patients asked you about them?” I wanted to know.

“Yes,” the good doctor replied.

“What do you tell them?” I wondered.

“If they can kill you,” he said, “don’t take them.”

He also told me jokes that were often too risqué to repeat here.

“Tell me one I can repeat in polite company,” I said.

“This guy dies and goes to the Pearly Gates,” Dr. Mitromaras began. “St. Peter says, ‘I’ll let you in if you can relieve me for a little while. I’m tired and want to take a nap.’ The guy asks what he has to do. St. Peter says, ‘Ask anyone who shows up how to spell love. If they get it right, let them in. If not, send them downstairs.’ Several people show up and spell love correctly, so the guy lets them in. Then his mother-in-law arrives. The guy has never gotten along with her. She says, ‘I hear there’s a spelling test.’ The guy nods and says, ‘Spell Czechoslovakia.’ ”

I didn’t expect to have as many laughs with my new physician, Dr. Sanjay Sangwan, but I had a great time during my initial visit.

“You have a pulse,” he informed me. “And a heartbeat.”

“That’s good to know,” I said. “Do I have brain activity?”

“I’d have to run some tests to make sure,” replied Dr. Sangwan, who just turned 51.

“You’re the first doctor I have ever had who is younger than I am,” I told him.

“How old are you?” he inquired.

“I’m a little more than a year away from being 70,” I said.

Dr. Sangwan raised his eyebrows in surprise and said, “You look like you’re in your 50s.”

“God bless you,” I said, shaking his hand. “By the way, how’s your eyesight?”

“You got me there,” he said, adjusting his glasses. “But I see by your family history that longevity is common.”

“Yes,” I said. “My mother is about to turn 98. And she’s sharper than I am. Of course, so are houseplants, but that’s another story.”

“You have good genes,” Dr. Sangwan told me.

“My wife bought my jeans,” I said, pointing to my denim pants. “I have more at home.”

The doctor looked over my paperwork and said, “You’ve had kidney stones.”

“Six or seven,” I noted. “I regret to say that I’ve had to number them like the Super Bowl.”

“They can be painful,” Dr. Sangwan said.

“When I had my first one, a nurse told me that it’s the male equivalent of childbirth,” I said. “I told her that at least I wouldn’t have to put the stone through college.”

When I mentioned I have another one that is tucked away on my right side, Dr. Sangwan said, “Keep an eye on it.”

“I can’t lower my head that far,” I said.

He smiled and said, “You’ve really brightened my morning.”

Dr. Sangwan and his wonderful staff brightened mine, too.

“Welcome to the practice,” he said as I headed out.

“It’s nice to be your newest patient even though I’m really old,” I said. “And that’s no joke.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, November 6, 2022

"Math Confusion"

By Jerry Zezima

Here is today’s test in basic arithmetic: If you had two grade schoolers and one college graduate who happens to be the kids’ grandfather, and you gave each of them a math quiz, how many would flunk?

Answer: One.

If, for extra credit, you guessed the dummy was me, go to the head of the class. I’ll be up there, too, sitting in the corner and wearing a dunce cap.

It all added up to humiliation when my granddaughters Chloe and Lilly, who are in fourth grade and first grade, respectively, engaged me in a mathematical challenge after I took them off the school bus.

“How was your day?” I asked when we got in the house.

“Good,” both girls responded.

“What did you do?” I inquired.

“Math,” Chloe answered.

“Are you good at math?” I asked.

“My teacher says I’m a multiplication master,” Chloe said proudly.

“That’s very impressive,” I said.

“Were you good at math when you were in school, Poppie?” Chloe asked.

“No,” I confessed.

“Poppie was in school a long time ago,” Lilly noted.

“I’m going to give you a math test,” Chloe said. “What’s 8 times 7?”

I thought for a moment, then took out my phone.

“Who are you calling?” Chloe wondered.

Lilly saw what I was doing and shrieked, “He’s using his calculator! You can’t use your calculator, Poppie! That’s cheating!”

“The answer is 56,” Chloe said.

“I knew that,” I said feebly.

“No, you didn’t,” said Chloe. “How about 9 times 8?”

“Don’t use your calculator,” Lilly commanded.

I hesitated while running the numbers through my head.

“Seventy-two,” Chloe said.

“I guess I’m not a multiplication master,” I said with a sigh. “Now I’ll give you a test. What’s 10 times 10?”

“One hundred,” Chloe answered instantly.

“I’m good in addition,” Lilly said. “Ask me a question.”

“What’s 5 plus 5?” I asked.

“That’s easy,” Lilly responded. “Ten.”

“Here’s a harder one,” I said. “What’s 60 plus 8?”

“Sixty-eight,” said Lilly, adding: “That’s how old you are, Poppie.”

“Thanks for pointing that out,” I said.

“Now I’ll ask you a question,” Lilly said. “What’s 300 plus 300?”

“More than I have in my bank account,” I said.

“Did you become a writer because you can’t do math?” Chloe wondered.

“Yes,” I admitted.

“Does that mean you don’t have to know anything?” Lilly asked.

“Not exactly,” I responded, “but close.”

I didn’t tell the girls that when I was in high school, my worst subject was algebra. Here, as I dimly recall, which is how I recall most things these days, is the typical algebra problem:

“The Smiths are leaving New York for Boston at 9 a.m. averaging 55 miles per hour. The Joneses are leaving Boston for New York at 10 a.m. averaging 50 miles per hour. Question: At what point in the 200-mile journey will they pass each other?”

Answer: WHO CARES?!

I once put that down on a test. I flunked.

When I got to college, I decided, for one semester, to major in business. In an economics class, the professor called on me and asked, “Mr. Zezima, what’s the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics?”

My answer: “The spelling.”

I flunked that one, too.

My wife, Sue, does the family banking. If it were left to me, we’d be in debtors’ prison.

“Poppie, I give you an F-minus,” Lilly said when class was dismissed.

Chloe was a little more charitable.

“You get an A for effort,” she told me. “But if you want to be a multiplication master like me, you really need to do your math homework.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima