Sunday, February 26, 2023

"The Empty Nesters"

By Jerry Zezima

I’m for the birds. Unfortunately, they’re not for me.

That was sadly evident after I took part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a worldwide annual program in which gullible humans are tasked with counting the birds in their bathrooms.

Sorry, I mean their backyards.

After four days of looking up, which can lead to tree collisions and neck cramps, participants have to report the results via app or computer or, as I did, by returning bird counting packets to their local library.

This is all so scientists at places like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society can find out why some avians are crazy enough to stick around and freeze their tail feathers off during the winter instead of flying first-class to Florida and getting their jollies by pooping on the cars of their fellow snowbirds.

The day after picking up my bird counting packet, I spotted a woodpecker pecking on a tree and wondered how much wood a woodpecker could peck if a woodpecker would just peck wood instead of trying to jackhammer my house, as many annoying members of their species have done over the years.

Unfortunately, I saw the redheaded rascal on a Thursday and the count was supposed to start the next day.

On Friday morning, I was up with the birds and — you guessed it — never saw even a single one the entire day.

Saturday, I was sure, would be better. It wasn’t. Not a robin, crow or any other kind of bird in sight.

Usually, they flock to my backyard like swallows to Capistrano, pigeons to Venice or orioles to Baltimore.

I began to wonder if anyone had told the birds about the bird count.

I was getting desperate, so I dropped panko bread crumbs on the patio to lure hungry, unsuspecting or just plain stupid birds. It didn’t work.

Then I went to the shed to get a birdhouse. I leaned it against a tall oak and watched. Not a peep.

The Great Backyard Bird Count was at the halfway point and I was beginning to suspect that my fine feathered friends had gone into the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Finally, on Sunday, at 11:15 a.m., I was upstairs when I heard my wife, Sue, who was downstairs, excitedly shout, “Hon, you got a bird!”

I rushed down and looked out the family room window to see a blue jay perched on a high branch of the aforementioned oak.

“Look,” Sue said, pointing skyward, “there’s another one.”

I marked down two blue jays on the tally sheet of my bird counting packet.

As if a birdie board meeting had been called, a pair of cardinals showed up. I marked them down, too.

But as soon as I opened the door to step outside and get a better look, all four feathery visitors flew off.

“You scared them,” said Sue, adding that the cardinals were, in her estimation, “a mommy and a daddy.”

“Daddy cardinals are more colorful,” I told her. “I might even say more beautiful.”

“Like you?” replied Sue, who said, “We used to have a nice family of cardinals living in the backyard. I guess they moved, but I don’t know where they went.”

“Probably to St. Louis,” I guessed.

“Why?” Sue asked.

“To join the St. Louis Cardinals,” I said.

Sue looked like she wanted to peck my eyes out, so I didn’t mention anything about the Toronto Blue Jays.

On Monday, the last day of the bird count, I was in the family room when I heard squawking. I looked out the window and saw five dark-colored birds having an argument. I don’t know if they were blackbirds or cowbirds, but I do know that they must have seen me marking them down on my tally sheet because they immediately flitted away, mocking me as they went.

Thus ended the Great Backyard Bird Count. Final tally: nine birds and one flighty human.

The Audubon Society will know who’s the biggest birdbrain.

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, February 19, 2023

"Those Are the Brakes"

By Jerry Zezima

At the risk of throwing myself under the bus, which isn’t much of a risk because the bus is stopped, I plead guilty to passing a stopped school bus.

I couldn’t believe I had done something so stupid — and I do stupid things all the time — because I don’t text and drive, I stop at red lights and stop signs, and I obey the speed limit. Or at least I don’t drive like a white-knuckled, lead-footed NASCAR wannabe.

I am especially careful in school zones and am always aware, no matter where I am, of school buses.

Except this time.

The proof came when I got a notice in the mail informing me of my transportation transgression.

On the citation was photographic evidence that I had violated New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1174-a. There also was the link to a video, which I watched. Sure enough, I saw my car pass the red stop sign that extended from the side of the bus.

Amount due: $250.

I had two choices: I could fight this all the way to the Supreme Court (as my own defense attorney, I’d probably end up in Sing Sing). Or I could admit guilt, promise to mend my ways and pay the fine.

I chose the latter.

But first, I drove (very carefully) to the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency to see what creative excuses people use when they go to traffic court.

In the ticket office, where I got number Q689, I spoke with a defense attorney named Lindsay, who remembered one rather offbeat defendant.

“This motorcyclist was going at an excessive rate of speed and wiped out,” Lindsay recalled. “The judge said, ‘Is it true you were doing 125 miles an hour?’ The guy said, ‘No, Your Honor. I was only doing 110.’ He still had to pay a big fine, but at least he lived.”

“Have you ever had a traffic violation?” I asked.

“Not that I’ll admit,” Lindsay replied.

In the conference room, where dozens of defendants waited to see a judge, I met Sean and Natasha, both representing themselves in their respective cases.

“I’m here because I was driving a commercial vehicle on a parkway,” said Sean.

“Was it a big rig?” I asked.

“No, it was a van,” answered Sean, 23. “I also got a ticket for advertising. I work for a wholesale seafood company with its name, address and phone number on the side of the vehicle.”

“I’m sorry to say this,” said Natasha, who sat next to Sean, “but that’s stupid.”

“It sounds fishy,” I added.

Sean, who missed his previous court date because, he explained, “I forgot,” said he hoped to get one of the charges dropped.

“It doesn’t always work,” he said. “My brother is a cop, so I have a PBA card. One time I got stopped for speeding. I handed the cop the PBA card along with my license. He threw the card back at me.”

“At least he was honest,” I noted.

“Unfortunately,” Sean said.

Natasha was there because she backed into another car in the parking lot at work.

“What’s your excuse?” I asked her.

“I’m a teenage girl,” said Natasha, who’s 18.

“I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think that will stand up in court,” I said.

“Probably not,” Natasha conceded. “The real reason is that it was the end of the day and I was in a hurry to get home.”

Both she and Sean said they have received other citations in their brief driving careers but insisted that older drivers, like yours truly, are worse than young ones, like them.

“You drive too slow,” said Natasha, who admitted that, like me, she had once been fined for driving past a stopped school bus.

“It cost me more than $300,” she remembered.

A few minutes later, Natasha’s name was called. I wished Sean luck and accompanied her to a small courtroom, where she pleaded guilty and was fined $220.

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Natasha said before leaving.

“You’re very welcome. Have a nice day,” replied the Hon. Jeffrey Arlen Spinner, who is so nice that he would put Judge Judy to shame.

Judge Spinner, who practices law in New York and Connecticut, was wearing a necktie with pictures of cars on it.

“That’s perfect for traffic court,” I noted.

“I’m a motor head,” the judge said.

“Have you ever gotten a driving citation?” I wondered.

“Of course,” he answered. “Who hasn’t?”

His last one was in 1989.

“I’ve been careful ever since,” said Judge Spinner, a fellow father and grandfather who treats defendants with dignity and respect. “It’s what every person who comes before me in court is entitled to,” he said. “You never know what their stories are.”

“My story is that I passed a stopped school bus,” I admitted.

“It happens,” Judge Spinner said. “Just make sure to pay the fine. And drive home safely.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, February 12, 2023

"Here's Looking at You, Pal"

By Jerry Zezima

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest of them all?

The answer was painfully obvious — because I hit my thumb with a hammer — when I tried to hang a mirror on the family room wall.

The trouble began when my wife, Sue, brought home a mirror she bought in a barn. Frankly, I didn’t know barns had mirrors.

I can just imagine the conversation between tenants.

Cow (admiring herself in the mirror): “I’m looking a lot slimmer since I got milked this morning.”

Bull (seeing his reflection): “And I’m looking like a real stud. I’ve got the horns for you, babe.”

Cow: “You are so full of yourself.”

The bovine couple must have mooooved out before Sue got there because the barn was occupied by humans selling antiques, crafts and other items.

Sue brought home the wood-framed mirror with flowery side panels to replace a plain mirror that was hanging above the couch in the family room.

“This one is a lot nicer,” Sue said about the new mirror, which is older than the old mirror. “And I got it for only $16.”

“That reflects well on you,” I said.

I noticed Sue rolling her eyes in the mirror.

I also noticed that we have a lot of mirrors in the house. The largest is in our bedroom. I can still recall the pain of hanging it when we moved in almost a quarter of a century ago. I’m surprised it didn’t fall, break into a hundred pieces, leave shards of glass sticking out of my face and bring me seven years’ bad luck.

There’s a smaller mirror in each of the other two bedrooms, which also have full-length mirrors on the backs of the doors.

The worst mirror is in our bathroom because I have to look in it to shave. It’s a frightening sight so early in the morning.

The other two bathrooms also have mirrors. When I’m in there, which Sue insists is the majority of my waking time, I try to avoid my own gaze.

The most valuable (and coveted) mirror is on the top of Sue’s dresser. It’s a silver-handled hand mirror that her mother gave to her. Our granddaughter Lilly is obsessed with it. She uses the mirror when she brushes her hair during visits to our house. Sue has promised to leave it to Lilly in her will.

I also have a hand mirror, but it has a black plastic handle and it didn’t come from my father. In fact, I bought it at CVS. No one is obsessed with this mirror because: (a) it’s cheap and crummy and (b) I use it when I trim my nose hair.

We have a mirror in each hallway, upstairs and downstairs, as well as four small mirrors in the living room.

There’s also a mirror in the laundry room, where my dirty underwear and wet bath towels can be seen in the reflection.

But the main mirror is the antique that Sue bought in the barn.

Hanging it was a challenge because I couldn’t get the hang of it. I had to stand on the couch, not an easy feat because my feet kept slipping between the cushions.

Then I had to nail a hook to the wall. Naturally, I dropped the nail behind the couch. Sue picked it up and handed it to me, whereupon I dropped the hook.

When I had both nail and hook back in hand, I came down with the hammer and promptly hit my thumb. My reaction could have shattered glass.

Finally, I got the hook up and tried to slip the mirror over it, but the sawtooth hanger on the back of the mirror was too narrow. So I had to use a pair of pliers to open the hook enough to hang the mirror on it.

“Great job!” Sue said when I stepped off the couch. “The mirror looks beautiful.”

“And for once,” I replied admiringly, “it’s a nice reflection on me.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, February 5, 2023

"In the Jurassic Dark"

By Jerry Zezima

When I was a kid, I knew all the dinosaurs — not personally, of course, because they were extinct by then and woolly mammoths roamed the earth. But I was a fan of such prehistoric stars as brontosaurus, tyrannosaurus and especially Raquel Welch, who wore a cavewoman bikini in one of my favorite movies, “One Million Years B.C.”

I have since gone in one era and out the other. Now there are more dinosaurs than I ever thought existed, my grandson knows every one of them and he proved it by beating my old bones in a board game called Dinosaur Bingo.

It sounds redundant because geezers like me are considered dinosaurs by younger people (almost everyone else) and are supposed to play bingo and other geriatric games that don’t require any real skill beyond the presence of a pulse.

But my grandson, who is almost 6 and wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up, loves Dinosaur Bingo. So do his 3-year-old twin siblings, a girl and a boy who are dino aficionados. All three kids have dinosaur-themed clothes, toys, books, pillows, backpacks and lunch boxes and frequently watch TV shows featuring — you guessed it — Raquel Welch.

No, sorry, I mean dinosaurs.

In my youth, during the Boomer Epoch, behemoths such as allosaurus, ankylosaurus, brachiosaurus, diplodocus, stegosaurus and triceratops were the most popular dinosaurs. Then there were flying reptiles like pteranodon and pterodactyl, pterrible ptitans from an ancient ptime.

But scientists have since discovered many other dinosaurs, some of them herbivores, which ate plants, and some of them carnivores, which didn’t like vegetables and ate the herbivores. This is known as the “balance of nature.”

Or it was until an asteroid hit Earth, wiped out the dinosaurs and began the Age of Mammals. That includes humans. Males of the species invented beer, television and professional football. Females of the species just ignore them.

But I am getting ahead of myself because of my humiliation at the hands of my grandson in Dinosaur Bingo.

“Let’s play, Poppie!” he said during a recent visit.

“How?” I asked as I looked at the cover of the box, which featured illustrations of herrerasaurus, maiasaura, ornithomimus and other dinosaurs I had never heard of.

“It’s simple,” he replied. “You pick a card with a dinosaur on it and put it on a space on the board with a picture of the same dinosaur.”

“What if you don’t have a picture of the dinosaur on your board?” I wondered.

“Then you put the card in the box and wait until it’s your turn again,” my grandson said.

It sounded easy enough — for him, that is.

Because I had only two matching dinosaurs (centrosaurus, a first cousin twice removed of triceratops) and nodosaurus (the brother-in-law of ankylosaurus), and my grandson had a board full of matching dinos, including the winner (herrerasaurus, the shiftless uncle of T. rex), he breezed to victory in the first game.

Along the way, I learned that herrerasaurus had a big mouth.

“So do I,” I said.

“That’s because you’re always telling jokes, Poppie,” my grandson noted.

And pachycephalosaurus had a hard head.

“Me, too,” I said. “Could I be Poppiecephalosaurus?”

“You’re silly!” remarked my grandson, who also romped in the second game.

At least I learned about irritator (“the most irritating dinosaur,” I surmised), fabrosaurus (“he must have been fabulous,” I said) and therizinosaurus (which had such long claws that, I noted, “it could have used a manicure”).

“Dinosaurs didn’t get their nails done, Poppie,” my grandson stated.

He should know, not just because he is already an expert in paleontology, but because he is a champ at Dinosaur Bingo.

The one thing he doesn’t know is that my favorite prehistoric creature is still Raquel Welch.

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima