Sunday, April 30, 2023

"Getting Trivial With Alexa"

By Jerry Zezima

Here is today’s trivia challenge: What modern figure was famously described by his wife as “an encyclopedia of useless information”?

(a) Albert Einstein, (b) Alex Trebek, (c) Pat Sajak, (d) Jerry Zezima

If you guessed (d), you are correct! Unfortunately, you do not win a Caribbean cruise or cash and prizes totaling $100,000, but you do have my eternal (or at least temporary) gratitude.

My wife, Sue, who used to think I didn’t know anything worth knowing, now knows better.

That’s because she and I recently teamed up to score our 1,000th point in Question of the Day, a game of knowledge hosted by Alexa, the virtual assistant who operates on artificial intelligence.

What Alexa doesn’t know, but Sue does, is that I was born with artificial intelligence.

For years I had been boring her (Sue, not Alexa) with my impressive knowledge of subject matter she considers trivial but which I maintain is invaluable to the well-being of society.

That includes my greatest area of expertise: the Three Stooges.

I proudly know, for example, that Curly’s real name was — this is absolutely true — Jerry.

“That’s not useless information, toots!” I once told Sue. “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”

She has come to appreciate my knowledge of stuff nobody else cares about. And I have come to appreciate her knowledge of stuff she learned (but I seldom studied) in school.

Together, Sue and I are an unbeatable team in Question of the Day, mainly because we play alone and have no competition.

We began playing a few weeks ago for what I admit was a trivial reason: We had nothing better to do. Pretty soon, we were hooked.

Now, every day at lunch, unless we aren’t home or we forget, in which case we are out to lunch, Sue and I are put to the test.

“Alexa,” Sue will say, “what’s the Question of the Day?”

“Welcome back to Question of the Day, your daily trivia challenge,” Alexa will respond in her pleasant disembodied voice.

Then she will tell us in which of the game’s six categories — arts and entertainment, science, literature, geography, general knowledge and history — she will quiz us and how many points the question is worth. The higher the number (10 is tops), the harder the question.

If we answer correctly, we get a bonus question. Sometimes we get that one right, too, and rack up even more points.

If we answer incorrectly, I am usually to blame.

“I was going to say (a),” Sue will tell me after I have wrongly guessed (b).

“To (b) or not to (b)?” I asked one day.

“That’s not the question,” Sue answered.

Recently, our point total was 998.

“We’re two points away from 1,000!” I said excitedly.

Sue summoned Alexa, who posed this question: “Which of the following is NOT considered to be one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World?”

The choices: (a) Taj Mahal, (b) Lighthouse of Alexandria, (c) Colossus of Rhodes, (d) Great Pyramid of Giza.

If I guessed (b), I’d be Lightheaded, (c) I wouldn’t be a Rhodes scholar or (d) I’d be banished to the Great Pyramid of Geezer. So, in consultation with Sue, I went with (a).

“Good job!” Alexa exclaimed.

After giving us some interesting facts about the Taj Mahal (it was built in the mid-17th century and is considered one of the Wonders of the Modern World) and informing us that only 47 percent of previous players got this question right, Alexa said, “You have reached a milestone — your 1,000th point in Question of the Day. Congratulations!”

We celebrated by treating each other to lunch at the kitchen table. Sue had an apple and I had a peanut butter sandwich.

“You can’t say I’m an encyclopedia of useless information now,” I said.

“I guess not,” she conceded.

“And if you think that’s impressive,” I bragged, “just wait until Alexa asks me a question about the Three Stooges.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 16, 2023

"Bathroom Remodeling Is a Real Soap Opera"

By Jerry Zezima

Between long, daily, reservoir-draining showers to keep myself smelling fresh as a daisy, frequent shaving mishaps that draw enough blood to choke a vampire and so many throne sittings that I could be a member of the royal family, you’d think I would be flush with excitement at the prospect of remodeling the bathroom.

But shopping for tile, a vanity, a toilet and fixtures for the sink and shower has left me, if you will pardon the expression, drained.

The project became necessary after I took a shower and noticed that there was something wrong with the plumbing (the shower’s, not mine). Specifically, the water kept dripping out of the shower head. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t turn it off.

I didn’t want to use brute strength because I don’t have any. Also, I feared that I would cause a torrent to rival Niagara Falls, a tourist attraction that, unlike my bathroom, has postcards.

So my wife, Sue, who claims that I spend most of my waking hours in the porcelain convenience, told me to call a plumber.

I contacted our contractor, Anthony, who came over with Andy, a plumber who has done wonderful work for us before. Both are great and talented guys.

They agreed that because of leakage and aging, a remodeling was in order.

“For me?” I wondered.

Anthony shook his head and said, “You need to do something soon before you have more problems.”

Thus did Sue and I embark on a search for new tile and all the other items that would make our bathroom a nice place to visit, even in the middle of the night.

On the first of so many trips to a home improvement store that we should have been given our own parking space, Sue and I were confronted with endless choices of tile, some for the shower, others for the floor.

And I learned a valuable lesson: When it comes to bathrooms, size doesn’t matter. Even a small space like ours can’t be remodeled without a large bottle of headache-alleviating pain reliever, which is kept in the vanity.

The question was: Should our new vanity be white or dark?

That conundrum was down on the list because first we had to pick tile. Should it be white in the shower and patterned on the floor? Or vice versa? Should we get subway tile for the shower? If so, would I have to spray it with graffiti? Should the floor tile be square? Rectangular? Hexagonal? How about a trapezoid? Should it be porcelain or matte? Who’s Matt? Should we have a niche in the shower wall so we can store shampoo, conditioner and fruity-scented body wash? Will picking a new sink give me a sinking feeling? Which fixtures should we get? Brushed nickel or chrome? Why shouldn’t I take any brushed nickels? What about a toilet? Standard or fancy? In the end, who cares? Would a new mirror make me look any better while trimming my nose hair? Shower doors or a curtain? Would this be curtains for me? And, most important, how much of our liquid assets would go down the drain before all this was mercifully over?

Mitch, a friendly department manager who became our shopping adviser, was very helpful.

“This is more complicated than quantum physics,” I grumbled.

“It’s actually pretty simple,” he assured me. “Your wife will make the final decisions. Husbands don’t have much say in the matter. It takes the pressure off.”

Mitch, a husband himself, was right. I’ve always believed that it’s best for a guy to be like a bobblehead doll: You nod and you smile and you don’t say anything.

We went through countless shower, floor and vanity combinations, even taking individual pieces of tile home to envision how they would look in the bathroom, before Sue made up her mind.

I must say (I really don’t have to, but just to be safe, I will) that she made all the right choices.

Now Anthony and Andy have to do the remodeling. When they’re done, I’ll invite the royal family to come over and sit on the throne.

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, April 9, 2023

"Eat, Drink and Be Married"

By Jerry Zezima

Love means never having to say you’re sorry for taking your wife to a diner for your 45th wedding anniversary.

So, sparing no expense for my beautiful bride, I took her to a pizza joint instead.

I admit that it wasn’t as romantic as returning to Hawaii, where Sue and I honeymooned, or going back to Barbados, where we celebrated 30 years of wedded bliss.

But at least I didn’t take my wife to the dump. That’s where we spent our anniversary three years ago.

We had to get rid of some logs from a tree that had been struck by lightning. It did not create sparks between us.

When Sue and I got to the landfill, I told the lady at the booth about our special day.

“It’s our anniversary and we’re spending it here,” I said.

“Well,” she responded, “it’s a unique way to celebrate.”

We had so much fun that we made two trips. Later, we toasted each other with boxed wine.

This is the kind of exciting life that Sue and I have led since we were married on April 2, 1978.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me and is willing to admit it, which narrows the field considerably, that I wanted to get married on April Fools’ Day. But Sue nixed the idea, probably because she didn’t want to get a whoopee cushion as a wedding gift.

Now, two children, five grandchildren and millions of stupid jokes later, I can honestly say that if it weren’t for Sue, I would be either dead or in prison. For putting up with me for so long, she deserves to be the first living person canonized by the Catholic Church. I deserve to be shot from a cannon.

So naturally, I wanted to do something nice for her on our 45th anniversary.

“How about a ring?” I asked, noting that the traditional gift is sapphire.

“That’s OK,” Sue said sweetly. “Save your money.”

“But you’re priceless,” I countered. “Besides, I found a blue stone in the backyard.”

Sue smiled.

“How about going on a trip?” I asked.

“Where?” she wondered.

“Home Depot,” I replied.

We have a bathroom project coming up, so it was an appropriate destination, even if they don’t have postcards.

When we got back home, I told Sue I wanted to take her out for our anniversary, which was a couple of days away.

We don’t go out to eat or even get takeout too often, but when we do, we patronize one of three places: the Chinese restaurant down the street, a nearby pizzeria or, of course, the diner.

“We could get deluxe cheeseburgers with the works,” I said.

“No,” said Sue. “We should go someplace special.”

We picked a new place that specializes in pizza but also has a menu featuring Italian dishes.

To prepare for the big event, I ironed a light blue, floral-patterned, long-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar and selected a nice pair of jeans and white sneakers, quite a change from my regular household ensemble of sweats and slippers.

“I’m getting dolled up just for you,” I told Sue, who looked, as always, lovely.

After we arrived at the eatery, I informed Joey, our server, that it was our 45th anniversary.

“Congratulations!” he said.

“My wife is a saint,” I remarked.

“I can see why,” Joey replied. “Would you like anything to drink?”

We each ordered a glass of wine.

“Happy anniversary!” Sue and I said to each other as we clinked glasses.

When it came time to order, Sue picked chicken marsala and I showed off my sophisticated palate by getting spaghetti and meatballs.

“It beats burgers and fries,” I noted.

Dinner was delicious. The bill came to $60.30.

“Thank you for taking me out for our 45th anniversary,” Sue said when we got home.

“You’re very welcome,” I responded with a kiss. “It was better than going to the dump.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima