Thursday, February 26, 2015

"A Very Social Security Guard"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If the safety of other people depended upon me, a pretty frightening thought since I can’t even protect myself, I would be an insecurity guard, stationed at the front desk of a building that anybody could enter but nobody would want to because, of course, I’d be guarding the place.

That is not the case with Herbert “Doc” Koenig, a security guard in the building where I work. He don’t need no stinking badge (he has an ID card with a photo of his goateed visage and the word “Doc” under it) and he doesn’t carry a pistol, mainly because he is one. But he does have a rapier wit that could disarm the most suspicious intruder.

That, on most days, would be me.

“I’m not a real doctor,” Doc confessed during a midday break, “but I used to be an EMT in New York City and I delivered two of my kids, so people began calling me Doc.”

Then he began recalling some of his EMT adventures. The most memorable was the time he had to rescue an obese woman who got stuck in a bathtub.

“This lady was quite large,” Doc said. “The tub was drained and she couldn’t budge. There was this sucking sound as we pulled her out. I tried not to laugh. She was embarrassed, but she had a good sense of humor. She said, ‘At least I’m clean.’ ”

Then there was the time a young woman took her pants off on a busy Brooklyn street.

“She got hit by a car and her tibia was shattered,” Doc recalled, “so we put her on a stretcher. She was wearing designer jeans. I was going to cut them off, which was protocol. She said, ‘You’re not going to cut these. They’re Jordache jeans.’ She hopped up on one leg in the middle of Flatbush Avenue and took her pants off. She said, ‘I can wash out the blood, but I can’t sew my jeans back up.’ ”

The people who didn’t have a leg to stand on were some of the knuckleheads Doc met in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, where he worked for 30 years, 23 as an arraignment sergeant.

“It’s the busiest criminal court in the world,” Doc said, “so you see some pretty crazy things.”

Like the drug defendant who showed up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Wacky Weedies” and a picture of a stoner smoking a blunt, which is a cigar filled with marijuana.

“You can’t fix stupid,” Doc noted.

Judges didn’t always show good judgment, either.

“One of them berated a defendant,” Doc remembered. “The guy didn’t like what the judge said, so he threw a punch. The judge said, ‘Aren’t you going to protect me?’ I said, ‘If he hits you, it’s assault, right?’ Another time, a pro basketball player didn’t like what a judge said. A fight broke out and I ended up with a size 17 footprint on my leg.”

But for Doc’s money, the topper was the billionaire he was hired to protect.

“He was rich and nasty,” Doc said. “And he was working on his fourth wife. I can’t tell you who he is, but he’s a real piece of work. If I had his money, I’d be rich but not nasty.”

At 56, he’d also be retired, spending time with his wife, four children and two grandchildren.

“When the kids were growing up, I was the cool dad,” Doc said. “All their friends would come over because we always had a lot of fun at our house. We still do. Now I’m the cool granddad, too.”

Since Doc isn’t a billionaire, he’s working as a security guard, one of the friendly, dedicated people who protect the building where I work.

“You have to be nice,” Doc said when I asked what it takes to do his job, “but you also have to be vigilant. And you have to watch out for suspicious characters.”

“Like me?” I wondered.

“Sometimes,” Doc said, “I’ll let anybody in.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Food for Thought"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

According to an old saying, you are what you eat. Since I am full of baloney, I eat what I am.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what to eat these days especially bologna, which means I am out to lunch because I am on three different diets.

This has nothing to do with fat, which is all in my head. It stems from the fact that: (a) I have a history of kidney stones, (b) I have a history of high cholesterol and (c) I aced history in high school.

Naturally, all three diets contradict each other.

The first one, which was given to me by my urologist, is called the Low Oxalate Meal Plan. I had never heard of oxalates, but they sound like a species of cattle (“the male oxalate, which can weigh 1,500 pounds, is one of the dumbest animals on earth”) whose meat makes an excellent steak that I could wash down with beer.

Imagine my horror when I, a guy who loves beer so much that my blood would probably come out with a head on it, saw that I’m not supposed to drink it (beer, not blood, in which case I would be a vampire whose only meals are midnight snacks).

The first item in the “beverages and juices” part of the Low Oxalate Meal Plan, under the heading “avoid completely,” is: “Beer: draft, stout (Guinness), lager, pilsner.”

But when I looked over at the list of good beverages, I saw: “Beer, bottled.”

At that point I needed a beer, bottled, because I was on a diet that contradicted even itself. At least I could use it to wash down an oxalate steak because beef is among the meats that are OK to eat.

I could also have beef with red wine, which I am not surprised is on the good beverage list because I have long considered it over-the-counter heart medicine.

Speaking of which, my second diet is called the Heart Healthy Meal Plan and is designed to lower my cholesterol.

I got the diet from a nurse who took my blood pressure (she kindly gave it back) and measured my cholesterol during a wellness fair at work.

Before I was put on medication, my cholesterol levels rivaled the gross national product of Finland. Now, the nurse said, my good cholesterol is good (and very polite, I might add) and my bad cholesterol isn’t good but isn’t as bad as it used to be.

To make it better, I am supposed to follow the Heart Healthy Meal Plan, which contracts the Low Oxalate Meal Plan because on the former I can eat peanut butter but not beef and on the latter I can eat beef but not peanut butter.

On my third meal plan, the High Fiber Diet, which I got from a nurse in a hospital where I recently had an endoscopy and a colonoscopy at the same time, I can have beans, which I am not supposed to have on the Low Oxalate Meal Plan, and I can have beef, which I can’t have on the Heart Healthy Meal Plan.

I must admit that I am not a fan of vegetables, even though I am one, which makes it easy to ignore all three diets because I can have certain vegetables on one or more of them but not other veggies on one or more of either the same or opposing diets. So, to avoid confusion, as well as kidney stones, high cholesterol and a heart attack, I won’t eat them at all.

My favorite meal plan is the High Fiber Diet because it allows me to have any beverage I want. That goes for beer. Whether bottled or draft, stout (Guinness), lager and pilsner, I don’t know, but I am going to drink it anyway.

If you’re on a diet these days, it’s the only thing that makes any sense.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Steven's Court"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a Connecticut Yankee born and bred or perhaps I should say born and white-bread, which is how most people think of Connecticut Yankees I have always loved history, not just because I am old enough to be historical myself, but because I could never do algebra.

That’s why I was so grateful when Joe Courtney, the Democratic congressman from Connecticut’s Second District, defended our brave little state from the slander perpetrated against it in the 2012 film “Lincoln.” The offenders were director Steven Spielberg, who is from Ohio, and screenwriter Tony Kushner, who is from New York, though they both might as well be from Neptune (and not New Jersey, either).

The movie showed how the president (William Henry Harrison — sorry, I mean Abraham Lincoln) pushed for the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

In the key voting scene, two of the three members of the Connecticut delegation were wrongly depicted as voting against the amendment. In reality, there were four members and they all voted for it.

Incredulous after seeing the movie, Rep. Courtney wrote an open letter to Spielberg, pointing out the flub and asking for a correction on the DVDs, which the director had promised to send to middle and high schools across the country, presumably so the lie about Connecticut could be perpetuated for the current generation of students.

The letter prompted a snotty, half-baked response from Kushner, who threw Spielberg under the horse and buggy by saying the director approved the intentionally erroneous scene because it gave the audience “placeholders” (was he planning a dinner party?) and was a “rhythmic device” (which would have been more appropriate if he had been making a movie about George Gershwin).

Kushner also said he and Spielberg wanted to show how the closeness of the vote was the “historical reality.” Truth be told, the historical reality was that they got it wrong on purpose. How stupid was that?

It had to be the biggest mistake of Spielberg’s career, not only because it was easily avoidable and completely unnecessary, but because the resultant controversy was probably the main reason why he, Kushner and the film itself didn’t win Oscars in 2013.

Now that it’s 2015, the 150th anniversary of the passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment, Rep. Courtney is again coming to Connecticut’s defense.

This time he and his staff have produced a resource guide titled “Honoring Connecticut’s Role in Abolishing Slavery, 150 Years Later.” Intended to accompany any school showing of “Lincoln,” which probably would put kids to sleep anyway, the guide shows how the state’s four representatives Augustus Brandegee, James English, Henry Deming and John Henry Hubbard braved hardships and personal attacks to vote for the 13th Amendment when it passed on Jan. 31, 1865.

“Did they sail from Connecticut to Washington on their yachts or did they drive BMWs?” I asked Rep. Courtney in a phone conversation.

“I think they rode horses,” he responded.

“Spielberg would be shocked,” I said. “The photos of the four representatives in your guide show that they didn’t wear polo shirts, so I assume they weren’t wearing khakis and boat shoes, either.”

“Probably just woolen suits,” Rep. Courtney said.

“Another Connecticut myth exploded,” I declared.

Unlike Spielberg, Kushner and the late, great singer Sam Cooke, whose 1960 hit, “Wonderful World,” opens with the lyrics, “Don’t know much about history,” Rep. Courtney, 61, was a history major at Tufts University and graduated in the class of 1975.

“I wouldn’t say I was magna cum laude,” he acknowledged, “but I got pretty good grades.”

“Do you think Spielberg and Kushner got good grades in history?” I asked.

“Based on what they did to Connecticut in ‘Lincoln,’ they might have flunked,” said Rep. Courtney.

“I’m glad you set the record straight with your guide,” I told him (it can be accessed at courtney.house.gov). “In fact, it would make a great movie.”

“I can see it being a documentary,” Rep. Courtney said.

“And I have just the guys to make it,” I said. “Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner.”

“I don’t know about Kushner,” Rep. Courtney said.

“You’re right,” I replied. “He’s a brilliant writer, but he never met a fact he didn’t hate. How about if I wrote it and you produced it?”

“If you can find an agent and a backer,” said Rep. Courtney, noting that politics in Hollywood are even worse than they are in Washington, “it could work.”

“And if Spielberg promises to get it right this time, he can direct,” I said. “Who knows, he might even win an Oscar.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"The Inside Story"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If there is one kind of doctor I could never be, it’s a gastroenterologist. Aside from the fact that I’m a gasbag, the reason is simple: When it comes to invasive medical procedures that involve the exploration of cavities not treated by a dentist, I don’t know which end is up.

Fortunately, my gastroenterologist, Dr. Emily Glazer, doesn’t have that problem. That’s why she could make both head and tail of my problem (a cast-iron stomach that was getting a little rusty) by performing an endoscopy and a colonoscopy on me at the same time.

It had to be one of the most remarkable feats in medical annals (not to be confused with a similar word that would be an appalling but appropriate typo, especially if my blood was type O).

During treatment for my most recent kidney stone (I have had four, enough to make another Mount Rushmore), a CAT scan showed that I had an abnormality in my upper gastrointestinal tract. As opposed, of course, to the abnormality in my upper cranial region.

“It’ll be one-stop shopping,” Dr. Glazer said of the double procedure as I sat in her office for a consultation.

“I don’t like to shop,” I replied.

“Trust me,” she said. “You’re getting a good deal.”

The next evening, I had to prepare for the colonoscopy. I hadn’t had one for at least a dozen years and was, according to Dr. Glazer, “long past due.” The preparation involved the ingestion of a vile liquid that had the same effect on my innards as dynamite would have on the Hoover Dam.

Feeling flushed, I arrived at 7 o’clock the following morning at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, an excellent facility in Port Jefferson, New York, where I have been treated for kidney stones so many times that I should have my own parking space. My wife, Sue, drove me there because I would be too loopy to drive myself home, not that such a state of discombobulation would be anything out of the ordinary.

The first thing I had to do was get undressed and put on a johnny coat, the flimsy gown that opens in the back, meaning I couldn’t even turn the other cheek. Thankfully, I didn’t have to because I got to put on a second johnny coat and wear it the other way around so I was fully covered. I hoped the insurance company would agree.

“Poor Johnny,”  I said to a nice nurse named Margaret. “I’m wearing both of his coats. He’ll catch cold.”

“Don’t worry,” she responded. “We’ll take good care of him.”

Margaret and everyone else at Mather took good care of me. When a catheter was hooked up to the back of my left hand, I asked, “Can I still wave to people?”

“Yes,” Margaret said. “But they might move you to the psych unit.”

Instead, I was moved to the operating room, where Dr. Robert Bernstein, the anesthesiologist, said I’d be getting a GI procedure.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I’m not in the Army.”

I could tell he couldn’t wait to knock me out. But he said that first he would spray my throat with a local anesthetic.

“I don’t care where it comes from,” I said.

“It’s to prevent a gag reflex,” Dr. Bernstein explained.

“I’m always pulling gags,” I told him.

“I can see that,” he said, adding that after I was put under, I would have some air pumped into me to open my internal equivalent of the Lincoln Tunnel.

“I’m already full of hot air,” I noted.

Dr. Bernstein smiled and nodded in agreement.

Dr. Glazer came in and said the whole thing would take less than half an hour.

“We’ll do the endoscopy first,” she said, noting that the procedure would be done through my mouth. “After that, we’ll spin you around and do the colonoscopy.”

“You mean it will be like a spin class?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Dr. Glazer. “Except you won’t be awake.”

A moment later, it was all quiet on the western front. In what seemed like another moment, I was awake again and lying in the recovery unit. I was, predictably, even loopier than usual. But considering the abnormality turned out to be the only thing about me that’s normal, I did very well, thanks to the wonderful doctors and nurses who had a great deal of patience with the silliest of patients.

As I said to one of them before Sue drove me home, “It all came out in the end.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest Stories of 2014"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Now that 2015 is here, meaning it will be at least three months before we stop writing 2014 on our checks, it is time for a look back at the top stories of the past year.

These are not goofy little news items dealing with such inconsequential matters as health care, the midterm elections and various conflicts around the world. Rather, they are the kind of important, socially significant and absolutely true stories that are the lifeblood of this column.

So here, without further delay, are the top stories of 2014.

As proof that last year was for the birds, our fine feathered friends made plenty of news. That includes Nigel, a parrot that spoke with a British accent when he disappeared from his home in Torrance, California, in 2010. But when Nigel was reunited with his owner last year, he spoke Spanish.

Nigel’s owner, the appropriately named Darren Chick, said the bird seemed happy to be home and that he asked, in Spanish, “What happened?” As Nigel also might have said, everything turned out muy bien.

In other avian news, police in Epping, New Hampshire, sheltered, then released a confused homing pigeon that went the wrong way in a race. But it didn’t go far after rainy weather affected its ability to navigate. The birdbrain, a male that obviously refused to ask for directions, could have used a GPS, which stands, of course, for Global Pigeon System.

Not to be outdone, dogs found out that 2014 was a ruff year. One of them was Cato, a Siberian husky that was apprehended after robbing a convenience store in Clinton, South Carolina. According to police, Cato was seen on a surveillance camera taking pig ears, beef bones, dog food and treats.

The four-legged bandit left the store, buried the stolen goods nearby and returned for more. Police filled out a report, but they couldn’t get Cato to confess, even though he was caught red-pawed.

Cato never would have been nabbed if Cash had been on the case. That’s because Cash, a Belgian shepherd in Cannon Beach, Oregon, was fired from the police department’s K-9 unit for dogging it on the job.

You can’t get anything done when you’re trying to get him to find dope and he’s just barking in your face,” said officer Josh Gregory.

Seems like Cash was the real dope.

In dopey human news, a man in Albany, Georgia, contacted the wrong person while looking for marijuana. He sent his probation officer a text message that read, “You have some weed?”

The probation officer notified police and the pothead ended up back in prison. I wonder if his case was tried in a high court?

At least he didn’t steal a car to get there, which is more than I can say for an idiot in Sonora, California, who was arrested after allegedly using a stolen car to get to court, where he was ordered to appear on a previous charge of you guessed it auto theft.

That wasn’t the case with two would-be carjackers who almost who got away with a vehicle in Ocala, Florida, but didn't know how to drive a stick shift. I hope they got accelerated rehabilitation. 

Other important — and absolutely true — stories from 2014:

A herd of gassy dairy cows nearly lifted the roof off their barn in central Germany when methane released by the animals caused an explosion. Fortunately, they weren’t hurt, but it could have been udder devastation.

A naked Australian man who became stuck in a washing machine as part of an ill-planned practical joke was freed with the help of olive oil. It must have been applied down under.

A motorcyclist brought traffic to a standstill on one of Madrid’s busiest highways after he pulled over to look for his false teeth, which flew out of his mouth when he sneezed. It had to be the first time a chopper lost a set of choppers.

Finally, I am proud to say that one of the best stories of 2014 happened in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, where a city man fabricated his own demise to avoid marrying a woman he met in college. Till faked death did they part.

In that same stupid spirit, here’s hoping 2015 is another great year.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"The Tale of the Tape"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
At the risk of being challenged to a fight by Sylvester Stallone, who could beat me with one hand tied behind his back (though I might have a chance if he were blindfolded, too), I am going to call my ongoing kidney stone saga “Rocky.”

The boxing analogy is apt because the latest installment, “Rocky IV,” had the following tale of the tape: If there is one thing worse than having a kidney stone, it’s having your arm hair ripped out by the roots when an otherwise gentle nurse pulls the tape off your IV.

As a person who has had four kidney stones, I can say with experience, not to mention drugs, that you never really get used to them, although in my case they are to be expected because the rocks in my head apparently are falling into my kidneys, which have become the organic equivalent of quarries.

Maybe I’ll open a business. My clients could be sculptors, masons and people who make headstones. Mine could say: “Here lies Jerry Zezima, who’s now between a rock and a hot place.”

On second thought, maybe not.

But it’s the tape that sticks in my memory.

“Men hate it,” said a very nice nurse named Janet, who took good care of me in the emergency room at John T. Mather Memorial (that word makes me nervous) Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y.

My wife, Sue, who has always taken good care of me, drove me there recently when I had a kidney stone attack at 4 o’clock on a Saturday morning.

Janet dutifully hooked me up to an IV and started a drip that mercifully eliminated my pain, as well as a good deal of my cognitive functions.

When it was time to be unhooked, I looked up at Janet and said, “This is the worst part.”

“I know,” she replied sympathetically. “Some guys actually scream when I pull the tape off. And don’t get me started on needles. I’ve seen big, burly men who are covered in tattoos, but when I get ready to put a needle in their arm, they moan and cry. One guy fainted. I always say, ‘How did you get all these tattoos? From someone who used a needle.’ Let me tell you something: Men are babies. If they had to give birth, the human race would die out.”

“The first time I had a kidney stone,” I recalled, “a nurse told me it was the male equivalent of childbirth. I said that at least I wouldn’t have to put the stone through college.”

Janet nodded knowingly. Then she took hold of the tape and said, “Ready?”

I winced and replied, “Let ’er rip!” I instantly regretted the comment, but by then it was too late. I shrieked and said, “The drugs aren’t working anymore.”

I also had tape on my other arm, from which Janet had drawn blood.

“Good thing I’m not an octopus,” I noted.

Janet nodded again and repeated the tape removal.

“Sorry,” she said. “But it’s all over now.”

Unfortunately, the kidney stone wasn’t, so I made an appointment with my urologist, Dr. Albert Kim, who has an office in how appropriate is this? Stony Brook.

“This, too, shall pass,” Dr. Kim predicted.

Sure enough, it did. I was extremely grateful because my three previous kidney stones either had to be blasted with shock waves or removed via a surgical procedure that’s the medical equivalent of Roto Rooter.

On a follow-up visit, the good doctor gave me a list of foods and beverages that I should or shouldn’t eat and drink. Among the bad things are peanut butter, which I love, and beer, which I love even more. Also on the bad list are — you can’t make this up — kidney beans.

Dr. Kim informed me that I have another stone in my right kidney, but that it’s small and should pass, too.

When I told him the tale of the tape, he said, “Shave your arms. You don’t want to get into another hairy situation.”

Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"Christmas Letter 2014"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch, and Chloe, the granddaughteriarch.

Dear friends:

It sure has been an exciting 2014 for the Zezimas!

The highlights of the year were two big birthdays: Jerry turned 60 and Chloe, who already is smarter and more mature than her Poppie, turned 1.

Jerry thinks this is the best time of life because, at 60, you can still do everything you have always done, but if there is something you don’t want to do, you can pull the age card. That’s why he finally hired a landscaper. Now he has time to do stuff that keeps him young, like playing with Chloe.

Since his mind (or what’s left of it) is perpetually immature, Jerry won Punderdome 3000, a pun contest in which he beat out 16 other and much younger contestants. The champ received a fondue maker, which he gave to Sue because, as he explained, “It was the least I could fondue.”

And even though his body is perpetually pathetic, Jerry tried to recapture his youth by playing baseball, which he hadn’t done in half a century, and golf, which he had never done. After being put on steroids for a throat infection, Jerry went to a batting cage to see if he could become a home run king like other steroid users. Unfortunately, mighty Jerry struck out. Then he went to a golf course to take a lesson on the driving range. His efforts were, not surprisingly, below par, meaning he will never win the Masters. “If you want a green jacket,” the club pro told him, “you may have to buy it yourself.”

Jerry had a brush with the law when he received an $80 ticket after being caught by a red-light camera making an illegal right turn. He fought the charge in traffic court but lost because, the judge said, he didn’t come to “a full and complete stop.” Those are the brakes.

Jerry managed to avoid further trouble when he drove Lauren and Chloe to Washington, D.C., to spend the weekend with Katie and Dave. Sue flew down the next day. Katie and Dave, who earlier this year moved to the nation’s capital, also work there, Katie as a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, Dave as an editor for the American Public Media radio show “Marketplace.”

Washington was the site of the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Jerry, incredibly, was elected president. He didn’t meet the U.S. president or any members of Congress, who were busy with the important work of fighting with each other, proving that they, too, are less mature than Chloe. But Jerry did get a ride around town from a cabbie who was on his first day on the job. The cabbie got lost, but at least he didn’t get a ticket.

After returning home, Jerry got a new car because his old car was 10 years old and had 206,000 miles on it. The car also needed new rear brakes (he should have used that as an excuse in traffic court) and didn’t have air-conditioning for the last three years. Jerry is so excited about the air-conditioning in his new car that he turns it on every day, even when the temperature dips below freezing, just to make up for lost time.

On the health front, Jerry had a kidney stone. Over the years, he has had to number them, like Super Bowls. The latest one was Kidney Stone IV. This, too, did pass.

The greatest medical challenge was faced by Guillaume, who at 32 was diagnosed with lymphoma. All through his treatment, he has shown dignity, grace, determination, courage and good humor. So has Lauren, who has undertaken the often uncredited but important role of caregiver with boundless love and energy. It’s uncommon for a young person to have this disease, but awareness, research and financial support can help find a cure. And for Guillaume, the outlook is great: The latest scan was clean. No signs of cancer. It’s a true blessing at a blessed time of year.

That’s the news from here. Merry Christmas with love, laughter and gratitude from the Zezimas.
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima