Thursday, August 27, 2015

"The Appliance Whisperer"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Inanimate objects are out to get me. I can deal with human beings, either by ignoring them or by telling them such dumb jokes that they ignore me. But machines have me baffled.

That goes especially for the appliances in my house, which have conspired to drive me even crazier than I already am.

Fortunately, a fellow human, Leo Kasden, aka the Appliance Whisperer, has come to the rescue.

Leo, 83, ace salesman at the P.C. Richard & Son store in Stony Brook, New York, sold both an air conditioner and a washing machine to me and my wife, Sue, last year. Earlier this year, he sold us a dryer.

This was necessitated by the sad and expensive fact that all three of the old appliances conked out within months of each other. And recently, Sue and I have been the victims of more appliance mayhem.

In the span of about two weeks, we had trouble with the microwave, the toaster and the coffee maker, none of which Leo sold us, though he did have some words of wisdom about these and all other appliances: “You have to talk to them,” he said. “Maybe they’re misbehaving because they think you don’t like them.”

Leo loves appliances. He has been selling them for 60 years, the past 40 at P.C. Richard, an East Coast chain founded in 1909.

“I can’t wait to come to work every day,” Leo told me.

“Aren’t you going to retire?” I asked.

“I’ll retire when the Jets win the Super Bowl,” Leo said of his favorite football team.

“You may be working forever,” I remarked.

Leo nodded and said, “That’s OK. I love my job. It’s challenging because you have to be like a doctor and keep up with the latest technology. When I started, there were ice boxes and black-and-white TVs. Now you have washers and dryers that look like they came out of ‘Star Trek.’ The ones you and your wife bought are like that.”

“They even play a little tune when the wash is done,” I said. “It was catchy at first, but now I can’t get that stupid song out of my head. I’m sure it’s part of the appliance conspiracy against me.”

“It’s like in the James Patterson book ‘Zoo,’ with the rebellion of the animals,” Leo said. “This could be the rebellion of the appliances.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” I said, telling Leo about the mind games the microwave played on me. “I was making popcorn when the fan went on and wouldn’t go off. We had to call in a technician, who was totally baffled. The day after he left, the fan went off and the microwave started working again.”

Then there was the toaster.

“We had a brand-new one and it just stopped working,” I recalled. “Maybe it’s because I put in a slice of bread and pressed the ‘bagel’ button, just to be cute. I mean, how would it know?”

“They know when you try to fool them,” said Leo.

“And the coffee maker was so bad that the coffee was lukewarm,” I said. “We had to heat it up in the microwave. When the fan was on, we couldn’t have coffee at all.”

“Not a good way to start the day,” said Leo, adding that his wife, Harriet, to whom he has been married for as long as he has been in sales, operates all the appliances at home. “She cooks and does the laundry. I leave the machines alone.”

“Maybe I should do the same thing,” I said. “I used to do the laundry, but my wife won’t let me now that we have a new washer and dryer. She’s afraid I’ll break them.”

“If you check out your appliances every morning and say hello to them, that might help,” Leo suggested. “Maybe they’ll like you better.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Just What the Doctor Ordered"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
By the time you read this, I could be dead. If so, I am going to get a second opinion.

Fortunately, that shouldn’t be necessary because I recently got a first opinion from my doctor, who not only said I probably won’t die in the next five years but predicted I will live to be 151.

I began to wonder about my longevity when I read that researchers in the United Kingdom had created a survey that can calculate a person’s chances of dying in the next five years.

I took the 14-question survey, which inquired about my age (61), my gender (male), if I am married (yes), how many cars I drive (one at a time), practically everything except my underwear size (34, in case you can’t afford to buy me another car), and the results were encouraging: My chances of dying in the next five years are only 2.7 percent and my relative age is 53, which means I seem eight years younger, physically, than I really am. Mentally, I belong in kindergarten.

Soon after I took the survey, I went for a physical to Dr. Antoun Mitromaras, who has a practice in Port Jefferson Station, New York.

“You are in excellent condition,” Dr. Mitromaras said after examining me, perusing my blood test (good thing it wasn’t an algebra test or I’d be on life support) and looking at my EKG. “Are you active?”

“If I were any less active,” I responded, “I’d be in hibernation. Why?”

“Because,” Dr. Mitromaras informed me, “you have the heart of an athlete.”

“I hope it’s not Babe Ruth,” I said. “He’s dead.”

“You are very much alive,” the good doctor declared.

“Speaking of which,” I noted, “will I die in the next five years?”

“I don’t want to say anything because you might get hit by an airplane,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “But otherwise, you should be around for a long time. I predict you will live another 90 years.”

“I’m 61 now,” I said.

“That means,” Dr. Mitromaras said, “you will live to be 151.”

“Will you still be my doctor?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Dr. Mitromaras, who is 73. “Do you think I am going to die? Never!”

This was very reassuring because Dr. Mitromaras has impeccable credentials.

“In addition to being a physician,” he said, “I am a head and neck surgeon.”

“I’m a pain in the neck,” I told him.

“I can fix that,” he said.

“And my head is empty,” I noted.

“Then I guess there is nothing to operate on,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“My heart is in good shape, but what I really need is a brain,” I said, echoing the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Maybe you can get a transplant,” the doctor suggested.

“Here’s what I really want to know,” I said. “Have you ever seen those medicine commercials on TV in which the announcer says how good the product is, then spends the rest of the time warning how it can kill you?”

“Yes,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “They’re very entertaining.”

“And the announcer always says, ‘Ask your doctor.’ Has anyone ever asked you about these medicines?” I wondered.

“Yes,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“What do you say?” I inquired.

“I say that if they can kill you, don’t take them,” he replied.

“Sound advice,” I said. “The only thing I take is cholesterol medicine.”

“It’s working because your cholesterol levels are good,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“As they say in those commercials, after I take it, I shouldn’t operate heavy machinery,” I said. “You know, like a steamroller.”

“I wouldn’t drive one, especially in traffic, because you’d get high blood pressure,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “Then you’d need more medicine.”

“Thank you, doctor,” I said as I shook his hand. “You are a credit to your profession.”

“See you next year,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“And for the next 90 years?” I asked.

“Yes,” he promised. “I’ll be here.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"The Ice Cream Man Cometh"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In the whole wide world which, as NASA has proven, is a whole lot wider than Pluto, a Disney character who can’t hold a candle to “Sesame Street” star Elmo nothing is sweeter than my granddaughter, Chloe.

The only thing that comes close is ice cream. So it was especially sweet when Chloe, who’s a big Elmo fan, recently met Christos Skartsiaris, our neighborhood ice cream man.

Chris, who has driven his truck on the same route for almost 40 years, pulled up in front of my house on a warm weekend afternoon, the annoyingly repetitive strains of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” mercifully silenced when he turned off the ignition.

“Doesn’t listening to that song over and over drive you crazy?” I asked. To which Chris responded, “What song?”

As I peered into the open side window of the truck, I saw not only the extensive selection of frozen treats but a small gallery of photos.

“My grandchildren,” said Chris, who has four, with one on the way.

“They’re beautiful,” I said. “I’m a grandfather, too. My granddaughter should be here any minute. She’s not driving yet because she’s only 2.”

“That will happen soon enough,” said Chris.

“As I have told people who aren’t grandparents: If you think your kids grow up fast, wait until you have grandchildren,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” replied Chris, whose grandchildren — Nico, 8; Logan, 8; Sophia, 5; and Dylan, 4 — are growing up fast because, in part, they are nourished with ice cream.

“They’ll ask me, ‘Papou, can I get something from your truck?’ Of course, I always say yes,” said Chris, whose wife, Joan, is called Yaya.

“Chloe calls me Poppie,” I said, adding that my wife, Sue, is Nini.

“Kids these days are really smart,” Chris said. “I had a hundred-dollar bill recently and Nico said, ‘Papou, can I have this dollar?’ I said, ‘Sure, if you give me $99 in change.’ He smiled because he knew it wasn’t a dollar.”

“Nico could be my accountant,” I declared.

“I wasn’t that smart when I was 8,” said Chris.

“I’m not that smart now,” I conceded.

Just then, Chloe pulled up with my younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); my son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy); and Maggie the dog (Maggie).

“Poppie!” Chloe squealed when she saw me.

Lauren brought her over to the truck and introduced her to Chris.

“Hello, beautiful girl,” Chris said as he scooped (he is, after all, an ice cream man) Chloe into his arms.

“Say hi,” Lauren urged Chloe.

“Hi,” Chloe said tentatively.

Chris put her down and showed her his rolling office. Chloe was fascinated.

“She’s like a kid in an ice cream truck,” I said.

Chris asked what she wanted.

“I-keem!” Chloe exclaimed.

Lauren suggested a Jolly Rancher push-up pop, a rainbow-colored treat with cherry, watermelon and green apple flavors.

“What do you say?” Lauren asked Chloe when Chris handed her the pop.

“Thank you,” Chloe said.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” said Chris, who propped her on the window ledge.

Chloe sat there and ate her ice cream, smearing it on her mouth like lipstick and licking it off.

“Here’s another one,” Chris said, handing it to Lauren. “For later.”

He also gave ice cream to the rest of us.

“It’s on me,” Chris said.

At that point, it also was on Chloe, who couldn’t quite keep up with the melting treat.

“Looks like Mommy has to do laundry,” Chris observed.

Then he started up his truck, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” ringing once more through the neighborhood.

“Say bye,” Lauren said to Chloe.

“Bye,” Chloe said.

“And thank you.”

“Thank you.”

After dinner, Chloe went to the front door, looking for the truck.

“I-keem,” she said.

Chloe had made a friend. And he’s sweet, too.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"The Royal Treatment"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Since the birth of the little princess, people around the world have been abuzz with excitement.

I refer, of course, to my granddaughter, Chloe.

People seem excited about Princess Charlotte, too.

That goes for the royal family, but it also goes for my family because Chloe’s daddy, Guillaume, refers to Charlotte’s big brother, Prince George, as “my future son-in-law.”

And now Chloe and George could get a chance to meet. According to published reports, the royal family is renting a mansion for the summer in the Hamptons, the tony towns on Long Island, New York, that are a birthstone’s throw from my family’s home, the Zezimanse.

“I think Chloe and George would be perfect for each other,” said Patrick McLaughlin, a licensed broker for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in East Hampton, my second-favorite Hampton after Lionel. “They’re a little young yet,” McLaughlin added, “but I have no doubt that one day it will be a marriage made in heaven.”

I have no doubt, either. As I explained to McLaughlin, Guillaume and my younger daughter, Lauren, were married in the South of France in 2011, one day after George’s parents, William and Kate, were married in England. That made the royal couple the opening act for the real Wedding of the Century.

After I wrote to William and Kate to congratulate them, I got a lovely letter in return, thanking me for my good wishes and wishing Lauren and Guillaume the best.

When George was born in 2013, four months after Chloe, I sent a congratulatory letter to Prince Charles, from one grandfather to another. He must have been all ears, because he sent me a postcard of himself and his lovely wife, Camilla, as a token of his appreciation.

Naturally, the Zezimas were ecstatic when Charlotte was born in May, though we know that Chloe is the true princess.

“That’s safe to say,” McLaughlin noted. “I can see why George would be eager to meet her.”

In addition to selling and renting real estate to the rich and famous, whose identities are his little secret, McLaughlin writes a whimsical blog for Hamptons Chatter, a website that contains chatter about you guessed it Grand Forks, North Dakota.

No, I mean the Hamptons.

“I have fun with it,” said McLaughlin, who recently posted a piece about the rumored royal visit.

It began: “The royal formerly known as Prince William, now known as Kate Middleton’s husband, is apparently planning to bring his Windsor brood to spend their summer in the Hamptons! I know! I know! I’m as excited as the next Anglophile!”

I’m excited, too! And not just because of McLaughlin’s propensity for using exclamation points!

“Hi, William,” he continued. “Hopefully, you didn’t buy that real estate yet and you’ll be calling me as your agent in the near future.”

McLaughlin offered some suggestions about must-see spots in the Hamptons.

“One of them is Cyril’s, a great dive bar,” McLaughlin told me.

“I’ve been known to frequent dive bars,” I said. “Maybe William and I could have a pint of ale.”

“Then,” McLaughlin suggested, “you could take him to Home Goods. That’s another place he absolutely has to see.”

“I’m sure Kate would love to shop there,” I said.

“And she’d get great bargains,” said McLaughlin, adding that the royal family simply has to visit Martha Stewart, who has a home in the Hamptons. “She loves drop-by guests,” he noted.

“Do you think Martha would love it if I dropped by?” I asked.

“I’m sure she would,” McLaughlin said. “She might even bake you a cake.”

But the real highlight would be a royal visit to my house.

“It’s not technically in the Hamptons,” I said. “But it has a nice backyard with a slide and a kiddie pool.”

“Chloe and George aren’t old enough for cocktails by the pool,” McLaughlin said, “but you could serve them juice in sippy cups.”

“It’s a little too early to start planning a wedding,” I said. “But I know it’ll be love at first sight.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Home Alone"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If Hollywood wants to make another “Home Alone” movie, this time with the Macaulay Culkin character all grown up but no more mature than he was as an 8-year-old in the 1990 original, I would be happy to take the role.

That’s because I was recently left home alone for the weekend.

My wife, Sue, without whom I would have starved to death long ago, went out of town, leaving me to my own devices. Fortunately, the devices included a corkscrew, if I wanted some wine, and a bottle opener, if I wanted some beer. I had both, though not at the same time because even I know that if you go too crazy on the libations while you are home alone, and happen to lock yourself outside or start a kitchen fire and can’t find the phone to call 911, or realize, as the house burns to the ground, that you forgot to buy marshmallows, there is no one there to help you.

In fact, there is no one there to do anything with you. Dismiss the notion that you will have a wild party. When the cat’s away, the mice will not play. I am a man, not a mouse, and the only creature that kept me any company was our cat, Bernice, who is I say this with great affection a total moron.

To make sure I wasn’t bored, Sue left me a list of things to do, including the crucially important chore of watering the garden.

“Did you remember to do that?” she asked when she called, presumably to see if I was still alive.

“Yes,” I told her proudly. “I was so excited, I wet my plants.”

I could hear Sue’s eyes roll in their sockets on the other end of the phone.

Still, I wanted a little time to myself, which wasn’t difficult since I was alone anyway, so I drove into town to buy a cigar.

When I got to the cigar store, I asked the owner, Julio, if his wife had ever left him home alone.

“Yes,” he said.

“What did you do?” I wondered.

“I took out the garbage and watched a lot of sports on TV,” said Julio, who will celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary in October.

“That’s a biggie,” I noted. “Don’t forget it.”

“I did forget our anniversary once and my wife wasn’t happy,” Julio said. “Now I write it down on the calendar. If I forget it again, she might leave me home for good.”

Outside, I met Frank and Denise, who have been married for 28 years.

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

“Once,” he said.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I went to Puerto Rico,” Frank answered.

“What a swell idea!” I exclaimed. “But I don’t have time. My wife will be home tomorrow.”

“Make sure you clean up after yourself,” Denise advised. “You don’t want your wife coming home to a mess.”

“I’ve been making messes for the 37 years we have been married,” I said. “But I’ll try to make sure the house is nice and neat.”

When I got home, I went outside, climbed into a hammock with a beer and a cigar, and enjoyed some quality time with myself.

Afterward, I heard the familiar strains of the neighborhood ice cream truck. I went around front and bought a toasted almond bar from Chris, who has been on the same route since the 1970s.

“Does your wife ever leave you home alone?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Chris, who has been married for 48 years.

“What do you do?” I inquired.

“Eat, work and sleep,” he said. “Some guys fool around.”

“Not me,” I said.

“Me, either,” said Chris, who admitted that he doesn’t do household chores while his wife is away.

“I do,” I said. “In fact, I have to go inside and do them before my wife gets back. But I’ll tell you this: The next time she leaves me home alone, I’m going to Puerto Rico.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"College Daze"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As soon as my lawyer gets out of jail, I am going to file a classless action lawsuit against the makers of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” for theft of intellectual property.

I came up with the idea recently while drinking a beer at my 40th college reunion, where my classmates (who also, like my lawyer, were admitted to the bar) agreed that the 1978 campus comedy was heavily influenced by our shenanigans.

While we got an excellent education at Saint Michael’s College, which is in Colchester, Vermont, and is annually rated as one of the top small colleges in America, the Class of 1975 stands out as the most notorious in the 111-year history of the school. 

That its graduates, like those in “Animal House,” have gone on to enjoy distinguished careers in business, education, law, politics, medicine, aviation and even journalism only bolsters my case.

The plaintiffs, whose last names are not being used to protect the guilty, include Hank, my roommate for three years; Clay, my roommate for one year; Tim, the brazen ringleader who lived next door; and yours truly, who was only, I will testify under oath in the event we are countersued, along for the ride.

Accompanying us to the reunion were Hank’s wife, Angela; Clay’s wife, Lorraine; Tim’s wife, Jane; and my wife, Sue, who also is a member of the Class of ’75 but is innocent of all charges, unless you count being guilty by association.

The first thing Tim and I did, with help from Clay, was turn the Class of 1975 banner upside down on a fence in back of the school. It hung proudly, if slightly crumpled, next to the crisp, right-side-up banners of the other classes at the reunion barbecue. Then the three of us, along with several of our classmates, posed for pictures behind it.

Tim, co-chair of the ’75 reunion committee, later reported that Jack Neuhauser, who has been president of the college since 2007 but knows all about us, heard what we had done.

“He just shook his head, like he expected it,” Tim said.

“He can’t revoke our diplomas,” I noted, adding that we graduated magna cum lager, “or we’d have to come back.”

“And repeat all the stuff we did,” said Tim.

That stuff included starting a snowball fight that erupted into a campus-wide riot; putting snakes in other students’ rooms; engaging in firecracker wars; throwing a burning bonsai tree out of a window and accidentally igniting the ivy on the side of the building, which forced our resident adviser, Flash, to run across the quad, beer in hand, to extinguish the blaze; locking a pep squad in a dormitory basement so it couldn’t march at a pep rally; putting kegs of beer in a dumbwaiter and sending them up and down between floors so campus authorities couldn’t find them; streaking in front of the girls’ dorm (I did, modestly, wear a bow tie); creating an international incident on a trip to Montreal; and committing innumerable other acts of mayhem, craziness and blatant stupidity that are safe to mention now because, let’s hope, the statute of limitations has expired.

“The drinking age was 18,” Tim reasoned. “What did they expect?”

They expected us to behave ourselves at the reunion, which we did. Mostly.

At the awards breakfast (somehow, none of us won anything), I issued a blanket apology for the Class of 1975 to the now-retired Don “Pappy” Sutton, who was dean of students during our four-year reign of error, when Playboy ranked St. Mike’s as one of the nation’s top party schools.

Dean Sutton, who is 87 and looks fabulous (he’s had 40 years to recover), thanked me and said, “God bless you.”

We had a great time, both in college and at the reunion, and are proud to be associated with such a fine institution of higher learning.

I can’t help but think, however, that like the rowdy crew in “Animal House,” we are still on double secret probation.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Running Hot and Cold"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a guy who is usually in hot water, which I am using as an excuse for all my wrinkles, I recently found myself in the unusual situation of being in hot water because there was no hot water.

Actually, there was hot water, but it left me cold because it was dripping out of the faucet in an upstairs bathroom. To prevent the American equivalent of Chinese water torture from keeping me awake at night and driving me even crazier than I already am, I had to open the vanity door and stick my empty head under the sink, an area so small that a Chihuahua would have felt claustrophobic, so I could turn off the hot water.

When I wanted to shave, I had to reverse the process. Then I reversed it again so the water bill wouldn’t rival the gross national product of Finland.

This went on for months. Finally, at the strong suggestion of my wife, Sue, who doesn’t even shave, I was faced with two choices: fix the problem or grow a beard.

Because I didn’t want to look like Presidents Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield, both of whom were shot to death, I decided to go with Choice No. 1.

This entailed disassembling the faucet so I could change the washer. Inasmuch as I am the least handy man in America, visions of Niagara Falls flooded my brain, which has water on it anyway.

I sought the wise counsel of Frank and Jerry, two ace maintenance guys at work.

“Make sure,” Frank advised, “that you turn off the water or you’ll have an indoor swimming pool.”

“Maybe,” Jerry added, “you should wear a bathing suit.”

“How do I get the cap off the hot-water spigot?” I asked.

“Use a screwdriver,” Frank answered.

“You mean vodka and orange juice?” I wondered.

“Whatever works,” Jerry said.

I also talked with Gary, a talented colleague who used to write a home-improvement column. He printed out instructions with an illustration of the sink’s parts, including the handle seat, the gasket and, of course, the washer. The whole thing looked like the battle plans for the invasion of Normandy.

“There’s a tool for taking the faucet apart,” Gary said.

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s called a jackhammer. All I want to do is change the washer. Do I have to buy a new house?”

“Go on YouTube,” Gary said, “and watch a video. It will show you how to do it.”

So I did. The two-minute video, “How to Replace a Washer in a Leaky Faucet for Dummies,” will never win an Oscar, but it was clearly aimed at me. And it was pretty instructive. 

I used my smartphone, which has a dumb owner, to take a picture of the faucet. Then I went to Home Depot for further assistance.

I got it from Charlie, who is so knowledgeable that he coaches new recruits at the store. He assured me that I am not as incompetent as I think I am.

“My uncle was worse,” Charlie said. “He was a brilliant lawyer who became a judge, but he couldn’t change a light bulb. He eventually went blind, which didn’t help.”

Charlie informed me that my faucet doesn’t have washers.

“You have to remove the nut,” he said.

“That would be me,” I countered.

“And,” Charlie continued, “replace the cartridge.”

“Do I have to use dynamite?” I asked.

“No,” Charlie said. “A wrench will do. But turn off the water first.”

“Even I know that,” I said.

I bought a replacement cartridge, went home, turned off the water under the bathroom sink and, much to my amazement (and Sue’s), fixed the problem.

“Nice job,” Sue said. “And we didn’t even have to call a plumber.”

Unfortunately, now something’s wrong with the kitchen faucet. Looks like I’m in hot water again.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima