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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"My Mother, the Model"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
My mom’s the very model of the modern modeling mother. And she could soon share a runway with Heidi Klum and other model moms because she (my mother, not Heidi) began her modeling career recently at a fashion show in Stamford.

Heidi, who’s 41, has gotten a lot more exposure, mainly because she’s not shy about wearing lingerie in public. Besides, she began her career as a teenager.

My mom, who’s a bit more modest, just turned 90.

Because 90 is the new 60, which happens to be my age, my mother was asked to take part in a fashion show at Chico’s, a women’s clothing chain with a store in the Stamford Town Center mall.

“I must have good genes,” my mother said.

“Did you wear jeans?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I had on a pair of boysenberry slacks.”

“What about a top?” I inquired.

“I was wearing one,” my mother assured me. “In fact, I wore a couple of tops.”

“At the same time?” I wondered.

My mother sighed, because she knows I have a fashion plate in my head, and explained that first she wore a print blouse and then changed into another top with a coordinating jacket.

I was going to ask if she also wore the diamond-studded, $10-million bra that Heidi Klum famously sported on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog, but I thought better of it because Chico’s doesn’t sell stuff like that and this was, after all, my mother.

“But you could,” I suggested, “be in the Chico’s catalog.”

“Yes, she could,” said store manager Terry Mrijaj, whose name is pronounced “Terry.”

“Do you know that my mother is 90?” I asked when I called to talk about the new supermodel.

“She’s amazing,” Terry stated. “She’s stylish, elegant and beautiful. Whenever she comes in, customers remark on how great she looks in our clothes. She’s a walking advertisement for the store.”

Not bad considering my mom couldn’t walk a year and a half ago, when she fell and broke her leg. But she has bounced back she didn’t bounce when she fell and is driving again. And now, she’s modeling.

“She’s a natural,” said Terry, adding that the fashion show, a breast cancer fundraiser, featured seven models, the youngest of whom is in her teens. My mom, not surprisingly, is the oldest.

Terry knows from experience because she was runner-up in the Miss Teen New York pageant when she was 18. “I’m 45 now, so I’m half your mom’s age,” she said. “I hope I look that good when I’m 90.”

My mother said that when she was 16 or 17, she was asked to model a sable coat at Levine & Smith, a fur shop in New York City.

“My father was so insulted he didn’t think modeling was very reputable that he refused to let me do it and we never went back,” my mother remembered. “So I went into nursing.”

“Those white uniforms weren’t too stylish,” I noted.

“No, they weren’t,” my mother agreed. “I wear better clothes now.”

They include the fringe skirt and black top she wore to a family birthday bash.

“How does it feel to be 90?” I asked.

“Pretty good,” she said. “I don’t feel like it and I don’t act like it.”

“And,” added my wife, Sue, who shares her birthday with my mother but is, of course, considerably younger, “you don’t look like it.”

Sue should know because she could be a model herself.

My mother’s next gig will be another fashion show at Chico’s.

“I know your mom will be a hit again,” said Terry. “She’s a star.”

Let’s see if Heidi Klum can say that when she’s 90.
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Weather or Not"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I am frequently under the weather, but I seldom know whether I will weather the storm that forecasters have forecast, which is why I can’t predict what kind of weather I will be under.

Still, as Bob Dylan famously sang, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, which is fine with me because I am, according to people who aren’t even weathermen, full of hot air.

So I recently spoke with the only guy in America who seems to know what the weather will be, not only tomorrow but as far ahead as two years from now.

He is Pete Geiger, editor of the Farmers’ Almanac, the annual (since 1818) publication that correctly predicted the cold air that froze my shorts last winter.

“You should have worn long underwear,” Geiger said from the Almanac’s office in Lewiston, Maine, which is often chilly (the town, not the office, which is heated) even without the polar vortex that is expected to blanket the country again this winter.

“I guess I should have a blanket, too,” I said.

“It would be a good idea,” replied Geiger, who proudly added that the Almanac’s weather forecasts are up to 85 percent accurate. “We don’t have a groundhog,” he noted. “And we don’t use computers.”

Instead, said Geiger, the forecasts are based on a secret mathematical and astronomical formula.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s a secret.”

What Geiger could tell me was that the Farmers’ Almanac relies, in part, on sunspots to help predict the weather. “And we almost always get it right,” he said, “so that means we are sunspot on.”

Geiger also predicted that he will live to a ripe old age because his father, Ray, was the editor of the Farmers’ Almanac from 1935 to 1994, when he died at 83.

“No editor in the history of the Almanac has died younger than that,” said Geiger,  63, who took over from his dad and has been the editor for 20 years. “It’s my insurance policy.”

“Instead of sunspots,” I offered, “you can use liver spots.”

“I spot a trend,” said Geiger, adding that the Farmers’ Almanac is “a guide to good living” and that the publication and its website, farmersalmanac.com, have “lots of great stuff.”

Nonetheless, goes the old saying, everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

“We try,” said Geiger.

“Try this,” I said. “How come all these TV weather forecasters have satellites and computers and other sophisticated equipment and most of the time they still can’t get it right?”

“I don’t know,” Geiger replied. “They ought to use woolly bear caterpillars and persimmon seeds.”

“And why,” I continued, “do they use all this silly jargon? They say things like ‘partly’ and ‘variable.’ It’s just to cover their behinds, isn’t it? And what’s a ‘forecast model’?”

“Vanna White,” Geiger guessed.

“And how about ‘heat index values’?” I wanted to know.

“I never heard of that one,” Geiger admitted.

“Do you know what all meteorologists should have?” I said.

“What?” said Geiger.

“A window,” I said. “Then they could just look outside and tell us what it’s doing.”

“Or maybe,” Geiger suggested, “they could use the Farmers’ Almanac.”

“What’s your favorite season?” I asked.

“Fall,” Geiger responded.

“My favorite Season,” I said, “is Frankie Valli.”

Geiger said he also likes winter, but that he is getting “sick of it earlier” every year. “When we forecast a long one,” he said, “people in town will high-five me. By March, they’re booing me.”

According to the Almanac’s forecast, he won’t get as many boos this winter, even though “shovelry and shivery” will be the bywords.

“It won’t be as bad as last year,” Geiger predicted, “but get out your shovel and be prepared to shiver. And that,” he added, “is no snow job.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima