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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"The Inn Crowd"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If I can afford to retire when I am eligible in five years I took a vow of poverty when I went into journalism, so I may be working posthumously I’d like to be an innkeeper.

My wife, Sue, who is a teacher, thinks it’s a great idea that I retire, not that I continue to work even after I am dead because she’d like to quit, too.

Then we can be like Bob Newhart and Mary Frann, who played the husband-and-wife owners of a Vermont bed and breakfast that was frequented by kooky characters on the old TV sitcom “Newhart.”

To B&B or not to B&B that is the question Sue and I have been asking ourselves. To find the answer, I spoke with Neil Carr, 83, a lovable character who owns the Sea Beach Inn in Hyannis, Mass., where Sue and I stayed when we spent a very pleasant weekend on Cape Cod recently.

“I love people — that’s why I am in this place,” Neil told me. “You have to have a positive outlook.”

“Do you ever get any kooky characters here?” I asked.

“You mean like you?” Neil responded.

“Yes,” I said.

Neil chuckled and said, “You’re not kooky. In fact, you’re normal compared to some of the guests I’ve had. One of them is here right now.”

He was referring to an exceedingly fussy woman who had traveled from Missouri to watch her daughter play in a field hockey tournament.

“She’s a pain in the butt,” Neil explained. “She wants bacon and eggs every morning. I told her that we serve only a continental breakfast. She said, ‘Is that all I’m getting?’ I said, ‘That’s it, honey.’ She’s also been driving the cleaning girls crazy. One of them came down and said, ‘What’s going on in Room 2?’ I said, ‘She’s here for six days. It’s good money. Humor her.’ That lady has been avoiding me and I’ve been avoiding her. And where’s her poor husband? Back home. He’s probably been drunk since she left.”

Neil has also had his share of crazy adventures since he and his late wife, Elizabeth, bought the Sea Beach Inn in 1987.

“About 10 years ago I decided to add a prefabricated garage with a room on top,” Neil recalled. “I had a spot cleared off and the footings put in. Then I got a call from a guy on Route 6 who said he had this building in a big dump truck. Part of the building brought a wire down, so now I had the cops on my hands. This guy was a terrible driver. He had to turn the truck around in a parking lot and come down the street, and there was traffic piling up behind him as far as you could see, and it looked like he was going to wreck the lawn of the people across the street. The woman who owned the house used to own the inn. She sold it to me. So now she wanted to kill me. She said, ‘Now you can look down into my living room.’ I said, ‘Who’d want to look at you anyway?’ She moved into a condo, but I hear she’s still alive. She must be 98. She used to pop out from behind trees. She could have been in a cartoon.”

“Or,” I added, “a sitcom.”

“This is just the place for one,” said Neil.

“Would you ever sell the inn?” I inquired.

“One couple recently asked me that,” Neil replied. “They followed me around. The wife said, ‘This must be a wonderful life for you. We’d like to get a B&B.’ I said, ‘Really? I’ll tell you what. I’ll call the bank and find out what I still owe them. You go upstairs and get your checkbook. Pay me for what I still owe on the place, add two dollars to it and I’ll be out by 5 o’clock this afternoon.’ ”

“Maybe my wife and I will buy it in five years,” I said. “Until then, we’ll come back as guests.”

“You and your wife are always welcome,” Neil said. “I could talk to you until the cows come home. We don’t have any cows, but two horses used to live here. They could have been in the sitcom, too.”

Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Rocky Mountain Guy"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have long been told, by people too numerous to mention, including members of my own family, to take a hike. But because of the rarefied air between my ears, I waited until a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains to take them up way up on their suggestion.

My initial ascent of a slope high enough to let me see what flight attendants were serving on passing airplanes was made during a long weekend in Granby, Colo., a picturesque town that is about 8,000 feet above sea level. Considering I am 6 feet tall and live close to the shore, it is 7,994 feet higher than what I am used to.

Accompanying me on this exhausting excursion were my wife, Sue; our daughters, Katie and Lauren; Katie’s husband, Dave; and our niece Ashley. All are in better shape than I am. So are some dead people, but I didn’t want to join them by falling off a cliff or being eaten by a mountain lion.

The first hikers we encountered on the trail were three young children, two women who apparently were their mothers and a white-haired lady whose age, I would estimate, was 112. She had a walking stick.

“Good morning!” she chirped as we tramped by. “Are you enjoying your hike?”

“This is my first one,” I told her.

The lady looked at my ratty sneakers, worn sweatpants, “I Love Garlic” T-shirt and bloodshot eyes and said, “I hope you don’t have trouble with the altitude.”

“I’m naturally lightheaded,” I replied, “so it doesn’t bother me.”

What did bother me was the prospect of being attacked by any number of ferocious fauna, including but not limited to Bigfoot.

“What happens if we encounter a bear?” Sue asked.

“It would be pretty grizzly,” I said.

To which Ashley responded, “Good one!”

Then there were beavers, which came to my boggled mind when we passed a stream that had been dammed by the industrious rodents.

“Last year,” I recalled, “a fisherman in Europe was killed by a berserk beaver.”

Dave saw the bright side when he pointed to the sparkling water and said, “Every delicious ounce of Coors Light starts right here.”

I could have used a beer because I was hot on the trail (of what, I wasn’t sure), but all I had was a bottle of water, and it was warm.

As we made our way up the steep grade (I was expecting my grade to be F, which would have stood for “fainted”), I actually felt invigorated.

“You’re doing very well,” Katie said with a touch of astonishment.

“I thought you would have keeled over by now,” Lauren added optimistically.

Aside from a couple of brief rest stops, we made a beeline (and did not, fortunately, get stung by bees) to the top of the trail, where I beheld two wondrous sights: a waterfall and a lawyer.

The former was not exactly Niagara Falls, though I did approach it step by step, inch by inch, but the latter was exactly what I didn’t expect to see.

“You think you can get away from us,” said Patrick Fitz-Gerald, an attorney from Denver. “But we’re everywhere.”

He was hiking with his wife, Katie; their daughter, Larkin, 3; and their golden retriever, Buddy, 7, who Patrick said is on the cover of the paperback edition of the best-selling Garth Stein novel, “Racing in the Rain.”

When Patrick told me that he used to be a journalist but quit to become a lawyer, I said, “You finally found honest work.”

“If you get hurt on the trail and need representation,” Patrick said, “call me.”

Except for a scratch on my middle finger, which I was too polite to show him, I didn’t get hurt at all. On the way down, which admittedly was a lot easier than going up, I told our merry band that I had a terrific time on my first hike.

“I guess,” said Lauren, speaking for everyone, “you’re not over the hill after all.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"A Chore Thing"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

The late, great humorist Erma Bombeck once said, “Housework, if you do it right, can kill you.”

Since I am still alive, thanks to my wife, Sue, who does most of the housework in our house, I guess I am not doing it right.

This does not come as a surprise to either me or Sue because of a startling statistic I read in the latest edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which states: “The average American woman will spend 6 years of her life doing housework; the average American man, 3 years, 8 months.”

Looking on the bright side, men die sooner. According to the Almanac, the average American man lives for 76.19 years; the average American woman, 81.17 years.

This means, I figured out when I should have been doing housework, that women live about five years longer than men but do housework only 2 years, 4 months longer. So men actually do housework for a greater percentage of their lives, 21.16 vs. 13.53, than women.

“That’s a stupid statistic,” Sue said when she heard this, resisting the urge to end my life about 16 years short of the average. “I’ve been doing housework for 36 years. I started the day we got married.”

“No, you didn’t, because we went on our honeymoon, remember?” I pointed out helpfully.

“OK, so I got a week off,” Sue said. “But I’ve been doing housework ever since.”

“You can’t say I haven’t helped,” I said.

“Yes, you have,” Sue acknowledged. “You do clean our bathroom, but I do the other two. So that means I clean twice as many bathrooms as you do.”

“One and a half,” I noted, reminding her that we have a half-bathroom downstairs.

Sue also acknowledged that I clean the litter boxes (for our two cats, not me, because I use the bathroom that I clean) and that I vacuum (the carpets, not the litter boxes).

“And I iron,” I said, “because I’m a member of the press.”

Sue ignored the remark, even though she was steamed, and added, “And you do fold clothes.”

This gave her a chance to air my dirty laundry. For the first 25 years of our marriage, I didn’t do the laundry. Then, finally, I learned how. But we recently got rid of our old washer and bought a new one, which Sue won’t let me use.

“I’m afraid you’ll break it,” she said.

“Does this mean I don’t have to do the laundry for the next 25 years?” I asked.

Sue looked at me as if to say, “If we’re still married 25 years from now, I’m going to stick my head in the oven.”

Speaking of which, she said, “You don’t cook. And you don’t empty the dishwasher. And you don’t dust.”

“You’re not supposed to dust dishes, are you?” I inquired.

“And,” Sue continued, “you don’t do windows.”

“That’s because they’re a pane,” I reasoned.

Sue reminded me that I don’t do yard work anymore because we hired a landscaper this year. “So you should have more time to do housework,” she said.

She was right, of course, so I said, “What do you want me to do?”

“The windows,” Sue responded. “They’re filthy.”

“Should I use ammonia and water?” I asked.

“You sound like you’re stuck in the 1950s,” Sue said. “Nobody uses ammonia and water anymore. Use Windex.”

“I use that on the bathroom mirror,” I said, though I was afraid to mention that I also use it to clean stains from the carpet when one of the cats coughs up a hairball.

I got a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex and proceeded to do the windows in the family room. I also cleaned the glass in the front storm door. For the first time in ages, sunshine streamed in.

“Nice job,” Sue said.

“Anything to help,” I replied. “Do you want me to make dinner?”

“No!” Sue shrieked. “You might burn the house down.”

“At least then,” I said, “we wouldn’t have to clean it.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Wrong Turn on Red"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In their chart-topping 1965 hit, “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” the Byrds sang, “To everything, turn, turn, turn.” To which they might have added: “Except if you make an illegal turn, turn, turn.” In which case you’ll end up in traffic court.

That’s where I found myself recently after getting a notice in the mail saying that I had been caught by a red-light camera making an illegal right turn at a traffic light.

Accompanying the notice was a series of three photos I was sure would vindicate me because they showed not only that it was perfectly legal to turn right on red, but that my brake lights were on at the intersection. Since the fine was $80, I decided to fight the charge because I had an otherwise clean driving record. This involved paying strict attention to traffic laws, being respectful of other drivers and, most important, not getting caught rolling through right turns at red lights.

I showed up at the Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency in Hempstead, N.Y., and beheld scores of other alleged scofflaws who sought justice because they were, according to the U.S. Constitution and TV shows like “Law & Order,” innocent until proven guilty of running stop signs, speeding and, of course, making illegal right turns.

I temporarily surrendered my driver’s license to a stern security officer and stood in line, where I met a woman named Surbi, who was there because, she said, “I parked in front of my house.”

“Did you get a ticket the day you moved in?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I’ve lived there for six years.”

“I hope you don’t have to pay six years’ worth of parking tickets,” I said.

“I couldn’t afford it,” Surbi said. “This one alone is $120. And there’s not even a ‘no parking’ sign on the street.”

After we were ushered into the courtroom, I sat next to a young woman named Lauren, who admitted that she “rolled” through a stop sign. “I was being tailgated and didn’t want the guy to plow into the back of my car,” she explained.

“Tell it to the judge,” I suggested.

“I will,” Lauren promised.

I showed her the photos of my car at the intersection. “This is Exhibit A,” I said.

“They’ll get you anyway,” said a young guy named Jacques, adding that he had six tickets totaling $1,700 but that he could prove he was a victim of identity theft and that the car wasn’t his.

Among the other people in the courtroom was a young man who was holding a toddler. An old lawyer said to him, “Did you rent that kid to get sympathy?”

Just then, my name was called by a court clerk named Laura, who took me to a hallway, sat me at a table with a computer screen and pulled a shocker: “We have a video of you at the intersection,” she said. It showed me braking but not coming to a “full and complete stop.” Laura said I could pay the fine or see a judge, who would either uphold the fine or dismiss the charge.

“I know my rights,” I said, though I guess I didn’t because I had evidently made an illegal right. “I’ll see a judge.”

She was the Hon. Elizabeth Pessala, who was indeed honorable but went by the letter of the law when a smug traffic prosecutor showed her the video.

“It’s a good thing you weren’t stopped by a police officer,” Judge Pessala said. “The fine would have been $218 and three points off your license.”

“Guilty as charged, your honor,” I confessed.

I paid the fine and drove home very carefully. After all, I didn’t want one bad turn to deserve another.

Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Laundry Basket Case"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Life is a vicious cycle because there is always a laundry list of things to do. This is especially true if you have to do the laundry, in which case there are three cycles: wash, rinse and spin.

But you can’t do the laundry, as my wife, Sue, and I found out recently, if your washing machine is on the fritz. Unfortunately, we don’t know anybody named Fritz, so we called a plumber named Harry.

Harry, who owns Brookhaven Plumbing and Heating on Long Island, N.Y., came over because our laundry room was beginning to flood, though not enough to open an indoor swimming pool.

The problem, we thought, was coming from the washer, a decrepit machine that had many clothes calls in its 15 years (that’s about 100 in appliance years) but now seemed to be a victim of death by drowning.

Then we discovered a leak coming from the pipe under the slop sink, into which the washer regurgitated water, suds and lint, which is not immaterial. In fact, I have a navel reserve of lint, but that’s another story.

The real story, according to Harry, was that the elbow was leaking.

“Will I have to see a rheumatologist?” I asked.

“Not your elbow,” Harry answered. “The sink’s elbow. You need a plumbing doctor. That would be me.”

“Thanks for making a house call, doc,” I said.

“That’s my job,” said Harry, who noted that most insurance claims are the result of plumbing problems. “A washing machine hose will blow and cause a flood,” he said. “I’ve gotten calls from people who had four feet of water in their basement.”

“I’ll never have that problem because I don’t have a basement,” I said.

“The water would just go through the garage,” said Harry.

“Then my daughters would have to get all their stuff out of there,” I said.

Harry’s daughter has two daughters who are, of course, Harry’s granddaughters.

“They’re 5 and 2 years old,” Harry said. “And they’re always asking questions, like ‘Papa, why is the sky blue?’ ”

“Do they ask plumbing questions?” I asked.

“I haven’t gotten that yet,” Harry answered. “But they know I can fix anything. They’ll say to their mother, ‘Mommy, call Papa. He knows how to do it.’ ”

“My granddaughter is only 16 months old,” I said, “but I think she already knows that I can’t fix anything.”

Harry fixed the problem under the sink and attached a new hose from the washer to the slop sink, which he guessed was installed by the house’s previous owner, a handy guy who had his own workshop in the garage.

“He probably came in here to wash his hands before he went into the kitchen so his wife wouldn’t yell at him,” surmised Harry, whose wife does the laundry in their house. “We have one of those high-tech machines, like the Starship Enterprise, with all these fancy features. It’s just one more thing to go wrong. I employ the ‘kiss’ method: ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ When we get another washer, it’s going to be a simple one.”

The next day, our washer conked out. Sue went to a nearby appliance store and bought a new, high-tech model that plays a tune when the wash is done.

The day after it was installed, I called Harry to tell him that he did an excellent job on the sink but that we ended up needing a new washer after all.

“You jinxed me,” Harry said. “The day after I was at your house, our washer conked out, too. My wife got another high-tech model.”

“Don’t worry, Harry,” I said. “It all comes out in the wash.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima