Thursday, November 19, 2015

"No Thanks for the Memory"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I am so technologically challenged that my granddaughter, Chloe, who isn’t even 3 years old, is more advanced than I am. I know this because she can use an iPad. I don’t have an iPad, or an iPod, or even an iWatch, although I do have an iPhone and, according to my dentist, iTeeth.

Still, my constant battle with technology wouldn’t be so bad if I could remember the approximately 147 different passwords I need to perform all the tasks crucial to survival in the modern world, such as responding to those generous people in foreign lands who have notified me that I could inherit huge sums of money if I will send them my personal information, which unfortunately I can’t access because I don’t know the password.

For help and guidance, I recently spoke with Joe Guzzello, the manager of editorial systems in my office, where his technological expertise, positive attitude and deadpan humor have saved many computer-crazed employees including yours truly from jumping out windows that don’t even open.

“People are always asking me what their password is,” Joe said sympathetically. “And I always tell them, ‘How do I know? It’s your password.’ The problem is that there are so many passwords that you can’t remember them all.”

“How many passwords do you have?” I asked.

“Well over a hundred,” Joe responded. “I have them in my phone.”

“What if you lose your phone?” I wondered.

“I have a spreadsheet,” Joe said.

“What if you can’t find the spreadsheet?” I inquired.

“Then I’d be in the same boat as everybody else,” said Joe.

“You’d probably need a password to start the boat,” I suggested.

“The thing to remember,” Joe said, “is KISS.”

“I kiss my wife all the time,” I replied, “and it still doesn’t help me remember all my passwords.”

Joe shook his head and said, “KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” I noted, “because when it comes to remembering passwords, I’m really stupid.”

Joe explained that choosing, for example, the name of a pet, or one of your children, or your favorite sports team, and adding a number representing, say, your birthday, will make the password easier to remember.

“But we’re always told not to use the same password for everything, so you have to come up with different ones for your home computer or the one at work or doing your banking,” I complained. “Then, when you have to change one of them, you can’t use any of the previous dozen.”

“That’s where keeping it simple helps,” Joe said. “Some people think their passwords have to be 25 characters long. That’s wrong. Just tweak the ones you have.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledged, keeping it simple can be pretty complicated.

“It was a lot different when I was growing up,” said Joe, who’s 55. “Back then, all I had to remember was my locker combination.”

No such luck for his daughters, who are 18 and 15.

“In school, there aren’t many textbooks anymore, so the kids have to do most of their work on iPads,” Joe said.

“And they need passwords,” I said.

“Right,” said Joe.

“What are they supposed to tell the teacher if they lose their work: ‘The dog ate my iPad’?” I asked.

“They can ask me,” Joe said. “I have all their user names and passwords.”

“User names are other things you have to remember,” I noted. “So are PIN numbers. They’re as bad as passwords.”

“And when people can’t remember them, I get called,” said Joe, adding with a sigh: “It’s not easy being me.”

Joe, who’s also a volunteer firefighter and a happily married man whose wife, he admitted, isn’t too tech savvy, smiled and said, “Modern technology can be a beautiful thing, but it can also drive you crazy.”

“I was already crazy,” I said. “And I still can’t remember all my passwords.”

“Just keep it simple,” Joe repeated.

“I have the perfect solution,” I said. “I’ll come up with a password with the name ‘Joe’ in it. And if I forget what it is, I’ll know just who to call.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"All Pumped Up"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I am not much of a couch potato, not only because my wife won’t let me eat potatoes on the couch while watching TV, but because I prefer to drink beer in the lounge chair.

But I am definitely a pump potato. That’s because I am hooked on a channel called Gas Station TV.

I discovered it recently when I went to the gas station and was transfixed by the TVs in the new pumps.

“If I could fit my lounge chair in the car, I’d drive it over here so I could sit in Lane 1 and watch TV all day,” I told Bree, the nice young man at the register.

“There’s only one channel,” he said, “but there’s a lot on it.”

“I know,” I replied. “I just watched the weather forecast it’s supposed to rain and I saw a car commercial, which was appropriate. The last time I was here, I watched the entertainment news and the sports update. A guy waiting to get to the pump must have thought I was taking too long because he honked his horn at me.”

The next time I needed gas, I took my own Nielsen ratings by polling viewers.

“I actually do watch TV while I’m pumping gas,” said Mike. “I like the weather, even though I’m outside and I already know what it’s doing.”

“Do you watch TV at home?” I asked.

“Not much,” Mike said. “But I like comedies. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is my favorite.”

“If a sitcom was on TV at the gas station, would you watch it?” I inquired.

“It might take a while,” Mike said, “but my car has a big tank, so maybe I could see the whole show.”

Melanie said she watches the weather.

“I like the news, too,” she added. “It’s nice to know what’s going on in the world. I just saw a report on gas prices.”

This piqued my interest so much that I decided to talk with Violet Ivezaj, vice president of business operations for Gas Station TV, which is headquartered in Detroit. I thought of driving there from my home on Long Island, New York, but I would have used too much gas, so I called her.

“You could have watched a lot of TV on the way out,” said Violet, adding that Gas Station TV started in 2006 at five gas stations in Texas and is now in more than 3,000 stations across the country.

When I told Violet about my ratings poll, she said, “I’m glad people like us. We offer a lot of programming, like ESPN, AccuWeather, CNN and Bloomberg. We’re driven to make pumping gas a good experience.”

“Driven?” I replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” Violet said. “We want to have a positive impact.”

“I don’t think I’d use the word ‘impact’ when talking about cars,” I noted.

“Oops,” she said. “Let me put it this way: Millions of people are all pumped up over us.”

“They must be tankful for Gas Station TV,” I offered.

“Tankful?” Violet replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” I said, adding that I have noticed that GSTV also has advertising for the products sold at gas stations, such as snacks and soda.

“We not only want to be entertaining and informative,” Violet said, “but we want customers to buy merchandise from our clients.”

“Have you ever been on Gas Station TV?” I asked.

“Not yet,” said Violet. “My husband and children think I should be.”

“Maybe you should get an agent,” I suggested.

“You could be on,” Violet said.

“That’s a great idea,” I responded. “If Gas Station TV starts a talk show, I could be the host. I can just imagine the promo: ‘Watch Jerry and get gas.’”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Dishes Your Life"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As the very model of the modern mixed-up man, I have long been baffled by one of the great mysteries of domestic life: If a dishwasher washes dishes, why do you have to wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher?

That is the question I have been asking my wife, Sue, for the past 37 years.

Her thoroughly convincing answer: “Because.”

It does no good to point out that in television commercials for dishwashers, or even for dishwashing detergent, dishes that are encrusted with food chunks the consistency of concrete always come out shiny and spotless.

That wasn’t the case in our house recently. In a spiteful act that would never be shown on TV, the dishwasher conked out. So I had to wash the dishes by hand.

Sometimes Sue washed them and I dried. Or I left them in the dish drainer to dry, which prompted Sue to ask, “Why aren’t you drying the dishes?”

My thoroughly unconvincing answer: “Because.”

One thing was clear (and it wasn’t the wine glass I streaked with a damp dish towel): You don’t appreciate something until you don’t have it anymore.

That’s the way Sue and I felt about the dishwasher, which had served us well for about a dozen years before dying of what I can only assume was food poisoning.

This forced us to wash dishes the old-fashioned way. When doing so, you have to place a basin in the kitchen sink and fill it with water hot enough to scald the hide off a crocodile. First, however, you should squirt in a stream of dishwashing liquid, which will make enough bubbles to obscure the utensils and cause you to slice your thumb on a steak knife.

To prevent me from bleeding to death, which would have stained the counters, Sue bought and forgive me for being too technical here a dishwashing thingie. It has a long handle with a screw top on one end, so you can put in detergent, and a brush on the other, so you can scrub the dishes.

That way you don’t have to fill a basin. Instead, you can let the water run for such a long time that it would overflow Lake Superior, which isn’t a good place to wash dishes anyway.

But you have to get them clean because you need something to eat on. After a while, however, taking nourishment intravenously seems like an appealing alternative.

The situation, like the water, reached a boiling point. This happened after dinner one night when I seriously considered killing one of the actors in a dishwasher commercial and going to prison so I wouldn’t have to wash the dishes anymore. But then, I figured, I’d be assigned kitchen duty for the rest of my life.

Before I could say to Sue, “We really ought to buy a new dishwasher,” Sue said to me, “We really ought to buy a new dishwasher.”

So she went to an appliance store and bought one. But when it was delivered, it didn’t fit because the measurements were wrong. (The dishwasher’s, not Sue’s.)

Back to the store went Sue. And back to our house went another dishwasher.

The delivery guys, Tom and Anthony, sympathized with our plight.

“You don’t want to be without a dishwasher for too long,” Tom said.

“It’s bad when you have to wash the dishes yourself,” Anthony chimed in.

After much measuring, and maneuvering, and manpower, Tom and Anthony got the dishwasher to fit.

Then came the moment of truth: “I’m going to give it a test run,” Tom said.

Sue and I held our breath, collectively thinking, “Please, God, make it work. And don’t flood the kitchen.”

Tom pressed some buttons.

“It’s so quiet,” Sue noted.

“Unlike me,” I added.

The dishwasher ran, and the water drained, and, lo, there was no flood in the kitchen.

That evening, with spotless wine glasses, Sue and I toasted our new dishwasher.

“I’ll load it,” I said after dinner.

“Thanks,” Sue said. “And don’t forget to wash the dishes before you put them in.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Depth of a Salesman"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Despite the lamentable fact that I couldn’t sell skis in Vermont during the winter, or surfboards in Hawaii during the summer, or even beer to castaways on a desert island, mainly because I would have consumed it myself, I recently got a job as a salesman.

I am not getting paid (and I’m worth every penny), but I do get hugs and kisses, which are priceless.

My boss is my granddaughter, Chloe, who just started preschool and came home on her first day with you guessed it a fundraiser.

Fundraisers are an excellent way not only to raise funds for schools, but to deplete funds from the families whose children or grandchildren go to the schools that need to raise funds.

This is known, in many American households, as an economic downturn.

But if it helps kids, especially Chloe, I am all for it. Besides, I’d only blow the money on frivolous luxuries like food and shelter.

I remember when my daughters, Katie and Lauren (Chloe’s mommy), came home from school with fundraisers that my wife, Sue, and I had to bring around the neighborhood and then take to work so friends and co-workers could buy stuff after we had bought stuff, thus ensuring that the girls wouldn’t be known as the only kids in school with cheap parents.

Then, of course, Sue and I had to buy stuff from the kids of all those friends and co-workers, proving that we weren’t cheap. During the school year, however, we were practically broke.

Now, after enjoying fundraiser retirement for the past two decades, I am back in the sales game.

Acting on behalf of Chloe, the CEO (child executive officer) of this enterprise, Lauren handed me the 32-page sales brochure, titled “Prestige Gift Collection 2015,” which offered “unique gifts, kitchen helpers, delicious treats and premium gift wraps.”

The first person to whom I had to give a sales pitch was, naturally, myself.

“There’s a lot to choose from,” said Sue, who had already purchased several gifts, including Item No. 11, the Ho Ho Snowman Roll Wrap.

“I guess I don’t have to buy wrapping paper,” I said, though I was intrigued by Item No. 25, the Mystery Roll Wrap. Even more intriguing was Item No. 21, the Mystery Gift.

“What’s the mystery?” I wondered. “You order them but they never arrive?”

“Pick something else,” suggested Sue, who not only is a better shopper than I am but also, obviously, a better salesperson.

I perused the possibilities, including Item No. 29, the Sunrise Egg Mold (“If my eggs have mold, I’m not eating them,” I told Sue); Item No. 42, the Snap-Lock Containers (“We already have enough Tupperware to store leftovers for Luxembourg”); Item No. 47, the Professional Knife Sharpener Wand (“I’d bleed to death”); and Item No. 66, Cashew Torties (“Isn’t she an adult-film star?”).

I ended up getting a subscription to Sports Illustrated, so I could enjoy reading about people who are bigger, stronger, younger and richer than I am.

Then I took the brochure to work.

One colleague said apologetically, “I don’t even buy from my own kids.”

Another one said, “I have to go to a meeting,” and never came back.

Fortunately, several others fell for my irresistible sales pitch, which began, “I hate to ask this,” and generously purchased items I knew they didn’t need or want but bought anyway, probably because and this is the key to salesmanship they felt sorry for me.

I am proud and slightly flummoxed to report that I sold $87 in merchandise, which not only helped Chloe be tops in her class, but ought to make me Preschool Salesman of the Year.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Poppie's Personal Trainer"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
At the advanced age of 61 (my age is advancing while the rest of me is regressing), I am happy to say that I don’t need to join a health club.

That’s because I have a personal trainer: my granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe, whose age has advanced to 2 and a half in the blink of an eye (my other eye doesn’t work as well as it used to), keeps me in shape like no professional ever could.

That was exhaustingly evident during a recent trip to Safari Adventure, a children’s activity and entertainment center in Riverhead, New York.

For me, a child at heart, which got a strenuous workout and pumped enough blood to actually reach my brain, the place was a gym where I had a one-day membership.

Ordinarily, Chloe keeps me going with activities such as playing hide-and-seek; running around the dining room table; pushing her in her toy car (she honks the horn) or on her tricycle (she rings the bell); having foot races in the backyard; making her fly like Supergirl; doing bench presses with her; carrying her; catching her as she goes down the slide; helping her go up and down stairs; taking her to the park and pushing her on the swings; playing catch; playing soccer; frolicking with her in the kiddie pool; jumping in puddles; or simply walking hand-in-hand to and fro wherever we may be.

If these were Olympic sports, I would have set the world record for gold medals and you would have seen me (and Chloe) on boxes of Wheaties.

As it is, I have already gone through a pair of sneakers since Chloe started walking, even though I don’t see her every day, much to my chagrin because (a) I love her and (b) I could use the exercise.

I got plenty of it at Safari Adventure.

The first thing I had to do was take off my sneakers, which for once avoided wear and tear, even if my feet and the rest of me didn’t.

Then Chloe led me to a huge inflatable slide. I thought she wanted me to watch her go down, but she had a better idea: She wanted me to go with her.

Getting to the top entailed going through a rubber obstacle course. I couldn’t stand because I am too tall, so I had to crawl, which must have been a pathetic sight since I kept toppling over like I had been out on an all-night bender.

Chloe patiently waited for me as I caught up with her at the stairs, which she scampered up in a flash. It took me approximately the length of time it would have taken Chloe to read “War and Peace.”

Then whoosh! down the slide she went. I followed, slowly and clumsily, suffering rubber burns on my elbows and knees in the process.

“Again!” Chloe said when I reached the bottom.

This exercise was repeated about half a dozen times until Chloe took me by the hand and led me to the bouncy house, where my conditioning reached a whole new level. Actually, two levels: up and down.

It is safe to say, though not safe to do if you are a cardiac patient, that Chloe got the jump on me. This was the routine: bounce, bounce, bounce, plop! Every time she did it, I did, too, which made Chloe giggle with delight.

If I had a dollar for every time we bounced and plopped, I could have paid off my mortgage.

Then Chloe led me back to the slide, then to the bouncy house again, then to another, even taller slide. At least this one didn’t have an obstacle course.

After an hour and a half, Chloe was ready to go home. I was ready to go to the hospital. But it was invigorating, and fun, and I’d go back to Safari Adventure in a rapidly pounding, chest-exploding heartbeat.

Thanks to my little personal trainer, I’m in the best shape of any grandpa I know.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"When the Bough Breaks"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When I bought my house, which the bank owns but kindly allows me to pay for, I was thrilled to have a big yard with lots of beautiful trees. Apparently, the trees don’t feel the same, which is why, after a recent storm, the oak was on me.

Not literally, of course, because if a tree fell on my head, it would be crushed to kindling, while my head would be slightly dented but otherwise unharmed.

This particular tree either was hit by lightning I was shocked, SHOCKED, that such a thing could happen or had its uppermost branches sheared off by what some meteorologists speculated was a tornado, not likely because I don’t live in Kansas, even though, according to the bank, there’s no place like home.

Fortunately, mine wasn’t hit by the tree, which nonetheless knocked out my power. It knocked out my house’s power, too, when a huge branch fell and came to rest on a power line in the backyard, threatening to plunge the entire neighborhood into darkness, especially at night.

Then again, the setting sun does the same thing all the time. Good thing I don’t have solar power.

Anyway, it took two weeks for the power company to come over and cut down the offending branch and another huge one that had almost entirely snapped off the trunk. That branch was resting against a neighbor’s tree on the property line and would have taken down the power line if it had fallen, too.

During those two weeks, the power was restored but went off twice more, both times when the sun, which also rises, was shining brightly and there was nary a breeze, save for my hot air.

When the crew from the power company finally arrived and felled the two big branches, my wife, Sue, was told they couldn’t be cut up and hauled away, but one guy said he could do it privately for a price that could have bankrupted Donald Trump.

So I got an estimate from Vinny, who works for O’Connell’s Landscaping, the company that cuts what little grass we have. The lawn looks like a stretch of Death Valley because the trees in the front and back yards are so shady.

“I’m kind of shady myself,” I told Vinny.

“Maybe I should cut you down,” he replied with a smile.

Vinny, 41, a Navy veteran who served in the Persian Gulf, said I was lucky the tree didn’t fall on my house.

“If it had,” I noted, “at least I’d have hardwood floors.”

“I’ve seen plenty of trees that fell on people’s roofs and into their pools,” said Vinny, adding that he slept through the storm. “It didn’t affect me, and I live only a few miles away. I guess the worst of it was in your neighborhood.”

Vinny surveyed my branch-littered backyard and gave me a reasonable price to cut up the wood and take it away.

“I’m a geezer with a handsaw,” I said. “I could never do it myself.”

“You don’t have to,” said Vinny, who, a few days later, sent over three of his best men: Efren, William and Mario.

“You have a lot of rot,” said Efren, the supervisor of the crew.

“I know,” I responded. “But what about the tree?”

“It has rot, too,” said Efren, who showed me and Sue the decaying wood in one of the branches.

“I used to like oaks,” I said. “Now I hate them. Never mind the acorns. It’s the brown gunk they drop in the spring that’s the worst. And they’re supposed to be the strongest trees, but every time a breeze blows through, the yard is littered with twigs. Now this.”

“And it could happen again,” Efren said as William and Mario finished the job.

“You know what they say,” I told him. “Everything happens in trees.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

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