According to Zezima family legend, which goes all the way back to last week, my wife, Sue, is so proficient at chopping down trees, bushes and other massive flora that she is known far and wide as Paula Bunyan.
I, her faithful companion, am known even farther and wider as Jerry the Dumb Ox.
It was in this capacity, which otherwise is about a six-pack, that I was charged with hauling a mess that I was afraid included Audrey II, the giant plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” to the dump, where I met Teddy the Junkyard Dog.
This shocking example of horticultural horror began when Sue went on a chopping spree and took down several humongous growths whose stems, trunks and branches were roughly equal to those of a California redwood. And she did it not with a chainsaw but a hand saw, which is easier than using a seesaw.
When I saw, I said, “Who’s going to cart all this stuff away?”
Sue pointed the saw at me.
I refrained from making a cutting remark and dutifully dragged the whole thing to the curb in the hope that the Town of Brookhaven, New York, where I live, would take it away.
There it sat for three weeks until I got a letter that was headlined: “Notice before summons.” It went on to say I was in violation of a town ordinance by having litter described as “loose oversized branches” on my property. It also said I would be subject to “a potential fine and a possible misdemeanor charge” if I didn’t take care of it.
I called the Department of Waste Management and spoke with a very nice woman named Maureen.
“Look,” I explained, “I’m a geezer with a bad back and a history of kidney stones. I’m doing my best. Have mercy.”
Maureen was sympathetic and said, “I got one of those notices before I started working here.” Then she added, “You have to cut up the branches and either put them in containers or bundle them. It’s probably easier just to load them into your car and bring them to the landfill. If you’re a town resident, there’s no charge.”
Consoling myself with the thought that the worst things in life are free, I stuffed everything into the back of my SUV, which stands for Sequoia Utility Vehicle, and drove to the landfill.
That’s where I met Teddy, whom Jim Croce would not have described as “meaner than a junkyard dog.”
“He’s more like a teddy bear, which is how he got his name,” said his owner, Nancy Blomberg, adding: “It’s a very exciting day. This is Teddy’s first trip to the dump.”
Teddy, a terrier mix who was born in Puerto Rico, seemed to take it in stride.
“He’s a rescue,” Nancy said. “He’s 6 or 7 years old, I’m not sure and he’s not telling, but I’ve had him for a year and a half.”
Teddy, who was sitting in Nancy’s lap on the passenger side of a 2003 Chevy pickup truck, gave me a high paw through the open window.
“Woof!” I replied.
Just then, Nancy’s friend Micky McLean, who had been hauling stuff out of the back of the truck, came around and introduced herself, saying she is a former Marine.
When I told her I’m a newspaper columnist, Micky said, “I thought so when I saw you interviewing the dog. What’s the matter, the Marines wouldn’t take you?”
“The Marines have standards,” I said. “They’re looking for a few good men, and obviously I’m not one of them.”
Micky, who served honorably from 1977 to 1986 and is now retired, asked if I needed help unloading the branches from the back of my car. When I gratefully accepted her kind offer, she got her trusty cultivator, which is a three-pronged rake, and in the span of about seven seconds cleaned out my trunk.
“Next time, cut down the trees and bushes yourself instead of making your wife do it,” Micky commanded.
I saluted and said, “Yes, ma’am!”
At that, Teddy barked.
“He’s a dog,” Micky said. “He knows something about trees and bushes, too.”
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.