Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Poppie's French Connection"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Of all the Romance languages, the most beautiful, in my humble opinion, is Pig Latin.

Take this simple phrase: “Hiya, toots!” Translated into Pig Latin, it becomes: “Iya-hay, oots-tay!”

Eloquent, isn’t it?

The second most beautiful Romance language is French, in which I am not, unfortunately, conversant. But I am learning it with a certain je ne sais quoi (translation: “Hiya, toots!”) with the help of my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe is learning French with the help of her daddy, Guillaume, who is from France, a magnificent (magnifique) country that I visited five years ago with my wife (ma femme), Sue (Sue), and some other members of our family (la famille) for the wedding of Guillaume and our younger daughter (fille), Lauren (ditto).

Now their daughter, Chloe, is teaching me (moi) French.

I want to speak it better than I do Spanish, which I took for eight years in high school and college and still can’t hold a decent conversation. I know only two phrases: “Cerveza fria, por favor” (“Cold beer, please”) and the natural follow-up question, “Donde es el bano?” (“Where is the bathroom?”)

That is why I am sure Chloe will be muy bien (sorry, I mean tres bon) in teaching me French.

According to Lauren, when Chloe went for a doctor’s appointment recently, she said to the receptionist, “Je m’appelle Chloe,” which means “My name is Chloe.”

“Did she just speak French?” the stunned receptionist asked.

“Yes,” Lauren replied, though she should have said, “Oui.”

The next time I saw Chloe, I said, “Je m’appelle Poppie.”

She smiled, no doubt at my pathetic pronunciation, and said, “Poppie!”

I was babysitting her and thought it was a good time for a French lesson.

“Bonjour, Chloe,” I said.

“Bonjour, Poppie,” she responded.

That was pretty much all I knew. But I was about to get a crash course. Chloe loves books and always wants me to read to her, so I was not surprised when she handed me a book starring her favorite character, Peppa Pig. The title: “Une Journee Avec Peppa” (“A Day With Peppa”).

Yes, it was in French.

If you read Chloe a book in English and stumble over a word, she will make you repeat it.

“My God (Mon Dieu),” I thought, “this is going to be terrible (terrible).”

I began to read: “Ce matin, Peppa se reveille.”

I had no idea what I just said, but it didn’t matter because Chloe didn’t correct me. I thought, however, that the word “reveille” meant Peppa was in the Army, though the drawing on the page showed that she was in her bed at home and was waking up at 7 o’clock in the morning.

It was obvious from subsequent drawings that the little pink porker was getting ready for school.

I trudged on: “Et prendre le petit-dejeuner tous ensemble, c’est encore mieux. Parole de Peppa!”

Chloe smiled and turned the page, a clear indication that my reading was d’accord (OK).

When Peppa got to school with her classmates, there was this line about the teacher: “Madame Gazelle, leur maitresse, est fantastique!”

Then Peppa went home for lunch: “C’est pizza et salade au menu!”

Afterward, she went to the park with her friends: “L’apres-midi, Peppa retrouve ses amis au parc.”

At dinner, Peppa’s father, Daddy Pig (Papa Pig), made his famous soup (fameuse soupe), after which Peppa had to brush her teeth (“apres avoir mange, il faut toujours se laver dents”) and go to bed (“bonne nuit!”).

Through the entire reading, Chloe didn’t stop me once, so I felt confident enough to add, “The end,” which I didn’t know in French (la fin).

But that was all right because Chloe paid me the ultimate compliment: “Merci, Poppie!”

I had passed my first French (francais) test. One of these days, with Chloe’s help, I will speak it fluently.

Then, of course, I will teach her Pig Latin.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Nice Work If You Can Get It"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Whenever I attempt to do something I can’t do sing, dance, perform surgery somebody tells me not to quit my day job. The only people who want me to quit are my bosses, who don’t realize that the reason I have my day job is that I am spectacularly unqualified to do anything else.

Still, you never know when you will no longer be gainfully (or, in my case, ungainfully) employed. So, because I have had a fair career, I recently went to a career fair. It was held, perhaps not coincidentally, at the company where I work on Long Island, New York.

The first thing I found out, after stopping at a table sponsored by my company, is that I couldn’t get a job with my company. That’s because they were looking for someone to provide technical support.

“Technically speaking, my 3-year-old granddaughter is more advanced than I am,” I admitted, “which means she would have to support me.”

“Can you do anything else?” asked Craig Brusseler, talent manager for operations.

“Aside from telling bad jokes, I have no talent,” I said. “And hospital patients wouldn’t trust me to do operations.”

But Chrissy Huber, a sales recruiter, thought I had promise.

“You have a good personality,” she noted, “so you could go door to door to convince people who have switched to another cable company to come back to us.”

“What if somebody thought I was a scam artist and called the cops?” I wondered. “I don’t want to go back to prison.”

Chrissy raised her eyebrows, extended her hand and said, “Good luck with your job search.”

I had bad luck at the next table, which was sponsored by BMW.

“We are looking for technicians,” said recruiter Stefan Schedel.

“I’d have an easier time transcribing the Dead Sea Scrolls than telling you what’s going on under the hood of a car,” I confessed.

“I’m afraid you’re not the kind of person we’re looking for,” said Renai Ellison, another recruiter.

“Could I at least get a free car out of the deal?” I asked.

I didn’t. But I did get a free tote bag. I dropped in the Cablevision Frisbee and the pen I got from my company.

Next I stopped at the Liberty Mutual table, where Maureen Baranello and Robert Moore were looking for someone to sell insurance.

“It involves outside referrals,” Maureen said.

“I don’t like working outside,” I replied. “What if it rains?”

“Buy a raincoat and an umbrella,” Robert suggested.

I told the two recruiters about the time I got into a car accident that was caused by a guy whose GPS told him to go the wrong way down a one-way street.

“Your company covered the damage,” I said.

“You can tell that story to potential customers,” said Maureen.

“Does the job include crunching numbers?” I inquired.

“Yes,” Robert said. “Lots of them.”

“I’ll have to disqualify myself,” I said. “One of the reasons I went into journalism is because I can’t do math. I’d bankrupt your company in a week.”

I’d do the same to Bethpage Federal Credit Union, whose recruiter, Amanda Shatel, said I couldn’t refinance my mortgage so I wouldn’t have any more payments.

“I helped bail out the banks,” I pointed out. “Would yours do the same for me?”

“Sorry,” said Amanda, who gave me a free letter opener so I could open my mortgage statements.

I visited other tables — including those sponsored by Riverhead Building Supply, where I got a paint stick and a rubber hammer; The Arbors, which runs assisted living communities, where I got another pen; and David Lerner Associates, an investment broker, where I got a handshake — but nothing panned out.

“Did you go to the career fair?” one of my bosses asked when I returned to my desk.

“Yes,” I said.

“How’d it go?” he wondered.

“Bad news,” I said. “I’m not quitting my day job.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"The Cool Cat in the Hat"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have never been a man of many hats, not just because I am afraid I’d get stuck in doorways, but because my head, though empty, is too big to fit even one hat over.

But that changed recently when, after a bout with skin cancer on my nose, which is attached to my head and is almost as big, I was urged by my dermatologist to buy a hat.

“Get one with a wide brim,” he suggested. “It will keep the sun off your head remember, the rays can penetrate your hair and will protect your face, including your nose.”

“To cover my whole nose,” I replied, “I’d need a sombrero. Or a beach umbrella.”

“A regular hat will do,” my dermatologist said. “But get one.”

So, for the first time in my life, I went hat shopping. To make sure I didn’t buy anything that would make me look even dumber than I already do, I brought along my wife, Sue, who likes hats and has great style. I, unfortunately, have a fashion plate in my head.

“What kind of hat do you want?” Sue asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never worn one.”

What I didn’t want was a baseball cap. I haven’t played baseball in half a century. And even then I was awful. Plus, to conform to a look adopted by just about every guy who wears a baseball cap these days, I’d have to put it on backward, which would assure, at least, that I wouldn’t get skin cancer on the back of my neck.

Sue and I went to three stores and all we could find were — you guessed it — beach umbrellas.

No, I mean baseball caps.

Then we spotted a mall store called Tilly’s.

“This place is for young people,” Sue noted as we walked in.

“I’m young,” I countered. “At least in my head. And since I need to cover it with a hat, I guess we’re in the right place.”

Indeed we were because the store had all kinds of hats.

The first one I saw was a straw hat with a brim as wide as my shoulders. Naturally, it didn’t fit over my head.

“One size fits all,” said a young (of course) salesperson named Dana.

“You mean one size fits all except me,” I replied. “Do you have a measuring tape so you can see how tremendous my head is?”

“No,” she said, spying my cranium and trying not to imply that the tape would have to be as long as the first-down chains in a football game.

Sue and I walked to the back of the store, where I saw a felt hat with a wide brim and a band. I tried it on. Incredibly, it fit.

“I look like Indiana Jones,” I told a salesperson named James after seeing myself in a mirror.

“You’re a lot younger than the guy who plays him,” he said, referring to Harrison Ford, who looks great in a hat.

“I’m going to get a feather,” Sue chimed in, “and stick it in the band.”

“Then I’d look like Super Fly,” I said.

“Cool,” said James, giving me two thumbs-up.

On the way out, I saw another hat, a khaki boonie that made me look like Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.”

“This one fits, too,” I said in amazement. “And the brim covers my nose.”

A salesperson named Anna smiled but was too polite to comment, except to say, “It looks good.”

Sue agreed.

“Now you have a hat to wear when you get dressed up and one for lounging around outside,” she said at the register, where we paid a grand total of $25 for both.

“You know what they say,” I noted. “Two hats are better than one.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Spare the Frame, Spoil the Grandpa"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
People have said for years that I will end up in the gutter. Little did I know it would happen when I went bowling with my 3-year-old granddaughter.

As part of Chloe’s birthday celebration, my wife, Sue (known to Chloe as Nini), and I (Poppie) recently went to The All Star in Riverhead, New York, with our younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy), and our son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy) for an afternoon of fun and, I will readily admit, humiliation, which is inevitable when (a) you are wearing bowling shoes and (b) you are defeated by a toddler.

I must say in my own defense, pathetic though it may be under the circumstances, that I had not been bowling in years, while Chloe is a regular at the lanes.

Not only that, but she uses a special contraption that is designed to give kids an unfair advantage over incompetent grown-ups such as yours truly. Here’s how it works: An adult places a bowling ball on top of this thing. Then a child pushes the ball down a ramp and onto the lane, where it rolls, slowly and steadily, until it knocks over some or all of the pins.

Did I mention gutter guards? They are used so a child’s ball can’t go where the aforementioned people have long expected to find me.

But none of that mattered because we were there to have a good time, even if, as required in order to use the lane, we would also be keeping score.

After settling in at Lane 20, we entered our names into the overhead electronic scoreboard: Mommy, Nini, Poppie and, of course, Chloe (who was playing with the assistance of Daddy).

My first ball, I swear to God, went straight into the gutter. I recovered enough to finish the frame with a 6.

I didn’t feel so bad because Sue’s first ball went straight into the gutter, too. In fact, her average roll traveled approximately four inches before the ball plopped into the gutter, although she displayed great versatility by throwing gutter balls on both sides of the lane.

“Bowling isn’t my sport,” she acknowledged.

But it appears to be Chloe’s sport. After Guillaume placed the ball on top of her kiddie ramp, Chloe pushed it onto the lane and typically knocked over most of the pins. By frame 5, she had racked up a strike and a couple of spares and was comfortably in the lead when she pushed a button on the control device and wiped out all the information on the scoreboard. The game, essentially, was over.

“I am crediting your granddaughter with the victory,” said the nice young man at the counter, likening it to a rain-shortened baseball game. “She beat all of the adults.”

Then, sensing my humiliation, he gave us another game for free.

“Try to do better this time,” he said with a smile.

I did try. Really. So did Lauren, a streaky bowler, and Sue, who continued to throw gutter balls and even used Chloe’s kiddie device and the gutter guards in a couple of frames. They didn’t help much.

In one of the later frames, Chloe said, “I bowl with Poppie.”

She took my hand as we walked up to the line. Then she helped me throw the ball, which rolled straight down the lane and, incredibly, knocked over all the pins.

“Poppie got a strike!” I exclaimed.

“Poppie strike!” declared Chloe, who must have sensed that I needed assistance, so she gave it to me in the next frame, too. I got a spare.

That helped put me over the top. At the end of the game, my score was 114. Chloe had 99, Lauren 91 and Sue 42.

Chloe, clearly the best bowler in the family, showed a maturity beyond her three years and sacrificed herself so poor Poppie, utterly embarrassed in the first game, could claim victory. In short, she let me win.

I was bowled over. And, thanks to my granddaughter, I didn’t end up in the gutter.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"This Little Poppie Went to Market"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In nearly 38 years of marriage, I have found that food shopping is a matter of putting the cart before the horse’s behind. This explains why I am the designated driver whenever I go to the supermarket with my wife, Sue.

It also explains why I had the same job recently when I stopped and shopped at Stop & Shop with my granddaughter, Chloe.

The difference is that Chloe likes to go food shopping with me, whereas Sue would rather leave me home or, if I must accompany her, ditch me at the deli counter because, as she has always known, I am full of baloney.

On our most recent visit to Best Yet (we refuse to shop at Worst Yet), Sue asked if I wanted bananas.

“Yes,” I replied. “And do you know why?”

“Why?” Sue wondered warily.

“Because,” I announced triumphantly, “they have appeal.”

Sue sighed and said, “I don’t know why I take you shopping.”

Still, the supermarket is the only place where she doesn’t want me to get lost. If I wander off with the cart, or linger in the beer aisle, or get into a traffic jam in the frozen food section, which creates so much tension among shoppers that I am surprised there hasn’t been a push-by shooting, Sue will come looking for me and exclaim, “There you are!” when she finally finds me.

I am not much help at the checkout, either. I’ll just stand there while Sue pays for the groceries, which she also bags because she is afraid I’ll drop a watermelon on the eggs.

Things went much more smoothly when I went food shopping with Chloe, who’s almost 3. According to her daddy, Guillaume, who accompanied us, Chloe is obsessed with Stop & Shop.

She also likes other stores, including Costco, which she always spells out, saying, “C-o-s-t-c-o, Costco!”

Recently, we took her to Dunkin’ Donuts, another favorite. As we were leaving, she found a piece of paper in the backseat of the car.

“Look, Poppie!” she said to me. “A receipt from Costco!”

Then she spelled it out.

But for Chloe, Stop & Shop is the place to be. That was amply evident when Guillaume pulled into the parking lot on a brisk Saturday afternoon.

“Stop & Shop!” Chloe exclaimed, spying the supermarket sign from her carseat.

After we got out of the car, Guillaume put her in the child seat of the shopping cart, which I got to drive.

“We’re going to Stop & Shop, Poppie!” Chloe informed me.

“Yes, I know, Honey,” I responded cheerily. “We’ll have fun.”

Did we ever. As I maneuvered the cart through the fruit and vegetable section,  Chloe picked up a packet of strawberries.

“Strawberries, Poppie!” she said. “They’re red!”

Then she turned around and dropped them into the cart.

“We really don’t want strawberries,” said Guillaume.

That made no difference to Chloe, who picked up a packet of blueberries.

“They’re blue!” she said as she dropped them into the cart, too.

I steered the cart through the next aisle.

“Bananas!” said Chloe. “They’re yellow!”

I pointed to the apples and said, “What are they, Chloe?”

“Apples!” she squealed. “They’re green!”

“And how about these?” I asked.

“They’re red!”

It went on this way for the next 45 minutes. When we got to the checkout, Chloe said, “Number 5, Poppie!”

We were, indeed, at checkout number 5.

Guillaume bagged a few groceries, including a pineapple but minus the strawberries and blueberries, which he put back when Chloe wasn’t looking.

As we rolled back out to the parking lot, Chloe said, “Bye-bye, Stop & Shop!”

When we got back in the car, I said, “Poppie drove the shopping cart. Did I do a good job?”

“Yes, Poppie!” Chloe said. “You did a good job!”

And I didn’t even make any banana jokes.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Big Girl Weekend"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
The surest sign that a toddler is getting big is when she becomes more mature than her grandfather. In the case of my granddaughter, Chloe, who is about to turn 3, that happened about three years ago.

Two other signs are when she gets her own bed and has her first haircut.

Both of those things happened to Chloe recently in what was dubbed, in case you missed the celebration, Big Girl Weekend.

Since she was born, Chloe had slept in a crib, which prevented her, as some grandfathers have been known to do, from getting up on the wrong side of the bed.

I don’t know what the wrong side of the bed is, unless it is against a wall, in which case you will hit your head when you get up and promptly fall back to sleep. Since I am off the wall, I have never had this problem. That’s why I have always thought that the right side of the bed is the top.

Anyway, Chloe had begun trying to climb out of her crib, a sure sign that it was time to get her a bed.

When Chloe heard the news from Mommy (my younger daughter, Lauren) and Daddy (my son-in-law Guillaume), she was very excited. Nini (my wife, Sue) chimed in, saying Chloe was going to get a “big-girl bed,” which made her even more excited.

When I (Poppie) added my two cents, which Chloe put in her piggy bank, she said, “Chloe’s a big girl. And Poppie’s a big boy.”

“Poppie has a big-boy bed,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t wake up on the wrong side of it and slam headfirst into a wall.

Lauren and Guillaume shopped around for a twin bed and a box spring, but naturally there were complications because one store offered one deal and another store offered another and never the twin did meet.

One day, Guillaume and I, thinking outside the box spring, lugged a box containing a bed, not a spring, back to one of the stores. Later, I went home and fell fast asleep in my own bed.

But rest assured, it all turned out OK because, on a recent Friday, Chloe’s new big-girl bed was delivered. She took to it like a fish to water, even though it’s not a water bed, and went right to sleep that night, probably dreaming of her first haircut, which she got the next day.

On Saturday morning, Sue and I went over to see the bed, which is higher than ours and a lot more comfortable. It also has two mattress guards, presumably so Chloe can’t get up on the wrong side.

“Do you like your bed?” I asked Chloe.

“Yes, Poppie!” she chirped. “I’m not a baby. I’m a big girl.”

And she proved it even further when Lauren, Guillaume, Sue and I took her to Hairport Salon in Port Jefferson, New York, for her first official haircut.

“She looks like Shirley Temple,” said Valerie, a very nice stylist who had the important assignment and, if I do say so, the honor of trimming and shaping Chloe’s blond curls.

Chloe sat calmly in a chair, holding three purple brushes while Valerie snipped her underlying baby hair. Chloe even helped by handing Valerie one of the brushes.

When the haircut was over, everyone told Chloe she looked beautiful.

Chloe smiled and bit into a cake pop that Lauren had given to her for being so good.

It was a fitting end to Big Girl Weekend. The next celebration will be this Saturday, on Big Boy Weekend, when Poppie gets up on the right side of the bed and goes for a haircut. I may even have a cake pop.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, February 25, 2016

"Poppie Goes to School"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When I was 3 years old, I knew my ABCs. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn the rest of the alphabet until I was in high school.

Even now, my granddaughter, Chloe, who will turn 3 next month, is way ahead of me. So I was thrilled recently when I was asked to assume actual adult responsibilities and, for the first time, bring Chloe to school.

Because my younger daughter, Lauren (known to Chloe as Mommy), and her husband, Guillaume (aka Daddy), had an early morning appointment and would be gone before Chloe got up, I (Poppie) had to sleep over and get her ready for what promised to be an exciting day.

To facilitate matters, Lauren gave me a list of instructions. The first, written in her very neat cursive, was: “Wake up.”

This is extremely important, unless you are deceased, in which case the sleepover becomes permanent.

Instruction No. 2: “Change pull-up.”

“I don’t wear pull-ups. At least not yet,” I informed Lauren, who rolled her eyes (I rolled them back) and said, “Chloe does. Take her to the potty. I’ll leave her outfit in her bedroom. Bring it downstairs and get her dressed after breakfast.”

I perused the remaining instructions, which included what to give Chloe for breakfast (three-quarters of a cup of milk, microwaved for 30 seconds; one strawberry yogurt; and one slice of multigrain toast).

“I spoke with Mrs. Kramer,” said Lauren, referring to Chloe’s preschool teacher, “and told her you were dropping off Chloe and that you would pick her up after school. I gave her a description of you, but you may have to show her your driver’s license.”

I felt like an escaped felon, but I guess you can’t be too careful these days.

The next morning, I followed Instruction No. 1 to the letter and woke up.

“Do you know what to do?” Lauren asked as she put on her coat.

“Yes,” I replied confidently. “I have to go to the potty and then have breakfast.”

Lauren rolled her eyes again and said, “And don’t tell Mrs. Kramer any of your stupid jokes. She might call the cops.”

About 15 minutes after Lauren and Guillaume left, Chloe woke up. I went upstairs to her bedroom and opened the door.

“Poppie!” she exclaimed.

“Good morning, Honey!” I chirped.

I followed the remaining instructions (potty, check; pull-up, check; breakfast, check; outfit and hair bow, check; brown shoes, check; hat and coat, check; backpack and sippy cup, check; carseat, check) and drove Chloe to school.

I waited at the door with her as a bunch of other kids and their mothers showed up. The young women smiled at me, but I could tell what they were thinking: “Who the hell is this geezer?”

A few minutes later, Mrs. Kramer opened the door.

“Hi, Mrs. Kramer,” I said, introducing myself. “I’m Poppie.”

“Hi, Poppie,” said Mrs. Kramer, who greeted Chloe by saying, “Good morning, Chloe!”

“Good morning, Mrs. Kramer!” said Chloe.

“Do you need to see my driver’s license?” I asked Mrs. Kramer.

“No,” she responded pleasantly. “Lauren gave me a description of you. I’ll see you later.”

“Bye, Chloe,” I said.

“Bye, Poppie!” said Chloe, who went inside with her little friends.

I smiled at the mommies and drove back to Lauren and Guillaume’s house, where I made myself useless for a couple of hours before returning to pick up Chloe.

As the door opened and the children exited, Mrs. Kramer held up a bag and said, “Here you go, grandpa!”

I thought she was talking to me, but she was referring to Mike, a fellow grandfather who was picking up his grandson, Mason.

“We’re the only grandpas here,” I said.

“I know,” said Mike. “But I’ve done this before. Mrs. Kramer knows me.”

“No one would mistake us for mommies,” I said.

Mike nodded and said goodbye. I took Chloe’s hand and said goodbye to Mrs. Kramer, who smiled and said, “You did a good job.”

“Did I pass the test?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Kramer. “You can tell Chloe that Poppie got a gold star.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima