Thursday, July 30, 2015

"The Ice Cream Man Cometh"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In the whole wide world which, as NASA has proven, is a whole lot wider than Pluto, a Disney character who can’t hold a candle to “Sesame Street” star Elmo nothing is sweeter than my granddaughter, Chloe.

The only thing that comes close is ice cream. So it was especially sweet when Chloe, who’s a big Elmo fan, recently met Christos Skartsiaris, our neighborhood ice cream man.

Chris, who has driven his truck on the same route for almost 40 years, pulled up in front of my house on a warm weekend afternoon, the annoyingly repetitive strains of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” mercifully silenced when he turned off the ignition.

“Doesn’t listening to that song over and over drive you crazy?” I asked. To which Chris responded, “What song?”

As I peered into the open side window of the truck, I saw not only the extensive selection of frozen treats but a small gallery of photos.

“My grandchildren,” said Chris, who has four, with one on the way.

“They’re beautiful,” I said. “I’m a grandfather, too. My granddaughter should be here any minute. She’s not driving yet because she’s only 2.”

“That will happen soon enough,” said Chris.

“As I have told people who aren’t grandparents: If you think your kids grow up fast, wait until you have grandchildren,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” replied Chris, whose grandchildren — Nico, 8; Logan, 8; Sophia, 5; and Dylan, 4 — are growing up fast because, in part, they are nourished with ice cream.

“They’ll ask me, ‘Papou, can I get something from your truck?’ Of course, I always say yes,” said Chris, whose wife, Joan, is called Yaya.

“Chloe calls me Poppie,” I said, adding that my wife, Sue, is Nini.

“Kids these days are really smart,” Chris said. “I had a hundred-dollar bill recently and Nico said, ‘Papou, can I have this dollar?’ I said, ‘Sure, if you give me $99 in change.’ He smiled because he knew it wasn’t a dollar.”

“Nico could be my accountant,” I declared.

“I wasn’t that smart when I was 8,” said Chris.

“I’m not that smart now,” I conceded.

Just then, Chloe pulled up with my younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); my son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy); and Maggie the dog (Maggie).

“Poppie!” Chloe squealed when she saw me.

Lauren brought her over to the truck and introduced her to Chris.

“Hello, beautiful girl,” Chris said as he scooped (he is, after all, an ice cream man) Chloe into his arms.

“Say hi,” Lauren urged Chloe.

“Hi,” Chloe said tentatively.

Chris put her down and showed her his rolling office. Chloe was fascinated.

“She’s like a kid in an ice cream truck,” I said.

Chris asked what she wanted.

“I-keem!” Chloe exclaimed.

Lauren suggested a Jolly Rancher push-up pop, a rainbow-colored treat with cherry, watermelon and green apple flavors.

“What do you say?” Lauren asked Chloe when Chris handed her the pop.

“Thank you,” Chloe said.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” said Chris, who propped her on the window ledge.

Chloe sat there and ate her ice cream, smearing it on her mouth like lipstick and licking it off.

“Here’s another one,” Chris said, handing it to Lauren. “For later.”

He also gave ice cream to the rest of us.

“It’s on me,” Chris said.

At that point, it also was on Chloe, who couldn’t quite keep up with the melting treat.

“Looks like Mommy has to do laundry,” Chris observed.

Then he started up his truck, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” ringing once more through the neighborhood.

“Say bye,” Lauren said to Chloe.

“Bye,” Chloe said.

“And thank you.”

“Thank you.”

After dinner, Chloe went to the front door, looking for the truck.

“I-keem,” she said.

Chloe had made a friend. And he’s sweet, too.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"The Royal Treatment"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Since the birth of the little princess, people around the world have been abuzz with excitement.

I refer, of course, to my granddaughter, Chloe.

People seem excited about Princess Charlotte, too.

That goes for the royal family, but it also goes for my family because Chloe’s daddy, Guillaume, refers to Charlotte’s big brother, Prince George, as “my future son-in-law.”

And now Chloe and George could get a chance to meet. According to published reports, the royal family is renting a mansion for the summer in the Hamptons, the tony towns on Long Island, New York, that are a birthstone’s throw from my family’s home, the Zezimanse.

“I think Chloe and George would be perfect for each other,” said Patrick McLaughlin, a licensed broker for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in East Hampton, my second-favorite Hampton after Lionel. “They’re a little young yet,” McLaughlin added, “but I have no doubt that one day it will be a marriage made in heaven.”

I have no doubt, either. As I explained to McLaughlin, Guillaume and my younger daughter, Lauren, were married in the South of France in 2011, one day after George’s parents, William and Kate, were married in England. That made the royal couple the opening act for the real Wedding of the Century.

After I wrote to William and Kate to congratulate them, I got a lovely letter in return, thanking me for my good wishes and wishing Lauren and Guillaume the best.

When George was born in 2013, four months after Chloe, I sent a congratulatory letter to Prince Charles, from one grandfather to another. He must have been all ears, because he sent me a postcard of himself and his lovely wife, Camilla, as a token of his appreciation.

Naturally, the Zezimas were ecstatic when Charlotte was born in May, though we know that Chloe is the true princess.

“That’s safe to say,” McLaughlin noted. “I can see why George would be eager to meet her.”

In addition to selling and renting real estate to the rich and famous, whose identities are his little secret, McLaughlin writes a whimsical blog for Hamptons Chatter, a website that contains chatter about you guessed it Grand Forks, North Dakota.

No, I mean the Hamptons.

“I have fun with it,” said McLaughlin, who recently posted a piece about the rumored royal visit.

It began: “The royal formerly known as Prince William, now known as Kate Middleton’s husband, is apparently planning to bring his Windsor brood to spend their summer in the Hamptons! I know! I know! I’m as excited as the next Anglophile!”

I’m excited, too! And not just because of McLaughlin’s propensity for using exclamation points!

“Hi, William,” he continued. “Hopefully, you didn’t buy that real estate yet and you’ll be calling me as your agent in the near future.”

McLaughlin offered some suggestions about must-see spots in the Hamptons.

“One of them is Cyril’s, a great dive bar,” McLaughlin told me.

“I’ve been known to frequent dive bars,” I said. “Maybe William and I could have a pint of ale.”

“Then,” McLaughlin suggested, “you could take him to Home Goods. That’s another place he absolutely has to see.”

“I’m sure Kate would love to shop there,” I said.

“And she’d get great bargains,” said McLaughlin, adding that the royal family simply has to visit Martha Stewart, who has a home in the Hamptons. “She loves drop-by guests,” he noted.

“Do you think Martha would love it if I dropped by?” I asked.

“I’m sure she would,” McLaughlin said. “She might even bake you a cake.”

But the real highlight would be a royal visit to my house.

“It’s not technically in the Hamptons,” I said. “But it has a nice backyard with a slide and a kiddie pool.”

“Chloe and George aren’t old enough for cocktails by the pool,” McLaughlin said, “but you could serve them juice in sippy cups.”

“It’s a little too early to start planning a wedding,” I said. “But I know it’ll be love at first sight.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Home Alone"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If Hollywood wants to make another “Home Alone” movie, this time with the Macaulay Culkin character all grown up but no more mature than he was as an 8-year-old in the 1990 original, I would be happy to take the role.

That’s because I was recently left home alone for the weekend.

My wife, Sue, without whom I would have starved to death long ago, went out of town, leaving me to my own devices. Fortunately, the devices included a corkscrew, if I wanted some wine, and a bottle opener, if I wanted some beer. I had both, though not at the same time because even I know that if you go too crazy on the libations while you are home alone, and happen to lock yourself outside or start a kitchen fire and can’t find the phone to call 911, or realize, as the house burns to the ground, that you forgot to buy marshmallows, there is no one there to help you.

In fact, there is no one there to do anything with you. Dismiss the notion that you will have a wild party. When the cat’s away, the mice will not play. I am a man, not a mouse, and the only creature that kept me any company was our cat, Bernice, who is I say this with great affection a total moron.

To make sure I wasn’t bored, Sue left me a list of things to do, including the crucially important chore of watering the garden.

“Did you remember to do that?” she asked when she called, presumably to see if I was still alive.

“Yes,” I told her proudly. “I was so excited, I wet my plants.”

I could hear Sue’s eyes roll in their sockets on the other end of the phone.

Still, I wanted a little time to myself, which wasn’t difficult since I was alone anyway, so I drove into town to buy a cigar.

When I got to the cigar store, I asked the owner, Julio, if his wife had ever left him home alone.

“Yes,” he said.

“What did you do?” I wondered.

“I took out the garbage and watched a lot of sports on TV,” said Julio, who will celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary in October.

“That’s a biggie,” I noted. “Don’t forget it.”

“I did forget our anniversary once and my wife wasn’t happy,” Julio said. “Now I write it down on the calendar. If I forget it again, she might leave me home for good.”

Outside, I met Frank and Denise, who have been married for 28 years.

“Has your wife ever left you home alone?” I asked Frank.

“Once,” he said.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I went to Puerto Rico,” Frank answered.

“What a swell idea!” I exclaimed. “But I don’t have time. My wife will be home tomorrow.”

“Make sure you clean up after yourself,” Denise advised. “You don’t want your wife coming home to a mess.”

“I’ve been making messes for the 37 years we have been married,” I said. “But I’ll try to make sure the house is nice and neat.”

When I got home, I went outside, climbed into a hammock with a beer and a cigar, and enjoyed some quality time with myself.

Afterward, I heard the familiar strains of the neighborhood ice cream truck. I went around front and bought a toasted almond bar from Chris, who has been on the same route since the 1970s.

“Does your wife ever leave you home alone?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Chris, who has been married for 48 years.

“What do you do?” I inquired.

“Eat, work and sleep,” he said. “Some guys fool around.”

“Not me,” I said.

“Me, either,” said Chris, who admitted that he doesn’t do household chores while his wife is away.

“I do,” I said. “In fact, I have to go inside and do them before my wife gets back. But I’ll tell you this: The next time she leaves me home alone, I’m going to Puerto Rico.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"College Daze"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As soon as my lawyer gets out of jail, I am going to file a classless action lawsuit against the makers of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” for theft of intellectual property.

I came up with the idea recently while drinking a beer at my 40th college reunion, where my classmates (who also, like my lawyer, were admitted to the bar) agreed that the 1978 campus comedy was heavily influenced by our shenanigans.

While we got an excellent education at Saint Michael’s College, which is in Colchester, Vermont, and is annually rated as one of the top small colleges in America, the Class of 1975 stands out as the most notorious in the 111-year history of the school. 

That its graduates, like those in “Animal House,” have gone on to enjoy distinguished careers in business, education, law, politics, medicine, aviation and even journalism only bolsters my case.

The plaintiffs, whose last names are not being used to protect the guilty, include Hank, my roommate for three years; Clay, my roommate for one year; Tim, the brazen ringleader who lived next door; and yours truly, who was only, I will testify under oath in the event we are countersued, along for the ride.

Accompanying us to the reunion were Hank’s wife, Angela; Clay’s wife, Lorraine; Tim’s wife, Jane; and my wife, Sue, who also is a member of the Class of ’75 but is innocent of all charges, unless you count being guilty by association.

The first thing Tim and I did, with help from Clay, was turn the Class of 1975 banner upside down on a fence in back of the school. It hung proudly, if slightly crumpled, next to the crisp, right-side-up banners of the other classes at the reunion barbecue. Then the three of us, along with several of our classmates, posed for pictures behind it.

Tim, co-chair of the ’75 reunion committee, later reported that Jack Neuhauser, who has been president of the college since 2007 but knows all about us, heard what we had done.

“He just shook his head, like he expected it,” Tim said.

“He can’t revoke our diplomas,” I noted, adding that we graduated magna cum lager, “or we’d have to come back.”

“And repeat all the stuff we did,” said Tim.

That stuff included starting a snowball fight that erupted into a campus-wide riot; putting snakes in other students’ rooms; engaging in firecracker wars; throwing a burning bonsai tree out of a window and accidentally igniting the ivy on the side of the building, which forced our resident adviser, Flash, to run across the quad, beer in hand, to extinguish the blaze; locking a pep squad in a dormitory basement so it couldn’t march at a pep rally; putting kegs of beer in a dumbwaiter and sending them up and down between floors so campus authorities couldn’t find them; streaking in front of the girls’ dorm (I did, modestly, wear a bow tie); creating an international incident on a trip to Montreal; and committing innumerable other acts of mayhem, craziness and blatant stupidity that are safe to mention now because, let’s hope, the statute of limitations has expired.

“The drinking age was 18,” Tim reasoned. “What did they expect?”

They expected us to behave ourselves at the reunion, which we did. Mostly.

At the awards breakfast (somehow, none of us won anything), I issued a blanket apology for the Class of 1975 to the now-retired Don “Pappy” Sutton, who was dean of students during our four-year reign of error, when Playboy ranked St. Mike’s as one of the nation’s top party schools.

Dean Sutton, who is 87 and looks fabulous (he’s had 40 years to recover), thanked me and said, “God bless you.”

We had a great time, both in college and at the reunion, and are proud to be associated with such a fine institution of higher learning.

I can’t help but think, however, that like the rowdy crew in “Animal House,” we are still on double secret probation.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Running Hot and Cold"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a guy who is usually in hot water, which I am using as an excuse for all my wrinkles, I recently found myself in the unusual situation of being in hot water because there was no hot water.

Actually, there was hot water, but it left me cold because it was dripping out of the faucet in an upstairs bathroom. To prevent the American equivalent of Chinese water torture from keeping me awake at night and driving me even crazier than I already am, I had to open the vanity door and stick my empty head under the sink, an area so small that a Chihuahua would have felt claustrophobic, so I could turn off the hot water.

When I wanted to shave, I had to reverse the process. Then I reversed it again so the water bill wouldn’t rival the gross national product of Finland.

This went on for months. Finally, at the strong suggestion of my wife, Sue, who doesn’t even shave, I was faced with two choices: fix the problem or grow a beard.

Because I didn’t want to look like Presidents Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield, both of whom were shot to death, I decided to go with Choice No. 1.

This entailed disassembling the faucet so I could change the washer. Inasmuch as I am the least handy man in America, visions of Niagara Falls flooded my brain, which has water on it anyway.

I sought the wise counsel of Frank and Jerry, two ace maintenance guys at work.

“Make sure,” Frank advised, “that you turn off the water or you’ll have an indoor swimming pool.”

“Maybe,” Jerry added, “you should wear a bathing suit.”

“How do I get the cap off the hot-water spigot?” I asked.

“Use a screwdriver,” Frank answered.

“You mean vodka and orange juice?” I wondered.

“Whatever works,” Jerry said.

I also talked with Gary, a talented colleague who used to write a home-improvement column. He printed out instructions with an illustration of the sink’s parts, including the handle seat, the gasket and, of course, the washer. The whole thing looked like the battle plans for the invasion of Normandy.

“There’s a tool for taking the faucet apart,” Gary said.

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s called a jackhammer. All I want to do is change the washer. Do I have to buy a new house?”

“Go on YouTube,” Gary said, “and watch a video. It will show you how to do it.”

So I did. The two-minute video, “How to Replace a Washer in a Leaky Faucet for Dummies,” will never win an Oscar, but it was clearly aimed at me. And it was pretty instructive. 

I used my smartphone, which has a dumb owner, to take a picture of the faucet. Then I went to Home Depot for further assistance.

I got it from Charlie, who is so knowledgeable that he coaches new recruits at the store. He assured me that I am not as incompetent as I think I am.

“My uncle was worse,” Charlie said. “He was a brilliant lawyer who became a judge, but he couldn’t change a light bulb. He eventually went blind, which didn’t help.”

Charlie informed me that my faucet doesn’t have washers.

“You have to remove the nut,” he said.

“That would be me,” I countered.

“And,” Charlie continued, “replace the cartridge.”

“Do I have to use dynamite?” I asked.

“No,” Charlie said. “A wrench will do. But turn off the water first.”

“Even I know that,” I said.

I bought a replacement cartridge, went home, turned off the water under the bathroom sink and, much to my amazement (and Sue’s), fixed the problem.

“Nice job,” Sue said. “And we didn’t even have to call a plumber.”

Unfortunately, now something’s wrong with the kitchen faucet. Looks like I’m in hot water again.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"What's in a Name? Ask Poppie"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have been called many things in my life, not all of them repeatable in polite company, which I am seldom in anyway.

But the one I love to hear repeated is Poppie, which is what I am called by my 2-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

My wife, Sue, who is called nothing but good things, especially by me, because without her I would be a four-letter word (“dead”), is known to Chloe as Nini.

I’m glad Sue and I have such wonderful grandparent names because we could have been called a lot worse.

I found this out recently when I saw that two fine family-oriented groups, BabyCenter (which provides advice on pregnancy and parenting) and the American Grandparents Association (which is what it sounds like), have each come out with a list of names that grandmothers and grandfathers are called these days, whether they like it or not.

At the top or, if you prefer, the bottom of the grandfather list is PeePaw. No offense to any guy whose grandchild calls him by that name, but I can’t imagine Chloe saying to me, “PeePaw, I have to go pee-pee.”

Then again, Poppie is perilously close to that post-Pampers potty predicament (and besides, it sort of rhymes), so maybe PeePaw isn’t so bad after all.

Then there’s Chief, which is considered a trendy name for grandfathers but sounds more like what Jimmy Olsen called Perry White in the 1950s “Superman” TV series. It conjures the following exchange:

Chloe: “Hey, Chief, pass me the coloring book.”

Me: “Here you go, Honey. And don’t call me Chief!”

A great grandfather name (though not a great-grandfather name) is the unlisted and presumably unique moniker bestowed on David Wright, not the New York Mets slugger but a professional window cleaner who recently cleaned the windows at our house: Granddude. For a goateed guy who used to be both a lawyer and a monk, it fits.

My buddy Tim Lovelette, who has four granddaughters, has two grandfather names, both on the AGA list: Big Daddy and Grumpy.

“Both are pretty accurate,” Tim once told me.

His wife, Jane, also is known by two names on the AGA list: Go-Go (she’s a marathon runner) and Grammy (I didn’t know she could sing, but I eagerly await her first album).

If Jane becomes famous, she’ll join other celebrities on the AGA list, including Donald Trump, who is known to his grandchildren with great affection, I am sure as Mr. Trump.

I can just imagine one of his grandkids sitting on his knee, running tiny fingers through his comb-over and asking, “Mr. Trump, will I be a hair to your fortune?”

On the grandmother side is Martha Stewart, who is called, simply, Martha.

I’m sure she would recommend using fine china to serve Count Chocula to your perfect little grandchild. And, in a pinch, she’d probably pass along this creative tip: “If you run out of Huggies, a doily will do.”

There are no celebrities on the BabyCenter list, but there are some pretty creative grandparent names.

For grandmothers: Gramma-Bamma (“Gramma-Bamma, would you read me ‘Green Eggs and Hamma’ ”?), Safta (“Do I Safta go to bed so early?”) and Yumma (“Yumma, Yumma, your cookies hit the spot in my tumma!”).

For grandfathers: Bumpy (“Get in your carseat, it’s gonna be a Bumpy ride”), Coach (at bedtime: “Put me in, Coach”) and Koko (“I’m cuckoo for Koko!”).

If I can help it, Chloe will never see these lists. But she’d no doubt agree that some grandparent names are better than others.

Take it from Nini and Poppie.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"A Glass Act"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I do windows. Unfortunately, I do them every couple of years, which gives the windows plenty of time to get dirty, and even then it is clear that I don’t do them very well because I have always considered the job a pane in the glass.

This year, I let a professional end my losing streak, which was, of course, in each window.

Enter (through the front door, not a window) David Wright, owner of Mr. Wright’s Window Cleaning of Centerport, New York.

Not to be confused with the New York Mets slugger of the same name (“He  doesn’t do windows as well as I do, but I can’t hit a baseball as well as he can”), Wright was a lawyer, a financial analyst and a monk before devoting his life to letting the sunshine into the lives of others by cleaning their windows.

“I want to make people happy,” Wright said. “And a lot of people are happy when their windows are clean.”

I knew I would be happy if my windows were clean because it also would give happiness to my wife, Sue, who had been after me for the past two years to use Windex and a roll of paper towels, not to mention a little elbow grease, to clean the windows.

“Elbow grease is a prime source of smudges and streaks,” I told her.

Sue wasn’t buying it, which is why I ended up buying a reasonably priced cleaning package (10 windows for $49) so she could finally meet Mr. Wright.

“I’m David,” he said, introducing himself to Sue. “I’m here to clean your windows.”

Sue swooned. “Thank you,” she replied. “They could use it.”

Wright started on the outside, where he told me that his wife, Joanne, likes the way he does the windows at their house but wishes he would do them more often.

“I’m working seven days a week,” he said, adding that he started the business last year and will be joined next year by his son Collier, a U.S. Army Ranger who is serving in Iraq. “So I don’t have the time to do our windows too often.”

“That excuse isn’t going to work for me,” I said.

“You’ll have to think of another one,” Wright said as he used a water-fed pole with a nylon brush to clean the outside of the windows in the living, dining and family rooms.

“Nylon?” I said. “Theoretically, I could clean windows with my wife’s stockings.”

“Theoretically,” Wright responded, “it wouldn’t be a good idea.”

What would be a good idea, he added, is to use resin instead of soap. “I’m using it now,” he said. “It’s much more effective.”

As he worked, Wright, who is 53, told me that he started out as a lawyer (“If you go to the bathroom, bring work with you so you can bill your clients”), then got into financial services before giving up all his material possessions and spending time in a monastery, where he decided he wanted to make people happy for a living.

“I am doing my second-favorite thing,” he said, referring to cleaning windows, which allows him to meditate while he works.

“What’s your favorite thing?” I inquired.

“I’d like to be a professional poker player,” Wright said. “But my wife doesn’t think it’s a safe bet.”

When we moved inside, Wright said that customers always kid him about having the same name as the Mets star. “They’ll say, ‘When you finish with my windows, are you going to Citi Field?’ Maybe I should give them my autograph,” said Wright, who cleaned the windows with a long razor blade encased in a scraper. He also used a squeegee and a scrubber made of lamb’s wool and AstroTurf.

“And I use Dawn,” he said.

“Who’s she?” I asked.

“The person you can get to clean your windows,” said Wright, though he really meant the dishwashing liquid. “Don’t tell your wife, but most windows are dirtier on the inside than they are on the outside.”

I didn’t tell Sue, who was nonetheless amazed when Wright was finished.

“Wow!” she squealed. “These windows have never been so clean.”

“The trick,” Wright said, “is to keep them that way.”

“I’ll do my part,” I said. “In two years, I’ll give you another call.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima