Thursday, December 1, 2016

"It's Chloe Time"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I live in a different time zone than everybody else — right now it is 8:49 a.m., Eastern time, 5:49 on the West Coast and 12:27 on Mars — so I was a little late in finding out that my granddaughter Chloe, who is 3, recently got a watch.

I have had one watch in my life. It was given to me as a college graduation gift by my parents, who liked to remind me that I was born more than three weeks past my due date and hadn't been on time for anything since. The watch was one of those digital numbers that didn’t have two hands, which required me to use two hands to tell the time. It was a pain in the wrist.

Not long after my wife, Sue, and I were married, our apartment was burglarized. Her watch was stolen. Mine was left behind. It wasn’t even good enough for thieves.

At the time (4:32 p.m.), I resolved never to wear a watch again. And I haven’t. I am in a deadline business, but I don’t care what time it is. If I need to know, I’ll look at the clock on the wall. If I don’t see a wall, I know I’m outside and that it’s time (midnight) to come in.

Now Chloe, who was born a week early, has a watch. It was given to her by her parents, though not as a college graduation gift because even kids these days don’t grow up that fast.

At least it’s not digital. It has a purple band with pink and white flowers and a face with two hands, which means Chloe doesn’t need two hands to tell the time.

What she does need is somebody to teach her how.

That, against all odds, is where I come in.

Whenever Chloe visits, she wants me to read her favorite literary masterpiece, “Tick and Tock’s Clock Book.” Subtitled “Tell the Time With the Tiger Twins!,” it’s the compelling if somewhat repetitive tale of two feline brothers who are baffled by time, which makes them no better than me. Of course, I never tell that to Chloe. Instead, I begin reading:

“Brrringg! The alarm clock rang so loudly it made Tick and Tock jump out of bed.

“ ‘What time is it?!’ said Tock.

“Tick went to look at the clock.

“ ‘Um … the big hand … Not sure,’ he said. What time did the clock say?”

“What time did the clock say, Poppie?” Chloe asked recently during a particularly dramatic reading.

“It didn’t say anything,” I replied. “Clocks can’t talk.”

Chloe giggled and said, “Silly Poppie!”

According to the drawing on the page, it was 8 a.m., even though it was 3:15 p.m. in my house, so I helped Chloe move the plastic hands — the big one to the 12, the little one to the 8 — on the clock in the upper right corner of the book.

The rest of the story follows the messy Tiger Twins through their day, during which they can’t figure out what time they are supposed to leave for school (8:30), finish their painting project (10:15), have lunch (12:30), go home (3:30) and have dinner (4:45).

But the best is saved for last. That’s when Tick and Tock’s mother, who has just cleaned up one of their many messes, announces, “There, it’s all tidy now. Look, it’s 8 o’clock, time for bed.”

But the clock on the wall says otherwise.

“Tick and Tock looked at the clock and said, ‘No, it’s not! It’s 7 o’clock. We have another hour to play, hooray!’ ”

In one of the greatest endings in all of literature, the Tiger Twins’ mother can’t tell the time.

“Maybe,” I said to Chloe as I closed the book, “Tick and Tock should buy her a watch.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Ever since my second grandchild, Lilly, was born last month, people have been asking who she looks like.

It’s hard to say because babies change by the hour, and need to be changed just as often, but I can tell you this: Because Lilly is so beautiful, she doesn’t look like me.

Figuring out who babies look like is one of the great mysteries of modern science. People — especially parents and grandparents, but also aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors and complete strangers who happen to be passing by and can’t help but comment on how cute the kid is — see who and what they want to see when they see a baby.

If you ask me (you didn’t, but I am going to answer anyway), Lilly looks like her mother, Lauren, who is my younger daughter and is, no thanks to me, beautiful.

When Lilly’s beautiful sister, Chloe, was born three and a half years ago, people (see above) said she looked like her father, Guillaume, a handsome guy with a full head of dark hair, which Chloe had, too. Now, however, Chloe looks just like Lauren, right down to the blond curls.

When Lauren was born, everyone said she looked like me. When her older sister, Katie, was born, everyone said she looked like my wife, Sue. Now people say Lauren looks like Sue and Katie looks like me. I can believe the former, because Sue is beautiful, but not the latter, because Katie is beautiful and I, while not exactly Freddy Krueger, am not exactly Brad Pitt, either.

But back to babies, who are living (and crying, eating, sleeping and pooping) proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It has been my observation that they look like whichever side of the family is seeing them at any given moment.

These family members will always comment on how beautiful the baby is and will then add that the little darling has all the traits of either the mother or the father, depending on which one is a direct relative.

It becomes more complicated (and pretty weird) when the comments involve body parts. For example, someone might say, “She has your nose.”

No one ever said that about Katie and Lauren, thank God, because if one of them had my nose, she wouldn’t have been able to lift her head until she was in kindergarten.

Eyes are also big. Mine are. They’re bloodshot, too. Still, they are the feature that people most often ascribe to the mother, the father or, in some cases, the passer-by who turns out not to be a complete stranger.

“She has my eyes,” relatives love to say.

The truth is that if the kid has your eyes, you couldn’t see, which is likely to be the case because, the vast majority of the time, nobody else agrees.

Even if you’re right, you’ll soon be wrong. The baby’s eyes, nose, ears, mouth, hair, hands or feet, which you could swear are just like yours, will soon resemble someone else’s. Then that person will say, “She looks just like me!”

What is indisputable is that all babies, whether they are children or grandchildren, are beautiful. OK, so maybe some of them aren’t, but they’re not related to any of us. And if they are, they have my nose.

So go ahead and see yourself in the new addition to your family. Brag that the little girl or boy is the spitting (and sometimes regurgitating) image of you when you were a baby, or looks like you now, or has all the traits that make everyone in your family so good-looking.

Like a broken clock, you’ll occasionally be right.

But know this: My granddaughters, Chloe and Lilly, are the most beautiful children on earth. If anyone disagrees, it will, of course, get ugly.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The Grandfather Playground Society"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
To steal a line from Groucho Marx, who is dead and can’t sue me, I would never belong to any club that would have me as a member.

But I made an exception on a recent weekday afternoon when I was indicted (sorry, I mean inducted) into a prestigious, exclusive and, I can proudly say, entirely dubious organization called the Grandfather Playground Society.

The founding members were yours truly and two guys named Jeff and Steve. I was there with Chloe, who is 3; Jeff had Madison, 2; and Steve had Aliya, also 2.

The first thing Jeff said to me was: “I am going to have a heart attack.”

That’s because he had already been chasing Madison around for an hour.

“I think I’ll join you,” I responded, because I had just raced with Chloe from slides to swings and back again and was feeling a bit short of breath.

Unfortunately, Chloe doesn’t yet know CPR, which stands for Collapsed Poppie Resuscitation.

Steve, meanwhile, was following Aliya on a tricycle (she was riding it and he was walking in circles behind her because there wasn’t enough room on the seat for both of them) and was grateful he was getting a breather.

“This beats running,” he noted.

“When you have grandchildren,” I said, “you don’t have to join a health club.”

“It saves a lot of money,” Jeff said.

“And you can use the savings to buy beer,” I pointed out.

“I could go for one right now,” Steve chimed in.

Then all three of us went back to the slides with our granddaughters, who wanted us to accompany them. This required us to put the kids on our laps and swoosh down at breakneck speed, absorbing jolts to our tailbones before coming to a screeching halt on the hard plastic surface about two feet from the end, the result being that we were almost catapulted skyward with toddlers who thought it was fun but didn’t realize that their grandfathers nearly suffered grievous injuries that could have transformed us into falsettos.

“Let’s go again, Poppie!” Chloe exclaimed. Her new friends agreed.

“What do you do for joint trouble?” Jeff asked after the third trip.

“Move to a new joint,” I answered.

Instead, we moved back to the swings, where Madison, Aliya and Chloe were secured in their seats while Jeff, Steve and I pushed them and officially convened the meeting.

“Being a grandfather is the best thing in the world,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Steve. “And after you’re done playing with your grandkids, you can give them back.”

“Speaking of backs,” Jeff said with a wince, “mine is sore as hell.”

“But it’s worth all the aches and pains,” I said. “In fact, it makes you young again.”

And I proved it, after the girls were done on the swings, by chasing Chloe up and down a nearby hill, then going to another set of slides, where I didn’t have to accompany her but did have to catch her at the bottom and run back around to watch her as she climbed the steps.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Steve were running after their granddaughters, who don’t move as fast as Chloe because they are a year younger but who nonetheless can take the wind out of any geezers who happen to be their grandfathers.

A little later, we met up again at the park entrance.

“It’s time for a nap,” Steve said as he looked down at his tired granddaughter.

“You look like you could use one, too,” Jeff said.

“We all could,” I added with a yawn.

On that note, the first meeting of the Grandfather Playground Society ended. The three of us, granddaughters in tow, limped back to our cars and wished each other happy healing.

“The next time we get together,” I suggested, “let’s go to a spa. If it’s good enough for their grandmothers, it’s good enough for us.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Tooth or Consequences"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In one of my favorite Three Stooges shorts, the boys are dentists. When their first patient comes in, Shemp puts on a pair of Coke bottle glasses that render him practically sightless. Then he pries open the hapless man’s mouth, grabs a pair of pliers and, while Moe reads instructions from a book titled “Carpentry Made Easy,” proceeds to extract a tooth in a painfully funny scene that makes me glad I don’t have a dentist like that.

So you can imagine how I felt recently when I walked into my new dentist’s office for my initial appointment and saw, on the TV in the waiting area, an episode of — you guessed it — the Three Stooges.

“They are my heroes,” said Dr. Anthony Fazio, who was not, thank God, wielding pliers, a hammer or any other tool the Stooges might have used to treat a patient on his very first visit.

“I save those for subsequent visits,” added Dr. Fazio, who doesn’t need to use laughing gas because his delightfully skewed sense of humor puts patients at ease and actually makes it fun to go to the dentist.

Dr. Fazio, who wears glasses (“Where are you?” he joked after I had settled into the chair), has been clowning with patients since he opened his practice in Medford, New York, in 1998.

“I took over from Dr. William J. Tinkler, who’s 88 and is a funny guy himself,” said Dr. Fazio, adding that Dr. Tinkler was his dental school teacher at Stony Brook University, where Dr. Fazio now teaches. “We put on a show every year at the school and Dr. Tinkler gets up and tells jokes. He’s another one of my heroes.”

Dr. Fazio, 46, is married to Dr. Lynn Travis, herself a Stony Brook dental school graduate.

“We put down roots in the community,” he deadpanned.

“You know the drill,” I responded.

“You shouldn’t have said that,” countered Dr. Fazio, who, fortunately for me, didn’t need to use one.

But he did need to regale me with stories of his dental adventures, such as the one he called “The Ventriloquist and His Wife.”

“The patient was this very stately gentleman,” Dr. Fazio recalled. “I asked him what I could do for him and, without missing a beat, his wife said, ‘He hates his teeth and needs new dentures.’ I asked the man what he didn’t like about them and his wife said, ‘He doesn’t like the color. And he can’t chew with them.’ Whatever I asked the man, his wife answered. Then I said to him, ‘That’s amazing.’ He was puzzled. I said, ‘You are the best ventriloquist I’ve ever seen.’ There was a hint of a smile on his face.

“I priced a new set of dentures at $2,000. Then I asked the wife if she would be in the room during the treatment and she said, ‘Of course.’ So I said in that case, the dentures would be $4,000. I said, ‘If I have to talk with your husband and you, it will cost double.’ She got huffy and said, ‘I never!’ On the way out, her husband said to me, ‘Have a nice day.’ It was the only time I heard him speak.”

Then there was the young woman who practically did a burlesque routine in the office.

“She was very attractive,” Dr. Fazio said. “I had to check out her occlusion, so I took a piece of typing paper, placed it between her teeth and said, ‘Would you please grind for me?’ She started to gyrate in the chair. I said, ‘No, no, no! I meant that you should grind your teeth from side to side.’ She started to laugh and said, ‘Sorry, I thought it was an odd request, but you’re kind of cute and I figured, what the hell, why not?’ She’s still one of my best patients.”

I could never compete with her, but Dr. Fazio said I’m now a good patient, too.

“You’re memorable,” he noted.

Maybe it’s because I share his appreciation for old movies, posters for which fill the walls. One of the films is “Dial M for Murder.”

“The M doesn’t also stand for molar, does it?” I asked tremulously.

“No,” Dr. Fazio said after hygienist Margaret Skladanek had done a terrific job of cleaning my teeth and office manager Lisa Rugen had set up my next appointment. “But it could stand for Moe.”

As I left the office, the Three Stooges were still on.

“At least you don’t have any carpentry books in here,” I said.

“I’ll get one in time for your next visit,” Dr. Fazio replied. “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"Trouble's on the Menu"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When I was 16, I got my first job. I was, improbably, a waiter at the now-defunct Parkway Deli in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.

In pretty short order, even though I wasn’t pretty or even a short-order cook, I was fired for what I must admit were two very good reasons: I ate the place out of knishes every day for lunch and, in case you are wondering why the deli went under, I was incompetent.

After a hiatus of 46 years, I recently got back into the service industry by working as a waiter at the Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue, New York.

I came up with the potentially disastrous idea after my wife, Sue, and I had dinner at the popular family-style restaurant and were waited on by Anilee Bishop, who deserves a medal, or at least a raise, for being my mentor when I returned a couple of weeks later to see if I could drive yet another eatery into the ground.

I arrived at the worst possible time — a busy Saturday night — with Sue; our younger daughter, Lauren; our son-in-law Guillaume; and our granddaughter, Chloe.

“Are you ready to go to work?” asked Anilee, who seated us in the large rear dining room.

“Yes,” I said confidently, promising that I would spare the place the humiliation of having me on staff by waiting my own table.

“If anybody in your family is as tough a customer as you are, you’re going to be in trouble,” said Anilee, adding that she was fired from her first waitressing job for spilling water all over the silk dress of a rich lady in the Hamptons. “It was my first day,” she recalled. “And my last.”

But Anilee, 30, the mother of two toddlers who also has been a photojournalist and studied to be a nurse, is still in the service industry and has been waitressing at the Modern Snack Bar for seven years. She always assures customers that the restaurant’s famous grasshopper pie “doesn’t contain real grasshoppers” and likes to tell “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup” jokes to amused diners.

The first thing Anilee did, aside from bringing out menus, which I forgot to do (“You’re falling down on the job already,” she said), was to hand me a pad on which to write down orders. Then she gave me an apron with a large pocket so I could store the pad, a pen and whatever else (straws, napkins, extra spoons) I would need to be a competent waiter and, I fervently hoped, earn a generous tip.

“Don’t forget to fill the water glasses,” said Anilee, making sure that I poured water from “the side of the pitcher, not the spout” and that I turned away from my customers so I wouldn’t get them wet.

“Nobody’s wearing a silk dress,” I pointed out.

“This is going to be a long night,” Anilee murmured.

After taking orders (chicken fingers for Chloe, a Caesar salad for Lauren, a turkey sandwich for Guillaume, crab cakes for Sue and a hamburger for me, even though I wasn’t supposed to eat while working), I showed the pad to Anilee, who said, “I’ll have to rewrite this so the cook and the grill chef know what you mean.”

She took me to the kitchen, which is in the back, and to the grill, which is in the front, and translated my chicken scratch (which isn’t on the menu) into official restaurant code.

While dinner cooked, I refilled the water glasses, not only for my table (B10), but for the nice couple, Lois and Barry, at the next table (“This is the best water I’ve ever tasted!” Lois exclaimed) and for three women, Karen, Carol and Karen, at another table.

“We love you!” Carol said.

“Yes,” agreed one of the Karens. “But you really have to pick up the pace.”

Soon, dinner was ready. I didn’t dare try to balance all those plates on my arm for fear that I’d create a scene worthy of the Three Stooges, so I brought them out, one in each hand, and placed them on the table.

“Boneless appetit!” I said.

Then I sat down to eat and remarked on the good service. Because it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full, nobody agreed.

Later, I brought out dessert, which included grasshopper pie for Sue and Lauren (I repeated Anilee’s joke, but again there was no response) and ice cream for Chloe, 3, who chirped, “Thank you, Poppie!”

At least she appreciated my efforts.

So, actually, did Sue, Lauren and Guillaume, who acknowledged that I tried my best. Sue even left me a nice tip, which went into the till for Anilee and the other servers, all of whom work hard and are unfailingly cheerful and efficient.

“You may need a little more training,” Anilee said when my shift was over, “but you didn’t do a bad job.”

“And we’re still in business,” said John Wittmeier, who with his brother, Otto, co-owns the Modern Snack Bar, which has been in the family since 1950. “Even you couldn’t ruin us. But just to be safe,” he added with a grateful smile, “don’t quit your day job.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Joking Till the Cows Come Home"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Even though I have always been more apt to milk a joke than a cow, which can create udder confusion (see what I mean?), I have long wanted to be a gentleman farmer.

First, of course, I’d have to become a gentleman, which would ruin my reputation, or what’s left of it.

Then I’d have to buy the farm, which both my banker and my doctor say I am not ready to do.

So I recently did the next best thing: I went to Ty Llwyd Farm in Northville, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island, and met Dave Wines, who is both a gentleman and a farmer.

I also met June-Bug, a calf who has developed a bond with my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe previously visited Ty Llwyd, a Welsh name pronounced Tee Luid, meaning “Brown House,” with her mommy, my younger daughter, Lauren, a member of the Southold Mothers’ Club, which arranged the trip.

“The kids had a nice time,” Dave recalled. “June-Bug took a liking to your granddaughter. She gave her lots of kisses and wanted to follow her out.”

“Maybe June-Bug will like me, too,” I said hopefully.

But first I watched as Dave meticulously planted a row of carrots. It was in a part of the 30-acre farm on the east side of the, yes, brown house. At the entrance, where there’s a west side story, visitors are greeted with these signs: “New York Permitted Raw Milk,” “Chicken Manure” and “Caution: Ducks.”

Dave, who’s 67 and fit as a fiddle, even though he doesn’t play one, was on his hands and knees, holding a little plastic doohickey (a farming term meaning “doohickey”) that contained carrot seeds. He used his right index finger to tap the seeds, one by one, into a long indentation in the dirt.

“Do you like our modern equipment?” asked Dave, adding that the farm has been in his family since 1872.

As he inched his way along, a process that took half an hour, Dave told me about an uncle of his who lived off the land and was, as a result, strong and healthy.

“He was in his 80s and his doctor had put him on a special diet,” Dave remembered. “He came over one day and said he wasn’t on the diet anymore. I asked him why. He said, ‘My doctor died.’ ”

Dave isn’t on a special diet, even though his doctor is still alive, but he does abstain from alcohol.

“When people find out what my last name is, they say I should open a winery,” Dave said. “But there are enough of those out here. Besides, I’m a teetotaler. I drink milk.”

I have more than made up for Dave’s lack of wine consumption, but I am now sold on his milk, which is the best I have ever tasted.

His son Christopher, who lives on the farm, is Ty Llwyd’s “milk man,” said Dave, adding that he has another son, Thomas, who lives in Boston, and a daughter, Judy, who lives in upstate New York.

“They’re in their 30s,” Dave said. “I forget their exact ages because the numbers keep changing. It’s hard to keep up.”

Dave’s wife, Liz, was born in Wales, where she and Dave were married.

“Today is our 42nd anniversary,” Dave announced proudly.

When I wished the delightful couple a happy anniversary, Liz said, “I’m celebrating by collecting eggs.”

She said the farm’s 1,200 chickens produce 65 dozen eggs a day. She also said Ty Llwyd has 33 cows.

“How much milk do they produce?” I asked Dave.

“A lot,” he answered, adding, “I told you I’m bad with numbers.”

After giving me a tour of the farm, which has plenty of modern equipment, Dave introduced me to June-Bug, who was in a fenced-in area with her fellow calves: Cassandra, Cricket, Flower, Millie and Twinkle. They all had name tags on their ears.

“Hi, June-Bug,” I said. “I’m Chloe’s grandfather.”

The sweet calf walked up and started kissing me with her large, rough tongue. The others kept their distance.

“She likes you,” Dave noted.

“It must run in the family,” I bragged.

“When she’s old enough, you should come back and milk her,” Dave said. “And that’s no joke.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"The Breakfast Club"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Because I am so culinarily challenged that both the fire department and the nearest emergency room have to be on alert whenever I try to get creative in the kitchen, I will never be a short-order cook.

But my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, has all the ingredients to be one: She’s short, she follows orders and, as it turns out, she can cook.

I discovered this recently when Chloe stayed overnight with me and my wife, Sue, who’s pretty hot in the kitchen. She does all the cooking in our house with the exception of Saturday morning breakfast, which I make for myself because Sue, perhaps wisely, thinks it’s safer to have just a muffin and a cup of coffee.

I prefer to have a lot to eat because breakfast is one of my three favorite meals of the day. So I fire up the stove and make eggs and sausage.

On this particular morning, Chloe was there to lend a little helping hand.

First, we got up, which is always recommended if you want to have breakfast or, generally, a long life. On weekends, I like to sleep in (which is better than sleeping out, especially if it’s raining) and get up in time to have a late breakfast. The best thing about having a late breakfast is that as soon as you’re done, it’s time for lunch.

Chloe, on the other hand, likes to get up with the chickens, whose eggs we would be using to make an early breakfast.

We chose two eggs, a white one and a brown one.

“The brown one has a nice tan,” I told Chloe.

“A nice tan!” she repeated.

Then she got her little step stool, which she ordinarily uses to wash her hands after going potty, and brought it into the kitchen. She stepped up so she could reach the counter and, carefully following my instructions, which I often don’t follow too carefully myself, cracked the white egg. It started to run, so I helped her dump the contents, including a few small pieces of shell, into a glass bowl.

“Be careful or the yolk will be on you,” I said.

Chloe didn’t get Poppie’s lame joke, but she giggled anyway.

She did the same when I said, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of my eggs.”

Sue, who was within earshot, rolled the whites of her eyes.

We repeated the process (minus the jokes) with the brown egg.

Next I asked Chloe to place three sausage links in a pan. Only two came out of the box.

“Where’s the other one?” I asked Chloe. “It must be the missing link.”

At this, Sue exited the kitchen.

Chloe fished the third link out of the box and placed it in the pan, which I put on the stove. I turned on the heat.

“Be careful, Honey,” I said. “It’s hot.”

“It’s hot, Poppie!” Chloe declared as she turned her attention back to the eggs, which she whipped into a creamy mixture with a whisk. She did a much better job than I usually do.

Then I got another pan, into which Chloe poured the eggs. I put the pan on the stove, next to the one with the sausage, and returned to the counter to slice a bagel before putting it in the toaster.

“Do you know what kind of bagel this is?” I asked Chloe. When she was stumped, I said, “Poppie seed!”

“Poppie seed!” she echoed with a big smile.

After Chloe used a wooden spoon to stir the eggs in the pan to a perfect consistency, I placed them, along with the sausage and the toasted bagel, on a plate. Then we went over to the kitchen table, where she sat on my lap to share a delicious breakfast.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Chloe got her own cooking show. Until then, I can proudly say that making eggs with her is a delightfully mad scramble.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima