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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"One for the Aged"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Now that I have reached 62, the age at which geezers such as yours truly are eligible to take Social Security payments, I have made an important discovery.

No, it’s not where I put my glasses, because I don’t wear them, though I do use glasses to drink red wine, which I consider over-the-counter heart medicine.

My discovery is that I am now being carded again. But not when I buy wine, which is not surprising since I am almost three times as old as the minimum drinking age of 21. If you invert those numbers, however, you will get my maturity level.

I am being carded for practically everything else because I am according to the U.S. government, whose taxes often tax my heart, which is where red wine comes in handy a senior citizen.

A dozen years ago, I became eligible to join AARP, which stands for the American Association of Retired Persons, even though I can only now start getting retirement benefits but can’t get full payments until I am 66.

At the rate I am being taxed, unfortunately, I will be working posthumously.

Still, I have been eligible for senior-citizen discounts since I was 55 (inverting those numbers does no good) and have often been given the benefit of lower prices without being carded, which makes me wonder if I look like a geezer to younger people, which these days is just about everybody else.

Last year, for example, I went to the aquarium with my daughter, my son-in-law and my granddaughter. After handing the young (of course) person at the register my debit card to cover the $22 charge, my daughter said, “You should have asked for a senior-citizen discount.”

The young (of course) person at the register looked up at me and said, “I already gave it to you.”

“Is it that obvious?” I asked.

She smiled and handed me a receipt for $20.

I guess it was a fair trade-off.

What I don’t understand, in addition to everything else, is how the U.S. government calculates who is eligible for what, at what age they have to be to get whatever it is they are eligible for, and — this is the most important part — if the people making these decisions were drunk when they did so.

Take half-years. They are very important to toddlers, who don’t say they are 3, the age my granddaughter will turn next month. Instead, they insist they are “thwee and a half.”

This stops at approximately age 5 and doesn’t become important again until that period of time halfway between ages 59 and 60, at which point, according to a bunch of government employees who obviously had been out on a three-day bender, you have to be 59 1/2 to take penalty-free withdrawals from any of your retirement accounts, even though you can’t retire until you are 62, 66 or somewhere in between. I am reasonably certain, however, that you cannot be dead, in which case you have to pay another tax.

Another important half-year is 70 1/2, when you’re required to begin taking money from your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, with the exception of a Roth IRA or your 401(k), if you're still working.

Since my name isn’t Roth, there isn’t enough money in my 401(k) for me to live on for more than the equivalent of one baseball season, there is no account on earth in which taxes are an advantage, and I am still working, though not to the satisfaction of my employer, I guess this won’t do me much good.

I would jump off a bridge, but first, of course, I’d have to pay a toll.

In fact, this whole thing is taking a toll on me. The only solution is to use the not-entirely-feeble excuse that I am old and ought to be forgiven for not understanding what the hell all these rules and regulations mean.

In the meantime, I think I’ll have a glass of wine.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 28, 2016

"The Paper Chase"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As an old newspaperman living in a digital age, I am often asked if print will survive. My answer is yes, and for a very important reason: You can’t wrap fish in a website. Besides, what are you supposed to do, housebreak your dog on an iPad?

That’s why my columns, aside from their obvious benefit of being a cure for insomnia, are so valuable.
If one thing has irrevocably changed, however, it’s newspaper delivery, which used to be done by kids on bikes. Now it’s done by adults in cars.

In my never-ending quest for column material that can be used by puppy owners to keep their carpets clean, I recently rode with Lucille Marshak, a newspaper carrier whose best delivery on a dark and stormy night wasn’t the newspaper but, fittingly, a dog.

I met Lucille at a gas station at 3:45 a.m. and climbed into the back of her 2011 Kia Sedona, which already has nearly 200,000 miles on it and was filled with hundreds of newspapers that Lucille unfailingly delivers, every day except Christmas, through rain, snow, sleet and gloom of night.

On this gloomy night, it was rain that Lucille had to drive through.

I told her that my younger daughter used to deliver our hometown paper, The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut, when she was about 12 and that I once took over for her on a Sunday morning when she was sleeping at a friend’s house.

“It was murder,” I added. “I had to lug those heavy papers in a bag around the neighborhood. And I didn’t even have a bike.”

“Kids don’t do that anymore,” said Lucille, who is 61 and for the past 25 years has been delivering Newsday of Long Island, New York, where I now live.

As we made our way through the wooded back roads of Lucille’s long and winding route, which was eerily illuminated by the headlights of her car, a dog suddenly appeared out of the fog.

“I spoke with the owners earlier,” said Lucille, who began at 1 a.m., “and promised I’d  be on the lookout for the dog.”

The dog apparently was on the lookout for Lucille, who pulled over and, at my suggestion, opened the back door. The pooch, a beautiful husky, hopped in and shook herself off, giving me the shower I didn’t have time to take.

“Do you have to go to the bathroom?” I asked the dog. “We have plenty of newspapers.”

The grateful canine, who didn’t take advantage of my offer, for which I was grateful, slobbered me in kisses.

When Lucille pulled up to the dog’s house, her sibling owners, Chris and Jenna Dooley, both in their 20s, came running out. Their father, Charles, stood at the door.

“I was walking on the wet road in a pair of socks, calling her in the rain,” said Chris, adding that the dog’s name is Dakota and that she’s almost 2 years old. “My friend was over and when he opened the door to leave, she scooted out.”

It was now 4:15, way past Dakota’s bedtime.

“Come on, Dakota, let’s go inside,” said Chris. But Dakota didn’t want to leave, preferring to snuggle with me. Eventually she relented and went with Chris, who put her on a leash. “Thank you so much,” he said.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” asked Lucille, who extended her hand out the driver’s-side window and said, “Here’s your paper.”

For the next four hours, Lucille regaled me with stories, like the one about the woman who came out to get the paper naked, and the one about the angry guy who chased her in his car and tried to run her off the road because he didn’t want an advertising supplement.

She also showed me how to make a perfect hook shot, left-handed (she’s a righty) and over the roof of the car, to get the paper to land in subscribers’ driveways.

Then there was the Stolen Paper Caper, which occurred on the route of Lucille’s husband, Ron, who co-owns the family delivery service, which has included their three now-grown children.

“Two women were arrested for taking papers because they wanted the coupons,” Lucille recalled. “Ron and I were interviewed on TV.”

Ironically, a guy in my neighborhood has been stealing papers, including mine, while he walks his dog.

“Maybe the dog isn’t housebroken,” suggested Lucille, who has two dogs of her own and plenty of canine friends on her route.

“If it will help,” I said at the end of a fascinating night in which I saw how hard Lucille, Ron and other newspaper carriers work, “I’ll give the guy copies of my column. His dog will be greatly relieved.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima