Sunday, September 15, 2019

"New Grandkids Double the Fun"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
In my younger days, which date back to the last century, I was a two-fisted drinker, with a bottle in each hand and one large mouth to fill.

In my older days, which date back to last month, I was a two-fisted feeder, with a bottle in each hand and two small mouths to fill.

The latter scenario took place when my wife, Sue, and I met our new twin grandchildren, Zoe and Quinn.

Our older daughter, Katie, had given birth to the dynamic duo three weeks before Sue and I visited for seven days and (more important) nights, during which we helped Katie and our son-in-law Dave with babysitting Zoe, Quinn and their big brother, Xavier, who is 2 and a half and is a sweet boy who loves his little siblings even more than he loves playing with me, which he did constantly at home, at a friend’s house and at a birthday party to which I, a bigger kid than any of the toddler guests, was invited.

The two bottles came into play when I fed Zoe and her younger (by 25 minutes) brother, Quinn, both of whom have healthy appetites that must be sated simultaneously to keep them on the same schedule.

This entailed, often between the wee small hours of 1 and 4 a.m., placing them on either side of me while using an ingenious invention called My Brest Friend, a nursing pillow that wraps around the feeder to ensure that always the twins shall eat.

I did double duty several times and even did quadruple duty (two twin feedings in one night) twice. I also did double doody (dual diaper detail) each time I did double duty, always before the feedings but sometimes directly afterward, too, which is doubly daunting for a geezer working on precious little sleep.

The greatest challenge was getting the bottles into both mouths and keeping the babies balanced while each guzzled between two and four ounces of 100 percent, all-natural mother’s milk.

At halftime, there was burping. The babies also had to be burped, then fed the remainder of their meal, after which further eructations had to be coaxed before they could be swaddled (the only part at which I did not excel) and put back in their bassinets to sleep it off while I attempted to do the same on a nearby couch.

Two hours later, it was feeding time again.

Katie, who is nursing, had the most important role, of course. Dave did double duty with the pillow, but Sue never got the hang of it because, she said, “I’m too short.” During the day, she fed either Zoe or Quinn while I fed the other.

Xavier provided moral support, saying hello to his infant siblings and kissing them in a touching display of brotherly love.

He also provided moral support to Nini and Poppie, by which Sue and I are known to our five grandchildren, who now number enough for a (very short) basketball team.

Xavier helped Sue make blueberry bread and meatball pizza, which he scarfed down for breakfast and dinner, respectively. And he helped me be uncharacteristically useful by reading to him, driving his toy trucks and trains, and engaging in spirited games of hide-and-seek.

“Xavier has joined the Cult of Poppie,” Katie remarked, noting that his cousins, Chloe and Lilly, are already members and that Zoe and Quinn are applying for admission.

They proved it by spitting up on me after a nighttime feeding. The next morning, I attended the aforementioned birthday party with Xavier and Katie in a T-shirt streaked with spit-up stains.

But I didn’t care. Meeting my newest grandchildren was a twin-win situation.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 1, 2019

"Something's Fishy in Our House"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Over the years, the fish population of our humble home has rivaled that of the Seven Seas, which is no fluke considering that the average lifespan of our fine finny friends has been approximately the length of the Super Bowl halftime show.

When my daughters, Katie and Lauren, were kids, our goldfish would go belly-up so often that you could set your watch by them, although only if your watch was waterproof.

As two little girls sobbed uncontrollably, my wife, Sue, and I would perform a solemn toilet-side service that involved flushing the deceased to kingdom come.

We did have one fish, however, that lived a good, long life. His name was Curly. He was the bowl mate of Moe and Larry, who died within minutes of each other, probably in a suicide pact. Curly lived for weeks, only to meet a tragic demise.

One day I opened a kitchen cabinet and a bottle of vitamins fell out. It plummeted into the fish bowl and brained Curly.

“You killed our fish!” Katie and Lauren wailed.

Naturally, I felt terrible and offered them comforting words: “They were Mommy’s vitamins.”

We had no more fish until recently, when our granddaughter Chloe, who is 6, said she wanted us to get a fish for our house. Her little sister, Lilly, who is 2 and a half, eagerly concurred.

Their fish, Igor, lives at their house.

“You have to get one, too,” Chloe said.

So we went to a nearby pet store on a fishing expedition.

“I want a girl fish,” Chloe said. “She has to be pink. And I want to name her Camilla.”

“Like Camilla Parker Bowles?” Sue asked, referring to Prince Charles’ wife.

“No,” said Chloe, who doesn’t pay attention to the royal family. “She’ll be Camilla Parker Zezima.”

“And,” I chimed in, “she’ll live in the Camilla Parker bowl.”

Chloe picked a light pink betta fish with dark pink fins. We got matching pink pebbles for the bottom of the bowl. We also got some fish food.

At the checkout counter, a cashier named Rufus inquired about the size of our fish bowl, which held 16 ounces of water.

“You should get a tank that holds at least two and a half gallons,” Rufus said. “Think of the fish’s quality of life.”

Unfortunately, Camilla’s life wasn’t long. She lasted 48 hours.

Chloe and Lilly, who had gone back to their house, where Igor, a blue boy betta, still swims happily in a 16-ounce bowl, were blissfully unaware that Camilla now resided in the suburban equivalent of Davy Jones’ Locker.

I went back to the pet store and bought another betta that looks exactly like Camilla except that it’s a male.

“I guess you could say the fish is gender-fluid,” I told a salesman named Matt.

He agreed, noting that Chloe and Lilly would never know the difference. Then he sold me a one-gallon bowl.

“I’m going to put it on the liquor cabinet,” I said, “so I can say he drinks like a fish.”

At the checkout counter, a cashier named Mary told me that she had a betta male that lived for 12 years.

“His name was Skipper,” Mary said. “He was exactly the color of your fish. And he was really sweet. He would come up to the surface so I could pet him. Sadly, he passed on. They don’t live forever.”

So far, the new Camilla has lived about a month. And, sure enough, Chloe and Lilly were none the wiser when they came over for a visit.

“I want to bring Igor to your house so he can have a sleepover with Camilla,” Chloe said.

“I don’t know about that,” I whispered to Sue. “I’m afraid they’ll end up sleeping with the fishes.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 18, 2019

"Pooling Our Resources"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Now that we are in the dog days of summer, and the heat makes dogs pant so much that they don’t even wear pants, it can safely be said that most people would give their right arms for a pool, which kind of defeats the purpose because they’d end up swimming in circles.

Nonetheless, a pool not only provides watery fun for homeowners — as well as their neighbors, who may or may not have been invited for a swim and often refuse to leave, causing the owners to either call the cops or put the house on the market — but it is a sure sign of status.

This leads neighbors without such luxuries to ask the following questions:

How can the Zezimas afford a pool?

Why don’t they invite us for a swim?

And, most pertinent, what the hell is gunite?

According to Merriam-Webster, who has a dictionary-shaped pool, gunite is “a building material consisting of a mixture of cement, sand and water that is sprayed onto a mold” and is used in luxury swimming pools.

I don’t want to brag, because the neighbors might hear me, but we have not one, not two, but three pools.

That they are of the kiddie variety is beside the point.

The kiddies are my granddaughters Chloe, 6, and her sister, Lilly, 2 and a half, who love to frolic in four inches of grass-flecked water while my wife, Sue, and I sit poolside in rickety beach chairs, attired stylishly in saggy T-shirts and ketchup-stained shorts while quaffing lukewarm summer ales straight out of the bottle, a sure sign of status.

Instead of gunite, these pools are made of good, old-fashioned, earth-destroying plastic and come in small, medium and large.

The biggest is 70 inches across and is lined with pictures of dinosaurs, which probably reminds the kids of their grandparents. It is filled not with special water from massive delivery trucks used by the rich and famous for their elaborate pools, but with what comes out of a garden hose. It is invariably cold enough to give a walrus pneumonia.

We use an energy-efficient heating system powered by either the sun or, if it is playing peekaboo with the clouds, boiled water from a teakettle.

Whereas the elite surround their pools with sophisticated landscaping that includes colorful pavers, sculpted rocks and finely manicured hillocks, we have a natural look featuring a broken walkway that hasn’t been repaired in more than a dozen years.

On one side is monstrous vegetation that includes an out-of-control holly bush, two ugly hydrangeas and Sue’s garden, which has so far produced only a handful of hot peppers and even fewer tomatoes. On the other side is an above-ground oil tank that is utterly useless for heating pool water.

You may have seen how Hollywood stars adorn their pools with elaborate waterfalls or artificial geysers that shoot water high enough to splash their private jets.

We have a little round sprinkler with plastic flowers. It sends water about 10 feet into the air. The girls like to run under the falling spray, which sometimes gets cut off if there is a kink in the hose. It is my job to fix the problem and get soaked in the process.

This vastly amuses my granddaughters, who then want me to stand in ankle-deep pool water with them and play with their toys. These aren’t battleship-size floats but squirt guns and action figures we otherwise keep in a soggy shopping bag.

For the girls’ next pool party, Sue has gone all out and bought a box of ice pops. The neighbors, I am sure, will be jealous.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Don't Call Me, I'll Call You"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a man who has always had a lot of hang-ups about the telephone, especially since the only people who want to talk with me are scammers and telemarketers, I wouldn’t be sorry to know that Alexander Graham Bell is spending eternity being bombarded with robocalls.

It used to be that all you needed to know about the telephone was that you said “hello” when you picked it up and “goodbye” when you put it down. Now you have to take a class to learn how to use the latest system.

That’s why I recently found myself, along with about two dozen colleagues, in the auditorium at work to get a crash course in the “softphones” we would soon be using.

The phones are soft not because they are made of Silly Putty, which would at least make them fun, if a bit messy since they’d stick to our ears, but because they don’t, physically, exist.

According to two very nice IT guys named Brenden and Vinny, who conducted the class, the phones will be embedded in our computers.

“You won’t have phones on your desks anymore,” Brenden told the group.

“If you want to make or receive a call,” Vinny added, “you’ll have to do it on-screen.”

I raised my hand.

“If I’m doing something on the computer and a call comes in, I have to stop, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” Brenden said.

“So if I’m on the phone all day,” I wondered, “does that mean I don’t have to do any work?”

“I guess so,” Vinny replied.

“That’s all I wanted to know,” I said to the appreciative chuckles of my co-workers.

One of them, Christine, who works in advertising, sat next to me.

“Let’s exchange phone numbers,” I said.

“If I talked with you all day, I wouldn’t make any sales and I’d lose my job,” Christine noted.

“If I lost my job,” I countered, “nobody would notice.”

“What do you do?” she asked.

“As little as possible,” I told her.

Someone else asked a question that, unlike mine, was actually pertinent: “If I’m having computer problems and need technical support, how am I supposed to call you?”

Brenden and Vinny looked at each other.

“We haven’t quite figured that out,” said Vinny.

“Call us on your cellphone,” Brenden suggested.

Christine leaned over to me and said, “So we need two phones to replace the one we’re losing.”

“Modern technology marches on!” I responded.

The technology is named Cisco Jabber. According to an online dictionary, which I couldn’t use if I were on the phone, jabber means to “talk rapidly and excitedly but with little sense.”

“I do that even when I’m not on the phone,” I told Christine, who smiled politely but did not disagree.

Brenden and Vinny used a large screen to show us the new system, which was pretty impressive. A week after they finished the employee classes, the system went live, though we still, for now, have our old phones, too.

That gave me a chance to call myself. I put on my headset, logged on to Jabber on my computer, punched in the number of my desk phone and clicked. My desk phone rang. I picked it up.

“Hello?” I said in a loud, clear voice. “Oh, it’s me. How are you? Slacking off again, I see. Don’t you have any work to do or are you going to stay on the phone all day?”

My colleagues stopped what they were doing, which included the work I wasn’t doing, and listened.

“Well,” I continued, “I have to go. It’s time for a coffee break. Bye!”

Then I called Christine, but she didn’t answer. I guess she was on her new softphone, making a sale. It beats talking with me all day.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Lesson No. 1: Those Are the Brakes"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Here is today’s safe driving question:

If you are approaching the stop sign in front of my house, do you: (a) stop, (b) slow down to the posted speed limit, look to see if a cop is parked on the corner and breeze past or (c) pretend you are at the finish line in the Indianapolis 500 and blow right through?

If you answered either (b) or (c), you are part of the vast majority of vehicular maniacs who menace my neighborhood and deserve not only to get a ticket but to have the accelerator shoved up your nose.

You also should take an online refresher course so you will be a better driver and, ideally, not obliterate my car as I am backing out of the driveway.

I am proud, happy and really fatigued to say that I recently took a six-hour safe driving course sponsored by AARP, which wants older motorists such as yours truly to be more aware of the rules of the road, to compensate for diminished physical and mental skills and — this is most important — to stop driving 20 miles per hour in the left lane of a highway with their blinkers on.

As a person who always puts safety first, I took the course for a vital and selfless reason: to get a discount on my car insurance.

After logging in to the AARP Smart Driver Online Course and paying the $25 fee, I was introduced to two nice instructors named Joe and Maria, who would be guiding me through the class and giving me quizzes at the end of the half-dozen sections.

It was like taking driver’s ed in high school except that I didn’t actually have to drive and give the teacher a heart attack while accidentally flooring it and jumping the curb as I pulled out of the parking lot.

The first thing I learned is that I probably should let somebody else drive. That’s because I am 65 years old and, according to Joe and Maria, who look to be 45, no longer have the reflexes, dexterity and keen eyesight of 25-year-olds. I must admit that they are far better equipped to speed, weave in and out of traffic, run red lights and give one-finger salutes while texting, playing video games, drinking steaming hot coffee or — and this takes special skill — applying eyeliner.

Maybe they shouldn’t be driving, either.

But I was encouraged because Joe and Maria told me that I could sharpen my skills and continue to be a safe driver if I remembered the valuable lessons taught in the course. They included approaching intersections, merging into traffic, knowing the effects of prescription medication, preparing for trips and checking the tires, though not while the car is moving.

In extreme circumstances, they strongly implied, I should just pull over and get the hell out of the way.

Joe and Maria have never driven with me, but I appreciated their confidence.

It turned out that I still know a lot about safe driving because I aced all the quizzes. And I picked up some important tips, like avoiding drivers who are going either too fast or too slow. Joe and Maria didn’t state the obvious, but that includes everybody else.

Nonetheless, I am glad I took the course, which I did over several evenings. I would encourage all drivers of AARP age to take it, too.

In fact, now that I have graduated, motor cum laude, I am volunteering to join Joe and Maria as an instructor.

If I could only get all those idiots to stop blowing through the stop sign in front of my house, I’d feel a lot safer.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 7, 2019

"Field Day Comes Off My Bucket List"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Anyone who knows me and is willing to admit it, which severely narrows the field, knows that I always have a field day with my grandchildren. But I recently had a real one at my granddaughter’s elementary school, where I was a volunteer for — what are the odds? — Field Day.

I signed up for the water relay, one of several events that would give me a heart attack if I competed in them. But it was the only one that proved, as if anyone needed verification, that I am all wet.

My granddaughter Chloe, 6, and her kindergarten classmates were the youngest of the participants, all of whom showed an unbeatable combination of athletic ability and sportsmanship.

I will modestly admit that I was a pretty fair athlete in my day. Unfortunately, that day was June 12, 1960, when I was Chloe’s age. I have been regressing ever since.

My partner in officiating the water relay was Jimmy Smith, with whom I have worked for many years (that’s only half right: he’s worked, I haven’t) and whose daughter, Sarah, 7, a second-grader, also was one of the participants.

The object of the relay was for students to dip a plastic cup into a bucket of water, run to another bucket several yards away, dump the cup of water into the second bucket and run back to the first bucket, where it was the next student’s turn. This was repeated until either time or water ran out and I was splashed so much that I looked like I had just emerged from a deep-sea expedition.

“I’m glad we put this on our bucket list,” I told Jimmy. “I just hope we don’t kick the bucket.”

“Then people could say we were in the bucket brigade,” he replied helpfully.

Jimmy used the watch on his phone (only Dick Tracy has a phone on his watch) to time each relay, which lasted for five minutes.

Two teams — blue and yellow — competed in the various events, which included obstacle course, potato sack race, hippity-hop race, hoop relay and 50-yard sprint.

Unwittingly, which is how I do almost everything, I wore a blue T-shirt. It was perfect because blue is Chloe’s favorite color (along with pink) and she was on the blue team.

But she wasn’t in the first few relays. Instead, she was competing in other events, being cheered on by her little sister, Lilly, who is 2 and a half, and my daughter Lauren, who is their mommy.

My job was to stand by the blue team’s second bucket and exhort the players by saying: “Hurry up!” (if they weren’t hurrying), “That’s OK!” (if they slipped or got more water on my shoes than in the bucket) and “Good job!” (if they did a good job, which all of them did).

One of the best players was Sarah, a sweet and funny girl who is a natural athlete.

Either because of or in spite of my dubious coaching efforts, the blue team won most of the relays.

During one of the breaks, I went back to my car to get a wide-brimmed hat to shield me from the relentless sun.

“Are you going on safari?” Jimmy asked.

“Safari, so good!” I retorted.

“With us,” he suggested, “all that’s missing is the third Stooge.”

Until the last relay, Chloe had been missing, too. But she showed up with her blue team classmates for the final run. I asked her to help demonstrate what to do and she pulled it off flawlessly.

During the relay, all the kids did a great job. That was especially true of Chloe, who ran fast and didn’t spill a drop.

It was a fitting conclusion to a Field Day of Dreams.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 23, 2019

"The Height of Folly"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Because I suffer from acrophobia, which is an irrational fear of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head, I would rather have a root canal while listening to a telemarketer than get up on the roof of my house, a two-story Colonial that could give a mountain goat nosebleeds.

But I got up there recently with a fearless young man who came over to give me an estimate for a new roof.

“I never realized I was petrified of heights until we bought this house and I had to clean the gutters every fall,” I told Anthony Amini, who owns the company that my wife, Sue, and I were considering for the job. “Even the word ‘fall’ makes me nervous.”

“You should have gotten gutter guards,” Anthony said.

“I did,” I replied. “Now I don’t have to get up on the roof anymore.”

“Except for today,” said Anthony, who agreed to my frankly stupid request to accompany him on a trip atop the Mount Everest of houses.

As Anthony put a ladder against the family room extension, which at one story has the lowest of our three roofs, I asked, “Are you afraid of heights?”

“No,” Anthony responded.

“Have you ever fallen off a roof?” I wanted to know.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” he said.

“What’s your secret?” I inquired.

“Don’t look down,” Anthony answered.

I didn’t even want to look up. But I had to as I began my ascent, which took so long that it could have been timed with a sundial.

“This isn’t so bad, is it?” Anthony said as I stood, knees shaking, next to our leaky skylight, which he said needed to be replaced.

“Skylights are great on sunny days,” I told him, “but otherwise, they’re floods waiting to happen.”

Even though we were only about 10 feet up, Anthony complimented me on my bravery after I was back on terra firma, a Latin term meaning “the place where you will be buried if you fall off the roof.”

But the coward in me came out, in pathetic whimpers, when I had to climb to the top of the house.

Remembering Anthony’s admonition not to look down, I stared into a second-story window and saw my reflection, which bore a frightening resemblance to the Edvard Munch painting “The Scream,” except with a mustache.

When I had reached the summit and surveyed my kingdom, which costs a king’s ransom in property taxes, I exclaimed, “Look, it’s the Great Wall of China!”

“That’s your fence,” Anthony noted.

He said our altitude was about 30 feet. It seemed like 30,000 feet. A plane flew past. I waved to the pilot.

“You’re doing great,” Anthony said as I stood stock-still, my feet straddling the crown of the roof, afraid to move. “You can join my crew. I’ll have you carry up shingles.”

“I may have to be carried down,” I stammered.

Then I noticed that my right sneaker was untied. Anthony bent down to lace it up, making a double knot.

“I’ve done it for my kids,” he said.

I slowly made my way back to the ladder and climbed down, only to climb up again, this time to the roof above the garage, kitchen and laundry room, a mere 18 feet high.

As he did on the other parts of the roof, Anthony took measurements and showed me what needed to be done.

Later, as Sue and I sat with Anthony in the kitchen, where he gave us a reasonable estimate, I said, “I just renewed my life insurance policy.”

“Looks like I’ll have to wait to collect,” said Sue.

“Your husband is very courageous,” Anthony told her.

“Coming from you,” I said with a sigh of relief, “that’s high praise.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima