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

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Chloe and Poppie Go to the White House"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Since becoming a grandfather two years ago, I’ve really been on a roll. But nothing could top taking my granddaughter, Chloe, to Washington, D.C., for the White House Easter Egg Roll.

On Easter Sunday, I (known to Chloe as Poppie) drove from Long Island, New York, to the nation’s capital with my wife, Sue (Nini); our younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); and, of course, Chloe (Chloe). We stayed with our older daughter, Katie (Aunt Katie), and her husband, Dave (Uncle Dave), who live and work in Washington.

Katie, a Washington Post reporter who until recently had covered the White House (she’s now on the campaign trail for the paper), got four tickets to the Easter Egg Roll, a national tradition dating back to the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, whose wife, known as Lemonade Lucy, banned alcoholic beverages from the White House. In keeping with a family tradition, Katie and Dave had them at their house.

The next day which was 75 degrees and sunny, with a refreshing breeze and no humidity, a rarity in D.C. Chloe, Lauren, Sue and I showed up at the waiting area, tickets in hand and ready to roll.

We had plenty of company. Over the course of the day, which began at 7:30 a.m., about 35,000 people converged on the White House grounds. We were in the last group — our time slot was 4:45-6:45 p.m. — but the line was still so long that we must have been in a different ZIP code.

At the checkpoint, Sue and Lauren had to empty their pocketbooks.

“I don’t carry a pocketbook,” I told one of the agents.

“That’s OK, sir,” he responded. “Empty your pockets.”

He went through my wallet.

“Please don’t harm the moths,” I said.

He kept a straight face and handed it back to me.

Even Chloe’s bag was searched.

“Those diapers aren’t mine,” I noted.

I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested.

As we waited in line, Lauren asked an Egg Roll volunteer named Sheila if Peppa Pig, Chloe’s favorite cartoon character, was still there.

“Yes,” Sheila replied.

“How about President and Mrs. Obama?” I asked.

“They were here this morning,” Sheila said.

“My granddaughter won’t mind,” I said. “She’ll be more excited to see Peppa.”

At that point, Chloe wasn’t excited about anything. In fact, she was sleeping in her stroller.

A volunteer named Jean offered to write Lauren’s phone number on Chloe’s wrist band in case Chloe got lost.

“I’m always being told to get lost,” I said. “Will you put my wife’s phone number on my wrist band?”

“No,” said Jean. “Nobody in your family is going to come and get you.”

I felt sorry for Jean, who said she had been there since the gates opened that morning. “It’s been a long day,” she said wearily. “After this, I’m going home and having a cocktail.”

“Where do you live?” I asked. “We’ll join you.”

“Come on over,” Jean said.

After about 45 minutes, we finally reached the South Lawn of the White House, which was swarming with excited kids, costumed characters, friendly volunteers, awestruck parents and one confused grandfather.

The star of the show — Chloe, of course — woke up as we approached the Egg Roll area. I had the honor of accompanying her.

A volunteer named Carolyn handed Chloe a wooden spoon so she could roll an orange hard-boiled egg down a grassy lane about 10 yards long. There were several other lanes, each with a spoon-wielding child and an adult.

The race was on. Or it would have been if I hadn’t dropped the egg in front of Chloe and across the starting line before the whistle blew.

“I cheated, didn’t I?” I said sheepishly.

“Yes, you did,” Carolyn replied.

Then she blew the whistle. The crowd roared.

“Come on, Chloe!” I cried, showing her how to roll the egg with her wooden spoon.

She’s only 2, so she didn’t quite get the hang of it at first, but she figured it out in pretty short order and — with help from Poppie — made her way toward the finish line. Sue and Lauren cheered her on.

Chloe didn’t win, but she got the ultimate compliment from Carolyn: “We saved the best for last.”

Only one thing could have been better — a photo op with Peppa Pig. Sure enough, the pink porker and her younger brother, George, were greeting their little fans in the shadow of the South Portico. Chloe hugged them both and posed for pictures.

At day’s end, she was back in her stroller, holding a commemorative wooden egg signed by the Obamas’ dogs, Bo and Sunny.

The little girl had the time of her life. So did I because, as Chloe would agree, that’s the way Poppie rolls.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Chloe and Poppie Go to the Aquarium"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

My granddaughter, Chloe, who just turned 2, doesn’t know yet that her Poppie is fishy. And it didn’t seem to bother her that I’m all wet, too, when we took a trip recently to see some fine finny, flippered, feathered, furry and flighty friends at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead, New York.

Accompanying us on this exciting excursion were my younger daughter, Lauren, known to Chloe as Mommy, and my son-in-law Guillaume, aka Daddy.

When we arrived on a weekday morning, a couple of seals were already up (they start work early) and looking for breakfast in their outdoor exhibit.

“They’re gray seals,” an aquarium staffer said.

“They should use Miss Clairol,” I replied. “It would make them look younger.”

“Do you know the difference between seals and sea lions?” she asked.

“The spelling?” I guessed.

“Well, yes,” the staffer answered. “But seals don’t have ear flaps.”

“I suppose that means they don’t wear earrings,” I said.

“No,” the staffer said.

“That’s OK,” I said. “They still have my seal of approval.”

Chloe smiled.

Lauren rolled her eyes and said, “Come on, Dad. Let’s go inside.”

At the front desk, Lauren and Guillaume got in for free because they have an aquarium pass. Chloe also was admitted at no charge. My admission was $22.

“You could have gotten a senior citizen discount,” Lauren said after I had paid with a card.

“I already gave you one,” the young woman at the desk told me.

“Is it that obvious?” I asked.

“I do my job very well,” she said as she handed me a receipt for $20.

Chloe took me by the hand and we capered off. The exhibit she seemed to like best was the butterfly garden, where the colorful winged creatures flitted toward, past and all around us. From overhead pipes came an occasional spray of water to keep the humidity level just right.

“I should have brought soap,” I told another staffer. “Then I could take a shower.”

Next door was the aviary, where playful parrots perched.

“This is for the birds!” I said to Chloe.

She giggled and took me by the hand again so we could catch up to Mommy and Daddy, who had made their way to the shark tank, watery home to all kinds of fish, including what were the chances? sharks.

“These are nurse sharks,” I said. “There are no doctor sharks, but if you get bitten, you can sue and hire one of the sharks as your lawyer.”

I also pointed out a clownfish.

“Who’s a clownfish?” I asked Chloe.

“Poppie!” she answered correctly.

Then she led me through a couple of tunnels only big enough, supposedly, for kids. Outside, there was another tunnel, this one in the otter exhibit.

“There are two otters,” I told Chloe. “The first one and the otter one.”

Lauren and Guillaume groaned. Chloe giggled. Then she climbed into a child-size hot rod to pose for a picture.

Back inside, we saw stingrays, which were swimming in a pool.

“Do you know what all of them are named?” I asked.

“What?” said Guillaume.

“Ray.”

“I’m going to throw you in there with them,” Lauren said.

“I would be shocked,” I retorted.

Chloe may not have understood the depth we were, after all, in an aquarium of Poppie’s puns, but she was endlessly amused.

Then it was time for lunch. Chloe had her favorite: chicken nuggets and French fries.

“No fish?” I asked. “There are plenty to choose from.”

When lunch was over, Chloe was tired, but she wasn’t ready to go home. She  wanted to have more fun.

“Go to Poppie,” Guillaume told her.

“Poppie!” Chloe exclaimed as she jumped into my arms.

But it was, indeed, time to go, despite Chloe’s protests.

“We’ll come back,” I promised her as we walked out. “And Poppie will bring some Miss Clairol for the seals.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Mom's the Word for Kitty"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

At the risk of starting a scandal involving promiscuous sex and teenage pregnancy, I have been living in a cathouse for almost two decades. And the madam of the establishment was the mother of nine children.

I refer to Kitty, one of a quartet of felines that have resided in my humble and frequently fur-flown household over the years. At the ripe old age of 17, the notorious party girl has gone to that big litter box in the sky.

Kitty became a member of the family in 1998, when my wife, Sue, and I moved with our daughters, Katie and Lauren; our original cat, Ramona; and our dog, Lizzie, from our hometown of Stamford to Long Island, New York.

Not long afterward, I started getting strange phone calls at work.

“Meow,” purred the voice on the other end.

“Who is this?” I said the first time it happened.

It was Lauren, who would have turned our home into Old MacDonald’s Farm if she could have and was primarily responsible for Ramona, Lizzie and the veritable menagerie of goldfish, frogs, hamsters and gerbils we have fed, supported and done everything for but put through college.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“A cat,” Lauren replied.

“You already have a cat,” I said.

“Ramona’s an idiot,” Lauren declared. “I want a real cat.”

This went on for a couple of weeks until I finally relented.

“OK,” I said. “Go get a real cat.”

Lauren went to a nearby store it wasn’t a pet store where the owner had placed in the front window a box that housed a litter of kittens. Lauren picked one and, at the cost of absolutely nothing, which was approximately what the cat was worth, brought her home. We tabbed her Kitty, even though she wasn’t a tabby, until we could think of a better name for her. We couldn’t, and Kitty started responding to it, so the name stuck.

Unfortunately, Kitty also started responding to cats of the opposite sex. Unlike Ramona, who was strictly a house cat and probably too stupid to find her way home if we had let her out Kitty was a nature lover.

One day, I got another call from Lauren, who had just turned 16.

“Guess what, Dad!” she said excitedly. “You’re going to be a grandfather!”

I dropped the phone. When I recovered sufficiently to pick it up, I found out that Kitty was pregnant. In cat years, she was even younger than Lauren.

Kitty had a litter of four, two of which we found good homes for. The other two — a female Lauren named Bernice and a male she named Henry got to stay in our home.

Do you think motherhood ended Kitty’s wanton ways? Of course not. Shortly afterward, she was in a family way again. This time she had quintuplets, four of which were born one day under a bed. Kitty waited until the next day to have the fifth. I could have used a fifth myself.

We found good homes for all five kittens and took Kitty for a lady’s procedure, even though she was anything but a lady. As a precaution, we also arranged snip jobs for Henry and Bernice, who were starting to have a sibling revelry.

Thereafter, Kitty’s platonic affections were directed toward me, Sue and anyone else she encountered, including our real granddaughter, Chloe, who loved to pet her. Kitty was sweet, smart and small.

By contrast, Henry was practically the size of a mountain lion. He died a few years ago at age 12. Bernice, the sole surviving feline, eats like a mouse but is so fat she should have the word “Goodyear” emblazoned on her sides. She dwarfed Kitty, who ate constantly and wouldn’t have flinched if you had set off a string of firecrackers right next to her while she chowed down.

Now that Kitty is gone, we have cut down considerably on the food bills. Still, we miss the old girl. She was — pregnant pause — the cat’s meow.
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"Poppie Joins the Club"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing grander not even finding a pile of cash worth several hundred grand than being a grandparent.

I have been saying this to anyone who will listen, and anyone who won’t, which encompasses everybody, since the birth of my beautiful, adorable, precious, smart, sweet, funny, etc., granddaughter, Chloe, who is about to turn 2.

Now I can brag to even more people as a new member of the American Grandparents Association.

Membership in the AGA costs only $15 a year, all the better to save your money, which could be as much as the aforementioned windfall, so you can buy toys and ice cream for your grandchild, who is not, let’s face it, as wonderful as Chloe but must be pretty cute anyway.

According to the AGA website, grandparents.com, there are 70 million grandmothers and grandfathers in the United States. That includes my wife, Sue, and yours truly, known to Chloe as, respectively, Nini and Poppie.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I found out that the chairman and CEO of the American Grandparents Association, famed rock music impresario Steve Leber, also is known as Poppie to his seven grandchildren.

“I love that name,” Leber told me in a recent telephone conversation, adding that his late wife, Marion, was called Meme. “But it doesn’t matter what your grandchildren call you. The best part of being a grandparent is when they look up to you.”

“Chloe has to look up to me,” I said. “She’s not even 3 feet tall.”

“There’s a difference between being a parent and a grandparent,” Leber said.

“Yes,” I agreed. “And that difference can be described in one word: diapers. I have changed more of my granddaughter’s diapers than I ever did for my two daughters, including Chloe’s mommy.”

“You have to change diapers,” Leber said. “The funny thing is, it’s not so bad when it’s your grandchild. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around too much when my three kids were young.”

That’s because Leber was frequently on the road, handling such artists as the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross, the Jackson Five, the Beach Boys and Aerosmith.

“But I’ve made up for it with my grandchildren,” said Leber, adding that one of his proudest accomplishments was being the good luck charm for his grandson’s soccer team.

“I was the mascot,” Leber remembered. “And my second-oldest grandchild, Jack, was the star. The team was going for the New York state youth soccer championship. I missed a couple of games because I was in Florida and they lost. Everyone said to Jack, ‘You have to get him back.’ I came back and they won the state title. I became the trophy grandfather.”

“Chloe is too young to play sports, although her daddy is a soccer fan,” I said. “And I don’t know if she considers me a trophy. But we have a special bond. She can be in her mother’s arms, but when I walk into the room, she wants to come to me.”

“That’s because you’re more fun,” Leber said.

“And less mature,” I added.

“You should never take your grandchildren for granted,” Leber advised. “Kids rebel against you, but not grandkids. They’ll confide in you.”

“And they won’t be embarrassed to be seen with you?” I asked.

“Not like children are when they’re growing up,” Leber replied. 

“I felt like a typhoid carrier,” I recalled.

“Grandchildren will show you off,” Leber promised. “They’ll enjoy your company. It’s great. You’ll see.”

I am already seeing it because Chloe enjoys my company and loves being seen with me. She doesn’t even mind when I change her diapers.

“And now that you’re an AGA member,” Leber said, “you can get all kinds of discounts. That means you’ll have more money to buy toys for your granddaughter.”

“Thanks,” I said. “But I’m already the biggest toy she has.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"A Very Social Security Guard"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If the safety of other people depended upon me, a pretty frightening thought since I can’t even protect myself, I would be an insecurity guard, stationed at the front desk of a building that anybody could enter but nobody would want to because, of course, I’d be guarding the place.

That is not the case with Herbert “Doc” Koenig, a security guard in the building where I work. He don’t need no stinking badge (he has an ID card with a photo of his goateed visage and the word “Doc” under it) and he doesn’t carry a pistol, mainly because he is one. But he does have a rapier wit that could disarm the most suspicious intruder.

That, on most days, would be me.

“I’m not a real doctor,” Doc confessed during a midday break, “but I used to be an EMT in New York City and I delivered two of my kids, so people began calling me Doc.”

Then he began recalling some of his EMT adventures. The most memorable was the time he had to rescue an obese woman who got stuck in a bathtub.

“This lady was quite large,” Doc said. “The tub was drained and she couldn’t budge. There was this sucking sound as we pulled her out. I tried not to laugh. She was embarrassed, but she had a good sense of humor. She said, ‘At least I’m clean.’ ”

Then there was the time a young woman took her pants off on a busy Brooklyn street.

“She got hit by a car and her tibia was shattered,” Doc recalled, “so we put her on a stretcher. She was wearing designer jeans. I was going to cut them off, which was protocol. She said, ‘You’re not going to cut these. They’re Jordache jeans.’ She hopped up on one leg in the middle of Flatbush Avenue and took her pants off. She said, ‘I can wash out the blood, but I can’t sew my jeans back up.’ ”

The people who didn’t have a leg to stand on were some of the knuckleheads Doc met in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, where he worked for 30 years, 23 as an arraignment sergeant.

“It’s the busiest criminal court in the world,” Doc said, “so you see some pretty crazy things.”

Like the drug defendant who showed up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Wacky Weedies” and a picture of a stoner smoking a blunt, which is a cigar filled with marijuana.

“You can’t fix stupid,” Doc noted.

Judges didn’t always show good judgment, either.

“One of them berated a defendant,” Doc remembered. “The guy didn’t like what the judge said, so he threw a punch. The judge said, ‘Aren’t you going to protect me?’ I said, ‘If he hits you, it’s assault, right?’ Another time, a pro basketball player didn’t like what a judge said. A fight broke out and I ended up with a size 17 footprint on my leg.”

But for Doc’s money, the topper was the billionaire he was hired to protect.

“He was rich and nasty,” Doc said. “And he was working on his fourth wife. I can’t tell you who he is, but he’s a real piece of work. If I had his money, I’d be rich but not nasty.”

At 56, he’d also be retired, spending time with his wife, four children and two grandchildren.

“When the kids were growing up, I was the cool dad,” Doc said. “All their friends would come over because we always had a lot of fun at our house. We still do. Now I’m the cool granddad, too.”

Since Doc isn’t a billionaire, he’s working as a security guard, one of the friendly, dedicated people who protect the building where I work.

“You have to be nice,” Doc said when I asked what it takes to do his job, “but you also have to be vigilant. And you have to watch out for suspicious characters.”

“Like me?” I wondered.

“Sometimes,” Doc said, “I’ll let anybody in.”
Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima