Thursday, January 12, 2017

"On a Cart and a Prayer"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If it weren’t for my wife, I would have starved to death long ago. Not only is Sue a great cook (her specialties include everything, which is exactly what I like), but she does all the food shopping. Only illness can prevent her from the swift completion of her appointed eye of rounds.

So when she got sick recently, I had to go to the supermarket. By myself. For the first time in almost 39 years.

“Here,” Sue said between sneezes, handing me a shopping list. “You don’t have to get too much. Do you think you can handle it?”

“Of course,” I said confidently. “I’ll just put the cart before the horse’s aft.”

“If you come back with everything,” Sue said wearily, “it will be a miracle.”

When I arrived at the store, I met Ken Fehling and Richard Cunnius, who also were shopping for their wives.

“My wife doesn’t shop,” said Ken, who recently retired as a college director of residential operations. “So she sends me.”

“Do you go back home with everything on the list?” I asked.

“Always,” Ken said. “My wife thinks I do a good job.”

“I don’t think mine does,” said Richard, a retired electrical engineer. “When I get back home, she’ll say, ‘Did you get it on sale? Did you do this? Did you do that?’ Then she’ll discover that I forgot something. I guess I’m not a good shopper. But if my wife can’t go, she sends me.”

We stood in the produce section, getting in the way of other shoppers, all of them women who seemed annoyed that three geezers were blocking their way to the lettuce, and talked about wives, kids and grandchildren before I said, “I have to go to the deli counter to pick up some cold cuts. Nice meeting you guys.”

“You, too,” said Richard. “Good luck.”

“Check off every item on your list,” Ken suggested. “That way, you won’t forget anything.”

When I got to the deli counter, it was so crowded I couldn’t get to the machine to take a number.

“I’ll get it for you,” said Maddy Spierer, an artist who owns a design company. She handed me No. 57. The guy at the counter yelled out, “No. 45!”

“I guess we’ll have to wait,” I said.

“You looked lost,” Maddy noted.

“It’s my first time shopping alone,” I said.

“You’ll be OK,” Maddy assured me. Then she realized she had taken two tickets, Nos. 54 and 55, so she handed me the latter. “It’ll speed things up,” said Maddy, a mother, a grandmother and a veteran food shopper. When her number was called, she said to me, “You’re next!”

“I’m not going to get bologna because I’m already full of it,” I told Maddy. But I did pay it forward by giving my No. 57 to a woman named Tanya, who had No. 62. When I told her my wife had sent me shopping, Tanya smiled and said, “Smart woman.”

A few minutes later, in the canned food aisle, I saw a tall gentleman with a black suit and a clerical collar.

“Are you a priest?” I asked.

“I’m a Methodist minister,” the Rev. Amos Sherald responded with a warm smile.

“You’re just the man I’m looking for,” I told him. “This is my first time food shopping by myself. My wife said that if I came back with everything on the list, it would be a miracle.”

“Did you remember to bring the list?” Rev. Sherald asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“It’s a miracle!” he said.

And, lo, I felt the hand of God guiding me through the rest of the store, making sure I did, indeed, get everything Sue wanted me to buy.

When I arrived home, I told her about my supermarket adventure and especially about my encounter with Rev. Sherald.

Doubting Sue would not believe until she had checked the bags. “He was right!” she exclaimed. Then she added, “How would you like to go food shopping for me next week?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “After all, miracles don’t happen every day.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"All in Good Taste"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a seasoned gourmand (I am usually seasoned with oregano because I am no sage), I know enough about food to give expert advice on which wine goes with Slim Jims (red) and which goes with Twinkies (white).

In fact, I have always had a burning desire, which sometimes happens in the kitchen, to be a restaurant critic. And I recently got my chance when I went out with a real restaurant critic to review an eatery where I passed judgment on the menu, which wasn’t edible (too chewy) but did contain lots of tasty offerings.

The restaurant was Tra’mici, a cozy Italian spot in Massapequa Park, New York, and the critic was Melissa McCart, who has written sparkling reviews for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Newsday of Long Island. Accompanying us on this gastronomic adventure was Janelle Griffith, a talented feature writer for Newsday.

Our waiter was Marco Gervasi, who introduced himself by saying he would be our waiter (these formalities are very important in the service experience) and commented that there was an empty fourth seat at our table.

“Sit down,” I urged him. “Are you hungry?” I got up, put a white cloth napkin over my arm and said, “I’m Jerry. I’ll be your waiter.”

I could tell by the look in Marco’s eye (his other eye was blank) that he knew he was in for a long night.

Then he asked if we wanted anything to drink. Melissa and Janelle ordered white wine, even though Twinkies were not among the entrees.

“I’ll have a glass of red,” I said.

“How about a cab?” Marco asked.

“If I drink enough of them,” I answered, “I’ll have to hail a cab for the ride home.”

Marco, who looked like he could use a drink himself, smiled and dutifully went away.

He returned shortly afterward with not only our wine but a plate of hors d’oeuvres, which contained not horses (pardon my French) but salami, prosciutto and cheese, along with olives. They tickled the palate. I soothed the tickle with a sip of wine. It was fragrant but not haughty. And vice versa.

For the main course, Melissa ordered Orecchiette alla Barese, served with broccoli rabe and sausage, and Janelle ordered Fettuccine al doppio burro, which did not (pardon my Italian) contain a stupid donkey.

When I expressed interest in a steak, Marco suggested Filetto (filet mignon with mashed potatoes, broccoli rabe and red wine reduction).

“The meat is cured,” he noted.

“Cured?” I said nervously. “What was wrong with it?”

“I can’t tell you,” Marco replied.

I ordered it anyway.

When our dinners came out, all three of us daintily dug in. Then we tried each other’s meals, which is how restaurant critics get a taste of several menu items in one sitting (it’s not a good idea to stand while eating) and can determine what’s good and, in some cases, what isn’t.

After Melissa sampled my steak, she said, “Yours is the winner.”

“Umph, umph, umph,” I agreed, even though it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full of food.

This shared tasting must be done inconspicuously or the restaurant staff will suspect that a critic is in the house. In fact, Marco asked me, “What do you do?”

“As little as possible,” I told him.

“No, really,” he insisted. “What do you do?”

I looked around furtively and whispered, “I stick up restaurants.”

Marco hurried away to get our dessert (salty caramel gelato) and possibly call the cops. He also must have alerted his boss, because the general manager came out to refill our water glasses.

“I’m Ben,” he said.

“I’m Jerry,” I responded, shaking his hand. “We should open an ice cream business.”

“It’s been done,” Ben stated.

“Then we’ll sue them,” I said. “Just as soon as my lawyer gets out of jail.”

“You can call it Jerry and Ben’s,” Janelle suggested.

Dessert was delicious, just like the rest of the meal. And the service was even better, which is saying something considering that Marco was working only his second shift at Tra’mici.

“What’s your day job?” I asked him.

“I’m a real estate agent,” Marco said.

“Do you get a commission on dinners?” I wondered.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s called a tip.”

He got a generous one. After dealing with me, he deserved it, which is why I am giving Tra’mici an excellent review.

“Keep up the good work,” I told Ben on the way out. “And give my compliments to the waiter.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 15, 2016

"The Zezimas' 2016 Christmas Letter"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch; and Chloe and Lilly, the granddaughtersiarch.

Dear friends:

It sure has been an exciting 2016 for the Zezimas!

Jerry had a particularly exciting year, which began with the publication of his third book, “Grandfather Knows Best.” Like his first two books, “Leave It to Boomer” and “The Empty Nest Chronicles,” it’s a crime against literature. It also comes in handy for propping up wobbly table legs. Somehow, it didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list.

Jerry reached the pinnacle of his journalism career when he got a paper route. On a rainy night, he helped his newspaper carrier fling papers into subscribers’ driveways and returned a lost dog to her grateful owners, which was the best delivery of all.

Jerry also completed his two-year term as president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists without running that otherwise august organization into the ground. Members attending the NSNC conference in Los Angeles celebrated with a four-letter word: beer.

Jerry’s other adventures included being a server for a night at a restaurant. To ensure that the place wouldn’t go under, he waited on his own family (Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Chloe) and got a nice tip: Don’t quit your day job.

That same group went bowling and Chloe, in an outing to celebrate her third birthday, beat everybody in the first game. She kindly let Jerry, whom she helped roll a strike and a spare in two late frames, win the second game.

Chloe also had her first sleepover at Nini and Poppie’s house and began a tradition of making breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and a bagel) with Jerry, whose scant culinary skills pale in comparison with those of his granddaughter.

Chloe got her first haircut (Jerry got one the same weekend, approximately his millionth) and got her first big-girl bed, where she keeps her stuffed friends. (Jerry, who goes to bed when he’s stuffed, keeps pajamas and other dirty clothes on his.)

Sue and Jerry refinanced the mortgage on their house, a hellish process that took months and was almost undone by a three-year-old unpaid traffic ticket. Now Jerry is afraid to drive to the bank to pay the new mortgage.

Jerry turned 62, which means he is eligible for Social Security and can, if he wants, retire. Considering his financial obligations (see above), he is convinced he will be working posthumously.

Speaking of death, Sue and Jerry lost Bernice, the last of their four cats, who at age 17 went to that big litter box in the sky. To fill the void (Bernice was fat), they welcomed Maggie, their sweet granddog, who is 11 and living with them temporarily. She keeps the house safe by being a canine alarm system, which makes her more valuable than Jerry.

Katie and Dave, both journalists living in Washington, D.C., had lots to report on this year and learned the wisdom of the late, great humorist Art Buchwald, who also was based in the nation’s capital and famously wrote, “You can’t make anything up anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.” Katie and Dave record it very well.

For the record, the best thing to happen in the family in 2016 was the birth of Lilly, Lauren and Guillaume’s beautiful baby daughter. Everyone loves the adorable girl, including Chloe, who kisses her little sister and helps Lauren and Guillaume take care of her. So does Sue. Jerry tells her jokes, just as he does with Chloe. When you’re a grandfather, that’s your job.

Merry Christmas with love and laughter from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

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