Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Here's Looking at You Grow Up, Kids"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
If I have learned anything since becoming a grandfather, aside from the fact that diaper bags can be a great way to pull jokes on unsuspecting strangers, it is that time flies when you’re having grandkids.

As proof of just how fast life whizzes past, my grandson, Xavier, will celebrate his first birthday tomorrow. Next week, my granddaughter Chloe will turn 5. And her little sister, Lilly, isn’t so little anymore because she’s almost a year and a half old.

This stuff happens every time you turn around. So here is a valuable grandparenting tip: Don’t turn around. Not only will you hold time at bay, but you won’t become disoriented and walk into a wall, which will, I know from experience, amuse your grandchildren.

I did this recently when my wife, Sue, and I visited Xavier, whom we have seen only a handful of times because he lives almost 300 miles away. Chloe and Lilly, on the other hand, live about 25 miles away and, on frequent visits to our house or when we go to theirs, never fail to be amused when I turn around and walk into a wall.

Still, the question is: Where does time go?

I believe it goes into the Federal Witness Protection Program. I also think time has frequent flier miles, so it probably goes to the Caribbean. And it doesn’t even have the decency to send us postcards.

Speaking of flying, that’s what Sue and I did when we visited Xavier, who is, I can proudly say, the smartest and most mature person in Washington, D.C.

We were picked up at the airport by our older daughter, Katie, who is Xavier’s mommy. She and Xavier’s daddy, Dave, were going out of town on business later that day, which meant Sue and I would be babysitting Xavier overnight. We often FaceTime, but we hadn’t seen him in person since the holidays.

“I hope he remembers us,” Sue said.

“I hope he remembers my Three Stooges routines,” I added, referring to our previous visit, when Xavier giggled uncontrollably at my Shemp imitations.

We had nothing to worry about. Xavier loved being with us. He still giggled when I did Shemp, chortled when I gobbled like a turkey while changing his diaper and laughed even harder when I turned around and walked into a wall.

“He’s gotten so big,” Sue remarked.

“This is what happens to kids when you feed them,” I said as I fed Xavier in his highchair (he was in it, not me, though I should have been since I acted more like a baby during our five-day visit than he did).

That was amply evident when, after Katie returned, she, Xavier, Sue and I went to the Smithsonian.

Katie put Xavier in an Ergo, a baby carrier she wore with him facing forward so he could see what was going on. Sue carried the purses. I had the diaper bag.

When we got to the entrance, a museum guard welcomed Katie and said hello to Xavier, who smiled. Then she greeted Sue and inspected the purses. As I stepped up, I opened what I was carrying and said, “It’s a diaper bag. At my age, it comes in handy.”

The woman blanched. Then she broke into a broad grin and said, “I can see who the real child is here.”

We had a great day at the museum, which Xavier loved. He even won friends and influenced people in the gift shop.

The next day, Dave got home, which made the rest of our visit even better.

As we were leaving, Sue and I kissed Xavier and wished him a happy first birthday.

“You’re growing up fast,” Sue told him.

I gobbled like a turkey, which made him laugh again. Then I flapped my arms and repeated the phrase that grandparents know so well: “Time flies.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"The Call of the Riled"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
If you were to call me on my old iPhone to ask when telephone technology reached its peak, I would have told you it was the day Alexander Graham Bell invented it and that the entire industry has been going downhill ever since, except you wouldn’t hear me because the reception would be so bad that it would seem like the nearest cellphone tower was on Pluto, which would give Disney an excuse to charge me for phone service.

Now that I have a new iPhone, I would be happy to discuss telephone technology with you, unless I didn’t recognize your number, thought you were a scam artist and refused to pick up.

Still, I owe my technological upgrade to Josh Frankel, a retail sales consultant who knows more about phones than Bell himself, which admittedly isn’t difficult considering the inventor died almost a hundred years ago and isn’t on my list of contacts.

Speaking of which, the contacts mysteriously disappeared from my old phone, ascending into the iCloud on a day when it wasn’t even iCloudy. It was the final insult from a device that had no doubt been the inspiration for an advertising campaign that asked the eternal telephonic question: “Can you hear me now?”

“Yes, I can,” Josh said when my wife, Sue, and I went to a nearby AT&T store to exchange our old phones for newer models that, in my case, wouldn’t do much good anyway since nobody wants to talk with me.

My enthusiasm over the fact that Josh could actually hear me was tempered somewhat by the additional fact that I wasn’t on the phone at the time.

“You’re sitting right next to me,” Josh pointed out. “If I couldn’t hear you, a phone wouldn’t do me much good, either.”

I heard Josh when he politely told me that I had the stegosaurus of phones, the iPhone 4, which I bought in 2012 and hadn’t really learned how to use aside from: (a) forgetting where I put it, (b) butt dialing complete strangers and (c) punctuating almost every conversation with indelicate language when, because I was invariably in a dead zone, it seemed like I was talking to a mime.

“You have to move up,” Josh said.

“You mean I’d get better reception on the roof?” I asked.

“No,” Josh replied. “I mean you need a better phone.”

Then he said that most people don’t use the phone part of phones anymore.

“Wouldn’t that be like not using the driving part of cars anymore?” I wondered.

“I guess so,” Josh said. “But if someone calls me, I know it’s not important. If it’s important, they’ll text me.”

Josh, who’s 27 and has been working in the wireless industry for eight years, knows whereof he speaks, even if it’s not into a phone. That’s why he was so helpful to me and Sue, who had problems of her own because her phone, an iPhone 5S, lost all of her emails.

“Fortunately,” Sue told Josh, “I have an iPad.”

“Do you have an iPad?” Josh asked me.

“No,” I responded. “But I do have iTeeth.”

Nonetheless, we both needed new phones. Josh suggested the iPhone 8, which has a larger screen and more advanced features.

Josh transferred everything from our old phones to our new ones, though he couldn’t recover my contacts, which numbered about 100 and probably included people I had never heard of.

“You’ll have to start all over,” Josh said.

“That’s OK,” I told him. “One of the first people I am going to put on there is you. What’s your number?”

Josh gave it to me, then showed me how to set up my contact list.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’d ask my 4-year-old granddaughter, who knows how to break into her mother’s phone by circumventing the password, but she isn’t here.”

“Put her on your contact list, too,” Josh suggested. “I’m sure she’d love to talk with you. And now that you have a new phone, you’ll come through loud and clear.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Monday, February 26, 2018

"Portrait of the Artist As a Wine Man"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
As a painter specializing in bathrooms, bedrooms and cats, who used to get splattered when I was painting the first two, I will never be mistaken for van Gogh (when I go for a haircut, I still get both ears lowered) or Picasso (my wife would kill me if I painted a nude model instead of the hallway). I can’t even draw a good salary.

But I recently exchanged walls and fur for a canvas of glass when I took a Paint & Sip class at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, New York.

It was the first time I had ever painted wineglasses, but I was assured by the very nice and very talented instructor, Maggie Carine, that my artwork would be worth toasting.

“It may not end up in the Louvre,” said Maggie, 22, a steward at Martha Clara and a graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, “but it will hang proudly on your wine rack at home.”

Each attendee in the 30-person class, which cost $35 for wine club members such as yours truly, was treated to a glass of either Solstice Blanc or, my preference, Syrah, because red wine is not only good for the heart but, as Maggie noted, “good for the art.”

She also gave me several kisses (of the Hershey’s variety) to add to the palate, if not the palette.

As I took my seat at one of the tables, I noticed that everybody was given two wineglasses to paint.

“If you mess up,” Maggie told the class, “you have an extra chance.”

Also in front of each attendee was a clear plastic plate with dollops of red, pink, purple and white paint, as well as two paintbrushes, one small for delicate work, the other large in case I got carried away and, fueled by wine, painted the entire vineyard.

In addition, we each had two sets of stencils with the shapes of lips, hearts and the letters XO, all of which signified love. We also were given foam-tipped stampers so we could festoon our glasses with polka dots.

“Tape the stencils to the inside of your glasses and trace around them on the outside,” Maggie instructed us. “Then color in the shapes. Be creative!”

That was all I needed to hear. Like van Gogh, I painted a self-portrait on my first glass. Using my stamper, I dotted two white eyeballs. I dabbed my small brush in red paint and made the eyes bloodshot. For the finishing touch, I painted a pair of purple pupils, which isn’t easy to say when you’ve been drinking wine.

Then I stamped a big red nose under the eyes. Under the nose I drew a purple mustache. Under that, I traced white lips. I topped it all off with purple eyebrows.

“That’s genius!” exclaimed Dianne Sykes, who sat at my table with her sister, Cat, and their mother, Suzanne, all of whom got into the spirit of things with creative paintings of their own.

Cat, for example, wrote “Girls rule, boys drool” on one of her glasses.

“How much wine have we had?” she asked, to which Dianne and Suzanne answered in unison: “Not enough!”

Maggie also was impressed with my artistic creation.

“Awesome!” she declared.

Thus inspired, I finished my first glass with a red heart, a pink XO and a series of multicolored polka dots. I used my stamper and small brush to create a dotted and striped base.

On my second glass, I flipped the letters and drew a pink, red, white and purple OX. “I’m as dumb as one,” I explained to the ladies, who politely disagreed. I also drew a red heart with an arrow through it, stamped some dots, painted the base red with my big brush and, with my small brush, put the finishing touch near the top of the glass by autographing it with a red “Jerry.”

“You did great,” Maggie told me when the class was over.

“Thank you,” I replied modestly. “As Picasso might have said, I’ll drink to that.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, February 8, 2018

"This Caveman Is a Cool Guy"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
People who know me and are willing to admit it (which narrows the field considerably) will gladly tell you that I have frequent bouts of brain freeze and that everything I say should be taken with a million grains of salt.

Aside from margaritas, which I like because they’re cold and salty, and have been known to reduce my brain cells to practically zero, never has this sensational combination been more welcome than when I recently spent time in a salt cave and later was flash-frozen in a cryotherapy chamber.

The place to enjoy these invigorating experiences (not including margaritas) is Port Jeff Salt Cave in Port Jefferson, New York. Billed as “an integrative wellness center,” it’s owned by the husband-and-wife team of Rich and Marcy Guzman, both of whom are nurses who know that laughter is the best medicine.

As Marcy told me before I sat in a group session in the cave, “Salt doesn’t cure anything but ham.”

“I’m a ham,” I replied.

“Then you’ll be cured,” she said.

Inhaling salt air can decrease inflammation (good news for my big head), detox the blood (I’m not type O, but I do occasionally have a typo) and send nutrients to my organs (too bad I don’t play the piano).

I joined seven other people, ranging in age from 12 to 84, in the salt cave, which looks just like — you guessed it — a hockey arena.

No, actually, it looks like a cave. It also looks like a beach because it contains 10 beach chairs, arranged in a circle, but instead of sand, the floor is covered with salt crystals. The room is dimly lit with twinkling ceiling lights that resemble the night sky. There also are vents that release salt air and a sound system that pipes in a soothing recording by Marcy.

At the beginning of the 45-minute session, which costs $45 per person, Marcy said the salt air would open our sinuses.

“My sinuses are already open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays,” I said.

The other customers shifted nervously in their beach chairs.

But everyone relaxed when Marcy closed the door and started the recording, which took us vicariously on a nature walk, over the river and through the woods, where we bypassed Grandmother’s house and encountered several creatures that evidently had escaped from either a zoo or “The Jungle Book” but proved to be good omens that led us back to where we started, safe, sound and satisfied.

“How do you feel?” Marcy asked afterward.

“Salty,” I responded. “And peppery. It was wonderful. I have an inner warmth.”

I had an outer cold when I went back a week later for my own version of the movie “Frozen.”

I was greeted by Rich, who asked me to strip to my skivvies and don a pair of socks and gloves before entering the small, cylindrical chamber, where the temperature would drop to 265 degrees below zero.

“I’ll end up being like a Mrs. Paul’s fish stick,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Rich replied. “Your wife can thaw you out in the microwave.”

He added that during the three-minute session, which costs $40, I’d be enveloped by a nitrogen vapor that would, among other benefits, help my body release endorphins, kill fat cells and block pain.

“The first minute is refreshing,” Rich told me as I stood in the one-person chamber with my hands at my side and my head peering over the closed door. “The second minute is invigorating. And the third minute is ‘talk me through this.’ Ready?”

I gulped and nodded. Rich turned on the machine. Vapor started to rise and caress my skin, invading my pores and turning my body into what seemed like a block of dry ice. I felt, as Rich promised, refreshed and invigorated.

“Talk me through this,” I said as he counted down the last minute.

“No need,” he said. “You’re doing great.”

When it was over, I stepped out of the chamber, the coolest guy on earth.

“Between the two sessions,” I told Rich and Marcy after I got dressed, “I feel like a new man.”

“The salt air and the cold air really help,” Marcy noted.

“The only thing cryotherapy couldn’t help is my brain,” I said. “It’s already frozen.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"The Brew Crew"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
As a home brewer who once brewed beer in my own home without, miraculously, blowing the place up, I have great admiration for practitioners of the craft of creating craft products that go down smoothly without coming back up the same way.

That’s why I recently quenched my thirst for knowledge by taking a brewing tutorial with Paul Komsic, brewmaster at BrickHouse Brewery and Restaurant in Patchogue, New York.

Paul, 32, started at BrickHouse as a customer and now, seven years later, is brewing the popular establishment’s many fine products, including the one we would be making, a nacho IPA that Paul planned to call Nacho Mama.

This gave me hope, as a BrickHouse customer myself, that I would eventually become the brewmaster, though it might take me twice as long because I am twice as old as Paul.

“How was the beer you brewed at home?” Paul asked.

“Surprisingly good,” I told him. “I called it Jerry’s Nasty Ale. I don’t know why, but it had a smoky taste. My wife and some neighbors tried it and nobody had to be hospitalized.”

“That’s always a good sign,” Paul commented.

“After that, I retired from brewing,” I said. “But I’m coming out of retirement today.”

Joining me in this class, which I hoped to graduate magna cum lager, were three guys who are home brewers and have no intention of retiring: Chris Cordano, 57, a tennis instructor, and the Homeyer brothers, Gregg, 59, an engineer, and Glenn, 52, an electrician.

Offering his able assistance was assistant brewer Brian Smith, 23, who, Paul said, “is me when I was that age.”

“Who were you?” I wondered.

“I was still me,” Paul answered, “but I wasn’t making beer. I was drinking it. Now I do both.”

The first thing we learned in the class, which started at 8 a.m., was that beer makes a fine breakfast treat. BrickHouse had kindly supplied bagels and coffee, but we got to sample small amounts of the brewery’s latest products as the tutorial went along.

The first order of business was learning the steps involved in making beer. Actually, there were three steps that led up to a platform, on either side of which was a mash tun and a kettle. Both are huge. The mash tun, for example, holds 1,100 pounds of grain.

I got to find out first hand, assisted by my second hand, when Paul asked me to dump in some of the 30 pounds of raw tortilla chips that were our brew’s key ingredient. Chris, Gregg and Glenn each got a turn as well.

Also important were Saaz hop pellets, which Paul said would, if you ate one, “set your mouth on fire.”

So I ate one. It set my mouth on fire. Fortunately, I had a glass of beer, which quickly doused the flames.

In went the rest of the pellets, along with other ingredients such as yeast, which Paul said eats the sugar that has been converted from grain to create alcohol.

Along the way, we learned that brewing goes back to the Middle Ages, when the process involved running beer through fish bladders.

“Now I know where the expression ‘drink like a fish’ comes from,” I said. “And we’re in our middle ages, so we’re carrying on a great tradition.”

We also got to glimpse the inside of the mash tun as Paul was cleaning out the grains that would be sent to feed cows at a nearby farm as part of the “Brew to Moo” program.

“Does the milk come out with a head on it?” I wondered.

“No, you can’t get beer from a cow,” Paul said as he removed the screen at the base of the tun, which is, on a much smaller scale, what my classmates do when they make beer at home.

“I have a false bottom,” Gregg said.

“How do you sit down?” I asked him.

The tutorial, which was fascinating and lots of fun, took about four hours, after which Gregg, Glenn, Chris and I had lunch: delicious burgers and, of course, beer, though not the nacho IPA, which wouldn’t be ready for another two weeks.

“I can’t wait to taste it,” I told Paul. “And when you retire, let me know. If BrickHouse needs another brewmaster, I’ll be available.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Color Me Beautiful"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none. But my little piggies, instead of crying wee wee wee all the way home, said the hell with it and went for a pedicure.

My wife, Sue, who gets pedicures all the time and whose feet are beautiful, thinks mine aren’t. So, to convince her that a little pampering wouldn’t be like putting lipstick on a pig, I arranged to be beautiful, too, by having shiny red nail polish put on my piggies.

I put my best foot forward, followed by the other one, when my office was visited recently by Marianella Aguirre and Jennifer Yepez of Green Spa on the Go, a mobile spa and nail studio in Forest Hills, New York.

Employees could get manicures or pedicures. Even though this is a digital age, and my digits sometimes have hangnails, I decided not to put the man in manicure and instead wanted a trained professional to cure the two titanic tootsies that make me a biped.

That unenviable task fell to Jennifer, who is 28 and has been working at the spa for a year.

“I like your socks,” she said, pointing to hosiery embroidered with fish.

“I’m not wearing socks,” I replied. “The doctor says this rash should clear up in a couple of weeks.”

Jennifer looked stunned.

“I hope you don’t think my feet smell like fish,” I told her.

“No,” she said with a smile of relief as I removed my socks.

“Still,” I noted, “you should have worn a gas mask.”

“Your feet aren’t so bad,” said Marianella, 39, who owns Green Spa on the Go.

“My wife thinks I have the ugliest feet on earth,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Marianella responded. “Jennifer will make them beautiful.”

And she did. It took a lot of work, but Jennifer’s expert technique rubbed me the right way.

“Be careful,” I warned. “I’m ticklish.”

“OK,” she said, giggling along with me as she massaged my right foot, which she anointed with cream and oil after clipping my toenails and using a pusher to clean them.

“They’re too cuticle for words,” I declared.

They were doubly so after Jennifer performed the same wonderful routine on my left foot (not starring Daniel Day-Lewis).

As Jennifer worked her magic, Marianella told me that Green Spa on the Go has clients throughout the metropolitan area, including my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, and that some of her most notable customers have been former New York Knicks stars Kurt Thomas and J.R. Smith.

“Those guys are huge,” Marianella said. “Their feet are really challenging.”

“Bigger than mine?” I asked, adding that they are size 11.

“Yours are baby feet,” she assured me.

And, baby, did they feel good. Now all I needed was nail polish.

“Men are going with bright colors these days,” Marianella said. “How about red?”

“Why not?” I replied, choosing the shiniest shade, which Jennifer expertly applied to my nails.

“They glow!” I chirped, paying Marianella a bargain price of $20 and giving a nice tip to Jennifer, who in turn gave me a pair of banana yellow, open-toed pedicure slippers, which I had to wear until the polish dried.

When my colleagues saw my glossy hoofs, they could barely contain their excitement.

“Wow!” Kevin gushed.

“I love your toes!” Francesca enthused.

“You have nice feet for a guy!” Janelle exclaimed.

The person I really wanted to impress was Sue. When my shift was over, I put my socks and shoes back on and drove home, where I told her about my pedicure.

“Don’t tell me you got nail polish, too,” she said.

“Yes,” I replied. “Red.”

“Oh, my God,” she said. “Let me see.”

I took off my shoes and socks. Sue looked down.

“What can I say?” she did say. “They’re lovely.”

“Too bad it’s not summer,” I said. “Then the whole world would see that I no longer have the ugliest feet on earth.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima