Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Joking Till the Cows Come Home"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Even though I have always been more apt to milk a joke than a cow, which can create udder confusion (see what I mean?), I have long wanted to be a gentleman farmer.

First, of course, I’d have to become a gentleman, which would ruin my reputation, or what’s left of it.

Then I’d have to buy the farm, which both my banker and my doctor say I am not ready to do.

So I recently did the next best thing: I went to Ty Llwyd Farm in Northville, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island, and met Dave Wines, who is both a gentleman and a farmer.

I also met June-Bug, a calf who has developed a bond with my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe previously visited Ty Llwyd, a Welsh name pronounced Tee Luid, meaning “Brown House,” with her mommy, my younger daughter, Lauren, a member of the Southold Mothers’ Club, which arranged the trip.

“The kids had a nice time,” Dave recalled. “June-Bug took a liking to your granddaughter. She gave her lots of kisses and wanted to follow her out.”

“Maybe June-Bug will like me, too,” I said hopefully.

But first I watched as Dave meticulously planted a row of carrots. It was in a part of the 30-acre farm on the east side of the, yes, brown house. At the entrance, where there’s a west side story, visitors are greeted with these signs: “New York Permitted Raw Milk,” “Chicken Manure” and “Caution: Ducks.”

Dave, who’s 67 and fit as a fiddle, even though he doesn’t play one, was on his hands and knees, holding a little plastic doohickey (a farming term meaning “doohickey”) that contained carrot seeds. He used his right index finger to tap the seeds, one by one, into a long indentation in the dirt.

“Do you like our modern equipment?” asked Dave, adding that the farm has been in his family since 1872.

As he inched his way along, a process that took half an hour, Dave told me about an uncle of his who lived off the land and was, as a result, strong and healthy.

“He was in his 80s and his doctor had put him on a special diet,” Dave remembered. “He came over one day and said he wasn’t on the diet anymore. I asked him why. He said, ‘My doctor died.’ ”

Dave isn’t on a special diet, even though his doctor is still alive, but he does abstain from alcohol.

“When people find out what my last name is, they say I should open a winery,” Dave said. “But there are enough of those out here. Besides, I’m a teetotaler. I drink milk.”

I have more than made up for Dave’s lack of wine consumption, but I am now sold on his milk, which is the best I have ever tasted.

His son Christopher, who lives on the farm, is Ty Llwyd’s “milk man,” said Dave, adding that he has another son, Thomas, who lives in Boston, and a daughter, Judy, who lives in upstate New York.

“They’re in their 30s,” Dave said. “I forget their exact ages because the numbers keep changing. It’s hard to keep up.”

Dave’s wife, Liz, was born in Wales, where she and Dave were married.

“Today is our 42nd anniversary,” Dave announced proudly.

When I wished the delightful couple a happy anniversary, Liz said, “I’m celebrating by collecting eggs.”

She said the farm’s 1,200 chickens produce 65 dozen eggs a day. She also said Ty Llwyd has 33 cows.

“How much milk do they produce?” I asked Dave.

“A lot,” he answered, adding, “I told you I’m bad with numbers.”

After giving me a tour of the farm, which has plenty of modern equipment, Dave introduced me to June-Bug, who was in a fenced-in area with her fellow calves: Cassandra, Cricket, Flower, Millie and Twinkle. They all had name tags on their ears.

“Hi, June-Bug,” I said. “I’m Chloe’s grandfather.”

The sweet calf walked up and started kissing me with her large, rough tongue. The others kept their distance.

“She likes you,” Dave noted.

“It must run in the family,” I bragged.

“When she’s old enough, you should come back and milk her,” Dave said. “And that’s no joke.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"The Breakfast Club"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Because I am so culinarily challenged that both the fire department and the nearest emergency room have to be on alert whenever I try to get creative in the kitchen, I will never be a short-order cook.

But my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, has all the ingredients to be one: She’s short, she follows orders and, as it turns out, she can cook.

I discovered this recently when Chloe stayed overnight with me and my wife, Sue, who’s pretty hot in the kitchen. She does all the cooking in our house with the exception of Saturday morning breakfast, which I make for myself because Sue, perhaps wisely, thinks it’s safer to have just a muffin and a cup of coffee.

I prefer to have a lot to eat because breakfast is one of my three favorite meals of the day. So I fire up the stove and make eggs and sausage.

On this particular morning, Chloe was there to lend a little helping hand.

First, we got up, which is always recommended if you want to have breakfast or, generally, a long life. On weekends, I like to sleep in (which is better than sleeping out, especially if it’s raining) and get up in time to have a late breakfast. The best thing about having a late breakfast is that as soon as you’re done, it’s time for lunch.

Chloe, on the other hand, likes to get up with the chickens, whose eggs we would be using to make an early breakfast.

We chose two eggs, a white one and a brown one.

“The brown one has a nice tan,” I told Chloe.

“A nice tan!” she repeated.

Then she got her little step stool, which she ordinarily uses to wash her hands after going potty, and brought it into the kitchen. She stepped up so she could reach the counter and, carefully following my instructions, which I often don’t follow too carefully myself, cracked the white egg. It started to run, so I helped her dump the contents, including a few small pieces of shell, into a glass bowl.

“Be careful or the yolk will be on you,” I said.

Chloe didn’t get Poppie’s lame joke, but she giggled anyway.

She did the same when I said, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of my eggs.”

Sue, who was within earshot, rolled the whites of her eyes.

We repeated the process (minus the jokes) with the brown egg.

Next I asked Chloe to place three sausage links in a pan. Only two came out of the box.

“Where’s the other one?” I asked Chloe. “It must be the missing link.”

At this, Sue exited the kitchen.

Chloe fished the third link out of the box and placed it in the pan, which I put on the stove. I turned on the heat.

“Be careful, Honey,” I said. “It’s hot.”

“It’s hot, Poppie!” Chloe declared as she turned her attention back to the eggs, which she whipped into a creamy mixture with a whisk. She did a much better job than I usually do.

Then I got another pan, into which Chloe poured the eggs. I put the pan on the stove, next to the one with the sausage, and returned to the counter to slice a bagel before putting it in the toaster.

“Do you know what kind of bagel this is?” I asked Chloe. When she was stumped, I said, “Poppie seed!”

“Poppie seed!” she echoed with a big smile.

After Chloe used a wooden spoon to stir the eggs in the pan to a perfect consistency, I placed them, along with the sausage and the toasted bagel, on a plate. Then we went over to the kitchen table, where she sat on my lap to share a delicious breakfast.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Chloe got her own cooking show. Until then, I can proudly say that making eggs with her is a delightfully mad scramble.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"How to Bathe a Dog"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Over many years of living in a household where the fur frequently flies, I have learned that the best way to get rid of fleas, ticks and other pests, and to stop incessant scratching, is to bathe the itchy sufferer with a liberal application of special soap, rinse thoroughly and follow up with a treat.

It works on dogs, too.

My wife, Sue, whose grooming is impeccable, recently suggested that our granddog, Maggie, be given a bath. Maggie doesn’t have fleas, ticks or other pests. In fact, she is impeccably groomed herself. But she does have dry skin that causes her to do what people often tell me to do: go scratch.

So Sue thought it was time for a bath.

“Can’t I just take a shower?” I asked.

Sue sighed and said, “Hook up the hose outside and get the doggy shampoo.”

It’s a good thing we weren’t doing this in the bathroom because Maggie doesn’t like to be bathed. She’s totally unlike our late pooch, Lizzie, who loved being given the spa treatment. She’d just stand there, soaking it all in. After she was dried off and brushed, she’d go back inside and preen. Then she’d plop down and take a nap.

That is the difference between dogs and humans: After a bath or a shower, a person has to go to work to keep man’s best friend in the style to which he or she has become accustomed.

And we call dogs dumb animals.

To bathe a dog, you will need the aforementioned hose and shampoo, as well as a towel. That’s for the dog.

For you, there’s a much bigger list: three pairs of rubber gloves, a bathing suit (or, if it’s chilly, a raincoat), flip-flops (or galoshes), goggles, a shower cap, fishing waders or, depending on how much the dog shakes, rattles, rolls and otherwise dislikes the bath, scuba gear.

You’ll also need a collar and a leash. So will the dog.

Step 1: Put the collar on the dog, attach the leash and, with one hand, hold firmly. With your other hand, hold the hose. With your third hand, turn on the water. If you have an assistant, he can turn on the water. I was assisting Sue, so that was my job. Since dogs have four hands, you wonder why they just can’t bathe themselves.

Step 2: Wet the dog, being careful that the dog, in its excitement, doesn’t wet you. Then hold on to the leash for dear life because most dogs won’t like this and will pull you with such force that one arm will end up being six inches longer than the other one. If you have a mastiff, you may also be dragged for three blocks. It will hurt like hell if fences are involved.

Step 3: If the previous step goes well, apply the shampoo or soap and rub it into the dog’s coat. At this point, your fingers will pop through your first set of rubber gloves. Put on another pair and continue washing. Be sure to get behind the ears, around the haunches and along the tail. If you have a bulldog or a schnauzer, or if you are washing yourself, this last part will be unnecessary.

Step 4: Don your last pair of rubber gloves and rinse the dog off. Then stand back or the dog will shake enough water on you to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. At this point, fur will be all over your legs, feet and face, in your hair and wedged permanently under your fingernails.

Step 5: Dry off the dog with a bath towel.

Step 6: Burn the towel.

Step 7: Brush the dog to get off the rest of the loose fur. You will notice that the dog has dandruff. Ignore it and give the dog a treat.

Step 8: Give yourself a treat. A beer will do.

Step 9: Have another beer.

Step 10: Take a shower. Just like your dog did, you’ll need one.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Do the Ride Thing"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a geezer who has learned that life has its ups and downs, as well as its twists and turns, especially with small children who aren’t prone to motion sickness, I have often been taken for a ride.

That’s what happened recently when I took my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, to the Mattituck Strawberry Festival on Long Island, New York, and accompanied her on all the best kiddie rides.

This brought back fond if unnerving memories of the many times I took my daughters, Katie and Lauren, on roller coasters, Ferris wheels and other vertiginous vehicles designed to scramble brains, overturn stomachs and test the bladder retention of adults whose young companions were required to complete the physical and psychological damage by screaming directly into your ears and causing a lifetime of auditory damage before the white-knuckle experience was mercifully over.

As it turned out, I loved these rides even more than my daughters did.

We were regular (and sometimes irregular) visitors at the St. Leo’s Fair and the Annunciation Greek Festival, both in our hometown of Stamford, Connecticut; Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut; Lake Compounce Family Theme Park in Bristol, Connecticut; Playland in Rye, New York; Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey; and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

We never visited Disney World in Orlando, Florida, possibly because I didn’t want to get in line while the girls were in kindergarten and finally reach a ride after they would have graduated from high school.

Also, I wasn’t keen on the idea of having to take out a bank loan just to buy a day pass and then melting to death in the blazing heat.

That’s why the Strawberry Festival was so much fun: It was low-key and inexpensive.

As soon as I arrived with Chloe and her daddy, Guillaume, we scoped out the rides, some of which were tame and meant for younger kids like Chloe, and some of which were wild and meant for older kids like me.

I went on the tame ones with Chloe anyway.

We couldn’t find the Teacups (maybe because it wasn’t 4 o’clock), so we went to the Carousel, where Chloe shunned the horses (she won’t grow up to be an Olympic equestrian, I guess) and instead rode the bench (which I used to do in Little League).

First, Guillaume went with Chloe, then I did.

“Are you having fun, Sweetheart?” I asked as we went around and around and waved to Guillaume every time we passed by.

“Yes, Poppie,” Chloe answered, though I could tell she wanted to go on something a bit more exciting.

She’s too young (and short) to go on crazy rides like the Octopus and the Giant Swings, so we settled for the Wiggle Wurm, which not only proved, as every fisherman knows, that worms can’t spell, but was so cramped for adult riders that, as my knees rammed into my nostrils and my boxer shorts rode up into an area generally reserved for medical specialists, I could have been the lead singer for the Vienna Boys Choir.

It bounced and jounced along, swooping up, down and around at a speed that seemed excessive under the constrictive circumstances but probably wasn’t much greater than that of a car driven by a little old man creeping in the left lane with his turn signal on.

Finally, we went on the Fun Slide, which required Chloe and me to climb a set of stairs not appreciably shorter than those in the Empire State Building and then, settling onto a canvas bag, whoosh down at a speed that could have broken all existing records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

It was so much fun that we went three times.

Next year, Chloe will be old enough to go on some of the bigger rides. My heart, stomach and boxer shorts can’t wait.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Duke of Oil"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
It’s not every day that you get the oil changed in your car (in fact, it’s every 3,000 miles) and drive away feeling like you’ve just struck oil.

But that’s the way I felt recently when I spoke with Tony Didio, a service adviser at Hyundai 112 in Medford, New York, where my car routinely goes for oil changes, filter replacements and medical procedures such as open-hood surgery.

Tony is a car doctor who has prescriptions not only for a healthy vehicle (“If you can’t stop, those are the brakes”), but for a healthy lifestyle (“Never stand in front of a shooter at an archery range”).

Tony also is an archer who has a point.

“I’m right on target,” he told me.

“That pun made me quiver,” I responded. “Do you know what Custer wore at Little Bighorn?”

“What?” Tony said.

“An Arrow shirt,” I answered.

Since I don’t have a Pierce-Arrow, which stopped manufacturing automobiles a decade and a half before I was born, I asked Tony about my 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe.

“When you change the oil in my car,” I wondered, “do you use extra-virgin olive oil?”

“No,” Tony said. “I’d use that on pizza. But we don’t serve it here.”

Ironically, Tony began his automotive career at his father’s pizzeria in Plainview, New York.

“I was 12 when I started working there,” said Tony, who’s now 65. “But I was always interested in cars. I used to clean off the ones that came over on boats from Germany, so I switched from olive oil to motor oil.”

In 1971, Tony officially entered the car business when he went to work for a guy who was a mechanic for legendary race-car driver and designer Briggs Cunningham.

“Did you ever want to race in the Indy 500?” I asked.

“No,” said Tony. “But I’d have a better chance there than I would here. New York drivers are crazy.”

“You’re a New York driver,” I pointed out.

“Yes,” Tony acknowledged. “But I’m not crazy enough to ruin my car. Then I’d have to fix it.”

He’s had to fix plenty of other people’s cars in his 45 years in the business, during which he has learned that women know just as much about cars as men do. And they’re not as cheap.

“Like the guy whose brakes were worn down to the rotors, metal to metal, so I changed them,” Tony recalled. “The guy got all bent out of shape, just like his brakes, and insisted I put the old ones back in because he didn’t want to pay for new ones. Then he drove off. I was waiting for him to come back with a smashed front end because he couldn’t stop. I should have put him up on a lift and examined his head.”

Tony hasn’t repaired cars since he slipped on a patch of ice while carrying an engine and threw his back out.

“I threw it out, but nobody would take it,” Tony said with a deadpan expression, which he admitted is better than an oil-pan expression. “You have to have a sense of humor in this business,” he noted.

Tony, who loves to joke around with his customers, recalled the time a woman heard a ticking sound in her car and thought her husband had planted a bomb in it.

“I guess they weren’t getting along,” Tony said perceptively. “So I told her I was going to call 911. I kept her in suspense for about 10 minutes. Then I said, ‘I’m only kidding. There’s no bomb in the car.’ She was greatly relieved.”

Tony said people are always telling him that he should be a stand-up comic.

“I can’t stand up that long,” he said. “My feet get tired.”

But not too tired for this husband, father and soon-to-be grandfather to stand in the kitchen occasionally and, recalling the pizza days of his youth, make a delicious Italian dinner.

When I told Tony I’m not handy enough to be either a mechanic or a cook, he gave me the secret of his success: “If you just remember that motor oil goes in cars and olive oil goes on pizza, you’ll be OK.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Fat Cat on a Thin Roof"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
It has been said, probably by Andrew Lloyd Webber, that a cat has nine lives. If that’s true, it means the cats in our humble home had 36.

It also means I should win a Tony Award because my version of “Cats” ran even longer than Lloyd Webber’s, 27 years to his 18 and 9,855 daily performances to his measly 7,485.

Unfortunately, the show ended recently when Bernice, the last of our four flaky, friendly and frequently flummoxed felines, went to that big litter box in the sky.

My wife, Sue, and I got our first cat in 1989, when we bowed to the pressure of our daughters, Katie and Lauren, who were then 9 and 7 years old, respectively, and adopted Ramona, a little black and white cutie named for Ramona Quimby, the star of the Beverly Cleary children’s books.

Ramona’s claim to fame was that she made it into “Who’s Who of Animals,” even though, as it said in her entry, “An intelligence test pitting Ramona and a loaf of Wonder Bread proved inconclusive.”

Ramona went from aloof to affectionate in 1995, when we adopted a dog named Lizzie, who was so sweet and lovable that Ramona must have figured, if indeed she was capable of rational thought, that if she didn’t shape up, she would stop getting all the attention and lose her crown as the family princess.

That did not stop her, however, from eating the boiled chicken that was part of Lizzie’s diet. Lizzie, in turn, ate Ramona’s cat food.

In 1998, when we moved from Stamford, Connecticut, to Long Island, New York, I started getting strange calls at work.

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

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

It was Lauren, who said she wanted a cat.

“You already have a cat,” I told her.

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

Enter Kitty, another black and white cutie whose personality was the polar opposite of Ramona’s. She was Miss Congeniality and, at a year old, proved it by getting pregnant.

One of Kitty’s kitties was Bernice; another was Henry, the only other male in the house besides me, but since he was a mama’s boy who loved Sue and Lizzie exclusively, it didn’t even count.

Ramona, who turned out to be sweet and even smart in her own way, despite not getting along with the other three cats, lived to be almost 20. Henry, who was never the same after Lizzie passed away, was stricken with a sudden illness a year later and died at 12. Kitty died last year at 17.

That left Bernice, who was perhaps the quirkiest of them all.

While her mommy, Kitty, was a little bit of a thing, Bernice was the feline equivalent of the Goodyear Blimp. And she hated to be picked up, which was just as well because anyone who tried would have either gotten a hernia or been scratched to death.

This did not explain how Bernice, who was not appreciably smarter than Ramona, hoisted herself onto the roof of our two-story house. Practically every day, Sue and I would discover that Bernice was stuck up there and was meowing at a bedroom window.

We theorized that she climbed a nearby tree and dropped with a thud onto the roof, though we are still not sure how she did it considering the tree was a fair distance from the house and Bernice weighed about as much as a full-grown male orangutan.

The tree was old and starting to rot, so we had it taken down before both it and Bernice crashed through the roof. Perhaps not coincidentally, her climbing adventures abruptly ended.

But her quirkiness didn’t. She loved to be petted and would jump onto Sue or me while we were watching TV, purring contentedly during shows that were appropriately mindless.

Now she’s gone, the last of our four family felines, and it’s the end of an era. Like Ramona, Kitty and Henry before her, Bernice was the cat’s meow.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Chloe and Poppie's Excellent Adventure"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When it comes to writers who are famous for turning real-life adventures into literary gold, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway had nothing on me. That’s because their idea of adventure was to go rafting down the Mississippi, prospecting for gold, deep-sea fishing or big-game hunting.

These pitiful excursions are walks in the park compared to spending two full days with a toddler.

That’s what I did recently when I was in charge of watching my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, with whom I actually did go for a walk in the park and who has turned my life into one giddy adventure after another.

The latest one began at 8:15 on a sunny morning, when my wife, Sue, and I arrived at Chloe’s house, which later that day would become her old house because she and her mommy and daddy were moving into a new house. Sue’s job was to help coordinate a mission that turned out to be more complicated than the invasion of Normandy.

My job, for however long it took, was to watch Chloe. It took 11 hours. And the whole next day. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, I got off easy.

The first thing I did was to take Chloe to one of her favorite places: Dunkin’ Donuts.

“D!” Chloe exclaimed as she reached for the letter-shaped door handle. “For Dunkin’ Donuts!”

I stepped up to the counter and ordered a bag of Munchkins, which I shared with Chloe, and a cup of coffee, which I didn’t. Contrary to what the surgeon general might say, sugar and caffeine are absolutely essential for any geezer who is about to spend an entire day trying to keep up with an active child.

Next we went to Safari Adventure, which sounds like something Hemingway would go on but actually is a children’s recreation center that would have knocked even him for a loop. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations, although the new owners, Lindsey and Daniel, kindly gave Chloe a cup of ice cream with sprinkles on top.

It was 9:30 a.m. and already she had enough energy to power Manhattan. I figured she could burn it off at the playground. Instead, it almost burned me out.

For two hours, we ran around, going from slide to swing and back again. On the biggest slide, I took her up the stairs and hurried back down to catch her at the bottom. En route, I cracked my skull on a low-hanging bar that blessedly was made of plastic. If it had been steel, I would have bent it. If it was wood, I would have splintered it. Either way, I’d owe the playground a new slide.

Next we went to my house, where I made Chloe her favorite lunch, chicken nuggets, which I cooked in the oven without, somehow, burning the place down. Afterward, we went outside and spent the afternoon running around the yard. Then we came back in, where we ran around some more. I turned on Chloe’s favorite TV show, “Peppa Pig,” and caught my breath before making dinner (you guessed it: chicken nuggets) and playing with her until Sue came home.

That night, Chloe and I slept like babies.

The adventure continued the next day, when I set up her plastic pool outside and frolicked with her in the 6-inch-deep water. Then we ran under the sprinkler and, like Peppa Pig, jumped in muddy puddles. We also swung in my hammock, where I usually have a beer but refrained this time, even though I needed one because soon we were blowing bubbles and running around the yard again.

Around dinnertime, Chloe’s mommy and daddy came over to pick her up.

“Did you have fun with Poppie?” her mommy asked her.

“Yes!” Chloe chirped. “I had fun with Poppie!”

“Did you have fun, Poppie?” I was asked.

“Yes!” I chirped. “I had fun with Chloe!”

That night I slept like a baby again, outdoing Twain and Hemingway and dreaming of our next adventure.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima