Thursday, July 13, 2017

"The Graduate"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
I have never been to a graduation at Yale, Harvard or any other Ivy League school, mainly because I couldn’t get into one of those prestigious institutions unless I broke in at night, in which case I would be arrested and sentenced to serve time in another kind of institution.

But I recently did attend a graduation at Old Steeple, a preschool in Aquebogue, New York, and its moving-up ceremony beat anything a university could put on. I admit to being prejudiced because my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, was in the Class of 2017 and, I can proudly say, graduated magna cum little.

The impressive event began as Chloe and her classmates filed into the church above their school and waited for the formal procession past dozens of guests. They included my wife, Sue, and yours truly (known to Chloe as Nini and Poppie), as well as Chloe’s mommy, Lauren; her daddy, Guillaume; and her little sister, Lilly, who is 9 months old and won’t be in preschool for another two years.

Mrs. Kramer, the teacher, and Mrs. Link, her assistant, guided the 19 members of the graduating class into position. That’s when Chloe spotted Sue and me sitting in the second row. Because she didn’t expect us to be there, her eyes widened and she broke the line, rushing up to the first row and squealing, “Hi, Nini and Poppie!”

Sue and I smiled and waved.

Chloe looked at me and said, “I’m so glad you could make it, Poppie!” Then she said, “Doh!”

It’s an utterance most recently made famous by Homer Simpson, but it was originated in the early 1930s by James Finlayson, eternal antagonist of Laurel and Hardy. Chloe and I have been saying it to each other since she learned to talk, so I returned the greeting.

Sue nudged me and whispered, “Stop fooling around.”

Then we both indicated to Chloe that she should get back in line.

“OK, Nini and Poppie!” she chirped and, accompanied by Mrs. Kramer, reclaimed her spot.

The exchange drew an appreciative chuckle from the audience.

As “Pomp and Circumstance” did not play, the students walked up to the altar and took their seats on folding chairs that were arranged in a horseshoe shape. Mrs. Kramer stood at the microphone and welcomed the guests.

What she didn’t do was give a commencement address, a refreshing switch from the typical graduation ceremony in which some bloviating speaker tells the graduates they are “the future of this great nation” and urges them to “go out and change the world,” which would have been an unreasonable exhortation to kids whose idea of change not too long ago involved their diapers.

One by one, the students went up to the microphone and said a rehearsed line that introduced the next part of the program. Some were tentative.

Not Chloe. When it was her turn, she strode up to the mic and said in a strong voice, “We will now sing ‘The More We Get Together’!” For emphasis, she elongated the last syllable, which drew a laugh and a round of applause from the audience.

Then the graduates sang the catchy song:

“The more we get together, the happier we’ll be. Your friends are my friends, my friends are your friends. The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”

When the hearty applause stopped, Chloe looked down in my direction and again said, “Doh!”

The crowd chuckled once more.

The rest of the program was just as delightful. At its conclusion, Mrs. Kramer stepped back up to the microphone to hand out diplomas. The first student she called was Chloe, who took the sheepskin and, with a flourish, bowed to the crowd, which responded with enthusiasm.

“She’s tops in her class,” I said to Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Lilly, who recently learned to clap and was doing so, perhaps unwittingly, for her big sister.

Afterward, everyone went downstairs to the school for milk and cookies. It was a fitting end to the best graduation I have ever attended.

Yale or Harvard couldn’t have done better.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"Show Them the Money"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have very little influence, even in my own home, and an endorsement from me is usually the kiss of death. But that has not stopped me from trying to get raises for other people, which is a pretty nice gesture considering I can’t get one for myself.

My campaign to improve the professional lives of folks I barely know began recently when I noticed that the receipts I get at supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, health centers, car dealerships and other such places include surveys I am asked to fill out so I can let management know what I think of the service and if the employees who help me deserve commendations, promotions or, ultimately, raises.

Whenever I go to a store to buy a toothbrush or a box of Twinkies, which is why I need the toothbrush, I am handed a receipt long enough to encircle the Green Bay Packers.

On this receipt are coupons for things I don’t need, such as feminine hygiene products, and at the end is a survey I have to go online to fill out, a process that often takes longer than the shopping experience itself.

I wondered: Does putting in a good word for someone actually help?

“We do look at the surveys,” said Fredy, a supervisor at the post office branch near my house. “Unfortunately, I can’t give the employees raises. I can’t even give myself a raise.”

Jeffrey, who works behind the counter, said of Fredy, “He comes from a poor family. When they named him, they could only afford one D.”

“Now you’ll never get a raise,” Fredy said.

“The first time I saw one of those long receipts,” Jeffrey told me, “I thought, ‘Another tree has fallen.’ But if you want to fill out the survey, be my guest. Just watch out for paper cuts.”

I went home, got online and gave Jeffrey a glowing review. When I went back a week later, I asked him if it did any good.

“Well,” he said, “I’m still here. I don’t know whether to thank you or not.”

At the pharmacy, Christina, the morning shift supervisor, said that even if she gets the highest marks on a survey, she can’t get a raise.

“I’m capped,” she explained.

“You’re not wearing a cap,” I pointed out. “And you deserve a raise.”

“I do,” Christina agreed. “Even my boss said so.”

“Then what good are the surveys?” I asked.

Said Christina, “That’s the $64,000 question.”

“Sixty-four thousand bucks would be a nice raise,” I said.

“It would put me in a higher tax bracket,” Christina noted. “Not that I would complain.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I told her.

“Thanks,” she said. “Just be sure to spell my name right. I don’t want anybody else to get the money.”

One person who definitely deserves a raise is Tony, the service adviser at the dealership where I take my car for service.

“Whatever you’re getting paid, it’s not enough,” I told him.

“My boss would probably say that I’m lucky I get paid at all,” Tony retorted.

“Nonsense,” I said. “You’re the best.”

“I sure have you fooled,” Tony said. “But go ahead and take the survey. If I still have a job, it’ll be a miracle.”

I gave Tony the highest marks, along with a gushing comment. The next day, I got an email from his boss, who assured me that Tony is still working there and agreed that he is, indeed, terrific. No word, however, on whether he’ll get a raise.

Since then, I have filled out surveys for my dermatologist, the woman who helped me with a computer problem and the guy who replaced my cracked windshield. All, I trust, remain employed.

One person I haven’t put in a good word for is myself.

“If there were a survey for what you do,” my boss said, “do you think you’d get a raise?”

“I’d probably end up owing you money,” I said.

“Good,” he said. “I could use a raise. Working with you, I deserve one.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Boys Will Be Boys"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a guy who for almost 40 years has been pretty much the lone source of testosterone in my immediate family (which has included one wife, two daughters, two granddaughters, two dogs, three out of four cats and countless goldfish), I was thrilled recently to meet my infant grandson, Xavier, with whom I plan to form a bond based on such important masculine benchmarks as whoopee cushions and the Three Stooges.

For expert advice in the fine art of corrupting male children and appalling the women who love them, I spoke with my buddy Tim Lovelette, who has two sons and six grandchildren, the last two, both born in the past year, boys.

“First off,” Tim said, “you have to buy Xavier stuff you would never buy for your granddaughters.”

That means, he added, shopping with the Johnson Smith Company, whose catalog features such timeless products as joy buzzers, squirting flowers, plastic teeth, remote-controlled tarantulas, X-ray glasses and, of course, whoopee cushions.

“Where else are you going to get fake dog vomit?” Tim noted. “Or a carbide cannon? Did you ever see one of those things? They’re awesome. They shoot water and make a really loud noise. Women aren’t going to buy this stuff for them. It’s up to us. We have to keep the guy thing going.”

That includes introducing boys to the Three Stooges.

“It’s our solemn responsibility,” Tim said. “Men love the Stooges and women hate them. It’s a law of nature. Listen,” he continued, “this is not about your grandson. It’s about your relationship with him. You have to exercise your lack of maturity. All these women have matured over time. We haven’t. And we can’t let it happen to our grandsons.”

What about Tim’s sons, Marshall and Brendan?

“They had a very odd upbringing,” Tim said. “That’s because I’m their father. But I taught them all this stuff.”

And now he’s ready to teach it to his grandsons, Marshall III and Emmett, whose middle name is Timothy.

“There’s something wrong with anyone who would name a kid after me,” Tim said, adding that his wife, Jane, and their daughter, Amy, are never surprised by anything he does.

“They’re waiting for this stuff to happen,” Tim said.

But his daughter-in-law Sara, who is married to Marshall, and his son-in-law, Mel, who is married to Amy, the parents of Tim’s grandkids, sometimes are surprised. So is Brendan’s wife, Christie.

“I’ll tell them, ‘What, you didn’t expect this? You knew what you had on your hands when you married into the family.’ They still don’t believe it,” Tim said with no small amount of pride.

I said that my wife, Sue, and our daughters, Katie and Lauren, have come to expect stupidity from me. But even though my sons-in-law, Dave and Guillaume, are also conditioned to it, they’re occasionally taken aback by things I say or do.

“You’d think they would be used to it by now,” said Tim, whose granddaughters are Anna, Camille, Colette and Lydia. Mine are Chloe and Lilly.

But it’s Marshall III, Emmett and Xavier we want to get under our influence.

“You have to take Xavier out to lunch and order grilled octopus,” Tim told me. “Or take him out for a cup of coffee. When you come back, tell the women the two of you had cigars. See how they react. You can’t do this stuff with girls. The women in my family are trying to condition my grandsons before they’re released into my custody. But I have every intention of corrupting them.”

And when the boys are older, said Tim, they can repay us.

“By the time Xavier is 8 years old, he’s your technical department,” Tim said. “Buy a TV and he’ll set it up. And you don’t have to pay him. You can save the money for beer. He’ll be too young to drink it anyway.”

For now, however, it’s vital that the seeds of masculine immaturity are planted.

“The whole war effort depends on you,” Tim said. “And if you run out of stupid ideas, call me.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Poppie's Back Story"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
A little while back, I had a bad back. It was one of the few times that otherwise helpful people didn’t say to me, “I have your back.” And no wonder. Who’d want it?

The garbageman didn’t. I threw my back out, but he wouldn’t take it.

In fact, that’s how I got a bad back. The garbageman had just taken away everything in the garbage bin, which was light and empty, just like my head. I was bringing the bin back to the backyard, which is not a bad backyard because I don’t have to take care of it, though if I did, the backyard would no doubt give me a bad back.

But back to my story. I was carrying the bin back when I felt a sudden pain in my back. It was as if somebody (the garbageman, perhaps) had jammed a hot fireplace poker into it.

That wasn’t the case, of course, because I don’t have a fireplace and I don’t play poker.

Still, as I limped painfully back to the house, it brought me back to the two other times I have had a bad back.

The first time was when I was carrying an air conditioner down a flight of stairs. That I wrenched my back was understandable because the typical air conditioner weighs about as much as a baby grand piano. Or, if you are not musically inclined, a dead body, which might as well have been mine.

The second time was not so understandable because I was bending down to get dishwashing liquid under the kitchen sink when a bolt of lightning coursed down my spine, preventing me from straightening up and making me the human equivalent of an isosceles triangle, an unfortunate comparison since I flunked high school geometry.

Every time I have had a bad back, I have talked with people who either have had a bad back themselves or have known other people who have had a bad back and have contradictory suggestions for treating it.

They are: exercise, relaxation, cold and/or heat. My favorite suggestion was to let somebody walk on my back. Unfortunately, I don’t know Heidi Klum and would probably get stuck with Chris Christie.

Until this most recent flare-up, I thought the two best things for a bad back were rest and beer. But now I have an even better answer: grandchildren.

Recently, my granddaughters, Chloe, 4, and Lilly, 7 months, spent the weekend with me and my wife, Sue, who has a great back. Frequently, however, she has a pain in the area directly south of it, a condition she attributes to yours truly. Only wine can help.

This time, Chloe and Lilly helped me. When they arrived, Chloe wanted me to pick her up so she could give me a kiss. She weighs 36 pounds, not an extraordinary amount for someone who has built up his muscles by doing 12-ounce curls. But when that weight is moving in all directions while being held in your arms, it adds several long tons of pressure to an already sore back.

Miraculously, I didn’t collapse. Chloe kissed me and said, “I love you, Poppie!” Suddenly, I felt a lot better.

Then I picked up Lilly, who weighs 14 pounds, and kissed her. She cooed. I carried her around the house for a while, which helped me work the knots (sheepshank, not sailor’s) out of my back.

For the next two days, I bent down to play with Lilly while she was in her bouncy seat, played hide-and-seek with Chloe, held Lilly to give her a bottle, lifted Chloe onto my lap so I could read to her, sprawled on the floor during tummy time with Lilly, and otherwise had a ball with the girls.

By the end of the weekend, I was cured. To stay that way, I will soon see my 2-month-old, 12-pound grandson, Xavier, whom I will carry around to keep in shape.

When it comes to feeling good, my grandkids have my back.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"How Not to Eat an Ice Cream Cone"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a journalist, I know the importance of getting a scoop. As a grandfather, I know the importance of getting two scoops.

That’s what I learned recently when I took my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, to McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place, New York, for a lesson in how to eat an ice cream cone.

Chloe and I have eaten ice cream together many times, whether it has been at a store like McNulty’s or at the ice cream truck that makes my house a regular stop on its appointed rounds through the neighborhood.

(God, now I can’t get that annoying jingle out of my head!)

But the two of us had always eaten our ice cream out of cups, which is nice and relatively neat but not very challenging for those hardy souls who like to risk a spectacular cleaning bill while licking, slurping or otherwise inhaling a cone before the ice cream drips all over your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your seat, the table, the floor or, if you are not careful, everything and everyone within a radius of approximately a hundred yards.

“I want a cone, Poppie,” Chloe said as we entered McNulty’s and perused the display case, which was stocked with so many varieties that it was a veritable explosion of colors.

“What flavor, Chloe?” I asked.

“Strawberry, please, Poppie,” Chloe answered politely.

I passed her order to server Kelsey Reynolds, 18, who inquired, “One scoop or two?”

I looked down at Chloe, who was holding my hand. She looked up at me and beamed. It melted my heart faster than a bowl of sherbet during a heat wave.

“Two,” I said.

Kelsey handed me the ice cream cone equivalent of the Empire State Building. I conjured a mess of immense proportions. That likely possibility doubled when I ordered a similarly lofty cone of vanilla soft serve for myself.

“May I have some napkins?” I asked Kelsey, who gave me four. “We’re going to need a lot more than that,” I said.

Kelsey nodded knowingly and gave me another dozen.

“Enjoy!” she said as Chloe and I headed to a table, where we sat down and commenced cone consumption.

I tried to impress upon Chloe the importance of eating her ice cream around the edges before it began its slow descent onto the cone and, immediately thereafter, her fingers.

Unfortunately, she didn’t heed this brilliant advice. Also unfortunately, neither did I. My soft serve, temporarily neglected as I was giving a lecture in the fine if somewhat sticky art of eating an ice cream cone, began to seep under my fingernails.

“Do you need more napkins?” asked Kelsey, who saw that the lesson was not going well and came over to offer assistance.

And not a moment too soon. That’s because Chloe took a bite out of the bottom of her cone, causing a virtual Niagara of strawberry ice cream to pour onto the table, as well as the sleeve of her pink sweater. At least the colors blended.

Then she placed her cone on the saturated blanket of napkins that covered the table and asked to try my cone, with strikingly similar results.

I knew I had failed completely when Chloe looked at my cream-covered digits and declared, “Poppie is sloppy!”

Kelsey must have agreed because she brought over even more napkins.

“Don’t worry,” she said sympathetically as I mopped up the tabletop, “I’ve seen worse.”

But the lesson was ultimately successful because Chloe and I had a sweet time. It took a while, but we both finished our cones.

After we washed our hands in the bathroom, it was time to go.

“Thank you,” I said to Kelsey on the way out.

“You’re very welcome,” she replied with a bright smile. “Next time you and Chloe come in, call ahead. I want to make sure we have enough napkins.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"The Manny"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If I ever retire — with the way things are going, I’ll be working posthumously — I will use my newfound freedom and heretofore undiscovered talent to do what I was apparently born to do: I’ll be a full-time babysitter for my three grandchildren.

I know this is my true calling because I recently got a ringing endorsement from my younger daughter, Lauren, who is the mommy of my two granddaughters, Chloe, 4, and Lilly, 6 months, whom I have babysat many times without mess, mayhem or mishap. Or at least without anything that couldn’t be cleaned up with some sort of disinfectant.

“I vouched for you,” Lauren told me after she got a call from my older daughter, Katie, the mommy of my new grandson, Xavier. My wife, Sue, and I were about to embark on a road trip to meet the little guy and Katie wanted to know if I could be trusted to care for Xavier by myself in case she and Sue went out to shop for food, diapers or, as a perk for being a new mother, wine.

“If I could hire Dad full time, I would,” Lauren told Katie. “But I can’t afford him.”

I was so flattered that I offered to work for nothing, which is exactly what I am worth in my present job.

But I proved my value during the week Sue and I spent with Katie, daddy Dave and, of course, Xavier, who is beautiful, just like Chloe and Lilly.

Aside from Dave; Lauren’s husband, Guillaume; and yours truly, Xavier is the only male in the immediate family, which otherwise consists of Sue, Katie, Lauren, Chloe, Lilly and Maggie the dog, the sole surviving member of a pet population that once consisted of another dog (Lizzie) and four cats (Ramona, Kitty, Bernice and, the only male, Henry, with whom I never really bonded).

But I more than made up for it with Xavier. Our male bonding included 2 a.m. feedings. I fed Xavier, too.

These sessions sometimes began as early as midnight and as late as 4 a.m. because Xavier hadn’t developed a regular sleeping pattern, which means his parents and grandparents hadn’t, either.

But it was my pleasure to stay up with him. There was giggling, snoring, burping, hiccuping, drooling, sneezing, tooting and other bodily functions common to guys of a certain age, be it 3 weeks or 63 years.

Speaking of bodily functions, you novice babysitters should know that, while boys and girls should never be treated differently as far as love and attention are concerned, there is a distinct difference when it comes to changing their diapers.

That’s because boys have an apparatus that is not unlike a water cannon or, considering the oscillation, an in-ground sprinkler system. After the first two changes, for which I should have worn a raincoat and a pair of goggles, I was convinced that Xavier will grow up to be a firefighter.

It was a geyser on a geezer.

But I didn’t mind at all. Eventually I learned to put a towel over the aforementioned anatomical feature while attending to the No. 2 concern.

After one changing, Katie said to me, “Put Xavier’s pants on.”

I replied, “I don’t think they’ll fit me.”

Xavier, I swear to God, smiled.

“Did Poppie make a joke?” Katie asked Xavier.

He smiled again. Then he burped. That’s my boy!

Sue also pitched in, of course. She took some of the feedings, but mainly she prepared meals, something I couldn’t do without having to call 911. Our main job, aside from enjoying our grandson, was to give some relief to Katie and Dave, who are wonderful parents, just like Lauren and Guillaume.

The day we left, I asked Katie, “How did I do? Was Lauren right?”

“You were good,” Katie said. “You were really good. In fact, you were fantastic. Forget a nanny. You could be a manny. I’d hire you. If you ever retire,” she added, “give me a call.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"The Shoe Must Go On"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If the bowling shoe fits, do I have to wear it?

That’s what I kept asking myself (answer: “What kind of ridiculous question is that?”) on the way to my granddaughter Chloe’s fourth-birthday party, which was held recently at The All Star, a popular bowling and family entertainment center in Riverhead, New York.

When I arrived, I learned that I wouldn’t be bowling with Chloe and about a dozen of her little friends, which was a relief because last year, the only other time I had been bowling with Chloe, she beat me.

“You can blame the shoes,” said Danielle Carey, the wonderfully helpful and personable “boss server” at The All Star.

Danielle, who is not a bowler and therefore doesn’t have to wear the shoes, even if they fit, said some people have walked out with them still on their feet.

“We don’t hold people’s shoes when we give them bowling shoes, so sometimes they forget they’re wearing them when they leave,” Danielle explained.

“You wouldn’t want to hold my shoes,” I told her.

“In that case,” Danielle replied, “it’s a good thing you’re not bowling today.”

She acknowledged that at least one of the several hideous colors on the typical pair of bowling shoes invariably matches whatever a bowler is wearing, but said it still doesn’t make them fashionable.

“Besides,” Danielle added, “ours are red, white and blue, to match the all-star theme, so they’re not as ugly as other bowling shoes.”

Shortly after Chloe and her friends donned their shoes — a task made easier for tiny fingers by Velcro, which always seems to be on the bowling ball I am using whenever I play, giving me an excuse for my pathetic performances — my wife, Sue, and I hit the bar. It was 12:22 p.m.

“Some parents belly up at 9 a.m., when the bar opens, and ask if I can put some wine in their coffee cups,” Danielle said.

“We’re grandparents,” I said as Sue and I each sipped a beer, “and it’s past noon, so it’s OK.”

“If you had been bowling,” Danielle suggested, “the beer might have helped your game.”

“True,” I noted. “Then Chloe wouldn’t have beaten me.”

As Sue watched our younger granddaughter, Lilly, who at 6 months old is too young to bowl, which might not have prevented me from losing to her, too, I spoke with Danielle about her 3-year-old daughter, Harley Quinn.

“She has the same name as the Joker’s girlfriend in the Batman comics,” said Danielle, 32, whose husband, Chris, makes pizza at The All Star. “And it fits. Harley isn’t calm like Chloe is. She can’t stand still. And she wants me for prizes. But I love her. She’s a sweetie.”

As “boss server” at The All Star, Danielle has myriad duties that include bringing out pizza and cake for children’s birthday parties, but she draws the line at bowling.

“I get a lot of parents who think I’m supposed to teach their kids how to bowl,” she said. “If I did, they’d end up being terrible. Then the parents would wonder why I didn’t bring out the pizza and cake.”

Danielle cheerfully did so for Chloe and her friends. The pizza was delicious. And the cake was even better. Danielle lit the candles so everyone could sing happy birthday to Chloe, who then blew them out.

“Did you make the pizza?” I asked Danielle, who said Chris wasn’t working that day.

“No,” she answered.

“Did you bake the cake?” I inquired.

“No,” Danielle said again. “I can’t cook and I can’t bake. I can make sandwiches, but nobody wants them at a party.”

Thanks to Danielle, Chloe’s party was terrific. As the kids were leaving, their parents made sure to drop off their bowling shoes.

“When we come back with Chloe,” I told Danielle, “I’ll bowl, too.”

“And for once,” she said, “you might win. Then,” Danielle added with a smile, “the bowling shoe would be on the other foot.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima