Thursday, May 17, 2018

"A Hole Lot of Fun"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
My granddaughter Chloe, who’s 5, is so sweet that she doesn’t mind that I have a hole in my head. She’s also sweet on doughnuts, most of which have holes that rival mine.

So it was only fitting that, in keeping with the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial in which Fred the Baker said, “Time to make the doughnuts,” we recently went to Dunkin’ Donuts because it was, as Chloe the Baker said, “Time to make the doughnuts.”

We arrived at the Dunkin’ Donuts store in Coram, New York, where Chloe and I often go so she can have her favorite doughnut (strawberry frosted with rainbow sprinkles) and I can have mine (jelly with powdered sugar), and were warmly greeted by shift leader Dinora Ramos.

“Is it time to make the doughnuts?” I asked.

“Yes,” Dinora replied. “How did you know?”

“I have a hole in my head,” I said.

“Doughnuts have holes, too, Poppie,” Chloe told me.

“Also,” I said to Dinora, “I’m half-baked.”

“That’s why Chloe will be making the doughnuts,” said Dinora, who asked me to help Chloe wash her hands (I had to be useful somehow) and then gave her a pair of clear plastic gloves so she not only would be abiding by health standards but wouldn’t get frosting and sprinkles all over her fingers, which happens when she eats doughnuts.

After donning an apron, so she wouldn’t get frosting and sprinkles all over her clothes, either, Chloe stepped up on a stool and got ready to decorate a batch of bare doughnuts that sat on a counter behind the store’s display case.

“These have already been made,” Dinora explained, “but you can put on any kind of topping you want.”

Dinora gave Chloe a spreader, which she dipped into a container of strawberry frosting. Then she spread the pink mixture over the first doughnut well enough to impress Dinora and the rest of the friendly staff.

“She’s a pro,” said Carlos Rivero, another shift leader.

“I use a spreader when I put spackle on the walls at home before I paint,” I said.

“It’s a good thing you’re not making doughnuts,” Carlos noted.

“That’s true,” I answered. “Spackle wouldn’t taste too good, even with sprinkles.”

“Speaking of sprinkles, would you like to put some on your doughnut?” Dinora asked Chloe, who chose the rainbow variety, which she sprinkled, very neatly, over the frosting.

“Great job, Chloe!” I said.

Chloe beamed proudly and replied, “Thank you, Poppie! Can I do another one?”

Dinora kindly let her do several more, including one for me, a jelly doughnut that Chloe topped with powdered sugar.

“Now,” said Dinora, “let’s go to the kitchen.”

Safety rules prohibited Chloe and me from getting near the oven, but Chloe actually did make doughnuts by filling a couple of them with jelly (she pushed the button on a pump machine) and spreading powdered sugar on others.

“She could be a baker,” said Johnny, one of the store’s three bakers, who make about 10,000 doughnuts a day for the area’s 11 stores.

After Chloe made two more jellies, we went back out front.

“You’re quite a chef, Chloe,” said Dinora.

“I know,” Chloe replied.

“Did you have fun?” asked Dinora.

“Yes!” Chloe exclaimed.

We both thanked Dinora, who handed us two boxes of doughnuts and said, “I know they’ll be really good because you made them, Chloe.”

Then we drove back to Nini and Poppie’s house, where my wife, Sue, aka Nini, waited with Chloe’s mommy, Lauren; her daddy, Guillaume; and her little sister, Lilly.

Chloe’s creations ran the gamut from vanilla to chocolate to jelly to Boston cream, topped with all kinds of sprinkles, chips, sugar and frosting.

As we got ready to savor her delicious treats, the little baker sat at the kitchen table and, holding a strawberry frosted with rainbow sprinkles in soon-to-be-messy fingers, smiled and said, “Time to eat the doughnuts.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, May 3, 2018

"All Hands on Tech"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
In a world of rapidly increasing technology, which I understand about as well as I do the theory of relativity, which states that my youngest relatives, who happen to be my grandchildren, know more about this stuff than I do, there is one question that stands out as the most vexing of all:

How many months of my life have I spent waiting for that little circle on my computer screen to stop spinning?

To get the answer to this and other confounding computer conundrums, I tapped two tech titans, Karen Woodward and Vinny Demasi, who are among the nice, talented  and very helpful IT folks where I work.

“The little circle used to be an hourglass and you had to wait for it to fill up,” Vinny said.

“That’s why it seemed like an hour before I could do anything,” I recalled.

“Now it’s a spinning circle,” Karen said. “If you look at it too long, you’ll get dizzy.”

“I’m that way already,” I told her.

Karen, 63, who has been in the computer field for 19 years, and Vinny, 30, who has been in the business for nine years, work on the Help Desk and have patiently and expertly helped me and countless colleagues with problems ranging from the simple, like signing in, to the complex, which involves rebooting.

“My definition of rebooting,” I said, “is putting your foot through the screen.”

“Then you’d have to pay for a new computer,” Vinny pointed out.

“And,” Karen added, “you’d probably break your foot.”

When I said that computers run the world and that IT workers are the linchpins of our existence, Karen said, “I wish I had put that on my self-evaluation.”

“Break into the system and add it,” I suggested. “I’d do it for you, but I don’t know your password. I can barely remember mine.”

“That,” Vinny said, “is one of the problems we deal with every day.”

There are plenty of others, he continued, like when people call to say that their computer screens are upside down.

“Have you asked if the people are upside down?” I wondered.

“If that were the case,” said Vinny, “I’d go over and take a picture.”

“We get calls for everything,” Karen said. “Your coffee maker doesn’t work? Plug it in. But if your computer is on fire, we can’t help you over the phone.”

“We’d recommend a fire extinguisher,” Vinny said.

“How about marshmallows?” I suggested.

“You could stick them on the end of a ruler,” said Karen.

“Most of the time, it’s not that extreme,” Vinny noted. “The people we deal with are really nice — when they’re not yelling at the computer — and we like helping them.”

It’s true, Vinny acknowledged, that older people such as yours truly aren’t as computer savvy as younger ones.

“I have three grandchildren, ages 5, a year and a half and 1, and they’re more technologically advanced than I am,” I said.

“I have a 1-year-old granddaughter,” Karen said. “I was babysitting her the other day and my daughter texted me on my phone. All of a sudden I saw this little finger like a toothpick scrolling up. She already knows what to do.”

“My 1-year-old daughter knows how to go on YouTube,” Vinny said. “On my phone, she skips ads in the bottom right corner. She pulls the bottom up to show related videos.”

“Even I didn’t know that,” Karen admitted.

“I didn’t teach her,” said Vinny. “She saw me and my wife doing it. Kids are really smart these days.”

“It’s a good thing there are child labor laws or they’d be working in IT,” I said.

“And take our jobs,” said Vinny.

“Then,” Karen told me, “you’d have to ask a toddler to show you how to get that little circle on your computer screen to stop spinning.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Isn't It Romantic?"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
When you’ve been married for 40 years, as my wife, Sue, and I have been, you want to celebrate your anniversary in a big way, by doing something wonderful and memorable during a week of fun and frolic, all while expressing your eternal devotion to your beloved spouse.

So I got my teeth cleaned and Sue had a root canal.

These were only two of the many romantic ways we marked this landmark event, which was so action-packed that we needed five full days to cram it all in.

It should be noted that we spent this time at home, not in some tropical resort with postcards, palm trees and swim-up bars, which only would have distracted us from doing such exciting things as shoveling snow and babysitting our granddaughters.

That’s exactly what we did on our anniversary, when Mother Nature spared no expense in gifting us with a spring storm that dumped six inches of snow on our driveway.

Instead of wearing a bathing suit and flip-flops, with a margarita in hand, I donned a parka and boots, with a shovel in hand, and headed out into the arctic air.

“Have fun!” Sue said as she blew me a kiss.

When I came back in, cold and tired, I found a waterfall — not like in Hawaii, where Sue and I honeymooned — that was cascading through the ceiling from an upstairs bathroom, where our son-in-law Guillaume had just taken a shower.

“Shall we call a plumber to help us celebrate our anniversary?” I asked Sue.

She declined when the leak stopped and said that she and our younger daughter, Lauren, were going shopping. Since Guillaume was going to work, I would be in charge of babysitting our granddaughters, Chloe, 5, and Lilly, a year and a half. It was the most fun I had all day.

Later, after everyone left and Sue and I were alone, we had a romantic candlelight dinner featuring leftovers.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said as Sue and I toasted each other with boxed wine.

“Happy anniversary, dear,” she replied sweetly.

The next day, which was Tuesday, I proved that I would do anything for my wife short of painting the hallway by driving her to the orthodontist’s office so she could have a root canal.

“Don’t worry,” I said reassuringly. “It won’t hurt.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Sue replied nervously.

“I know,” I told her. “That’s why I said it.”

As it turned out, I was right: It didn’t hurt at all. It didn’t hurt Sue, either. But it did knock her out, which is why she spent the afternoon napping while I made myself useful by having cocktails.

On Wednesday, I had an appointment with my dermatologist, who will turn 40 later this year.

“I’ve been married as long as you’ve been alive,” I said.

“I’ve been married for 12 years,” he responded, “but it feels like 40.”

By the afternoon, Sue was feeling much better, so we spent the rest of the day at the outlets, shopping for sneakers, shoes and, most important, a new pair of boots.

“In case,” I explained to Sue, “it snows again.”

On Thursday, the action continued when I got a haircut. After I told my barber, Maria, about my anniversary week, she said, “You’ll need another week to recover.”

That afternoon, Sue and I went to a travel agency to see if we could book a vacation to a warmer locale later in the year.

Lindsay, our travel consultant, said, “You’re having a busy week. You need to get away.”

Friday morning, I got my teeth cleaned. After I told Margaret, the hygienist, all about the exciting things Sue and I had done to celebrate our anniversary, she said, “All that’s missing is a colonoscopy.”

That night, Sue and I went out to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant called Grana, where we were serenaded by Brett Chizever, a bartender who also has theater experience and once played Rooster Hannigan in a road version of “Annie.”

In a beautiful operatic voice, Brett, 30, sang us a Gershwin tune called “Love Is Here to Stay.”

His rendition earned a round of applause.

“Happy 40th anniversary, you two lovebirds,” Brett said.

“Thank you,” Sue replied with a wide smile.

“Believe me,” I added, “this is the most romantic thing that’s happened to us all week.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Que Syrah, Syrah"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
When it comes to wine, I have a discriminating palate, so I know that whites go with lighter foods, such as Twinkies and Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish sticks, and that reds pair well with meatier offerings, like hot dogs and Slim Jims.

But even I, a person whose prodigious proboscis has sniffed so much wine that I often need a decongestant, had a lot to learn when I met Jeff Saelens, a true oenophile who recently taught a Wine 101 class at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, New York.

Accompanying me was my wife, Sue, who is something of a wine connoisseur herself (she prefers a glass of chardonnay, out of a box, with one ice cube). The only other students were Brittany Rosen and Chase Smith, a very nice young couple who not only were delightful to talk and drink with, but who guaranteed that, unlike in high school or college, I would graduate no lower than fourth in my class.

Jeff, 78, a wise and witty wine wizard (say that five times fast after you’ve had a snootful of sauvignon), isn’t snooty or snotty even though he is sophisticated. He also is a retired business development expert who used to own a wine shop in Saratoga Springs, New York, and has a degree in neurochemistry from Harvard Medical School.

“Can I call you doctor?” I asked him as the class began.

“I’ve been called worse,” Jeff replied with a wry smile.

Then he handed out the course materials, including a map of France, which Sue and I visited in 2011 for our younger daughter’s wedding. In preparation for the trip, I learned such important French words as “bonjour,” “bon appetit” and, of course, “Bon Jovi.”

The map was divided into France’s premier wine regions, such as Loire Valley and Rhone Valley but not Silicon Valley, where California grapes, not to mention Apples, are grown.

In front of each student were two wineglasses, into which Jeff poured Tang instant breakfast drink.

No, actually, he poured wine, starting with reds, which I prefer, and finishing with whites, which Sue likes.

“First, we will try pinot noir and Syrah,” Jeff said as he gave us a small amount of each.

“The Syrah is drier and the pinot is sweeter,” Sue remarked, to which Brittany and Chase agreed.

Showing my impressive expertise, I noted, “They’re both better than Boone’s Farm.”

Jeff said the grapes for both wines grow better in “a cold, miserable climate,” adding that the best Syrah is from Rhone Valley and the best noir is from Burgundy.

“Syrah dates back 2,000 years,” Jeff said. “Pinot noir is even older: 3,000 years. Bordeaux, on the other hand, is only 200 to 300 years old. Still,” Jeff added dryly, “that’s even older than I am.”

Our education continued as Jeff talked about different kinds of grapes, as illustrated in our materials, as well as various types of soil, including the sandy loam of Long Island, where the maritime climate also contributes to what we all agreed is the excellence of Martha Clara’s wines.

Having sipped our way through the reds, which made my eyes the same color, we went to the whites, which I really liked even though I don’t normally drink them.

Jeff also discussed food pairings, the fermentation process and wine consumption by countries (France and Italy consume the most while the United States is near the bottom).

“Don’t blame me,” I told Jeff. “I’m doing my best to make America grape again.”

Jeff thanked me for my patriotic efforts and finished by saying that we all passed Wine 101 with flying colors.

“The colors are red and white, right?” I asked.

“Don’t make me revoke your diploma,” Jeff said.

Brittany, Chase, Sue and I didn’t get sheepskins, or even grape skins, but we did get a well-rounded education from a man I would nominate as teacher of the year.

“You’re a good student,” Jeff told me.

“Thank you,” I replied. “In Wine 101, I’m tops in my glass.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

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