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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"This Guy's a Hot Ticket"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If I ever won Powerball, I’d never collect the money because I would either put the ticket somewhere in the house for safekeeping and never find it again or realize I had the winning numbers and drop dead from shock.

But that hasn’t stopped me from playing when the stakes get high enough (the most I ever won was two bucks, which I used to buy another ticket) because it gives me an excuse to go to my favorite store, 50 Percent Off Cards in Coram, New York.

On a recent morning when the jackpot was $155 million, I walked up to the counter and handed $2 to owner Peter Shah, who handed me a ticket and said, “You are going to win. I know it.”

“If I do,” I replied, “I’ll share the money with you.”

“If you don’t,” he said with a smile, “I’ll find you.”

Peter, 50, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1993, doesn’t need the money. That’s because, in the estimation of his customers, including me, he’s priceless.

“Peter is wonderful,” said Ann, who came in to buy a ticket for herself and four of her co-workers, adding: “We recently won $500, so I think he’s a good luck charm, too.”

“Then how come I haven’t won that kind of money?” wondered Peter, who said he buys a ticket once in a while but that, like me, the most he has ever won is $2. “A couple of years ago, somebody won a million dollars here,” Peter recalled. “I don’t know who it was.”

“You didn’t find the guy like you said you were going to find me?” I asked.

“Maybe he dropped dead,” Peter theorized.

Bobby Jolly described Peter as “a great guy, a beautiful man” as he paid for the Daily Racing Form. “I don’t play the lottery,” Bobby said. “I play the horses. I’ve been following them for years.”

“You must run really fast,” I suggested.

“I should enter the Belmont Stakes,” Bobby said. “Then people could bet on me.”

Suzanne, who recently won $4 in her office pool, said Peter is the store’s main attraction.

“This gentleman is very kind,” she said. “And he knows what I play. What do I play, Peter?”

“Mega Millions,” he reminded her. “One day, you’ll win the mega part of it.”

“That would be nice,” Suzanne said. “The most I’ve ever won is $7. I can’t quit my job with that.”

As Suzanne left, in walked Malcolm Abrams, 86, a retired statistician who is Peter’s most loyal customer and half of a comedy team that performs daily routines for amused patrons.

“If I knew I was going to be interviewed,” Malcolm told me, “I would have worn clean underwear.”

“How would you describe Peter?” I asked.

“He’s a great guy,” Malcolm said. “That’s what he would say if you interviewed him.”

“I would say that if I was sleeping,” Peter retorted.

“I don’t play the numbers. I tell Peter I print my own money,” said Malcolm, who volunteers at a nearby hospital.

“He doesn’t wash his hands when he operates on people,” Peter said.

“I do brain surgery,” Malcolm said. “And I’ve been carrying the weight of Peter all these years.”

“When were you born?” Peter asked Malcolm. “It was 1878, right?”

“I’m not that old,” Malcolm shot back. “It was 1879. Let’s get it straight.”

“I gave Jerry your Social Security number,” Peter told Malcolm.

“See what I have to put up with?” Malcolm said to me as he paid Peter for a newspaper. “I come in here every day because I feel I have a spiritual obligation to Peter. He wouldn’t survive without me.”

With that, Malcolm, who lives around the corner but has resided in many places, including 31 years in Schenectady (“It took me that long to learn how to spell it,” he said), tipped his cap and said to Peter, “If you’re lucky, you’ll see me tomorrow.”

I was lucky to have witnessed all of that but not so fortunate with my Powerball ticket: I didn’t get even one number.

“One of these days you’ll win,” Peter said a couple of days later. “And you won’t drop dead. Then,” he added with a smile, “you can share the money with me.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Life (and Almost Death) of the Party"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
For a geezer like me, it’s nice to go to a birthday party that isn’t your own because you don’t have to put up with wisecracks about needing a fire extinguisher to blow out the candles.

Then again, when there are only four candles, you can blow them out yourself without going into cardiac arrest.

That’s the lesson I learned 59 years ago but forgot until recently, when I accompanied my granddaughter Chloe, who will soon be 4 herself, to a birthday party for her preschool classmate Mason, whose celebration was at a children’s activity center where I climbed, slid, bounced, crawled, ran around and otherwise worked up such a sweat that I almost went into cardiac arrest anyway.

I knew I was in for an intense experience that might end in an ambulance ride when I walked in with Chloe and was told by the nice young woman at the desk that Mason’s party wouldn’t start for an hour. She gave me a day pass, asked that Chloe and I take off our shoes, and said we and the 15 other kids and their parents (I was the only grandparent) could have the run of the place until the festivities officially began.

And run we did. First, Chloe took me to a giant rubber slide that was so high it would have made a mountain goat dizzy. I am not a mountain goat (my ears are too short), but I am naturally dizzy, so I was in my element. Upon reaching the top, I held Chloe’s hand and we whooshed down at such an alarming speed that my stomach was temporarily lodged in my sinuses.

It was fun the first time we went. It was fun the second time. By approximately the dozenth time, my knees were as gelatinous as my brain.

But this was only a prelude to a maze called Kilimanjaro. I’m not sure how many preschoolers have read Hemingway, but by the time I found my way out, long after Chloe had completed the course, my limbs were so sore it was almost a farewell to arms.

My legs didn’t fare much better in the inflatable castle, where I bounced with Chloe until my lungs were about to explode like the Hindenburg. (“Oh, the stupidity!”) The structure flashed with multicolored lights and pulsated with tunes such as the 1965 Lesley Gore hit “It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To).” It wasn’t my party, but I wanted to cry when I fell out and was helped up by a sympathetic mom who asked if I was hurt.

“No,” I replied. “I landed on my head.”

“You’re a good egg,” she said.

“At this point,” I noted, “I’m a scrambled egg.”

Finally, mercifully, mere moments before paramedics had to be called, it was time for Mason’s party, which was in a back room where the kids could giggle, the parents could converse and I, thank God, could catch my breath.

“You’re not serving beer, are you?” I asked Mason’s mother, Danielle, who smiled and said, “No, but you look like you need one.”

Mason’s father, Gavin, added, “We have lemonade.”

I had a cup. It hit the spot. And the party was fantastic. Chloe saw her friends, including Olivia and Ryan, as well as Mason, of course. We all had pizza, after which there were cupcakes. When it came time to sing happy birthday to Mason, the kids gathered around and helped him blow out the candle on his cupcake. The candle was lit again so he could blow it out himself.

“Make a wish,” Danielle told him.

Without missing a beat, Mason said, “I wish for money!”

He got toys instead, but the day was priceless. Everyone had a great time, including me, not just because I accompanied Chloe, but because it looks like I will live to celebrate my next birthday. 

The party won’t be at a children’s activity center, but there will be beer. And if Chloe learns how to handle a fire extinguisher, she can help me blow out the candles.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, March 9, 2017

"The Kids Are All Right"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When I became a grandfather almost four years ago, I learned that babysitting is child’s play: As long as you play with the child, are willing to do diaper duty and don’t confuse the kid’s bottle with your own, you can be a great grandfather.

But what would happen if you had two grandchildren — one preschooler and one infant — to babysit?

That’s the situation in which I found myself on a recent Friday, when Chloe and Lilly’s mommy, Lauren; their daddy, Guillaume; and their grandmother, who also happens to be my wife, Sue, all went out of town and left me, for the first time, to watch both girls.

Here is a record of the marathon.

5:30 a.m.: The alarm clock goes off and I bound out of bed, stubbing my toe on the radiator. I am off and limping.

5:45: Sue and Lauren finish packing. They won’t be back until Sunday. Guillaume, who already has been gone for three days, isn’t scheduled to return for another 12 hours. To show how challenging child care is, I am the only alternative. At least my services don’t cost anything.

6:15: Chloe gets up. We immediately start playing. This will go on all day.

6:40: Sue and Lauren leave for the airport. Bon voyage!

6:45: Lilly wakes up. I bring her downstairs in her Rock ’n Play Sleeper and wish there was something like that for adults. It would be great to drink beer in.

7:00: Chloe and I make a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage without burning the house down.

7:45: I give Lilly a bottle. It contains formula. (See 6:45 entry.)

8:30: Sue calls from the airport to make sure everything is OK. “I have to go,” I tell her. “The first responders are here.” Sue sighs and hangs up.

9:15: Lilly poops! She hadn’t done so for three days and her deposit is, to put it mildly, breathtaking. Not to be outdone, Chloe announces she has to go potty. Then Maggie the dog has to go out. The girls are firing on all cylinders.

9:30: While Lilly naps, Chloe and I amuse ourselves by running around the house and generally acting silly. It would be hard to tell who is babysitting whom.

11:00: I dress the girls, Chloe in a nice outfit Lauren picked out and Lilly in a onesie. I get dressed in a twosie (sweatshirt and sweatpants) but forget, I realize later that night, to brush my teeth.

11:45: Lilly has another bottle. This kid is starting to rival me in my college days.

12:30 p.m.: Chloe and I have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Chloe gets some on her new white sweater. I try to get it off with dishwashing liquid. Then I stick the sweater in the bottom of the girls’ laundry pile and hope nobody notices.

1:30: Since it is a beautiful day, all of us go outside. Chloe blows bubbles, Lilly enjoys the fresh air and Maggie marks her territory. Miraculously, nobody steps in it.

2:30: We go back inside and continue playing.

3:15: Lilly has yet another bottle.

3:30: Lauren calls to say she and Sue have landed and to see if we are still alive. I tell her that I am burping Lilly. I also tell her not to worry because I have everything under control. Then I burp. Lauren sighs and hangs up.

4:30: I put on Chloe’s favorite TV program, “The Mr. Men Show,” which is now my favorite, too.

6:15: Lilly gulps down her fourth bottle. Afterward, I change her diaper, which is wet enough to fill a kiddie pool.

7:00: Guillaume returns from his overseas trip but is too tired to eat and falls asleep in a chair. Chloe and I have leftover stuffed peppers for dinner. Then I give her a bath and put her to bed.

8:00: I put Guillaume to bed (he can take his own bath) and stay up with Lilly.

11:45: Lilly has a fifth. I have a glass of wine. Then we both hit the sack. It’s been a great day. Guillaume is impressed the following morning. So are Sue and Lauren when they get back on Sunday.

“The girls were as good as gold,” I tell them. “And I’m twice as great a grandfather as I was before.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima