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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"CPR for Dummies"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When it comes to saving lives, I used to be such a dummy that I couldn’t even spell CPR. But I recently took a CPR class in which the instructor used me as a dummy. Now I am a lifesaver. And if you’re ever choking on one, I can save your life.

I was transformed from a nervous wreck who knew only the Heineken maneuver (“You’re choking? Have a beer!”) to a confident guy who also knows the Heimlich (“Pop goes the Life Saver!”) by Tom Henry, the dashing, funny, extremely impressive trainer who taught the CPR class I took at work.

I was among 17 aspiring heroes in the auditorium, where Tom had assembled the tools of his trade: masks, defibrillators and, of course, dummies, of which I would be the biggest.

“These mannequins and dolls are my second family, except they don’t talk back,” said Tom, 55, a former New York City CSI detective (“It was boring compared to the TV show,” he acknowledged) who now runs an American Heart Association-approved CPR training center.

The mannequins and dolls came in three sizes: adult, child and baby. Since the adults were only heads and torsos, Tom wanted to demonstrate on a real-life dummy.

“Jerry!” he said, pointing in my direction. “Come on up.”

I bounded to the middle of the spacious room and was asked to lie on the floor, next to an adult mannequin.

Tom gazed down and said, “The dummy is better-looking.”

Then he ran through the possibilities of why I might need CPR, among them a heart attack or a bad fall.

“If I hit my head,” I said, “I wouldn’t get hurt.”

“I can see why,” said Tom, adding that one of the first things to do is to take off the victim’s shirt in case a defibrillator is needed. “I am NOT going to take off Jerry’s shirt,” he announced.

My colleagues, both men and women, breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Tom then said mouth-to-mouth resuscitation might be needed.

“Am I going to lock lips with Jerry?” he asked. “No way!”

Instead, he demonstrated the technique used in pumping the victim’s chest to keep the heart beating. It didn’t hurt because Tom didn’t use full force — he saved that for the mannequin — but it did tickle.

When Tom was finished, he helped me up and announced, “We saved Jerry!”

My colleagues applauded, which also did my heart good, though I’m sure none of them wanted to lock lips with me, either.

“When performing CPR, you can’t worry about hurting somebody,” Tom said. “If a person is in cardiac arrest, they’re dead. You can’t make it worse. You can’t hurt somebody who’s dead. Although in Jerry’s case,” he added, “it might be difficult to tell the difference.”

Later, Tom used me to demonstrate how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

“Despite what Jerry says,” he noted, “it doesn’t involve beer. You have to do this if a person is choking.”

Tom got behind me and put his arms around my middle, showing the class how to force out whatever might be lodged (a Wint O Green Life Saver, perhaps, or an entire Happy Meal) in my upper airway.

“You should be careful when doing this to someone who’s pregnant,” Tom advised.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m not.”

“No,” Tom replied, “but you are kind of flabby.”

We used the mannequins to learn how to perform CPR and do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“If you were breathing into Jerry’s mouth,” Tom told my classmates, “you’d have to hope he brushed his teeth.”

“I did that yesterday,” I said.

The last thing we learned was how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator), which was demonstrated on a mannequin.

“We’re not going to jump-start Jerry,” Tom said. “He’s been through enough today.”

But it was well worth it. The three-hour class was fun, fascinating and vital. And Tom was a great instructor.

“You were great, too,” he said when the session was over. “In fact, when it comes to CPR, you’re a real dummy.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Nutty but Nice"

By Jerry  Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I work for peanuts. This may explain why I recently did two very important things:

(a) I bought a Powerball ticket.

(b) I made my own peanut butter.

My love of money, which I don’t have much of because I had to take a vow of poverty when I went into journalism, is exceeded only by my love of peanut butter, which doesn’t cost much and tastes a lot better, especially if you are the kind of person who puts his money where his mouth is.

I got the idea to make my own peanut butter when I read an online article about various uses for the stuff, which are not, apparently, limited to eating.

For instance, it can be used as shaving cream. I had never thought of this, mainly because I would rather eat peanut butter and save my shaving cream for pies, just like the Three Stooges did when they started pie fights.

Hungry for knowledge, I tried it. I got a knife and spread the peanut butter on my face, then I grabbed my trusty razor and, cheek by jowl, carefully smoothed out the situation. It worked like a charm. I didn’t have razor stubble. And I didn’t cut myself, though I’m sure the peanut butter would have stanched the blood.

Best of all, I smelled good, which is another use for peanut butter. According to the article, it is an odor eliminator. In addition, it’s a squeak eliminator that can be used in place of WD-40 on hinges and drawers. It’s also a squeak eliminator because it can be used as mouse trap bait.

Other peanut butter uses: windshield cleaner (it removes bug carcasses, which would make creamy peanut butter chunky); hair moisturizer (if you leave it in, I guess it would get rid of the gray, too); and leather cleaner (too kinky to think about).

But since the best use for peanut butter is eating, I decided to make my own.

Following a recipe I also got online, I bought a bag of raw peanuts and a bottle of peanut oil, which are the main ingredients, along with kosher salt, a box of which was already in a kitchen cabinet.

According to the instructions, I needed a food processor, a baking sheet, a spatula and a container with a lid.

My wife, Sue, also a peanut butter fan (she likes chunky, while I prefer creamy), set up the food processor and said, “Good luck. And don’t forget to clean everything up when you’re done.”

The most labor-intensive part of the process was shelling two cups of peanuts, some of which I ate, which is why it took about half an hour.

Then I spread them on the baking sheet, set the oven at 350 degrees and put them in for 10 minutes, after which I dumped them into the food processor and checked out the instructions, which said, “If you toasted your nuts, do this while they are still warm. Pulse a few times until chopped.”

It hurt just reading this.

Next, I ran the food processor for one minute, stopped and scraped the sides and the bottom of the bowl, and repeated the process twice. Then I put in half a teaspoon of kosher salt and two tablespoons of peanut oil and ran the processor for two more minutes.

I carefully lifted the lid, hoping my peanut butter wouldn’t be like Spackle. To my amazement, it had a perfectly creamy consistency. I dipped in a spoon, which I like to use when I eat the store-bought stuff straight from the jar, and lifted it to my mouth.

My taste buds did backflips. I didn’t because I figured I would break something, like the food processor or my leg, but I can honestly say it was the best peanut butter I have ever tasted.

“Wow!” Sue exclaimed when I gave her some. “This is really good.”

Even Maggie the dog loved it, though she had a tough time getting it off the roof of her mouth.

I spooned the peanut butter into a container and put it in the refrigerator, proud that it is too good to use as a windshield cleaner or a hair moisturizer. I won’t even shave with it.

I’ll just be happy that I have won the culinary equivalent of Powerball and put my peanut butter where my mouth is.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima