Thursday, September 6, 2018

"Cute Cousin Combo"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
When two of your three grandchildren are siblings and the third one is not, that makes all of them cousins, even though the first two are not cousins of each other but only of the third, who is a cousin of the first two but not of himself.

That makes the cuckoo who concocted this cockamamie cousin conundrum a grandfather twice removed, which means he should have been removed from a family get-together twice already but, to the consternation of everyone else, keeps coming back.

It happened recently when my wife, Sue, and I were visited by our three grandchildren: Chloe, who is 5 and a half; her little sister, Lilly, who is almost 2; and their cousin, Xavier, who’s a year and a half.

We are fortunate to see Chloe and Lilly frequently because they live about 25 miles away, but it’s not often that we see Xavier because he lives almost 300 miles away. So when there is a chance for all of them to get together, we jump at the opportunity, Sue gracefully with a perfect landing, me clumsily with a stubbed toe and a score that would have gotten me thrown out of the Olympics.

And it takes an Olympian effort to keep up with all of them because they are full of energy, while I am full of, well, diapers, which I have never minded changing for any of them and still do for the youngest two.

Now that I have come clean about it, I should add that the kids have distinct personalities. Chloe relishes her role as big sister and big cousin and takes an almost maternal approach to Lilly and Xavier, showering them with love. Chloe also has a great sense of humor. At dinner during a visit by my mother, Rosina, known to her great-grandchildren as Gigi, Chloe told jokes.

“Knock, knock,” she told the assemblage, which included my nephew Blair and my niece Whitney.

“Who’s there?” we all inquired.

“Boo.”

“Boo who?”

“Don’t cry,” Chloe responded with perfect timing. “It’s just a joke.”

When the line got a big laugh, she beamed. Then she told more jokes.

Lilly is the pistol of the trio. She doesn’t tell jokes, but she gets laughs anyway.

“Nini! Poppie! Nini! Poppie!” she chatters to Sue and me. She’ll go up to our Amazon Echo and shout, “Alexa!” When the device activates, Lilly says, “Moana! Moon!” Then she’ll break into a spontaneous dance when a song from the soundtrack to one of her favorite movies, such as “Moana” or “Sing,” starts playing.

Lilly also eats more than Chloe and Xavier combined but is still a peanut who’s about five pounds lighter than Xavier, even though she’s five months older than he is.

Xavier is a sweet, quiet boy with a perennial smile and an infectious giggle, which I love to trigger with silly sounds and funny faces, which I ordinarily make anyway. Unlike Chloe and Lilly, who love Sue but are more attached to me, Xavier loves me but is more attached to Sue, who exulted at finally being the favorite grandparent by hoisting him into her arms, no easy feat since he’s a big boy, and doing a victory lap around the family room.

Xavier also loves Chloe and called for her after she went home. When she and Lilly returned a couple of days later, Xavier hugged Chloe. He and Lilly are more competitive, vying for the same toys, but they get along well, too.

That was evident when the three of them romped in the backyard, splashing in the kiddie pool, running under the sprinkler and drawing on the patio with chalk.

Chloe drew hopscotch squares, then counted in French as she hopped.

“I love doing hopscotch in French!” she exclaimed.

“Magnifique, Chloe!” I said.

“Merci, Poppie!” she replied.

Lilly and Xavier added their artistry, not only to the patio but to our outdoor furniture. The Louvre would have loved it.

But not as much as Sue and I love our grandchildren. It was great to have them together, which doesn’t happen too often. We can’t wait for the next time.

Till then, I’ll keep trying to figure out that cockamamie cousin conundrum. Maybe when all the kids come back, they can explain it to me.

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Goodbye, Maggie May"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
There is nothing grander than being a grandparent, especially if your grandchildren are as grand as mine.

That is true of Chloe, Lilly and Xavier, who run, walk and toddle about on two legs.

It also was true of Maggie, who scampered about on four legs, balanced by a tail on one end and an eating machine on the other.

Our younger daughter, Lauren, who is Chloe and Lilly’s mommy, was Maggie’s mommy, too. My wife, Sue, and I were Maggie’s grandparents.

Now our family is a lot less fun and much quieter because Maggie, a whippet mix with a big personality and a voice to match, died recently at the age of 13.

The first thing Lauren did when she moved out of the house, officially making Sue and me empty nesters, was to get a dog. She chose a 7-month-old black and white bundle of energy she named Maggie May, after the Rod Stewart song, though Sue also called her Margaret, or Marge, or Margie, or Madge, or Mags, or some variation thereof.

Whatever the moniker, Maggie was Lauren’s first baby.

When Lauren met her future husband, Guillaume, Maggie accepted him right away, which said volumes because Maggie wasn’t overly fond of guys of the human species, though I was an exception, too, because Maggie instinctively knew, don’t ask me how, that her grandfather was an easy touch.

One of the reasons Lauren and Guillaume were such a great match was that, as Lauren later said, “I couldn’t marry somebody my dog didn’t like.”

When Lauren was expecting Chloe, we all worried how Maggie would accept the baby. She could be territorial and jealous, but she was nothing but loving and protective when Chloe arrived. They were pals from the start, a big sister who barked and a little sister who giggled. It was play time all the time.

Due to complicated circumstances involving a house rental, Maggie lived with Sue and me the past two years, though she often saw Lauren, Chloe, Lilly and Guillaume and loved every minute of being with all of us. She especially loved Lauren and knew she was, after all, still her mommy’s dog.

And she loved Sue and the girls, who loved her right back.

It may be true that every dog has its day, but not a day went by that I didn’t think there was no dog with a bigger appetite for life, as well as food of all kinds, than Maggie.

Joey Chestnut, the human vacuum cleaner who sucks down scores of wieners each year in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, eats like a bird compared to Maggie.

We could have fed Maggie an ox and she would have wolfed it down in about two minutes. But if Sue and I sat down to dinner immediately thereafter, Maggie would stand at the table, still hungry and begging for more.

She ate so much that I feared she would explode like a canine Hindenburg, prompting me to exclaim, “Oh, the animality!”

Nonetheless, she was fussy. She would eat dry dog food only if every other source of nourishment on the planet shriveled up. She liked the treats and hearty meals that Sue gave to her on what seemed like an hourly basis. But Maggie, who was plump but not fat, sometimes got tired of one thing, which forced Sue to switch to something else. I thought Maggie should have gone to the supermarket with Sue so she could pick out what she wanted to eat that week.

Naturally, Sue would have to buy the groceries because Maggie didn’t have a paying job. But she did earn her keep by being our auxiliary alarm system. That’s because Maggie liked to bark. And she did, often relentlessly, if someone came to the door, or a repairman entered the house, or a squirrel scampered by, or a leaf blew past the window.

It made me wonder why dogs never get laryngitis.

But Sue and I felt secure with Maggie around.

As she got older, she had her physical challenges. We are indebted to the good folks at Jefferson Animal Hospital for taking such wonderful care of her.

The end came suddenly. Now there is a void in our house and in our hearts.

Rest well, good girl. Eat well, too. In doggy heaven, you’ll never go hungry.

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, August 9, 2018

"A Visit From the Tooth Fairy"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
For grownups, making money can be like pulling teeth. Kids have it so much better because they don’t have to pay to have a tooth extracted. They can just wait for it to fall out. Then they can go to sleep and count on the Tooth Fairy to leave them money, which not only saves them the trouble of going to work and actually earning it, but eliminates service fees because the moola can go straight into their piggy banks.

This was the valuable dental and financial lesson learned recently by my granddaughter Chloe, who is 5 and a half and, thanks to the Tooth Fairy, has more shiny coins than I do because, unfortunately, I don’t have a piggy bank.

Chloe lost her first tooth, the lower right central incisor, which wiggled and wobbled for a couple of weeks before succumbing to gravity and some gentle prodding by her mommy, my younger daughter, Lauren, who had prepared for the big event by looking up modern Tooth Fairy protocol.

But first, there was an announcement.

“Poppie!” Chloe chirped over the phone. “I have a loose tooth!”

“That’s wonderful, Honey!” I exclaimed. “And when it falls out, you’ll get a visit from the Tooth Fairy!”

“That’s right, Poppie!” Chloe replied excitedly. “And she’ll leave me money!”

“That’s right, Chloe!” I said, continuing a conversation punctuated by exclamation points.

“I can’t wait!” said Chloe, who nonetheless did not get an immediate windfall because the tooth stubbornly hung on.

It didn’t fall out during a visit to the dentist. According to Lauren, Chloe announced in the office that she wouldn’t be getting her adult teeth until she’s 44.

“She also said she wasn’t going to chew bubble gum until she’s 16,” Lauren reported.

The next chance for the tooth to fall out was that weekend, when Chloe spent a night with me and my wife, Sue.

“Maybe the Tooth Fairy will visit you tonight,” I told Chloe.

“I hope so, Poppie,” said Chloe, who opened wide to show Sue and me her delicate denticle. “Then she could visit me at my house, too.”

I could see that Chloe, who is good with numbers, was already counting on doubling her money.

To facilitate a payday, I took her to Dunkin’ Donuts, where she bit into a strawberry frosted doughnut with rainbow sprinkles. Unfortunately, it was too soft to knock out the tooth. So was a pizza dinner and the next morning’s sausage-and-egg breakfast.

When I brought her home that afternoon, she watched a “Muppet Babies” episode devoted to the Tooth Fairy.

The video inspiration worked like a charm because that evening, Chloe’s tooth finally fell out. The next day, she called to report the good news.

“I thought it was going to hurt, but it wasn’t so bad,” she told me.

“Did the Tooth Fairy come?” I asked.

“Yes!” Chloe replied. “She left me eight shiny coins under my pillow.”

Those coins, Lauren said when she got on the phone, were quarters, so Chloe got to deposit $2 in her piggy bank.

“She also got a certificate from the Tooth Fairy,” said Lauren, who went online to print it out.

“The Tooth Fairy has a website?” I asked.

“Dad,” Lauren said, “you can find anything on the internet.” She added that Chloe was impressed. “She said, ‘Ooh, a certificate!’ It had her name on it, so it was official.”

My orthodontist was impressed, too.

“Did your granddaughter get 50 cents?” Dr. Ammar Alsamawi asked during my visit to the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine on Long Island, New York, where, he said, the Tooth Fairy has an office.

“Even better,” I told him. “She got two bucks.”

“I guess the Tooth Fairy has to keep up with inflation,” Dr. Alsamawi said. “I wish I’d lose my teeth so I could make money.”

“First,” I said, “you have to buy a piggy bank.”

Chloe’s is about to get fuller because when Sue and I saw her a few days later, she opened wide to show us the gap in her teeth. Then she pointed to the adjacent tooth and said, “It’s getting wobbly. The Tooth Fairy is going to come back.”

“Until Chloe loses the rest of her baby teeth,” I told Lauren, “you’ll have to keep putting your money where her mouth is.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Bonjour, French Doors"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
According to an old saying, which I just made up, when one door closes, your finger will get caught in it.

That’s what happened to me recently, which is why I became unhinged. The door didn’t, but it did lose its weatherstripping, so my wife, Sue, and I went to a home improvement store to buy not one but two (because they come in pairs) French doors.

The old doors, which led from the family room to the backyard patio, wore out because they were constantly being opened and closed for ourselves and other family members, including our granddog, Maggie, a canine alarm system that went off loud and clear when Kevin Morales and Matt Feeley, of A-Plus Quality Designs of Long Island, New York, came over to hang the new doors.

“I was always afraid to get French doors,” I said.

“Why?” Kevin asked.

“Because,” I admitted, “I don’t speak French.”

“So you don’t know how they work?” he wondered.

“I found out when we got the old doors,” I said. “Maggie knows, too. She stands there and understands what I’m saying when I ask if she has to go oui oui.”

“And she’s not even a French poodle,” Kevin noted.

As Maggie, an American mutt, continued barking (in English), Kevin said that his stepmother is French and frequently goes back to visit her family in Paris.

“Our son-in-law Guillaume is from France,” I said. “Sue and I went over when he and our daughter Lauren got married. It was wonderful.”

“My stepmom’s aunt still lives there,” said Kevin. “She’s 85, but she looks like she’s 65.”

“What’s her secret?” I asked.

“She drinks wine and smokes cigarettes,” he said. “And she has an apartment on the French Riviera. They live forever over there.”

“Do they have French doors in France?” I inquired.

“I don’t know,” Kevin said. “I’ve never been there.”

(I later asked Guillaume the same question, to which he replied, “In France, they’re just called doors.”)

As Kevin and Matt got themselves into a jamb, and then out of it, they unlocked some of their secrets.

“One time,” Matt recalled, “we were in a cat house.”

“Really?” I spluttered.

“Yeah,” Matt said. “There were hundreds of cats. The place was a total mess.”

“Then,” Kevin chimed in, “we had a job at a mother-daughter home. In one of the rooms, they had a stripper pole. They said it was only for exercise. Meanwhile, there was a couch in there, too. You had to wonder what went on.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “that was the real cathouse.”

Matt, 22, who studied masonry and carpentry at Alfred State College in Alfred, New York, stood outside and used a table saw to flawlessly cut strips of wood for the door frame.

“If I tried that,” I told him, “my nickname would be Lefty.”

“Some of my teachers were missing fingertips,” Matt said. “They were really good, and I learned a lot from them, but they had been doing that kind of work for 30 years. In all that time, accidents are bound to happen.”

Kevin, 42, who used to build modular homes and worked on the pier at South Street Seaport in New York City, said he learned his trade from his grandfather.

“He had hands of gold,” said Kevin, adding that his father isn’t handy at all. “It skipped a generation,” he said. “In fact, nobody else in my family is handy. When something needs to be done, I’m the guy.”

He and Matt were the guys to do fantastic work on our new doors. That included adding insulation, which wasn’t in our old doors.

“Wasn’t it freezing in this room in the winter?” Matt asked

“Now that you mention it,” I said, “it was a tad chilly.”

“Now it won’t be,” he said.

Sue and I, who had warmed up to the pair, thanked them for a job well done.

“As our son-in-law would say,” I told them, “our new French doors are magnifique.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Out on a Limb"

By Jerry Zezima
Stamford Advocate
Because I have acrophobia, which means I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head, I could never imagine being a tree trimmer.

It’s a condition I share with Ralph Serrano, who owns a tree company but is, unlike his brave and acrobatic employees, afraid of heights.

Even though I was standing on terra firma, which is Latin for “the ground you will land on, and then be buried under, if you fall out of a tree,” I was dizzy just watching one of the crew members from Aspen Tree Service of Long Island, New York, who came over recently to trim some dead branches from a couple of big oaks in my backyard.

The man on the flying trapeze was Lucio, a sinewy and fearless 19-year-old who attached a pair of spikes to his boots and breezed up the larger of the trees until he reached a height that would give a squirrel vertigo.

As I jerked my head to look up, which made me not only a jerk but a pain in my own neck, Lucio waved for me to get out of the way. And no wonder: I was standing directly beneath a branch so massive that if it crashed onto my dense skull, I would have had a year’s worth of firewood, the result being that the house would have burned to the ground because, unfortunately, I don’t have a fireplace.

After I had backed safely away, Lucio revved up his chainsaw and started cutting the branch. Sawdust rained from the sky, covering my noggin and giving me a bad case of woody dandruff.

A minute later, the branch fell, its descent slowed to a gentle thud by a rope that was attached and handled by one of the other four crew members.

Lucio, a rope around him, too, swung to another branch and then to the adjacent oak, felling more lifeless limbs before gliding back down, a smile on his face and nary a drop of sweat on his brow.

I fainted.

“He’s good,” said Miguel, the foreman of the crew, which cut up the downed limbs.

“Aren’t you afraid to be up so high?” I asked Lucio.

He shook his head and said, “I like it.”

When I met Ralph, I told him that his workers were fantastic.

“They’re braver than I am,” he said. “The first time I saw them go up, I said, ‘You guys are nuts.’ You couldn’t pay me to do that.”

Ralph, who worked for another tree company before founding Aspen 20 years ago, recalled the first time he did a pruning job.

“I started to climb,” he said. “It took me about an hour. The homeowner was staring at me. ‘What are you trying to do?’ he asked. I couldn’t even get up the tree. I had to come back with a regular climber. I was petrified. Now I leave it to my guys to do the job.”

“If tree climbing were an Olympic sport, Lucio would win a gold medal,” I said.

“It’s definitely a circus act,” said Ralph, who’s 57.

“And the height of your profession,” I noted.

Ralph nodded and said, “We have plenty of puns. When people ask how business is, I’ll say, ‘We’re branching out.’ And we always go out on a limb for our customers.”

“You don’t,” I reminded him.

“Not literally,” Ralph said. “But I make sure to give them good service.”

“So you’re not a bump on a log,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “But we do haul logs away. And we offer free wood chips.”

“Is that your stump speech?” I asked.

“Now it is,” Ralph said.

I thanked him for a great job and told him to give Lucio and the other guys a raise.

“When it comes to tree trimming,” I said, “they’re a cut above.”

Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima