By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
One evening, when my sisters and I were young, we were eating dinner with my parents when my father suddenly complained that he had a splitting headache. “It feels like my eyes are about to pop out of my skull!” he moaned.
Then he got up and stalked out of the kitchen. We were all worried because my father never complained about anything.
A minute later, he came back into the kitchen wearing a pair of fake plastic eyeglasses, out of which, on springs, popped a pair of bloodshot styrofoam eyeballs.
My mother, my sisters and I burst into laughter. My father proudly joined in.
He had spent the day at work, fashioning these glasses that made it look like his eyes were popping out of his skull, just so he could play a practical joke on his family.
“What a guy!” I thought. I had always loved and admired my father, but from that moment on, he was my hero.
I grew up wanting to be like my dad, the original and best Jerry Zezima, because he was the funniest guy I ever knew.
One of his favorite stories involved his service in World War II. He was too humble to brag about his Purple Heart, but he did love to say that when he arrived in London, he got a letter from his mother, warning him about all the seedy nightclubs she had read about in the paper. In the letter, she included the names of those clubs. My father smiled and told me, “They were the first places we went.”
One night, when I was a kid, I was trying to get to sleep in my bedroom when I thought I heard my father crying. I got up, padded down the hall and found him in the living room, crying -- with laughter -- while watching Laurel and Hardy.
“They were on a train,” he later explained, “pulling people’s pants down.”
Thanks to my dad, I came to appreciate the genius of Stan and Ollie.
I also grew to revere other comic duos, like the Road Runner and the Coyote. My father and I watched their crazy cartoons, cackling as the Coyote’s attempts to snare his avian adversary with a contraption from the Acme Company invariably blew up in his face.
We also loved another animated twosome, Sylvester and Tweety, the former a fumbling feline who hungrily stalked the latter, a little yellow bird who exclaimed, “I tawt I taw a puddy cat!” When Sylvester got his comeuppance, which usually involved an anvil, my father and I roared with delight.
Then there were Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, two other comic geniuses who starred in “The Honeymooners,” which my father thought was the greatest sitcom ever made. So do I.
My father and I were also a comedy team. I was the straight man. Whenever I called my parents after work and my father answered, he’d say, ostensibly with a mouthful of food, “We’re right in the middle of dinner.”
“Sorry,” I’d reply.
My father would chortle and say, “I’m just pulling your leg! We already ate.”
In some ways, we were comically different. He was the handiest guy I knew. Unfortunately, his skills skipped a generation because I am the least handy man in America. To me, a screwdriver is vodka and orange juice.
My dad was ahead of his time in that he was thoroughly domesticated. He bathed us kids when we were babies, he fed us, he did household chores. My mom said he never left his dirty socks and underwear on the floor. For me, it was another trait that unfortunately has skipped a generation.
One thing that I wasn’t bad at, and at which my dad excelled, was sports. He played semiprofessional football as a young man and always found time to have a catch with me. He also took me fishing a lot. Once, when I wasn’t with him, he caught a 41-pound striped bass. My mom took a picture of him with the monster, which he then gutted, cleaned and chopped into fillets. Only afterward did he realize that he should have had it mounted. “It would have been a great trophy,” he said.
But the real trophy was my father, who died recently at 93.
Mark Twain once said that there is no humor in heaven. That’s not true anymore because my dad is there, laughing at the antics of Laurel and Hardy and playing practical jokes.
God, they’ll love the one with the eyeglasses.
Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima