Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Boys Will Be Boys"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a guy who for almost 40 years has been pretty much the lone source of testosterone in my immediate family (which has included one wife, two daughters, two granddaughters, two dogs, three out of four cats and countless goldfish), I was thrilled recently to meet my infant grandson, Xavier, with whom I plan to form a bond based on such important masculine benchmarks as whoopee cushions and the Three Stooges.

For expert advice in the fine art of corrupting male children and appalling the women who love them, I spoke with my buddy Tim Lovelette, who has two sons and six grandchildren, the last two, both born in the past year, boys.

“First off,” Tim said, “you have to buy Xavier stuff you would never buy for your granddaughters.”

That means, he added, shopping with the Johnson Smith Company, whose catalog features such timeless products as joy buzzers, squirting flowers, plastic teeth, remote-controlled tarantulas, X-ray glasses and, of course, whoopee cushions.

“Where else are you going to get fake dog vomit?” Tim noted. “Or a carbide cannon? Did you ever see one of those things? They’re awesome. They shoot water and make a really loud noise. Women aren’t going to buy this stuff for them. It’s up to us. We have to keep the guy thing going.”

That includes introducing boys to the Three Stooges.

“It’s our solemn responsibility,” Tim said. “Men love the Stooges and women hate them. It’s a law of nature. Listen,” he continued, “this is not about your grandson. It’s about your relationship with him. You have to exercise your lack of maturity. All these women have matured over time. We haven’t. And we can’t let it happen to our grandsons.”

What about Tim’s sons, Marshall and Brendan?

“They had a very odd upbringing,” Tim said. “That’s because I’m their father. But I taught them all this stuff.”

And now he’s ready to teach it to his grandsons, Marshall III and Emmett, whose middle name is Timothy.

“There’s something wrong with anyone who would name a kid after me,” Tim said, adding that his wife, Jane, and their daughter, Amy, are never surprised by anything he does.

“They’re waiting for this stuff to happen,” Tim said.

But his daughter-in-law Sara, who is married to Marshall, and his son-in-law, Mel, who is married to Amy, the parents of Tim’s grandkids, sometimes are surprised. So is Brendan’s wife, Christie.

“I’ll tell them, ‘What, you didn’t expect this? You knew what you had on your hands when you married into the family.’ They still don’t believe it,” Tim said with no small amount of pride.

I said that my wife, Sue, and our daughters, Katie and Lauren, have come to expect stupidity from me. But even though my sons-in-law, Dave and Guillaume, are also conditioned to it, they’re occasionally taken aback by things I say or do.

“You’d think they would be used to it by now,” said Tim, whose granddaughters are Anna, Camille, Colette and Lydia. Mine are Chloe and Lilly.

But it’s Marshall III, Emmett and Xavier we want to get under our influence.

“You have to take Xavier out to lunch and order grilled octopus,” Tim told me. “Or take him out for a cup of coffee. When you come back, tell the women the two of you had cigars. See how they react. You can’t do this stuff with girls. The women in my family are trying to condition my grandsons before they’re released into my custody. But I have every intention of corrupting them.”

And when the boys are older, said Tim, they can repay us.

“By the time Xavier is 8 years old, he’s your technical department,” Tim said. “Buy a TV and he’ll set it up. And you don’t have to pay him. You can save the money for beer. He’ll be too young to drink it anyway.”

For now, however, it’s vital that the seeds of masculine immaturity are planted.

“The whole war effort depends on you,” Tim said. “And if you run out of stupid ideas, call me.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Poppie's Back Story"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
A little while back, I had a bad back. It was one of the few times that otherwise helpful people didn’t say to me, “I have your back.” And no wonder. Who’d want it?

The garbageman didn’t. I threw my back out, but he wouldn’t take it.

In fact, that’s how I got a bad back. The garbageman had just taken away everything in the garbage bin, which was light and empty, just like my head. I was bringing the bin back to the backyard, which is not a bad backyard because I don’t have to take care of it, though if I did, the backyard would no doubt give me a bad back.

But back to my story. I was carrying the bin back when I felt a sudden pain in my back. It was as if somebody (the garbageman, perhaps) had jammed a hot fireplace poker into it.

That wasn’t the case, of course, because I don’t have a fireplace and I don’t play poker.

Still, as I limped painfully back to the house, it brought me back to the two other times I have had a bad back.

The first time was when I was carrying an air conditioner down a flight of stairs. That I wrenched my back was understandable because the typical air conditioner weighs about as much as a baby grand piano. Or, if you are not musically inclined, a dead body, which might as well have been mine.

The second time was not so understandable because I was bending down to get dishwashing liquid under the kitchen sink when a bolt of lightning coursed down my spine, preventing me from straightening up and making me the human equivalent of an isosceles triangle, an unfortunate comparison since I flunked high school geometry.

Every time I have had a bad back, I have talked with people who either have had a bad back themselves or have known other people who have had a bad back and have contradictory suggestions for treating it.

They are: exercise, relaxation, cold and/or heat. My favorite suggestion was to let somebody walk on my back. Unfortunately, I don’t know Heidi Klum and would probably get stuck with Chris Christie.

Until this most recent flare-up, I thought the two best things for a bad back were rest and beer. But now I have an even better answer: grandchildren.

Recently, my granddaughters, Chloe, 4, and Lilly, 7 months, spent the weekend with me and my wife, Sue, who has a great back. Frequently, however, she has a pain in the area directly south of it, a condition she attributes to yours truly. Only wine can help.

This time, Chloe and Lilly helped me. When they arrived, Chloe wanted me to pick her up so she could give me a kiss. She weighs 36 pounds, not an extraordinary amount for someone who has built up his muscles by doing 12-ounce curls. But when that weight is moving in all directions while being held in your arms, it adds several long tons of pressure to an already sore back.

Miraculously, I didn’t collapse. Chloe kissed me and said, “I love you, Poppie!” Suddenly, I felt a lot better.

Then I picked up Lilly, who weighs 14 pounds, and kissed her. She cooed. I carried her around the house for a while, which helped me work the knots (sheepshank, not sailor’s) out of my back.

For the next two days, I bent down to play with Lilly while she was in her bouncy seat, played hide-and-seek with Chloe, held Lilly to give her a bottle, lifted Chloe onto my lap so I could read to her, sprawled on the floor during tummy time with Lilly, and otherwise had a ball with the girls.

By the end of the weekend, I was cured. To stay that way, I will soon see my 2-month-old, 12-pound grandson, Xavier, whom I will carry around to keep in shape.

When it comes to feeling good, my grandkids have my back.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

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