Sunday, November 10, 2019

"How to Bathe a Baby"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Even though I haven’t taken a bath since I was a baby, which dates all the way back to the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose bathing habits are classified information, I am now an expert on the subject. That’s because I recently gave a bath to a baby who needed it so badly, after her diaper exploded all over me, that I would have taken one, too, except I couldn’t fit in the sink.

All of this happened at 3 a.m., a time when babies (and their grandfathers) should be sleeping like babies. I would have been except that Zoe and her twin brother, Quinn, woke up hungry, which meant they had to be changed, then fed, then changed again, and again, and again.

In the end, which is where the worst of it came out, a bath was in order.

Before you get to that point, however, you will notice that babies are trained to follow a very strict routine that requires them to go through several diapers, onesies, burp cloths, towels, baby wipes, table pads, bassinet covers and, if they haven’t already been kicked off, socks.

The No. 1 concern is, of course, No. 1, which can soak a diaper so thoroughly that it weighs more than the baby.

This is followed by the No. 2 concern, which is followed by No. 3 (a combination of the first two) and No. 4 (a regurgitation of the entire contents of the bottle, which can burst like lava from the front end of the child and land all over your shirt, pants and, if they haven’t already been kicked off, socks).

If you are in charge of twins, as I was, you have eight concerns. But on this particular night, Zoe outdid her little (by two pounds) brother by emitting approximately two pounds of the aforementioned substances.

Lacking a power washer, which is great for getting baby effluent off the side of the house, I decided to give Zoe a bath.

The first thing I had to do was take off all her clothes. Or I would have if I could fit into them. I’m glad I couldn’t because they didn’t need to be laundered so much as incinerated, but I didn’t want to call the fire department in the middle of the night because: (a) it would have awakened Quinn, who had finally gone back to sleep, and (b) my own clothes were almost as filthy as Zoe’s and would have repulsed even the bravest smoke eater.

I filled the sink with warm water that covered most of the baby tub, which features a mesh seat on which I placed Zoe, who looked up at me with teary eyes as if to say, “Here’s another fine mesh you’ve gotten me into.”

Then she started to squirm. Wet babies and greased pigs are extremely difficult to grasp, although why anybody would want to grease a pig — or change its diaper — is even harder to grasp.

I took a small washcloth, wet it and squirted on some baby wash, which was “pediatrician recommended” and “lightly scented.” Even a pediatrician knows that a light scent can’t mask a heavy one, so I used more soap and worked Zoe into a lather. Her continued squirming worked me into one.

I scrubbed and rinsed her, shampooed her hair and engaged her in baby talk, which I was glad nobody else could hear because Zoe didn’t sound nearly as infantile as I did.

Afterward, I dried her off, dressed her and put her in her bassinet, where she fell fast asleep.

Then it was my turn to come clean. I took off all my clothes and got in the shower. I would have taken a bath, but I ran out of baby wash.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"With Beer, the Sky's the Limit"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Every time I hear that somebody is on cloud nine, I wonder what happened to the first eight clouds. But the ninth altocumulus, not to be confused with the second alto sax, was where I found myself after the airplane on which I was a passenger had to turn back, possibly after hitting the fourth altostratus, causing so much inconvenience that I got a free beer out of the deal.

My anxious airplane adventure began en route to Washington, D.C., where I was winging it to visit my older daughter, her husband and their three children.

About 10 minutes into the 10 a.m. flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where it takes longer to find a parking space than it does to fly to Washington, something felt wrong. It was as if the engine was wired on caffeine and couldn’t stop humming a really bad song that plays over and over in your head.

My head, which had been empty, filled with dread as I saw Shaqwanna, one of the two flight attendants, on the phone. As soon as she hung up, I heard this announcement:

“Due to a mechanical issue, we are returning to LaGuardia. Please fasten your seatbelts.”

There was, we were informed, a problem with the bleed line.

“Sounds like the plane needs a transfusion,” I told Toni, the very nice woman sitting next to me.

“Are you a doctor?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, my heart racing, “but I could use one.”

The bleed line, we were further informed, provides air that pressurizes the cabin. It would take about 15 minutes to fix once we were back at LaGuardia. If that didn’t work, we’d have to change planes.

“To make up for this,” I asked Paige, the other flight attendant, “will you be serving beer?”

“It’s always an option,” replied Paige, who had been on the job for only two months. “I’ve had some delays,” she told me, “but this is the first time we’ve had to turn around.”

After we landed, I spoke with the pilot, a pleasant young man named Joe, who looked barely old enough to drive a car, let alone fly a plane.

“Do I qualify for infrequent flier miles?” I inquired.

“Considering we didn’t go too far, you should,” said Joe, who has been flying for six years.

“Paige told me I could get a free beer,” I said.

“She’s the boss,” Joe stated.

It turned out that the problem had no quick fix, so we had to change planes. We got off and were directed to a terminal gate where our new plane would be.

On a table, there were snacks, which served as the lunch we would not be served once we were again airborne.

I walked up to the desk and spoke with a friendly “customer experience representative” named Yvette.

“I was told by the crew that I could get a free beer,” I said.

“You deserve one,” Yvette said with a smile. Then she handed me a voucher for a complimentary cocktail.

About half an hour later, we boarded the new plane. I took my seat and, after taking off, waited for Paige to come by with the refreshment cart.

“Hello!” she chirped. “Welcome back!”

“I have a voucher for that free beer,” I said.

“Here you go,” said Paige, handing me a cold one.

Later, I handed her my drained can.

“This really hit the spot,” I said.

“I’m glad,” said Paige.

I was glad the new plane didn’t have to turn around.

After we landed in D.C., I congratulated Joe on a good flight.

“The second time’s the charm,” he noted.

“I was on cloud nine,” I said. “And I got here on a wing and a beer.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 13, 2019

"The Kindest Cut of All"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
In this age of rampant egotism and false pride, it’s nice to know that there is still a genuine star who hasn’t let fame go to his head, even after his head has just had a haircut.

I refer, of course, to my grandson Xavier. I also refer to Diego D’Ambrosio, who owns the barbershop where Xavier goes for a haircut but not, as yet, a shave, since he’s only 2 and a half.

Still, Xavier and Diego stand head and shoulders above all the other notables in Washington, D.C., where I recently saw both stars.

I was visiting Xavier; my older daughter, Katie, his mommy; my son-in-law Dave, his daddy; and my twin grandchildren, Zoe and Quinn, his sister and brother, who may be infants but are not as infantile as their grandfather.

I spent a week helping Katie and Dave with the twins, who needed to be fed, burped, changed and brought to the doctor’s office. I also helped with Xavier, who needed to be brought to school, played with afterward, read to before bed and, on the last full day of my visit, taken for a haircut.

I found out when Katie and I walked into the doctor’s office with Zoe and Quinn that Xavier isn’t the only Xavier in the nation’s capital.

“Xavier!” shouted a nurse.

“Xavier was here yesterday,” Katie told me, looking confused. “He had a shot.”

Just then, a young man with a child in his arms walked toward the back to see the doctor.

“There’s another Xavier,” I said. “But of course, he’s not the main one. Our Xavier is.”

“That’s right,” Katie said as she held Zoe, who promptly threw up all over the front of her mother’s striped dress.

In the examination room, the doctor looked at the glistening streak and said, “It’s like modern art.”

Zoe and Quinn each had two shots and an oral vaccine. Afterward, Katie and I took them to a bar. We each had a beer. The twins, making their first visit to such an establishment, had already consumed their bottles (of milk) and were passed out in their two-seat stroller.

“It’s good to get out of the house,” Katie said.

“Cheers!” I replied, clinking glasses with her.

At the end of the week, Katie and I took Xavier to Diego’s Hair Salon, which is on Diego D’Ambrosio Way.

“Diego must be the only barber in America who has a street named after him,” I told Katie.

“He’s famous,” she said.

That was evident when we walked in and saw that the walls were lined with autographed photos of D.C. notables, among them Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

We had to wait for Xavier’s turn, so we went back outside and encountered yet another Xavier, also 2 and a half and also waiting for a haircut.

“He’s the second other Xavier we’ve met this week,” I said to the second other Xavier’s parents.

Back inside, Diego couldn’t give Xavier a haircut because he had broken his hip and was using a walker, so Tania had the honor of cutting Xavier’s hair. She did a wonderful job.

On the way out, I spoke with Diego, who’s 83 and has owned his shop for more than half a century.

“You’re famous,” I told him.

Diego smiled modestly.

“My grandson is famous, too,” I said. “He’s been the star of many of my columns. I think you should have a photo of him on the wall. He’ll even autograph it. In crayon.”

“I’ll put it up,” Diego promised.

“And don’t worry,” I said. “Like you, Xavier won’t let fame go to his handsome head.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 29, 2019

"Retirement Is Going to Work"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
On the first day of the rest of my life, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

For 43 years, four months and 17 days, but who’s counting, I had set the alarm for an ungodly hour, which was so early that even God wasn’t up. Then I would stagger into the office, mumble “good morning” to no one in particular, because no one in particular would listen to me, plop my posterior into a worn-out chair, and roll over and go back to sleep at my desk.

Now that I’m retired, I don’t have to get out of bed to do the same thing.

One of the best things about being retired is that you don’t have to wear pants every day. If you try that at work, you will end up being unemployed, but without a buyout. What you will receive is a get-out: No severance, just leave. And don’t let the door hit you in the boxer shorts on the way out.

The buyout, which came with a generous package that did not, unfortunately, include beer, was a surprise to me and my colleagues, many of whom are fellow baby boomers who had been go-getters in their day (mine was March 30, 1976, when I began my career) but who had grown weary of the daily grind.

As an army of anxious employees crammed into the auditorium, the stunning announcement was made: The company was offering buyouts.

Naturally, there were questions:

How much would we get? Could we apply for unemployment? What would happen with our 401(k)s?

I raised my hand.

“If someone is injured sprinting to the human resources department to apply for a buyout,” I asked, “would it be covered under our medical plan?”

Everybody laughed. Nobody answered.

When the meeting was over, I texted my wife, Sue, with one word: “BUYOUT!”

Eight seconds later, she replied: “How much?”

It was enough for me to sprint to the human resources department to apply.

Three weeks later, I was without a job.

It raised an important question: How could I stop working when I never really started? Also, what would I do with myself? What would Sue do with me? Would I become so fantastically annoying that I’d have to work part time as a stock boy in a grocery store just to get out of the house?

The answers were easy: My job may have ended, but my career isn’t going to. For 22 years, I was an editor at Newsday. For all of that time and for the previous 21 years at my hometown paper, the Stamford Advocate, I have been a writer, including 34 as a columnist whose work, I am proud to say, has no redeeming social value.

I quit the editing and staggering into the office but not the rest.

From home, I will continue to write my nationally syndicated humor column for Hearst Connecticut Media Group. I’ll write more books. So far I have written four, all of which are crimes against literature. And I am writing a sitcom based on my work. If you think TV is bad now, wait until my show gets on the air.

But my most important job involves my five grandchildren, who range in age from 6 years to 2 months. And they’re all more mature than I am.

Sue, who isn’t retired yet, also likes to keep me busy.

“I am making a to-do list for you,” she often says.

I don’t make a big to-do out of it. I just do it. Marriage, after all, is dear season: “Yes, dear.”

Of course, all these retirement chores can really tire a guy out. So please excuse me while I roll over and go back to sleep.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 15, 2019

"New Grandkids Double the Fun"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
In my younger days, which date back to the last century, I was a two-fisted drinker, with a bottle in each hand and one large mouth to fill.

In my older days, which date back to last month, I was a two-fisted feeder, with a bottle in each hand and two small mouths to fill.

The latter scenario took place when my wife, Sue, and I met our new twin grandchildren, Zoe and Quinn.

Our older daughter, Katie, had given birth to the dynamic duo three weeks before Sue and I visited for seven days and (more important) nights, during which we helped Katie and our son-in-law Dave with babysitting Zoe, Quinn and their big brother, Xavier, who is 2 and a half and is a sweet boy who loves his little siblings even more than he loves playing with me, which he did constantly at home, at a friend’s house and at a birthday party to which I, a bigger kid than any of the toddler guests, was invited.

The two bottles came into play when I fed Zoe and her younger (by 25 minutes) brother, Quinn, both of whom have healthy appetites that must be sated simultaneously to keep them on the same schedule.

This entailed, often between the wee small hours of 1 and 4 a.m., placing them on either side of me while using an ingenious invention called My Brest Friend, a nursing pillow that wraps around the feeder to ensure that always the twins shall eat.

I did double duty several times and even did quadruple duty (two twin feedings in one night) twice. I also did double doody (dual diaper detail) each time I did double duty, always before the feedings but sometimes directly afterward, too, which is doubly daunting for a geezer working on precious little sleep.

The greatest challenge was getting the bottles into both mouths and keeping the babies balanced while each guzzled between two and four ounces of 100 percent, all-natural mother’s milk.

At halftime, there was burping. The babies also had to be burped, then fed the remainder of their meal, after which further eructations had to be coaxed before they could be swaddled (the only part at which I did not excel) and put back in their bassinets to sleep it off while I attempted to do the same on a nearby couch.

Two hours later, it was feeding time again.

Katie, who is nursing, had the most important role, of course. Dave did double duty with the pillow, but Sue never got the hang of it because, she said, “I’m too short.” During the day, she fed either Zoe or Quinn while I fed the other.

Xavier provided moral support, saying hello to his infant siblings and kissing them in a touching display of brotherly love.

He also provided moral support to Nini and Poppie, by which Sue and I are known to our five grandchildren, who now number enough for a (very short) basketball team.

Xavier helped Sue make blueberry bread and meatball pizza, which he scarfed down for breakfast and dinner, respectively. And he helped me be uncharacteristically useful by reading to him, driving his toy trucks and trains, and engaging in spirited games of hide-and-seek.

“Xavier has joined the Cult of Poppie,” Katie remarked, noting that his cousins, Chloe and Lilly, are already members and that Zoe and Quinn are applying for admission.

They proved it by spitting up on me after a nighttime feeding. The next morning, I attended the aforementioned birthday party with Xavier and Katie in a T-shirt streaked with spit-up stains.

But I didn’t care. Meeting my newest grandchildren was a twin-win situation.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 1, 2019

"Something's Fishy in Our House"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Over the years, the fish population of our humble home has rivaled that of the Seven Seas, which is no fluke considering that the average lifespan of our fine finny friends has been approximately the length of the Super Bowl halftime show.

When my daughters, Katie and Lauren, were kids, our goldfish would go belly-up so often that you could set your watch by them, although only if your watch was waterproof.

As two little girls sobbed uncontrollably, my wife, Sue, and I would perform a solemn toilet-side service that involved flushing the deceased to kingdom come.

We did have one fish, however, that lived a good, long life. His name was Curly. He was the bowl mate of Moe and Larry, who died within minutes of each other, probably in a suicide pact. Curly lived for weeks, only to meet a tragic demise.

One day I opened a kitchen cabinet and a bottle of vitamins fell out. It plummeted into the fish bowl and brained Curly.

“You killed our fish!” Katie and Lauren wailed.

Naturally, I felt terrible and offered them comforting words: “They were Mommy’s vitamins.”

We had no more fish until recently, when our granddaughter Chloe, who is 6, said she wanted us to get a fish for our house. Her little sister, Lilly, who is 2 and a half, eagerly concurred.

Their fish, Igor, lives at their house.

“You have to get one, too,” Chloe said.

So we went to a nearby pet store on a fishing expedition.

“I want a girl fish,” Chloe said. “She has to be pink. And I want to name her Camilla.”

“Like Camilla Parker Bowles?” Sue asked, referring to Prince Charles’ wife.

“No,” said Chloe, who doesn’t pay attention to the royal family. “She’ll be Camilla Parker Zezima.”

“And,” I chimed in, “she’ll live in the Camilla Parker bowl.”

Chloe picked a light pink betta fish with dark pink fins. We got matching pink pebbles for the bottom of the bowl. We also got some fish food.

At the checkout counter, a cashier named Rufus inquired about the size of our fish bowl, which held 16 ounces of water.

“You should get a tank that holds at least two and a half gallons,” Rufus said. “Think of the fish’s quality of life.”

Unfortunately, Camilla’s life wasn’t long. She lasted 48 hours.

Chloe and Lilly, who had gone back to their house, where Igor, a blue boy betta, still swims happily in a 16-ounce bowl, were blissfully unaware that Camilla now resided in the suburban equivalent of Davy Jones’ Locker.

I went back to the pet store and bought another betta that looks exactly like Camilla except that it’s a male.

“I guess you could say the fish is gender-fluid,” I told a salesman named Matt.

He agreed, noting that Chloe and Lilly would never know the difference. Then he sold me a one-gallon bowl.

“I’m going to put it on the liquor cabinet,” I said, “so I can say he drinks like a fish.”

At the checkout counter, a cashier named Mary told me that she had a betta male that lived for 12 years.

“His name was Skipper,” Mary said. “He was exactly the color of your fish. And he was really sweet. He would come up to the surface so I could pet him. Sadly, he passed on. They don’t live forever.”

So far, the new Camilla has lived about a month. And, sure enough, Chloe and Lilly were none the wiser when they came over for a visit.

“I want to bring Igor to your house so he can have a sleepover with Camilla,” Chloe said.

“I don’t know about that,” I whispered to Sue. “I’m afraid they’ll end up sleeping with the fishes.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, August 18, 2019

"Pooling Our Resources"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Now that we are in the dog days of summer, and the heat makes dogs pant so much that they don’t even wear pants, it can safely be said that most people would give their right arms for a pool, which kind of defeats the purpose because they’d end up swimming in circles.

Nonetheless, a pool not only provides watery fun for homeowners — as well as their neighbors, who may or may not have been invited for a swim and often refuse to leave, causing the owners to either call the cops or put the house on the market — but it is a sure sign of status.

This leads neighbors without such luxuries to ask the following questions:

How can the Zezimas afford a pool?

Why don’t they invite us for a swim?

And, most pertinent, what the hell is gunite?

According to Merriam-Webster, who has a dictionary-shaped pool, gunite is “a building material consisting of a mixture of cement, sand and water that is sprayed onto a mold” and is used in luxury swimming pools.

I don’t want to brag, because the neighbors might hear me, but we have not one, not two, but three pools.

That they are of the kiddie variety is beside the point.

The kiddies are my granddaughters Chloe, 6, and her sister, Lilly, 2 and a half, who love to frolic in four inches of grass-flecked water while my wife, Sue, and I sit poolside in rickety beach chairs, attired stylishly in saggy T-shirts and ketchup-stained shorts while quaffing lukewarm summer ales straight out of the bottle, a sure sign of status.

Instead of gunite, these pools are made of good, old-fashioned, earth-destroying plastic and come in small, medium and large.

The biggest is 70 inches across and is lined with pictures of dinosaurs, which probably reminds the kids of their grandparents. It is filled not with special water from massive delivery trucks used by the rich and famous for their elaborate pools, but with what comes out of a garden hose. It is invariably cold enough to give a walrus pneumonia.

We use an energy-efficient heating system powered by either the sun or, if it is playing peekaboo with the clouds, boiled water from a teakettle.

Whereas the elite surround their pools with sophisticated landscaping that includes colorful pavers, sculpted rocks and finely manicured hillocks, we have a natural look featuring a broken walkway that hasn’t been repaired in more than a dozen years.

On one side is monstrous vegetation that includes an out-of-control holly bush, two ugly hydrangeas and Sue’s garden, which has so far produced only a handful of hot peppers and even fewer tomatoes. On the other side is an above-ground oil tank that is utterly useless for heating pool water.

You may have seen how Hollywood stars adorn their pools with elaborate waterfalls or artificial geysers that shoot water high enough to splash their private jets.

We have a little round sprinkler with plastic flowers. It sends water about 10 feet into the air. The girls like to run under the falling spray, which sometimes gets cut off if there is a kink in the hose. It is my job to fix the problem and get soaked in the process.

This vastly amuses my granddaughters, who then want me to stand in ankle-deep pool water with them and play with their toys. These aren’t battleship-size floats but squirt guns and action figures we otherwise keep in a soggy shopping bag.

For the girls’ next pool party, Sue has gone all out and bought a box of ice pops. The neighbors, I am sure, will be jealous.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima


Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Don't Call Me, I'll Call You"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a man who has always had a lot of hang-ups about the telephone, especially since the only people who want to talk with me are scammers and telemarketers, I wouldn’t be sorry to know that Alexander Graham Bell is spending eternity being bombarded with robocalls.

It used to be that all you needed to know about the telephone was that you said “hello” when you picked it up and “goodbye” when you put it down. Now you have to take a class to learn how to use the latest system.

That’s why I recently found myself, along with about two dozen colleagues, in the auditorium at work to get a crash course in the “softphones” we would soon be using.

The phones are soft not because they are made of Silly Putty, which would at least make them fun, if a bit messy since they’d stick to our ears, but because they don’t, physically, exist.

According to two very nice IT guys named Brenden and Vinny, who conducted the class, the phones will be embedded in our computers.

“You won’t have phones on your desks anymore,” Brenden told the group.

“If you want to make or receive a call,” Vinny added, “you’ll have to do it on-screen.”

I raised my hand.

“If I’m doing something on the computer and a call comes in, I have to stop, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” Brenden said.

“So if I’m on the phone all day,” I wondered, “does that mean I don’t have to do any work?”

“I guess so,” Vinny replied.

“That’s all I wanted to know,” I said to the appreciative chuckles of my co-workers.

One of them, Christine, who works in advertising, sat next to me.

“Let’s exchange phone numbers,” I said.

“If I talked with you all day, I wouldn’t make any sales and I’d lose my job,” Christine noted.

“If I lost my job,” I countered, “nobody would notice.”

“What do you do?” she asked.

“As little as possible,” I told her.

Someone else asked a question that, unlike mine, was actually pertinent: “If I’m having computer problems and need technical support, how am I supposed to call you?”

Brenden and Vinny looked at each other.

“We haven’t quite figured that out,” said Vinny.

“Call us on your cellphone,” Brenden suggested.

Christine leaned over to me and said, “So we need two phones to replace the one we’re losing.”

“Modern technology marches on!” I responded.

The technology is named Cisco Jabber. According to an online dictionary, which I couldn’t use if I were on the phone, jabber means to “talk rapidly and excitedly but with little sense.”

“I do that even when I’m not on the phone,” I told Christine, who smiled politely but did not disagree.

Brenden and Vinny used a large screen to show us the new system, which was pretty impressive. A week after they finished the employee classes, the system went live, though we still, for now, have our old phones, too.

That gave me a chance to call myself. I put on my headset, logged on to Jabber on my computer, punched in the number of my desk phone and clicked. My desk phone rang. I picked it up.

“Hello?” I said in a loud, clear voice. “Oh, it’s me. How are you? Slacking off again, I see. Don’t you have any work to do or are you going to stay on the phone all day?”

My colleagues stopped what they were doing, which included the work I wasn’t doing, and listened.

“Well,” I continued, “I have to go. It’s time for a coffee break. Bye!”

Then I called Christine, but she didn’t answer. I guess she was on her new softphone, making a sale. It beats talking with me all day.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima