Sunday, July 5, 2020

"Strawberry Fields for Joking"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
If I were to write a nursery rhyme about a garrulous geezer on a fruitful foray with his giddy granddaughters, it would go like this: “Punny Poppie picked a peck of perfect produce.”

That precious pair of pumpkins, Chloe, 7, and her sister, Lilly, 3, are the apples of my eye. Actually, both eyes, since there are two of them. And we love to go pumpkin and apple picking, though not at the same time because I couldn’t lug that much fruit without collapsing in a field of screams.

But we recently found ourselves in strawberry fields — not forever, but for an hour’s worth of picking pleasure.

Chloe, Lilly and I were accompanied by my wife, Sue, and our younger daughter, Lauren, the girls’ mother. We all wore masks, except to take pictures, and kept a social distance from other strawberry pickers, primarily to ensure physical safety but also to protect the mental health of innocent bystanders who might otherwise be exposed to my stupid jokes.

Like this one:

Me: “Knock, knock.”

Chloe and Lilly: “Who’s there?”

Me: “Berry.”

Chloe and Lilly: “Berry who?”

Me: “We’re having a berry good time!”

Chloe and Lilly giggled. Other pickers picked up the pace.

Two who bravely didn’t were a very nice woman named Jenny and her equally nice granddaughter, Abby.

“Hi!” Chloe chirped. “My name is Chloe and this is my sister, Lilly. What’s your name?”

“Jenny,” said Jenny.

“What’s your name?” Chloe asked Abby.

“Abby,” said Abby, who is the same age as Chloe.

“Nice to meet you,” said Chloe, who pointed to me and said, “This is my grandfather, Poppie.”

“Hi, Poppie,” said Jenny.

“Hi, Grammy,” I replied when she told me what Abby calls her. “Are you a singer?”

“I wish,” said Jenny.

“I can sing,” said Abby.

“You must be good,” I said. “You have a Grammy.”

That joke and another one I told about not being Chuck Berry went over Abby’s head (she’s short), but that didn’t stop Chloe from repeating my earlier one: “We’re having a berry good time!”

Jenny and Abby laughed.

“Chloe is funny,” Jenny said. “She must take after her grandfather.”

Sue and Lauren shook their heads and kept walking.

After saying goodbye to Jenny and Abby, the girls and I took a strawberry shortcut, moving over to an untouched row to select the plumpest, juiciest berries.

“Look at mine, Poppie!” exclaimed Lilly, who tossed away a few that weren’t up to her standards and filled her basket with only perfect pickings.

Chloe also had discerning tastes and even faster fingers, loading her basket in what must have been record time.

After an hour, the Strawberry Alarm Clock went off in my head and we headed back to our cars. On the way, Chloe introduced herself to a girl named April, who said she has a brother named Colton. As he passed by, Chloe said, “Your name is Colton!”

The kid blanched and said, “How did you know?”

“You’re famous,” I told him.

He stared at me incredulously.

“Your sister told me,” Chloe explained. “Look at our strawberries!”

“Wow,” said Colton.

“We left some for you out in the field,” I said. “But you better hurry up. They’re going fast.”

Colton looked at me warily and walked away.

We stopped at the stand for an orchard pie filled with blueberries, raspberries and, of course, strawberries.

When we got to our cars, Lauren said she was going to use her berries to make smoothies for the girls.

Sue said she was going to make strawberry shortcake.

After popping a sweet berry into my mouth, I said I was going to make my own creation: strawberry daiquiris.

“After listening to your stupid jokes,” Sue said, “I could use one.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 28, 2020

"Where There's a Grill, There's a Way"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
When it comes to grilling, I am usually cooking with gas. Unfortunately, I couldn’t cook on our new grill for a month after we bought it. And even with the gas off, I almost blew my top.

The hot-button issue began when my wife, Sue, and I went to a home improvement store for a new grill to replace our old one, a pathetic contraption we had for several years, during which time it charred countless hamburgers, hot dogs, spareribs and (yuck!) vegetables. Eventually, rust and grease were the words.

So Sue and I got a new grill that would be delivered already assembled. A good thing, too, because I put together the first grill we ever had. It took me a week. When I finally got the stupid thing assembled, there were about a dozen parts left over.

Like a mobster who makes his wife start his car every morning, I told Sue that if she wanted me to cook on the grill, she’d have to light it.

Luckily, we didn’t have a blowup. All the grills we’ve had since then have come pre-assembled.

That included this latest one, which was delivered about two weeks after we bought it. The problem was that, unlike the others, it wouldn’t start. At first I thought it was the tank, so I bought a new one with, of course, fresh gas, which is frequently the result of my cooking.

I stood on the patio, put my finger on the ignition and said, “Gentleman, start your grill.” Not even a spark. So I called, paradoxically, the hot line and spoke with a very nice customer service representative named Savanna.

“I’m not a griller,” admitted Savanna, who had been on the job for only four months. “I’ve never tried. I didn’t know that gas tanks expired until I started working here. I’ve learned so much.”

One of the things she learned was the bubble test.

“Get a spray bottle with soap and water and spray the hose and regulator to see if there’s a gas leak,” Savanna said.

“I’ve never even taken a bubble bath,” I said while doing as instructed. No bubbles, bubbles, but there was toil and trouble, which entailed lighting a match and trying, futilely, to start the grill that way.

“Apparently, there’s not a leak, but we’ll send you a free replacement hose and regulator anyway,” said Savanna, who got the apparatus to me in about week.

When it arrived, I fetched a wrench and, while removing the original hose and regulator, gashed my middle finger. It was appropriate.

After stanching a Niagara-like torrent of blood, I got the new thingamajig attached. Then I tried to start the grill.

It was still the mechanical equivalent of a mime. I wanted to hit it with the wrench but feared it would erupt like the Hindenburg, causing Sue to exclaim, “Oh, the stupidity!”

The next day, I called the hot line again and this time spoke with an equally nice representative named Nipa, who is a vegetarian and, like Savanna, doesn’t grill.

I gave her the whole sad story. Nipa listened patiently and said, “Remove the ignition button.” I did. Then she said, “Is there a battery in there?”

“No,” I answered sheepishly.

“Get a double-A battery and put it in,” Nipa instructed. “Insert the negative first and the positive facing the cap.”

Voila! The grill started on the first try.

“You’re a genius,” I told Nipa, who was too polite to say that I’m not. “And you’re invited over for our first cookout on the new grill. I’ll even make you some veggies.”

“Thank you,” Nipa said. “What can I bring?”

“How about some batteries?” I suggested. “Without them, I wouldn’t be cooking with gas.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 21, 2020

"It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Because I am full of hot air, which could earn me a spot as a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff.

Instead, I save it for the big stuff, like installing air conditioners, which works me into such a sweat that I need to turn them on immediately so I won’t pop like a helium balloon and go flying out the window.

That’s why this year, like the previous 21 years we have been in our house, my wife, Sue, and I have vowed to get central air-conditioning next year.

“This is the last time I’m doing this,” I told Sue as we headed for the storage area of the garage, where I dumped the bedroom and office air conditioners after I took them out of their respective windows last year.

“You’re too old,” Sue stated.

“I am not,” I responded defensively, even though I am clearly a geezer. “I just don’t want to wrench my back like I did a few years ago and end up looking like Quasimodo. I have a hunch it will happen again.”

This was the worst year because we rearranged the storage area to make room for a new refrigerator, with the result that the two air conditioners were buried under and surrounded by so much stuff that, if it were put on a scale at a truck stop, the stuff would have outweighed the air conditioners.

And trust me, each unit weighs approximately as much as a baby grand piano, which I can’t even play.

Since we have been waiting during the quarantine for a new kitchen cabinet to be installed, the stuff included enough dishes to feed the entire population of Liechtenstein if we invited them over for dinner. For this and other reasons that made no sense, there also were coffee cups, soup bowls, a sugar bowl, three chairs, a large metal pot, toilet paper, popcorn, a stool, board games, paper towels, Christmas lights, Easter baskets, a wreath, several tote bags and a big plastic bin filled with Christmas decorations.

“You can maneuver your way around this stuff,” Sue said.

“I can’t maneuver around you,” I said as she stood in my way.

“You’re always looking for the easy way out,” Sue replied.

“There is no easy way out of this,” I noted as we cleared a path.

With each unit, I squatted, tried to get a firm grasp, gritted my teeth and, with a jerk (me), rose to my feet, one of which, I was sure, would be flattened like roadkill if I dropped the metal monstrosity.

Through the garage, the laundry room, the kitchen, the family room and the front hallway I lurched, resting at the bottom of the stairs before climbing the domestic equivalent of Mount Everest.

It was a miracle I didn’t rupture a vital organ.

I got the bedroom AC in the window, which I took the precaution to open first, but had to take it back out when Sue noticed that it was resting so precariously on the sill that it would undoubtedly wait until I was outside, directly underneath, before falling two stories onto my skull, which wouldn’t faze me but would damage the unit so badly that I’d have to buy a new one.

I repeated this process with the office AC, the installation of which required me to move a bookcase — after taking out all the books, of course — so I could plug the stupid thing in.

Both are working nicely, making the upstairs comfortable for sleeping and working, which I often do simultaneously, but this time I mean it: Next year, we’re getting central air.

“If not,” I told Sue, “I will definitely lose my cool.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 14, 2020

"A Houseboy Comes Clean"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
When it comes to housework, my wife has it maid. And she is not too proud to say that the maid is her husband.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a little French maid’s dress, which I would happily wear except I can’t find one in my size and I’d probably fall down while vacuuming in high heels, but I am one step up from being a domestic worker.

I am, according to my wife, a houseboy.

“That’s your title,” said Sue, who has told countless people of my new role in the family hierarchy.

To which our younger daughter, Lauren, commented: “It’s better than being a pool boy.”

If I were, I’d have to be a kiddie pool boy, because that is where Lauren’s young daughters, Chloe and Lilly, like to frolic. Besides, on a maid’s salary, which amounts to exactly zero, it’s the only kind of pool I can afford.

Still, for the first four-plus decades of my marriage, I had been practically useless around the house. But ever since I retired several months ago, and especially now, during the quarantine, when Sue could see how good a job I do, I have aspired to be a centerfold in Good Housekeeping.

As I have told Sue, “A husband’s work is never done.”

And it takes a lot of it to keep our humble abode clean enough to pass the white glove test. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pair of white gloves, which would get ruined in the toilet anyway, so I use rubber ones. They keep my delicate hands smooth and young-looking.

Speaking of the toilet, I am flush with excitement to say that the bathroom is where I shine. Since the Ty-D-Bol man is no longer with us, I have taken his place, though I can’t fit a motor boat in the porcelain convenience. A good thing, too, because otherwise I’d go down the tubes.

Nonetheless, I do a sparkling job, if I do say so myself. Sue has said it as well, especially after I injured my back while bending down to clean the floor behind the toilet.

She wasn’t so happy when I used what I thought was an old toothbrush to scrub the chrome faucet on the sink.

“That was my new one!” Sue protested.

“Sorry,” I apologized. “Want to use mine?”

“No!” she shot back.

Picky, picky.

At least Sue never complains about my vacuuming, which leaves our carpets and rugs free of dirt, lint and whatever else gathers underfoot. Speaking of feet, I once caught my big toe in the vacuum cleaner while wearing flip-flops. Now I make sure to don heavier footwear.

Sue also likes how I dust, especially when I use the dusting wand to reach high places, where I don’t have friends but do have bookshelves and ceiling-fan blades.

“Let’s not get into a dust-up,” I once said.

“If you don’t watch out,” Sue replied, “unto dust you shall return.”

I sweep the kitchen floor (and try to sweep Sue off her feet), wash the dishes (dishes my life), iron clothes (I am, after all, a member of the press), clean windows (it’s a pane in the neck) and do just about everything else except laundry. That’s because Sue doesn’t trust me. She thinks I’ll either flood the place or break the washing machine.

“Life is a vicious cycle,” I told her.

“Pick up your dirty socks and underwear,” she said.

“Too bad I don’t have a little French maid’s dress,” I said. “You’d have to wash that, too.”

“If you clean the house, it’ll be worth it,” Sue said.

“I’ll go shopping for one tomorrow,” I said. “I hope there’s a sale on fishnet stockings.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 7, 2020

"A Pie-in-the-Sky Idea"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, that’s a-boring.

And that’s why my wife, Sue, desperate for a diversion during the quarantine, asked me to help her make pizza.

“I’m bored out of my mind,” she explained, apparently not bothered by the fact that her husband, who has been driving her crazy while she’s been cooped up in the house all these weeks, has been out of his mind for the entire 42 years of our marriage.

Sue has made pizza before, and it’s always been delicious, but this was the first time she had asked me for a hand.

“How about two hands?” I offered.

Sue shook her head and said, “I have a feeling this is going to be a mistake.”

She had already taken out five pita breads that would substitute for pizza dough.

“I guess I can’t twirl them in the air like they do in pizzerias,” I said.

“Not unless you want to hit the ceiling fan,” replied Sue, pointing out that the fan was on and the bread would go flying across the kitchen and possibly hit me in the eye like a big pizza pie.

“That would be amore,” I said, snuggling up to Sue.

“Keep your mind on your work,” she ordered.

The work involved making five pies: tomato and basil; red and green peppers, onions, black olives and tomatoes; sausage, peppers and onions; sausage, peppers, onions and mushrooms; and sausage and mushrooms.

“I ran out of meatballs,” said Sue, who usually makes my favorite, meatballs and spinach.

“That’s Popeye’s favorite, too,” I pointed out.

Since Sue couldn’t roll her dough, she rolled her eyes.

“Make yourself useful,” she told me.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked, afraid she would answer, “Get lost.”

She didn’t. Instead, she said, “Slice the olives.”

They were small and the knife was large, but I managed to succeed without slicing off a finger.

“That would be quite a topping, wouldn’t it?” I remarked.

Sue ignored it and said, “Now slice the tomatoes.”

I did, after which I sliced the mushrooms and some of the peppers and onions, the last of which, I said, “can make a grown man cry.”

Sue looked like she was about to burst into tears when I told her I would sprinkle the ingredients, which I had helped her brown in a pan on the stove, over the pita breads.

“I asked you to help, not take over,” Sue said as I also used a tablespoon to spread canned pizza sauce on the breads, which I then topped with, of course, the toppings.

“Now sprinkle on the cheese,” Sue said, handing me a bag of shredded Romano, a fistful of which I shoved, along with a few toppings, into my mouth.

“Stop eating the ingredients!” she commanded.

Finally, the five pizzas were ready to be put into the oven.

“They look good,” I said.

When they came out 20 minutes later, they tasted good.

“Yum!” I exclaimed as I stuffed my face with a slice of the pie with sausage, peppers and onions.

“It came out pretty well,” Sue said, adding: “These days I have nothing else to do but cook. I’m bored. I don’t know how I am going to retire.”

I’ve been retired for months; Sue, a teacher’s assistant, has been working remotely while school has been closed due to the pandemic.

“Maybe,” I suggested, “we can open our own pizza joint, with curbside service. I can see it now: Jerry and Sue’s.”

“Sue and Jerry’s,” Sue said. “And you can’t take over my creations.”

“All right,” I said as I took another bite. “But we do make a good pizza team. Any way you slice it.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Hollywood, Here We Come"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
If you happen to be watching the next Oscars telecast, don’t be surprised if you see me up on the stage, holding a golden statuette, thanking the Academy, joking with Steven Spielberg and, in my best Sally Field voice, crying, “You like me! You really like me!”

Even though I can’t leave the house during this pandemic to do much more than take out the garbage, I’ve gone Hollywood.

My entertainment career began when, as a retiree who was bored out of my skull, which is empty anyway, I signed up to be an extra in movies and TV shows.

The casting agencies that get jobs for “background actors” (or, as we are known in the business, “talent,” which in my case is in short supply) started sending me notices about upcoming opportunities.

One was a gig in which I would have played a corpse in one of the 352 cop shows currently airing, streaming, crawling or whatever these programs do nowadays.

My wife, Sue, said I would be a natural. I wanted to take it as a compliment.

“I’d have to hold my breath for a long time,” I said. “I could end up being an actual corpse. But at least I’d be a star.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Sue responded.

I was scheduled to go for an interview in New York City with one of the agencies when the industry shut down, partly because of the quarantine and partly, I am sure, to prevent me from totally ruining show business.

But that didn’t stop me from pursuing my dream of rubbing shoulders with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, who would probably have me arrested for rubbing shoulders with them.

So I started making videos.

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing. At second, I didn’t know what I was doing. But as Ed Harris’ character said in “Apollo 13,” which was directed by Ron Howard, “Failure is not an option.”

(Ron, who was wonderfully sweet to my younger daughter, Lauren, when she worked at a coffee shop in Stamford, Connecticut, many years ago, is my fourth-favorite Hollywood Howard, the first three being Shemp, Moe and Curly.)

I used my cellphone to record the first of my “Quarantine Update” videos, this one about how poor Sue is stuck in the house with me and how we have passed the time by playing Scrabble. I was the screenwriter, the cinematographer, the director and, of course, the star.

I did the same on my next three videos (about relaxing in a hammock, cutting my own hair and taking a walk), but I enlisted Sue to direct my fifth video (about washing my hands).

All five videos are on YouTube, where they can be viewed by movie lovers who also are bored silly with the quarantine.

That includes Sue, a teacher’s assistant who has, with my directorial help, made several of her own videos for her school’s remote classroom lessons. She’s a natural. I’m an unnatural. Together, we could be Hollywood’s new power couple.

I can see us now, at the Academy Awards, strutting our stuff on the red carpet, Sue in a snazzy black tuxedo, me in a shimmering gown, smiling for the paparazzi and signing autographs for adoring fans.

My production company, DumbWorks, will get credit for the armload of Oscars Sue and I will take back to our PVC-gated mansion, where the statuettes will stand proudly on top of the refrigerator, which contains the beer we will drink to celebrate our success.

Even after the quarantine is over, we will continue to make videos because we are, after all, artists.

All right, Mr. Spielberg, I’m ready for my close-up.

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 24, 2020

"Here's the Dirt on Vegetables"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Jerry, Jerry, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Not too well, unfortunately, because my green thumb is probably a fungus and my wife, Sue, is the real gardener in the family. I just provide the fertilizer.

But since the weather was nice and we wanted to get out of the house, where Sue has been stuck with me since the quarantine began, I decided to help start her garden, where she will grow all the vegetables I don’t like but have to eat anyway because, as Sue often tells me, “they’re good for you.”

To which I invariably reply, “I’m a vegetable myself. Isn’t that good enough?”

Apparently not, so Sue and I went to the landfill to get free topsoil.

“It’s even better than dirt cheap,” I said as I shoveled the stuff into two large lawn and garden bags, which weighed so much that lifting them into the car was a pain in the asparagus.

When we got home, I unloaded the loam, sweet loam and went to the shed, a dilapidated structure housing tools that, to call a spade a spade, I hate. That’s because they are dangerous weapons in my hands, which often bleed as a result, and are used to grow the vegetables I hate even more.

One of the tools I brought out looked like a spade, but Sue corrected me.

“That’s an ice chopper!” she said incredulously. “Wrong season. A lot you know about planting a garden.”

I knew enough to bring out more appropriate tools, including a shovel, a hoe, a leaf rake, an iron rake and a trowel.

I ripped open the bags of soil and dumped them into the garden, a small patch measuring 10 feet by 5 feet in which Sue planned to plant beets, onions, string beans, peppers, basil, cucumbers and, with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

She also will grow tomatoes, which I like because botanically they aren’t vegetables but fruits, and squash, which I dislike more than anything that grows in nature with the possible exception of poison ivy, though it probably tastes better.

“Why don’t you like squash?” Sue asked.

“Because,” I replied, “I’d rather play tennis.”

Sue rolled her eyes, through which she noticed that I was standing there, a shovel in one hand, an iron rake in the other, like one half of the famous Grant Wood painting “American Gothic.”

“Are you the Farmer in the Dell?” Sue asked.

“I’m more like the Farmer in the Dull,” I responded.

Sue didn’t disagree.

“Or,” I added, “if you pickle the cucumbers, I’d be the Farmer in the Dill.”

Sue ignored the remark and said, “Last year, I had red hot chili peppers.”

“I must have missed the concert,” I noted.

“I put them in the freezer,” Sue said.

“I guess they’re not hot anymore,” I told her.

She told me to get going, which meant using the leaf rake to remove leftover autumn leaves, the shovel to dig up clumps of dead grass and the iron rake to spread out the dirt.

Then Sue got down and dirty as she planted rows of onion and beet seeds.

“Do you want me to help?” I asked. “I’ve gone to seed.”

Sue declined my generous offer but warned me to watch out for her chamomile flowers.

“The chamomile fits you to a tea,” I said.

“Too bad I can’t plant grapes,” Sue remarked. “I’d use them to make wine. After being out here with you, I need a glass.”

Still, it was a successful start to the garden, where Sue will grow all the greens that are supposedly good for me.

“Thanks,” I said as I put away the tools. “Now I can throw in the trowel.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima