Sunday, June 16, 2024

"Veggies to Diet For"

By Jerry Zezima

Since my cardiologist put me on a Mediterranean diet, I have been looking forward to a daily meal of spaghetti and meatballs or a few slices of pepperoni pizza.

Instead, I get the uneasy feeling I will be eating prodigious quantities of another Italian-sounding food: zucchini.

To put it mildly, I am not a fan of zucchini. Or squash of any kind. Nor, for that matter, do I like most vegetables.

“They’re good for you,” said Dr. Rohit Maini. “And they are an important part of a Mediterranean diet.”

“I can’t afford to go to Italy every day,” I told him.

“You don’t have to,” Dr. Maini replied. “But if you do, send me a postcard.”

“What else is good for me?” I asked.

“Legumes, fish, fruit, eggs and white meat,” the doctor said.

“White meat tastes like chicken,” I noted.

“It does,” Dr. Maini said. “But it shouldn’t be fried. Remove the skin. It’s bad for you. So are processed foods.”

“Like what?” I inquired.

“Cold cuts,” the doctor said.

“Too late,” I countered. “I’m already full of baloney.”

“Is your wife in charge of meals?” Dr. Maini wondered.

“Yes,” I responded. “She’s a great cook. And she has kept me alive and healthy for the past 46 years.”

“Good,” he said. “Tell her to keep it up. Bon appetit!”

When I told Sue what Dr. Maini told me, she said, “You’re already on a Mediterranean diet.”

“Is that why you insist on feeding me so many vegetables?” I asked.

“Yes,” Sue said. “In fact, you’re having broccoli tonight.”

She has already made certain concessions, such as not buying cold cuts anymore. And she doesn’t serve red meat too often.

At my request, she has cut back on buying snacks like popcorn and instead buys almonds.

“I’m nuts about them,” I said.

But I have some questions that even science can’t seem to answer. Such as: Why did eggs used to be good for you, then were considered bad but now are good again?

“I don’t know,” Sue admitted.

I don’t, either, which is why every Saturday morning I make myself a big breakfast consisting of two eggs (scrambled or sunny-side up) and three sausage links.

Sausage supposedly isn’t good for me because of the cholesterol, but eggs can raise cholesterol and they’re OK to have again. Go figure.

It’s the same with one of my favorite meals, hot dogs and beans, which Sue frequently makes.

“Beans are good for you,” Sue said. “Hot dogs aren’t.”

“I guess it makes for a balanced meal,” I said.

I like fish, except those that have no taste, which is most of them unless they have been smothered in teriyaki sauce, or those that have supposedly been filleted but still have little bones that end up getting stuck in my teeth.

Fruit is fine except for pineapple, which is more pine than apple and is the only thing about Hawaii, where Sue and I honeymooned, that isn’t heavenly. Pineapple is in almost everything there, including, I think, toothpaste.

That brings me back to vegetables. I actually don’t hate most of them. The ones I like are asparagus, red and green peppers, and string beans. Eggplant is OK, too.

Then there is broccoli, which Sue serves often because of its nutritional value. It’s not really so bad unless it’s served with skinless chicken. Same goes for cauliflower, which is broccoli’s cousin twice removed. Sometimes I think it should be.

The vegetable I really detest is squash, which is what I would like to do to it.

“You’ll eat squash if I disguise it,” Sue said.

“With what, a mask?” I asked.

“I’ll put cheese and hot sauce on it,” she said. “Or I can grill it.”

“You mean it has to be incinerated to make it palatable?” I said.

“Your choice,” Sue said. “But you are going to eat it.”

“I suppose it’s part of my Mediterranean diet,” I conceded. “But this weekend, so you don’t have to cook, let’s send out for pizza.”

Copyright 2024 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 9, 2024

"No Absence of Mallets"

By Jerry Zezima

When it comes to croquet, a leisurely game that sounds like it involves chickens, I cannot mend my wicket ways.

That’s because I am not very good at it.

Proof came when my wife, Sue, who makes delicious chicken croquettes and recently bought a croquet set, soundly defeated me in a backyard blitz.

Our 7-year-old granddaughter also put me to shame before she got bored with the inferior competition and went off to blow bubbles.

Sue, a fan of the TV series “Bridgerton,” in which rich, snooty characters in 19th-century England play a croquet-like game called pall-mall, implied that I could never be on the show because my character, Viscount Jerry I, would ruin the contest and give the swells a bad name.

This would happen as I was clad in a pair of breeches, knickers, pantaloons or whatever ridiculous trousers that guys wore in those days. I would bend over to hit a ball through a hoop and promptly get a wedgie, sending the shot off the powdered wig of a duchess and starting the War of 1812, which didn’t end until 1815, when the Americans defeated the British on the croquet fields of Long Island, where I live and, as it turns out, play the game terribly.

It’s no different from other outdoor games in which I have competed, such as:

Golf, which I played once and ran up a score that rivaled the national debt.

Miniature golf, which I have played many times and have always lost to miniature people (my grandchildren).

Badminton, which I have played a few times and watched more birdies than I hit.

Bocce, which I botched.

And tennis, which I played when I started to court (literally) Sue. She routinely beat me, even though I took lessons as a kid. It quickly became clear that the only way I could qualify for Wimbledon was if I went as a ball boy and got beaned by a blazing backhand. It would have served (again, literally) me right.

Now my incompetence has spread to croquet.

The set that Sue bought came in a rectangular box that contained four mallet heads, four mallet handles, four colored balls, two stakes and nine wickets. There also were instructions that included croquet terms, court layout and rules of the game.

The croquet terms were easy to understand. (My own terms, which I added during the game, were also easy to understand but can’t be repeated here.)

The court layout gave me two choices: 10-by-18 feet and 40-by-72 feet. I chose the former because otherwise our backyard would have to be big enough to increase our property taxes. And I didn’t want the game to last for a month.

The rules were simple: Use the mallet to knock the ball through the wickets without breaking a window or adding new terms. (See above.)

After I planted the two stakes and the nine wickets, I screwed the mallet heads onto the corresponding handles and explained everything to Sue.

I didn’t account for the fact that our lawn has a few divots and bare patches, but it didn’t matter because Sue picked up the game like a pro, knocking her first shot through not one but two wickets.

My first shot traveled about an inch and a half. My second shot glanced off the first wicket and rolled hopelessly away. I had to hit the ball back toward the first wicket and then knock it through.

By this time, Sue was well ahead of me.

I started to get the hang of the game, but by that time it was too late. Sue had already finished before I was even halfway through.

The next day, I got a similar thumping from our granddaughter, who said, “You’re pretty bad, Poppie.”

She doesn’t watch “Bridgerton,” so I couldn’t even blame it on a wedgie in my Bermuda shorts.

Copyright 2024 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 2, 2024

"The Big Climb"

By Jerry Zezima

As a geezer who can barely make it up the dozen steps in my house without getting winded, I never thought I would make it up and down 2,500 steps at a baseball stadium without keeling over, being carted off the field and finishing the season on the disabled list.

But I somehow survived the big climb — and got a medal for my efforts — as the oldest guy to complete the Big Climb, a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest nonprofit funding organization for blood cancer research.

The event, which featured about 1,100 participants, was held at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, who should bring me back for Old-Timers’ Day.

When I told Big Climb Metro New York organizer Gabriella Cowlan that I’m 70, she exclaimed, “Wow! You’re an inspiration.”

“You mean a perspiration,” I replied. “But I know I can sweat this one out.”

Gabriella, who’s 26, smiled and said, “Have fun. And stay hydrated.”

The first inkling I had that the Big Climb would be a big challenge was when I got my official number, 9489, which was printed on a large tag.

The guy at the sign-up table said, “Write the name of an emergency contact on the back.”

“In case I need an ambulance?” I stammered.

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” he said pleasantly. “Good luck!”

Up in the stadium plaza, I saw throngs of people waiting for their turn to climb. Groups went at 15-minute intervals beginning at 8:45 a.m. and ending at 12:15 p.m.

My group wouldn’t go until 11:30, so I walked over to the food and beverage booth and took the last banana.

“Now you can say, ‘Yes, we have no bananas,’ ” I told volunteer Joe Carbonaro, who chuckled and said, “Don’t slip!”

A few minutes later, a voice over the loudspeaker instructed the 11:30 group, which numbered about 40, to assemble at the entrance to Sections 516-517.

“I suppose taking the elevator would be cheating,” I said to group leader Tom Leyendecker.

“Absolutely,” he responded. “But if you fall, we’ll push you over the railing. People with shovels are on the field.”

Like many people I met at the Big Climb, and like several people in my family, Tom is a cancer survivor.

“I had acute myeloid leukemia in 2012,” he told me. “And I’m still here. That’s why I’m happy to help out at events like this.”

Inside the stadium, the group gathered at the bottom of a short flight of stairs leading to the stands. That’s where I met Betty Peek.

“Like peekaboo,” said Betty, adding that she’s 70.

“Me, too!” I chirped. “When is your birthday?”

“In March,” she answered.

“Mine is in January,” I said. “Looks like I’m still the oldest one here.”

Betty smiled and said, “We’ll put those young ones to shame.”

She put me to shame by passing me halfway through the grueling event.

At one point, I came to a water stop, where volunteers were offering small cups of refreshment to pooped participants.

“No beer?” I said.

“Sorry,” a young woman answered with a grin. “We’re all out.”

Cheerleaders with pompoms urged us on.

A young volunteer noticed me huffing and puffing and said, “You got this!”

Another one said, “You’re almost there.”

“Where? The hospital?” I wondered.

After half an hour, I made it down the final flight of stairs and crossed the finish line. I was the last member of our group to complete the course.

“I thought we were going in alphabetical order,” I told staff member Clara Leyendecker, Tom’s daughter.

“I am so proud of you!” said Clara, who gave me a blue medal.

“It’s better than the gold,” I said, happy that I helped to raise $385,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which accepts donations on its website:

As I was leaving, Gabriella congratulated me.

“You did great,” she said.

“I feel great,” I told her. “But when I get home, I’m going to climb those dozen steps and take a nap.”

Copyright 2024 by Jerry Zezima