Friday, July 8, 2011

"Father Knew Jest"

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


Heidi-"Heidi in Real Life" said...

I'm sorry you lost your Dad. But he lives (said like the monkey in "The Lion King") in YOU! I have cried laughing to Laurel and Hardy myself! YOU do him proud, and make thousands laugh all the time!

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Heidi. My dad was the best. Keep up the funny stuff yourself!

ThatDanGuy said...

Terrific work Jerry.

Not sure what sort of music you're into, but you should track down a copy of country singer John Berry's version of "Forty Again".

It'll give you a similar feeling to reading your column...

foxyroxy said...

How nostalgic !!!! Yes he was the best and dearly missed . You are your Dad reincarnated . That makes you next best . I am sure he is laughing up there and appreciating your tribute to the best jester . He was one in a million . If laughter is the best medicine it helped him to live to 93 . Thank you Gerald JR . Momz

Jerry Zezima said...

Thanks, Dan. I just listened to "Forty Again." John Berry got it exactly right. Beautiful.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Momz. You knew him better than anyone, so for me, that is the supreme compliment. He was, indeed, one in a million, and laughter is the best medicine, but you more than anything helped him live to 93. Sixty-two years together. What a legacy. You're one in a million, too.

Pearl said...

I think our fathers were raised in the same household.

Lovely post.


JustRex said...

My Dad was a real knucklehead when I was a kid. And I mean that in a good way. He had a twisted sense of humor that rubbed off on me early and has stayed with me since. As a matter of fact, he's still a knucklehead. Age hasn't slowed his mind down any. Even though he publicly rolls his eyes at some of my antics, I know on the inside I'm cracking him up. Your dad sounds like he was a good guy. I think you were very lucky to get one of the fun ones.

foxyroxy said...

Thank you Jerry Jr.. You have the golden gift to turn tears into smiles . Beautifully written . Momz .

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Pearl. It must have been a funny household. And I bet your father was a great guy, too.

Jerry Zezima said...

Darev2005, my dad was, indeed, a good guy. And a lot of fun. Sounds like your dad is, too. And you sound like a chip off the old block. Keep up the nonsense, you two knuckleheads!

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Momz. I got the gift from the two of you.