Friday, August 30, 2013

"How to Babysit a Grandpa"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Being a grandfather comes with many important responsibilities, such as making funny faces, engaging in baby talk and otherwise behaving like a child, which is pretty much how I acted even before I was a grandfather.

At the top of the list of grandfatherly duties is baby-sitting. But I never stopped to ask, because I am new at this, who is supposed to be baby-sitting whom?

I recently found out when I read “How to Babysit a Grandpa,” a New York Times best-seller by children’s author Jean Reagan.

The book, which features delightful illustrations by Lee Wildish, is for readers 5 to 8 years old, right in the middle of my intellectual age group.

“It’s also for readers in your physical age group,” Reagan told me when I called her to talk about the 32-page masterpiece. “After all, I couldn’t leave out the grandpas.”

“We appreciate it,” I responded, “especially since we are the ones who have to be baby-sat.”

My granddaughter, who was born in March, is a little too young to understand the lessons in the book (at the rate she’s developing, that won’t happen for another couple of weeks), but I feel better knowing that she will soon be able to look after me.

“She will love taking care of you because you sound like a lot of fun,” said Reagan, who based the grandpa in the book on her father.

“My dad is a very funny guy who has always been attentive to my kids,” Reagan said. “Of course, he did some things that I couldn’t put in the book, like showing my son, who was then 6 or 7, how to make a slingshot. That means every grandpa whose grandchild read the book would be asked to make a slingshot. I can picture a lot of broken windows.”

“I feel your pane,” I offered.

Speaking of which, the book opens with a clear view through the front window of the grandchild hiding when his grandpa rings the doorbell. After he greets his grandpa, and his parents drive away, the kid says, “When your mom and dad leave, pat your grandpa’s hand and say, ‘Don’t worry. They always come back.’ Then, right away, ask him if he’s hungry.”

“Snacks for Grandpa” are: “ice cream topped with cookies,” “olives served on fingertips,” “anything dipped in ketchup” and “cookies topped with ice cream.”

“After snacks,” the kid continues, “it’s time to take your grandpa for a walk. ... Remember to grab his hand when you cross the street and remind him to look both ways.”

Other parts include “What to Do on a Walk” (“If there’s a puddle or a sprinkler, show him what to do”), “How to Entertain a Grandpa” (“Somersault across the room”) and “How to Play With a Grandpa” (“Give him a kazoo”).

“When your grandpa says, ‘Naptime,’ it’s time for his nap,” the grandchild says. “The best way to put him to sleep is to have him read a looooooong book, over and over and over and ... zzzzzzz.”

After the grandpa wakes up, it’s time to clean up the messes he has made. When the parents return, the kid says, “See, Grandpa. They always come back.” Then he asks, “When can I baby-sit you again?”

“I wanted to be a little subversive and put a funny twist on things, but I also wanted to include lessons for kids,” said Reagan. “Most of all, I wanted them to laugh.”

The book is hilarious. And Reagan is working on another one that will be out next year.

“It’s for grandmas,” she said. “I’m not a grandma yet, but when I am, I want to be a fun one, like you’re a fun grandpa.”

“I’m sure my wife will love it,” I said. “But for now, as my granddaughter will soon find out, she has her hands full baby-sitting me.”

Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Gone Fishing"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

If legendary composer George Gershwin had also been a fisherman, one of his greatest works might have been “Porgy and Bass.”

I couldn’t get the tune out of my otherwise empty head recently as I boarded the Osprey V, a charter boat out of Port Jefferson, N.Y., for an afternoon of fishing for — you guessed it — porgy and bass.

What wasn’t playing, in either my head or on board, was the theme from “Gilligan’s Island,” which would have been appropriate because the Osprey V is a 65-foot Gillikin.

“Sometimes we play it as people are boarding,” said Capt. Amanda Peterson, “although we’re not going out on a three-hour tour. It’s four hours. And we won’t strand you on an island.”

“If the island had palm trees, I wouldn’t mind,” I said.

“Neither would I,” said Capt. Amanda. “But we’re not going that far out.”

We were, in fact, going only a few miles, to the Stratford (Conn.) Shoal Light in the middle of Long Island Sound, prime grounds (or, rather, waters) for the aforementioned fish.

“If I catch a lot of them,” I told Capt. Amanda, “it would be a fluke.”

“We’re not going for fluke,” she responded. “But you might catch a bluefish.”

Capt. Amanda, whose father, Capt. Stew Cash, runs the business (, recently married Capt. James Peterson, who was officially piloting the boat on that day’s excursion.

“I’m along for the ride,” said Capt. Amanda. “And to help you catch some fish.”

I needed all the help I could get because it had been years since I last went fishing. I used to go with my father when I was a kid. Once, when I wasn’t with him, he came back with a 41-pound striped bass.

“That’s huge,” said Capt. James. “If you caught one that size today, you’d have a real fish story.”

Capt. James should know because he once caught an 873-pound tuna off the coast of Nantucket, Mass.

“It was dressed,” he said.

“In a bathing suit?” I inquired.

“No,” Capt. James replied. “I mean, the head and tail had been cut off. Originally, it weighed about 1,000 pounds.”

“That’s huge,” I said. “You have a real fish story.”

I hoped to have one, too, and got off to a great start. Capt. Amanda used clams to bait both hooks on my fishing pole. About 10 seconds after I cast out, I felt a tug.

“You have a fish!” Capt. Amanda exclaimed. As I reeled in, she added, “Two fish!”

On one hook was a porgy; on the other was a bass. The sea bass was puny, so Capt. Amanda threw it back, but the porgy, which measured 13 inches, three more than regulation size, was a keeper. So I kept it.

Good thing I did because I didn’t catch another fish all day. Still, I had a fabulous time. I watched as the youngest fisherman on board, Kristian Tabala, 4, with the help of his dad, Danny, reeled in a porgy that was bigger than mine.

“I’m gonna name him Bob,” Kristian said.

“He’s bobbing in the bucket, so it fits,” I said. “What are you going to name the next fish you catch?”

Kristian thought for a moment and replied, “Rob.”

The biggest catch of the day was a 2-foot-long bluefish, hauled in by Vietnam veteran Chris Martinez, 69, the oldest of the 26 passengers. I was standing about five feet away.

“It could have been you,” Chris said.

“On the hook?” I wondered.

“Then we would have had to cut off your head and tail,” said Capt. James.

As the Osprey V headed back, deck hand Travis MacRae did the same to my porgy. When he was finished, I had two nice fillets to share with my wife, Sue, for dinner. They were delicious.

If only I had been standing five feet to my left, in Chris Martinez’s spot, I’d be humming another Gershwin tune: “Rhapsody in Bluefish.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, August 2, 2013

"The Prince and the Poppie"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Prince Charles
Clarence House
London SW1A 1BA
United Kingdom


From one new grandpa to another, I am writing to congratulate you on the birth of your first grandchild. I know he is a prince of a boy because my granddaughter, who was born in March, is my little princess. I guess that makes us a couple of lucky guys who will always give our grandchildren, if you will pardon the expression, the royal treatment.

Despite our differences (you have a real job, whereas I am a public nuisance), we have much in common, even though I am a commoner who has very little common sense, which is commoner these days than you might think.

Anyway, my younger daughter and her husband (the proud new parents) were married in France the day after your older son and his wife (ditto) were married in England in 2011.

I wrote the duke and duchess a letter to congratulate them on their nuptials and to thank them for being the opening act for the wedding of the century, in which I was, of course, the father of the bride. I also noted that our happy couple had a second ceremony here in the United States, which was one more than the duke and duchess had, but who’s counting?

I received a lovely reply from Mrs. Claudia Holloway, who as you know is the head of correspondence for the royal family. She wrote on behalf of the duke and duchess to extend their thanks for my good wishes and their congratulations to their fellow newlyweds.

It showed the class for which your family (and everyone in mine except, unfortunately, yours truly) is known.

In that spirit, I will not get into one-upmanship by saying that in addition to having two weddings, my daughter had a baby before your daughter-in-law did. I will say, however, that they are wonderful young women (and their husbands are wonderful young men) and that their babies our grandchildren are beautiful.

Now here is the most amazing thing we have in common: Both babies were born at 4:24 p.m.

It seems like they were made for each other. This, I believe, is more than just a coincidence. There must be some cosmic or divine plan at work here. Since your grandson is a prince and my granddaughter is a princess, their lives seem destined to intertwine.

Could there be a wedding (or two) in our future?

You never know. But here at the Zezimanse, as we call our family home, we are very excited at the prospect.

First, though, your grandson will have to prove himself worthy of my granddaughter, which, considering his lineage, I have no doubt he will do.

When he gets a bit older, he will have to hold his bottle (ba-ba in baby talk) the proper way, with his pinkies up. And he will have to know which plastic fork to use when he begins eating solid food, which initially will consist of mashed peas and carrots. I hear they are better than a lot of British meals, but I don’t want to be a culinary critic.

I merely want to say that this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

I also want to say that we should enjoy being grandfathers. There is, as I am sure you have already found out, nothing like it. I’m also sure that you have pampered your grandson, though I don’t know if you have Pampered him. If not, you really should lend a hand. In fact, two hands. Just make sure you are not wearing white gloves.

Again, Charles, congratulations. Please give our best to your family. And let’s set up a play date.

Jerry Zezima
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima