Friday, October 25, 2013

"Princely Postcard"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

It would not be classic British understatement to say that Prince Charles and I have a lot in common.

For one thing, as my wife, Sue, would attest, we both spend an inordinate amount of time on the throne.

For another, Charles and I are first-time grandfathers.

And now, it seems, we are pen pals.

That is why I was not surprised recently to receive a reply to the missive I sent to Charles earlier this year to congratulate him on being a new grandpa.

I said, in part, that our families have some amazing similarities, including the fact that his older son, William, and daughter-in-law, Kate, were married in England the day before my younger daughter, Lauren, and son-in-law Guillaume were married in France in 2011. And that my granddaughter, Chloe, and his grandson, George, while not born on the same day, each arrived at exactly 4:24 p.m., which means they are likely destined for each other. I even envisioned a royal wedding. I closed by saying that Charles will enjoy being a grandfather as much as I do and that we should set up a play date for the kids.

Imagine my delight when I received an envelope by royal mail with a return address of Buckingham Palace.

I opened it to find a postcard with a photo of Charles and his lovely wife Camilla. The caption read: “The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall leaving St. Mary’s Hospital after meeting Prince George for the first time.”

The message, in serif italic typeface, read:

“The Prince of Wales was most touched that you took the trouble to write as you did on the birth of His Royal Highness’s first grandchild, Prince George.

“His Royal Highness appreciated your kind words and sends you his warmest thanks and best wishes.”

Frankly, I was a little disappointed. Since Charles and I are so close, I expected a handwritten note, or at least a personalized response, like the letter I received after I wrote to William and Kate to congratulate them on their wedding. The reply was written by Mrs. Claudia Holloway, head of correspondence for the royal family. She opened with “Dear Mr. Zezima,” and wrote, in part, “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have asked me to send you their warmest thanks together with their belated congratulations to Lauren and Guillaume.” She signed the letter with a distinctive flourish in royal blue ink.

I was, to use Prince Charles’ words, most touched.

Not this time. I was, to put it mildly, most peeved.

But then I realized that the Prince of Wales must be too busy being a grandfather to send out handwritten notes or personalized responses.

If Charles is like me, he has been doing a lot of baby-sitting. This would entail holding his grandchild on his knee while watching sports (polo or cricket matches or maybe even soccer games) on TV. It would also entail the grand British tradition of doing your duty for God, country and, yes, baby. As I am sure Charles has found out, the changing of the guard takes on a whole new meaning when you’re a grandfather.

Then there are projects such as the one I undertook the other night. I may be the least handy man in America (I don’t imagine Charles is Mr. Fixit across the pond), but I did manage to put together a highchair without incident or bloodshed. I would advise Charles to follow the instructions carefully and not use language that would be considered a departure from the King’s English.

So, no, I am not miffed at the Prince of Wales. In fact, I understand his time constraints completely. Still, if he wants more advice on how to be a good grandfather, all he has to do is write me a letter.
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Scents and Sensibility"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

For nearly three decades, my loyal, intelligent and, let’s face it, masochistic readers have said that I stink. This time, they’re right.

That’s because, in a display of gluttony that did not, unfortunately, take my breath away, I participated in a garlic-eating contest.

This pungent event was the highlight of the Long Island Garlic Festival, which was held recently at Garden of Eve Organic Farm and Market in Riverhead, N.Y.

As about 100 people crammed into a tent to get a whiff of the competition, which should have put the smell of fear in them but instead produced an air redolent with excitement, I stood at a long table with seven other contestants, all of whom could sniff victory and, more important from a dollars-and-scents perspective, the $100 grand prize.

“Did you practice?” asked Vanessa Hagerbaumer, an event planner who was the MC for the contest.

“No,” I said. “I figured nobody would want to come near me. Then again, if I started training this morning, I might have won by default.”

“That would have been a good strategy,” said Vanessa, who introduced the contestants and explained the rules: We would have two minutes to chew and swallow as many cloves of garlic as we could stomach. We could drink water to wash down what we ate. No spitting out or regurgitating garlic during the competition. A clove in the mouth as time ran out would be counted. Garden of Eve would not be responsible if we repulsed loved ones when we got home.

“Ready?” Vanessa said.

The crowd was breathless.


For the last time that day, so was I.


I popped a clove of garlic in my mouth and started chomping. I decided not to waste time by peeling off the husk, part of which got stuck in my teeth. The rest, along with the masticated clove, went down my gullet.

A split second later, I felt like a fire extinguisher had been set off in my mouth. The intense sensation blasted out my nose, eyes and ears. Undeterred, I ate another clove. Then another.

The onlookers, who probably could have used gas masks, were going wild.

Suddenly, it was over. I had inhaled 13 cloves of garlic.

I didn’t even come close to winning. That honor went to defending champion Mark Lucas, a high school art teacher and drama director who gobbled 22 cloves. His secret: “I used the palm of my hand to smash them on the table, then I just swallowed them.”

“I bet your students will pay attention to you tomorrow,” I said.

“If they don’t go home sick,” Mark replied.

His victory last year was not without consequence.

“I went to a party afterward,” Mark said. “A pregnant woman got nauseous, so I had to leave.”

A similar fate awaited me when I got home.

“Whew!” my wife, Sue, exclaimed when I walked in the door. “I could smell you coming.”

She had anticipated my odoriferous condition and bought a lemon, which I sliced and sucked on.

“Any better?” I asked, exhaling toward Sue.

“No!” she cried. “It’s coming out your pores.”

I chewed on some mint from Sue’s garden.

“You still leave a backdraft when you walk by,” she said, fanning her nose with her hand.

Finally, I tried a tomato.

“Tomato juice is used on dogs when they get sprayed by skunks,” I noted.

“Even a skunk would smell better than you do,” said Sue.

The tomato didn’t do the trick, either. What might have helped was $100 worth of breath mints, but since I didn’t win, I couldn’t afford them.

My only consolation was that I got an “I Love Garlic” T-shirt. It was the only thing about me that didn’t stink.
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima