Friday, March 28, 2014

"A Twin-Win Situation"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In the year since my precious little granddaughter was born, during which time she has become smarter and more mature than I am, even though I am constantly telling her stupid jokes and acting more like an infant than she is, I have said that Chloe is twice as beautiful as any other baby in the world.

It turns out I am right. That’s because it took two babies to win the Gerber Photo Search, a nationwide contest sponsored by the infant and toddler food company. The latest competition, the fourth annual, drew 156,000 entries, including Chloe.

The winners are Levi and Paxton Strickland, 1-year-old identical twin brothers from Wernersville, Pa., who are, I must admit, adorable.

In a press release, Bernadette Tortorella, integrated marketing manager at Gerber, said, “There were so many entries that fit our criteria, but the judges were in awe of the Strickland twins,” adding: “Every baby is a Gerber baby.”

That includes Chloe, who likes to snack on Gerber Graduates Apple-Cinnamon Puffs.

But in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I called Levi and Paxton to congratulate them on winning the contest, which comes with a grand prize of $50,000 and the chance to appear in a Gerber advertisement.

The twins must have been busy playing, which is, at this point, their job, because their mother, Amanda, answered the phone.

“Winning the contest is very exciting,” Amanda said, “but the boys haven’t let it go to their heads.”

I found that out when I asked Amanda to put the phone to those two handsome heads, which are topped with light hair and dominated by big blue eyes and wide smiles.

“Here’s Levi,” said Amanda.

“Congratulations, Levi!” I said. “You’re a star.”

Levi was too modest to reply, but he must have been doing something funny because I heard giggles in the background.

“Paxton’s laughing,” Amanda explained. “He’s the laid-back one. Levi is our little jokester. He’s always making his brother crack up.”

“My granddaughter, Chloe, loves to laugh, too,” I said. “She has a great sense of humor. And she’s really smart. She gets that from her mommy and daddy, not me.”

“I bet the boys would like to meet her,” Amanda replied.

“Maybe we could set up a play date,” I said, adding that with the twins and her husband, Matt, Amanda is surrounded by guys. “It’s the opposite with me,” I noted. “My wife and I have two daughters and now there’s Chloe, so I’m surrounded by women.”

“The boys love their daddy,” Amanda said. “But I’m with them during the day and we have fun.”

Amanda, 24, has started a home-based business selling essential oils; Matt, 26, is the production manager for a technology company.

Amanda and I compared notes on the kids. Levi and Paxton, who were born on Matt’s birthday, are about a month older than Chloe, but all three are babbling (“I do that, too,” I admitted) and are about to take their first steps.

“Time for the grown-ups to buy track shoes,” I said, adding that the prize money could pay for a lot of them.

“That’s going into the boys’ college fund,” said Amanda.

“Save some of it to buy them track shoes, too,” I said. “It could lead to college scholarships. The prize money is nice, but it won’t cover everything.”

As for being in a Gerber ad or doing personal appearances, nothing as been set up yet, said Amanda, adding: “The boys would like it.”

“If they can’t make it to an appearance, Chloe could fill in,” I suggested.

“I’m sure she would be great,” said Amanda.

“Congratulations again to Levi and Paxton,” I said.

“The twins appreciate your call,” Amanda said. “And they send their love to Chloe.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Pun and Only"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a guy who has always loved puns, and has been known to use as many as 10 at a time (even if they don’t work, I can say, “No pun in 10 did”), I had long looked for a venue where my wordplay would be ear relevant.

That’s why I was happy as a clam, I will admit for shellfish reasons, to find out about Punderdome 3000, a monthly contest for people who have grown to love puns and audience members who have groaned to hear them.

Punderdome is the brainchild of entrepreneurial comic Fred Firestone and his real child, funny daughter Jo, who together, if you consider their surname, are two tires, though fortunately they are not too tired to put on a great show.

The latest one was held, as usual, at Littlefield, a fabulous performance and art space in Brooklyn, N.Y., where a tree grows because, of course, everything happens in trees.

I signed up, showed up and found myself in a crowd of about 400 young, happy and friendly people who were so eclectic that they must have paid the eclectic bill and so hip that I, clearly the oldest among them, figured I’d need a hip replacement.

I also was one of 17 contestants, who included individuals and two-person teams, which brought the total number of participants to about two dozen if you add them up, though you shouldn’t divide them, especially if you are division-impaired.

When I registered with Jo in the Littlefield lobby, I had to pick a punny nickname, so I selected JZ because, I said initially, “They’re my initials.”

Fred and Jo took the stage (and gave it back) to explain the rules: Contestants would be given a topic and have a minute and a half to prepare. They would then be called up to a microphone and have two minutes to be off and punning.

Their scores would be registered on a “human clap-o-meter,” on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), based on the reaction of the crowd.

The first round was divided into three parts. My group, composed of six contestants, went last. The topic: sea creatures.

After the first contestant went, I stepped up to the microphone and said, “Before we started, he and I decided to swap puns. It was a squid pro quo.”

The crowd went wild. “Your applause is so loud,” I continued, holding my hand to my head, “I have a haddock.”

I rattled off a stream of sea-creature puns. As my two minutes ended, I said, “Everything I said up here was on porpoise.”

I got thunderous applause that registered at 9.5 and, along with two other punsters in my group, made the first cut.

The second round’s topic: yoga. Since I don’t do yoga, it was, I said, “a stretch,” but after saying that the practice was invented by a famous baseball player, “Yoga Berra,” I scored a 10 and went on, with three other contestants, to the semifinals.

The topic: the names of people you went to high school with.

I said I went to high school so long ago that many of the boys in my class became Founding Fathers. “Then there was the guy who became big in coffee: Joe. And the girl who became a lawyer: Sue.”

I ended by saying that I went to college at Pun State.

My score: 10. I was in the finals! It was me against One-Two Punch, a team of two bright and funny young guys, Dylan DePice, 26, and Noah Berg, 24. There was no preparation time. We would stand at separate microphones and, for four minutes, volley puns. The topic: babies.

“My little granddaughter is so smart, she’s studying Shakespeare,” I began. “The other day I heard her say, ‘To pee or not to pee, that is the question.’”

This gave birth to a series of infantile comments (“We’re in a womb with a view”) that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

My score: 10. I won! I was Punderdome champ.

My prize: a chocolate fountain and fondue maker. I brought it home to my wife, who has had to put up with my puns all these years. It was the least I could fondue.
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima