Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Remembrance of a Cool Guy"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
The first time I met Carmine Pikero, the man who would become my father-in-law, he was standing in the parking lot at Stamford (now Trinity) Catholic High School in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut. It was 1971 and he was there with my future mother-in-law, Jo, and the girl who would become my wife, their older daughter, Sue, whom I always had a crush on.

Sue and I had just graduated (she honorably, me miraculously). I walked up to Sue, kissed her, wished her a nice summer and said I’d see her in the fall at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where we both were going.

“Who the heck is that?!” her parents wanted to know.

“Oh, that’s Jerry Zezima,” Sue said casually. “He’s going up to St. Mike’s, too.”

They must not have been too comfortable with that. Their trust was sorely tested shortly after we graduated from college. Sue and I, with our good friend Hank Richert, another Catholic High grad who also went to St. Mike’s, met at the now-defunct Sittin’ Room in Stamford for a Saturday night of conversation and conviviality. We all drove separate cars (I wasn’t formally dating Sue at that point) and didn’t overindulge, but we did stay until the place closed.

“I got in my car and started to drive home,” Sue recalled when I spoke with her on the phone the next day. “As I was going up Long Ridge Road, I saw the headlights of this car behind me. I drove some more, but the car was still following me. I was getting scared. I turned onto Cedar Heights Road. So did the car. Then I turned onto Clay Hill and the car was still behind me. It followed me all the way home and up the driveway.”

“Who was it?” I asked anxiously.

“My father,” Sue said. “He was livid. He was out looking for me. He wanted to know who I had been with. I told him I was out with you and Hank.”

All was (eventually) forgiven and I started dating Sue. When we were married, her parents warmly welcomed me into their family, just as my parents warmly welcomed Sue.

These memories came flooding back over the holidays, the first without my father-in-law, who died in July at the age of 89.

Dad loved the holidays, especially Christmas Eve, when he got to help my mother-in-law make the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the traditional Italian dinner. He wasn’t a cook (boiling water was his limit), but he did help clean the shrimp and soak the baccala.

He especially liked angel-hair pasta with anchovies.

“The pasta is great,” I used to say, “but I draw the line at fish with hair.”

Dad, who I think would have eaten it for breakfast, would invariably reply, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

After all these years, I have finally relented. And now I think it’s pretty good.

Dad also was handy. He had to be because he had approximately 17,000 tools in the basement. He must have had triplicates of every kind imaginable, including hammers, saws and screwdrivers, which he liked to drink in the summer, though his cocktail of choice was a vodka and tonic.

Once, when my daughters, Katie and Lauren, were small, I “helped” Dad put up a swing set for them in the backyard of his house in Stamford. My main job was handing him tools. Afterward, I got each of us a beer.

“Thanks for your help,” Dad said.

I smiled and replied, “It was nothing.”

Another thing about my father-in-law was that he was a handsome dude. And a cool guy. He loved to dance and travel the world with my mother-in-law. In fact, they took the family on a cruise to Bermuda for their 50th wedding anniversary in 2000. I got to drive the ship. My father-in-law, calm and collected as ever, ordered a drink at the bar. I didn’t blame him.

But mostly, he was a terrific husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and, of course, father-in-law who set a good example for me. Now I am the father-in-law of Dave and Guillaume. I don’t know if they think I’m cool, but they’re great guys who have patiently and cheerfully put up with my stupid jokes.

So did my father-in-law, a good man who was much loved and has been much missed, especially during the holidays.

A toast, with a vodka and tonic: Cheers, Dad.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"The Zezimas' 2015 Christmas Letter"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch; and Chloe, the granddaughteriarch.

Dear friends:

It sure has been an exciting 2015 for the Zezimas! Much of the excitement, as well as a lot of vexation and a fair amount of expense, was caused by household appliances. That’s because the dryer, the dishwasher, the microwave, the toaster and the coffee maker conked out.

Jerry, who is convinced that inanimate objects are out to get him, got some great advice from 83-year-old super salesman Leo Kasden, aka the Appliance Whisperer. Said Leo: “If you check out your appliances every morning and say hello to them, that might help. Maybe they’ll like you better.”

Jerry had further domestic trouble when Sue urged him to change the faucet that had been leaking for months in an upstairs bathroom. Jerry, who proudly bills himself as the Least Handy Man in America, wisely used a screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) and got the job done without flooding the house and shorting out all those new appliances.

He also had a bit of medical trouble when he was diagnosed with skin cancer. To make matters worse, it was on the most prominent place possible: his nose. Fortunately, dynamite and jackhammers were not needed to remove the carcinoma. Now that Jerry is recovering and looking as lovely as ever, he promises (or threatens) to write more extensively about it. But first, of course, he’ll have to put his nose to the grindstone.

Sadly, fate was not as kind to Kitty, a sweet little cat who, at the ripe old age of 17, went to that big litter box in the sky. In her wild youth, Kitty was the epitome of promiscuous sex and teenage (by feline standards) pregnancy. The mother of nine illegitimate children, Kitty is survived by her fat daughter, Bernice, who thankfully has no children of her own.

Speaking of youth, Sue and Jerry relived theirs when they attended their 40th college reunion. Members of the notorious Class of 1975, they returned to Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, the scene of so many stupid pranks pulled by Jerry and his pals Tim, Hank and Clay, who also attended, that they are thinking of suing the makers of “Animal House” for theft of intellectual property. They did, however, behave themselves (mostly) at the reunion.

But the most fun that Sue and Jerry had this year was with Chloe, who turned 2 in March and is already smarter and more mature than Jerry.

She proved it on several occasions, including a trip to the aquarium with Lauren (Mommy) and Guillaume (Daddy). Accompanying them was Jerry (Poppie), who spouted fish puns all day. Naturally, they got Chloe’s seal of approval.

Jerry also introduced Chloe to the neighborhood ice cream man, who melted at the sight of her, and went with her to a children’s recreation center, where he almost fainted in the bouncy house.

The highlight of the year was the White House Easter Egg Roll. On Easter Sunday, Jerry packed Sue, Lauren and Chloe in the car and drove to Washington, D.C., where Aunt Katie and Uncle Dave live. The next day, Mommy, Nini and Poppie took an excited little girl to the South Lawn of the White House, where Jerry was caught cheating while trying but failing to help Chloe win an Easter egg race.

But he made up for it by introducing Chloe to a bona fide celebrity. No, not the president, but Chloe’s hero, Peppa Pig, whom she hugged and posed for pictures with. The day will live on in our memories because that’s the way Poppie rolls.

Merry Christmas with love and laughter from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Chloe Meets Santa"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In 1897, which was before my time (6 a.m. is before my time, too, but that’s another story), a little girl named Virginia asked if there was a Santa Claus.

In 2015, a little girl named Chloe got up at 6 a.m. in her grandparents’ house and asked for breakfast. Then she asked if there was a Santa Claus.

She found out when she went to the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, New York, to see the right jolly old elf who made her laugh when she saw him in spite of herself.

As a sometimes naughty boy who is trying to get on the good list so I can receive reindeer underwear for Christmas, I am not lying when I say that this Santa is the best I have ever seen.

His real name is Ernest Johnson. But he is known in holiday circles, which look remarkably like wreaths, as Santa Ernie.

“I love being Santa Claus,” he told me in a phone conversation a couple of weeks before meeting Chloe, who just happens to be my granddaughter.

Santa Ernie has greeted good little boys and girls at Smith Haven every year since 2001. But he took the role long before that, in 1979, at the age of 40.

“I told a little girl four years ago that I was 654, which makes me 658 now,” Santa Ernie said.

“You don’t sound a day over 483,” I replied.

He chuckled and said, “Being Santa Claus keeps me young.”

When Chloe and I met him, he certainly looked the part. His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow. He had a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

“Hello, Chloe!” he said cheerily, his blue eyes twinkling behind round spectacles.

“Santa!” exclaimed Chloe, who will be 3 in March. She was accompanied by my wife, Sue (known to Chloe as Nini); our younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); our son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy); and, of course, yours truly (Poppie).

Chloe wore a red Christmas dress, with a gift-box bow in her blond curls.

“You’re beautiful, sweetheart!” Santa Ernie told her.

“Say thank you,” Lauren said.

“Thank you,” said Chloe, who wandered through the Santa’s Village display in the center of the mall. She had the place to herself because our special visit was arranged by Noerr Programs, a family and holiday services company headquartered not at the North Pole but in Arvada, Colorado, which gets plenty of snow, too.

One of Santa Ernie’s helpers gave Chloe a little stuffed husky, which presumably helps pull the sleigh if Dasher or Dancer, or Prancer or Vixen, or Comet or Cupid, or Donner or Blitzen calls in sick.

Chloe clutched the dog as she sat with Santa Ernie and Lauren for a picture, but she wanted to do more exploring, so a very helpful elf gave her a book, which she promptly opened and put in front of her face, making the photographer’s job a tad challenging.

Santa Ernie, who with his wife of 55 years has two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and has greeted thousands of boys and girls over the years, knew just what to do to make the picture perfect.

At the end of her visit, Chloe hugged Santa Ernie and gave him a high-five.

“Say thank you to Santa,” Lauren said.

“Thank you, Santa,” Chloe said, adding sweetly, “I love you.”

“Merry Christmas, Chloe!” Santa Ernie said.

“Merry Christmas!” she responded with a wide smile, knowing full well the magical answer to that age-old question:

Yes, Chloe, there is a Santa Claus.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"No Thanks for the Memory"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I am so technologically challenged that my granddaughter, Chloe, who isn’t even 3 years old, is more advanced than I am. I know this because she can use an iPad. I don’t have an iPad, or an iPod, or even an iWatch, although I do have an iPhone and, according to my dentist, iTeeth.

Still, my constant battle with technology wouldn’t be so bad if I could remember the approximately 147 different passwords I need to perform all the tasks crucial to survival in the modern world, such as responding to those generous people in foreign lands who have notified me that I could inherit huge sums of money if I will send them my personal information, which unfortunately I can’t access because I don’t know the password.

For help and guidance, I recently spoke with Joe Guzzello, the manager of editorial systems in my office, where his technological expertise, positive attitude and deadpan humor have saved many computer-crazed employees including yours truly from jumping out windows that don’t even open.

“People are always asking me what their password is,” Joe said sympathetically. “And I always tell them, ‘How do I know? It’s your password.’ The problem is that there are so many passwords that you can’t remember them all.”

“How many passwords do you have?” I asked.

“Well over a hundred,” Joe responded. “I have them in my phone.”

“What if you lose your phone?” I wondered.

“I have a spreadsheet,” Joe said.

“What if you can’t find the spreadsheet?” I inquired.

“Then I’d be in the same boat as everybody else,” said Joe.

“You’d probably need a password to start the boat,” I suggested.

“The thing to remember,” Joe said, “is KISS.”

“I kiss my wife all the time,” I replied, “and it still doesn’t help me remember all my passwords.”

Joe shook his head and said, “KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” I noted, “because when it comes to remembering passwords, I’m really stupid.”

Joe explained that choosing, for example, the name of a pet, or one of your children, or your favorite sports team, and adding a number representing, say, your birthday, will make the password easier to remember.

“But we’re always told not to use the same password for everything, so you have to come up with different ones for your home computer or the one at work or doing your banking,” I complained. “Then, when you have to change one of them, you can’t use any of the previous dozen.”

“That’s where keeping it simple helps,” Joe said. “Some people think their passwords have to be 25 characters long. That’s wrong. Just tweak the ones you have.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledged, keeping it simple can be pretty complicated.

“It was a lot different when I was growing up,” said Joe, who’s 55. “Back then, all I had to remember was my locker combination.”

No such luck for his daughters, who are 18 and 15.

“In school, there aren’t many textbooks anymore, so the kids have to do most of their work on iPads,” Joe said.

“And they need passwords,” I said.

“Right,” said Joe.

“What are they supposed to tell the teacher if they lose their work: ‘The dog ate my iPad’?” I asked.

“They can ask me,” Joe said. “I have all their user names and passwords.”

“User names are other things you have to remember,” I noted. “So are PIN numbers. They’re as bad as passwords.”

“And when people can’t remember them, I get called,” said Joe, adding with a sigh: “It’s not easy being me.”

Joe, who’s also a volunteer firefighter and a happily married man whose wife, he admitted, isn’t too tech savvy, smiled and said, “Modern technology can be a beautiful thing, but it can also drive you crazy.”

“I was already crazy,” I said. “And I still can’t remember all my passwords.”

“Just keep it simple,” Joe repeated.

“I have the perfect solution,” I said. “I’ll come up with a password with the name ‘Joe’ in it. And if I forget what it is, I’ll know just who to call.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"All Pumped Up"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I am not much of a couch potato, not only because my wife won’t let me eat potatoes on the couch while watching TV, but because I prefer to drink beer in the lounge chair.

But I am definitely a pump potato. That’s because I am hooked on a channel called Gas Station TV.

I discovered it recently when I went to the gas station and was transfixed by the TVs in the new pumps.

“If I could fit my lounge chair in the car, I’d drive it over here so I could sit in Lane 1 and watch TV all day,” I told Bree, the nice young man at the register.

“There’s only one channel,” he said, “but there’s a lot on it.”

“I know,” I replied. “I just watched the weather forecast it’s supposed to rain and I saw a car commercial, which was appropriate. The last time I was here, I watched the entertainment news and the sports update. A guy waiting to get to the pump must have thought I was taking too long because he honked his horn at me.”

The next time I needed gas, I took my own Nielsen ratings by polling viewers.

“I actually do watch TV while I’m pumping gas,” said Mike. “I like the weather, even though I’m outside and I already know what it’s doing.”

“Do you watch TV at home?” I asked.

“Not much,” Mike said. “But I like comedies. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is my favorite.”

“If a sitcom was on TV at the gas station, would you watch it?” I inquired.

“It might take a while,” Mike said, “but my car has a big tank, so maybe I could see the whole show.”

Melanie said she watches the weather.

“I like the news, too,” she added. “It’s nice to know what’s going on in the world. I just saw a report on gas prices.”

This piqued my interest so much that I decided to talk with Violet Ivezaj, vice president of business operations for Gas Station TV, which is headquartered in Detroit. I thought of driving there from my home on Long Island, New York, but I would have used too much gas, so I called her.

“You could have watched a lot of TV on the way out,” said Violet, adding that Gas Station TV started in 2006 at five gas stations in Texas and is now in more than 3,000 stations across the country.

When I told Violet about my ratings poll, she said, “I’m glad people like us. We offer a lot of programming, like ESPN, AccuWeather, CNN and Bloomberg. We’re driven to make pumping gas a good experience.”

“Driven?” I replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” Violet said. “We want to have a positive impact.”

“I don’t think I’d use the word ‘impact’ when talking about cars,” I noted.

“Oops,” she said. “Let me put it this way: Millions of people are all pumped up over us.”

“They must be tankful for Gas Station TV,” I offered.

“Tankful?” Violet replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” I said, adding that I have noticed that GSTV also has advertising for the products sold at gas stations, such as snacks and soda.

“We not only want to be entertaining and informative,” Violet said, “but we want customers to buy merchandise from our clients.”

“Have you ever been on Gas Station TV?” I asked.

“Not yet,” said Violet. “My husband and children think I should be.”

“Maybe you should get an agent,” I suggested.

“You could be on,” Violet said.

“That’s a great idea,” I responded. “If Gas Station TV starts a talk show, I could be the host. I can just imagine the promo: ‘Watch Jerry and get gas.’”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Dishes Your Life"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As the very model of the modern mixed-up man, I have long been baffled by one of the great mysteries of domestic life: If a dishwasher washes dishes, why do you have to wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher?

That is the question I have been asking my wife, Sue, for the past 37 years.

Her thoroughly convincing answer: “Because.”

It does no good to point out that in television commercials for dishwashers, or even for dishwashing detergent, dishes that are encrusted with food chunks the consistency of concrete always come out shiny and spotless.

That wasn’t the case in our house recently. In a spiteful act that would never be shown on TV, the dishwasher conked out. So I had to wash the dishes by hand.

Sometimes Sue washed them and I dried. Or I left them in the dish drainer to dry, which prompted Sue to ask, “Why aren’t you drying the dishes?”

My thoroughly unconvincing answer: “Because.”

One thing was clear (and it wasn’t the wine glass I streaked with a damp dish towel): You don’t appreciate something until you don’t have it anymore.

That’s the way Sue and I felt about the dishwasher, which had served us well for about a dozen years before dying of what I can only assume was food poisoning.

This forced us to wash dishes the old-fashioned way. When doing so, you have to place a basin in the kitchen sink and fill it with water hot enough to scald the hide off a crocodile. First, however, you should squirt in a stream of dishwashing liquid, which will make enough bubbles to obscure the utensils and cause you to slice your thumb on a steak knife.

To prevent me from bleeding to death, which would have stained the counters, Sue bought and forgive me for being too technical here a dishwashing thingie. It has a long handle with a screw top on one end, so you can put in detergent, and a brush on the other, so you can scrub the dishes.

That way you don’t have to fill a basin. Instead, you can let the water run for such a long time that it would overflow Lake Superior, which isn’t a good place to wash dishes anyway.

But you have to get them clean because you need something to eat on. After a while, however, taking nourishment intravenously seems like an appealing alternative.

The situation, like the water, reached a boiling point. This happened after dinner one night when I seriously considered killing one of the actors in a dishwasher commercial and going to prison so I wouldn’t have to wash the dishes anymore. But then, I figured, I’d be assigned kitchen duty for the rest of my life.

Before I could say to Sue, “We really ought to buy a new dishwasher,” Sue said to me, “We really ought to buy a new dishwasher.”

So she went to an appliance store and bought one. But when it was delivered, it didn’t fit because the measurements were wrong. (The dishwasher’s, not Sue’s.)

Back to the store went Sue. And back to our house went another dishwasher.

The delivery guys, Tom and Anthony, sympathized with our plight.

“You don’t want to be without a dishwasher for too long,” Tom said.

“It’s bad when you have to wash the dishes yourself,” Anthony chimed in.

After much measuring, and maneuvering, and manpower, Tom and Anthony got the dishwasher to fit.

Then came the moment of truth: “I’m going to give it a test run,” Tom said.

Sue and I held our breath, collectively thinking, “Please, God, make it work. And don’t flood the kitchen.”

Tom pressed some buttons.

“It’s so quiet,” Sue noted.

“Unlike me,” I added.

The dishwasher ran, and the water drained, and, lo, there was no flood in the kitchen.

That evening, with spotless wine glasses, Sue and I toasted our new dishwasher.

“I’ll load it,” I said after dinner.

“Thanks,” Sue said. “And don’t forget to wash the dishes before you put them in.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Depth of a Salesman"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Despite the lamentable fact that I couldn’t sell skis in Vermont during the winter, or surfboards in Hawaii during the summer, or even beer to castaways on a desert island, mainly because I would have consumed it myself, I recently got a job as a salesman.

I am not getting paid (and I’m worth every penny), but I do get hugs and kisses, which are priceless.

My boss is my granddaughter, Chloe, who just started preschool and came home on her first day with you guessed it a fundraiser.

Fundraisers are an excellent way not only to raise funds for schools, but to deplete funds from the families whose children or grandchildren go to the schools that need to raise funds.

This is known, in many American households, as an economic downturn.

But if it helps kids, especially Chloe, I am all for it. Besides, I’d only blow the money on frivolous luxuries like food and shelter.

I remember when my daughters, Katie and Lauren (Chloe’s mommy), came home from school with fundraisers that my wife, Sue, and I had to bring around the neighborhood and then take to work so friends and co-workers could buy stuff after we had bought stuff, thus ensuring that the girls wouldn’t be known as the only kids in school with cheap parents.

Then, of course, Sue and I had to buy stuff from the kids of all those friends and co-workers, proving that we weren’t cheap. During the school year, however, we were practically broke.

Now, after enjoying fundraiser retirement for the past two decades, I am back in the sales game.

Acting on behalf of Chloe, the CEO (child executive officer) of this enterprise, Lauren handed me the 32-page sales brochure, titled “Prestige Gift Collection 2015,” which offered “unique gifts, kitchen helpers, delicious treats and premium gift wraps.”

The first person to whom I had to give a sales pitch was, naturally, myself.

“There’s a lot to choose from,” said Sue, who had already purchased several gifts, including Item No. 11, the Ho Ho Snowman Roll Wrap.

“I guess I don’t have to buy wrapping paper,” I said, though I was intrigued by Item No. 25, the Mystery Roll Wrap. Even more intriguing was Item No. 21, the Mystery Gift.

“What’s the mystery?” I wondered. “You order them but they never arrive?”

“Pick something else,” suggested Sue, who not only is a better shopper than I am but also, obviously, a better salesperson.

I perused the possibilities, including Item No. 29, the Sunrise Egg Mold (“If my eggs have mold, I’m not eating them,” I told Sue); Item No. 42, the Snap-Lock Containers (“We already have enough Tupperware to store leftovers for Luxembourg”); Item No. 47, the Professional Knife Sharpener Wand (“I’d bleed to death”); and Item No. 66, Cashew Torties (“Isn’t she an adult-film star?”).

I ended up getting a subscription to Sports Illustrated, so I could enjoy reading about people who are bigger, stronger, younger and richer than I am.

Then I took the brochure to work.

One colleague said apologetically, “I don’t even buy from my own kids.”

Another one said, “I have to go to a meeting,” and never came back.

Fortunately, several others fell for my irresistible sales pitch, which began, “I hate to ask this,” and generously purchased items I knew they didn’t need or want but bought anyway, probably because and this is the key to salesmanship they felt sorry for me.

I am proud and slightly flummoxed to report that I sold $87 in merchandise, which not only helped Chloe be tops in her class, but ought to make me Preschool Salesman of the Year.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Poppie's Personal Trainer"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
At the advanced age of 61 (my age is advancing while the rest of me is regressing), I am happy to say that I don’t need to join a health club.

That’s because I have a personal trainer: my granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe, whose age has advanced to 2 and a half in the blink of an eye (my other eye doesn’t work as well as it used to), keeps me in shape like no professional ever could.

That was exhaustingly evident during a recent trip to Safari Adventure, a children’s activity and entertainment center in Riverhead, New York.

For me, a child at heart, which got a strenuous workout and pumped enough blood to actually reach my brain, the place was a gym where I had a one-day membership.

Ordinarily, Chloe keeps me going with activities such as playing hide-and-seek; running around the dining room table; pushing her in her toy car (she honks the horn) or on her tricycle (she rings the bell); having foot races in the backyard; making her fly like Supergirl; doing bench presses with her; carrying her; catching her as she goes down the slide; helping her go up and down stairs; taking her to the park and pushing her on the swings; playing catch; playing soccer; frolicking with her in the kiddie pool; jumping in puddles; or simply walking hand-in-hand to and fro wherever we may be.

If these were Olympic sports, I would have set the world record for gold medals and you would have seen me (and Chloe) on boxes of Wheaties.

As it is, I have already gone through a pair of sneakers since Chloe started walking, even though I don’t see her every day, much to my chagrin because (a) I love her and (b) I could use the exercise.

I got plenty of it at Safari Adventure.

The first thing I had to do was take off my sneakers, which for once avoided wear and tear, even if my feet and the rest of me didn’t.

Then Chloe led me to a huge inflatable slide. I thought she wanted me to watch her go down, but she had a better idea: She wanted me to go with her.

Getting to the top entailed going through a rubber obstacle course. I couldn’t stand because I am too tall, so I had to crawl, which must have been a pathetic sight since I kept toppling over like I had been out on an all-night bender.

Chloe patiently waited for me as I caught up with her at the stairs, which she scampered up in a flash. It took me approximately the length of time it would have taken Chloe to read “War and Peace.”

Then whoosh! down the slide she went. I followed, slowly and clumsily, suffering rubber burns on my elbows and knees in the process.

“Again!” Chloe said when I reached the bottom.

This exercise was repeated about half a dozen times until Chloe took me by the hand and led me to the bouncy house, where my conditioning reached a whole new level. Actually, two levels: up and down.

It is safe to say, though not safe to do if you are a cardiac patient, that Chloe got the jump on me. This was the routine: bounce, bounce, bounce, plop! Every time she did it, I did, too, which made Chloe giggle with delight.

If I had a dollar for every time we bounced and plopped, I could have paid off my mortgage.

Then Chloe led me back to the slide, then to the bouncy house again, then to another, even taller slide. At least this one didn’t have an obstacle course.

After an hour and a half, Chloe was ready to go home. I was ready to go to the hospital. But it was invigorating, and fun, and I’d go back to Safari Adventure in a rapidly pounding, chest-exploding heartbeat.

Thanks to my little personal trainer, I’m in the best shape of any grandpa I know.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"When the Bough Breaks"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
When I bought my house, which the bank owns but kindly allows me to pay for, I was thrilled to have a big yard with lots of beautiful trees. Apparently, the trees don’t feel the same, which is why, after a recent storm, the oak was on me.

Not literally, of course, because if a tree fell on my head, it would be crushed to kindling, while my head would be slightly dented but otherwise unharmed.

This particular tree either was hit by lightning I was shocked, SHOCKED, that such a thing could happen or had its uppermost branches sheared off by what some meteorologists speculated was a tornado, not likely because I don’t live in Kansas, even though, according to the bank, there’s no place like home.

Fortunately, mine wasn’t hit by the tree, which nonetheless knocked out my power. It knocked out my house’s power, too, when a huge branch fell and came to rest on a power line in the backyard, threatening to plunge the entire neighborhood into darkness, especially at night.

Then again, the setting sun does the same thing all the time. Good thing I don’t have solar power.

Anyway, it took two weeks for the power company to come over and cut down the offending branch and another huge one that had almost entirely snapped off the trunk. That branch was resting against a neighbor’s tree on the property line and would have taken down the power line if it had fallen, too.

During those two weeks, the power was restored but went off twice more, both times when the sun, which also rises, was shining brightly and there was nary a breeze, save for my hot air.

When the crew from the power company finally arrived and felled the two big branches, my wife, Sue, was told they couldn’t be cut up and hauled away, but one guy said he could do it privately for a price that could have bankrupted Donald Trump.

So I got an estimate from Vinny, who works for O’Connell’s Landscaping, the company that cuts what little grass we have. The lawn looks like a stretch of Death Valley because the trees in the front and back yards are so shady.

“I’m kind of shady myself,” I told Vinny.

“Maybe I should cut you down,” he replied with a smile.

Vinny, 41, a Navy veteran who served in the Persian Gulf, said I was lucky the tree didn’t fall on my house.

“If it had,” I noted, “at least I’d have hardwood floors.”

“I’ve seen plenty of trees that fell on people’s roofs and into their pools,” said Vinny, adding that he slept through the storm. “It didn’t affect me, and I live only a few miles away. I guess the worst of it was in your neighborhood.”

Vinny surveyed my branch-littered backyard and gave me a reasonable price to cut up the wood and take it away.

“I’m a geezer with a handsaw,” I said. “I could never do it myself.”

“You don’t have to,” said Vinny, who, a few days later, sent over three of his best men: Efren, William and Mario.

“You have a lot of rot,” said Efren, the supervisor of the crew.

“I know,” I responded. “But what about the tree?”

“It has rot, too,” said Efren, who showed me and Sue the decaying wood in one of the branches.

“I used to like oaks,” I said. “Now I hate them. Never mind the acorns. It’s the brown gunk they drop in the spring that’s the worst. And they’re supposed to be the strongest trees, but every time a breeze blows through, the yard is littered with twigs. Now this.”

“And it could happen again,” Efren said as William and Mario finished the job.

“You know what they say,” I told him. “Everything happens in trees.”

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima