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