Thursday, April 20, 2017

"The Shoe Must Go On"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If the bowling shoe fits, do I have to wear it?

That’s what I kept asking myself (answer: “What kind of ridiculous question is that?”) on the way to my granddaughter Chloe’s fourth-birthday party, which was held recently at The All Star, a popular bowling and family entertainment center in Riverhead, New York.

When I arrived, I learned that I wouldn’t be bowling with Chloe and about a dozen of her little friends, which was a relief because last year, the only other time I had been bowling with Chloe, she beat me.

“You can blame the shoes,” said Danielle Carey, the wonderfully helpful and personable “boss server” at The All Star.

Danielle, who is not a bowler and therefore doesn’t have to wear the shoes, even if they fit, said some people have walked out with them still on their feet.

“We don’t hold people’s shoes when we give them bowling shoes, so sometimes they forget they’re wearing them when they leave,” Danielle explained.

“You wouldn’t want to hold my shoes,” I told her.

“In that case,” Danielle replied, “it’s a good thing you’re not bowling today.”

She acknowledged that at least one of the several hideous colors on the typical pair of bowling shoes invariably matches whatever a bowler is wearing, but said it still doesn’t make them fashionable.

“Besides,” Danielle added, “ours are red, white and blue, to match the all-star theme, so they’re not as ugly as other bowling shoes.”

Shortly after Chloe and her friends donned their shoes — a task made easier for tiny fingers by Velcro, which always seems to be on the bowling ball I am using whenever I play, giving me an excuse for my pathetic performances — my wife, Sue, and I hit the bar. It was 12:22 p.m.

“Some parents belly up at 9 a.m., when the bar opens, and ask if I can put some wine in their coffee cups,” Danielle said.

“We’re grandparents,” I said as Sue and I each sipped a beer, “and it’s past noon, so it’s OK.”

“If you had been bowling,” Danielle suggested, “the beer might have helped your game.”

“True,” I noted. “Then Chloe wouldn’t have beaten me.”

As Sue watched our younger granddaughter, Lilly, who at 6 months old is too young to bowl, which might not have prevented me from losing to her, too, I spoke with Danielle about her 3-year-old daughter, Harley Quinn.

“She has the same name as the Joker’s girlfriend in the Batman comics,” said Danielle, 32, whose husband, Chris, makes pizza at The All Star. “And it fits. Harley isn’t calm like Chloe is. She can’t stand still. And she wants me for prizes. But I love her. She’s a sweetie.”

As “boss server” at The All Star, Danielle has myriad duties that include bringing out pizza and cake for children’s birthday parties, but she draws the line at bowling.

“I get a lot of parents who think I’m supposed to teach their kids how to bowl,” she said. “If I did, they’d end up being terrible. Then the parents would wonder why I didn’t bring out the pizza and cake.”

Danielle cheerfully did so for Chloe and her friends. The pizza was delicious. And the cake was even better. Danielle lit the candles so everyone could sing happy birthday to Chloe, who then blew them out.

“Did you make the pizza?” I asked Danielle, who said Chris wasn’t working that day.

“No,” she answered.

“Did you bake the cake?” I inquired.

“No,” Danielle said again. “I can’t cook and I can’t bake. I can make sandwiches, but nobody wants them at a party.”

Thanks to Danielle, Chloe’s party was terrific. As the kids were leaving, their parents made sure to drop off their bowling shoes.

“When we come back with Chloe,” I told Danielle, “I’ll bowl, too.”

“And for once,” she said, “you might win. Then,” Danielle added with a smile, “the bowling shoe would be on the other foot.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"This Guy's a Hot Ticket"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If I ever won Powerball, I’d never collect the money because I would either put the ticket somewhere in the house for safekeeping and never find it again or realize I had the winning numbers and drop dead from shock.

But that hasn’t stopped me from playing when the stakes get high enough (the most I ever won was two bucks, which I used to buy another ticket) because it gives me an excuse to go to my favorite store, 50 Percent Off Cards in Coram, New York.

On a recent morning when the jackpot was $155 million, I walked up to the counter and handed $2 to owner Peter Shah, who handed me a ticket and said, “You are going to win. I know it.”

“If I do,” I replied, “I’ll share the money with you.”

“If you don’t,” he said with a smile, “I’ll find you.”

Peter, 50, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1993, doesn’t need the money. That’s because, in the estimation of his customers, including me, he’s priceless.

“Peter is wonderful,” said Ann, who came in to buy a ticket for herself and four of her co-workers, adding: “We recently won $500, so I think he’s a good luck charm, too.”

“Then how come I haven’t won that kind of money?” wondered Peter, who said he buys a ticket once in a while but that, like me, the most he has ever won is $2. “A couple of years ago, somebody won a million dollars here,” Peter recalled. “I don’t know who it was.”

“You didn’t find the guy like you said you were going to find me?” I asked.

“Maybe he dropped dead,” Peter theorized.

Bobby Jolly described Peter as “a great guy, a beautiful man” as he paid for the Daily Racing Form. “I don’t play the lottery,” Bobby said. “I play the horses. I’ve been following them for years.”

“You must run really fast,” I suggested.

“I should enter the Belmont Stakes,” Bobby said. “Then people could bet on me.”

Suzanne, who recently won $4 in her office pool, said Peter is the store’s main attraction.

“This gentleman is very kind,” she said. “And he knows what I play. What do I play, Peter?”

“Mega Millions,” he reminded her. “One day, you’ll win the mega part of it.”

“That would be nice,” Suzanne said. “The most I’ve ever won is $7. I can’t quit my job with that.”

As Suzanne left, in walked Malcolm Abrams, 86, a retired statistician who is Peter’s most loyal customer and half of a comedy team that performs daily routines for amused patrons.

“If I knew I was going to be interviewed,” Malcolm told me, “I would have worn clean underwear.”

“How would you describe Peter?” I asked.

“He’s a great guy,” Malcolm said. “That’s what he would say if you interviewed him.”

“I would say that if I was sleeping,” Peter retorted.

“I don’t play the numbers. I tell Peter I print my own money,” said Malcolm, who volunteers at a nearby hospital.

“He doesn’t wash his hands when he operates on people,” Peter said.

“I do brain surgery,” Malcolm said. “And I’ve been carrying the weight of Peter all these years.”

“When were you born?” Peter asked Malcolm. “It was 1878, right?”

“I’m not that old,” Malcolm shot back. “It was 1879. Let’s get it straight.”

“I gave Jerry your Social Security number,” Peter told Malcolm.

“See what I have to put up with?” Malcolm said to me as he paid Peter for a newspaper. “I come in here every day because I feel I have a spiritual obligation to Peter. He wouldn’t survive without me.”

With that, Malcolm, who lives around the corner but has resided in many places, including 31 years in Schenectady (“It took me that long to learn how to spell it,” he said), tipped his cap and said to Peter, “If you’re lucky, you’ll see me tomorrow.”

I was lucky to have witnessed all of that but not so fortunate with my Powerball ticket: I didn’t get even one number.

“One of these days you’ll win,” Peter said a couple of days later. “And you won’t drop dead. Then,” he added with a smile, “you can share the money with me.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima