Sunday, January 20, 2019

"The Grandkid Olympics in Poppie's Gym"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a lean, mean geezer machine, I have managed to keep my boyish figure all these years by strictly adhering to Zezima’s First Rule of Physical Fitness: Exercise and health food will kill you.

That’s why my regimen is limited to 12-ounce curls, which are performed with bottles containing corn, hops, barley, water and other healthful ingredients; the avoidance of all vegetables except, of course, myself; and a daily glass of red wine, which is, according to my doctor, over-the-counter heart medicine.

But I have reached the age (old enough to know better) where I really should be more active than getting up twice a night to go to the bathroom.

That’s where my grandchildren come in.

Chloe, who will be 6 in March; her sister, Lilly, who turned 2 in October; and their cousin, Xavier, who will be 2 in March, are the proprietors of Poppie’s Gym, a floating health club and potential emergency care facility that is situated wherever the kids and I happen to be.

The various sites include my house, their houses, the backyards of the aforementioned places, the kiddie pool, the playground, the vineyard, the orchard, the amusement park and whatever store, outlet or mall where my wife and/or daughters are shopping while I am watching or, more likely, chasing the children.

Activities include walking, running, hopping, skipping, jumping, crawling, scampering, splashing, dancing, throwing, batting, kicking and weightlifting. If there were a grandfather competition in the Olympics, I would have won gold in all these events and appeared on boxes of Wheaties, my smiling visage covered with an oxygen mask.

I recently ramped up the exertion level when all three grandchildren visited. It was invigorating, especially when I hoisted Chloe, who weighs almost 50 pounds; Xavier, who tips the scales at 30 pounds; and Lilly, the peanut of the bunch at 23 pounds but whose squirminess in my arms amounts to a clean and jerk, the former involving a diaper change and the latter describing me.

Then there was the 100-inch dash, in which I chased Chloe and Lilly across the family room and back again so many times that a calculator would have exploded like the Hindenburg.

Xavier preferred the biathlon, which entailed playing peekaboo and then running around the room with Poppie on his heels. It’s a miracle I didn’t wear out my heels.

On numerous occasions, all the kids wanted to take my hand and play with me individually. This would require me either to be three people (as my wife would say, isn’t one enough?) or to have three hands, which would make it extremely difficult to buy gloves.

After several days, the Olympics were over and Xavier went back home. My wife and I will soon get on a plane to visit him and the athletics will continue. We often see Chloe and Lilly, who live only about 45 minutes away, so Poppie will be sure to keep in tip-top shape.

In fact, shortly after the sporting events had ceased, I went to the doctor for a checkup. My heart rate and blood pressure were perfect, my weight was normal and overall I was declared a remarkable physical specimen.

“What do you do to stay so fit?” the doctor asked.

“I play with my grandchildren,” I replied.

“Keep it up,” she advised. “It beats getting up twice a night to go to the bathroom.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Shanks for the Memories of Rikers Island"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
As a fugitive from justice who has committed countless crimes against journalism (I plead insanity to all of them), I am not ashamed to admit that I was on Rikers Island.

Now my past has caught up with me because I recently found out that one of the security guards at work was a correction officer at Rikers when I was there.

“I recognize you!” Kenneth McDougall said when I flashed my pass at the company entrance. “They let you out?”

“They had to,” I replied. “I was a bad influence on the other inmates.”

Here’s my confession: Several years ago, I was asked to speak about writing to detainees at the New York City correctional institution. After a few hours of corrupting the minds of dozens of young men, all of whom promised to reform after being subjected to my cruel and unusual punishment, I was released on my own recognizance because no one else would loan me theirs.

“Rikers is a rough place,” said Kenny, as he is popularly known. “You survived. The question is, how did Rikers survive you?”

“Probably because you were there to keep the peace,” I told Kenny, who was a New York City correction investigator with the Intelligence Unit. He worked at Rikers for 23 years before retiring in 2013. Now Kenny, who’s 52, works in corporate security.

“It’s not as interesting as being in prison,” he acknowledged as he showed me photos of confiscated weapons, including shanks, ice picks and a toothbrush with a razor in it. “And those were the little ones,” Kenny said. “The big ones were like arrows. I saw guys with shanks sticking out of their backs. They don’t die. If you or I got stuck with a pin, we’d bleed to death.”

“In this place,” I noted, “the most dangerous weapons are No. 2 pencils.”

“Then you’d have to get the lead out,” said Kenny, who was known as “the Shank Hunter” because he confiscated about 4,000 weapons. He added that a sense of humor is the best weapon in a place like Rikers. “That’s how you survive,” he said. “Correction officers are some of the kindest, funniest people you’ll ever meet. They’re unsung heroes.”

Kenny found a lot to laugh about in “the Hooch Caper,” when he confiscated two bottles of moonshine that some inmates were making.

“I brought the bottles to the security office,” Kenny recalled. “These guys used apples and moldy bread as yeast and closed the tops. If you don’t go back daily and release the caps, the bottles will explode. That’s what happened. They blew up all over the place. There was hooch on the ceiling and the walls. My buddy Bill was in there. He said, ‘Who did this?’ I confessed.”

“Did you taste the stuff?” I asked.

“Are you kidding?” Kenny said. “It smelled terrible.”

For Kenny, humor runs in the family. His father-in-law, Tony Ricco, was a stand-up comic.

“He played the Catskills, the Poconos and Vegas,” Kenny said. “He’s 87 now. My wife and three daughters have good senses of humor, too. With me around, they have to.”

“I’m glad you were around when I was at Rikers,” I said. “But what if I went back?”

“You’d be on your own,” Kenny said. “I wouldn’t be there to protect you. But I think you’d be OK because you have a good sense of humor, too. Just don’t make any hooch. If it explodes, my buddy Bill wouldn’t find it too funny.”

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima