Sunday, January 23, 2022

"A Grave Situation"

By Jerry Zezima


If I have learned anything in my 68 years on this globe — aside from the fact that life is too short for light beer — it is this:


The older you get, the younger old people seem to be.


This was driven home (though not, thank God, in hearse) when three things recently happened.


(a) My wife, Sue, and I redid our wills.


(b) I got a brochure in the mail from a cemetery.


(c) My doctor said I won’t have to worry about the first two for a long time, although he did add that for enough money, he could have me declared legally dead.


All of these comforting thoughts entered what little remains of my mind when Sue and I visited our lawyer, Tim Danowski.


“Are you going to discuss our habeas corpses?” I asked.


“That’s a dead issue,” said Tim, who drew up what he called “I love you” wills.


First we went over Sue’s will, which refers to me, in Article IV, as her “beloved husband.”


“I notice that in Article V, I am not ‘beloved’ anymore,” I pointed out. “I’m just referred to as Sue’s husband.”


I didn’t worry about it because the “beloved” reference to Sue, and subsequent lack thereof, was the same in my will, which also detailed what would happen if I became incoherent.


“My family thinks I’m that way now,” I said.


Then we got down to assets and what our children would get.


“We don’t have millions of dollars,” Sue said.


“We have dozens of dollars,” I added.


“Our younger daughter has already said she wants my ice cream,” Sue told Tim.


“All I have of any value are beer, wine and Three Stooges memorabilia,” I said. “Let the kids fight over it.”


“They won’t have to do it for quite a while,” said Tim. “You guys are young.”


“When you get to be our age,” I told Tim, who is in his 30s, “anyone who is older is young. Even if a guy dies when he’s 80, we’ll say, ‘What a shame. Cut down in the prime of life.’ Now that we aren’t young anymore, nobody else is old.”


“That’s one way to look at it,” said Tim, whom we thanked for his excellent work in helping us get our affairs in order.


And not a moment too soon because the very next day, I got a brochure from Pinelawn Memorial Park and Arboretum.


“Give your loved ones a gift that will provide peace of mind and lasting comfort,” it read. “Those who visit Pinelawn Memorial Park and Arboretum will find themselves surrounded in the beauty of the grounds with wide-sweeping lawns that feature majestic trees, colorful flower beds,  historic sculptures and tranquil fountains. This carefully planned and expertly maintained landscape has made Pinelawn the most beautiful memorial park in America.”


“All I have to do,” I told Sue, “is die.”


“I’ll visit you once a week,” she promised.


I wanted a second opinion. So I saw my physician, Dr. Antoun Mitromaras.


“Tell the people at the cemetery to call me,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “I’ll tell them that I won’t let you die.”


“Do I have a pulse?” I asked the good doctor.


“Yes,” he announced, adding that my blood pressure was perfect and my weight was normal.


“I guess the cemetery will have to wait to get business from me,” I said.


“Unless they want to give me $10,000,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “Then I can arrange for you to be a customer.”


My heart raced.


“Just kidding,” said Dr. Mitromaras, an 80-year-old jokester who knows that laughter is the best medicine.


“What’s your secret of longevity?” I asked.


“Minerals,” he responded.


“Aren’t they hard to swallow?” I wondered.


“Not if they’re in pill form,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “Multivitamins are good, too. So is physical activity. And nuts.”


“I’m nuts,” I informed him.


“I know,” he said, adding that when he dies, he wants an above-ground tomb. “In case I wake up in a year or two. And I want it with a glass ceiling and a view of the water.”


“You want a tomb with a view?” I asked.


“It’s the only way to go,” said Dr. Mitromaras.


When I got home, I told Sue that I passed my physical with flying colors.


“It looks like you’re stuck with your ‘beloved’ husband,” I said. “And now I can tell the people at the cemetery to drop dead.”


Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima


Sunday, January 16, 2022

"Portrait of the Artist as a Family Guy"

By Jerry Zezima


As a husband, father and grandfather, which puts me at the bottom of the family pecking order, I have a lot in common with Brian Crane, the Reuben Award-winning cartoonist who created the wildly popular syndicated comic strip “Pickles.”


The only real difference between us — aside from the incredible fact that he has 16 more grandchildren than I do — is that I’m such a bad artist, I couldn’t even draw a good salary.


“My grandkids are van Gogh compared to me,” I told Brian in a recent phone chat. “Except they still have all their ears.”


“Maybe they can start a comic strip,” Brian suggested.


“It could be about a grandfather with a mustache,” I said. “He’d be the butt of the jokes.”


“Hey, that sounds familiar,” Brian said.


No wonder. The star of “Pickles” is Earl, a mustachioed grandfather who, more often than not, is the butt of the jokes in the family, which includes his loving but long-suffering wife, Opal. The retired couple live with their daughter, Sylvia; grandson, Nelson; dog, Roscoe; and cat, Muffin.


My loving but long-suffering wife, Sue, is a big fan of the strip. So is yours truly, a mustachioed grandfather who, more often than not, is the butt of the jokes in the family, which includes two daughters and five grandchildren.


Brian has a loving but long-suffering wife of his own, Diana, with whom he will celebrate 50 years of marriage in June.


“Sue and I will celebrate our 44th anniversary on April 2,” I informed Brian.


“What a coincidence!” he said. “April 2 is when ‘Pickles’ debuted in 1990.”


“I wanted to get married on April Fools’ Day,” I said, “but Sue nixed the idea because she was afraid I would get her whoopee cushions as anniversary gifts.”


Another thing Brian and I have in common is that we are January babies: He was born on the 3rd, I arrived on the 11th.


“The only famous person who was born on my birthday was Alexander Hamilton,” I said. “That means I’ll either have a hit Broadway show or be killed in a duel.”


“I don’t know of anyone famous who was born on my birthday,” said Brian, who just turned 73 and, though five years older than I am, is a fellow baby boomer.


“My due date was Dec. 20,” I told him. “I was born more than three weeks later and haven’t been on time for anything since.”


“Your mother should have sent you an eviction notice,” said Brian, adding: “I was due in December, too. I was a breech birth. I came out feet first.”


“I landed on my head,” I said. “It explains a lot.”


Mining humor from family situations is also a similarity — except Brian’s clan is a lot larger than mine. He has seven children and 21 grandchildren.


“How do you keep track of them all?” I wondered.


“That’s a good question for my wife,” said Brian. “Our oldest child is a son in his 40s and our youngest is a daughter in her 20s somewhere. It keeps changing all the time. My wife has the ability to figure it out. It’s like a miracle to me. But I do know all their names.”


Then there are the grandchildren.


“We have a bunch of them,” Brian said. “It’s quite a dynasty. My wife knows their ages, weights, sizes, everything. I can recognize them on sight. The oldest is a sophomore in college. The youngest two were born a year ago. They’re not twins; they’re cousins who are a month apart.”


“Do you know all their names, too?” I asked.


“Yes,” Brian replied proudly. “Although sometimes things get so crazy, I can’t remember my own name.”


If so, Diana will be there to help.


“She’s always been there for me,” said Brian, adding that Diana encouraged him when he told her about his “secret ambition” to do a comic strip. “I was working for an advertising agency. I was in my late 30s and we were accumulating more children. I didn’t know how we could afford it. But she said, ‘You have to do it.’ I said, ‘I don’t have the talent.’ I was rejected by three syndicates, but Diana wouldn’t let it go. I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for her. She’s my first editor and biggest supporter.”


Now, more than 30 years later, “Pickles” is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group in more than 900 newspapers. Brian also has produced nine “Pickles” books.


“How much of Earl is you and how much of Opal is Diana?” I asked.


“Roughly, I’m Earl and she’s Opal, but there are days when I’m Opal and she’s Earl,” Brian said. “We do display both characteristics. She’s more outgoing. I’m an introvert. In a crowd, I clam up. She does all the talking. Also, I’m not very handy. My father-in-law was the world’s best mechanic. My wife expected I would be like that. She was greatly disappointed. She’s pretty handy. She can do things I wouldn’t try. And she’s smarter than I am. She can figure things out better than I can.”


“My wife is the same way,” I said. “And, like Opal, she’s married to a guy with a mustache.”


“You look good in a mustache,” said Brian. “I, on the other hand, look ridiculous. I grew one and my wife said, ‘Shave that silly thing off.’ A few years ago I had Earl shave his mustache. Then I came up with the idea to have readers vote to bring it back or not. I put out a call for entries. I even had a post office box. You wouldn’t believe the amount of mail I got. They voted for Earl to keep his mustache.”


“My grandchildren would vote for me to keep my mustache, too,” I said.


“They could put that in their comic strip,” Brian suggested.


“Maybe it’ll be syndicated,” I said. “They can call it ‘Poppie,’ which is what they call me.”


“Will you be the butt of the jokes?” Brian asked.


“Of course,” I said. “And like any good grandfather, I know all the kids’ names.”


Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima


Sunday, January 9, 2022

"The Dance of the Dunce"

By Jerry Zezima


If I were in a dancing competition, I would never experience the thrill of victory, but I sure would know the agony of the feet.


Unless, of course, the judge took pity on me.


That’s exactly what happened when I found myself in a dance-off with my granddaughters Chloe and Lilly.


The girls, who are 8 and 5, respectively, are veritable pros compared to me, a geezer with the smooth moves and fancy footwork of a drunken platypus. Forget hip-hop. My specialty would be hip-replacement-hop.


This was sadly evident when Chloe and Lilly challenged me to a dance-off in which I almost needed CPR (Clumsy Poppie Resuscitation).


The judge was my wife, Sue, who wisely sat this one out.


It was the culmination of a wonderful day that began when the girls were in a recital sponsored by Inspire Dance Centre, where they take lessons.


Last summer, they were in an outdoor show at a vineyard, where Sue and I toasted the dancing stars with glasses of vintage grapes. This time, the “Winter Showcase” was held in a roller skating rink.


And the girls were, indeed, on a roll, even though they wore dancing shoes instead of skates. They were each in only one routine in the 20-dance program, but they performed so well, in my humble and totally unbiased opinion, that if they were on “Dancing With the Stars,” hard-marking judge Len Goodman would have given them perfect scores.


I certainly did when Lilly stole the show in a dance from “Cinderella” and Chloe did the same in a routine performed to the Meghan Trainor song “Better When I’m Dancin’.”


When Lilly came out with the other girls in her group, she stood in the front row, stage right, though to me it looked like stage left, which is one of the many reasons, chief of which is a complete lack of performing talent, why I am not on Broadway.


As the music played, Lilly moved her arms in a wavy motion, then swayed to the beat, raised her hands above her head, sang a line of the song, did a pirouette, moved to the back, spun clockwise and exited with the others. She was the last one off and got a huge ovation.


“That was adorable!” Sue exclaimed.


Naturally, I agreed.


We had the same reaction for the next number, which featured Chloe. It was an upbeat performance in which she and the other girls in her group danced, pranced and clapped. Chloe had perfect timing. At the song’s conclusion, she and her fellow dancers knelt at the front of the stage and got a big round of applause. The loudest ovation was, of course, for Chloe.


When the show was over, our daughter Lauren and son-in-law Guillaume, the girls’ parents, beamed with pride through the face masks everyone was required to wear.


Sue and I presented Chloe and Lilly with flowers.


“They smell!” Lilly said.


“That may not prevent her from eating them,” remarked Lauren, noting that Lilly has a big appetite for such a little girl. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” could have been written about her.


When we got back to Lauren and Guillaume’s house, Chloe and Lilly challenged me to a dance-off.


“Nini,” Chloe said to Sue, “you can be the judge.”


Lilly got her FreeTime and started playing “Gold Digger,” a Billboard hit from Ye, the artist formerly known as Kayne West.


We all started jumping around. Chloe and Lilly did handstands. I waved my hands, stamped my feet and almost keeled over.


“Freeze!” Lilly shouted as she turned off the song.


Sue deliberated for a moment and announced, “Lilly wins.”


When the song began again, the girls went into even greater gyrations. I gasped for air as I tried to emulate their moves.


“Freeze!” Lilly shouted.


The song stopped and Sue said, “Chloe wins.”


But the third time was the charm. I danced up a storm, putting my right index finger on the top of my head and spinning like a top.


It was, literally, a dizzying performance that not only impressed the judge but had her in stitches.


“Poppie wins,” Sue declared.


I could tell she took pity on me, but for a man with two left feet, which makes shoe shopping difficult, it made a great day even better.


I didn’t get flowers, like Chloe and Lilly, but I felt like a dancing star.


“Thanks,” I said to Sue. “You’re a much better judge than Len Goodman.”


Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima