Sunday, July 3, 2022

"Come and Meet My Stumbling Feet"

By Jerry Zezima

Even in his present condition (deceased since 1987), Fred Astaire is a better dancer than I am.

In the movies, especially the ones with Ginger Rogers, Fred was the guy who was light on his feet. I am not even in home videos because I would be the guy who is heavy on the feet of my wife, Sue, who dances too gingerly to be in the movies herself.

That’s why I was knocked off my feet to see our granddaughters Chloe and Lilly dance up a storm in a recital called, appropriately enough, “Let’s Go to the Movies.”

Although none of the film musicals saluted in the show were Astaire-Rogers movies — including the best, “Top Hat,” which would be remade today as “Backward Baseball Cap” — I was overcome with nostalgia and a slight case of the sniffles as I imagined myself in a lead role.

I could have been a Hollywood hoofer if only I had been more serious (and competent) while taking dance lessons as a kid instead of engaging in such juvenile pursuits as shooting spitballs and watching the Three Stooges.

I was enrolled in the Phil Jones School of Dance in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, where I was the worst student, an indisputable fact because: (a) none of the girls wanted to dance with me and (b) the school went out of business.

I even lost a costume contest. I wore my Superman outfit because I was a huge fan of the 1950s TV series “Adventures of Superman,” starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel. (I would grow up to be the Man of Lead, especially in my feet.)

Some kid dressed like Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy, won the competition.

It turned me off to dancing until the wedding of my older daughter, Katie, for which Sue and I decided to take lessons at — you guessed it — the Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

I could actually hear the Hollywood legend spinning in his grave as Sue and I spun around the dance floor, stepping on each other’s toes and causing despair for the instructor, who probably felt like quitting on the spot.

At the wedding, Sue and I danced in circles, which was easier, we figured, than dancing in trapezoids.

Fast forward (followed by two steps backward and cha-cha-cha!) to the recital, in which Chloe and Lilly flashed fantastically fancy footwork.

Sue and I sat in the packed auditorium with our younger daughter, Lauren, and our son-in-law Guillaume, the girls’ parents, for whose wedding we didn’t even bother taking dance lessons because by then, of course, we were hopeless.

The recital was divided into two shows, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

Lilly was in the morning show and starred, if I may say so, in two dances.

The first was a salute to “The Wizard of Oz.” Clad in a rainbow tutu, Lilly, who is 5, was in a group of a dozen girls who danced to — that’s right — “Over the Rainbow.” Naturally, Lilly’s performance stood out as she bent her knees, pointed with her left index finger and was in (almost) perfect sync with the music. She waved to the audience as she exited the stage.

Her next appearance was in a nod to “The Lion King.” She and the other girls came out in golden lion costumes with ears and tails. Lilly raised her hands, then put them on her hips. At the end, she sat in the front row and showed her claws before getting up and sashaying offstage.

In the afternoon program, Chloe, 9, was in three dances.

The first was “The Polar Express,” in which she and a dozen other girls wore vested red, white and gold costumes. Chloe raised her arms and tapped her feet, looked to the right and kept the beat.

Next was “Charlotte’s Web,” for which Chloe wore a beautiful gauzy dress with a hint of green. Her footwork was flawless.

The finale was “The Sandlot,” featuring the John Fogerty classic “Centerfield.” Chloe was clad in a red and white pinstriped baseball uniform with billowy shorts, knee-high white socks and a red cap. She hit a home run.

Chloe and Lilly, who got flowers after their respective shows, gave a delightful dancing demonstration.

Fred and Ginger, who could never help me and Sue, would have approved.

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 19, 2022

"The Strawberry Whisperer"

By Jerry Zezima

Whenever I pick strawberries — which I love because they are sweet, juicy and a key ingredient in strawberry daiquiris — I become a basket case.

Even with a basket, which I need to hold the rich red fruit that inspired the psychedelic rock group Strawberry Alarm Clock (now I can’t get “Incense and Peppermints” out of my head), I end up picking the sour cream of the crop.

That’s why I relied on the kindness of strangers when my wife, Sue, and I went strawberry picking at a sprawling farm that dwarfed the little strawberry patch that Sue has at home.

The last time we went strawberry picking was two years ago, with our granddaughters Chloe and Lilly, who proved to be so proficient at picking a peck of perfect produce that they put pathetic Poppie to shame.

This time, Sue and I went by ourselves. Without the expert guidance of giddy grandchildren, I needed help.

I got my first piece of advice from Jerry, the guy at the farm stand.

“Get a basket,” he told me. “You don’t want to carry all those strawberries in your hands.”

“Will I get juiced?” I asked.

“You’ll be a mess,” replied Jerry, adding that I was the only other Jerry he had ever met.

“Jerry rhymes with berry,” I pointed out. “Do you like strawberries?”

“Not really,” said Jerry, who has been working at the farm for 20 years. “I’ll have one here and there.”

“There are lots of strawberries here,” I said. “But if you have one there, bring a basket.”

That’s what Sue and I did when we went out into the field.

Sue took her basket and went on her berry way, leaving me to fend for myself. Fortunately, I met the Strawberry Whisperer, whose real name is Emily.

“You have your own basket,” I said, noticing that she didn’t get it from the farm stand.

“I’ve had this one for years,” Emily said of her large white container, which had a handle and was stuffed with succulent strawberries. “It’s personalized.”

“In that case,” I said, “you’re just the person to give me some picking tips.”

“You have to look underneath for ones that are hiding,” said Emily, who pulled out a berry approximately the size — if not the color and shape — of a baseball.

“Mine are more like marbles,” I said. “It’s fitting because I lost my marbles.”

Emily smiled, seemingly in agreement, and said, “I have to go now. Good luck.”

I tramped through a row of berries, squishing some under my size-11 sneakers, and met Mei, a young woman who was picking strawberries for the first time.

“You can use the ones you stepped on for strawberry jam,” Mei suggested.

“I’m always in a jam,” I said.

“You have to make the best of it,” said Mei. “Just keep your fingers crossed.”

“If I do that,” I said, “it will be tough to pick strawberries.”

Just then, and probably to Mei’s relief, Sue caught up with me. She was carrying a basket that was bursting with berries.

“You’re not doing such a good job,” Sue said as she looked at my slim pickings.

She took me to an area where the berries were better and put some in my basket.

“You have to know where to look,” Sue said. “You’re too busy talking with people.”

“One of them,” I told her, “was the Strawberry Whisperer.”

“Does she whisper to strawberries?” Sue wondered.

“Yes,” I said. “And the strawberries whisper back.”

“You’ve been out in the sun too long,” Sue said.

We headed back to the stand with our overflowing baskets and saw Jerry again.

“How did we do?” I asked him.

“Pretty good,” Jerry replied, adding that we owed $14.

I handed him the cash and said, “When I get home, I’m going to whisper to my strawberries.”

“Have a nice chat,” Jerry said. “And enjoy your strawberry daiquiri.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 12, 2022

"The Grandpa Grilling Club"

By Jerry Zezima

Like a lot of grandfathers, I have gas. That’s because I recently filled the propane tank on my barbecue grill.

I have always been wary of the inflammable substance because it could, in addition to burning steaks to a crisp, blow me to smithereens. But my wife, Sue, who does all the indoor cooking, wanted me to barbecue some kielbasa.

More often than not, she wants me to grill vegetables, like squash, which I don’t like. The only way to barbecue the stuff so it satisfies my discriminating tastes is to incinerate it.

I take greater care with my grandchildren’s favorites, hamburgers and hot dogs. Unfortunately, I haven’t grilled for the kiddies in a long time. But since we’re vaccinated, and a visit to our house may happen soon, I want to be prepared.

So I called my longtime friends and fellow grandpas Hank Richert and Tim Lovelette for some grilling guidance.

“Get yourself a smoker,” advised Hank. “And watch out for snakes.”

Shortly after Hank and his wife, Angela, were married, they had a small gas grill. One day, Hank went out to the patio of their new house to cook burgers.

“I took the cover off the grill and this gigantic black snake was coiled on the lid,” Hank recalled. “Angela said she’d never seen me run so fast. The snake was harmless, but because it was so big and with the way it looked at me, I almost had a heart attack.”

“Did you barbecue it?” I wondered.

“No,” Hank said. “The snake took off, too.”

Nowadays, Hank has a smoker on which he cooks brined chicken, ribs, steak and, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey.

“What about vegetables?” I asked.

“I’ll grill potatoes, but that’s it,” Hank said.

“Does Angela barbecue, too?” I inquired.

“No,” Hank said. “She’s more than willing to let me do it.”

Hank’s best barbecue dish is the one Angela likes best: brined salmon.

“She won’t eat salmon anywhere else,” Hank said proudly.

It’s also the favorite barbecue dish of Hank and Angela’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Julia.

“She wasn’t even 2 when she first tried it and she ate as much as she had ever eaten in her life,” Hank reported.

“I bet Julia would like to see you on a TV cooking show,” I said. “She’d be impressed.”

“It takes a lot to impress kids these days,” said Hank. “Unless I was a character on her favorite show, ‘PAW Patrol.’ ”

“Your show could be called ‘PA Patrol,’ ” I suggested. “But even if it doesn’t happen, you can join my new organization, the Grandpa Grilling Club.”

“We could have walkers with beverage holders,” Hank said.

Since great (or perhaps warped) minds think alike, I heard something similar when I called Tim.

“It’s amazing how much grandfathers rely on beer to get through the grilling season,” said Tim, who has three grills: a pellet grill and a charcoal grill at home and a smoker at the family insurance business.

Tim and his wife, Jane, have six grandchildren ranging in age from 15 to 6.

“They mostly like hot dogs, but they’ll eat other things,” Tim said. “Jane grills, too, and has a great chicken wing recipe. If I’m making something the kids don’t like, I tell them, ‘Your grandmother cooked that.’ It gets me off the hook.”

The toughest barbecue sells for grandchildren, according to Tim, are seafood and vegetables.

“Kids don’t like fish on the grill,” he said, not realizing that Hank’s granddaughter loves it. “And they hate vegetables. Who doesn’t?”

“Our wives,” I said.

“There’s a way out of it,” Tim said. “Bring all that stuff outside and then say, ‘Oh, no! I dropped the vegetables in the grass.’ To add drama, you can fall in the grass, too. Do that on a regular basis and your wife will have you looked at for physical problems. But the grandkids will love it. Small things amuse small minds. That’s the whole point of being a grandfather.”

“You’ve just gained acceptance in the Grandpa Grilling Club,” I said.

“I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member,” Tim said, echoing a famous line by Groucho Marx. “But in this case, I’ll make an exception. You bring the beer.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, June 5, 2022

"Raised Seal of Approval"

By Jerry Zezima

I have driven every boat I have ever been on, including a cruise ship that miraculously did not, with me at the helm, end up in Davy Jones’s locker.

My sole qualification for being a captain who could put the “Love Boat” skipper to shame: I had a New York State driver’s license.

Now I can pilot a vessel to Mexico or Canada, or just be a passenger with both hands on deck after becoming seasick, because I recently got an enhanced license.

The license is for driving a car (I don’t need one to drive people crazy), but it has honors and benefits beyond those of the standard driver’s license, chief of which is the legal ability to flee the country in case the Feds are after me. And, let’s face it, this is inevitable.

Several weeks ago, I went to the DMV — which in my case stands for the Department of Multiple Violations, none of which I have been ticketed for — to get an enhanced license.

I needed several items to show that, with apologies to Popeye, I am what I am, which can’t be printed in a family newspaper. I also needed to demonstrate that I am, indeed, myself; that I was, in fact, born and not created by a mad scientist (“It’s alive! It’s alive!”); and that I live in my home, sweet home.

This entailed providing my Social Security card, a bill from the electric company with my residential address on it and — here’s where it got troublesome — my birth certificate.

Unfortunately, my copy of the latter document didn’t have a raised seal.

A sympathetic person at the DMV said I needed the genuine article or I couldn’t get an enhanced driver’s license.

So on a recent trip to my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, I stopped off at the City and Town Clerk’s office in the Government Center to get an original version of my birth certificate.

I was helped by a very nice and efficient assistant registrar named Diane, who asked when I was born.

“It was so long ago that my birth certificate is probably on a stone tablet,” I replied.

This did not deter Diane, who returned approximately seven minutes later with a copy, on paper, of my birth certificate.

“Does it have a raised seal?” I asked.

“Yes,” answered Diane, who showed it to me.

“I thought I would have to go to an aquarium for a raised seal,” I said.

Another personable assistant registrar named Karin asked why I needed my birth certificate.

“I want to get an enhanced driver’s license,” I replied. “I’ll need it if I have to skip town.”

“You’re good to go,” Karin said. “We won’t tell anyone we saw you.”

A couple of days later, I went back to the DMV, where I was helped, quickly and pleasantly, by Tara, who worked at Window 11.

“Do you have all your documents?” she asked.

“Here they are,” I said, handing her my Social Security card and my electric bill.

“That’s not bad,” Tara said when she saw the bill. “I pay more than you do.”

“I would have brought a bank statement,” I said, “but there’s not much in the account.”

“I know the feeling,” Tara said.

“And here,” I said, “is my birth certificate. It even has a raised seal.”

“That means you’re you,” Tara noted.

“Nobody else would want to be me,” I said, adding that my enhanced driver’s license would enable me to fly anywhere.

“Not really,” Tara informed me. “You’ll still need a passport. The enhanced license will allow you to fly within the United States. You can also drive to Canada or Mexico. Or you can take a boat.”

“I have a boat,” I said, “but it’s in my bathtub.”

“I guess you won’t get very far,” Tara said.

“Not unless I take a cruise to Mexico,” I said. “And with my enhanced driver’s license, I could be the captain.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 29, 2022

"Jerry, Jerry, Quite Contrary"

By Jerry Zezima

When it comes to gardening, I’m a blooming idiot. But that hasn’t stopped my wife, Sue, from enlisting my sorry services in planting vegetables, transplanting plants and making the flower beds comfy because, as I told her when we went to the landfill for some free topsoil, I work dirt cheap.

As I also told her, there’s no tool like an old tool. Which explains why, in a pathetic attempt to assist in the beautification of our little piece of earth, I was hit in the head by my own rake.

It happened when I dug a hole with a shovel, another dangerous implement whose main goal in life is to wrench my back, so I could plant a peony that I bought for Sue, not realizing that she would make me stick it in the ground.

This entailed using an iron rake to smooth out the area that would become the peony’s home. Or, rather, its temporary home. (More on this in a moment.)

The rake and the shovel must have been in cahoots because, as soon as I dug the hole, I put down the shovel and promptly stepped on the teeth of the rake, which immediately rose up to club me on the cranium.

It’s a good thing it didn’t smash my teeth, in which case I’d be dealing with roots of another kind. It’s also a wonder, considering the thickness of my skull, that the rake didn’t break, which not only was a distinct possibility but also, I told Sue, rhymes.

Naturally, she was very concerned.

“Is the rake OK?” she asked.

It survived the trauma nicely and was ready for more dirty work. But first, Sue and I went to the landfill for the aforementioned topsoil.

We hadn’t been to the odoriferous facility in a couple of years, when I took my lovely bride there for our most memorable wedding anniversary.

“This place is a real dump,” I told her.

No one can say I’m not a hopeless romantic.

This time, I brought lawn and garden bags to fill with rich, dark chocolate. Sorry, I mean soil.

“Loam, sweet loam,” I cooed.

“Just dig,” Sue snapped.

When we got back to home, sweet home, I dumped the topsoil into Sue’s vegetable garden, which was pretty seedy and needed new seeds, and smoothed it out with the rake, taking extreme caution against another physical attack.

Usually, our yard runs the botanical gamut from A (azaleas) to Z (zucchini), but this year, Sue isn’t planting the latter, which is fine with me because the only thing I would find less appetizing is poison ivy, which I’m not itching to try.

“I hope this doesn’t squash your enthusiasm,” I told Sue, who looked like she was ready to throw in the trowel.

Instead, she used it to plant herbs on the right side of the garden, hot peppers in the middle and tomatoes on the left, along with string beans and a hyacinth bulb.

“The jalapeño and cayenne peppers will blow your brains out,” said Sue, who loves them because she’s hot stuff herself.

“They couldn’t do that to me,” I replied, not even bothering to elaborate. Sue agreed anyway.

Then it was time to plant flowers, notably azaleas and peonies, for which I had to dig holes around the perimeter of the property so Sue could put them in the ground and bring them to dazzlingly colorful life.

“They’ll do well with proper watering,” said Sue, adding that it should be done from underneath, not overhead.

“What do you think happens when it rains?” I asked.

“That doesn’t count,” Sue explained.

She also said that the peony I helped plant in front, where I had the tool mishap, needed to be transplanted to the back.

“It doesn’t like where it is,” Sue said.

“Did it tell you?” I wondered.

“Yes,” Sue said, implying that she has more intelligent conversations with plants than she does with me.

So now I have to do more dirty work to make the peony happy. I hope the rake doesn’t hit me in the head again.

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 22, 2022

"A Brave Grandfather Branches Out"

By Jerry Zezima

I used to think that the high point of grandparenthood was doing incredibly silly things with my grandchildren. Now I realize I am not the top grandfather anymore. That’s because I recently met one who climbs trees for a living.

Rene Funez is a happily married man with four children, four grandchildren and nerves of steel. I am a haplessly married man with two children, five grandchildren and nerves of aluminum, which is why Rene came over to my house.

He and Mario Osorio were charged — though not, thank goodness, electrically — with removing the top portion of a not-so-mighty oak whose limbs, twigs and branches were hanging over power lines in the backyard.

“Rene is 62 years old,” Mario told me after his acrobatic colleague had strapped a pair of spikes to his legs and, with a chainsaw hanging from his belt, scampered like a squirrel up the 50-foot tree. “And,” added Mario, 44, as we watched safely from below, “he calls me an old man.”

“I’m a geezer, too,” I said, noting that I am six years older than Rene, “but I could never do what he does.”

“Why?” Mario asked. “You look like you’re in good shape.”

“That’s because I do 12-ounce curls,” I answered. “But I’m petrified of heights.”

I explained that when my wife, Sue, and I moved into our two-story Colonial 24 years ago, I had to go up on a ladder to clean the gutters.

“I thought I’d end up in the gutter,” I said. “So we got gutter guards.”

Since then, I have remained on terra firma, a Latin phrase meaning, “What you will be buried in if you fall off the roof.”

“Or,” I added, “out of a tree.”

“I have to tell you a secret,” Mario whispered. “I’m afraid of heights, too. That’s why I don’t climb trees.”

“You leave that job to an old guy?” I said incredulously.

“Yes,” Mario admitted. “Rene is a lot braver than I am.”

But they work well as a team. While Rene was making like rockabye boomer on the treetop, literally going out on a limb to prune, cut and saw off potentially dangerous branches that could have fallen on electrical wires and left the entire neighborhood in the dark, Mario was the boots on the ground, easing the massive woody boughs down with ropes and pulleys.

“Watch out!” Mario warned as one big branch seemed likely to land on my noggin.

Unlike Mario and Rene, I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

“If it had hit me in the head,” I noted, “it would have splintered into a hundred pieces.”

“Your head?” Mario wondered.

“No, the branch,” I replied.

“At least you would have had some firewood,” said Mario.

“That would be pretty dangerous,” I noted.

“Why?” Mario inquired.

“Because,” I said, “we don’t have a fireplace.”

When Rene had finished, he swooped down like Batman, put down his chainsaw, took off his spikes, looked over at the logs, limbs and branches piled into a corner of the yard, and smiled modestly as I showered him with compliments.

“I feel guilty,” I told him.

“How come?” Rene wondered.

“I’m a grandfather like you, but I could never do what you do,” I said.

“God watches over me,” Rene said.

“He went to bible college,” Mario said of his sinewy co-worker.

“When he’s up in a tree, he’s closer to heaven,” I said.

Rene nodded in agreement and said, “I’m going to keep working for another five years.”

“You’ll be 67,” I pointed out.

“After he retires,” Mario suggested, “you could take his place.”

“Never,” I said. “It would be the height of folly. Besides, I’m one grandfather who is happy being a bump on a log.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 15, 2022

"Music to My Years"

By Jerry Zezima

When I think of the legendary concerts in music history — the Beatles at Shea Stadium in New York City; Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and other rock giants at Woodstock; me as the guest triangle player for the Stamford Symphony Orchestra — the one I remember as the greatest was my granddaughter Chloe’s third-grade recorder concert, which was held recently in the cafeteria of her elementary school.

I am not the kind of person to toot my own horn — except, of course, the one in my car — but I will toot Chloe’s. Or I would if I could play it. Still, her performance deserved a Granny Award, which is named for my wife, Sue, who happens to be the maestro’s grandmother.

Sue and I were among the dozens of lucky concertgoers who included Chloe’s little sister, Lilly, a kindergartner who skipped class for the monumental event, and our younger daughter, Lauren, the girls’ mommy.

As 80 students from five classes stood on risers — Chloe was, fittingly, in the front row — I thought about my only concert appearance. It occurred about 25 years ago at the Palace Theater in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.

Even though I am not proficient on any musical instrument — I can barely get through “Chopsticks” on the little kiddie piano in our family room — I somehow talked the Stamford Symphony into letting me play the triangle before a sellout crowd of 1,500 bemused but ultimately appreciative patrons.

Required to wear formal attire, I rented a tuxedo that made me look like a deranged panda. As the musicians were warming up and the unsuspecting ticket holders began settling into their seats, I introduced myself to the conductor, Skitch Henderson, who was Johnny Carson’s original “Tonight Show” bandleader.

“I’m the guest triangle player,” I told him.

“Do you have any experience with the triangle?” he asked.

“Only in high school geometry,” I answered. “I got a D.”

Henderson looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. Then he smiled weakly and stammered, “Have fun!”

The selection for my solo was Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Yeoman of the Guard.” Considering that I was sweating nervously, it should have been called “The Yeoman of the Right Guard.”

I stepped forward, triangle and beater in hand, and set off a series of dings, bings and clings for which I received rapturous applause. At the end of the concert, I got a standing ovation.

Since I figured I could never top that one magic moment, I immediately retired from my brief music career.

That’s why I looked forward to Chloe’s concert. Even though she didn’t have a solo, she was prominent enough in my eyes (and ears) to be the star of the show.

Under the direction of Lauren Anasky and with help from accompanist Rob Ozman, the kids began with a stirring rendition of “Hot Cross Buns.”

The other selections were “French Song,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Old Brass Wagon,” “Tideo,” “All Alone,” “Leapin’ Lizard,” “The Clock and the Moon,” “Starburst” and, the grand finale, “Whacky Do Re Mi,” which the children sang.

All through the performance, I concentrated on Chloe, who not only played perfectly, but wiggled and warbled wondrously.

At the conclusion of the half-hour show, the moms, dads and grandparents in the audience rose to their feet and gave the talented musicians — especially, I like to think, Chloe — a huge round of applause.

She handed her instrument back to a school staffer and greeted us with characteristic modesty. But I could envision her going on to bigger things, like playing the recorder in a legendary concert at Carnegie Hall.

If the conductor could stand the shock, I’d love to come out of retirement and be the guest triangle player.

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, May 8, 2022

"The Grapes of Laughs"

By Jerry Zezima

With apologies to Elvis Presley, who is not taking requests these days, I’m a hunk of burning love, not only for my wife, Sue, who doesn’t always think I’m hot stuff, but for wine, which we both (Sue and I, not Elvis) really enjoy.

That’s why I took her to a cool event, “The Burning of the Vines,” at Jamesport Vineyards on Long Island, New York.

“I brought a book of matches, just in case you didn’t have any,” I told Ron Goerler, whose family has owned the vineyard for 40 years.

“Thanks,” he said as we stood outside, next to a huge pile of vines that sat in the bottom part of a stainless steel fermentation tank, “but I have some lighter fluid.”

“Is the fluid a good vintage?” I asked.

“No,” Ron said, “but the wine is.”

It’s called Thiméo, a red blend named for the son of the owners of Bossuet, the French company that makes the barrels used by Jamesport.

“I guess they have you over a barrel,” I noted.

“Are you a wine club member?” Ron asked, looking perplexed.

“Yes,” I replied. “You lowered your standards.”

Ron shook his head and smiled. Then, after igniting the vines, he addressed the several dozen people sitting at tables on the vineyard’s grounds, telling them that they could throw sticks on the fire to get rid of their troubles.

Tom Burke, a fellow wine club member, tossed in a stick, looked at his wife, Francine, and said, “She’s still here.”

Francine, a good sport, laughed heartily and said, “He’s been saying that for 56 years.”

Sue and I are relative newlyweds, being married for only 44 years, during which time Sue has frequently needed a glass or two of wine after a barrage of my stupid jokes.

JP Gamez, the winemaker at Jamesport, told us that the vines on the bonfire were from the vineyard’s winter pruning.

“I don’t like prunes,” I said, “so you might as well burn them. By the way,” I went on, “do you stomp the grapes with your feet like Lucille Ball did in that famous ‘I Love Lucy’ episode?”

“Everybody asks me that,” JP said.

“What do you tell them?” I wondered.

“I take my shoes off first,” joked JP, whose wines are delicious.

A few minutes later, we were visited by Rachel Sunday, Jamesport’s very nice director of retail events.

“Today is your day,” I noted.

“I have one every week,” said Rachel, adding that Sue is a great wine club member.

“What about me?” I asked.

“You’re a public nuisance,” replied Rachel, referring to a line on my business card. “But we’re happy to have you, too.”

Just then, I saw Angela Bucalo, lead server, wine pourer, assistant to the assistant manager and staff star.

“JZ!” she exclaimed. “Did I miss the arson?”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s still going. And I brought matches.”

“You have to meet Tom and Francine,” said Angela, who brought them over to our table.

“You’re Tom,” I said, shaking his hand. “And you’re Francine.”

“You must have ESP,” Tom said.

“Actually, it’s ESPN,” I told him.

We hit it off right away. While Sue talked with Francine, I accompanied Tom to get some dessert, the sweetest part of a buffet meal.

“Here’s the key to a long and happy marriage,” Tom told me confidentially. “Whatever she says, you say, ‘Yes, dear.’ ”

“Is that why marriage is dear season?” I asked.

“Now you’ve got it,” said Tom, who retired after working for 37 years running the photo lab at The New York Times.

He told me about the time he sang a duet with Luciano Pavarotti.

“Pavarotti said, ‘Not bad for an Irishman,’ ” said Tom, who is half-Irish and half-Italian.

“I’m half-Italian and half-Martian,” I told him.

“I believe you,” said Tom, adding that he once spent two nights with Sophia Loren. “Strictly business,” Tom added. “It was a photo shoot. I gave her a signed picture. She said, ‘Do you want me a sign a picture for you?’ I said, ‘Sure, Ms. Loren.’ She said, ‘Call me Sophia.’ She signed the photo, ‘To Tom. Fondly, Sophia.’ ”

When I told Francine that Tom regaled me with the story of his two nights with Sophia Loren, she said, “I wasn’t jealous. She doesn’t have to live with him.” Then she gave me her secret to a long and happy marriage: “Be best friends first. Everything else will follow.”

All in all, my best friend Sue and I had a terrific time.

“In fact,” I said, unable to resist yet another stupid joke, “it’s been one vine day.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima