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