Sunday, July 31, 2022

"Big Wheels Keep On Running"

By Jerry Zezima

Young people who have found the balance in life know that you never forget how to ride a bike. Old guys who are unbalanced know that you never forget how to run after a bike.

That’s the lesson I learned when I huffed, puffed, sprinted and stumbled while trying to keep up with my granddaughter Chloe as she whizzed down the street on her shiny new bicycle.

I had a bike as a kid and fell on my head before helmets were mandatory, which I use as a feeble excuse for why I still act like a kid. But unlike Chloe, who’s 9, my riding these days is done on a stationary bike at the gym.

“Does this thing have training wheels?” I asked personal trainer Samantha Saper.

“No,” Samantha replied. “It doesn’t even have real wheels.”

“No wonder I’m not going anywhere,” I said after pedaling furiously but not moving.

“It says on the screen that you’ve gone half a mile,” Samantha pointed out. “And you’ve burned 12 calories.”

“At this rate,” I said, “I’ll be in tip-top shape just before I’m dead.”

“Stationary bikes are great exercise,” Samantha told me. “And they’re low impact.”

“Unless I fall off and have an impact with the floor,” I said.

“On a bike like this,” Samantha noted, “there’s not as much pressure on your knees as there would be on a treadmill, where you have to walk or run.”

“Speaking of running,” I said, “my granddaughter just got a new bike. It’s not stationary. And I don’t have a bike of my own, so I’ll have to run after her.”

“You sound like my father,” said Samantha. “He has eight grandchildren and he chases after all of them on their bikes.”

It helps that Samantha’s dad, Bruce Saper, is in good shape.

“He’s 72. And like you,” she told me, “he’s very immature.”

“I’m 68,” I said, “and my grandchildren are more grown-up than I am.”

“You and my dad would hit it off,” said Samantha, 33. “When he chases his grandchildren on their bikes, we always say, ‘Don’t hurt yourself!’ So far, he hasn’t.”

I was hoping not to end up in the back of an ambulance when Chloe and I set off on our journey down the street, she on her slick, colorful bike, I on my huge, lumbering feet.

“I can’t reach the pedals, Poppie,” Chloe said after she had put on her helmet, which sported a big C (for her name, though for me it could have stood for “coronary”), and tried to get comfortable on the high perch.

The bike was a little too tall for her, so I lowered the seat to a more manageable height.

“Thanks, Poppie,” Chloe said. “Let’s go!”

She took off.

“Come on, Poppie!” Chloe exclaimed when I had the delayed reaction of a cartoon character who, with silly sound effects, spins his feet and kicks up a cloud of dust for a full five seconds before taking off. “You’re a slowpoke!”

I worked up a head of steam and caught up. Chloe slowed down so I could keep pace without needing a pacemaker.

“Are you getting tired, Poppie?” she asked.

“Of course not,” I answered, trying not to let my rapid breathing sound like we were going through a wind tunnel.

“I don’t want you to get hit by a car,” Chloe said.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I assured her.

“And I don’t want to run over your feet,” Chloe added.

“I’ll be careful,” I said.

“Don’t fall down, Poppie,” Chloe said.

I jogged the rest of the way after we turned around and headed back. When we got to the house, Chloe dismounted and said, “Thank you, Poppie. You’re kind of slow, but it was fun.”

“You’re welcome, honey,” I replied. “This was one bike ride I’ll never forget.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 24, 2022

"Ice Cream Guy Keeps on Truckin' "

By Jerry Zezima

If you want to impress the children in your life — in my case, that would be five grandkids who all have a sweet tooth — break the exciting news that you have arranged for them to own, free of charge, the coolest vehicle ever:

The neighborhood ice cream truck.

That’s what I recently did for my granddaughters Chloe and Lilly, who would eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner if only their parents, who sadly don’t know the health benefits of vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles, would let them.

The ice cream truck in my neighborhood is driven by Mr. Mike, a terrific guy who’s as sweet as the stuff he sells.

“Permission to come aboard,” I said to Mr. Mike after he stopped his truck in front of my house.

“Hop up!” he chirped, mercifully turning off the monotonous jingle that plays over and over while he rolls down the street.

“Doesn’t that song drive you crazy?” I asked.

“I don’t even hear it,” said Mr. Mike, who has tuned out the tune, “Turkey in the Straw,” in the 23 years it has blared from his truck. “But at home, the TV bothers me.”

Not much else bothers Mr. Mike, who was born in Turkey.

“But not in the straw,” he noted.

Inside the truck, I beheld a treasure trove of treats.

“You have enough to feed an army,” I told Mr. Mike, who served in the Turkish army before coming to the United States in the 1990s.

“And I sample it every day,” he said. “I taste the chocolate, the vanilla, everything. I even taste the milk to make sure it’s fresh.”

“I guess you like ice cream,” I said.

“I love it,” said Mr. Mike, who is 49 and has a slim physique. “In fact, my whole family is crazy for ice cream. My wife, my daughter, my niece, my nephew, my sister, my niece’s kids — they all eat it.”

“My grandchildren love it, too,” I said. “Two of them are sisters and we go out for ice cream all the time.”

“How old are they?” Mr. Mike asked.

“Chloe is 9 and Lilly is 5,” I said.

“When I retire, I’ll give them the ice cream truck,” he said. “They can take over the business.”

“They’d probably eat the profits,” I noted, “but I’ll tell them what you said.”

Until then, Mr. Mike will continue working hard, although he intends to take time off in September so he and his wife can celebrate their 30th anniversary.

“I’m going to take her on a trip,” he said.

“In the ice cream truck?” I asked.

“No, on a cruise ship,” Mr. Mike said.

“I hope there’s ice cream on the boat,” I said, adding that my wife has a cup of ice cream every night after dinner. “She puts it in the microwave.”

“What’s your favorite?” Mr. Mike inquired.

“I like toasted almond bars, but I can’t find them anymore, so I go with vanilla,” I said.

“Coming right up!” said Mr. Mike, who gave me a cone of soft serve that he dipped in toasted almond topping.

“What a combo!” I exclaimed as cream and crumbs lodged in my mustache.

After I inhaled it, Mr. Mike let me pour a cone of vanilla soft serve that he dipped in cherry topping.

“Here’s a magic trick I do for the kids,” he said, holding the cone upside down and swinging it back and forth like a pendulum.

“The ice cream isn’t flying all over the place,” I said in wonderment.

“The secret: fresh milk,” Mr. Mike told me.

“I won’t try that in the house or my wife would kill me,” I said.

Speaking of which, Mr. Mike once made a special delivery to a cemetery.

“A customer told me that his father loved ice cream,” he recalled. “The father said to the son, ‘When I die, I want everyone to have ice cream.’ So I delivered ice cream to the funeral.”

Then there was the guy who washed Mr. Mike’s truck in his driveway in exchange for free ice cream.

“My customers are the best,” Mr. Mike said. “We always joke around. They say to me, ‘You’re crazy, but we love you.’ ”

The following weekend, when Chloe and Lilly came over, I told them what Mr. Mike said about giving them the truck.

“Wow!” Chloe gushed. “That would be great.”

“You can drive,” Lilly told me. “And don’t eat all our ice cream.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 17, 2022

"The Playground Grandpa"

By Jerry Zezima

As a relic from another time (the time right now is 10:47 a.m.), I am known to my grandchildren as a dinosaur. I am also known, at least at a park where I recently brought two of the kiddies for some fun and frolic, as the Playground Grandpa.

This appropriate appellation was bestowed upon me by a guy who had broken his foot and couldn’t run around with his 6-year-old son. That job fell to me after the kid, my twin grandchildren and a bunch of other youngsters wanted me to chase them in the broiling sun, watch them go down the slide and otherwise act as silly as I do even when I’m not around munchkins six decades my junior.

“You’re the Playground Grandpa,” the fracture-footed father said as I stopped to catch my breath, which at that point must have smelled something awful.

This sentiment was echoed by the mother of three young boys who joined my crazy antics. They especially liked it when I engaged them in a game of sticks, wherein I held a small stick in my right hand, looked at the kids gathered to the left of me and said no one was going to take it away. Meanwhile, one of the brothers would sneak around to the other side and snatch the stick from my fingers. My shameless double takes and looks of wide-eyed surprise sent the elated assemblage into gales of laughter each of the approximately two dozen times I repeated the nonsense.

“Thank you very much,” the mom said when it was time to go home. “They had fun with you.”

“You’re very welcome,” I responded. “That’s because I’m less mature than any of them.”

The twins, who are about to turn 3, weren’t jealous at all.

“Follow me,” I sang as we went back to the car. “I’m the Pied Poppie.”

I’m also the prehistoric Poppie because the dynamic duo and their big brother, who’s 5, are into dinosaurs — especially, of course, me.

“Am I a dinosaur?” I asked them.

Twin girl: “Yes!”

Twin boy: “Yes!”

Big brother: “Maybe.”

All three know their prehistoric creatures, pictures of which adorn their backpacks, lunch boxes and clothing. They also watch TV shows — “Steve and Maggie” and “Blippi” are the most popular — with dinosaur themes. After hearing that the kids like T-rex the best, I said my favorite is the woolly mammoth.

Big brother sighed and said, “That’s a different era, Poppie.”

I went in one era and out the other when my grandson and I spent an afternoon at what he calls the Dinosaur Museum, where we saw fossils (something I do when I look in the bathroom mirror to shave) and lots of other neat stuff, including an exhibit on early humans. I must say that the likeness between one of the cave dwellers and a certain modern grandfather was remarkable.

Even more remarkable was my repeat performance as the Playground Grandpa when I took the twins to another park the next day.

As soon as we arrived, a 7-year-old boy came up to me and said, “Wanna see how fast I can run?”

“Sure,” I told him.

“I bet you can’t run as fast as I can,” he said.

“I bet I can,” I replied.

The slender speedster immediately took off with me in hot (because I was sweating profusely) pursuit.

When her son finally stopped, and with me on the verge of collapse, his mother smiled and said, “You have a way with kids.”

“They have a way with me,” I gasped, the words coming in short bursts as I imagined first responders giving me PGR (Playground Grandpa Resuscitation).

As the twins romped in another part of the playground under the supervision of their father, a second 7-year-old came up to me and started a rambling conversation in which he informed me that he has superpowers and comes from a family of wolves.

Then he started kicking a soccer ball around with me and finished by actually laughing at my atrocious puns, which his mother, who played soccer in high school, called “dad jokes.”

“My dad tells them, too,” the kid said.

“Do you think mine are funny?” I asked.

“Yes!” he gushed.

“Good,” I said. “Tell your dad you heard them from the Playground Grandpa.”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 10, 2022

"I Need Moe Money"

By Jerry Zezima

If I had spent $24,000 on a wrought iron weathervane depicting the Three Stooges in their famous eye-poking stance, would my wife hit me over the head with an auctioneer’s hammer?

Soitenly! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

That’s why, despite being a lifelong Stooge fan, I resisted the temptation to bid an amount higher than $4.85 on any of the dozens of items in the recent Moe Howard and Norman Maurer Estate Auction.

Moe, of course, was the Stooges’ leader, the one with the sugar-bowl haircut who bragged that he was “the brains of the outfit.” As a character in one of their short subjects pointed out, “It isn’t saying very much.” Maurer was Moe’s real-life son-in-law.

And $4.85 was the amount the Stooges were left with, after taxes, when Curly won $50,000 in a radio contest in the 1938 classic “Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb.”

So even if I had won 50 grand in the lottery, my wife, Sue, who like most women is not a fan of the legendary comedy trio, wouldn’t let me bid on any of the Stooge-related merchandise in the online auction.

Still, I wanted to find out more about this slapstick treasure trove, so I called Nate D. Sanders Auctions, the Los Angeles company that conducted the sale, and spoke with consignment coordinator Jamie Perez.

“Are you a Three Stooges fan?” I wondered.

“I appreciate their genius,” she responded.

“Most women hate the Stooges,” I said admiringly. “You are in a select group. Who’s your favorite Stooge?”

“I’d have to say Curly,” Jamie said. “Who’s yours?”

“Shemp,” I answered. “The surest sign of maturity in a man, if indeed it ever happens, is when he comes to appreciate Shemp.”

“I like that,” said Jamie, adding that at the auction house, she wears “many hats.”

“Is one of them a derby?” I asked. “It’s what Curly wore.”

“No,” said Jamie, who asked if I wanted to bid on any items, which included Curly’s 18-karat gold ring and Moe’s ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract for his 1925 wedding to his wife, Helen.

“I’m limiting myself to $4.85,” I said.

“You’ll have to start higher than that,” Jamie informed me. “Do you have Venmo?”

“I don’t have Venmoe, Venlarry or Vencurly,” I responded, “although I’m trying to get Venshemp.”

“You could be a Stooge, too,” Jamie said.

I responded to this supreme compliment by saying, “Thanks, toots!”

I was also grateful that she put me in touch with Sam Heller, of Sam Heller Communications, which represents several auction houses, including Nate D. Sanders Auctions.

“Did you know that Shemp’s real name was Sam?” I asked him.

“I had no idea,” said Sam.

“And Curly’s real name was Jerry,” I added.

“You are an encyclopedia of Three Stooges trivia,” Sam said.

He was even more impressed when I told him that this is the 100th anniversary of the team, which was founded in 1922 when a vaudeville headliner named Ted Healy enlisted Moe Howard and his older brother Shemp as his first sidekicks, or “stooges.” Larry Fine joined the act three years later.

“The centennial is even more reason for collectors to own memorabilia from one of the greatest comedy teams of all time,” said Sam.

“Who’s your favorite Stooge?” I asked.

“That’s like asking who your favorite child is,” Sam answered. “But I’d have to say Larry.”

“Did you know,” I said, “that the Stooges were nominated for an Academy Award for best short subject of 1934 for ‘Men in Black’?”

“It’s much better than the ‘Men in Black’ with Will Smith,” Sam opined.

“And Moe delivered better slaps than Will,” I said.

Sam heartily agreed.

The auction concluded the next day, with the weathervane going for $24,079, Moe’s marriage contract for $21,889 and Curly’s ring for $10,456.

When I told Sue about it, she said, “If you had spent that kind of money, I would have brained you.”

“It wouldn’t take much,” I replied. “Woo woo woo!”

Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima

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