Sunday, September 24, 2023

"Funeral for a Fish"

By Jerry Zezima

Camilla Zezima sleeps with the fishes. Those eternal nappers include the first two Camillas and the countless other fish that have been part of our family, if only briefly, over the years.

Camilla III, as she (or he) was dubbed, lasted 12 months and was predeceased by the original Camilla, a female who went belly-up after only 48 hours, and her successor, Camilla II, a male who lived to the ripe old age of 2.

The last two Camillas were gender-fluid because my granddaughters, who talked me into getting the first Camilla, thought they were not only female, but the same fish.

Even I was confused.

After the latest Camilla recently joined his scaly relatives in Davy Jones’s locker, I found out that my granddaughters’ pet fish, a blue betta named Igor, had kicked the water bucket for the sixth or seventh time. My daughter, the girls’ mother, had lost count.

The kiddies apparently didn’t notice the fish’s lifeless body floating in his bowl and were none the wiser after their daddy stopped at the pet store after work, got another Igor and surreptitiously made the switch.

But I couldn’t take that chance after finding Camilla III stone cold dead on the pink pebbles at the bottom of his bowl because my granddaughters were coming over and I didn’t want them to suffer the trauma they had escaped with their own fish.

So I went to the pet store and found a dead (or, rather, live) ringer for the first three Camillas.

“My pink betta fish died this morning and I need an exact duplicate before my granddaughters arrive,” I told Meaghan, the fish department manager.

“People come in all the time with the same problem,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I need a red fish right away!’ I’ll take them over here, they’ll get one and rush home. One woman had to replace a blue lobster, which is a crayfish, every other week because they kept dying. She had a 2-year-old who would have been upset. She finally got it right.”

I said I was looking for Camilla IV — “I’ve had to number them like the Super Bowl,” I noted — and added that it didn’t matter if the fish was male or female because the girls wouldn’t notice anyway.

“It’s pretty hard to tell,” said Meaghan, who has four tanks at home. “I have about 20 fish overall,” she added.

One of them is a betta named Sushi.

“He’s going on his second birthday,” Meaghan said. “My previous betta was Sashimi, who lived for a year and a half. The average life expectancy is about 2, but they can live to 4.”

“Camilla III was only 1, but he was going gray around the gills,” I said.

“It’s a sign of old age,” Meaghan explained. “He may not have been new when you got him. This one,” she said, referring to Camilla IV, who was swimming around in a little plastic container, “just came in, so he’s young. He should last a while. And your granddaughters won’t know the difference.”

I thanked Meaghan, went to the checkout, paid $9.99 for a double-tail pink male betta and headed home, where my wife, Sue, and I had a solemn toilet-side service for Camilla III.

We tried to play Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” on Alexa, but we would have had to pay for it, so we chose “A German Requiem” by Johannes Brahms, said a prayer and flushed Camilla III to kingdom come.

Then I dumped Camilla IV into his predecessor’s bowl, which already had clean water. A little while later, our granddaughters arrived. They fed the fish without giving it a second thought.

“When this one goes,” I told Sue, “we should invite Elton John to the funeral.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 17, 2023

"The Early Bird Gets the Lemonade"

By Jerry Zezima

It may be true that time waits for no man, unless his watch has stopped, but it sure isn’t true for any man — or woman — who attends a yard sale.

That’s what I found out when my daughter recently had a sale that was supposed to begin at 9 a.m. but which attracted a flock of time-ignorant early birds, the first of whom showed up at the ungodly hour of 6:52 in the morning.

“Were they on Mountain Time?” I asked my daughter after my wife, Sue, and I, who participated in the sale, arrived at 8 o’clock, Eastern Time, to put out our stuff and have large doses of caffeine to wake up.

“I don’t think they can read,” replied my daughter, who put up large signs around her neighborhood and posted notices on social media advertising the sale, which clearly had the hours — 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. — but didn’t deter the crowd of bargain hunters who were roaming the yard when Sue and I showed up.

“Do you have any fishing equipment?” asked a gentleman who was angling for a deal.

“The only two things you need for a successful fishing outing are cold beer and straight hooks,” I replied.

“Straight hooks?” the guy wondered.

“So the fish won’t interrupt your beer drinking,” I explained.

After he left, I made a mental note to have a cold one when the sale was over.

But that wouldn’t happen for hours. In the meantime, I was the official greeter. This involved giving stupid answers to legitimate questions.

“How much are these baskets?” a woman asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m a basket case myself.”

“We’ll throw him in for free,” my daughter told the woman, who smiled, politely declined and said, “I have one like him at home.”

Still, sales were brisk. Coats, shoes, knickknacks, jewelry, furniture, children’s stuff, you name it, people were buying it.

So were dogs, including Tessie, a 10-year-old Shorkie who was there with her mommy and daddy.

“We have a rug she might like to sleep on,” I told them. “And she won’t mess it up because she must be housebroken by now.”

I actually made the sale, though the rug went for only $5.

“You drive a hard bargain, Tessie,” I said.

“Woof!” she responded enthusiastically.

The best and most consistent sales were made by my granddaughters, sisters who are 10 and almost 7. They had a lemonade stand that their daddy constructed. It was made of cardboard and had a roof, a sign, a side opening, a back door and a sales window, outside of which was a table with plastic cups, paper straws and a large jar of ice-cold lemonade.

“I used to drive lemons,” I told one couple. “But as you can see,” I added, pointing to sliced fruit floating in the yellow liquid, “these are real.”

“Lemonade!” the girls shouted.

“How much?” countless customers asked.

“One dollar,” answered the little one, who took the money first, handed it to her big sister and poured the refreshments from a spout.

Even people who didn’t buy anything at the yard sale purchased the girls’ lemonade.

“I work in a restaurant,” one young woman remarked, “and they could have their own business.”

The kids cleaned up, raking in $50.

The big winner was my daughter, who made $333. Sue netted $81. I didn’t make anything because I didn’t bring anything of my own to sell. But the sale was a success despite the fact that I was the one who schmoozed with the customers.

When it was over, at 2 o’clock, it felt like 5 o’clock because of all the early birds.

After we cleared the yard of the stuff that didn’t sell, I had the cold beer I had been waiting for since I talked with that fisherman hours before.

“You can’t have any lemonade,” one of my granddaughters informed me. “We sold it all.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 10, 2023

"Rave Restaurant Review"

By Jerry Zezima

I seldom write restaurant reviews for the sound journalistic reason that I seldom go to restaurants. That’s because I took a vow of poverty when I went into journalism and can’t afford to eat out too often.

And whenever I do, it’s usually in a place where the most difficult dining decision is whether to have french fries or onion rings.

But I am making an exception now because I just discovered a fantastic new eatery called Cafe Rio. In the interest of full disclosure, it is run by two of my granddaughters, who are 10 and almost 7 years old. The younger one chose the name Cafe Rio for no discernible reason — a river does not run through it — but it sounds nice.

The girls operate the restaurant out of my house and rely on their mother and grandmother — and, if simple grilling is involved, their grandfather — to do the cooking.

The diners also have to buy all the food because the owners are too young to have jobs. Or at least jobs that pay money and don’t violate child labor laws.

But their establishment is a culinary haven that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to the public, except that the public isn’t invited.

Here is the review:

CAFE RIO (3 stars)

If you enjoy burned hot dogs or greasy cheeseburgers served on fine china and eaten with glittery silverware, Cafe Rio is the place for you.

This fancy dining spot is unique for its ambience, which includes soothing music (provided by Alexa, the virtual assistant who operates on artificial intelligence, not a customer, because she can’t eat) and a nautical theme (provided by Camilla the betta fish, who swims in a bowl on the liquor cabinet and is fed little food balls that are not, rest assured, on the human menu).

And what a menu it is! In addition to the aforementioned dogs and burgers, there are fries and broccoli, usually accompanied by a tossed salad served on the dinner plates instead of in separate bowls so the homemade dressing can mix with the meat juice, melted cheese and condiments.

The resultant taste explosion tickles the palate!

But before you sit down to eat, you must make reservations to avoid being turned away at the door. (Actually, there is no door, although there is an entrance from the family room, which is  often strewn with dolls, toys and crayons and serves as the waiting area, to the dining room, where customers lucky enough to get in sit at a table with special place settings and talk, laugh, play word games and, yes, even dine.)

You know you have come to the right place because signs spelling out “Cafe Rio,” written on white printer paper and sometimes featuring stars, are taped to the wall. Accompanying arrows, artistically drawn, point you in the right direction.

The customers are greeted by the greeter (the older girl) and line up at a small table where the maitre darling (her little sister) asks if each diner has a reservation.

Their names (“Mommy,” “Daddy,” “Nini” and “Poppie”) are crossed off the list and they are allowed to enter the establishment.

The table not only features name cards but is set with the grandmother’s good china dishes and sparkling silver forks, knives and spoons. Dinner napkins, slightly askew in the folding, are on the left. Plastic water goblets are on the right. Clear bottles filled with tap water (in place of their original contents: wine) are in the middle of the table, under a chandelier with bright little bulbs that illuminate the repast. The effect is dazzling.

The food itself, which may also include chicken, ribs or pasta, is a bit spotty: excellent if prepared by the mother or the grandmother, not so great if grilled by the grandfather.

Dessert is a sweet treat, especially if it’s cake or cookies made in the kitchen. Ice cream with rainbow sprinkles is also on the menu.

The owners’ daddy, who is from France, has said that Michelin (the restaurant guide, not the tire company) would give Cafe Rio three stars, the highest rating.

This reviewer agrees. I just have to remember not to burn the hot dogs.

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, September 3, 2023

"I Shopped and Didn't Drop"

By Jerry Zezima

If it weren’t for my wife, I would have starved to death long ago. That’s because Sue not only is an excellent cook who can make even vegetables appetizing (except squash, which should be squashed), but she does the food shopping.

But recently Sue was under the weather, so for only the second time in 45 years of marriage, I had to do the weekly shopping myself.

As we stood in the kitchen, Sue went over the list of items she wanted me to buy. It looked like the battle plans for the invasion of Normandy.

Not only that, but she sent me to two supermarkets.

At first Sue said, “You can’t handle more than one store.”

She sounded like Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Man.” And I wasn’t even one good man.

Then she reconsidered and said I could save money by going to the first supermarket for fruits and veggies, which were on sale, and to the second for other things, including milk, bread, lettuce, yogurt, frozen fruit bars, ice cream sandwiches, baked beans, crackers and tomato juice.

Sue handed me the list, to which I added beer. She also gave me a circular, which was actually rectangular, with coupons that could be used in the second store.

“Do you have your assignment?” Sue asked.

“I think so,” I answered tentatively.

“Good,” she said. “Feel free to call if you need me.”

As soon as I entered the first store, I was almost rear-ended by a speeding cart driven by a woman who blurted, “Sorry!”

She probably wasn’t even insured.

I checked everything on the list — two red peppers, two green peppers, four peaches, four plums, bananas, scallions and a quarter of a watermelon — and got them all except the scallions, which I couldn’t find.

“They’re on the other side,” a nice lady told me when I confessed to being lost.

“Men aren’t supposed to ask for directions,” I said.

“Your secret is safe with me,” she said with a smile.

I had trouble opening the end of a clear plastic bag, so I wet my fingers and, muttering under my breath so fellow shoppers wouldn’t call security, finally managed to pry it apart and stuff the scallions in.

Then I wheeled the whole kit and caboodle to the checkout, where I told the cashier that I was flying solo because my wife was sick.

“Don’t worry,” he said helpfully. “I’ll bag the groceries for you.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I have to go to another store now.”

“Good luck!” the cashier said.

The second supermarket was across the street, which is why Sue figured I could handle it.

I immediately encountered a fellow husband, about my age, pushing a cart.

“Are you shopping by yourself?” I inquired.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Do you have a list?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I have to get only two items.”

“Your wife trusts you?” I wondered.

“She has to,” the guy replied. “She’s outside in the car waiting for me.”

After asking another woman for directions — I couldn’t find the lettuce, which was in a case directly in front of me — I made the executive decision to get the frozen fruit bars and ice cream sandwiches last so they wouldn’t melt before I was done.

It was a wise move considering that my excursion lasted about as long as the Super Bowl, commercials and halftime show included.

At the checkout, the shopper in front of me apologized for holding up the works while bagging and paying for her groceries.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I’m wondering if I got everything my wife wanted me to buy.”

“Did she make a list and you’re checking it twice?” the woman asked.

“I’ve checked it about 27 times,” I said.

When I got home, Sue said, “I was about to send out a search party. What took you so long?”

“I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have to call you every three minutes,” I said.

“You didn’t even call me once,” she said with a smile. “And you got everything. You did a good job. I’m very proud of you.”

“Jack Nicholson would be, too,” I said. “The truth is, I handled two stores.”

“And you bought yourself some beer,” Sue said. “After all that, you deserve it.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima