Jerry Zezima, a Newsday assistant editor who writes a nationally syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The
In the whole wide world -- which, as NASA has proven, is a whole lot wider than Pluto, a Disney character who can't hold a candle to "Sesame Street" star Elmo -- nothing is sweeter than my granddaughter, Chloe.
The only thing that comes close is ice cream. So it was especially sweet when Chloe, who's a big Elmo fan, recently met Christos Skartsiaris, our neighborhood ice cream man.
Chris, who has driven his truck on the same route for almost 40 years, pulled up in front of my house on a warm weekend afternoon, the annoyingly repetitive strains of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" mercifully silenced when he turned off the ignition.
"Doesn't listening to that song over and over drive you crazy?" I asked. To which Chris responded, "What song?"
As I peered into the open side window of the truck, I saw not only the extensive selection of frozen treats but a small gallery of photos.
"My grandchildren," said Chris, who has four, with one on the way.
"They're beautiful," I said. "I'm a grandfather, too. My granddaughter should be here any minute. She's not driving yet because she's only 2."
"That will happen soon enough," said Chris.
"As I have told people who aren't grandparents: If you think your kids grow up fast, wait until you have grandchildren," I said.
"Tell me about it," replied Chris, whose grandchildren -- Nico, 8; Logan, 8; Sophia, 5; and Dylan, 4 -- are growing up fast because, in part, they are nourished with ice cream.
"They'll ask me, 'Papou, can I get something from your truck?' Of course, I always say yes," said Chris, whose wife, Joan, is called Yaya.
"Chloe calls me Poppie," I said, adding that my wife, Sue, is Nini.
"Kids these days are really smart," Chris said. "I had a hundred-dollar bill recently and Nico said, 'Papou, can I have this dollar?' I said, 'Sure, if you give me $99 in change.' He smiled because he knew it wasn't a dollar."
"Nico could be my accountant," I declared.
"I wasn't that smart when I was 8," said Chris.
"I'm not that smart now," I conceded.
Just then, Chloe pulled up with my younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); my son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy); and Maggie the dog (Maggie).
"Poppie!" Chloe squealed when she saw me.
Lauren brought her over to the truck and introduced her to Chris.
"Hello, beautiful girl," Chris said as he scooped (he is, after all, an ice cream man) Chloe into his arms.
"Say hi," Lauren urged Chloe.
"Hi," Chloe said tentatively.
Chris put her down and showed her his rolling office. Chloe was fascinated.
"She's like a kid in an ice cream truck," I said.
Chris asked what she wanted.
"I-keem!" Chloe exclaimed.
Lauren suggested a Jolly Rancher push-up pop, a rainbow-colored treat with cherry, watermelon and green apple flavors.
"What do you say?" Lauren asked Chloe when Chris handed her the pop.
"Thank you," Chloe said.
"You're welcome, sweetheart," said Chris, who propped her on the window ledge.
Chloe sat there and ate her ice cream, smearing it on her mouth like lipstick and licking it off.
"Here's another one," Chris said, handing it to Lauren. "For later."
He also gave ice cream to the rest of us.
"It's on me," Chris said.
At that point, it also was on Chloe, who couldn't quite keep up with the melting treat.
"Looks like Mommy has to do laundry," Chris observed.
Then he started up his truck, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" ringing once more through the neighborhood.
"Say bye," Lauren said to Chloe.
"Bye," Chloe said.
"And thank you."
After dinner, Chloe went to the front door, looking for the truck.
"I-keem," she said.
Chloe had made a friend. And he's sweet, too.