Sunday, April 9, 2017

I've Been Zeked!

In the fifth grade, a new girl moved to my hometown of Wenonah, New Jersey. She was tall, like me. She was goofy, like me. She had a pool, unlike me. We were instant BFFs.

Throughout middle school and high school, Mischelle—whose name was misspelled her entire life until she decided to go by “Shelly,”—and I became fairly inseparable. Except, like, that time I told her I’d be over in ten minutes to pick her up for the mall and I completely spaced and went without her. (My mother ended up driving her there when she learned from Shelly that I’d forgotten her.)

After graduating from my MBA program back in (cough, cough, mumble, mumble), I decided to spend the summer before my job started traveling the country to visit friends. I met up with Shelly and her fiancé, Matt, at her parents’ home in Wenonah. After a few days there, we caravanned in two cars to Shelly and Matt’s apartment in Durham, North Carolina. At one point during the drive, Shelly and Matt pulled off the road even though we’d just had a rest stop. I pulled off too and asked them what was up. 

“Weird noise in the back of the car,” Shelly said. “I’m guessing Dad is behind this.”

Sure enough, when we opened their hatchback and unzipped one of their larger suitcases, there was a wind-up alarm clock nestled into their dirty clothes, still making a muffled clanging noise. And next to the clock was this little gem—the head of Zeke, a homemade ragdoll Shelly’s grandmother had sewn back when Shelly was still Mischelle. Time had not been kind to Zeke and he was missing his felt hat, one eye and entire body. 

“What the hell?” I said, as Shelly and Matt laughed.

“We’ve been Zeked!” Shelly exclaimed. 

She then gave me the background on this odd little doll head, telling me how Zeke had lost bits of himself over the years until one day he was nothing more than a bald one-eyed head. As kids, Shelly or one of her two sisters would often discover Zeke’s head tucked into their coat pockets—a favorite prank of their parents, who hoped to give their daughters a bit of levity on their walk to school.

I spent a week or so with Shelly and Matt in North Carolina, doing long training runs for my first marathon and lounging by the apartment complex’s pool all day while they were at work. We got into the routine of “Zeking” each other. I floated Zeke on a Tupperware lid in their toilet and shut the lid. The next morning, I awoke after they were already gone, but I found Zeke in the toe of one of my running shoes. Shortly after we went to bed one evening, I heard laughter from their bedroom. Clearly, they had just discovered Zeke tacked to the ceiling over their bed.

When I left Shelly and Matt’s to drive to New York for my new job, I stole Zeke. (Wouldn’t you?) When Shelly called me a few days later to accuse me of theft, I had my story ready. I told her I had put Zeke in an empty bag of Goldfish crackers on top of the refrigerator as my farewell Zeking. Neither could find the bag (because I’d already thrown it out), so they assumed they’d accidentally tossed it. Sadly, Zeke was gone for good. So they thought. 
Shelly and Matt’s wedding was scheduled for several months later. In speaking about the details with her a few weeks before the big event, she mentioned that they would be honeymooning in Aruba, but given the mischievous tendencies of Matt’s friends, they weren’t telling anyone where they would be staying.  

I expressed concern about no one knowing their whereabouts and promised to keep it a secret if she told me, that I’d feel better knowing that at least one of us knew where to find them in the unlikely event of an emergency. Shelly acquiesced and gave me the name of the resort. 

The day Shelly and Matt left for Aruba, I was giddy with joy over the devious plan I had hatched with the staff at their hotel. I had FedEx-ed a small box to the concierge so she could have it waiting in their room upon arrival. Zeke was tucked safely inside and the lid of the box was inscribed with a little rhyme: 

                          You tried to keep it a secret, 
                          But the locale of your honeymoon leaked.
                          Then a mysterious box arrives in your room.
                          Hey, honeymooners—you've been Zeked!

Remember, this was pre-email-and-texting days, and international telephone rates were high, so I wasn't surprised when I didn't hear from Shelly that day (though in hindsight, I'm sure she'd been dying to call me given the sheer awesomeness of this particular Zeking). Unbeknownst to me, she had her own plans.  When Shelly and Matt returned home, I phoned her immediately. 

"Well?!" I said, exasperated. 

"Well, what?" she replied, giving an Oscar-worthy performance of feigned ignorance.

When I asked her to detail every moment upon arriving at the hotel, she told me they had reserved a nice suite, but when they opened the door to their room the smell of cigarettes was so overpowering, they shut the door and demanded different accommodations. They never even set foot inside their original room according to her. I was crestfallen. And Shelly had me completely fooled. Now it was I who thought Zeke was lost for good. 

Two months later, my boyfriend decided it was time I met his parents. We both flew to Albuquerque, where we rented a car and drove to his folks’ home in Los Alamos, arriving after midnight. His mother had waited up for us and after an introductory hug, she immediately guided me to the Christmas tree to admire it. Ok, a tad weird, but what the hell. I admired the tree. But one compliment wasn’t enough apparently, and she insisted I continue to take in the tree’s beauty, her hands on my shoulders as if to hold me in place. I complied. And then--I screamed. 

Right in front of me, in a glistening hand-blown bulb, was Zeke, staring out at me through his glass confines. Shelly's dad had taken up glass blowing and she had obviously decided to put his talents to good use. Well done, Shelly. Well. Done. 

It took me years to bring myself to smash the bulb, freeing Zeke from his glass prison, but as they say in show-biz: the Zeke must go on! (or something like that). And what better time to do so than the occasion of Shelly’s first pregnancy. 

I was living in Los Angeles by then and had a good pal who worked in character licensing at Disney (read: had access to more Disney-character crap than should be legal). I bummed a half dozen miniature Winnie-the Pooh stuffed animals from her, as Shelly had already told me the baby's nursery would be decorated in Pooh motif. I then savagely cut off the face of one of the mini-Poohs, inserting Zeke in the gaping hole and stitching him in place, in effect creating a sort of FrankenPooh—cuddly body, creepy face. I stacked the Poohs in a tight box, three facing up, three facing down. FrankenPooh was facing down. I giftwrapped the box and mailed it to Shelly’s parents’ home, where she and Matt would be spending the holidays. Then, I waited. 

Unable to sleep for long stretches at that point in her pregnancy, Shelly woke up early on Christmas morning and sat in the living room killing time until the rest of the family got around. She scanned the gifts under the tree and found mine. Seeing no harm in opening a non-family gift without the rest of the gang present, she opened the package. And then--she screamed. Suffice it to say, the rest of the family was now wide awake as well. 

Um, thanks for the hat?
As the Zekings increased over the years, so too did the level of creativity involved. Zeke had been stowed inside a thick book entitled, appropriately, Zeke (the pages within having been carved out to fit his head), sewn onto a hat that was presented to me at a class reunion, and even baked into cranberry bread (a feat which required constantly pushing his head back to the bottom of the bread pan with a fork throughout the baking process, as it kept rising to the surface). 

Not even a death in the family was reason enough to put the Zeke-centric shenanigans on hold. Shortly after Shelly left town following my step-dad's memorial service, I found Zeke lurking in my refrigerator. 

Perhaps the greatest Zekecomplishment came to fruition the day Jeff and I picked up the developed photos from the thirty or so disposable cameras we’d left on the tables at our wedding reception—again, we’re talking pre-smart-phone-camera days. 

Aside from the 40 or so throw-away pictures of the ground and the sky that my four-year-old nephew had taken, there were loads of nice shots of our friends and family members. 

We flipped through hundreds of photos until we got to them—the photos of various wedding guests, each holding or kissing or cuddling Zeke. One of Zeke at the hors d’oeuvres table. One of Zeke at the urinal in the restroom. Even one of Zeke hovering over Jeff’s and my heads as we cut the nontraditional wedding pie!  

I still have no idea how Shelly pulled that one off, bringing Zeke to my own wedding without my knowledge. I'm perhaps even more impressed that none of my friends ruined the surprise. I tend to hang out with people who are as incapable of keeping a secret as I am. Bravo!

Me and Shelly's Mini-Me, Mary
When Shelly’s second child stayed with us last summer during a post-college road trip, I accused her of having Zeke with her, as surely her mother had put her up to something and we’d find him in the cupboards or dirty laundry when she left. 

I was on high alert for days after she departed, certain I’d discover him hiding in the next drawer I opened. But Zeke never materialized. 

Recently, I was thrilled to learn that Shelly and Matt themselves would be visiting. 

They showed up for a couple days last week, a stopover on a road trip from Utah back to North Carolina. I threatened Shelly that Zeke had better not be in her luggage. She swore he wasn’t with her. And she was telling the truth. Sort of.

Two days after she and Matt left, a box arrived in the mail. It was addressed to me, though now that the dog has a monthly subscription to Bark Box, he believes every package that shows up is for him. 

I tend to do a lot of online shopping, so boxes arriving are commonplace. I opened it thinking it contained vitamins or books, two things I order online with regularity. Nope. It was a red water bottle, the type I don’t use. I wondered if Amazon had made an error. I handed the bottle to my daughter, figuring she could have it. She unscrewed the lid and then--she screamed. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Tucked inside the bottle was, of course, Zeke. 

And so the burden of Zeking Shelly rests at my feet once more, and I take this responsibility with great pleasure. Ideas? Send ‘em my way! 

And down the road, when my body is old and giving out, I will likely request an open-casket viewing at my own funeral...just to give my childhood BFF the opportunity to pull off the ultimate Zeking: tucking a creepy little doll head into my cold dead hands. I mean, come on—what are friends for, right? 

Zeke Buddies for Life


  1. OMG I laughed and laughed. Reminds me of your peep shows too. Loved that you want Zeke in your cold dead hands too - so funny. I want my ashes in salt shakers to be sent to my friends. Thanks for the laughs.

    1. I am SO stealing that ashes-in-the-salt-shaker concept. Love it!

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