Monday, June 1, 2020

Day 84 of Nat'l Emergency: Bell's Palsy, Eight Minutes 46 Seconds of Terror, a Quizzical Coincidence

I’m wearing a crooked smile these days. Not by choice, mind you. Seems I have a mild case of Bell’s palsy.

Almost three weeks ago, on Wednesday, May 13 to be precise, as I was walking in our neighborhood, I felt a slight muscle cramp under the left side of my jaw. It quickly disappeared. Over the years I’ve had similar passing sensations, so I thought nothing of the current cramp. The next day, coincidentally around the same location on my walk, another fleeting cramp in the same spot under my jaw. 

As I continued my promenade my mouth felt as it does when recovering from a shot of novocaine from a dentist. I lost the ability to fully protrude the bottom of my jaw. My left cheek lacked sensation. No pain. Just a feeling of not quite numbness.

When I returned home Thursday, I looked in a mirror. No visible drooping. I smiled. My right side lips rose up in a smile. My left side stayed put. A classic crooked smile. 

To see me, one would not know anything was amiss. Lots of people have uneven smiles. I normally do not. 

Because of weakness in the muscles on the left side of my face I cannot suck up liquid with a straw unless it is positioned totally on the right side of my mouth. I’m sloppy when rinsing out toothpaste after brushing. It is easier to drink from a small juice glass than a standard width tumbler. 

My neurologist confirmed a mild case of Bell’s palsy. An MRI revealed no underlying reasons why my seventh cranial nerve acted up. 

There’s no treatment for my Bell’s palsy. It will self-correct, usually within six months. I already have seen improvements in my smile. 

Eight Minutes, 46 Seconds: I have no silver bullet, no magic formula to solve the continuing bias black Americans experience. How hard, how exhausting it must be to live a life of constant fear not just outside one’s home but even inside it should police come a-knocking.

I’ve been driving a car more than 50 years. During that more than half a century of driving I have received three tickets for a moving violation. Yet, each time I spot a police car a nerve receptacle in my brain tingles. I immediately check the speedometer. At night I check that my headlights are on. If turning or changing lanes I check if my blinker lights are on. I look in the rear view mirror to check if the police car has begun following me.

Am I paranoid? To some degree, for sure. But no doubt nowhere near the anxiety any black motorist must feel any time, anywhere, they are behind the wheel in their own cars or while delivering packages in a white neighborhood. 

Sadly, tragically, we have witnessed once again deadly, brutal, racist treatment black Americans receive from law enforcement. George Floyd did not commit a violent assault. Police were called because he was suspected of passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. He did not threaten anyone. 

Moreover, as a video recapitulation by The New York Times of the distressing incident shows, even though Floyd says he is willing to get up and get into a squad car, he is restrained from doing so by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and possibly two other officers. Chauvin has his left knee on Floyd’s neck, pinning him to the ground ( 

Floyd’s death might not have been premeditated, but it clearly was murder.

Quizzical Coincidence: In its online page Sunday and in its print edition Monday, The Times ran an obituary of Herb Stempel whose death was not known when he expired April 7. The headline Monday was “Herb Stempel, 93, Contestant Who Admitted Quiz Show Was Fake, Dies” (

How ironic that his obituary coincided with the first installment Sunday of a three-part British series, aptly named “Quiz” on AMC, dramatizing a near 20-year-old cheating scandal surrounding British ITV’s hit show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.”

Though they dispute their guilt, the perpetrators in “Quiz” are found to have passed information through strategic coughs from an audience member to a contestant. Stempel, on the other hand, was provided questions and answers for his appearances on “Twenty-One” in late 1956. He never denied his involvement in duping the public. Indeed, he asserted he was simply an “actor” following a script, for which he received $25,000.