Thursday, April 29, 2021

Memorable Visits to My Dentists

When was the last time you thought about your childhood dentist? 


That out-of-the-blue question is prompted by a Wednesday visit to my current dentist. As the oral hygienist was cleaning my teeth she found a cavity in a bottom molar. Last year she found two cavities. 


I hadn’t had a cavity in perhaps 30 years, but three cavities since I turned 70 perhaps is validation that after attaining the biblical equivalent of a full life—three score and 10—one begins a second childhood, which in my earlier case, was punctuated with multiple cavities. The second childhood theory might also explain why many Jews celebrate a second bar mitzvah when they turn 83. 


Two and a half blocks from my Brooklyn home Dr. Turetsky’s office sat at the corner of East 17th Street and Neck Road, the last unit of a series of attached single family residences. Two pruned circular topped trees stood at the base of the walkway leading to the small porch. A huge weeping willow tree adorned the small lawn.


Inside, a waiting room the size of a modest living room had it been a residence was furnished with stern industrial grey leather chairs around the perimeter. Two Van Gogh reprints hung on a wall. One depicted an old woman, her hands folded on her lap; the second, a covered wagon in a field. On another wall, a harvest scene.


Inside the patient care area, a smell of antiseptic. 


Dr. Turetsky was a dour man of modest height, round face, round black glasses, a wisp of a mustache, thin black hair brushed straight back. In all the times I went to his office, I cannot recall ever seeing him smile.


I’d see him at least once a year. My elementary school required annual visits to a dentist. But I never saw him just once a year.


I had lots of cavities. My sister Lee insists she had more than I did, an achievement I gladly will concede to her. I had enough to forever traumatize me to this day about visiting a dentist. 


As much as I disliked Dr. Turetsky scaling and scraping tartar from my teeth during the annual cleaning, it was the sound and feel of his drill inside my mouth that truly distressed me. Sometimes he would freeze up the affected tooth. Most times he would inject novocaine. 


It didn’t matter that I could feel nothing. As he was drilling I would arch my back as if pain was shooting through me. I still do that with my current dentist.


After drilling a hole around the cavity, Dr. Turetsky would engage a machine that hummed and buzzed loudly as it prepared the silver, or was it mercury, he would insert into the space in my tooth.


The walk home with my front lip feeling puffy and unable to secure a straw or cup was as ignoble a retreat as Napoleon endured from Moscow. 


But of all my visits to Dr. Turetsky’s office, one procedure in his chamber of torture stands out. I was a late teenager, probably 18 or 19. I needed a wisdom tooth, on the top left side, removed. Dr. Turetsky contemplated sending me to a specialist but then decided he could do it,


Shot up with novocaine I shuttered as he approached with what looked like a medieval set of pliers reserved for the mouths of prisoners in the Tower of London. He secured the pliers to the molar and starting yanking. Nothing. No movement.


He needed better leverage. He pulled over a step stool and stood above me to my right. At least he did not prop his knee on my chest for added leverage, but the memory of that extraction kept me from returning to his office, indeed, from sitting in any dentist’s chair, for about five years by which time I was married and living far enough away in Seymour, Conn., to seek out a new dentist. 


Sure enough, my new dentist had to extract another  wisdom tooth. Fortunately, he did it painlessly.


For a third wisdom tooth removal, my former dentist in Yonkers also did it himself. It was a lower left side tooth. It might have gone easily if one of the roots had not broken off and remained locked in my jaw. He tried and tried to get it out to no avail other than my discomfort. 


He finally gave up, saying it didn’t really matter. He wished me good luck and cautioned that if I experienced any pain I should call the dentist who would be covering for him during his vacation which would begin as soon as he closed his office that day.


That night while sleeping the blood clot over the vacant tooth area dripped out onto my pillow. That morning I started to feel a throbbing pain. I thought it was the aftereffects of the dentist trying to root out the recalcitrant part of my tooth. For the next two days I alternated Tylenol and ibuprofen to ease the pain. 


Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer and contacted the on-call dentist. He knew right away I had developed a dry socket, a sensitivity to air on the extraction spot. As soon as he put a slight amount of cement on the site the pain subsided.


After that experience I caution anyone I know getting a wisdom tooth taken out to be mindful of developing a dry socket.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Thank Goodness Reality and Right Prevailed

Relief. I was anxious all day Tuesday waiting for a verdict that had the potential to unleash wave upon wave of frustration-laced violence. 


Thank goodness the jury delivered the only verdict that equated with reality. 


President Biden struck the right tone in remarks Tuesday night. The challenge to reach a more perfect union is no less daunting today, but the potential is at least on the horizon.  


In his commentary on the guilt of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, Biden did not smooth over the difficulties Blacks and people of color have faced for centuries in our country. Without naming names of the recently wrongly deceased at the hands of police, he provided a compilation of tragedies white people seldom face that minorities must contend with every day. 


In order to deliver real change and reform we can, and we must, do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedy like this will ever happen to occur again, to ensure that black and brown people or anyone, so they don’t fear the interactions with law enforcement, that they don’t have to wake up knowing that they can lose their very life in the course of just living their life. They don’t have to worry about whether their sons or daughters will come home after a grocery store run, or just walking down the street or driving a car or playing in the park or just sleeping at home,” he said. 


I have not yet read or heard any comments from jurors as to what swayed them. For me, what elevated Chauvin’s actions into the realm of indefensible was his persistence in pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck for three minutes beyond the time Floyd lost his struggle to breathe and live. 


This crime was no split second reaction to imminent danger. Floyd had no weapon. No gun. No knife. He was pinned to the ground, arms cuffed behind his back. He was helpless to prevent his life from being snuffed out. His cries that he could not breathe went unheeded by Chauvin and, indeed, the three other policemen at the scene, two of whom helped keep Floyd motionless. 


Smartphones revealed reality. It has been 30 years since video captured the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles policemen. Though charged with using “excessive force,” they were found not guilty. 


Three decades is a long time to wait for justice to catch up to reality. 



One in a Million: Last week Stephen Colbert asked one of his female writers if she feared receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. She was, after all, a member of the female 18-48 cohort that had sustained seven known blood clot incidents, including one fatality, from among the seven million J&J shots administered in the United States. 


Not really, she replied, given that birth control contraceptives and Botox treatments can cause blood clots at a much higher rate of incidence. She reasoned the risk of a vaccination induced blood clot was sufficiently low compared to the other ways a blood clot could show up, and the reward of life returning to normalcy was worthy it.  



I’m at war with the birds. Not all of them. Just the sparrows that keep trying to build nests in the space behind our rolled up patio awning. 


At both ends of the awning and in the middle sparrows have been busy every dawn gathering brush to build nests. Each morning I yank the three nests down with a wire hanger attached to a long bamboo pole, only to have to repeat the evictions 24 hours later. 


Last year I gave up the fight. But not this year. 


The birds drew first blood a few days ago. A walking wounded injury in the battle to control the aviary population. Not even worthy of a Purple Heart. I cut my right index finger while installing foot-long strips of three inch spikes along the awning frame.


It’s been three days without any new nests. Victory may be mine. 



Boycott Update: My plan to boycott Coca-Cola and other Georgia-based companies that failed to lobby against the Peach State’s repressive new voter law has run into an unforeseen problem. 


I had expected to substitute Glaceau’s VitaZero lemonade for Diet Coke. But a few days after embarking on my protest I discovered Coca-Cola purchased Glaceau in 2007. 


News broke Tuesday that a coalition of Black ministers from more than 1,000 churches in Georgia are advocating a boycott of Home Depot because it has been less than aggressive in its opposition to the new law, unlike after-the-fact statements emanating from Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. Though some civil rights groups and Democrats have not endorsed a boycott, the clergy viewed the action in its historical use as a component of fighting for equal opportunities for Blacks. 


Maybe, just maybe, corporate America is getting a moral compass. More companies are speaking out (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/21/business/dealbook/business-civil-rights-george-floyd.html?smid=em-share).


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell two weeks ago warned, “My advice to the corporations of America is to stay out of politics.” 


Sure, that’s how he feels now that businessmen are not toeing the line Republicans want. Consider, however, what he said when the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are people and entitled to spend freely on political campaigns. 


“The court decision was fairly unremarkable,” said McConnell. “All it really said was that under the First Amendment every corporation in America should be free to participate in the political process.” 

Apparently McConnell never considered the business world would ever embrace equality and openly advocate for it. 


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Last Tango in Halifax—England, not Canada

It being a rainy day I decided to spend a couple of hours watching the last two episodes of season four of “Last Tango in Halifax.” Gilda and I started watching “Last Tango in Halifax” after erroneously believing Halifax referred to the capital of Nova Scotia which we visited on our honeymoon 47 summers ago. 


Turned out, the Halifax in Last Tango is in Yorkshire, England, the setting for the convoluted lives of two semi-dysfunctional, extended, amalgamated families of Britons. (Friends tell me it’s similar in concept to “This Is Us,” which Gilda and I have not watched.)


So it was understandable, at least to me, that I was immediately interested in a New York Times first person commentary from last November on how Halifax, NS, residents have coped with the coronavirus pandemic. Quite well, it turns out (https://nyti.ms/2UCuWcl).


After reading the article I asked Gilda what’s the first thing to come to mind when she thinks about Halifax. I thought it would conjure up the memory of the time she erroneously entered the men’s room in a Chinese restaurant our first night in Halifax. Instead, she recalled how seasick she felt for three days driving up the eastern coast of Nova Scotia after our voyage across the Bay of Fundy from Bar Harbor, ME, to Yarmouth, NS.


Let’s start at the beginning. We wed late January 1973. As I had been working just four months for The New Haven Register, we had to defer our honeymoon until the summer. We mapped out a two week journey winding its way up north, first to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, then a six-hour ferry ride to Yarmouth, a leisurely drive up what we hoped was the scenic coast of Nova Scotia, then Halifax, followed by a quick trip through New Brunswick en route to Quebec, then homeward bound with a stop at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA (Gilda’s must see, not mine), and finally back to our apartment in Seymour, CT.


If you like lobster, as we do, Bar Harbor is the place to visit. Picturesque (at least it was 47 years ago), with every restaurant presenting the town’s signature vertical way to serve a sliced up lobster. Acadia National Park offered spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean coastline. 


Our honeymoon was off to a most enjoyable start as we drove our 1973 Chevy Vega onto the ferry to Yarmouth on a clear, crisp summer day, what appeared to be perfect sailing weather. What we hadn’t known is that the Bay of Fundy is considered by many to be among the choppiest bodies of water in the world. Something to do with it having the highest tides anywhere. Within a couple of hours of rocking side to side almost all the passengers were seasick. I was prone on a bench. Though tempted to, I did not barf. Two hours later even crew members were turning green.


After finally, thankfully, docking in Yarmouth, we drove off the ferry and headed north along the coastline. Far from being a beautiful vista, the landscape resembled what was left over from a forest fire. Scraggly trees. 


We occasionally stopped along the way, including a visit to what might have been the world’s largest outdoor model train setup. At one tourist shop we bought a lobster trap with a curved top. We turned it into a foot rest/coffee table back in Seymour. We even bought a bright red stuffed lobster toy to place inside the trap. Kitschy, for sure, but remember we were just 24 at the time and managing, scrimping really, on my $7,800 a year salary (Gilda was starting nursing school in September). 


Halifax was quaint but really provided no long term memories. On the way to Quebec we stopped at Moncton in New Brunswick to experience Magnetic Hill, a place where vehicles placed in neutral seemingly go uphill in reverse. 


Quebec lived up to expectations, its quaint cobblestoned streets, European architecture and small town squares providing an atmosphere of French living. We biked on the Plains of Abraham where in 1759 the British defeated the French. At the end of the French and Indian War the British took control of all the land from the east coast of North America to the Mississippi River.


After driving for more than 10 days it was a pleasure to relax on the balcony cafe of the Ch√Ęteau Frontenac overlooking the city while enjoying the most delicious lemonade we have ever had. 


The ride down from Quebec was punctuated by a stop in Springfield, MA, at the Basketball Hall of Fame. My only memory of that visit is of Bob Lanier’s sneakers, an astounding size 22. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Build a Wall, Boycott Coke, Religious Spin

Build the Wall, Redux: Donald Trump is probably more than slightly miffed that Joe Biden’s administration has signaled support for building part of the border wall with Mexico Trump championed in both his presidential campaigns (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/dhs-alejandro-mayorkas-border-wall-b1827535.html?amp).


But it remains unclear if Trump has learned the ultimate lesson of politics—it is not what you say or stand for, but rather, how you say it. 


Put in reverse cliche form, “Shoot the messenger, not the message.”


Trump’s bellicose, offensive messaging on everything from immigration to COVID-19 response to relations with allies stymied his ability to rally most of the nation to his causes. It also didn’t help that Trump exuded self-importance, broadcasting that he alone had the answers to any challenge facing America. 


So far, Biden has been quick to give credit to the American people, social services organizations or companies for successes. Trump personalized successes and demonized those who didn’t agree with him.  


So, at least for now, wall construction will continue. For sure Biden does not want to be confronted with any more negative stories emanating from a porous border. 


Whether voters, particularly Republicans, will assign him any credit for following through on border wall construction is uncertain. But it would be helpful to his reelection if the wall did not become an opposition rallying point in 2024. 



Boycott, Shmoycott: Oy. I don’t know what to do. 


A week ago I proudly endorsed a consumer boycott of Coca-Cola and my personal resolve to abstain from drinking Diet Coke because the company failed to use its influence to stop Republicans in its home state of Georgia from passing a repressive election law. Only after the law was signed by the Republican governor did Coke publicly voice its displeasure.


That action brought an expected diatribe from the former imbiber-in-chief. Even as he was pictured with a Diet Coke on his desk, Trump called on his supporters to boycott Coke and other companies that criticized Georgia’s new law. 


So, does my antipathy for Trump outweigh my displeasure with Coke? I guess so. I’m not happy about it, but I’ve chosen the lesser of two evils.



Spinning Religion: I’ve always associated spin doctors with politicians. But after viewing some clerical commentary about the renewal powers of Easter and Passover I believe the clergy is the equal of any political spinmeister. 


Take, for example, Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s comments to Harry Smith of NBC News aired Sunday evening. The archbishop of New York said, “This is the very time of year when we are going from the bleak nature of winter, oh my god, we’re going to more light, more life, growth, hope, my god, that’s the message of Holy Week and Easter and do we ever need it.”


For sure we need more of what this time of year can bring us. But Easter is a worldwide holiday. Since the Southern Hemisphere is embarking on autumn before a winter, how does the cardinal’s comments on nature’s transition apply? 


For sure, in most places temperatures are not as extreme as they are in Northern climes, but I still find it troubling that even in religious matters we take an American-centric view.


Weather wasn’t the only problem I had with Cardinal Dolan’s oratory. 


“We can never lose our sense of hope...as for 40 years the people of Israel didn’t,” he explained to Smith.


Does the cardinal have a different version of the Old Testament than I do? My Scriptures has the Israelites constantly questioning God and Moses. They wandered in the desert for four decades because they lacked faith and hope in God.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Memories From a Photograph of Horror

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, will begin Wednesday evening and conclude Thursday at sunset. At 10 am sirens will wail throughout the land. People will stand still. Motorists will stop their vehicles to stand beside them. The country will pause for two minutes in silent commemoration of the brutality and widespread world indifference to the annihilation of six million Jews in Europe before, during and after World War II.


Last Sunday, the Book Review section of The New York Times ran a review by Susie Linfield of Wendy Lower’s, “The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/16/books/review/the-ravine-holocaust-photo-wendy-lower.html?smid=url-share).


A single photograph dominated one-third of the page. It showed German and Ukrainian soldiers executing a mother holding two children as they stood above a pit into which the woman would fall. Her children would be buried alive.


Anyone familiar with the Holocaust knows this depiction is far from an isolated occurrence, Babi Yar being the most infamous of the horrific open pit massacres perpetrated in Ukraine. The picture’s commonality is what is so devastating, made all the more so not by the involvement of German soldiers but by the active presence of Ukrainian militiamen.


Ukrainians welcomed Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of their territory as many abhorred life under the Soviet Union. Significantly, far too many willingly, eagerly, participated in the murder of Jews—their neighbors—who, on top of their Jewishness, many considered affiliated with Communist Russia.


Jews had lived in Ukraine for more than half a millennia. They had been subjected to periodic pogroms not just because of their religion but also due of their occupations. Jews served as on-location representatives for distant Polish landlords. They were tax and toll collectors. Jews held the “the exclusive privilege of distilling and selling alcohol—lucrative trade that fit naturally with the business of innkeeping and small moneylending,” according to the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research (https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Ukraine).

 

As Linfield showed in an excerpt from Lower’s book, the Ukrainians “taunted the victims by name….The victims were known to them from the dentist’s office, the cobbler’s shop, the soda fountain and the collective farm.”


Lower’s penetrating history is of a massacre in Miropol, Ukraine, in October 1941. Miropol is 130 miles southwest of Kiev. Travel another 210 miles southwest to arrive in Ottynia, the shtetl of my father’s family in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Galicia (though Ottynia is now part of Ukraine, it often shifted between Austria-Hungary, Poland and Ukraine sovereignty depending on results of the most immediate war. After World War I it became part of Poland). 


As recounted in “Remembering Ottynia,” a history of the town compiled by Philip Spiegel whose parents came to America in the 1920s, “The German-Hungarian army occupied Ottynia on July 1, 1941.”


Like the scene from Miropol, Jews were taken to Szeparowce Forest where, on July 7, 1941, Ukrainians, no doubt along with German soldiers, killed 1,200 before an open pit. 


My Uncle Willy was the only member of his immediate family to escape the carnage of that day and subsequent “aktions” against the several thousand Jews who lived in Ottynia (my father had emigrated to New York in 1939). Perhaps his wife and young son, along with his sister and her child, suffered a fate similar to that of the woman in the photograph.


Willy survived the first mass killings because he happened to be away from the village that day. He would sneak back into town to see his mother until she too was murdered with the rest of the known Jewish residents in Fall 1942.


For the next two years he hid out in barns and fields as German soldiers and their Ukrainian sympathizers searched for the few who had managed to escape. 


His existence depended on an ability to stay one step ahead of the Nazis and to find Polish peasants willing to risk their lives to shield Jews. 


He moved from one hiding place to another. He remained stone silent inside a hidden chamber of a potato bin in a barn as a German soldier banged his rifle butt on the side listening for a hollow sound. To avoid other troops he jumped into an open fertilizer pit when Germans came to the barn he was hiding in. 


He joined partisans to fight, eventually being liberated by the advancing Russian army which conscripted him and sent him to Siberia for basic training. To survive, he ate grass for lack of food. 


When his unit was ready to be sent to the Western Front to fight the Germans, they mustered at the base. By Russian military custom, the commandant asked if any soldier had reason not to be sent to the battle lines. 


Willy and several other Jewish soldiers stepped forward. They told the officer they did not fear the Germans. What they feared was getting shot in the back by their fellow soldiers, many of whom were anti-Semitic Ukraines. The commandant kept them in Siberia. Willy always suspected he was sympathetic because secretly he might have been Jewish.


Could be. Some 500,000 Jews served in the Red Army during the war. Here’s a link from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, that details the participation of Jews in the armed forces of the Allies who fought Nazi Germany: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/holocaust/about/07/jewish_soldiers.asp. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

An Open Letter to U.S. Senator Joseph Manchin

Dear Senator Manchin:


I respect your allegiance to Senate traditions and your concern that doing away with the filibuster rule as currently exists could lead to unintended consequences should Senate Republicans gain majority status in the future.


However, we are witnessing state after state under Republican control enact or plan to enact laws that will cripple the ability of all voters to easily cast their votes in future elections. Minority communities and the elderly, especially, will be adversely affected by these laws.


It is imperative that H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) be passed by the Senate to protect their votes. Sadly, Republican senators will not join in this patriotic endeavor. It is up to Democrats to keep our nation an example of good for the rest of the world and not be an example of how democratic ideals can be legislated away by a disenchanted, vindictive party that falsely claims voter fraud in the last election.


By agreeing to return the Senate to its founding practice of majority rule you will not be reducing your importance. Your vote will continue to be critical on all legislation that Republicans choose not to support. Experience has shown Republicans consistently have chosen party politics over country.


Without your vote to change the filibuster rule President Biden’s plans to rebuild America will be thwarted. Americans will lose their right to free and fair elections.


Your legacy as a senator of the United States, not just as a senator from West Virginia, will be determined by how you respond to the peril our legislative and electoral  processes face.


While I am not a constituent of yours I am an American citizen who looks to U.S. senators to act in the best interests of the country and not just in the narrow interests of their respective states.


I hope and implore you to recognize the challenge and your opportunity. Announce your willingness to cast your vote to change the Senate filibuster rule so America can move forward and be confident our elections will be unencumbered and open to all legal voters.


Respectfully,


Murray Forseter