Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Dentist

Here’s me at the dentist.  If there was a balloon over my head it would say: Dr. Dellasandro is going to be shocked when he looks in there.  Maybe he will scream.
I’m a decent caregiver to my mouth but the dentist never says anything good about how I care for my teeth.
The conversation goes like this:
Total (judgmental) silence as he inspects my mouth.
How many times a day do you brush?
Morning and night. (I'm tempted to say 'only when the moon is waning').
Do you floss?
How often?
Every day.
How many times a day?
Total (judgmental) silence.  I’m telling the truth but it feels as if I’m lying (through my teeth).   I expect him to tell me I don’t deserve to have teeth and that the starving children in Africa would be thrilled to have teeth to care for.

"Do you know how to brush properly? Show me how you brush,” he says.
Balloon:  Uh Oh.  I surmise that he has found a wrecked mouth and will send me home disgraced. Often when I’m brushing, I think about this dentist because I can’t quite accomplish the technique he has recommended (and also I’m sleepy) and I know what it will lead to.

I demonstrate a clumsy maneuver that was demonstrated to me on my last visit.  It involves using the brush at an angle so the edge of the bristles can be wiggled where your teeth meet your gums.  This is a maneuver that is only popular in the last five years.  Prior it was starting at the gum line and brushing down, as if you are sweeping all the debris down your throat.   With all these maneuvers it only works on certain areas because it is physically impossible to get that brush to angle on edge on the back of the lower teeth. Or the back of the upper teeth.

He doesn’t respond as to whether this is right or wrong.
“Show me how you floss.”  He hands me a few inches of waxed floss that frankly I think is counterproductive.  I use the unwaxed kind and in a pinch some polyester sewing thread. (I once sent this as an “aha” use to Real Simple magazine.)  I floss a couple of teeth.  Total (judgmental) silence.

The dentist hauls out his big demonstration teeth and his big demonstration brush and shows me an even more awkward brushing maneuver.  Then he flosses the big demonstration teeth. (It reminds me of how my gynacologist would haul out his demonstration uterus and show me how it could press on my bladder and cause me to urinate every five minutes during pregnancy.)  

My balloon says:  Oh sure, I could do that kind of brushing on those teeth that are not inside my mouth.  While Dr. Dellasandro gets his gear together, I see that all the decorative accessories in the room have a single motif.  A potted plant sits in a gigantic molar, a diploma is framed by a border of incisors.
There’s a framed cartoon that shows a patient saying: “Oh, it hurt, doc, but I’m not going to scream until I get your bill.”  Why should I let this man cower me?

After all the talk and demonstrations, he cleans my teeth with an apparatus that must be a little like waterboarding.  A  sharp needle scrapes along your gum line while a torrent of water cascades down your throat and almost drowns you. 

After the picking, the waterboarding, the scraping and the polishing with a ghastly sweet sandy chemical paste, he declares me done.  Then he does something that erases all the bad stuff from memory.  He gives me a brand new toothbrush.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My dinner with Hemingway

I once had dinner with Leicester Hemingway the younger brother and mirror image of Ernest.  He looked so much like Ernest that I had to hold on to my seat because I felt I should be kneeling at his feet.  Leicester was dressed the way we mostly remember Ernest - white shirt, sleeves rolled up, khaki pants.  At the time, Ernest had already committed suicide but we had to talk about him.

I had been invited by Ann, a stunning black copywriter who was living with an art director very far west on 23rd St. in Manhattan. Ann’s most noticeable trait was her archness and she might have said something like - Your brother was the great American writer and the great American machismo. When she made her arch remark, Ann would hike one eyebrow.  I think we had veal - veal scaloppini a la marsala.  Leicester was jovial and answered pleasantly about his brother but he really wanted to talk about the country he was about to start.  Yes, you heard me.  I had to look up the word, ‘disingenuous’ because he seemed the complete naïf.  “There’s no law that says you can’t start your own country,” Leicester told The Washington Post and that’s what he said to us, too.  We indulged him because he made us feel we were eating with Ernest but he was serious.  Ann’s boyfriend had been commissioned to design the stamps for the new country.   As jovial and optimistic as he seemed that night Leicester, like his brother and father, committed suicide.

There is a line in The Great Gatsby “The evening progressed from phase to phase with the sheer nervous dread of the moment itself.”  That’s exactly how it was on my evening with Leicester.

A subsequent brush with Hemingway was less dramatic but more bizarre.  I was invited to a seder dinner and one of the guests was Frank Yablans who had been the head of Paramount Studios and was married to Tracy Hotchner.  Tracy was the daughter of A.E. Hotchner who played Boswel to Hemingway’s Samuel Johnson and wrote Papa Hemingway.  Tracy, by the way, has a radio talk show called Dog Talk and a recent blog post is titled: “Excuse me?  How much kibble did you say?”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What do you want for godsakes?

(Warning:  I'm going to ramble about this and that)

What do you want for godsakes?
The other day I said to myself:  What do you want for godsakes?  I meant it in the larger sense:  What do you really want for godsakes?  I asked it in this exasperated tone because I realized that behind the noise of everyday living, I was ...expectant.  Expectant for what?

One synapse away...
When you are dealing with people that are one synapse away from total insanity, re-set your expectations and finish the transaction as quickly as possible.

The Dictionary of REAL self-improvement
“I know grown-ups, I’ve worked with grown-ups and I’m no grown-up,” I said.
“Word," said my cool friend. "I’m only now beginning to de-assholify myself. You spend your whole life de-assholifying yourself and then you die.”

de-ass-hole-i-fying   v. the act of removing one’s ego centric, dumb ass, immature, delusional, aggrandizing, 12 year old tantrumy tendencies and finally gaining some traction on growing  the f up.   

Identity Fulfillment
Well-known people are introduced by their profession and the most indelible achievement so we can more fully appreciate them.

Lance Armstrong: The cyclist and cancer survivor.
Tom Hanks: The actor and two-time Oscar winner

(Less well known but no less appreciated) 
Fred, the plumber and convicted extortionist.
Delores, the cat lover and certified lunatic
Dwayne, the bookkeeper and double arsonist.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An ordinary life? No. A thousand times no.

I was asked to review Harley Loco, a memoir written by a gay ex-junkie hairdresser who was born in Syria and made her way to the drug capital known as the East Village, N.Y. (via Detroit) where she made her name as a hairdresser/punk rock musician (yes, musician and hairdresser) while skipping, like Dorothy going to Oz, through all the rungs of junkie hell.   I didn’t want to read this book.  First of all, I have personal knowledge of the Christian/middle-eastern family structure and any one of this brave girl’s trifecta of secrets would take her out.  For myself, a book about a world-class junkie who was also a world-class hairdresser?  No. I was going on a long train ride and it was on my Kindle so I took a peek. I was surprised to see a preface by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray Love, a memoir I found difficult to swallow whole hog.  Yet I was intrigued by Gilbert’s unabashed adoration of Ms. Elias and her book.

There are people who don’t want  - can’t stand - an ordinary life.  I know what that feels like.  Rayya Elias, the narrator of this absorbing memoir could not tolerate being ordinary.  If Eat, Pray, Love varnished the truth to make a good story, Elias left her truth beautifully unvarnished in Harley Loco and wrote a compelling memoir that pulled me in completely.  Elias is a brave soul who is a magician at yanking her life out of the fire just as it begins to look like a descent into hard misery or worse.   It’s like reading a book version of The Perils of Pauline except Elias’ perils are heartbreakingly real.  With memoirs of the harrowing kind, you want to see redemption, you want a happy ending. This impressive memoir of a gay Syrian hairdresser with a musical bent whose demons come close to destroying her countless times is the happiest of endings.

If my heart was exposed (and not metaphorically)

Yesterday, instead of driving myself, I had a driver.  I spent two one-and-a-half-hour stints with a man who considered his life events to be of unquestionable interest. I was the lucky listener of his step by step quadruple bypass reenactment, his recovery, the mean things he said under valium, the crazy things he said upon easing out of anesthesia, where they harvested the repair veins and finally what they served him for breakfast on the third day (ham and eggs and orange juice) all of which he ate.  Included was the electrifying diagnosis scene where the medics hovered in a circle and hemmed and hawed over stents vs full by-pass.  

This might have been interesting to me as a writer had I not heard the exact story when this same person had driven me before and had the event not been already seven years in the past. The recurring theme in his story was always the man’s triumph over the questionable things that would happen to a person less stubborn, less savvy.  The system always gave way to his burly will.

As regular readers know, I can do a blog on the addictive qualities of barley.   If I had quadruple by pass surgery and my heart was exposed (not metaphorically) outside my body, I would probably talk about it non-stop in a continuous loop whether anyone was around to hear or not.   I would let people tune in and out and just stay as long as they wanted.  In my version, however, the system would not only win over my will I would just hope they put the heart back in the right place.  So who am I to question the three hour monologue interrupted only occasionally(and without warning) to reprimand other drivers?

When the story was done I got out my Kindle but it was not to be.  “If you thought that was wild, wait till you hear this, “ said the man.  He didn’t even look back to see if I was still there .  I un-slumped myself and he launched into the saga of his son’s entry into the police force.  It was a done deal (through connections) but then the call didn’t come and then it did come.  The boy was in the probation group but because of a trick question he got out of the probation group immediately.  The unifying theme in this family was always: the system gives way for them.

The most interesting things I heard came in monologue three.
If a cop gets hurt in the line of duty, he collects 3/4 of his pay.
If a cop gets killed in the line of duty, his widow only collects half his pay.
Civil Service employees are cleaning up in the pension department, double and sometimes triple dipping by gaming the system.  And these “pension” fables become tales to be recounted with awe.  You can be a firefighter and at the same time be an instructor and get a teacher’s pension as well as your firefighters pension and maybe even a military pension if you were in the reserve. 
I also learned that when firefighters go in to a burning building they are already carrying one-hundred and fifty pounds of gear so their oxygen supply doesn't last more than 15 minutes.  They approach a room on their stomach with a buddy hanging on to their foot and they feel around  for anything soft on the floor.  Sometimes it’s just the couch cushion.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Do I dare to eat a peach?

As I mentioned Viking/Penguin is under the impression that I have an influential blog and besides sending me lots of new books to review they also sent me this news via e-mail.

If there's anyone out there who would rather show off their poetry memorization skills than play Angry Birds, etc. this might be of interest. (For some reason I can still recite most of The Love Song of J. Alfred  Prufrock  by T.S. Eliot who was born in Missouri and also wrote The Wasteland (not to be confused with Newton Minow's comment about television that described it as a "vast wasteland."   Also the 'Quality of Mercy' speech from The Merchant of Venice.  Go figure. I know my readers are far more selective and also erudite (I'm going to look this word up right now.) It means learned and scholarly.  So here's all the information.

Dear Consuelo,

I’m very happy to share that the newest free app from Penguin, Poems By Heart from Penguin Classics, is available today for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Five levels of difficulty, 23 achievements, and 20 ranks of mastery make memorizing “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” easy, quick, and fun, and shareable with friends. 

The app also comes with a free William Blake poem, and 22 more classic poems are available for purchase from authors including Dickinson, Keats, Poe, Shakespeare, Shelley, Tennyson, and Whitman.

You can watch a video about the app here which you are welcome to post and the landing page for the app on the Penguin website is here.

I do hope you’ll download the app! Let me know if you have any questions and Happy National Poetry Month!


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Manchurian Candidate but with barley

When I made barley for the first time I couldn’t stop eating it.  I kept going back to the big pot and ate it all day long.  About 4 p.m. I began to feel sick and disoriented.  My mouth tasted like lead but I continued eating the barley.  Something in my mouth, my saliva, my salivary glands, my right brain or my left brain steered me to the pot, put a spoon in my hand and put more barley in my mouth.  I was like the Manchurian Candidate but with barley.

As I do with most grains, I had bypassed the recipe on the package and substituted lemon juice for some of the water and added salt and butter so it was like the best thing I had tasted in a long time.  Not that it mattered.  I was cramming the barley into my mouth so fast and chewing it so carelessly that it could have been flavored with roadside oil slick.  I wasn’t really tasting it.

I never made barley again.  When I passed the barley in the store I shivered and soon after I was gratified to learn that barley was full of the devil gluten anyway so there was no need to long for it. 

Last week I received A five pound bag of quinoa.  What the heck was I going to do with five pounds of a grain that was already annoyingly overpronounced (like Alex Trebek upchucking his tonsils to say Nicaragua) so that you had to Crazy Glue your hands to your pants to keep from slapping someone.  One day I had nothing to eat in the house (it happens) and I made some of the quinoa.  In my usual maverick style, I made it with lemon juice and water plus butter and red pepper flakes.  Do I need to tell you what happened?  Do you know that song Sugartime by Johnny Cash?  Quinoa in the morning, quinoa in the evening, quinoa at suppertime. Be my little quinoa fix and I’ll love you all the time.