Sunday, June 17, 2018

Crossed Wires

Like all kids, I hated going to the doctor.

I feared being poked with needles, dreaded having that tongue depressor thing jammed down my throat, and absolutely hated wasting all that time in the waiting room when I could be outside raising all kinds of hell.

There was one day fine spring day when I had to go the doctor to get a booster shot.

Today of course I know full well the importance of checkups, but back then I felt like I was walking the last mile.

My dad had been doing some home repairs that morning and he sent me around the corner to Windsor Lock, the neighborhood hardware store—back when we had neighborhood hardware stores—to get several items including lightbulbs and two short pieces of wire.

Off I went, relying on nothing but my memory of what my father had told me to complete the order. When I returned a short time later, I handed the bag over to my father—and he promptly went nuts.

He was so happy and so proud of me for getting every single thing he wanted without the benefit of a shopping list.

“You even got the two pieces of wire!” he said in cheerful disbelief.

Well, that’s it, I reasoned, they can’t possibly take me to the doctor now. I’ve done such a good job, made my father so happy. It’s time to go out and play.

But a short time later my dad was getting out the car keys and telling me it was time to go see Dr. Abrahamson.

What the hell? I just pulled off the retail miracle of the century, you can’t possibly drag me to that needle-wielding psychopath now. I earned a pass on pain.

In my childish mind I had decided that the doctor’s visit was punishment, so by doing a good job for my dad, I was automatically off the hook—quid pro no doctor. Clearly, however, I had a lot to learn about logic and how a job well done does not excuse you from taking care of your health.

I used to tell that story a lot and I’d always end up by describing how disappointed and betrayed I felt when parents hauled me off to the doctor.

Roll Up Your Sleeve

But now on Father’s Day I want to change the focus a little on this tale and concentrate on how happy I had made my dad that morning.

This didn’t happen too often, to be honest, or at least not as much as I would’ve liked. We butted heads a lot during his lifetime and I keep thinking I could’ve done more to make things better between us.

My father fought in World War II and I am only now appreciating how much that terrible experience must have affected him.

He was once trapped in a foxhole for days during an artillery attack and wound getting frostbite in both feet so badly that when help finally did arrive, he had to be carried away by a stretcher.

One of his buddies was a guide in Montana, and he, my dad, and two other soldiers had planned to go on a hunting trip together when they got back to the States—only the other guys were all killed in action and my father was the only one who came home.


How can anyone possibly walk away unscathed from something like that?

I get angry when people talk so casually about going to war, the ones who say “we” when they obviously mean somebody else has to do the fighting.

My father didn’t have any bone spurs, he didn’t have any “other priorities” and he sure as fuck didn’t prance around on an aircraft carrier crowing “mission accomplished.” No, he just fought for his country.

It’s a waste of time and energy, but I wonder sometimes what kind of man my father would’ve been if he hadn’t gone to war, if he hadn’t witnessed all the brutality.

He’s been gone with 11 years now, so we’ll never know. I guess the best I can do is recall the happy times.

The pain from the booster shot has long since faded, but I’ll never forget that smile I put on my father’s face when I brought home those two pieces of wire.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Though Your Heart is Aching

When it’s someone close to you, it’s always too soon.

I was in grammar school when I had my first dental appointment with Dr. Ronald Cohen.

I was terrified, convinced that I was going to suffer unspeakable torment as this stranger sadistically yanked all of the teeth out of my head.

When I completed all the various forms, I nervously handed them over to Mabel, Dr. Cohen’s nurse, and briefly thought about running out the door.

This was in early May and when Mable checked my birth date, she gave me a lovely smile.

“You’ve got a birthday coming up,” she said.

I was confused. The torturer’s assistant was being nice to me? Isn’t she supposed to laugh like a lunatic and shove me into the arms of the drill-wielding psycho?

It turns out that I may have overreacted a little bit. Mabel was a wonderful woman and when Dr. Cohen came out to greet me, I found him to be a kind, gentle man who only wanted to keep me healthy.

And he would be my family’s dentist for nearly 50 years.

Mabel died several years ago and then last week my sister told me that we lost Dr. Cohen, too. I turned 61 last month so obviously Dr. Cohen was not a young man, but he always seemed fit and healthy and he certainly wore his age well.

His widow told my sister that Dr. Cohen, who suffered from diabetes, was working up until the day before he died.

I was close to tears when I heard the news and I still can’t believe he’s gone. This is the end of an era as yet another person leaves our lives. I know that I’m at the stage of life where I’m constantly saying goodbye to family and friends, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

You Must Keep on Trying

I went through high school, college, and adulthood and for nearly every one of those years I made my annual visit to Dr. Cohen.

He was more than just a rinse-and-spit guy. He was committed to educating his patients about the importance of oral hygiene. Often during examinations, he would hand me a mirror and take me on a guided tour of my own chompers.

“He acts like they’re his teeth,” I once jokingly complained, “and you’re just borrowing them.”

He was constantly looking to improve himself, staying up to date on the latest developments and doing research in his spare time.

As I moved into adulthood, Dr. Cohen and I would talk about things beyond brushing after every meal. He once told me about how his grandfather back in Russia had been forced to join the army.

“They just grabbed him off the street and threw him into a car,” Dr. Cohen said. “His family had no idea what happened to him for six months.”

And yet despite that abrupt introduction to army life, the elder Cohen went on to be an exemplary soldier and actually considered making the military his career, but since he was Jewish he knew he would never become an officer, so he mustered out.

After I graduated from college, I considered going to Japan to teach English. When I mentioned this to Dr. Cohen about this, he told me about how he had climbed Mt. Fuji during a leave from his military service in Korea.

I didn’t get the job, but Dr. Cohen had seen to it that all my dental work had been taken care of just in case I had to leave the country.

I know we all have to leave this life eventually, but I guess I thought that Dr. Cohen would always be there for us. And while I’ll have to find a new dentist now, I can’t imagine anybody else putting me at my ease the way Dr. Cohen did.

I’m looking back at that terrified grade schooler I once was, and I have to say that in all those years Dr. Cohen never caused me any pain.

Until now.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Shore Leave

I’ve always believed that the Seventies was a bad time for music, but a great period for movies.

Now, to be honest, I do enjoy a handful of disco era hits, but I think even the most stalwart Studio 54 devotee would have to look back at that decade’s soundtrack and ask, “wow, what the hell were we thinking?”

And don’t even get me started on the clothes.

However, it’s important to note that while the clubs were busy thumping humanity into a stupor, Hollywood was igniting movie screens with such classics as Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, and Serpico, to name a few.

I recently caught up with Cinderella Liberty, another film from that era, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it great, it’s certainly damn good.

I saw this film with my parents in the old Fortway theater when I was a sophomore in high school. I hadn’t seen it or even thought about it since, but then Turner Classic Movies ran it a few months ago and it was sitting patiently in my DVR until I finally decided to give it a look last week. And I’m so glad I did.

Released in 1973 and starring James Caan and Marsha Mason, Cinderella Liberty tells the story of John Baggs, a lonely sailor, who falls for Maggie, a prostitute he meets in a bar, and becomes a father figure to Doug, Maggie’s mixed-race son.

Baggs is bureaucratically marooned in Seattle after the navy loses his records. Bear in mind, this was over 40 years ago, before computer files, so when I say “records” I mean real world paperwork stuffed into a manila folder.

Today it’s hard to believe now that we once functioned without computers, but, somehow, we did. Back then we thought we were living in the most modern of modern times, but looking back at that period now, it looks like we hammering our information on to stone tablets.

Anyway, without the records, Baggs is virtually nonexistent in the navy’s eyes, and he spends more time with Maggie and Doug. The supporting cast includes Eli Wallach, Dabney Coleman, Bruno Kirby, Allan Arbus, and Sally Kirland.

Hey, Sailor

The movie was directed by Mark Rydell and based on a novel by Darryl Poniscan, the author of, among other things, The Last Detail, which was another fine Seventies film about sailors that starred Jack Nicholson.

I liked this film because it took its time to tell a story about believable characters. There are no monsters, wookies, or superheroes and there are no explosions, slow motion machine gun battles, or ridiculous fight scenes.

It’s just the story of some very ordinary people who are down on their luck and trying to make a life for themselves. I seriously doubt that anyone would make this film today as it lacks all of the aforementioned blockbuster ingredients and offers no possibility of a movie franchise.

Now there are few lines of dialog I could’ve done without. Statements like “Why is it everybody else gets chicken and I always get the feathers?” and “Love is shit with sugar on it” could have been easily deleted from the script without any fear of being missed.

And the theme song is hands down horrible, a faux bluesy jingle called "You're So Nice to Be Around" that was sung by that musical oddity Paul Williams.


No offense to Mr. Williams or his fans, but the guy never did anything for me, and while this tune somehow earned an Oscar nomination—it must’ve been a lean year for music—the song is really nice to get away from.

The tune might have been bearable if it had been performed by an actual African-America blues singer instead of a painfully Caucasian counterfeit trying to sound black.

But the song and the subpar dialog pass quickly and you’re left with one fine film.

On May 25, 1977—the day after my birthday— Star Wars was released to theaters and arguably kicked off the whole science-fiction blockbuster chain reaction that we’re still living with (suffering through?) today.

Like disco hits, I enjoy the occasional fantasy film, but a steady diet of these things is kind of like listening to nothing by dance music. There's not enough sugar in the world to make the shit tasty.

When it comes to feeding my brain, I’d much rather feast on chicken than scarf down a plateful of feathers.