Friday, November 20, 2009

"Construction Project"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

When I think of history’s classic constructions – the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Green Monster at Fenway Park – I naturally think of the Seven Wonders of the World. But there is another one that is so impressive, so outstanding, so absolutely fantastic that it should be added to the list.

I refer to the braces on my teeth, which ought to be called the Great Project of Geezer.

This architectural marvel has been engineered and constructed by Dr. Ben Murray, an orthodontic resident at the Stony Brook University Dental Care Center on Long Island, N.Y.

I have braces because a couple of my teeth have shifted, which is pretty remarkable considering I can’t shift for myself. According to Murray, this isn’t uncommon among baby boomers, especially those who, like me, didn’t have braces as a kid.

I got mine about a year ago in the right upper side of my mouth. Every month since then, Murray has worked on this construction project. He hasn’t worn a hard hat or used a jackhammer. And he hasn’t, thank God, needed dynamite. But he has employed tools such as a screwdriver and, during one memorable appointment, a blowtorch, which fortunately wasn’t applied directly to my mouth. None of it has hurt a bit.

In a recent office visit, Murray drew up a blueprint of his work and explained it in layman’s terms so even I could understand it.

"We’re working on the right buccal segment of the maxillary arch to distalize that area and correct the Class 2 malocclusion," he said.

"Ong, ong, ong," I replied, because Murray was still working on my teeth. When he was done, he explained further.

"The lateral incisor is severely rotated," he said. It sounded like one of the tires on my car. At least he didn’t call it a snaggletooth. Then I would have been like Snaggletooth, also known as Snagglepuss, the cartoon mountain lion ("Heavens to Murgatroyd!") on the old Yogi Bear TV show.

"The whole right side has moved forward," Murray continued. "This mesial shift is common in adults."

To straighten out this mess, Murray has embarked on an engineering job involving screws, springs, wires, brackets and anchor pins. It’s like a suspension bridge. The only thing missing is an E-ZPass lane.

When Murray showed me his drawing, which resembled either a football play or plans for a housing development, he said, "I have put braces on the upper right teeth from the second molar to the canine. Then I put a TAD, also called a temporary anchorage device, between the premolars and I distalized the second molar. The pin stabilizes the second molar and the first premolar. I retracted the first molar off the second molar and pushed the second molar back off the first premolar."

It all made perfect sense. The only glitch came when the pin, which was inserted in the outside of my gums, loosened due to hard brushing and wasn’t strong enough to anchor the wire pulling my teeth backward. So Murray ingeniously put another TAD in my palatal mucosa on the inside. It has worked like a charm.

Even though they are mostly hidden by my cheek, these aren’t your ordinary braces. Murray must keep adjusting them to move my teeth backward so there will be room to rotate the incisor to its original position. This should take a few more months, at which point I will be fitted with "invisible braces," which will cover all my teeth and straighten not only the incisor but the other crooked tooth, which is on the bottom in front. Or Row A, Seat 2 in your theater program.

In the meantime, I am going to start a campaign to nominate Murray for an International Architecture Award. The best way, of course, is by word of mouth.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Lip Shtick"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I may not be British, even though my favorite breakfast cereal is Cheerios, but for the past three decades, I have kept a stiff upper lip. Now, after all these years of hair-raising adventure, I am celebrating the 30th anniversary of my mustache.

I had never thought to grow one because mustaches are not common in my family. Two of the only relatives who ever had them were my Uncle Bill, who sported a dapper mustache, and my grandmother, who wasn’t dapper but had inner beauty and made a mean dish of spaghetti and meatballs.

Then, in 1979, I had surgery to correct a deviated septum, which in my case was like repairing the Lincoln Tunnel. For more than a week, I was wrapped in bandages and couldn’t shave. When the bandages came off, I had a mustache.

My wife liked the new look (anything was better than the old one), so I kept it.

Ever since, I have been told I look like Groucho Marx, who is dead and can’t sue me. In fact, I like to go out on Halloween dressed as Groucho so I can get candy and beer from startled neighbors. I also was once mistaken (by friends, co-workers and even my own mother) for the infamous Groucho Robber, who struck several banks in Stamford until his photo, showing him in a Groucho disguise, appeared on the front page of the paper. He was subsequently caught and I, saying the secret word ("innocent"), was exonerated.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I recently found out about the American Mustache Institute, a St. Louis-based advocacy organization that, according to its Web site (, is dedicated to "protecting the rights of, and fighting discrimination against, mustached Americans by promoting the growth, care and culture of the mustache."

"We are the ACLU of downtrodden mustached people," Dr. Aaron Perlut, the group’s chairman, told me over the phone, adding that AMI is "the only mustache think tank in the United States." Its slogan: "A mustache is a terrible thing to shave."

I quickly realized the immense value of the American Mustache Institute because, as I had long suspected, there is a lot of discrimination against mustached Americans. For example, the last U.S. president to wear a mustache was William Howard Taft, who left office in 1913. Perlut said that the last mustached major-party presidential candidate was Thomas E. Dewey, who did not, despite a famous newspaper headline, defeat Harry S. Truman in 1948.

Mustaches made a comeback in the 1970s, when, according to Perlut, "every man had three things: a mustache, a perm and a turtleneck." But lip hair suffered a big blow in 1981, when, said Perlut, two things happened: "Ronald Reagan became president and ushered in a clean-cut, corporate culture, leaving mustaches to the fields of nail technicianry, motorcycle repair and refuse disposal. And Walter Cronkite, who just died, God rest his soul, left the air. From that time on, it became unfashionable for TV newsmen to wear mustaches."

Now, however, mustaches are on the upswing. "When people like Brad Pitt and George Clooney grow them, it’s good for the movement," said Perlut. "And the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder has a mustache is very important to our way of life."

To keep the momentum going, AMI hosts the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award. This year’s contest had a field of 100, including 18 finalists, and drew almost 100,000 votes. The winner was Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada, who sports a handlebar mustache. He beat out the likes of hero pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. I voted for journalism’s only representative, hirsute humorist Bill Geist, whose neatly trimmed mustache gets plenty of face time on "CBS News Sunday Morning."

Perlut, who has a doctorate in international studies and, he said, "nuclear mustacheology," congratulated me on the 30th anniversary of my mustache.

"Since you represent our way of life so well," he said, "you should nominate yourself for next year’s Goulet Award. And if you win," Perlut added, presumably with a straight, mustached face, "it won’t be lip service."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima