By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
In one of my favorite Three Stooges shorts, the boys are dentists. When their first patient comes in, Shemp puts on a pair of Coke bottle glasses that render him practically sightless. Then he pries open the hapless man’s mouth, grabs a pair of pliers and, while Moe reads instructions from a book titled “Carpentry Made Easy,” proceeds to extract a tooth in a painfully funny scene that makes me glad I don’t have a dentist like that.
So you can imagine how I felt recently when I walked into my new dentist’s office for my initial appointment and saw, on the TV in the waiting area, an episode of — you guessed it — the Three Stooges.
“They are my heroes,” said Dr. Anthony Fazio, who was not, thank God, wielding pliers, a hammer or any other tool the Stooges might have used to treat a patient on his very first visit.
“I save those for subsequent visits,” added Dr. Fazio, who doesn’t need to use laughing gas because his delightfully skewed sense of humor puts patients at ease and actually makes it fun to go to the dentist.
Dr. Fazio, who wears glasses (“Where are you?” he joked after I had settled into the chair), has been clowning with patients since he opened his practice in Medford, New York, in 1998.
“I took over from Dr. William J. Tinkler, who’s 88 and is a funny guy himself,” said Dr. Fazio, adding that Dr. Tinkler was his dental school teacher at Stony Brook University, where Dr. Fazio now teaches. “We put on a show every year at the school and Dr. Tinkler gets up and tells jokes. He’s another one of my heroes.”
Dr. Fazio, 46, is married to Dr. Lynn Travis, herself a Stony Brook dental school graduate.
“We put down roots in the community,” he deadpanned.
“You know the drill,” I responded.
“You shouldn’t have said that,” countered Dr. Fazio, who, fortunately for me, didn’t need to use one.
But he did need to regale me with stories of his dental adventures, such as the one he called “The Ventriloquist and His Wife.”
“The patient was this very stately gentleman,” Dr. Fazio recalled. “I asked him what I could do for him and, without missing a beat, his wife said, ‘He hates his teeth and needs new dentures.’ I asked the man what he didn’t like about them and his wife said, ‘He doesn’t like the color. And he can’t chew with them.’ Whatever I asked the man, his wife answered. Then I said to him, ‘That’s amazing.’ He was puzzled. I said, ‘You are the best ventriloquist I’ve ever seen.’ There was a hint of a smile on his face.
“I priced a new set of dentures at $2,000. Then I asked the wife if she would be in the room during the treatment and she said, ‘Of course.’ So I said in that case, the dentures would be $4,000. I said, ‘If I have to talk with your husband and you, it will cost double.’ She got huffy and said, ‘I never!’ On the way out, her husband said to me, ‘Have a nice day.’ It was the only time I heard him speak.”
Then there was the young woman who practically did a burlesque routine in the office.
“She was very attractive,” Dr. Fazio said. “I had to check out her occlusion, so I took a piece of typing paper, placed it between her teeth and said, ‘Would you please grind for me?’ She started to gyrate in the chair. I said, ‘No, no, no! I meant that you should grind your teeth from side to side.’ She started to laugh and said, ‘Sorry, I thought it was an odd request, but you’re kind of cute and I figured, what the hell, why not?’ She’s still one of my best patients.”
I could never compete with her, but Dr. Fazio said I’m now a good patient, too.
“You’re memorable,” he noted.
Maybe it’s because I share his appreciation for old movies, posters for which fill the walls. One of the films is “Dial M for Murder.”
“The M doesn’t also stand for molar, does it?” I asked tremulously.
“No,” Dr. Fazio said after hygienist Margaret Skladanek had done a terrific job of cleaning my teeth and office manager Lisa Rugen had set up my next appointment. “But it could stand for Moe.”
As I left the office, the Three Stooges were still on.
“At least you don’t have any carpentry books in here,” I said.
“I’ll get one in time for your next visit,” Dr. Fazio replied. “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”
Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima