Sunday, October 29, 2023

"Think Pink and Smile"

By Jerry Zezima

I have to brace myself for this, but when it comes to straight teeth and beautiful smiles, my granddaughter and I are bridging generations by wearing braces.

Of course, my granddaughter’s smile is much more beautiful than mine, but she recently got metal braces — with pink rubber bands! — to correct an overbite.

At 10 years old, she is proud of her new look, which she will have for a couple of years, and has accepted the fact that she can’t eat certain foods because they would stick to her braces.

At nearly 70 years old, I am proud of my old look because I still have all my teeth, even though my invisible braces don’t come with pink rubber bands.

My braces aren’t really invisible — how would I find them? — and I wear them only at night, which means I can eat anything I want, even sticky foods, just as long as I brush my teeth before bed.

Actually, the braces are clear plastic retainers, which makes me sound like a lawyer who takes credit cards.

I didn’t wear metal braces when I was a kid, which was good because I was afraid of being hit in the mouth by flying refrigerator magnets.

But over the years, two of my pearly whites  — one on the top, one on the bottom — had rotated more than the tires on my car.

In 2007, I went to the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine on Long Island, New York, to straighten out the problem.

The first part of the treatment involved getting metal braces on the back of my right upper teeth. Fortunately, nobody could see the braces, which looked like a short stretch of railroad track, but they pulled the teeth back to allow room for the crooked lateral incisor to be rotated to its original position.

Once that was done, I got invisible braces known as Invisalign, which turned around both of my snaggleteeth, including the lower central incisor, and gave me a Hollywood smile. I am hoping to star in a remake of “The Invisible Man.”

For the past few years, after I stopped wearing the invisible braces full time, I have worn the retainers at night. And I return to Stony Brook for an annual checkup.

That’s what I did recently, when I met Dr. Heather Ercolano, a third-year resident at the dental school.

“Did you have braces when you were a kid?” I asked Dr. Heather, as she prefers to be called.

“Yes,” she answered. “They were the metal kind. I was in fifth grade, so I was 10 years old.”

“My granddaughter is the same age and she just got metal braces,” I said. “How long did you wear yours?”

“For two years,” Dr. Heather replied.

“That’s how long my granddaughter has to wear hers,” I said. “She also has pink rubber bands. Could I get them for my retainers?”

“They would probably slide off,” said Dr. Heather, who asked me to snap on my retainers. “They fit fine,” she noted. “And they’re doing their job.”

“I keep them clean by brushing them with dishwashing liquid,” I said. “Of course, I take them out first.”

“The soap wouldn’t taste good,” said Dr. Heather.

“Am I your oldest patient?” I wondered.

“No,” she said. “The person with the next appointment is 74. We have quite a few patients in their 70s.”

“Do they still have all their teeth?” I asked.

“Not everyone,” Dr. Heather said. “But you have all of yours and they’re looking great.”

“Even without colorful rubber bands?” I said.

“If your granddaughter has extras, she could give them to you,” Dr. Heather said. “But it’s best just to wear your retainers.”

“Too bad,” I said. “I was hoping she could say that her grandfather is pretty in pink.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 22, 2023

"How Do You Like Them Apples?"

By Jerry Zezima

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but if I keep eating apples every day, I’ll need a doctor because I am full of apples right up to my — you guessed it — Adam’s apple.

I have been consuming the fruits of my labors since my wife, Sue, and I went apple picking and carted home a bag full of apples, 42 in all, that I am eating every day in some form or another.

I have an apple — Gala, Delicious, Macoun or Granny Smith, all from the orchard — for dessert at lunch. I also consume a bowl of the apple crisp that Sue made for dessert at dinner. And she just made an apple-cinnamon bread pudding for when the apple crisp is finally finished.

In our house, apples are like the biblical tale of the loaves and the fishes: Eat one and two more appear.

You’ve heard of Johnny Appleseed. I’m his cousin twice removed, Jerry Applehead.

Actually, I love apples. And I like to go apple picking, which we do every year. Last year, I was hit in the eye by an apple that fell from a high perch and could have blinded me. I wasn’t hurt, but I ended up being the apple of my own eye.

This year, I wasn’t subjected to an apple attack, though I came perilously close to rupturing a vital organ while lugging a heavy bag of juicy, ripe fruit around the orchard. And the circulation in my fingers was nearly cut off while holding the bag by the handles.

But that didn’t stop me from sampling apples — for sustenance, of course — while traipsing among the trees and trying to avoid the hordes of other people who had the same idea.

Apple picking is a family tradition that dates back to when our two daughters were kids. And it has continued with their kids, who love adding apples to my bag or my basket, which is even harder to lug around, and watching the top ones fall out and roll away. Sometimes I step on them and create instant applesauce, one of the many fine recipes that can be created when the apple pickers get home.

Others include apple pie, apple cookies, apple muffins, apple cobbler, apple bread, apple strudel, apple tart, apple fritters, apple rolls, apple betty, apple galette, apple dumplings, apple scones, apple pancakes, apple butter, apple chips, baked apples, candied apples and apple sausage, which Sue just made for dinner, although she bought it at a store.

It’s enough to make you want to have a good stiff drink of applejack.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention other pick-them-yourself fruits, which include strawberries, peaches and, the autumn favorite, pumpkins.

Farm stands invariably have road signs that proclaim: “Pick your own.” I have been tempted to get out of the car and, in bold letters, write: “Nose.”

Sue always stops me.

A couple of years ago, I met the Strawberry Whisperer, a woman with a large personalized basket, festooned with drawings of strawberries, into which she put a mound of berries the size of bocce balls.

The ones I picked, which I plunked into a pathetic little basket provided by the farm, looked like glorified raisins.

“You have to pick from underneath,” she advised me. “The big ripe ones like to hide.”

I didn’t blame them.

Pumpkins are more practical because you need only one, although you will have to carry it about half a mile to your car. Once you get home and put it by the front door, the squirrels will eat it.

Of course, you can always grab a steak knife and risk severing a major artery while carving a scary face in the pumpkin for Halloween. If you put a candle inside, it will illuminate the blood stains.

But for now, we have all those apples to finish. I may have to call a doctor after all.

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 15, 2023

"The Buzz on Beeps"

By Jerry Zezima

If left to my own devices — the phone, the computer, the washing machine, the dryer, the dishwasher, the house alarm, the microwave, the doorbell camera and even Alexa, the digital voice assistant — I would run them all over with my car because they won’t stop beeping.

But then the car would start beeping and I would have to abandon the idea of silencing my inanimate tormenters and simply surrender to their incessant electronic nagging.

That’s what I did when my cellphone erupted in a brief burst of beeping during the recent test of the Emergency Alert System.

Like millions of other Americans, I was warned about the test and worried it would be so maddening that I would be unable to call for help because, of course, the phone was beeping.

That it wasn’t so bad meant I have accepted the sad fact that I am being bombarded daily with beeps, buzzes, rings, dings and other annoying noises.

Not a moment goes by that some device or appliance doesn’t go off.

The phone is worst offender. I am now convinced that Alexander Graham Bell should have been arrested for disturbing the peace and incarcerated in a cell with, yes, a cellphone that beeped and dinged so much that he had to call his assistant, Thomas Watson, and cry, “Watson, come here, I want you to make it stop!”

To which Watson would reply, “Text me.”

And then hang up.

Bell would be both amazed and distressed by the fact that his invention is seldom used for talking anymore. If you want to call someone, you have to send a text, which entails typing a message. This happens so often that humans will soon be extinct because our opposable thumbs, the reason for our advanced development, will fall off.

At least we will no longer be subjected to our phones dinging with texts or beeping with irritating ringtones.

For now, however, we have to endure the seemingly endless auditory intrusions. And putting the phone on “silent mode” does little to alleviate the problem because you can still hear it vibrate, which makes the whole thing a mute point.

But the phone isn’t the only guilty party. Our washing machine plays a little jingle when the laundry is done. Here it is: “Doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-dooooo!”

And that’s just the first part. After the second part, there is a pause, followed by the grand finale: “DOO-DOO-DOO!”

Not to be outdone, the dryer regales us with an electronic song I call “Dryer Beware,” because it goes off when I am watching TV and am tempted to stomp into the laundry room and kick the stupid thing to death.

The dishwasher is no better. It beeps when you turn it on and plays its own song when the dishes are done. It also beeps if you accidentally lean against it. This happens even when it’s not running.

Then there is the car. It beeps until I have put on my seatbelt. It beeps when I back up. It beeps when something — a car, a bird, a falling leaf — is approaching. It beeps when my left front tire goes exactly one millimeter onto a road stripe while I am changing lanes. It beeps when I turn off the car. And it beeps when I lock the vehicle. If I don’t, it will beep. Then it will beep again when I get back in the car and start the whole routine over again.

I would drive the car off a cliff, but: (a) there are no cliffs where I live and (b) I would be in it.

Other machines and gadgets have added to the relentless assault. The only answer is to set fire to the house and destroy them all. With my luck, the smoke alarm will be the only device that doesn’t work.

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, October 8, 2023

"Off-the-Cuff Remarks"

By Jerry Zezima

If you need a shoulder to cry on, don’t blubber all over mine. I’m crying on my own shoulder these days because I have an injured rotator cuff.

This means, unfortunately, that I won’t be able to pitch in the major leagues or make game-winning shots in the NBA.

My mother once tore her rotator cuff in a fall down the stairs and couldn’t play in our family Wiffle ball league, where she was an ace hurler who set a record for strikeouts, mostly against me.

And my rotator-cuff issue will prevent me from taking on LeBron James because I can’t even make three-pointers when I try to shoot napkin balls into the garbage can in the kitchen.

“You missed,” my wife, Sue, often huffs as she picks them up.

“No, I didn’t,” I respond feebly. “I was aiming for the floor.”

But it’s no use. My sports career, which was just getting started even though I am almost 70 years old, is over.

That’s what my doctor suggested when I went for a routine examination and complained about the pain in my right shoulder.

“It’s your rotator cuff,” he said after asking me to raise my sore arm above my empty head. “I don’t know if it’s torn, but I suspect it’s calcified.”

“I thought the only thing in my body that’s calcified is my brain,” I said.

“That would be a bigger problem,” the doctor said. “But you need to go for physical therapy.”

I made an appointment at a rehabilitation center and saw Danielle Bifolco, an excellent and personable physical therapist who asked how I injured my rotator cuff.

“Either bench-pressing my grandchildren or doing 12-ounce curls,” I replied.

Danielle asked me to sit in a chair and look directly at her.

“Your posture could be better,” she informed me. “You’re a little off.”

“I’ve been off for years,” I confessed.

“You’re tilted a bit,” she said.

“Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa?” I wondered.

“And you’re stiff,” Danielle added as she checked out my upper torso.

“This is more serious than I thought,” I said. “I hope rigor mortis isn’t setting in.”

“I don’t think so,” said Danielle, who asked me to turn my head.

I winced and said, “I’m a pain in my own neck.”

“Lift your left arm,” Danielle instructed.

“It feels OK,” I said.

“Now lift your right arm,” she said.

“Ouch!” I shrieked.

“Are you right-handed?” Danielle asked.

“I’m ambidextrous,” I told her. “Incompetent with both hands.”

After putting me through more routines — pushing out, up and down against her hands, reaching down to touch my upper spine with each hand and reaching up with each hand to touch the middle of my back, all of which sent lightning bolts through my right shoulder — Danielle said, “I think your infraspinatus muscle is irritated.”

She explained that the infraspinatus is one of the four muscles of the rotator cuff.

“Its function is to rotate the humerus,” Danielle said.

“There’s nothing humorous about it,” I replied.

“I am going to put you on a home exercise program,” she said.

The first exercise entailed standing in a doorway and, using a folded towel as a cushion, pushing my right arm against the frame.

“You’ve got me in a jamb,” I noted.

Danielle smiled and said, “You could do it against a wall, too.”

“I’m off the wall,” I told her. “Will it still work?”

“With you, I don’t know,” said Danielle, who gave me a printout of the exercises, which included the isometric internal rotation, isometric external rotation and isometric abduction. Each set should be done for 10 seconds and repeated 10 times. The exercises should be performed four times a week.

“They will help strengthen your rotator cuff,” Danielle said. “Just be careful when you bench-press your grandchildren. And enjoy the 12-ounce curls.”

Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima