Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reading the Wizard

OK, now my life is getting a little surreal.


A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a colleague at the bank where I work 20 hours a week when the discussion drifted, as it sometimes does, to our reading preferences. Somewhere in all of this she mentioned that as a child one of her alltime favorite books (and still is to this day, I presume) was L. Frank Baum's classic American fairy tale "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

"Ah, yes, of course," I replied, trying to be serious while mentally snickering at her. The Wizard of Oz. No wonder. The original chick book. Chick heroine. Four chick witches. Everywhere a chick chick. The male figures, meanwhile, are heartless (Tin Woodman), cowardly (The Lion), foolish (The Scarecrow) and humbugs (The Wizard himself). The chicks are in control.

I mean, geez, I'd seen the movie about a bazillion times (The flying monkeys really disturbed me). Fat chance I'd ever read the book, or ever feel compelled to do so.

Then surreality took over. Kim and I went to the library the other day and started looking for the Wonderful Wizard. We went to the fiction section and looked under "B" for Baum, but it wasn't there. Kim then wisely went to the library computer and discovered that the book is actually shelved in the Juvenile department.


I quickly turned myself invisible, Oz-like, and went to the kids' room, where I found the book, took it to the desk and had it time stamped. I'm 62 years old and I'm checking books out from the Juvenile section.

But I took the book home and promptly read it all nonstop. Just as I was with "To Kill a Mockingbird," I was dutifully amazed. Sure, the book is geared to a children's audience, but there's adult value to be found, too. Read this bit by the Tin Woodman, who was once flesh and blood, and in love, but became a man of tin through misdeeds contrived by the malevolent Wicked Witch of the East:

"... I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart. While I was in love I was the happiest man on earth; but no one can love who has not a heart, and so I am resolved to ask Oz to give me one. If he does, I will go back to my Munchkin maiden and marry her."

That's pretty heady stuff, I think, for a child's bedtime story. Or maybe not. The whole time I was reading this book I tried to keep in mind that it was copyrighted in 1899 and what were American society's sensibilities back then? Not too different than now, I suspect.

I was a little surprised, too, that the 1939 movie with Judy Garland was relatively faithful to the book, although there were some obvious differences (44 differences by a Wikipedia count): Dorothy's slippers are silver in the book, not ruby; the flying monkeys, under a three-wish obligation to the owner of the Golden Cap, eventually help Dorothy; and entire adventures with people made of china (not Chinese) and the armless Hammer-Heads do not make the film.

But like Atticus Finch could only be acted by Gregory Peck, Dorothy can only be portrayed by Judy Garland. That, too, is part of our American DNA.

Baum was able to turn the success of Oz into a franchise of 14 full-length books. The one I read, incidentally, was beautifully illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, who apparently illustrated many children's books at the turn into the last century.

I'm glad I was able to check this off my reading bucket list. Now I can get to the more advanced stuff — I also checked out Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tying up loose ends

Just a couple of things:

• Last week I went to the dentist for a little tooth repair.

In a previous blog I'd noted that not only had a filling in one of my molars fallen out, but a crown from another tooth had come off, all within two days of each other. Totally unrelated oral incidents.

Turns out, the tooth that lost its crown was a lower canine (I guess). It was a simple procedure to have it reset. My dentist, Dr. Sim Siceloff, cleaned off the recovered cap (that, thankfully, I did not swallow when it came off) and put it back on the remains of a canaled tooth from decades ago.

To do so, he used a small mallet to rap the crown back into place.

Not pleasant, but bearable.

When he was done, I asked him, "With all the advances in modern dentistry, it still basically comes down to hammers, drills and pliers, doesn't it?"

After some hesitation, possibly considering that all his years in dental school and recertification seminars have boiled down to this simple logic, he reluctantly agreed.

I go back March 11, incidentally, to have that pesky upper molar crowned.

• I was watching several college basketball games Saturday, and more than once, I heard the commentators declare "that was a good no-call by the ref there."

That got me to thinking. I know what they meant, that the official restrained himself from blowing his whistle on what could have been a ticky-tack foul ("Hey, ref, let 'em play!"). But doesn't the term "no-call" imply that the ref actually did see a foul and that he just let it go?

Why can't a state trooper do that?

And the other thing I wonder about is fouls and penalties that are not called in the fading seconds of tight games, the rationale being "let the players decide the game."

These must be unwritten rules that are simply understood.

Hmm. Just saying.

• We had a little bit of snow again on Saturday, the third time this year (by my count) that snow has fallen but hasn't really stuck.

That must be driving the kids nuts.

Careful what you wish for. I spent a winter in Portsmouth, NH, back in 1959. That one winter saw a snowfall that brought drifts to the second story of our three-story duplex. Yeah, it was Kid Heaven — we built snow forts and tunnels everywhere — but, man, that's a lot of snow.

And we still had school a day or two later.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mental gentle dental

Apparently, I've got to stop eating bagels.

This past Monday, I was enjoying a bagel and cream cheese with my coffee at the Black Chicken when, out of nowhere, my bagel started crunching with each chew.

Not normal.

I was sitting at a table with my friends, so I wasn't about to reach into my mouth full of food to see what was happening. I assumed the worst and figured a filling from an upper back left molar had broken off. So I made an appointment on Tuesday with Dr. Sim Siceloff, my dentist for more than 20 years.

Siceloff confirmed my suspicion that a partial filling had broken off and I had two options: either get the tooth crowned, or have the remaining sharp edges filed down and wait and see. There was no pain in the tooth — no sensitivity to hot or cold — so I opted for the filing, since my dental insurance vanished with my retirement from The Dispatch.

The next day, while at my part-time job, I was enjoying a pack of crackers from the vending machine when, unexpectedly, I bit down on something hard.

Yep. The entire filling had fallen out of that tooth.

So it was back to Siceloff on Wednesday. When he customarily went to shake my hand, I dropped the filling — which I kept for this moment — into his proffered open palm. "Same tooth?" he asked looking at it. "Yep," I replied. We both sighed.

He took another look in my mouth. "Crown," he said, and I nodded.

So I made another appointment — my third in a week — for this coming Tuesday to have some crown work done. Oh, yeah. Tuesday's my birthday. Shots. Drills. Braces. Sharp pokey instruments in my numbed mouth. Happy birthday to me.

The odd thing about this is that through it all, my tooth has not bothered me one bit (no pun there). No pain at all. Siceloff said that as we age the nerve endings may become insensitive with the passing of time. So I guess there are some benefits to getting older.

And this makes sense to me because when we were taking care of Kim's elderly father, and he kept falling, we were told it was in part because as we get older, the nerves in our extremities — fingers and toes — become less sensitive to contact. It's why older people are more likely to take careful baby steps when they walk to guard against tumbles. In essence, the older we get, the less contact we make with the planet.

I see that on a mental level all the time. But apparently it can also be physical.

Anyway, on Saturday, I was enjoying another bagel with cream cheese when, oh no. You guessed it. Another object fell out of my mandible.

Table etiquette be damned, this time I reached into my bagel filled mouth and pulled out  — an entire crown!

Are you kidding me? Nope, it was true. It was confirmed by my tablemates as we grossly passed the crown around for a look-see. "It's a crown," they said.

I haven't talked with Siceloff since this latest event. I'm waiting until Tuesday when I walk into his office and he offers to shake my hand. I've got something for him.

I think this crown came from the molar next to the one that has given me trouble. So let me get this straight: I've had the back upper left wisdom tooth removed years ago; now the molar next to that has lost its filling, and apparently, the molar next to that has lost its crown.

It seems my body is finally rejecting my dental work. It also means I'm down to 28 usable teeth now. I'm fading fast.

I guess I better stop eating bagels.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

This is Super

Somehow, today has become a tradition for us.

Super Bowl Sunday.

And the tradition goes like this: sometime around 2 p.m., my wife Kim dusts off the crock pot, throws in several cans of beans — at least five different varieties of beans, if you must know — along with some ground turkey, chili pepper, crushed tomatoes and maybe one or two other items I probably don't know about, and then sets the pot on simmer.

Then, if she hasn't already done it the night before, she makes a sinfully simple chocolate mousse that she puts in elegant champagne glasses.

In the meantime, I'm lounging on the sofa watching all the pregame stuff.

All this would be tradition enough, but about six years ago, I invited my friend Donnie Roberts to come join us. I don't remember what sparked the invitation in the first place. A few years earlier, I think, we invited some friends over and about eight of us crammed ourselves into our 20 X 20 mini-den to watch the Super Bowl. I ended up sitting cross-legged on the floor because we had no more chairs, and no more room to put one down even if we did find an extra chair.

That was the year, I believe, of the infamous wardrobe malfunction. That was also the year, I think, that our cat Mosey jumped up on the dining room table in the next room and started lapping at the football-shaped cheese ball Kim had prepared. Mosey must have gone at it for at least five minutes before anyone noticed. She was almost up to the laces.

So the annual tradition of having a group chili party at the Wehrle house didn't last but one year after that Super Bowl.

Anyway, we've had Donnie over for the past five Super Bowls or so, deciding maybe just one guest was the way for us to go. Donnie is an exceptionally talented photographer for The Dispatch who has been with the paper for more than 20 years, winning a truckload of awards for his art and his craft. I've known him for his entire Dispatch career, of course, since that is where I worked for 30 years.

A few summers ago, we'd play golf once a week until his rotator cuff or something knocked him out of the game.

Anyway, we're slightly changing the tradition this time around. We're going to his place. He recently began renting a nice house and he's got an HDTV, something that I don't have. So we're moving the party. Kim will still make her five-bean chili and silky mousse, but we're going to transport it to Donnie's just before kickoff, where he'll be waiting for us with a variety of micro brews of his selection.

My prediction for the game? My brain says the 49ers, although my heart says the Ravens.

But I'm pretty sure the chili will be gone in no time.