by Raanan Geberer
“When you begin/Begin the beguine/It brings back the night/of tropical splendor….”
Dr. Pearlstein sang as he looked into Rob’s mouth and started poking around, the curbed probe in one hand, the tiny mirror in the other. Ever since Rob had moved to Brooklyn last year, in 1987, his father had tried to get him to see Dr. Pearlstein as a dentist because Dr. Pearlstein was a cousin and had grown up with his father in the old immigrant East Bronx, and finally, here he was. Dr. Pearlstein’s office was on the second floor of a rundown two-story building on a nondescript commercial street in Bensonhurst whose only redeeming feature was the Italian bakery next door. You walked down a long, narrow hallway to get to Dr. Pearlstein’s office.
“A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H/ I got a gal in Kalamazoo/Don’t want to boast but I know she’s the toast/of Kalamazoo…”
Rob had never heard of a singing dentist before. Not only does he sing, he thought, but he seems to sing only the songs of his own era, which would be the late 1930s and early ’40s. It’s incredible that this guy is still practicing, he thought. He must be in his late 60s, past retirement age. He idly glanced at the wall – here was a diploma from “New York University Dental School, June 1949.” Probably went to dental school on the G.I. Bill, he thought. Suddenly, he became alarmed when Dr. Pearlstein picked up a drill.
“What are you doing with that drill? Aren’t you going to give me an anesthetic or an injection?”
“Well, the X-rays show that the cavity is very small and very near the surface, so we don’t need it. Open your mouth—you’re so good, you’re the best, you’re the champ. Here it comes. I’m not lazy!”
`I got spurs that jingle jangle jingle/As we go merrily along/And they say, ain’cha glad you’re single/And that song it ain’t too far from wrong ’ …You’re doing great! Don’t worry about anything. I’m the master! ` He was a famous trumpet man around Chicago way/He had a boogie style that no one else could play’ …You’re so good! Okay, rinse out your mouth!”
Rob bent over, grabbed a paper cup and rinsed his mouth. He watched the blood going down the drain. He had hardly felt anything. “There! That wasn’t so hard, was it? ” Dr. Pearlstein asked. “I’m gonna do the filling now! You know, your father did some amazing, heroic things! Like the time he ran into the battlefield and carried the wounded lieutenant on his back to safety! They were gonna give him a medal for that, but, you know how it is!”
Rob had never heard that story before. Then again, his father rarely talked about his past. “Did you know my father’s brother?” he asked the dentist.
“Sure I knew him!” Dr. Pearlstein answered. “I remember when he left for Palestine in ‘47! He was promoted to major in the Haganah, the first major in the new Jewish army, and the next day, he gets killed in the fighting in Jerusalem. And he didn’t even have to be there–they wanted him in intelligence, but he had to be on the front lines. What are you gonna do?”
Rob was going to ask another question when….
“Okay, we’re gonna put in the filling material next. Here it comes! Stay still! I’m not lazy! Moon over Miami/Shine on as we begin/A dream or two that may come true/As the tide comes in…….’ Okay, just a little bit more. Just stay still. You’re the best! … Bor’chu es adonai hamvoroch/Boruch atoh adonoi hamvoroch leolom voed/Boruch atoh adonoi/Eloheynoo melech ha’olam... OK, we’re done here, kid!”
“I heard you singing that Hebrew brocho, ” Rob said, referring to the blessing over the Torah that Dr. Pearlstein had just intoned. “Wouldn’t those Hasidim I saw in the waiting room object if you sang that when they were here?”
“Fuhgedaboutit!” Dr. Pearlstein responded, cheery as ever. “Don’t worry about them. They got nothin’ to say! OK, see you next time?”
“What should I pay?”
“Don’t pay anything! ’Cause you’re a relative, I’ll fix the insurance form so the price will be very high, so what they give me will cover what you should pay!”
“You don’t have a secretary?”
“Naah! I used to have a secretary, but if I did now, I’d have to charge you guys more! OK, kid! Give my regards to your father…..NEXT!!!”Raanan Geberer is the longtime managing editor of the Brooklyn Eagle and a frequent contributor to the Cooperator, a magazine for condo and co-op board members and managers. He grew up in the Bronx, went to the Bronx High School of Science, then to SUNY Binghamton and Boston University. At the time this short story represents (1987-88) he lived in the Kings Highway area, but subsequently married the former Rhea Lewin and moved to Manhattan. His hobbies include working out at the gym, gardening and playing rock music with friends. He’s also a lifelong railfan