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Two East Village Dentists, and Their Views on Women

dentistPainting by Lucian Bernhard

Dentists are always memorable. Anyone who gets paid to poke around in your mouth is bound to be.

I have had two dentists in the East Village. The first was a man from the Indian state of Gujarat who chewed obsessively on the carcinogenic Indian palate-cleanser known as paan. I will call him “Dr. V.” He is gone now, put out of business after his landlord doubled the rent on his miniscule store-front clinic in Alphabet City. This was a minor tragedy for the neighborhood, for if you had a rotten tooth and no insurance – even no money – Dr. V was your go-to guy.

Dr. V had learned dentistry in India under what he called “the British system,” which he held in high regard, although his feelings about the British themselves were mixed. He was a man of small, delicate stature, about 60 years of age, and had lots of opinions and was keen to share them.

Most of the time, a dentist is someone to whom, by definition, you can only listen, not speak – your side of the conversation being confined to gagging sounds that you hope will not involve drooling. So it helps if the dentist is entertaining. (I did once have an East Village dentist – only briefly, thank God – who talked about nothing but the minutiae of politics in Albany. That was truly abysmal.)

Dr. V.’s conversational canvas was large, and he would lay down the law on every subject imaginable. But I felt he cared about me. He always gave me advice, seemed to look into my mind and soul as much as my mouth, and often he made me laugh – if not always on purpose. Read more…

A $10 Interview

Kevin by Brendan BernhardBrendan BernhardKevin.

We met because he needed money, and I happened to be standing on Avenue A in bright, windy sunshine looking like someone who had more of it than he did. Not that he looked poor exactly. He was wearing a nifty white hat, a clean New York Jets shirt, and blue jeans. He was a tall, good-looking black man with a friendly smile and what appeared to be a positive attitude. Before handing over a buck, I asked him why he couldn’t find a job.

“Five felonies” was his crisp reply. It sounded like a movie title. One of the five, he said, involved a cut throat, but it was an “accident.” He’d served time (several times), had stayed out of jail since 2005, and had no plans on returning. We talked about this and that for a minute or so and then parted ways.

An hour later I ran into him again. He was walking down St. Marks Place. He looked cheerful and greeted me like a long lost friend. I’d already told him I was a journalist and so we decided to stop at a kebab house on First Avenue for a brief interview. Of course there was a price: We settled on $10. Since I refused to pay extra for food, he purchased a minute salad from the self-service counter, which left him with $8.81.

I quickly jotted down some basics. Name: Kevin. Age: 40. Birthplace: Yonkers. Mother a cleaning lady, father an alcoholic. It turned out Kevin did have a job of sorts: Selling roses on the street, mostly in SoHo. But since he also had five felonies on his record, and was panhandling, I cut to the chase.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Women, drugs, and alcohol.”

“What’s your problem with women?”

“I never had a problem with women. I make a problem. I don’t trust ‘em.”
Read more…