• Kevin O'Keefe

Open

Updated: Jan 25, 2019


When I was ten years old I decided to become a dentist - just like

Dr. Fuerbach. All seven of us kids went to him twice a year,

despite my father’s questionable protestations:

“Do your teeth hurt?”

“No.”

“Then why are you going to the dentist?”

“Hmmm, because Mom said I have to, and cavities are bad.”

I loved Dr. Fuerbach. Still do. He was one of the few adults

in my life who was truly interested in me. Whatever time of the

year I saw him he would have a question or comment to ease me

into the chair. Such as, “Looking forward to baseball season

coming up?” or “I saw that tackle you made in the game on

Saturday - that was some hit.”

I read on the wall of his office that Dr. Fuerbach went to

Notre Dame and University of Pennsylvania. No surprise, those

were the two schools I favored for my upcoming career choice. It

wasn’t the practice of peering into peoples’ mouths and tinkering

with braces all day that fascinated the ten year old I was. It was

playing with that octopus of cool tools. Squirting water, sucking

away spit, buffing each tooth with a pink paste that smelled like

bubble gum and had the texture of liquid sandpaper, shining a

light into some patient’s mouth - kind of like they did in detective

movies - “Where were you on the night of the 17th?” Pointing the

X-ray gun against someone’s jaw and saying, “Hold.” Plus, I

would get to wear a white lab coat with my name written on it, in

blue script, and hold X-rays up to the fluorescent light and keep

my hands really clean and fingernails trim.

Dr. Fuerbach wore cool glasses. They were black on top and

clear below. I would say they were retro, you know like, from the

1960’s, but then I did some quick math and recalled that this was

in 1968.

Dr. Fuerbach’s oldest son–John was the other outstanding

athlete in our town. I had dinner with him a few months ago. We

hadn’t seen each other in thirty years. When I spotted him at the

bar where we’d agreed to meet, my first thought and the thing I

said to him was, “My God John, you look just like your dad.” I

didn’t realize it until halfway through my fish tacos, but John and I

were like brothers. I competed against him my entire childhood,

always measuring our respective athletic achievements.

Throughout my childhood I would keep a running tally in my head:

John was better than me at hockey, I was better than him at

basketball, he was better than me at baseball. I was better than

him at football. I was a better tennis player, he better at

swimming.

Dr. Fuerbach was a good athlete himself and wasn’t above

throwing out batting practice to us on the sandlot. One memorable

incident was when he repeatedly questioned the bad calls of the

referee in our football game and it turned into a fist fight. Who

knew a dentist could have such fiery passion?

I ran into Dr. Fuerbach recently on the street in Larchmont.

He’s about 80 years old now, but still spry and athletic. He retired

and sold his dental practice to another kid I went to school with–

Chico Mendes, although I think he goes by James now. I was

almost crying when I spoke to Dr. Fuerbach. I told him how much

he meant to me, that he was my secret mentor, that I even

dreamed of being a dentist because of him.

He told me to call him John.

I said, “OK, Dr. Fuerbach.”

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