Marion Whitley: T-shirts, flags and dental loyalties


Marion Whitley



Safe to say, most visitors to New York take at least a 'walk through' in Rockefeller Center if only to spot the Skating Rink, Radio Music Hall and the celebrated Christmas tree. It's a dental appointment, (22nd floor overlooking the Plaza) plus the Flags of the World that entice me in. Furling and unfurling as they do, I can identify only Japan's red sun, Israel's Star of David, and our own Stars and Stripes, front and center, where long may she wave! I sit to watch gaggles of tourists in their short shorts, flip flops and T-shirts that read "Madrid", "London Tech", "Hartford High", pausing briefly to frame their selfie smiles in the billowing flags. In days, (or even tonight) they'll be in line at a JFK departure gate headed home. But not me! If I were wearing a T-shirt, it would says "I Live Here!" {If I'm smug about it,. forgive me. It was a steady diet of McCalls Magazine stories that introduced me at a formative age to NYC's romantic vistas: The Brooklyn Bridge, picnics in Central Park (or on roof-tops(?) with sandwiches from a 'Delicatessen', (New word, not in my dictionary. I learned to spell it from McCalls. 


Native born, I'm not, but I'd wear my "I live here" T-shirt with pride among those from the other side of world. They've spent stacks of lira, yen and dollars to be here, and are having such fun they take no notice of an elegant visitor flowing by in a orange-red sari that spells 'India', head-to toe I watch her out of sight, then sense ... coming toward me, a small woman in sensible shoes and a cotton print housedress that's two sizes too big. No clue there to where she's from, but her obvious destination is the vacant space on the bench beside me. 


She sits and folds her hands on the clasp of the purse in her lap. From beneath my sun glasses I study the flowery print of the dress that hangs so loosely on her petite frame, telling me nothing of where she's from or why she's here. Dental appointment? I eye-pry into her purse and see a folded handkerchief, house keys on a beaded chain, a coin purse and a leatherette ID fold. There'd be a home address inside it, but my prying skills are limited. So we sit, somehow together, on the Rockefeller Plaza "Observers Bench."  


To speak or not to speak? Where she's from is not my business. I bite my lip and hold my tongue till I hear a voice I recognize as mine, "Looks like you and I are the only ones not out taking 'selfie' pictures this morning."  


"Pictures?" (She dove for her purse) Out came a phone my prying eyes had missed. "Oh, I already got a batch of pictures this morning. Here looky, from my son. He's down in Philly for my niece's birthday. See, that's her in the T-shirt with the candles on it. And that's my sister and her kids at the bus station. Came up for the party. He wanted me to go down with him, but I said 'Uh huh, you go, send pictures'." 


I couldn't stop myself. Out it came: "Ah, so are you from Philly?  


"Not me, I'm from here! 'Born and raised', as they say. 145th Street. There by the A Train." 


"Born and Raised? Born and Raised!" She'd out-ranked me by a ton! If my T-shirt had read, "I live here," hers would read "Born and Raised." The lady in the housedress needed no passport or visa fees for NYC, not even a ticket on a Trailways Bus. She's got the A Train, and with that phone, she qualifies as a member of the Selfie Set! I checked the time ... l0 minutes to go, but my 'smug' was deflated. I'd head up to the 22nd floor, wiping comeuppance off my face. "Gotta run," I said, "Dental appointment," nodding toward the building behind us. 


"Hee, me too", she said, nodding toward the one across the Plaza. "See, looky." She leaned toward me and pulled aside her lower lip revealing where a molar had recently been. "He just wanna check it out. Near 35 years I work over there at the Music Hall. Retired now, but I ain't givin' up my dentist. Uh uh!"  


"Good for you!" I tapped her wrist goodbye and turned toward my appointment, "So have a good ... uh, good check-up. And safe ride home." 


Upstairs, the hygienist and I were chatting by the window facing the Plaza when I saw her. "Oh look, I was just talking to that lady ... that one, walking away, in the housedress. Said she had a dental appointment too. Somewhere over there. 


"On the eighteenth floor?" 


"I don' know ... she didn't say. Should she have?" 


"I'll let the doctor explain ..." 


It was ... Back in 1930 (?) when the Philanthropist John D. Rockefeller was knee-deep in up-grading a giant swathe of midtown Manhattan, there came an "Ooops" moment. Clearing the way for his grand new buildings called for razing some old ones, including the office of his personal dentist! 


Having high regard and loyalty to his dentist as we all do, accommodations were called for, and they were generous. There, flanking the Plaza that bears his name, two of the new buildings were redesigned, equipped, a full floor each, for the pursuit and practice of modern dentistry. Along with dental offices, there'd be labs for all the molding, fitting, matching, and grinding, but you don't know it. {It's floor 18 over there ... you can tell by how the windows align.) In either, you step from the elevator, toothache in tow, into a serene corridor with nary a sound of a whirring drill or a consequent OUCH! 


(Let's hope this squared the matter with the dentist in question ... otherwise he's still shopping around since the 1930s for temporary office space.) 


Hereby dedicated with gratitude to dentists I have known, Dr. Key, Caledonia; Drs. Stepp and Griffin, Columbus; and Dr. Rausch, NYC, (my source for the historical note.) 


Marion Whitley lives in Manhattan where she reads, writes and remembers. Her email address is [email protected]



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