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Brace Yourself, It’s Into the Mailstrom Again

Matters of life and death and dentistry have been on the minds of readers lately.

Consider a defiant tobacco user by the name of Annice Reskin. She was left smokin’ mad by a column about Congressman Henry Waxman’s crusade against nicotine dealers. “I am 77, have been smoking since I was 16 and am in very good health,” she declared. But more about that later.

Then came a communique from capital punishment fan Roland McGhie. He worried that convicted murderer Glen Edward Rogers might end up “playing golf with O.J.” if Los Angeles prosecutors succeed in extraditing the accused serial killer from Florida to stand trial for murder here. But more about that later, too.

First, let’s ponder this protest from Maria Lopez-Hoffer:

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“I take exception to your comment that dentists are never heroes in Hollywood. Perhaps you have not seen ‘The In-Laws.’ This movie came out in the ‘70s and starred Peter Falk as a CIA operative and Alan Arkin as a dentist. Yes, the dentist was a bit of a nebbish, but he had one wild adventure.”

My point exactly. Nebbish, as my Webster’s defines this particular joy of Yiddish, is “a person who is pitifully inept, ineffective, shy, dull, etc.” Of course Hollywood wouldn’t think of portraying representatives of the DDS community as dynamic, brilliant, sexy rogues. They deal in the willing suspension of disbelief.

If you don’t think dentists don’t get any respect, ask Dr. Richard Marias himself. He’s the Burbank dentist who inspired the column that inspired Lopez-Hoffer’s letter.

Put yourself in Marias’ place. A columnist for a major metropolitan newspaper interviews you for a story about MEND (Meet Each Need With Dignity), the Pacoima-based charity that provides a variety of services to the needy. The column, timed as a preview to MEND’s annual Serv-a-Thon fund-raiser, quotes you at length about your many years of volunteer efforts. The columnist goes so far as to give you a heroic alter ego: Serv-a-Thon Man!

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There’s just one problem.

Your first name is Richard.

The column gives your name as Robert.

Serv-a-Thon Man, I’m happy to say, was gracious about the error. No disrespect was intended, even if it did help illustrate the point.

Marias, incidentally, says that Saturday’s Serv-a-Thon was a success. He and four other dentists--Barbara Pampalone, Dana Rockey, Carmen O’Malley and James Jensvold--examined more than 100 patients, scheduling many for cleanings, fillings and extractions. Many other volunteers provided health exams and distributed food, clothing and shoes.

Now might seem to be a fine time to return to the concerns of Annice Reskin and Roland McGhie. But not so fast. First we’ll segue from the continuing adventures of Serv-a-Thon Man to a new episode of HandyGirl.

That would be Cyndi Seidler, the professional organizer who was the subject of Sunday’s column. A few readers have since complained that they’ve had trouble reaching Seidler’s Web site. That’s because this maven of organization neglected to note that the Web address on an old brochure is defunct. The correct address is https://www.datadepot.com/~handygirl

The swift and busy reaction to that column left me with the impression that organizing the disorganized is indeed a growth industry. There were people looking for help, of course, but also one trying to get into the field. Another reader boasted of the virtues of messiness, and an earthquake-preparedness advisor gravely noted that, unless you do some seismic organizing, you may end up more than just disorganized.

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“A single file drawer can hit you in the head and kill you,” she warned. Her advice: Bolt all your cabinets to wall studs using flexible straps (not L-brackets) and “don’t buy any file cabinets that don’t have latches.”

And speaking of life and death, let’s get back to the concerns of Annice Reskin and Roland McGhie.

Reskin wonders why such a fuss is made over tobacco compared to alcohol. “I feel that alcohol kills more people than my cigarette smoke. . . . Does anyone have the guts to go after the alcohol industry?”

Prohibition was tried and it failed; its legacy is a more regulated liquor industry. Waxman emphasizes that, contrary to tobacco industry propaganda, nobody today thinks an outright ban on tobacco would be wise. Tougher laws, not prohibition, are proposed.

Reskin, incidentally, says she’s also more bothered by air pollution than cigarette smoke. And though Reskin says she considers smoking more a matter of choice than addiction, she acknowledges that she tried to wean herself off tobacco years ago by using a nicotine patch. She gave up, she says, because quitting proved so stressful.

Finally, Roland McGhie’s letter had me wondering whether I’d left an incorrect impression about what might happen in L.A. if prosecutors succeed in extraditing Glen Rogers from Florida to be prosecuted here for the slaying of Sandra Gallagher. The Florida jury that convicted Rogers of murder has further recommended that he be put to death; the judge’s decision is pending.

McGhie and others have questioned whether money is being spent wisely in seeking a second murder prosecution of Rogers. McGhie further expresses concern that, given L.A.'s reputation for jurisprudence, Glen Rogers may somehow escape whatever fate awaits him in Florida.

Not true, California authorities say. Once the prospective trial here is complete, Rogers would promptly be dispatched back to Florida. The Sunshine State, home of the electric chair called Sparky, has first dibs.

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Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times’ Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311, or via e-mail at scott.harris@latimes.com Please include a phone number.


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