Well, every family probably has a story like that: a bit of lore about some notable figure who briefly entered a relative’s orbit. Eric Friedman grew up hearing such a story.
Eric lives in Bethesda, Md., but grew up in New York City, where his mother, Elsa M. Friedman, was a dentist.
“Malcolm X’s wife was one of her patients,” Eric told me.
That’s the odd bit of Friedman family history Eric grew up hearing: My mother was Malcolm X’s wife’s dentist. He has no reason not to believe it, but it’s always occupied an interesting spot in the history of his family: trivial on the one hand, notable on the other.
I called Elsa Friedman and asked her about Betty Shabazz.
“I knew her quite well,” said Elsa, who lives in Bethesda.
Elsa had followed her father, Abraham, into dentistry. She was one of only two female dentists who graduated from Temple University in 1948, a time when only 1 percent of dentists in America were women, she said.
Elsa eventually hung her own shingle in the Corona section of Queens.
“There were seven other dentists in the area when I first came out,” she said.
Those seven other dentists were all male.
“She was very much afraid of dentists,” Elsa said of Shabazz. “She figured a woman would be more gentle.”
This was in the early 1960s when Junction Boulevard in Queens was a melting pot of races, nationalities and religions. Elsa served them all, including Betty Shabazz.
“We got to be good friends,” said Elsa, who also treated one of Betty and Malcolm’s daughters.
Then tragedy struck, Malcolm X was assassinated, Shabazz stopped coming to see Elsa, and the civil rights leader’s family was beset by further hardships.
“Life ended for them so drastically,” Elsa said. “It was tremendously upsetting, to say the least.”
Eric shared this story with me because he wonders what stories other families tell. What well-worn bits of family lore are passed down at dinner tables across the USA?
Was your father Betty Friedan’s podiatrist? Did your grandmother dance the tango with Porfirio Rubirosa? Did your crazy uncle sell Doug Henning a matched set of American Tourister luggage? Tell me about it. Send your story — with “Family Lore” in the subject line — to me at email@example.com.
And remind me to tell you about the time my father met Bob Crane from the TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes.”
To quote Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, I walk a lonely road. His road is called the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. My road is called the Avenue of Messed-Up Apostrophes.
It’s a grim thoroughfare, and it drives me nuts. (What can I say? I was an English major.)
A quick refresher: When one or more letters have been removed from a word, they are replaced by an apostrophe, as in the word can’t, which is short for cannot.
An apostrophe looks like a little 9, not a little 6. A little 6 is a single open-quote.
You can quote me: ‘Doesn’t anybody know how to use punctuation any more?’
Here’s a little quiz: What would you write if you didn’t want to bother with the word them, as in “I bet you can’t eat them all?”
Answer: You would write ’em.
And that’s why I’m so irritated by the ads in some Metro stations for BetMGM, a sportsbook.
TOUCH ‘EM ALL it says. It should be TOUCH ’EM ALL.
Now, I have no idea what “touch ’em all” even means. Touch what? That line is followed by “PARLAYS, IN-PLAY, & MORE.”
Touch the parlays and touch the in-plays? (And don’t even get me started on that comma followed by an ampersand.)
I’m struck by the fact that BetMGM hired an ad agency that doesn’t even know which way around an apostrophe goes. Someone should be embarrassed by this. (By the way, embarrassed is not short for thembarrassed.)
Or maybe they should be fined. I envision the Apostrophe Police, an elite unit duly deputized to enforce the rules of punctuation, levying fines against ad agencies, marketers and their ilk.
Hey BetMGM, would you rather pay the fine — touch it, if you will — or would you rather hire an English major?
If you encounter such apostrophe apostasy by people who really should know better, snap a photo and drop me a line.