Avi Rockoff

My Wattle

Because a wattle is hard to explain, I will show you mine.

Author photo

I wish it would hang down in the midline, but it likes listing to the left.

A short while ago, when he was still 6, our youngest grandson was sitting next to me in shul and began to fondle my neck. “Why do you have that, Saba?” he asked.

“Because I am old,” I said.

“You’re not old!” he said. I chose not to argue.

Luckily, there was no responsible adult around to instruct our grandson that he must not say what he sees.

Our oldest grandchild is 23, well-instructed. But about 15 years ago she noticed something sticking up from behind my right ear. “What is that, Saba?” she asked.

“That is not nice to say!” she was told.

I looked in the mirror and saw that a tuft of hair was sticking up from the back of my head like an obelisk. It looked silly, and I was glad the child pointed it out so I could smooth it down.

When I worked as a dermatologist, I had many chances to learn how people react when they see something they think should not be there.

“Doctor, I’ve had this spot for a long time. But I teach 3rd grade, and every time I meet a new class, all the kids start pointing at my face and saying, ‘WHAT IS THAT UGLY THING ON YOUR NOSE, MS. CONNOLLY?!’”

Actually, everyone has faced wanting to point at something. Your dining companion across the table has a piece of food hanging from his lip. It is driving you crazy. You can’t look away, since that would be impolite. You can’t tell him to wipe it off. You don’t dare to try to set up a distraction—“Look—a UFO!”–and try to flick the food off with your thumb and forefinger.

Why not just ignore it? Because your response is hard-wired, and you can’t. Get over it.

Patients sometimes came by to ask what to do about their sagging neck. Plastic surgeons do a nice job of tightening these, though the neck that results may not wholly blend with the saggy parts above and below it. But not everyone wants surgery.

One day an energetic woman in her 60s told me about the method she had read about. “It uses gravity,” she said. “Every night I tape my neck to my temples. Then I sleep tilted backwards at a 45° angle.”

I stared at her to see if she were pulling my leg, but she seemed as serious as she was eager. Hope springs eternal.

About 30 years ago they invented a machine called the pulsed dye laser. The purpose of this was to remove “unwanted red spots” from the face. The distinction between “unwanted red spots” and “wanted red spots” involves too much metaphysics for a blog.

Each laser pulse left a perfect purple circle 3mm in diameter. Users were assured that the purple would go away in 14 days, leaving no red spot and no scar.

When actual patients were treated this way, they were apt to look in a mirror after treatment, see their faces festooned with two dozen purple spots, then hyperventilate and start to pass out. It is hard to reassure people that they will not scar while they lose consciousness.

One patient I recall had a few treatments. After each one, she spent 20 minutes applying pancake makeup. “I train monkeys for the blind,” she said. “When my primates see spots on my face that they don’t like, they start to point and get agitated.”

“Not only your primates,” I muttered.

When skin sags below the chin, people call it, “Turkey neck.” This is an insult to turkeys.  Here is an actual turkey neck:

Wikimedia Commons


Glorious wattles like these should make us ashamed to use the same word for what we have.

Turkeys are imperious creatures.  They carry themselves with dignity and hauteur, which is hard to pull off when you look like a turkey.

Turkeys who block the street so your car cannot pass take no interest in you, your car, your horn, or your high-beam headlights. At some point, for reasons which may not be clear even to them, they start to move. They lurch forward, but in style: tails fan, torsos tremble, necks jiggle, wattles waggle. “I, Turkey, approach,” they seem to proclaim. “World, do your worst!”

Which, each Thanksgiving, the world does.

About the Author
Avi Rockoff came on aliyah with his wife Shuli in March 2022. They live in Jerusalem. His new book, This Year in Jerusalem: Aliyah Dispatches, has been recently published by Shikey Press.
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