Fun and frolic amidst the fluoridation follies

All my life I tried never to hate anything, but I failed on three counts -?black flies, fleas, and politics – and not in descending order.

When it comes to politics, I’m not the least bit finicky in my loathing. I hate ’em all – national, state, local, vocational.

You ask why? Don’t. If you’re past the age of reason, you already know. If you’re younger than that, just wait.

Still, from time to time I find politics and politicians amusing. It’s usually of the Mel Brooks variety, the only difference being the politicians in Mel Brooks’ movies are more respectable and less venal than the ones in reality.

But sometimes politics can be downright funny, without being disreputable, and my pal and fellow yellow journalist Howard Riley told me one such story.


Lest anyone not know, Howard was the village mayor in the early 1960’s. But he was a very special kind of mayor. For one thing, he was young (in his early 30s), when mayors everywhere were older men. This caused ADE writer Bill McLaughlin to dub him “The Boy Mayor of Saranac Lake.”

Beyond that, Howard was a Democrat. I don’t know how many of our other mayors had been Democrats, but I suspect the number was slightly more than how many of St. Bernard’s monsignors had been Muslims.

Anyhow, at this time the hot button issue in town was the fluoridation of our drinking water. It seems no one was neutral about the issue, and regardless of which side they took, everyone came out of the woodwork to make their opinion known. There were accusations of a commie plot, counter-accusations of a fascist cabal, shrieks about how it’d save all the kids’ teeth; freaks about how it’d kill us all.

Probably there were some level-headed peeps with rational, evidence-based arguments, but as you might expect, they either kept quiet or got shouted down. When emotions run high, no one likes to acknowledge reason.

and firewater

It was at a village board meeting that a moment of great levity occurred.

The principals were Art Hay and Rube Skeels.

Art Hay owned the Santanoni and, as befitted a town hotelier of the time, he was a bon vivant, boulevardier and a bit of a tippler besides.

Rube Skeels (whose real name was Myron but was never called by it) was the deputy mayor. He had a dry wit, and he neither wasted his words nor minced them.

At this particular meeting, various folks had made their impassioned statements, each seemingly more intense and incendiary than the last. Tempers flared, lines were drawn in the sand, the spirit of conciliation fled like a thief in the night.

Amidst the brouhaha Art Hay took the floor.

Art was an anti-flouridationist with a single platform argument, which he thought was as persuasive as it was personal.

“If I can’t say anything else about fluoridation,” he said, “I can tell you one thing for sure.”

He paused for dramatic effect, then went on.

“Ever since the village put fluoride in our water, it has not tasted the same.”

To which Rube Skeels immediately replied, “Hell, Art, you haven’t tasted water in 20 years.”

Of course, everyone burst into laughter -including Art Hay and Rube Skeels.

And this is what I loved about so many of My Home Town’s old-time characters: When the joke was on them, they could laugh as readily as everyone else.

In all fairness, while there was weight behind Rube Skeels’ comment, it wasn’t completely true.

Over the years, Art Hay had tasted plenty of water though almost all of it was ice cubes.