Kopf: A Short Take On Life As A Series Of Disappointments (or payback’s a bitch)

This is whimsical but true. If I mightily stretched things, I could even say this is about legal realism.

Long ago—when I was 12—I lived in Florida. I took to water skiing. One day while racing along on two skis I decided to drop one and ski on the other.[i] The remaining one was not a slalom ski. But, I made it work until it didn’t.

As I fell forward into the onrushing water the ski submerged tip first. Then, the butt end popped back up and hit me in the mouth. My teeth, and particularly my lowers, were never the same.

My parents evidently had an aversion to dentists (as I do now) and, eventually, I came to like my new look anyway. Think of actor Bill McKinney in Deliverance.[ii]

Some years later, we moved back to Toledo, Ohio. By then, I had decided to drink my way through high school. That was especially easy because Ohio allowed the sale of 3.2 beer.

You could buy 3.2 beer at 18 until 1982[iii] when the Buckeyes did away with that magnificent beverage.[iv] Fake IDs were easy to get and that was particularly true since I looked a little older (see above). And, when I turned 18 while still in high school (I had flunked second grade—I still don’t know how I accomplished that feat), drinking beer in gloomy billiard parlors became one of my passions.

My passion for beer led inextricably to a passion for fist fights. I won some and lost some. Ironically, the kid who well and truly further busted up my teeth had recently moved to Toledo from Lincoln, Nebraska. That is when I first developed an abiding respect for the Cornhuskers.

So, today as you read this, I am paying for my past sins. Beginning at noon, a fellow with a degree in dentistry and a medical degree to boot put a question to me.

He asked, “Is it safe?”  I responded, “Yes, it is very safe.”

And then he began.

My screams have subsided. I no longer have any teeth left in my lower jaw. As I say, life is a series of disappointments and payback is a bitch.

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)

[i] Not me:

[ii] I will believe until my dying day that the Mountain Men in Deliverance were merely misunderstood. Much like the fellow I sentenced in a drug case that sodomized a young girl (with transmission fluid) for failing to pay her drug debt to that fellow’s brother. See United States v. Johnson, 169 F.3d 1092, 1094 (8th Cir. 1999).

[iii]  By 1982, I was 36 and a devotee of box wine. By the way, that remains true now. To be clear, I refuse to discuss whether I may have written this piece after draining the box. I understand my Miranda rights. Scott is a good teacher.

[iv] I am pretty sure Ohio did away with 3.2 beer because one had to drink so much of it in order to get a buzz that an epidemic of kidney problems arose. I’m also thinking that is why the Cleveland Clinic was founded. But to be candid, I can’t say for sure.

24 thoughts on “Kopf: A Short Take On Life As A Series Of Disappointments (or payback’s a bitch)

  1. David Meyer-Lindenberg


    it’s our curse as Germans to have delicate, fragile teeth, much as it’s the curse of colleges to have… well, you know. During my most recent checkup, the dental technician said that for us Northern Hemisphere types, the further south you go, the thicker enamel becomes, a claim that turns out to be somewhat well founded. As sunlight-deprived Nordics, we’re screwed. This also explains why my girlfriend, who is of mixed African descent, always looks like a goddamn toothpaste ad.

    Congratulations on having survived. I’m sure you took it like a man.

    All the best,

        1. Mike G.

          I feel your pain Judge. Been there, done that, upper and lower. Unfortunately, I’m one of those poor souls who can’t wear dentures. (Choke and gag me.)

          Saving up my money for those fancy implants.

          1. David

            You and Judge Kopf both have my sympathy, both procedurally (disliking dentistry) and substantively (several teeth gone, one of which had to be removed without being numbed because of nerve location etc….). But fortunately I can wear a denture and found dentists, periodontists and hygienists really committed to a good appearance and with a sense of humour.

        2. syme

          A friend had almost all of his teeth pulled one day because they were infected and he needed urgent cardiac surgery. I sent him a giant Tootsie Roll in honor of his surviving.

          May I do you the same honor without creating an ethics crisis?

          1. Richard Kopf


            Your offer is very kind, but I must decline. Right now the mere idea of chewing a giant Tootsie Roll is simply too terrifying. All the best.


            1. Syme

              I’m the “good cop” in this saga; my friend’s daughter got him salt water taffy & corn on the cob….

    1. Richard Kopf


      In addition to our genetic victimization, the world must never forget that it was a dentist who killed Cecil the lion.

      All the best.


  2. Anon

    Why waste money on a dentist?

    Step 1: Tie a string to each offending tooth.

    Step 2: Drink copious amounts of red wine. A decent Barola, or else a fine Valpolicella (not that cheap crap from a box!– Good God).

    Step 3: Tie the other end of the string to a heavy door.

    Step 4: Repeat step 2.

    Step 5: Step away from the door far enough to make the string taut.

    Step 6: Repeat step 2.

    Step 7: slam the door.

    That’s it. Easy. Why waste the money on a dentist? Use the savings to buy yourself decent wine– not that box wine stuff. Italian reds are very good for your health. This is the problem with all you liberal progressives. You love to waste money on stupid stuff.

    *Get well soon

    1. wilbur

      I think I remember a Three Stooges short which followed this procedure. Unfortunately it was a post-stroke Curly episode, so the humor was very minimal.

  3. B. McLeod

    Even better than box wine is home brew. The best modern, small-batch fermenters are essentially five-gallon buckets with a tight-fitting cover and a spigot. Once the wine is finished, you can put it back in the fermenter and simply serve from the spigot.

  4. Grock

    After this, I’m pretty sure if I say anything about how much it hurt when my toenail got ripped off. Twice. Someone here is going to suggest they revoke my man card.

    1. Richard Kopf


      One of the benefits of being nearly 71 is that one no longer has a “man card.” All the best.


  5. Mario Machado

    Judge Kopf:

    Your “screams have subsided?!”

    I thought rugged Midwestern types were tough as nails, or would at least never concede in a very popular blawg that they didn’t ride through the pain in strident, macho silence.



  6. albeed


    I have to correct you on one important point in your footnote. Ohio discontinued 3.2 beer because all the piss from the teenagers in Toledo was found to be the leading cause of the summer algae blooms in Lake Erie.

    All the best!

    An engineer and NAL

    1. Richard Kopf


      I have fond memories of algae blooms in Lake Erie. I always thought they made walleye taste every so much better. Piss fed fish–yum!

      All the best.


  7. Skink

    Rich–I once saw a skunk ape with no teeth. It was in the Everglades, eating some mangy palm bush. I felt bad that he couldn’t eat meat–like stuff as they did in Deliverance. It was pitiful. While I was watching, one of them fake Florida Panthers (they’re really Texas mountain lions, but that’s a whole another story) walked right up and pissed on his foot. He couldn’t do nothing about it because he had no teeth!

    If I can find the skunk ape again, do you think your dentist can fix him up with new chompers?

    Your Pal, Skink.

    1. Richard Kopf


      Good to hear from you!

      Since my dentist is a rodeo cowgirl, she might have some insights into how to fix a cryptid’s maw. I’ll do some checking and get back to you. Until then, keep wearing the shower cap.

      All the best.


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