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MYASTHENIA, ELISE BORDEN, AND ME BERNARD M. PATTEN* We didn't talk about myasthenia gravis in the old days. Such things were not discussed in polite company or at the dinner table. But I knew someone who had the disease. Her name was Elisia Borden. Her friends, if she had had any, would have called her Elise, but mostly her classmates , the kids in Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, New York City, much to their discredit, called her Elsie the Borden cow, after a famous TV advertisement for Borden's ice cream. The appellation fit because Elise was cow-heavy and fat, and she was ugly, too, with one droopy eyelid and a sagging face and puffy everted lips. When she looked at you her left eye stared straight out, but her right eye was cocked to the right, so that she looked like she was looking forward and to the side at the same time. This gave her the hideous appearance of some medieval gargoyle, like the ones you see on the facades of ancient cathedrals, designed to scare off evil spirits. In 1957, because of crowding with baby boomers, Van Buren High School had to go on triple sessions. With the other members of the track team I automatically got the early session, starting at 6:30 am and ending at noon, so we could spend the afternoon at track practice. Practice took place in Alley and Pee Pond parks along a 5-mile course that coach "Doc" Elstein and I had laid out the year before. The course was grueling, crisscrossing the terrain of the glacial moraine that overlooked the vast Jamaica Plain. It was a great place to practice, because it almost exactly simulated Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, where the championship races took place. The disadvantage was that it was 10 miles from my home, so each afternoon I had to walk home exhausted, with sore and trembling legs. Thank God, along the way, there was an oasis of refreshment, Borden's candy store and soda fountain. The store, on the corner of 215 Place and Hillside Avenue, next door to *Department of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine. Address: 1019 Baronridge, Seabrook, Texas 77586.© 1992 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/3504-0791$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 35, 4 ¦ Summer 1992 609 McHugh's Bar and Grill, was owned by Elise's mother and father and also carried other goods. Looking back on it I now realize it was a kind of convenience shop before the chains took over that activity. Since the Bordens were the "other kind"—namely Jewish—and ours was an Irish Catholic neighborhood, most of our neighbors refused to buy there. But my mother, a maverick of sorts, didn't care. She claimed at Bordens' there was an excellent rapport between price and quality, and she regularly made small purchases. When I arrived, hot and sweaty, a bell rang as I opened the door, and usually Elise came out from behind a dingy black curtain that separated the store proper from the back rooms where her family lived. I ordered my usual, a devil dog and an egg cream. I don't blame you if you don't know what they were because anyone who had not grown up in Queens would know nothing about them. The devil dog, the size of a hot dog, was two slices of devil's food cake with a whipped cream center, and the egg cream was a frosted glass of ice cold water to which had been added just the right amount of vanilla syrup and a splash of milk. It cost 6 cents, the devil dog 5, but that hardly mattered because in those days I was extraordinarily rich, clearing a weekly $3.10 profit from my Long Island Press paper route. With tips I often cleared over $5.00. When I, cooling drink in hand, sat there in the shadowy dark interior of the soda fountain, firmly nested on a black vinyl stool, elbows perched on the cold black marble counter, black as onyx, reflecting on my silvered shadowy dark image...


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