If all my experiences at the dentist were made into a movie, and that movie had a soundtrack, then that soundtrack would lean heavily on The Moody Blues.
If you're like me, and your teeth have all the stability of an archaelogical dig run by Sid Vicious, then it's quite easy to start feeling sorry for yourself when the dental hygienist looks at your x-rays and exclaims, I can't even understand what's going on here, you've had so much work done since your last imaging! At one point I even told her not to look so worried.
And it's always been this way. I remember talking politics with visiting dental nurses (they set up in the kindergarten trailer, just off the school yard) when I was in Grade 4. They laughed and laughed, their best little customer.
A million years ago, in a downtown Winnipeg apartment that literally shook from the bus traffic below, I wrote the following story, which ended up in a 2001 issue of the Queen Street Quarterly (the one with Tony Burgess hugging Snake from Degrassi on the cover).
It feels pretty dated now but there it is.
a brief conversation with my dental hygienist,
based on the idea (and I’m almost certain of this)
that she dislikes me,
Hey, what’s this? I don’t look down the length of a crowded bar expecting to see the likes of you. And what do you call this? At least have the decency to be wearing your blue scrubs... a smock or mask around your neck or something. It’s off-putting, to see you in street clothes. It’s a fucking disparate convergence, that’s what.
No, I said dis-parate, not desperate. What I mean is two essentially different things coming together where they shouldn’t, or where you shouldn’t expect them. Like flipping over to the Fashion Channel during the commercial and there’s your Aunt Betty shaking it up the catwalk. Whoops, sorry brain, it’s through the looking-glass we go, wishing for the rabbit hole. So who are you, Alice in Wonderland?
What’s the big idea? What right do you have?
No, okay, you’re right, you have every right. I’d be driven to drink too, if I had your job. Task master. Harsh mistress.
What? I said it’s noisy in here. No, nothing, it’s not important. Hmmm. Besides, you’re an attractive woman. And attractive women look good in bars. Or maybe bars just make them look attractive. The proper setting, as it were.
Oh come on, I’m not bothering you. Why do you have to be like that? I’m giving you a compliment. And I mean it, too. If only you could see yourself at work sometimes, how beautiful you look with that halo of lights over your head, the way you hover, the way the air conditioning spreads strands of your hair at the edges. Your eyelids fluttering. The closeness of you, like a whisper. It’s intoxicating. It almost makes me glad to be there, did you know that?
I said almost. Because you’re not exactly God’s grace with me, not a lot of forgiveness there. Why is that? Why do you dislike me so much? Yes, I know, I have bad teeth. You do understand that it doesn’t make me a bad person, don’t you? You do understand the difference? Certainly I have bad habits: the coffee, the candy, the smoking. Notice I didn’t say drinking. I remember the time you told me that drinking was – to a certain extent, you said – good for the teeth. Alcohol killing the bacteria, I remember that. So we’re good there, yes?
Just say yes.
Good. The rest, I don’t know what to tell you. Teaching primary... oh man, they’re like little insane persons and...
No, I mean it, I absolutely mean it. They’re giddy and delirious and distracted and flighty and frenetic and rancorous and cruel... it’s a nightmare, it really is. So yeah, I take my pleasures where I can find them.
And I grew up poor, you know, and poor people always abuse themselves like that, with the quick and dirty fixes. Do you know what I’m talking about? Sure you do. It’s what everyone thinks when they stop at a light and they see that unbearable combination of fat and poor paraded before them at the crosswalk, that that’s how they must find their life worth living, in a bar of chocolate or at the bottom of a bag of chips.
Oh please, you do so.
No, I’m not saying this for sympathy. Every cripple knows his crutch and my vices are old and have the names of sins. And that’s on me. But what about you, madam? Equating the quality of a person’s teeth with the quality of their character isn’t exactly intellectually sound, is it? Or maybe it is, in your mind. You know, I’m sure the Nazi’s had some tremendous ideas on the subject.
No, I’m not calling you a Nazi. Christ, this is aggravating. All I’m saying is that you have to admit you get a little severe on the whole teeth issue. I always tell people that I’m going in for my six-month cleaning and castigation. The guilt, oh my God. And you are suspiciously rough with the tools of the trade, like you’re operating some kind of medieval half-way house for sugar criminals.
No, I’m not exaggerating. Most of the time you’re more painful than the actual bloody dentist. How is that possible? Do you do it on purpose? Maybe? Sometimes? I mean if there’s a reason then just tell me, I want to know.
I need to know.
Do you think that you’re teaching me a lesson? Because you’re not, I’m like everyone else, I have to keep on living and no matter how much I floss and brush and rinse, my teeth are going to get used, and in the end I really only care so much. I’m not a goddamn mannequin. Although maybe you’d like me more if I was. Imagine that, eh? Imagine if I was just a dummy with a gleaming white set of perfect, unused teeth. Wow, just like school, and what days those were, eh? But I’m not a dummy, I’m a living person, and I’m on to you, so why do you dislike me so much?
Ah, you see, that wasn’t very nice. That’s just what I’m talking about.