Wednesday, March 4, 2015

It's Not Like Pulling Teeth.

I spent an hour-and-a-half at the dentist the other day. 

I’ll tell you, nothing says Monday morning like a drill-tipped jolt to a rogue nerve because the Novocaine only got you to the point of numbish. 

A rare brand of perspiration occurs when I’m reclined in that dental chair. Sweat accumulates in small, concentrated areas—between my interlaced fingers, under my hamstrings. Normally, it isn’t until I rise from the chair, that I discover how perilously close I’ve come to terminally saturating the denim that’s spent ninety minutes percolating between the plastic chair cover and my atrophied thigh shanks.

It’s funny how, nowadays, dental offices strive for a spa-ish look. You know what I mean—the richly stained woodwork, the wispy, fake butterflies perched in the ceiling lights? In my opinion, though, no amount of high def tropical snorkeling video set to Kenny G can alter the reality: Spending time in that sticky recliner is closer to Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber, than it is to Gene of Juarez.

There have been improvements—heavens to Mergatroid, yes. When they called your name back in the Sixties and Seventies, you rose from the couch and nervously tossed the bacterially-seasoned Highlights magazine onto the coffee table. A pleasant lady led you into a brightly lit room, its sterile green walls reflecting an aberrant green tint onto everything contained therein. 

As you were settled in and bibbed, the glistening instrument tray mocked you from your nine o’clock. To your right was a porcelain spit sink, into which you’d soon be drooling pink ropes of saliva, your left cheek rubbery and ravaged from its bloody dance with the silver pliers.

After an adequate amount of time to soak in the events that lay dead ahead, you were greeted by the dentist. He entered the room in his crisp, snap-down tunic, ungloved and unmasked. He cheerfully whistled a Herb Alpert tune while washing his hands beside the “this is what your mouth could look like if you stop brushing and flossing for the next ten years” awareness poster. 

Then, without further fanfare, he would turn, lower himself onto his rolling stool, and boldly declare his sinister intentions:

“Alrighty, open.”

Okay, enough with my first-world sob stories. What I really want to tell you about is the man behind the drill, the guy who was my first dentist—and my neighbor.

In the summer of 1968, my family bought a home in a new development. Our place turned out to be two houses down from from where our family dentist lived with his wife and two daughters. 

When I met his older daughter, who happened to be my age and in the same kindergarten class, I immediately deemed it unnecessary to pursue further friendships. My six-year-old sensibility surmised that since she was smart, nice, really cute and only two houses away, what point was there in venturing beyond her tidy, brown rambler to establish a rapport with any of the lads in the hood? 

I'll say none.

I can remember being over there quite a bit, playing in her back yard, quietly contemplating if I'd propose to her at Christmas or Valentines Day. When he was around, her dad would play his accordion while we sat in her house drawing with her Spirograph, or toss the football with me outside. From what I remember, the guy knew how to heave the pigskin. At home, he never talked shop, never admonished me for my chemical-weapons-grade breath.

Years later, I learned that the family’s firstborn child—a son—had died at age five, just a year before we moved into the neighborhood. I’m sure I felt sad, but not until I became a father myself could I remotely fathom what that must have been like for those parents. It’s hard enough to imagine losing a son, but then a year later taking the time to hang out with the chubby neighbor boy who always seems to be hanging out with your daughter and scarfing all your Fig Newtons? 

Not sure I’d be capable of that.

The doctor passed away several years ago. I regret that I never expressed to him my gratitude for the lesson he taught a six-year-old kid about kindness and perseverance all those years ago.