Every time I have to go to the dentist, I feel like I'm going to die. Not from the pain, mind you, but from the incessant chatter of the technician who cleans my teeth.
At regular six-month intervals, I'm summoned by postcard to my dentist's office for a routine cleaning. The postcard features a photo of an enormous, Silverback gorilla on one side. He's clutching a banana and the huge balloon near his mouth declares, "It's Been Six Months! Let's Go Bananas!"
Clearly, the postcard is meant to be cute and non-threatening. And it would be, if the gorilla didn't look so enraged and if he didn't look like he had an advanced case of rabies. And if he didn't look as though he were about to go completely apeshit instead of just bananas.
Martha, the receptionist, frequently looks like she's about to go apeshit, too. With good reason.
Without exception, I'm late to my appointments for one reason or another: work, slow subways, panic attacks while in line for my Made Just 4 U salad at a midtown Fresh & Co.
"Better late than never," she mutters as I rush in, spewing apologies and spilling coffee onto the counter.
She then looks disdainfully at my Starbucks cup.
"That stuff's no good for your teeth. You're gonna be in that chair an extra fifteen minutes, just you watch."
By way of retaliation, she points me to the Prevention magazines and makes me wait a good twenty minutes before summoning me for my cleaning.
Once inside the technician’s room, Agnes wraps a paper bib around my neck, shoves a suction tube into my mouth, and starts talking. Non-stop.
"Ever been to Sam's Club?" she asked a few weeks ago, scraping plaque away from my teeth, along with tiny bits of my gums.
I shook my head.
"Well, it is the best, let me tell you," she exclaimed. "I went there with my husband Bob last week for the first time and it is just the best. We paid sixteen dollars for a ten pound box of hotdogs."
She paused to suction the pool of saliva that was threatening to choke me to death.
"And they were all beef, too!"
I grunted painfully.
"Near the checkout, I found a case of Dr. Pepper. Five dollars! Can you believe that?"
I shook my head and winced as her scraper dug away at my back teeth.
"I got a toilet seat cover, too. Twenty dollars! It's really pretty. It's fake wood but it looks just like the real thing."
She shot a stream of water into my mouth and gestured to the tiny sink next to the chair.
"Spit," she ordered.
I leaned forward and spit. Delicate, pink chunks of gum tissue clung to the porcelain. Once I was settled back in the chair, she began scraping again.
"You know what else I saw there?" she asked. "You'll never believe what."
I shook my head.
"Strivectin!" she exclaimed.
I stared at her mutely.
"Strivectin!" she repeated. “You know, that stuff you put on stretch marks to make them go away. I heard it works on wrinkles too."
"Strivectin, for only eighty nine dollars," she mused. "At Sam’s Club! That's just incredible."
A piece of my gums dislodged under the pressure of the scraper. Tears of pain started rolling down my cheeks.
"Bob also got a huge tub of antifreeze for five dollars," she added absentmindedly. "Spit."
I leaned forward and spit again.
Agnes surveyed me.
"You still smoking?"
"That's going to kill you, for sure," she remarked genially. "For sure."
"Yeah," I sighed and leaned back again. “I know.”
"I gotta say though, your teeth are damn white," she murmured, pulling back my lips with her rubber gloves and peering at my bared molars.
"I use Crest White Strips," I replied, grimacing from the taste of the rubber. "It's the dental equivalent of scrubbing a bathtub with Ajax."
"Well, I can see that," she sang. "You know, I bet you could get those at Sam's Club, for at least half price.”
Inwardly, I groaned.
Oh Jesus Christ. Was she back on Sam's Club again?
"I'm going to quit someday," I said hurriedly, trying to change the subject back to my imminent suicide by cigarettes. I'd much rather hear about the lung cancer looming on the horizon than details of Sam's Club 30 Pack Scott Toilet Tissue Special.
Agnes took the bait. She clucked.
"Well, you better. There's only so much those White Strip thingies can do. Never mind your lungs. Think what you're doing to your teeth."
As she droned on about how when her friend Pamela had chronic fatigue syndrome last year, it was a real kick in the pants for her, you know, about how much we take life for granted, I gripped the leather arm rests.
If you don't shut the fuck up, I thought, staring up at her hairy nostrils, the enlarged pores of her nose and rapidly moving mouth. I'm going to kick you in the TEETH the minute I get up from this chair. And no amount of Crest White Strips can do anything for THAT.
Once Agnes was satisfied that she'd removed a sufficient amount of plaque, and gum matter, she poured a stream of viscous rubber into a mold and then shoved it into my mouth.
"You should’ve had this night guard made months ago," she chastised me. "You've been grinding your teeth a lot since the last time you were here, I can tell. Your back teeth are worn down to almost nothing.”
I tried not to gag. The liquid rubber tasted like Pepto Bismol and smelled like deviled eggs.
"Uh, uh," clucked Agnes. "Don't move. We'll just have to start all over again."
She held the impression mold in place and looked at her watch.
"What are you grinding your teeth so much for, anyway?” she said mildly. “You're just a kid. What do you have to worry about? Believe me, you'll have plenty to worry about, soon enough. Look at my friend Pamela and the chronic fatigue syndrome."
She pulled out the mold and surveyed it.
"Ugh,” I muttered. “That stuff smells like deviled eggs.”
A look of nostalgia crossed her face.
"'Deviled eggs,'" she chuckled gently. "That reminds me of when my mother would make deviled eggs for me when I was little."
Picking up the tooth polisher, she spread paste on it and turned it on.
"I really like poached eggs," she remarked, starting in on my back teeth.
She worked quietly for about thirty seconds.
"Not as much as scrambled eggs, though," she mused.
Moving on to my molars, she paused.
"Do you like omelettes?"