Is this a job requirement to be a dentist's receptionist?
"Thou shalt sport a permanent grin".
"Thou shalt audition to be the next Heath Ledger in Dark Knight sequels".
"On the smile scale, thou shalt go past the Polite, the Friendly, the Cheerful; past the Don't-You-Just-Love-Life, the Found-My-Long-Lost-Son, the Teenager-Saw-Jonas-Brothers; and towards the Crazy Psychotic".
What is with all this cheeriness? This is the office of a dentist, woman! Almost a doctor. Show some respect.
Look at all of us in the waiting room. There is the guy in the tall boots - all set to wade into a root canal today, sir? Or that girl poring through People and Us Weekly? She sure looks like she could use some wisdom teeth. Or this guy in the mirror - No, dentures are not cool like the tusks of an elephant!
So we are not having the best day of our lives. So what? We are at the dentist's - it is definitional.
The nurse calls out my name. In her own unique way she contorts that poor four syllable bastard, strangles it, assaults it, and spits it out. As I get up reluctantly, she glares at me, daring me to correct her pronunciation. Next time, I promise myself, next time I will tell her what's what.
Here is an innovative idea, I think when I get inside - shrinks should stop using their cliched old couches and use the dentist chair instead. It is such an obviously good candidate. I sit there, in the most unnatural of poses - all stretched out, eyes closed, mouth open. And my mind is racing. This is the truest of all 'think' times. You are sitting out there, with absolutely nothing to occupy yourself with. Utterly useless. Eyes closed. ("So we don't splatter in your eyes dear!", coos the nurse - not the glarer, this one is the good cop.) No blackberry, no books, no steering wheel. Nothing to do but think. So I think.
Getting your teeth cleaned is a four-and-a-half-sense experience.
It starts with Touch. I am sitting there, exposing myself to strangers. And some person unseen pokes me with something sharp. And so it begins, I tell myself, bracing for the disagreeable 30 minutes stretching ahead. The poking continues. And the scraping, the piercing, the grinding.
Then comes Sound. The sound of the ultra-sound scaler whirring away somewhere deep in the mouth. It is one of those moments when I am not quite sure whether I am hearing the sound through my ears, or somehow from inside my body. Whirrrrrr ... it goes. Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. When that stops, there is this suction tube that makes a strangle gargling sound as it sucks up spit that I am not allowed to expectorate myself, sitting instead like a drooling idiot. Somewhere in there, wafting through the whirring and the gargling, is the occasional tut-tut, the intermittent grunting that informs me that the world on the other side of my mouth disapproves of me.
This is followed by Taste. As they continue their work, these construction workers in miniature, they nick a little thing here, tug this piece there. Oops! Says someone. Are they doing this on purpose, the sadists? Are their giggling silently all this while? Maybe they are making faces at me while I sit there, blind to the world. As they nip and tuck, slowly but surely, I start tasting the blood in my mouth. Oh my God, I am bleeding. I am going to die! Surely, this much bleeding can't be good. Have they cut some artery by mistake? Does the mouth have arteries? This must be what death tastes like.
Then comes the Smell. The smell of my blood, of the Listerine left by my side. Now I know the end must be near. Because the smell always comes last. They must be almost done now.
Through it all, there is the half-sense, Sight. Of seeing through closed eyelids. Into the bright light being shone into my mouth. It is so bright I feel like I can see the veins on my eyelids (do eyelids have veins? I really should look this stuff up.) I am almost convinced I can see the hooded figures leaning over me beyond my eyelid. I can see you, you mechanics in white! I see everything.
"You have great teeth", the dentist tells me when it is all done, half her face covered in the mask. I have never seen her entire face. I don't know if I would even recognize her if I saw her outside this office. So I am not sure if she is smirking as she says this. I nod weakly, mouth still half open, a teardrop flowing from the left eye into my earlobe as I lie there, relieved, not caring if I looked stupid and undignified. It is over.
"You have great teeth", she repeats, "But remember to take good care of them. Then these cleanings would be much easier." I know that, of course. Have known that since I was a child.
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. So goes a Zen saying, often (but not always)attributed to the Zen master Lin Chi. Rely only on yourself. Do not trust any external teacher, authority figure, guru, expert who tell you how to live your life. Trust only your inner self. Take advice only from your inner guru.
So inner guru, here we are, after a nice dinner and sticky, sweet dessert. Ready for bed. What is the vote then? To floss, or not to floss?