It’s on us, C-M-R are millionaires

Yesterday I had my teeth cleaned. The dental hygienist was about forty, with platinum hair and an extremely wide smile and a white, white uniform. She chirped, “How frequently do you floss?”

“About once a week,” I lied.

“Oh, you honestly need to floss more than that,” she said. “Twice a day is best. When you don’t floss — and I can tell, just from a quick look here, at your gum line — then bacteria can build up along the gum line, where your toothbrush can’t reach. You know what bacteria are? They are small organisms that can cause all sorts of diseases, such as tooth decay. In fact, flossing is the number one way to reduce tooth decay, before it even starts. A good tip is to establish a regular routine and time for flossing so you don’t forget. For example, you could start to floss in the morning, with the upper teeth first, and then you proceed to the lower teeth. If you do this as a system, systematically, then you will see an improvement in only weeks to your teeth and gum line.”

I shivered and shifted in the chair, moaning. The plastic squeaked against the back of my neck.

She paused from scraping my teeth and pointed at a chart on the wall. It was a huge blown-up cross-section picture of a single tooth, with every possible sort of malady or mishap that a tooth could endure: it was fractured, decayed, the roots were all discombobulated, and I’m sure it hadn’t been flossed in a long, long time. “Flossing disturbs bacteria and stops it before it can create plaque and cause gum and bone disease. You should floss at least once a day for a healthier set of teeth and gums. Flossing helps to remove plaque from in between your teeth. Brushing only cleans three fourths of your teeth’s surfaces. That means if you brush and don’t floss it is like not cleaning seven of your teeth! And you want to keep all your teeth, for as long as you possibly can.”

I compulsively scratched my arms with my fingernails. Little red welts appeared on my forearms where my nails broke the skin.

She smiled and continued. “The fact is, flossing provides unmistakable benefits that start from day one. After flossing, your teeth and gums feel cleaner because the floss reaches areas your toothbrush can’t. Your breath will be fresher, and the health of your gums will improve. So, if your dental floss is gathering dust on the bathroom shelf, why not pick it up and try again? Even if it feels awkward at first, keep practicing. Pretty soon, you’ll feel the difference and find that it becomes part of your daily routine.”

I made a fist with my left hand and slammed it repeatedly into my nose. Blood gouted and pattered down my face. I felt the bones of my nose give and then crack underneath my hand.

She chirped, “You know, it’s never too late to start a great dental care regimen. Whatever your age, cleaning provides major benefits to your teeth and gums that you’ll notice right away so the sooner you start, the better. Interdental cleaning — such as flossing — makes your teeth and gums feel clean because it reaches areas a toothbrush can’t reach. It also keeps your breath fresh and, more importantly, it can stop gum disease in its tracks.”

I reached into my right eye socket and grabbed my right eyeball. It made a slurpy, ripe-orange sound as I pulled it out of my skull. I tossed my eye at her. It glanced off her shoulder, leaving an angry red comma.

She continued, “Do you know proper flossing technique? Proper flossing technique is very, very important. If you don’t floss correctly, it’s almost as bad as not flossing at all! It’s important to hold the floss tightly against the tooth and rub the tooth by pulling the floss away from the gum. You need to make a C-shape with the floss in order to do this best. If you don’t get the hang of it immediately, that’s okay! With a little effort, anyone can accomplish proper flossing technique.”

I sank my fingers into my eye sockets like a bowling ball and twisted. My skull cracked and the skin tore. With my free hand I reached into my cranial cavity and yanked my brain out of my skull. It came out with a thick syrupy glut of mucus and blood. I hurled my brain at the poster with the rotten tooth. It splatted solidly against the poster and stuck there, in a bright red starburst.

She said, “Oh yes. One more thing… It’s important to use clean sections of floss. When you move tooth to tooth. That’s one critical aspect of proper flossing, and most people miss it. Well. Goodness me, that’s my flossing lecture. I guess I’m done now. I give that to everybody, you know.”

I said nothing.

She said, “So, how about this wonderful weather we’ve been having? Goodness, I’m pleased as punch to see it a sunny morning again.”

I said nothing. There was only the sound of my blood pattering against the plastic office chair.

She said, “Well, you know… You can’t perform proper flossing when rushing through the procedure of removing plaque. You should take at least two to three minutes when flossing. Really, this is a small amount of time when you weigh the benefits of good oral health.”

I sighed.

Fools said I you do not know

“Rachel has it. There’s an outside chance of removing her entire right lung. If the tumor spreads to the middle of the chest, then surgery is not an option — we have to do chemo. It’s probably the most common type. I forget the statistics on it.” I don’t believe him. A quick Google search: average untreated life expectancy, less than eight months; five-year survival rate, thirteen percent.

“I?ve been in practice thirty-five years and I’ve seen a lot of it. I had my arm around her when they made the diagnosis and she didn’t even flinch. Might have seen it coming, I guess. She’s gonna see a thoracic surgeon on Thursday.”

“I’ve decided to retire. I’m shutting down my office now. It’s really heart rending to do that. I’ve taken care of those patients for years and years. One lady of mine cried. She said, ‘You’re the best doctor in town.’ But I don’t want to be working if she needs me at home.”

“Rachel’s probably kept me alive and I want to be there for her now. I’m kinda numb right now. I wish it was me instead of her.”

What can I do, Dad?

“Don’t vote Republican.”

And I can’t give the reason why I should ever want to die

Rebecca, the director, flipped through a script. Katie asked me, “How old am I? Guess.”

“No way I’m gonna guess,” I said. “Any answer I give is wrong. This is a dangerous game.”

“Come on, guess,” she said again.

“Um? Twenty three?” I asked, and Katie laughed. I said, “No? Twenty seven?”

“I just turned twenty-one,” she said.

At this instant I stopped time and said: “Damn. I guess I have Hollywood to thank for what we’re about to do. I’m old enough to be your father, genetically speaking. All thirty-six year old guys fantasize about making out with twenty-one year old girls, so technically I should be horny as a three-horned ram, but there’s at least a continent and one or two oceans between the fantasy and the deed. When it’s on television, it’s culturally acceptable, but this is not pre-recorded; here we are. It’s just that you’re barely a woman yet, and so I feel like the oldest creepiest most uncomfortable guy in the world right now.”

“Did you say something?” asked Katie.

“No,” I said.

“How old are you?” Katie asked me.

“I will die before I speak the truth,” I said.

“So are you two ready to block the kissing scene?” said Rebecca, one finger in the script.

There is water at the bottom of the ocean

In the tarot deck, the Death card does not necessarily represent physical death. It represents severe, cataclysmic change — out with the old, in with the new, every possibility twisting and collapsing into a singularity.

There are days when I don’t know my own skin, where I am disgusted by the thing I’ve become. I wake up, check my e-mail, drink my coffee, exercise, go to work, bang on my laptop for a while, sit in traffic, maybe rehearse a play, kiss my sleeping wife, dick around on the computer. My life is safe and neat and foursquare. And I don’t know anyone, least of all myself.

I’m thinking of chucking it and writing a new life. I did this before, in 1994, when I moved from Boston to San Francisco. The wife would come along (naturally; I love her) but otherwise, new stories would have to be written; contracts must be developed; intellectual property rights must be negotiated; tests of my abilities must be administered; background checks must be completed; new headshots must be taken; the dotted line must be signed. Until then, nothing is guaranteed and everything is possible. There is a roulette wheel, with every possible outcome whizzing around me, red black red black green red black, and if I lose my sense of balance I will fall.

Fuck me, this rain just won’t let up.