Sunday, February 7, 2016
Once or twice in a lifetime, you can become a totally different person. I seized this opportunity yesterday.
On Friday I had oral surgery. Two capped teeth that had gone bad had to be removed, a painful and expensive proposition I don’t wish on anyone. Apparently, some years ago, the capping procedure was done poorly and what should have lasted a very long time did not. X-rays showed massive decay going down to the roots of two front teeth, and this sealed their fates. By noon I had a massive gap in my upper jaw as two top incisors were gone, leaving a large black space remindful of a grotto’s entrance.
The dentist gave me a partial denture which apes amazingly well the real teeth and hooks into molars on either side of my mouth. But it was uncomfortable… I wore it for a few hours and then took it out. Looking at myself in the mirror, I saw an amazing transformation. I had become a quintessential aging and toothless homeless man, the sort of person most of us prefer to avoid.
Hmmm. I needed a few things at the store and went there sans artificial teeth. The reaction from the people who saw me hardly varied.
The first was the lady behind the deli counter. I‘ve known her for years and we normally exchange silly pleasantries. Not this time. I ordered a quarter pound of prosciutto and her eyes slid to my mouth. I could read her mind, I swear! “Will this vagrant pay for this or try to steal it?” She kept a wary eye on me as she sliced the meat. I smiled at her, fully revealing the cavernous space in my mouth. She turned her head, perhaps fearing that bats might fly out of my mouth. She did not offer me the customary free slice of whatever food I order, nor did she ask if I wanted anything else.
The baker at the other end of the store looked at me and pasted on one of those silly fake grin that says, I have no idea what to do with my face during this stressful moment so I will pretend to smile and hope you go away. Just for the hell of it, I hung around the pastry counter for a minute or two and inspected the goods.
This was getting to be sort of fun. I shocked the pharmacist and the check-out lady. The cart-herder outside also stared, then let his gaze slither eastward. At the drug store I plunked down a small container of denture cleaner. “Gonna need this,” I told the cashier who looked up into the maw, and then down again at her shoes.
I’m not sure what to make of all this save to accept that we are generally uncomfortable with missing parts. I remember once going to a wedding reception and meeting several people, one of whom was missing three fingers. When I shook his hand, a tremor ran through me, so I’m not immune to the very same reaction I had been causing. My friend Raoul, with whom I had breakfast today, laughed when I told him of this small adventure, but then shuddered and added, “I have no wish to see you like that…”
My gums have to heal so I have three or four more weeks to go before new caps are put in. I plan to expand my toothlessness to other venues. Starbucks is next.