It's very hot in L.A.; I'm in my office. I have a fan going behind me and the air conditioning kicks in when the heat reaches the high seventies. If I had the thermostat set so that the A/C would keep me comfortable—low seventies maybe— I’m afraid that I would cause a blackout that would shut down all of L.A. Just from my A/C.
So I drink plenty of water and get up occasionally and adjust the fan. Tilt it up, down, change the speed, switch it from oscillate to stationary. I'm wearing my Las Vegas visor, shorts, a tee, and I'm barefoot. I didn't sleep well last night because of the heat.
What else? I went to the dentist on Tuesday. What else? You think you know about fear and anger. No, you think you've exorcised them because you've talked on and on about them and written a few poems. Your father, the dentist, what he did to you when you were a child, the intentional pain. In his chair.
But then you have to have some dental work done and you get really scared and pissed all over again.
What does that have to do with anything?
The dear man I now see when my teeth need attention doesn't look like my father. He's Egyptian and speaks English with no trace of fluency. But his compassion is clear. He will put his hand on my shoulder and say, "Britt, I hurting you? Tell me. I hurting you?"
"No," I'll say. Or, "Numph," if his hand is still in my mouth and the dental assistant's hand is in my mouth and the receptionist's hand is in my mouth and the hands of the day laborers from the building site next door are there, and all the other dentists in the medical building have joined in. "Numph," I'll say. Or sometimes I'll just shake my head.
"Why you crying? I hurting you?"
He was of course; but not as much as my father, his shade, in his white coat with the mandarin collar, standing there.
Dr. Max had to reach that back molar, number three, while prepping it for a crown. My lip was stretched painfully, rictally; and Lucia, his assistant, in her need to help, was leaning on my arm, pinching my arm against the armrest, trying to get her hand in my mouth with that suction thing, all the way back to number three. Everybody's wearing goggles, looking like big bugs, all with their hands in my mouth, working on number three. And my father is standing there.
"I hurting you?" Dr. Max said, and took his hand out of my mouth.
"No, it's not you." A chance for the truth— but instead I laughed, mouth-full-of-cotton laughed. "It's Lucia. She's crushing my arm. There's more pain from my arm than from my mouth. But it's good; it's distracting; it's OK. My broken arm."
And we all laughed. Dr. Max, dear man, Lucia and I.
It’s the way I am when I’m there. I do jokes the whole time I'm in the chair. I start when he walks into the room. "Just a little off the top, not too short. Easy with the mousse. Say, I’m wearing my sandals, can I get a pedicure? Maybe a manicure, too? Hey! How's your insurance? I sell insurance, you know. What kind of car do you drive? You need good coverage, a professional man like you."
"Oh, Britt, you so funny. I laugh so much you make my face hurt."
"Your face? What about mine?"
On and on.
But when the Novocain wears off later in the day I will stop being funny to anybody who'll listen; angry. And I'm always surprised by my anger even though I should expect it by now. Dental pain. My father in his white coat standing there. God, how long does it take?
Forever. Never. ###