NUMB: The Tilted Chair of Horrors

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Bill Murray: Still from Little Shop of Horrors, 1986

I’d rather be tied to a chair with my eyelids taped open during the evil midnight screening of Clown Town — in the middle of a theater full of evil clowns in an evil clown city — than to be bibbed and gauzed in a reclining chair with four hands shoved in my mouth, trying to make small talk and laugh at tepid jokes while trying not to choke on my own spit at some dentist’s office.

Anyone who chooses to spend 8 or more hours a day within kissing distance of rotten teeth, diseased gums, and cat-shit breath needs to be sedated and tucked away somewhere no sharp objects are allowed (also, no benign-looking power tools), along with all the birthday party clowns and middle-school teachers.

(Translation: Clowns and dentists, fuck off. Middle school teachers, why?!? and also, I’m sorry for being a middle school student once.)

I’m kind of an expert on the wonder that is the dental chair. It used to be a point of pride for me to be able to hold my mouth open, at the precise angle the dentist needed, for like eleventy hours.

I was hungry enough for praise that being patted on the back by the dentist for being SO GOOD AT HOLDING MY MOUTH OPEN was enough to make dental appointments a positive experience for me, regardless of the severity of the accompanying torture of the visit. That was before TMJ disorder, and blow jobs (also before using my TMJ disorder to get out of giving blow jobs).

I started my life on well water, non-fluoridated, so I had my first root canal when I was seven or eight. Back then, you went to an endodontist for root canals, and the closest one to where I lived was in Lubbock, TX. It was about a 90 minute drive, and after my appointment, my mom would take me to Red Lobster. And, the endodontist performed a root canal over several appointments, so we went once a month, for like 6 months, to finish one root canal.

That’s a lot of Red Lobster (and I was, unashamedly, a Red Lobster WHORE) for what was basically the equivalent of a 2-hour long procedure today. So, I started life with a positive dental relationship, even though my enamel-less teeth made me a frequent flyer.

When we moved to Alaska, I was nine. We found a quaint, local dental establishment and immediately dove full-bore into putting our multi-syllabic (7, to be exact), unpronounceable (I know it’s 7 because now, thirty-something years later, I can say his name) Italian dentist’s six brilliant Italian kids through college.

He was a two-man operation — just him and his hygienist of the month. Sometimes, the hygienists were lovely. Sometimes, they were bitchy. But only one ruined dental visits for me forever.

I was twelve, and just about ready to get braces on my buck-toothed self. But first, I had to have (yes, another…number 6, to be exact) a root canal. By now, I was getting the whole treatment in a single sitting. I remember my dad brought me to this appointment. I remember it because he never took me anywhere, so of course, he was there on this, the day that every dental visit would be measured by forever.

I was in the chair, deep into the procedure. I’d been fully numbed-up, mouth was wide open and totally dry, and I’d entered that state of semi-consciousness one enters that makes going to the dentist a bearable experience (if you are unaware of how to enter into a semiconscious state, look me up. I’m the dissociation guru). Even with the screaming of the drill and Dr. 7 Syllables’ sausage fingers stuffed in my mouth, I felt peaceful.

Then, suddenly, I felt wet. My tongue felt it first, because it had been so dry and then, OASIS…but…not.

My dentist jumped back, knocking over his tray of torture instruments. They went flying. One landed on my leg, and I realized in that moment that my leg was wet, too. And my cheek. My hair.

Turns out SOMEONE (I don’t want to name names) had come to work with the stomach flu and had decided that upchucky feeling in her tum-tum was not a good enough reason to step the fuck away from the little girl with the wide-open mouth.

And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Except, until you’ve showered with what is, in essence, a glorified water-pik, you haven’t lived.

Note: The next time I went to the dentist, the same woman was there. I said, being 12 and all, “Hey! You’re the lady who puked on me!” to which she replied, “Young lady, it’s rude to remind someone of their mistakes!”

I’ve often wished that had happened in the era of heavy litigation, but alas. It was only 1985 or something. To his credit, Dr. 7 Syllables told her she could go home and she was never seen or heard from again.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I know I want it to be spelled right and punctuated correctly. I guess that’s something.

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