Saturday, May 25, 2013

a life

Funeral today, a man I knew from "the racket" as I heard Marc Maron refer to it recently. Otherwise known as "the program" to those who go and those who just know.

A  nice man, a good man. Family man, involved and engaged member of his community and his church. Spent summer vacations building housing for the poor, loved the islands, loved his grandchildren. Never a bad word to say about anyone, beloved by all.

The old me might have been harboring a sneaky "but..." around here somewhere, a hard-bitten counter to all this seeming good cheer and life-affirming wholesomeness. It's true that such a tactic can produce more compelling reading. You've got your setup, next comes the expected fall of the other shoe.

But I have nothing here but sadness for this man's passing, and for his family and friends left behind. There is some sadness too for the awareness that I didn't really get to know him very well beyond the one meeting I used to see him at over the years. I did speak with him after meetings a bit, and always inquired about his health since last year when he became sick with cancer. He seemed so hopeful, so upbeat, never in the dumps that I ever saw. Just a force for life.

The service was brilliant as the Brits say. Singing, heartfelt memories from the pulpit by his three children, his best friend, his brother - a much more appealing and true and right way of doing things than the "one speaker eulogy" bullshit I'm all too familiar with. Give everyone a chance to say goodbye in public, to pay tribute.

Nothing more to say but another good man gone. Peace my friend. Peace.

Monday, May 13, 2013

after the savoy truffle

Nothing makes you feel like you’ve officially begun the slide down Geezer Mountain's gelatinous ass crack like having two teeth yanked out in the space of less than a year. At least the gaps are in the back, in the case of one, and almost all the way in the back, in the case of the other. In other words, you can't see them when I smile, not that I'm much of a smiler. At least I think you can't. I hope not. Turning fifty is bad enough, I don't need to be looking like Gabby from Blazing Saddles. Imagine me wearing a dusty old prospector’s hat and speaking in “authentic frontier gibberish” with my already-incomprehensible New Jersey accent. Sheesh.

The worst part about both tooth extractions was the drive back home. My dentist works out of two offices. One is right in town - easy walking distance. The other office is an hour away. Naturally both teeth went five-alarm bad on days when he was not in the local office. The first time I went in on a Monday. The pain intensified all weekend so that by the time Monday finally arrived I could barely see straight and was ready to take the goddamn thing out myself with an old ice skate like Tom Hanks in Castaway. The drive there was not fun, slumped over the steering wheel and moaning loudly the whole way there.

Then came the extraction itself. Did I say the drive was the worst part? Correction: the extraction was the worst part. Definitely. This was an upper molar, second-to-last from the back. It had already been drilled & filled many times through the years, not to mention root-canaled and amalgamated to a mere ghostly outline of its former self. 

First off I needed about 10-15 shots of lidocaine just to get going. For reasons that have never been clear I have some kind of freaky dental nerve problem, extra branches or some shit, so that practically my whole face can be numb but I’ll still sometimes feel a jolt when the drill hits. Many dentists have been baffled. None have provided satisfying answers as to why. Usually I just get a "Gee, you really shouldn't be feeling any discomfort at this point" while I'm wincing in electroshock agony and feeling around on the utensil tray for something sharp to stab him with.

So I get relatively numb, the dentist starts to pull out the shell of root and…crack. Not enough left to pull it out cleanly. So he had to pliers that fucker out in four excruciating sections. Pain so bad I was practically crying. I may have been literally crying, I’m not sure. But it was bad. And it went on for about 45 minutes, which is a long goddamned time for something like that. I was thinking John McCain had it worse than this and he turned out OK. Not much help there. For one thing, I don't much care for John McCain aside from his valorous service. For another he was half my age when he went through that shit. Finally, this dentist was a friendly, not someone who was looking for useful information from me other than Is it safe to put this claim in with your insurance company?

So the yanking went on and on. After a while I was in a little bit of shock I think. Just floating in and out of a dazed unreality. I imagined one of my kids having to go through this, the absolute panic involved. But you know how it is when you’re an adult. Without benefit of the masking hysterics that children can utilize, you’re forced to face the reality that there’s nothing to do about it but hang on until it's over. The idea of crying seems stupid, pointless. So you just sit there and take it. But bloody hell. The worst pain by far that I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I sat all the way through The Prince of Tides.

Anyway he finally creaks out the last jagged piece of root, which felt and sounded like a rusty nail being prybarred from an old oaken door, then he wedges a massive wad of cotton gauze in there, tells me to bite down hard, and sends me on my way with a prescription for vicoprofen (which I can’t take) and a fat stack of extra gauze. "You should expect some bleeding," he says. Hey thanks pal. 

The drive home was hilariously miserable. First I staggered around the Little China section of town, a middle aged white guy spitting out blood like it’s Red Man tobacco juice, all disoriented and sensitive to sunlight, trying to find my car. I got in and started driving. I was on the highway before I realized that I had nothing in the car to spit the blood into. So basically I had to hold an ever-expanding reservoir of blood and mucus in my mouth for an hour until I finally pulled into the parking lot at my Shop Rite pharmacy, opened the door, leaned out and released a giant spittoonful of what was essentially medical waste onto the little landscaped wedge of dirt between the parked cars and the shopping cart return area. I remember thinking that if I came back later there might well be some giant carnivorous plant growing there a la Little Shop of Horrors. So far I haven't gone back to look.

So that was the first tooth. The second one was about a month ago. This one was not as bad. Came out in one clean, if tremendously painful, scrunch, so there was that good. Also I'd remembered to put an empty 32-ounce yogurt container in the car for the long, bloody drive home. This time it was a Sunday. I was grateful that he told me to come in on his day off. But it was a little on the weird side. He was the only person there. No assistant, did absolutely everything all by himself. It was a bit unnerving at first but it went fine. I was so tense after the last tooth, I started having these odd horror-movie thoughts like Is he going to ask himself for the dental instruments and then zip around behind me on his wheeled office chair and say "Here you are, doctor!" But he was cool.

Actually we weren’t completely alone. His wife and one year old son came in just as we got going. The boy would toddle down the hall, stop at the operating room and peer in at me. I thought it might be a bit much for a kid that young to be seeing his dad, bloody metal torture implements in his hand, standing over some strange blood-covered man. But apparently I was the only one who had this concern. The child was expressionless. He just looked in the room and then kept moving. His dad said nothing, just went about his work. I figured hey, your dad’s a dentist, you’re gonna see shit like this, might as well get used to it early.

The big question in my mind was, Why was there pain at all since both of these teeth had had root canals? The answer was infection. The first tooth had cracked under the gum, and that’s where the infection developed. But when the second tooth came out in one piece I was confused. How did the infection get in if the nerve-root was dead and filled and the tooth-root was not cracked? Turns out I had a tiny hairline groove that ran along the tooth-root, which he showed me later after the tooth was out. This tiny groove allowed food particles to get under the gum. He said no amount of brushing and flossing could have prevented it. This brings to mind two thoughts. One, this may partly explain why I’ve had so many cavities in my life. And two, I may be in for some more molar yankin’ in the future. Something to look forward to. I’m wondering if the missing teeth will be evenly distributed. As of now I’m down to 28 teeth. Not 32 minus the four wisdom teeth, but the two upper wisdom teeth and now these two upper molars, one from each side. So now I’m picturing myself gradually losing all my upper teeth while keeping all the bottom ones, and end up looking like some weird deep-sea angler fish.

Or like my dad. He lost all his uppers when he was like 18 or 19. Smashed in the face with a hurling stick – during a game of hurling, at least, not while getting jumped in a Dublin street robbery by some drunken mick. The guy who hit him went on to become a Jesuit priest. Funny.

I used to think it was awful, going through his whole life like that without any upper teeth. But Dad always saw the positive side of things. “It’s not so bad once you get used to it” – true of many aspects of life, maybe. “Actually it’s a lot easier to take care of my teeth this way,” he’d say. I’d watch him at the bathroom sink. “Observe.” He’d remove the single plate of teeth, brush his gums underneath, then take the toothbrush and brush the hell out of the plate of dentures like he was scrubbing potatoes in the sink with a vegetable brush. “Look,” he’d say. “I don’t even need to floss them!” Then he’d rinse the teeth off and plop them into a glass of water and put them on his night table like he was already the senior citizen he would one day become.

So there it is, my two-molars-yanked-in-one-year story. Not as compelling a story as it seemed at the time. But I figure any story with that much blood in it -- especially when it's my blood -- simply has to be told. At least according to Tarantino, although really what the fuck does he know?