Thursday, July 28, 2005

Where is Gary Larson When You Need Him?

I got my teeth cleaned a couple of days ago. I wouldn't want to do it every day, but I like going to the dentist from time to time, like, say... twice a year or so. What I don't like is going twice in one week. The second time you go is when you spend some quality time with the actual dentist... the guy with the DDS. I don't know what you have to do to become a dentist, but it must not be pleasant, because those guys are mean.

I had never had a cavity before in my life. I was one of "those kids," if you will. I used to chew on aluminum foil just because I could, but no more. Now I chew things very softly because my jaw still aches from being held wide open for an ungodly amount of time. (An ungodly amount of time is approximately 45 minutes.)

In case you have never had a cavity filled, I would like to relay the process to you.

The dentist started by shining a bright light in my eyes and then politely laughing as I winced in pain. Unfortunately for him, he needed that light to see in my mouth, so it wasn't in my eyes for long. He oriented himself with the inside of my mouth (where I keep my cavities) and then, when I wasn't looking, put a very large needle inside. I never saw the true size of the needle, but I was uncomfortable with the fact that I could see his entire hand in full focus, yet somehow I could still feel something piercing my gums.

I really have nothing against getting stuck with a needle when it is filled with Novocain. I know that it is always better than the alternative. Pain receptors have no business working during an operation, so if it takes a needle to make them take a vacation, so be it, but I was starting to feel uncomfortable as the dentist continued to push the needle down the length of my gums. Was I supposed to say "when"? The needle was approaching my tonsils and I was about to say something, or gurgle or something, when he decided he needed more Novocain. Now I was getting concerned. By the time he was done I thought I would need some Novocain to take away the pain from the Novocain.

The dentist thought this would be a good time to leave me alone so I could think about what I had done. As I sat looking at my truck outside the window, I marveled at the fact that I had willingly come here. I was actually paying for this experience. My right cheek started feeling like I had been punched in the face but wasn't feeling the pain yet. My tongue felt like it had slept on its arm wrong. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to talk when the dentist came back, that I wouldn't be able to scream.

"Testing, testing, one two," I whispered. "Red rover, penguin, octopus. Lenny, Lucy, Larry. Yellow, watermelon. One two." I flicked my cheek and made a water drop sound. Good, I could still talk. But my mouth was getting worse. I didn't hear the dentist come back in because I was too busy not drooling.

"How does you mouth feel?"

"Okay." So far so good, but I had something important to say. "My right cheek feewls (crap, I was deteriorating) pw... pretty numb, but my left side feewls nowmle stiwl."

"That's alright," he explained. "I didn't give you any Novocain on the left side because that cavity is very small."

The thought entered my mind that this man may have been trained during wartime, when Novocain was rationed out by the government. Or maybe he was trying to save a few bucks wherever he could. Either way I was not pleased with his assessment, but saying the word "assessment" was out of the question at this point. Instead I gurgled and hoped for the best. I don't think he noticed.

I knew things were about to get serious when the dental assistant started putting on riot gear. She has pretty eyes, I thought, maybe she will protect me. Instead she put a vacuum cleaner attachment in my mouth. The dentist had something in his hand that looked like a tooth polisher; only instead of happy little bristles on the end it had a little metal drill. To be fair it was probably a happy little drill, but I was not glad to see it.

As I listened to the drill eat away at my tooth, and smelled the burning fumes coming out of my mouth, I thought back to the large needle. I imagined that I saw it standing upon a hillock across a large grassy field. I dropped my luggage and ran toward it as it ran toward me. In a furry of laughter and tears I jumped into its arms and it spun me around, and nothing mattered in the whole world but it and me, and me and it.

But there was still cavity number two, the one that had never felt the warm embrace of my friend the needle. After testing just how many metal objects he could fit in my mouth, and once his assistant was through blow drying my molar, the dentist started on the second cavity.

He started by spraying it with cold air. That felt very good, kind of like biting into an ice cream bar dipped in CO2. I gripped the chair like my mother had when I was making my grand entrance into the land where you chew your own food. I think there is some symbolism there. After that he played a little game that is kind of like Operation, in which you take a metal object and see how close you can get it to the nerve without hitting it while you scrape away at enamel. Whenever you mess up, instead of the board making a loud buzzing sound, the patient dies a little while his soul screams curses into the netherworld.

I was thinking the worst was over when the dentist handed me a pair of protective glasses.

"We're just going to clean out your tooth with something like a little sand blaster," he said.

Sand blasters hurt cement. I was opposed to the idea but my mouth had a Dyson in it (it never looses suction) and I only know half of the alphabet in sign language... not enough to sign "Hell No!"

It actually wasn't too bad once he got started, and when it was all said and done I was feeling pretty good about myself. The dental assistant kindly showed me to the door, where everyone was smiling because they take your money and never sit in that chair. Going home was kind of surreal. I felt like I should have a designated driver. As I mentioned earlier, my jaw was feeling like I had got out of hand with my boa constrictor impression again, but other than that I was alright.

Everything was alright, that is, until I tried eating lunch. But that is a story for another time.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Quest for the Overpriced Album - adapted from a two-part email serial begun May 7

The following is the complete and unabridged version of the gripping tale of a little boy in London on a quest to buy the new Coldplay album so he will have it for the plane ride home.

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who came from a land where stores typically closed between the hours of nine p.m. and midnight. However, a series of strange events had brought him to London, a grand city that the residents enjoyed so much they closed up shop at five p.m. and wandered around making the pigeons uncomfortable.

The boy had been waiting for the day that Coldplay would release their new album for many weeks. “Too bad I am in London though,” he thought, “Even if I did have my CD player with me, I would not want to pay $28 dollars for a CD.” For he knew that the exchange rate was not conducive to making purchases that could just as easily be made at home.

But then something amazing happened. A little girl who the little boy had recently met found out that he really liked music, and she offered to help. “You can borrow my CD player if you like; I haven’t even been using it the whole trip.”

The little boy thought about this, and, after realizing that he would very shortly be riding on one plane or another for about 14 hours, he decided that the purchase could be justified. However, he was still in the land of the five p.m. closing time, and it was now seven p.m.

Then the boy heard an amazing story, the legend of the music store that was open until midnight. No one knew the name of the place—some said it could never be found—but the little boy was determined. He went to a store and bought a magazine about local attractions, and then scanned every page until he read of a place called New Oxford Street, home of the Virgin Records Mega Store and the HMV.

“One of these must be it,” the boy resolved. And so he set out, just he and his dog, only without his dog, and all by himself.

If destiny really had any power, the boy felt certain that he would end the night listening to the glorious sounds of fair trade on a borrowed CD player.

Three stops north on the Northern line took the little boy to New Oxford Street. From there he set out into the west to liberate Coldplay from the bonds of plastic wrap and UPC. For three hundred leagues he could see nothing in the pitch darkness, neither before him nor behind him, and all was as pitch as the souls of the eastern hoards that roam the hills in search of innocent blood to satisfy the cries of the demons that drive them… to search for innocent blood.

Then, off in the distance, where the first rays of the rising sun make ready the cool damp earth for the coming celebration of light, he saw a yellow sign displaying red letters in a handwritten script. “The legend must be true,” he thought, “for here before me stands the Virgin Records Mega Store.”

Like the ancient rock of Stonehenge, Virgin Records stood tall and proud in a light that seemed to come from within its stone walls. Its purpose on Earth remained as mysterious as its origin, but no one could question that this place was a holy place.

Holy, but closed. And in the window a sign read, “Open at midnight for the release of X&Y, the new album by Coldplay.” Open at midnight, not until. The little boy wasted no time in figuring out what this meant. Surely the legend had spoken of the previous midnight, the hour in which the stars and moon declared this was the day of the X&Y, but that time had come and gone. Dejected, but not defeated, the boy pressed on.

He continued his westerly course in search of the HMV, the “top dog for music, DVD’s and games,” with a glimmer of hope in his heart. It seemed to the boy that the story that began his journey had reached his ears one day too late, but he could not turn back now, for signs on both sides of the road heralded the presence of a nearby HMV. If any truth could be drawn from the signs then it was indeed the largest retailer of CD’s and DVD’s in the country.

Presently the little boy came upon the HMV. From a distance he saw that the gate over the main entrance was closed, and his heart sank, but then, he saw a light. A cloaked figure stole out of the doorway and paused for a moment in the street. The pale orange glow from a cigarette steadied in his left hand illuminated deep pits and jagged scars behind his jacket's raised collar. The man looked at the little boy with a pair of lifeless eyes whose light had been rotted out from countless years in putrid darkness.

The heroes of yore would have thought no less of the boy if he had ended the quest right then, but his love for Coldplay steadied his heart and made firm his resolve. “Hello,” came the first word to break the still of the chill night air. “Is the store still open?”

The man in the doorway moved imperceptibly at the little boy’s words, or perhaps he stayed true to his position and it was the very pillars of the universe that moved around him. Either way the words had some unnatural effect, for it seemed to the boy that when the man looked down at him, he was truly seen. The man looked past the boy's body and into his hopes, and fears, and dreams, and regrets, and in a moment the boy was as known to this man as he was to his Maker. And so his words came as the answer not just to the boy’s question, but to his entire existence. “No, it isn’t,” he said.

The anguish that the little boy felt was of such immensity that few who know it survive to tell, and still fewer would dare burden their fellow man with its accurate description. Juliet’s sorrow upon awakening in the cold, lifeless arms of her Romeo was unblemished gaiety at the throne of the Almighty compared to the little boy’s affliction.

It seemed to the boy that falling to the ground would take too much effort, so there he stood. To return would only mean waking up the next day in his Coldplaylessness. To press on would be to fight a battle that had already been lost. Hope had become a childhood fantasy turned into a bad memory.

It is in times like these that the unexpected is called a miracle. Out of no will of his own the little boy raised his head and looked farther into the west. There, on the edge of the horizon, shone the bright white sign of a Borders Books, and below it, a wide open door and customers within. What force moved the boy's legs he did not know, for many miles lay between he and the bookstore, but the earth seemed to rush under his feet like a mighty torrent, and he had no sooner finished reading the sign then he found himself entering the store. There is was, Coldplay X&Y, "Their best yet," rows upon rows of a printer test-like block of colors on a solid night sky blue.

The little boy stepped up to the counter and made his purchase, but he never left that store. No, the figure that walked through the exit may have been wearing the same gray t-shirt with the same blackcurrant stain on the front, and the same black jacket from the same Sports Chalet, but anyone watching that night would not have seen a boy walk through that door and step into the night. What came out of the store that night was a man.

This is the tale of the one who risked life and limb for X&Y. May all who read it find comfort in the knowledge that men of such courage do exist in this world.

This is the last place I would ever sit on a wood chipper. No wonder this guy's parents make him wear reflective clothing and a helmet.

I am Ahab. A lot of people are surprised that I spent 22 days in Britain as the only guy with 14 girls and I didn't come back married. The truth is that I did get married, but a white whale ate the bonnie lass.

The pelicans in Greenwich do not have any privacy protection laws. I didn't actually see the pelican, but I hope it is okay.

Shut up all of you

That is all really, can't you see it is summer? I want high speed internet back!