If Style

Two full days this week—Tuesday and today—occupied with reading and reviewing student work means I am almost (almost) finished with the spring term. Today’s workday consisted of reading final projects and exams for ENGL328—a pleasurable enough undertaking all unto itself that it was not exactly a relief when my dentist’s office called late morning to offer a wait-list invitation for a 1 p.m. cleaning. Needed a break anyway: sure, I’ll take it.

Talkative hygienist talked: about a pain-free gum-poke test she would administer, about the relatively unkempt upper-outer-left region, about how that was because I was right handed, about the Chinese lanterns she’d used to decorate the vacation Bible school classroom where she’d spent that morning, about how I was her first patient of the day, about slow-notice children who saw and asked about the Chinese lanterns for the first time today, about how it makes no sense that EMU needed to raise tuition this year, about etc., about etc. For the price of clean teeth, an hour of arhetorical listening, I kept thinking. And then back to the office for two hours or so of more work.

Gems from the exams included one poignant opening paragraph that described exactly what I understand to be the value of this version of ENGL328. Another had the momentarily-profound-seeming typo, Elements If Style. And then there were sentences that rattled around in my head all day after I read them; one about how for the interdependence of writing and living this was a class in “radical biology,” another about how teaching well means constantly sending sound lines through the water. Rattling1: an inversion of Rich’s “You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it,” as “You must live as if your reading and writing depended on it.” What is a pulse, anyway, if not streaming cardiovascular inscription? Rattling2: for the adrift, academically and otherwise, sonic confirmation that there is an uneven floor beneath these immediate surfaces. And so, yes, a delight to read, a short term near-complete, and, next, in less than 1000 minutes, summer vacation, a few weeks of summer R&R (Rest and Relaxation, better described as Reading and Research).

Dental Horoscopy

Taurus (April 20-May 20): The energy and enthusiasm you sense at the start of your day will soon be
displaced by the unbearable deeps of mouth cavity x-ray hell at your a.m.
dental appointment–the first with a new dentist.  You’ll consider
requesting an x-ray of your mangled kneepulp while they’re at it but then
realize that you couldn’t ask if you wanted to because the sharp-edged x-ray
tabs are so firmly lodged in the soft tissue beneath your tongue that the
salty tears of death-in-a-dental-chair are welling up. Ten images
left…ninth one, bite down…hold.
  At your initial appointment, a
"consultation" involving x-rays and an exam, you’ll learn of an afternoon
cancellation–a 2:00 p.m slot freed up for you to return later for a cleaning.
Sweet luck, because otherwise you’d have to wait to April to get your smilers
degunked and shined.  You’ll accept the appointment.  On returning to
the densist’s chair later in the day, another hygienist will make small talk
with you while going hyper-jab-wild with the small metal hook-scraper, knitting
those healthy gums into a slick bloodrow of wrecked mouthflesh. Your only
comfort will be her bringing up the Superbowl, the weather, the approach of
Valentine’s Day, and the visit to her daughter’s school last week to kick off
this, Dental Hygiene Month. Meanwhile the smooth
and timeless sounds of Lionel Ritchie ("Say You, Say Me") and Joe Cocker ("You
Are So Beautiful") merge into soothing synch with the scratch-scratch of steel hooks grinding
against enamel.

You’re everything I hoped for
You’re everything I need
You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me

Was A Toothy Kid

And so I wore a plastic retainer, top and bottom, for four or five years. At
lunch, I would pop the metal-plastic devices out and wrap them in napkins to
avoid showing (and thereby stimulating the raucous fun-making, teasing,
ridicule, shame, etc.) them to onlookers while we ate.  Throughout first
grade we public schoolers ate lunch in the basement of the Catholic church next
door to the little yellow school house.  For first and second-graders only,
the yellow school was a two-roomer, later demolished because of an infestation
of bees. (Yellow building…swarm of bees, I’m serious) But back in the basement
of the Catholic church (the same cafeteria used to feed the kids who attended
the Catholic school), a half hour with all the ordinary aliments and
routines–something with mashed potatoes. Until I absentmindedly tossed
the napkin-wrapped retainers into the trash with the rest of my unconsumed
foodstuff.  Unnoticed.  About an hour later, coming off the high of
recess, it occurred to me that I’d misplaced the expensive straighteners. 
And so I quit my crying, and Mrs. W talked my two good friends (P. and S.) into
walking back over to the basement of the Catholic church where everyone
including the priest, no doubt, had finished their mid-day victuals and had left
us more than eight gigantic bags of garbage.  The three of us picked
through it, bit by bit by bit in search of the coveted set of plastic retainers. 
S. finally found them (said he thought it was a bundle of potatoes; why do kids
wrap up food they intend to throw out?), saved the day.  Quite a friend, S. 

Of course the dental drama carried forward.  There were lots of dentist
appointments, too many after-schools spent in the dentist’s waiting room. 
It was high-priced torture, really.  In fact, eventually, I was awarded a
wire key, which I used to crank a single arrow-notch each week, thereby turning
the screw that widened the apparatus that stretched my aching jaw over a period
of several years.  Dental behaviorism: "When it stops hurting, turn
the key again."   

No stranger
all the agony that follows from accepting an invitation to sit
in the chair, I returned to the dentist this morning for a regular cleaning (a
new dentist for me since we’re less than a year in NY).  Have a brief
pictographic recapitulation of the one hour appointment:

Clown posters, a record-setting repeat loop of
Uptown Girl, and bleeding gums.