Wednesday, October 05, 2005


In two hours tooth #12 and I are going our separate ways.

It has a cracked root. A vertical crack. Or so the theory goes. No one is quite sure. It has endured a root canal, a crown and a gum debridement. It barely dodged an apicoectomy (believe me, you do not want to know what that is). It has given me many interesting hours of, oh, agony. It landed me in the periodontist's chair last summer.

After her dire predictions -- a dental domino theory of rotting teeth, brain abscesses and heart attacks -- and a raft of byzantine proposals involving packing my gums with human tissue and screwing things into my jaw, I politely backed away and went into swift and complete denial. #12 was, at that point, behaving itself. Oh, sure, if I bit down too hard on it, it replied with a weird little painless throbbing thing, a tooth's equivalent of a whimper. But a week or so ago its whimper rose to a groan, and, fearing upcoming unearthly screams, I phoned up the doctor. Best put the thing out of its misery.

But I drew the line. No creepy human tissue. No implants. Just yank the thing. Maybe (and then again maybe not) I'll have my dentist make me a fake little clip-on tooth.

It's depressing me. It seems like the beginning of the end. The first leaf of autumn falling off the tree. Today I begin my metamorphosis into toothless hag. I remember the day I first got my period my Mom handed me a pamphlet and a box of Kotex. I remember one thing from the pamphlet -- a photo of smiling adolescents, boys and girls, standing around a piano and singing. Apparantly that's what adolescents did for fun in 1960's. Good clean fun. No blood. No sex. No back alley abortions. No venereal diseases. Just sing-alongs. Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah ! Strummin' on the Old Ban-jo !

I'll probably get some kind of pamphlet today. So You've Lost Your First Tooth ! It will feature gauzy close-ups of dentures submerged water glasses. With that awful pink fake-gum plastic scaled with scraps of old polident. Senior citizens humming around a piano.

Last week a fierce wind cracked our spindly maple tree at the waist, and it toppled onto the Stick Boys' roof. DK summoned the arborist, and Mrs. Stick Boy summoned her insurance man. The workman and the bureaucrat arrived immediately. It was, by all accounts, like a scene from Brazil -- Robert DeNiro descending on ropes, Jonathan Pryce pulling up in his queer little car with an armful of byzantine forms.

They converged around the felled creature.

The Stick Boy family consists of a mom, a dad, a daughter or two and an enormous brace of boys of varying ages whose favorite pastime is hitting things with sticks as they run back and forth in their little back yard. Their signature tune -- whap whap whap whap whap whap whap -- floats over the back fence with a hail of balls, action figures, empty snack packets and other boyische effluvia, punctuated by pere Stick Boy's loud, angry shouts.

Last year the Mr and Mrs Stick Boy left us a note. It went something like this.

Dear Flamingo People. We would like you to cut down all your trees. Their shade prevents the grass from growing in our backyard and makes our back yard very damp. There is even mold here ! Thank you.

I bit my tongue. I did not point how their grass appeared to be trampled to dry dirt by their stampeding children. I did not suggest they cut off the stickboys' feet. We told them to feel free to trim whatever branches had strayed over their property.

Mrs Stick Boy has had a strange, almost perverse vendetta against the several small maple trees along our back fence. One morning a few years ago I looked out at our back yard and was surprised to see her standing there beside one of the trees. She was staring down at its base where a solitary branch had sprouted and was upthrust in a jaunty, Viagra-like angle.

I watched as she grabbed the errant branch, snapped it off and returned to her yard.

Staring up at the maple tree that had swooned onto their roof, the one she'd emasculated a few years back, Mrs Stick Boy was emboldened. She seized the day. She pleaded her case. They would all have to go. Really. Nothng else would do. She pointed at the downer's neighbor. Just look at all those branches sticking willy-nilly over her fence. Causing toxic shade to overspread her back yard. Suffocating her lawn, rotting the foundation of her house, killing and maiming her children. DK stared at his shoes. The arborist looked skyward. The insurance man scribbled in his ledger.

They did not tackle the big questions, though. Had the poor castratus finally exacted its revenge on Mrs Stick Boy ? And, if so, was it sweet ? Or had the tree avenged me, providing one, loud, answering whap ! to years and years of Stick Boys' whap whap whaps ?

The arborist pointed out that some maple branches were touching our own house. That was, he said, a Very Bad Thing. Bound to cause quasi-dental cascades of domestic catastrophe. So they made a plan. The arborist would return in the morning, lift the fallen maple from Mrs Stick Boy's roof, then trim a few branches from our remaining trees.

When we returned home the next day, the fallen tree was gone. The neighboring tree was gone. The remaining trees were crewcut. It was a butcher job, a massacre. I stood in the backyard staring up at new expanses of sky. Was that a cackling a I heard from behind the fence ? What will survive creeping defoliation ? Vinyl siding ? Boys with sticks ? Castrating mothers ? Bellowing fathers ?

So I, maybe out of unconscious, couvade-like sympathy, submit to the pliers. Poor trees. Poor tooth #12. Poor me.

No wonder we're feeling less than chipper this morning.

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