Friday, March 04, 2005

The Art Of Tooth

Tooth #3, which, in league with the recently reamed-out tooth #2 has been plying its little infected icepick from my palate to my temple to my ear these past tedious weeks, had its final assignation with the grim rooter today. I got to visit yet another of my endodontic group's offices -- they have a veritable root canal empire here in Eastern Massachusetts -- this one in Kenmore Square just behind Fenway Park. The office was nearly empty, tastefully if blandly decorated in pomo grays and blacks, with an oddly low suspended ceiling, probably designed to reassure and comfort. All will be well. Let me hug you. You have exhausted your insurance benefits. Are you all right ?

A cheerful young technician whom I couldn't help noting had beautiful teeth led me toward the dental operatory. I sat down and found myself facing the glass wall of a small greenhouse. Beyond the greenhouse I could see a balconied apartment facade, some low rooftops and, four stories below, the dirty, end-of-winter city streets. In the greenhouse was a random collection of wan looking plants -- some big, paddle-leafed tropical jobs admixed with philodendrons and other droopy indigenous houseplants, some hanging, some in big pots on the floor. The pots sat on a clumpy bed of dull gravel. There was a sinuous, makeshift wall, red bricks two precarious layers thick, in one corner. There was something sad about the greenhouse. It was not lush enough. The plants looked like subway riders, all studiously avoiding one another. Or strangers stuck in an elevator, or in a Jean-Paul Sartre play. The greenhouse made me nervous. Like a lab experiment in progress. A lab accident in progress.

As I waited for the dentist I scanned the rest of the decor, probably installed by Corporate Art, Inc.

There were three prints on the walls. One was of large, nested squares in various shades of orange. It was unsigned and ugly. Ultra geometric. And very, very orange. Blood orange. Angry orange. Not ragingly angry, mind you. Peevishy, whiningly angry. Not the fiery orange of someone raging at the godless universe, but the flushed, bilious orange of someone cut off in traffic or someone who's had a toothache for a month. You talkin' to me ?? Or, better still, Don't you fuckin' look at me !!!

On another wall was a Warhol Monroe -- red face, green hair, and one blurred, vibratory slash of white: her teeth. Now we were getting somewhere. Artistically speaking. Teeth ! Starlet. Icon. Dentist office. OK. I'm working with you now, anonymous corporate decorator.

The third picture was a print of closed scissors standing point upward, the handle buried beneath a horizon line, all in dull, washed-out blues and beiges. There were three words written on its pallid background: sky, Washington, obelisk. What the image lacked in interest, color and beauty it made up in sheer phallicity. Had this print made its errant way from the "Urology" or "Psychoanlysis" Collection into my endodontist's office ? I sat there in my little tissue paper bib, pondering.

Then I spotted it.

The coup de grace of the dental installation. The piece that pulled it all together. The thematic keystone, if you will. It sat on a pedestal in the corner opposite me: a bisected geode, the size of a large canteloupe, its quartz-toothed open mouth facing me. All the better to eat you with, my dear.

Now this was something I could really sink my deconstructive teeth into. Here was the vagina dentata to the opposite wall's phallic scissors/obelisk ! My brain whirred into hermeneutic overdrive. I considered the stunning irony of scissors as phallus. A phallus that carries within it the means of its own castration ! I contemplated the shadowy, toothed space -- open, inviting. The biter and the bitten ! The rooter and the rooted ! Oh lovely, endodontal/exodontal bisexuality ! Come here, Red Marilyn, I love you !

Now I was really cooking with Freud. I thought of tooth #3 -- that instrument of biting and piercing, of phallic intrusion -- of tooth #3 that was about to be pierced to the very depths of its roots by the dentist's thin little probes and p(r)icks and drills ! The vivid face of Monroe with its slash of white teeth glowed in one corner. The gaping maw of the fanged, hungry geode gaped from the other. Tooth #3 throbbed in my jaw. How could it bite my dentist's finger off if it was too painful to even touch with my tongue ? The savage orange squares pulsated somewhere around my right temple. A thick vine began to slither slowly, slowly toward me. A mettalic sound -- a high pitched snip, snip, snip --came from behind my left ear.

Atropos ! Novocaine ! I screamed, and the rest is a clove-and-peppermint scented blur.

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