I placed the magazine nonchalantly in my lap and covered it with my purse. With one hand pretending to grope for a tissue, and the other hand secretly holding the desired page, I began to tug.
I stopped, fearing the man across from me heard the initial tear, but just then, the doors to the waiting room opened, and a bulky woman entered in a boisterous rush. “Sorry I’m late!” she bellowed in the direction of the receptionist’s window. I took the noisy opportunity to finish the deed.
In one fell swoop, I tore the page out of the magazine and slipped it into my bag. Grabbing lip balm to give supposed purpose to my shifty movements, I tried to look bored.
Yes! I always wanted a good recipe for peach cobbler and now I’ve got it, I thought. Feeling a little guilty as I always do when I compulsively tear recipes out of waiting room magazines, I tried to accept this tiny tendency toward kleptomania as a minor personality flaw.
A few minutes later, a young hygienist with a fluorescent white smile called my name. The exam room had the usual dental décor – reclining chair, rolling instrument cart, torturously bright light suspended from robotic hinged arm, pamphlet rack, and poster with ghastly photos of gum disease.
She adorned me with a paper bib and laid the lead x-ray vest over my torso. One after the other, she jammed those uncomfortable little x-ray slides into my gums, each time asking me to open wider. After a dozen or more x-rays, I felt as if my lips had exceeded their elasticity and might droop down past my chin like one of those Ethiopian tribal women.
The hygienist then gave me the run down: first I’d meet the dentist [how nice of him to grace me with his presence,] then he’d take a look at my gums [poke me with a sharp object while shouting secret codes,] then she’d clean my teeth [most likely with a chisel, ice pick and sledge hammer,] then he’d come back [and try to sell me some expensive cosmetic procedure I don’t need.]
Soon, the dentist loped into the room and flashed a huge toothy white grin. “Hi there, I’m Dr. Altenbach!” He was wearing blue scrubs as if he’d just performed heart surgery in the other room and looked to be all of about 19. During some initial chit chat, he noticed my Smart Phone beside my purse and blurted, “Hey, my dad has the same phone; do you like the keyboard? Cuz if not, I can show you an app that he really likes.”
First of all, I am still not quite sure what an app is, but more importantly, why is this guy putting me in the same category as his father?
As Dr. Altenbach poked my gums with his fish hook on a stick, my mind wandered back to my childhood dental exams. I recalled the taste of soap in my mouth from Dr. Petras’ freshly washed bare hands as he cleaned my teeth using the sterile instruments laid out on a blue paper towel on top of a rolling metal tray. He polished my teeth with the ticklish little rotating pencil eraser tool. I had to rinse and spit many times into a swirling sink that looked like a miniature toilet bowl, and always had trouble disconnecting myself from a long string of saliva.
The goggle-protected hygienist woke me out of my daydreams to jab me with her own set of weapons. I could not help but marvel at her sparkling white straight teeth. Dr. Petras had his share of coffee stains and fillings, but today, everyone in a dentist’s office has unnaturally white, perfect teeth. It’s nothing but a high pressure sales tactic, I thought.
At a pause in the cleaning, I looked around for the little toilet bowl, but there was no where to rinse and spit. Instead, the hygienist hooked me like a catfish with a curved plastic tube that magically sucked my mouth dry.
When it was all done, I sat up and tried to put my lips back into place. As promised, Dr. Altenbach showed me how to download the new app, and while he was demonstrating, I noticed that his phone’s home screen had a running surf report. Also, I thought I saw him wiggle his hand with his thumb and pinkie extended in a “hang loose” motion a couple times when he was telling me where to get good fish tacos.
As I checked my teeth in the rear view mirror on the way home, I realized I’ve entered that phase of life when doctors, news casters, and even presidents are younger than I am. I learned that, although may be difficult to take direction from someone who you are older but not wiser than, it’s part of the natural progression of life. Besides, I thought, who’s the one with the peach cobbler recipe, hu?