Dentalaphobia

She was terrifying.

The dental hygienist was a size zero but her protective gear doubled her weight. She wore a weird combination of hazmat suit, welder’s gear, and executioner’s hood. Her breathing would make Darth Vader proud. 

The dental chair jerked back as she thrust the interrogation lamp inches from my face. 

“Shall we begin?” she asked in a creepy whisper.

“Ok,” I said tentatively. 

She switched on the lamp and my face was enveloped with a zillion lumens of light. My eyes started to water. I wiped them quickly, hoping she wouldn’t think less of me.

She ignored my uncomfort and picked up an old spear from her rusty pile of tools on the floor. 

“Open up!” she commanded with the authority of a drill sergeant. 

I opened my mouth nervously and tried to move my lips and gums away from my teeth, even though they’re attached.

She laughed and shouted, “Wider!”

I may have pulled a muscle somewhere in my face as I obeyed. I opened my mouth wider than ever and then doubled it. I’m not sure because I was blinded by the light, but she may have actually stepped inside my mouth for the remainder of the examination.

She began the exam by jabbing the gums surrounding each of my teeth with a javelin used in the 1988 Olympic games. Then I was forced to remove all moisture from my head and upper torso by closing my mouth around her industrial strength straw vacuum. After using what sounded like a spin saw to coat my teeth in gritty goo, she rinsed my mouth with at least 20 gallons of water. Fortunately, she removed it once again with her liquid sucking torture device. Finally, she pulled out a large rope salvaged from the Mayflower and used it as dental floss. She jammed the rope (and probably a few chains) back and forth through the rows of my teeth as I wept silently and gripped the sides of my chair. 

Then, her verbal assault began.  

“You haven’t been flossing. You know you can get floss anywhere. Pharmacies, grocery stores, Walmart, Walgreens, Dollar General, they all have it. Even some gas stations sell dental floss. You have no excuse… No excuse.” 

Finally, my punishment, uh, exam was over and I was able to close my mouth and breathe normally. 

Suddenly, I heard upbeat 80’s music and the dentist popped in. 

“So, how’s it going, my man?” he asked too energetically. “Open wide and let me peek inside.”

I opened my mouth as before and he examined my teeth for approximately 8-10 seconds. 

“Looks great!” he cried as he shoved a plastic bag in my hand. Inside I found 6 inches of dental floss and a firm toothbrush that we’ll probably use to clean the grout between tiles.

“Thank you,” I replied to thin air, not realizing he had disappeared.

I crawled to the checkout desk and paid my copay, the most enjoyable part of my visit.

“See you in six months!” cried the clerk as I limped away.

I vowed at that moment to switch dentists, but I’ll probably forget, just like I forget to floss.

*Special thanks to Jonathan Borba and Unsplash for the image

The Mr. Potters of My Life

I love the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. 

I love watching George Bailey grow up and struggle to help a town he desperately wants to leave. I smile when George and Mary fall in love and move into an old abandoned house, when he’s in the business of helping people move into new homes. I love seeing Clarence, Angel Second Class, jump into the freezing water because George would jump in to save him. I love hating the miserly Mr. Potter, especially when he keeps the $8,000 that belongs to the Bailey Building and Loan. 

Because It’s A Wonderful Life has become such a part of my Christmas traditions, I was surprised to learn that Jimmy Stewart almost declined the role of George Bailey. Having returned from his World War II military service, Stewart considered giving up acting as a career in lieu of something that might be considered “more important” to society. Conflicted over his decision, he sought advice from Lionel Barrymore, a seasoned actor in Hollywood. Barrymore encouraged Stewart to continue with acting and to accept the role of George Bailey, emphasizing the positive message of the movie. Fortunately, Mr. Stewart followed the advice of Mr. Barrymore and accepted the role of George Bailey. Ironically, Lionel Barrymore was also cast in the film as Mr. Potter, the evil rich nemesis of George Bailey.

Years ago, I wrote a paper on heroes and villains in movies, cartoons, and comics. In many fictitious worlds, heroes are all good and villains are all bad. If a villain repents, he often becomes all good (Like The Grinch, Scrooge, Anakin Skywalker, etc…) But in reality, only God is totally good and only Satan is totally bad. Most people in the land of the living are actually somewhere in between, even though their stories rarely create the conflict needed for best sellers and box office hits. So, how do we deal with this in storytelling? We create heroes and villains who are all good and all bad to continue the conflict to make the story interesting.

Unknowingly, we sometimes do the same thing in life. 

I know I do. 

I make people out to be all good or all bad because it enhances my own story. Life is just easier when there’s a villain. When there’s a bad guy in my life, it makes it easier for me to cast myself as the hero, the all good hero. Rather than striving for communication and understanding, it’s easier for me to blame my woes on those who are different from me, you know, the villains. When I’m struggling, I find myself creating Mr. Potters out of anyone and everyone who is an easy target. It’s a shame, because unlike the world of movie, cartoon, and comic book villains, behind the many Mr. Potters I’ve created are countless Lionel Barrymores, full of insight I just might need at just the right time.

Becoming a Preschooler

No one ever told me that passing 50 meant I would become a preschooler.

I’ll explain.

Recently, I felt I deserved an extra dose of happiness, better known as a chili dog. It was an hour before dinner so I figured it was an appetizer. It was also top secret, meaning my wife was never supposed to know about it. 

Big mistake. 

I purchased my extra dose of happiness from the cheapest fast food place available, pulled into the street, and took an enormous bite all the while trying to balance my food so it wouldn’t drip the overdone chili into my lap. 

My happiness turned to sorrow when my first bite got stuck in my esophagus.

I parked in front of a Burger King and stood to my feet, thinking that would help. It didn’t. 

I raised my arms over my head to help the food go down. It didn’t.

I took a big drink of soda thinking it would force it down. It didn’t. Instead, the drink mixed with the chili and I vomited it all over the Burger King parking lot which I’m sure was an appetizing site for those inside the restaurant window while trying to enjoy their Whopper.

Fortunately, I could breathe, but the food was still stuck in my throat. 

I drove home, stopping to spit up in front of various homes and businesses. Finally I walked through my front door, thinking that being home and seeing my wife would magically cause the food to go down. It didn’t. 

In between non productive vomiting spells, I explained the situation to my wife. Very calmly, she grabbed her purse and keys and said, “Come on, let’s take you to the doctor.” 

As she drove me to the nearest urgent care, I sat with a garbage pail between my knees and realized she wasn’t going to destroy me over this. 

Later, in the examination room, I managed to tell a doctor about what had happened. The doctor, who was at least 13, nodded without saying much. She left the room and came back with what she called an upper G.I. cocktail.

“Drink this,” she said. “It will relax your throat and help you swallow.”

“If I drink that, I’ll throw up,” I said.

“No you won’t,” she said. 

So, I drank the cocktail and instantly threw it back up in the small sink.

“Ooo, that’s pretty gross,” she said. Not sure I’ve ever heard a medical professional say that in front of a patient before. “Let me get you another one.”

Thankfully, the second dose relaxed my esophagus and my food finally found its home in my stomach. I thanked my doctor, wished her luck at her upcoming Jr. High Homecoming dance, and drove home.

The moment I parked the car, my wife went berzerk. Her eyes grew to the size of basketballs and stared straight into my soul. Her mouth opened wide enough to swallow giant watermelons. Her mouth moved so fast that I heard the boom of the sound barrier break. Our neighbors opened their doors to see if some sort of explosion had taken place. 

I deserved it. She was right. 

Now, in regards to food, I feel like a preschooler. My wife regularly reminds me what I can and cannot eat and does so almost daily. I get the privilege of trying to digest kale and passing on most fast food delights. I often get the stink eye when ordering in restaurants. Sometimes, I even have to change my order because I’ve made the wrong choices.

Yeah, it’s the little things that make you feel loved. And even though I complain, I have to admit that she loves me. I know it’s her way of showing me. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just heard the recess bell ring.

A Change In My Life

I’ve had a change in my life.

I’ve sunk to a new low.

I’ve switched to Vegetarian Hot Dogs. 

I’ve even roasted a meatless weiner over a fire.

Yeah, mind blowing. 

If you’re not familiar with Veggie dogs, just imagine a casing not made from tasty animal intestines but of some type of plant based propaganda filled with soy protein and sadness.

I should explain why I made this change. 

My wife made me do it. 

See a year ago, I had a bad case of gout where I could hardly walk. Since then, my wife and her cronies (better known as doctors) have me eating way less of anything that might contain uric acid (i.e. beef, pork, soda, and stress reducing happy thoughts). At least I have chicken. 

That being said, I was surprised that the vegetarian hot dog stayed on the stick. I don’t know if I expected soybeans to pop out and run for their freedom or what, but it never happened. 

My wife smiled as she watched me roasting my little piece of obedience until I asked her if we had any chili. She said she would check to see if there was vegetarian chili. 

I told her not to bother. That sounds like a crime against humanity.

So anyway, I’ve made a change in my life, hopefully not forever.

Sigh. 

At least the bun had gluten.

*Photo courtesy of Ross Findon and Unsplash

Physical in a Month

I have a physical in a month. 

I don’t know many people who get excited about their physical exam: the questions, the poking, the prodding, the glove… Makes me cough just thinking about it. 

I always seem to go into a physical filled with shame, holding my head down, reliving a dream I had where I’m about to take a college final for which I didn’t study. I stare in disbelief at the first question which commands me to “diagram and discuss the anatomy of a beaver.” I try to remind myself what a beaver looks like. I start writing words furiously on my paper: rodent like, flat tail, big teeth… but then I get curious as to why this question is even on my music history test in the first place. I look around and I’m horrified when I realize that I’m not only in the wrong classroom, but in the wrong building, and at the wrong school. I begin wandering around the unfamiliar campus aimlessly asking people where I am and how I got there.

Yeah, that’s kind of how it is when I go for my physical. 

I sit in the waiting room until my name is called and suddenly, my inner dialogue begins:

“What were you thinking two months ago when you ate that donut? You said you were hungry. You could have eaten that celery stick just as easily, but no, you had to have something with powdered sugar because you were really hungry. And then you decided to have three more because you were having a bad day. Well, you’re about to see what a bad day really is, Mr. Hungry Man. And when you tell your wife about your physical results, celery sprinkled with kale is about all you’re going to see for decades. Do you like the sound of that, you sorry excuse for a little man? I sure you don’t. Oh, I don’t believe this. What is this I see coming down your cheek, a tear? Well you better get used to those, Buddy Boy, because they’re about to flow down your face like Niagara Falls…”

I have a physical in a month. 

I guess it’s time to cram.

*Photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema and Unsplash

Caffeine

I hate coffee. 

It may sound strange, but I just don’t care for the taste of acidic bitterness and anguish. 

Ironically, I do like the smell of coffee. When I catch a whiff, I relive childhood road trips when my parents would crack open their thermos and pour themselves a cup. The aroma filled the car and it smelled like we were getting closer to home.

My parents love coffee. Real coffee. Industrial strength coffee. Folgers. 

Not as many people drink regular coffee anymore. I guess it doesn’t cost enough. Or maybe it doesn’t take enough time to say “black coffee.” I guess they’d rather say something like, “I’ll take a Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot with foam whipped cream upside down double blended, one Sweet’N Low and One Nutrasweet and ice.*According to Google, that is the longest possible Starbucks order combination. I worked briefly at a cafe, but I never took an order like that.

People did tell me I made good lattes. I never tasted one so I couldn’t tell by taste. I just learned to make them pretty. That seemed to be what customers really wanted in the first place. I could understand that a lot more than wanting to drink something that tastes like coffee. 

I think in most cases, it’s not really the coffee taste people are after, it’s the caffeine.

I don’t drink coffee, but I get plenty of caffeine through Coca-Cola, tea, and chocolate. These three items actually make up their own food group known as happiness. 

However, some scientists, doctors, party poopers, and really smart people all got together and decided to make my life miserable. They say (too much) caffeine can lead to heart issues, gout, headaches, indigestion, allergies, and incontinence.

As much as I hate to say it, they may have a point. 

I may give it up all together.

*Image courtesy of Jennifer Bedoy and Unsplash

Snoring and Restless Legs Syndrome

You might not think it to look at me, but I can snore the paint right off a wall. My wife sometimes asks me if I had been dreaming I was Harley Davidson because that’s exactly what I sounded like. I called her on it, but she recorded me with her phone. She was absolutely right. If I had been with Joshua when he fought the battle of Jericho, my snoring would have made the walls come-a-tumbling down. Fortunately, I’ve been able to battle my snoring with weight loss, side sleeping, and chronic insomnia. 

Restless legs syndrome, sometimes called the jimmy legs, is another story. RLS, as it is known by enthusiasts, is a nervous system disorder that causes an overpowering urge to move your legs. I must have a rare case because I don’t just have the urge to move my legs, my legs kick and move all by themselves. It’s totally involuntary. Some nights, it’s been so bad that I’ve stayed awake for hours on the sofa so I wouldn’t wake my wife with my incessant kicking and jerking. 

I do periodically take prescription medication for my restless legs syndrome. Stretching and warm baths before bed seem to help as well. As home remedies, a few friends have suggested I drink tonic water and apple cider vinegar, rub coconut oil on my feet and legs, fill the air with muscle relaxant lavender oil, and squirt mustard on my toes. One person even suggested I cut out caffeine and screen time before bed. How ridiculous.  

I have to admit, my wife and I do sleep better when I’m off of caffeine and when my stress level is lower. Since that is often not an option, I’m thinking of buying a bed, a really wide one where I can kick all night and my wife will never feel it (as long as I’m not kicking her). I think I’ll do that. I’m really tired of cleaning mustard off the sheets every morning.

*Image courtesy of Arzu Cengiz and Unsplash

Healthy Eating’s Evil Cousin

I’ve been writing about healthy eating recently. So much so that I feel I’ve neglected it’s evil cousin….

Exercise.

Before I delve into my real feelings about this plague on the soul of humanity, let’s have a little background. Exercise was invented by Cain, one of the sons of Adam and Eve, who murdered his brother then ran, or jogged, away from the crime scene. I realize that statement is not in the Bible, but people have been running, or “jogging,” ever since.

Exercise, better known as self-inflicted torture, has been prescribed to me time and again by health care professionals, personal trainers, and other bullies. It’s supposed to help reduce my stress, raise my metabolism, and steal my joy.

So, I’ve started exercising again, sort of. I went to the gym until it closed because of Covid-19, but I’ve been walking almost everyday since, unless it rains, is too hot, or I don’t want to. My gym has since opened back up but I’m being cautious about returning because of the virus. Yeah, that’s it. That’s why I haven’t returned. 

One of my “gym friends” keeps telling me I’m “weak and lazy.” He yells at people and wears really tight t-shirts for a living. He calls himself a personal trainer and wants me to hire him to make me miserable. I told him exercise alone does a pretty good job without his help. Then he usually says, “You know, If you start exercising with me, you’re going to get addicted.”

Yeah, I don’t see that happening. 

If exercising is so addictive, then why is it so easy to quit? 

Besides, whenever you hear about someone being addicted to something, they’re usually describing something that’s bad for you like alcoholic beverages, non-prescription drugs, jogging, and weight lifting.

Exercising is not really fun, but I guess it is good for me. I do want to be healthier, I just wish I didn’t have to move so much to make it happen. I guess for now I’ll keep walking. It’s better than jogging. In the words of David Lee Roth, “I used to jog, but the ice cubes kept falling out of my glass.”

P.S. I apologize if I’ve offended any personal trainers. This is all for fun and my apology has nothing to do with the fact that most of you could easily beat me to a pulp.

*Photo courtesy of Lucas Favre and Unsplash

How My Latest Fitness Journey Started

Last October, I had gout.

Translation: October was the end of me enjoying food.

Gout, pronounced “gOWWWWWWWWWWWt!!!,” is caused by high uric acid levels which are elevated by the consumption of rich foods, being overweight, and happiness.

I discovered this when I tried to stand and almost fell over. I had to bum a ride home because I couldn’t drive. Before the night was over, it hurt to place my foot on a pillow.

I went to the podiatrist the next morning.

She examined my foot and said, “I think you have gout.”

“Gout?” I asked. “Isn’t that just for old guys in New York who eat a lot of pastrami?”

“No,” she replied, somewhat annoyed. “Do you drink a lot of beer?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t drink alcohol.”

She raised one eyebrow in unbelief after glancing at my belly.

“It’s true,” I said.

“Ok, do you eat a lot of red meat?”

My wife then inserted herself into the conversation.

“He eats way too much beef and pork.”

“That’s probably it then. Does he exercise much?”

You’ll notice by this point in the consultation, I’ve been reduced to a four year old who is not even addressed by the doctor.

“He has in the past but he basically lives a sedentary lifestyle.”

The doctor tightened her lips with extreme disappointment and shook her head at me for a long period of time. I felt like a dog at the vet, guilty of chewing up shoes and furniture.

“Don’t worry,” said my wife. “He will never be happy again.”

At least that’s what I heard her say. She later told me she actually said, “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure he eats right and exercises daily.”

I raised my hand and asked, “Can I still eat bacon?”

“Yes,” said the doctor, once again acknowledging my presence. “You can in moderation.”

“No,” said my wife, as she morphed into the alien from the movie Alien. “Red meat is no longer a part of your life, so forget about it.”

I took a deep breath and thought about putting my foot down, you know, as the man of the house, and overruling her last statement, but then I remembered my foot hurt when it touched the floor and she was my ride home. So I decided to go with her plan.

I started feeling better later that day and haven’t had gout pain since. I’ve also had to find things besides food to bring me stress relief, escape, and flavor. In the words of U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.*

*This song brought to you by the 1980’s, the best decade ever.

**Image courtesy of Unsplash

The Return of Kale

So, after reading my gripe about kale a couple of days ago, my wife made a kale salad for us for dinner. Maybe I’ve been too hard on kale. I did learn from a friend that if you pour just a little bit of olive oil into a skillet filled with kale, then heat it on low for five minutes, it makes it easier to scrape the kale into the trash.

And yet, I didn’t dare do that with my wife’s kale salad. She set it before me and I cried just a little. Somewhere in my head I heard Prince singing, “This is what it sounds like when doves cry…” However, I must admit, it wasn’t that bad. I especially enjoyed the pieces of grilled chicken that had nothing to do with the salad. 

So why do people make such a big deal about kale? I did some research and learned that it contains fiber, antioxidants, vitamins C and K, bitterness, animosity, and wrath. The antioxidants help the body remove unwanted toxins that result from natural processes and environmental pressures (like eating kale in the first place).

I enjoyed the kale so much that two hours later, I drove my wife and I to McDonald’s for a hot fudge sundae. But, as usual, they were out of ice cream, as was the second and third McDonald’s we visited. 

It was then that my wife suggested we just go home. But I’m not a quitter, especially when it comes to ice cream. So, I drove us to Wendy’s for a Frosty. Would you believe they were out of ice cream as well. I did get the hook up at the second Wendy’s. I was halfway through it when I realized I had spent the last hour driving to five different fast food restaurants looking for a small cup of frozen refreshment.

I have so very far to go (and I can’t afford the gas).

By the way, thanks for the advice and the encouragement. Keep it coming.

*image courtesy of Laura Johnston and Unsplash