Friday, June 08, 2007
DENTAL DRAMATICS PART II: Criminals and Communists
The morning that followed Friday night of Memorial Day weekend was inevitably Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. I discovered that most people who work in dental offices, like most people who work in libraries or hedge funds or post offices or as personal assistants to moderately famous film actors, desire not to work. And Saturday of Memorial Day weekend is a perfect day to fulfill that desire. Why would anybody want to look into the dank open mouth of a stranger, for example, when he/she could stay home and grill hot dogs to celebrate our men overseas?
I don’t begrudge anyone her will to BBQ. Just last night we grilled up a tasty pork tenderloin with a fragrant dry rub and some leftover mop sauce. Delish! My point is only that most people’s preference for grilling over working made the task of finding an open dental office on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend a hefty challenge. But, employing the kind of resourcefulness that becomes a personal assistant, especially one who teeters on the verge of utter catastrophe as often as I do, I located an open dental office in downtown Brooklyn.
Downtown Brooklyn is the bustling epicenter of my borough’s criminal justice system. If cheap lunch, world-weary public servants, irritable bureaucrats, or hardened criminals/unjustly accused innocents is what you’re after, downtown Brooklyn would be a wonderful place to start looking. Hotbed of cutting-edge dentistry? Not so much.
Atlantic Dental is flanked by a Kennedy Fried Chicken on one side and a school uniform/ ladies’ lingerie/ bed linen/ auto supply store on the other.
I opened the door at #1 Flatbush Avenue and climbed a dark, rickety stairwell, not unlike the one in Taxi Driver where Travis shoots Harvey Keitel. Atlantic Dental sits on the top of the stairs, on the second floor, protected by a metal cage. I followed the arrow to the intercom and waited to get buzzed in.
Buzzed into a dental office. Are you following this, readers? These are the desperate measures you too would go to if you had a hole in your molar big enough to store a spare Gummy Bear. You too would spend an hour in the “waiting room”, watching The Mod Squad on a teeny tiny ceiling-hung TV, waiting for the receptionist to call your name over the intercom from behind a thick sheet of bulletproof glass. You too would freeze for an additional hour in over air-conditioned back room, sitting on a sky blue dental chair with a huge gash down the center of it, leaking stuffing, while you stare at a poster advertising a new tooth-whitening system that is obviously intended for people who do not release hunks of tooth along with spinach and poppy seeds from their mouths when completing their nightly flossing ritual.
At last the dentist came in. He “said” that his assistant would give me x-rays. I use “said” because what the dentist spoke was really not all that similar to English. The dentist, along with every other employee at Atlantic Dental, as far as I could tell, conducted 100% of his communications with other employees in Russian. In fact, when the aforementioned assistant guided me to the x-ray room, she did so in the company of a husky, buzz-cut man, with whom she did not cease her Russian conversation, even as she was positioning my head on a kind of shelf and commanding me to stare straight ahead and bite.
“Do you see my feet?” she asked, taking a break from her conversation about horseradish or the Ukraine or the size of my ass or any other subject equally incomprehensible to me in this very foreign language.
“No,” I said. “How could I see your feet?” My head was, after all, on a shelf. Her feet were underneath the shelf. I am not a superhero.
More Russian. The man said something about something and she responded with some other thing. Really, I don’t speak any Russian at all. I don’t speak French either, but I would liken the experience of hearing French to sitting in a hotel in a city with the lights turned off and the blinds closed. Hearing Russian is like being wrapped in shroud, in a locked wooden trunk, in the depths of the deepest cave, on an uninhabited planet.
“Please, can you see my feet?” she asked again. Seriously, I was ready to punch this woman. She was small and blonde and pretty, and I was ready to smack her so hard she’d pray for the return of communism.
Speaking of communism…
The dentist himself was about fifty years old. His English was not good enough to work in a bagel store, let alone a dental office. Thus, we can deduce that the man in charge of solving the problem of my holey molar had received his training in? Communist Russia. Does that mean he was assigned dentistry as a career? What were the classes like? “Communist Dental 101: Dentistry as Torture device.” “Interrogator/Dentist: The glories of the hook and scrape for getting truth from subversives.”
Anyway, back to the x-ray machine.
As the huge gap in my tooth most likely makes obvious, I had not been to the dentist in a long time. I have since come to learn that dentistry, like so much of our modern world, has become computerized. A little camera, a couple of clicks and—voila!—there’s your teeth on a big screen. Not knowing this, however, I thought nothing of resting my chin on this very tall machine and waiting while it took a slow picture of my entire mouth. It seemed perfectly natural that the blonde slap-needing assistant should leave the room with her bearish companion and close the door while the picture was being taken. In retrospect, I feel lucky that my leg didn’t turn green. Chernobyl, after all. We can’t forget Chernobyl.
We had to wait for the x-ray to develop so I retired to my sad, freezing room and resumed my study of the tooth-whitening poster. At last the dentist came in and “informed” me that I needed a root canal. I asked him to be more specific, but of course, he had no idea what I was saying. He wrote me a referral for an endodontist—not a specific one, just any old endodontist I could find, and sent me on my way, bearing the x-ray and my as-yet unfilled hollow tooth.
On the way out I saw two men huddled just inside the doorway of #1 Flatbush Avenue, smoking a blunt. It was a good day.