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Teeth (Part 2)

Have you ever had a friend with whom you could say the worst things – not about other people or even yourself, but about life, about life itself? Terry is that friend for me.

Terry slapped a hand against his cheek, the one that had been so egregiously affronted by the broken tooth. He nearly flung himself from his chair. He swore some more.

A lot, actually: “Fuck, fuck, fuck! I have nothing now! Nothing! My teeth were all I had!”

“Your teeth – ?” I began.

Terry elabourated: “When I’m an old man and I have nothing else and I’m fetid and I’m dying and my kids have abandoned me and I’ve lost all my money and all my hair, I figured at least I’d have my teeth! Now what the fucking hell do I have? Nothing, nothing. Ass.”

I looked at Mae. “You probably won’t even make it to old age, Terry,” I said. “You can die tomorrow and with your teeth busted, it’d come out the same. That’s better than it sounds, isn’t it?”

“I could have been an old man with great teeth! That would have been…More than, better then -” he lost his train of thought. “Ow!”

Stephen sipped his drink.

Vain people are everywhere: places where you look and places you’d never think to look. I don’t know if that’s anyone’s fault. And maybe they are not so much vain people, but people that are vain about something. Who knows?

But ever know anyone vain about their teeth? Who, for example, brushed them vigorously in the morning and at night, who, for instance, flossed so religiously it was sacrilegious, it was obscene, and who, as a matter of pure fact, guarded them as carefully as a mother hen, as a tigress does their precious offspring?

Terry was very proud of his teeth; Terry was that proud of his teeth. And I’ll admit, up until then, they had been perfect: bright, gleaming, evenly spaced, with a good tooth-to-gum ratio. They reminded me of white picket fences, of flawless, snow-capped peaks, of Freud. The impression they left was one better than that of mere possibility, or potential: it was of defiance itself.

Defiance dentata.

Understand. For Terry, losing one tooth (even a partial loss) was as bad – worse even – than losing them all.

“OW!”

Terry and I once watched Teeth (2007), a movie about a girl whose vagina dentata is first her only defence then her best weapon against her attackers; men close to her and also strangers; men who molest, assault, rape.

“The teeth,” Terry had said about it. “At least she has her teeth.”

And here we were now: a bubble tea restaurant where Terry could not say the same for himself.

Oh well. “Terry,” I said. “You might as well suck it up.”

Terry spat out each word: “Suck. It. Up?” So much for being amiable.

“Fine. Lose all your teeth, why the fuck not? Knock the rest of them out for all that they’re worth now, crumple up into the gutter ass-up and die.” I’m never sure if I’m more or less articulate when I’m mad, or approaching it.

Terry’s mouth twitched. “I can’t afford to go to the dentist. What if this ends up hurting all the time?”

Ah. “What doesn’t?”

I am now reminded of the time when I was in the fourth grade and I begged my mom to take me to the dentist because my teeth felt loose. I’d grab a tooth and wriggle and it honestly felt like my teeth, all of them, were not properly attached to the rest of me. I was terrified of losing them (again, see Freud…or maybe, actually Jung?). More: I was convinced I would lose them merely because it was a possibility. The dentist thought I was insane. My mom, who has a hard time believing allergies (read: other people’s) are real, concurred. Did she ever. A lot, actually. It hurt.

“What doesn’t?”

And Terry, finally, let it go. Insomuch as someone like Terry could “let it go” at a time like that.

In any case, he stopped complaining as much (that is, as much as he could have).

“I guess I really can die tomorrow.”

It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse. Hope for the worst so that anything less than that has to be better. Sometimes that’s even more than you can ask for.

(Most times, you’re not even in a position to ask.)

Terry knows that, and so do I.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Friends, Interruptions, People, Places, Relationships, Ritual, THE PAST

Teeth (Part 1)

We found ourselves across the street from the famed Peters’ Drive-In, just off of 16th Ave, NE, Calgary, Alberta.

Peters’, “The Drive-In You Can’t Drive By.” Peter’s, the with its thick, custom-made shakes and flame-broiled burgers and “Family-Sized” fries that could easily satisfy a small battle-worn army. Peters’, a virtual institution (established 1962, though under new ownership as of 2015) – politicians eat here (on campaign stops), weddings (plural, yes) have been photographed here, birthdays (children’s, even) happen in its adjacent parking lot – Peters’, in short, THE go-to place to go to if you happen to be on that particular side of Calgary at any particular moment.

Or not.

*CASH AND DEBIT ONLY*

(Debit since 1990)

Peters’, unfortunately, only had outdoor seating and it was a blustery, grey day in the city turned cold, unfriendly evening, and this place, a bubble tea bar with à la carte snacks (fish cakes and yam fries and wings and fried dumplings) thus seemed warmer, more welcoming.

Staying at Peters’ would have meant having to eat in the car, a tiny, overpacked Corolla that would not have comfortably seated four adults let alone a box of Family-Sized fries, a couple of shakes, a burger a piece. Staying at Peters’, institution or no, meant fighting what appeared to be a mostly teenaged crowd (and a scraggly one at that) for position and territory (seating was available, but limited). Staying at Peters’ made us feel exposed.

This is not a story about Peters’.

Yet, I wonder what would have happened if we had stayed there instead of going to the bubble tea place.

***

It had been a long day in a series of long days during which time our plans to take a road trip through the province had finally been made. In a day or so, we’d be off.

Terry[1] was in a mood. He’d come out West to see if he and his girlfriend, Mae, [2] could make a go of it; try and start a new life, etc. Easier said than done and even then, the dream was difficult to articulate.

Why out West? Opportunity, maybe, but wasn’t that years ago? What was it, anyway, to “start a new life?” Was he so completely over, and done with, his last one? Was Mae? 

When does this one life end and another, the other, begin?

Terry and Mae found temporary housing renting a unit at the nearby college (it was summer, the students were long gone from that place). Just was well, since the plumbing was busted and the electricity was spotty, at best, due to construction. Terry had a couple of leads but nothing confirmed, nothing solid, in terms of work. Mae was having a harder time even finding places to interview for. The city was indifferent to their plight; the people seemed strangely withdrawn (at least compared to their counterparts out East); the moon (Terry swears it) scowled at them from above, looming large, inescapable. It had been weeks.

So, when we visited and then agreed to join them on the road trip, Terry was in a mood. He was animated as he always was, with that look about his eyes that could only be described as “dogged”; he was even amiable (for Terry), but worn around the edges, slumped, a little, at the shoulders. Frayed, picked-over Terry.

Our server set our order – a smattering of snacks and four custom made bubble teas – on the table. I think mine was Strawberry Something. Stephen had something with mango in it. Mae’s was purple (very purple). Terry brightened at the sight of our glorious repast. He reached past Mae and speared a dumpling with a chopstick, popped it into his month, and screamed.

“My tooth! My fucking tooth!”

Terry had chipped his tooth, and badly (or to hear him tell it, the fucking dumpling chipped his tooth and so very badly).

This is a story about Terry’s teeth.

 

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

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[1] Not real name, though he really could be a “Terry” if he wanted. Alas, “Terry” wants for nothing.

[2] Not real name. No sense veiling “Terry” if I’m going to out “Mae,” is there?

 

 

 

 

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