My dental hygienist alerted me to erosion in my one remaining upper wisdom tooth, way back where I could barely fit my toothbrush. Ever since, I regularly squirmed my tongue around it to feel the roughness, the beginnings of a cavity sure to cause me pain sooner of later. If I there’s pain ahead, I try and dodge it. Wouldn’t you? Out with the tooth, I decided.
My willingness to get a tooth yanked was based on previous experience. My left top one was removed a few years ago with little fanfare thanks to nitrous oxide. I recalled the experience as almost fun, me acting like a bad drunk, cracking stupid jokes through a mouthful of gauze. This time I was determined to keep silent and enjoy the other worldly experience of laughing gas without the follow-up embarrassment.
Calling me ‘honey’, the lovely assistant who was young enough to be my kid, held my hand as the oral surgeon shot me with novocaine, a little nose mask of gas blissfully distracting me from the needle as it pierced the roof of my mouth. After a dreamy pause while the numbing took effect, they both returned and after a snap! snap! snap! of rubber gloves, the surgeon came down towards me humming only a few notes of a tune I vaguely recognized. Usually I keep my eyes tightly shut while in a dentist chair, not wanting to see drills, needles or blood – and mostly I did today too – but for some reason, I peeked and caught a blur of two sets of hands – a tug and then a shadow as a tongs passed my tooth to lovely assistant. Next a push of gauze to staunch bleeding and a few more tugs of stitching. In and out and delivered in less than 30 minutes, to Molly, my chauffeur for the day. As pleasant as something like that can be.
I kicked myself a little when I went to pay the bill and discovered everything but the laughing gas was covered by my insurance. I’d dropped $150 on a quick high to make the yank a little more bearable when really, the numbing would have done the job fine. What a wimp.
“Let’s go for a pedicure.” I suggested, thinking I deserved some pampering after my mini-non-ordeal and knowing Molly would appreciate the perk. Perhaps, as I suspect my daughter imagined, I was still high. I almost never venture into any of these ubiquitous salons. I can’t bear to have my fingernails scraped and filed nor the suffocating feeling of the polish on my fingers. Toenails are another matter and recently, looking down at my bare feet in a public place, I noticed they could use a little grooming. We flip-flopped our way into a nail salon.
I chose red polish and sat down in one of the chairs and immediately remembered this disturbing expose in the New York Times in May. “Paul” and “Jane” greeted us and went to work. Did they, like the people profiled in Sarah Maslin Nir’s article, live in overcrowded rooms in Queens? Were they also woefully underpaid? Maybe abused? (read that fine article, please) What the hell was I doing sitting here being pummeled by an electronic massage chair with my feet in a plastic bin? In that tiny salon, at least 30 people were bent over hands and feet – mostly Chinese with a few Latina women (even more underpaid if the article holds true for this shop) cleaning up and offering massages. I hated it. And I really hate emory boards – the sound, sight and especially feel of one being sawed across my toes made me wish I’d had a dose of novocain beforehand.
I overtipped and hurried out, the tissue still twirled between my crimson toes. This had not felt like pampering to me. I found it hard relaxing when… when – what? When paying someone to mess with my feet? Yes, having someone I cannot converse with, whose story I cannot know but only imagine as including dreams unlikely to be achieved by hunkering over my feet. Knowing they’re probably getting paid shit, makes me uncomfortable. I feel like I’m participating in something unjust. I am.
So my toes look great, my rotting tooth is gone and I barely felt a thing.