At the last of the season’s summer BBQ’s last nite the dudes sat around telling macho scary oral surgery stories. Pain, lots of pain, pain so severe that even the strongest of men could not will it away, and teeth so big cocked and gnarly that the sweating dentist could only yank them from the jaw with supreme effort. Hot dental assistants look on, excited. Then come the painkillers, huge Charlie Parker sized bottles full of opiates and whatnot, then abuse and whiskey and rock’n’roll and dénouement.
Which leads, as these things often do, to a story I’d already written a couple years ago, in which….
My wife Fyl had some oral surgery today, replacing a previously yanked front tooth that had gone rotten from neglect during her amnesia. The surgeon screwed in a big, well, it was a screw, a nasty looking thing in the x-ray….and when I got there to drive her home there were spatters of blood everywhere. She’s a stoic Indian, though (that stereotype is 100% true from all the ones I’ve known) and said nothing, complained about nothing. She’s a trooper, the nurse said. She’s trooper the dentist said. Later we’d been home and hour or so when the oral surgeon called to check on any bleeding or pain. None. Gave her his pager number just in case. A good doc. (Fourteen hundred dollars worth of good, though.)
His call took me back nearly 25 years. I had an incisor gone bad. A major tooth, those incisors, deeply, massively rooted, the tooth that half a million years ago we’d tear fresh raw flesh off of bones. A tooth strong enough to shear though meat and sinew. Yanking one out takes a lot of drilling, anesthesia and sheer dental muscle. I remember the amazing sound it made pulling free, a huge crunch that went right up the jaw to the eardrum. There was blood everywhere.
I went home with a bloody cotton wad where my smile used to be, and a big jar of some kind of painkillers, probably vicodin. I ate one, smoked a joint, drank some beers. I was feeling good, even missing a tooth. There was an amazing band (maybe two bands, but I only remember Universal Congress Of) playing a performance spot called Olio around the corner. Maybe 100 yards away. I told Fyl that I was gonna go down there. She didn’t look so sure but no stopping me. At least I wasn’t driving. I took another vicodin (maybe two), rolled a couple joints, bought a bottle of Bushmill’s at the neighborhood liquor store and went to the show. I got so high, utterly wasted, a mouth fall of bloody cotton, polishing off the bottle (though a few others joined in) and smoking all kinds of weed—what I’d brought, what others brought. Joint after joint went round. The band was righteous, groovy, dissonant, rocking, funky, swinging…it was an incredible show, and a great party. I knew everybody. The men, the ladies, everybody. Or thought I did anyway. Eventually I reeled home, up the hill past a couple houses and down our long driveway, stomped up the steps and stumbled inside, singing. What a blast I yelled, and began regaling my wife with details. I was still really, really high on everything, the pills, the whiskey, the weed, the music and pure adrenaline. I kept talking and talking. Then I admitted ya know, I’m kinda fucked up. She looked at me.
Your dentist called.
He was concerned. Said he did some serious surgery on you, there was a lot of blood, a big open wound. He was worried about pain and bleeding. Told you to take it easy. He wanted to talk to you.
I told him you were asleep.
Perfect answer. For he never would have understood that perfect a night. I passed out and slept like a baby.
Ya know, I really loved my thirties. I was such a crazy macho motherfucker, a hard drumming, hard fucking, hard partying and hard writing mass of epileptic energy. I was, all of us were then, these glorious nuts. Oh man have I settled down. I catch myself being boring, monotonous, and wonder how the hell did this happen?
Age, I guess, experience. Just getting old. Things break or wear out or just don’t stay up as long as they used to. Friends disappear into mundane lives. So that’s all you do? That?
Funny how oral surgery—and not even my own oral surgery, for christ sake—set this off. Ya never know where memories will come from. Or how accurate they are.
I know the feeling. Great verse. Have you considered being a poet. Maybe a poet-dentist!