January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
I went to the dentist for the first time in a loooooooong while yesterday. Sadly this is a common reality in the world of journalism and other majority freelance industries. And like a lot of freelancers, I wound up at the affordable and inadvertently entertaining NYU school of dentistry. The very amiable woman who was put in charge of me as part of her coursework seemed pretty good on the teeth front, a little cocky even as she rolled through her checklist like a car mechanic, making sure everything was in place. She got quick thumbs up from two of her instructors. Her struggle was more on the human interaction front, where she experimented with a strange array of jokes, anecdotes, and what began to feel like pick up lines towards the end of the exam. Her forced laughter punctuated the awkwardness. In between tasks I tried to meditate, staring at the wall, figuring out what I needed to get done for the day. “So, you just looking off into space? Thinking? What’s going on in there? hahaha…” She just could not turn off her improv at the dental clinic demeanor. So I did resort to spacing out, and my mind wandered to my last dental check-up, two years ago, right before I had to leave Sri Lanka.
I loved my Sri Lankan Dentist. His universe was a little slice of air conditioned heaven from the brutally hot Colombo afternoon. The small waiting room was full of plants and English language magazines. Somehow he was able to get a hold of not so outdated copies of Time and National Geographic. I would have gladly waited for hours as I caught up on all the extraneous informational things I no longer had time for or access to. Actually, come to think of it, I think I went to doctor and dental offices more in my year and a half in Sri Lanka then I did the entire five years beforehand. Part of that was getting routinely manhandled by the island, and part of it was the fact that those places in one way or another gave me a sense of comfort, of modernity, and a moment of respite from the insanity I often felt following me as I travelled Sri Lanka.
My Sri Lankan Dentist was Muslim, highly educated, and comparatively rich. His little office was off a dirt road lined with frangipani flowers that led to my coworker Jacobo’s house. He loved having Jacobo and I as clients because he could have intelligent conversations in english and talk about the war, something he said he avoided doing with other locals for fear of running afoul of fanatics. It was refreshing to get a local perspective from somebody who was more thoughtful about, than ethnically invested in, what was tearing Sri Lanka apart. My interaction with Sri Lankan professionals was not always so congenial. One doctor I visited at a local hospital scolded me for being in Sri Lanka, telling me I was the real problem, that I was supporting terrorists.
My dentist saw the war one way, and one way only, it was bad for business. “Everybody is losing money, and when people lose money, they begin to cut out expenses, like going to the dentist.” “I used to be booked, now I have free time. I must take up golfing, but I am a terrible golfer. What will I do?”
Then he told me my teeth needed whitening if I wanted to look “top notch.” Paying for a brighter smile to help offset the war ravaged economy, that was a new one. I said I’d think about.
Two years later I awakened from a daydream, told my teeth were fine, and was sent back out into the freezing rain. I missed my old dentist, and wished myself back to his office, with hours ahead of me to get lost in conversation, and a month old magazine.