Mom, who has never been less than three hours late to a family dinner my whole life, told me yesterday she’d pick me up at 9 this morning. When she called at 8:55, I thought it was to tell me she was just leaving her house. I wasn’t ready! I blended my eyeshadow, slid into shoes, brushed my teeth a third time while she parked the car. Then I sprinted around the apartment for another five minutes and we were on our way to the orthodontist with a bag of cookies under one arm, while I explained where we were going and why even though I was too happy to finish sentences.
Tata: Okay okay okay I had a half a left over pill from the last procedure so black light posters should be a blast by lunchtime – hang a left here. I’m so excited! Whee! And they love me to pieces at this office because their patients are sullen teens who haven’t gone all Death Metal and I baked them cookies – veer right, and turn right –
Mom: Like the song, To the right! Ever to the right! Never to the left! Forever to the right!
Tata: Yeah, except left here and park. I love melted cheese –
We jump out of her Jeepy thing and run through an inexplicable hedge.
Tata: I’m so happy! Watch out for the sudden –
Tata: That hedge right there made a move on me last month. I kicked and yelled, “Masher!” Do people swat dirty old men with handbags anymore? Hey, this building gives me fits. It’s not square. See?
We charge up the stairs because it’s good for the girlish figure, around the corner and spill into the office, which is unusually empty. One blond teenager in the waiting room demonstrates an exceptional ability to keep a straight face as Mom and I peel off enough winter clothing to reveal two small women and not at all the Michelin Man’s female relations. Half-way disrobed, I place a festive bag of cookies on the counter and make an important announcement to the staff.
Tata: He’s taking off the braces today. You’ve all been very kind to me. We must all do a Happy Dance!
I do a Happy Dance. Four professional women stop what they’re doing.
Tata: Happy dance!
They each Happy Dance! I am thrilled. They are thrilled. I join Mom, who does not see the professional women dancing in their scrubs, in the waiting room, where I sit and make non sequiturs for two or three minutes for the teenager who is amused but won’t crack a smile. As we walk through the office area, more professional women appear, asking the same question.
PW: You baked the cookies?
Tata: Yes, I did! Please enjoy them!
I am a celebrity. Anyone can accomplish this, really, and Mom has seen people treat me this way before, but enough about me – I’m pointing out windows to our right for Mom as we walk down the improbably long hallway.
Tata: See? See? Plainfield Avenue, parallel to this wall, parallel, parallel and we get to this office –
Mom: Wow! This is a big room! Three chairs! This is very nice.
Tata: Yes, but look out the window.
The assistant and I fiddle with the blinds. Route 1, which runs from Maine to the Florida Keys, is right outside the window at an oblique angle. We are in New Jersey and the following conversation, which might have taken minutes anywhere else, transpires in seconds:
Tata: The building is crooked! I’ve been trying to fix that by force of will for two years and eight months.
Tata: Isn’t this exciting? Look! I brought my mom!
Lovely Assistant: I see the resemblance.
Tata: I look exactly like her, don’t I?
Lovely Assistant: Well, except for the red hair, yeah.
Mom: Oh! Pardon me –
Mom: I almost stepped on your orthodontist!
Tata: You can’t! He just had the foot surgery.
Dr.: The other foot.
Mom: I’m so sorry!
Dr.: No, it’s okay, the other foot.
Tata: I’m so excited!
Lovely Assistant: Have a seat!
A little boy with a sweet, expressive face sits down in the chair to my right at some point I don’t notice. He never says a word. In fact, he sits bolt upright, stares at me and watches me without moving a muscle. I smile at him often and hope my little travail isn’t traumatizing him even as I’m sure it does. The orthodontist grabs few sleek tools and uses some thrilling force on the bottom wire. Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! resonates through my skull and the whole set of bottom braces peels off my teeth. I’m elated and laughing. Mom laughs. The assistant laughs. The orthodontist smiles. He’s still saying, “Wouldn’t you like to have braces for three more years?” He grabs ahold of the braces on the top and Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! Off comes the top line. It’s uncomfortable but they’re gone! Gone!
I have no idea how long it takes, but the orthodontist grinds the cement off my very, very sensitive teeth. I am mostly inches from screaming and a couple of times I push the tools and his hands away from my mouth, which could be dangerous, I suppose.
Tata: This is not as much fun as it appears.
Finally, he says, “Go rinse really a whole lot.” Then it gets weird. Somewhere a bell goes off that I can’t hear.
Mom is talking and laughing and I hear a man’s voice and I’m spitting into a sink as I turn to see a strange man holding a digital camera five feet from me and Mom with a camera phone and the office adminstrator holding a Polaroid. Someone pins a ribbon around my neck and it turns out to be the ribbon that was around the bag of cookies but now it’s got stickers of a tooth and a royal crown, and a safety pin. I wipe my mouth, pose for the cameras and laugh. Someone makes a joke about the paparazzi. I’m posed ridiculously when from all sides the top halves of people in scrubs appear. It’s so exactly like a Drew Carey dance number I can only laugh. That poor little boy hasn’t moved and doesn’t move as the orthodontist fits me for utterly mortifying retainers that make me lisp like a Brady kid.
In the third chair sits a sullen teen, behind whom stands a fire-breathing mother. She watches me and is completely pissed. It is no wonder the staff wants me to stay. I have an appointment again in six weeks.
Mom took me home. I gave her a container of carrot-ginger soup I made with broth in which I boiled astralagus and hope it’s good for staving off colds, which she’d like to do. After lunch, I went to work, where everyone had to see my teeth! Everyone had to hear all about it! Lupe brought bags of Mary Janes, licorice and bubble gum, which I put in a bowl for everyone to share. Later, I drove home someone whose plans for a ride fell through. At home now, I have a lovely beaujolais villages, which I have coveted for two years and eight months.
My good fortune is so good, I must share. L’chaim to you, too, love!