Wednesday, October 15, 2008

altered states

Well, it had to come out (the part of the tooth that chose to remain, nestled snuggly somewhere below the surface).

I remember loving my oral surgeon last year (call him Dr. Handsome, though this is not his name) and so I chose him for today’s visit as well. At the rate of a tooth out per year, my mouthful should hold me through until I’m almost eighty. Dr. Handsome will be there to pluck them out and all will be jolly.

That is, with the help of nitrous oxide.

Perhaps meditation relaxes the soul even more effectively, but I’m not hoping for a spiritual mending. I just want a nice state of dulled senses for a while. Breathe in, close the eyes, ahhhh….

The nurse sighs wistfully. Sometimes I wish we could take a chunk of this home with us for the evening, she tells me.

Do you know what it’s like? I ask it in a whisper. At least I think I am whispering. What do I know. Senses fully dulled.

Yes, my dentist gave it to us always when we came in for visits as kids.

Nice dentist. My childhood dentist was Dr. Heinz of New York. Once he looked into my seven year old mouth (I first moved to New York then) he never let go. I was his most reliable source of income for years. He’d get his face very very close to mine and stare into my mouth through little telescopes attached to his nose. He never asked me how school was going or if I was going to school at all, or if I liked dogs, or New York or summer by the sea. He was not even close to handsome.

I sat for a long time in Dr. Handsome’s office today, breathing steadily and feeling swell. I wondered if people who did drugs felt this calm. Of course, I know a little about smoking pot. I went to college on the Columbia campus of the early 70s for God’s sake. You go to a party and you see handmade cigarettes and you know they’re there to produce some altered state of being. Still, fresh off the boat from Poland (a plane, really, but who’s counting), I was too terrified of American drugs to experiment. Had there been someone schooled in the medical sciences standing nearby by (like Dr. Handsome this afternoon), I might have said sure, create visions of loveliness in my head for five minutes, no more, so I can see what the fuss is about. But the people around me where so far gone that I felt strangely alone, there with my glass of cheap Chablis. Almaden. From a round jug. Anyway, someone had to stay sane and keep windows closed up in the apartments of Morningside Heights. The temptation to prove once and for all that humans can fly seemed ever present among the smokers. At least that’s how they talked.

Once I left New York, the whole smoking pot thing faded to a distant memory. For one thing, someone finally told me that it wasn’t quite legal here. You could have fooled me. Everyone had been smoking pot on campus. These were foggy times indeed. I moved between the fog of rolled cigarettes in school and of dry martinis and scotch on the rocks back in the homes of people whose children I watched.

Oh, but what did I know about the law anyway. Laws were oddly irrelevant in Poland. A mystery for most of us. We lived by standards set by family, peers, school teachers. No one talked much about The Law. Indeed, if someone got arrested, you wondered if it was for good reasons (politics) or bad reasons (drunkenness). There seemed to be no other. Crime was rare. Even against a young girl walking alone after a high school dance, cutting through dark alleys and streets of a city whose lamps never had enough light in them to make a difference.

I thought about all this today, at least before Dr. Handsome started breaking up what was left of my tooth. Twenty four pieces later (his count), I was free to go.

And now I sit here trying to decide what I should have by my side for the debate tonight: a narcotic painkiller (strongly recommended by Dr. Handsome) or a glass of rosé. I’d go with the rosé in a beautiful glass, but I’m not sure it pairs well with thin soup or yogurt. Oh what the heck. Let’s give it a go.

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Ocean author in the early 70's:
can you guess which side of the ocean?