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Playa del Rey and Venice Beach, California

7:05 p.m.: Seated at a fine restaurant. Intelligent, attractive, interesting and sometimes flammable man on one side of the table. Me across.

Trout with almonds. Carrot soup. Half a bottle of chardonnay. Mountain elk.

Dessert: the one on the cover of a magazine that made me want to dip my finger onto the page and come away with a drip of chocolate. The photo that led us here.

 

“The drugs!  Ditch the drugs!  He’s coming!”

When Pete doesn’t immediately comply with my frenzied request to jettison the narcotics I grab his backpack and attempt to throw it into the brackish water.

“Take it easy man,” he says, wrestling the bag away from me. “We’re gonna be fine.”

Stanton has no reaction. He silently and expressionlessly pilots the boat from his position in the back.

Seized by terror I pull my knees into my chest, bury my face between them, and tell myself that if I don’t look at the boat creeping ever closer this nightmare will somehow end.

It smelled like men. And maybe that was because there were over thirty of them and only three women. One woman was teaching naked yoga and as far as I could see (I dipped my head in to glance at the class), all the followers were men.

DAY 1

After exchanging the obligatory pleasantries, I sat down at his desk across from him.

I explained to the man that I hadn’t been to a dentist since I moved here, over four years ago. I assured him that I flossed pretty regularly and had a pretty good diet and that, apart from the fact that I was in the bitter two-week psychological throes of quitting smoking, that nothing really alarmed me bucal-wise or was noteworthy.

He stood up and directed me to the chair.

Everything about the man was broad. His head was wide but properly aligned. I’d say he was in his early 50s. His belly commanded respect and signaled the direction he wanted you to go.

The soft drone of its motor filled the office.

I eased back into a supine human horizon.

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The light illuminated my widely opened mouth and in went the metal objects: the little circular mirror and elongated metal toothpick with the extension cord.

He poked around a bit, mentioned something to his assistant, a young olive-skinned woman named Susana. He was about to put the objects back into my mouth when he stopped and said a sentence that included the word ongos, or mushrooms.

I couldn’t be sure but it it sounded like he said something to the effect of, “It’s absolutely amazing the amount of fungii that live in our mouths. It’s like an enormous planet of its own existing in there.”

He sounded like he was smiling underneath his face mask, like what he just said was a revelation that had never occurred to him before I became supine and he stuck his gloved hands in my mouth.

He started calling out numbers to his assistant who quickly annotated them in my peripheral vision.

“Do you wet your toothbrush before brushing your teeth?”

Sí.

He chuckled and then spoke in metaphors behind his mask: “If you go hiking in the woods and your shoes get really dirty – how do you clean them? You use a shoe brush, of course, but do you wet it first? No, you don’t. Why? Because wetting a brush before brushing is like turning dirt into mud. You’re just spreading it around.”

Pués, la verdad es que nunca me lo he fijado.

“So stop wetting your brush before you brush your teeth.”

Vale.

“Do you rinse?”

Por supuesto.

“You need to start filling a small cup with 2 parts tap water and 1 part oxidized water.”

Agua oxigenado?

“Yes, swish it around in your mouth for a least a minute and spit it out.”

Ok.

“But don’t rinse with regular tap water after. Just leave it in there.”

Y Listerine? Puedo utilizarlo – no?

“You can but it’s pretty expensive and not good for your stomach.”

Pero no lo traigo.
“But I don’t swallow it.

“The choice is yours.”

The motor’s drone started and soon I was upright.

He explained they needed an x-ray and that I should go and get one as soon as I could, then make another appointment.

I walked out of his office, my head filled with mushrooms and hydrogen peroxide.

That night I brushed my teeth without wetting the bristles for the first time. My mouth produced enough salivia to make it one of the most fulfilling and serendipitous brushings I’ve ever had.

***

DAY 2

A week later, I slide the x-ray across the desk. His thick spectacles were nestled comfortably at the end of his nose and the upper rim divided his pupils into two planes.

He looked down at the little chart of my mouth with my numbered teeth, then up at the x-ray.

He looked down and up again.

I sat in silence, wanting to say something.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Up.

He looked like someone famous, a Latin American writer.

Down, up and down and up he looked.

Gabby Marquéz?

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Perhaps. Sans ‘stache and with boxed spectacles.

A minute passed while he was comparing the x-ray to the paper teeth chart.

He finally spoke: “Número treinta y tres, veinte y cuatro…y…cuarenta y siete son sospechosos. Parecen interrogantes.”

Certain numbered teeth were suspicious. They had interrogators in there and needed to come out or be filled or muted or whatever dentists in Spain to with interrogators.

“You have three cavities, he said, two small ones and one bigger one.”

Damn.

“Schedule another appointment and we’ll get them taken care of.”

I hate to admit this but I didn’t love Cien Años de Soledad very much. His short stories are hard to match but that book was exasperatingly long and magically neutral for me. I do, however, think I understand why it’s considered a modern masterpiece and hold no ill-will toward people who esteem it so.

***

DAY 3

“Susana’s not here today,” he said, “so we’re only going to fill one of your cavities. You can come back when she’s here.”

I laid back in the chair and he put on the gloves and mask.

He poked at my teeth: “There it is.”

He pulled out various jars of cream and a needle and placed them on the swivel table that was dangerously close to the chair. He reached over and grabbed what looked a futuristic hair dryer, only it was for teeth. He set it on his lap.

“A woman came to my office last year and she had a yellow tongue and was complaining about how bad her breath was. So I put my hand on her stomach for a second and felt pockets of air. I asked her how often she went to the bathroom and she said once a week. Once a week? How often to do you eat? She said every day about 2 or 3 times per day. Well you should go to the bathroom at least that many times. Or at least twice. You can’t shit just once a week. “

Why are you telling me this?

“Do you know what she did? She complained to the head office that I was attempting to touch her. She also said that I invited her to a party.”

Well, you did lay your hand on her stomach. And you are a dentist, not a doctor.

“But I’m a doctor too. I’ve studied Eastern medicines.”

Uh. Huh.

“My boss called me in after that and interrogated me, asked if I was trying to pawn off this new-age claptrap on my patients. I told him that a fusion of Eastern and Western medicine would save the world from suffering. Have you ever read a book called ‘Meditation as Medicine‘?”

He pried my mouth open, sticking two mini cotton tubes in and started drilling.

“Our bodies are comprised of energy. Have you ever been talking to someone and suddenly you feel that you don’t like this person, you don’t like the energy he or she is giving off?

I think I know exactly what you are talking about at this very moment.

“Well those are poles clashing.”

The sound and sensation of metal drills on teeth rank up there next to sticking my hand into my Proctor-Selex blender set to level six, puree.

“There is aligned and misaligned energy. If you are in touch with your energy and you know how to channel it, your potentialities are limitless. I once saw a woman who had a brain tumor the size of an egg. She channeled her energy fully on the tumor and it was gone in four days.”

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That’s incredible.

“I have a friend who’s a doctor in the US named Deepak Chopra and I was on a retreat with him and some other dentists. All the other dentists were textbook Western practitioners. Deepak and I were discussing channeling energy and how if much of the world had this insight, many of the problems in the world would cease to exist.”

Deepak Chopra is a dentist?

“So these dentist naysayers were making fun of us when we were outside talking about this and he told them, ‘Pick a rock’, which they did. He looked at it, focused his energy, aligned it and the rock exploded.”

That’s incredulous.

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He stopped drilling, took his thumb and pressed down decisively on the soft part under my tongue, a part which, when I think about it, has probably never been consciously touched by anyone.

I wondered if he was trying to align my energy, and if he was, that it was somewhat discomforting.

He took the tooth dryer and began drying off the filling.

You’re not Spanish – aren’t you?

“No, I’m Columbian.”

Marquéz for sure.

The room started to fill up with something.

I felt imbued with positivity in spite of all his chaotic malapropisms.

He returned me to my normal sitting position.

“There you go. Listen, the world is full of things you would never believe. There’s this thing called Tantric sex where it recycles the natural energy in one’s body. Talk about alignment. The thing is you can’t ejaculate.”

Please stop.

“When you ejaculate, all of the energy or ‘chi’ as they call it gushes forth. In that gush lies much of your energy and pretty much all of your alignment.”

I know, I read ‘The Multi-Orgasmic Man’.

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Well, most of it. Skimmed through some parts.

“So you can have full body orgasms, you just can’t ejaculate. It’s absolutely–“

Please.

“incredible. Tell you what – I’ll bring you this book ‘Meditation as Medicine’ when you come in for your next appointment. When will you be back – next week? How about Tuesday at noon?”

Stop.