Tuesday, January 27, 2009

my child's greatest talent

The more faithful readers may realize that here at the Drunken Housewife, we tend to beat a topic into the ground (as well as talk about ourselves with the lovely royal we). Give us a stick and an equine corpse, and we'll sing a merry tune as we whale away. Remember when this blog was just about elevators, entry after frigging entry? Well, right now we're focusing on the scarily advanced nine year-old Iris Uber Alles, at least until we become concerned that this blog is going to traumatize her or cause her to stick us in a substandard nursing home in our dotage, where there won't even be cocktails.

The other day I wrote about my fears for my academically brilliant daughter, who is prone to bragging insensitively about her intellectual abilities, causing me to wince and worry. Many of the readers had wonderful advice, including Amy, who suggested I send Iris Uber Alles over to the house of another mother from her school, whose beautiful manners and social graces I admired. That suggestion made me laugh out loud. Why? Because Iris is given to passionate hatreds, and this gracious and warm woman is the mother of Iris's current Enemy Number One.

Iris's vitriol sparks her into rants. Spit flies from her lips and her voice gets higher and louder, as she spouts on and on about her enemy. Lola loves to get her fired up and often inquires in a sweet, piping voice, "Any Annie Patrick stories today?" [name changed to protect the feelings of a child who is no doubt a perfectly fine human being]. This hatred goes so far that once a woman of the same surname was coming over, and Iris got me to ask her ahead of time whether she was related to a little girl in the third grade at Burke's, because Iris was extremely freaked out over the possibility of a relative of Annie's setting foot in her home.

Why does Iris Uber Alles hate this particular little girl? When asked, Iris can cite numerous offenses, which include (1) the other child, who is being raised as a devout Catholic, told Iris, who'd exclaimed "God!", that she shouldn't use the name of the Lord in vain; (2) she was astonished to hear Iris doesn't go to church and thinks Iris should; (3) on a field trip to a Chinese restaurant, she told Iris she shouldn't put her elbows on the table; (4) once Annie told Iris she shouldn't call President G.W. Bush "Shrub", and as Iris explained to me with raising volume and shrillness, that was just hypocrisy on Annie's part because although she was offended by Iris's flippancy, she went on to later herself copy Iris and refer to the outgoing president as "Shrub"; and (5) some incident between the two about Jesus, which I can't recall the details of and don't want to ask Iris about because if I get her started, she'll be ranting and raving for some time. However, I can't help but notice that all of these offenses occurred AFTER Iris had formed a strong hatred of Annie (I am sure there have also been eye-rolling and sarcasm on Iris's part towards this other girl).

Iris's father, the Sober Husband, likes to egg Iris on and went so far as to coach her on some aggravating remarks about Jesus which could be dropped into the classroom conversation. After I stopped laughing, I begged him not to encourage Iris, and I tried to be the voice of responsible parenting. "Iris," I said earnestly, "You are going to offend a lot of people if you go around making remarks about Jesus. People are not going to like a little girl who mouths off about Jesus." This devolved into a debate pitting the family's believers, Lola and me, against the family's agnostics, the Sober Husband and Iris, rather than the discussion on social graces I wanted, but it's probably just as well. I should save my time and energy. There's nothing but time which will get Iris past this hatred.

Iris has had enemies since she was four. As a preschooler, she made a comic book starring herself and then-best friend as superheroes defeating two particular boys she disliked (in the comic, Iris's superpower was tattling!). And, of course, there's her arch-rival, her little sister. "She ruined my life!" sobs Iris from time to time. "Why did you have to have her? I hate her!"

In kindergarten, she had a vociferous, burning hatred for a particular little girl. This hatred literally kept Iris up at nights at times. She wrote down a long rant where she told off that girl for everything wrong with her, and Iris worried that sometime this girl might come into her house and find this document. I assured Iris, when these worries arose, that in the unlikely event her mortal enemy came to our house, I'd let Iris know ahead of time so she could hide the rant. Iris was often angry, unbelievably angry with this child, and I used to console her by making up happy endings to the situation. Iris felt that this girl should be expelled from school after she was made to apologize to Iris for her various offenses at a school-wide assembly, and Iris was always cheered up when we imagined that assembly. "And then she'll have to walk out alone, with everyone looking at her, and I'll be there." This hatred lasted well into the second grade, when eventually Annie supplanted the original object of animosity and became the new Iris Enemy No. 1. Now, as far as I can tell, Iris has nothing but indifference for her former chief enemy.

When Iris was in the first grade, I had occasion to meet with the head of the lower school to discuss a number of issues, and I told the head about that hatred. The head was rather astonished and took time to muse over it. "We don't see that at those grades," she said. "That's really a hatred, isn't it? We just don't see that level of intensity starting at kindergarten. We don't see that normally until upper school."

Forget all those parents of violin prodigies or tiny tennis champions: since kindergarten, my child has been hating on an eighth grade level.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

a kind of compliment I fail to take well

I had a flu last week, which, as it faded, gave way to a good, old-fashioned head cold. Yesterday I was completely miserable, but it was my day to supervise lunch and recess at the children's school. I only do this once or twice a month, so it was just bad luck it fell on a day, a rainy day, when I was sick. I washed some Benadryl (to reduce blowing my nose) down with a Red Bull (to combat the Benadryl's drowsiness) and took some acetaminophen as well (general headache), dressed warmly, washed my hands really well to reduce contagion, and headed off.

It was an easy day, where I was just called upon to rip open a lot of catsup packets and open one stubborn Tupperware for the children. I didn't see any tears or tricky social situations requiring adult intervention, thank God, as I wasn't feeling up to those.

But then I got myself into one of those tricky social situations where I just fail. The other mother on lunch duty was someone I really like although I don't know her well. She's one of those people who are almost too good to be true: stunningly beautiful in a conventional, skinny blonde way, from a wealthy background, and with such lovely manners and personal warmth that you can't possibly resent her for having it all. She's charming and highly likeable. But then the conversation took a particular turn I have trouble with: she came over to me and said, "Your daughter is so brilliant!" She had chaperoned a field trip to the San Francisco dump and told me that "Iris knew things the guy from the recycling program didn't know." (I had previously heard from another chaperone that Iris had awed the crowd by knowing what "molybdenum" was, or maybe it was "manganese", and its particular role in recycling).

I tried to smile and move the conversation along, saying generally about my own children, "They're so much smarter than their parents" and "It's not anything we did", but the conversation kept going back on its tracks.

"Oh, no," demurred the other mother. "We were talking and we were all saying, 'They must be doing something right at home.'"

I felt tired and stupid from my cold and blurted out, "Actually I'm a horrible mother," but thankfully then some catsup packets needed to be opened and the conversation was over.

I'm having a lot of trouble accepting compliments about nine year-old Iris Uber Alles's smarts. I don't want to take any credit for the lucky combination of sperm and egg (in the Sober Husband's family of origin, there is the scarily smart Sober Husband, but there was also a severely mentally retarded brother who never functioned beyond the level of a toddler. That's a pretty clear illustration of luck's role in combining the genetic material of two particular people). Next, I personally despise those smug mothers who speak in awed tones with pauses where they look at you expectantly, awaiting your homage to their children's "gifts." More importantly, Iris is already teetering on the brink of being obnoxiously conceited, and I don't want to add to that.

At our parent-teacher conference, the teacher informed me, in a deadpan voice, that at the beginning of the year, Iris had informed the entire class that "I am extremely advanced" and already knew most of what would be studied that year. I covered my head with my hands in despair when I heard that reported back. Oh, Iris. The other day Iris said with pride, "Many people say I am the smartest in my grade."

I don't think I need to worry that her confidence needs bolstering. What I do worry about is that she's going to offend and upset the girls who are struggling with the material. And there are a lot of girls in her class who are struggling with the curriculum; there are girls who are seeing the "learning specialists" and who find it hard.

I don't think I would have these conflicted feelings if Iris were a gifted athlete or preternaturally beautiful. I don't think in those instances, I'd be so averse to taking credit or worried about the effects of her bragging. I'm worried about her being a Lisa Simpson, so smart and yet so lonely.

Monday, January 19, 2009

the Great God Lola answers readers' questions

The Great God Lola, a six year-old self-styled deity, has deigned to accept questions from the readers. Herewith the Gospel as dictated to the Drunken Housewife by the temperamental deity:

J9 asked, "Who's nicer, Mommy or Daddy?"

Okay. (Laughing). They are both pretty nice. And very NICE to ME. (Nine year-old Iris says, "You've got to put down that she screeched that.")

Crazy Mo said, "I always buy Honey Nut Cheerios. I want to try something new. What cereal should I buy when I do my groceries?"

Cap'n Crunch is GREAT; you should try that!

Hughman asked, "What do you want to be when you are an adult? Who is your favorite princess? What does your home look like?"

I always wanted to be a Hannah Montana. Rock star. My favorite princess is Princess Garbage. My home looks like a giant white building; it's very nice, with a cababahead that lives here. [Editor's note: we do not live in a "giant white building"; Lola watched the inauguration today and is clearly thinking ahead].

Silliyak mused, "In a no holds barred cage match with Frowsty, who emerges victorious?"

FROWSTY! [The editor must note here that older sister Iris was screaming "FROWSTYFROWSTY
FROWSTYFROWSTY", which clearly affected the interview subject].

Melissa said, "What book are you reading right now? And what's your favorite book? Have you read Tale of Despereaux, and did you like it?"

I haven't been reading, I haven't decided. [The older sister, Iris Uber Alles, was banned from the interview area at this point due to excessive interference aimed at making the interview subject look like an idiot, by pressuring the Great God Lola to provide witless answers]. My favorite book is Cinderella. I haven't read Despereaux [editor's note: her older sister owns a copy but hasn't started it yet, having gotten sidetracked into the Harry Potter series].

Davi says, "My cats are slowly, but surely, destroying my apartment. There's Simi the Spazmatic Kitty, fat male Siamese, and SoCo with Lime, my boyfriend's pretty little bar cat. How do I put a stop to the destruction?!?!"

Get lots of cat toys! They're crazy about those! Just wriggle those when they're doing all the killing department, and then they'll run around. Well, sometimes. But that works best!

Kim said "What kind of dog should I buy? A pocket dog or a big one, like a German Shepherd?"

A pocket dog sounds cute, but a German Shepherd? I think that is a nice dog.

Snowqueen said, "If you ruled the world what is the first thing you would do to make it a better place?"


Laggin asked, "What's the best thing about having a sister? (Yes. It must be a GOOD thing.) Would you rather have a sister or a wart on your nose? What's the best poem you've ever read?

Actually my sister, she's kind of bossy, but really, she does things. Like chores. And sometimes she helps me, cababahead. I would rather have a sister than a wart. Have I read any poems? That is the question. I've read some fairy poems; they are pretty nice.

Hughman weighed in again to posit, "What would be your favorite piece of trash ever? Who is your favorite teacher and why? What's the best word in the world?

My favorite piece of trash would be recycling, an old Izze, a kind of drink bottle. Ms. Capiello because she's just so nice. Once I was in the bathroom and they were lining up and she helped me. The best word in the world is [made-up nonsense word which Lola was unable to spell for her transcriptionist].

Vodalus inquired, "Which is prettier: the Mandarin Dragonet or Mantis Shrimp?"

The Mantis Shrimp; it is like a peacock!

Joyce asked, "How do I adjust a pattern to make room for my big butt? And what is a better color, orange or green?"

I don't know anything about sewing. Orange is a nice color, but green is a GREAT color!

Is there anything else you'd like to say to the readers, Lola?

Even though orange is a sports color and I do like sports, I would still stick with green. It is even on my uniform!

So there you have it: wear green! Acquire German Shepherds! Enjoy some Cap'n Crunch!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

ask Lola!

Here at the Drunken Housewife, from time to time we've had "Ask The Sober Husband", where your questions on any topic and in any degree of seriousness were answered with great seriousness by the Sober Husband himself. Here's a new twist: Ask Lola (a.k.a. the Great God Lola)! Six year-old and self-proclaimed deity Lola has agreed to take your questions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

how growing up in the Castro affects one's nascent theology

Kindergartener Lola has taken to reading "A Child's First Bible" (a gift to her older sister years ago from my parents). The Sober Husband asked her if she thought God looked like the picture in this bible, an old white man with a beard. Lola did.

"How do you know God isn't a woman?"

Lola squawked at that. "God is a daddy!" Then she thought about it. "Maybe God had a sex change operation."

more hoarding woes

Six year-old Lola hoards things and starts up collections and saves the most ridiculous things (most egregiously a Slushee cup from "Wall-E", which is named "Cupy" and lives in our dining room). Today when I picked her up at kindergarten, I pointed out that I'd gotten the car washed. "Doesn't it look nice?"

"Yes," Lola said condescendingly as I unlocked the car. Then Lola climbed into the backseat. "WHERE'S MY GARBAGE COLLECTION? I WAS KEEPING MY GARBAGE COLLECTION BACK HERE!"

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

all the horrible dental experiences and a paean to Dr Judy Huey

My teeth have not been professionally cleaned for a couple of years, and part of a porcelain cap cracked last year and came off, leaving a slightly jagged metal undercovering behind. This distressed me until I realized that the tooth in question was visible only to me personally, when I turned my head at an angle and peered towards the back of my mouth. The tooth is functional and painfree, and since it didn't affect my appearance, I did nothing about it. Because, as you see, I am without a dentist. My beloved dentist, the goddess of all teeth, Dr. Judy Huey, moved to Scottsdale years ago, leaving me and my teeth in the lurch.

When I was a child, I had a perfectly satisfactory dentist who had a strong resemblance to Superman and who had a pleasant way of chatting while he did his work. As a troubled adolescent, I had braces, and I became so accustomed to having my teeth worked over that I more than once dozed off at the orthodontist's in the chair. I had no dental phobias, despite having been stuck by poor genetic luck with a set of brittle yellowish teeth. I was innocent and ignorant.

Then my bad dental experiences began. For two years, my family lived on naval bases in the Philippines, with my father working as a civilian there. We were in a sort of strange position: we lived in government-supplied housing, officer's housing at that for one of the two years; we could shop at the commissary; but we were forbidden to go near the medical providers. For two years whenever I had a health problem, my parents just dithered and ignored the issue aside from the usual, painful and embarrassing family laying-on-of-hands, faith healing rituals. Thankfully I never got appendicitis, and meningitis was in the future but hadn't yet struck, so I got by for two years without seeing a doctor despite what I thought were ear infections and strep throat and a bout with pinkeye. But I did have dental problems. I had gone to the Philippines with braces on and no plan for getting them taken off, leaving behind my orthodontist in New Hampshire. More pressingly, a boy gave me a piece of gum on the school bus (we had an hour long drive over very bad roads that first year to get to the Department of Defense high school), and as I was chewing it, a large piece of one of my teeth broke off. This was painful and horrible and traumatic, and I never chewed gum again. I was left with a jagged, wretched, painfilled shard of a tooth.

My parents got this deemed an emergency, which allowed me to be treated by a base dentist, who was angry and resentful. During the entire appointment to fix my tooth, this man cursed me out, ranting at me, a shy fifteen year-old girl who was homesick and whose tooth hurt, that he had not trained to fix the teeth of people like me. He was there to fix soldiers' teeth, not stupid girls' teeth, and he should never have been asked to work on my mouth, and he couldn't understand why any dentist ever would touch my abhorrent, teenaged girl mouth. I had never been treated meanly or rudely by a dentist before, and I shrunk up and said nothing in return. Little did I know that this was the first of many horrible, horrible, horrible dental experiences ahead.

More happily in the Philippines my mother found a wonderful orthodontist, trained in the U.S., who had a delightful personality and gentle hands. Some of the happiest days I ever had with my mother, a woman with whom normally I have a lot of tension, especially in those days, were on orthodontist days. We would bring one of her friends, I would miss a day of school, and we would make the long drive to Angeles City. After my orthodontist appointment, we would eat lunch at a fabulous Mexican restaurant offering the Filipino take on Mexican food. We used to pay a street child to watch our car (there was always competition for that position), and I remember giving one of them a bag of Mexican food to his sheer and utter delight. (In the Philippines I learned how wealthy indeed the American middle class is if you look from a global perspective).

When we returned to the States, I went back to my Superman lookalike childhood dentist. When I went to Boston for college, I always did my dental work during the holiday breaks and summers. When I graduated from college and lived in Boston for real, I thought I should get a Boston dentist. I asked my boss, the head of WBUR-FM, what dentist she used (a very particular woman, my boss was, and I thought her dentist must be the best of the best). That led me to Traumatic Dentist Visit #2, as the doddering dentist administered an unbearably painful cleaning, botched the X-rays and couldn't tell from them what needed to be done for work, but insisted I needed many follow-up visits. I managed to get the failed x-rays and, facing reality, went back up to visit my family and my childhood dentist, who in his Portsmouth, N.H. office mocked the wretched X-rays I'd brought along. "That must be some dentist you saw down there in Boston! Can't even take an x-ray! Well, I'm just glad you can bring yourself to come to us here in tiny little Portsmouth, when you could be at a big city dentist."

Then I was accepted at Stanford and moved out west, too far to go to the dentist in Portsmouth. My parents moved at the same time to Tucson, so I wouldn't be able to mix dental business with visiting them. I was dentistless.

At Stanford I got student dental insurance, a kind of dental insurance that turned out to be the worst of the worst of dental insurance. It was a dental insurance that paid a dentist a flat monthly fee for each enrolled patient, as well as negotiated, low amounts for each treatment. The first two dentists assigned to me and my first husband (whom I married at the end of my first year of law school, under the false impression that if our relationship could survive a cross-country move and the first year of law school, it would survive anything and therefore I should just as well turn it into marriage) refused to see us. Whenever we called for appointments, they were too busy. Evidently their plan was to enroll as many patients as possible, pocket the monthly fees, and provide no services. This was Traumatic Dentist Experiences #3 and #4, the dentists who would never see us, no matter how often we called.

We did manage to get reassigned to another dentist (Traumatic Dentist #5) one who was willing to treat our teeth, all too willing to treat our teeth. He just wasn't willing to give us novocaine. It was kind of a shock to go in for fillings and have the painkilling step just omitted without discussion. I was good friends with a doctor at that time who prescribed me some painkillers I would take on the 5 Fulton on the way to this dentist, which helped until the doctor expansively told me that what I was getting from him would not help sharp pains, only diffused ones, and that at best I was getting a placebo effect, which of course vanished after that heartless discurse. This dentist was ambitious and greedy, and he confided in me, whom he saw as a kindred soul given that I was in law school, that he really wanted a Mercedes. On that same visit we discussed the Mercedes, the dentist told me I needed three teeth capped and root canaled. I had never had a root canal and was frankly terrified of having it done by a man who didn't normally administer novocaine. I stalled. On my next visit, the dentist pressured me to set up a series of visits for my four root canals. "I thought you said three?" I said. He clearly prevaricated and mumbled, "One is recommended." This was Traumatic Dentist #5, the most horrifying and traumatic of them all to date.

I left that day and never returned. I didn't get any dental treatment for the next two years, spending all that time fretting from time to time over how three of my teeth must be rotting out of my head due to my not having had them given root canals and caps.

Once I was entrenched as a young associate at a large law firm, I took my improved dental insurance and went nervously out to get my neglected teeth treated. I was assigned to a dentist in a very tall downtown building, a fancy building near my fancy office. This dentist said that I didn't need any root canals at all, which made me all the angrier at my last, sleazy dentist (who went into local politics and whose name I often see plastered across the city at election time, which always brings me flashbacks of those novocaine-less fillings and those threatened root canals). However, this dentist was no great gem, either. He did little work himself, leaving it to his young, fresh-out-of-dental school associates. I had one of my neglected teeth capped, and the dentist's office had no time for me to return to get the permanent cap put on. I went for a long time with the frail temporary cap, which led the head dentist to give the associate dentist assigned to me a dressing-down within my hearing. I sank down further and further in the examining chair as the head dentist railed on and on about how it was a miracle my tooth had survived.

My first husband had a worse experience. This dentist's office was really, really into x-raying, and their greatest pride and joy was a space age x-ray machine which rotated around your skull as you sat still in the chair. While he was being x-rayed, this machine got stuck trying to go around his head (he had a very large head indeed, being 6'4" and with a large head even for that height). While the machine was still attempting to X-ray him, techs had to wrestle with it and shove it and his head about, trying to extricate him from it. After they got it off him, they adjusted it and tried to get him to sit for another panoramic x-ray. He refused, feeling that he'd had more than enough X-ray exposure that day to last him for years, which pissed off the dentists, who truly felt you could never get enough X-rays done. Thus ended our experiences with Traumatic Dentist #6.

We were wondering if there were any acceptable dentists at all in the city of San Francisco, and we took a hiatus from dental work. Then my ex had a friend at his new job refer him to a dentist, a wonderful dentist. "I think I'm the only white patient there," the friend said. "It's the greatest dental office. You won't believe it."

By that point, I was pretty cynical, and my teeth were pretty neglected once again (after the delayed cap and the X-ray horror of my husband, we once again went for a couple of years without dental treatment). In the waiting room, I filled out the history form, and I wrote down all the terrible experiences I'd had. Then a petite woman of Asian descent walked out into the waiting room, and turning her large, kind eyes on me, introduced herself gently as Dr. Judy Huey, expressed her sympathies on my bad experiences, and asked me kindly if I needed some gas to help me get back to the treatment room. My teeth and I were in love, and we embarked upon a happy era of dental health. Dr. Huey had tiny, tiny hands with deft little fingers one can barely detect in one's mouth, and her warm personality made the patient feel confident and relaxed.

I took to gushing about my dentist to everyone I knew. "I never realized how the size of a dentist's hands make such a big difference. I never want to go to a dentist again who isn't an Asian woman, with such tiny little hands. Dr. Huey can put her whole hand in my mouth and I wouldn't notice it." People looked at me oddly when I went on like that, and I was aware that I sounded like a pervert, but I didn't care. Dr. Huey was the goddess of all teeth and deserved to be worshipped and to have her patient acolytes spread the word of her wonders.

During this happy dental era, I not only got my teeth cleaned on a regular basis and filled as needed, but I also underwent optional, cosmetic dentistry. I tried cosmetic whitening (still not getting my teeth up to Hollywood levels, but an improvement). I replaced an old cap to get a better appearance and had a veneer put on the tooth neighboring the cap to make them match. The day did come that I did need a root canal, and it turned out painless (I was so glad again that I'd never submitted to the quack dentist's plans to do four root canals. Dr. Huey sent me to an endodontologist who was also of Asian descent with tiny, gentle hands and who also had generous painkillers and a movie menu for me to pick from).

Along the way I divorced the old husband, and my new husband soon became a regular at Dr. Huey's. Dr. Huey changed offices, and we moved along with her. When Iris was born, Dr. Huey gave her a gentle introduction to dentistry. First Iris was brought along as a toddler to watch Mommy get check-ups, cleanings, and fillings. Then Iris was, with Mommy close at hand, given her own cleaning and had a couple of small cavities filled. This was done so gently and smoothly, and I felt such happiness that my child was being introduced to dental work so kindly. Maybe she could live a life without dental trauma. I wrote thank you notes to Dr. Huey and to her very kind dental assistant for making Iris's introduction to dentistry so happy.

Then dental tragedy struck. Dr. Huey's husband's health required a move to the desert. Soon Dr. Huey was in Scottsdale and I was without a dentist. A very young dentist purchased Dr. Huey's practice, and I didn't have confidence in her. My husband found a dentist, practically enough one near our house, but he told me not to go there. "It's good enough for me, but you would hate him. I just know." He wasn't taken with this dentist at all, but felt he would settle for him due to convenience.

I tried my friend Joyce's beloved dentist, but that was another trauma. The dentist herself was a lovely, gentle person who inspired confidence, but there is no way I am enduring her office staff or dental technicians. My visit was upsetting before I even got there: a nasal, bitchy office worker called me several times on the phone with questions about the dental insurance. In my experience, normally you just present a dental office with your insurance card, and they take care of the rest. Not this office. The woman called me, her tone and voice extremely unpleasant, before I had even set foot in the office, demanding such things as where to submit the claims (which was not printed on the card I had). At that time, my husband's employer, Doggyo, was so small that it had no HR person, which deeply offended the dental office woman, who was quite sniffy about it. I cravenly gave the woman my husband's cellphone number to get her off my back, under the pretense that he, the employee through whom all benefits flowed, was in a better spot to answer her questions. At the end of the day I actually went to the dentist for a routine cleaning and exam, this nasal bitch called my husband seven times on the phone, giving him attitude each time.

While I waited for forty-five minutes after my appointment time, occasionally overhearing the mean, nasal woman calling my husband on the phone, I was stuck enduring a really loud trailer for an offensive Disney movie being shown over and over again at top volume on a large screen TV. I came close to leaving then, and in retrospect, I wish I had. Because when I was finally ushered back, I underwent Traumatic Dental Experience Number Seven. The supercilious tech rammed a painful x-ray plate into my mouth which was clearly too large for my poor mouth, and which triggered my gag reflex. The tech laughed merrily at me as I was dry heaving, and then she took the same plate up again and sadistically shoved it into my mouth again. Once again I was retching, and she was laughing at me. Oh, what a merry sight, a middle-aged woman dry heaving in a dental chair. There was not an apology to be heard, the impression being given that I had made the day of the sadistic staff and that they were well-pleased by the turn of the events. The irony of this? This was a dental practice specializing in traumatized, phobic dental patients!!

I was also somewhat freaked out by the weird office layout. There were no partitions or privacy walls separating patients; we were all in chairs radiating off from a curving hallway. Thus while I was waiting, I had to hear a loud, nervous man have his cleaning and treatment. I don't want to hear other people's dental work, and I also think it was no treat for the other patients to listen to my retching noises.

To further add to that discomfort, the chairs were placed such that you couldn't see the staff, who lurked behind us in the center of the radius of this strange, round dental office. This was not enjoyable for me as some of the staff were happily discussing my hilarious dry heaving, which was evidently the highlight of their day, maybe their whole week.

When I finally met the kindly, chubby, soft spoken dentist with gentle hands and eyes, there had been too much damage already done. There is no way I will ever set foot in that office again. (My friend was a bit upset with me for not liking her dentist, to whom she was greatly loyal, and criticized me for the way in which I'd handled things. A year later, though, she did share with me a spectacularly rude thing said to her by the nasal office bitch).

Meanwhile my poor children underwent their own Traumatic Dental Experience. I signed up my poor, dental orphans with what was considered by virtually every parent I knew to be the finest pediatric dental office in the city. I had the impression that everyone who was anyone took their children to that dentist. Indeed I'd had other parents sniff at my habit of taking Iris along to my own dentist, rather than to this particular pediatric dentist. However, events showed that I had been right. This dentist practice became Traumatic Dental Experience Number Eight for me and Traumatic Dental Experience Number One for Iris and Lola.

Just because a dental office sports a small dog in a tutu and has toys strewn about does not mean that it treats children well. The dental technicians were rough, and one scolded poor three year-old Lola for nervously flipping her skirt up and down. "Sit like a lady!" The original dentist who had made this place so fashionable amongst parents wasn't really about any more (I noticed she had a nameplate up at another building), and the dentists who saw my girls were not particularly warm or nice or gentle. They weren't particularly nice to me, either. Iris was diagnosed as having a cavity with an abscess, and the dentist glared at me. "I hope you knew about this!"

I was stymied. Wouldn't I have been a worse parent if I'd known about the abscess but just not bothered to do anything about it? Iris was puzzled, also. After we left, she whispered to me, "Is an abscess supposed to hurt? It never hurt." We both felt stupid and ashamed.

At a later visit, one of the dentists was lecturing me about how I should be applying topical fluoride to the children's teeth and hounded me about why, why, why wasn't I doing that. I confided that I felt that they got a lot of fluoride already in their tap water and toothpaste and that I'd been reading about fluoridosis online. The dentist rolled her eyes in disgust and slammed her body against the cabinet at what she so clearly saw as my internet-assisted idiocy. Lola had been crying throughout her treatment without much comfort that day, and it seemed appropriate to draw curtain over this particular act in our dental odyssey.

Over a year went by, close to two years, with a perennial item in my To Do List being "Find New Dentists." Eventually, after some canvassing of acquaintances, I had gathered several recommendations for Dr. Katz, a pediatric dentist located conveniently not far from the girls' school. I steeled my nerves for the lecture I was undoubtedly going to get for not having taken the children to the dentist in so long. Instead, Dr Katz was jovial and joking, hugging me and handing out toys to the children. Lola, thoroughly traumatized by her horrible prior dentist, burst into tears the moment her turn came to be examined. Instead of forcing her, as the prior dentist would have done (that dentist was quite gifted at ignoring a small child's sobs), this new, more satisfactory dentist didn't make Lola get into the chair at all. Her cleaning and exam were done with her sitting on a stool, holding my hand, and no X-rays were done because they didn't want to force them on a crying child.

Iris's same old tooth which had had an abscess before, leading the ex-dentist to tell me off, had a new abscess. The highly satisfactory new dentist was critical of the old dentist's decision to leave that baby tooth in place. It would never have formed a new abscess if it had been pulled, and the material used for a cap on that tooth was not in favor any more among dentists who kept up with technology. Clearly that tooth had been mishandled.

I liked hearing criticism of the technique of the old dentist. It made me feel better about having left for personal reasons. As Iris said to the new dentist when he asked why she was changing dentists, "We have to get a new dentist because the old dentist rolled her eyes at Mommy."

On Lola's return visit to get a cavity fixed, the dentist introduced her to the joys of laughing gas. Lola soon went from terrified crying and clutching at my hand to relaxing in the chair. After we left, she confided in me, "Do you know why this dentist is better than the old one? He doesn't make me keep my mouth open too long!" On her second visit, Lola fell in love with the "giggle gas" and had not a single tear. She confided in everyone she knew that going to her dentist makes her giggle and giggle because she gets giggle gas.

Lola had clearly been on the path to lasting dental phobia, but has been saved due to an overdue change in dentists. Iris herself was spared that only because she could remember her kind first dentist (after every visit to the old pediatric dentist, Iris would say, "I miss Dr. Huey" and hound me to find a new grown-up dentist for myself and her alike. Lola could go to the unliked pediatric dentist, but Iris and I, Iris thought, needed a grown-up's dentist). The new pediatric dentist told me that he'd been badly treated by horrific dentists himself and that had inspired him to create his practice, a practice where children would feel no pain or discomfort and would be treated like they were important. It pained him to see that Lola had developed a dental phobia, and he was genuinely happy to see her move past it, aided by the delightful "giggle gas."

Now it is only I who is dentistless, with my poor, uncared for teeth languishing into decay. Iris and the Sober Husband have both taken to nagging me to try another dentist, but I just don't want to. In my lifetime there have only been two satisfactory dental offices for me and so many others which were really and truly awful. My childhood dentist has retired, and Dr. Huey, my only good dentist of my adulthood, is so far away. Occasionally the idea is bruited about that I should just go to Scottsdale twice a year to see my one true dentist. I can't justify that lavish lifestyle, but I can't bring myself to try another San Francisco dentist, either. I'm basically waiting it out until something truly terrible happens in my mouth, which will force me to action.

Friday, January 02, 2009

RIP Parker and Dortmunder

Just two weeks ago, I wrote
the first sentence of "Firebreak" is, in my personal opinion, the best first sentence of a novel I've ever read: "When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man." Such a mix of the banal and the horrific, such an economic use of words.... and it sucks you in and has you prepared for the rest of the ride, right there in the first twelve words. I think that's a better first sentence than the famous first sentence of "Anna Karenina": "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Donald Westlake is the master, and I hope he lives forever.
Today I learned that on New Year's Eve, Donald Westlake died suddenly from a heart attack while getting dressed for dinner in Mexico, on vacation.

I'm absolutely crushed. Mr. Westlake was ninety years old, so it shouldn't have come out of the blue, but he was at the top of his game, publishing a couple of excellent novels a year. There will be one last book, due out from the publishers in April, and then no more. RIP Parker. RIP Dortmunder.

I first became a fan of Donald Westlake before I knew his name. When I saw "The Grifters", I marveled at it, such a dark and strange and witty film. Much later, after I became a fan of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder books, I realized Mr. Westlake wrote the script for "The Grifters", among various other films. Perhaps the most famous film made from one of his works is "Point Blank", starring Lee Marvin as the inimitable Parker.

For those of you who have not acquainted yourself with the work of the master, Parker is the ultimate noir character. Under the pen name of "Richard Stark", Donald Westlake wrote this series for thirty years (given his huge productivity, Mr. Westlake used several nommes de plume, such as "Tucker Coe" and "Richard Stark." Like Stephen King, Donald Westlake had the problem of just producing too much good work for one author to credibly publish). Parker is a killing machine, a severely disciplined and controlled sociopath whose adventures are entertaining beyond belief. I will miss him more than anything.

In a lighter vein, Mr. Westlake wrote a popular series about the adventures of Dortmunder, a stooped, overweight criminal mastermind with the worst luck, and his odd assortment of friends and enemies. These were funny and engaging books, and I loved them dearly. Some of these books were made into movies, at least one with spectacular miscasting. Mr. Westlake wrote once, "Imagine my surprise to find out that Dortmunder was Robert Redford."

Once when I was severely depressed, contemplating suicide and trying to get through just one day at a time, I discovered a new Dortmunder book had come out. It quite literally gave me a new reason to live and made me question my idiocy for having considered suicide to begin with.

On another day during that period, a terrible, sad and dark time, I was driving from Iris's elementary school to pick up Lola when I was delayed by a broken down Brinks truck in the road. One of the armored guards was out waving traffic around, looking deeply depressed himself. I burst into a smile. "It's Dortmunder. It's Dortmunder in the flesh." It would have been just like Dortmunder to successfully hijack a Brinks truck only to have it break down on one of the most busy city streets.

RIP, Donald Westlake. You gave me a reason to live, you gave me so much entertainment, happiness, and food for thought. I will miss you more than I can say. Only your death could have felled the indefatigable, indestructible Parker, only that could have outwitted the brilliant Dortmunder.