She had teeth like Braille
and by running his fingers
across her open mouth
he could read all the bad things
that had happened in her life.

In any prevailing capitalist system lacking socialized (and thus not-for-profit) healthcare I find it hard to trust dentists. To my small mind they’re the masons of the mouth (masons in the concrete-and-stone sense, rather than the oath and apron brigade who I trust even less). You invite a tradesman over, a painter let’s imagine, ask him to go into an important room in your house that you’ve never much seen and then give you an estimate as to reasonable repairs and so forth. Bastard thing, you know it’s going to be expensive.

He sighs, pushes further in, almost reticulates your sore jaws. Buggers about. Comes back out, doesn’t submit the estimate and await your response having compared other prospective bids, but winks at his young female assistant (before he cuts you in half and it is a magic show at that, although she wears more white-smock-cleavage than sequins for a costume) and off we go into the suburban Marathon Man equivalent of a blank check and a broken mouth. I don’t like dentists.

In 1992 I went to one in Queens, NY. Flushing. Busy family practice. The head guy had four or five of us in stirrups while he rushed around keeping the plates spinning amongst a harem of lean assistants who all came with the breasts option. He looked into my mouth and came up shaking his head: Dear Europe seat of so much culture and artistry but so much botched hack dentistry and it was then I made my mistake:

Buh snits freeeebaisssv c noo t5u-=oogh. He took the clamps out of my mouth and I repeated that free and effective was better for me than expensive but perfect for children whose teeth would make the Reich proud. I’m so sorry. Complicated job. Root canal. Oral surgery. Dr. Onestein, I’m afraid. And thus was I dismissed for my temerity. Cast out. Punished. Taught the cold lesson. Broken on a wheel like the butterfly, Mr. Blake.

Dr. Onestein (as in einstein?) was no genius. He had a closet for an office in the semi-basement of aFlushing apartment building which, by coincidence, also housed the paid-for apartment of my first wife’s aunt. Paid-for by the local mob. Three bedroom place and the otherwise empty third bedroom was full of fax machines, maybe 30 or 40 of them, wired science before email was common. It was some kind of sports book operation and once a week -before the football games- two heavy guys turned up, went into the third bedroom and left with gobs of paper. She always walked her Cocker between 11 and 11.30 on Saturdays.

It’s a very short story. Dr. Onestein got half way through his butchery, cutting down into my lower left gum like he was working on a jigsaw puzzle for children who need big pieces. When I saw the blood on my neck in the stainless reflection of one of the tools he’d forced into my mouth I panicked in a seizure of pain and pulled his machinery out of there, spat a spume of chum and headed for divorce; from him, my wife, andQueensas well.

I still have a good-sized fissure in my lower left jaw and a couple of thin pillars, parts of teeth, that move at my tongue’s insistence whenever I’m nervous or afraid. I’m never going back.