Look, everyone needs to have their day brightened, right? Even dental hygienists. Especially dental hygienists—their jobs are the worst. Can you imagine having to wear construction goggles to prevent mouth spores from flying into your eyeballs? Would you like to constantly have to push other people’s disgusting tongues out of the way in order to get to their even more disgusting teeth? “No, please, I’d really enjoy examining your periodontitis at a distance best reserved for making children.” It’s terrible. No wonder their jobs only require two years of community college or something. I’d be angry too.
So I thought: I’m going to cheer my hygienist up. I sensed a kind of moroseness in her, probably from staring at the only part of the skull that is visible before maggots have scoured us in death. So right when she handed me the shades and briefly saw me as human, I said:
“Hey, you’re going to get a reward!”
“Here’s your plaque!”
I’ll admit a dental hygienist has probably heard that a million times (it’s right there), but my delivery was pretty awesome. Just like I practiced at Chipotle, I gave her a corny open-mouthed grin and pointed at the worst spots of accumulation from the past four years. I figured she had seen enough plaque that it wouldn’t bother her, but I misjudged. Not only did she not think it funny, she did not react at all. She simply paused for a second and then continued to get ready—the mining tools, the adorable miniature floor buffer, the Asian travel mask, everything. Not a word.
I didn’t know what to do, so I just gave in to her clinical detachment and tried to find the position where both my butt and my head were centered in their respective depressions (could not be done).
Had I really offended her? Did she not get it? Was she disappointed she wasn’t actually getting some sort of prize for being a really amazing hygienist? Maybe I should have bought her a little trophy with a baseball bat on top that I sanded down to look like a dental scraper, but that would have wrecked the savings I’d accumulated by only going to the dentist in Olympic years. I mean, her job is to literally remove bacterial biofilm, right? If you can’t have a sense of humor about that, then you’re in the wrong line of work, lady.
So she worked in silence. I began to reflect on the tragic way people remain so disconnected from one another—the vast distances between two minds that even the silliest, lightest, most innocent joke cannot bridge. Why do we begrudge each other the charms of empty foolishness? Whither humanity in a desolation of sobriety? I kept reflecting on these questions as a way to get my mind off the increasingly large sanding machines she was using to remove my foul buildup of yellow scrim. Fortunately, I was able to settle into an intense and thoughtful grimace that captured both my existential angst and the feeling of piercing, unendurable pain. I don’t think she noticed either.
But I soon learned after four hours of enhanced interrogation that she had been stewing the entire time. After the dentist dropped in to poke one of my teeth with his finger and tell me I was “doin’ swell,” the hygienist loomed back into my vision with the most disgusting dental model I’ve ever seen.
“Plaque,” she began, “is a bacterial mass of biofilm that leads to tooth demineralization and…” dear Jesus I blanked out. I can’t even begin to tell you what she said, because there were seriously shelf fungi growing on that thing, each with its own gnat patio and every dead larva from the national tragedy of colony collapse disorder piled next to them. I immediately regretted having that barbacoa-sour cream mash right before coming to the dentist. I felt my mind start to pull inward and divide into separate personalities, but then it was over. I don’t recall driving home or where I lost one of my shoes.
I just wanted to cheer someone up. I didn’t need to be punished by someone who thinks they work in an actual medical profession. But I’m not going to give up. When I go again the World Cup after next, I’m going to try it again. I’m a perpetual optimist, you see, and I believe in the power of humor to lift our spirits and heal our wounded souls. Besides, I’ve got a new one ready:
“Did you just eat? Because I’ve got chewing gums.”