Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"A Classic Strategy"

I was ten years old and getting ready for braces. But before that delightful experience, some unhappy preparation would be required. It was required for two reasons. One, I had a small jaw, and two, my baby teeth were refusing to fall out on schedule. As a consequence of these conditions, some pre-braces tooth extraction loomed ominously in my future.

Eight teeth would eventually be forcibly evicted from my mouth – four baby teeth and four of the adult variety. It was not a fortuitous introduction to the practice of dentistry.

One day after school, my mother informed me that I had a dentist’s appointment. From overhearing my orthodontist’s conversation with my mother, I was pre-warned as to what that dentist had in store for me. The old Yankeroo. Understandably, in my view, and I believe in any sane person’s, I was not enthusiastic about showing up. My mother said my concerns were unfounded. She assured me the appointment was “just for a cleaning.”

I was certain this was not the case. “He’s going to pull my teeth,” I insisted.

“That’s all in your head,” said my mother, sticking to her guns. “It’s just a cleaning.”

We went back and forth on the matter, me insisting the appointment involved the extraction of teeth, and my mother equally adamant that it was “just a cleaning.” In the midst of this contretemps, there were “Don’t be a baby”-type taunts hurled in my direction, manhood-challenging allegations that would propel me in therapy for decades to come.

I tenaciously held my ground. I would survive my mother’s assaults to my masculinity. I had no choice. Surrender meant a needle jabbed into my jaw, pliers clamped around my tooth, prodigious tugging and bleeding from the gums.

Playing on my mind, however, was the knowledge that I had always had a lively, and often terror-inducing imagination, plus the fact that, as far as I knew, my mother had never lied to me before. If she said it was “just a cleaning”, maybe it was “just a cleaning.” Acknowledging my uncertain “inner storyteller” and my mother’s record for veracity, I abandoned my resistance and went off to the dentist’s.

The dentist pulled two of my teeth.

I came how with gauze in my mouth.

“Ma!” I raged through tears and absorbent cotton. “You told me it was just a cleaning.”

My mother’s reply was as reasonable as it was unsatisfying.

“If I’d told you the truth, would you have gone?”

I was furious. (The fire, as you see, has not totally abated.) A respected authority figure had taken advantage of my trust. And, equally as shamefully, I had fallen for it. Fortunately, recent history has demonstrated that when it comes to succumbing to this insidious type of persuasion, I am not exactly alone.

The “It’s only a cleaning” strategy? It’s the same argument that got us into Iraq. This argument is accompanied by a familiar justification.

If they’d told us the truth, would anybody have gone?

Oh my God. My Mom could have made a bad president.

1 comment:

Gary Mugford said...

I was ten years old in 1966 when a bunch of comics (mostly Harvey Thrillers) was enough to get me to the dentists office. I was easily bribable at the time). I needed an extraction. The dentist/torturer gave me a shot of novacaine. Then another. TEN shots later, I still didn't feel numb and he'd run out of patience. Out came the tooth, accompanied by such a cry, that my mother heard it at the other end of the building. Seems I had an abscess that accepted any and all shots of novacaine, without having the surrounding gums go numb.

Over the next 25 years I collected well in excess of 100,000 comic books. And not one more visit to the dentist. Inflict pain on me once ...