Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Teeth Teeth Teeth"

Sydney Garfield was my first dentist in Los Angeles. 

You know how when you move to a new city, you ask acquaintances who their dentist is, who their accountant is, where you can get the best matzo ball soup – the third one being optional?  Well, the only guy I knew here at the time was Lorne Michaels, and when I inquired about a dentist, he immediately said “Sydney.”

Sydney Garfield, I was told, was Jack Nicholson’s dentist.  I am not sure what kind of a recommendation that is, as I see nothing spectacular about Jack Nicholson’s teeth.  But the reasoning apparently goes that when a wealthy movie star who can ostensibly have any dentist they want specifically chooses Sydney – that is perceived to be a lofty endorsement.  (Parenthetically – Duh, I am in parentheses – once, at a piano rental store, I was informed that the “upright” I was looking at had appeared prominently on a Mitzi Gaynor special.  I passed on the piano, having seen that special and not been particularly impressed.)

Sidney Garfield may not have been an elite dentist, but he was definitely unique.  Which you became aware of the moment you stepped into his office.

Sidney’s “Waiting Room” was inundated with art – sculptures, ceramics, colorful murals festooning his walls and his ceiling.  I would later learn that down-on-their- luck artists would barter their creations for Dr. Garfield’s dental services. 

It was my first psychedelic “Waiting Room.”

Sydney’s office included neither receptionist nor dental hygienist.  He was a one-man operation.  He did it all himself.  With the assistance of nitrous oxide.  Not that he used the stuff himself – at least not during office hours – but he administered it liberally to his patients.  I cannot truly attest to Sydney’s “touch” as a dentist.  Under the fumes, no matter what he did to me, I was always hysterical.

“That hurt!  Hee-hee-hee!”

During the course of my twice-a-year visits, I learned much about Sydney’s personal background.  Assuming Sydney was revealing his background and not just making stuff up.  He seemed capable of doing either.  Although my guess is, had he had a receptionist, when I took care of the bill, she’d have said under her breath,

“He’s crazy, you know.”

Sydney Garfield – according to Sydney Garfield – had started out as an aeronautical engineer, claiming, among other accomplishments, to have worked on Howard Hughes’s wooden wonder of the sky, The Spruce Goose.

Then, at the age of fifty, Sydney tired of the aeronautical engineering racket, trading his slide-rule in for a career in dentistry. 

This next transition is the scariest.

Now bored with dentistry, Sydney Garfield’s latest aspiration was to become a screenwriter.

The script he was currently working on was called Le Juicy Giraffe, a surreal and scientifically detailed recounting of the exciting miracle of plastic surgery.  Sydney himself was a prime example of that miracle.  Going by his personal biography, he looked twenty years younger than he would actually had to have been.

Sydney Garfield was intensely passionate about being a screenwriter.  When I arrived for my check-up, rather than walking me straight to the “Treatment Area”, Sydney insisted that I sit down in the “Waiting Room”, where he would regale me with his newest scenes from Le Juicy Giraffe. 

One time, he called my house to read me his most recent efforts.  And when my stepdaughter Rachel informed him I was not home, he insisted on reading them to her.  (Sidney later bought time on a local cable station, where he read Le Juicy Giraffe to everybody.)

I tried to be encouraging – without lying.  Other patients were unsparingly direct.  When Sidney flew up to Montana to work on Jack Nicholson’s teeth during the filming of The Missouri Breaks, actor Nicholson signaturely intoned,

Syd-ney, you’re a great den-tist.  Whaddaya want to be a wri-ter for?”

But a writer he was.  Not ultimately a screenwriter, as far as I know, but he did publish a memoir after which today’s post is entitled.  It was called,

Teeth  Teeth  Teeth.

I recall Sydney proudly explaining the onomatopoeic cadence of the short poem he wrote that served as the cornerstone to his memoir.  It went:

“Teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth.
The bottom of the sea
Is covered with teeth.”

“Do you see how I repeated that?  ‘Teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth’?  I said it seven times.  Which is precisely the right number.

“‘Teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth.
The bottom of the sea
Is covered with teeth.’ 

“It must be seven times.  No more.  And no less.”

And then he recited it again.

“Teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth.
The bottom of the sea
Is covered with teeth.”

Sydney Garfield died tragically while crossing the street, apparently oblivious to the oncoming traffic.

He was probably thinking of his next screenplay.

Memories of Sydney rush to mind because I was recently informed that I need a wisdom tooth removed.

Once, when I told him I was scared about coming in, Sydney Garfield picked me up at my apartment and personally drove me to his office.  When he had finished working on me, instead of saying, “Don’t eat on it for an hour”, Sydney then treated me to a very expensive lunch.

I could use some of his Garfieldian TLC at the moment.


Or, at the very least, his nitrous oxide.

1 comment:

Josiah said...

You still have at least 1 wisdom tooth left? Is that as unusual as I'm guessing it is?

I too am a large, maybe extra-large proponent of nitrous oxide.

Dr. Garfield was, perhaps, a renaissance man?

How was it working with Chuck Connors?