One time Prez and I were racing through Pedro with Vapor on the old Donut Course. We’d sprinted away from the field and were barreling along Pacific Avenue doing everything we could to hold onto Rahsaan’s wheel. Things weren’t going well for us; it was like trying to keep up with motorcycle. Eventually Rahsaan kicked it hard, for real, and Prez and I dug so deeply we were scratching China.
Thankfully, we hit a red light. Prez looked at me, covered in slobber, eyes bugging out of his head, leg muscles so gorged with blood that he looked like a bodybuilder a minute before going onstage. “This level of pain,” he said “is where the gains are made.”
I’ve thought about that ever since, especially when the pain gets so intense that I pop and get shelled, making not so much gains as deficits. And I also wonder why pain in one venue is somehow endurable, but pain at the dentist isn’t. I can suffer on a bike — not MMX suffer, or Zink suffer, or Thurlow suffer, or Leibert suffer — but deep I can go. Unless it’s the dentist.
Extrusions of bone
“Big deal,” you’re thinking. “A post drilled down through your gum and into the fuggin’ bone of your jaw, or even a root canal can bring anyone to his knees.”
Except I’m not talking about posts and root canals. I’m not even talking about cavities. I’m talking about that most benign of dental operations, the dreaded bi-annual teeth cleaning.
“Bi-annual?” you say. “That’s fuggin’ disgusting! Your mouth must be nastier than a baboon’s ass!”
Indeed, my darling, it is. Nastier, for sure. But there’s a story behind it. You see, I have Davidson teeth. These are not the teeth of mortals. Pere Davidson, now in his 78th year, has never had a cavity. Grandpa N.F. Davidson (that’s “N” for “Nahum”) died in his 70’s without ever having had a cavity or lost a tooth. My brother Ian died with teeth that never felt a drill bit.
Davidson teeth are harder than the sentence of a hanging judge. They are impervious to sugar, fat, sugar, sludge, ice cream, abuse, never flossing, rarely brushing, bad diet, beer, sugar … they’re the only part of my body that has ever elicited the same reaction from health care professionals throughout my life: “Mr. Davidson, you have excellent teeth.”
Notice they never said “clean teeth,” or “pretty teeth,” or “well-aligned teeth.” No. Only “excellent,” as in “Any tooth that could withstand these four pounds of plaque and abuse and mistreatment and still be this strong and cavity-free aren’t teeth, they are diamond-plated extrusions of bone.”
Every advantage comes with a price
For me, the price began in Galveston at age 6, when I went to the dentist. He pulled two of my teeth for no reason at all, and he did it without anesthetic. I howled and screamed bloody murder. It hurt like a motherfugger, and from that point on I was terrified of dental work. Simply walking into the dentist’s office made me break out in a sweat, and I never sweat.
My lifetime of dental pain was as nothing when I went to Japan and met Mrs. WM. Japanese people have the pain threshold of an ox, and she held me in pure contempt. “Why you askin’ onna pain drugs? Thatsa for little kids.”
“Because my teeth are covered in seven pounds of plaque and it hurts like hell when he scrapes my teeth.”
“I like onna teeth cleaning. Kimochii. Even onna cavity he never gives me a pain drugs because cheaper.”
“You get your teeth drilled without novocaine?” I asked, sweating at the mention of “drilling” and “novocaine.”
“That’s nothin’. Even when a Japanese girl push outta baby there’s no onna pain drugs. ‘Girl, you baby time is normal and you ain’t gettin’ no pain drugs because, cheaper. An’ Japanese girl just push out the baby like a watermelon. You ain’t talkin’ to no Japanese girl about a tooth cleaning pain drug. She’s gonna think you’re onna girlman.”
She was right. In Japan I was the wuss of all wusses. One time her dad had a root canal without any pain medication. “Just a tooth,” he said.
I think I fainted listening to the story.
The paradox of Dr. Hayashi
In L.A., my dentist is Dr. Hayashi, a Japanese dentist. He is the bomb. He is incredibly delicate and skilled and careful and pro, but even he has to bring out the heavy duty equipment with Mr. Davidson shows up lathered in sweat and teeth covered in plaque.
Today was hell.
“Hmm,” he said. “You have a pretty big build-up of calculus.”
“Yeah,” I thought. “I got more fuggin’ calculus on my teeth than on an AP exam.”
He gently stuck the metal scraper into my mouth. I clenched and released four pounds of sweat. The metal hook caught on a tartar outcropping as he yanked a big chunk of calcified scum off my tooth. It sounded like a calving iceberg. “Looks like we have some work to do today,” he said.
“We?” I asked. “If I have to do anything other than sweat and moan, there’s a problem.”
Pretty soon the scraping became so intense that he had to drop the steel chisel and pick up the electric whizzer thingy with the vacuum spit sucker. The sound alone hurt. The plaque drill might as well have been stuck into my eyes, that’s how intensely I reacted, with little urine puddles and sharts mottling the dentist’s chair.
“Nurse,” he said, planting his boot on my chest, rolling up his sleeves, and pulling on his thickest rubber surgical gloves, “hand me the #12 bit with the diamond tip. And be ready with the extra-coarse sandpaper.”
After a brief while his rubber gloves were covered in blood as my soft and sickly gums spewed gore. His welder’s goggles were covered with shards of razor-sharp tartar, more tartar than you’d find in Crimea. His cute assistant tried to suction up the blood and spit and chunks of plaque as my mouth spattered the room with bacteria and bodily fluids of the most contaminated sort. After fifteen minutes his hands looked like they’d been plunged into a chest cavity. My mouth spouted blood and spit, which drooled down into my matted mustache and beard. The pain was unbearable as I fought the suction thingy with my tongue and clamped down on the drill.
“Mr. Davidson,” he said. “You’ll need to open your mouth so I can reach the teeth.”
After forty-five minutes, which seemed like forty-five hours, he gave up, having dug out food items from last November, pieces of GU wrapper, slivers of gristle, and part of an old Life magazine from 1955. “That’s all we can do today. Why don’t you come back in three weeks after your gums have quit bleeding. You’ve still got plaque deposits that I can’t reach, as well as what look like pieces of bicycle inner tube, some fish bones, and a hard-to-reach clump of hair wedged down below the gum line. I’ll have to special order a hand-drill and some low-grade explosives, but we’ll get it next time for sure.”
Have you ever heard of having teeth so gnarly that they have to be cleaned in stages? I haven’t, but I was so glad to get out of the chair that I would have agreed if he’d suggested a follow-up visit that included a lobotomy with an icepick.
You’d think that with such a miserable experience I’d learn, and start flossing regularly, brushing after meals, and wearing a condom. But he said the magic words when I left, the words that guaranteed my box of dental floss from 1982 would remain in mint condition for another year or two. “Mr. Davidson, you have excellent teeth.”
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