I paid the fare and ducked in, not wanting to linger on the run-down street, and was greeted by an empty waiting room and a male receptionist who spoke excellent English. I explained that I had made the appointment the day before. They had been waiting for me. The place was clean, and I was introduced to my dentist. We’ll call him “Doctor G.” He was cool, and I spoke enough Spanish to talk to him during initial examination. “Breathe through your NOSE!” he snipped at me. It was a no-frills operation. They put a thin lead blanket on me for X-rays, but neither he nor his assistant left the room when they zapped me. In fact, I helped to hold the film in place with my finger…several times. After the first round of X-rays, I was briefed by the receptionist on the next procedure. I was still nervous, but what the hell, let’s do it! It turned out I needed two extractions and a root canal. I said, “Okay, let’s go,” and he shot me up. Although I was in a mild freak-out mode (in the Marines we call this “Pucker Factor Three”), I needn’t have been. I felt nothing. I can’t remember a dental appointment when I haven’t been at least at Pucker Factor Three. The last time I was at a dentist, it was this Navy dentist who didn’t believe I could feel him scraping around in my tooth. It was as if he was paying for the Novocain himself, the bastard. “Doctor G.” just shot me up like it was cool. I couldn’t even feel my earlobe. The assistant was singing gently to the radio, which was playing modern Mexican pop. They chatted in Spanish about how she likes to go to karaoke bars and how he should come and yada yada. I was trying hard not to laugh, seeing myself from above: Former Marine turned jazz singer in an old dental chair, Mexican Brittney Spears playing in the background, being worked over by a nonchalant Mexican dentist and his flirtatious assistant who was dotting my mouth with the suction thing in between singing along with the radio, “¡No estoy loca, no estoy loca!” SLURP SLURP! I mean, she may or may not have been flirtatious; but my Spanish is limited, so the bad translation in my head was coming up with ridiculous scenarios. Smiling or laughing was not an option with this guy and his drill in my mouth, but I had to let the occasional chuckle out anyway. Once they found out I was a singer, the assistant stopped singing for a while. She must have thought my hysterical outbursts were in response to her voice, which by the way, was rather nice. I told her so. Then Dr. G. redoubled his efforts on my mouth. To quote Speedy Gonzales, “¡Aye aye aye!”
The work took about two hours, and one of the extractions felt as if my jaw was going to pop out of the socket. I muffled exclamations, and for some reason the assistant started rubbing my goatee around in circles. The only purpose this served was to distract me. Although it was frustrating not to be able to communicate to the dentist in English, I realized that you can’t ever really talk to a dentist anyway. It’s tough enough to articulate in my native tongue with gauze and spacers and a half-numb mouth; but in Spanish? Forget about it! Try to say “¡Mi quijada está estallando!” or “Es dificil desplazar mi lengua” with a pair of pliers on the farthest-back molar and a knee in your chest. I resigned myself to my fate and let him do his thing. The tooth finally came out. They shrinky-dinked a plastic cap on the root canal and told me to come back in two weeks for the impressions.
“Dr. G.” gave me a prescription for antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory (I refused the painkillers on account of my alcoholism), and the pharmacy was only a block away. Forty dollars later I was all set, root canal and extractions, from phone call to pharmacy in 24 hours. I realize this kind of thing isn’t for everyone, but I have a feeling all my dental work will be done in Mexico from now on. Next time, though, I’m bringing a crew. I’m not taking a chance that those guys at the border have adjusted their technique and closed the gap in their ambush. I know the key to staying safe is simple: don’t look like a lucrative target, or else look savvy enough that you will seem too much trouble for them to mess with. There’s an old adage, I can’t remember where I heard it, but it applies here: “You don’t have to be faster than the lion, you just have to be faster than the guy next to you.” I’m not sure it applies when there isn’t much enforcement going on; nevertheless, I’ll be going back to TJ for my crown in a couple. If you don’t hear from me, I’d like to encourage you to contribute to the Williams Brothers Adventure Foundation Inc. — wbafinc.org — and maybe they’ll have enough to bankroll my release. Unless, of course, I’m abducted by Gloria Trevi; in which case, to quote Sir Galahad in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “You can just leave me there to face the peril.”