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Richard Meltzer's visit to the dentist is a brush with death

Tooth and nail

Jack Nicholson dentist scene in Little Shop of Horrors, 1960.
Jack Nicholson dentist scene in Little Shop of Horrors, 1960.

I've never had any sexual interest in a dental hygenist, though I'm told there are dentists who pike, pursue, and occasionally even marry them.

Dentists themselves are difficult to imagine as sex objects for anyone, and Laura Bryant's January 1929 recording of "Dentist Chair Blue s(part One)" — "I need a quick-filling dentist 'cause I'm mean and cross/At night I'm hot with fever and I just roll and toss" — can hardly be regarded as more than a pre-Crash novelty of the most pathetic sort. Nor, unless we're Jack Nicholson in Little Shop of Horrors, can we take Dinah Washinton's "Long John Blues" — "You thrill me when you drill me" (he's a dentist, see) — with anything but a grain of that salty stuff, that, diet permitting, we sprinkle on eggs.

A rich source of "double entendre," perhaps, but if they stopped drilling — let's say they hammered — they'd cease even being good for that. They'd be good for nothing, and yet....

And yet the metaphor, the poem, the image composite ... sex/pain, pain/sex, "pain less dentistry"/yank, yank, yank ... does kind of persist with a certain eerie je ne sais potency. One that isn't wholly comic.

Okay, I was in for a cleaning. New dentist — always a new one. I'm more fickle with dentists than the Fickleson Sisters. A new one, and so long since my last cheery "visit," that the dental facewear had changed — radically. And handwear. Gloves and masks where previously there were none.

Yes, apparently, the dread contagion of AIDS had altered another lifestyle. The dental lifestyle. The noisome workspace of drillers, yankers, and their ilk has forever been transformed, a new poetic resonance subjoining itself to their sour, grimy chore. The heck with sex and pain; sex and death has become the couplet wherever molars seeks service and relief.

Tristan and Isolde meet Walter Matthau in Cactus Flower.... Romeo and Juliet rub teeth with Henry Zuckerman in Roth's The Counterlife.... A grander theme enters the frame.

But of course, it's extra-dentist-chair sex that has drawn the Reaper to the dental sanctum. Basic sack sex or even just ... blood contact. Blood and spittle — let's not forget spit — a little mouth blood has struck FEAR in their dark dental hearts.

Dentists have never minded draining my blood. Three yankers ago, I lost between a pint and a quart when the jerk nicked an artery during a "routine" wisdom extraction. Four dentists (and another wisdom tooth) back, I lost a pint from just a vein.

So it felt so-o-o great to see, well, maybe not a dentist, but his hygienist lackey wince, cringe, every time her tool struck capillary paydirt. And it wasn't from the mere sight of blood — that tired, old number. It was the meaning of blood. Blood and pestilence. Blood as death. My blood and saliva spiraling down the sink. I gaze at the lackey's panicky blues as they gazed — at the spiral. Blood, spit 'n' panic. Look who's squeamish now!!

And the lamb turns on the table of the butcher.

Speaking of which, butchers, what the actual butchers gonna do — and how far off can this be? — when the first lucky heifer with HTLV-III up her privates starts spreading it to the steer, i.e., beef population? Slaughterhouses, butcher shops — all this possibly tainted blood flying 'round, landing in people's eyes, nostrils, freshly scratched bug bites and etc. Soaking their socks, entering their systems through lesions in their athlete's foot. What're they gonna do, dress like astronauts?

And what happens when we the meat-buying public start to notice and ask pointed questions requiring frank answers? Thorough cooking kills the virus, see. Well-done is safest. Medium, slightly less so. Rare, make out your will, Jack. Rumors of illicit cow-poking at the Double-R-Bar Ranch will get nasty. It should be interesting....

Back to dental love, though — glove. You could bite through 'em easy. As she slips digits gumward, take whiff. You could bite through 'em easy, but the bite threat has always been there. Always — yet it's never made a dent in dental arrogance, indomitably. The butchers have persisted, they've persisted in spades.

So I'm thinking, hey! Now's the time to put our teeth IN it. The eternal quid pro quo, the trade-off we've for too long declined — take it! Cuspids through rubber, incisors through glove. Slap some blood curdly terror — not this trendy cautionary biz — on their pastel golf-playing face.

Tell 'em Meltzer sent ya.

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Jack Nicholson dentist scene in Little Shop of Horrors, 1960.
Jack Nicholson dentist scene in Little Shop of Horrors, 1960.

I've never had any sexual interest in a dental hygenist, though I'm told there are dentists who pike, pursue, and occasionally even marry them.

Dentists themselves are difficult to imagine as sex objects for anyone, and Laura Bryant's January 1929 recording of "Dentist Chair Blue s(part One)" — "I need a quick-filling dentist 'cause I'm mean and cross/At night I'm hot with fever and I just roll and toss" — can hardly be regarded as more than a pre-Crash novelty of the most pathetic sort. Nor, unless we're Jack Nicholson in Little Shop of Horrors, can we take Dinah Washinton's "Long John Blues" — "You thrill me when you drill me" (he's a dentist, see) — with anything but a grain of that salty stuff, that, diet permitting, we sprinkle on eggs.

A rich source of "double entendre," perhaps, but if they stopped drilling — let's say they hammered — they'd cease even being good for that. They'd be good for nothing, and yet....

And yet the metaphor, the poem, the image composite ... sex/pain, pain/sex, "pain less dentistry"/yank, yank, yank ... does kind of persist with a certain eerie je ne sais potency. One that isn't wholly comic.

Okay, I was in for a cleaning. New dentist — always a new one. I'm more fickle with dentists than the Fickleson Sisters. A new one, and so long since my last cheery "visit," that the dental facewear had changed — radically. And handwear. Gloves and masks where previously there were none.

Yes, apparently, the dread contagion of AIDS had altered another lifestyle. The dental lifestyle. The noisome workspace of drillers, yankers, and their ilk has forever been transformed, a new poetic resonance subjoining itself to their sour, grimy chore. The heck with sex and pain; sex and death has become the couplet wherever molars seeks service and relief.

Tristan and Isolde meet Walter Matthau in Cactus Flower.... Romeo and Juliet rub teeth with Henry Zuckerman in Roth's The Counterlife.... A grander theme enters the frame.

But of course, it's extra-dentist-chair sex that has drawn the Reaper to the dental sanctum. Basic sack sex or even just ... blood contact. Blood and spittle — let's not forget spit — a little mouth blood has struck FEAR in their dark dental hearts.

Dentists have never minded draining my blood. Three yankers ago, I lost between a pint and a quart when the jerk nicked an artery during a "routine" wisdom extraction. Four dentists (and another wisdom tooth) back, I lost a pint from just a vein.

So it felt so-o-o great to see, well, maybe not a dentist, but his hygienist lackey wince, cringe, every time her tool struck capillary paydirt. And it wasn't from the mere sight of blood — that tired, old number. It was the meaning of blood. Blood and pestilence. Blood as death. My blood and saliva spiraling down the sink. I gaze at the lackey's panicky blues as they gazed — at the spiral. Blood, spit 'n' panic. Look who's squeamish now!!

And the lamb turns on the table of the butcher.

Speaking of which, butchers, what the actual butchers gonna do — and how far off can this be? — when the first lucky heifer with HTLV-III up her privates starts spreading it to the steer, i.e., beef population? Slaughterhouses, butcher shops — all this possibly tainted blood flying 'round, landing in people's eyes, nostrils, freshly scratched bug bites and etc. Soaking their socks, entering their systems through lesions in their athlete's foot. What're they gonna do, dress like astronauts?

And what happens when we the meat-buying public start to notice and ask pointed questions requiring frank answers? Thorough cooking kills the virus, see. Well-done is safest. Medium, slightly less so. Rare, make out your will, Jack. Rumors of illicit cow-poking at the Double-R-Bar Ranch will get nasty. It should be interesting....

Back to dental love, though — glove. You could bite through 'em easy. As she slips digits gumward, take whiff. You could bite through 'em easy, but the bite threat has always been there. Always — yet it's never made a dent in dental arrogance, indomitably. The butchers have persisted, they've persisted in spades.

So I'm thinking, hey! Now's the time to put our teeth IN it. The eternal quid pro quo, the trade-off we've for too long declined — take it! Cuspids through rubber, incisors through glove. Slap some blood curdly terror — not this trendy cautionary biz — on their pastel golf-playing face.

Tell 'em Meltzer sent ya.

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