Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Terrorizing St. Paul with jumper cables and a mouthful of Novocain

I survived another trip to the dentist today. I will admit to hyperventilating a little bit, but things weren't as traumatic as last week.

I think I mentioned before that the dentist had originally suggested the work on this side of my mouth could be done without Novocain. This idea was wholly rejected at the start, but I wondered this time around if it might actually make things a little easier on me.

My logic went like this: I can suffer a little discomfort and perhaps actually being able to feel the drill tearing through my jaw, rather than not really feeling anything and just sitting there waiting for white hot electric pain to cause my head to explode, would keep me from going into a panic.

"Sure we can try that," the dentist said. "Just put your hand up if you need me to stop."

"Fweeeeeeeeeeeeee," said the drill. "Bzzzt. Bzzt."

And my hand was up.

It says something about me and my transparent wussy nature, I suppose, that he was instantly swabbing my cheek with that piña-colada-tasting* numbing agent. It was ready to go. He hit the nerve again in administering the Novocain, but since I was expecting him to do it and my mind had logged it as far more painful than it actually is, I was able to keep myself from weeping.

I was sweating like a maniac, and I clenched my fists so tightly that it hurt to unclench them, but as I say, it wasn't as bad as last week, and one hour later I was in my car and headed home.

But first I needed to drop by the gas station. I tried really hard not to be frustrated by petrol prices -- because it's my own damn fault for driving a 23-year-old car with a 6.5-liter engine -- got back into my car, and: nothing.

"Son of bitch. It was just running," I thought.

I tried turning the keys a few more times, made sure the battery connections were OK and even tried kicking the car, but it did no good. I couldn't get a sound from the car -- it was completely dead.

This was one of those moments in which, if my life were a movie, I would do one of those pull-away Spike Lee crane shots. I'm not sure I entirely get the point of them, but he uses them when things go a bit shitty, which is where I was. I had just gone through my second emotionally exhausting dental experience, the right side of my face was still completely numb from Novocain, and my $250 piece-of-shit car was dead.


I would like to big myself up and point out that I did not do my usual thing of getting really, really, really angry. There was no reason for me to be: I was in my beloved St. Paul; I had $7 in my wallet, which is more than enough to get you anywhere you want to go (albeit incredibly slowly) on the buses; and while I was scheduled to come to work today, I didn't have to be there for three more hours and I am in my final days of employment, anyway.

Instead, I felt a sense of frustrated resignation. I called my wife and left a moping Eeyore-esque message on her phone. What was going through my head was what my brother had told me about the day his 1977 Buick Skylark died: "I came outside and it just wouldn't start. The thing wasn't worth fixing, so I called the junkyard to come pick it up."

"Here it is," I thought. "The death of my car. What an unceremonious goodbye."

That's a good name for a band, by the way.

It seemed like an exercise in futility, but I decided I would at least try to get my car started again. Even though it had just been running, I decided to try jumpstarting. I got out my cables and walked over to the woman who was parked right next to me, pumping gas into a Lexus SUV.

"Hi, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a jump," I said, smiling and waving my booster cables in as friendly manner as possible.

"Uhm... no. I... uhm," she said, trying to think up a reason not to help me.

Let's be fair and remember that I had a face full of Novocain, so my request came out as more of a growl and my smile may have come off as somewhat leering. But it was the middle of the day, there were loads of people around, and she was parked right next to me -- all she would have had to do would have been pop open her hood.

There was no reason to mess with her, though. There were plenty of other people at the gas station.

"I understand," I said. "You're in a rush."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "Really in a hurry."

So I walked over about five feet to a man pumping gas into a red Volvo.

"Hi, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a jump," I growled, this time playing up my partially paralyzed face in hopes that it would garner some sympathy -- after all, who would refuse to help Good Ol' J.R. jump start his car?

"Uhm... no. I... uhm," he said, trying to think up a reason not to help me.

What the fuck? Who refuses to help someone jump start their car? It was the middle of the day, at a busy gas station and I was pointing to my car. All these people had to do was sit there while I did all the work. That's what you do when you jump start someone's car: you sit in your car and do nothing. Once the other car is started, the jumpee thanks you profusely. It is the easiest way imaginable to rack up good karma, and I had two people refuse.

This is what's wrong with America, people. When the Chinese take over, remember this day. Remember that we are a nation that flat out refuses good karma.

But I didn't pester the Volvo man; there were still other people I could ask. At the next pump over, there was a man standing next to an early 90s Ford Tempo. What person driving a Tempo was going to refuse me? He was my people. We could bond over shitty cars.

"It's just that, well, this is my mother-in-law's car," Ford Tempo man told me. "And I would hate to have to bring it back to her and explain how I blew up her generator."

It's an alternator, you fuck. Cars have alternators. And do you not see the car I'm driving? You don't think I know how to jump start a car properly?

"OK," I said, and walked back to my car.

I got in to try starting it up again. This is years of working with computers that caused me to do this. Computers sometimes really do come back to life if you leave them alone for a while. Internal combustion engines, however, stay dead.

Ford Tempo man had a sudden, begrudging change of heart and swung his car around.

"You look so miserable," he said. "I'd feel bad if you were just stuck here."

I'm assuming my miserable look was a result of the Novocain. Maybe I look miserable all the time.

I tried to explain to the man that I had just been to the dentist, so my face was numb, but it became clear to me that he was terrified of either me, or "car stuff," or both. So I just went about the process of hooking up the cables. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see he had a nervous look on his face -- as if we were doing some kind of drug deal. When I attached the negative cable to my engine block, he jumped back about 15 feet.

"Cripes, man," I thought. "It's not gonna 'splode like some kind of al-Qaida car bomb."

I got in the car and turned the key. Nothing. I wasn't really surprised, because: 1) I wasn't sure this was going to work, anyway; 2) my engine block has 23 years of oil and dirt on it -- not ideal conditions for electrical current. So I got out of the car to mess with the cables a bit and try again. But he was already removing the cables from his car.

"Sorry it didn't work out," he said, shoving the clamps in my face.


"Why don't you ask the guys across the street?" the gas station attendant said.

I was flipping through the phone book, looking for someone who would come tow my car and buy it for scrap. The "guys across the street" was the Phillips 66 station, which also does some odd mechanical repair.

When I walked in, I noticed a large sign on the wall: "MINIMUM LABOR CHARGE IS $12.61"

That's sort of an odd figure to come to, and it left only $37.39 for the maximum amount I was willing to pay to fix my car. Unless I had burned out the magical Makes Everything Work fuse, I told myself, I was going to be parting with my car today.

One of the mechanics grabbed a portable jump start kit and walked across the street with me. He fussed with the wires, had me try to start the car, fussed with the wires, had me try to start it, fussed with the wires and, "WHOOOOOOM," my car roared back to life.

"Holy shit. I was all set to have this thing towed away for scrap," I said.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you," the mechanic said.

"How much do I owe you?"

"Huh? Nothing. It's a jump."

Back on the freeway and sailing toward home in my born-again land boat, I thought to myself: "The guys at the Phillips 66 on the corner of Cleveland in Grand, in St. Paul --that's what I'll write a blog post about. I will write an enormous 2,000-word post to point out how they are among a dying breed of people who aren't so self-absorbed that they can't help a person jump start his car."

"No one will read that long of a post," a voice in my head told me.

"Probably not," I thought.

*By the way, thanks for ruining a perfectly good alcoholic experience, world of dentistry.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006


Keeeeeee-ripes, I hate going to the dentist. I have nothing against dentists personally. Most of the dentists I have met in my lifetime have been good people; they do good work and they are woefully underappreciated. But, as I've said before, sweet mother of Jesus dancing a jig on a Chevrolet, I hate having to see the dentist.

For some reason, my brain is capable of occasionally -- and, so far, always inappropriately -- producing extreme panic. And something about having people placing whirling metal objects in my mouth takes me to that special terrible place. I think it is partially a side effect of being such a big fan of Carl Hiaasen novels. If my experiences were a Hiaasen novel, the dentist would be blitzed on alcohol, meth, and nitrous oxide. He would slip and manage to shred my jaw and cheek into a bloody, pulpy mess. In his drugged-out panic, he would then decide to avoid a malpractice lawsuit by bludgeoning me to death with a giant toothbrush.

That didn't happen today, obviously. But things got off to a bad start when he managed to hit a nerve while injecting the painkiller. It felt as if an explosive had gone off in my jaw.

ME: "Gah!"

DENTIST: "Ooh, I think I hit a nerve. That doesn't happen too often -- sorry about that. Your nerves are exactly where they are supposed to be. That's not the case with most people. The good news is that the painkiller will definitely work now."

MY BRAIN: "Hey, whoa, man. What the fuck was that? Why are we not running away?"

DENTIST: "Are you OK?"

ME: "Yeah. OK. Fine."

BRAIN: "What?! We should be leaving. Fuck you, man. Fuck you three times."

The painkiller did its job and soon I could no longer feel the left side of my face. The dentist then stuck various bits of metal in my mouth that I'm sure made me look as if I was in German fetish porn. As soon as I heard the whir of the drill, my mind flashed back to the last time I had a cavity filled -- about 14 years ago. That dentist (a different one) offhandedly noted that the cavity was deeper than he had expected.

"I'm a little concerned that I may hit the root as I'm drilling," he said.

"What happens if you do that?" I asked.

"Oh, you'll let us know," he said. "You'll let everyone in the building know."

One of the teeth that today's dentist was planning to work on was that tooth -- the "you'll let us know" tooth. I didn't want to let anyone know today. I wasn't feeling informative. He (and another dentist at another office, as well, lest you think he was doing unnecessary work) had determined that the filling in that tooth had been done wrong, allowing the cavity to hang on. He planned to remove the old filling completely and replace it with a new, better fancy-dancy white filling instead of the "Why, yes, I do drive a 1983 Oldsmobile; how did you guess?" metal filling that was there.

I was shaking in the chair, and as soon as I heard the rattle of the drill echoing through my skull, the panic button was pressed.

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Here comes the pain. Oh, fuck, this is going to hurt! This is going to HURT! Oh, Christ! This is it! He's going to break through the tooth and tear up the root and it is going to be more pain than we've ever experienced. Oh shit! It's going to happen at any second! ANY SECOND NOW! Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! And it is going to hurt so bad that our left eye will pop out! You will be so overcome pain that your own eye will pop out of your skull!! Shiiiiiit!"

I was hyperventilating and squeezing my hands together so hard that my ring was cutting into my finger. My eyes were squeezed shut, but I was aware that my feet were kicking around.

DENTIST: "Chris? Are you OK?

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit."

MY LEFT EYE: "I don't want to pop out!"

ME: "..."

DENTIST: "Let's give you a chance to catch your breath, OK?"

No, not OK. I was already going through trauma. Why they hell would I want to prolong this experience? I wanted to just get it over with and get the hell out of the office. I wanted to be 8 years old eating at Popeye's with my mom and drinking strawberry soda. I did not want to be sitting around in a dentist's office waiting for more drilling.

I shook my head desperately and tried to communicate that I wanted him to just keep on, but I couldn't get any words to form.

ME: "...hhhhh..."

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit."

MY EGO: "What the fuck is going on here? There's no pain, you big pussy."

BRAIN: "But there WILL be pain -- a lot of pain! Oh God! Oh shit!"


DENTIST: "Yeah. Let's take a quick break."

ME: "..khhh..."

EGO: "Oh, for fuck's sake. You are such a girl. This is... wait. Wait a fucking minute. Are there tears in your eyes? You're fucking crying! Oh, FUCK! What is wrong with you?! You absolute pussy."

BRAIN: "OK, I'm going to start running through every bad thing that has ever happened to us ever. Remember when Andy Wolf put you in a headlock and he would not let go? You were punching him in the balls, but he just would not let go."

EGO: "This is so embarrassing. What kind of man are you? I am so disgusted with you."

BRAIN: "...and then Sarah McDaniels broke up with you. Oh wow, did that suck. And..."

LEFT EYE: "I don't want to pop out!"

It went on like this for an hour and fifteen minutes. At the end of it, I walked out with four new fillings. I go back for work on the other side of my mouth next week.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

An expert in shouting at crows

  • Sometimes I think I'm being a damn fool for leaving Minnesota. I was thinking that especially this morning as I crossed the Hiawatha Bridge toward the headquarters of my benevolent employer. The forest along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers are turning a lush green now. The bridge soars over the valley and gives a panoramic that stretches from downtown Saint Paul to out past Black Dog Lake (about 30 miles) -- all of it leafy and green, with soft hills and fat, lazy river cutting through.
    Just as you reach Mendota Heights, the steeple of the 166-year-old St. Peter'sChurch sneaks above the trees and it looks like the sort of thing that Thomas Kinkade would charge you $700 to look at. That's where you would expect God to actually be. When I look at the mammoth, soul-hurting edifices of megachurches I always find it hard to believe that God would hang out at those places any more than he has to. Of course he's there, that's part of the job description of an omnipresent being. But at an old church that rests on the bluffs of the Minnesota River -- that's where he probably enjoys being.
    I try to think of what I would be if I hadn't spent my adolescence here, escaping to Nine Mile Creek and the Minnesota, and I have trouble coming up with positives.
    Wales is beautiful. The River Taff runs less than 1/3 of a mile from the house where the child bride and I are hoping to live (although there is still some debate as to whether I could swim in the river). We will be able to walk from the house into countryside. Wales has mountains and seaside and better beer and less snow and fewer evangelical churches. But I can't help but feel some sense of guilt/melancholy/doubt for leaving here.

  • Those of you who paid attention in Twin Cities Geography in school probably got a little confused by the above blubbering: "Wait, Chris, I thought you lived in the prestigious west side of Bloomington Rock City -- what the hell were you doing taking the Hiawatha Bridge across the river? That doesn't make sense. It's like that scene in 'Fargo' when they're supposedly driving down from Bemidji, but for some reason they're on I-35. This is madness!"
    I know. Calm down. I was in Saint Paul this morning for a dentist's appointment. I went to the dentist about two weeks ago and they decided that they needed to spend a few hours drilling holes in my skull and filling them, but set the dates for said torture sessions too far into the future for the child bride's liking. So, she arranged for me to go into a different office and have someone poke me in the mouth with pieces of metal before they could set more immediate dates for face drilling.*
    The previous dentist had thoroughly depressed me with the number of cavities he found. I am a dental hygiene poster child with all of my flossing and brushing regularly and rinsing with fluoride mouthwash and not drinking pop, but my white trash heritage is too strong and I have bad teeth. Today's dentist found an additional "problem area," hence my more subdued mood.
    His apparently serious offer to do the work sans Novocain was soundly rebuked by me, which means that things will be split into two appointments.
    The plus side of this is that I plan to burn off my remaining holiday time surplus by taking half days for those appointments. This means I have 16 days of actual working left.

  • Ask a ninja about love.

  • Good name for a band: Power Rangers Rendezvous

    *Whoa, that sounds like the subject line for one of those really dirty spam e-mails.