I am lying under a bright light with a stranger’s hands inside my mouth. Tilted at a gravity-defying angle, it is difficult to have a conversation.
“Tell me about your home care,” the masked man asks. He takes his latexed fingers out of my mouth and waits expectantly for my answer.
Oh, I vacuum and dust a couple of times a month—but I scrub the sinks and toilets every week . . ..
“I floss while I watch TV.”
“Good. I’m going to measure your pockets--you may experience discomfort . . ..”
Pockets? I love them, the bigger the better, and won’t buy pants without them. But why would anyone measure them? I’m the only one who can assess them—big enough for my keys and my glasses case . . ..
“Four . . . three . . . seven,” the masked man calls out to his assistant, a woman with a thick accent whose name is Sylvie.
“This concerns me,” he says to me, the pleats of his mask vibrating with each word, and his eyes as big as sushi through the magnifying eyeglasses he is wearing. “The higher the number, the worse it is. Ten is not good.”
But ten is perfect! She was a beauty, wasn’t she—that Bo Derrick. How clearly I remember Dudley Moore’s staccato steps over the scorching sand in that scene from”10” that I still makes me chortle. In the good old days, ten was synonymous with excellence and still is in some Olympic sports. Of course, in the good old days, getting a crown meant you’d had your birthday dinner at a fast-food chain, or you were dating royalty . . ..
“Has the space between these teeth gotten bigger? I think we’ll measure it today and on subsequent visits.”
Can we measure my smile instead? My laugh lines? I remember looking forward to being measured—for my wedding dress, shoes, hand-knit sweaters. In Florence I was measured for leather gloves custom-made in an afternoon. Lately I feel like a case study, what with height-loss tracked, feet molded, moles photographed . . ..
“Sylvie will polish you now.”
Polish the furniture, silverware, shoes. Polish your manners, nails, elocution. But polish ME? I just want clean teeth ...
“Please open vide and put your cheen down,” says Sylvie in a friendly tone.
Why not measure the things that matter, the depth of my resiliency, thoughtfulness, wit. This business of measurement seems only to get more intense as we age—hearing, blood pressure, driving skills. But we’re a measuring society, after all—crime scenes, car chassis, sound levels—even success, if you believe Forbes.
Where’s the measurement for staying calm when a rat has been spied under the bird feeder? How about measuring sensitivity and compassion? Can I please take the tact test? The cleverness quiz? The teamwork exam?
“Sweesh and speet, please.”
A lady never spits, and a gentleman never spits in the presence of a lady. I tried telling that to my sons when they were teenagers, but it took their high school girlfriends squealing “yuk” to make the point.
The masked man has returned and Sylvie has disappeared.
“OK, then, I’ll see you in six months. We’ll need to keep an eye on THAT MOUTH.” He says it as though my mouth were a third-(and very disinterested) party.
Perhaps because I’ve been released from my bib and propelled into an upright position, I feel like a child acquitted from school for summer vacation. I have five months and 29 days, count ‘em—until this event repeats itself.
“Thanks,” I say as I brush past the reception desk, eager to get outside in the fresh air.
Who was that masked man, anyway? she mused, as she started her car. ‘I don’t know,’ muttered her lifelong kemosabe, THAT MOUTH. And from somewhere in the distance she thought she heard, ‘Heigh-ho, Amalgam.’
I gun the engine and tear out of the parking lot.
copyright © 2009 Sara J. Glerum