What's In a Smile

For the past week life hasn’t been talking to me. In this state, I become dramatically introverted, moving through space with a wax-like expression on my face. Most unnerving is that no one seems to notice. ‘Time to flex those facial muscles,’ I tell myself, to give those I encounter a fighting chance of deciphering my mood. But mostly, today I need something mystical to fly in and nudge me along.

Two weeks ago I’d overlooked a dental cleaning appointment and was forced to reschedule for today.

“Unfortunately, Pam isn’t available,” the receptionist explains. “How about Hank?”

“Hank? I don’t know him.”

“He’s new. Just been here a little while.”

As long as he's not a sadist, I don’t much care. Or a chatterbox. I’ve never understood the hygienist who fills your mouth with fingers and instruments and then asks you the meaning of life. I mean, even if you know, how are you supposed to answer?

Once, after suffering through a particularly painful session with Sally, both a lecturer about the perils of insufficient dental hygiene and a talkative little mouse who gave me explicit details about her children, I vowed to launch a campaign for a Zen-like dental atmosphere. No small talk. No Barry Manilow over the speakers. Move in the soothing green walls, a delicately placed bamboo plant, and barely audible instrumental tracks designed as white noise.

But had I gotten my wish, I wouldn’t have gotten Hank.

Before settling me into the chair, Hank asks about my weekend, and in telling him that I went to a reunion performance of a bunch of punk-era bands, I don’t get a blank stare in return. This is my kind of dental associate.

The initial exam. The finger moving around my gums, exploring ever so delicately. And something about Hank’s touch, the way he holds my chin with his hand, is oddly erotic. Clearly it’s been too long, and I think to myself, ‘Damn, I’m sick.’

But I discover I’m not alone in my insanity.
Hank: Do you have any kids?
DeeZee: Yeah, one son. Almost 13.
H: One was enough? (and we both laugh while I mutter, uh huh.)
Moving onto recreation…
H: Any trips planned?
DZ: Heading away this weekend.
H: Just the two of you? (I grunt, uh huh, the cleaning well underway at this point.) Not married?
DZ: No.
H: Been dating? (this from Hank the hygienist!)
DZ: It’s been a dry summer (I choke out sheepishly.)
H: For the past two years, all my friends have been getting married. Guess I didn’t get the memo (he laughs.) I’ve been officially single for a year now (and without missing a beat…) So, what’s your type?
Has your dental hygienist ever flirted with you? Mid cleaning, gums retracted, vacuum tube sucking the saliva from your mouth? If I had tried I couldn’t have imagined a more unlikely setting for a seduction, but I’ve also never had a male hygienist before, and let me tell you, this conversation definitely beats all previous small talk I’ve been forced into in a dental chair.
DZ: Uh, can’t really say, in that I never seem to end up with my type. Guess I’m experimental (I sense THAT got his attention!)
I can’t get a look at Hank because my mouth is full of his fingers and he’s over my shoulder and this is definitely the weirdest situation I’ve ever been in. And not being sure what’s going on, along with Hank’s fingers and that horrid metal scraping tool in my mouth, I find my head spinning, but not in that creepy-get-me-out-of-here way but more along the lines of I-certainly-didn’t-expect-this.

Hank presses on…
H: So do you date older or younger?
And I keep wondering when my nice, silver-haired dentist is going to waltz into the room and bust us because I can’t believe how overt this whole conversation is getting. I repeat to Hank that it’s been a dry summer, but regardless, I am done with older. “Not since my teen years,” I explain, undoubtedly upping the ante.
H: So, you mean your age or younger?
DZ: Yeah.
H: What was the youngest?
I want to be funny and point out that that’s kind of a moving target, but subtle humor cannot be achieved mid-cleaning where one must be very precise with language, squeaking out a few words post saliva suck before the scraping renews.
DZ: Last minimal entanglement was 27.
H: Why minimal?
DZ: Uh, we were too different. He was really conservative.
It’s definitely the abridged version. If Hank wants the finer details of my last failed romance, he’s going to have to buy me a drink or at least give me a mouthwash break.
H: And how old are you?
Boom! Just like that. My answer sounds old, and I think, ‘What was he hoping to hear?’ I also worry that I may have axed out Hank in this exchange – what if he’s not even 27? – so I add how I tried having dinner with a 23-year-old but that it didn’t go well because he kept referring to his friends turning 21 and going out for their first legal drunk, and he’s talking about something he did the previous week. And I sound frenetic and odd and would love for the scraping to resume so I’d be forced to shut up.

I fear our conversation has taken a weird – er, weirder – turn and I’m actually sad as I see Hank slipping away. But I also can’t figure out how appropriate it is to want to date the guy who’s cleaning my teeth – doesn’t that break some kind of code? – and I wonder if he really could have asked me out with all the other dental bees buzzing around. But, hey, I wasn’t imagining the flirting, I don’t think, unless male dental hygienists are just really friendly.

Beyond the oddness of it all, this is the least painful teeth cleaning I’ve ever had, and when the polishing is done and the little green bib is removed, I say so. “I didn’t jump once.” And he replies, “I’m good,” and I say, “Either that or my teeth are still real dirty,” and we both laugh.

Hank tells me he’ll be right back, that he’s going to get my toothbrush and all, and he returns with three color choices – blue, red, and aqua-green. I reach for the greenish hued without hesitation, and Hank says, “I knew you were going to take that one,” and I say, “Really?” And he says, “Yeah, cuz you’re not conservative,” adding, “which is a good thing.”

I let that linger. I figure he hasn’t given up on me completely. He escorts me to see the dentist in the next room. As I take a seat, Hank puts out his hand. “Nice meeting you.” “Yeah,” I reply.

And he’s gone.

As much as I’d like to find a way to talk with Hank outside the confines of the dental office, I know that this isn’t about that. Hank was my angel in odd clothing today, a reminder that somewhere someone can make me laugh and squirm a little – metal probe aside – and with that ounce of hope injected into my day, I can’t help but smile with my now sparkling pearly whites.

(names changed to protect the oh so guilty.)


Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that after you tell your female friends about this oral hygenist, this dental office is going to increase it's clientle by 300 percent.

Anonymous said...

well, the only response to this is clearly: where does hank work?

(like the given name btw -- very apropos -- hankering, hanky-panky, etc...)

Anonymous said...

I'm just poking in to check out your blog and say thanks for visiting mine!
PS--It is funny because the same thing annoyed me....the cleaning before last ...the lady tried to get me to attend a scrapbooking parties etc. It does get annoying...I just want clean teeth that is it....don't like sharing a life story with a stranger or talking about pointless things.

Trouble said...

Oh, I so love it when a young guy flirts with me. The first time it happened, it was a 25-year-old guy from my office, and I was 39, and I kept saying as how i would never want to go out with anyone younger than the 27-year-old that I was dating at the time, and he kept pushing me as to why I'd go down to 27, but not below that.

I was so oblivious I didn't even know what he was angling for.

But, it totally made my summer once he got blunt about it. The answer was still no, but...

It wasn't so much about dating a 25-year-old as knowing I COULD. I walked around with a smirk on my face for MONTHS afterwards.

It rocked, truthfully. I'm glad you got a little spring injected into your step as well this week. ;)

Osquer said...

What's the name of that dentist's office? I need a cleaning! I'm a very dirty girl!

Sorry. That just slipped out. This was a very amusing post! Thank you for sharing!

kristen said...

How old do you think Hank actually was? I love when younger men flirt with me....not that it happens a lot but it is fun, especially the looking part.
Thanks for catching my mistake about Billy Zoom. Drunk while blogging equals errors! Oh and what punk reunion show did you go see?