tooth fairies and tooth demons

At some point in the silent post-midnight hours after I went to bed, but before dawn’s chirruping chorus awoke my second son, Quentin Wilberforce, T.F. visited himself upon us yet again. I have never seen Quentin, nor have I heard the passage of his footfalls outside our door. He must be very light to avoid squeaking the wood floorboards in the hallway.

I imagine Quentin as short, perhaps Hobbit-short, small as a four year old child, and very, very thin. I see him as older and dapper, with graying mutton chop whiskers. Archaic clothes, well worn but exquisitely tailored, with bone buttons on a tweed waistcoat. I have never asked Geran what Quentin looks like, and he has not asked me. None of us know for sure, though he leaves a calling card each time he visits our home, so as invisible visitors go, he is unmistakably corporeal.

We have naturally assumed the T.F. appended to Quentin’s name stands for “Tooth Fairy,” though this has always been implied, never spelled out. His visits are marked by notes left for Geran, written on tooth-shaped paper with carefully-canceled tooth-shaped stamps. These notes are a dead giveaway, an unmistakable clue as to Quentin’s fairy nature, as they are seldom seen except when left by visiting creatures of Toothkind. The stamps alone would mark this as peculiar, and I have never seen similar commemorative postage issued by the U.S. Mail.

I thought the most recent note that Quentin left had a rather odd shape, and not at all the typical Tooth. It was as dissimilar from the standard outline of teeth as a real heart from a Valentine, but Geran pointed out that the shape of his latest card matched his small, prolate pearl of a tooth.

As I recall, my elder son, who is now closer to losing his Wisdom Teeth than to his last, long-passed “baby tooth”, had more than one tooth fairy in his day. One was female, I believe. I don’t recall her name. For some reason the male’s name sticks in my head, however: Throckmorton Idyll Bluster III, T.F. A mouthful of a moniker, and one that required a full set of teeth to pronounce.

Geran has, I believe, only been visited by Quentin, a seemingly small and delicate fairy as evidenced by the ornate and miniscule script.

*****

Throckmorton and his female counterpart visited Ben a large number of times. Thrice in one memorable week: one tooth which fell out naturally, one which was pulled, and one which fell victim to an apple. I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere, one that gets told by Throckmorton Idyll Bluster himself, at dark and musical Tooth Fairy gatherings, over flagons of questionable beverages around green and ghostly campfires on the moor.

Once, toward the middle of his prime tooth-giving years, Ben asked Marci, “Mommy, are you the tooth fairy?”

Marci looked at him and replied, “Do you really think I have time to fly to peoples’ houses all night and take away little kids’ teeth?”

Hesitation. “No, I guess not.”

“Well, there you have it, then.”

On another occasion, Ben said somewhat hesitantly, “Daddy, if I asked you to tell me the truth about the tooth fairy, would you?”

“Is that something you really want to know?”

He thought about it. “Not right now.” He never mentioned it again, and as he has grown into a young skeptic, I’m glad for that. The Tooth Fairy has been a tangible presence, unseen but definitely sensed, and a “small god” of the most personal sort. Some mysteries are best left alone.

*****

Both boys wrote notes to their respective tooth fairies. Geran still does, since he’s the one who is still losing teeth. The notes are brief and, I imagine, as hard to read by Quentin as they are by me. But the messages are heartfelt and sincere. How are you? Is there a Tooth Fairy Queen? Do you have a middle name? Where do the teeth go when you take them?

I imagine some sort of castle made from the teeth, but I’m not positive on that count. As I’ve already said, there is undoubtedly a moor involved. And dim light even at midday.

One thing I can definitely say about the Tooth Fairy is that the money exchanged for teeth has risen. I’m not sure it’s kept up with inflation, but as I recall, the tooth fairies of the 1970’s paid in quarters, and today’s T.F. pays in small bills.

*****

I imagine the polar opposite of the Tooth Fairy: a tooth demon, wicked and sharp-incisored, who pulls teeth before they’re ready to come out. Some times I will threaten that if the kids do not get ready for bed they will be visited by the Tooth Demon. It hasn’t happened. But that doesn’t mean it won’t.

Perhaps the Tooth Demon visits us already, and leaves bad breath, oily hair, and socks on the floor. That would explain a lot. If so, the Tooth Demon is much busier than the Tooth Fairy in my house.

But much less welcome.

congratulations Ben you mad it?

<This is a guest post written by my wife, Marci>

We are counting down the days until our oldest son, Ben, becomes a Bar Mitzvah. There are so many last-minute items to take care of, so Doug and I have divided the list and set out to conquer!

My task was going to Lucky’s, a grocery store I normally try to avoid, to order the large platters of fruit and piles of fried chicken for the last event of the weekend, a picnic in the park for the remaining out of town guests. The last thing on my list was ordering the cake. After waiting ten minutes at the counter for someone to assist me, a woman finally comes to take my order.

I tell her I want the half-sheet cake, chocolate: chocolate filling, chocolate icing.

“What do you want the message to be?” she asks, getting out a pad and pencil.

I recite slowly: “Congratulations, Ben, You Made It!” Then I tell her, “Be sure to add the exclamation point.”

I look across the counter at her pad, where she’s written the following question: “Congratulations Ben you mad it?”

“No,” I say, “exclamation point!”

She says, “Yes, I have it. Did you want it somewhere else?”

“That is a question mark! I want an exclamation point! And I want an ‘e’ at the end of ‘mad,’ and while you’re at it, a couple of commas would be great, too.”

After several back and forths, she managed to write the words properly. The anticipation is killing me; I can’t wait until Sunday to see what actually shows up on the cake!

nineteen again, clear skinned and satisfied

On the first occasion of my nineteenth, I was a college freshman, as full of self-doubt and angst as I was of acne. Bespotted where now I’m beamish, confused where now content, frustrated where now fruitful.

M and I had already dated throughout that school year, and at the time, nineteen was legal drinking age. Not that the milestone mattered to me, as I was a teetotaler for those four years. (I gave up not-drinking after college, when traveling through Europe.) I made the mistake that birthnight of abandoning M to head to a Thomas Dolby concert with my roommate, and returned to find that Marci had gone on a bender in my absence and wouldn’t speak to me until the next day.

Today I am nineteen yet again, having been married one less than twenty sun-go-rounds to my beautiful Marci, and in the kind of heaven that I would create were I the creator’s creator, I would inscribe for us a lifetime of lifetimes. Being limited to just one with her is not enough.

In my first XIX, I doubted I would ever be content, much less happy. On this second XIX, I may not be smarter, but I know better. And were I to travel back in time to frighten the earlier me, looking parentally old to my younger self though seeing the world similarly askew, I would offer this advice:

“Don’t worry, kiddo! Relax and have a good time. Be open and try to connect with people. It’ll all work out just fine.

“Oh—and buy some stock in Apple and Microsoft.”

On second thought, best not to change a thing. No idea what I’d inadvertently alter. I’d probably just watch my younger self from behind a tree and let the younger me continue to muddle through. Him with his t-shirt and flared-leg jeans, splattered with twenty colors of oil paint, wandering through campus feeling generally outside. No sign yet of a spreading middle and thinning hair–not that it’s hurt my looks, of course. Right? (To be sure, I peaked some undefined while back, but the lack of women throwing themselves at me now that it’s too late is offset by the lack of women throwing themselves at me back then when it wasn’t, so it all balances out.)

A bit over half a decade from now, I’ll be nineteen yet again: I look forward to reaching my nineteenth anniversary of fatherhood. I like the sound of that. B will have stopped having birthday parties by then—or at least parties that his parents throw—but that’s no reason for me to stop celebrating my own anniversaries of parenthood! And once again celebrating a nineteenth, five years further down life’s chute-the-chute, as G heads to college and we empty our nest. It seems as far ahead as my original nineteenth seems past, but it’s close, close, close.

In a long enough life, so many opportunities to be nineteen again. Gladly, only one full of my own teen angst and acne, my existential crises and frustrations social and sexual. The subsequent years have been increasingly mellow, even if I retain enough of my youthful intensity to frighten the natives on occasion. Luckily, I’ve had a wonderful partner to help me through the years, to look forward to our twenties with, and to make me a better person than perhaps I’d have been otherwise, if, just before my first nineteenth birthday, confused and crazed, I hadn’t fallen in love with the beautiful girl with the amazingly curly and thick brown hair.

life lessons from a kinder killer

I’m not a pet person. Pets smell, they never grow up and have their own lives, and if you eat them your family gets really upset. Fish meet one of my personal standards for pets: flushability. We also keep an ancient pile of hair and dander, beneath which you’ll find our arthritic cat. She’s grandmothered in, though, part of the family longer than our kids.

But other pets, no. Dog? Too loud and excitable. Potbellied pig? C’mon. A walking sausage. Fatty but definitely edible. Giant Galapagos tortoise? You can’t keep a pet that will outlive your grandchildren: a giant tortoise keeps you. Hamster? Well, a hamster is a reasonable pet for people who don’t really like pets. I mean, they’re cute, and they’re cuddly, and they die at the drop of a hat. Life span somewhere between a fruit fly and a Saturday Night Live sketch.

When Ben was in kindergarten, and the school kept hamsters, I figured the school sent them home with the children on the weekends just to teach the kids early life lessons. Mortality. The ultimate futility of everything. Stuff kids need to know. “Grandpa could go at any time, just like Harry the Hamster.” But, oddly enough, the kindergarten hamster made it through the first few months of the year. We’d even taken it home ourselves, and it was still breathing and quivering fearfully when we gratefully returned it on Monday morning.

One week later was a milestone in little Ben’s life. In kindergarten, Ben would never ride in anyone else’s car. Separation anxiety. Childhood road rage. But Marci, uncomfortable at the tail end of her pregnancy, got Ben to agree to carpool with a kindergarten friend. How had she worked this magic? Harry the Hamster would be there!

Our friends Barbara and Fred had taken home Harry the Hamster the week after us, and it was now Monday morning. Barbara’s car rolled up in front of our house, Marci walked out holding Ben’s nervous little hand, and Barbara opened the rear door. Whereupon Ben’s kindergarten friend Bradley threw open his arms in welcome and screamed out, “The hamster DIED!!!”

True story. Harry the Hamster’s number was up the very next weekend after we’d taken the little fur-ball home. Thank goodness we weren’t the ones who’d drawn the short straw. I’d still be paying for therapy. The kids in the class were devastated. Enough so that the school decided that a hamster lending library was probably not a good idea.

Soon after the Loss Weekend, Geran was born. Suddenly ex-utero, he spent most of the day drinking, pooping and sleeping. As Marci said, “He takes after his father.” Geran missed the demise of Harry the Hamster, and as a consequence is untroubled by the thought of death. Though, oddly enough, he nevertheless fears furry creatures.

A few weeks after Geran’s birth we were visited by Barbara and Fred, who kindly stopped by to bring us dinner. Their daughter Emily was four; her older brother, Bradley, was in kindergarten with Ben. We had a nice visit, talking and laughing in the living room while the three bigger kids played on the floor behind the couch.

All of a sudden, in the middle of a sentence, Barbara sat up straight as a lodgepole pine and looked quickly back and forth, head sweeping the living room, her eyes like spotlights at a prison camp. “Where’s EMILY?”

“Huh? She’s behind the couch with…oh. Dunno. She can’t have gone far.”

“Emily? EMILY?” Barbara jumped up in a panic, and her husband followed her with uncharacteristic grimness. I looked at Marci, who shrugged back at me, and we got off the couch.

“I’m sure there’s no trouble,” Marci called out, as Barbara headed for the back hallway. We followed our guests into Geran’s room. No problem: he was sleeping peacefully in his bassinet, little Emily peering at him over the top.

“Emily! Come away from there right now!” Barbara grabbed her daughter by the arm and pulled her out of the baby’s bedroom. Luckily, the noise didn’t wake Geran, who could cry loudly enough to rupture eardrums and shatter Hummel figurines. (As an aside, I consider the shattering of Hummel figurines to be a worthy skill, and since scarcity brings value, suggest eradicating as many as possible.)

“No harm done,” Marci said. “Geran’s fine, he’s sleeping. Emily was only watching him.”

Barbara, still holding firm to her daughter’s arm, just tilted her head downward and cast a meaningful glance at us over the top of her glasses. In a lowered voice, she asked, “Remember the hamster?” Turns out, Harry had not died of natural causes. Unless having sticks shoved up your nose by a four year old is a natural end for a hamster.

That became our rallying cry for some time afterwards. Remember the Hamster!

 

Psycho Killer,
Qu’est-ce que c’est?

 

http://www.dsbenson.com

the only roundeyes in the room

We’re a family of cultural chameleons, hopping from ethnic branch to branch and sticking out like an NBA first draft pick at, well, pretty much anywhere. And by the way: if you know me, you realize how painful it was to make a sports analogy just then. I got a little pinprick right behind my left eye. Might be some sort of aneurism; let me go and check it out.

Ok, I’m back. Brain still working? Can I type? Wae feiak lajwoi fdaiw. Just kidding. Where am I? Oh, yes.

A bit o’ the short ‘n’ pithy: We live in a supposed cultural melting pot, but the cultures don’t melt. America is less a cheese fondue than a vinaigrette. Stop shaking the bottle and we all separate.

Case in point: I took Ben on Sunday to a Dim Sum restaurant in South San Francisco. Great big place with “Palace” in the name and terrific Yelp ratings. On the inside, it was opulent, cavernous and lit by incredibly bright and flat fluorescent lights. There were no shadows anywhere, just like Beijing when it’s full of smog (which is, apparently, 100% of the time). Home, crowded home. We had a great meal amid about a thousand other diners, most of whom spoke Chinese, and the rest of whom appeared to be close relatives of people who speak Chinese. We were the only roundeyes in the room. As I said, great meal. You know you’re having good Chinese food when you can’t understand a word anybody says.

Unless you’re at a deaf school. Their Chinese food is lame.

After we left our excellent Dim Sum lunch, we went to the grocery across the street, a good Latin American market full of south of the border awesomeness (that is to say, south of the Canadian border. There’s no shortage of good Mexican food ’round here). There, nearly everyone spoke Spanish. The rest of them appeared to be close relatives of people who speak Spanish. We were the only gringos in the room. This was just across the street, mind you. Plenty of Chinese diners probably needed to pick up some lemons on the way home, but none of them were stopping by the Latin American grocery store. And plenty of Hispanics on Grand Ave, but apparently none of them eat Dim Sum.

To cultural chameleons it happens all the time. Back in Texas B.C. (Before Children) we had yearly season tickets to the TITAS cultural events at SMU. Lots of wonderful concerts, dance events, and the like. Marci and I went to see Tito Puente with my BIL and SIL (Brother-In-Law And Sister-In-Law. Let’s just call them BASIL and be done with it). Anyway, we were at SMU for TITUS in the BC with BASIL. Clear?

Awesome event. I’m so glad I got to see Tito Puente bring down the house while he was still alive. Now that he’s dead, his concerts are nothing to write home about, but back then, man oh man! He had us dancing in the aisles. Couple thousand other people too. But again: we were the only gringos in the room. Hey, what’s up? Tito Puente, Oye Como Va. Who wouldn’t dig that? 

A month later, we went on the same concert series to see Sweet Honey In the Rock. Beautiful a capella harmonies, great and soulful. Very spiritual, uplifting, fun. And us? We were the only crackers in the room. Or should I say crackah? Maybe that’s less offensive to, uh, myself. Where were all the otha crackas?

Same concert series: The Klezmatics. Funky Klezmer music. And we were the only Yids in the house. No, just kidding. It was Hebrew Central, one of few times outside the walls of a synagogue where “Hello, Rabbi!” is something you might find yourself saying more than once in an evening. But no African-Americans in sight. And no Hispanics. And no Chinese. Just like there were no Hispanics in sight at Sweet Honey In The Rock, and no black people at Kodo Drummers, and no Asians hearing Buena Vista Social Club because they were all having lunch with us at Lucky Empress Jade Palace.

But here’s the thing: being a social chameleon doesn’t mean squat. Doesn’t mean I’m enlightened in the least. As you can tell. Doesn’t mean I’m racially balanced. Surely not. If I was, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed who was around me in the first place. Maybe I wouldn’t have written this story. Maybe it wouldn’t strike me as odd that almost everyone around me at the symphony was light skinned, and almost everybody at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles was dark skinned. And as an aside, if you’re in L.A., there are few things better than a warm plate of chicken and waffles. I kid you not.

Walk down the streets of San Francisco and you’ll see a bit of everybody. Sometimes quite literally. Hey, fella, put a towel over it! It’s not just economics: everyone goes to see basketball. Even, occasionally, me. Everyone eats (except anorexics. They get eaten). But look for Asians in a Taqueria, or Hispanics eating Dim Sum. Go have Indian food, then look for those same faces at a sushi restaurant.

Life’s too short. Why do we put ourselves in little ghettos for the parts of life that really bring us to life? 

 

http://www.dsbenson.com

fire in the hole!!!

Or, “How I Spent My Vacation”

Warning: unpleasantness follows, as well as an exploration of my propensity for sharing too much personal information.

The battlefield was a rank and muddy pit that emptied into a sewer lined with the churning machinery of war. Day and night in endless darkness, the blind and stinking machines ground into pulp anything that came within reach. At the end of their deadly production line, the Sentinel stood in readiness, watching over the outer gates. Each arriving package from the front was fully examined, classified, regulated. The machinery of the sewers was deaf, dumb and blind, but the Sentinel had its own way of sizing up danger. It never slept; it never missed.

Down the sluices came a gurgling mess, heading straight for the gates. The Sentinel seized up, its fist clenched tight.

“NONE SHALL PASS!”

At all other times, this message was enough: the machinery would pause, the gates locked tight. The Sentinel would set aside the most dangerous material until receiving final release orders, passing through the gates only those noxious vapors produced by the machinery of war. But not this time.

“NONE SHALL PASS!” The fist clenched tight, the gates shut—but immediately alarm klaxons howled and air raid sirens blasted at full bore throughout the entire battlefield. “FIRE IN THE HOLE!! FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!”

And I awoke with a cry that, translated from the Groanish, was this:

“OH MY GOD! MY ASS IS ON FIRE!   MY—ASS—IS—ON—FIIIIIIRE!!!”

* * * * *

Sharon K. had a similar surgery, and succinctly previewed it for me over the phone:

“You’ll be fine. It’s…okay.”

“Really?” I felt a brief glimmer, a tiny forlorn little hope beam, which Sharon promptly extinguished.

“Umm, no. Not really. I’m lying. I’d rather have five more children than go through that again.”

So now I’m sitting in bed, with a pain in my fundament that is apparently on par with giving birth to six children. Where’s my damn epidural? Pass the Vicodin, please. Gimme that Oxycodone. 

* * * * *

My brother, Greg, says that now that I’ve got less of an asshole, perhaps I’ll be less of…but I don’t think it works that way. People with enlarged hearts don’t become more generous, do they?

Here’s how it works, medically speaking. And I’m a doctor*, so I should know:

The Sentinel, or Anal Sphincter, is a ring of muscle around the butthole (a non-technical term for a largely unidirectional passageway) whose primary function is to regulate Outflow. (Other directional uses are beyond this discussion.) The Sphincter is an Intelligent, or Magical Muscle, able to distinguish between solids, liquids and gas. Thank goodness.

*Ok, I’m not a doctor. I know several doctors, but let them write their own damn blogs. Or at least comment on mine, the lazy bastards.

 

As an aside—in a blog posting that’s nothing but asides—or is that butt asides?—I have a vision from my third grade past: Ben K., Tom D. and I were carefully researching the naughtiest terms we knew. Greenhill School had an enormous dictionary, hard-bound in fabric-covered board dyed a blandly institutional beige, so large and heavy it required its own wooden pedestal taller than ourselves, like some religious lectern for the world’s most alphabetical sermon. We balanced atop a stool to look up “fart,” and I shall never forget the precise dictionary definition printed therein:

fart
noun
A small explosion from between the legs.

The Sphincter is connected to a section of brain tissue known as the Posterior Posterior Lobe, which is found in the buttocks. The Posterior Posterior Lobe is generally used for Lower functions, though in some people, notably Radio Personalities, Bloggers and YouTube commentators, this Secondary Brain regulates written and verbal speech.

This Sphincter forms a part of the Autonomic Nervous Under-System (or ANUS), and has no connection to the olfactory or auditory systems of the Higher Brain. Thus the Anal Sphincter allows flatus at inopportune moments: alone on high-rise elevators just before being joined by a group of swimwear models, or during a loud and energetic group conversation whose sudden and inexplicable lull is broken by an ill-timed thunderclap. 

* * * * *

Day Two, post Hemorrhoidectomy:

Let’s all share intimate details, shall we? Removal of internal and external hemorrhoids. Thank goodness for general anesthesia, but Yowsa! That’s some impressive discomfort! Somebody hook the IV back up, already. Did you know that you clench your sphincter muscle in your sleep? I never knew that before. Found out last night, about every hour or so. It’s like having a pineapple covered in hot sauce shoved up your rear with a rubber mallet. Hey, don’t pretend you’ve never done it. 

Not looking forward to having to void my bowels. Hopefully that can wait, oh, say a week or two. Maybe three.

Ok, back to the Percocet*. Maximum dose every four hours takes the edge off—but only barely. Frankly, I can’t see why people would abuse this stuff. Maybe it has more of an effect if you’re not already in pain.

* Just kidding. Been on a maximum dose the whole time I’ve been writing this post. Can you tell?


But to end on a serious note: my wife has had cancer twice. Several friends have had it, and some have it now. As an adult, there’s a huge difference between painful and scary. I’ll take painful any day over scary.

 

http://www.dsbenson.com