East Orange Life - Dental Clinic  © 2000 Pete Smith

         I hate the Dentist. At 35 years old, having recently been back to the dentist after a postponement of approximately 5 years, I think I have found some insight as to why.
    Two words: Dental Clinic.
    I was 5 or 7, or 8, or 10, or 12, one of these; or quite possibly all. Dental Clinic was a sort of social service; I assume for people who lacked the funds to have thier own personal, real-live, bonafide, dentist.
    Dental Clinic was located in the basement of the town hall; below ground; windowless. I can remember pulling several institutional-type doors open, never quite sure of how to get there. I would know I was heading in the right direction when the stench of stale novicane, burning-drilled flesh, spit and blood wafted through my nostrils. Slowly, knees shaking, I walked down the too-many-times-painted-yellow, slightly sticky, corridor.
    I would be greeted, not-cheerfully, by an unpleasant looking woman sitting at a desk. Dressed in a dingy, white uniform, she was overweight and mean as hell.
    "Name?", she barked.
    "Peter Smith", I'd mumble out of the side of my mouth, hoping my gruffness might camouflage my fear.                                       "Have a seat", she would order.
     So I'd grab an orange "Highlights" magazine (the only good memory I have of dental clinic), and read Goofus and Galant, and then flip to the hidden pictures page hoping that someone had not screwed it up by using a pencil. As I sat in the hard plastic-formed chair, I avoided looking-up. The dated posters of the perfect smile and happy toothbrush were just decoys for the this-is-what-will-happen-to-you series of a rotten mouth, and the instructional posters of how many times was I supposed to brush my teeth.
     "Brush after every meal", they would say.
     Impossible! I was eating crap all day long! "Damn!", I would think. "I'm screwed. He's gonna find tons of cavities!"
     So, after sweating and worrying, and wishing I could just get-up and leave, the fat lady would come-over holding a clipboard and announce in the air, "Peter Smith", as if she didn't know or care who the hell I was; like I hadn't just told her a little while ago.
     "That's me", I'd say stupidly, laying whatever oily, cover-torn magazine I'd finally wound-up with on the corner pile. I did not want to piss this lady off; or anyone else in that damn office for that matter. After all, I was their prisoner. I was sure no one would be able to hear anything from that little dungeon, and I knew they could really inflict some pain on me if they felt like it.
     Walking back towards the little room, the fat lady would stand there staring at me, making sure I wasn't going to run.
     "Hi", I'd say to the torturer as pleasantly as possible for one who is shitting bricks. I never knew what to call him. "Mr Dentist" doesn't sound right. "Doctor"? No. He didn't seem like a doctor, after all, doctors helped little boys and cured them from all kinds of painful and dangerous unseen-evils. No, This guy was definately not a doctor. "Sadidst"? Possibly...or maybe "Mister-Jackhammer-in- the-Mouth" man.
     In any event, this was one guy I wanted to be reeeaaal nice to.
I'd go out there and kick the fat lady's ass in a second-flat if I thought it would please him. He was the man with the drill. The man with the sharp tools. The man with the needles. The man with the power to give or take away pain. This was his house and I hoped to God he was having a good day.
     So I'd sit down in what was once probably a very professional looking, light-blue, leather dentist's chair; but was now permanently smudged with dirty hand prints, sweaty forearms, and greasy hair. The assistant (who I don't have any unpleasant memories of) would reach around my neck and hang a light-blue paper towel under my chin. Even the little alligator clips had a menacing look about them. Then the fun would begin.
     It would be much too painful to give a detailed description of all of my Dental Clinic experiences so I'll abbreviate a bit. It would go something like this:
     PAIN! OW! THAT HURTS! FUCK! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THERE!? THAT'S MY MOUTH, GODDAMMIT! And on and on, and on...
     First of all, the damn dentist wasn't worth his weight in shit, otherwise he wouldn't have been slaving away in some dark, smelly, antiquated dental clinic, right? (Of course I didn't know this at the time.) The freakin' guy would be squirting Novocain all over my mouth...pokin here, pokin there, just hoping he would hit a damn nerve or something.
     "OK, wait 'till that gets numb", he'd say somewhat pissed-off at how long the whole damn thing was taking. And I could bet a case of juicy-fruits that the only thing that was gonna go numb was my tongue, which was slowly expanding 5 times it's original size and threatening to choke me to death.                                         "OK, we ready?", he'd ask, not really wanting an answer, because HE was ready. After all, this was a damn dental clinic, with lots of people coming here with REALLY BAD teeth. So...                BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
     "Now let me know if you feel any pain ok?", he'd smile.
     Again, this was just bullshit, because the minute he started to drill, WHAMMO! Pain like I'd never felt before. And I'd go, "Uhhh, Uhhh, Ummm,", and I'd whack my hands on the arms of the chair and my legs would be kicking field goals in the air, trying to tell him, "IT HURTS!"
     But he'd just keep on drilling, acting like he couldn't hear me;
like he couldn't see my damn sneakers flyin' off my feet.       BZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, dum-dee-dum-dum, he'd drill and drill until finally his drill bit would start wearing down and smoking and what-not.
     Then he'd stop and say, "Aw, that doesn't really hurt, does it?
Aw, come-on."
     And I'd start to gag-out the spit and blood from the back of my throat so I could tell him, "Yea, it DOES hurt",
     But he'd say, "Just a little more, and we're all done".          BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
     Well, it did hurt. It hurt a lot. More pain than I ever want to know. I'd get-up to leave; my legs would feel like jelly, and my head, woozy. I'd wander towards the hallway; the door; not giving a shit what the fat lady thought; like I was underwater, struggling for the surface. As I stepped outside I'd thank God for fresh air and freedom, and promise to go to church every Sunday. It was over...for now.
     We were sitting around the kitchen table at the firehouse the other day and I was talking about my recent trip to the dentist. I mentioned my extreme fear of the dentist. We began swapping stories, and then it dawned on me...
     Dental Clinic.

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