Sunday, December 14, 2008


*What Would Angelina Jolie Do?

I’ve seen my dentist nine times lately, give or take, in the course of having a tooth crowned. Because the one crown I already had, from many years ago, looks really terrible—fortunately, it’s toward the back—I wanted to make sure the new crown, which is much closer to the front, would be pleasing to the eye.

My dentist (the same one I’ve had the entire time I’ve been in San Francisco; I’m very fond of him) assured me that since the new crown would be quite visible, aesthetics would be paramount, so I was quite chagrined to see that the new crown's color didn't match that of neighboring teeth particularly well and that it featured a faint gray line near my gums, which I knew would only get worse—it’s not like my gums cover more of my teeth with each passing year.

When you get a crown, they start by taking a mold of your teeth, and then reducing the tooth under treatment, in a matter of moments, to a horrid-looking little brown stump. A temporary crown is made on the spot to protect the stump's shrieking nerve endings while the real crown is constructed.

My temporary crown looked fantastic, so I stopped worrying about what the real crown would look like and was all the more surprised when it looked not so good. It turns out that the mold used to construct the temporary crown does not figure in the creation of the permanent item. Instead, they use a generic tooth for whichever position it is—front tooth, canine, molar.

I was hoping that maybe when I put my night guard in and clenched my teeth together as tightly as possible all night, as is my habit, it might push the crown up just enough to cover that line, but it turned out that I couldn’t put my night guard in at allit didn’t fit over the crown.

I made an appointment to have my night guard adjusted (in the end, we're having to make a whole new night guard), and then I got to wondering why Angelina Jolie doesn’t have gray lines near her gums. When I got to my dentist’s office, I asked, “If I were Angelina Jolie and my teeth absolutely had to look perfect and I had a million dollars to spend, what would they do?”

He said she would probably get an all-porcelain crown, which would look very nice, but not be all that durable. Mentioning Angelina Jolie must have impressed upon him how deadly serious I am about my teeth, and he said he’d send the crown back and try to get the color adjusted and the gray line fixed.

First he had to get it off again. It didn’t budge right away, so he softened up a sticky, squishy piece of sweetened gunk that mimics the kind of thing you’re not supposed to eat if you have crowns and had me bite down on it with the crowned tooth.

He said that when I snapped open my jaw, the crown would come off. I said, “Either that or it will pull the opposite tooth right out of my head.” He said that if the opposite tooth was also crowned, yes, it could be tricky, though if the opposite crown was permanently cemented down, the one with the temporary cement should be the one to come loose.

“Hopefully,” I said.

“Hopefully,” he agreed, with a merry laugh.

The tech redid my crown and it still didn't look great, so we started again from the ground up and now it looks perfect. The color is just right and there is no gray line at the gum line whatsoever. I would defy anyone to identify which tooth has the crown, at least until my gums recede further.

It looks so good, I think I'll probably have the rest of my teeth crowned.

Screw You, Orbitz, I’m Moving to Fallon, Nevada

I went to Michigan for Thanksgiving again this year. The weather was fairly gloomy all week and my back was killing me the first several evenings, thanks to Orbitz (I booked ten weeks in advance and cheerfully paid more than a month's rent to make sure I’d have an aisle seat; in the actual event, I was mashed into a window seat next to a fellow who actually touched my ribcage with his elbow more than once, not meaning any harm), but it was nice to see my parents and sister. We went through my father’s stash of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic books from the 1940s and 50s and divided them up.

Last year, by the time my parents got done preparing Thanksgiving dinner, nearly every possible flat surface was covered with dirty pots and utensils, even the washing machine in the back hall. I stayed up until about 3 a.m. washing the dishes so my father would walk into a perfectly clean kitchen the next morning.

I planned to do the same this year, but my father made a point of washing everything as he went along, so the kitchen was nearly sparkling clean when we sat down to our vegetarian Thanksgiving feast, and I know he did that so I wouldn’t wash dishes for hours, so thank you, Dad. He got up at 3 a.m. himself to make this all happen.

I have been lately enjoying going to iTunes and sampling different versions of jazz standards. I got Monica Mancini singing “When October Goes.” I’d never heard of her, but that was the one that gave me goose bumps, and then there’s Etta James singing “Tenderly”—wow! Gorgeous. I’m going to buy a couple of her CDs. She once weighed more than 400 pounds: awesome. She's still alive. I should send her a fan letter. I got the Al Hirt version of “Tenderly,” too. I like his jaunty trumpet playing.

I also got a few Jonatha Brooke songs, including two lovely things from The Works, her CD that uses Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, and I got Queensrÿche's "Revolution Calling."

My magical chiming clock has granted me the ability to start doing something I’ve long wanted to do but which seemed impossible: to get up before the moment of absolute necessity and meditate in the morning. I feel noticeably calmer during the day if I meditate first thing, and it’s great not to have yet another task waiting when my bed is calling to me in the evening; its murmured "Come back!" starts the moment I arise, and reaches a deafening volume by nighttime.

Now it's perfectly easy to get up at 6:30 a.m.
—thanks, clock!

Eugene Cash now and then puts out a stack of free books with the other literature at his Sunday night sitting group. I confess I kind of thought they would be worth what I paid for them—nothing—but I’ve been enjoying them. I just finished Meditations, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, which is a collection of dharma talks, and thought it was excellent and inspirational. You can download the whole thing at, along with lots of other stuff from this and other authors. I went there and printed out the four talks I liked most from this book so I can reread them without having the whole book lying around.

I have been to Eugene’s only a couple of times in the last several months, for whatever reason. The last time I was there, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s son, Will, was teaching. He started his dharma talk, after we meditated, by asking, “What’s happening now?” Then he was silent for several anxiety-producing moments. “What’s happening now?” he asked again. More silence. More anxiety. “And now?”

After a few minutes of this, the anxiety ebbed and it became very restful: Oh! That’s all there is to do, to notice what’s happening now. The peaceful effect of this lingered for days.

I am lately reading The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, by Steven Watts. I was complaining to my mother about someone having bent my ear with something boring, and she asked, “Is that anything like your telling me something about Henry Ford every ten minutes?” “No,” I explained, “it’s nothing at all like that, because facts about Henry Ford are inherently interesting.”

For instance, did you know Henry Ford was dyslexic? Or how about this? “Socialists such as Vladimir Lenin admired Ford as one of the major contributors to twentieth-century revolution, and it was not unusual to see portraits of Ford and Lenin hanging side by side in Soviet factories.”

Or then: “He has gained a reputation, of course, as the American pioneer of industrial mass production, but a less appreciated role was, perhaps, even more critical. Coming to prominence amid the collapse of Victorian tradition with its values of self-discipline, thrift, and producerism, Ford popularized a new creed of consumer self-fulfillment. He was perhaps the first American businessman to realize that large-scale production depended on large-scale consumption.”

The Model T went into mass production in the fall of 1908, and in just one hundred years, with its descendents, wrecked what had been peacefully sitting here for 4.5 BILLION YEARS (give or take)! Doesn’t that boggle the mind? Not that I blame Henry Ford himself. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. I’m quite a fan of Bill Ford.

Nonetheless, the car polluted our air, water, soil and food; the oil to fuel it we now kill each other to possess. Automobiles made it so people could live far from their jobs—working in cities they don’t care about because they don’t live there, living in communities they likewise don’t care about because they spend so little time there, speeding daily through bland wastelands their eyes never consciously rest on.

Whereas it once was likely that you’d live with or near your extended family all your life, when it became standard for most folks to have a car, it was easy to say, “Screw you, I’m moving to Salt Lake City,” and never be seen again.

In sum, the car destroyed our natural environment, our landscape, our cities, our suburbs (after making possible their creation), and our family units. Without the car, we wouldn’t have the exact same chain businesses in town after town after charmless town.

Today Tom and Sarah made a run to Costco, dropping me off at Rainbow beforehand and picking me up afterwards. I made two-bean chili and listened to the second Nazz album, Todd Rundgren’s first band. The first Nazz album has a few nice moments; the second has considerably more. You can hear Todd becoming Todd. “Hello It’s Me,” one of his biggest hits, can be heard in its first incarnation on a Nazz album.

Tonight, conscientiously seeking to remain culturally literate, I watched High School Musical.

The elbow that got clobbered in my bike accident at the end of July has lately started to hurt again, so I went to see Jeff, who said adhesions had formed. He treated my elbow with the means at his disposal (acupuncture, moxibustion, a bit of massage), and then I went to see Jack, who agreed about the adhesions and worked on them, which was quite painful, but when I saw Jeff again last night, he said things were improving, and I agree.

Between them, those two can fix just about anything short of being backed over by a UPS truck.

You Say “Walkway,” I Say “Gap”

I did survive that bout of what I guess was food poisoning due to eating garlic in oil that had been left (by me) out of the refrigerator for a week. Live and learn.

And I did move back to the crappy cube, slightly improved by the addition of a filing cabinet to block the gap that leads to the next cube. One of the people who sits near me informed me that I needed to move this filing cabinet because it’s blocking a “walkway.”

I told him the Cube Lady had said to put it there, and that was the end of that. Don't even start with me on this.

As for the loud eating guy, he’s working from home two days a week, which does help. I think it's not actually when he eats per se; it's that when he eats hard candy or cough drops, he makes quite a tremendous slurping sound. A few days ago he was doing this, and I saw, with displeasure, that he had a whole bag of cough drops sitting on his desk.

But I had made up my mindI mean, what a ridiculous little problemto learn to live with it, so when he started up—and he has been known to do this for hours on end—I told myself, "It's just a sound." And then I told myself again, "It's just a sound."

And then I went over to him and said something like, "That’s the sound I'm talking about," and he said, "I'm having a cough drop," and I said, "Yes, I know you are. I can hear it. We can all hear it." And that was certainly extremely rude on my part. I mean, I wouldn't have said that to my grandmother, for instance, or my father.

(Of course, none of my relatives would ever make a sound like that to begin with.)

Then I got to thinking about the first of the Twelve Steps: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable, or something like that (today is my 29th sobriety birthday; you’d think the Twelve Steps would be etched, word for word, in my brain by now).

People in Alcoholics Anonymous use this to mean exactly what it says, people in Al-Anon use the exact same wording to express the inability to cure or control someone else’s problems with alcohol, and it can also be applied to pretty much anything: I’m powerless over slurping noises and I’m powerless over gril—all kinds of things.

Part of my problem is that the list of things I think I’m truly powerless over is extremely short. As I think I’ve said before, if it’s something I can achieve without the use of a firearm, then I’m not powerless over it, or so I have tended to think.

It seems to me that making a slurping sound is optional, not required or inevitable. Since it's an optional behavior on his part and it annoys me extremely, shouldn't he stop?

What I realized was that I'd better try to ACT AS IF I'm a person who's not bothered by this kind of thing, because I AM (actually) POWERLESS over his behavior, even if it seems like something I shouldn't be powerless over, because it is something he could easily stop doing.

I must admit that nagging him to change the behavior is not working. It's probably making him angry and upset, and it certainly is me.

So I have to pretend that this is something he is powerless to change, even though I really don’t think that. I have to pretend he has some disease that causes a revolting slurping noise.

A couple of days after I was thinking about this, I read something about the Serenity Prayer and how to interpret it. The Serenity Prayer is “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I guess I’m sorely lacking in that last.

The person who was writing came to think of the things she could change as the things God would WANT her to change. I don’t believe in God, but that did strike me as a useful way to think about it. If there were a God, She probably wouldn’t direct me to pester my co-worker until we end up in a fistfight. She would probably say, “Here is a golden opportunity to practice being with things as they are.”

Not long after this, I realized that the other guy who sits across from me, the one who spends the first four hours of each day reading the newspaper from cover to cover, spends the latter four hours of each day looking at scantily clad young ladies online. It’s not pornography per se, but I feel quite sure is equally discouraged by company policy.

I’m not sure what to do about that, if anything. I do believe that is absolutely not appropriate for the workplace. Yet, if I put my mind to it, I should be able to avert my gaze from his monitor the 20 times per day that I pass by. It is a clue that I think it SHOULD NOT be happening. Many of my most grievous self-inflicted problems begin with the thought that this or that SHOULD NOT be happening.

Nonetheless, I may convey to him that he is not in a private location and that it would be nice if he saved the R-rated research for when he's not at work. I've only heard of three people being fired from the company I work for in the ten years I've worked there, one for frequenting sexually oriented websites, and another for making off-color remarks to women in his group (I met that guy; he followed me all the way to and into Walgreens one day, and commented on everything I was buying: "Mineral oil! Huh! What are you going to do with that?").

(I suppose you want to know about the third guy. I can't go into the details of that one, except to say I'm really sorry he's gone, because he was in my group and now I have a lot more work to do!)