Thursday, December 23, 2010

All I Want for Christmas Is #19 Back

Technically, it’s not gone, but its days are short.

(Note the correct use there of “it’s” and “its.” Also, we have no month called Febyooary. But I digress.)

I went to see my endodontist, Dr. C., Monday of this week for a second opinion on my tooth, poor little number 19. Dr. C. did two root canals for me several months ago. When he came into the exam room, he shook my hand and asked, “Do you remember being here?” “As it happens, yes, I do,” I replied.

He performed a brief exam and confirmed that I have a cracked root. He drew a picture showing how the distance from the gumline to the jawbone—the pocket right next to the tooth—should be 1-3 millimeters deep. You shouldn’t be able to sink a probe any farther than that. He showed me on his skinny metal probe what represents the longer distance, and then sank it easily three times that far while I watched in a mirror. He had predicted this wouldn’t hurt, and asked afterward, “Wasn’t painful, right?”

“It was psychologically painful,” I said. I think I also felt a spasm in my wallet.

The one good thing about this is that I should soon have an actual unattached human tooth in my possession. (Dr. C. showed me his collection of the same. I said, “No offense, but: gross.”) One of my relatives has a recurring nightmare about teeth (which I’m sure is fine to mention on the Internet), the same relative who is a masterful wielder of fake vomit. I had to grin, thinking of the joyful feelings I’m going to have when this person finds an entire human tooth in an unexpected spot.

This same person once sent me two little toenails via the U.S. mail. When I protested by email, the malefactor wrote back something like, “I sent one toenail only. I’m aggrieved to learn it’s no longer museum quality.”

I had made an appointment to have the tooth extracted today, but then realized it would be a grave mistake to have oral surgery right before the biggest injudicious eating day of the year, Christmas Eve, which is followed immediately by the second biggest such day, Christmas Day. I canceled the appointment and then discovered that that oral surgeon has a lot of extremely negative reviews online, anyway.

I looked up the other two people my dentist recommended, but one of them also is very poorly reviewed, and the other is clear across town. (I’m glad to report that my own dentist has nothing but five-star reviews at Yelp, as does endodontist Dr. C.) I called Dr. C. to find out what oral surgeons he likes, and now have an appointment for early January, as my insurance, for what it’s worth, is maxed out for the year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bugitarian Zeal

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night with an ant walking in one ear, and also the other: I was either covered with ants or hallucinating. Given that, I had to hope I was covered with ants, and, fortunately, I was. Fifty or sixty of them had arrived for a buffet, a tasty morsel resting between the two pillows. It wasn’t too grisly. It looked like a bug wing or something.

For a moment, I thought I’d have to go ahead and squish the ants, that the situation was out of control, but then I remembered my commitment to bugitarian principles and painstakingly scooped each ant up with a small piece of paper and tapped it onto the outside windowsill, a freezing night outdoors its punishment for disturbing my sleep and causing me to doubt my sanity for a moment. (I’m sure every one of them re-entered immediately.) When I was finally done with this project, Hammett marched up smartly, as if to say, “Anything I can do, boss?”

Several days ago, I noticed a slight swelling on my gum, long and smooth, and this afternoon decided to perform the initial diagnostic test known as Poke It with Your Finger. I was surprised at how painful it was, so then I went online and concluded I had a certain thing, of which it said, “If you have this, call your dentist immediately, and prepare to lose that tooth!” I could scarcely believe that, but since I’m a hypochondriac and don’t like to miss this kind of opportunity, I went ahead and called my dentist, who asked me to come in right away, and within the hour, he was telling me I am likely going to lose this tooth.

I asked if I could then walk around with a hole in my head—I mean, an additional hole in my head—but he said they don’t recommend that, because the teeth on either side will start to creep toward each other, seeking to huddle together for warmth, I presume. He said you can cap the teeth on either side and hang from them a toothlike object that sits gaily atop the gum, for all the world as if mocking the departed tooth. This solution (a bridge) is prone to problems, but insurance does cover it.

Then again, you can get a much better thing (an implant), a thing anyone in their right mind would naturally prefer, but that isn’t typically covered by insurance, and that costs a pretty penny. Nay, it costs a drop-dead gorgeous penny.

What I probably have is an abscess due to a cracked (fractured) root. This particular tooth has long been my favorite, because it received a root canal in the 1980s (and also because it once had a beautiful gold crown) and so, unlike other insubordinate teeth, has never hurt, at least until a couple of months ago. The pain that popped up at that point led my dentist to theorize that my teeth clenching at night had worsened to the point that the whole tooth was moving in its socket, but now he thinks it was that the root had cracked.

Now, when you have a root canal, the root itself is not removed. The root is a long, pink, repulsive-looking thing you can see a picture of online, and when you get a root canal, it is hollowed out, the nerve is removed, and the cavity inside the root is packed with a rubber-based substance. (Actually, my dentist mentioned gutta-percha. Could it be?)

Back when the root canal was done for this tooth, it was the prevailing thing to pack the cavity as firmly as possible—really force the stuff in there. These days they still fill the cavity thoroughly, but don’t make a point of mashing the filler in to the utmost degree, because they’ve realized that the root should be treated with a bit more care, particularly once it’s been hollowed out.

Additionally, the nerve itself has a hydrating effect, and once it’s gone, the tooth becomes desiccated and brittle (just like the rest of me is doing) and more prone to breakage. Couple that with determined teeth clenching, or even just however many years of chewing, and the root can fracture. Then I guess bacteria gets into the crack, or something, and an infection can result; that’s what the swelling is: pus.

You can also get an infection when something like a popcorn kernel gets between the tooth and the gum and sits there, but my dentist investigated and concluded that is not the case here.

So. Besides the extremely handsome penny, this is probably going to require ten appointments of various kinds on top of a zillion I just had for this, that and the other little thing. I scheduled all of my paid time off from work long ago, so I’ve been well into unpaid time off for a while, which is not my company’s preferred way of doing things, though it doesn’t bother me at all. I’d much rather use unpaid than paid time off for anything other than vacation. It sounds like I will probably use more unpaid time off starting to deal with this, making my company unhappy, and come January 1, I will start to use a new pile of paid time off, making me unhappy, but what can you do?

There is a chance the second-opinion guy will not agree with my dentist, but if he does, it’s off to the oral surgeon, who may or may not (stop reading now, Mom) cut two vertical flaps in my gum and peel it away to be absolutely sure what’s happening, and you cannot have general anesthesia for this; I inquired. Then, if it is a cracked root, they remove the tooth, and then it heals up (one hopes) and then, after you work out your ten-year payment plan, they put a titanium post into the bone, and attach a lovely crown to the post.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Casa de Hammett

Hammett’s new carrier has worked out very well. When I brought it home, I put a folded-up towel in it, plus the tiny hand-knitted blanket he came home from the SPCA with, and in short order, he was seen lying inside, and, if I’m not mistaken, displaying the gravitas of the new homeowner. Of course, this is just a starter house. His next one will have a helipad and a wine cellar.

On vet day, I put his carrier on a chair with the opening tilted up a bit and poured him in without incident. I wondered if he would feel betrayed to have his house suddenly repurposed as a prison, but after we returned home, he sniffed it as if curious about its malleable character, but not indignant.

Around that time, I saw the Kevin Costner movie A Message in a Bottle, whose plot strained credulity, but which also happened to feature my new favorite, Paul Newman, toward the end of his career. I guess I’m going to have to go ahead and see all of Paul Newman’s movies.

My hospice visitee, E., died and I began visiting a new person, F., at her home. This was described to me as being in “Potrero Flats,” so needless to say, getting there involves cycling up a hill, then a steeper hill, then a truly monstrous hill, one of those where your front tire is only tenuously in contact with the ground.

I had another triple dharma day last week. This time I had dinner at the Zen Center after sitting there, and went on to Howie’s. He wasn’t there, but had lined up a guest teacher: Ajahn Anandabodhī, one of three Theravadan nuns who have established a monastery for women here in San Francisco.

She said a helpful thing: If we are angry and give that anger to someone else, we are throwing away a valuable teacher. She said we should hold our teacher—anger, fear, sorrow, whatever it is—close to us so that we can learn what it has to teach. You can conceivably think of not getting angry at someone as missing out: Rats! I didn’t get to give that person a piece of my mind.

But, as Ajahn Anandabodhī said, the deprivation is not in foregoing expression of the feeling, but in acting it out.

Thursday of last week I did laundry, which, as it had not been done (note the passive voice there) for a month, was a horrible ordeal: seven loads. Just getting that much stuff around the corner and back was an accomplishment. I was planning to clean the bathroom Friday evening, but after all that laundry, thought perhaps I should rest up for a while before going ahead. But then it dawned on me that if I took care of both, I wouldn’t have to do either again soon!

I had not cleaned the bathroom for six months, on the theory that a bathroom that hasn’t been cleaned for six months is pretty much the same as one that hasn’t been cleaned for three weeks, so if you can stand how it is at three weeks, you’re off the hook for quite a while. However, as of this last experience, I’ve reluctantly concluded that isn’t quite true. I had to put on gloves and drench the place in Citra-Solv. At any rate, it’s clean now, so if you’re planning to visit me, do it soon.

Saturday morning I went to the Zen Center where Steve Stücky, the (or a) co-abbot, gave the talk and answered questions in the dining room afterwards, a first experiment in live streaming of the talk and Q&A. It seems like it went well. We got a question from someone in Mexico. I stayed for lunch and, because I’m a slow eater, got to have two entirely different sets of companions.

Then I went to Rainbow. I didn’t see my favorite checkout person, but had run into her on my way to the Zen Center hours earlier, both on our bicycles.

In the evening, I watched Gone in 60 Seconds, about car thieves. I kept thinking it would be a lot better if it starred Jason Statham instead of Nicolas Cage, but it was good.

I’ve also lately seen Twilight, the vampire movie, plus the two existing sequels; there will be two more later. I knew I would love them, and I did. Five trillion teenage girls can scarcely be wrong. Now my research is done and I’m ready to have an intelligent conversation about how totally cute Robert Pattinson is, should someone happen to bring it up. Tom teaches in a high school and says this topic never loses its appeal.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Melatonin Dunnit

The Saturday night I returned from Michigan, I saw Hud, with Paul Newman. He plays an out-and-out scoundrel, but he’s so outrageously attractive it’s hard to completely dislike him. I’m surprised that million-watt scene where Hud is lying on Alma’s bed didn’t actually melt the celluloid into gooey drips. Maybe it did, and they had to film it again, telling him to turn it down a bit this time.

I haven’t seen many of his films, but he was also not an entirely great guy in The Hustler, so it seems movie-makers appreciated the tension between Newman’s charisma (and looks) and some of the less admirable traits of his characters.

The following Tuesday, I had a triple dharma day: I did my usual 45 minutes of sitting in the morning before work, sat at the Zen Center after work, and then went to Howie’s for yet more sitting.

They were three days into a seven-day sesshin (period of intensive practice) at the Zen Center and it was very quiet and tranquil in the zendo, noticeably so. (Thus I enjoyed some of the fruits of sitting for three days without having to sit for three days!) On the other hand, because it was during sesshin, there would be no public dinner, so it was sort of a split personality sitting: half enjoying the great peace, and half trying to figure out where to go for dinner.

I ended up at the café one block down the hill (does it have a name?), where I knew I would see Sir Dave, and so I did. (He said, “What a surprise!”)

After dinner, I went on to Howie’s, where the talk following the sit was about metta and concentration.

Work is going well. After quitting and unquitting, I was on a sort of probation, so have exerted myself mightily to live up to or exceed expectations, and my manager has expressed his satisfaction. Into the bargain, I was able to mend a relationship with a peer that has been strained for years and caused a huge amount of frustration to both parties, no doubt. Certainly it has made me miserable. It’s a great thing to be allies, finally.

I was looking forward to going to the Zen Center last Saturday morning for the talk, but I ended up having to work until midnight Friday night, so I couldn’t.

Saturday evening Tom and I watched Oliver Stone’s JFK. During the opening credits, they show President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas, and though they don’t show the actual shooting (then), by the time the movie starts, the President is dead. I’d always thought it was a biography in which Kevin Costner plays Kennedy, so I was confused—what could this movie possibly be about, then? Tom said it was about the investigation after the assassination. The running time is three and a half hours, so I very nearly said I didn’t want to see it: is there any way a 3.5-hour movie about a legal case could be anything but soporific?

But then I decided that, if nothing else, it would be a lot of looking at Kevin Costner, so I stuck with it and it was absolutely riveting. There was not a single dull moment, and it was reasonably easy to keep the various threads of the plot straight. It seeks to persuade that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, and it is very convincing there. Sir Dave’s primary interest is 9/11, but he has a sideline in the Kennedy assassination, so I’ve heard my share about Dulles and so forth, but really didn’t know enough about the whole thing to form an opinion. JFK took care of that.

After the movie that night, I undertook my first and last experiment with melatonin, a supplement probably readily available in your drugstore. More than once I’ve read that it’s good for lucid dreaming, so I decided to give it a try. The fellow in the pill department at Rainbow said you can take six milligrams, but he recommended taking only three. I asked what people actually take it for, as I imagine its main use is not for lucid dreaming, and learned it’s primarily for problems sleeping.

I went ahead and took three milligrams, one tablet, and within 20 minutes, I was nearly on the floor. It had a very powerful, very unpleasant effect, including that I felt kind of dizzy and disoriented and couldn’t quite seem to see what I was looking at. My face turned red and I felt burning hot. I went right to bed—there was not much else I could do—but not until I’d written down what I took and when I took it, as I had every expectation I was going to wake up dead, and didn’t want to leave a mystery to compound my relatives' terrible grief.

All I can say is, thank goodness I didn’t take six milligrams. I read later that if you take fifty milligrams, it increases the amount of REM sleep you have and the vividness of your dreams. I don’t doubt that at all, but will not be experiencing it firsthand. I poured the rest of the bottle into the trash the next day. Sorry about the tiny bit of melatonin you’re eventually going to get in your glass of water.

Do you ever think about that? Every drug anyone ever takes, puts in the trash or compost, or flushes down the toilet, legal drug or not, ends up in our water—all the hormones, chemotherapy, hallucinogens. I’m sure water treatment is supposed to remove all of that, but wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t quite.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


(A person who lives in Demonym.)

I flew to Detroit the Saturday before Thanksgiving and shared the Custom Transit van from the airport with a pair of—I won’t say “major jerks,” but a pair of really lovely, I’m sure, persons temporarily acting like major jerks, who complained loudly half the way to Ypsilanti about Custom Transit’s lousy service, when they had shown up with an extra person, which is not how Custom Transit works.

I made sure to give the driver a huge tip and thank him profusely for Custom Transit’s fantastic service. Honestly, those people could have been standing beside I-94 with their thumbs out. Instead they were in fact rolling along toward their destination, despite not having booked in advance, and still had the nerve to list all the people they were going to badmouth Custom Transit to and to try to estimate exactly how many dollars Custom Transit was going to lose for not kissing their feet and on and on. It was all I could do not to turn around and say, “Can you shut the $*%!! up?” They must have been Ann Arborites. They could learn from us humble (and tolerant!) Ypsilantians (?). Ypsilantoids? Ypsi-ites?

I had to phone my mother to ask what you call a person who lives in Ypsilanti.

“Why do you want to know?”

“You know why.”

“No, I don’t: I’m getting old. Oh, right, for your blog. I should polish up some witticisms so I can be ready. Write down that my favorite program is Hoarders and you can get it on Netflix. No, don’t write that down.”

“I already wrote it down.”

“All right. I guess there’s nothing that can be done about that, then.”

“So what do you call a person who lives in Ypsilanti?”

“I don’t call them anything. I call them ‘fellow citizens.’”

“Maybe Dad knows this?”

My mother yelled my father’s name, then laughed and said, “He says, ‘Heh heh heh, you don’t want to know.’”

It turns out my first guess is (possibly) right: Ypsilantian. At least, that’s what my father thinks it is. We did at least figure out the word that means what you call a person who lives in a certain place: demonym.

(Iggy Pop lived in Ypsilanti in his teenage years, and Domino’s Pizza was founded there.)

Speaking of Hoarders, I know a guy who knows a guy who was featured on one show, and also I had this idea for a cartoon to be submitted to The New Yorker: A Hoarders episode with the guest star saying, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested."

My first evening in Ypsi, Dad made the three of us avocado salad for dinner, and then we watched The Green Zone and The Hustler, featuring a toothsome young Paul Newman.

On Sunday, Dad made tomato soup, and pasta and asparagus with cheese sauce, and we watched the first part of the John Adams miniseries and A Walk on the Moon.

I was amused to see a new photo had appeared in a prominent position near some framed family pictures: Michelle Obama.

I’m glad Michelle is now apparently one of our relatives, but I’m enraged at her husband over the tax breaks for affluent Americans. That absolutely boggles the mind. We are going to borrow money to spare those who can easily afford it from paying taxes? Where is President Obama’s spine? Those Republicans in Congress who have said they will refuse to work on anything else until this goes through should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. As well as being angry, I’m heartsick at what our actions reveal about what our values have become.

On Monday of my week in Michigan, I had lunch with Ginny at Seva in Ann Arbor. While we both went to the same junior high, I don’t think we really spent time together after elementary school, so it had been the better part of 40 years! We had a very nice time. It was fantastic to see her, and great that we had plenty to talk about.

After lunch, I visited a spot I’d had an emotional dream about just a couple of weeks prior. It is odd to walk into a dreamscape, of which there are several in Ann Arbor.

That evening, Dad made us mushroom soup, a salad, and biscuits. Mom is normally in charge of biscuits, so this was a new venture for Dad. Mom had made a wonderful batch of bagels before my arrival that I ate and enjoyed all week.

That evening, we watched more John Adams, maybe two parts.

On Tuesday, my sister came over. That night, Dad made lasagna without mushrooms—he is always testing and refining his recipes, and he was wondering if lasagna without mushrooms would be just as good, since the mushrooms are time consuming. We also had salad and biscuits. Afterward, we watched A Single Man and The White Ribbon—Michael Haneke. I had my misgivings regarding the latter, and indeed we all found it grim.

On Wednesday, I went over to Sally’s and we took our now-traditional walk around the neighborhood, through more dreamscapes, and it was of course lovely to see Sally.

That evening, Dad made pasta with tomato sauce, tomato soup, and cottage cheese with artistically arranged tomato slices—a meal with a theme.

Thursday was of course Thanksgiving. My sister came over again and we had vegan nut loaf, gravy, stuffing (the best version ever), cashews, olives, cranberry-orange relish, bean salad, and wonderfully soft rolls. Mom made the rolls and the cranberry-orange relish. Dad made the vegan nut loaf, gravy, stuffing, and bean salad. Dessert was chocolate-chip cookies made by Dad (based on a recipe I sent him a few years ago that features oil instead of butter) and lemon bars made by Mom. Both were delicious.

Just before we ate, Dad picked up a sheaf of printed-out emails and announced, “Topics for discussion,” which made me and my sister giggle.

After Thanksgiving dinner, which we had at 2 or so, we watched Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Derailed, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (for the millionth time—marveling once again over Leonardo DiCaprio's amazing performance), and a documentary about Charles Bukowski.

On Friday, Amy and I had lunch at Café Zola (and, yes, it was splendid to see Amy!), followed by tea at the Sweetwater Café across the street. That night, Dad made tofu with peanut sauce, a favorite of mine, and we watched more John Adams. On Saturday I flew home, and there you have it.