KR BlogRemembrances

Mouth, Part 1

I got old all of a sudden. My mouth went first. I was at the Kroger, in the tooth aisle, comparing Orajels. The night before, in Novelties, I wavered, hands in pockets, body rocking for minutes, heel-toe, toe-heel, between the Cool Whip Extra Creamy and the Cool Whip Fat Free. I do love a brownie, and the picture on the white plastic tub of Extra Creamy featured just that: a thick chocolate brownie luxuriating in a frothy Cool Whip bath. But I felt almost equally called to the Fat Free, which sported not only enticing healthy alphabetic text—Fat Free—but also the image of, indulging in its own Cool Whip bath, a mound of plump blueberries. The Cool Whip Original, meanwhile, was content to display on its plastic lid some strawberries, a fruit which has moved me only once, on a night while working third shift room service at the Luxor, in Las Vegas. But the strawberries on that night were mere addendum to the crux of a glorious, unexpectedly moving experience, and so for the Original, a little past midnight, I had no desire whatsoever.

In the early 2000s, a gum man in Nashville, a good one, if the early internet was to be believed, my blood all over his smock, scolded me for my smoking.

“That’s why you’re here,” he said. He wore yellow pants. “That’s why this. Do you see?”

And I remember a dentist on Santa Monica Boulevard in the very late 80s setting out on her desk, after my exam, a clean glass ashtray. We smoked her Pall Malls or Carltons as she reviewed various payment options for the work my mouth required. She wore a light blue outfit, maybe a jumper of some sort, was older, slender, definitely a longtime smoker. I say Santa Monica Boulevard but her office was tiny, and to get to it I climbed two or three flights of stairs. The stairwell and her office, even the interior office into which she’d invited me to talk and smoke, as if we’d been cast in a revival of Marcus Welby, M.D., smelled of cat piss. Still, I felt important: never before (and not since, actually) had a medical person invited me behind a closed door to discuss, across a desk in serious tones, my condition. There I was, smoking long cigarettes with a Hollywood dentist in her Hollywood office, discussing financial packages.

In many regards, my mother was terrible about mothering. She did, though, for almost a half-decade in the 70s, refuse me all candy and made sure I got to the dentist regularly. The dentist was Dr. DalPorto, who had a full head of wavy, decade-appropriate hair. I remember him as perfectly decent but his son, Todd, though only a couple years older than me and so only 13 or so when I last knew him, had already achieved the affect of what I would come to know as Cruel Frat Boy. They lived in The New Homes, on the other side of the orchard. Though I wouldn’t have been aware of it at the time, I’m sure, thinking about it in retrospect, Dr. DalPorto maintained my mouth pro-bono. My mother, despite addictions and the general lack of good will toward others that forever kept her from achieving what ordinary Americans might call success, was good at making deals that made sure our needs got met. The route manager for The Chronicle—the shleppy, middle-aged guy who oversaw all the paperboys—was named Mr. Chiotti. I can still hear, breaking the silence of the midnight hours, my mother shouting, from behind her bedroom door, “Chiotti! Chiotti! Ah, damn, that’s right, Chiotti!” What I mean is, my mother wasn’t above putting out if it meant, say, we got the paper free everyday.

To be continued.