Ask Palinode #2: teeth in space and time

From the depths of Ask Palinode, where the blind fishies flap and the bathyspheres bump, comes a question from someone named Schmutzie. She claims to be my wife, which explains a lot about the last five years. She asks:

How many of your teeth are false? Because, even though I'm married to you, I have never known for sure.

That's a good question, Schmutzie. I do have mysterious teeth. The short answer is: I have one and two halves false teeth in space and fifty six in time. Let's tackle the spatial teeth first.

Somewhere in the autumn of 1981 or '82 my friends and I invented a game. This game had no title, but the rules were clear: 1) Run like hell up the staggered concrete steps of the highschool. 2) Don't trip. A young rebel who played no one's game but my own, I broke the second rule with great velocity and maximum impact. My feet slipped on some loose gravel and flew backward. I still remember, twenty-five years later, the sight of the concrete step rushing at my face. I stood up, too shocked for pain, a thick rope of blood and saliva swinging from my lip. My left front tooth lay in a puddle of blood on the step.

I took a breath and the cool inrush of air flowed over the exposed nerve in my mouth.

That hurt some.

When you've smashed your mouth up, keep it closed.

The dentist, a man with a bad temper, a big red beard and eyes so deep-set that they seemed to peer over their lower eyelids, glued a discoloured cap over the little bit of root that remained. In six months' time the cap had started to loosen and wobble over the little stump of actual tooth. I would sit in class and tune out, pushing the cap back and forth with my tongue, until one day it fell out of my mouth and pinged off the top of my desk. Class stopped while I searched for it under my classmates' desks.

Back I went to the dentist, who declared that the dead root of my broken tooth had been almost completely reabsorbed by my body. Apparently the blow to my tooth and subsequent capping had persuaded my body that the remaining stub was a foreign body. My killer defenses had gone to work on the offending bit of nerve and pulp in record time. The dentist told my parents that he had never seen such swift root resorption in his life. He intimated that I was a kind of medical-dental curiosity. Oddly enough, I think my parents were proud of my body's perversity (although they may not have been so proud of the money that my clumsiness was costing them).

The dentist fitted me with a rudimentary denture. It was a piece of pink plastic shaped to fit the roof of my mouth, with metal clamps to hook onto my molars and a single front tooth set on the end. My name was set into the plastic, conscientously misspelled as "Aden," which allowed me the singular fantasy of pretending to be a Middle Eastern city with a missing tooth.

Because I was eleven and in the prime of my shithead years, I decided that my new fake tooth was good for grossing out my classmates. I learned how to manipulate the plastic plate so as to wiggle my tooth up and down in my mouth. Sometimes I would grin at passersby and then open my mouth slowly, letting the tooth drop down as if I were releasing a latch. I got everything from doubletakes to looks of horror.

The partial denture also gave me a sibilant lisp that has never quite gone away, despite the best efforts of the school speech therapist. Please note all efforts were on the therapist's part, who would try to force my tongue to stick to the roof of my mouth whenever I uttered words like Sassafrass or Saskatchewan. I would produce a stuttering, gagging noise that in no way sounded like an s. The therapist gave me exercises to do at home, which I did not do. I had no desire to gag on my own tongue every time I tried to say Sunday or Suffering Succotash. Eventually the therapist, worried about my lack of progress and surmising that I was developmentally challenged as well as possibly gay, contacted my parents to ask how the speech exercises were coming along. They were as surprised as she to find out that I'd been throwing the exercise sheets into the ditch on the way home.

At the age of twenty I finally went to have the retainer exchanged for something that I didn't have to keep in a glass at night. As you can imagine, it puts a serious dent in your adolescent love life to have a partial set of dentures. The dentist fitted me with a bridge, grinding away at the two adjacent canines until they were no more than stumps, then fitting three false teeth over the spaces left - or more accurately, one and two halves.

That takes care of the spatial issue. Now for the temporal question.

A few years ago I had some dental work done on a package vacation to Tralfamadore. For those of you who haven't been there,* the planet of Tralfamadore is a mecca for earthlings seeking medical procedures that they cannot afford at home. The Tralfamadorian economy is based on displays of exaggerated but heartfelt courtesy. Not surprisingly, any goods purchased there are subject to murderous duties upon return. Therefore, services have become the mainstay of Tralfamadore's export business. Also, because Tralfamadorians exist simultaneously along every point in time (and therefore space), you can contract a life-threatening illness on Friday and find yourself cured the previous week.

The Tralfamadorian dentist kindly filled every single one of my teeth that had ever or would ever require a filling, and then, because I was so solicitous and polite - I inquired after the health of the dental assistant's family - he fitted me with two full sets of false teeth. He installed one set thirty minutes in the past, and the other exactly ten years in the future. This has a few advantages, particularly if I get in a fight with someone; if I need to bite my opponent, he'll have already been bitten half an hour beforehand. That way I always get in the first blow. And ten years later, long after he's forgotten the mysterious double bite, the argument and the fight that resulted, and perhaps even my name and face, he'll get bitten again by my future teeth. The chief disadvantage rests in my inability to enjoy fast food, which is always eaten half an hour before I order it, and then again ten years later. Trust me when I tell you that if you don't enjoy your big mac now, you'll like it even less in 2016.

*Because of the peculiarity of Tralfamdore's relationship to Earth in time, there's a good chance that if you haven't visited Tralfamadore yet, you never will. If you are fated to visit the place, you will already remember going there.