October Men's Room column
I can give you a Halloween scare.
If you show up at my house on the 31st, I’ll usher you to a bookshelf that holds a small, faded black-and-white box labeled Ortho- Spec. It dates to 1973, and according to the markings on the side, it once contained “intermaxillary rubber ligatures” – the hardware for my braces when I was in high school.
Not frightened yet? Open the box.
Inside, you’ll find not the braces but the plaster molds of my teeth – my original teeth, the ones I had before the braces. These were the teeth that challenged and befuddled my family dentist. He filled what he could, filed what he could, and pulled what he could. Then he sent me away. To a specialist.
On my first appointment, a kind young orthodontist packed my mouth with what looked and tasted like a fistful of Play-Doh. A little later, he removed what had started out as a gummy blob and morphed into a block of granite. He shaped the thing with a sharp pick, and soon I had my dental molds: permanent and petrifying proof that I needed serious hardware.
Check out those molds. You’ll see twenty-seven teeth, all misaligned worse than the front end of a Mercury Zephyr. A maxillary bicuspid meets its downstairs mate at an angled pinpoint, resembling some public art project outside a municipal building. The neighboring canine juts outward and bears a mysterious semicircle etching, like Stone Age cave communication. Behind that tooth – yes, behind it – a lateral incisor hides on its own lonely row behind everything else. The central incisors angle toward each other, creating a V-shaped gap in the middle of my mouth.
You’ll see a ghastly collection of tilted molars, twisted bicuspids, and a mysterious vacancy (I still have it), plus a haphazard row of bottom teeth that resemble a primitive fort made of tree trunks hacked with tools of rock. I had an overbite and an underbite. Count Dracula would’ve been jealous.
Add an alarming army of teen insecurities, a juvenile sense of humor, and hippie hair that reached my shoulders, and it’s no wonder I couldn’t get a date to the homecoming dance. I looked like a skinny tyrannosaurus with acne. Horrors!
Those molds show, sadly, that I might not have advanced as far from my evolutionary ancestors as I’d hoped. They dragged their knuckles in search of meat and water while I, homo orthodontus, dragged to a monthly appointment to have my mouth wired more elaborately than a Delta rocket.
During that first appointment with the specialist all those years ago, some guy wandered into the room with the orthodontist and me. To this day, I have no idea who he was; I’ve always imagined him as the doctor’s flunky, non-orthodontist brother. During my exam, the stranger gazed into my mouth, took a long look, and turned away.
“Yep,” he said, “this young man has a problem.”
Indeed I did. It took three agonizing years of metal, rubber bands, and torturous tension, plus untold thousands of my parents’ dollars, but that wizard of an orthodontist fixed my teeth and made me look, well, human.
Drop by on Halloween, and I’ll prove it. Just look in the box. If you dare.
To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.
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