After an hour's wait with nothing to do but count the flowers on the peeling wallpaper or listen to the soothing sounds of public radio, I was of a horrible sort. Finally, the dentist arrived on the scene, his usual jovial and obnoxious self. He waddled into the room and somehow managed to wedge himself between the patient chair and the wall, where he proceeded to lean his massive man breast against the right side of my face. As I tactfully shifted my head to the left, he pulled it back with his grisly paw, telling me to open wide. I obliged him, thinking that the torture would soon be finished. However, I was wrong. Dead wrong.
I had forgotten about the chatter.
"So, what year are you now at school?" It started innocently enough, but I knew we were heading down a path to destruction. I answered as politely and comprehensibly as I could with a metal tool scraping my teeth and gums, and after ascertaining my status as a college junior and an English major, he moved to his next line of questioning. "Are you working anywhere this summer?" I told him about my tenure at the movie theater, but it was at this point that I knew: he wasn't asking these questions because he cared, or even because he pretended to care. He was gathering material for his usual god-awful comedy routine.
You see, the dentist was a self-proclaimed comedic genius. He was the type to laugh at all of his own jokes, despite the fact that they were severely lacking in humor. I'm pretty sure he was the kind of guy who, even at the age of sixty, subscribed to MAD Magazine and laughed at all of the bad parody comics.
I played along, responding to the dentist's questions and waiting for the onslaught of what would surely be more torturous than any plaque cleansing known to man. And then it came.
"Well, I've figured out what you should do with the rest of your life." Oh god. "You should be like Roger Ebert." I nodded out of courtesy. "Do you know who Roger Ebert is?" A big, fat slob? The ugliest thing ever to emerge from the vagina of a human woman, even worse than the afterbirth itself?
"He's a movie critic," I muttered as the dentist held my tongue with a cotton ball.
"Well, that's what you should do. But, you've gotta have a catch, you know?" I've stopped nodding at this point. I figured, he'll say what he wanted to say no matter how much encouragement or discouragement I threw at him. "So here's what you do: instead of 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down,' you should rate movies on a scale of One to Four Snow Caps!" He paused for a laugh here, but I failed to find the humor in his previous statement, so after a five second pause, he chuckled to himself. "And if it's REALLY great," he continued despite my lack of reaction, "you can rate it as a BOX OF CHOCOLATE COVERED RAISINS!" At this, my dentist burst into a fit of laughter so loud that a dental hygienist ran across the hall to make sure that he was okay. "Oh, Janine, we're fine," he explained, punching me in the arm. "Michael and I were just telling a few jokes." Unsure where any of the jokes were located, I cocked half of a smile at Janine and she went along her merry way.
Unfortunately, the dentist continued on his previously-rehearsed spiel. "And of course, you have to have snappy, sarcastic comments. That's my specialty, you know." I couldn't take it any more.
"That is NOT your specialty!" I shrieked. As the dentist pulled away in shock, he sliced open my lip with his dental pick. "Your specialty is cleaning teeth! So if you'd please, make with the scraping and dispense with the hilariosity."
As the dentist finished cleaning my teeth in silence, a tear rolled down his face. For some reason, it was the funniest thing I'd seen all day, and I laughed all the way home.