The ultimate cure for all pain and suffering is death. But short of that we go to the dentist. With them it is simple: no pain, no glory. It seems like masochism – something I had to give up because I was enjoying it too much. And then a six-month tooth grenade sent me fleeing to a local dental school…

I’m always amazed to hear of air crash victims so badly mutilated that they have to be identified by their dental records. What I can’t understand is: If they don’t know who you are, how do they know who your dentist is?


I don’t even know who MY dentist is. All I do know is that she’s a dental student from Syria studying at the University of Pennsylvania Dental School. And without meaning to sound more xenophobic than most white, blue and red neck Americans I also consider the future dental-doc to be more than a tad ‘mental’.

And it’s not merely because she’s from one of those Middle Eastern states that few of us consider nations – merely quarrels with oil barrels for borders. (Leave it to my landsman Moses to wander 40 years in the desert in order to finally pick the only spot with no black gold.)

Anyway, speaking out of one side of my mouth, I have to admit it was, at least at first, totally foreign, as well as a relief, to have a woman order me to open-wide my pie-hole instead of ‘shut it!’

Nevertheless, this Syrian had me soon gnashing on my demonstrative toothache. She drove me to extraction!

Her name, if I remember correctly, is Milia. She is apparently from Syria’s  military-ruling, bellicose Alawite tribe.

To date I’ve only seen her for one long exasperating visit that took me months to establish. Yet if I see this particular future-tooth-banger again, I swanny I am certainly going to enroll her in my own dang-bang ‘free’ dental plan.

Yes, I have become a grumpy old man. Just like my father, who was an irritable, hot-head supposedly from the moment he came screaming out the birth canal with an angry overbite. My grandmother apparently never fully recovered from my dear ol’ Pappy’s opening salvo of: What the hell we got to drink around here?!!!

So when my father’s short-ain’t-quick-enough temper was hissing over and about me one day, his remonstration, between those omnipotent puffs on his omniscient corn cob pipe, was: “Kid, don’t be wasting all your backhands and forehands on tennis!”

And all I can scratch, sniff and ponder now is: What the heck took me so long?!

Admittedly I don’t know that many Syrians, except the ones that ran most of the warehousing operations in West Africa where I worked and survived the dysentery and bullets for a depleting number of preceding years. And I definitely didn’t want to get to know their sisters. Nor any other friend, relative or varmints of some aberrant DNA squatting about in their storage bins.

And I have to admit, that in my globe-trotting I’ve never set foot into Syria. But even though Syria is deemed to be one of the most ancient of civilizations, not ever transgressing its borders never particularly pestered me.

I mean, considering that its scion, al-Assad, and especially his father who seized control in a vicious military coup in 1970, obviously harbor the rectal -enema disposition of deposed lunatics like Idi Amin. They assiduously apply their foreign supplied armaments to exterminating their own unarmed villages of mainly Sunni tribesmen. As well as most anyone else who apparently doesn’t appreciate ‘taxation without representation’.

Obviously these boys could use a little civilizing overdose of psychotropic suppositories.

To be quite fair, Milia’s only had a couple of years of training into her dental education.  But she hasn’t seemed willing or able to absorb the protocol: Put your money where your mouth is. And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout no Vegas poker hold ‘em.

I mean she is the hired-help. I am hiring her because I have a problem.


We don’t have to like each other. And soon we didn’t.

I mean, I have been long-told that dentists have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession.  Not just because their dour personalities are all they need for birth control. But, they have been known to faithfully inflict the ancient ritual of: No pain, no gain.

And it can be rather Draconian… Worse than a bikini wax. Or getting snagged in your pants zipper…Or being forced to endure a political convention…


And those dental offices?!  More like orifices. Too much mental and physical halitosis. Not enough laughing gas.

Alas, Milia proffered me nothing to laugh about from the outset. If duh woman would have been a blonde I could have understood her leaking vacuous carbon dioxide like one of my blow-up dolls. But she was imperious without being regal.

She is supposedly studying to be a doctor of oral fixations. Her job, as any doc, is to mitigate the pain while doing no more harm than has already been afflicted. Once again, it’s called putting your money where my mouth is, and vice-versa.

My initial entreaty was readily, if not long-lost, in translation. I reiterated, like a town crier, that I was here because I have been screaming awake at 3AM for months while some village smithy – or perhaps Martin Luther himself — bangs the nails in all 95 Theses on my bottom back molar.

This is one of the numerous ‘residuals’ of my then future-ex-wife, Stephanie Blatt.

You might recall that the she-devil filed all these egregious felonious charges with the DA’s office a couple years back. And after an interminable menstrual cycle Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney, Kate Thurston, was finally able to deduce – cautiously using all her fingers, toes and single digit IQ — that most everything my ‘dearest’ Stephanie espoused was spurious, specious and downright abominable.

The charges were dismissed. But not before I, as a guest of a city warren, was pummeled with free dental work during a rare shower. ‘Hey-zeus’ and two of his high cheek-boned Latino fellow city guests were demanding payment: “Hey blonco! You pay to be using my shower!?”


Obviously I am still paying.

And Milia was just one more deduction from my abducted fortunes. As well as one more pain. But what’s one-more for dinner?!

Even after I reiterated again – under her persistent rebukes that I absolutely must take my daily heart aspirin for my 9-year-old quadruple bypassed heart – why I wasn’t taking it. Because I already have been overdosing on aspirin and acetaminophen, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, etc. for the past 6 months. And I was one cat scratch away from leaking more than the Exxon Valdez.

I told her that me and my brother-the-heart-doc got a good grip on my cardio.  So please apply herself to the mission at hand. Namely putting her limited and finite knowledge where my mouth painfully is.

I finally had to put it less diplomatically: “Don’t lecture me, Herr Doktor-to-be! Cut the talk and start the walk to my pain!”

It didn’t register. So to distract her didactic spew I wondered aloud from where in the world her accent was. When she replied: Syria, I posed in courteous jest: I heard of that. You’ve been in the news a lot lately.

She obviously needed a shot of nitrous oxide. For she tilted her head like a puzzled dog and chided me not to believe what you read and hear in the news. She didn’t bother to recognize from all that I had previously indicated that I AM duh news.

“Yeah,” I said. “You’ve got to have news first! Not just your state mendacities… What are you, a ruling Alawite?”

At that I searched the face of another student in the cubicle.

“I’m an Albanian,” she volunteered.

I related that I was in Albania, once. Maybe a couple decades back. Interviewing one of the young renegades. When I went to snap his photo he said: “If I knew you were going to take pictures I would have worn my (only) other shirt.”

The Albanian reassured me: “Oh it’s not like that anymore. It’s different now.”

“Yeah, for you,” I said. “You’ve one of those few families who could obviously afford to escape with more than just the shirt on your back.”


“Well, I’m from north Florida,” intoned the third female dental student.  “I didn’t escape anywheres.”

No,” I wryly noted. “But I hope you can count teeth better than you could count  those Bush ‘chads.’”

Hmm… ten little, nine little, eight little Indians…. I was scalping them all.

Soon, Milia and the others were reciprocating, demonstrating that actions in the hands of beginners can hurt louder than words. They decided they needed a full workup of dental x-rays on me. And since they use the boxy, inflexible type, for some reason, I soon went into my teary, eye-popping, retching gag-reflexes.

Obviously I could never be bisexual.

When they were wrapping it up they said they’d be calling me in a couple of weeks for my next appointment.

Say what?

Teeth ain’t cleaned. Pain ain’t fixed. Other broken back molar ain’t ground. Wait for two-three more weeks!

When I asked, very aloud, what I should do when Martin Luther starts nailing his Theses again in the wee morning hours, Milia said if the pain is that bad I should go to the emergency room.

“Look, they put dogs to sleep for far less pain than I’ve registered.  And I know pain! Been shot. Stabbed. Had my heart ripped out!…”

I was not about to explain that after 15 years of daily emergency room visits with my congenitally ill and morosely suffering younger son, I don’t go to emergency rooms no more. Wait for 17 hours…to get an aspirin! That’s why I suffered and endured to come here!

Regrettably … as 17 days of true grit slowly crept by I called back the dental school wondering why nobody had called me. This was the end of July and I was told ‘my folks’ wouldn’t be back until the new school year.

My shrieking vituperations threatened, among other inanities, to burn their tooth picks and hang such evil female canines.

Apparently the polite and patient administrator on the other end of the satellite had heard this angry rap song repeated in various languages before.

She declared me an emergency. Had me come in the following morn. And by evening ‘other-than-my-folk’ had crowbarred duh back molar. They also picked and tweezered the shattered impacted remnants away without doing any permanent  damage to my one and only primal nerve running along the jaw line.


Drop your linens and start your grinnin’. Free at last!

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what all this elucidates. Perhaps that life has no plot. That like the Buddhist claim, it is fraught with pain and suffering. That if you hang in there long enough you’ll undoubtedly die anyway. Or at least endure 84,000 transmigrations, at the end of which, even if you are deified in nirvana, you start all over in the circle of life – like the game of baseball.

Hmm… Indeed, no escape!

All I know is that the ineffable suffering I underwent for as long as an unbearable pregnancy has now been relieved. And, like all pain, soon will be forgotten.

And while death may be the cure for all pain and diseases, I evidently didn’t die. It’s over… At least for now. No matter how good, bad or unsympathetic the service, the immediacy of nuclear pain has been resolved.

America. What a country!

And I must say that it is true: That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

Suffering isn’t all bad, particularly when it finally subsides. Just like loneliness and love and happiness and sadness. We can’t know the ups, without a regimented acquaintance, also, with the downs. We can’t have life without death; day without night; wet without dry…. Life is its contradictions. We are what we are not. They are one and the same. And it is, indeed, better to have loved and lost, than never to have slept with your neighbor’s tattooed wife.


Okay, now you know.

Meanwhile, the students who go to dental schools like Penn and Temple universities in Philadelphia, have a harder time getting into the fewer existing dental schools than docs do into the somewhat more numerous med schools. If that, too, really tells us anything. Except, perhaps that they all eventually learn their trade sufficiently well. Especially, when along the way on the path of enlightenment, they are handily bitten by the teeth that feed them.

And that would be mine.

And I’m going back. That is, if they ever respond to my calls and schedule another appointment. It’s my job as a raconteur, entrepreneur, adventureur and provocateur. That is, to amuse, abuse, afflict and comfort.

And for those docs who can’t quite grasp the concept that allaying pain and suffering are your number one priority I should confess that I too had to give up sadomasochism. I was enjoying it too much. In fact, after I was painfully delivered, my mother, like my father’s mother, went back to being a virgin.

And dats yDrewIS on DIS penal colony.

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