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Tuesday, September 30th, 2003
6:19p - exploding head movie
DAMN. I had a dental appointment yesterday, but I forgot and slept through it. I honestly didn't mean to. She was going to shoot me up in the gums for the first time in ages, but it doesn't bother me anymore. In fact I was using that formerly frequent mouth-trauma as yet another way to distract myself out of long-standing ruts.

Here's why I like my dentist. She is better to her employees than anybody I've ever met. To say that she "treats them like family" is a breathtaking understatement, because people in my extended family generally don't treat each other as well as this woman treats her assistants. The walls in her office are covered with gigantic expensive photos of the whole lot of them taken in portrait studios. Every six months or so they close down the whole office for a couple of weeks so they can all go on vacation together. The way I found out about this is that they load up the screensavers on their PCs with photos from their trips. The most recent trip was to Las Vegas, which I know because I recognized some of the stuff in the backgrounds. I've seen some earlier photos that look like they were taken near the Grand Canyon or something.

Even if she's not the best dentist in the world, technically, I know without a shadow of a doubt that she is going to have my best interests at heart.

My prison term of almost two years in Tennessee is merely the final stage of a very long slog through the wilderness. It started in 1994, when I was 31. I made the biggest decision of my adult life and moved from Kansas to Florida to take a job. If you'd known me then you'd realize how out-of-character that was for me. The situation had to be rigged for me to even consider it. For starters, I was doing poorly in Wichita. I was wasting time on a bit of boring tech consulting here and there but it wasn't enough to cover the bills. I couldn't work up the motivation to do anything else. I was very deeply in debt.

Also, the guy offering me the job wasn't just any old employer. He had been living with my aunt for ten years or so, which made them common-law-married, I guess. I'd met him many times and thought he was an okay guy. In 1989 I'd spent almost a month in their house in Miami, just because it was a fun place to hang out. This guy went very far out of his way to grease the skids for me. He and my aunt let me stay in their house for the first three months I lived in Miami.

It was in many ways the best job I ever had. I have never been so excited to go into any office as I was the first six months I worked there. I lived and breathed and dreamed the telecom programs I wrote for that guy. One reason I lived with my aunt and "uncle" as long as I did was because I couldn't tear myself away from work long enough to find my own place to live. The other reason was extreme culture shock. For a guy who'd spent his whole life in the Midwest, Miami might as well be on another planet.

I made more than twice as much as I ever did in any job I ever had in Kansas. I was getting these huge paychecks, and for a long time I had no rent to pay, so I wiped out over ten thousand dollars' worth of debt in a matter of weeks. I paid off my car loan almost a year early. After that the money just kept piling up.

If it hadn't been for all those extraordinary circumstances I would have never left Kansas. That would have been the biggest mistake of my life. I would have stultified into a brain-dead unfulfilled troglodyte.

Looking back on it today, it was like I practically wasn't given any say in the matter. In every step of the process I had choices of course, but it always came down to one pretty good option and several intolerable ones. A path lit up for me on the ground and I followed it. I would have had to be openly self-destructive to do anything other than what I did.

That first telecom job did not end well. Several years earlier my mom had loaned my "uncle" money so that he and my aunt, my mom's sister, could buy the house they were living in. He had been making payments on the loan but then stopped for no good reason. He was making money hand over fist and had no excuse. To this day he still owes my mom enough money to buy a good used car. That was the end of me ever trusting him again.

My "uncle" wasn't very good at running his own company. All that goodwill that existed in the first year gradually dribbled away. The company grew quickly, but the magic was gone. The office turned into a bunch of warring fiefdoms. I stuck it out as long as I could, hoping against hope that things would get better, but I eventually had to quit.

Here's what I mostly did for the five years I lived in Miami: walked around my neighborhood in Coral Gables. That's the overall theme of the thousands of USENET posts I made during that period. I got other telecom jobs, and I was able to live comfortably by spending less than half of what I made. I used that leverage to try to get myself into bigger and better jobs. I was always working on some project or some angle I hoped would get me hired someplace cool. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

I didn't know it at the time, but what I was really doing was finding my own identity by slowly stripping away my screwed-up past. I needed to find out what I'm really like, apart from what other people were trying to make me into. I was decompressing, finding my own voice.

In my first few years of independence from my family, I wasn't so good at taking care of myself. Given my horrific childhood experiences with a sadistic orthodontist, I let my teeth go. I was in a movie theater with two friends watching "Fargo" when the molar in the very back of my head on the top left, "number one" to you dental aficionados, broke off. Incredibly, that still wasn't enough for me to get serious about the situation. My number two molar next to it broke off the next year. That was when I finally went to the dentist down the street from my house in Coral Gables.

You never go to just one dentist. It's always a CARTEL of dentists. There's the general guy you go to first, but he will send you to a specialist for anything unusual. Predictably, the general guy sent me to a specialist right down the street from him to get my number one molar stub pulled out. This particular cartel of dentists was starting to remind me of the mafia, so I didn't continue with them. It wasn't until last year that my suspicions about those guys were confirmed. The specialist had not removed all of my number one molar. There was still a piece of it stuck way up in my head.

The day my current dentist removed that final piece of molar was really something else. It felt like she was reaching all the way up into my brain. Despite my whole head being anesthetized I could feel that tooth-piece making its seemingly endless journey out of my mouth. It was the most erotic thing that's ever happened to me while fully clothed. I would go into more detail but I am embarrassed at having written that much.

It's experiences such as that one that have convinced me that pleasure and pain really are two sides of the same coin, as trite and predictable as that sounds. The thought of it has interesting side effects. I don't know anyone who's egotistical enough to claim she can cause intense pleasure at will, but causing intense pain is a no-brainer for anybody who can wield a blunt object.

Now I've got a bridge in the back of my mouth that covers the spot where those two teeth used to be. There was just enough left of the number two molar to anchor it to. I have to use these little blue "bridge threaders" to fish dental floss up in there. I hope I've learned my lesson.

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