Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dr Baker

Last week I went to the dentist for the first time in nearly a decade.
I was terrified.

But Dr. Baker is no ordinary dentist. He spent an hour and a half talking to me about my teeth, my gums, the irreversible damage of my zealous over-brushing, and why using a toothpick is number one on his list of good hygiene. He complimented my professionally-straightened smile and sniffed the white fuzz, aka plaque, coming off my teeth. 'Wow! Not even a scent! You've got the best-smelling bacteria I've ever encountered!' His laugh is reminiscent of an animal's happy snort at meal-time. When I groaned about flossing, he merrily chimed, 'You don't have to floss. We can pull every other tooth, and then, no flossing necessary!'

After this initial appointment, in which he painstakingly explained my X-rays, the anatomy of the tooth, and why ballroom dancing is an act of spiritual worship, I returned two days later for a cleaning. Again, he was impressed. As he began round one (of three) with the tooth scalpel, he marveled at how little tartar had built up over all these years (the perk of my vigorous brushing which, if continued unabated, would eventually wear the enamel down to the nerve). When he came to those sensitive places, he instructed me to let him know if I felt ANY pain whatsoever; he is so concerned about hurting his patients that he takes a half-hour walk after each appointment, to de-stress.

Dr. Baker sees only three people a day. He has no secretary, and answers all phone calls himself. He refuses to hurry. 'You're the most important thing in my life right now,' he says as he gently brushes my teeth, and he means it. He does not accept insurance, charges the lowest prices in the county, and genuinely loves his practice. His office is cluttered with paperwork, photos of him and his 'sweetie,' and a stereo that plays soothing classical music. Even though he is razor-science-sharp, often referring to the periodic table that hangs on the wall, it is his roomy heart that is most impressive.

After I paid him the discounted $40 (for having easy-to-scrape teeth), he congratulated me on my upcoming wedding to M (whose teeth he knows well).

'I've seen the Grand Canyon,' he said, 'and Yosemite Falls when they are roaring. But nothing compares to the beauty of a bride on her wedding day.'

Monday, September 6, 2010

Full Circle

Seven years ago, a 24 year-old girl drove her dusty blue Volvo up through the straw-gold hills of Sonoma County for the first time. Already she loved the reliable sunshine and the fortune-scented air. She knew she could stay awhile.

She'd driven over the Golden Gate Bridge in such a state of awe that she'd immediately exited, turned around, and headed back over it, driving right through the alarming toll stop that demanded five dollars to enter San Francisco. With a Vermont license plate and a giddy invincibility, she soared down to the Marina beach to sift her fingers through the cold sand.

She had directions to take the Rohnert Park/Sebastopol exit, drive a ways down highway 116, turn right not too long after the Hard Core coffee shop. She guessed her new house-mates, a 60-something fading beauty queen and a 20-something Japanese journalist, would be nice. She hoped they'd give her space to unpack and settle immediately into her new room. The only way she knew how to land was with both feet, firmly planted.

Approximately seven minutes after pulling into the driveway of the pink bungalow house, she was on the cordless phone to her mother, her voice tear-shaken. She couldn't pinpoint what she didn't like exactly, but as soon as she walked into her new room, with only one window and a noxious Glade-scented air freshener plugged into the wall, she wanted to walk back out. It would take two months for her to find a studio of her own, high white walls and silver-sleek carpeting and the sunshine forever nosing in.

Those were blissful discovery times. The winding country wine roads smelling of tart cherries and sweet grass. The blazing heat giving way to a dry sun-down coolness she'd never felt before. The creeping night-time fog and nutty thrift store where she found a child's desk painted cream and red. The quiet Sebastopol nights, eating dried squid with Rio, making fun of bossy Gloria. Foxy, her vanilla-scented Volvo, taking her to the coast---saltwater taffy and gloomy chill and yet the Pacific more stunning than the Atlantic any day.

On campus at SSU, the late summer smelled of spice, a steady simmer. She gulped the evening air and got to her classes early. She lingered afterward to chat with her new cohort. Grad school felt like college all grown up, adults who wrote papers in the interim between work and cooking dinner for their kids. She'd stop for tacos on the way home, unlock her door and immediately turn on her new lap-top. Quick bites between mad typing, deleting, daring. The professor read her essay aloud to the class.

She thought maybe she could become a teacher AND a writer.