I nodded. I’d had someone push and trim along my gum line with a hideous instrument before, it had gone fine. Nerve pain in a tooth is the worst, and my tooth is dead, R.I.P., left lateral incisor. “Uh-huh-huh,” I said, and gave him the thumbs-up.
In Kansas City, I had a dentist who never gave me a filling, he “helped” me out. The Russian man, here, is not much on following the spittle on the sides of my mouth. He’s not much on having an assistant. He’s done almost everything all by his lonesome. He does cock his head and look at my tooth like it’s a haute couture piece, though, and I like that.
Two days before, I was sitting with a martini at gold-dipped Bemelman’s bar in the Carlyle Hotel, being served by a man in a white jacket. We sat behind the piano, where the piano’s glossy back arched away from us, as if it were going to dive back in. Every song you could call a “standard,” the man played, one by one by one, Old New York, he was hidden behind the piano, by its top up, we were shielded by the piano from the doorway to the lobby, the airlock to the world, if you could call Madison Avenue “the world.”
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I had lots of time, ideas, a million adventures at my fingertips; I am unemployed and have the money I have to look at and watch trickle. I needed a root canal and a crown; I asked for help with this and it was kindly granted. Financial help, that is, in the chair, with my mouthful of drills, I have only the alphabet to imagine places I’m glad I’m not trapped: A, an attic B, a basement. C, a cliff dwelling. D, a death chamber. I wasn’t great at this game.
It was the next day that the Bemelman’s day ended– I was with a visiting friend and we, as usual, took everything way too far– I stepped into a train car which had four men in it. Two of them were passed out, and the other two looked about to pass out. It was two a.m. I take the subway whenever I want. I have never had a bad experience. As with walking barefoot, I’ll have to have a bad experience to stop doing it, and I’m still walking barefoot all kinds of filthy places.
When I got close to home, I bought chocolate chip cookies and water from the newsstand. Had to walk a ways. Down our boulevard, which always has cars. Which at three a.m., has another couple of guys sleeping on park benches. I tiptoed past them.
The very next day I walked the same street in the daylight. Instead of a big moon, the trees were presiding. Instead of being heavy shadow clouds protecting us, the trees were out and explained by day.
I passed a cardboard box of books on someone’s stoop. There was a children’s book titled, Squids Will Be Squids. I took it.
I got to my writing space, and I found a book about an aircraft carrier. I left the squid book and took the aircraft carrier book. I think it’s okay to take books from there. What writer wouldn’t want a book borrowed, to be read?
In the ladies’ room at the Carlyle, I washed my hands and put on lotion because it was fancy Carlyle lotion, and it did smell like rich people.
“Do you have a ponytail holder?” this woman asked me. I was fumbling through my bag looking for my lipstick. Having had a martini prevented me from finding the lipstick.
“I don’t, I’m sorry. They should have a vending machine for those. I always need one, too.”
She had white grey hair, and a long black dress. “I just need to pull this up,” she said, and went into a stall.
“Uh,” I said. “Do you need help?”
“No, no,” she said. She came out. “I just think this would be better with hair up.”
“Well, it looks great,” I said. ‘Those feathers!” Her necklace was made of feathers and white and grey beads, pointing and fringing away from her face, toward her décolletage. “They look great with your hair!”
I was free from the worst job I ever had, from the avalanche of need of my students, from the terror of losing my job, from alarm clocks, from what was happening. I was under the thumb of the calendar, my email inbox, from what I want to write but have to force myself to sit down and write, and from what could happen.