Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reflections on Metal

Two full years ago, I made a sort of rash decision to get braces. While my friends get married and have kids, move to far-flung cities, get masters degrees, start careers, my two years of having a mouth full of metal is the longest running consequence of a decision in my adult life. And tomorrow, they’re coming off.

I had braces once before when I was a kid. When they came off, I was left with a permanent retainer that ended up doing more harm than good. By the time 2005 rolled around, I had a pretty gnarly snaggletooth right in the front of my mouth. Now, I never measured with a protractor, but I’d say it jutted out of my mouth at a degree roughly parallel to the ground. This had the effect of giving the usually wrong impression that I was snarling, as my upper lip would sometimes hang out on my tooth ledge. Couple that with the faraway gaze that is my standard facial expression, and I’m surprised anyone ever talked to this apparently bored and snarling girl.

As my teeth have been slowly moving in my skull, I’ve been casually observing a dental trend that I find quite shocking: whitening. I spent years smiling with my lips closed, demurely covering my mouth with my hand so as not to alarm anyone who, by virtue of engaging me in conversation, might find themselves staring down the barrel of my snaggletooth. Meanwhile, public figures (and more and more private ones, it seems) have no qualms about exposing others to what has to be a harmful degree of UV light shining off their whitened teeth. Around the time I had my first set of braces, a local Milwaukee weatherman, John Malan, came to my elementary school to terrify me with pictures of tornado-producing clouds that were, to my untrained eye, exactly like the ones in the sky outside the classroom window. But I also remember him talking about something called albedo, which is apparently the degree to which light reflects off stuff. In John Malan’s example, it was snow. He talked about snow’s albedo being great enough to cause momentary blindness when you look right at it. You can now experience the same phenomenon by accidentally looking directly at the teeth of your favorite celebrity or politician or hairdresser. I’m always grossed out by this unnatural whiteness, and, further cementing my place in the ranks of ueber-nerds, will sometimes throw my hand up as the local news anchors smile at me from the TV or from billboards along the freeway, shouting, “Albedo! Ahhh…ahhh….ah-ah.”

I know other people are put off by this trend, because they flat-out say it when they ask about my braces. “Your teeth look fine,” they’ll say. “Why did you think you needed to get braces? Everybody thinks they have to have perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth these days.” And I have to stop myself from saying, “Oh, yeah? You don’t know how lucky you are right now. You could be locking eyes with Ol’ Snaggle right now. And believe me, he’s trying to get at you. You’d better be glad these metal bars are keepin’ him back, ‘cause he’s got your scent now.” I may have just cross a line by giving my tooth eyes and a nose, but watch me soldier on, because I have a point.

See, as much as I have been dreaming of this day—well, the day that comes after this one, Friday, the day I get my braces off—the looming event has created a bit of very deep anxiety about my identity. When I got these dental shackles, I was two years less removed from college and that phase of your life when you’re supposed to be finding yourself. Now I’m in that part of my 20s that can’t even be rounded down to “mid.” And for these two years, I’ve had a very physically apparent cue that I’m a “work in progress.” There’s been a freakin’ scaffold on my face. At some level, I could always laugh off an awkward social encounter, my inability to cook, my hundreds of dollars in parking tickets; I could just dust off my ass after literally falling down, smile a broad, metallic smile, shrug and say, “Still under construction.” But when the scaffolding comes off tomorrow, for all anyone knows, I’m done. This is the way I intend to be.

And I’m reminded of a very modern-looking church just built near where I went to high school. They were working on it for months, and it was another few months before anyone realized it was actually done, that all those different colored walls were meant to be that way. It was January when I realized the scaffolding was down and it was a finished building. There was a thick blanket of snow on the field around the church, and I had just flung my hand up and was about to shout, “Albedo!” when I noticed parishioners walking into the fully functioning church. I slowly lowered my hand and squinted through the light reflecting off the snow. “Huh. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, I guess.” I squinted a little bit harder at the church’s red and brown and gray and white walls and its odd angles and small windows, and I thought, “Seriously?”

Friday, November 2, 2007

Okay, I get it!

I am attracting some bad, bad enviro-mojo with my shitty car. I took it in for an oil change the other day, something I had been putting off for a while because my car's "check submarine" light has come on again, and I really didn't want to know the reason this time. Turns out, it's the same old reason: the catalytic converter isn't converting anything, certainly not horrible pollutants to less-harmful ones. The last project I did at work today was about alternative energy, so Mother Earth was already on my mind. Plus, the leaves are all multicolored and falling and swirling, and I was all, "Whoa, beautiful Nature, with a capital N."

And then Mother Nature screamed at me, "Oh, you like nature, do you? That's rich!" And she fucking threw someone's recycle bins at my car! A gentle breeze hypnotically swirled these many-colored leaves before my eyes, and then, just when I was lulled into a dreamy complacency (hey, my eyes were still on the road), that breeze suddenly turned into a gust of admonishing wind and smashed these two blue recycle bins into the driver's side door.

Jeesh. Get a grip, Nature.