I’m always breaking my teeth. Sometimes in the front, sometimes in the back. Lately I’ve been breaking teeth that I’ve already broken.
Which is why I’m in Marina del Rey getting my temperature taken, being reclined until I’m supine and in front of a TV.
“We have Netflix!”
I decline the offer. The x-ray tech leaves but the TV plays to spite me. It’s an Asian woman in her 20s on the balcony of a Hollywood Hills home with her mother who’s pinching her daughter’s nipples in anticipation of a photoshoot.
“Great show!” My dentist says before pinning my tongue into submission.
My dentist, who has red hair and is alarmingly upbeat, injects my gums for the sixth time. “Most patients are usually very numb by this point.” Staring into the nearly blinding light above I wonder, do I have a high tolerance for pain medication or a low tolerance for my teeth being chainsawed? My jaw involuntary snaps. “Let’s take a break!”
She brings me to my full and upright position and I pull out my phone. The first thing I see is that someone I once worked with has died.
My dentist asks if I’m okay. She was probably referring to the tooth but it’s too late before I realize that. So I tell her.
In 2012, I had just started working in TV as an Executive Producer’s assistant. One night, I made my way from video village to a room off of the soundstage floor that looked like where you might serve out detention in middle school. Linoleum floor, unforgiving fluorescent light. But it smelled like burnt coffee. Tables on each side were covered with prepackaged snacks, wilting Costco croissant sandwich, hardboiled eggs. This was craft services and I was basking in the purgatory of not being hungry but also being bored until I felt someone grab my ass.
I turned around and was face-to-face with a nearly 90-year-old woman wearing a fruit basket on her head and chiquita banana lady costume. She cocked an eyebrow and stared me down. She wasn’t tall but she was intimidating. She was Cloris Leachman.
I had never met her before despite having seen her on set countless times. I just kind of froze, as you do, when Cloris Leachman has grabbed your ass in craft services. Then she smiled, impossibly wide, laughed, maybe even cackled, and walked away. In my head she always said, Welcome to Hollywood, kid. But I don’t think she actually did. I think it was a test and I’m fairly certain I was too stilted to pass.
My redheaded dentist tells me: She must’ve liked you.
But before I can say, That wasn’t really the point. She pegs my tongue to the side and says, “We actually – sad story – our cleaning lady died. Covid.”
Behind my goggles I try to convey my condolences.
“And the sad part is – she probably got it here.”
She unbridles my tongue. “Your new crown should be ready in an hour, so if you have some errands to run, we can text you when it’s ready!”
I’ve really got to stop breaking my teeth.