Friday, December 14, 2012

credit, blame and feline dental hygiene

1. heavy objects

On Tuesday I looked at my day planner and saw that I’d written “no food or water after midnight.” I was confused. I’m not having surgery until the 19th (send good vibes that day, everyone!). Apparently I’m supposed to lay off booze and other blood thinners for a week prior—which really puts a damper on holiday cocktail parties—but food and water?

Then I realized this applied to Ferdinand. I’d made an appointment for him to get his teeth cleaned as part of my long Get Shit Done While I Can Still Lift Heavy Objects to-do list. So I ruthlessly denied him the meal known around our house as Second Dinner and drove him to our beloved ghetto vet in Lincoln Heights the next morning.

Ferdinand's gleaming smile. Sort of.
When I picked him up, the veterinary assistant—a woman I really like, because she’s friendly and smart and quick to hand out info sheets on how to read your cat’s blood work—said, “He did great. No extractions, just a lot of tartar.”

“Not bad for nine years old,” I said. “Especially since he’s never had his teeth cleaned before.”

“Wow, he’s nine?” she said. “A lot of cats who are four or five years old come in and need a bunch of extractions.”

I felt a small, misplaced sense of pride in Ferd’s superior mouth, as if I’d convinced him to floss every night. Mostly, though, I was glad to avoid the $15 per tooth extraction charge and a week of forcing antibiotics down his throat.

“I guess he has good genes,” I said.

“Does he let you brush his teeth?” she asked.

“No…well, we haven’t really tried.”

“Well,” she said, closing out my payment. “You must be doing something right.”

I wanted to argue with her: No! We’ve done nothing right when it comes to Ferd’s dental hygiene! Don’t you understand that some things are just genetic? Sometimes you can do everything right—or, like, ninety percent of things right—and exercise and avoid soy and maintain a healthy body weight except for the occasional writing residency where they serve pie every night and still get breast cancer in your thirties!

2. the psychology and economics of cheese

The other day, I read this essay by Melissa Petro, which also happens to be about visiting the dentist, but is mostly about the baggage of growing up poor. The dentist at the discount clinic tells her that $70 is not a lot of money for a cleaning, and she should save up.

Elsewhere in the story, she admits that, while she still earns a very low income in her adult life, she buys fancy cheese at Whole Foods, among other upper-middle-class indulgences. I couldn’t help but think that a few wedges of brie could add up to $70 pretty fast, and the dentist had a point. I thought that because I grew up middle-class, raised by parents who had their financial priorities in order: Invest in preventative medicine, education and real estate. Eat at home, buy clothes at Target and the Salvation Army, and take vacations to state parks.

But part of being poor is knowing that things like owning a home are probably permanently off limits, so why not eat the good cheese and enjoy life today? The future is precarious, so what’s the point of constantly investing in it? I can imagine that being told by a smug professional how to spend your money would hit a nerve. That’s Melissa Petro’s thing, the way the myth of health-related blame or credit is mine.

I used to take pride in my own good teeth. I floss and use a Sonicare. But while I’ve only had like three cavities in my life, I’ve also had bad gums since my mid-twenties. If I’m going to take credit for the teeth, I have to accept blame for the gums.

Once a hygienist told me that most people have problems with either their teeth or their gums, depending on the ph balance of their mouths. So now my philosophy about life is that if one thing doesn’t fuck you, something else will.

I don’t think anyone would file this under Positive Attitude, but it’s actually quite liberating. Lately I’ve been tossing back leafy greens and legumes while declaring, “It’s all voodoo, but it makes me feel a false sense of control.” A few people have pointed out that healthy eating is not voodoo, and obviously I must buy it on some level—hence the kale, which even Pitfire Pizza’s expert veggie chefs can’t make taste good.

This rabbit doesn't have breast cancer. Science must be true!
But I also know that my desperate kale consumption isn’t so different from trying to diet away my sexuality when I was fifteen. In a few months, I dropped to 107 pounds, stopped getting my period, grew a layer of peach fuzz on my lower back and received nothing but compliments from the bikini-obsessed citizens of Manhattan Beach. Later that year (and for the next few), I ate boxes of fat-free devil’s food cookies at a sitting and drank canned milk without diluting it and tried to cloak my sexuality in layers of fat. The guidance counselor called me into her office and asked if I was pregnant. A couple of my teachers had noticed how fast I’d gained weight.

Being skinny didn’t make me not gay. Being fat didn’t make me not gay.

I don’t think I’d be able to go on if I didn’t believe in some kind of free will or self-determination, but it’s not nearly as expansive as most Americans like to think, what with our eighty-five choices of peanut butter and two choices of political parties. I’m trying to accept that even if my fate isn’t pre-determined, the factors that will eventually determine it aren’t really up to me. I’m trying and sometimes failing. But even if dairy is probably bad for hormone-receptive breast cancers, I’m eating the good cheese. 


Anonymous said...

Life's too short not to eat the good cheese!

Claire said...

19th: good vibes for Cheryl. Check.

"healthy eating is not voodoo, and obviously I must buy it on some level..." It's true, healthy eating is good for you.

Even if it weren't, there have been studies on the placebo effect that show what you believe is good for you actually is.

It's not so much false control as taking what control you can. That's worth doing for your mental health.

Eating the good cheese is good too though. My dental hygienist is appalled that I like Dr Pepper, but I defended myself by saying, "I don't drink coffee! I only have maybe 1 glass a day and the rest of the time, I drink water."

"Do they make diet Dr Pepper?" she asked.

"Bleck! I don't drink that swill."

At this point, my dentist said, "You can't cut out everything all the time." I've always liked him. :)

Cheryl said...

Anon: I'm hoping, of course, that life ends up being rather long. But I know that even long lives are short. :-)

C: Well, according to some schools of thought, artificial sweeteners are worse for you than sugar anyway. The nice thing about ambiguous science is you can almost always find some to support your behavior. Drink up!

P.S. My dentist says he eats candy all the time. He just flosses immediately afterward.

Sizzle said...

Always eat the good cheese. I concur. I had a lot of these thoughts when I was diagnosed- and we've talked a little about that whole "deserving" thing that comes up. Bad shit happens to good people, even if they eat the kale (I personally love kale).

Expect your package this week! (Hopefully someone can get it from your work? Or should I break it up into smaller packages that can come to your house?)

Love & green smoothies. xo

Cheryl said...

I think my coworker can babysit it if it comes to my office; it just might be a few extra days till I get it. But thank you in advance!

And I think I might like kale in smoothie form. :-)

Alberto Brian said...

Checking in from Dallas with good thoughts, best wishes, and a lot of love!

Peter said...

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