“Your teeth bothering you, Jack? I know a guy who can take care of that. Rip ’em out. Give you a nice set of dentures. You’ll be able to eat a giant bowl of ice cream, walk through a wind tunnel, no problem.”
“What makes you think there’s something wrong with my teeth?”
“You look like you’re in pain.”
“That has nothing to do with my teeth.”
“Well, either way. Once your teeth start bothering you, don’t live with the grief, Jack. Too many people do that. They hold onto their teeth like they matter or something. Dentures set you free. I’d rip my teeth out tomorrow if only I had a nightstand. You need a nightstand. And a cup. I’m sure I’ve got a cup lying around somewhere. But a nightstand. You know how I hate clutter. The only way I’d have a nightstand is if it folded back up into the wall in the morning.”
I nodded. It’s no secret that CJ loves Murphy beds. He claims he’s never slept on anything else. His marriage broke up over a Murphy bed. He cannot abide anyone who does not see the endless merits of the Murphy bed. Luckily the phone rang before he started listing those endless merits.
It was a wrong number but I pretended to be listening long after they hung up. With the phone still at my ear I served a few while he drank a few. As soon as I put the phone down he beckoned me over with a cock of his head. I let it go. His did a double head cock. I let that one go too.
Finally he yelled out, “Here Jack, here’s his number.” I walked over and picked up the napkin. “Tell him you know me and maybe he’ll give you a break.”
On the napkin was scrawled the name Johnny and a number. I said, “Johnny. He doesn’t go by doctor?”
“Well, he’s only sort of a dentist.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I’m not so sure he went to dental school. But he definitely has his G.E.D. I saw that hanging on the wall. I think. It could have been a C.P.R. certificate. I know he took a course online. He said it was good for business.” “Does he have a chair?”
“He’s a total professional, Jack. He even gives you a mirror to hold if you want to see what he’s doing.”
“I would think most of his patients would go for that mirror. Where’s his office?”
“Well he kind of works out of his home.”
“Where’s his home?”
“Well he doesn’t really like anyone to know where he lives.”
Some guy on his third pint yelled out, “Hey, I’m looking for a dentist.” CJ looked at me. I nodded. CJ said, “He’s only sort of a dentist.” The guy didn’t seem fazed in the least.
He said, “Does he have a drill?” CJ nodded.
CJ grabbed his drink, walked over, and extended his hand.
“Tried to eat a giant bowl of ice cream, didn’t you?” Mitch nodded.
“But you’re drinking a cold beer.”
“God works in mysterious ways. So, tell me about this dentist of yours. Is he cheap?”
“The cheapest,” responded CJ. “But there are a few conditions.”
“Like what, no personal checks?”
“Well, yes, there’s that.”
“Twenty-four hour cancellation policy?”
“That, too. But there’s also, well, he kind of meets you somewhere.”
“It varies. And then he blindfolds you. When you get to his place the blindfold comes off, of course, and later he drives you back with the blindfold on of course, but then he takes it off so you can drive home.”
“No offense, but that doesn’t sound so good.”
“Well, that’s people’s first reaction. But once you analyze it you know it really does make sense. What do you do, Mitch?”
“I’m in construction.”
“Do you want all your customers knowing where you live?”
“Well no, but with a dentist it’s different.”
“Why? More accountability? Aren’t you accountable?”
“Yeah. But a blindfold.”
“He works out of his home. He wants his privacy. It’s no reflection on his work. Besides, the drive is never very long. And the blindfold is nice, soft. And he says he washes it after every appointment or at least at the end of the day or week, definitely once a month. And he plays classical music in the car.”
“I don’t know.”
“He can give you a whole new set of teeth for a couple of hundred bucks, five hundred tops.”
“Five hundred? What’s the catch? Are they from corpses?”
Mitch laughed. CJ laughed. Mitch laughed harder.
CJ said, “Yeah, like that embalmer from Colorado who was accused of stealing gold teeth from corpses and then pawning them for cash. Did you hear about that guy?”
Mitch shook his head. “I’ll tell you where he went wrong. He went wrong going to the same pawnbroker. I mean really, how many times can you show up with gold that looks like it was in somebody’s tooth.” Mitch laughed out, “Talk about drawing too much attention.”
CJ said, “That’s right. He said his father, or grandfather, was a dentist for years and had piles of old teeth he wanted to sell.”
Mitch said, “I don’t care if you’re Bill Gates’s dentist. Who the hell wants piles of old teeth around?”
“Jeffrey Dahmer,” replied CJ. Mitch laughed. “Right. Keep them in the fridge right next to the baking soda and the lowfat milk.” CJ laughed.
Mitch slapped his hand down on the bar. “What the hell. Give me his number.” CJ slid over a napkin.
As we watched a blindfolded Mitch get into the back of Johnny’s Crimson Pearl Eldorado I said, “He gets the teeth from corpses, doesn’t he?”
CJ nodded. Two weeks later Mitch walked in flashing a refrigerator smile that would give Tom Cruise a run for his money. Sure some of the teeth looked mismatched, but so what. He looked 10 years younger. And 20 years happier.
“CJ here?” I shook my head. “Well if you see him, tell him thanks and Johnny says hi.” Mitch headed for the door.
“No time for a pint?” Mitch flashed his beaming grill again and said, “Can’t. Got a date. First one in 20 years, Jack. She came up to me. Said I had a beautiful smile.” Mitch laughed. “Oh and tell CJ no hard feelings about me ending up with dead people’s teeth in my mouth. They ain’t talking. And neither am I.”
I poured myself a drink. It was early. But sometimes early is just on time. You know why I hate happy endings? Because I’m the only one who ends up drinking.
Kat O’Neill, the author of a series of “Uncle Jack” stories, has also written for the stage, screen, TV, and radio.