Monday, November 16, 2009

I don't like the sound of this

The CD player in my car has been broken for awhile now. This came on top of the demise of the six-CD changer that the car used to have as well, which means my 2003 Nissan is depreciating at a rate of more than one CD per year.

(I realize that I've already used the terms depreciating and CD a combined six times already, meaning this post could very well be stumbled upon by business-minded people scouring the Web for the latest financial news. If so, sorry. But since you're apparently well-versed on investment matters, can any of you help me set up my 401K? Thanks!)

The result has been that I've been spending a lot of time listening to regular, old, terrestrial radio. I say terrestrial to differentiate it from satellite radio, and not to imply that there is another sort of radio produced by extra-terrestrials. Because I believe, having heard the evidence, that most terrestrial radio itself is being broadcast by aliens.

It must be! Have you heard any of this stuff in awhile? You'd have to have grown up light years away in outer space (or, perhaps, in someplace like Sneedville, Tennessee) to think that any of the stuff on the air is remotely entertaining.

There's very little music on the radio any more, to make room for at least 15 minutes of commercials every hour and the morning talk shows, each of which with two co-hosts who go into peals of fake laughter every time one of them tells the same fart joke they've been using since 1985.

You'll hear one or both of these guys out later in the day after some dire news jingle that makes you believe there's major breaking local news like a massacre of some kind that might have an impact on traffic patterns, making you late for dinner. But no. Instead, you hear one or both of the morning DJs speaking on an old cell phone or a World War II-era walkie talkie or some other needlessly low-grade piece of audio equipment, interviewing the owner of some car dealership or housing development.

They'll tell you that if you come down in the NEXT 15 MINUTES to Honest Otto's Dodge, Subaru, Cadillac, Chrysler, Daimler, DaimlerChrysler, AMC, Fiat, and Peaceful Lakeside Villas, you can have a new car and house for just $999,999.99 plus taxes, fees and mob favors. And dammitall, you can't get there, because the downtown massacre has jammed up the freeway!

Then of course there are the news talk stations that have crept onto the FM side, giving you 15 new ways every hour to tell if your mother is a Communist. And then there's sports talk, which usually goes like this:

Host: Let's open up the phone lines:
Caller 1: I have a question about the Jets secondary. Do they suck as bad, or worse than the all-time suckiest defensive unit?
Host: That's an insulting question. Everyone agrees that the Jets have the worst secondary of all time. If you did your homework, like me, and really knew sports, like I do, you'd know how bad the Jets secondary really is. Back to the phones.
Caller 2: What do you think about the game this Sunday?
Host: Oh, it should be no contest. Jets 50, Broncos 0. The Jets secondary really knows how to play!

When you finally do find a station that's playing music, chances are it's nothing you're excited to hear. That's because most of the stations that still play music have a rotation of no more than eight songs, all of which you've already heard 20,000 times on Cheez Whiz commercials.

The songs are performed by no more than three artists per station, all of whom are either the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, wives, mistresses or major creditors of record company executives.

Of course that's just the artist who gets credited. The actual music is played by machines that take elements of earlier songs and mix them up so that they can be repackaged in a familiar but not entirely recognizable new tune, taking special care not to make any song last longer than three minutes. That would bump into the live remote, which would then spill over into "drive time," angering the advertisers who had paid for a solid block of commercials from 5 to 7 p.m.

The only thing that keeps me listening, other than the hazards of other in-car diversions such as reading, is the hope that I'll get lucky enough, as I do about once a week, to hear a song that I like. You know, one that puts me in a upbeat mood, and makes me remember the good old days.

Then I realize that unlike the good old days, which happened to be when I had a six-CD changer, I cannot skip past the needless synth solo that takes up the entire middle part of the song, and by the time that's over, I'll be out of the signal range for this station. So wait, why do I listen again?

Oh yeah, that's right. So I can be Caller No. 7 and win a deluxe, air-compression whoopie cushion signed by both of the morning DJs and an official Swastika-themed mug from the news-talk host, plus a chance to sit in-studio and marvel at how the sports guy can drink 18 beers during his show and never have to get up to go to the bathroom. I knew there had to be a reason for listening!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fear of dentists is entirely justified

So yesterday I went to the dentist for the first time in about five years. It wasn't my intention for it to have been so long, but, a lack of insurance, a move to a new state, unfamiliarity with local dentists, and a lack of enthusiasm for the inevitable dental harangue combined to fuel my avoidance. Even when I regularly visited the dentist growing up, the conversation while I was in the chair usually went like this:

Dentist: Hmmm. Have you been brushing?

Me: Of course. Every day.

Dentist: Hmmm. You should really brush your teeth two times a day, if not three.

Me (to myself): Crap! I forgot he wanted to hear me say that I spent at least three-fourths of my day brushing my teeth! Better make up for it on the flossing question!

Dentist: And how often have you been flossing?

Me: Every hour, on the hour.

Dentist: Hmmm. Looks like I need to get the hygienist in here to show you a better way of flossing your teeth.

Me (to myself): Dammit, I overshot it.

Dentist: You have two cavities. I'll need you to come in two more times because I can only do one at a time, for some asinine reason. And we'll be numbing your mouth both times, of course, so you won't be able to eat or know whether or not you just swallowed your tongue or not for several hours afterward. All because you didn't dedicate your life to brushing and flossing like I did, you worthless schmuck.

OK, so I made that last part up. But needless to say I never enjoyed going to the dentist. It didn't help that virtually all of my forbears came from England, where the people are genetically predisposed to all sorts of oral horrors. I would always have at least one cavity every time I went to the dentist, whether I brushed vigorously or not. Then all of a sudden the cavities started to stop happening. I chalked this up to there being no possible place on any of my teeth that hadn't already been filled. It was around this time that I stopped going to the dentist.

I continued to walk around with my weird-looking, metal-filled teeth for years until recently, when my wife, Cindy, encouraged me to start going to the dentist again. This seemed like a pretty good idea, largely because I had forgotten what going to the dentist was like, but also because deep down, I was pretty sure whatever non-filled corners of my teeth still in existence would probably be rotten enough to rise up against the fillings and have some kind of nasty turf war, like a gang. Opposed as I am to gunplay in my jaw area, I decided to book a dental appointment for yesterday. This was a big mistake.

Soon after I was seated in that half-recliner, half-spitoon dental chair, and fitted with the creepy metal apron so they could X-ray my mouth, my new dentist and hygienist were having very nervous conversations about what they had just seen in my mouth. They gathered around the counter behind the chair and seemed very concerned, but it was hard to tell amidst the medical jargon.

"This is definitely a Grade-3 occlusion!" the dentist said.

"I'm not sure," the hygienist replied. "The axial something-or-rather is all the way over there."

"But what about the mandible occlusory thingamajig?" the dentist shot back. "How will we charge him thousands of dollars for that?"

"Oh, just slap on the double-axial occlusion-mandible surcharge," said the hygienist, with a laugh. "He won't know the difference!"

Just as I whipped my body around in the chair so I could see what was going on, the dentist started speaking to me in language I could understand.

"You have a very pronounced underbite. We'd like to break your jaw in a couple of places so you can bite down properly."

I said nothing, convinced that the dentist had somehow wandered into the wrong office and would soon realize that, no, I wouldn't need to have major maxillofacial surgery, of course not! The guy in the next room has to have it! And we'd all have a good laugh about it while the guy in the next room overheard us and peed his pants.

The dentist was apparently sufficiently appalled by my lack of dedication to my oral health that he called in another dentist to have a look. He marveled at my underbite, giving me a pat on the shoulder while he looked over the X-rays. As he peered into my mouth, I was pretty sure that if there was a third dentist on staff, he or she would have a hard time believing her colleagues when they told him about this new patient who walked into the office the other day.

Dentist 1: So you should have seen this guy. His mouth was full of occlusions!

Dentist 2: Yeah! And all his axials looked like little gummy bears!

Dentist 3: No way! I don't believe it. The British tourists don't show up until January.

As it turned out, the second dentist actually dissuaded the first dentist from prescribing jaw surgery, presumably because the money he would earn from that surgery, on top of my root canal and crowns, would push him into a new tax bracket. Good dental practices don't just involve cooperation on oral health matters. The dentists also serve as each other's financial consultants. The final bill turned out to be about $10,000, but luckily I have insurance, so that figure gets cut down to $5,000, or roughly 10 times what I can afford to pay. I suppose I'll have to get the root canal, about which I am obviously giddy, but I'll probably wind up saving the crowns for later, leading to conversations like this at six-month intervals:

Dentist: Hmmm. So how about those crowns?

Me: No, not yet.

Dentist: How often have you been thinking about those crowns?

Me: Every day.

Dentist: Hmmm. You should really be thinking about those crowns two or three times a day. That's how often I've been thinking about the new yacht I want to get.

Me: What are you talking about?

Dentist: Occlusions. Axials. Never mind. Say, I think we need to perform some emergency surgery on your jaw.

Me: What?!

Dentist: Breathe deeply into this mask ...