After all, a dentist's office is no place for heroes. Or rock stars. In fact, toilet seats and dentist's chairs are the two greatest celebrity equalizers in Western civilization. Charlize Theron isn't quite so hot when she's dropping a deuce, and André 3000 isn't quite so badass when he's having his tartar buildup scraped off with a snow shovel.
I know not all dentists are sadists. It was, after all, a dentist who served John Lennon and George Harrison their first LSD-laced cups of joe. And we have "I Am the Walrus" and the Sgt. Pepper hoo-ha to show for it.
Yet most people fear the dentist like the White Stripes fear plaid. The pain pales beside the shame of inflamed gums. Yellow teeth. The fact that you haven't flossed since Ronald Reagan still knew he was Ronald Reagan.
I normally wouldn't let anyone spelunk in my pie-hole, but one of my crowns fell out. The subsequent pain led me to the Plaza doorway of dentist Thomas Anderson.
I entered Anderson's office expecting the gloomy sounds of humming drills and whimpering patients. I was greeted instead by Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." It might as well have been Handel's Messiah.
It was what heaven's dentist office would be like if JC, Vishnu and Muhammad were huge Journey fans with wicked-bad gingivitis. Music memorabilia hung on the wall -- guitar picks and drumsticks and ticket stubs and an autographed Emerson, Lake and Palmer T-shirt. Patients sat mesmerized as Led Zeppelin and Elton John DVDs howled from televisions on the ceiling.
Indeed, several touring musicians have called on Anderson to provide on-the-road dental care. The bands, in turn, have doled out autographs and concert tickets.
"We're all music enthusiasts," Anderson explains. "It's a language that everybody understands."
It also runs killer interference.
"It distracts our patients from the anxiety of being in a dentist's office," Anderson says. "You can block the pain channels by taking their mind off of what's happening in their mouth."
I sifted through Anderson's selections for my own personal Music to Suffer Unspeakable Pain By and decided against Neil Diamond, AC/DC, Sade, Fleetwood Mac and Norah Jones in favor of Pink Floyd's The Wall, figuring that images of goose-stepping hammers and deformed school children being turned into ground beef would be a nice complement for novocaine.
"Do you want the gas?" came the crucial question.
No, I want to take it like a man. Hellfreakingyeah, I want the gas.
A mask was secured over my nose. The nitrous began flowing. I settled in, optimistic that The Wall would finally make sense. Unfortunately, it wouldn't play, and I had to settle for Eric Clapton's 24 Nights. But as I huffed on the gas like a hysterical Lamaze instructor, I began to realize that Clapton was infinitely more frightening.
Particularly when Anderson hummed along to "Cocaine" as he jabbed and poked, wrist-deep in my jowls. "Dude!" he shouted when he got his first look at the craggy void where my tooth had been. I focused on Clapton singing "Pretending" as the masked faces stared down my gullet.
"How are you doing today?"
"Can you open wider for me?"
"Is that gas kicking in?"
Hooks scraped. Drills whined. Enamel burned. But I couldn't feel a damned thing. They could have been hooking jumper cables to my molars or replacing my lower jaw with the carburetor from a 1973 Thunderbird. My face was numb. I was drooling. My tongue lazily sparred with the vacuum tube. I giggled as Clapton told me my how wonderful I looked tonight. Somebody turned on the chair massager.
I suddenly adored my cavities. I yearned for long, romantic walks with my fillings. For that moment, I wasn't gawking at the subsequent bill or lamenting what a miserly bitch the Tooth Fairy was for tendering such below-market-value compensation for my bicuspids.
I just grinned stupidly, reveling in Clapton's whining guitar, oblivious to the screeching and scraping tools harpooning my gums. Maybe I hadn't needed the gas after all.