On a dreary Boston evening, on the last day of April in 1996, I finished packing a suitcase, kissed the walls of my beloved Beacon Street basement hovel goodbye and climbed into a cab headed to Logan Airport with my best friend E. and two cats.
Our hearts were heavy, our eyes were moist, the cats were drugged. After nearly two years of a "Friends"-like existence earning my master's degree at Emerson College and working at Houghton Mifflin, I was leaving behind the first city I had ever loved and the people in it to start over in San Francisco. You see, I had accepted a marriage proposal (an unimpressive proposal, but I digress. Maybe I'll write about it some time).
E. and I toted the crate o' cats over to the pet check-in, where an unsmiling woman asked, "Have they got water?" "Um, no," I responded. (Actually, I'd found their carrying crate in an alley in the Back Bay, which I trolled every trash day eve to recoup the objects discarded by my rich neighbors. [Thus earning from E. the nickname "Trash Picker."] I furnished my apartment in this manner. Anyway, the previous owner of the crate had not discarded the attachable plastic water bowl with it.)
"I can't check them in without water," the clerk said dispassionately, shaking her head. My emotional state was about to crack into territories. "Well, what can I do?" I asked.
E., ever the "take charge, save-the-shit problem solver," said, "There must be something we can do. Can we buy a bowl?"
The woman pursed her lips, furrowed her brow and said skeptically, "Mmmm ... it has to be a specific type. I don't think we have any spares. If I can find one, maybe ..."
"So what if we send them without water?" I asked, thinking that surely, if the cats were to be handled in any manner akin to how they treated bags, the water would slosh out anyway.
The woman stared at me as if I had just said, "OK then, do you have a sharp blade I can borrow so I can just slice their throats right here?"
"They must have water," she said stonily.
"OK, so can you please see if you can find a spare bowl?" I pleaded.
The woman radioed someone, no doubt Animal Care & Control -- if not the police -- and spoke in hushed tones that I was sure were describing my flagrant irresponsibility and undeserved cat-momitude. If she'd had the authority, I felt at that moment, she would say, "No cats for you!" in the manner of Seinfeld's soup nazi.
"Yeah, we have one," she said a few moments later.
With the threat of having to delay my flight behind me, I felt a sudden affection for this woman. "So, they're going to be OK, right? I mean, I've never flown with them before. It'll be fine, won't it?"
She looked up at me, met my eyes and said, "Probably."
"Probably?" I (probably) shrieked. "Animals fly all the time! They'll be fine, won't they?"
At this point, truly disgusted with having spent so much time with us, she sighed and said, "Let me put it this way: I wouldn't fly my cats on this airline."
I was put in mind of this woman, whom E. and I despise to this day, while getting my teeth cleaned today.
Now, don't get me wrong: I love my dentist. But that medical craft has bedeviled me my whole life, and so I am always in hyper-aware mode while lying back in the chair, mouth open, tray of lethal weapons at the hygienist's disposal.
First, she wanted to review a letter from a root canal specialist to whom they had referred me three years ago. "It says here that your one front tooth is 'non-vital' and a root canal is recommended."
"Dr. X told me that it was a valid decision to wait and see if it gives me pain or gets loose before opting for surgery," I said, clearly to her disapproval and/or disbelief.
She proceeded to measure my gum pockets and the recession of my gums. When she'd finished calling out all the numbers, I asked what they meant.
"Well, ideally, you would have only 2's and 3's," she said, knowing that I'd heard her call out a number of 4's in the back of my mouth. "And as for the gum recession, ideally you would have none."
She brought one of my bottom front teeth to my attention. "That's a 2, and if it recedes any further, well ..."
"Well, what? There's always something you can do, right?"
"Mmmm ... a graft. But you don't have to worry about that until it gets to be a '3.' "
I was relieved. Painful it might be, but it was available -- a graft!
Now that the specter of losing my front tooth was behind me, I said collegially, "I guess these days, there's always something you can do to save a tooth."
She screwed up her nose. "Well, not always," she said, explaining that sometimes there isn't sufficient integrity of the bone to hold an implant.
"I guess there's always dentures," she said. "Of course, that's not optimal if you want to enjoy your food and be able to speak properly and such ..."
With no E. there to defend me, I just closed my eyes and thought of the pet check-in clerk and resigned myself to the comfort that my teeth wouldn't be falling out anytime soon. Probably.