July 17th, 2008
When it comes down to real pain, pain that twists, I haven’t had my fair share. But I’ve had some. One time, the last time I was adventurous, I drove a go kart around a cauliflower-shaped track at a Club Med resort in the islands, the whole time with the pedal licking the floorboard. We--the cart and I, for we were as one beautiful organism--took a turn at top speed, flipped, then did a magnificent airborne cartwheel which I finished by flying across the gravel using my belly as a sled. That hurt.
Once, in Venice, the gum over my left incisor swelled up like a spongy red button, full, I’m told, of thriving, probably hunter and gatherer-level, societies of bacteria. Pushing that button--not even pushing: whispering against it--made tears squirt out of my eyes, instantly.
I had met a girl in Italy. My life meandered in a hazy dream between make-out sessions. Dental anguish be damned. During a break from Italian class, while we were engaged in the age-old sport of the young, a simultaneous struggle to swallow the other’s head, she pulled back and her mandible impacted my incisor. The pain knocked me out of the bed like a lead pipe to the face. I panted against the wall and moaned—then we made out some more.
Healthy teeth seldom swell up. Later, doctors suggested filling the root with hot resin. I opted to be awake for the surgery, why not. So I, under a local anesthetic, watched a doctor and nurse spread my lips to the circumference of my neck and use my mouth as a vase for all sorts of long metal instruments. They dug a little shaft into the tissue in the maxilla, rooted around in there and discovered the bacteria, who were now entering a very tiny Bronze Age. These should not be here, they decided, and so they began excavating the colony.
I then realized the anesthetic did not work. But I was out to prove something, so I just wrapped my fingers around the armrests tighter. The digging, involving tools that raked, scraped, and sliced, progressed. I did not moan, did not weep. I did, the surgeon told me afterwards, start to tear up, which is why he decided to re-anesthetize the gums. A braver man might have protested.
Also once, at age four or five, I was on a swing in my grandfather’s backyard and a branch cracked off high above and brained me. I fell off. I touched my head. It felt like someone had smothered my hair with cold cherry cobbler. I cried. Dad laughed. It’s been twenty years or so, and looking back, I finally see the humor.
These form my repertoire of painful experiences.
None of these, even accounting for the time gone by, separated or together, come close to this evening, when I endured thirty minutes of the Mamma Mia! soundtrack while browsing in Barnes and Noble. “This must drive you nuts,” I told a thin blond girl stacking the shelves. “Yes, and this is only the first time we’ve played it,” she said.
After I got home to Pentagon City, I swung by the Borders, a much better store. Latin pop, for five minutes--annoying yes, but not as bad as the CD that came on afterwards, which was, of course, The Mamma Mia! soundtrack. Where the fuck is the Antitrust Division?
I made for the door, but my feet stopped.
Yes, Money, Money, Money is awful, really awful, Cthulhu-awful. But there’s something alluring in that awfulness. Oh, captivate my heart, you Swedish sirens! Or maybe you’re Danish, I missed that Behind the Music. Whatever--take me to your Waterloo! Shiatsu my brains to jelly!
No. No! I stumbled out into the mall, panting.
I pass the test. I will diminish, and go into the West. The prophecies predict I’ll have stopped whistling Fernando by then.