Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Numb from the Neck Up

As a junior in high school I needed quite a bit of dental work, including a root canal and a crown. To make my mouth affordable my parents sent me to the UMKC School of Dentistry. On twenty-two Monday afternoons in a row, I drove my Dad's 1974 Pinto Wagon from suburban Grandview down to 27th and Cherry, just off Paseo Boulevard in Kansas City. My appointments were usually over around 4:00 pm, so I got a crash course (pardon the pun) in rush hour driving.

One Monday was particularly memorable to me. It was the root canal. If you have had one, you know why they are not recommended for entertainment purposes. My student dentist, a nice third-year guy named Ron, was very thoughtful and sensitive to my pain. Each time I winced or jerked or twitched, he gave me yet another shot of Novacaine. By the time he was finished I was feeling no pain, completely numb from my eyes to my neck.

I headed home just as a heavy thunderstorm was blowing through the city. I tentatively steered my little Pinto onto Paseo, only to find that the storm had knocked out all of the stoplights in south KC. So, being a smart guy, I thought I had better get off the road until the storm passed and the lights started working again. Pulling into a rundown 7/11 with iron bars over all the windows, I determined to wait it out. Soon it occurred to me that Mom would be worried if I was late getting home and since it was years before cell phones, I dashed inside with my jacket over my head. There was a pay phone available and I dialed home.

When Mom picked up, I immediately realized my problem. I couldn't talk, at least not intelligibly. I guess I sounded kind of like the kid with the big lips on the Fat Albert cartoons. Mom thought it was an obscene phone call and hung up on me. I couldn't believe it. After a few minutes of practicing moving my mouth, I called again and did my best to make her understand. "Mum, mits me, Brew." Finally, she believed me and somehow made sense of my thick lipped dribble.

After I hung up, I felt some relief, being out of the traffic, safe from the storm, and square with my parents. I noticed that several people were standing around, also waiting on the weather to clear. Wanting to pass the time and actually not being such a smart guy after all, I decided to buy myself a Coke. It might have worked if I had used a cup and a straw, but the cans were cheaper and every nickel counted in those days.

I popped the top and began taking a big drink, not realizing that Coke was rolling down my chin, through my sweater, through my shirt and my t-shirt, finally soaking down to some part of my body that was not still numbed up. The large black man working the cash register stared at me and shook his head. A nice lady handed me some napkins from the hot dog counter. Others were wondering how I got away from the people who were supposed to be watching me. Not my proudest moment.

I do take some comfort in knowing that I'm not the only "numbskull" with embarrassing stories to tell. What about you?

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