Thursday, June 28, 2018

"The Man Who Was Afraid To Laugh" by Tosh Berman (Detroit)

"The Man Who Was Afraid to Laugh"

Throughout my life, I have this fear of opening my mouth in front of others.  My teeth are both twisted, broken, with much space apart from the other teeth.  My face is OK, but when I expose my mouth, the inner ugliness comes out like sand pouring out of an hourglass.   Everyone notices but they pretend not to notice, which of course even makes me feel more horrible about my mouth existence.  

I now have three dental people I see on a regular basis.  The process is painful, just for the sole reason I loathe to open my mouth to another, even to a professional.  All three have acknowledged my ugliness, and they told me that my appearances would never be perfect, but better.  I have become so comfortable in a sense, with my awkward mouth, that I consistently cover it with my hand while talking. I can’t even stand eating in public because I can feel the prying eyes looking at me as I eat a sandwich or a piece of pasta.   Due to the space between teeth, I often spit or droll as I munch on something.   The worse is always eating in front of children because they have no social skills in such a manner, where they often ask why my teeth are so crooked?   I never can answer due to my shame. 

I often dream of having a tooth fall out while I’m in public, in fact, it has happened a few times. To be fair, it’s just a cap, but the first thing that comes to my mind is the embarrassment of this happening in front of another, and then a few seconds or minutes later, I realize I can’t chew anymore.  To feel so vulnerable in such a manner is unbelievably a horror show.  

I have requested my dentist team to make me a mouth like Conrad Veidt’s character in the 1928 film “The Man Who Laughs.”  He plays Gwynplaine, and as a child, a comprachico, which is someone who can transform growing children, in such a manner like controlling a plant to become a bonsai, which is a practice to mutilate the plant.  So, in that sense, a comprachico can make a small child’s spine straight or even take their memory away, so they don’t recall the operation or practice.   In the film, a comprachico made a permanent smile on Gwynplaine’s face.  

My dental team in Los Angeles suggested that I go to Detroit for my dental operation, and I agreed to do so.   The dental office is at the Fisher Building on Grand Avenue, and it is the Empire State Building in Detroit.  Art Deco designed, and meant to be grand (and being on Grand Avenue), but the vision was never finished due to the Great American Depression.  Still, a remarkable building, and I’m happy to go there to meet my comprachico. 

My dental team suggested the firm ‘Cole Swift and Dentists’ due that they work on patients as if they were a car on an assembly line.   I visited their office on the 7th floor, and I was struck by their office decor, which has images of teeth on its off-yellow walls, but also a photograph of a Ford plant from the 1930s.  When I asked why, it seems that Dr. Swift’s family came from the world of Ford plants, and based his operation here as the role model to follow.   The other thing I notice is that I’m the only customer or patient in this office.  That, and also they had several issues of “Dentistry Today” lying around the waiting room. 

To finance my series of operations, I agreed to have an exclusive relationship with the publication.  Usually, they interview the dentists and lab technicians, but I’m going to be the first patient for a feature in “Dentistry Today.”   It’s unusual that a patient would expose themselves to the media, especially a publication that is focused on dentistry.  The shame of being older, slightly on the ugly side, is an unusual subject matter for such a publication.  Since they were willing to pay me, or at the very least give me a discount, had a big impact on me to ‘come out” and face the facts about my dental care, and the appearance of my teeth and mouth.  

Dr. Cole Swift opened the door, which is the entrance to a hallway.  He takes me to a large room, with a dental chair. I immediately took the seat, after shaking the hand of Dr. Swift.   He told me that the operation would take two hours, and the women here are his assistant as well as a photographer from “Dentistry Today.”  There is also another woman who is a journalist for the magazine.  Perhaps due that I’m a man, and about to have a severe procedure, I felt uncomfortable having women photographer and journalist there, but I made the deal, and at the time I didn’t write in the contract in what gender I wanted to cover my operation.  The truth is, my shame has to be exposed and to be embarrassed with my condition in front of these professional women in their field, is something that I’m going to have to live with.  

My life has been one mishap after another, especially with women.  I know I have lost a lot of love due to my appearance, and now, I’m at the moment in my life, where everything will change.  Dr. Swift told me a few days ago that there is no way I will ever look normal.  The thing is, it’s best to have a mouth that expresses one’s inner being.  I have seen several drawings and plans, and although it’s radical, I do feel that the new look will express my inner needs.   I never laughed in front of anyone, but from now on, I will never be self-concerned about my laughter and who is in the room with me. 

-Tosh Berman, Detroit June 2018

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