My father’s dental insurance, under which I was covered, stoically saw my orthodontic needs as an elective, arguing that straight teeth was essentially cosmetic in nature. After a few bureaucratic forms of standard legal counsel, they resigned to paying a percentage of what would be a costly, and painfully long, corrective procedure on not only my teeth, but entire jawline. I had a notable overbite and disarrayed teeth; nothing of “freakish” nature, but definitely in the disquieting camp. After everything, the estimate bill was $4,500, over which my father visibly and verbally lamented, at times looking at me and sighing. He, like his employer’s dental insurance, considered the whole lot unnecessary. I could still chew, and wasn’t planning on being a model anyways. It was my mother, my sole advocate at the time, who forced my father to pay.
And so, for the next four years, every three weeks or so, my teen cranium found itself lodged between two enormous breasts—I can’t remember her name, and barely her face—a stately yet beautiful woman of Eastern European descent, my wonderful dentist. Lest one be concerned about some sexual harassment at bay, she only duly placed my head inside her breasts with professional reserve, using it (my head) as an anchor by which to prop herself up in order to gain leverage into my quivering mouth. Were it not for the extreme uncomfort, and the occasional gum laceration during distracted small talk, I may have fallen in love. In darkness, my neck gear pulling my sore maxilla deep towards me, a languid stream of drool finding its path down my neck, I often fell asleep between her tits in my mind. Nightmares became dreams, whose irrational plots faded to white when the alarm clock sung. I never liked mornings, it hurt to smile.
A few weeks ago, at the coffee cart where I get my coffee every morning, an elderly man in a wheelchair sat hunched over a pool of newly vomited milk. I presumed, as I still do, that he just had milk—or, possibly but unlikely, an au lait or latte, both French concoctions incorporating a lot of milk—as it was virginal white. There were a few chunks of residual breakfast, nothing to be stunned about. The elderly man looked like Irving Zisman, Johnny Knoxville’s old man character in Jackass, so for two seconds the possibility of being pranked inhabited me. A closer look established that it wasn’t Knoxville under a mask, but a depleted old man under the mask of skin, his skull scurrying from within towards the slit of death. An elderly woman tasked with driving the wheelchair, who shall herein be presumed to be his wife, looked both saddened, horrified, and irritated, if such a lifemask of competing feelings may exist. Now enter their dog, laxly leashed to one of the wheelchair’s handles, who knew in its canine intuition that something bad had happened, but simply could not resist abashedly lapping up the warm vomited milk splattered on the ground with Pollockian vigor. Art may indeed be the snapshot of pure abandon. This dog too looked sad, and so I was met, gladdened even, with six sad eyes, each set poking out the costume of being alive, bracing this earth, its spin so slow, sauntering shadows seem to never move. And so I moved for them, and walked away.
One quiet afternoon during the summer of ‘94, just a few months before I would leave for college, my father found a large pile of dog shit, slightly diarrhetic in form, on our lawn. We lived on the corner of a cul-de-sac and received a lot of foot traffic, which one could reasonably correlate with being consistently dog shitted on. I was in the backyard digging holes for plants, per my father’s fierce instruction, when I heard him scream sabotage! in his paranoia that these dog shits were intentional. Being “oriental” in an opulent white neighborhood, as irrational and small as this sounds, informed such intuitions of distorted perception. There was a part of me that wondered if we were indeed victims of a hate crime. My father asked me to come over and take the shit from his hands, which he had inexplicably picked up. It looked like Tikka Masala. I refused. He said I was just like my mother.
On January 28, 1994, Beastie Boys released “Sabotage,” the first single off their album Ill Communication. The video (an homage and/or parody of ’70s crime television) was directed by Spike Jonze, received a lot of air time on MTV, and partially conceived the ironic-douche brand. I doubt my father ever heard the song, so it is merely serendipitous that he chose that one word to convey all his complicated feelings that afternoon. Here, he said, still holding out the shit for me. I can’t stand it, I know you planned it, I mockingly replied, knowing he wouldn’t get the reference. You could say my father and I endure ill communication. You’re just like your mother, afraid to get your hands dirty. The conversation sort of tailed off, as I walked away to finish digging holes for saplings which are now enormous trees, their staunch roots dug deep in place of faith, as if holding on to anything.