20 Jan Will’s Tooth (part 2) & Obama’s Inauguration

This morning, while the hopeful were crowding onto the D.C. mall in anticipation of Obama’s inauguration, Will and I were standing in line outside the Maryland University Dental Clinic in downtown Baltimore. Will’s broken molar had to come out—he was frequently light headed, had a persistently foul taste in his mouth, and suffered recurring headaches. The molar had been broken for five years.

Last week we had arrived at the clinic just before seven, as we were instructed, only to learn that, actually, patients arrive as early as six – and the clinic takes only the first fifteen. This time we were third in line. A 6:15 we were told a security guard would come by to open the doors by 6:30. It was cold out. Yesterday we had our first serious snow. I should have worn a hoodie or ear muffs. At 6:55 the missing security guard showed up, apologizing. “Sorry ‘bout that,” she said. Apparently she overslept.

Once we were admitted to the clinic, we had a two-hour wait ahead of us. The dental students wouldn’t arrive until nine. Will kept shaking his head in worry. “I don’t like this,” he said. “I’m scared.” He hadn’t been to a dentist since he was in kindergarten. He’d never had Novocain. I told him it wasn’t nearly as scary as what he’d done yesterday. Before coming over to our house to do some work yesterday, Will stopped at the blood bank to donate a pint for twenty bucks. He’s been unemployed for over a month. I’ve been giving him one day of work each week. Our friend Vanessa has been doing the same. It’s not easy keeping an unemployed man off the streets. Multiply this times many millions. Our new president has a huge task ahead of him. We all do.

The dental students, all of them in their twenties, have been instructed to be personable, apparently. After the student calls up his/her patience, the student extends a hand and introduces herself. All of them did this – except Will’s dentist. He was a young man who looked like the kid who always got picked last for the playground team. He was so uncomfortable with himself, he couldn’t look his patient in the eye, much less shake his hand. I hoped he was a good dentist.

Will was in twice as long as anyone else. I worried that they’d botch the job or put him off. But then, when he sauntered out finally, I saw that his right cheek was packed. He half-smiled. “You did it,” I said. “Congratulations.”

“They were digging at it,” he said, “digging and digging but I couldn’t feel a thing.”

Jill and I bought him an armload of canned soup, instructed him on warm salt-water mouth washes to speed healing, then took him home. We reminded him that he couldn’t smoke for three days. “I’m not gonna mes it up,” he promised.

We got home in time for the inauguration. Watching the million on the mall brought to mind the first landing on the moon. I recall being on vacation with my family that historic summer, in 1969. It was a clear, muggy July afternoon and the moon was waxing, a white thumbprint low in the sky. I stared at it in disbelief and thought. Man in the moon – we are there. Right now. We are there. So I thought something similar today as Obama took his oath amid a sea of hope. We are there. Holy cow.