Teeth, yes teeth. It is a fact of life that as one ages you need close and loving friends - but for many - like me - you have one terrible, implacable enemy - your teeth. Over time, one by one, mine have rebelled or decided to crack, abandon me, and abscond with my cash - far worse than the person who picked my pocket last week. This morning, it is my lower right molar that cracked in two like a valuable heirloom teacup that had been dropped on a marble floor. All because I chewed on a walnut at breakfast. A walnut? That softest, friendliest of nuts? Since it is vanity, not the legs, that is the last to go, I fight to the death to keep my teeth in my mouth. I go to my excellent dentist and hand over my life's savings to him so that I can continue smiling with my own smile in place, and I am now partially implanted like the most expensive row of corn in Iowa. Any bridge for me is a bridge too far. Or, as a friend has suggested "a bridge over troubled molars."
"Vanity - all is Vanity" saith Ecclesiastes - and you can bet your sweet life on that one. Wrinkles don't bother me a bit - I have long ago convinced myself that mine are the character lines of a well lived, adventurous life, signs of the rutted road I have traveled, my personal infrastructure. Grey hair? - happy that I have enough of it to cover my head artfully - but cracked teeth are enough to make me question the benign order of the universe. My wife - with her enviably beautiful smile - believes that all my dental woes stem from the work of that notable king of braces, Dr. Herbert Sved - the premier orthodontist of the nineteen forties who straightened my teeth and those of my late sister when we were too innocent to protest. In those days, the middle class - from which I sprung through no fault of my own - were devoted to heavy metal orthodontia for their offspring rather than heavy metal music. For years my expensively straightened teeth obeyed orders from my mouth, chew slowly and digest behave yourselves, and they did so without protest. Now, just when I need their loyalty, the insurrection has begun. Think of their ingratitude after all the years of vigorous brushing and flossing - now why didn't someone invent an injection of anesthesia to be jabbed into the dental fees? Dental insurance? A joke in which you are the punch line. Having recently published a family memoir, "Cousin Bella - the Whore of Minsk," and about to publish another, "Spotless," I found that I refused to sit for a photo of my present self until all my teeth can pose with me, and I selected a picture of myself as a six year old - unsmiling - for the cover of "Spotless."
Now, not all perfect teeth are perfect representatives of their owners. Particularly in the world of politics.. Who can look at the smile of Mitt Romney and not think - all tooth and no truth? And Ronnie 's teeth looked like they were borrowed off the rack from the MGM wardrobe department, and he forgot to return them . Just to be non -partisan I always felt that Clinton's smile with its perfect teeth entered the room five minutes before he did - to warm up the crowd. FDR's teeth had to make room for his cigarette holder, and nobody every looked at LBJ's teeth because the eye focused on the generous, Texas style ears. Harry Truman, like Lincoln, left few records of his teeth for posterity, butt hey did offer small, knowing smiles. Eleanor Roosevelt was mocked for her buck teeth by the cruel conservative press of the time, which goes to show you that it is not necessary to have great teeth to make a great lady - and she sure was great. Correction: She was the greatest, and I had the pleasure of spending a train trip conversing with her as her seat companion on my way to college as she made her way to Hyde Park - and her smile for all its flaws was dazzling.
I, for one, would have been delighted had the President devoted half of his State of the Union speech to the State of teeth in America. My teeth. Your teeth. The need for universal tooth care. Yet he simply flashed his wonderful set of perfect teeth at the world and let those of us - flailing about in the quicksand of dentistry, fend for ourselves. Not right, Mr. President. Not right at all. And to think I voted for you twice - smiling as I did so.