Thursday, June 25, 2015

Phobias -- Flash Fiction

“Greg, don’t go alone,” Dr. Porter said.

She’s a nice woman, well-intentioned, but hard, hard, hard. And pushy. We identified my severest phobia and used exposure therapy to treat it.

We had many to choose from – agoraphobia, the fear of crowds or open spaces, I was afraid of crowds but not open spaces. I don’t know how I missed that one. Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, that’s not a severe problem. All I have to do is avoid the herpetarium at the zoo and my Uncle Matt’s house. How anyone can consider a snake as a pet, I’ll never understand.

Caligynephobia, the fear of beautiful women. It’s not that I think they’ll kill me and eat me like a snake really might. But I can’t talk to them. I can’t think. I can’t breathe around them. I know that’s a dumb phobia for a man to have. But are there any sensible phobias?

With Dr. Porter’s help I chose my worst demon to work on first. Acrophobia or altophobia is the fear of heights.

Those exterior elevators? I’d stand facing the interior wall, trying to ignore the rattle and shake as
they carried me to my doom. My co-workers in their business suits and shiny shoes would ooh and ahh at the vistas. I prayed for deliverance and hoped they didn’t notice.

And who can afford seats on the main floor at the symphony? I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to practically crawl on all fours to get up to balcony seats with a date. Actually, I can remember every single time with every single woman. None, of course, very beautiful, but mostly nice.

Seats at the top of stadiums? Indoors? Free tickets for basketball games? Forget about it. The court looked postage-stamp size under spot lights. A black hole threatening to suck me down past the writhing, screaming humans – Albrecht Durer hell, Twenty-first Century style.

Dr. Porter estimated it would take six months to see significant progress.

“Greg,” she said. “Let’s start small.”

Yes, let’s, I thought.

She had me climbing open stairwells. I stood on first floor balconies. Second story balconies. I crossed walk-ways six flights up in atriums. Or is that atria? Whatever. All in downtown Denver.

It may be The Mile High City, but the city itself never gave me a problem. Denver’s out on the prairie east of the Rocky Mountains. A nice city on level ground. No sense of altitude at all.

During that six months I also, at the good doctor’s urging, hiked with my buddy Steve. Mostly in metro-Denver’s open spaces. Some near the base of the foothills. Some within sight of Fourteeners.

Summiting Green Mountain was the goal that Saturday morning. Identified as a mesa southwest of Denver, Wikipedia puts Green Mountain’s altitude at 6,854 feet, almost seventeen hundred feet above the Mile High City.

The parking lot and trail head were part way up the mesa. Signs posted at the entry to the trail warned of possible dangers. Beneath what looked like a wild-west wanted poster of a coyote I read Coyotes are active in this area. The sign said to keep children and dogs under close supervision. Another warned Mountain Lions are active in this area and gave some information in avoiding them.

For some reason coyotes and mountain lions didn’t seem like real threats. For one thing it was 8:30 in the morning and those animals, as I understood it, were nocturnal in their activities. Or at least mostly active at dusk and dawn.

But a third sign hit me like a slap in the face. Rattlesnakes are active . . . . I couldn’t see the rest of the sign.

“Snakes are more afraid of us as than we are of them.” Steve said. I wanted to believe him.

Green Mountain’s trails are well used by the public – hikers, old and young, some carrying infants in back packs, many with dogs on leashes; bicycle riders, also old and young; and people on horseback. Motorized vehicles were not allowed on the trails.

At the first turn, I looked back toward Denver. A spasm shot through my chest. The city of Denver huddled in a haze far out on the plains and farther below me than I’d ever imagined possible. I'd never been so high up outside. Not cocooned in a car or a train or an airplane. When I flew I sat on the aisle and read a book or a magazine. The safety instruction card. Something. Anything. From take-off to landing. I never saw the Earth from a plane.

On Green Mountain, I quickly learned not to look downhill. And not to think about how I’d get back down.

I learned to step off the trail to let others pass. It made sense to me to step off uphill so if I fell, I’d fall up. Falling down that hill could go a long way.

A bird trilled. “That’s a meadow lark,” Steve said.

It was almost as hard to look up the hill to the sky. Where we were going. That much higher. I watched where I put my feet. Rocks pocked the trail, some as big as your fist, half buried in the packed earth. Grasses and wild flowers grew knee high or higher on either side.

“Mariposa lily and yucca.” He pointed at first one flower then another. “Hear that? Frogs. May was so wet, we have frogs.” Steve’s enthusiasm calmed my fear.

I did hear the frogs and the rasping sound of a grasshopper fleeing up the trail ahead of me.

I didn’t hear a cyclist until he was almost on me. Without thinking, I stepped off the trail. Downhill.

“Sorry,” the cyclist called over his shoulder as he passed me, hurtling down the mountain.

I grabbed handfuls of some plant topped with purple flowers to keep from losing my balance. The flowers were fluffy. The leaves and stems were not. It was like grabbing blades, knife blades. But if I let go I’d fall. Two feet of down-sloping terrain and those killer plants stood between me and the trail.

Then I heard it. To my left. Like dry leaves rustling. No, not rustling. Rattling.

“Snake!” I screamed and spun away from the noise. I stepped off the hill into empty space.

Unlike the cartoon coyote, I was not suspended in midair. I dropped like a dead weight, landing on my feet. Pain flashed up my legs from my heels into my spine. Then I was running as fast as I could trying to keep my feet under me. My toe caught on something and I plunged down that mountain head first.

When I regained consciousness, I was strapped onto a litter. A firefighter in complete regalia walked down the trail beside me holding an IV fluid bag above me.

The firefighter turned toward me. “You’re going to be all right,” she said.

A wavy lock of brown hair escaped from her helmet. Dark eyebrows framed her brown eyes. She scanned my face, my arm. She touched the IV port in the bend of my elbow.

Her straight nose led to full, perfectly formed lips and a cleft chin. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

I tried to turn my head away.

“Be still.” She leaned over me, her beautiful face too close. “Can you hear me?”

I struggled to answer her. I couldn’t breathe.

Her brows furrowed with worry. “Be still,” she repeated. “We’ve got you on a backboard and in a neck brace. You’ll be all right. Just breathe. Slow and steady.”

Lulled by the rocking motion of the litter and her rich alto voice, I took a deep breath and relaxed. My panic melted away.

She smiled. “You’re safe now.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Father's Day -- Flash Fiction

“Where is Gus’s dad?” she asked.

She was completely innocent. This was her son’s first year on the team and she was a nurse, I think. So her hours did not allowed her to attend the games until that day.

“Gus’s dad is not in the picture,” I said and immediately regretted it.

She hesitated, her eyes wide, her mouth in the standard O-shape as she processed the meaning of my answer. Embarrassment set in, though completely undeserved. She had no way to know.

I did what I could to save the moment. “Your Jeremy is a great short stop. We’re glad to have him on the team.”

“Thank you,” she said and moved away.

These Father’s Day Tournaments were the worst. Gus was sixteen-years-old and we’d been coming to them since he was seven. He didn’t even ask about his father any more. Maybe that was a good thing. At least, for me.

His father was a jerk and I was young and stupid. Gus, however, was a daily miracle. Even as a monosyllabic, stay-in-his-room, over-cologned teen he brought me joy and I thanked God every day for him. Even on Father’s Day.

It was early in the season, and our team won. Gus didn’t score. He fouled out twice and got a couple of singles. He was walked twice. He was a heavy hitter and went for the home run every at-bat. Even the big-leaguers have their off days. But his defensive play was dependable every day.

The high temp that Father’s Day was supposed to be 93 degrees. In the shade. Unfortunately they don’t put baseball fields in the shade. That was just June. I always started dreading baseball season’s August ending at the beginning.

At game's end, he lumbered up to me, his face dusty and sweat-streaked. He had my dad’s eyes and smile, but he was built like his dad. At least, like I remembered his dad – tall and slender. He was beginning to come out of that all-elbows-and-knees stage that young humans go through. Only mothers and teenage girls can think teen boys are cute.

“There’s a bunch going to Braums for burgers and ice cream,” he announced, his blue eyes crinkled with mischief. He knew exactly how many Weight Watchers points hide in Braums food.

“Thank you, no. You go on, if you want. Someone’ll give you a ride.”

He poked me with his bat. His special, high-dollar bat. “Nah, we got popsicles at home. Can I drive?”

He couldn’t wait to get his license and then he wanted to drive everywhere and anywhere. I think he’d’ve driven to the mailbox at the end of our sidewalk, if he’d thought I’d let him.
I guess I should have been glad he liked to drive our old clunker. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. All the fenders were the same color. It ran. It was red. And it was paid for.

Thank goodness it ran. Then. The month before it had needed a new alternator.

Gus wanted to get a job that summer, but he was a really good ball-player. Maybe good enough for college. A guy from State’d been talking to him. That and his good grades. Sure would beat finishing school with student loans over his head.

“Radio?” he asked.

“No radio. You know the rules. No radio your first six months driving.”

“Mom, talking to you is as distracting as the radio.”

What made him think logic from a sixteen-year-old would be any more persuasive than whining from a twelve-year-old?

“You want me to be quiet?”

He didn’t answer.

“What’s that noise?” I asked.

A rubbing noise came from the left front when we turned right.

“The steering doesn’t feel right,” he said.

There’d been a noise like that for a while. Not so loud, but loud enough I’d had the mechanic at the lube place check it. He hadn’t found anything wrong. He said the power steering rack may need replacing, but that was expensive and he wouldn’t recommend it unless it got worse. This noise was much louder. Maybe this was the “worse” he was talking about.

And I had a dental appointment that next week. Fix my teeth or the car? Neither a pleasant choice.

“Pull over.”

“Flat tire,” he announced before I could get around to the driver’s side.

“Small mercies,” I said.

“Do you know how to change a tire?” he asked.

I know not all fathers are good at fixing things. It just seems like it would be good to have one around who was at times like that.

“Yes, my dear. I do know how. And you will, too when we finish here.”

An hour later we were home. Both of us hotter and dirtier from dealing with the flat tire and the spare. He called dibs on the shower.

“Kevin’s picking me up. We’re going swimming at Neil’s.”

“Odd. That doesn’t sound like a request for permission.”

“Sorry. Is it okay?”

“It’s okay. Hurry up in that shower.”

When he finished, I showered. I stood under the water for ages. It felt so good.

I came out into a quiet house. He hadn’t even told me goodbye.

The kitchen was a disaster. How could one child do so much damage in fifteen minutes? He must have made himself a sandwich. Guess I should have been glad it wasn’t a five-course meal.

After a zapped left-over dinner and a nice cup of tea, I went to bed with a book.

On my pillow was a note and a rose. The rose was from my own Mister Lincoln bush, a beautiful velvety red with that wonderful rose scent.

The note was addressed to “Mom” and said,

“Happy Father’s Day to the best Dad a man ever had.”

Signed “Your son, Andrew Augustus Samuelson”

With a P.S. “I’ll be home before curfew. Love you.”

As if I wouldn’t know who Andrew Augustus Samuelson was.

Or that he was a “man” at sixteen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Science and Science Fiction

Embedded image permalink
Photo from June 9 tweet by Bill Nye 
CEO of the Planetary Society

In a tweet Bill Nye The Science Guy describes this photo as "a complete image of #Light Sail in space! The future of space travel . . ."

This light sail launched on May 20 as a test, an early step toward the goal to "sail a spacecraft no bigger than a bread box, on beams of light," he said. "Imagine it: unlimited free energy from the Sun will provide CubeSats with propulsion and revolutionize access to space for low-cost citizen projects. This means that spacecraft, especially small ones like CubeSats, won't have to carry heavy fuels into orbit, and that the acceleration will be continuous."

Two days after launch a software glitch made the little satellite unable to deploy its sail. On May 31, contact was made and on June 3 the solar panels were deployed. June 4 communications were again lost, but on June 6 communications were restored sail deployment commenced on June 7. On June 10 photos (including the one above) were successfully downloaded as well as extensive data.

The original plan was for the satellite's orbit to degrade within two to ten days following sail deployment, and fall back to Earth, burning up on reentry. LightSail-A made its fiery reentry June 14, its mission a success.

In Murder on Ceres, my science fiction/murder mystery, the loss of a solar sail proves to be an important plot point.

"Solar Sail Sakurakaze with Mark A. Warner aboard unaccounted for. No contact. No request for assistance."

"Aptly named, the Sakurakaze looked like a sakura blossom. Its five sails extended radially in graceful curves, each with a notch in its distal end. The furled sails would open as she pulled away from the dock. Like a flower blooming."

Specs on Warner's solar sail read as follows:
"Four-passenger sport class Kono II with Stang auxiliary thrusters. It could reach more than ten times enough velocity to escape Low Ceres Orbit. Enough to escape Low Mars Orbit."

The Deuce was constructed of carbon composite to reduce over-all weight without sacrificing strength and durability, the cabin hung below the sails. The builder's description was pure promotion, "Its black exterior reminiscent of ancient Japanese lacquer ware. The interior finished in synthetic teak and white ceramic, for the warm look of wood and the classy simplicity of porcelain, while staying well within weight limitations."

The future is now.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Amazon Surprizes

My picture identified as "Customer Image."

The things you find on Amazon! A picture of me!

And it shows up right above a negative review of William Bernhardt's The Game Master.  Thank goodness the author of the negative review's name is attached to the review and I don't think there's much chance someone will think that I am Wesley A. Rasmussen.

When you click on my picture it brings up my very short, quite positive review -- the one I wrote on Amazon. I posted a more in depth review of Bill's book on my blog.

Finding my picture on Bill's Amazon page sent me to my Amazon page for Murder on Ceres and a more complete reading of it. I don't usually scroll down as far as my reviews. Kind of feels like bad luck, like getting the mail could be bad luck because it could be all bills.

Instead I found this wonderful review of my book:

"Under the heading of science fiction you can find all kinds of stuff from the weird almost supernatural to just plain good stories about real people in a future setting. This book is strongly on the good stories about real people end of the spectrum and I really enjoyed reading it because of that. I have been reading science fiction novels since I was a small boy. Since I was a small boy a long time ago I have seen many things come to pass already that were in those first science fiction stories I read. In following the recent news I have noted that we have now landed on a comet, and are very serious about our efforts to study the asteroids. What we are learning about working around these low gravity bodies in our solar system will most definitely lead to the future reality of the setting the author skillfully weaves into the story developed in this book. So the story is set in a future setting we are already taking steps to make a reality, and it is about real people with real passions and real problems. Add to that a mystery with a surprise twist at the end, and I found it to be a good read set in the future that could be identified with by the reader today." by KJPapa

His review is from last November. That tells you how often I check my Amazon page. AND I don't know who he is. I can't tell you how exciting it is to have someone you don't know write such a review of your book. And he "gets it." Science fiction about real people.

After reading his review, I'd buy my book!

Now if Amazon had just put a link from my picture to my book . . . .

Friday, June 12, 2015

We're in Trouble, BUT -- essay

image from

We’re in trouble. As a nation. As a society. As a culture. 

We are undereducated which makes us susceptible to the worst of the charlatans selling snake oil to make us thin, beautiful, and long-lived. Susceptible to the worst of the schemers promising fool-proof investment strategies that will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams. To the worst of the politicians offering lowest-common-denominator solutions to poverty, crime, and terrorism. And to the worst of the promulgators of conspiracy theories. The Moon-landing hoax. Who killed JFK? Anti-Vaxxers. You name it. A group of shady someones somewhere are threatening our “good life.”

This blog post is not a conspiracy theory about how we got undereducated. And how our children are continuing to be undereducated. Ignorance has been with us since the beginning of time. You could argue that it’s human nature. BUT, to quote one of my favorite movie lines, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” (Kathryn Hepburn as Miss Rose Sayer to Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie Allnut in The African Queen.)

Our various news services have announced the 2013 rankings, state by state, of our high school graduation rates, touting the overall average of 81%. BUT those various news services go on to say why that 81% may be misleading.

Each state has its own requirements for graduation. Each state has its own method of counting those students who do not graduate. And not all states were required to report. My natal state Oklahoma was one of the states given an extension. No numbers from there were figured in the 81% average.

One way we can compare the success of the education of these graduates is the ACT exam. It is the same for all who take it regardless of where they received their high school diploma or what kind of diploma they received. Some states have more than one kind of diploma

Iowa came in at Number 1 with a graduation rate of 90%. Iowa offers one type of diploma and does not require any exit exam to graduate. In 2014, 68% of Iowa’s graduating students took the ACT exam.

Of that 68%:  75% met the ACT benchmark for English, 52% met it for Reading, 48% met it for Math, and 47% met the ACT benchmark for Science. 

ACT benchmarks are “scores on subject-area tests that represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses.” (ACT) 

The State of Texas came in 2nd with a graduation rate of 88%. Texas offers eleven kinds of diplomas and requires graduates to pass exit exams in algebra and English. 40% of Texas’s graduating students took the ACT exam in 2014. (62% of Texas’s graduating students took the SAT exam, 33.9% of whom met the SAT benchmark score.)

Of that 40%: 60% met the ACT benchmark for English, 42% met it for Reading, 47% met it for Math, and 36% met the ACT benchmark for Science.

My home state of Colorado came in 36th with a 2013 graduation rate of 77%. Colorado offers two types of diplomas and requires no exit exams. 100% of the graduating students took the ACT exam in 2014.

63% of all graduating Colorado students met the ACT benchmark for English. 43% met it for Reading. 39% for Math and 36% for Science.

For me the most damning of these statistics is the very low percent of graduates who meet the ACT benchmark for Reading. Remember, those percentages are of percentages of percentages so the ACT exams can confirm only that slightly more than 29% of the Number 1 state’s graduating students meet the benchmark for READING. We’ve no way to tell what percentage of the 32% who didn’t take the test would have done. Not to mention the 10% who did not graduate.

Okay. So a person graduates from a less than admirable secondary school without an acceptable level of Math and Science education. If that person can and will READ, he can fill in the holes. Self-taught doesn’t have to mean substandard.

I could indict our national education system. But we don’t have one. Or our abysmal failure to support the fractured education system that we do have. We don’t support it by setting high standards. We don’t support it by firing subpar educators or respecting competent educators or rewarding the exceptional educators. We don’t support it financially.

BUT these failures can be corrected. We can work on correcting them at the local, state, and national levels. Expect quality and be willing to pay for it.

In the meantime, we can do what we can at home

I know if you’re reading my blog, you are a reader so I’m preaching to the choir. BUT us choir members can do something. We can read to the children in our lives. We can read around the children in our lives so they see reading as a good and desirable activity.

We can donate our books and magazines to places where they’ll be read again – schools, churches, libraries, medical clinics, rec centers, day care centers, nursing homes. And a whole bunch of places you can think of.

Give kids books – for their birthdays and Christmas. (Try to avoid giving that special nephew the same book two Christmases running like I did.) Drop a book in their Trick or Treat bag. How about giving them a book just because it’s Tuesday? Take them with you to the local public library so they learn that it’s their library.

And, while you’re at it, do these things for the adults in your life, too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Obsolescence -- flash fiction

image from

“Ms. Phister, will you come into my office please?” He spoke to her through their new phone system.

“Yes, of course,” she said hitting the wrong button. “Just a minute,” she said hitting the same wrong button.

“Ms. Phister?”

She found the right button. “Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”

She patted her hair. A bad hair day. What an appropriate term! Celebrities say it, and the woman meteorologist on channel 8. They were all wearing their hair long and swooshy. Not appropriate for a woman of my age. She gathered her steno pad and a pen and made the ten step trip to the boss’s office. Though I’m not all that old. Just past forty.

She rapped on the door. She looked at the back of her hand. Maybe a little past 50. Sunspots, not age spots. Mother told me to be more careful in the sun.

“Ms. Phister, thank you. Please come in and close the door.”

“Yes, sir.” Uh oh. Why close the door? There wasn’t anyone in reception and she really needed to be able to hear if someone came in.

“Ms. Phister, please sit down. As you know, our merger with Futures, Inc. has been approved and we’ll need to make some changes to accommodate their administrative staff.” He sat in his chair and looked at the mirror on the wall behind her.

This doesn’t sound good.

“They’re young and enthusiastic. They’ll make a big difference.”

This really doesn’t sound good.

“We’re also going to have to make changes in our tech support to improve information management. Our computer system is badly outdated.”

“Sir?” It and the coffee maker are the things I have no problem operating. He’s already gotten rid of the Xerox and fax machines.

“Obsolescence, Ms. Phister. That’s what we’ve got to get rid of.”

“Oh?” Fifty-seven’s not obsolete. Is it?

“Our new telephone system is designed to sync with the new computer system.”

“Sync?” My Nook is constantly trying to sync with something.

He turned around and gazed at the gold and red company logo hanging on the wall behind him. Global Prospects in clear Helvetica letters slanted a little to the right. A black arrow underlined it. 

Like a speeding train.

“What do you think of our logo? Of course it’ll have to change to include Futures.”

Old Mister’s barely gone. Less than two years. And Young Mister is wanting to change everything.

“But I like it,” she said. “It’s clear and recognizable. A brand the public is used to and trusts.”


He looked at the steno pad she held in her left hand.

“Speaking of,” he nodded at the pad. “Wouldn’t you rather have one of those tablet things?”

“Tablet, sir?”

“You know. Those little gismos. You could use it to make notes. Google things. Use it as a GPS.”

“GPS?” She looked at the steno pad. She’d always used a steno pad. It felt right in her hand. She could doodle on it, if a meeting got boring. She could tear whole pages out and dispose of them. No record of what he’d said or done to be retrieved by some gee-whiz computer geek. Not that he’d ever done anything actually illegal. Sometimes he seemed to be just ruminating on it. His father would never have considered it. And she’d never have gone along with him anyway.

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

“A long time, sir,” she said.

“Pretty much since Dad opened shop, haven’t you?” He looked at the ceiling.

“Yes, sir.”

“You were with the firm when he bought this building, weren’t you?” He studied his hands.

“Yes, sir.” And, until this morning, I was planning to be here until retirement.

“The building’s old, but it’s solid and this is a good location. Uptown.” He picked something from his sleeve.

“Yes, sir.” I might be old, but I’m solid, too. He can’t even look at me.

“We need to update our look. You know, new furniture. Maybe a change in our color scheme. A total makeover. Obsolescence. We don’t want to be it. We don’t want to look like it.” He gazed out the window.

I’m out. He’s trading me in for a younger model. A member of the tech generation. Trade the old end-of-the-line Baby Boomer for a millennial.

“You got this place set up and running when Dad first moved in.”

“Yes, sir. I did what I could.” And I’ve been doing what I could ever since.

He put his palms flat on his desk and looked her in the eye.

“I need you to do it again.”


“I need you to do this for me. You’ll have to work with this old building. I really don’t want to move."


“No? You won’t do it? Do you want me to get someone in to help you?

“No. I mean, of course you don’t want to move.” She reached across the desk and touched his hand. “I don’t want to move either. Let me consider what we’ll need.”

She made a note on her steno pad and left the room.

She stepped back through the door and asked, “Would you like coffee?”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

At the Dentist -- Flash Nonfiction

image from

I spent three hours in a reclining chair in a modern dental office this morning.

A bit more than a week ago I lost a filling and broke a tooth. Pain ensued. They would have treated me sooner, but I had too much to do to go to the dentist last week. Including a birthday party for my 90-year-old father. (See the blog post about the birthday party). I took ibuprofen.

Today, after x-rays the dentist explained that he thought the tooth could be saved. It would require a root canal and a crown. Saving my tooth sounds both reassuring and frightening at the same time. 

Save it from what exactly? Being struck by lightning? Going to hell? Most likely – drowning. If I remember right, something about having my mouth full of dental utensils and dentist’s hands always makes me feel like I’m drowning. I can never remember how to swallow. And there’s lots of water and I can’t breathe.

And nitrous oxide costs extra. I don’t care! Give me GAS!

Excuse me a moment while I breathe deeply and calm myself.

Oh, yes. From what unspeakable fate are we saving my tooth? Why from being pulled indecorously from my mouth and subsequently discarded among all the rest of the bio-hazard waste collected today in the dentist’s office.

It hurts, if pulling it will make it stop hurting, then pull the damned thing.

We, together, made the decision to save the tooth, with the understanding that if when we got down to it, that was not feasible, he would pull it.

Here’s what I learned today.

The chair is actually more comfortable than they used to be.

There is no sink with running water for you to spit in. They have a vacuum hose to suck up the water they put in your mouth and the spit your mouth liberally generates. (It’s still hard to figure out how to swallow – indeed, whether or not to swallow – and how to breathe.)

The dentist is no older than my son. At least he’s not as big and brawny as my son, so if I decide to get out of that comfortable chair and leave, I can. I don’t think he can stop me.

They still drape you with a lead-lined cape. Which reminds me of Superman and kryptonite and makes me a bit anxious. And they still ask questions as though you can answer them orally. I think not. And the idea of nodding or shaking my head while there are sharp and whirring things in my mouth is out of the question.

They now have a monitor mounted above the chair so I can watch Netflix. This is supposed to relieve anxiety. I suppose it does, if you don’t mind looking between the right (his right) upper quadrant of the dentist’s face and the left (her left) upper quadrant of the assistant’s face, assuming the dentist is right-handed. And both wearing protective masks. I guess I might be the kryptonite.

Okay. I watch Doc Martin, a British TV show about a high-functioning autistic GP in a small Cornish village filled with barely functioning, but highly humorous locals. I never tire of watching Doc Martin. But as it turns out I spend most of the morning with my eyes closed. I listen to the TV show via large headphones. I think it does relieve anxiety. At least until Netflix pauses streaming and asks if the viewer wishes to continue viewing. The dentist and his assistant are quite unaware of the pause because they’re busy in my mouth. Which is as it should be. I point at the monitor. The dentist hits the correct button and we’re on again.

Someone has invented a special oral appliance for root canals since last I had one. No matter that it’s not the most comfortable thing, it does provide support so you don’t have to consciously hold your mouth open. It also corrals you tongue so you don’t have to wonder where to put that unruly organ so it’s out of the way.

All went well. Arrangements were made to return for installation of the permanent crown. They made me a temporary one today. They warned me against eating anything hard or sticky. Which, of course, reminded me of my cousin Martha June and the Slo-Poke sucker she tried to eat with a new partial plate back in the mid-fifties. But that’s a different story.

By lunch time I was home and the local anesthetic was wearing off. Discomfort returned. A root canal removes the nerve from the root of the tooth, thereby eliminating sensations from that tooth.

But it still hurts.

I think the most important thing I learned today is that yes, the broken tooth needed the work. But it was the tooth next to it that hurts.

Now where did I put that ibuprofen?