This is Story #12, entitled The Calculus of Love, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.
What can be weirder than someone who fanatically brushes and flosses their teeth? Yes, I do that. But at least I’m not as obsessed as the young man in this story.
When I visit my Registered Dental Hygienist for my semiannual prophylaxis, I always hope my kempt teeth will impress her. But only because I’m proud of my impeccable oral hygiene. But the young man in this tale has a different motivation. He’s in love with his RDH.
He reminds me of someone I knew many years ago. Myself. I was a weirdo when it came to matters of love and romance. Just like him. When I fell for a woman, I employed courting strategies more likely to attract a psychiatrist, than the heart I aimed for.
And that’s what inspired this story. One evening I was brushing my teeth and fantasizing about what weirdo things a young nerd might do to win over the heart of the lady who scrapes his teeth. This tale illustrates my youthful weirdness. It’s what I imagined I might do, if I was that young nerd.
The Calculus of Love
He was fastidious. He brushed his teeth after every meal. And he flossed every day, without exception. And his main reason for doing this for the past six months was not to have healthy incisors, cuspids, and molars. Sure, that was important to him, but he would never have taken such extreme care of his teeth just for that reason.
No, his main reason was to impress his dental hygienist.
He was in love with her. A secret love. He felt too bashful to admit it, or to ask her out on a date. Why, she was just too winsome and prepossessing to ever have any interest in a nerdy little guy like him. Or so he assumed.
He regarded himself as unworthy, and felt hopeless. But not completely hopeless. Because he had a plan. A plan to win her heart.
He calculated that if he took excellent care of his teeth, it would impress her so much that she wouldn’t be able to resist him. She’d fall helplessly in love with him and pursue him. And all he’d have to do is let her catch him.
Ironically, his calculus was to rid himself of calculus. And then he’d have love. Which admittedly, was a stupid plan. But men who are in love aren’t known for clear thinking.
He came in for his semiannual prophylaxis. His professional cleaning of teeth that were already spotless. He smugly settled himself into the Naugahyde dental chair, and opened wide, anticipating a gasp of amazement and awe at his flawless set of ivories.
She finished reviewing his chart, then moved to his side and peered into his mouth. But no gasp of amazement and awe issued forth.
Instead she smiled warmly. “So, what have you been up to these past six months,” she routinely asked, as she reached for a sharp, pointy object.
“Giglesmlsxsuh,” he replied, as he tried to speak while simultaneously accommodating the poky tool that was now probing his teeth.
“So,” she continued, “I’ve heard that less and less people are buying PC’s, and are instead opting for smartphones and tablets.”
She knew he was a computer hobbyist. In fact, she knew a lot of things about him. She had his personal history written down in his chart. And every time he revealed something new about himself, she stealthily took note, so she could bring it up in small talk at a future cleaning session.
This is an old ploy by dental hygienists. It’s a personal touch designed to mislead their patients into believing that they are somehow special, to be remembered so clearly. She hoped he felt impressed.
And he did. He fell for it. Every time. The moonstruck nerd took it as a sign that she liked him. That he stood a chance. Even though deep down inside, he knew he was unworthy.
“Inssutrudathig,” he answered.
The session continued, with much probing, poking, scraping, rinsing and spitting. Finally, after the torture ended, he asked smugly, “So, how did I do?” as if he had just taken a test that he knew he had aced.
“How did you do? What do you mean?”
“I mean, how did I do? Any calculus?”
“Oh. Oh yes, yes, there was quite a bit of calculus. Between the front four teeth at the bottom two quadrants. But that’s common,” she shrugged.
He felt crestfallen. “Were they at least better than last time?”
“Oh sure,” she reassured him. “Yes, I think you’re making an improvement. Keep up the good work. And I’ll see you again in six months.” She thrust a baggie at him, containing a complimentary toothbrush and small dispenser of floss.
He hung his head, feeling discouraged, and trudged out of the office.
But this setback didn’t stop him from continuing to try. After all, she had advised him to keep up the good work. So he doubled and tripled his efforts, brushing not just after every meal, but also after every snack. And right after waking up, and right before going to bed. In fact, he brushed so much, he had to replace his toothbrush every two or three weeks.
And now he flossed two, three, and sometimes four times a day. He even bought floss in bulk, over the internet. And he cut out all sweets. For he was very determined to win his hygienist’s heart.
After six months of this fanatical pearl polishing, it was time for his next visit. He assumed the position in the reclining Naugahyde chair. She hovered over his gaping mouth, with a sharp, hooked instrument held menacingly before his eyes. Then she plunged it in, picking, poking, and scraping.
She kept up a monologue about things she thought might impress him, based upon his personal history she had just reviewed in her chart. And he occasionally offered up garbled responses.
It was all very routine.
But his heart was pounding, throbbing, twittering. He kept expecting her to compliment him on the excellent way he’d kept his teeth so very perfectly clean. Surely she must be noticing.
But nothing. No compliments came. Was she blind?!
When she finished, he once again asked for the verdict on the calculus, crossing his fingers and hoping that this time she had found absolutely none. But no, there was calculus. Dammit, there was calculus!
Considerable calculus, she reported, on the backs and between teeth numbers 23 through 26. Perhaps he needed to focus more attention on these areas while flossing, she advised. But not to worry, she reassured, for most people get calculus in that area, despite their best efforts.
Well fuck it, he thought. And then he just couldn’t take it anymore. His eyeballs welled up. And as she handed him the baggie with the toothbrush and floss, the dam broke. He began to cry.
“Are you alright?!” her eyes widened. She seemed shocked.
“Yes, yes, I am,” he felt embarrassed and waved his hand back and forth, trying to ward her gaze away. Then his face scrunched up and he began sobbing hard, with convulsive shakes of his shoulders. “No, no, I’m not,” he shakily admitted. “I’m n-n-not.”
“Wh-what’s wrong?” she handed him a tissue. She felt horrified.
He wiped his nose. And between convulsive sniffles he declared, “I don’t wanna keep doing all that teeth brushing. And the flossing is so hard to keep up. I’m tired of it. I’m tired. I’m just so tired.” he pounded a fist on his knee.
Perhaps she shouldn’t have felt surprised, for brushing and flossing teeth truly is a pain in the ass. But she’d never had a patient react this emotionally to the American Dental Association’s official recommendations for oral hygiene, that she routinely repeated to those who occupied the Naugahyde chair.
She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey,” she reassured, “If you want to skip a teeth brushing or flossing once in awhile, it’s okay. It won’t make that big of a difference. Now you just calm down,” she implored. “I can’t believe you’re so worked up about this.”
He looked up at her with his tear-streamed face. “No, you don’t understand. I’ve been trying to impress you. I like you, and I wanted to go out with you. But no matter how good I take care of my teeth, you never seem to notice. I always keep having calculus. That damned calculus!” he angrily shook his fist at no one. “So I don’t think you’d ever want to go out with me.”
Upon hearing this admission of secret love, the dental hygienist took a startled step backward. Her mouth agape, all she could do was stare at him for about thirty seconds, as he hung his head, while dabbing away at tears with his snot-soaked tissue.
Then she did an about-face, and turned her back to him. She covered her nose and mouth with her hands and bowed her head in thought. She pondered this odd situation. After about a minute, she suddenly whipped back around and looked him square in the eye, with severe demeanor.
“Hey, if you want to ask me out, just ask me out. You don’t have to do any of this other shit. Stop your fucking crying, and just ask me out to a dinner, a movie, or something like that. Don’t play no fucking crybaby games with me.”
Now it was his turn to feel stunned. And he instantly stopped crying. His eyes expanded. He was speechless. Could it be, he wondered. Could it be that she would actually go out with me? His heart skipped a beat.
She turned slightly away, as if she was giving up on him. He knew this was his kairos. He must act now. Now, now, now, or never.
“How about Chili’s?” he blurted out. “Tonight. Seven o’clock.”
Thus began a romance between a dental hygienist and her nerdy patient. They dated for several months, before finally deciding to live together. And during this budding romance, they learned some surprising things about each other.
She learned that nerdy computer hobbyists can also be interesting. And they can have big hearts. And they possessed a level of gratitude that made them very attentive and compliant while playing between the bedsheets. Or at least, this was the case with this particular computer hobbyist.
And during one of their true confession conversations, he learned something surprising about her. He learned just how well all that brushing and flossing of his teeth actually worked. For she divulged a professional secret.
She told him that the picking, and prodding, and scraping of his teeth that she had tortured him with during cleaning sessions, was all for show. She confessed to him that in reality, he’d had no calculus to scrape off, anywhere on his incisors, or cuspids, or molars. No, in fact she felt very impressed with how clean his teeth always were, whenever he came in for his semiannual prophylaxis.
She admitted that she had lied when she told him there was considerable calculus behind those bottom teeth. It was her way of keeping him as a patient. After all, if she were to tell him that he never had calculus, he might decide he didn’t need her anymore. And she’d lose a patient. A good patient. Someone who was easy to work on.
He felt a flame of outrage upon learning this, as he reflected on all the pain he’d endured as a victim of this fraud. But she tamped down this flame, by pumping up his ego.
She told him that she rarely dated, and would absolutely never, ever, go out with any patient who came in with lots of calculus on their teeth. And that most of her patients did have lots of calculus. And that the only reason she had agreed to date him was because of how impressed she felt with his immaculate oral health.
And there it was. His stupid plan, his calculus, wasn’t so stupid after all. His calculus had rid himself of calculus. And that solved for him the most perplexing calculus problem of all.
The calculus of love.