A friend of mine complained to me that I have bad manners. Evidently, I picked my teeth after eating a meal with her and she was mortified. I was also mortified because I didn’t realize I had picked my teeth. My autonomic nervous system has run amuck. What else am I doing that I don’t realize? Have I been picking my nose? Have decades guzzling Knob Creek rotted my brain? Where am I? Who is this person inside my body? I’ve always been Miss Manners. The social graces are my code of honor. I care about which fork to use and sucking air through a straw. How is this possible? Miss Manners has crossed the rainbow bridge, and I didn’t even know it. Sad.
In my dreams, I visit a nursing home cafeteria and rows of grey-haired people are all elbows-up holding toothpicks, jabbing at their teeth in unison like can-can dancers. Is this just another thing about aging that’s not in the books? Do all old people pick their teeth? I wasn’t expecting this, but something tells me it’s only going to get worse. My teeth have become unreliable. My mouth is a food trap. For the rest of my life, I’m going to have to choose between picking my teeth to avoid another root canal and having good manners. Help!
Sometimes the pressure of food between two teeth is so compelling I can’t stop myself. I’d pick my teeth if I were drowning. Seriously, I could be paddleboarding upriver in a thunderstorm about to wed Neptune, but I’d have to stop and pick my teeth. Rescue divers would pull me up from the bottom covered with seaweed and my right index finger would still be lodged in the back of my mouth digging out the chicken salad.
Later I’d explain to the Coast Guard that I went paddleboarding after lunch without my floss. When the storm clouds rolled in, I was so engrossed in excavating my molars that I didn’t notice the lightning strikes. A snippet of fishing line floated by, I lurched toward it, and fell right into the water. I could have used my hand to swim, but I couldn’t stop picking my teeth. I just had to. The end. My only regret is ordering the chicken salad.
Of course, Miss Manners would never approve of picking one’s teeth under any circumstances. But manners aren’t everything, are they? I put oral hygiene before manners. I don’t want to spend my life savings going to the dentist. My teeth are shifting position in my jawbone, unmoored and gaping. My food traps are trapping food and it’s uncomfortable, and that discomfort is in my head right next to my brain and it’s the only thing I can think about.
At dinner with friends, a fibrous string of green bean begins to force itself between my teeth, and I’m dizzy with the uncontrollable urge to put my fingers in my mouth. My hand starts to creep up toward my face. My tongue is tracing my molars compulsively, back and forth trying to snag the invasive legume. I can’t even talk. My index finger twitches, reaching toward the source of my annoyance. My lips part and I imagine the relief that’s just seconds away. Desire swamps me. I’m obsessed.
My dining companions are chatting amicably, oblivious to my need for relief when suddenly I’m gripped by a force beyond my control. A vampire about to sprout fangs, I fly up from the dinner table so abruptly that I spill the wine glasses. My friends leap from their chairs to avoid the splashing Cabernet and grab their napkins to dab the table as I dash to the powder room where I yank the little plastic toothpick from my bra and lean into the mirror, poking fiercely at my food trap until the little green thread releases its grip on my psyche, and I can breathe a sigh of relief. Free at last. This is what it’s like to get old. R.I.P. Miss Manners.