R.I.P. Miss Manners

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.  

Billie Best writes about the death of Miss Manners.

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. 

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18 thoughts on “R.I.P. Miss Manners

  1. I use those floss sticks while driving to work every morning. I don’t do it when I’m at a stop light lol. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett was told old women and widows were allowed to burp in public. Maybe picking one’s teeth should be in the same category lol.

  2. Hilarious and so relatable! I keep a little, metal tooth pick in my purse at all times. It actually has a hook on the end to dislodge even the most stubborn detritus. It does have a cover, so it doesn’t pick up the odd purse bacteria. My late husband used to tease me about my obsession with picking my teeth and would give me things like a container of tooth picks with my Christmas or birthday gifts. (Thanks Hon ) Love your writing, it did make me laugh out loud for real!

  3. Come to Japan. There is a way to pick your teeth with a toothpick. Absolutely not your fingernails, though. Take up the toothpick (which are usually on the table in a neat little paper envelope) Cup your hand near your moth and pick away. Dispose of used toothpick discretely. But you would have to write about a different no-no. Woo hoo.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Gloria. You have given me one more reason to visit Japan! I already love the food. Good to know I won’t have to tolerate it between my teeth.

  4. This was hilarious and really hit home! I have a little plastic container with those green plastic ones with me at all times. Celery, oranges, oh dear, such problems! At least we know we are not alone in this.

  5. I literally LOLd reading this. Can I tell you that I now have a favorite brand of dental picks? When the finger won’t do, my denta-picks come through.

  6. I can so relate to this! I too become obsessed with things getting stuck between my teeth. I’ll be having a conversation with someone and I’m sure they see me using my tongue as an oral excavator! One thing about aging I have noticed for myself is I am giving much less of a crap about how I look or what I say. It feels good actually, so I say pick away!

    1. Agreed. Thanks for your comment, Lisa. I admit to swishing water around my mouth at restaurants that supply a water glass. It may look tacky, but it helps keep my fingers away from my teeth.

  7. I’m my God did you hit a nerve with that article about the unavoidable urge to pick my teeth! I never flossed at all when I was premenopausal, but now I have to plan ahead and hide floss in my purse or jacket so I can deal with the problem that I know is going to arise! And sometimes I do pick my teeth at the table. And I am ashamed… so is this the kind of thing that lower hormones causes? Are we SURE that hormone replacement after 60 is a bad idea? I would love to be the test bunny that finds out because I’m thinking that maybe they don’t want us to know and use this elixir of youth because we will live too long!

  8. Yeah, likely being an antique with shit for teeth. drives me crazy, the lodged in space between the same fucking teeth time and time again. i have toothpicks on my dash in the car (never replaced and horribly filthy) that i use constantly. and my sister gave me a water pik that i use every morning and the gunk that falls into the sink is vile and i STILL need t use a toothpick. didn’t gangsters have gold toothpicks for just this sort of thing?

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