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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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let the world leak
october 1, 2007

So there I was, happy as a pinto bean bubbling in homemade barbeque sauce, standing in our kitchen, thinking about the new dish Mary and I were going to try tonight (if the recipe for a dish is like a cover for a book, I judged this book to be pretty interesting, based on its cover.) I took a swallow of my ice water, looking at our old stove, which we were about to replace, more happiness, and two things happened.

The first thing was I remembered the opening scene of Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife, which I unfortunately do not have here, so I have to paraphrase, in which the main character, a husband, is wandering peacefully through his home one early morning, feeling happy, then realizing that to continue feeling happy, he should just accept his happiness, not question it, because the moment you become too self-aware of your happiness, you tend to think of all the reasons why you shouldn't be happy.

The second thing was, a moment after I swallowed that cold gulp of water, a pain started up inside my mouth, from the base of my lower left canine.

What happens with unexpected pain is that you stop moving, unhappy, waiting to see how painful it becomes, and whether it stays, or fades away.

Fortunately, after a few minutes, mine faded away.

Still standing in the kitchen, still looking at our old stove, but of course now I'm not thinking about the wonderful meal we're going to make tonight, I wonder if the pain I felt was a fluke. Wouldn't you?

So I take another mouthful of ice water, this time taking care to make sure some of the cold water curls around the base of my lower left teeth, to see if the pain is still there.

At first, nothing. It was a fluke! I can go back to being happy! But then, sure enough, a strong, solid pain slowly rises in the lower left front of my jaw. Not a pulsing, toothache-type pain, but a steady, burning pain.

It hurts a little more this time, but then, once again, slowly subsides.


I became dispirited.

I know everyone else in the world looks forward to going to the dentist, crossing off, with a green crayon, the squares on their wall calendar until the next visit, but I hate it.

Mary came out, looked at my face. "Is everything okay?"

I told her about the pain in my tooth.

She touched my shoulder. "I'm sorry."

Of course, it isn't her fault my tooth hurts, she doesn't have to say I'm sorry, but that's what we do, what we say, all of us, in a world where we're not going to get an apology otherwise.

Mary was scheduled for a dental cleaning in about a week. Our dentist is in the city, an hour away. I didn't want to take the time to drive all the way into the city, all the way back, for my tooth, and anyway the tooth only seemed to hurt when I let cold or hot liquid touch it, so I figured maybe I'd tough it out for a week, use my tongue as a shield, and have the dentist look at my tooth while the hygienist cleaned Mary's teeth.

Which is what I did.

We drove north to Dallas, and while Mary sat in the hygienist's chair in one room, I sat in the dentist's chair in the next room.

Part of the problem was I couldn't really tell which tooth was causing the pain. It was one of about four in a row. Like a line-up where the three decoys, police station clerks, look too similar to the one criminal.

The dentist examined my prior x-rays (the only part of my body I've ever seen an x-ray of is my teeth, I guess that means I'm lucky, the eye of science hasn't had to peer elsewhere, yet), but he couldn't tell from them the source of the pain. He put a forward-extending black lens with tiny white numbers over his eyeglasses, looking like a character in a French futuristic film, leaned forward, aiming the magnification at my lower left teeth. Long minute where he said nothing, while I looked up at the swung-over circular light, listened to him breathing through his nose.

"Well, I think it might be this tooth here, Rob." He touched the tip of his forefinger to the top of my lower left canine. "But I can't be sure. There appears to be a small piece of composite missing at the bottom, where we put in a filling a few years ago. That's my best guess."

His one unmagnified blue eye looked at me.

"Okay. Let's fix that, and see if it solves the problem."

So I'm lying on my back in the dentist's office, trying to feel casual, listening to the hygienist in the other room tell Mary she has virtually no plaque whatsoever (for which I was glad), while the dentist angled a big hypodermic into my mouth, aiming its silver point at the back, near the jaw joint.

We've all been there.

You're lying on your back in one of those dentist chairs that are shaped like a pool-side chaise lounge, except they're padded, and except they have nothing whatsoever to do with relaxing, trying to act nonchalant as this big, fucking needle pushes painfully into your tender pink gums, then stays there a really, really long time, the dentist's thumb pushing down on the end of the plunger every once in a while, then he pops it out of that section of gum, you think he's going to withdraw it from your mouth entirely, but instead he stabs it into a new ridge on your gum. And so on and so forth.

Once my lower lip was numb, he settled in the chair next to me, asked his assistant to hand him the drill. Forty minutes later, he was finished.

"We'll have to see if that solves your problem. Once the Novocain wears off, try taking a sip of cold water. If you still feel pain, we'll schedule another appointment to re-do the other side of that tooth."

You go through life every day and know there are problems you need to take care of, but you put them off because they're not urgent. Right? You just don't feel like dealing with them right now.

One problem we had was the outside faucet in our backyard.

It dripped.

At first, it just dripped a little, to where you could count the drips, if you had nothing better to do.

But over the months, the drips increased to where it was no longer individual drops, but a thin stream of water flowing out the threaded bottom of the spigot.

Something had to be done.

The spigot stuck out like a gray nose from our red brick home.

We screwed a brass hose end over the spigot, the rest of the fifty-foot length of the green hose messily coiled around the wheel of a hose cart, about a yard away from the wall.

The dripping at the brick wall stopped.

All right!

But then we noticed a wet puddle under the hose cart. We had simply transferred the drip from the outside brick wall to a spot three feet away.

So I called a plumbing company.

They charged ninety dollars to come out. If, once they assessed the situation, you chose not to use their services, you still had to pay the ninety dollars. If you approved them fixing your problem, the ninety dollars was credited towards the cost of repair.

So this really friendly guy came out, looked at our spigot, told us it would cost $245 to fix the problem (I wrote about this a couple of months ago.)

We approved the charge, even though I thought it was rather high. He turned off the water at the curb, unscrewed our spigot, put in a new black rubber washer, rescrewed the spigot to the brick outside our home, gray nose revolving around and around, like an astronaut spinning away from what should have been a routine repair of the International Space Station. Ten minutes, tops. $245. Each of us, at some point in our journey, has to wonder how our lives would have been different if we had become a plumber.

I mentioned our stove.

We bought it in the late nineties. Stainless steel body, touch tab control panel at the rear of the burners, a warming drawer underneath, a feature we really liked and used all the time, whether to keep one part of a meal warm while we finished the other parts, or to keep an entire home delivery meal warm (Chinese, Italian, Mexican), while we continued working.

Appliances, like humans, tend to be really cute when they're young, but then develop all sorts of problems as they approach adolescence.

The touch tab panel was covered by a thin sheet of plastic, like you'd pull off a roll, which tended to fray over the years, I guess moisture getting behind the thin plastic, so that the plastic eventually peeled away from the touch tabs, like skin peeling away from a sun burn. A bit unsightly.

Likewise, moisture got between the double glass panels of the window set in the oven's pull-down door, so it was difficult to see the food inside (let's face it, we all like to watch our food cooking.)

Plus the oven itself became unreliable. We'd turn it on to three hundred and fifty degrees, and a half hour later, it had only gotten up to two hundred. That's not good. We started turning the oven on earlier and earlier in the day, to give it a chance to preheat for our evening's meal. Four o'clock in the afternoon, then three o'clock, two o'clock.

So we decided to buy a new stove.

Our previous stove was a Kenmore Elite, made by Sears. Except for the problems it developed, we really liked it, so went to the local Sears to check out the latest models.

Found one we really liked. Found out we could have it delivered the very next day. Bought it.

It was a stainless steel joy, nestled in our kitchen between our black prep counters.

We do a lot of cooking, and this model has five burners.

And we could finally see into the oven again, like looking down into the clear waters of a brook, seeing all the way to the bumpy bottom, the different-colored ovals of baked potato, beef roast, broiled halibut.

During our joy playing with this new toy, I looked at all the racks that came with it, including racks meant specifically for the warming drawer underneath (which also has a dough-proofing setting.)

One of the shiny racks in my hand, I noticed, thin steel rods comprising its surface, had a loose rod. One end of one of the rods hadn't been welded down properly, so that it had detached from the other side.


I felt depressed. Like buying a new car, and the leather wrapped around the steering wheel hadn't been properly glued down, so that one ear of leather, where the wrap finished, stuck up. Sure, not a big thing, not like a tire that falls off, or a burner that, clicked on, geysers up to the overhead fan in a Jerry Lewis tribute, but still. I had hoped it would be perfect. At least for a day.

I happened to look out the wide picture window in our breakfast nook, and noticed a pool of water under our hose cart. So after spending $245, we still had a leak. Not as bad as before, but still.

I took a swig of my ice water, felt a twinge of pain in my lower left canine. Not as bad as before the appointment, but still.

Which meant I'd have to go back to the dentist.

There was that moment where, honestly, filled with frustration, I felt sorry for myself.

But then I thought, The stove is a hell of a lot better than what we had before. The leak isn't that bad, and in any event will probably be popular with all the birds, rabbits, and stray cats we get in our backyard. The toothache now only lasts a moment, and I can easily be careful how I swallow, until I can make another appointment.

I'm alive.

Let the world leak.