As a dentist, my mother has a tendency to see the world in terms of teeth. The model in the fashion magazine, the anchor on the local news, the butcher at the grocery store: each of these loses any form of distinguishing characteristic upon opening their mouths. “Wow, would you look at the teeth on that guy,” she’ll say, watching Brian Williams elaborate on a new bill passed in Congress. The news doesn’t matter, nor does what he’s wearing. A nuclear device could off in Manhattan, and he alert the nation wearing only a cowboy hat and nipple clamps, and she would have said the exact same thing. “Whoever did his veneers did an amazing job.”
I guess I can’t really blame her, though. After spending 25 years looking into people’s mouths, what else is she going to notice about them? It’s the same way garbage men see the world in terms of trash, or proctologists see the world in terms of assholes—that subtle, yet trying side-effect of dedicating your life to a single pursuit.
What made this difficult, however, was that, as a family, we tend to watch a lot of television programs with British people in them. I’m not talking about the Hugh Grant or Colin Firth kind of British people, either; these are the non-Hollywood types, the world’s leading scholars on Elizabethan England or 18th century ballistics, whose teeth reinforce the theory that Stonehenge is not the ancient druid burial ground we all know and love, but the leading text in British orthodontics. My mother looks at these people the same way a feminist might look at Howard Stern. “Oh my god,” she’ll say, turning away and wincing. “His teeth are terrible. Oh my god. Oh, I can’t even look at them they’re so bad.” It’s not that she’s disgusted so much, it’s more that she’s offended, like a Republican when you tell them you’re not going to vote. “What do you mean you’re not going to exercise your right to braces?” I imagine her saying. And then she’ll whip out a copy of the Declaration of Independence and point out the line that clearly states our rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Orthodontia.
The thing that baffles me most about her dental fixation is the question of when—when did she go from seeing scholars for what they know, to seeing them for what they obviously don’t know about advances in modern dentistry? While it’s hard to imagine her any other way, it’s even harder to believe there was a distinct moment when the change occurred. That kind of thing only happens in movies or books, where characters move from innocence to knowledge with the ease it takes to walk from the living room to the kitchen. “As God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again,” they say, brandishing their fist on top of a hill. “If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill…as God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”
It’s just so hokey, all that drummed up theatricality. No one actually does that in real life. Especially not my mother.
I thought if this one night as I walked into the stockroom of Victoria’s Secret, where I’d taken a job as a cashier to learn everything I could about women. I’d been asked to check on some panties for a customer, when I heard one of my managers, who I’ll call Chastity, yell to me from the back office. Curious, I walked in and found her sitting there with my coworker, Rebecca, both looking like as if they had something on their minds.
“Close the door,” said Chastity. And I did so–rather excitedly. These were good odds.
“So, Christopher,” she said, before hesitating and turning to Rebecca. “You ask him. I don’t want to ask him.” Chastity turned towards me.
“Do you like a girl who bleaches her butthole?”
“What?” I said. “A girl who bleaches her what?”
“Bleaches her butthole,” she repeated. “You know, whitens her cottontail?”
She said this as if Bleaches Her Butthole had been an old high school classmate of ours, whose real name I had forgotten, but whose nickname would surely jog my memory.
“Bleaches Her Butthole, you know, Whitens Her Cottontail?”
“Oh yeah, Whitens Her Cottontail. What’s she up to these days?”
“I’ve got to be honest,” I said. “I’ve never heard of this. Why would a girl even do that?”
“Well, if your favorite position is doggy style, you might want everything to look nice and clean down there.”
“Why don’t you just learn how to wipe properly?” I said.
She shook her head.
“No, because no matter how thorough you are, poo follicles build up over time and you can’t get rid of them!”
This was a malapropism. She’d meant to say “particles,” as follicles are small, spherical groups of cells containing a cavity. We most associate hair growth with follicles, an image that, when combined with feces, has the ability to inspire mass suicide.
“But, I still don’t get why a girl would do this,” I said. “Why don’t you just use some baby wipes, or take a shower, or, if you’re still having issues, just take some steel wool to it?”
She put her face in her hands. Realizing her logic wasn’t getting her anywhere, she did what most people would do in this kind of situation: appealed to a higher source.
“Well, porn stars bleach their buttholes all the time. Why do you think they look so good?”
I turned to Chastity for confirmation.
“What do you I look like to you?!” she said. “An expert on porn stars?!”
In fact, she did look like an expert on porn stars, so I nodded my head.
“I AM NOT!” She exclaimed. “What about me says I look like an expert on porn stars?”
Not wanting to stir the turd any further, and remembering that I was doing a check for a customer, I shrugged my shoulders and told Rebecca no, I do not make it a requirement of my girlfriends to bleach their buttholes, but would certainly consider it in the future. She seemed pleased with this.
Later that night, I came home and did what most single men do when football’s not on and there’s nothing to eat: I made some popcorn, opened my laptop and put on some porn. This was nothing special, just something I could get for free on the internet, from YouPorn or PornTube or one of those post-it-yourself porn websites. Surprisingly, I found something good, and was just getting into it, when I noticed the girl had definitely not bleached her butthole. “Oh my god,” I said, dropping the lotion. “That thing is terrible. Oh my god. Oh, I can’t even look at it it’s so bad.”
And in that moment, I had become my mother.
Terrified, I closed my laptop and pulled up my pants, trying to forget everything I’d just seen. I spent the rest of the evening this way, taking hot showers and imagining myself with Blake Lively. But none of it worked. None of it could overpower the image I now had burned into my head, as if the world I’d once known had given way to something completely perverse. A world where bleach is no longer exclusive to clothes and teeth, and I find myself thinking with regularity:
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