Breathe in, breathe out. I’m staying calm, paying no notice to the beads of sweat popping up on my forehead. It’s a full flight in delay, 143 people: old folks, sales men and women, two cute babies screaming for attention and a bunch of other travelers who are not yet in the process of traveling.
Four days ago, I was in a dentist’s chair—mouth open, eyes closed, listening to the whir of a tiny drill and the tap, tap, tap of an instrument that was built for probing and uncovering the stuff just below my gum line. I had just paid for the extraction of two teeth and the placement of two posts for later implants. Like the city of Detroit, my mouth is under major reconstruction. It’s all my fault; I deserve the bill and the pain. I’ve never been much for flossing and I’ve used the same red-handled toothbrush for years. The bristles are now nothing but soothing mush, making friendly contact with my teeth and gums.
But I don’t deserve this delay. My left jowl is sticking out like I’m sucking a baseball. The pilot comes on the intercom to inform us that a starter to one of the engines has failed, and a replacement is on its way, and, although he and the entire airline are sorry for the delay, my safety is their first priority.
Actually, my mouth is my first priority. An hour goes by, and not in a zippy fashion. I ask the flight attendant for a cup of ice water—not in a complaining, angry sort of way, but more like how a young boy might ask his mother for a Pop-Tart. I imagine the ice cubes soothing my pain, cooling the left side of my mouth. The flight attendant looks down at me and smiles the same way Sister Theresa used to smile at me when I forgot my homework. With loud and deliberate elocution, she instructs me that, by delivering my ice water, the whole plane’s departure might be further delayed, and my fellow passengers would not be all too happy with that, would they. I lift my contorted face and give her a compliant nod, while thinking about various forms of creative evisceration I’ve learned from Dexter, a TV guy who’s a little messed up, but very thorough in his delivery.
The beauty of this particular flight is that I kept my cool. I searched for humor. I enjoyed some social banter with a banker and, of all people, a periodontist who was returning from a conference about patient-centered care. And there was this lady from Kokomo who was watching a Spaghetti Western on her computer. I could see the screen and, with a 20-year-old Clint Eastwood as the star, sound wasn’t much of a necessity to follow the gist of the story.
Back when I was younger and not quite as patient and experienced, I used to think I was always doing more important stuff than the people around me. A few unanticipated hours on the tarmac would drive me nuts. I’d take it personally and let my agitation seep out of my seat and down the center aisle so that all passengers would feel my displeasure. Now I can play fun little games in my head.
So here I sit. And smile. Once we take off and eventually land, I’m going to treat myself to a brand new toothbrush, the kind with real bristles.