by Edward Jesse Capobianco
It’s not the classiest of restaurants, but it is a cut above your average Sunday-night-family-outing place. Dim lighting, glasses that actually lived up to their name, cloth napkins.
“What is it about cloth napkins that says: ‘this is a formal meal’?”
“Huh?” She looks up from her drumming fingernails with a look of open-mouted, polite surprise. Her fingertips barely touch the thick, white tablecloth. Her fingers twitch slightly in rhythm, like tiny, synchronized insects.
“I’m sorry, what was it you said,” she asks.
“So…” She exaggerates pursing her lips and tilts her head. She looks at her fingernails drumming on the white tablecloth. A mutual friend had set us up. Well, her friend. My co-worker. The slight tension diffuses when the waiter appears.
“Hi, my name’s Ryan, and I’ll be your server for tonight. Can I start you off with some drinks?”
I interject. “Actually, I think we know what we want.”
“Okay, great, what can I get you?”
I look back at the menu. I don’t know why I do this but, even when I know what I want, I always look back at the menu.
“I’ll get the fettucini with clam sauce.”
“And to drink?”
“Just water is fine.”
The waiter scribbles quickly on his little pad. Where do they get those pads? Does the restaurant supply them? Are they normal pads, or does some company somewhere manufacture little pads of paper with the express purpose of selling them to the food industry?
The waiter turns his head and swivels his hips towards the other side of the small, round table.
“And for you, Miss?”
Dark, somewhat dull, blue eyes look first at the waiter, then—oh, there it is—they glance down at the menu. I suppose it isn’t just me that does that.
“I’ll have the chicken caesar,” typical first-date choice: the chicken was filling, but salad was still feminine –“but could I get extra croutons?” That was interesting. Extra carbs? Then why even go for the salad? Unless she actually wanted the salad, and wasn’t just ordering it as an image booster. Otherwise, why order them—the extra croutons?
“And what can I get you to drink?”
“Water for me too, please. With lemon.”
The waiter finishes scrawling, and succinctly puts the pen and pad into one of the pockets in his black apron. He looks first at her, then at me.
“Will that be all?”
“Yes, that’ll be fine, thanks.”
He smiles politely and hurries off to place our order. We watch him retreat and, before it’s obvious that too much time has past, we turn back to each other. The interruption in our lack of conversation seemed to have energized her, and she plows back into the jungle of preprandial, blind-date conversation with summoned confidence.
“So, what is it you do again?”
“I’m in marketing. I work for BIC—you know, like the pens?”
Warmth starts to settle into my limbs. We’ve begun. We’ve started the ritual; the conversation will take the same turns, prompt the same smiles, lead to the same faked surprise. We’ve both experienced it before, and now we’re doing it again. Albeit, I haven’t done it for a while.
Regardless, we did start the required conversation. Not because the process itself is pleasurable, and not even because it is a means to an end. Sure, we may tell ourselves that we need to get through the pleasantries to really know each other, but that isn’t why we do it. We do it because we crave the feeling of surrender. The feeling of domination by a pre-written script.
“Do you like it?”
I can tell that she feels the same warmth, the same sense of purpose. We’ve started the liturgy, and we can feel ourselves washing away in the vastness of it.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a job.” I smile. She laughs, as required. “You said you’re a receptionist at…”
“A law firm.”
“That’s right, that’s right.” I smile at her. She smiles too, re-adjusting slightly in her seat. Her dead-leaf colored hair shifts as she moves.
Then the waiter brings us our food. We slip back into the familiar groove, moving from family, to college, to childhood anecdotes. We discuss our mutual friends, and then we move into hobbies.
“So, what do you like to do? Like, if you had time to do whatever you wanted, what would you—uh—spend it on?” She smiles and bends to takes a sip from her drink, staring up at me while her head is lowered with the glittering eyes of the at-ease. What made her choose to go on this date with me? Was it just because our friend had set us up?
“Well, I like going to the dentist.”
A short, playfully expectant pause.
“No, really, I like going to the dentist.”
She lifts one eyebrow, still on the verge of laughter, not sure if I’m joking or not.
“Lots of reasons. I mean–”
The waiter returns and points to our plates. “Are you all done with these?”
He picks them up and stacks them on his arm. We smile at him in polite silence.
Once the waiter leaves she starts speaking immediately: “Okay, even if you do like going to the dentist, you can’t go more than a few times a year, maybe several times a year at most. Which wouldn’t be enough to qualify as a hobby or whatever.”
She’s decided I’m telling the truth now (was it my facial expression that let her know?), and appears genuinely intrigued. The angle of her wrist as she twirls her finger on the edge of her water glass has a certain, early 1990’s eroticism about it. I could almost see her with tossed, blond-highlighted hair wrapping around her head like an astronaut’s helmet. A stiff, pastel blouse over light-stained jeans, too-red lipstick. A look of concentrated near-malice intensity. A slight glow in the center and a soft-focus blurring at the sides of the frame.
“No, you’re right. They don’t really let you come in more than a few times a year, at least, not for a normal check-up. Which is what I like. Not just the dentist per se, but those annual and biannual check-ups.”
“So it’s not really a hobby, then…”
“That depends. You could call it a hobby, but it’s more than that for me. And, just because one dentist doesn’t let you have your annual (or biannual) check-up, doesn’t mean you can’t go to multiple dentists. Okay, sure, you have to do a little—possibly sub-legal—juggling of addresses and names and medical information and maybe consider taking out insurance policies in more than one medical insurance company, but it’s possible.”
She watches me, eyebrows furrowed. Still her finger slowly circles the edge of her glass. Still, it is erotic.
I continue: “Which is what I do. But wait—don’t judge me for being criminal or anything. It doesn’t make me any money—it doesn’t really take money away from anyone except me. Which, as it happens, can be a lot of money, especially if I do take out more than one medical insurance policy. Regardless, I do all this just for those oral hygiene check-ups.”
She continues with it all: the furrowed eyebrows, the twirling finger, the erotic tilt of her wrist.
Then she abruptly flits her hand to the table, clasping it in her opposite hand and leans over closer to me.
“So, what, you’re a neat-freak? A little bit of a hypochondriac? You can’t bear the thought of yellow teeth?”
I notice that a little bit of ceasar-dressing-whitened lettuce is stuck to her sweater. It rests lightly just above the curve of her left breast.
“No, it isn’t that. I’m not messy, but I wouldn’t call myself neat. It isn’t about health, or about the aesthetics of my smile. It doesn’t even have to do with my teeth at all, really.”
Her eyebrows are still furrowed, but she’s interested, not concerned. The lingering glow of our scripted date-conversation is almost post-coital. I know this—in part—because her curiosity has gradually become infused with placidity.
“It’s a spiritual experience, for me. Transcendent. You go to the dentist, and you lie down, and look up at the bright light. Above you, the dentist reaches into your mouth with glittering tools and changes you. You lie, passive, and someone else reaches inside you to make you better. They speak to you, but you can’t really respond. It’s like a reverse confession. You are helpless and dominated and yet you dominate the dentist too, in a way. He speaks, and you listen—you judge, you grade, you assess. He becomes secondary to you. You get a window into someone else’s mind, while he reaches inside your body. The ultimate intimacy, but with almost no risk.”
She notices the piece of lettuce just above her left breast. She picks it off.
“And it’s intimate in more ways than just interpersonal. I mean, the experience is a sexual one. You open yourself up to this…this array of electronic, moving, sharp, mirrored, silvery phallic symbols that go into you. You are invaded by the technological and unified with it. It’s sacred. And the two become one flesh. Bone of my bones: teeth bones, metal bones of the technocracy. The science fiction of it—it becomes a sacrament. The orgy of man and machine, of tradition, of process.”
She’s still holding the lettuce. What to do with it? The ground? Her plate?
“This is what I do—this is what I want. This is what we all want. Our culture isn’t just multi-cultural anymore, it lies somewhere between a-cultural and pan-cultural.”
She still hasn’t tried to speak. Her body language has shifted from playfully rapt, to mildly disinterested, to something I can’t recognize.
“We don’t have a Church—everything is our Church. This is our Church. You go to the dentist and you connect, you become part of the streaming information and moving parts.”
She pops the piece of lettuce in her mouth.
“It is the ultimate pleasure. It’s like watching the perfect film and having the film bring you to orgasm—yet it doesn’t sacrifice the purely voyeuristic for the participatory. You are both fully spectator and fully spectacle. Fully god and fully man.”
She’s leaned back, flat blue eyes meeting mine. Her posture is that of an arms-crossed-over-chest-listener, but without the arms crossed. They’re down by her sides.
“It’s art, it’s art. I’m an artist, in a way. It’s art evolved to its final point because there is no artist.”
She is still staring at me with an indiscernible expression. She reaches out for her spoon, slowly. Her fingers: splayed. Splayed slightly, like a spider with its limbs blown back by a strong, perpendicularly-placed gust of wind.
“But not just for that reason. You don’t do anything, nor are you really a voyeur. It’s the quantum mechanics of art—a wave function that’s uncollapsible because it needs some Observer that never will. Never will observe, I mean.”
Her fingers reach her spoon and pick it up, thoughtfully. She finally breaks eye contact with me and looks at the spoon, moving her arm like a ballet dancer up to chin-height. Her face remains stony—not in the stern sense, but the indefinable.
“And, even deeper down the rabbit hole, there isn’t really any art. It’s art without art. Dust to dust. Art deconstructed to where there is no need for art, or purpose, or artist, or viewer.”
Her head is tilted towards the spoon laying flat in her open palm. Her eyes are latched on to its metal length, as if it was magnetized and her pupils were iron filings. I see her lips purse, as if in resolution. Her fingers are splayed gently, and her hand balances on her wrist. The tilt of her wrist again, inverted. Still erotic.
“It’s sacred without any real purpose. Don’t think it’s about keeping teeth clean—that’s not the purpose. There is no purpose.”
Her eyes are fixated languidly on the spoon. Concentrating, she watches it slowly rise from her palm. It floats an imperceptibly small distance above her skin. It gradually hovers higher. One inch above her hand.
“Yet—or maybe because of this—it is ecstatic. The final bliss. The song of the universe in an eardrum-popping-and-bleeding-down-your-neck-cacophony.”
Two inches. The waiter returns with the check in hand.
“Can I interest you in any…uh…” His eyes have drifted towards the spoon. Not breaking his gaze from the utensil, looking at his overturned reflection suspended in air, he swallows, “…desserts?”
I keep staring, unblinking, at her face. It’s turned to her right side, facing her right hand with the erotic tilt of the wrist.
“So you keep going. As much as you can.”
“Because it is the realization of all religion. All art. All entertainment and pleasure and sexuality. It is what it is to be human. Finally.”
Six inches. It’s accelerating.
“Or maybe superhuman. Or sub-human? Perhaps it’s all three—a superposition of pure humanity, pure transcendence, and pure animalistic actualization.”
Other people in the restaurant have started watching the spoon. And now other spoons and forks and plates begin to rise. She focuses, I can see this—see this in my peripherals. I still haven’t blinked; my eyes are pinned to her face. And tables rise. Everything has risen, is hovering, is suspended.
“And so I keep going. To dentists. This is what I do.”