Smile Politely


In my obdurate attempt to postpone or forgo entirely the root canal my dentist recommended, I began brushing with a three percent dilution of hydrogen peroxide, which some Internet self-professed expert had insisted would eliminate the need for oral surgery. Also, I purchased a battery-operated Water-Pic flosser, which works on the same principle as a SuperSoaker water gun, only for your mouth.

It occurred to me that I might use this instrument to threaten the barking German Shepherd that snaps at my open car window every morning at 4 a.m., when I deliver the daily paper to a farmhouse just outside Broadlands. I had complained to the owners, but the dog persisted. I doubted it would actually bite me, but the proximity and the ferocity of the barking interrupts the night quiet, the audiobook, or any meditative thought I might be having. It startles me. I involuntarily experience some primal fear reaction and every day it takes a certain amount of will and faith to stick my arm outside the window to within inches of those snapping teeth.

The flosser itself is not engineered for intuitive operation, clearly not an Apple product. There is a smaller, separate “off” button from the larger “on” button, so the first several times I used it, upon removing it from my mouth, I ended up shooting jets of high-powered water across the bathroom and onto the mirror, walls, and shower curtain, while I frantically pressed the “on” button in futility. Now when I use it, I keep my thumb on the “off” button while the water pulses through my teeth and I lean over the sink, allowing the liquid and sediment to slobber down the drain.

There used to be two dogs at the place, one a mangy and even more ferocious, feral mutt. The owners claimed no knowledge of this other yellow dog, which has since disappeared to roam random cornfields, or perhaps it was run over. The Prius is a quiet car. I should be able to approach this house and escape detection by the German Shepherd, but he anticipates my arrival. I often take animals and birds by surprise in the road — possums, raccoons, deer, voles, herons, skunks, occasionally a wild turkey, at least twice a mink, pheasants, many rabbits, pairs of coyote cubs, silver, red, and black squirrels, once a turtle — and I kill some, a fact which I lament. Common barn owls sometimes sit in the middle of the road, looking for mice. I think I may have hit an owl once. I hope it was something else. Maybe a frog.

Invariably, too, I nibble on food as I drive through the dark countryside while the rest of the world sleeps. I especially like big bowls of popcorn. I used to throw popcorn to some of the dogs. For a while, I carried dog biscuits. Nothing pleased the barking German Shepherd though.

I also eat my homemade yogurt out of a mason jar. Before I leave home, I load it up with some Stevia, tahini, and blueberries and then eat as I drive. People sometimes ask me how to make the yogurt. Put a bunch of mason jars in the oven. Set the oven to “warm” or the lowest possible temperature. It helps to put all the jars on a pizza pan rather than try to load them individually. A gallon of milk will make ten pints. I think that’s right. Then, heat up your milk. When the thermometer says 180 degrees, remove the pan from the stove and put it in a larger pan filled with ice. Cool it down to 120 degrees. I almost forgot, put a pint or so of your starter yogurt into yet another big bowl to sit at room temperature until the cooled-down milk is ready. Pour the milk into the starter yogurt and strain and stir it in well. Take the jars on the pizza pan out of the oven. Turn off the stove (this is crucial). Pour the yogurt mixture into the jars. Return the jars to the TURNED OFF oven. Take the knob off of the oven dial so someone doesn’t accidentally come in, attempt to pre-heat the oven to make brownies as a midnight snack and end up boiling your yogurt and ruining it. Wait seven or eight hours. And it’s yogurt.

On the morning before I remembered to bring the Water-Pic along on the route with me, as the German Shepherd approached the car, I realized that, with only a slight turn of my steering wheel, I could manipulate the dog’s approach, nudging him toward the passenger side of the car rather than the driver side. That way, the dog still barked and irritated me, but at a distance, and I didn’t have to hesitate when I stuck my arm out of the window.

The next day I brought the Water-Pic. I remembered that with a twist of the steering wheel, I could trick or coax the dog to go to the opposite side of the car. Instead, I turned the wheel the other way, almost guaranteeing that the dog would jump at my window and bark. And the dog did exactly that. I clearly wanted the chance to test out the defensive capabilities of my shooting device. I had armed myself to defend myself, but instead — and this could very easily be more often the case than not — by being prepared with a weapon for self-defense, I encouraged the use of that weapon and anticipated the encounter. I had actually set up the whole thing, I guess.

The Water-Pic worked wonderfully well, frightening away the dog to a safe distance of twelve feet or so, where it continued to bark and jump backwards as the water jets splashed him.

The following day, I loaded up the Water-Pic and prepared to repeat the tactics of defense and aggression. The dog approached the car as usual, apparently having learned no lesson at all. But instead of shooting the dog with my flossing device, I steered the wheel in such a way as to trick the dog toward the opposite side of the car.

This was less fun, but it would save me the need to bring the loaded Water-Pic with me on the route every morning, for one thing. I continued to drive, the Water-Pic flosser completely filled. I decided to use it to remove any popcorn hulls that might be sticking in my teeth. As I approached several other orange newspaper tubes, the warmish water was gushing, almost stinging, in my mouth. I could hardly spit out as I usually do without getting the inside of the car and my clothes and the remaining newspapers horribly wet. So I simply decided to swallow as the jets pulsed against my teeth and tongue and gums, because after all, it’s only water. It doesn’t matter.

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