Puberty is rough. Orthodontists are scam artists. My mother is a sadist.
In 1996 these three truths collided to create the perfect storm.
At 14, I looked like this:
Simultaneously, my 10 year old bro looked like this:
The cool kids on the block, we were not.
What we lacked in trend-setting however, we made up for in mediocrity.
Naturally, neither of us ever wore our headgear.
And yes Mom, I know you are reading this and already getting irritated that you lost that battle, but I ask you to look at those two faces and feel pride.
Can’t do it, can you?
Anyway, let’s get back to the story.
As a result of never wearing our headgear, neither of our overbites were improving. I was in the onset of my teenage rebellious hayday so this did not bother me.
Kid-Ginger however, had other problems.
At only 10, he was still anxious to please my parents and all figures of authority. Every month on the night before our visit to the orthodontist, he’d strap the shiny apparatus into place and hope against all odds that one night of donning the robotic creation would fix his face.
Deep down however, he knew this wouldn’t work and so he’d get nervous. Pacing around his room, he was always trying to think of ways to alleviate the oncoming argument between himself, the orthodontist, and our parents.
Nothing ever worked. Every month, the morning would arrive, and we’d troop into the appointment like lambs to the slaughter.
Not one for privacy, this particular orthodontist had one giant room with several dental chairs in a row. It was a Fordistic haven for the humiliation of American youth and their teeth.
Kid-Ginger and I were usually seated next to one another.
It was during one such morning while I waited for the assistant to come and hook my head up to the Matrix and disassemble my mouth; that I chose to glance over at what was happening on my little bro’s end.
The orthodontist was just leaning over to take a look in Kid-Ginger’s open mouth. Sweat gathering on the little guys forehead, he looked up in fear as Dr. Iago’s face twisted into pure disgust and he backed several steps away from my brother’s chair.
His eyes scanning his assistants in fear, he loudly announced:
“Someone get me the manual, we’ve got a situation here.”
Then, cautiously re-approaching the redhead’s chair he took another repulsed glance and said:
“Son, is that hurting you? How long has THAT been growing in your mouth?”
Kid-Ginger’s cheeks now the color of beets, he shook his head nervously and asked:
“how long has what, is this about the headgear, I don’t know, I wear it, well I try to wear it, what is happening in my mouth?!”
My dental chair at this point had gone from seat of doom to the best seat in the house as I watched this melodrama unfold.
“Kid, your tongue is black. Did you eat licorice for breakfast? Do you brush your teeth? Where is that darn manual Peggy!!!”
(Peggy was the assistant I had been awaiting, so her scramble to locate the manual containing all mouth diseases did not bother me in the slightest)
Kid-Ginger, rapidly approaching black-out mode shook his feet and insisted he had not eaten anything for breakfast because he had been too nervous.
By this point all of the assistants were peering into my brother’s mouth in order to identify the problem.
Each of them looked horrified.
Booming over the intercom I suddenly heard the words:
“Would the father of Kid-Ginger please come into the workroom immediately please. The father of Kid-Ginger.”
Enter in one sarcastic lawyer of a father. My father.
“Sir, we need to show you the situation that is your son’s mouth. I’m afraid we can’t work on him today. Until we identify the fungus, we can’t associate our tools with it. As of right now, it appears to be something called Black Hairy Tongue.”
I watched unblinkingly as my father glanced into his youngest offspring’s mouth. His own jaw fell open, he stopped breathing, and he demanded of my brother:
“What in Gods name have you been eating? Good lord do you ever brush your teeth? Son, your tongue is absolutely black. How long has it been like that?!?! What do you mean you haven’t noticed? How on Earth can you possibly not have noticed?!?!? How many times do I have to tell you to USE YOUR HEAD?!?!”
The room went silent.
All eyes fixed on Kid-Ginger as he stared at my father like a deer in headlights.
Slight ruffle of pages as the various assistants found new diseases in the manual and peered nervously into the gaping hole in my brother’s face. Shaking their heads no, the shuffling of pages continued.
Finally, my father ordered the two of us to the car. On the ride home, he continued to question my silently shaking brother. Staring out the window in sheer terror, it appeared Kid-Ginger had gone mute.
Ten minutes passed. Tension in the vehicle was high.
Then finally, the trembling voice of one 10 year old redhead announced:
“Well, I did drink a lot of Pepto Bismol last night, I was so nervous about today”
My father turned his head and stared at his son in disbelief.
“You were so nervous about the appointment you drank that stuff? You hate that stuff.”
“I know Dad, but I didn’t know what else to do”
Later that evening it was discovered via prehistoric internet searching that Pepto Bismol can turn your tongue black if drunk in excess.
Turns out Kid-Ginger never had a fungus after all. By dinnertime, he was fine.
My stomach was not so great though.
Having laughed so hard through the entire ordeal, my tummy ached for days.