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Through the Looking Glass

Today, I spoke to three people who didn’t have a single tooth in their heads.*

After a week of staying holed up in our cabin and not seeing or speaking to a human other than my husband, Christian convinced me that I needed to venture outside. He’d been out several times and felt that my lingering fatigue and lack of motivation was due to some stink needing to be blown off. So, we looked up an antiques auction and set out for an adventure.

Thirty minutes later we pulled up to building occupied by every weirdo in Sullivan County.** This auction house was really a sad little junk store selling off some recently deceased person’s effects. To pull in substantially better income, they should install a two-sided mirror and charge admission to stare at its customers in their natural habitat. They were a wild, motley crew who all seemed to know one another, for better or for worse, and freely exchanged pleasantries and ribbed each other. This was going to be fun. Interesting, and fun.

A friendly, 20-something young woman greeted us and gave us our auction number: 121 written in Sharpie on the back of a paper plate worn so thin it felt like tissue and couldn’t have held a dollop of Cool Whip. The girl was a bit plump, not unattractive, and showed no signs of a meth habit yet she was as toothless as the day she was born. Two rows of her pink fleshy gums glistened with saliva.

We passed a row of decrepit men waiting on discarded furniture and made our way inside to the “showroom”. I was still contemplating what could have caused such a young girl to lose Every Single Tooth in her head when I discovered that Christian and I had more teeth between the two of us than everyone in the showroom combined. Where are we?

That’s when I spoke to the second toothless person. She was a middle-aged fellow shopper browsing rows of boxed up, dusty, broken household items. She called dibs on a fur coat and shrieked at anyone who dared fondle it. She threatened to shoot one man who tried it on. (To be fair, he was plastered and nearly ripped it.) She was joking (I think) but, well, I would not be testing her.

The third toothless woman was 50-something and, like the first, worked for the auction house. She turned off an old tube television that was buzzing and flickering, the screen stuck on the same image. “Oh, were you watching that?” No, we assured her, we were not. I laughed because I was sure she was joking. She was not. Probably because it’s quite possible her other clientele would be content to watch a buzzing frozen screen.

As we contemplated leaving–other than the sideshow, there was nothing of interest for us there save for a nightstand– a short young man with a trucker hat and flannel shirt quickly entered the showroom, scanned the room as though he were looking for something in particular, then locked eyes with me. A huge grin (several teeth still intact) spread across his face as he turned around and ran out as quickly as he’d come in. He’d come in to gawk at me. I was on the inside of the two-way mirror.

I’m the weirdo, here.

But wait a second. My friend Jim Hall once wrote a letter of recommendation for me for my application to join the Peace Corps. He compared me to the girl in To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, he used to call me by her nickname “Scout” as he mentored me at FirstMerit in Akron, Ohio. Jim was convinced that I had bravery in my blood and, more importantly, a specific kind of humility that comes only from a hardscrabble life living amongst and fiercely protecting physically and mentally challenged humans. “She is not afraid of the Boo Radleys in the world,” he had written. “Because she is of them. She is them.”

That’s why I had kissed a drunk, toothless homeless man on the streets of NYC one day.***

“It’s my berrff-day!” He had shouted, jumping in front of me and my friend Keith, blocking our path. Keith had been visibly shaken and tensed up as the very happy, very inebriated man slung around a bottle of hooch and stood too close.

“It is?!” I had shouted back. “Yep,” he had slurred. “I’m FITTY!”

“Fifty? WOW! Well, happy birthday to you!” I squeezed his cheeks, puckering his lips and gave him a big kiss. He lifted me off the sidewalk (or maybe I lifted him) and we hugged. It was a good hug, too.

“Happy birthday!” I had sung out again as Keith and I continued toward our red carpet party.

“What the hell just happened?” Keith had asked.

“It was his birthday. I just wished him a happy one.”

Back at the auction house, being gawked at reminded me that I was the outsider here with my full set of perfect white teeth, clean clothes that matched and fit, and body parts intact and functioning at around 90%. But I felt comfortable. I have spent many hours in various holes-in-the-wall with folks as hard up or worse off than these poor folks. It’s just been awhile and the undiluted concentration under one roof was a tad jarring.

However, as much as I love making chit chat with strangers, whether they be of the freak show variety or not, my husband does not. Christian’s just not the social sort of butterfly and, like my friend Keith, gets squirmy when forced to make small talk.

So when I informed him that if we did bid on that crappy little nightstand and won, it would mean we had to stay till the end to settle up and collect our goods. The table wasn’t that spectacular and its drawer held remnants of a life recently extinguished:  syringes, used tissues, and medicine bottles filled with pills taken to stave off the inevitable. Christian decided it wasn’t worth the wait or the effort. Agreed! We headed into the entry hall to return our tissue paper plate numbered 121 and, so as not to seem rude, browsed through a rack of used DVDs.****

While waiting for Christian, I taught a mentally challenged lesbian with enormous, pendulous bra-less breasts***** what foosball is and gabbed about her favorite sports. Might I remind you this is the reason my husband thought I needed to get out of the house in the first place–I NEED to talk to people. She was people and equally desperate to gab.

“If the Giants win this week they go to the Super Bowl,” she told me. I tried to explain the playoffs and that she was mistaken. There was no convincing her otherwise.

In medieval times, she may have been a soothsayer or perhaps burned at the stake for witchcraft. Either way, if the Giants go to the Super Bowl, you can bet I will ask her for more predictions. Because I will be back. Because I’m of them and am them, and because I am totally going to bid on that fur coat.

 

*Oh, there were at least seven other toothless folks there, I just didn’t have conversations with them. And it’s quite possible that their wisdom teeth were present but impacted.

**I’m sure this is not factually correct.

***I say “one day” but I have been known to hug, kiss and give homeless people the actual shirts off my back. I don’t know why. It’s fun. Their faces light up like a kid at Christmas. Maybe one of them will kill me, but I doubt it. If so, all press is good press, right?

****They had an excellent selection. We scored Transamerica, Capote, The Warriors, K Street, Shaun of the Dead and Reality Bites for a grand total of $10.

*****Her breasts are why bras were invented. Christian was amazed that the giant appendages that swung from her body are the same body part that men lust after. They are. Suck on that!

3 Comments

  • Kambri

    Hear, hear! I remember when I first moved to NYC my ex-boyfriend scolded me for talking to everyone. That’s when I knew he wasn’t for me.

    And Christian isn’t so much weirded out or untrusting…just uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter if it’s black tie, backyard BBQ or anything in between. He’d just rather talk to his friends and that’s it.

    I love “Capote” which I saw with the director and actors for a post-screening talk back at the AMMI –I think I took you and Alexa there during your visit to Queens. And I enjoyed “Truman”, too. They came out the same year and I watched and loved both.

  • Stacey

    I can so relate to this. I can gab with ANYONE…which is a trait that has freaked out many a friend and my husband too. Maybe I am too trusting, but I still believe in the goodness and equality of people.

    I own “Capote.” You won’t be disappointed (if you haven’t watched it already).

    Good for you, Kambri!

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