The urban environment is a plentiful bounty.
Chicken strips and gravy: where you dip the solid chicken in the liquid chicken so you can dip the solid flour in the liquid flour.
It is through the humble, earthy flavor of black-eyed peas and cornbread that we learn the lesson of prosperity. Don’t forget your roots.
May we all prosper in 2016!
In high school, I ran with a group of guys who, in retrospect, I call “The Four Horsemen”. Greg, Steve, Doug, and I, with our gaggle of girlfriends and anciliary characters. Doug was the last of us to join our group, with me the third. I met Greg in bowling class, and Steve through his friendship with Greg; I’d join them for lunch because they were nicer than most. Doug I met a year later in drafting class; a loner, he’d go off to not eat lunch down by the DECA snack bar. Finally, after enough harrassing, we got him to join our ranks and we all proceeded to do adolescent nonsense at each other’s houses.
I think it was my 18th birthday or somesuch. Maybe a sleepover. My mother, preparing for a houseful of hungry guys, made a huge pot roast with all the trimmings for dinner. It got loud and raucous, as we were wont to do sometimes. Occasionally we’d attempt to outgross each other. Stuff guys do. And so the meal went.
I took a bite of meat and chewed for what seemed like forever; there was gristle or inedible fat in my bite, so I reached in, pulled it out, and set it on the side of my plate. Without missing a beat, Doug, who sat to my right, reached down, picked up the chewed-up wad of beef fat, shoved it into his mouth, and commenced to eat it until it was gone.
It was then that I knew that my friend, Doug Marshall, was the Devil.
Run forward to the end of that year. I had returned home for the holiday after my first semester at college, and I would hang out with these guys, all high school seniors at this point, as much as possible during the holiday break. Doug’s family was gone to north Arkansas for the holiday but he had to stay behind due to his pizza delivery job, so we went to his place a lot. Can’t let a buddy stay way out there alone with no parents around, right? Call it charity.
The Marshall compound was, by my standards, a rather sizable house with a pool, hot tub, pond, patio, woods, and fireplace miles beyond the farthest end of South State Line. It took a considerable amount of time to get out there depending on which path you drove — there was no such thing as a quick run to the store. You could drive the longer, normal route, meaning you took Highway 71 and Line Ferry Road, or you could go the quicker, fun way, which is the network of twisting, half-paved, half-graveled unimproved county roads beyond South State Line. We took to the fun way as often as we could.
One night, three of us were hanging out at the Compound. Steve was on the phone in the game room, Doug was loading up the fireplace in the den, and I was in Doug’s room dubbing off CDs onto tape. Doug walks in and tells me he and Steve are going to go collect some firewood. I nod at him and return to my dubbing.
An hour later, I hear the faint sound of the outside door slam, and Doug stumbles down the hall and into his room, barefoot, dazed, out of breath, and with his forehead covered in blood. “Shawn, c’mon, let’s go. We just had a wreck.”
We jumped into his mother’s car and headed back up South State Line. “Where’s Steve? Where’s Steve?” I asked.
“We went to town and picked up Jennifer.” Jennifer was Steve’s underaged girlfriend. Their dating was forbidden by her parents, given their age difference, so she would have to sneak out after they went to bed. So by now it’s obvious who Steve was calling. As we went, I could make out the faint shape of Steve and Jennifer hobbling towards Doug’s house. We picked them up, and went up to examine the wreckage.
The wreck was at a quick dog-leg in the gravel road where a large oak sat inches from the outside of the curve. Doug’s silver econobubble looked like it was breaking quantum physical laws by sharing spacetime with the tree, like the tree was growing through the front right corner of the car. The driver side of the windshield was spiderwebbed around the impression of a head, steering wheel bent at rough angles. Doug clutched his chest. The driver seat was twisted at the right shoulder from where Steve flew into it from behind before crowning himself on the dash. Luckily, Jennifer was buckled in the back next to Steve, so her injuries were minor. The front passenger seat? It didn’t do so well, either. Anybody sitting there would’ve been pinned and damaged for life.
I don’t know what caused the wreck. Don’t know if Doug was up to his usual risky behavior. Maybe his headlights were off while going fast, trying to prove he could drive the familiar road blind. Maybe he swerved to miss some sudden wildlife. Maybe it was a random patch of ice. Who knows for sure anymore?
But I know that it was Doug’s bald-faced white lie that saved my life. If I knew they were going in to town, I would’ve dropped my tapes in search of adventure. If I knew that “collecting firewood” meant “going to pick up Jennifer”, I would’ve been in that passenger seat. But the Devil lied to me, and as a result I live able-bodied, twenty years almost to the day later, to tell the tale.
I never really thanked him for his betrayal.
My period of good fortune came to an abrupt end on Tuesday of last week. There I was at dinner, high on a good mood, a decent day, and a good meal when the corner of one of my nachos went sideways and buried itself between the gum and the space between two of my molars during a joyful bite (those things find the darnedest of places). So, in pain I finished my meal and went home to attend to my wound and fish out the nacho with toothbrush and floss. What came out was significantly more than just the nacho corner. In doing so, I removed the last of what was protecting the nerve of my tooth from the rest of the world. Pain shot like wildfire from there to engulf the entire right side of my mouth.
I slept that night only by the help of Tylenol, Orajel, and Xanax.
Wednesday morning I woke up early (through no choice of mine) and dug around for a dentist who was on my insurance plan; found one nearby and set up an appointment for that morning. Called the boss to warn him of my tardiness; he was understanding. I get to the dentist, fill out the paperwork, and am shuffled in to get an Xray and wait for my consultation with the dentist to examine the situation. Looking at the Xray of the four teeth on that side, from front to back, the shapes were: square, square, the letter C, square. I had a major cavity.
The dentist indicated two possible solutions: extraction or root canal. At 32, I’m too young to walk around with more holes in my mouth than necessary, plus I don’t want to go around dealing with the pain of shifting, migrating teeth. So my best option is root canal. Painful for a short while, expensive to perform (even with my insurance), but I’ll keep my tooth. I called my mother to inform her that the Family Curse, that of weak tooth enamel, has landed on me, and she agreed that my best option is root canal.
So, until I can find a dentist/endodontist to do the surgery, I’m living on Tylenol and amoxicillin. My liver is hating me. My best option, so far, is to set up an appointment with the UT dental school in San Antonio; for a low cost (due to me being a guinea pig), I can have good dental work done — that is if I can get on the roster and get in soon. I called this morning at 8am sharp for the better part of an hour to get through. Got nothing but voicemail announcements and hold music, which I kind of expected, but not this bad. Didn’t talk to a real person all that time.
Then it occurred to me that today is a damned federal holiday. So I’m kinda banking on that maybe they took the day off. I will try again tomorrow morning, 8am sharp, to get in for either an emergency appointment or some appointment this week. If that fails, then it’s Plan B (my original plan): Castle Dental (yes, I’ve heard the stories of that place — and I’ve heard good reports. It’s 50/50, just like any other random dentist). There, I can get everything done in one place without having to set up appointments everywhere just to get this done.
This pain is killing me. Of all the pains I’ve experienced in my life, dental pain is the absolute worst. When your teeth hurt, you’re just useless, in a darkened room, rolling and kicking on the bed, clutching yourself praying for relief that never comes. Nothing makes it better but more drugs, and that’s just temporary relief. I had some Tylenol just 4 hours ago, and the pain’s almost back in full force. No way to live. So I’ve got to get this root canal done this week or I’m pulling the fucker myself.
Wish me luck on a speedy resolution and recovery.