Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hyperactive Hypotheticals from the World of Perhaps

I love hypothetical questions. I probably spend at least 35% of every day thinking about what I'd do if I were a trolley conductor faced with swarms of shockingly inattentive hoboes all over my rails, or whether the life of a child is worth the extinction of a species, or just how much dirt you can take out of a pile of dirt and have it remain a pile. I think they're interesting ways to approach philosophy and ethics, and can also lead to some good story ideas. But, judging how many other people are annoyed by them, I think I might be in the minority here. So, with that in mind, let me shoot you a few hypothetical questions of my own (because my husband is pretty sick of listening to them).

Question #1: Which would you prefer: to have a glimpse of a wholly positive future that you cannot change, or a glimpse of a wholly negative future that you can change only through very hard work and self-sacrifice? Would it matter if it was six months in the future vs. six years vs. six minutes? Think about it, Jack.

Question #2: The wizard of hypotheticals (who looks a lot like Chevy Chase in the April Fool's episode of Community) will lower seven adorable puppies into a vat of hydrochloric acid unless you agree to spend one year protesting on the wrong side, as you personally define it. You could be an anti-choice protestor, you could be a neo-Nazi, you could be an anti-union agitator. (It has to be an important issue, not being on the "wrong side" of zoning regulations. Also, you have to be really into it; it's not beyond the realm of possibility that your actions will contribute to anti-choice sentiment/anti-Semitism/anti-union rhetoric and make the world a slightly more shitty place to live.) You have sixty seconds to choose. Will you protest, and for what cause? The wizard's clock is ticking, what do you decide??

Question #3: Would you spend one month out of every year for the rest of your life eating nothing but unflavored rice cakes and fried spiders if it meant you could have the weather just the way you like it all the time? Assume that this does not affect greater weather patterns; your "zone of comfort" is a literal Bubble Boy-like mini-climate. Also, you can choose the month and it can change year to year. It's your move, Jason Bateman.

Question #4: Never read a book for the rest of your life, or read nothing except paranormal teen romances for the rest of your life? (If you enjoy paranormal teen romances, substitute Spanish-American War battle studies. If you enjoy both those things, substitute the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.) Ball's in your court, friend.

Question #5: A small but not insignificant number of people -- let's say 4% -- have been replaced with android doubles. These doubles are identical in every way to the original human, except that when asked directly if they are an android, they must answer in the affirmative. (Humans can choose to lie.) Would you:
a) ask your significant other if they are an android?
b) ask yourself if you are an android?
c) accept the answers as valid?

It is your choice whether to continue to love your significant other, or continue to live with yourself. Decisions, decisions.

Question #6: Would you choose to die at the age of 100, after a perfectly normal life, or die at the age of 65, after a life which is perfectly normal except that you don't have to sleep? You will get the same amount of waking life either way. Consider that if you live to 100 your physical/mental condition might not be ideal, but that you'll probably die before your significant other or even your parents if you only make it to 65. You also won't be able to enjoy retirement, but you'll get a lot more free time spread out through each and every day. And don't say that you enjoy sleep, because nobody enjoys sleep, you enjoy the refreshed feeling you have after you wake up. We have to go... deeper. BRAAWWMMMM!!!

Question #7: You are the only conscious, sentient human being. This can without a doubt be proven to you. Everyone else in the world is a meaningless collection of nucleopeptides, dopaminergic receptors, and predetermined actions. You are the only one with free will or what most people would refer to as a "soul." Also assume that you are a fan of reality television. Would you:
a) continue to watch reality television, despite the radical alteration to your concept of "reality"?
b) continue to call in or vote online in support of your favorite players?
c) continue to lie about enjoying reality television to your snobbish friends?
d) not even bother with showering anymore, because hey, what's the point?

Call in your answer to 1-800-REA-LITY, $3.99 a minute.

Question #8: The wizard of hypotheticals returns and gives you a choice between continuing to answer more hypothetical questions and boarding a boat which has a 75% chance of crashing, which will be followed by a choice about who should board a lifeboat: a man who is slated to donate one kidney and one lung, a pregnant woman in mid-labor, a brilliant surgeon who is also a murderer, or the bratty child of a wealthy dowager who will donate one million dollars to the charity of your choice if you save him. How long does it take you to run to the harbor? And... we're done here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bicycles I Could Have Known (but it's best that I didn't!)

Although I am not one of those Watchmen-inspired real-life "superheroes" who dons a bright teal-and-silver spandex outfit and wreaks havoc on small-time drug lords, I have recently realized that I do, in fact, have a superpower. That is the power to walk a single mile. In Pittsburgh and other major cities, this superpower is less than impressive, as everyone can do it. But in suburbs and small towns, this becomes a mighty power indeed, something not shared by mere mortals who, apparently, would choose to drive the 5,280 feet (1,609.344 meters for my Canadian friends) to work if they were in my shoes.

For instance, I have recently had not one but TWO job interviews where my ability to walk to the interview site was not a brief sideline comment, but one of the main topics of discussion. People just can't believe that someone can walk that far! To be fair, some people can't walk that far, due to physical disabilities. But it's a little hard to believe that every person who has expressed incredulity at my ability to walk (and bike!) relatively tiny distances has an invisible disability. I guess I can chalk it up to the fact that, when you've never been without a car or driver's license (as, indeed, most people native to small towns/suburbia have not been, I am a unicorn), your judgment about whether things are walkable gets a little wonky. Will my judgment become similarly skewed when I get a license? Will I drive two miles to work, then drive five miles to a gym to ride a stationary bike? If so, I hope my death is swift, and its dealer just.

In other news, I recently got a new bike, and I'm kind of in love with it:

The best bike in the entire world. Much better than your bike.
It's a Raleigh Venture 4.0 ladies' cruiser bike, and the difference between this bike and the old department store bike is pretty much the difference between walking in good shoes versus walking in tissue boxes lined with steel wool and spiders. I am very, very happy with this bike. But, let's take a gander into the What-If Machine and see what other bikes I could have bought instead!

Nobody parties like a European!
1. Party Bike

First thought: Where do you attach the U-Lock?
Second thought: This would be an excellent bike to use if you want to recreate the "Friday" video. (Note: I first learned of this bike last week, when Rebecca Black was still relevant. Readers of the future, substitute your own meme!)
Third thought: Hey, is that guy in the bright blue shirt Tommy Wiseau's less talented younger brother?

2. Fixie

I don't even know what's going on here, but I know it can't be comfortable.
"Hey, guys, let's take a mode of transportation that already has some safety issues and remove most of the things that make it safe, like speeds and brakes! And let's not wear helmets, either!" Fixies are truly a method of natural selection for the white race*.

3. Tall bike
Yo dawg, I heard you like bikes, so I put a bike on your bike so you can fall over and die!
My first non-circus exposure to these was in the Portlandia "Dream of the Nineties" clip. I then learned that, yes, people (mostly in Portland, but a few other places too) DO ride these, and unlike penny farthings (which are still being made!) they don't even have antiquarian chic. I think tall bikes might actually edge out recumbent bikes as "dumbest bike idea ever," since there are legitimate disability-related reasons to ride recumbent bikes. Unless you're Robert Pershing Wadlow, leave the tall bikes for the dudes in Barnum and Bailey.

So, as you can see, it's quite fortuitous that I got the bike I did. Because it was clearly a decision between one of these three and my Raleigh.

*Interesting demographic note #1: At least 60% of the cyclists in Towson are black, and 100% of the people obviously engaging in utility cycling (as in, they have baskets or racks full of groceries or other items) are black (or will be until I get my basket). Sorta contradicts the "cycling is a white hipster activity" canard, although I think this is a demographic blip.

Interesting demographic note #2: 99% of the cyclists around here are guys. I get really happy when I see another woman on a bike, to the point that I will smile big and wave and probably lead her to think that I'm some kind of crazy person. Crazy about biking, that is!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why I Don't Write (Many) Reviews

Man, I am just a blogging machine these days.

Let's talk about reviews. Specifically, why I don't write them. Because I don't. Write them, that is. It might sound strange that I feel this way, seeing as how I'm married to someone who writes not one but two review blogs (one for comics, one for other books), and I have friends who write review blogs, mostly books, but also film, music, products, etc. And of course there are lots of people active on Goodreads or the Amazon forums or whatnot. But personally, I can't/don't/won't write them, unless we're including sarcastic reviews like my Sliders recaps.

For one, unless something is a total piece of crap, I have an incredibly hard time reviewing it. Because, what do you say? For me, a positive recommendation is something more along the lines of "you should read this, it's awesome." "Well, why should I read it?" "Um... because it's awesome?? Just trust me on this, dude." Saying an author is lyrical, transcendent, has a fine way with words, is a voice of their generation -- all that stuff is well and good, but it doesn't really mean anything, does it? Positive reviews boil down into one sentence: "Based on my own idiosyncratic tastes, I think this is a worthwhile book to read." So that review can only be trusted if you and the reviewer have shared tastes, and this says more about the review writer than the book in question. I can get better recommendations by perusing the current book/music habits of those people with similar tastes (which, ironically or probably not, doesn't sync up much/at all with my friends and especially my husband) than by reading reviews.

Also, positive reviews don't leave much room for biting, snarky commentary, which let's face it, is my blogging "style" if, indeed, I have one at all. Positive reviews require sincerity, and sincerity is not one of the redeeming features of my Internet Persona. There are just fewer ways to jazz up a positive review than a negative one; you can say something like "she wrote that book like your momma bakes chocolate chip cookies... very well!" but that seems forced. But there is no limit to the insulting phrases one can use to tear down someone else's treasured creation. The function of my blog isn't to be informative, it's to be entertaining (even if only to myself), and I am not entertained by positive reviews. That probably speaks to my limitations as a reviewer, but since I don't care about getting better at writing reviews, I can live with it.

So now we get into negative reviews. I will admit that I love writing me some negative reviews, even if they have the potential to ruin my career. But here's the thing: unless I had to read a book, which assumes that I'm a paid reviewer or something of that ilk, I'm probably not going to continue reading it if it's really that awful. Yeah, I read the Hunger Games trilogy, which I thought was pretty awful... but if I finished it, was it really that awful? So once again, we get into nothing to say that isn't based on my own opinion, which clearly can't be trusted if I finished the dang thing. (This is less true when it comes to movies or television, because it takes a lot less time to watch a crappy movie than finish a crappy book, so I'm less likely to bail. Unless falling asleep is a form of bailing.)

The last but maybe most important reason I don't write reviews is that it takes so much time. Way more time than writing a blog entry, or even some fiction of my own, because unlike blogging and fiction, I don't have a strong drive to write reviews, they're like school assignments. In Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman said something along the lines of "I don't read books, because reading takes as long as writing, and I get paid to write." Every hour I might spend writing a review (and it would take me that long to maybe write half a review) is an hour I don't spend writing original fiction, or reading. That's too much of a sacrifice to make, especially for a positive review, otherwise known as a review that isn't funny.

So, if I ever write a review, expect it to be both totally negative and have way more to do with me than with the product in question. Basically you don't want me to review your book/album/film, unless it's with the one-word description of "awesome," my highest imaginable praise.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Map Is Not the Territory

Yesterday I took my new bike (yep, crap!bike finally died on me) out for what I thought would be a quick trip to Target, followed by a journey to yon distant Starbucks two and a half miles away, instead of my normal Starbucks that's only a ten minute trip. Because that's how one gets one's "kicks" here in suburban Maryland. But instead of a pleasant four mile or so round trip, it turned into a 10+ mile death ride ending with me staring down a four-lane highway, weak from hunger, pursued by demons. All because I can't read maps.

It started out as just wanting to extend the ride a little, because after leaving Target I wasn't quite ready to settle down for an afternoon of bloggin' and zinin'. So I decided to explore the residential area between Target and Starbucks. What could possibly go wrong? Unlike Pittsburgh, which based its street pattern on the Parisian catacombs, the roads in Maryland are usually quite straight and make more rational sense.

But "more rational" doesn't equal "can always find your way around, anywhere, anytime." Added to that, there's a trend here toward apartment and housing complexes based on brownstone styles, which can make the streets look really same-y. After about five minutes, I was lost. Ten minutes after that, I realized I was lost, and pulled out my smartphone.

The smartphone is one of those inventions that you don't know you need until you get one, at which point it seems impossible that you've ever lived your life without one. Like an mp3 player, or heroin. Sometimes I regret getting one because of how much it's tethered itself to me, but I would have had to get one eventually anyway. It's quite useful in situations like this, that is, unless your ability to read maps is severely compromised by a rare fake disorder I am going to tentatively call "dysgeographica," or the much more fun to say "dysmappia." Otherwise known as the inability to read a goddamn map.

You're no help.
I consulted Googlemaps and found that I only had to go back to the main road. So I did! And went the wrong way, which I didn't notice until I was approximately four miles farther away. Re-consult Googlemaps. Find that there's a side road that is safe to ride on (I always prefer to ride on the road instead of the sidewalk) that hooks up with the main road that will get me home. Alright! Go the wrong way again, approximately five miles away now. Third opinion! You... can fill in the gaps from here. Somehow I wound up getting seven or eight miles from home, staring down that aforementioned highway. And I couldn't even get home under my own steam, because I'd only eaten a single bowl of Coco Wheats for breakfast, believing that I'd get calories at Starbucks and that I'd only have to ride four miles that day. Luckily, my long-suffering husband Rob drove to my give-up point and picked me up, which let's face it, is a massive humiliation. Especially as he has the directional sense of a homing pigeon and can't understand how I could consult my smartphone not just once, but over six separate times, and still get lost.

But my ability to get lost is both legendary and pervasive. I even got lost in my old neighborhood in Pittsburgh, and as humiliating as having to get picked up after a failed bike excursion is, it pales in comparison to being forced to call your husband to figure out how to get home when you're less than a mile away. Usually it takes me at least two years of living in a place before I figure out how to not get lost so much, but there's no guarantee that I won't ever get lost. I also have a much harder time in suburbia and small towns vs. big cities, I think because what little navigation I can manage is all based on landmarks, and there's more landmarks in a city.

When it comes to maps, though, I don't even fucking know, man. To me, a map makes as much sense as one of those fake equations that take up an entire chalkboard in movies when you want to show that the protagonist is some kind of crazy genius. On a map, everything is the Parisian catacombs. And because it's easy, both on a bike and on foot, to kind of zone out and not pay a lot of attention to where you're going, it's easy to take a few wrong turns and wind up next to the pile of skulls with a rat coming out of every eyehole. Metaphorically speaking. I will say that the ride itself, though longer than expected and without the intended outcome, was quite enjoyable up to the last half hour or so.

And I really don't know how I'm going to deal with driving when I don't have a co-pilot/navigator, because there's nothing that looks quite as same-y as highways. Guess I'll have to make sure my smartphone (whatever good THAT does) is always charged and accept that I'll probably waste a lot of gas and time.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Time Travel for Poor People

Today marks the first day of Daylight Savings Time, the happiest half of the year. As I didn't know very much about Daylight Savings Time other than that I think it's awesome, I took it upon myself to fall into the Wikipedia trap and learn a little something.

First of all, the real name of it is Daylight Saving Time. Because the inventors were not hicks who add a superfluous "s" to everything. Anyways, moving on.

George Vernon Hudson
DST's original proponent was an amateur entomologist named George Vernon Hudson, who hailed from New Zealand, one of the upside-down lands. Hudson realized that shifting the clock one hour forward would give him more time to collect bugs, and also to maintain the complex series of straps and pulleys that all denizens of the upside-down lands must use in order to keep them tied to the Earth's surface. The idea was then stolen by Englishman William Willett, who allowed it to take over his entire life. Like an old man incensed by a proposed skate park, he wrote letters to the paper promoting "British Summer-Tyme," published proto-zines on the topic, and wore a large clock around his neck set an hour early, always proclaiming "yeaaaahhh, chaaap!" He did not live to see his dream become reality, dying of influenza because he pawned his coat to buy a thousand "Spring Forward!" promotional 1" pins for members of Parliament.

Many people think that DST is an energy saver, which is one of the reasons it's practiced so widely. But in fact, there is almost no real energy savings, and some energy losses, since people tend to drive more when the sun is out. Seasonal depression is lessened, but skin cancer rates rise. Retailers like DST because people spend more, but it is hated by bars and farmers, the former because people don't like sitting in dank bars spending money when the sun is out, the latter because corn knows that it's really an hour later and stubbornly slows its growth in protest. DST has been shown to reduce crime. Even murderers would rather enjoy the sun's rays than sit in some dark basement going all Dexter on someone. Basically, the statistics are mixed and can be skewed either way depending on your objective, like all statistics.

As a fan of daylight who can't easily get up before nine a.m. without assistance, I love DST. Yeah, I'm pretty jet-lagged for a week after it goes into effect (though it's worse in the fall), but it's a small price to pay for being able to romp outside for an extra hour longer for the next six (and now eight, thanks, Obama!) months. If it were up to me, we would have year-round DST, at least until the funding comes through to build a giant replica of the sun to shine 24/7/365, angering farmers everywhere.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Going off the rails on a Fail-y Train

This morning a member of the Twitter Nation posted a Tumblr link to a list of alternative words for "crazy," due to the fact that the word crazy is a "an ableist, psychophobic slur against people with mental illnesses." Some of the alternatives include "farcical," "ghastly," and my favorite, "protracted." Dude, that skateboard move was really fucking protracted! I would think that this was a joke, if not for the fact that I've seen similar posts from "social justice activists" many other places in the so-called feminist/disabled/ism-ist blogosphere.

DSM IV code: !!!.!! for "Crazy Awesome Disorder."  
I could, maybe, agree that "crazy" is an uncool word to use to describe a person who is actually mentally ill. I don't find it offensive as someone with ADHD, and I use it for myself (crazy doctors! crazy pills!) but I can see how someone else might, and I'd try to respect their wishes, even though I'd probably forget. But as a general modifier? Perhaps it's different in German (which has a fine distinction between the terms Kraziredonkulieben and Krazibrainkersplat), but in English, words have multiple definitions. As such, "crazy" does not always mean "mentally ill," and that's not even the first definition that most people think of when they hear that word... until people keep on pointing out the connection. Essentially, today's hypersensitive bloggers are what 1990s conservatives imagined "PC thugs" to be, when we pointed out that "bitch" isn't such a great word to describe an assertive woman, or that white people maybe shouldn't casually fling around the N-word so much. (And no, I wasn't really politically active in the 1990s, but I do remember them! Kinda. They're not really as great as people think they were.) And while I understand it's problematic to tell someone their pet political ideals are petty and tell them what they should be spending their energy on... yeah that's pretty much what I'm going to do because, well, this is petty. Protractedly petty.

When you try to say this kind of thing in "social justice" land, you'll often get the rejoinder "words mean things." Which they do! For instance, do you know what the word "derailing" means? Not to mention, when you use blanket generalizations like "this language offends the mentally ill," you're automatically speaking for me and assuming I take a position that I just don't. To use a phrase from the feminist blogosphere, this shit is invalidating.

You want to fight ableism? Why not fight for a single-payer health system that would keep disabled people from either having to work jobs they hate to keep health care, or live in poverty on Social Security benefits? Why not fight against forced electroshock therapy, or the grossly invasive Ashley Treatment? It's perhaps not as glamorous as getting outraged every time "Crazy on You" comes up on Pandora, but might have more positive, concrete results.

In other news, I'm typing this at Starbucks, to which I biked, and I must say that I am still really enjoying this biking thing. When you bike, you tend to notice other people on bikes, and also all the various obstacles put in the way of those of us on bikes. Today there was a bunch of plastic crates blocking the Starbucks bike racks, and I wished for stickers stating "The Towson Critical Mass is displeased." Maybe the stickers would be a multiple-choice ticky box, so that I could also say that "The Towson Critical Mass approves" of conveniently located racks, curb cuts at intersections where I have to transfer to the sidewalk, and drivers who give me plenty of room. I could also put them on bikes I particularly like the looks of. But all of this is vandalism and therefore conduct unbecoming of the only member of the Towson Critical Mass.

Friday, March 4, 2011

It's Tricky

I'm roughly 500 words from finishing a new short story, so instead of finishing it I'm going to lay down some honest truth about the act of writing, like I'm some grizzled professional instead of someone who's just had four piddling short stories published. So without any more ado, may I present....

Writing Tipz & Trickz for the Easily Bored Author

Let's face it, people: writing is boring. You're sitting down at a laptop/typewriter/weathered Moleskine, often for very long periods of time. No matter how into your story you may be, there is always something more interesting going on elsewhere. This ain't sky-diving, kids, or action painting! This is writing, one of the most sedentary of the art forms, and at times it can be a drag.

There are two basic ways to get around the drudgery of writing: good old-fashioned "dedication," and trickery. I've tried being dedicated, and all it's gotten me is feeling like a loser because I can't churn out novels like so much organic butter to be sold in a Vermont co-op for $6.95. Trickery it is. Here are some things that have helped me get through this last story:

1. The Last-Minute Rush: This one mostly works if you have an SO, or a kid/parent, who works or does things out of the home while you can be at home. Basically, you start writing twenty minutes before they are scheduled to arrive home. That isn't much of an explanation because that's all there is to it. It works for me because twenty minutes is an easily quantifiable amount of time, and I know I won't be able to concentrate on my writing when there's another person around. Yeah, sure, I technically have ALL DAY to do some writing, but it's hard to really plan out seven or eight hours. There's no sense of urgency there. But by creating my own urgency, time seems to shrink and become something I can deal with, instead of "yeah, I can write whenever." I have to write NOW, or I can't do it at all. And if I don't write at all, I run the risk of committing genocide upon the tiny race of people who live in my computer (see #3).

2. Battery Drain: This works with laptops. You unplug your computer and take it elsewhere. The screen will start to fade! Well shit, man, you'd better get cracking if you want to hit your 500 words (or whatever your daily goal is) before the computer shuts down. I'm guessing this is really bad for your computer, but I still do it. The slowly dimming screen and green battery bar also provide a physical ticking-down of time left over, which increases one's sense of panic and anxiety. Which leads into my next tip, which is really the most important tip of all and probably should have been first on this list. Oh well!

3. Get Anxious: As stated before, some writers have a dedication to their craft. The act of writing brings them joy in and of itself. (This group probably aligns closely with people who enjoy stamp collecting, butterfly taxonomy, and BBC miniseries.) For the rest of us, the joy of writing comes in the completion, in the act of finishing a story, forgetting about it, and then finding it again and being able to say "I wrote that, and it was awesome." So it is sometimes necessary to unleash a little bit of psychological torment on yourself, so you can enjoy the spoils of your work later. Imagine that your writing is powering a tiny village living inside your computer, and if you fail at reaching your quota, everyone dies. Make up your own tiger mom! Writers like us don't feel the benefits of writing until the act is complete, so do whatever you can to speed up that completion.

4. Accountability Friends: This is something I'm still searching for, mostly in my search for a writing group here in Maryland. I never got more writing done than when I was in writing groups. In fact, I think that productivity, not critique, is the main benefit of joining a writing group, especially for lazy Type-B writers. Writing groups give you a built-in audience, they give you deadlines (which aren't as serious as, say, newspaper deadlines, but deadlines nonetheless), they give you an external reason for writing. I can let myself down, but I have a harder time letting down other people without feeling guilty or anxious (see tip #3). So make it so that you HAVE to write, if you don't want to be the gaping hole in your critique group's schedule.

5. Visualize the Future: I can't write a story without knowing the end. Not just the end, but most of the plot twists. And because I'm a very visual person and also a person that tends to go to extremes, I go a little farther: I see it as a movie. Or, rather, since I'm a short story writer, I pretend that I have my own anthology TV show like Ray Bradbury, and I need at least sixteen stories to fill out the season, because it's on basic cable (SyFy probably, maybe USA). This is the kind of thing that makes people think you're full of yourself if you tell them, and of course I don't believe I actually will have my own anthology TV show. But thinking of it like that helps with story pacing, it helps with dialogue, it helps solidify characters and place, and most of all, it means that the story is already finished. You're just describing something you've already played over and over in the Hulu of the mind. And isn't that easier than writing something from scratch?

I hope these tricks are helpful! And remember, procrastinators aren't serial killers, so you've got that going for you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Down with Dentistry!... or at least give me back my $15

Today I went to my first dentist appointment in five years. It was an awful, awful experience.

I'm not afraid of the dentist. The reason I hate going to the dentist boils down to a) having to sit in a chair for an hour or longer, and b) I really hate sitting in the same position for an hour. Also, the idea of dentist as "doctor" sort of puts me off. Dentistry is two steps above cosmetology: own it, learn to love it, ADA. So I wasn't thrilled about calling or going, and only did it because I'm an adult and feel it's expected. Kind of how I try to eat a non-Coco Wheats-based breakfast at least once a week.

When I arrived at the office (after biking there -- and if I can digress, let me just say that it makes me feel very fucking accomplished to run basic errands on my bike, to be riding with a real purpose besides exercise) I knew I might be in trouble when the first thing they wanted to do was take my picture, "for [their] files." Now, I'm not a super paranoid person. I have a picture of myself on this very blog and I am aware that it would be quite easy to Photoshop me kicking it with Gaddafi, or put my head on a naked body, perhaps going so far as to replace my face with a giant boob. That's what living in the 21st century is all about! However, I could fathom no sane reason why a dentist's office would need to have a mug shot of me, especially when I haven't even established myself as a regular client yet. So I said no.

"Well, we just want to take it."
"And I'm just saying no."
"Fine," the receptionist says, frostily. "I'll put down that you refused." She typed a note on her computer, brusquely.

Already I have established myself as a suspicious freak who is afraid that a 200-year-old technology will steal her soul. Awesome! They also charged me a $15 copay for X-rays and cleaning (remember that, kids!), even though they said there would be no copay over the phone.

The dental hygienist takes me back and they take approximately 32,712 X-rays. Really, guys, I don't think those were all necessary. Then the dentist comes in, and I prepare to sit in that fucking chair for an hour. But all he does is look at my teeth and shout out a bunch of numbers. "2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 2, 69, negative 7, pi, 4...." Turns out these are gum measurements, and even though I looked it up when I got home and those aren't terrible numbers for a person of 29 who used to smoke and isn't hyper-diligent about dental care, he made it seem like I am on the brink of total mouthal collapse.

"You got here just in time!" isn't a phrase that you'll hear in a dentist's office very often. Getting there "just in time" is what happens when you rush to the hospital with an almost-burst appendix, not when the teeth that have been serving me well lo these past twenty-three years have a slightly-above-average amount of decay. That was my first tip-off that this place was a scam gallery. The second was the fact that the walls were covered with ads for adult braces, surgical whitening, and various other totally unnecessary procedures. (I'm telling you, it's a form of cosmetology!) The third is that he didn't even give me a cleaning, saying that it would be unsafe to do it without doing the gum treatment. I didn't ask if I should continue to brush my teeth or eat solid food. I mean, if my mouth is in such a desperate, terminal condition, surely those things will harm it too. But I'm not the fake doctor around here.

This fake religion is also bullshit.
Oh yeah, the procedure: even though my gums are only borderline terrible, he is convinced that I need a full work-over, two hour-long gum treatment sessions with bonus tongue scraping ($131) and "prophylaxis" ($88). The whole dealie will cost $369.00, and when I heard that, I laughed right out loud. And thus ended my time at the dental clinic. See you in five years, dentistry!

My husband Rob, long-time hater of dentists and their craft, was neither surprised nor sympathetic, clearly thinking I had burned myself out of my $15 and 90 minutes by dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight glinting off an angled mirror. I've joked that he is to dentistry what Scientologists are to psychiatry. I had been more forgiving (I've never been denied a basic cleaning before!), but now I think I am ready to become the Ron Miscavige to his L. Ron Hubbard.

Even though I didn't actually get my teeth cleaned, I did learn that I have no cavities, which is basically the only thing I care about. Well, not as much as that fifteen dollars. I could buy SO MUCH useless junk for fifteen dollars!