Tuesday, May 04, 2010

I'm Not Having a Stroke

I have to learn how to smile. Here is why. For a long time now I have been so self conscience about my bad teeth that I perfected a way of smiling without showing them. I would purse my lips together and will the corners of my mouth to rise. This always took an effort on my part. It meant catching myself in the act of smiling and controlling what is a normal human reflex for everyone else. I'm sure it looked a bit strained too. I wasn't fooling anybody. People would sometimes look at me the same way you look at a person whose nostrils go wide when they try to yawn with their mouth closed.

I just spent $20,000 on dental work. It looks great. Four crowns and a bridge. I have six straight white perfect looking teeth in the front of my mouth and the lower ones will get whitened next week. Problem is, I trained myself for so long how to smile with closed lips that it has become a habit. It doesn't go so smoothly now when I smile. I feel myself doing it the old way and then in mid smile I have to make a conscience effort to open my mouth wide and fight against the taught impulses my face is use to. Even the muscles in my face resist this new natural way. I can see the look on peoples faces when this happens. I think they think I must be having a stroke.

One second I begin the process of trying to keep my lips together as I smile. It's what I am use to. When I notice this I try to correct the problem by saying to myself, smile normal. Its a little like being pulled over by the cops. You sit there behind the wheel saying to yourself be cool. Be cool. Be cool. That usually has the exact opposite effect of you not being cool. Same thing here. Telling myself to smile normal only makes me hyper aware that I am not smiling normal. I'm trying to manage what is suppose to be a reflex. The outcome is a strange and labored response that feels more like doing a bad impression of a smile than an actual smile.

The other day I was at Trader Joe's standing in line. A young girl comes over and says "there is no waiting at my register, Sir." I follow her over.
She looks at me brightly and says "You're the only one who followed me."
In a clumsy effort to be flirty and charming I say "I find that hard to believe" and then smile. Thats where I lost her.
I can see her eyes. They are flattered for a second. Then I smile. It is one of my hyper aware overly thought out smiles. The muscles in my face are confused by this. They must be because this time when I will my mouth open I can feel the left corner of my mouth start to twitch uncontrollably like your eye might if your tired. When I feel that I try to overcompensate with still more effort. I'm sure it looks something like The Joker trying hard not to vomit or something.
All this takes place in a second or two but the result is unmistakable. It must look like I am about to have a seizure or something because her eyes go from embarrassed sweetness with my casual compliment to what the fuck is happening with your face at the speed of light. She quickly looks down at my painfully obvious single man basket of goods, two frozen lasagnas, two frozen boxes of tofu chicken like nuggets and two things of yogurt and stiffly puts them in a bag before flatly reciting my total. I pick up my bag but before I go I want to try and salvage this. I turn to smile and say goodbye or something equally as witty but she has already turned her back and started dealing with the next customers.

I feel a little like an android at this point. I watch people smile and note the ease with which they do it attempting to replicate their human actions. Before I was jealous of peoples effortless smiles now I am resentful. I just spent twenty grand to look at hot cashiers and freak them out?
The new teeth have changed my speech a bit as well. Its not huge but some words are now cumbersome and take extra force to get out of my new alien mouth. My tongue feels oddly large against the backs of these new teeth too like it no longer fits in my mouth. I have become manic about brushing and flossing after every meal. It is a ten minute procedure now that must be done perfectly every time. Can you catch OCD from a dentist? I am in the process of quitting coffee due to the staining. That process is its own ordeal!

The thing I feel most after this is nothing. Nothing, as in I don't feel any different about me. I expected to walk out the dentists door and smile at a cute girl passing by. She would smile back with a look of shared possibilities in her eyes. That didn't happen. Instead I tried to smile at a cute cashier only to have her become horrified wondering if she should dial 911. I guess its an old lesson but changing the outsides doesn't do much to change how you feel on the inside. A little bit sure, but lasting change always comes from the inside out. I am glad I have the new teeth and glad I saved the money to finally take care of it. It wasn't a problem that was going away. It will also help with the career. What I hate to admit is that now the real work has to start again. Shit. If I trained myself how to get around the act of smiling I wonder what tricks I've taught my personality to get around perceived deficiencies? There are no crowns for ego's. Well, they call them sports car but I am not blowing another twenty grand for awhile.