Best Worst Year: Episode 30 (Or, I Bought a Headache)

About a year ago, I chipped a tooth on a hot dog in a bowling alley. Yes. Snack bar hot dog, chipped tooth, bad idea theatre. Perhaps the best part of the whole experience was the response from the woman behind the counter.


People are ordering and picking up food at counter. A hot dog roller is filled as quickly as it is emptied by the MISTERJIM, dressed in a BLACK BOWLING SHIRT, approaches bar. The

COUNTER STAFF is mesmerized by the rolling hot dogs.


Yes. Hi. I just bit into a hot dog and
it chipped my tooth.



Excuse me. Your hot dog chipped my tooth.


Sorry. I can give you another hot dog.


Another hot dog?


Yeah. I can give you another hot dog, sir.

MISTERJIM puts remainder of hot dog on counter.


Why would I want another hot dog? Didn’t you

hear me? Your hot dog chipped my–


Sorry. I can give you another hot dog.


I don’t want another hot dog. That’s like getting

a bad haircut and the barber offering to cut it again

for free. Would you take that?

COUNTER STAFF stares blankly at the rolling hot dogs.


Sorry. I can give you another hot dog.

MISTERJIM and COUNTER STAFF share an awkward silence.


So cut to a year later and this chipped tooth is now a pulsing, stabbing, bundle of pain in the back of my mouth. It’s a raw nerve–a live wire. Eating around the tooth is like having a landmine to my right lower molar, bite down at the wrong time with the wrong pressure and the concussion of tooth pain radiates through the jaw, into my ears, and neck muscles tense and knot up. Yeah. It’s not good, so I’m finally going to the dentist.

Do I have a fear of the dentist? No, but as a telltale sign of our times, when I’ve mentioned a dental visit to some of my friends, it’s almost a fetishized luxury because they don’t have health insurance. No benefits, no dentist, no doctors, no meds. Since I started working for Quiddity, the last month it has been a Blue Cross wonderland of appointments, prescription drugs, and check ups–it has been a healthcare bonanza. The fact that I’m as excited about medical coverage as I am that I get a paycheck to be part of a university literary magazine says so much about the culture of health care as a thirtysomething in America.

My father likes to say you can’t put a price on health, but businesses do it every day in this country. And while I don’t want to turn this little column into a discussion on healthcare (there are better blogs and more articulate voices concerning that cause) I think it doesn’t go without saying I would have never went a year with a progressively deteriorating tooth issue. It’s not like I don’t want to be healthy or I’m so lazy I’ll get around to finally doing something about this white hot flash of toothache misery. I had to wait almost a year–and I’m one of the lucky ones who has a job with great health benefits. I have friends who are without a net–working for a living but not always being rewarded for their efforts with basic human concerns like health care.

It makes me think about the seven years I spent in social work–how it seems only the folks who don’t need help or those who are almost beyond help get help. We cover the edges of extremes, but for those folks in the middle, the net is at its loosest. Further,as there has always been a stigma about mental health, add to that our social culture of financial shame, and we have this strange guilt about getting help or needing help. Further, our inability to standardize this experience and accessibility means people don’t even know where to go to get help. Ok. Mild rant over.

My dental experience was strange. The office had a real hip, trendy feel, but not cool enough to not play Billy Ocean. Everyone there was model/part-time model pretty. Everyone was very pleasant and at the same time there was a sense of “we are trying to be the coolest dentist office on the planet but in a wealthy HGTV/TLC shows about Florida Real Estate kind of way.” Maybe it has something to do with being in the new trendy and farmland demolishing part of town. Maybe it’s in part the toothache. Maybe it’s me just being an overly sensitive class warrior. Regardless, I was very mindful of my HGTV surroundings.

Seriously, Billy Ocean? It wasn’t even “Carribean Queen.” (For those playing at home, it was “Loverboy.”

Long story short: broken tooth meant toothache meant cavity meant root canal. Root canal meant novacane, needles into gums, pain, woe, the smell of burning, drills, more pain, gauze, swelling, and a temporary crown.

And even with insurance, this still set me back $550.

Did I mention pain, by any chance?

Today I am at my desk at work with a post-root canal throb which almost caused me to toss my cookies this morning. I’m not sure what has made me more nauseous: the pain of post-op root canal or the pain of Billy Ocean being stuck in my head.


Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Drunken Boat, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He lives in Springfield. 

This entry was posted in Best Worst Year and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s