I sat up against the wall, gathering my end of the sheets around my waist in an impulse of modesty. This unconscious act clashed with the display of my messy apartment, which was decidedly immodest. It didn’t matter last night when I brought her here in a vodka haze, but under the scrutiny of morning light it made me feel unworthy of her. There was an assortment of vessels of various size filled with cigarette butts and ashes, from a bottle cap, which alone cradled the remains of five cigarettes, to a coffee mug, which contained the sediment or perhaps by now fossilized remains of several cups of coffee beneath layers of ash and cigarette butts. Clothes were strewn everywhere. A broom leaned indignantly in one corner, like some high school outcast who secretly longed to be included by any one of the social castes he openly derided, which I left there after some half-hearted attempt at sweeping up the place. An open, half-full tube of toothpaste rested on top of my dresser, which is not to say that I didn’t keep toothpaste in the bathroom. There was one in there as well. I developed a habit of keeping many toothpaste tubes on the go at the same time, because, despite my untidy habitat, I compulsively brush and floss my teeth multiple times each day, a habit borne out of the fear and realization that I don’t have large, gleaming, all-American white teeth like it seems everyone from the Midwest has, which must be from all the corn they undoubtedly eat. Instead, the natural shade of my teeth is the unfortunate color of a manila envelope despite my obsessive brushing. I’ve considered whitening my teeth, but the only compulsion I have that is more neurotic than my teeth-brushing compulsion is my fear of any potential carcinogens. And any attempt to chemically whiten your teeth runs the inherent risk of exposing yourself to cancer causing agents. Now, the irony of my smoking habit is not lost on me, but it doesn’t apply to tobacco. For one thing, I smoke American Spirit brand cigarettes, which are all natural. And for another thing, my smoking habit precedes my brushing habit and is therefore exempt, because any new compulsion that I develop is not retroactive. My brushing habit developed in my senior year of high school, during the prom in fact, when my date kept glancing at my teeth as we danced, sending self-conscious tremors down my spine that I still get when I think about that traumatic evening, even though she was probably just trying to make out what I was saying over the loud music—but let’s not get into that. By then, I was already a proud two-year smoker of non-mainstream cigarettes which made me a trailblazer of sorts, having on the one hand taken advantage of the cool factor of smoking and therefore fitting-in, while on the other hand maintaining a sense of individualism by seeking out brands of cigarettes that no one else smoked. So, yes, I’m terrified of cancer and anything remotely carcinogenic, so that even my toothpaste is all natural. And when I talk on my cell phone, it is with the persistent sensation that cancer cells are turning my left temporal lobe into a cancer construction site, which I envision as menacing cancer cells that look like the little oil globules from the National Film Board of Canada’s feature, S.P.L.A.S.H., which is the animated story of an army of little water droplets that make their way through the water cycle from clouds to faucets to sewage treatment plants, fighting evil pollutants along the way, which I saw on a field trip to Vancouver, Canada in the third grade. So even though I smoke, which is not only probably giving me cancer, but is at least partly to blame for the unfortunate color of my teeth, an issue to which I devote a great deal of time, thought, energy and obsessive routine brushing in an effort to combat, but am unwilling to resort to chemical teeth bleaching, quitting smoking or eating copious amounts of corn, which I maintain is why Midwestern people have such beautiful, all-American white teeth; I live in a constant state of neuroses-reinforcing rationalizations that allow me to enjoy the habit. As for my apartment, maybe instead of seeing the mess for what it is, she’ll see it as the romantic expression of a struggling New York student’s bohemian lifestyle. Or so I hope.

The End

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