On Dentists and Monkeys: Fifty Years On

Jamison KoehlerMiscellaneous


This is four or five years ago:  I drive my father to the dentist.  My father has been going to this same dentist for 50 years.

The dentist used to clean my teeth. Once, when I was about 10 years old, he walked out into the waiting area during a break and announced to the receptionist – within hearing of everyone in the waiting area — that cleaning my teeth was like trying to clean the teeth of a monkey.  I was interested in finding out what all the knobs did. He had to readjust the controls every time he walked back into the room.

My sister, who was sitting in the waiting area that day, got a big kick out of hearing this. That’s how I learned what he said. That’s why I still hold a grudge.

But it’s not me seeing the dentist on this day. It is my father. As my father is coming out afterwards, he overhears the women at the reception area talking about a party later that day.  They are celebrating the dentist’s 50th year of practice.

My father brightens up when he hears this, but the women are guarded when he asks for more details:  They know he is angling for an invitation. Oh, one of the women says politely.  It is just a small party. For staff, family members, close family friends. You understand:  Those kind of people.

I see, my father says.  He doesn’t mention how the dentist and his wife once vacationed with my parents in Greece.  But he persists.

Eventually they relent.  Okay, they say.  You can come.

My father reads a poem at the party, written especially for the occasion, which everyone agrees is a big hit. But the highlight of the party, according to my mother, is when they bring out the dentist’s very first appointment book from fifty years ago. There, on the very first day of the dentist’s practice, is my father’s name.

Now, go back and think about this.  They are planning the party and someone says, hey, wouldn’t it be neat if we could track down and invite his very first patients.  Nah, someone else says. That was fifty years ago. Assuming those people are still alive, what are the odds that we could find them and get them to come?

And here is my father — the dentist’s second patient ever – begging to go. But for his own persistence, he wouldn’t have been invited. I’m wondering who the monkey is now. Not that I would ever hold such a grudge.