Tag Archives: sarcasm

Maybe you should try decluttering your house before listing it for sale

man in office talking on phone

Perhaps not so surprisingly, my career as a real-estate photographer was short-lived.

Years ago, I worked in a small real-estate office. One of the agents got a new listing, so she asked me to drop in and take photos.

As I dropped in, my jaw dropped. Random junk sat atop every conceivable surface. It looked as if a tornado had struck a knickknack shop.

There were dog toys on the couch, antique dishes on the coffee table, torn-open mail on the kitchen counter. If House Hunters and Hoarders got drunk and made a baby, this house would be it.

I would have wiped my feet on the mat, but I didn’t want to dirty my shoes.

However, I was there to take photos, so take photos I did. Being the professional I am, I used creative angles to portray the garbage as artistically as possible. Natural sunlight flowed through the open curtains, adding a heavenly glow to the pristine piles of rubbish.

We posted the photos and listed the home. A few days later, the homeowner called.

“Can you tell me who took the photos of my house?” he asked.

I told him that the creative genius in question was me.

“OK,” he said, “then riddle me this: Would it have occurred to you not to take photos of all the clutter?”

Now here’s my problem: I have a smart-aleck switch. When it’s switched on, I start spewing a stream of passive-aggressive prattle that can’t be stopped. Once I get going, I’m not able to turn the switch off, even if I try. I just have to keep going until I run out of steam.

It’s sort of like Planes Trains and Automobiles, when Steve Martin accuses John Candy of being a Chatty Cathy doll who pulls his own string — except the reverse. I have a switch over which I have no control. Only other people can flick it on for me.

And this homeowner, unfortunately, had succeeded in flicking my switch.

“Well,” I said, “riddle me this: Would it have occurred to you to clean your house when you know full well a photographer’s coming?”


“You see,” I continued, “a photographer’s palette is the whimsical world he frames with his lens. While a painter suggests reality with brushstrokes and splatters, a photographer captures the essence of a moment and coaxes it to its fullest expression. The environment in which he composes his masterpieces sets the mood for the photos that emerge. So when he finds himself in a repulsive midst of messiness and disarray, his thoughts, emotions, and photos reflect the untidy shambles of his surroundings. What develops – quite literally – are photographic representations of the egregious eyesore, complete with all the filth and clutter that litter the landscape.”

“Are you finished?” the man asked.

“Not quite,” I said. “The horrific conditions of your abysmal abode not only undermined my artistic endeavors, but they endangered my life, as well. When I stepped backward to frame a shot of the dining room, I tripped on what I assume was a poodle — or maybe an overgrown rat. Either way, it wasn’t moving, so I imagine it had sucked its last breath as it desperately clawed through the clutter, seeking the freedom it could never find in the midst of the suffocating chaos.”

A heavy sigh came from the phone. “Is that all?”

“Your trashcan was also overflowing and left sitting in the middle of the kitchen,” I added. “I would have moved it, but I couldn’t swat my way through the thick swarm of flies. They pushed me backward and pinned me to the wall. I’m sure I could have taken them individually, but as a team, they proved to be an unstoppable force.”

“OK — I believe you’ve made your point,” the man said. “Are we done now?”

“I think so,” I said. “That’s all I’ve got.”

“Good. If I clean up the clutter, could you come back to retake the photos?”

“Of course,” I said. “I live for my art. I exist to achieve excellence. I cherish the creative satisfaction that comes from replicating the beauty of nature. Why, my camera –”

The phone clicked in my ear.

“Hmm.” I hung up the phone. “Well, not everyone appreciates my creative genius.”


Seasoned employees don’t use exclamation points

Two men at work writing an e-mailWhen I compare my work e-mails today to the ones I wrote as a new hire, there’s a noticeable difference.

My e-mails today — though friendly — are often brief and to the point. The sentences are simple, and the punctuation is basic.

“Hi John. Please send me a copy of the check. Thank you.”

Of course, when writing to upper management, I’ll usually throw in a semicolon – just to show off that I know how to use one. (You never know when good grammar might score you points.)

“Hi Boss. The project is nearly finished; however, there’s been a delay in receiving a copy of the check. I reached out to John in Accounting, but because he’s not as committed to the company as I am, he’s been remiss in providing a timely response. Thank you.”

However, when I look at the e-mails I wrote as a new-hire, the obsequiousness is downright obnoxious. To compensate for my lack of confidence, I used a nauseating number of exclamation points and smiley-face emoticons.

“Hi John! You might not remember me, but I’m the new guy down the hall!!! I sit next to Emily! Isn’t she a hoot? 🙂 She’s been super, super helpful in getting me acclimated. Anyways, can you please send me a copy of the check? Only when you have a chance! I know you’re like, super busy and stuff, and I’m still learning, so just when you can! OK? Cool, and thank you!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 :-)”

OK – that was a slight exaggeration. I wasn’t quite the shrill Valley Girl as portrayed above, but as a new employee, I did want to be perceived as friendly and eager to help.

I’m not sure where that enthusiasm went. I used to be the passionate newbie, but now I’m just the crotchety killjoy. These days, when a co-worker knocks on my cubicle for help, I just narrow my eyes and give them a Clint Eastwood snarl. That’s how bad it is.

It’s as if job longevity transforms us from fawning, ambitious sycophants to cantankerous, grumpy curmudgeons.

Over time, as we establish our roots in the position, the exclamation points and smiley faces start to dwindle, then disappear entirely. Blunt curtness replaces the once-cheerful tone of our interoffice correspondence.

Where once our writing exuded wholehearted passion, now it just drips with Dilbert-like cynicism.

I can always tell a new employee based on their e-mails: the deferential tenor; the overeager intensity. It reeks like the leftover salmon someone microwaved in the breakroom.

Come to think of it, microwaving fish in the breakroom might be the one instance these days where I’d use an exclamation point in a work-related e-mail.

“Note to employees: Someone this afternoon microwaved fish in the office breakroom, creating a rancid stench that’s offensive to our environment. And not to place blame, but I have a strong suspicion that it was John from Accounting! If you see him in the hall, please let him know how appalled you are by his thoughtless behavior! Not only is he a detriment to the team, but that incompetent jerk still hasn’t given me my check!!!!!”

The incessant whining of House Hunters couples

House Hunters RenovationIf I were a masochist, I might reach out and flush the toilet while showering.

Or, I could stick my hand in a beehive and pluck off a chunk of honeycomb.

Or, easier yet, I could simply watch a marathon of House Hunters reruns over the weekend.

Talk about excruciating agony.

If you’ve read this post or this post — or this post or this post — you’re probably aware that I watch a lot of House Hunters. I’m not sure why. I didn’t think I was a masochist, but I have to admit, I get a certain thrill watching spoiled brats looking at gargantuan houses they can’t afford.

These homebuyers often are in their early twenties, but they’re always looking at 4,000-square-foot McMansions on 20 acres with cobblestone driveways and Olympic-sized swimming pools. (When I was in my early twenties, I was living in a firetrap hovel, eating Top Ramen, and pursuing a degree that wouldn’t help me at all in my professional career. Because I’m forward-thinking like that.)

What’s more, these people are incessantly whining about everything.

And I mean everything. For these people, every minor cosmetic feature is an endless source of insurmountable frustration.

“The countertops are granite, but they should be quartz,” they moan.

“The floors are laminate, but they should be hardwood,” they bellyache.

“The bathroom has a step-in shower, but not a jetted tub,” they sniff.

“Shut up!” I scream, throwing an empty bowl of Top Ramen at the TV. “You whiny entitled scumbags! You don’t deserve a house! Shut up!”

The show has a spin-off titled House Hunters Renovation, where the pampered jerks not only pick out a house to buy, but renovate it as well.

This version is almost harder to stomach, because instead of the people simply whining about inconsequential cosmetic features, we get to see them spend good money to replace those features – even if they’re perfectly adequate.

And they all use the same terms when describing their plans.

For example, a beautiful kitchen with oak cabinets and a tile backsplash must be “gutted” so that the finishes can be updated.

A random wall must be “blown out” to make a living space larger. (And guaranteed, that wall will be load-bearing and require the installation of a $3,000 beam. I’ve watched enough of these things to predict the storyline.)

A bedroom with a walk-in closet must be “reconfigured” to include a reading nook.

Money never seems to be an issue for these narcissistic scumbags. No expense is spared when renovating their precious high-dollar palaces.

A designer often joins the couple to plan the renovations. (Because who can’t afford to hire a designer when navigating the treacherous waters of the home-buying process?)

What’s amusing is that no matter what the designer’s taste or artistic sensibility (and there’s no guarantee they’ll even have an artistic sensibility, given how many of these people dress), they always design a kitchen with the same three features: shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and a barn door.

Seriously. It’s all the time — on every episode. Shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and a barn door.

The homeowners claim they’re updating the fixtures to make them more modern. Oak and granite are apparently out, and it would be inhumane for a homeowner to have to tolerate a popcorn ceiling or laminate floor. The outrage!

But my question is, what are these people going to do when shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and barn doors go out of style?

Because you know it’s going to happen – and probably sooner rather than later. You know that someday these people are going to list their homes with goal of upgrading to an even more luxurious McMansion. What are they going to say when potential buyers scoff at their outdated design elements?

It’s a harrowing question to ponder.

What’s even more baffling is that many of these people complain about living in cookie-cutter homes and planned-unit developments, because they want their houses to be “unique” and to have “character.”

Yet when they renovate their kitchens, they insist in using the same modern-day design elements as everyone else.

It reminds me of Cheech and Chong discussing uniforms for their band: “If we’re going to wear uniforms, then everyone should wear something different.”

Except it’s the reverse: “I want to live in a unique house with character that looks like everyone else’s.”

As for me, buying a house is currently out of the question, given the sky-high prices. Besides, many of those homes have popcorn ceilings and oak cabinets, and my years of devouring Top Ramen and pursuing a worthless degree have entitled me to enjoy the finer things in life.

If I did buy a house, I’d clearly have to renovate it. The first project I’d tackle is adding shaker-style cabinets to the kitchen.

But then again, maybe I should consider remodeling the master bathroom. Given my rampant binge-watching of House Hunters, I might be better off flushing the toilet while showering.

The top 60 Tweets of a pretentious English student 

young man studying on laptop in college campus library

Yeah, I went to school with people like this…

Even graduate students studying ecocentric literature can be social-media superstars!

Bio: I express my artistry through emotional meditations and lowercase letters. My heart is pure; my poetry, self-published.

1. If there’s a sock on the door, don’t come in. I’m busy reading Vonnegut.

2. If my beret doesn’t give away my artistic tendencies, then I’m sure the Apple logo on my laptop will.

3. A sublime exhalation of youthful exuberance, in a premature outpouring of passion. (But give me 10 minutes, and I’ll try again.)

4. I’m not arrogant. I just don’t need to take writing advice from the dude who wrote “Charlotte’s Web.”

5. Yeah, well, how many literary-fiction journals have *you* been featured in, buddy?

6. Is that a Bukowski in your book bag, or are you just happy to see me?

7. Personally, I find the em-dash more progressive than the semicolon.

8. How endearing. I went through my own period of rugged Hemingway terseness back in 201.

9. We haven’t truly lived until we’ve written in the first-person-plural.

10. I’ll trade you three gently used issues of Glimmer Train for your annotated copy of “Burning Down the House.”

11. I’m not in it for the monetary compensation; I’m in it to bare my soul through the written word. (Besides, Mom pays my tuition.)

12. My tattered journal contains the scribblings of my soul. Plus, my Econ notes from yesterday’s class.

13. She left my emotional core stinging from the lash of rejection. (It also stings when I pee.)

14. I see you consistently get “it’s” and “its” confused. You need a bib to catch all the drool?

15. [Literary flirting] “So, you want to get coffee sometime? We could discuss whether Truman Capote wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.” Keep reading…

The lengths some people will go to steal a parking space

empty parking space

Not that my warning does me any good. The only one who doesn’t park in my designated space is me, because everyone else beats me to it.

I happened to be following a car as it pulled into my apartment complex. It turned left at the entrance and started driving through the parking lot toward my unit.

I didn’t recognize the car, so I figured it had to be a guest, and not a tenant.

“I bet he tries to park in my assigned space,” I said to myself, as I followed the car through the lot. “I just know it. Everyone tries to park in my assigned space. The cable guy, the electric guy, the escort who spends Friday nights with Downstairs Neighbor Dave. Look! He’s barreling past all of these available guest parking spaces so he can be closer to the buildings – the jerk!”

As if following a script, the car slowed down and turned into my assigned space.

I pulled behind it and peeped the horn. A young man climbed out of the car and looked at me, frowning.

“Hey!” I said, rolling down the window. “You’re in my space!”

The man continued to frown. “I’m sorry?”

“You got to move, pal. You’re in my assigned space!”

The man shrugged. “No. I’m not moving my car.”

He opened the back door and started rifling through some junk sitting in the backseat.

“Excuse me?” I climbed out of my car and approached him. “Buddy, you’re in my space. This is my space!”

The man kept his back turned as he searched for something in the backseat. “It’s not your space; it’s mine.”

“How can you say that?” I asked.

“Because I got here first. First come, first served. It’s a rule. Don’t you know the rule?”

“That rule doesn’t apply because it’s my space! I’m a tenant, and this is the space they assigned to me.”

“But how do you know it’s your space? It looks like all the other spaces.” The man pulled a sweatshirt out of the car and turned around to face me.

“It doesn’t look anything like the other spaces!” I said. “The resident spaces have white lines, and the guest spaces have yellow. Plus, the resident spaces are numbered, and I’m No. 28. That’s how I know it’s my space: because it’s clearly marked No. 28.”

“So is that also the number of your apartment?” the man asked, pulling on his sweatshirt. “No. 28?”

“No. My apartment is No. 256.”

“Then why is your space No. 28? Shouldn’t your apartment number match your parking-space number?”

“I just live here,” I said. “I don’t assign the numbers.”  Keep reading…

A side order of drama at the drive-through window 

hamburger with pickles, lettuce and melted cheese

Huh. I don’t remember asking for sarcasm or attitude with my order.

I pulled up to the drive-through window to order lunch.

The speaker clicked, then gushed out a stream of static and crackling.

“Excuse me?” I asked, leaning my head out the window.

The speaker hissed, then shrieked with a horrible feedback-like squeal. I jumped back, holding my ear.

“Mumble mumble mumble,” said the speaker.

I sucked in a breath, leaning out of my window uncertainly. “Hello?”

“Mumble,” the speaker said.

“Hello?” I said again.

“Can I get your order!” screamed a young woman’s voice from the speaker.

Startled, I jumped, my head hitting the roof.

“Yeah,” I said, rubbing my head and wincing. “Just a second. I got to read the menu.”

The car behind me honked. “Come on, pal!” a guy screamed.

I perused the glass-enclosed menu that stood in a large stand alongside the speaker. “OK. I think I know what I want.”

“Mumble,” the speaker said.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“I wasn’t talking to you!” the young woman’s voice screamed, followed by a stream of hissing.

“Sorry,” I said. “Can I get a chicken sandwich with mustard instead of mayonnaise and no tomato, with a side of large fries and a medium root beer?”

“Can I get your order!” screamed the young woman’s voice. Keep reading…

An under-appreciated office-dweller

getting a big promotion“Thanks.”

That was the extent of your e-mailed response: “Thanks.”

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m glad that you at least acknowledged my effort.

But “Thanks”? That’s it?

Not to sound entitled, but I think I deserve a little bit more.

Did you see how quickly I acted upon your request? And did you bother to grasp the thoroughness of my reply?

I mean, I don’t expect you to write a haiku as a testament to my glory and magnificence, but give me something more than “Thanks.” Maybe something like “Thank you very much” or “Your assistance is greatly appreciated.”

Nope. “Thanks.” That’s the length to which you ventured to recognize my contributions.

I don’t want to complain, but I feel like my work here isn’t appreciated. No matter how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my personal life, I put forth my best each day. My commitment to timeliness and quality is unparalleled, and I’m highly regarded as a dedicated team-player. The meticulous approach I bring to my work has earned me stellar reviews from upper management.

So I don’t think I’m out of line to expect a little bit more than “Thanks.”

I suppose it’s not in your nature to recognize others (being so singularly focused on your own career and upward momentum). But the next time I go out of my way to accommodate one of your “urgent” requests, a little more gratitude would be appreciated.

And I’m not talking about an overdone dissertation dripping with sarcasm. You don’t need to say “I so dearly value your heartfelt dedication and perseverance. You are a radiant beacon in a shadowy sea of cubicles; a pillar of strength standing among a battalion of slump-shouldered staff. You consistently outshine your peers, like a brilliant star streaking across a twilight sky. Your mind brims with industry knowledge; your heart and soul exude the passion you bring to your job. I truly cherish having you on my team, and I wish to thank you profusely for your wholehearted dedication.”

No, you don’t need to say all that. I’m not looking for unconditional admiration, or a stepping stool to senior management. I’m clearly not on the fast-track, because instead of brown-nosing my way to success, I’m too busy doing all the work.

I just want something more than “Thanks.” And at the end of a trying workday, is that really so much to ask? I’m but a mere human with a humble heart. I seek not riches or fame, but just a smidgen of recognition, to validate my otherwise futile existence.

This mysterious journey of life holds little clues to the grander intricacies of the universe. Life moves forward in a constant current of progression, and unless we flow forward with friends, the world can make us feel isolated and lonely.

We must respect each other, cherish each other — love each other. If there’s a deeper meaning to the universe, it’s that all we have is each other. All people (and indeed, all office-dwellers) are interconnected — like a connect-the-dots game in which all the points are linked.

By the mere act of existing, each of us is obligated to bring warmth to this world, and we can do that by respecting each other. Don’t let your condescending, managerial detachment make this world a cold, unforgiving place. Be warm. Be loving.

Be human.

I so appreciate your contributions to this organization. All I ask is that you appreciate mine.


Uncertainty and panic at the bank drive-through

$10 bill

Thanks for the $10 birthday check, Grandma. It was *so* worth waiting in line for 20 minutes at the bank.

The drive-through window at the bank is a problem. Once I slip my deposit into the transparent plastic tube and press the “send” button to make it whoosh away, I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I don’t want to face the bank window, because then the teller will think I’m scrutinizing her performance … as if I don’t trust her with the $10 check my grandmother gave me for my birthday. (And yes, Grandma’s a cheap old bag. That’s why I sent her to a home. You don’t earn a coveted spot in your grandson’s heart by writing $10 birthday checks each year.)

I don’t want the teller to think I don’t trust her, because that’s not the case at all. I always love to watch a professional at work … especially if she’s a gorgeous blonde with a Marilyn Monroe-like mole near her upper lip. Mmm. I love that.

It’s just at the bank, there’s nothing much to look at, because the window overlooking the drive-through lanes is tinted. So I can’t even see the teller unless I get out of my car and press my face against the glass.

Only it’s inadvisable to step outside of your car at the drive-through, because then you might leave the gearshift in “drive,” and the car will rumble through the parking lot and into the highway, causing a tanker truck sloshing with sewage to spew all sorts of unspeakable foulness upon passing pedestrians. And because it’s sunny, none of them will have an umbrella to shield them … unless, of course, they’re the type of person who carries an umbrella in warm weather, to protect themselves from sunburn. But that’s what they invented sunscreen for, and if you’ve slathered yourself appropriately prior to venturing outdoors, then an umbrella on a sunny day is rather superfluous.

So no, you shouldn’t leave your car at the bank drive-through. Besides, the teller tends to freak out if you press your face against the window. I think it’s because she doesn’t want nose prints on the clean glass. I can understand that. It’s not cheap to run a bank and to keep the windows clean. The big banks on Wall Street can afford clean windows, because they get all sorts of taxpayer bailouts and Congressional favors. It’s the smaller community banks that have to be on the lookout for indiscriminate smudges, because if they cleaned their windows each week, then they wouldn’t be able to provide their customers with free checking. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer financial perks to spot-free glass.

But back to the drive-through. I don’t want to face the window, but I don’t want to face forward with my hands on the wheel, either. If I’m staring into space, then the teller might not think I’m interested in the transaction. And I want her to know that I’m an equally committed partner in this all-too-fleeting interaction. I have just as much emotional investment in the outcome of this exchange as she does, and I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m apathetic and uncaring.

If she suspects I’m uninterested, then she might wait on somebody else — setting aside my transaction to give preference to the guy in the car next to me — and who knows what kind of painstaking transaction he came here to perform. With my luck, he’s probably trying to withdraw $1,000 in loose pennies, or something. The jerk.

At first, the teller might think this is all strictly business … but when she turns over the deposit slip that I’ve stuck in the plastic tube, she’ll see the eloquent love letter I wrote. You see, I scrawled it while I was waiting in line behind a behemoth RV belching smog. (Yes, I choked on putrid exhaust, but I did so in the name of love. That’s the kind of romantic tender-heart I am.)

In the note, I’ll map out our future together — the way I envision it with my adoring eyes and hopeful heart — listing the neighborhood in which we’ll live and picking names for our four unborn children.

Unfortunately, one has to print small to fit one’s future on the back of a typical deposit slip. I hope the teller can read my microscopic script. Or worse yet, I hope she doesn’t smudge the ink with her thumb. I poured my heart and soul into that epic haiku, and it would be a momental tragedy if the teller couldn’t read it. Our wandering hearts would never find each other, and we’d be left wandering in the desolate, stormy sea of loneliness … adrift without paddles … floating without hope … with no horizon or compass or painted drive-through lanes to guide us toward a loving embrace.

So yeah, the drive-through window at the bank is a problem. The tinted window separates me from the object of my affection, and when I look at the one-way glass, all I can see is my pathetic, pallid face staring back at me, forlorn and alone.

Oh sure, I could venture inside the bank and perform my transaction there, but it’s my lunch hour, and the drive-through is quicker. Besides, you never know who you’ll get stuck behind in line. The world’s most plodding, dawdling imbeciles are always ahead of me, shuffling forward with no sense of urgency and conducting transactions that last longer than the Ice Age. It’s like they live in the bank, setting up tents and sleeping bags as if they’re nerds at the premiere of a superhero movie.

Don’t they know that I’m in love with the teller? Can’t they see the desperate, anguished yearning in my eyes? Do they not realize that they’re preventing two hopeless, passionate dreamers from forging a bond?

I pull away from the drive-through with my $10 and a receipt. If the teller saw my love note, she chose to ignore it. I imagine the deposit slip was carelessly discarded, its loving words to be shredded … its idolizing message destroyed.

Ten dollars. What solace can a young man seek with such a mockable pittance? To what secluded destination can this lonely heart abscond?

If only Grandma had given me a better birthday gift, then I might not be in this predicament. The cheap old bag.

Why I started flossing more

lion with mouth wide openI’m a colossal disappointment.

At least according to my dental hygienist.

She didn’t say as much — at least at first — but I could tell. Even under the face guard and surgical mask, her narrowed eyes belied her disdain.

I found myself withering under the piercing gaze of her intense disapproval. It was as uncomfortable and searing as the hot lightbulb shining above me.

“Are you flossing?” she asked finally, breaking the sterile silence. She withdrew the hooked scraper from my mouth and held it above my eyes, as if wielding a weapon. The bright light reflected off the cold metal.

I tensed, clenching the chair’s armrests.

“Are you?” she asked again, holding the scraper closer to my eyes.

I nodded, my mouth open. “Uh-huh.”

“Every day?”

“Well.” I shrugged. “Maybe not every day.”

“Because your gums are gushing blood, which indicates you’re not flossing regularly.” The hygienist held up the cloth bib that was fastened around my neck. “See this?”

The cloth was saturated with blood, as if the hygienist had been performing triage. The fingers of her latex gloves were also dripping.

In fact, her entire tray of equipment looked like it belonged to the Joker’s plastic surgeon.

“Oh,” I said.

“Tell the truth, now. You haven’t flossed once since your last visit, have you?”

“I haven’t, no.”

“And I told you then to start flossing, didn’t I?”

Snippets from Marathon Man played in my mind. “I … um. I don’t recall.”

“You’re lying. I have your file right here, and it clearly states that you were instructed to start flossing.” The hygienist leaned closer, so that her face guard was touching my cheek. “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you care about your gum health?”

I swallowed, the taste of blood hot in my throat. Clearly, my gums were still bleeding from where the hygienist had been probing me. I could feel the gritty stickiness on my teeth.

She grabbed me around the collar. “Answer me!”

“I do care, ma’am!” I said, choking. “I do!”

“Yeah?” She released her grip. “We’ll see about that.”

She stood up and crossed the room. I lay trembling, tears pooling in my eyes.

The hygienist returned with string tied around both of her index fingers. She held it above me.

“What’s that?” I croaked, as beads of perspiration trickled down my forehead. She was going to strangle me — I knew it. This was to be my inevitable punishment for neglecting my dental health.

The hygienist frowned. “It’s floss. Haven’t you seen it before?”

“Oh,” I said. “No — I haven’t, actually.”

She took a seat. “I want you to brace yourself. Your gums are tender, so this is going to be painful.”

She jammed the floss between two of my bottom teeth. I screamed, my legs reflexively kicking.

“Hold still!” The hygienist yanked out the floss. A stream of blood and flecks of lettuce stuck to her mask.

“Please,” I said, moaning. “Please stop.”

The hygienist cinched the floss tighter around her finger.

“Tell me,” she said, leaning close. “Is it safe?”

“Stop,” I said, my voice a whisper. “Please.”

“Is it safe?”

I closed my eyes, shuddering. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The hygienist crammed the floss between the next pair of teeth and wrenched it back and forth, sawing down to the gumline. A wad of putrid foulness flicked out.

My cries echoed off the walls, filtering into the hall and tapering to the Reader’s Digest-filled waiting room, whose snug couches and sunny interior belied the chamber of horrors within.

However, I am flossing more now, so there’s that.