He always had trouble going to the dentist. Sure, he didn’t like the feeling of the dental hygienist scraping his teeth and gums—that was true. But the real trouble was that Jon was always delayed. This bothered him because he was usually a very punctual person. He liked being on time. It had been one of his New Year's resolutions years before, to be on time, and he was doing quite well at it, except for the dentist. It had only started when he switched dentists, after his old one died in a boating accident.
The first time it was just that the subway train was delayed. The announcer in the usual garbled fashion mumbled something about a train being in front of them, then a police investigation, then something else, and they sat for forty-five minutes, not the most amount of time in the world but enough to make him late. He was very apologetic, but he felt badly since this was his first visit to this dentist. The receptionist said they'd have to reschedule. Normally it wasn't a problem, but today it was.
I’ll be on time for the next appointment, he said to the receptionist, whose name was Rosary.
The next appointment day came around. Remembering the shame and anxiety he experienced at his first appointment, he left forty-five minutes early.
At the Bedford-Nostrand stop, as he was waiting for his train, he found a child wandering the platform. He was far too young to be on his own.
Where’s your mom or dad? Jon said.
I don’t know, the kid said, and begin the cry.
Jon took the kid to the station manager and asked him to call the police. The kid was crying and holding his hand and when the police came the kid wouldn’t let Jon go. He wrapped himself around his legs. The officers asked if he could stay with them until they located the parents. He went to the police station with them. He sat with the boy who told him about a trip he went on where he went on a canoe and they went in the water and got a fish but his dad let it go and then pushed his mom into the water and laughed and his mom got back in the boat and pushed his dad in the water and laughed and they all laughed a lot. It didn’t sound like the kind of parents to leave a child on the subway platform but why not, he was a little annoying.
As he waited he called the dentist. I can’t make it in today, he said. I found a lost child on the platform and had to take him to the police station.
Okay, the receptionist said. By her tone he could tell she didn’t believe him. It’s true, he said. I’m here with him now at the police station. I’ll send a picture.
No, that’s not necessary, Rosary said.
It’s not a bad picture, or inappropriate picture. It’s just a picture of me with this boy who’s lost.
That’s really not necessary, she said.
They rescheduled in two weeks.
The boy’s mom came in after he hung up. She was crying and ran over.
Asher, Asher, she said. Oh my God, I’m sorry, I'm so sorry. The doors closed and he jumped out. Right as they closed. Oh my God, this is my worst nightmare. Thank you so much, she said to the officers.
Who are you? she said to Jon.
I found him and brought him to the police, Jon said.
You took him? she said.
She was suspicious.
We found Asher with him, one of the officers said. He was hugging the kid.
Hugging him? She looked at Jon suspiciously.
No, he was hugging me, Jon said. It doesn't matter, I'm going now.
He went to walk away, but remembered, he needed evidence. He turned back to take a photo of Asher crouching behind his mother, who was looking at him with annoyance and disdain.
He debated whether to send it to the receptionist.
Bye, Asher, he said, but Asher was whispering to his mom.
On the day of his rescheduled appointment he left two hours early. He was going to make it on time. They were going to see that he was dependable and punctual.
He got onto the G train. He transferred to the E. As the E was going under the East River, that’s when the smoke bomb went off. People screamed. There was a loud flash and bang and he thought it was a bomb, that he was going to die, and he realized if it was a bomb he wouldn’t even have those seconds to think he was going to die, he would just be dead. That’s what he thought about afterwards, when he found it was only a smoke bomb set off by high school students from Park Slope, as it turned out. They evacuated the train and walked on the tracks to the next station. The police interviewed them. By the time he was free to leave, the appointment time was hours gone.
He called Rosary. I’m so sorry, he said. There was an attack on the subway train I was in. We had to evacuate. There was smoke everywhere.
Uh-huh, Rosary said.
I’m serious. I didn’t take any photos but it’s true, I swear to God.
Mmm, Rosary said.
The day of this appointment, he decided to take a car to the dentist. He left three hours in advance. He ordered a livery cab.
As they were driving along, the driver said, What are the signs of a heart attack?
What? Jon said.
You know, tingling in the arm? the driver said. What else?
Why? Are you having a heart attack? Jon said.
Oh, no, no, my brother, he calls and says he has a pain in his chest, so I tell him, Go to the hospital, but he refuses. I want to tell him the signs to watch out for. I know the tingling in the arm, but what else?
Shortness of breath, Jon said. Burning in chest, dizziness, fatigue, lightheadedness, clammy skin, feeling of impending doom.
Yeah, Jon said.
I have that everyday! the driver said.
Good one, sir, he said.
Thank you, I will call my brother.
After Jon relayed the symptoms he begin to feel them. The shortness of breath, the tingling, the pain in his chest, the impending doom. Was he having a heart attack? That would be just great. A heart attack, now, on the way to the dentist.
He took several deep breathes. After he calmed down, as the driver was on the phone, he turned and saw a delivery truck almost run into them.
On 3rd avenue the traffic was a nightmare, and so in the 40s the told the cab driver he could get out and walk the rest of the way.
What followed next is all true: I saw it with my own eyes, because I was walking behind Jon also on my way to the same dentist. Jon and I used to work together, that's how I knew him. In fact, I had recommended Jon go to this dentist. It was my longest relationship in New York, the one with my dentist.
As Jon walked, he was almost hit by a car. An air-conditioning unit fell out of a window and nearly hit him. A man with a bow and arrow who was being chased by police nearly shot him (the arrow went into the door behind him). A cop on a horse almost ran over him. A cab door almost struck him. A man walking down the street with an oar almost took his head off.
Somehow he made it to the building where the dentist has his office. We took the elevator together, and, not surprisingly, it got stuck. Worse, it began to free-fall. It was absolutely terrifying. We went down ten floors. It’s the reason to this day I won’t take elevators. The elevator stopped it’s free-fall on the second floor, and we waited until the fire department got us out.
Jon looked at his watch. I still have time, he said. I'm going to take the stairs.
I followed him as he raced up the stairs all fifteen flights. He had one minute to go.
This is the right day of your appointment, correct? I said.
Yes, he said. You bastard. I’m sure of it. Oh you bastard.
We went into the dentist's office.
We sat in reception. The receptionist had stepped out for a moment, so we were waiting for her to return. Jon was smiling.
I made it, he said. I made it.
A man who had been sitting across from us stood up. A moment before he had been reading SELF magazine about amazing ways to tone your abs. Now he had a gun. Give me your money, he said.
What? Jon said. You're robbing a dentist’s office?
Yes, he said.
No, Jon said.
No? the man said.
No, I'm getting a cleaning. I have to check in with the receptionist. I have to get a cleaning.
Jon, I said. Jon, let it go.
Give me your wallet, the man said.
No, Jon said. I'm getting a cleaning.
The man shot Jon.
It was one of the most eventful visits to the dentist I've ever had.
After the man shot Jon he ran out. As I helped Jon on the floor trying to stop the bleeding, as I rode with him in the ambulance, I couldn't help but notice: he really did have beautiful and straight teeth. I could see why he wanted them cleaned on a regular basis. In the ambulance Jon told me the stories of all the times he tried to make it to the dentist. He wouldn't stop talking, he wanted to tell me everything that had happened. I made it, he said. I made it on time. Tell Rosary, he said. I was there, I made it. He grimaced in pain. Leaning in closer to give him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, I saw a bit of food stuck in his teeth. He was right, he did need a cleaning.