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Comments (9) Posted 06.18.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT | SINGLE PAGE

Adam Harrison Levy

A Tattoo, A Toothbrush and A Pipe


A Toothbrush



Like most kids, I hated brushing my teeth. It seems to be a universal rule. I think it has to do with the act itself which is repetitive, stupid and boring. All you do for thirty seconds is look at your grimacing face in the mirror and watch all this white stuff come bubbling out. And, of course, you are told that brushing your teeth is supposed to be good for you — which is obviously the wrong thing to say to a kid. I think it also has to do with the intention behind the act, which it is preventative and future-orientated as in “if you don’t brush your teeth you’re going to get cavities.”

For me, it was the “you’re going to get cavities” that caused instant resistance, at least for me. What did I care about “going to get”? I was a kid; I lived in the present. I was thinking about my homework, about Renee Rasmussen’s bra, about the Six Million Dollar Man.

At bedtime, my sister, who is two and half years younger than I am, always got to use the bathroom first. At twelve years old she took ages: hair brushing, face cleaning, flossing, and god only knows what else (I didn’t want to think about it.)

I would patiently wait my turn in my room. Because I was attuned to the rhythm of the sounds of the bathroom (the water pipes were in the wall adjoining my room), I could accurately anticipate when she would emerge. For the first five to eight minutes of her time I tried not listen. But then came the final backstretch order: double faucet burst followed by a three-minute silence (she was probably daubing around her face with one of those round cotton things). Sound of gurgling drain. Second faucet burst signaling that she was refilling the sink. Thirty second wash with mild exfoliating soap.

Two minute silence as night cream was applied. Three full minutes of final mirror consultation. And then I was good to go.

On this particular evening I was restless and wanted to get in and out of the bathroom as fast as possible. I wanted to get back to the book I was reading. After my sister emerged I darted in and locked the door. I was timing myself, trying to break my own 82 second record. At 63 seconds I was falling behind so I decided to skip the brushing of the teeth.

I unlocked the door and zipped back to my room. I hopped into bed. I slipped under the covers, positioned my pillow, angled my body in just the right way and started reading.

My father would usually poke his head through the door about half an hour later when it was time to say goodnight.

“Good book?”
“Yeah.”
“OK day?”
“Yeah.”
“Anything else?”
“Nope.”
“Brush your teeth?”
“Yeah.”

My father closed the door. I noticed a slight hesitation. About thirty seconds later he opened it again.

“Anything you want to tell me?”
“Nope”
“You sure?”
“Yeah.”
“Brush your teeth?”
“Yeah.”

My father was a kind and gentle man. By no stretch was he authoritarian. Which, intentionally or not, had the powerful effect that when he did speak with authority it signaled that something was definitely up.

“I’ll ask you one more time. Did you brush your teeth?”
I paused. I put my book down.

This was a serious dilemma. I could admit to my lie and thereby reveal that I was capable of duplicity. Or I could stick to my guns. Since I was enthralled by the concepts of honor and bravery I chose to stick to my lie.

“Yeah. I brushed my teeth.”

My father didn’t say anything. He signaled that I should get out of bed. I threw back the covers and rose with what I hoped was a swagger. I followed my father into the bathroom. My resolve was starting to crack. My father picked up the toothbrush. He held it out to me. He fanned the bone-dry bristles.

“Now brush your teeth,” he said.

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Comments (9)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

I rarely comment on these things but I felt the need to say how much I actually enjoyed this one. It has such a wholesome and grounded quality about it.
James
06.18.11 at 08:44

Pipe smoking is having something of a comeback in the US among a younger generation. A friend in the cigar industry told me sales of briar pipes and tobacco actually are up for the first time in decades. It's one of those below the radar nostalgia moments.
Sam
06.18.11 at 11:58

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
~Clarence Budington Kelland.

http://thegreatquotes.com/2011/06/fathers-day/
Quotes
06.19.11 at 06:50

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!
: ) ===>DO<=== ( :

Carl W. Smith
06.19.11 at 11:02

And what of the toothbrush and the pipe?
Dan Lewis
06.20.11 at 09:47

excellent read, this reminds me of a book by Alexandre Najjar, I believe it was called 'The School of War'.

Dan their are 3 pages to this article, the toothbrush and pipe stories are on p2 and p3.
je
06.23.11 at 02:50

Of course he could have grown up, decided to be part of age old art of skin decoration, and gone to a clean well lit friendly tattoo parlour. where he met like minded people who were talented artists and into similar stuff as he was.

when he met he his new girlfriend, perhaps there was a sense of regret – but no more than all the other things that had happened to him in his twenties.


davo
06.29.11 at 12:00

These are lovely. Mind if I file away the tattoo story in my memory for future reuse? I have a three year old son, and I dearly hope that he will never succumb to the fashion of getting himself tatted up.

Instead, I hope to instill in my son the confidence and self assurance to remain an individual, to not succumb to some superficial (yet tragically permanent) fashion trend just so he can look like everybody else. It's one thing to buy a plaid shirt when they are in fashion, but it is a whole other order of magnitude to modify your body just because that happens to be in vogue.

Alas, if the instill confidence approach doesn't work, I'm not above scaring the bejesus out of him, at the appropriate time, with a story like this.
Rob Henning
06.29.11 at 01:24

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Dan, as je mentioned, if you click on "next page" and you can read the toothbrush and the pipe.

je, I'll look up the Najjar book, thanks.

And Rob, I hope it doesn't come it, but if you feel that you need to use the story don't hesitate!
Adam Harrison Levy
07.03.11 at 08:36



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Adam Harrison Levy is a writer and freelance documentary film producer and director. He specializes in the art of the interview. For the BBC he has conducted interviews with a wide range of actors, writers, musicians and film-makers including Meryl Streep, Philip Glass, and Paul Auster. He was the U.S. producer for Selling the Sixties, a cultural history of advertising in New York and Close Up, about the artist Chuck Close. He is the author of  essays for Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945, an exhibition at the International Center for Photography, and Saul Leiter: Retrospective. He teaches at the School of Visual Arts and in the Film Studies Dept at Wesleyan University. In 2012 he was a Poynter Fellow at Yale University.


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