It’s before 10 a.m. and having washed my face and brushed my teeth, I’m ready to take a good long look at myself. I’ve propped up a mirror on my desk and trained the desk lamp on my face, as though I’m about to be interrogated. Not, however, by a handsome detective (who wants to make sweet love to me, even though it’s unethical and he could get fired), but rather by several of the familiarly critical voices in my head.
Bad Cop: So you just turned forty-five. Happy freakin’ birthday.
Good Cop: You look good for you age.
BC: Are those freckles?
GC: They’re cute.
BC: Isn’t it time we started calling 'em what they are?
Me: What do you mean?
BC: Age spots, sweetheart.
Me: Actually, some of them are still freckles. I think.
GC: Look, no one would blame you for wanting to see a dermatologist. You once visited a — Dr. Skeintagen — to inquire about the possibility of in-office laser procedure?
Me: That’s correct. It was quite a few years ago, actually.
BC: He recommended it, didn't he? LASER SURGERY.
Me: He did.
BC: Because you were in the business of show. Isn’t that right? A musician, an entertainer? You had to worry about appearances for “the public.”
GC: But you decided not to. Because you’re above this form of vanity?
BC: You'd like us to think of you as a delicate poet, a “singer-songwriter” who eschews such mundane preoccupations?
Me: No …
BC: Isn’t it because the good doctor told you the brown spots might turn WHITE when he blasted them with his gamma ray gun, and you were choosing the lesser of — and pardon my hyperbole — the lesser of two evils?
Me: That’s unfair.
BC: Is it? Because I think you might be secretly saving up for a chemical peel.
Me: You want the truth? I’m OK with myself. I know you want me to hate my changing face, but I like it well enough. In fact, hold onto your holsters, gentlemen — I think I’m attractive. Isn't life a little bit bigger than one's looks in any case?
GC: You make a good point.
BC: Oh, I see, this isn’t deep enough for you. You want to talk about the meaning of your life?
Me: Look, forget it. I’m just saying …
BC: No, no, no. Now we’re getting somewhere, baby. You want to talk about your LIFE. What are you doing with it anyway? Are you working really hard on making a difference in the world? Or do you just prance around writing a few songs when you feel like it and expect us all to think it’s some big contribution to the planet? Have you helped anyone at all? Ever?
Me: I haven’t done anything extraordinary, but I tend to think small things matter, too.
GC: You're sincere, I can see that. You’re a nice person.
Me: Look, I have my faults, I’m a flawed person. But for the record, I no longer choose to beat myself up. I'm not going to berate myself because, first and foremost, it doesn’t help. In fact, it tends to paralyze me …
GC: Yes, of course. We understand.
BC: You had an Uncle Joe, didn’t you …
Me: You leave him out of this!
BC: He used to admire your teeth, didn’t he? He envied them because he had bad teeth, but he loved your teeth. BIG MOVIE STAR TEETH, he’d call them.
Me: He was my favorite uncle.
BC: (slamming the table) Why didn’t you wear your retainer?
Me: I don’t know ... I didn’t think I had to.
BC: Do you know how much money and time your parents spent on bringing you back and forth to Tufts Medical Center to get braces?
Me: That was over 25 years ago!
BC: Your mouth looks like David Bowie circa 1975.
Me: I floss ...
GC: Your former orthodontist, a trained specialist in the dental arts, never advised you to wear your retainer?
Me: I heard him say, "Wear the retainer," detective. I just didn’t hear him say "Wear the retainer for the rest of your life."
BC: Ziggy Stardust called. He wants his teeth back.
Me: I’m scared of getting older and I’m scared of dying before I figure out how to live. I have nightmares about my teeth.
GC: We all do.
Me: I wake up in the morning and I look at myself in the mirror and do you know what I see? A human being. Doing what I can with the time I'm given. I try to treat people well. Sometimes I fail. But I keep going and try to do better. By the way, am I being charged with something or am I free to go?
BC: One more question: Do you think you can pass for “under 40”?
Me: I’d like to speak with my lawyer, please.