The Tooth Hurts

My teeth and I have this mutual arrangement: I don’t bother them with difficult, crunchy foods like vegetables, and they don’t bother me by hurting. The same goes for dentists: I don’t make them take time out of their busy schedules to fiddle around in my mouth; they don’t drag me off the street and perform Marathon Man-styled tortures on me. All very equitable. All very friendly. Until last week…

I wouldn’t have been so miffed, if I had been breaking my rules, but the offending delicacy was not a breeze block, rolled steel joist or Stealth bomber. It was a slice of pizza, hardly the most challenging foodstuff known to man. But it was enough. At first, I thought I had merely got something stuck in a back molar on the left-hand side – but when I tried to dislodge it, I discovered a yawning gulf where the back of the tooth used to be.

The odd thing was how it didn’t hurt at all, and continued not hurting, despite my prodding at it sporadically with my tongue for the next couple of days. It was kinda therapeutic, like a dental version of scab-picking, but I tried to control myself for fear of all 32 teeth (well, 31.5 now) cascading out of my head in some bizarre domino effect. [I had a dream like that once: psychological interpretations of this found elsewhere on the Net were so radically different as to be useless – everything from “an archetypal image of the dreamer’s sense of confidence and competence” to “fear of sexual impotence”!]

Lacking in dental insurance, I briefly considered flying back to Britain for treatment on the good old NHS – even though my last regular dentist, in Scotland, died suddenly in circumstances that were never really explained to my satisfaction. However, wiser council (that’ll be Chris, in her usual role as calming influence!) prevailed, and I booked in with the family practitioner. After an initial consultation, it was decided to patch up things in there temporarily until the (hastily-acquired) dental insurance kicks in for large-scale treatment like this next year.

The actual patching was a lengthy and rougher affair, necessitating two shots of Novocaine, the first proving not enough to stifle my wriggling as the drill ground out what was left of the tooth. It was weird, feeling someone drilling away inside your mouth, seeing smoke rising from your face, yet the expected agony connected with such events was conspicuous by its absence. The anaesthetic left the entire left hand side of my face feeling as if it belonged to someone else – whose tongue is this, and what is it doing in my mouth? – but the amusement to be had hitting yourself in the face and not feeling a thing is significant.

Was pleasantly surprised by the cost – at $225, it probably wasn’t much more that I’d have ended up paying on the NHS for similar treatment. They’re muttering about bringing me back in for some fillings they discovered while they were in there, but I am already ahead of them, anticipating loading up on “da bling bling”, as I believe it is called by modern urban youth, and acquiring a mouthful of gold. Otherwise, I will be more than happy to return to our previous arrangement of mutual non-interference.

Hooray for Hollywood

Los Angeles may be the ultimate American city: sprawling, polluted, ceaselessly bustling, capitalism distilled to its highest degree. Unlike Las Vegas, which is fun to visit, but you’re always grateful to leave, Los Angeles is a chore, but a strangely seductive one. The cause this time was ScreamFest, a horror movie festival in which Cradle of Fear was screening – we (in our role as American ambassadors) were there to flagwave, pick up the print afterward, and hopefully sell the theatrical rights to Miramax for $3 million.

Step one on arriving at LAX is always: hire a car. Los Angeles has a public transport system befitting its role as the quintessential American metropolis, i.e. it sucks. On a previous trip, we naively tried using it to get from the airport to Hollywood Boulevard. This is not a mistake we will repeat, after a tortuous, lengthy, tense journey through some highly scenic parts of South Central LA, during which this poor, transparent-skinned Scot (a veteran of 10 years on London Transport) felt particularly touristy.

While waiting for your courtesy bus to the car hire place, you can admire the ‘Theme Building’, an unimaginative name for a bizarre architectural feature which dominates the centre of the airport. Rising on spidery buttresses 135 feet off the ground, it resembles something out of Thunderbirds, or perhaps the lair of some Bondian supervillain, cunningly hidden in plain sight at an international hub – there being no dormant volcanoes to hand. No surprise the architect’s brother was art director on War of the Worlds; it’s now a space-themed restaurant.

Once automobiled, you then have to cope with LA’s notorious traffic, and you begin to see why…well, why you can’t see, the Hollywood sign being invisible from downtown due to a haze of smog. Even the carpool lanes are choked more often than not, and at times the traffic approaches London standards of sloth. Which is akin to blasphemy in a city – and indeed, nation – dedicated to cars with such zealous ferocity, that our daughter believes it is her constitutional right to be given a car on her 16th birthday. You could kill the time by listening to the radio, but LA radio is about one-tenth as diverse as here in Phoenix, unless you’re a devotee of thirty different flavours of Mariachi music.

We spend most of our time up near Hollywood, as that’s where most of the stuff we’re there for (concerts, film festivals, etc.) takes place. Accommodation-wise, there are two kinds of hotels to be found up there: extortionate, and recently condemned. The latter are perhaps more fun: not to occupy, heaven forbid, just to poke your head round the door for a look-see. There are places which look like the DEA will be storming in any second now. There are places which look like the DEA just left, and didn’t bother to tidy up after themselves. Others aren’t so well-kept.

Shining out like a beacon among all this is the oddly-named Farmer’s Daughter – which made more sense when we realised it’s beside the Farmer’s Market. We never actually stay in any hotel much – what’s the point of travelling if that’s all you’re going to do? So the Daughter has everything we need in a hotel room – a bathroom (for Chris), a TV (for me) and a bed (for both of us) – without requiring co-funding from three major film studios to stay there.

It also had the advantage of being just down the road from the ScreamFest theatre. Though we didn’t spend much time there either; despite the fact we had paid out of our own pockets to have the Cradle of Fear tape FedEx’d there, the reaction we got was of the “air-conditioning on full” version. We were grudgingly added to the guest list…for our own movie. Whoopee. Took a program, to see if there was anything we wanted to pay them $10 to see, but it was entirely devoid of information on the actual films. The organiser did devote half a page to her own biography, however, which probably says more about things than we should. The movies we had heard of, were either elderly (The Hills Have Eyes) or sucked (Kolobos – a film which had already been stinking up Blockbuster shelves for a year before the festival showed it!).

Fortunately, what ScreamFest lacks in friendliness, information and good movies, the rest of Hollywood has in abundance. Well, except for the friendliness bit, perhaps. Phoenix may be the sixth-largest city in America, but there are maybe a dozen screens that aren’t devoted to Hollywood blockbusters. Everything plays in Los Angeles – even if it’s only for a week. Where else can you get to see bizarre Japanese horror-musicals on the big screen? Pick up one of the free papers, such as LA Weekly for full details, and to mop up the drool.

Certainly, as cinemas go, the Cinerama complex on Sunset Boulevard is impressive, albeit one of the most expensive – $14 for a Sunday lunchtime screening! Seen in the pic as it was in its heyday in the 1960’s (it opened with the premiere of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), it’s now the focus of an arthouse multiplex, where you get the feeling they take the “art” part Very Seriously – it’s one of the very few cinemas I’ve been to in America which has assigned seating. Over-loud confectionery crunchers are likely taken outside and summarily shot, but you’ve gotta love a place which warned us sternly that if we were five minutes late for the movie, we wouldn’t get in.

Between screenings, we like to spend our time in Amoeba Music, a cavernous second-hand media store on Sunset Boulevard. Particularly fine is the upstairs selection of DVDs, though you have to watch your shins. Bin after bin of sub-$10 discs lurk on the floor, and you must gingerly pick your way past the other browsing shoppers sprawled down there. Better yet, join them…


Also worth a visit are the La Brea Tar Pits, still sucking in local fauna (and getting a nod in Ice Age). If, like us, you’re a fan of Miracle Mile, you’ll probably just want to meander around the area, sobbing gently to yourself about diamonds. The diner from the movie is nearby, on Fairfax, but is no longer open – one of my treasured possessions is a menu from when it was still functioning, albeit without a phone booth outside.

Man cannot live by film alone, however. Getting sustenance can be a time-consuming task, with one place quoting us a ninety-minute wait for a table. Even the Bar-B-Q establishment next door quoted us 45 minutes, but that was nothing a couple of alcoholic beverages couldn’t handle. One rule we liked was that all restaurants must post their health inspection scores in the window: A, B, etc. Keep an eye out, see if you can spot any D’s…