marathon-man-1976-04-gWhen I was 12 years old, my parents shelled out some big bucks to get me an orthodontist who pledged to correct my Jack O’ Lantern smile. The doctor put me on a three-year regimen that included the regular brackets for braces, as well as a gamut of other corrective tools, like rubber bands, a series of bite plates, and even a dreaded “night gear” contraption that looked not unlike the mask Hannibal Lecter is often seen in when being transported from one prison to the other.

The orthodontics worked very well. Miraculously, a girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day started to like me once the metal was taken from my mouth. I was extremely happy with the way my teeth looked upon getting my braces removed, but I also knew (as was drilled into my head often by my parents) that I had to take certain measures to ensure my newly-formed smile stayed straight.

The day the braces came off, I was molded for a retainer for my upper teeth, and a thin metal wire was glued to the back of my bottom teeth.

A decade later, when I was in college and far away from the only orthodontist I’d ever known, I bit into an apple and the glue gave way. The metal wire was digging painfully into my tongue and the side of my mouth.

It was late Friday afternoon, and the only dude I could find who was open told me to come to his office right away.

Turns out Ortho Dave was not open. Instead, he took time out of his early weekend to come fix my teeth. I was very grateful.

Until he took me captive in his chair and started talking all types of whacky shit, most of which was very far right and very supportive of the Iraq War, which was raging at that point. Ortho Dave had actually recently come back from deployment, which “wasn’t as bad as you might think.” After his initial time in the Army, he’d stuck around as a reserve.

Yeah, for a middle-aged dude who was probably just there to work on teeth, and saw no combat whatsoever, I thought.

I couldn’t do much dove vs. hawk arguing with Ortho Dave, since he was digging around in my mouth and I didn’t want him to do a terrible job, which would leave me with a piece of metal piercing the delicate flesh of my mouth for the entire weekend.

The most argumentative I got was when, toward the end of the appointment, he ripped on my tattoo, the word INVICTUS transcribed on the inside of my left wrist. He said the poem I’d gotten it for was also Timothy McVeigh’s poem, and that it had negative connotations. I told him to read the poem, and to not stereotype people as mass murderers because of the poetry they enjoy. I also balked when he told me there was no way I was going to come out of college and land a journalism job, and that I should consider other options.

The appointment ended awkwardly, with me trying my hardest to pay him for his services, and his refusing my cash. Instead, he wanted me to come into his office the following Monday to listen to an Army recruit. After repeatedly telling him no, I acquiesced, thinking I would just, you know, not show up and never have to see the guy again.

But then Ortho Dave called me like four times over the weekend to remind me about my appointment with some Army recruiter. When I told my mom about this, she offered to call Ortho Dave and give him a piece of her mind. (Us Muskas weren’t about bulls**t wars. I hope you can dig that.) But at the time I liked to pretend I was a grown-ass man, and said I’d go in.

“Make sure you tell that guy to f**k off,” Mom advised.

When I walked into the waiting room, I told the receptionist I was here to meet with Ortho Dave and some Army dude. She could tell I wasn’t pleased to be there.

She sighed. “He has got to stop doing this.”

I sat down with Major Mike in Ortho Dave’s office. He asked me what had made me interested in hearing about joining the Army.

“Nothing. And I have to leave in like 10 minutes to get to class. So that I can graduate, get a job, and keep going through life without having to live in the desert or shoot guns or whatever.”

“So what am I doing here?”

“Ask Dave. He’s the one who wouldn’t let me pay for the work he did on me, and essentially harassed me into coming in here today to talk to you. Sorry for wasting your time, but I don’t know — maybe you shouldn’t come in here every time he asks you to. Give the kids a call first, or something, because he has a terrible sales pitch, and I think he hates people with darker skin than his.”

I apologized again for wasting the guy’s time, and assured him I had told Ortho Dave a number of times that he had negative chances of getting me to ever join the army.

On my way out, I heard Major Mike speaking sternly with Ortho Dave. He told him he needed to quit wasting his time like this, and to only bring him in if a kid was “Army Material.” Which I suppose means a whole bunch of things, all of which I’m glad that I’m not and never will be.

I love America so much. Mostly because we don’t have to listen to crazy people like Ortho Dave if we don’t want to. And I’m glad Ortho Dave helped me learn this valuable information.