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March 23, 2000

If you haven't had your teeth cleaned lately, I highly recommend taking a couple of hours out of your work day (of course) for this special kind of oral therapy. It had been years for me, so I didn't know what to expect. That usually leaves me in a state of paralyzed panic, but I managed to talk myself into staying calm. I think the excitement of being away from the Home Office for a while offset the anxiety of having a perfect stranger poke around in my mouth with sharp instruments.

How long had it been? Well, it was a revelation to me that you don't have to spit in the swirly sink any more. Oh, the joy of suction. You close your lips around the tube to create a partial vacuum, and you get immediate relief from the excess buildup caused by the mini-power washer they use to get the cleaning started these days. The one time I drooled (slightly) while doing this, Cheryl chuckled. "I'm sorry. Sometimes it effervesces," she explained. Doesn't it just, though?

She told me that I breathed through my mouth, which I already knew but was impressed that one look at my gums revealed this insight to her professional eye. I carefully explained to her that I suffered from allergies and chronic sinus problems, so she wouldn't think that my nasal passages failed due to any deliberate abuse on my part.

Cheryl was very good about asking questions only when she was changing instruments, so that I could answer without having to deal with something besides tongue and teeth in my mouth. It was relaxing, lying back with nothing to do but listen to lite rock and scan the various wall decorations, all placed at an appropriately high angle for the position I was in. These were mainly plaques with humorous sayings (Lord, when I have nothing to say, please help me remember to shut up) and pop affirmations (If the ball comes your way, catch it; if you drop it, pick it up). They also had pictures of local sports stars from thirty or forty years ago. (Who was the guy who wore number 80 before Jerry Rice?)

None of the twinges I felt during the procedure progressed into true pain, and it was all in all a pleasant way to unwind in the middle of the day. Expensive, but pleasant. After I got home, I wished for the handy irrigation system Cheryl had used on me. My whole mouth felt dry the rest of the day. My teeth and gums developed a sterile, antiseptic quality, as if made of the latest space-age materials and installed by top-notch experts in the field of tile renovation. Clean, though. I felt very clean.

Among the usual pleas for money, today's mail brought me a jury summons, the first I've had in several years. I'm not sure how long it's been, but I remember it was the coldest December in Sonoma County history, whenever that was. It was also the only time I was actually seated on a jury.

The case I was on was interesting but difficult. It was a civil trial, with two plaintiffs, each with their own attorney. We had to listen to the parents of a kid who was killed in a youth van accident describe their son, and then we had to decide how much his life was worth to them, in dollars. Just remembering makes me shudder.

The other plaintiff was a young man who had to have a knee replaced because of injuries from the accident. He testified about his therapy, and how hard it was for him to get around, and other ways his life had changed. We were supposed to decide what a lifetime of future lost earnings might be. And we had to take into account that he was a special needs student and was probably never going to be a doctor or lawyer. He was working for a landscaping company, which might have been as high as he would have risen in the working world anyway.

At times the testimony was emotionally wrenching, but a lot of it was technical and dry. Each side had its own economics expert with his own opinion of how to quantify the value of life and limb. The trial took a couple of weeks, plus another four or five days of deliberations. Somehow we argued over pennies and percentages, and then ended up awarding each plaintiff a staggering amount of money. I never heard anything about the case after we were dismissed, so I don't know if anyone collected.

I haven't been inside a courtroom since the day that jury was dismissed with the thanks of the court. There have been times in the past when I've had reason to try to get out of jury duty, but I'm looking forward to it this time. And it comes in the last half of April, which turns out to be a convenient time.

I'll have to decide what to wear, though. All the summons says is that tank tops and shorts are "not appropriate." That still leaves it pretty wide open.

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