A few years ago, I was at dinner with an American couple who were friends of mine. I had known them a while, but there was something odd about them that night. When they spoke, I was slightly dazzled. I paid more attention to his jokes, even though I had heard most of them before. She was suddenly very attractive.
I couldn’t work out what it was that had transformed them. Then I saw it. “Your teeth are very white,” I said.
“Crest White Strips,” they both responded, winningly candid as people from Ohio often are. I was sure I had been looking at her breasts, but in fact it had been her dentistry.
I had a book tour coming up, some visits to France and Germany and the UK. I’m a pretty confident fellow, but, I reasoned, every little helps when an author ventures out of his usual environment (a single room where he spends his days alone, his features sagging through a lack of the necessity to give other people facial cues) and into the world of public speaking and grinning. So I slapped Crest’s strips of gel encased in thin plastic over my espresso-mellowed averagely yellowish teeth, having first been assured by my dental hygienist that “it won’t make them fall out, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Naturally I charmed everyone I came into contact with on that trip, even my mother. Of course I can’t say no one noticed. My French publicist asked me if my teeth had been “blanchissées,” shortly after she warned me not to seduce her intern, whom she had temptingly described as “beautiful and stupid.” I denied any interest in either teeth-whitening or gorgeously vapid French students, even going so far as to point out that I had already engaged in congress with a beautiful, stupid French woman when I lived in New York and wasn’t game for a repeat performance. She puffed on her cigarette and puffed out her cheeks with a lift of the eyebrows, a Parisienne gesture which means “It’s neither here nor there to me, but you’re full of it, mon ami.”
Blanchissées, I suppose I added a tiny element of swagger to my person at a time when one or two other elements of my life were equally tinily deswaggering me. I didn’t seek those elements out, so I see no reason not to have counterbalanced them with a technique which ordinarily would never have appealed to me.
This winter and spring I have some similar book tour events coming up. But I’ve discovered that none of the pharmacies in Jerusalem where I used to buy my White Strips stocks them any more. No one will tell me where I can get them (the pharmacists, being from the Middle East, substitute a brief closing of their eyes and a dismissive click of their tongue for the sentence “Sorry, sir, but I’m afraid I can’t help you.”)
I’m seeing my dentist for a check-up next week. He’s been at me to use his very much more expensive whitening service. Not in an overt way. But he’s a Manchester United supporter, so he’s accustomed to winning. Will he get me this time, in the absence of White Strips? Maybe so…
I can’t be sure. I do want those white teeth. I want people to be slightly disturbed in a way they don’t understand each time they look at me. I want people to think I’m richer than I am. I want them to feel as though a holy light has shone upon them when I smile.
It could be the difference between a book that doesn’t sell so well and a bestseller. Take Zadie Smith, for example. Sure, most of the people who bought “White Teeth” were seduced by the inordinate media hype. But many of them were subliminally attracted to the idea of white teeth, I’m sure of it. (For the same reason, I read Kundera’s “Immortality” years after I had decided never to bother with the old fool ever again.)
I have so many other attributes which might be considered favorable when it comes to appearance and impressions. I’m tall. I’m not overweight, in fact I’m rather trim. One interviewer described me as “ruggedly handsome.” I wear fine clothes and I travel with several sets of underwear in my suitcase. I have a British accent (everyone loves that, admit it). I don’t smoke and I haven’t fallen over drunk since 1994. Neither acne nor dandruff decorate me.
I ought hardly to undercut such components with a set of teeth the color of crème brulé. It would be a betrayal of everything for which I stand. I work hard on my books; I spend hours formulating interesting topics for blog posts (Well, mostly those are joke blog posts, but the ones I actually write take up some time nonetheless…); and my Facebook page doesn’t update itself, you know.
Here’s a tempter for you: Next time I’m speaking at a book fair near you, come along and out me as a teeth-whitener. But, for the sake of my marriage, leave your interns at home. Unless they aren’t French… www.themanoftwistsandturns.comwww.mattbeynonrees.com