January 21, 2004

Many, many years ago there was a handsome young man who worked, quite briefly, for a company in Washington, D.C., the main products of which were marketed toward the city’s trade associations, lobbyists, political consultants, pollsters, and law firms.

One of our top prospects at the time was the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

The salespeople used to refer to this particularly obstinate and difficult potential customer as, “Oh, my aching gums!”

I thought of this today because my gums are aching. They have been since yesterday.

I’m not sure why. I’m not experiencing a new bout of xerostomia, also known as “dry mouth,” a side effect of one of my medications, and, by the way, a condition that is much more painful -- and damaging to one’s mouth -- than it sounds.

So the hypochondriac in me, which is but one, and a very minor one at that, of my many personalities, is all but convinced I’m developing oral cancer. And he’s ready to blame it on my smoking.

God, I hope he’s wrong. Not necessarily about the smoking, but about the cancer. (Regardless, I will quit smoking this year.)

Several weeks ago some friends gave me, as a Christmas present, a carton of cigarettes. Very much appreciated in these cash-strapped times, I assure you. But having ready access to that carton proved, among other things, that when one has an ample supply of tobacco at home, and thus has no need to buy a pack of cigarettes a day, the money one carries about in one’s wallet lasts much, much longer. (And in case you were wondering, yes, in the event I develop emphysema, lung cancer, or some other disorder, these friends will be on the list of named defendants.)

Of course, I also need to get to the dentist. It’s been an embarrassing -- humiliating, really -- three years for me. In that I am not so different from Caroline Payne, the subject of an extraordinary feature article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine -- “A Poor Cousin of the Middle Class,” by David K. Shipler -- about whom I wrote yesterday and for whom I offered last evening’s prayers.


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