by jkatejohnston

17 May 2014

Dear Max,

Enzo has to have a crown. My dental guilt is complete: bad genes, bad hygiene, general slovenliness. We floss his teeth, of course, but not correctly. I got some tips from the pediatric hygienist, the best of which is make him lie on his back so I can see what I’m doing when I go to work on his poor mouth. I also bought a headlamp for this purpose. We’re even considering reducing his candy intake, which is—stratospheric.

In the meantime, the tooth that needs a crown hurts him when I floss it, and the gum bleeds, and we can’t get the crown until the insurance company authorizes it, which can take two to three weeks. The dentist says to call the insurance company. The insurance company says they can only talk to the dentist. Enzo’s a pretty good sport through the whole thing, relishing the taste of blood, getting up to spit in the sink and inspect it.

The dentist is a pediatric specialist that we’ve never been to before. The young pretty receptionist checked the chart and said—“Enzo! Are you going to be our new friend?”

He said nothing and looked at her and then quickly away.

“What do you say?” I said.

“Thank you.”

X-rays have always been the hard part for him. His gag reflex is on a hair trigger. He sat in the chair with his little strong brown arms placed carefully on the armrests. The heavy apron had a cylinder-like collar fastened with Velcro so that he had to hold his head extra-erect. He looked apprehensive and brave. They used smaller film, so it wasn’t as bad this time. Afterward he informed the technician: “There are some weird teeth in the fish world.”


Teresa and I continue our general decline. Yesterday, getting ready for school, Teresa tried to find Enzo’s clothes in the freezer. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, since the washer and drier are two steps from the fridge, and they’re stackable, so the drier is at freezer level, and now that I think about it, I’m amazed that I’ve never put the popsicles away in the drier.

This morning I made bacon in the microwave, placing the bacon on a paper towel and covering it with the same, all this on a plate, I guess I should add. When it was done, I threw the paper towels away. Then I looked at Enzo’s plate: sliced peaches, homemade bread and Irish butter, something was missing. The bacon! I fished it out of the trash, still surrounded by greasy paper towel, good as new.


My book. Well. You’ve probably never read a legal thriller about plea bargaining, investigation that leads nowhere, billing, writing, and asking the county for money for expert witnesses who end up being so well-informed and honest that they can’t help helping the other side. I’ve also managed to quote Antonin Scalia and Dolly Parton practically in the same breath. Good God.

I’m afraid to stop working on it. I don’t want to have some terrible truthy moment where I realize that the whole thing is a bad idea. If I have to have that moment, I’d rather have it when the thing is finished so that I can be sure of it.

I can feel an opinion coming on. Oh dear.

I heard on the radio that the SAT is going to stop testing for all those hard vocabulary words. I disapprove. Of course those words are almost useless for writing, but the people who happen to know a lot of them have spent their teen years reading and eating, and that is useful for writing.

All this brought on because I remember describing my book as a picaresque novel about a serial sex offender—something like that. I was almost sure I knew what “picaresque” meant, but I had to look it up to be certain: a funny little book with a roguish hero that you can’t help rooting for. It’s a literary word, so you can’t use it seriously. And then I got depressed because almost everyone would think that I just didn’t know how to spell “picturesque” or what it means, and I ended up feeling so defensive and superior that—it was just unattractive.

There must be whole lists of words like that: so likely to be misunderstood that they’re pretty much useless, but is seems a shame to let them drop out of the language altogether. Disinterested, penultimate, niggardly, sanction. Well, they’re not very good words, but still.

Language is so weird. A few days ago, I had to explain to Enzo what a patrician nose is. I told him about Rome and the Patricians and the Plebeians and finally had to confess that I had no idea what any of that had to do with noses, but the writer was probably trying to say that the guy in the story had sort of like a strong nose and not too small.


Enzo notes:

“I think a nice milkshake will calm our nerves.”


“I wonder what the F word is. I’m always a person who likes to know—what is the F word.”


“My fishing pole is an neat as a pin.”


Enzo: “Who do you think would win between a Goliath Grouper and a Mako Shark?”

Me: “Mako Shark.”

Enzo: “Incorrect!” (Followed by lengthy explanation having to do with the Grouper’s spike-like fins.)


“Can we have an actual trout at my birthday? So I can show people and answer any questions.”


Eating a bite of mushroom. “Are you guys tricking me? Is this poisonous?”


“Catching a paddlefish is simpler than eating ice cream. (He goes on to explain, but I can’t read my notes.) “It’s related to the now-extinct Chinese paddlefish that used to be the largest freshwater fish in the world.”


“Salami is definitely good. It’s the most sophisticated of meats. It’s probably the best meat in the world.”

“Better than steak?”

“I said probably.”


“The reason I’ve grown into this hulking monster is because of milk.”


“I have to hit the sides of the tent. I’m giving the bugs haymakers.”