The faint noise in the back of my head was familiar, but it was also getting in my way as I stood up to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature at the big banquet in Stockholm. It was so loud it was drowning out the thunderous applause I should have been getting as I made my way to the podium to accept my prize as the first columnist to win.
“I think your phone is ringing,” came another voice from somewhere above.
I opened my eyes, which wasn’t easy as I was lying backward in a chair at an awkward angle with a bright light glaring at me. There was an attachment over my nose allowing the laughing gas to come in and keep me in La-La Land while someone scraped and picked and otherwise pounded inside my mouth in what the dentist said was some kind of “deep-cleaning” process.
“Go ahead and answer it,” said the voice as I groped in my pocket for the offending ring tone.
“SHO?” I said. For some reason my mouth was about three times its size and not working that well. I’d left my cellphone on expecting a call while waiting in the office before going in and forgot about it.
It was my son in Washington, D.C. He had called late the night before to say his brakes had locked up and his car had slid against the curb and for some reason was not working well.
He said it was about 2 degrees and he was walking home in the cold and would call back the next morning.
“SHEEZER,” I said, telling him I was under anesthesia.
“You’re having a seizure?” he said. “Dad, you want me to call 911?”
“No,” I answered. ‘‘I’m ashs the shentis an shaving shental sherk,” telling him I was at the dentist and having dental work.
“Oh,’’ he said, guessing that whatever I was saying wasn’t life-threatening.
“Listen,” he went on. “The car was banged up and out of alignment, and it’s going to be $1,400.”
I hung up. I thought laughing gas was supposed to make people happy while they were being pounded on.
The technician, Susanne from Odessa, went back to pounding away inside my mouth. She was telling me something about ninja squirrels, which was either a soccer team she coached or a problem in her attic.
I took another deep sniff, trying to get back to that Nobel Prize.
The phone rang again.
“SHRRY,” I apologized to Susanne, figuring it was my son with the broken car calling back.
“You idiot!” was the voice on the other end.
It wasn’t my son but an unhappy reader. I get a lot of those.
‘‘I shan twlk schnou.” I tried to tell him I couldn’t talk. The phone went dead.
“SHRRY” I apologized again, turning off the machine.
“SHIS HAPPEN SHOFEN?” I asked Susanne.
“Well there was a woman not too long ago who started barking right after she started taking the gas. But most people are like you and just a little woozy.”
I settled back into the chair while she continued to pick away. Actually, a little bit of that gas might not be a bad idea when you’re getting phone calls you don’t want to hear. I wondered whether they could put one of those in the newsroom at each desk. Life would be so much better.