Recently, I gave up coffee. I’ve been telling people it’s because of the caffeine, but that’s a lie. I really did it because it stained my teeth and I couldn’t match the radioactive, flash-bulb popping smiles of everyone around me. Honestly, though, I don’t envy their smiles as much as their confidence. Like them, I want to let loose with a burst of luminescence during a Zoom meeting. Let them peer at my thinning pate and stare at my untrimmed beard. What do I care? With my dazzling whites, I’ll be able to act as if I have enough GameStop stock to hit the “Leave Meeting” button without a second thought.
You find similar advice all over social media, which is another reason to stay away. For instance, some content marketers on Twitter claim that if you act as if you’ve won a Pulitzer Prize, people will treat you that way. Of course, they may also mumble under their breath about what an arrogant asshole you are, but that objection never seems to come up in the posts. At best, this is a popularized form of positive psychology; at worst, another example of the “law of attraction.” But I am attracted to neither. Also, I really don’t know what a content marketer is.
I lied about my reason for giving up coffee, but the truth is, I never gave up coffee at all. In fact, just two weeks after trying to wean myself off the bean arabica, I got a Breville espresso machine and have been enjoying a latte a day ever since. If you’re technical or a barista, make that “caffè latte al giorno.” This, after enduring head and body aches and feeling as if I had been buried in sludge during my weaning period. I feel much better now that I am addicted again, although my neighbors can’t be thrilled with the root canal, whirring sounds escaping from my kitchen each morning.
Being decidedly back at square one, I had to figure out another solution to the stained teeth problem, which became more acute with each Zoom call as if everyone else sensed my failure. I tried whitening toothpaste from Colgate, Crest, Sensodyne, Ultrabrite (note the spelling), and a guy named Tom, which, oddly enough, turned out to be the most effective. I even tried charcoal paste from a company called Dr. Sheffield’s (“since 1850”), but it only darkened my teeth. I guess that’s what happens when you brush with coal. Who knew?
Then I came across my daughter one day with a mouthpiece jutting out of her mouth and glowing in ultraviolet light. I thought she was prepping for oral surgery and offered to do her dishes. You know, to be helpful. Turns out it was an over-the-counter product to whiten teeth that claimed to be “99% effective” (content marketing again). My daughter, whose teeth look like piano keys, swore by it once she took the mouthpiece out. So, after finishing the dishes, I ordered mine.
By the end of my fourth day of use, I had gone through all the gel they had sent in lieu of toothpaste, because I couldn’t figure out how to use the plastic hypodermic needles that come with it. So I had to order another batch. By the end of the second week, the lithium batteries that power the ultraviolet light ran out and I had to order new ones on Amazon. This was fortuitous, as Milan Kundera would say, since the battery on my phone finder went out, too. I took the opportunity to order batteries for both. As luck would have it, I lost my cellphone and haven’t figured out how to operate the finder yet. At least the battery won’t run down.
I don’t know how anybody takes this seriously; i.e., ultraviolet lights, whitened teeth, phone finders, marketing. I find the whole thing exhausting. And I won’t get into the minutiae of buying, storing, and grinding coffee or maintaining the espresso machine. File it under, “I asked a guy for the time and he told me how to build a watch.”
I guess I’m just not a good customer. I don’t want to hear about the teeth whitening experience or go on a customer journey with Dr. Sheffield, although I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy. This is why I went back to my old standby of hydrogen peroxide and Pepsodent. My teeth don’t blind other people on Zoom, but then I don’t look like George Washington, either. Still, at my last visit to the dentist, the hygienist asked if I drink red wine.
There’s a price to pay for a latte a day.
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