Friday, June 26, 2009

2. Taste for Perfection

My parents made me get braces when I was five. It was hardly an age recommended by the American Orthodontic Association, but our Beverly Hills orthodontist was hardly going to say “no” to a second solarium, was he? And my parents had big plans. I had already been in two beauty pageants and managed to collect second and third in my division. My hair was dyed and permed, and the trainer had my abs looking, I guess, however the ideal five-year-old’s abs are supposed to look. After the braces came off, I didn’t wear my retainer, and I had to get braces put back on when I was fourteen. I hated it. But by then I was an old pro. While all my friends were complaining about how sore their mouths were and how they couldn’t eat what they wanted to, I felt smug because I already knew how much it hurt. At fifteen came the nosejob. I had already been tanning for six years at that point, in the bed my parents had had installed in our home after they realized it wasn’t worth it to keep arguing with the lady behind the desk at the salon. My twelfth birthday marked my last cheeseburger for a long time--my friends and I snuck out of school to celebrate at McDonald’s. The french fries formed a pleasantly warm mash in my mouth and I vowed that the next day I would tell my trainer to go fuck herself and her dietary supplements. That was the hard part. I didn’t mind the semi- and then bi-weekly manis and pedis--almost got a kick out of them when I thought about my friends complaining that their parents couldn’t afford it. I was cool with the delayed periods, too. Constant illness? Okay by me. It’s just that the dieting all the time sucked. But my real pride and joy was my teeth. Perfectly straight. Perfectly, bleachedly white. My lips were untouched--the collagen was all mine, only the color enhanced. At seventeen, my ears were straightened and pulled back the slightest millimeter, at a cost of months of surgery and recovery, and, it goes without saying, thousands of dollars. My parents stopped short of breast implants but only, I am convinced, because the Baywatch look had fallen out of favor by that time. It takes a lot of upkeep, all that. Except the teeth. After the final set of braces came off, after my mouth stopped growing and my jaw settled into perfect maturity, the teeth were mine to keep forever. And you know what? People will pay for teeth like that. Do you ever wonder about the bites taken out of advertised food? Look at the next Dreamsicle you see in the pages of a magazine. The iconic semi-circle removed from one rounded corner, piercing through the different-colored layers. Look at a stack of Oreos in the coupons flyer. One Oreo to the side has already been bitten into, a light smattering of crumbs around it on the table. Look at a package of Reese’s. The teeth marks are visible, and they have to be perfect. Evenly spaced, no gaps, no overlaps, no untoward rotation. But there’s more to it than that. The teeth have to be the right size. Too big, and it looks wrong, as if someone ate only hesitantly, with their front teeth, nibbling at food they weren’t too sure about. Too small, and it looks like a child has been into the food--cute in some cases, but not what most advertisers want. And the teeth have to be proportional to each other--too-large incisors conjure up images of buck-toothed morons; oversized canines add an almost feral quality to the tableau. That was the phrase the producer used once on a shot, to describe why he fired the last biter: “an almost feral quality to the tableau.” I’d put too much time into my teeth; I would never be feral. You’d think people wouldn’t notice these things, but they do, subconsciously. They can’t tell you why, but they prefer the foods that have been partially consumed by those of us with perfect mouths. Technique has a lot to do with it. I’m not kidding. How you use your lips is important. Some foods need to be bitten cleanly, like ice cream sandwiches. The ice cream between the wafers should be as flush with the edges as possible. Otherwise it looks sloppy, as if you were mouthing the product, or sucking on it. A clean bite, keeping the lips back as you bring your teeth together and draw back, removing the bite, is essential. It shows how good the ice cream is. It’s crisp and refreshing. But for other things, you draw it out. Think caramel-filled chocolates. That little tuft of gooey goodness really sells it. And no machine can replicate the touch that creates a fine crest in the middle of a half-eaten strawberry. Speaking of fruit, it’s important to keep the bite straight--nothing looks worse than wavering rake marks in a crisp apple, as if it had been gnawed, or tunneled through by termites. Well, one thing might look worse: lip prints on the afore-mentioned Reese’s. A moist lip would leave a trace like a greasy hand on a pastry-case window, and in harsh studio lighting--forget it, sister. Keep those lips up and out of the way until you need them to massage some malleable piece of balaclava. Let the flakes bend and come together under the influence of your mouth, and keep them slightly crimped as you withdraw. When they bring you a can of ReddiWhip, bring the airy cream in, almost inhaling it, and give the viewer that sense of ecstasy, of eating because you cannot help yourself, it is so good. Whatever you do, you must always be conveying the idea that the food provokes insurmountable desire, and yet that you, the eater, relish it, and eat it without loss of dignity. I no longer have my tan. My fingernails look like hell, and my hair is a mess. Those well-trained abs have flabbed out and lost whatever idealness they once displayed. And upon graduating high school, I really did tell my trainer to go fuck herself. But I still have my perfect teeth, and all the ice cream bars I can eat.

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