If I were a lawyer — which I always thought I should be because I have been admitted to the bar many times — I’d have a retainer.
I’m not a lawyer — because I have been thrown out of the bar many times, too — but I have a retainer anyway.
I refer not to the advance fee a lawyer gets so he or she can pay the bar tab, but to the device that holds your teeth in place so you will have a nice smile when addressing a jury or, in my case (the People v. Zezima), pleading not guilty to Larceny, Chicanery and Mopery, attorneys at law, for failing to pay the bar tab.
“You need a new retainer,” said Dr. Ammar Alsamawi, a third-year resident at the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine on Long Island, New York. “If I give you one, you could be my lawyer.”
“If you want me to be your lawyer,” I said, “I’d advise you to plead insanity.”
Dr. Alsamawi, 29, who was born and raised in Iraq and immigrated to the United States almost nine years ago, is a third-year resident at Stony Brook, where I had undergone a lengthy but happily successful treatment to straighten two teeth that had been knocked out of alignment by the foot that’s usually in my mouth.
When the treatment concluded a few years ago, I got retainers. Unfortunately, the top retainer recently cracked and one of the teeth, a lateral incisor, was beginning to turn back out of alignment.
“I have to rotate it,” Dr. Alsamawi said.
“You mean like a mechanic rotates tires?” I asked. “Will you have to put me on a lift in a garage?”
“No, you can stay in the chair,” the good doctor replied. “And I won’t even give you an oil change.”
But he did make impressions of all my teeth, top and bottom, and said he would see me the following week to apply my new retainers.
When I went back, I greeted Dr. Alsamawi by pronouncing his last name correctly.
“I’ve been practicing all week,” I said.
“Wow,” he replied. “That’s a real skill. Most of my colleagues still can’t pronounce my name. But I’m impressed that you practiced. You have too much time on your hands.”
“On my feet, too,” I said as I propped them up on the chair and leaned back so Dr. Alsamawi, which I couldn’t pronounce this time because my mouth was wide open, could fit the new retainers over my baby grand piano keys.
“Did I make a good impression?” I inquired after he snapped them into place.
“You mean did I make a good impression?” said Dr. Alsamawi, adding that he made the clear retainers in a small laboratory at the school.
“They fit like a glove,” I noted.
“That’s because I was wearing gloves when I made them,” said Dr. Alsamawi, whose own teeth are perfectly straight.
“Did you ever have braces?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “I just got done with my treatment a year ago.”
Like me, Dr. Alsamawi had Invisalign, the brand name for what are commonly known as invisible braces.
“You know the worst thing about them?” I said.
“What?” he replied.
“You can’t find them.”
“Because,” I said triumphantly, “they’re invisible.”
Dr. Alsamawi flashed a Hollywood smile.
“You could be a movie star,” I said.
His handsome visage blushed as he said modestly, “I’m no movie star.”
“If this orthodontic gig doesn’t work out,” I suggested, “you should get an agent.”
“You don’t want me to leave before your incisor is straightened out, do you?” he said.
“No!” I exclaimed. “You’re going to get me on the straight and narrow. Or, in the case of my mouth, the straight and wide.”
Dr. Alsamawi explained that incisors are the “meanest, most annoying teeth” because they have “a mind of their own.”
“That’s more than I can say for myself,” I said.
“Keep the retainers on about 18 hours a day for six weeks,” Dr. Alsamawi said. “By then, your incisor will have taken a good turn.”
“As your lawyer,” I told him, “I can say without fear of prosecution that one good turn deserves another.”
— Jerry Zezima