THE CARLSON BUILDING
THE CARLSON BUILDING
I had never actually been in the Carlson Building. I had seen it many times. I’d seen it from the Chiromega dental chair in R. R. Davy’s dental office. When I got cleanings and exams as a child, I saw the Carlson Building a block away, its rooftop sign formal and comforting. When I had a simple extraction in my teens, I saw it. When I had cavities fixed, I saw the Carlson Building sign outside the window as Doctor R. R. Davy would say, “Now, open wide. This won’t hurt. You may feel a little pinch.”
Doctor R. R. Davy shared the office with his brother O. B. Davy until one day they had a falling out. R. R. Davy eventually retired. O. B. kept the office on Church Street, and I went there for dental checkups for years. Then he retired. Doctor Bennewitz took over for him in the same offices. I sat in his chair, still the same one, and would stare out the window at the Carlson Building sign and wonder about it. As time passed, I needed more work. There were more extractions, a crown, and then the looming prospect of periodontal work. I did not want periodontal work. It sounded painful. I disliked pain. So I put it off. I’d gotten this far. Maybe my luck would hold out.
Then Doctor Bennewitz moved to a much newer building several blocks away, off of Church Street. So I sat in a new dentist chair, this time a DKL, and stared out the window as Doctor Bennewitz cleaned my teeth, took x-rays, and warned me of the dangers of periodontal disease, calling out how many millimeters of space he could feel with his probe beneath my gums.
“Three millimeters, five millimeters, six millimeters,” his voice went on. I was reminded of Mark Twain still working as a steamboat hand, calling out depth measurements on the mighty Mississippi for the captain. Five or six millimeters was not considered good. He would politely lecture me on dental care and remind me of the periodontist who worked in the Carlson Building. And I noticed that from Doctor Bennewitz’s new DKL dental chair I could see the Carlson Building sign about a block away, and beyond that the Washington National Insurance Building, Chandler’s, and the stodgy, squat box of the Hotel Orrington. At first, I was curious why I could see the same sign from apparently the same angle as before, even though I was two blocks south and east of Bennewitz’s old office. But I forgot about that. The Carlson Building sign had a comforting, soothing presence, looming outside Doctor Bennewitz’s window.
The one thing I didn’t like was that now I had to find a new place to park, generally on Hinman Avenue. It irked me. Why couldn’t things stay the same? Or, more correctly, why did life present us with the unpleasantness of looking for parking spots and periodontal disease? Life would be so much more uncomplicated if they could be avoided. But I got used to parking on Hinman. It took awhile.
On my last visit to Doctor Bennewitz, however, the note came due.
“Seven millimeters,” he said. “You need to do something.”
I stared at him. “I need to do what?”
“You need to go to the Carlson Building.”
And so I did. I went to Doctor Pendergast’s seventh floor office of the Carlson Building, across the street from the Evanston Library and from the Davy brothers’ and Dr. Bennewitz’s old office. After years and years, I finally went inside.
The Carlson Building had an imposing brass façade and a salubrious, propitious lobby in a nautical theme – wood-paneling of the kind that I used to see on Chris-Craft cabin cruisers. Not that I had ever been on a Chris Craft, but I had seen pictures. And the office building had a concierge sitting at a podium as I entered. She wore a yachting hat. This was very curious. I took the elevator up to the seventh floor, and I swear the rug in the elevator felt damp. And it smelled briny.
Doctor Prendergast’s office at 707 read:
Dr. Steven Prendergast D.D.S. Periodontics, Implants & %$#@*
The last part was scratched out. I wondered about that. I entered and noticed there was a large aquarium in the waiting room. It had murky water, a sunken trawler some tired goldfish navigated around, and something very curious in one corner.
There was a cast iron model of an office building with a sign on top that read
The Carlson Building
This was puzzling. Equally puzzling was Doctor Pendergast’s receptionist, who wore a deep sea diving helmet, which she spoke through very clearly. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you.”
At that point, everything became clear. I turned around to look at the aquarium. The water was clear. The goldfish, which previously appeared to have cataracts, now had clear eyes. I re-evaluated the sign on Doctor Pendergast’s door, sizing up the &%$#@ part, and I came to the conclusion that Doctor Pendergast had simply done something besides Periodontics and Implants, and it hadn’t worked out, so he erased it. This was exactly the kind of periodontist I would put my trust in. I didn’t want any wacko dentist that did Periodontics, Implants and Taxidermy, for example. I wanted a specialist. And I had found one.
I was led to the dental chair, this time a Summit Daytona, where he did a medical history. I suppose he was going to do a deep-scaling or something. All sorts of questions were asked about allergies, reactions to drugs, blood pressure. One question got me thinking: ‘Do you prefer salt water or fresh water?’ But I didn’t really get concerned. They were looking after my well-being. I put down ‘Salt water.’
Doctor Pendergast looked at me with fondness and told me, “You might feel a little pinch.” I didn’t mind little pinches. I didn’t mind periodontic work, or looking for parking spots. He pulled out his little probe to check how much of a pocket there was in my gums.
“Six, seven, nine,” he said.
“Nine millimeters?” I asked.
“No,” he smiled. “Fathoms. Fathoms of those pockets of junctional epithelium.”
That, too, was OK with me. I felt in my pockets. I still had my car keys. Nobody could take away my car, no matter where I parked. Numbness started to set in after a shot of Novocain. I stared out Doctor Pendergast’s window and saw something that puzzled me for a moment, laughing to myself as peace descended upon me. Outside was a large rooftop sign two blocks away that said:
The Carlson Building
Paul Smith is a civil engineer who has worked in the construction racket for many years. He has travelled all over the place and met lots of people from all walks of life. Some have enriched his life. Others made him wish he or they were all dead. He likes writing poetry and fiction. He also likes Newcastle Brown Ale. If you see him, buy him one.