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The Incidental Miracle

July 17, 2011

The day began like any other. My first order of business is to conduct, every morning, a long and tortuous discussion weighing the advantages and pitfalls of flinging my alarm clock to the nether reaches of the universe, or failing that, just merely outside my window. But what if someone got injured? Surely they would understand? And wouldn’t it be a well-deserved rebuke to that hated jolly specimen – the early bird, a bump on their head to remind them that sleeping-in can also be good for your health?

my humble alarm clock - and the most globally hated technological device ever.

Why can’t my alarm wake me with dusky ego-enhancing whisperings of sweet nothings in a French accent, murmurings which get de plus et plus èrotique, finally reaching an orgasmic crescendo? Surely that would be the most effective way of ensuring a young man is wide awake?

Maybe I could just smash my alarm clock to jagged pieces with my electric guitar? If I taped my destruction, I could send it in to a museum as a video installation, a High Definition musing on the nature of time, music, melody and the R.E.M. cycle.

Or what about this – pour lighter fluid on the alarm clock, set it on fire and go back to bed, buying myself a few more minutes of restless semi-sleep, and treat the inevitable fire alarm as a secondary snooze alert, ensuring that I  actually get up, or failing which, I will slide deeper into luxurious sleep due to smoke inhalation, and be blissfully burnt to a restful crisp, rendering any need to wake up quite moot.

It is when I get to these fiendish extremes, that my blood pressure and general rage have risen to levels that make any further semblance of sleep impossible, and I have no option but to wake up, and the elapsed time since my murderous musings began means that I have no time to effect any form of alarm clock annihilation, leaving it free to torment me for another day and another, into an infinity of bleary-eyed mornings.

On this day, after my daily losing battle with the dreaded Sony Dream Machine ICF-C218, (the name rubbing more salt into the wound, though I suppose the Sony Incite You To The Point Of Violence ICF-C218, while refreshingly accurate, would nonetheless encounter several marketing obstacles) I went as usual to the bathroom and splashed cold water onto my face. This is the best thing I have found to quickly bring my mind into the world of daylight hours. I did not notice anything amiss.

Because I live in a very hot climate, but mostly because I am incredibly lazy, I always have a cold breakfast. Fully awake and fed, I put on my little bathroom radio and began my ablutions to the sounds of yesteryear, pretending I am a 50s gangster getting ready for another working day of bootlegging truckloads of vice to the speakeasies all over town, the ones populated by guys called Rocco and dames with hats slung low over their long lashes, their faces in shadow, occasionally lit up by their cigarillos held casually in place at the end of long ivory cigarette-holders, the kind of broad who says things like “Now honey, quit your foolishness…”

But I digress. The first innocent sign that I was on the cusp of the incredible came when I finished the toothpaste. Even with the flatten-out-from-the-bottom and roll-up-and-squeeze maneuver, it was obvious that I had extracted the last of the clinically-proven, gently-whitening paste, chosen specifically because it promises to “Protect against Sensitivity” which a cold-hearted cynic like me is always appreciative of.

I take good care of my mouth, and my winning smile is testament to this. However, merely cosmetic reasons do not motivate my exacting dental regime. Whilst I do place some stock in first impressions, these are secondary to the horrific health consequences of neglected dental care. Growing up in a medical family, I would spend many a fascinated hour engrossed in medical textbooks, and the range of hideous deformations and afflictions that could plague our poor species rivalled the The Lord Of The Rings in both epic scale and entertainment value.

Sadly to a 6 year old boy, poring over the freakish pictures of unfortunate medical patients is the type of sheer fun that Sunday School, ‘behaving yourself’, helping old ladies cross the street and doing homework was always getting in the way of.

So I knew from an early age that I did not want any of the types of oral diseases you could get, such as Xerostomia, which is thankfully much better than it sounds, to Medial rhomboid glossitis which impressively manages to be much worse than it sounds. Though I do remember being underwhelmed by some of the diseases, for example the bluntly named ‘Hairy Tongue’. Surely the medical fraternity could have come up with something better than that. I can imagine patients calling into question their medical practitioner’s qualifications, if the only diagnosis they could come up with was ‘hairy tongue’.

But back to that momentous day. Brushing over, next came flossing.  For someone who has as many obsessive-compulsive tendencies as I do, flossing affords a great opportunity to indulge in these rituals under the guise of oral hygiene. I have a set order in which I floss, different number of strokes in between the molars, front teeth and the canines, particular number of times the floss is wrapped around my fingers which in turn differs if I am flossing the upper or lower teeth, etc. etc… the point is, I am very set in my ways and my ways are considerably pathological.

But it isn’t just the routine I find compelling, I think flossing is an intricately tactile experience – I love the feeling of the floss zipping between my teeth, the gentle tickle which can turn into a sharp rebuke if you get over-vigorous. A small daily reminder of our complicated relationship between pleasure and pain.

In the course of writing this entry, I noticed that the floss in question had the words “Made In Ireland” cheerfully stamped on the bottom. Used to seeing the ubiquitous “Made In China” label, I had never come across an Irish one. Is the Emerald Isle known as a traditional manufacturing powerhouse? Or is this one of the new-found areas of opportunity that have been opened up with the recent rise of the economy of the Celtic Tiger? And more importantly, since when have there been tigers stalking the Irish countryside, valleys and dales? And with the even more recent downturn in Irish fortunes, has the Celtic Tiger now been re-named the less ambitious Celtic Civet Cat?

So I did a little cyber-digging, and the mystery of the Irish floss has already enchanted many others and forms the basis of several  other blog entries  which muse:  ‘I just noticed last night that our dental floss is made in Ireland. Huh. How much does it cost to import dental floss from Ireland? Seems kind like a waste of money. Don’t we make that here? And it doesn’t even taste like whiskey or leprechauns.

As the first of the above-mentioned blogs postulates, perhaps this Irish anomaly can be explained by the prowess the Irish have traditionally had in the manufacturing and weaving of ropes, and perhaps this has translated into a modern day equivalent, dental floss. I now have a newfound respect for the centuries of craftsmanship and knowledge that has gone into the production of my dental floss, and my daily flossing has taken on a charming Irish tincture, as I salute the master rope-weavers of yore.

[edit: further investigation on my part has revealed brands of floss in my supermarket made in New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Scotland. Why the production of dental floss seems to be a particular concern of the Commonwealth nations is a further mystery I have sadly not the time to solve, leaving it to my American readers to make their own jokes reinforcing unfortunate stereotypes about British teeth.]

Intriguingly enough, as Tina goes on to mention, if one were so inclined to continue one’s exploration into the dynamic world of dental floss, a good starting point may be the highly prized economic study entitled Dental Floss: Trends and Prospects in International Trade.

A little more cyber-sleuthing confirms that yes, you can indeed be the proud owner of the above study, and all it would cost you is a mere $1120. Still unconvinced? Allow me to tempt you further by providing you with the outline of the report, where ‘International trade operations in more than 125 countries are highlighted through 150 tables and diagrams‘ :


1.1. Dental floss: uses and properties
1.2. Dental floss: international trade in 2002-2007


2.1. Executive summary
Dental floss exports by country
Major suppliers

2.2. Dental floss exports segmented by region and country (2007)
2.2.1. Europe
2.2.2. Asia and Middle East
2.2.3. North America
2.2.4. Latin America
2.2.5. Africa
2.2.6. Oceania


3.1. Executive summary
Dental floss imports by country
Key consumers

3.2. Dental floss imports data broken down by region and country (2007)
3.2.1. Europe
3.2.2. Asia and Middle East
3.2.3. North America
3.2.4. Latin America
3.2.5. Africa
3.2.6. Oceania


the production of dental floss is big business

Section 1.1 is of particular note, the ‘uses and properties of dental floss’. How many uses can dental floss have? Do they mean strictly dental-related uses, or does this exhaustive report contain a multitude of previously unknown uses for this humble product? If only this report had a wider following, perhaps the limitless uses of this wonder-floss would be better known.

For example if a copy of this report could have fallen into the idle hands of a hollywood writer, whose studio would not even have blinked at the $1120 price tag in the search for ratings, it could have resulted in some truly memorable television, such as a heart-racing episode of MacGuyver, who, trapped in the wilds of a Bolivian jungle, may have used the mint-flavoured floss to attract ants for high-protein nutrition, and as a fishing line for piranha, in turn using the floss and piranha teeth to sew up his wounds,then utilizing the remaining floss to garrote his fascist guards, before exploiting the high tensile strength of the omni-useful, expertly Irish-crafted dental floss to effect his escape, swinging across a canyon and to freedom?

Though on this particular day, none of these heady possibilities were on my mind as I wound out the floss and it went taut and stopped with a jerk. I had come to the end of the floss, and so snipped off the last section on the metal tooth with a satisfying click.

Still none the wiser as to the incredible events in my very near future, I headed seamlessly into the final phase of my morning dental routine, the mouthwash. My mouthwash is coloured a satisfyingly vibrant shade of purple – and I take solace in the fact that anything that chemical and antiseptic-looking, is surely going to destroy any pathetic remnant of stubborn plaque or sinister bacteria which may have somehow evaded my previously thorough brushing and flossing, dissolving them into oblivion.

I cocked my head back and swilled the purple poison around my mouth. I always gargle heartily and in a prolonged baritone. People who gargle silently are to be distrusted entirely. If they cannot manage a little joyful basso buffo in the privacy of their bathrooms, their opinions on more substantial matters can be dismissed forthwith, without the merest compunction. Whilst not experimentally proven in a scientific setting, it is nonetheless a fact that it is impossible to be filled with anything less than good cheer while gargling.

After gargling, I always take another swill of mouthwash and forcefully push the purple liquid around my mouth, my cheeks alternating between being puffed out and then deflating, so it looks like a very small game of tennis is going on in my mouth, or perhaps if put less generously, it resembles a bullfrog suffering from a nervous spasm. I enjoy the slowly building stinging that accompanies this swishing until it feels like the purple acid will bore through your jawbone. At this point I spit out the rocket fuel and enjoy the incomparable feeling of a clean, fresh, mouth, housing two rows of gleaming teeth.

This feeling of physical freshness somehow directly translates into moral purity, and I leave my bathroom genuinely feeling like a better person.

As I put back the empty mouthwash bottle on the bathroom sinktop with the gruff careless satisfaction of someone who has reached the bottom of a particularly thirst-quenching ale, I suddenly realized the amazing event which had just transpired in my bathroom. It stunned me for a full minute as I beheld before me proof of the event:

I had, on the same morning, finished my toothpaste, my floss, and my mouthwash. Would life ever be the same again?

my miraculous morning

I confess I spent the rest of day as a mere automaton, going through the motions, but all the while transfixed by this amazing quirk of chance. I could not stop thinking about it. Firstly, if I was still living with my family, this might have been less impressive. A constant cycling through of dental products by multiple people would eventually result in this perfect storm of depletion, but even given that, I couldn’t recall it happening once in my family.

How much more extraordinary then, that I was the sole consumer of all three products? Or, did this fact somehow increase the likelihood of such a freak occurrence? Did my obsessive routines, which probably resulted in almost exactly the same amounts of toothpaste, floss and mouthwash being used everyday, actually mean that there was some mathematically determined point where such an earth-shattering confluence must, with the certainty of a formula, occur?

Those with sloppy and less consistent habits, including (I shudder to even think of this) forgetting to brush entirely on certain days, mean that they always introduced into the schema some element of chaos which meant that this sort of anomaly could never occur? Never mind Dental Floss:Trends and Prospects in International Trade,where was the report into this vital phenomena? Well dear reader, you are reading it now.

Over the next week, I conducted a poll amongst friends and family, and no-one could recall this ever happening. And also not officially recorded in the poll, but coming through quite strongly in the results was the accompanying fact that not many people particularly cared, or else simply dismissed it as “pretty weird” in the same way as getting a parking spot right in front of the entrance, or saying the same thing as someone else at the exact same time is “pretty weird”.

But those things, I argued with mounting desperation, occur quite frequently. My (albeit small-scale) initial investigations have shown that this might possibly be the first instance of this ever happening, making it rarer than falling meteorites, winning the lottery, four-leaf clovers and even sightings of the elusive monster at Loch Ness.

Would my bathroom become a site of holy pilgrimage? Would grave and sombre attendants take small groups of tourists through my house, and open my bathroom to gasps, as they beheld, on three small pedestals, the three empty chalices, at which point some excitable woman would always faint?

Would I be shot to stardom, acclaim and fame, only to become increasingly embittered as I am forever only known as “the floss guy”? Would I come to hate being somehow chosen for this miracle as I spiral out of control in a spiral of drugs and starlets, my acting roles never taken seriously, eventually ending in utter humiliation as they cast someone else to play me in a movie about this startling event, Hollywood inevitably calling it something like A Brush With Destiny?

Calming myself down, I tried to recall other such events, maybe proving how stuff like this happens all the time. But it doesn’t. I have never, for example, run out of bread, jam, and butter on the same occasion. I have never run out of coffee, milk, and sugar while making the same cup of coffee. I have never run out of shaving cream and after-shave on the same day that my razor became too blunt to shave with. No, I must face facts – this is indeed minutiae of a historic significance, and I must deal with it as such, and not try to trivialize it.

For whatever reason and by whatever agency, I have been chosen to bear witness to an event of unimaginable rarity, and, in order to live up to this immense responsibility I have learned to take solace (or horror) in the notion that if you wait long enough, almost anything will transpire, given breath by a world that cherishes the fantastic, the rare, things beyond predictable belief or reason.

So now when the shrill, jarring bleeps of my  Sony Dream Machine rip me from my dream world, I realize that the ‘real world’ is no less magical, and my thoughts of rage are supplanted by the calm acceptance that the forces of chaos will forever battle those of destiny, as I stretch, yawn, swing my legs out of bed and approach my bathroom with the reverence of those approaching sacred ground.


viva minutiae,

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