Good Men Project

Throw Beck Thursday: My Dentist, the Chimp

chimp groomingPaying people to stick their hands in our mouths is in our genes.


beckI was at the dentist yesterday, all stretched out in one of those ugly, vinyl chairs and wearing a paper lobster bib. A dental hygienist in a hockey mask was in my mouth up to her elbows, scraping away at my teeth and asking me questions. “Awawawa,” I’d say, and she’d ask another one while twisting my head 270 degrees. “So do you have a dog?” Awawawa.

Now, thanks to genetics and a creator who doesn’t appreciate the comedic value of an ‘80s asymmetrical haircut, I haven’t had to visit a barber in years. But back in the days before my follicular privileges were revoked due to styling excesses, I remember haircut days being pretty much the same way: sit in a special chair, wear a bib, and carry on inane banter with a stranger. The only thing I never understood was why the barber’s hands were in my mouth.

Massages differ only in that one must lie down, the bib is replaced by a towel, and hands in the mouth cost extra.

Every day we pay people to groom us; to make our nails pretty, even up our sideburns, add things, remove things. There’s an entire workforce in this country dedicated to ripping off body hair and bleaching things that aren’t supposed to be too bright, and at the other end, teeth. In fact, people grooming people is a 90 billion dollar a year industry in this country, according to a figure I just made up.

Why do we do it? Some of it is vanity, sure, and some of it is health. I don’t want my teeth to rot out of my mouth, so I let Texas Chainsaw Hygienist have a go at me every six months.

But there’s something else at work here, too. In most but not all of my examples (bleach, I’m looking at you), being groomed feels good. Remember when your mom used to brush your hair, for example, and it felt so good that you really didn’t want to say, “Mom, I’m 38, and this is Olive Garden”? Even socially awkward people like me enjoy a little human contact now and then, even if it involves awkward conversation.

Really it all comes down to this: We are primates. Deny it all you want, but when you’re sitting in the barber chair getting your ‘do combed out, you look just like those chimps on Animal Planet picking at each other’s lice. Primates are cooperative (exception: whichever political party you don’t like), and grooming each other is simply part of our ancestral legacy. Like everything else, the only way we’ve managed to separate ourselves from the other animals is by monetizing a natural instinct. Well, that and reality television.

“I noticed your shoes. Are you a runner?”


I sure wish Jane Goodall could have been there.


modified photo fabulousfabs /Flickr Creative Commons

originally posted at The Good Men Project

Categories: Good Men Project

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