Elegy for Toothpaste

Midtour; slight insanity.  The alarm goes off at half past five, and there is a (black, prepaid, lemon-scented) car waiting outside muttering in various dialects, burping greenhouse gases into frigid 91st Street, with its windswept foothills of filthy ice.  Away from city joy, away from my beloved grottos of iniquity, away from my slothful intellectualism, away from my disgusting carpet which I have meant to replace for years!  No—these must be left behind, for balmy palmy Florida!  The lemony hearse waits.  All roads these airporty days lead through the X-ray machine … can it see my soul? … or through that cute, plump machine (made by GE!) that spurts air at you and then calculates your emanations.   Even the dust coming off me tells a tale, the dust which adheres to me now, the dust which I will become.  (Oh, I’m so deep!)

Some morning soon I fully expect to be stopped by a TSA official, who will say:  “Mr. Denk, President Obama has alerted us that you are far too much of a pain in the a** to fly today.”  And I will abjectly consent.  “Go home,” they will say, “write a poem, eat a bagel, have a massage, do a crossword puzzle, fall in love, and then, only then, come back. ”  I will kiss that TSA official.  From my bed, somehow, in my underwear, I will then record the piano part of the Franck Sonata and email it off to Myrtle Beach or Peoria or wherever, and some Denk Stunt Double will be found to sit at the piano, thrashing around a bit, but not too much!, looking up at Josh every so often, assessingly, caressingly, oh-so-artistically, while my recorded performance is played … meanwhile the real Denk sits throned half-nude amidst a thousand takeout containers on his moldering carpet and inhales ginger and lemongrass and contemplates the various vessels in which he has entombed the word “love.”

I was tired.  29 hours passed, after this alarm went off, and several mood swings swung.   (Have you ever travelled from misery to ecstasy on the magic carpet of a pulled pork sandwich?  I have.)

Now it’s a sunny Florida day.  Josh, Josh’s assistant H, and myself are in the car.  We share a terrible, terrible predicament.

Despite the millions of times I have packed my suitcase, I still regard each packing “event” as a kind of metaphysical decision, a harrowing choice of self.  Am I the person who cares not for image?  Pack a hoodie and black sneaks, maybe some underwear, and your concert clothes, and fill the rest of the suitcase with Horace, Pound, Susan Sontag.  Or, am I the snazzier metrosexual?  Suddenly, my suitcase blooms with flowered shirts, orange sneakers and strange shirt-jacket amalgams, leaving no room for verse.  (Always pack a notebook; then, you say to yourself, I can “work on my writing.”)  In the midst of this decision–this quasi self-realization–one often forgets one’s toiletries!  A concert without deodorant is not to be tolerated, especially by the pageturner.  And so, at the eleventh hour, you assemble your sundries.  Don’t forget your music, you idiot!!!  And fill the humidifier.  Hide incriminating evidence.  Breathe.

Believe me that no piece of fabric has ever suffered as deeply as my Tumi toiletry bag.

The real sorrow of my life, the real criminal undermining my every best effort, is toothpaste.  There has been a recent falloff in toothpaste tube design:  Crest has decrested, has headed (if you will) down, and out, the tubes.  Now, every time I pull my toiletry bag out of my suitcase, and set it upon the faux marble of my hotel bathroom counter, next to the wildly percolating coffee maker, I unzip the bag with fear and loathing in my heart:  out comes a canister of deodorant, glopped heavily with blue grit; so, too, my shampoo, wearing an obscene outer fluoridated sheath; and, my razor … alas! … how can those four magnificent turbo-blades slice after such an ordeal?  No, no, they cannot; and later each evening, just before the concert, I work these microengineered blades roughly over my cheeks, watch my blood pour out in torrents …

But toothpaste sins worst at home.  You place the tube at long last upon the white pure porcelain of your sink, you revel in being home, you go out for coffee and live your life, as if nothing is wrong, as if love were your oyster, and you come back to find that the innocent, supposedly inanimate object has somehow found a soul, and the purpose of that soul is expressed through a great sigh—an expiration!—a thick blue lake of Crest Pro-Health has spread upon the whiteness of your recently cleaned sink, a blotch of wasted, cleansing sorrow, and the scariest part is you have no idea why.   Why?    Why?  This tubal sigh is so profound, so inevitable, so ineffable.  I find myself wondering, in my spare hours, what the musical parallel might be:  perhaps the austere entrance of the quartet in Chausson’s Concert, 3rd movement:


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… (which I played last week)?  A simple, tragic sigh, an all at once release.  OR it might sound more prismatic, sensual, like the first measure of Brahms Op. 119, #1:


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Or perhaps it is more like the entire last movement of Mahler’s 9th symphony, a tube crammed with Weltschmerz, with regret for teeth once brushed, capped and loved?  There is no way of solving these primal Colgate conundrums.  And, this problem is not mine alone.  Josh and Josh’s assistant have been wrestling with the selfsame paradox!  In fact, H has been dutifully and mythically cleaning and re-cleaning Josh’s toiletry bag every day, much like Penelope weaving and unweaving something in some famous Greek poem or other.  But I have no H.

Josh is working on a top secret invention which should solve this problem once and for all.

Meanwhile, I labor on, fighting the blue tide, making music against all odds, while toothpaste oozes all around me.   Maybe the presenters realize I am squeezed, when I grump at them.  No really I’m a puppydog, I’m a nice guy!  And maybe they hear me practice, over and over, before the concerts, the same old passage in the Brahms D minor Violin Sonata, a piece I once imagined I would never have to practice again, because I “knew it so well.”   (What an idiot).  I practice the second theme … isn’t it always the second theme? always coming back to haunt you, like an ex-lover?   Maybe I remember from the old days of being coached relentlessly at Oberlin, some teacher saying I should breathe out before I begin … because now, every night that I perform it, I breathe out just before that strange syncopated sad legato, in order to ease myself into its stream, one toe at a time, in medias res.  But I prepare very differently for the second theme!  If the opening theme seems to be an expiring, squeezed-out thing, dying out in one sigh after another, leaving its remnants cast off, the second theme, well …

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Maybe no audio clip can capture this theme’s magic.  But for me, it is amazing; I become full, round, I love again; some deep well in myself is refilled, some bittersweet reservoir.  What you have cast off (first theme), you still love (second theme); it swells again with all the futile, beautiful hopes, and you drink Brahmsian bliss.

Can you brush your teeth with it?

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  1. Hornk
    Posted January 25, 2009 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    In my case, it’s always the sunblock that erupts from the bottle during a flight. I suspect it is resentful that it is wasted on a dilettante such as myself instead of say, Nicole Kidman, a clear master of the sunblock medium. It may also be annoyed because, in order to keep my toiletries bag goo free, I wrap it in a plastic grocery sack every time I fly with it.

  2. Jonathan
    Posted January 25, 2009 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Genius! Pure, Crest-white genius – and perfect musical similies, too (on a slightly out of tune piano, or is that just the recording device?).

    My own toothpaste loss seems best encapsulated by the first few measures of the third movement of Beethoven’s D minor sonata – don’t ask me why, but it’s always reminded me of the oozing of some semi-solid liquid…

  3. Posted January 25, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I always thought Brahms was rather high in calories, though high in fiber.

  4. Posted January 27, 2009 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    I am bothered enough by the glob that continues to grow on the inside of my Crest Pro-Health top. If my toothpaste spread over all my toiletries, I’d probably lose it.

    On my last trip to New York, my bottle of Bath and Body Works body spray “exploded” – the spray top popped off during flight, and the sweet liquid proceeded to cover all of my toiletries. It was just a little obnoxious.

    Funny you should mention the Odyssey – we’re reading it in my World Lit class at the moment.

    Good to see you writing on here Jeremy. *hug* Claire

  5. lenz
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    I’m also Denked out of the tooth paste saga! It never happened to me at home nor in my travels. My kind of tube is Crest for sensitive teeth w/ a snap cover. If you have the twist cap,if not tight,it will surely leak ’cause of the air.

    It will be interesting to know Josh’s invention. You’ll be surely Belled out.

    Enjoy the sun!

  6. Posted January 27, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Hello oh Denkian one,
    I must say that although I may seem like a bag-within-a-bag lady when I travel, that I’ve learned (almost immediately upon first travelling) to BAG every liquid in the bag.

    I use those free fruit-veg bags you get at the grocery store. Clear plastic, lightweight, disposable, used for produce in the produce aisle. Everything goes into a baggy and only THEN into the kit.
    Thus they can only self-smarm. :>)

    Why, on the other hand, your home tube is squelching can only be because nature abhors a vacuum—which is also why your love life is being suctioned by Brahms, just as his love life was suctioned. It’s all about what sucketh. (did Shakespeare say that?)
    Best, Jen

  7. ahjooma
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Have you tried those tooth paste for kids?
    They are much more soluble and come in delicious flavors.
    Don’t let your wet tooth brush touch the tube.
    When you are just too tired, you don’t even have to
    spit out.

  8. Toms User
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    You need Tom’s, which still makes its tubes of firm, pre-war metal. Squeeze from the bottom.

    Or you could brush your teeth with baking soda. I used to travel with a jar of it for that purpose, which once got an Italian customs official very excited for a few minutes.

    Or perhaps you should allow yourself to embrace this form of Russian dressing roulette. We know you want to. If you find you need more thrill-seeking of this kind, flying with a fountain pen in your breast pocket provides reliable stimulation.

  9. Janet
    Posted January 28, 2009 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Josh’s assistant cleans out his toiletries kit for him? Wow, I want to be a world famous musician and get someone else to do that for me!

  10. ahjooma
    Posted January 28, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful Brahms by the way

  11. Posted January 28, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    “Can you brush your teeth with it?”
    Not a chance. Brush your teeth with a theme like that and it will seep upward, worming its way through your jaw into the warm, refilled part of your brain and completely bypassing your teeth. You will be given both a glorious sense of renewed love/meaning and a glorious cavity.

    Brahms is delicious, fulfilling, sometimes joy and sometimes pain, but never weak. And never, ever hygienic.

  12. Posted January 29, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    My toothpaste never leaks, but my lotion and shampoo bottles almost always do. The worst was a bottle of Robitussin. I wrap my leak-prone toiletries in plastic bags—Ziploc or just a grocery bag secured with a knot.

  13. Sania
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Well, I had to reply… this is your page turner from Naples FL…. first I have to say, I did appreciate the deodorant… ha-ha! Second I wanted to share that in my case it was the conditioner. One trip I opened my suitcase and had conditioner ALL OVER my clothes! I now put all these things in a plastic bag. Perhaps a small zip tight bag could help with your predicament (at least until Joshua develops his invention!).
    In any case, it was great to meet you, and I guess we’ll see you here next year?

  14. Posted January 30, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    We attended your Las Vegas performance on the 29th and I found your smile to be as impeccable as your performance. I was hoping you would also make an appearance in the reception area afterward so I could foolishly stutter my admiration. You were both amazing.

  15. Kristin
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    My worst “leakage” was a bottle of Eucalyptus oil I had packed in my checked luggage on a flight from Australia to Los Angeles. I arrived to find that every bit of clothing in my suitcase reeked of it. (And for those of you not familiar with it, it is a VERY strong smell.) I hung out all my clothes to air overnight in the hotel room but it wasn’t until after three days of meetings that my US colleagues finally felt enough at ease with me to comment on my unusual “perfume”! And I was finally able to admit my tragic predicament! BTW I use the Ziploc bags now for liquids. I also take a bunch of clean Ziplocs with me for change-overs.

  16. Mara
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Yep, everything in its own private Ziploc is the only way to go, I’m afraid. On a somewhat related topic, I’m still astonished at the way a cellist friend of mine managed to smuggle a really incredible amount of Czech beer back to the States last summer without having a single bottle break and drench the contents of her suitcase. And now I’m working on a silly, pseudo-Denkian metaphor about the unnecessary Bohemian dance flavor that kept seeping into everything I played after that summer in the Czech Republic being like a lot of Czech beer unwantedly soaking one’s belongings…but I think I’m just going to go trudge through the absurd amounts of snow and go get brunch. Greetings from Oberlin! 🙂

  17. Posted February 1, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I am trying to remember how to write 1/10th as well as this post, whimsy is SO HARD. Thanks. I have pretty much stopped my business travel but the Aveda shampoo was my liquid nemesis and the four-bladed razor snuck off its cheesy plastic base and bit down on the plastic teeth of my little brush (poor thing) so that I had to saw through the teeth leaving the blades well dulled.

    Me for the Chausson. Brahms and Mahler have too much residual energy and too much information. Toothpaste (and shampoo) ooze and, forever, puddle quietly, settling without further energy into that coating goo.

  18. Melissa
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Yes, ziploc bags are the way to go. I find the snack size perfect for a tube of Colgate. I encourage you to use them until a better solution is found. You’re too cute to be performing with a bloody face! And while well-played Brahms should evoke some bodily fluids, I would hope blood isn’t one of them.

  19. Jennifer
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    The trick is snack-sized individual plastic ziplock bags for individually bagging anything that might leak.

    I’m surprised that you don’t keep a kit of travel-sized toiletries permanently packed.

  20. roducl
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Way off message for this blog (which was thoroughly enjoyable) but I just read the rave in the NYTimes about the recital with J. Bell. Here I am out in Arizona wondering if the two of you are planning a tour. . .a recording? I’m not a big fan of the Franck (but if I listen to it, it’s Bell’s old recording). . .but just reading about the Janeck made me drool. . . Congratulations.

  21. Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Or maybe the brand is the problem… Did you ever hear the ads that Nicolas Slonimsky turned into songs? Pepsodent was one… very funny! http://www.slonimsky.net/music.html

  22. Posted November 4, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    In morning all people must have to make toothpaste.I really helps to our teeth to making good showing and make jearms less.Onlt five minute in morning making toothpaste is increase our teeth’s life.

  23. Mark Graham
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Crest toothpaste (long ago blog item): What a screwed up design. The fancy flip cap unscrews and can be replaced with the standard cap.

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