Touched by strangers

I was lying in the dentist’s chair on Friday undergoing a procedure called “bonding” which I needed, they explained, because I brush too aggressively (yup, that’s me: always in character) and I started thinking about having my body touched by strangers.  Leaving aside accidental touches like sitting next to someone on the bus, or emergency touches like being helped up if I spill myself on the sidewalk, there are four kinds of strangers who touch me:  dentist, doctor, hairdresser, and waxer.

Of these, the most purely physical experience is the dentist.  The hairdressing experience is hardly physical at all because I have to talk to my stylist throughout — and I have to be witty and fun otherwise I will get a bad cut.  The waxing experience is ostensibly physical, only I’m shutting off sensory responses because of the pain.  The medical experience is de-physicalized by discomfort and the need to concentrate on what I’m being told.  None of this is true of the dentist, to whom I cannot speak, who is never causing me pain (ah anesthetics!) and to whose words I barely listen.  It’s all tactile.

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