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.