Polishing the Pearls

Twice a day, my toothpaste tube and I do battle.  When I take the tube out of the medicine cabinet and realize there’s only a little bit left, I can see it smirking as if to say, “You’re not getting any more out of ME!”  Yeah, right.  I just flatten it from one end to the other (I recommend a hairbrush here), forcing every last bit of paste to gather at the top, ready to launch.  Then I take off the cap and squeeze like crazy.  It’s a good workout for the hands, and a mindless challenge to extend the life of your toothpaste.

Speaking of toothpaste – yep, that’s my topic today – here’s a really good trivia question.  In the Roald Dahl classic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, what did Charlie’s dad do for a living?  He screwed the caps onto toothpaste tubes… before machines were invented to do the job for him.  (He also died before the first paragraph and was never part of the story, so it’s a little weird I remember that bit.  But I digress.)

Quick, name the first ingredient you think of in toothpaste.  Flouride?  Not a bad guess, but did you know fluoride makes up only a tenth of a percent of toothpaste?  That’s like a pinprick on the tip of your finger.  Flouride is potent, my friends.  Good for healthy enamel but only in itty-bitty doses.  Keep those chemicals close, but not too close.

Was your first ingredient surfactants?  A surfactant is basically a “foaming agent”, which helps distribute the paste around the inside of your mouth, which translates to better cleaning.  Surfactants remind me of those animated scrubbing bubbles you’d see in TV commercials, whirling around the bathtub surface.  You also find them in shampoos and conditioners.  Without surfactants, most of the hairs on your head would get clean and conditioned, but others would be left high and dry.

“Minty fresh!”

How about flavorants – you know, peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen, or cinnamon?  If flavorants were the first ingredient you thought about with toothpaste, go directly to Jail (i.e. do not pass GO, do not collect $200).  Flavorants do zilch for your teeth.  They just make brushing a more pleasant experience and fool you into thinking you have a fresher mouth when you’re done.  You might as well chew gum.  The sugarless kind, that is.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase.  The primary ingredient in toothpaste is abrasives (and if this was your answer, you win a free dental drill).  Abrasives make up 50% of what’s inside the toothpaste tube.  They’re “designed to help remove plaque” (remember that phrase).  Think of abrasive-laden toothpaste as liquid sandpaper.  Abrasives are the reason you don’t want to swallow toothpaste.  And don’t brush too hard either.  With enough pressure, these bad boys would be happy to remove your enamel.

Toothpaste also has grit

I could list even more toothpaste ingredients (ex. antibacterial agents, whiteners, re-mineralizers), but let’s just agree: there’s a big, diverse party going on inside the tube.  Now for the bad news.  Toothpaste has no significant impact on the reduction of plaque – so says certain clinical studies. That’s why abrasives are described as “designed to help remove”.  That’s a sneaky way of saying they just keep things in check until your next appointment with the dentist.  Sorry (Charlie), no amount of brushing can replace those nasty power tools your hygienist has so much fun using.

For all my talk about toothpaste ingredients, the brand I use has very few.  Earthpaste (“Amazingly Effective!”) has no fluoride, no foaming agents, and almost no flavor.  In fact, Earthpaste has only four ingredients – water, clay, salt, and essential oils.  It’s like brushing with mud.  Wait, it IS brushing with mud!  Just as effective, without the chemicals (subtle plug).  You’ll find it on Amazon.

So all this talk about toothpaste may be important, but so is getting every last bit out of the tube.  And there may finally be a solution to that battle.  The very smart peeps at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an edible product called LiquiGlide.  It’s invisible (which okay, is a little disturbing), and it’s designed to coat the inside of a container so the contents will completely empty with just gravitational pull.  Can you imagine?  No more flattening, squeezing, or hand workouts.  Just upend the tube and 100% of the product comes pouring out.  Get-your-money’s-worth people like me silently rejoice.

LiquiGlide’s proof is in the pudding, er – ketchup.  No more smacking or shaking the bottle.  No more “An-ti-ci-pay-yay-tion” (for those of you who remember the 1970s Heinz jingle).  Our future ketchup bottles and toothpaste tubes will be transparent – and empty – by the time they head to the recycling bin.

Unfortunately, I’d have to give up my Earthpaste and move to Europe if I want to experience the benefits of LiquiGlide.  (The company has no immediate plans to sell its products in North America).  That’s not gonna happen, so until further notice you’ll find me in the bathroom, doing battle with my toothpaste tube.  It’s not so much about getting my teeth clean.  It’s about getting my money’s worth.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “How MIT could help you pour ketchup”, the CNN.com article, “Colgate’s new toothpaste tube…”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Sugarcoating the Shot

When my childhood sweet tooth took its toll so many years ago, I just about lived in the dentist’s chair getting cavities filled. Anesthetics weren’t as effective as what we have today so those drill sessions were miserable. The only upside was the shelf of free toys my dentist teased beforehand, “dangling the carrot” to get me to sit still. Now, starting Monday, Krispy Kreme is taking the same approach to entice COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Free doughnuts” – who doesn’t like the sound of that?  Even if you’re more of a Dunkin’ fan, the allure of anyone’s free doughnuts is undeniable.  As long as you show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, you can get a free doughnut at Krispy Kreme every day for the remainder of 2021.  Heck, that’s enough incentive to permanently adjust the morning commute.  But not enough to get the vaccine.

I’m a huge fan of the Krispy Kreme “yeast doughnut”.  The original glazed version is light and airy and goes down so easy you could inhale a dozen in one sitting.  In fact, I’ve almost done just that.  My wife and I were driving to the airport with friends a few years ago, bound for Las Vegas.  We passed a Krispy Kreme store, checked our watches, and mad-dashed a U-turn so we could grab a few doughnuts for breakfast on the run.  “A few” amounted to two dozen and we had no problem finishing all of them on the rest of our drive.  That’s six doughnuts apiece and I didn’t even feel stuffed.

There’s the rub (or marketing genius) of the Krispy Kreme COVID-19 vaccination promotion.  There’s no way – I mean NO WAY you’re gonna walk into Krispy Kreme, get only a free doughnut, and walk out.  Nobody has that in their DNA.  Recall the Lay’s Potato Chip slogan: “Bet you can’t eat just one.”  The same applies to Krispy Kreme doughnuts in spades.  You don’t buy them by the “one” but rather by the dozen.

[Random thought: My mind just wandered to the midway at the county fair and those big games of ring toss.  Substitute doughnuts for the rings and syringes for the pegs.  Can you see it?  Yeah, probably not the best image for the Krispy Kreme promotion.]

If this story was about Voodoo Doughnuts or another baker whose creations are more akin to a large, filling dessert, maybe one free doughnut would be enough.  But at Krispy Kreme you’re going to get your free doughnut and promptly buy a dozen more.  It’s because you’re standing in the lobby and the slow-moving conveyor of hot, fresh doughnuts tempts you just beyond the glass.  You reach out for a touch or a taste but you can’t.  It’s how Krispy Kreme cajoles you into buying more of their product.

As for the vaccine enticement, Mary Poppins would certainly approve wouldn’t she?  Krispy Kreme should put her on their television commercials joyfully singing, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”.  Mary’d fit nicely into Krispy Kreme’s advertised “Be Sweet” initiative, designed to sell a lot of doughnuts but also, “…to inspire joy and kindness”.  Let’s hope hundreds and thousands of free doughnuts do just that.

Speaking of free doughnuts, whoever created this campaign must know what they’re doing or suffer the most awful form of job termination.  Here in Colorado, our vaccination rate hovers around 15.3% for a state population of 5.7 million people.  That means on Monday, Colorado Krispy Kreme stores could potentially see 872,000 customers demanding their free doughnuts.  And the day after that.  And the day after that.  Oh and – heh – Colorado only has TWO Krispy Kreme retail outlets in the entire state.  Traffic jams of epic proportions.

Now here’s the irony behind this Krispy Kreme headline.  For those who decide not to get the COVID-19 vaccine (and that would be me; don’t judge), we can still get a free glazed doughnut and a medium coffee at their stores on Mondays from March 29th to May 24th.  That’s nine free doughnuts and coffee for someone who didn’t even get the shot.  Does that inspire their intended “joy and kindness”?  You bet it does.

I only wish the nearest Krispy Kreme weren’t forty miles away.  Lucky for me there’s a new one under construction not fifteen minutes from my house.  They’re planning to open their doors at the end of December.  You know, just as their free doughnut promotion comes to a close.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “Krispy Kreme is making vaccinations extra sweet…” and KrispyKreme.com.

Friends in Pro Places

A few weeks ago I went to the dentist.  While he put in a new crown we went through a few family updates.  Off the top of his head he mentioned something specific about each of my kids, which made me realize just how well he knows me.  Then again, he should.  I’ve been showing up at his door every six months for the past twenty years.

Each of us has a different definition of “friend”. People enter/exit our lives or they stay for the long haul, but at some point they enter a more intimate circle defined as friendship.  Friendship circles are tight or loose, filled or sparse, alike or diverse, but no matter which they contain individuals we hold with our unique sense of esteem.  We revere these people.

47 - revere

One friendship circle less obvious than others is the professionals we choose.  For instance, I have an appointment today with my hair stylist.  I will get in my car, drive forty minutes to his salon, and spend another forty minutes in his company.  My stylist is about my age and South Korean.  He’s been cutting my hair for over twenty years.  In that time he’s worked at a mall-based salon, switched to a local one, and then two years ago he started his own salon with his sister.  He knows how to cut hair so I follow him wherever he goes.

Here’s the point.  Early on in our relationship I merely trusted my stylist with the cutting of my hair.  He quickly figured me out (the male straight-hair cut is no rocket science).  Our conversations matured from sports and headlines to the raising of our children and being fathers.  Suddenly I was seeking his input on life as we moved from our thirties to our forties to our fifties.

Today I can (and do) talk to my stylist about anything and everything.  There’s not much I wouldn’t share with him.  He is similarly comfortable with me.  One day while driving I absentmindedly did the math.  Once-a-month visits.  Forty minutes per visit.  Twenty years.  Astonishingly I realized I’ve visited his salon almost 250 times!  We’ve spent almost 160 hours together.  That’s a lot of time chatting with one person.  That’s enough to give him a page in my book of friends.

Not every professional creates the template for friendship, but there are plenty of good examples.  My eye doctor (again, twenty years) gets an annual update on my family, as I do on his.  My chiropractor and I have a ten-minute conversation every eight weeks while he makes my back sing.  Even my banker, who spends a couple of hours with my wife and I every six months, begins his meetings on a personal note.

The next time you’re in the presence of one of your “regulars”, take a moment to do the math.  You may discover you’ve confided in this person more than you realize.  Instead of opening the door to your friendship circle and letting them in, you may notice they’re already there.



Imagine what it’s like to get knocked out cold.  You’re in the boxing ring, or you slip on the ice, or you faint, and WHAM! – you’re out for the count.  You never see it coming.  Your very next memory is waking up as if it never happened at all.  To be fair, you can’t imagine what it’s like to get knocked out cold.  Your brain doesn’t register the experience; or if it does, it stores the memory in a place you’ll never be able to access.  It’s as if you’ve took a break from your conscious world.  This temporary inactivity of the mind – a kind of suspended animation – is known as abeyance.

25 - abeyance

Recently I had a tooth extracted.  Since I have a strong jaw my dentist suggested I should be fully knocked out instead of hitting the laughing gas.  So there I went, from “counting backwards from ten” to waking up post-op, as if the hour the procedure required was a split second.

After a tooth extraction, the dentist talks to you to make sure you feel okay, and more importantly to give you instructions for self-care for the next several hours.  And here’s where it gets interesting.  In the time frame of those several hours your brain is awake but not fully awake.  My wife was in the room when I received my self-care instructions, and she said I was coherent and having a perfectly normal conversation with the doctor.  But one day later I had no knowledge of that conversation – and I never have since.

That little amnesia experience got me to thinking: what if I could capture the “half-awake” brain in writing?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what I write about in my semi-comatose stage, knowing that after the fact I’ll have no recollection of writing a single word?

I completed this experiment last month, when I went back to the dentist to have a post inserted (for a future crown).  It was the same drill as before (ha).  I was knocked out and woke up an hour later with no memory of the surgery.  But when I was at home later in the day to recover, I wrote a quick story before my brain fully restored itself.  The following day, and now a month later, I have no memory of writing that story.

To conclude, I am sharing that story with you below.  I’ve read it several times and have zero recollection of ever writing it.  Isn’t that amazing?  Don’t ask me for the hidden meaning because I don’t think there is any, and needless to say, the story is unfinished.  But I do think it’s remarkable this story was created – and stored – in a part of my brain I’ll never have access to.  Here then – my moment of abeyance.

Todd was a gentle man, who worked an apple farm near the west coast of Central Washington. Each morning he’d get up with the dawn, climb on his John Deere tractor, and plow the rows between the trees, keeping the orchard nice and neat. The trees produced a variety of apples: Macintosh, Gala, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and so on. It was not the sort of orchard that required a lot of labor or equipment. A typical harvest yielded 100 bushels or so, which were largely sold to the small organic markets in the region. Todd’s apples boasted a quality product year-in and year-out over several years.

One harvest season, Todd discovered that many of his apples were bigger and heavier than in previous years. They even shone brighter with their reds, yellows, and greens. Thinking nothing of it, Todd continued the harvest as usual, bringing home the first day’s bushels to prepare for market. As was always his custom, Todd brought several samples of each variety into the house, to give them a closer inspection and taste. Again, as he looked at an especially ripe Macintosh, he noticed the brightness: an almost glittery look to the skin. The fruit was probably an inch or so larger in diameter than any he had seen from his trees in previous years. The bite was crisp and delicious, the flesh firm and consistent.

After a couple of bites, Todd took a sharp knife and cut the fruit to the core. Imagine his surprise when his knife hit a solid core; the consistency of a peach pit instead of small seeds. Carefully, Todd cut the apple into vertical slices, revealing a one-inch solid core in the middle of the fruit. This was most unusual, as an apple typically has a hardened fruit core with seeds distributed throughout.

Todd took the pit to the sink and washed it carefully under mildly hot water. The surface was the woody gnarled look you would expect from most fruits, but it was as if a peach pit had found its way into an apple. Looking closer, Todd saw small bits of light emanating from between the gnarls. Taking up the knife once again, Todd began to scrape the outer surface of the core. Suddenly the core divided neatly into four sections, and fell away easily, to reveal… the most beautiful diamond Todd had ever seen. It was egg-shaped, with countless pentagonal facets, and it shone so brightly it was almost a brilliant blue.

Holding it up to the light, Todd thought he could see yet another core within the diamond, but it was difficult to make out with the layers of faceted diamond on top of it. The diamond felt solid and heavy; almost 10 ounces by his amateur guess.

With no small amount of anticipation, Todd returned to the fruit basket, picked a Granny Smith, and carefully cut the fruit into several slices.. While he discovered the same “peach pit” core, this time the core revealed a spectacular center cut emerald. Again, the core of the emerald was darker than the surface, suggesting something different inside of it. Otherwise, Todd was looking at two large gems, apparently the product of two fruits from his orchard.

Just what had happened here? How does a fruit generate a gemstone at its core?