This is an excerpt from The Spectacular Simon Burchwood, the new novel from writer Scott Semegran
The best advice anyone has ever given me was this gem from my grandfather: Always, always brush your teeth. Insight from a 90 year old man (who still has all of his teeth, for crying out loud) is priceless. It's true. Unfortunately, old people get the short end of the stick from society most of the time. It seems young people get too caught up in the fact that old people can be forgetful or cranky or smelly or sentimental or resentful or all of these things rolled up into one cantankerous son of a bitch or one spiteful old witch. The one thing most young people gloss over is the fact that they themselves are selfish to the point of narcissistic catastrophe. It's really a goddamn shame. It's true. Young people can be a bunch of selfish assholes, the whole lot of them. Now, it is true that I've encountered some old folks who smelled like a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich that had been left in a sock drawer for an indeterminate amount of time, which is quite horrifying in the olfactory sense. But that is beside the point. So here it is: to live to be 90 years old is a real feat and any insight into how someone gets to be that old is important. Period. Because to be honest, I'm surprised that some of the idiots I encounter on a daily basis live to see tomorrow. It's true. Young people can be a bunch of goddamn idiots.
Back to what is important here. I was sitting with my grandfather and some of his good buddies one time when I was a teenager. They were all quite old, as old as my grandfather or close enough I'd imagine, but were all very lively and talkative and happy. They were all beer drinkers and very enthusiastic about making each other laugh so jokes were being volleyed about between sips of beer. They weren't much into being reflective unless someone asked and for some reason, I felt like asking for advice this time. Once I did that, the floodgates opened. "Finally!" I imagined them thinking collectively. "A youngster interested in what we have to say!" I wanted some general good advice, what to do as I moved forward in age toward adulthood. And here, in no particular order, is what some of them had to say:
- Don't get attached to your job
- Never hit a woman
- Ejaculate at least once a day, either through intercourse or masturbation
- Drink at least one alcoholic beverage a day, preferably beer
- Keep in touch with your parents
- Volunteer your time to people in need
- Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
- Always ask for bacon on your cheeseburger
- Follow your dreams
- Never be boring
- Be true to yourself
- Eat ice cream when you're sad
- Never judge a book by its cover
When it was my grandfather's turn, he said, "Always, always brush your teeth." Of all the advice given that day, this one piece of advice seemed to get the largest amount of consensus from the group. An agreeable mumble was groaned as they all nodded their heads. It was an amazing goddamn thing to witness. It's true. Their collective age must have been over 1,000 years and this was the best advice: Always, always brush your teeth. So, being young and foolish and curious and a goddamn idiot, I asked my grandfather why that was good advice. He said, "Son, of all of your bodily functions, eating is the top of the heap. They have remedies for the other functions but this one, it's the most important. If you can't walk, then they'll put you in a wheel chair. If you can't crap right, then they'll put a diaper on you. But if you can't eat, if you can't enjoy your sustenance, then there ain't no remedy for that. Life ain't worth living if you can't chew your own food." So there it was: wisdom from the elders. Who was I to question this wisdom? They obviously had lived a long time and I was just a little shit. It's true. It must be very important advice.
The reason I bring this up is because my coworker (who will now be formally nicknamed Snaggle) had the absolute worst teeth I had ever seen on a human being in my entire goddamn life. The slang term snagglepuss was invented specifically for Ryan, my young genius coworker, whose teeth looked like they had all been pulled out with pliers at some point in his early life and jammed back into his gums by a maniacal chimpanzee on mescaline. It's true. Snaggle had one busted-up grill. However, his dental condition didn’t keep him from socializing. In fact, he was at my cubicle at every opportunity to flap his gums and play a vigorous game of pocket pool, yapping about computers and software and programming and batch files and girls. He loved talking about girls but, I imagined, he probably had never touched a girl in his entire life. With the way his breath smelled, I was absolutely sure of it.