The Cambrian

Kathe Tanner: Hopping on a train of thought

It’s amazing how quickly our minds can go from zero to 60—backwards. I was heading out to get an early morning blood test Friday, and on my way, I stopped for a Cambria chat with a couple of neighbors.

Cambria chat is one way many of us communicate here on the North Coast. You know how it works: While motoring past, a driver spots a friend, stops, rolls down a window and starts talking — in the middle of the street.

Often there’s a lot of gesturing and arm waving, laughing, pointing and an occasional dash by those on foot to answer a landline phone, respond to a spouse or chase down an escaping dog or child.

When Cambria-chatting, I do keep an eye on my rearview mirror and move on quickly and safely if I see someone driving up behind me. Otherwise, those impromptu conversations can be terribly frustrating (and potentially dangerous) for other drivers, especially on a narrow road.

Anyway, when the guys asked where I was heading so early in the morning, I told them it was time for my semiannual visit with Vampira at Sierra Vista Labs.

One of them chuckled and said, “I’ll bet you’ve been eating healthier lately.”

Hanging my head, I had to admit it’s true. I do tend to pass up the croissants and go for the brown rice and greens more often right before an annual physical or a blood test.

Just whom do I think I’m kidding? Do I really believe a week or two of eating better will make a difference? Do I think the doctor will yell at me if my blood count’s out of whack?

No, even worse. I suspect my physician would try to give me a new-fangled medicine with a list of contraindications and possible adverse effects that’s longer than the phone books for all five Manhattan boroughs. Um, doc, no, I don’t think so.

Back to Cambria chat at Pineridge and Ellis: The guys were sympathetic, and one even admitted he starts flossing daily about a week or so before he goes to the dentist. That way, when they ask if he flosses, he can smile sweetly (or as sweetly as you can with two hands and a toolbox full of stuff in your mouth) and say, “Yes, I do.”

We’re so silly.

And that made me think of one of my all-time favorite comedy routines from the 1960s, in which Shelley Berman explained a visit to his dentist.

My mind zoomed backwards to another kind of Cambria chat, conversation over a meal. My flashback was of a dinner with our friends Al and Joanne Martinez. What I don’t remember is how the conversation drifted toward dentistry, not one of my favorite subjects.

I’m a dental coward, you see. As a child, I had lots of cavities and a brutal dentist who didn’t believe in Novocain. So when I heard Berman’s routine, I immediately went out and bought the album, because I’d found a soul mate.

Decades later, I can still paraphrase parts of that sketch — and over dinner, I proceeded to do so for Al and Joanne.

“You walk into the dentist’s office, and see the cracked leather sofa and the coat-rack covered with coats, and nobody’s in the waiting room …”

“You know how Novocain is administered, don’t you? A needle is pushed through the roof of your mouth and out the top of your head …”

“The dentist comes into the room, empties a drawer into your mouth and then asks you a question. It’s OK…He studied ‘open mouth speak’ in dental school …”

And so on.

Then I noticed Al looking bemused and then amused.

He said, “I’ll have to tell Shelley that somebody out there still remembers his routine.”

Al paused, and then said, “He’s our neighbor.”

So that’s another Cambria chat aspect, I guess — my unerring ability to put both my feet in my mouth at the same time and still be able to talk — which would make it even harder for a dentist, I expect.

Mercy. I think it’s time to hop off this train of thought and actually get somewhere.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at ktanner@thetribunenews . com. Read more “Slices” at