I remember it well. I’m surprised that you don’t. Although, on second thought, it may not have been as meaningful to you as to me. It was a day just like today, just like any other really. I was at the grocery down the street. My shopping cart was full of previous decisions and there I stood in front of the tooth brush display. I’d never realized before how many different kinds of toothbrushes there are. Do you know how many there are? Have you ever really thought about those toothbrush ads on TV? Well I have and I did it right there in the middle of the aisle that day just like today.
“New toothbrush” was the last thing on my shopping list. I had carefully checked off everything else as I made my rounds through the aisles of enticements and decisions. My shopping cart looked just like any other in the store until I reached the toothbrush aisle. Then it hit me. Which toothbrush should I buy? I wanted the best, of course. After all, toothbrushes aren’t all that expensive in the overall scheme of things and I wanted to keep my teeth as long as possible. I’d already watched first my father then my younger sister have all their teeth pulled and go into full dentures. I was determined that wouldn’t happen to me. So the best toothbrush on the market was on my list that day.
That’s where the trouble started. Which was the best? The TV ads were no help. Each claimed to be the best and I could see the merits of each unique design. Soft, medium, or hard bristles. That at least was easy; my dentist recommended soft bristles for me as I have a tendency to over brush my teeth, causing my gums to spill crimson strongly reminiscent of other less life-affirming events I try to put behind me. Short head, long head. Also easy; only the short heads fit easily in my mouth all the way to the back of the back teeth. Angled handle or straight. Electric or manual. Sonic or not. Bristle designs an engineer must have been involved in at some point boggled the mind. I must have stood there for fifteen minutes although it seemed like hours passed as I examined each of the selections.
Finally I decided. I’d take one of each. That way I didn’t really have to decide. That way I could reap the benefits of each type of toothbrush the various manufacturers offered. So I set about selecting the best toothbrushes, bypassing only those I thought of as tile scrubbers – those with none of the interesting features hyped on TV – and the really expensive rechargeable electrics. I came up with nine brushes. Nine. Now how was I to fit such an odd number into my daily routine? Nine wasn’t the number of days in the week nor was it the number of times I cleaned my teeth each day or even each week. How would I decide when to use each toothbrush? This took another five or ten minutes.
Finally, I added another five toothbrushes to the selection. Not just any five of course, but a carefully selected five making seven unique electrics and seven unique manuals. Couldn’t use the electrics in the shower, I mistakenly believed at the time so I’d use them at night before bed. The over engineered manuals I’d use in the shower in the morning while steeling myself for another day’s work.
Of course, this didn’t solve the problem. I needed a way to store those fourteen toothbrushes in the bathroom. Did you ever notice that the average toothbrush holder is made for the old tile scrubbers and holds only four brushes? So after I left the toothbrush aisle I had to look for toothbrush holders to hold seven modern manual brushes in the shower. I finally selected two four-brush holders with suction cups to hold them on to the wall of the shower and added a tongue scraper to fill the eighth place. There are no holders made for the cheaper electric brushes (I was proud that I hadn’t been suckered into buying the expensive rechargeable electrics as they ran over $100 each but had their own recharging stations to serve as storage when not in use.) so I settled on a plastic basket that would accommodate all seven of the disposable electrics and look OK on my vanity. I postponed the decision regarding which brush to use for which day of the week for that evening.
The next hurdle was the checkout stand. This was before self-checkout was as common as it is today and I had to get the evidence of my indecision past the checker who looked at me like she knew I was out of my mind when she saw how many toothbrushes I had in my cart. I headed off any questions by lying about the size of my family and the need for each child to have a recognizably unique brush. Why only one tongue scraper for such a large family, I wasn’t prepared to answer. The bill that day for toothbrushes was over $75 – half of my grocery budget. It didn’t even “phase me,” as my Mother would have said.
When I arrived home with my purchases and put everything else in its place, I confronted the fourteen unique toothbrushes and lined them up on the kitchen table, electrics to the left and manuals to the right. As I considered the manuals more important than the electrics, I first struggled with which brush to use on which day of the week. After all, I always showered in the morning in those days and I would never consider leaving the shower without brushing my teeth. The evening brush was as often “honored in the breach.” After some reflection on the TV ads, I did finally line up the manuals in a sequence that seemed logical to me and named them Monday through Sunday, placed them in their proper station in the holders and mounted the holders on the shower wall. The electrics I simply labeled with my trusty electronic label maker Monday through Sunday and dumped in the plastic storage box which I placed on the upper left corner of the vanity. Done.
I used the toothbrushes according to the designated time slots until my Mother’s next visit. When she confronted me about the number of toothbrushes in my bathroom, I simply said that I had been unable to decide which toothbrush to purchase and would surely have plenty of toothbrushes on hand for the next year or so, disposing of the used ones on the dentist’s recommended schedule of one each month. If she noticed the labels on my electric guilt, she didn’t comment. But the evidence of my deceit was there to see had she dared to look.
And it was about a year before the evidence of this manic compulsive episode gradually vanished from my bathroom. The manuals died first. In my true fashion of actually scrubbing my teeth with entirely too much pressure on the brush, the bristles gradually looked as though they had been used to scrub the bathroom tile in only a matter of months, even though each was used only once per week. When the manuals were all gone, I removed the labels from the electrics and discovered that they were perfectly safe in the shower. One by one their batteries died and I buried them in the trash the same as I had with the manuals. None now survive.
If you look today, you’ll find only two toothbrushes in my bathroom, both electric, one in the shower the other on the vanity. The one in the shower will die first because that is where I do most of my tooth brushing and the one on the vanity will be promoted to the shower at that time when I’ll buy another for the vanity. And so there are no longer fourteen tooth brushes in my bathroom or my shopping cart.
But, there’s always the chance. There’s always another shopping trip – sometimes late night via the Internet. There’s always the danger of another indecisive, manic compulsive episode centered around something on the list or, worse yet, an impulse purchase.