A simple guide for knowing when to die

I’m concerned about the human race. I’m concerned about the race as a whole and, more importantly, I’m concerned about certain individual specimens of our race. My concern rest mainly in the following area. It appears to me that some very old creatures formerly known as humans no longer possess that natural ability of all living things—to die—having replaced all of their mortal parts with plastic and/or carbon fiber.

What happens, I ask you, when their hearts and brains (the last two remaining natural elements inside their otherwise artificial bodies) disintegrate? Will their soulless cadavers prowl my neighborhood in the dead of night? What is the life-span of fake boobs, lips, chins, and butts? Will these things keep going when the rest of us are being devoured by worms? (Worms don’t eat silicone, do they?)

Serbia has some of the world’s best plastic surgeons. If you don’t believe me, or if you’re on the lookout for a good deal, do some research, see what you can find. Our doctors’ renowned expertise combined with relatively low prices of complicated (read, unnecessary) procedures has made us into a veritable Mecca for American (and German, and French, and British, and…etc.) middle-aged women seeking to extend not just their youth, but their lives in general. These women, when pressed, will tell you that, though they do not necessarily believe appearance is everything, it certainly is pretty close to everything, at least from their perspective (a perspective of one with excess cash and uncontrollable ego). They will also claim that while they’re proud of their actual years, they simply desire to look a bit younger a bit longer. These are blatant lies, of course. They don’t just want to be young for a year or two longer. They want to be young forever. More than that, in fact: they want to be immortal.

They’re certainly on the right track. I once read a science fiction story about a world in which humans live to be thousands of years old by simply replacing failing organs with new ones made out of some very durable material. An aging patient starts with a simple replacement of, say, one lung or a section of worn-out skin, then gradually moves to the heart, left arm, right knee, and eventually, the brain. By the time one reaches the ripe old age of 897, one is no more oneself than Rome of today is the same Rome of some 2000 years ago. The foundations of the creature, like those of a city, might be the same; but the creature itself is a wholly different matter.

Having once had elderly grandparents, I fully understand the need for hip replacement surgery, for example. When an old man falls off his bicycle and ends up with a vital bone broken and very little of the natural ability to regenerate left in the aging body, it behooves that old man to seek medical advice and, eventually, a medical intervention involving the installation of a new and better hip. Though, one might ask, what was a man nearly ninety years of age doing riding a bicycle in the pouring rain in the first place?

Celebrities and those generally classed as moneyed elite replace everything from hips, knees, ribs, toes, hair follicles, and even their own stem cells, I’m sure. Those classed as regular mortals replace the one visible aspect of their appearance they can change using whatever savings they might have accrued over the years, or whatever small loan they can raise by mortgaging every object they or their loved ones possess. They may not be able to mess with their vital organs or limbs, yet, but they sure can get a whole new set of pearly white teeth for the low price of a small house.

Dental work is no laughing matter in the rest of the world, but here in Serbia it actually remains a cheap method for cheating time and, eventually, death. We Serbs like to go against trends. Everywhere else fixing a cavity costs as much as a trip around the world in a hot air balloon, but here you can get twenty teeth repaired for as little as the price of a full tank of gas. In fact, dental work is so cheap here that in recent years we’ve had American tourists visiting our country for the sole purpose of having new dentures made. Our dental offices often become genuine factories of crowns, bridges, partials, and braces. Entire busloads of foreigners unload, mouths full of cavities and broken stumps of teeth. They leave hours later with perfect ivories matching whatever celebrity smile one might desire to attain (peruse any current magazine, and take your pick). Our dentists have extracted more American wisdom teeth in the last twelve months than any dentist working in America for the past several decades. If you happen to be just a regular Serbian with a chipped molar, you quickly find out just how difficult it is to find an available appointment at a local dentist’s. You may have to visit all of them before you find one willing to squeeze you in next Thursday at fifteen minutes past midnight. By then, of course, you may be able to invent your own method for killing eye-popping pain (some kind of alcohol and/or a pair of good pliers are highly recommended tools).

One result of this cultural intermixing is a whole new class of Serbian dental patients who, once they do manage to find an available dentist not working on the entire Jones family from Des Moines, Iowa, demand to be given the same kind of attention-grabbing smile they’ve seen in the movies. Currently popular is the Julia Roberts model. This is a smile measuring about one meter across, just enough to reveal 64 perfectly crafted artificial teeth, every one of them a dental masterpiece. After successful installation, these teeth are then polished for about three days. Abrasive materials of various kinds are used to give the new set of teeth that perfect shine seen nowhere else on our planet. For the next several months the patient is encouraged to maintain this supersmile by having each tooth whitened regularly (six or seven times a week will usually suffice) using lasers developed by NASA to clean the undersides of their space shuttles. I’ve made the mistake once of peering into a dentist’s office through a window. What I saw made my blood turn to ice. A young woman with the 64-tooth smile sat upside down in one of those chairs (designed, by the way, in the Middle Ages to torture heretics and suspected witches). The dentist, dressed in what appeared to be a genuine hazmat suit, pointed a laser taken from the set of a James Bond movie straight into the patient’s wide-open mouth. What did that woman dirty her teeth with? Cosmic dust? Here I was mistakenly thinking daily flossing and brushing were sufficient to keep my human teeth relatively clean. Boy, was I in the wrong!

Here’s how you can easily tell when it’s time to bite the dust. If your limbs are dropping off one by one and your vital organs are refusing to cooperate (and if they are making grinding noises resembling those of a bulldozer), if your bones are cracking under pressure of normal gravity, and especially if you’re having to clean the grime off your artificial teeth using dangerous nuclear lasers, believe me, it’s time you said your goodbyes.

Immortality is overrated. Besides, I’ve got nothing decent to wear for it. Once these teeth are worn down to tiny stumps, I’m checking out of this dump.


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