Category Archives: the consumer

at long last, 2000 is cataloged


September 29, 2000. Truck stop en route to Kerman (Iran). I love trucks.

I have now cataloged 2719 photos. 1793 of them were from the year 2000 (65% thus far). It was slow going, and I took a long break from what became the sheer monotony of the task. I started 2000 over a month ago. In the meantime I’ve been posting the 1995 Lithuania photos, though I’ve forgotten exactly why I started. I’m into 2001 now, and should go back to add non-scancafe scans of images pre-2001. What a task. WHAT A TASK.

In the midst of a transition period, I haven’t felt like writing much. I’ve been dancing a lot (ergo—it’s all good).


thumbprint on my scans

Okay, I’d hoped I was done. But it seems I won’t be until I go through all these scans. Scancafe claims to “clean, color correct and scan each one by hand.” Check out the thumbprint on the top left of this scan. (Photo: changing rail gauge on border of Lithuania and Poland.) This is the kind of thing you don’t notice until you see the images large, working with them one at a time.

the final scancafe review, part three


Seema & Becki. San Francisco. May 1992.

(Continued from part two.) When it was clear I had only two weeks to review the 6000 images again, which took me over 50 hours the first time, I asked the manager if it was possible, because of the the lack of time I had to make selects before my trip due to their many problems, to process the images I had chosen at no further cost, in essence, paying 50% for about 68% of the images (which they had already scanned anyway. It would cost them all of one DVD). He said no, and offered me $100 off my final order. I didn’t appreciate this arrangement much, as my suggestion actually served us both better. They would have made more money (because I then made it a point to delete 50% of my order, ultimately paying $100 less than 50%, their required select rate) and I would have saved time and felt that the massive amount of my time wasted by their mistakes was truly acknowledged, backing up their, “We’re so sorry for the inconvenience” blather.

In the end, maybe it’s better I edited more fiercely then, as I’m not impressed by the quality of the end result, and am spending a fair amount of time archiving them. But then, maybe it’s not.

Another issue that popped during this time is that no nudes were scanned. Not even some playful images of the fully clothed. This I covered in a previous post.

Because I didn’t finish the selects until just before I left for Australia, I was concerned about my images being returned when I was away. I didn’t really want them sitting around somewhere, in NYC or in India. Regardless, I chose to keep them in India given the option as scancafe would remain responsible for them, which still seemed better than, say, my super. And so, the manager held them in India until I would return in late January. This much worked out well. The images were sent back when I returned and I received them on February 4, 2010.

I started going through the scans, not overly pleased with the results. By February 9th, I emailed the quality manager the following:

Dear Joson,

I’m sorry to trouble you with this, as you’ve been as helpful as possible given the circumstances.

I have to say, though, that the quality of the scans is not great. The technicians don’t seem to know anything about photography and perhaps have been trained to apply automatic adjustments to each image.

Some of my negatives are quite old, and I understand the low quality on these. However there are slide scans that I have in better quality from a scanner/photocopier circa 1999. This is not acceptable in 2010. All of these images need to be fixed in photoshop, which would not be a problem if scancafe did not claim to correct each image, and charge for it.

An example: The back lit silhouette is a fairly common principle in photo, especially film photography. The subject is MEANT to be a shadow, lit from the back. In many (all? I’m not near through all of them yet) of my backlit photos, the image has been ruined by blowing out the image until the background is lost and the subject is seen on the subject. I gave you an example of this last November my image #, but it was never addressed.

Some of the scans are quite good, and other batches are quite bad. Was the technician having good/bad days or moods? It’s quite odd.

The quality of these scans renders them $.10 each, perhaps $.15. Because the quality of scans is not what you advertise, I would like to be refunded the difference.

Again, I’m sorry to trouble you as you’ve been helpful, but I am not at all happy with the overall scanning experience. Thanks so much for your help in all of this.

I think the blown out silhouettes are what took me over the edge. Saved in small jpg files, these scans are totally worthless. I have them for reference, but nothing else. If I’d want to use them in an online gallery, I’d have to rescan them.

As before, I didn’t hear anything back. Until I posted my grievance on photo.net. Possibly coincidental, the next day, their chief operating officer in California contacted me with the following message:

Hello Anastasia,

Your issue has been escalated to my attention. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to meet your expectations.

Please bear in mind that the color balance, tonal balance etc in photographs is a subjective judgment and in your case we haven’t been able to match your expectations even after multiple interactions with our quality staff. As you desire, I will have all your orders refunded down to 10 cents per scan. I apologize for the inconvenience. In the 3 years of ScanCafe’s operations, you will be truly the first customer whose issue we have not been able to resolve.

Also, I just saw your blog today and noticed that you are concerned about how well our staff is treated and paid. For the record, we pay the highest in the city of Bangalore for the skill sets we employ. Our employee attrition rates are lowest in the industry. You, your friends or journalists are welcome to visit our facility at any time without notice. We also employ staff that have hearing and speech impairments and we conduct training for them in sign language as part of our social responsibility in enabling the differently enabled. Also, we have an annual celebration day at ScanCafe coming up pretty soon that we would like to invite you to. It will be a great opportunity for you to interact with our staff and truly assess to your satisfaction if they are happy. The management of ScanCafe has worked in companies like Cisco, eBay, Yahoo etc. I am just curious if you checked with the CEO of Intel if his staff was paid appropriately prior to purchasing your computer with an Intel processor.

Your refund will appear soon on your credit card if we can still process the last transaction electronically. If not, we will mail a check.

Best regards,

N. Dubey, Ph.D.
Chief Operating Officer
ScanCafe Inc

Whoa. A bit intense. My reply:

Dear Naren,

Thanks for your reply. I agree that the situation is unfortunate.

In 20 years of dealing with color labs in New York, I have never been told that color
balance, tonal balance, exposure, etc, are simply subjective because there are industry
standards that labs work to meet. When learning photography, students are not taught
color balance is subjective when the image is +40 magenta or a woman’s face is pale cyan.

I am delighted to hear that your staff is well treated and well compensated, and that
your company is socially responsible. You should make a page about this on your website,
as I assure you that I am not alone in wondering how your employees are treated. I’d love
to attend your annual celebration. I’m sure it would be fascinating as well as good fun.
Are you providing a plane ticket with your invitation?

Never have I enquired with a CEO about staff pay, so I’m not sure why I’d start with Intel. I did not wonder aloud about them on my blog because 1) now that mac has switched to Intel, ever major computer company in the US uses Intel processors, so there is no choice, as there is with where I have my images scanned. 2) Intel was never in possession and control of my most valued possessions. I would hope that you understand that people are trusting your company with treasured belongings, which means more consideration goes into it than say, selecting a word processor. If I sent a hard drive off to be fixed with the only copy of every word I’ve ever written, yes, I’d look into that company carefully. 3) If you were actually curious about whether or not I wonder about the treatment of workers elsewhere, yes, I do. And I spend my money accordingly.

Thanks for your attention to this matter,

Anastasia

And so it goes. I got the check in March, which means that in the end, I paid $370 for the scans. I was happy with this, until later in March when I unpacked the box of negatives and chromes and confirmed through my files that the Pakistan images were gone. Scancafe claims that they’ve never lost an order. But images within an order? I read on a forum that another photographer found after he got his images back that a number of them hadn’t been scanned. Sigh. After the previous exchange above, I wasn’t willing to push it further. I am upset about the Pakistan negatives—they were among the images I was most excited to see. But such is life. The scans are back, I’ve reordered them all (took a few weeks) and am now entering them into Lightroom, with keywords (tags). I’m glad I have them done, but I’m not sure I’d do it that way again.

As for scancafe, if you are the kind of person who took her photos to the 1-hr photo place down the block during the analog years, and that was fine, then sending scancafe your not-too-large order will also be fine. I wouldn’t send them anything over 500 photos. And I’m not sure how happy anyone will be who wasn’t happy with the 1-hr photo place. I definitely think they are a legitimate company, and they want to be a great company. They just aren’t there. They did send the check for $315, which means I paid $370 for the service, which would have been $785. But given the quality of the scans, the lost photos, and the lost time in the review process, I’m not sure that’s a deal. The pro-photo services scancafe charges are about as much as getting them done locally, so, why not do that? That’s my plan, next time around.

the final scancafe review, part two: the review process

(Continued from part one.) I started on the review process immediately. I spent about 5 hours a day after work going through the images, until my eyes blurred and I could take no more. I wondered if they gave the same amount to time (14 days) to orders of 100 photos. They scanned the slides first, which were okay. They were in order.

The review process goes as such: After logging in, you go through a few screens to get to your folders. How they organized the pics into folders, I’ve no idea. I think the slides were given a folder per slide sheet, but the negs I’ve no idea. Some folders were huge, others had three. Once in the folder, there are tiny thumbnails of the pics. You hover over each one for it to appear, as in the screenshot above, which can take some time if scancafe’s servers are jammed. Having a large order probably didn’t help (that will be the refrain of this review). The folders, or “albums,” are at the right. Some of the color correction was questionable, but I kept on.

When I got to the negatives, things went downhill. Yes, some negs were twenty years old, and negs don’t scan as well as slides, which are positive images. But some of the colors were hideous and looked nothing like the original. In one photo, my mother’s face was cherry red. In another, a blue carpet slightly purple. And the negs weren’t in order. Ugh! Some of folders went from years 2001 to 1989 to 1996, making it extremely frustrating to chose edits of similar images if split into different folders and far apart.

I sent an email to scancafe, which was my second or third as I’d been locked out of their site once or twice. It typically takes 2 days for them to reply because of the time difference between NYC and India. This was my response:

Dear Anastasia,

I would like to inform you that as per our process, we scan, upload and return all the media in the same order in which we receive. [This is untrue. I later realized that the negs had been given folder names (unlike the chromes) based on what the tech had gleaned from my notes on the file sheets. Files were misnamed, e.g. Bukley (Berkeley), and were sorted by misnomer, rather than upload time. Diaster.] However, please let us know the folder names in which the images are out of order and the image file names that are not up to your satisfaction. I can then forward a request to our Imaging Center to relook into the images and provide us with an update within 24-48 hours. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your patience and help in resolving this issue. [The number of folders out of order would have taken me hours to make right, so of course I decided to bare with it in the review fix it on my own when I got the scans back.]

Also, please be informed that once the images are online, you have the privilege to delete images (you can discard up to 50% of the scans), move images within a folder as well as across folders and rename folders. [I was deleting, thanks, and moving the images around in their system would have been a nightmare. And if I did, could I trust them to honor that order?]

In order to move an image, all you need to do is open the album in which the image is present, click on the image and then drag that particular image to the albums (folders) into which you want to save holding the mouse button down. The albums will be listed on the right hand side of that page (if its not present on the first page, you can click on the small blue triangle to view the next page of albums). You can then move the displayed image to the new list of albums. Please wait for some time (~5 sec) until the image is moved (until the change is saved). You can then open the second album to confirm that the image is moved. Its simple. You need not do anything else. The changes will be saved automatically even if you log out. [~5 sec per thousands of images = simple? Not on my time.]

Also, you are able to view a larger view of the image once you hover the mouse on an image. This is a feature of our interface so that our customers can have a larger view of the scanned images. However, you can just drag the image to the required album. You can also double click on an image to see a larger view. [This much was clear. I wasn’t editing images based on the tiny thumbnails.]

We are aware that the process is tedious and time taking and our technical team is working on the issue to get it fixed. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your patience. [My patience, drained, because the scans weren’t uploaded in the order I gave them, but my misnamed files.]

[I’ve cut a bit of the redundant how-to’s out.]

To delete an image, you just have to select the image that you wish to delete and click on the “Delete” button just above the images. Once you click on that you will see a small cross mark in a red circle just below the image that you choose to delete. This will indicate that you have deleted those particular images. The image will not be deleted as you may want to undelete them before the final checkout. The changes you make will be saved automatically.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns and we will be happy to assist you.

It’s always frustrating to state issues to someone who should be able to fix them—or compensate—and be told 1) it’s not the case, 2) resolution will require you a lot of time when the mistake was not yours, and 3) how to boil water when the issue is that the recipe was given with instructions in the wrong order.

A day or two later, I complained about color corrections. I received a similar reply to the above, until I posted my displeasure on a forum at photo.net. Shortly after, I received a reply from a scancafe quality assurance manager, Joson, who’d “found some quality issues with my order.” This manager worked with me for the rest of the ordeal. Overall, he was very helpful and he did his best. He did not give me answers of the boiled water variety, though I’m not sure what they did in rescanning the photos, as there wasn’t much improvement. When I was asked if the order of the images could be fixed on this go, I was told yes, but, if they were, I’d lose the deletions I had chosen—which had taken me over 50 hours to select. I could choose one or the other. I chose to keep the deletions and incorrect order.

I will say a few things about corrections now. Given the small files and the quality loss involved with .jpgs (.tiffs are $.19 per image, which would have doubled the cost of the service), it would have been better that the images weren’t corrected at all. The techs there are not photogs (unlike many techs here). They aren’t professionals. From what I can tell seeing the final files, they are auto-correcting tone, contrast, and color. Auto-correcting is never a great idea, especially when saved as jpg. You really want all the original info there you can get. Alas, this became clear much too late. I didn’t mind the jpgs at first because I’m not using these for print. I’d always go back to the original negative for that.

A few comments on reviewing—the images are very small, so that you can’t nick the ones you don’t choose and pay for. Keep in mind, images that don’t look great full size (or even at 400×600) look better smaller. So you are likely to choose images you won’t like larger because the flaws are more obvious.

So, where was I? On Tuesday, October 27, 9:27am, I was told that the images would take 3-4 business days to reprocess, which meant by Friday at, October 30, they should be online.

It wasn’t until two weeks later, on Tuesday, November 10, that my images were ready. In the meantime I kept receiving automated messages like : “Review deadline: 3 days! Your photos are online and awaiting your review.” My patience was tried. There was less and less time until I left for a two-month trip to Australia, where I’d rarely be online. November 10 was only two weeks before the trip. Who has time to be going through 6,000 image images again while preparing for such a trip? I guess I did.

Some of the rotations had been lost, as well as negatives from years 1998-1999. The latter a cause for alarm, although much of what I shot those years was slides, except for a trip to Pakistan. When I asked the manager about that, he looked and said, simply, that there were images scanned that could be Pakistan (they were Iran), but everything was scanned. It wasn’t until I got everything back, and put them back in with their contact sheets (in March, 2010) that it was clear that they were sent, but not scanned or returned. Scancafe never answered to that, and by that point, I was too tired of dealing with them further. I should have looked earlier when I still had the energy. Alas. Hindsight.

Dear Anastasia,

I would like to inform you that as per our process, we scan, upload and return all the media in the same order in which we receive. However, please let us know the folder names in which the images are out of order and the image file names that are not up to your satisfaction. I can then forward a request to our Imaging Center to relook into the images and provide us with an update within 24-48 hours. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your patience and help in resolving this issue.

Also, please be informed that once the images are online, you have the privilege to delete images(you can discard up to 50% of the scans), move images within a folder as well as across folders and rename folders.

In order to move an image, all you need to do is open the album in which the image is present, click on the image and then drag that particular image to the albums (folders) into which you want to save holding the mouse button down. The albums will be listed on the right hand side of that page (if its not present on the first page, you can click on the small blue triangle to view the next page of albums). You can then move the displayed image to the new list of albums. Please wait for some time (~5 sec) until the image is moved (until the change is saved). You can then open the second album to confirm that the image is moved. Its simple. You need not do anything else. The changes will be saved automatically even if you log out.

Also, you are able to view a larger view of the image once you hover the mouse on an image. This is a feature of our interface so that our customers can have a larger view of the scanned images. However, you can just drag the image to the required album. You can also double click on an image to see a larger view.

If you wish to move an image within an album, you can just click on the image and drag to the required location holding the mouse button down. However, suppose you have 10 rows of images in an album say A through J and you are able to view only 3 rows per screen(you need to scroll down to view the rest of the rows). In such a case, if you wish to move an image from row A to row F, you will have to first move the image from from row A to row C, scroll down so that row C is now the first row of the screen and then drag the image from row C to row E and then again scroll the screen down so that now row E is the first row and then again drag the image in Row E to the required position in Row F.

We are aware that the process is tedious and time taking and our technical team is working on the issue to get it fixed. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your patience.

In order to rename an album, you first need to click on a particular album to select it. You then have to click on “properties” link from (Properties/Cover/Hide empty albums) present just above the images. This will take you to another page where you can edit the album title and save it.

To delete an image, you just have to select the image that you wish to delete and click on the “Delete” button just above the images. Once you click on that you will see a small cross mark in a red circle just below the image that you choose to delete. This will indicate that you have deleted those particular images. The image will not be deleted as you may want to undelete them before the final checkout. The changes you make will be saved automatically.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns and we will be happy to assist you.

Best Regards,

the final scancafe review, part one

I’ve been thinking about the female form a lot in the last week or so (a switch from my usual state, dwelling on the male form, which I’ve realized occurs despite a hell of a lot of visual bombardment of the former, and possibly only because I do my best to limit that bombardment), but this is going to have to wait. It’s time I wrote up the scancafe experience in one long bit, so people don’t have to wade through a year’s worth of posts about it if they want to know my experience.

I wanted to like this company. I really did. In the end I have very mixed feelings. I suppose all I can say is that you usually get what you pay for. It’s like the lens issue. I’m in love with the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G but how can I justify dropping that much on a lens? The alternatives, however, just don’t cut it. And so it goes.

I decided to have all of my analog images scanned last August for a number of reasons, the biggest, perhaps, being that I’m nostalgic. But also because I love technology (a dangerous combination perhaps).  I want to be able to type “spectacles” into a catalog and see every photo I have of funky frames.  I want to call up my grandmother’s table (in lower left of photo, 1995) in her house, as well as mine (2009).

So, I did some research. Scancafe seemed like a better option than digmypics (who seem to have redone their site since my search) scanmyphotos. I realize my standards are high, as David Pogue raved about scanmyphotos in a NYT review, but I thought the sample images he used were of extremely low quality. But David Pogue is a tech guy, not a photographer. When these scanning services rave about the pro photogs who use them, be certain that these high profile clients are receiving high profile treatment, and I can only assume are using the “pro” services. All the scanning I’d done previously was by myself at ICP, by the now defunct Flatiron Color, or by highly recommended Hong Color, in NYC. Hong Color’s scanning is high-end. It starts at $40 a scan, more than 100x scancafe, so when digitizing 6,000 images, HC is cost prohibitive. Scancafe’s price with shipping would be about $1820.00. Because scancafe allows the client to choose only half the scans, I figured I could get that down to $1000.00.

I spent the last weekend of August packing up my images and numbering the sheets and bundles. They suggest on their website that you not concern yourself with such things, and just send them on. This not to convenience you, but so that they don’t have to worry about scanning images in order and keeping them in order. And if you have no idea where an image is, how you can really be sure if it was returned? Or if you sent it to begin with? I highly recommend organizing your photos and knowing what you have and where before you send them anywhere. I put mine on the UPS truck to California on August 31st. I found a promo code online, which saved me 20%. So, on August 31, I paid for half my estimated order (I’d underestimated the count a bit):

50% of scanning service charge $ 638.00
Shipping Label $ 33.40

Total charged $ 671.40

.

This was my original payment.

On September 9th, I received this email:

We’ve received the originals for your order 9AEALF… which was placed on 2009-08-31.

This meant the box had arrived in California, where they’d be put in a container bound for India.

On September 18th, I received this email:

We’ve received the originals for your order number 9AEALF… at our imaging center.
Your order has been scheduled for scanning. We estimate that your order will complete our scanning and quality control processes on Oct 26, 2009. You can expect to hear from us then.

This meant they’d arrived in Bangalore (India). I was excited.

On September 23rd, I received an email saying:

A technician has been assigned to your order and the process of manually scanning & repairing each of your images is underway. After all your images have been completed, they also will go through our stringent quality assurance checks.

On October 19th, this arrived:

The speed of the job, finished a week early, might have tipped me off to the quality. And now I had only 14 days to look over the scans, while working and teaching. Good enough though, as I was headed to Australia in November.

Okay. Attention span kaput. Will continue this tomorrow.

scancafe: archiving the photos


Traci. Seattle, 1992.

Back in August (2009), I meticulously packed all my negatives and chromes (slides) to send to India, via California, to be scanned by scancafe. I plan to write a final review this weekend, now that I’ve seen all the images, organized them a bit, and have the negs and chromes back. This photo of Traci at the Seattle Aquarium is a result.

After packing the images, shipping them, waiting, reviewing and choosing, and finally receiving the DVDs and hard images back, I started organizing (they weren’t kept in order, as promised, which resulted in hours of reorganizing the files), and I put the negs and chromes back in the files they came from. This is when I found that yes, my Pakistan negatives were lost. The contact sheets were in their proper place, and I always keep my negs with my contact sheets. More on this later.

I’m now, finally, archiving everything in Lightroom I started learning Lightroom last fall then stopped to prep for Australia. I didn’t love it at first, but, what do I ever love at first? Now I’m smitten. I love order. I love organizing. I love photos. It’s a dream come true. I remember making excel files of my shoot lists 15+ years ago so I could do searches for keywords. Combine that with the developing (which I’ve not delved into much as I’m entering these into the archives catalog first, and so still use Photoshop until I learn LR properly) and, wow. It makes this whole digital thing everything it should be.

I will have at least 10,000 photos (about 3,000 from scancafe scans) archived when I’m done, beginning with negs scanned from December 1988. My goal of the evening is to finish 1992. I’m on December.

dentists new york. horror story, final installment

shu0075lTwo weeks later I went to my next appointment, this time ten blocks south. Goodbye Dental Passion, hello Beautiful Smile. The office was quite nice. There was no wait—I even filled out my forms in the (stationary) dentist’s chair. The dentist came in and introduced herself, looked at my teeth, and took x-rays. The x-rays were painless. The good dentist put my iron vest on for the entire procedure. I bit down on a tiny little thing and it took no time at all.

She handed me a mirror and showed me 5 “brown spots” she wanted to coat. “They aren’t cavities, but there’s bacteria there and they could become cavities. It’s preventative.”

“Hmm,” I said. I explained that the dentist who gave me the cleaning a few weeks before said that I had three cavities, possibly more, and that I might need root canal.

She looked over at the laptop where my teeth were on display. “I don’t really see where you’d need root canal.” She said.

“No, I thought it was strange myself. So I’m not sure about these five enamel coatings. Do I really need them?”

She explained they were my teeth, and that I didn’t have to have them. I was confused, as she had such a different take on my mouth than the previous dentist. She was quite nice, so I asked her about my front teeth.

Well, the root is strong. If you wanted to fix them, you could go veneer or crown. Both cost about $1400 a tooth. We’d have to put submit to your insurance to see if they’d cover it, which takes about four weeks.

I told her I’d think about it all and get back to her. I could do $1400 a tooth, as that would take me to the $3000 per year coverage on my insurance. Or so I thought.

I went to the front desk and was presented a bill to sign. “The insurance will send you the check and you will sign it over to us.” I was told. “We aren’t part of that spectrum plan.”

“Huh?” I wondered as I looked down at the bill. $820? I didn’t even get my teeth cleaned. They’d charged me $100-something for the visit, and over $600 for the x-rays.

I’m not sure what to say.

Unacceptable.

So much for fixing the front teeth. Even if the insurance did cover it, I’ve spent over $1000 at the dentist just getting x-rays, a cleaning, and two opinions on the state of my teeth. Enamel coverings? I don’t think so.

I do wish I had the opinion of someone I trust. Maybe the worst one really should be covered. Maybe it’s kind of almost a cavity. I don’t know.

I realized between writing these posts that the real reason I haven’t been to the dentist in so long, and the real reason that I avoid doctors, is because I don’t trust them. It’s confusing and painful when our health is in the hands of people—encouraged by a system—who are out for a buck. “Don’t worry, your insurance will cover it.” No thank you.

The health care reform that passed yesterday can barely be called reform. But at least it’s a step. Something has to be done about this system. It’s unethical.

where, oh where, is a good dentist? how do I find one?

dentistYou knew it was coming. I don’t get all lovey-dovey about docs for long. So here it is, the consumer-interest dentist story. In our grossly capitalistic medical system, where money is more important than people, somehow we’ve forgotten that we are consumers as well as patients. Are we ever right? Or have we given our rights up entirely to the bizarrely god-like status of american doctors? Some of these characters need to be questioned.

Overheard on the street tonight, just after I started writing this. Two very skinny UWS women talking to each other about plans:

Women 1: Well, Anna has a dentist appointment that morning which I totally forgot.

Women 2: Oh yes, who do you see?…oh yes. No, I haven’t been. They say every six months, but really, I’m a once-a-year girl myself.

Women 1: Well, you know, I could try to change the appointment, but, well, I have this thing about…

Women 2: Oh heavens no, I understand…

Every six months indeed. What a racket. I won’t admit how long it’s been since I’d seen a dentist because I’m sure my health degree would be yanked away by some wrathful authority. It is a double-digit multiple of 6 months, though. Why? At first, no insurance. Then I couldn’t find a decent one who took my insurance then—I just never got around to it. Busy with many other things. Look, I brush. I floss. I gargle. And thank heavens, it’s paid off. Yes, I have a dodgy-looking front tooth from a childhood incident when a kid jumped on, instead of over, my head at Maca Pool, poorly fixed with a pin by my childhood ghetto dentist. It’s strong though, and the root is alive and healthy. I’ve always considered getting it fixed, when I had the money (which always seems better spent on other things, quite frankly, though I know many don’t agree).

Alas. I have dental insurance now and it was high time to get a checkup. I asked everyone I knew, then everyone with my insurance, if they could recommend someone. With the exception of a guy out in Queens, no one could. So, I consulted my health insurer’s website and found a place on 125th Street. I made an appointment for my lunch break the following week. I showed up on time, and waited 45 minutes. The place was a circus and I sat wedged between a water cooler and the bathroom. Luckily, I had my book.

After 45 minutes, I asked the receptionist, who was very kind given the stress of her position, how long it would be because I had to go back to work. She checked, and asked if I could wait just 10 more minutes, which we all know means at least 25. I said no, and left. I waited a day or two, and after momentarily considering a trip out to Queens, logged into my insurer’s site again. I found a place fairly close that I’d avoided before because of the name, “Dental Passion.” Oh dear. It reminded me of some unfortunate experience my mother had with a dentist when she was young and under the influence of laughing gas. To be brief, he behaved inappropriately.

Nevermind, it was close. I went early, this time, and was assured on the phone that I wouldn’t have to wait. This was true. I was the only person there. The tech was to first give me x-rays, but I didn’t want them. So the very young dentist came in and talked me into them. Full mouth. It’s been a long time. Less radiation than daylight.

toothKnowing I might not see a dentist again for awhile, I agreed. The tech was very sweet. She had me bite on a huge square thing that cut my lower mouth and was extremely painful. After about three, the computer froze and stopped processing the images. She had to retake them over and over, and it became more and more painful. The dentist wasn’t sure why it didn’t work. Neither did the receptionist. They explained to me that she was taking over a previous dentist’s business. He’d retired. They were setting up a newer, faster, more efficient x-ray system. It wouldn’t hurt as much, the tech explained.

Oh.

I’ve no idea how many attempts at the x-rays had been made at this point. Surely over ten. This is when the tech decided to put the lead vest on me. Not at the beginning, but now, way in. Didn’t I say I didn’t want x-rays because of radiation? Wow.

Ten or so attempts later, they all gave up. They’ll give me a call when the new system is in. So the dentist got on with the cleaning.

Maybe a minute into the cleaning, my chair starting moving. Up. Then down. The dentist didn’t know how to stop it. Nor did the tech. At this point I thought I was trapped in an SNL skit. I laughed, but I was annoyed. The chair was still moving to and fro. The receptionist, who’d been there with the previous dentist and so knew a thing or two (especially about insurance) came and unplugged the chair. I was told we had to move to a different room. The tech helped me up. The chair stopped with me in a backbend, my head closer to the floor than my feet. As my head lifted away from the chair, at least 25 hairs were pulled out, tangled in the metal bars of the headrest.

Unacceptable.

The other room was much less dramatic. I got my cleaning and was told I have 3 cavities, perhaps more, and might need a root canal. She wouldn’t know for sure until after the x-rays. I thought this very strange, as I’m in no pain. Hmm, I thought. I told her in the beginning that I’m into what she termed, “less aggressive treatment.”

I went out to pay a co-pay, but was told by the receptionist that my insurance covers up to $3,000 of dental work a year. She looked at the dentist and said, “They’ll pay for everything. Let’s schedule those fillings now.”

I reiterated that I’m into less aggressive treatment and suggested we wait until the new x-ray system was in, especially as my calendar was at my desk at work. I asked her, for future reference, how much the treatment would be without insurance. First time visit, $125. Cleaning, $75. X-rays, $225. (These are approximate, from what I remember after all this. These prices are an important reference for the next post.) My insurance wouldn’t be billed for the x-rays, as they were far from complete. She told me about dentalsave, which is dental insurance anyone can buy, which seems a good deal, especially if you’re a every-six-months kind of girl. Not that I advocate extra insurance.

I left. During that visit, I was the only person in the office. Nary another patient.

I told my boss the story and he found it odd the retiring dentist hadn’t referred his patients on. Two weeks later, I received a letter at home from that retiree, who I’d never seen in my life, recommending a third dentist (also unknown to me) to his beloved patients, whom he will miss dearly.

After a few days to recoup (I swear I couldn’t sleep well after all the radiation), and a more serious consideration of the trip out to Queens, I logged back into my health insurers website. Story of the third, x-rayed, cavity-free visit to come.