A few young men could have been in a substantial relationship with the lovely star of The Office. And then they breathed.
My first brush with bad breath was Ponah Dinsburg* at kindergarten naptime. Every afternoon just before 1:40, Ponah would slide into Nap Circle right next to me like I was home base in a tee-ball game, reach into his back jeans pocket, pull out a silver tube of breath spray, and fire two squirts into his open mouth. Then he would lean in very close, smile, and pay me some sort of compliment (e.g., he liked my overalls that day, he thought my headband was beautiful, he enjoyed hearing my angelic laugh ring out during that afternoon's episode of Letter People, etc.).
My senses were so overpowered by that intense peppermint scent, it's sort of incredible that I remember anything at all. There is, however, one thing I remember all too clearly: Twenty minutes later, when we were all shaken out of our respective five-year-old nap slumbers, that overpowering smell was long, long gone. In its place was a dragon — a fiery dragon, one that reeked not of something sweet, but of something raw, sour, and mean. It was Ponah Dinsburg's post-nap breath. The sweet, gentlemanly nature of Ponah was gone, too. In its place that afternoon was a cranky, illiterate bully who poked fun at my bed-head bangs from beneath his bleary eyes as we met Mister S.
Naptime: I hated it! But even more than naptime, I learned to really hate bad breath. Bad breath meant bad romance, and I strove fiercely to avoid both. It hasn't gone well.
Years later, in sixth grade, I played Hermia in our middle school cafeteria's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. My Lysander was a stunningly gorgeous and supremely talented actor named Farc Mannon. I was already acquaintances with Farc; we shared not only home room, but Language Arts, too. We were taking on the world together. No class, however, could have prepared me for the noxious beast that lay within Farc's mouth. Such a smell I had never experienced in my young eleven years; I was a child no more. Farc's stank was a strange combination of garlic, skate, and old socks. The big question here is: What exactly was Farc Mannon's mom making for breakfast? A stronger Hermia I have trouble envisioning. I don't know what Farc is up to these days, but I feel confident that the whole situation could have easily been fixed with a stick of Extra.
Cratt Gash was a really, really nice guy. He had a jawline that belonged in pictures, and the Greek nose to match. But he just didn't brush his teeth. "Cratt," I would say. "Pee yoo! You need to brush your teeth, babe!" I would say it really lightly, like everything was fine, and I was just joking around. Except: Everything was not fine, and I was definitely not joking around. I couldn't understand it; I still don't. Didn't Cratt want to enjoy the taste in his mouth? Maybe when you are so good-looking, you feel like you need some sort of hardship to offset the guilt you feel for being so beautiful. I don't really know. I could come up with all the explanations in the world, but it still wouldn't change the fact that Cratt Gash's breath destroyed an otherwise really mediocre relationship.
Look, nobody wants to have bad breath. And sometimes, you really do have halitosis and thus, a medical issue. I'm not talking about those guys; that's a condition beyond their control. I'm talking about the guys who are very much in control of their bad-breath condition; I'm talking about the guys who had some lamb shawarma and a deli coffee for lunch and think that I won't notice. Get it together, fellas! I may not know much, but I know when my breath smells. And when it does, I go brush my teeth! So this Valentine's Day, boys, after the chocolates have been purchased and the evening has been primed for a series of no-win conversations about your relationship, please take two seconds and do the breath test: Put your hand in front of your mouth, exhale, and see what your mouth smells like. If it smells bad, do something about it. And if it doesn't smell bad, get ready for something else that will inevitably disappoint your girlfriend this Valentine's Day! But smile to yourself, knowing that at least it won't be coming from you, babe.