The American Smile

The American smile offers a containment: agreeable, ebullient, it imprisons tears; denies they exist.

Years ago, walking in Spain with a friend, who’d grown up under Franco, he said: “there’s nothing to smile about. Laughing from joy is different, it’s experiential. You’ve had a child, you’ve shared a lively song. Smiling is for crooks.”

“In Spain,” he’d said, “we know smiling is just the skeleton peeking through.”

Of course in America smiles are profitable. Very. If this was a defensible essay I’d tell you how much orthodontists make per year.

When my maternal grandmother died I saw my first undertaker’s smile. It was churlish, perfectly smiley–smile-wide, flash of exceptional teeth, then his lips remembered to cover the gravestones, but not before that invidious flex said “you can’t afford the Conquistador, the casket that conquers death.”