1985-1994: A tooth breaks through my gum line. Then said tooth falls out and is replaced by another tooth, which is larger and according to my peers “buck.” I am both haunted and proud my large, offensive tooth.
December 12, 1995: I’m at hockey rink on a former military base. More specifically, I’m standing between the posts of a goal that’s adjacent to the actual rink near the referees’ locker room. Because I’m incredibly stupid, I’m not wearing a face mask. To punctuate my stupidity, I’m not wearing a helmet either. Yet I glide side-to-side warding off the attempts of my brother and his friend who are younger, and by my own estimation, unworthy opponents.
I’m not sure if the score is being kept, but I do know I’m caught hugging the wrong post when a shot gets rifled from probably seven feet away from me. In an attempt to maintain my shutout, I do my best Terry Sawchuk and dive headfirst toward the puck. The next thing I remember is my mouth is bleeding and I do the least Terry Sawchuk thing it’s possible to do – I shriek at the top of my lungs then run around the rink looking for what I didn’t know then, but do know now to be a half gallon of morphine.
When they finally calm me down, everyone wants to know what happened to the part of my tooth that my braces didn’t save. I dig around in the crease for a bit looking for it. The old guys say if I find it, I should drop it in a glass of milk, but we’re at a hockey rink so there’s no milk and I’m fairly certain I swallowed my tooth anyway. This is the first and last time I ever play goalie.
The next day I go to school with my war story. I play up the blood and also change the setting from a net next to the rink to the rink itself. In the revised version I’m playing up a level and it’s the save that breaks my tooth, which wins the game for us. We’re league champions. If I cried they were tears of joy because we were champions, my frieeend.
Spring 1999: Somehow I’m still wearing braces. And to no one’s surprise, I find myself talking shit about a kid who has a full mustache and is rumored to drive himself to school. We’re in seventh grade. Or at least I am. I’m not sure he’s technically enrolled. Whatever shit I may have been talking makes it’s way to the mustachioed man-student and I’m informed that he’s going to kick my ass after school. I get specific instructions to head to where they sell pizza at lunch, but not as far as the bus pick-up lines.
At 3:01, I show up certain that some school official is going to intervene and shut this thing down. Instead there’s a circle of guys in JNCO jeans crowded around. I have spiked bleached hair and I’m wearing a Girl skateboard shirt. My mustachioed counterpart tells me that I must be a girl because only a girl would wear a shirt that says “Girl” on it. I tell him he’s a fucking idiot, and has he “ever even heard of Eric Kost—” He throws a punch that I am able to mostly block with my forearm. But I’m certain that he’s shattered my ulna and as I reach for it, he sends another punch to my metallic blue braced-face. This time he connects.
He starts to charge me, but I dodge him momentarily. “Pussy,” he says. I run my tongue across the bottom of my mouth. “Fuck.” I spit into my hand, but my tooth is nowhere in sight. I bare my busted grill to the crowd and say, “I gotta go.” And maybe because they see I’m missing most of my front tooth, the crowd lets me pick up my Jansport and walk away.
A couple days later I make sure everyone knows that I barely felt either punch. Personally, I considered it a draw and I would’ve demanded a rematch, but by then my mustachioed foe had left middle school to join the army.
2001-2004: I’m sure I broke my front tooth once, maybe twice, but I honestly can’t remember how or where.
March 23, 2007: I’m allegedly studying, but mostly drinking, on the Mediterranean side of Spain when I snap my tooth while eating a goddamn bocadillo in the afternoon. I walk to my college counselor’s office and she tells me that it’s siesta so I won’t be able to see a dentist until later. She feeds me three glasses of red wine and I fall asleep in her office.
When I wake up it’s dark and I assume she’s Cosby’ed me and now wants me to hit the road. Instead she says her husband is outside and he’s going to take me to a dentist. It’s 9:00 p.m.
I take a ride with a strange Spanish man then enter an elevator that opens to a small suite. A man in street clothes flips on the lights, invites me in and tells me to take a seat in the corner room while he changes. I flip on the lights in the next room to reveal the sort of dentist office you might see in a low budget movie that only had the money for a massage chair and a couple mirrors. My dentist enters, still in his street clothes, but now wearing one of those masks. He tells me that he used to live in Connecticut and “should we switch to speaking English?” I agree and he goes on to speak a language that’s completely incomprehensible to me. When he pauses I tell him he’s very good; in particular his accent. He says in Spanish that while he’s impressed with how white my teeth are, he couldn’t match the color. He went a few shades darker and suggests that I get it fixed when I return to America. As I’m leaving, he tells me I owe him 30 euros. Sure my tooth is a little brown, but my good that’s a fucking deal. I leave happy, but also make a note to limit my medical care in Spain to the cosmetic.
October 2008: I’m in the park of the Greystone Mansion just up the street from my office, which will soon go out of business. I’m working for an agent who insists that I read on my lunch break, but instead forcing me to read scripts, he piles up James Salter, Hemingway, and Nabokov. I’m in the middle of thinking I need a drink, since these guys seem to always be drinking, when I reach for my sandwich made on a beautiful baguette from La Brea Bakery. I take one bite and instantly feel my tooth crumble off. On my way back to the office I think I have to make up a story about how I broke it – mugging? Changing a tire? (Is it obvious I’ve never changed a tire?) Elbow to the face in the elevator? Instead I keep my mouth closed and decide to go home sick. No questions asked.
2009- July 6, 2015: I have a good run. A really good run. I wear a facemask while playing beer league hockey. I eat pizza with a goddamn fork and knife. Things are good. It’s a time of peace. I go to the dentist for normal things like cavities and cleanings. They tell me all of my previous dentists were horrible and I need to get everything redone. Everything accept the front tooth. Instead they just try to sell me Invisalign over and over again. I decline, and they agree that I will be fine without it.
July 7, 2015: I get out of work early and pump iron with the Armenians that frequent my gym. I feel a sense of camaraderie among them, which lasts until I’m piled into the sauna, surrounded by tattoos that are the Armenian Genocide equivalent of “Never Forget.”
Riding high, I find myself in a market, face-to-face with a wall of baguettes. I grab one. I think of being in Paris and how everyone seems to start in on the end of their baguette as soon as they stroll home from their corner patisserie. I eye the baguette, grab it and step outside. The sun is shining, there’s a nice breeze, I practically skip to my piece of shit car. And I can’t help myself, the baguette has tempted me for too long. I give in to its allure in a parking lot in Silver Lake.
One bite. The first bite. That’s it. When you’ve broken your front tooth as many times as I have, well, you know the feeling. It’s not like a hockey puck, or a punch. There’s a distinct collapse, like a foot smashing a sand castle.
This is the way your tooth breaks.
This is the way your tooth breaks.
This is the way your tooth breaks.
Not with a bang but a whimper.
July 8, 2015: Now I’m in a high rise in Hollywood where the dentist tells me she’s surprised it lasted as long as it did. She remembers me from 2009. She asks why I stopped seeing her 2012. I assure her that it was nothing personal, just her outrages prices nearly bankrupted me. She tells me the woes of owning a small practice and then offers to set me up with a veneer instead of slapping on another bonding. It’s true that I’m out of network and it’ll cost me $1,600 out of pocket, but I need to think about my future.
“What if I give up baguettes?” I ask.
“That might work too.”
“Fuck it. I’ll go with the veneer. Do you guys take maxed out credit cards?”
“Sure! We’ll put you on a plan!”