The story begins on a summer day at a field, when I put on a silly mask that only covered my eyes, and I crouched behind the plate to catch a fastball thrown by a neighbourhood kid named Ricky Ley, who would eventually grow up to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and New England Whalers.
I had the ball lined up and the batter swung, but he only ticked it, and the ball changed direction and flew into my mouth. And into my hand came my front tooth, root and all.
It hurt like hell and I scrambled home and I don’t know whether Ricky and the guys kept playing or not, but I’m hoping they felt so bad they just couldn’t carry on. Somehow, though, I feel they carried on. They did for the Gipper.
I learned to live with a plastic upper plate with one tooth on it, and I was able to do a tremendous trick with it. My tongue could make the thing move in and out of my mouth easily, and so I entertained people for years with my talent. I would make dinging sounds as I poked my eyes, then my nose, then I’d twist my ear and snap the plate out of my mouth. It was like a cash register. In fact, I called it my cash register trick. People laughed. I was proud. Babies liked it too.
I’m not so sure I impressed the gals at parties, though.
The tooth would come out so easily I grew paranoid when I was at high places, thinking that it was going to fall out, so it only made sense that when I rode the rollercoaster at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto a couple of years later, I would keep it in my hand during the ride. We went up and down and over and looped around, and when I got off the thing, I saw that I had crushed my plate into a bunch of little pieces.
But the dentist glued it all back together and the cash register trick carried on.
On one dark, fuzzy night several years later, my friends and I were down in the bushes drinking cheap Four Aces sherry with the hobos at their little camp, and I got sick. Four Aces would do that sometimes. Shortly after, we all staggered out, and at some point, I realized I’d lost my tooth while losing my lunch, so I staggered back into the bushes in pitch-black darkness with an almost impossible chance of finding the thing. But at some point, in the middle of nowhere, I reached down and put my hand right on the damn thing.
I feel somebody up there wanted me to keep entertaining with the cash register trick. I think it was what I was born to do.
Nowadays I’ve got this fancy permanent tooth in my mouth and it’s nice and all that. But it’s not “the tooth.”
I guess I have Ricky Ley and the batter who fouled it off to thank for the warm memories.