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 Iíve never been much of a point guard, mainly because I canít dribble, pass or shoot, but on this day, because the best of our group of slobbish, overweight, drunkard sportswriters was out of town, I was assigned the duties, probably because Iím short and too much of a wimp to bang around with the big boys underneath. (The last part of that mammoth sentence, I just realized, sounds like something out of gay porn, but oh well.)

Fortunately for me and my teammates, I was being guarded by the worst player on the court, a short, chubby, ridiculously slow putz who worked in the accounting department of The Sporting News. Since we had started playing weekly hoops games, Iíd developed a reputation as a player who hustled all the time and maximized his skills to the utmost degree. In other words, I sucked, but I tried hard.

But even in my weakened, talentless, nicotine-impaired state, I could breeze past the guy guarding me. I had the ball at the top of the key, and he was flailing away, trying to steal the ball. No chance, loser. I faked right, spun left and for a second there, I looked like a real pro. He was left holding his shorts as I flew gracefully down the lane and leapt for an easy, showy layup.

The court at which we played was a broken-down blacktop that filled up with puddles anytime we got even a sprinkle of rain. It was next to an equally decrepit tennis court, and it would have been completely forsaken by all man if it hadnít been the only place in St. Louis where you didnít have to be a member of some kind of club to play. It was old school, and the baskets were held up by those metal poles you used to play tetherball on, the ones secured by about 50-foot deep tunnels of concrete.

So Iím soaring through the air, past my meek, helpless defender, cruising toward one of my few moments of athletic glory, a Kurt Warner of the pickup game (though, had I ever stacked groceries in Iowa, I likely would have been fired within days for improper handling of the toilet paper). I released the shot - I would like to say it was a finger roll, but it was more like a knuckle drop - and descended. As gravity pulled me downward, I realized I perhaps might be moving a bit too fast for the conditions, and I proved it by landing, gracefully of course, face-first into that metal pole holding up the basket. It didnít hurt exactly, but I knew I was in trouble when I looked down and saw two pieces of teeth lying in the grass in front of me.

A teammate came over to survey the damage, and as I looked at the poor displaced, broken teeth in the grass, I told him, ďAll right, Iím about to look up. If I have no front teeth, please try to contain the amount of horror in your face so that I do not go into shock. Thank you.Ē

I pulled my head up, but he had a poor poker face. I was hideous, even more than usual.

But the shot fell.

Now here I am, about six months later, and even though itís been that long since I sat in the dentistís chair for five hours, getting my front tooth capped so I wouldnít look like a hockey player, Iíve yet to come to terms with the fact that I have a fake front tooth; Iím told it doesnít look any different than a regular tooth - I begged the dentist to give me a gold cap so I could look more gangsta, but she refused, saying it was the novacaine talking, and she was probably right - but it doesnít make me feel any better. Iím a fake, a poseur, a tooth con artist.

I keep thinking of myself, lying in a coffin - well, this thought is regular enough that it probably shouldnít be attributed entirely to this whole tooth thing - my body decomposing, being eaten by rats. Then, I imagine, some spunky, rabble-rousing young D.A. decides to reopen the case of my murder, and he digs up my grave for a new autopsy. But all thatís left is my skeleton, and he grimaces as he realizes that the front tooth he had thought was real had been porcelain all along. All that will be left of me shall be bones, an open spot where most humans have a front tooth, and, of course, the breast implants.

I think about this a lot, because, well, I know what I look like without the cap. Remember Rocky after the Clubber Lang loss in Rocky III? Kinda like that, minus the rippling pecs. Because Iím a masochist, I actually asked my dentist to take a picture of me before the cap was put on. And to give any potential dates an idea of whom theyíre dealing with, I usually show it to them early on, lest they think theyíre hanging out with someone normal. Itís in my photo album, next to the naked baby pictures, shots of me puking on my 21st birthday and all the pimply, ďawkward stageĒ 15-year-old mullet shots (even worse: I have the broken tooth, which I saved, next to the picture in the album).

Another tooth-related neurosis: When I went to the dentist to have my temporary cap replaced by a new one, one of the dental hygienists (thatís what theyíre called, right?) messed around with the tooth for a while, banging it with a hammer, jiggling it with some nasty-ass tweezers and pouring a healthy supply of battery acid on it. It just wouldnít come out

ďWell, um, I guess this is a permanent one,Ē I was told.


ďYeah, itís, uh, itís not coming out, I canít get it out. I guess that means itís permanent. Just call us if it falls out.Ē

I havenít eaten an apple since. I know this seems like a silly little thing, worrying about whether or not people can notice, or if they even care, that my front tooth is an absolute fake. Youíre right, of course, but that doesnít diminish my insecurities. Iím one step closer to my grandparents, with the false teeth and the Mentadent and ďforget itĒ and the adult diapers (actually, those donít sound too bad; could come in handy during long movies).

Iím not real anymore, carrying one more scar of aging and living, not intact any longer. I mean, if I ever get punched, whoever hit me is going to feel so much stronger because my front tooth just popped out so easily. Maybe thatíll explain all the crying.

The point of this diatribe: Appreciate your teeth. Or donít play basketball. Or donít keep photo albums. Or donít drink milk past its expiration date. Hell, I donít know. Just donít ever ask me why all my teeth have nasty yellow smokerís stain except for the one in the middle.



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