The little bastard came out of nowhere.
It was roughly 17 years ago, and I had just moved to Manhattan after college. I was standing on the southwest corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 124th Street, firing full bottles of beer at a group of punks jumping my friend, when one of their guys—I swear the dude was four-foot-nothing—seemingly soared across the asphalt like a super villain with his fist extended straight out, crashing through my jaw and shattering plus impacting multiple molars.
I’m pretty sure that was the last of several violent youthful episodes—skateboarding and bicycle crashes, general dumbshit behavior—that left me with a mouth full of popcorn, as my two-year-old characterizes my chompers (I really have no idea where she came up with the insult, but it burns). With more bonding, chips, crowns, and extractions than I can count, the past couple of decades have been dentally disastrous. Forget regular checkups and maintenance; without the insurance or savings to cover such serious expenses, my visits to the oral surgeon have been limited to last-minute emergencies, most of which have wound up with a pulled tooth.
It didn’t have to be this way for me. My mother was a New York City public school teacher, and I had proper and affordable care growing up. Braces, the works. But that all ended in the early aughts, right around the time that I was pummeled on that corner. Since then I have worked for either myself or small businesses; dental insurance was a fantasy. Heck, I have gone for years without medical coverage, which at one point, due to injuries sustained in another unprovoked attack in New York City by police while I was covering a protest, ruined me financially at a time when I should have been starting to save.
Though I consider myself lucky in every last sense and have never faced hunger or homelessness like many truly less fortunate folks I have spent my career covering, the yellowed razor blades stabbing my tongue have served as regular reminders of the sacrifice I’ve made to be a journalist, and of the caste and limitations that come with that. Same for my perpetual ass breath, which I concede is partly due to all the weed I smoke, but still. My chipped-tooth smile may have been somewhat cool and edgy back when I was but a rogue reporter on the beat; now that I’m an editor and fundraiser for a nonprofit, and a now-and-then professor who occasionally has to mix with the upper crust, I tend to feel embarrassed. And I don’t embarrass easily.
I’m hardly breaking new ground here. Everyone with shitty teeth has felt the pain and shame I speak of in some way or another, while academics and reporters alike have explored the topic at length. I just had to write something to get my mind off of the throbbing while I waited in the oral surgeon’s waiting room last week before they pulled my molar, and I couldn’t think of anything besides the rotting nugget in my upper jaw.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.