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Mixed Grille

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

What It's All About Blog by Tony Forder

A friend once said to me, "Don't grow old Tony – things start breaking." Well, I know that's true of cars, I've driven plenty of old ones, and yes, things start breaking. Currently I'm driving a 2008 Nissan Versa, suited to my minimalist tendencies. It has 160,000 miles on it and so far it seems to be mechanically sound. Nevertheless, it is having some difficulty holding itself together – in the grille area. The whole front bumper assembly is now attached to the chassis by black Gorilla tap. Strong stuff that.

In my mid-60's I can also claim to be mechanically sound. Aches and pains and a partial right shoulder tear, but no replacement parts yet...except, like my car, in the grille area, the part that greets the world with a smile. I've had a history of trouble in the dental area. Sure, plenty of fillings as a kid growing up on English sweets. Incredibly painful root canals as a teenager with minimal anesthetic. And then I lost two teeth through my own misadventure, one in Mexico, one in Canada. So far in 40 years, the US has claimed none.

The Mexican one occurred in the village of Santa Cruz near San Blas, Jalisco. I had joined American friends there direct from England, this in the days when my Dad's profession as an airline pilot, albeit retired, garnered me cheap air travel. We had been drinking in San Blas – a day's worth of tequila and beer. I think I was fighting a bug, Montezuma or otherwise, as I don't usually find myself susceptible to what happened next. Drunk, yes, but also feeling decidedly unwell, I elected to be driven back to our village by a couple of Canadians who were also staying there. They claimed I exited their van, stood up and then fell flat on my face on the curb. There were some other occurrences during the night about which I won't go into detail, but when sanity returned in the morning, I was minus a front tooth.

Luckily, it was a dead tooth, one that had been previously root canaled, so pain or immediate attention wasn't really an issue. I only had to deal with the embarrassment and humiliation of losing my shit, which is so not What It Is All About.

Fast forward a couple of years, and another of those massively rebated airplane tickets (thanks, Dad), took me to Canada. The purpose of this trip was not as you may suspect the need for a fuller accounting of the Santa Cruz, Mexico debacle, (although I did meet up with said erstwhile brothers, but that is not germane to this thread).

My late brother Steve and I had successfully negotiated the tobacco harvest in Ontario, albeit suspiciously, and hitchhiked the trans-Canadian. Long story short, we found ourselves in Calgary, Alberta. Or at least I did. Steve had gone back to England, and I had no inclination to do the same having reached the end of the rope with discounted airline tix. I was sharing a house, a party house, with three pretty hardcore, but goodhearted Canadian partiers of mixed descent. We all worked for a janitorial service, cleaning department stores by night, and we had a van. So that we could sit three across in the front, we had installed a kitchen chair, unanchored, no seatbelt.

Well, it was a Saturday night and we had been to the bar. And when that happened it wasn't for a short time. I don't remember neighborhood bars in Calgary back then end of the '70s; there weren't many of them and they were all large. Our house was out toward the airport and I believe the bar was called the Airporter. There might have been more than just beer ingested, but when it came time to leave, I had the middle seat – the kitchen chair. The bro who was driving seemed to be in a hurry to hit the exit...but he didn't hit the exit. When he saw the giant curb in front of him he hit the brakes – hard. And I went flying into the dashboard teeth first. This tooth didn't come all the way out (upper front grille again) but protruded grotesquely. For some reason, or a combination of reasons, I didn't feel anything...but I was worried that when I returned to a normal sphere I would be greeted by pain. I had the almost out of control driver take me to a clinic...which he managed to do, I don't know how.

They said there was no one to see me and I couldn't stay there, but gave me some painkillers which I took. And I stayed there, sleeping in a chair. In the morning, there was not a lot of pain, just the ugly protruding tooth, which back at the house I tried to pry out. But it was too much for me...the effort was pain inducing. I made an appointment with a dentist, emergency appointment that is. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the young Indian lady dentist as she tried to pry the root out, it wasn't fun for either of us. I was gripping the chair's armrests with both hands and sweating. She said, "If I had a bad enemy next door, I would send you there." Eventually it was done.

Then I had my first flipper made. Actually, I think they called it a plate back then. It had two teeth, the one I had just lost and the one I had lost before. I never did go back to England to live, descending south from Canada to reunite with California friends, finding a wife and a green card. Through my college days - my wife and I were those "re-entry" students going back to college in northern California in our late 20s – I kept the flipper, sometimes not even bothering to wear it. Some friends said my gappy smile added character. I did however return to England, taking a semester off school, for a single purpose – to have my teeth fixed. It wouldn't cost me anything through the National Health Service – nothing but time that is.

With the National Health, you have to get in line. And I had to sign on with Social Security in order to qualify. I felt a little guilty when they started sending me checks. I was staying with my parents and working with my brother's landscaping crew (which is a whole wild chapter in itself). Well, you're not supposed to be working when you're receiving social security checks, which I needed to qualify for the National Health. And it was a bit tricky because one of the ladies who worked at the SS office also bartended at our local pub where Steve and his gang hung out and me with them. It was a crazy summer to say the least. But eventually, the job was done, the English dentist had done a decent job with my bridge and I was back in the US by October sporting a new set of gnashers. The wife and I finished our semester off with a road trip to the Southwest – the Grand Canyon and Baja Mexico.

That bridge lasted about 15 years. We had swapped coasts from West to East when family strings had pulled. And we had a dentist whom we liked and trusted. He replaced the bridge, which was now six teeth long, and I bit the bullet on the cost. That bridge last about 20 years and would have lasted longer, if anchor teeth hadn't rotted out. Unlike my car Gorilla tape was not the answer. It was time for implants my dentist imparted to me. And I'm having to bite a much bigger bullet. It's a long process and I can't actually bite on anything solid right now. I just have to grin and bear it and hopefully I will be able to laugh and smile with impunity for the rest of my days. And ain't that What It's All About.

Epilogue – Well, the moral of the story, the key to fixing teeth and cars, is to have a good dentist and a good mechanic, which is not always a guarantee these days. Anyway, after 15 months, my work is done, I have implants (althugh it took two rounds), and a new bridge. I am one smiling dude and I'd like to give a shoutout to my dentist Dr. Michael Manole, located in Hackensack, NJ.


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