At the age of 15, I was taking private trumpet lessons from one of the best teachers in Pittsburgh — Anthony Pasquarelli.
Tony was a classically trained professor at Carnegie Mellon University who was also an amazing performer and teacher. He taught his students classically, too.
A few miles across town, the trumpet instructor at Duquesne University was Eddie Shiner. Because I had never met him, I had no idea if his teaching was similar to “The Boss,” (as Tony was referred to by his students), but Eddie’s students seemed to also excel at playing jazz.
As I approached my senior year in high school, I intended to go to college to major in trumpet and I was fascinated by some of Eddie’s graduates.
This led me on a journey to see if I should consider attending Duquesne instead of Carnegie Mellon, neither of which my family could afford.
It turned out that Eddie was encouraging all his students to get braces on their teeth to form a perfect V on which the mouthpiece could rest. That, he professed, would allow them to be better players.
I decided to test the waters and asked my dad if I could get braces. Because my brother was attending an expensive private college, money was tight, but Dad agreed to take me to our local dentist to ask what would be involved.
I sat in the chair and explained my dilemma. He smiled and said, “You don’t need braces, Nicky. I can pull one tooth and your teeth will end up right where you want them.”
At this point, he reached back to the dental tray, got his needle, numbed me, and then picked up a pair of dental pliers.
He aggressively placed them on my left eye tooth and began to yank. Within a minute he was holding that nearly newly minted giant tooth and said, “That should do it.”
Of course, it didn’t “do it.”
Yes, eventually, my teeth came together to cover the hole from the missing tooth, but from that day forward, I had a crooked smile, no V, and a deep regret that I had ever brought it up in the first place.
Turn the clock ahead some 60 years. My last mercury-filled tooth was slowly deteriorating, and the dentist suggested a crown.
There was part of me that said, “Really, now?” But then he casually said, “Yes, we can even make it an eye tooth.”
Those words perked me up. An eyetooth? He can make an eye tooth for me? The location was correct, the impact would be similar, and for the first time in 60 years, I’d have a balanced smile.
Yeah, sure, two of my front teeth would still lean to the left, and decades of fillings, coffee, tea, and whatever else have left them a somewhat dull color, but I’d have two eye teeth again.
I’d look like people are supposed to look when they smile: balanced. Think about it. We have two eyes, two ears, two nose holes, two arms, hands, legs, feet, lungs, and kidneys. Why not two-eye teeth? Maybe, just maybe, that’s been what’s been missing my entire adult life.
Frankly, the more I thought about it, the more excited I got.
The only downside? My “beating heart” school reunion (the only requirement for attending is a beating heart) was the weekend before my tooth installation. Consequently, none of my old classmates would see it.
When Tuesday came, I rolled into the dentist’s office, sat in the chair, had the temporary crown removed, and five minutes and six decades later became a complete, albeit semi-bionic, man again.
I went to my car, looked up in the mirror, smiled and saw it was a little brighter than my other teeth, so I immediately went for a cup of coffee.
Sometimes, you just have to live long enough.