The Tooth Fairy

(Community Matters) Steven adopted Manos de Cristo as his philanthropic/artistic project this year. He wrote & performed four vignettes to convey the organization’s story to our nearly 300 friends who attended, sponsored and signed up to support the organization monthly – we can’t thank them enough. Special shout out to Sandi & Bob Tomlinson for joining us as co-chairs of the luncheon.

ST tooth-fairy

The Tooth Fairy was meant to lighten the mood and bring smiles into the room. I’ve posted all two of the four vignettes below; I’ll also post the other two separately. Michael Barnes wrote a sweet note about the luncheon as well as the Breast Cancer dinner hosted by our dear friends Carla & Jack McDonald.

The Tooth Fairy          

© Steven R. Tomlinson 2013

My fellow fairies, this is the most important election of our lifetime.

I know I’ve said it before.  This time it’s true.

You’ve seen the polls.  We distribute more largesse than ever, but our brand equity is slipping.  Our ideology is tired, our message is out of touch.

We’ve let our habits blind us to what our country needs now — and we need more than quaint rituals.  We need change, real change, not the small change we’ve faithfully dispensed for decades — and unless we deliver, we’re toast.  Worse, we’re irrelevant.

We have to reinvent our party.

That’s why I’m announcing my candidacy for Fairy Godfather.

Because we have what the country needs, if we’re willing to lead with fresh ideas.

While we’ve been flitting around doing our thing, we’ve steadily lost market share to other quasi-fictional benevolence franchises — Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Clinton Global Initiative.

They’re promoting their practical pocketbook payoffs.

Santa’s sold himself as Keynesian stimulus.

The Easter Bunny’s co-opted Earth Day.

Meanwhile, we’re squandering valuable assets.

Fairies are hot, and teeth are the lynchpin of good health and well-being, and our distribution and fulfillment network leaves FedEx in the dust.

We should be saving the world.  And what are we doing?

We’re leaving money.  Under kids pillows.  When they lose.  A tooth.

And everything about that is wrong.

Okay, I said it.  I know it’s not popular. It’s not politically correct, but if you’ll think about it, if you’re real honest with yourself, you’ll agree because…

#1 We’ve created a new entitlement:  Why should you get a cash transfer simply because you sloughed off what is, in essence, a waste product?  It’s bad optics.  Losing a baby tooth wasn’t a big deal until we tied it to a hand out.

#2 We foster hypocrisy and malaise.  Witness the swelling ranks of cynical kids who say they don’t believe in us, even as they’re pocketing our money.  And you can bet they’d squawk if we didn’t deliver.  Is this not what’s wrong with government today?

#3 We incentivize the wrong behavior.  You’ve seen it.  Adults, conditioned by their early experiences with us, leaving under their pillows bloody bicuspids lost in bar fights and cracked molars the dentist couldn’t save.  Fairies, we are paying people for losing teeth!  If anything, we should pay them for holding on to them!  

It takes work to keep your teeth, and according to truly independent third-party think tanks (and these are not easy to find), if you’re trying to contain health care costs or make people employable, if you’re out to leverage every tax dollar to the hilt, the best investments you can make is oral prophylaxis!  We should own that!

So I’m proposing a big change whose time has come:

No more money under pillows.  Now wait, hear me out.

When you leave a tooth for the fairies, you’ll get credit in a Dental Use Savings Tax-free account:  [Slide:  Fairy D.U.S.T.]  And you’ve got to spend it on your teeth.  You can’t spend it on candy or whatever the corporate machine is pitching.  You’ve got to put this money where your mouth is.  With fairy D.U.S.T. you get a share of the commonwealth you create when you take care of yourself.

It’s a winning position, and we’re truly bi-partisan:

If you’re liberal, you love us because healthy smiles are a public good that encourage trust and cooperation.

If you’re conservative, we are too!  What’s more conservative than protecting our traditional dentition — and we’ve replaced an entitlement with a saving plan.

We’re fairies you can love.

In these polarized times, our country needs a common enemy.  Well, we’ve all got teeth.  Let’s unite people in the fight against cavities and abscess, against lost smiles and diminished prospects.  Let’s be relevant in the 21st century so we can bridge divisions and shrink the deficit.  Let’s be the fairies we can believe in.

The Waiting Room

© Steven R. Tomlinson 2013


I don’t go to the dentist — probably because I am a dentist.  But ever so often, when I need reassurance, I come sit in this waiting room.  I come here when I’m restless, when I start thinking I should do more for people who can’t afford what they need, because if I forget how the world really works, I might do something rash and idealistic. 

You don’t hear soft music here, no trickling water fountain.

Just traffic and a whiny air conditioner. 

I’ve got art on the walls of my waiting room.

They’ve got posters with information about computer classes and legal aid and how to brush your teeth. 

No fish tank, no movie, no view — an no personal space.

In here we sit against the walls and face each other. 

A young brunette with Mamma and Grandma.  A husky man in a blue work shirt and scuffed boots.  A shivering woman in a shawl.  A girl in a pink sweatshirt helps her dad fill out forms.  A twelve-year-old boy plays a game on his mother’s phone and tries to ignore us all. 

This is what it looks like when you try to help everybody — a crowd of strangers in pain, waiting indefinitely to see someone who can’t afford to work here.  See, I couldn’t do this. 

Pink sweatshirt asks her dad more questions.  Dad’s scared.  The boy pulls a sucker from his pocket, but mom snatches it away. The boy howls like a baby.  Pink sweatshirt and dad look up.  The husky worker cringes.  The shivering woman pulls her shawl closer and shuts her eyes.  The boy’s mother tries to console him, but he doesn’t want to feel better.  

Stuck with strangers in pain.

My insured patients wouldn’t tolerate it. What’s money for if not to protect you from this?   

A door opens and a smiling woman in scrubs appears.  A tall man follows her into the room, and before he puts on his hat, before he pays and leaves, he takes her hand and says, “Gracias.  Gracias.” 

Now that’s not a word I hear much at my office.  You’ll get a polite “thanks” sometimes, but not that. My patients pay for what they get.  You could argue that real gratitude is a sign of inefficiency.  

Scrubs touches the boy’s shoulder, speaks tenderly, but she can see he’s embarrassed.  She turns and calls “Maria Chavez?” And Grandma’s up, shuffling towards her, hands outstretched, and they’re talking like old friends as they vanish into the back. 

Who is this woman in scrubs?  The office manager?  The hygienist?  Grandma thinks she’s an angel.  She could be the dentist, which would explain things.  She lacks the gravity to inspire confidence in paying clients.  My patients trust authority, they pay for expertise. So I act like an authoritative expert — which is probably why I don’t really trust dentists. 

A young Vietnamese couple enters.  Mom carries a toddler, who scans us fearfully as her parents struggle to communicate with the receptionist.  It’s too painful to watch.  I’ve seen enough, and I’m about to go when Brunette gets up and speaks to the couple in a strange, sweet language.  Their faces brighten, and they talk a moment, and Brunette translates for the receptionist, and all’s well.  And the Vietnamese couple is saying “gracias, gracias,” as they take the seats under the AC. 

And I remember:

Donde esta un beun restaurant?  Cuanto cuesta esto camisa? 

Not that it helps. 

And suddenly, the Vietnamese man, who has noticed the shivering woman, removes his shoes and stands on his chair and redirects the vents. The shivering woman takes off her shawl and smiles.  Gracias!  And the toddler lunges from her mother’s lap and waddles over to the shivering woman, who picks her up and bounces her, giggling on her lap.  Then the girl makes for the husky worker with the scuffed boots.  She wants to play.  She reaches up, singing, pleading, and he seems confused until the brunette translates, and the worker puts his bolo tie around the girl’s neck, and she dances and flashes her prize around the room, and we’re all laughing, and the worker laughs and winces and the Vietnamese mom palms her jaw sympathetically, and her husband says something and now they’re talking.  The brunette sees that no translation is needed, and the woman who is no longer shivering, sits beside her and squeezes her hand.  

Meanwhile, pink sweatshirt hands dad his completed forms, and dad signs with a flourish and then whistles at the sulking boy, whips a handkerchief from his pocket and folds and twists it into a rabbit and then deftly shakes it out, twists and folds and voila — a fox.  The boy tries not to notice, tries not to laugh but can’t help himself — an adventure is unfolding.  

And somehow, I understand what is happening, although I am out of practice.  I sell quick access to anesthesia and insulation to those who can buy a spot at the front of the line.  

The angel in scrubs calls the husky worker.  The Vietnamese man hands him the bolo, and for a moment, the two men see each other’s pain, and healing begins. 

The puppet show has ended, and the boy asks the man something, and the man opens his mouth and points to something inside.  The boy’s eyes grow wide, and the man speaks to him in a tone that is both solemn and comforting.  He tests the boy’s grip, playfully punches his shoulder, and then starts a new story.  It’s happening here, now, and the boy is the hero.  The boy sits up straight and looks into the man’s eyes. 

What are we supposed to do with time and pain?  What could I learn from people who’ve learned from necessity, from practice how to twist and fold time and pain into something we share?  Or does this place teach us how to care? 

I don’t know what I need, but it’s here.  

And suddenly, I realize that everyone is looking at me.  The puppeteer pantomimes drying his eyes and hands me his hanky.  I have lost all track of time.  

The boy finds the sucker and gives it to me.  Gracias.    

Gracias!  I say to all the friendly strangers.  Gracias.

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