My grandson Chandler turned seven years old in April. When he visited us in May, he was experiencing his first loose baby tooth, which he kept testing with his fingers and tongue.
I told Chandler how when I was a kid, times were hard and the Tooth Fairy left a dime under the pillow, max. My story didn’t seem any more likely to him than it did to his father 35 years ago, in the days of 25-cent teeth.
I’ve heard that nowadays, baby teeth are worth up to $10 a pop, depending on the neighborhood. Some rich kids were demanding stock options until the market tanked. Chandler said that in his neighborhood, the Tooth Fairy’s going rate is $1, but he’s heard of kids in other parts of southern California who get $10 per tooth.
Boasting, as grandfathers will, I asked Chandler, “Do you know that the Tooth Fairy lives here in Arizona?”
“Grampa, are you making up stories again?”
“No, she lives not far from here.”
“The Tooth Fairy is a girl?”
“Yes. Her name’s Ipana, and she lives in a pretty little place called Skull Valley, about 40 miles from here.”
“Skull Valley?” Chandler thought a minute, then did a little Marx Brothers with his red eyebrows. “Skull Valley’s all in your head, Grampa.” There are no straight men left.
He was still skeptical when he went back to his home in southern California. I figured my credibility was at stake, so I decided to check it out. I dialed a number in Skull Valley. A woman answered the phone in a warm and friendly voice: “Hello?”
I asked, “Is this Ipana?”
More cautious now: “Who’s calling, please?”
“Er…I’ve heard that you’re the Tooth Fairy.”
“You believe in fairies?” she asked, with a teasing, throaty chuckle.
“Who are you, and why do you want to know?”
I explained about The Wickenburg Institute For Factual Diversity, where we try to explore alternate truths, so the world does not hobble itself with mere facts. She seemed to think that was a good idea, but she was still sparring with me: “Why in the world would the Tooth Fairy be living in Skull Valley, Arizona?”
“Well, Skull Valley’s a pretty place, and everyone has to live somewhere. You know–skull, teeth?”
“How’d you get my number?”
“From my endodontist.”
“Okay, you’re onto me. How can I help you?”
“Well, why don’t you start by telling me how you got to be the Tooth Fairy.”
“It’s a hereditary job,” she explained. “My great-great-great grandfather, Miklos, was the first Tooth Fairy. He claimed he was visited one night by Novakane, the Gum God. That was in Macedonia. My grandfather brought the family to America–New York at first, then Minneapolis.
“There’s no money in this career, so the Tooth Fairy has to have a day job, and Grandfather was good with grain futures. I inherited the job when my older brother, Cosmo, abdicated.”
“The Tooth Fairy abdicated?”
“Conflict of interest. His day job was writing advertisingcopy for Fixodent.”
“Why did you move to Arizona? I heard that the Easter Bunny accused you of insider trading–selling Elvis Presley’s baby teeth on eBay.”
“Those were just tabloid rumors. Elvis was born before I was. How could I have his teeth? No, the rabbit and I are still good friends. I just got tired of snowy winters in Minnesota. And I had no roots there.”
“Har, har. How do you support yourself, Ipana?”
“I sell real estate, and trade on eBay. Plus, I won a huge court settlement one time. I was severely injured by a grouchy father who thought I was trying to steal his kid’s pillow.”
“You mean you actually go get the tooth from under the pillow, and leave some coin?”
“I was young and naive then. Dedicated, you know? Now I’m a little long in the tooth, if you’ll pardon the expression. I’ve learned that parents do most of the work. And I have my seven assistants. Doc, Dopey, Bashful, Sneezy….”
“…Oh, yeah? And Grumpy, Happy and Sleepy? That’s neat. Did you hire them away from Snow White?”
“She had to let them go. Mining is not what it used to be. They’re really great at shovelling the zillions of teeny, tiny teeth we get in here. You should see my gravel driveway here at the ranch. ”
“Still, it seems like a lot of work, covering the whole world.”
“Hey, I’m not Sherwin Williams. I just cover the western United States. My brothers and uncles and cousins have other territories. And then we’re franchised in many of the eastern nations.”
“So, what has inflation done to the Tooth Fairy business? I hear it’s out of control.”
“It depends. Like I say, it’s up to the parents. Mostly it’s just a buck, or a few bucks.”
“We’re not going to make any jokes about buck teeth, are we?”
“No, we’re not. You’re interrupting. I have heard of kids gettingponies for their first baby tooth.”
“A pony under the pillow? Messy.”
“Now you’re just being silly. You do believe in me, don’t you?”
“Good. You know, some of the baby boomers who didn’t use Crest are having to get dentures now. Some of themput the pulled teeth under their pillows.”
“You’re kidding. Hey, my dentist says I’m going to lose this one worn-out old stub for sure. Do you suppose if I put in under my pillow….?”
“Gotcha! Hahahaha…. Call me again.”