I hadn’t thought of Tiny Teeth in years. But there he was, invoked I guess, by my having told Tom (the manager of the small bookstore I own on the Upper West Side) about him earlier in the day. We don’t really hire high school kids, but I’d taken Tiny Teeth on about 10 years ago as a favor to a friend of his parents. His real name was Sam, and he worked here as a stock boy for about 6 months. He was remarkable for three things: his dullness, which was epic; his ability to draw incredibly obscene and detailed underground comic type pictures; and the itty-bitty baby choppers that inhabited his otherwise full-grown teenage body.
The part I was telling Tom about was the dullness. Tom has a ten-month-old son and I have a five-year-old boy so we talk quite a bit about the strangeness and wonder of parenting. I had mentioned Tiny Teeth because I remember meeting his very bright and quick-witted parents and wondering what it would be like to have a child who wasn’t retarded or anything, but who clearly would never be as smart as you. You want your kids to be more than you, not less. And like I said, Tiny Teeth wasn’t Arnie Grape or the kid who sweeps the streets in The Last Picture Show, but you had to tell him stuff 4 or 5 times and he didn’t get jokes and kind of acted like he was stoned, though he clearly wasn’t.
So Tiny Teeth walked into the store, looked at me and said, “Hey, you’re still here.”
I had no idea who he was until he said, “It’s Sam.”
He must be 27 or 28 years old now and has put on at least 60 pounds. He was sweating and what hair he had left had been dyed blond. He was carrying one of those cheap, black and white speckled Roaring Spring sketchbooks and seemed very happy to be here and see me. I tried not to look, but he still had the smallest teeth I’ve ever seen on an adult. He said, “This was the best job I ever had.”
I showed him a book on Howard Finster and found out that Sam, had gone to art school and had failed at all of his jobs and was now managing his father’s website. I was surprised at how glad I was to see him.
After a while Tiny Teeth got nervous and said he loved the shop but would have to come back when “someone I know isn’t behind the counter.” And added, a bit embarrassed, “I like to look at all the dirty stuff.”
I was tempted to show him a Bruno of Hollywood book from the 1940’s that claimed to be about lighting and composition, but was really just nudie shots. Instead I just said goodnight and told him how nice it was to see him again.
Aril 12, 2001
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