4.12 / December 2009

The Incredible Teeth of Bobby McGraw

Bobby was a man with a passionate temperament and very few of his original teeth. The two were closely related—his mouth had sustained extensive damage in bar fights. He was also extraordinarily taken with the technology that replaced what nature had given him and alcohol and fists had taken away. “Just take a look at that motherfucker,” he would lisp, cupping his top incisors in his hand. “That is a thing of beauty.”

His spectators would nod, silent and wide-eyed, as passive as wax dolls. “Yeah,” he would continue, “I never saw them sons-a-bitches go, just crack across the mouth with a goddamn baseball bat, and I’m spitting out blood and chunks of shit that I only realize later are my God-given teeth, which, much after the fact, some asshole told me I should have put in a glass of milk, because then maybe they would have stayed alive long enough to shove ‘em back in. And of course, that’s what I should have done, with that fat bastard kicking my liver out of my ass just for asking his girl if her tits were real, is get a goddamn glass of milk. If you hear what I’m saying. And Jesus, that was when I was eighteen, and I never learned a single lesson from that shit. Should have picked up and retired from my tom-catting and carrying on, but I had a mouthful of teeth and an unfortunate affection for other men’s women, and that’s what’s brought me here now.”

Here being the high-rise that houses Lewiston and West Financial Services, where Bobby pushes a broom around and horrifies the suits. They’ve tried to fire him repeatedly. It’s like a rite of passage for the newly-minted biz-boys, the first exercise of their custom-suit, Italian-shoe power. And to some extent, you can see their point. Bobby is foul-mouthed and dirty. He smells like gin. He can make women feel uncomfortable without even looking at them. But he has somehow developed a kind of immunity to the wiles of great corporations, a strange swamp voodoo that protects him from the opposing amulets of silk ties and slim, black briefcases. Complaints go unheard. Termination notices wilt like tropical flowers in a frost. And still Bobby pushes his broom around, making rhythmic noises that could be singing, or obscenities, or a re-enactment of the sex act. There are long periods of quiet, uneasy co-existence, but Bobby can’t leave well enough alone. That’s when he’ll corner a group of them in the elevator, slip through the doors just as they slide closed, and begin a story about his teeth.

“Yeah, I was never so glad to see them flashing lights. Normally I got no use for the pigs, but that son-of-a-bitch was like to kill me, and I was surely grateful that someone was planning on preventing that.” It’s a long elevator ride to the 35th, and the well-trimmed and powerful men and women, so used to the casual acknowledgment of power, the humdrum obeisances that usher them through the world, shrink in horror from Bobby, his dirt, his smell, his story, his entirely modern teeth. They look upward at the green and white numbers at the top of the car, blinking impassively as they are whisked upward to the Valhalla of power. If they were of a more spiritual bent, perhaps they would close their eyes and pray for salvation. But they are pragmatists, manipulators, men and women at the controls of the world, and such gestures are not given to them.

“And you know what? You know what? What I didn’t plan on was that one of the goddamn cops–” Bobby is getting excited now. “One of the goddamn cops is a little filly that I’d been screwing up in Pensacola just a couple of months before. Pretty little thing, with a big ol’ ass, just like I like ‘em.” He beams his gums around at his audience. “You men know what I mean, and you ladies, well, I see you’re all working your way there. Maybe all the way up into Bobby territory someday, you play your cards right. But anyway, this little girl, who I had no idea was a damn cop, or maybe I would have done things different, she takes one look and she says ‘Goddamn if it ain’t Bobby McGraw. You son of a bitch. You gave me the worst damn case of jungle-boogie antibiotic-resistant death clap my doctor had ever seen.’ And far from settling things down, she hauls off and she gives me a huge boot right across the jaw, polished, steel-toed cop shoe right in my beautiful face. And my back molars fly out of my mouth like a moon shot, and I watch them tumble away across the parking lot, and before you can say ‘Carry me home Jesus,’ damned if she didn’t just walk right over and crush them under her heel like they was just a bunch of cockroaches, crunch, crunch, crunch.”

An emotion begins to spread—a quiet, repressed panic. It is a pandemic there in the express elevator, that gateway to magnificent wealth and power. They fidget and shift on their feet. They are afraid of each others eyes, afraid to betray weakness, or to see it revealed. Their eyes dart restlessly around, unable to find any safe place to alight.

“Took a lot of the romance out of what we had, I’ll tell you. Crossed her name right out of Bobby’s Big Black Book. But out of that unfortunate incident, her boot, my face, I got this.” He sticks a grimy thumb and forefinger into his mouth, way back, distending his cheeks, his hand rooting frenetically around in his mouth, until it emerges with his space-age molars, the ceramic tarnished and dull, as if scorched by the day-to-day stress of being with Bobby. He holds them out for inspection, triumphs of technology over bar fights and enraged cops, over the inferno of Bobby himself. “I thought it was going to be nothing but bananas and avocados for me after that night, but Big George’s brother, he’s a dentist, and he said he could get a deal, some kind of stuff from China or something. Probably poisonous as shit, but you know what? I’m good as new. Better than new. Indestructible. Look at those babies. Indestructible. Like me. Like Bobby McGraw.”

They can feel his power, his prehistoric strength, how he and men like him will outlast them and their silk suits and their money, how they lurk, submerged in the swamp, looking for weakness, waiting for that single faltering step.

The elevator doors slide open behind him, but nobody moves. Bobby puts his teeth back in and gives them a carnivorous smile. They stand silently, waiting to be released.