In the winter of 1995 my family headed south to spend Christmas with our relatives in Denver, Colorado. Our accumulated crew amounted to eight cousins and four parents, and in accordance with an ancient family tradition one evening was set aside for a talent show; I was tapped to be the MC.
Amidst the singing and dancing and semi-rehearsed goofiness, my uncle Tyler took to the stage and handed me a short note that I was to read as his introduction.
It read (paraphrasing as well as my memory allows):
“From a young age Tyler Johnson realized he had a talent to share with the world. As a teenager, orthodontists tried to take this away from him, but they couldn’t. Tonight he presents this talent to you.
We all watched, baffled.
Tyler took a sip of water and began to slowly pirouette in the manner of a rotating sprinkler.
Then, as he continued to twirl, he fired a little stream of water through the gap between his two front teeth: the human fountain.
Laughter and dawning comprehension rippled through the audience.
I was 14 years old at the time, and had typically crooked adolescent teeth. Indeed, orthodontists were eying me up in the same way they eyed-up young Tyler a generation previously. And within a year I was, in the parlance of the schoolyard, a brace-face.
The braces did their job though, and I emerged from my metal-mouthed enclosure with relatively straight teeth. However, in the years to follow, my teeth slowly shifted, and half-a-decade after my braces were removed I once again had a gap between my front teeth.
At that point subjecting myself to another round of corrective oral surgery was not in the cards, so I was left with two choices; I could either dislike my teeth and be embarrassed by them, or I could take an irreverent satisfaction in my own imperfection.
Initially, I bent towards the former. But disliking something about oneself — particularly something one has no control over — is exhausting and fruitless, so gradually I inched along the spectrum from shame to pride.
It didn’t hurt that I had a role model: David Letterman.
At the time, Letterman had the most famous tooth-gap in the world. But it didn’t stop him from becoming the best thing on Late Night, or from seeing Drew Barrymore’s breasts on network television.
More recently, former New York Giant Michael Strahan has been leading the charge for people with diastema.
Diastema: that’s the official term for the gap-toothed.
Has a nice ring to it, eh?
In fact, it’s about time we started a diastemic pride movement. Much like those with “perfect” teeth, we too can become television stars and professional athletes.
But remember, unlike us, they can never become human fountains.