"The Tooth Fairy didn't come" were the first things out of the boy's teeth-deprived mouth this morning. He said it in that tiny voice he usually reserves for phone conversations or saying he doesn't want to eat salmon.
The boy is our eldest son. The Tooth Fairy is a mythical being who pays a different per-tooth rate to every 6-to-8-year-old on our block. Our household's rate -- the random, unfulfilling amount of $3 -- seems to fall somewhere in the middle. That is, when The Tooth Fairy remembers to come.
The boy stared at me waiting for an explanation. How could The Tooth Fairy, an omniscient being with the power -- and need -- to possess every single baby tooth that every kid has ever lost, forget mine?
I stared back at him. I weighed my options. None were great. That's what happens when you screw up.
One option was to start crying. Maybe if I cried loud and long enough, saying "Why didn't she come?" through the tears, my son would console me. And in seeing how ridiculous I was being, realize that one missed Tooth Fairy appointment wasn't such a big deal. Maybe he'd then also take the train downtown and do my job for the day?
Another option was that old, inconvenient standby: honesty. But was it time for . . . The Truth? (Please note: As much as I want to, I won't make a pun here playing on the super-convenient fact that Truth and Tooth rhyme.)
As we continued to stare, I imagined the boy's reaction to the news that The Tooth Fairy had all been one beautiful lie.
Talk about a double disappointment: How could I have been so dumb to believe that 1) fairies exist and 2) there was one willing to pay cash for my waste product?
Actually make that a triple disappointment: 3) And, oh, it was my parents who forgot to give me the money? They just had to remember to walk across the hall.
But for all the negative repercussions, the truth did seem appealing. It would end the Tooth Fairy nonsense once and for all.
Why do we ask kids to believe in her? I know, I know! Childhood is a time of innocence, and before they meet the cruel world, children should be able to believe in magic and benevolent home invaders.
But . . . why? Is childhood really any better thanks to extremely isolated, societally approved fantastical lies we tell our kids? And while we're asking questions, why can't my son use his knowledge that Santa Claus doesn't exist (we're Jewish) to understand that believing in The Tooth Fairy is THE EXACT SAME KIND OF THING?
Look, look, I probably don't believe anything I wrote in the above paragraph. I'm fine with The Tooth Fairy. These were just the thoughts of a panicked, guilty man.
"Well, the thing about The Tooth Fairy is," I said, letting the words hang.
I was looking for the kind of lie that would be believable to the kind of person who believed in The Tooth Fairy. In other words, I could make any old thing up.
"We're in a very busy time of year for tooth loss, and The Tooth Fairy may be a little backed up," I said. "I'm sure she will be here tonight."
(The next installment of The Interview Show, the talk show hosted by Mark Bazer, is May 16 at Union Hall, in Brooklyn. Guests include author Sam Lipsyte, musician Kathleen Hanna and TV critic Emily Nussbaum. Plus music by Chris Mills. More info at www.theinterviewshowchicago.com)