Jeff Vrabel: Lil Jeff and the braces
You could fill books with the reasons that I was less than cool in high school, and now that I think about it, someone did: It was called a yearbook, and upon further reflection it’s a startlingly comprehensive user’s manual to the delightful array of social anxiety problems, psychological issues, confidence concerns, lamentable hairstyle choices, dermatological chaos and troubling, near-Nicole Richie body type pictures that resulted in my going dateless and friendless many nights, even if I was able to use those smooch-free evenings to grow insanely good at “Super Mario Bros. 3.” Seriously. I beat that thing right now sleeping with one hand tied behind my back, which is a really helpful skill set to have developed, let me assure you. I mean, sure, I can’t bait a fishing pole, and if something goes wrong with my car, my response is more or less to stand motionless and sobbing until someone shows up to help, but I’ll be damned if I can’t tell you how to beat the floating ship at the end of Level 7.
I bring up this lengthy tangent into the cobwebbed horrors of my adolescence because one of the more obvious reasons I wasn’t cool was my parents’ questionable decision to wait to adorn me with braces until the 11th grade, which, in relative high school terms, is like waiting until the condemned prisoner is 85 percent electrocuted before dramatically stopping everything and going, “OK, stop! Now this is where we take the rusty pliers to his teeth, right?” The 11th grade is not something one enters at any kind of structural disadvantage, yet there I was, 85 pounds of the finest Midwestern granite, showing up with a mouth that looked like Lil Jon’s, but well before anyone had any idea that such dental-related idiocy would one day be accepted and encouraged by the entire hip-hop community of Houston. You can imagine what kind of mood this put me in; for the most part, there is no photographic proof in existence that I smiled at any point between the months of September 1991 and October 1992, except this one time I rebelliously consumed a piece of caramel for some reason and my mouth got stuck that way. Not my fault, and I think there are still pieces of it in there.
Anyway, I bring this up because mine is not a problem evidently faced by the students of today, who aside from getting to bring their iPods to school and having No Child Left Behind ensure them that they’ll never fail anything ever, somehow - and I have to stress here how much this goes against the natural good/evil laws of the universe - benefit from a world that allows them to make their dental appliances slightly less than crippling to their self-esteem. It turns out that kids these days can personalize their retainers, adorn them with colors, decals, stickers, pictures of bands and actors and every single last person in “High School Musical.” I am looking right now at a website that offers the following items for your mouthal adornment needs: a rainbow fish, a bald eagle, a ballerina, a violin, a clown that’s scary, a dollar sign, a farm, a cheeseburger (not kidding here, people) a mug of beer, a Faberge egg, a No Smoking sign and ... well, OK, I’m gonna stop. I’m reasonably sure that if I keep clicking, Orlando Bloom is gonna turn up somewhere.
Well, good for you, kids. I’m not as bitter about this as I sound, which is good, because in going back and re-reading this I sound as though I’m more or less ready to drop-kick koala bears into a tire fire. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that such madness wasn’t around when I was bumbling around high school, as 1, I would have requested something like the Guns N’ Roses logo anyway, and nothing indicates to the girls how cool you are quite like professing your adulation for Axl Rose and 2, At some point I would be forced to speedily remove said retainer in public, which would no doubt be followed by my immediately dropping it into the lunch of the scorchingly hot brunette from my Spanish class who would walk by at that very minute for some reason, whereupon the retainer and her cafeteria pizza boat would spontaneously burst into flames, causing the evacuation of the entire school and someone in a Hazmat suit, much later, to walk up to me holding a smoking Axl Rose retainer with a pair of tongs going, “This yours, skinny?” Jeez, that would be worth like four full pages in the yearbook.
Jeff Vrabel is a freelance writer who was also pretty good at Dr. Mario. He can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com.