By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It was over a nice seafood lunch at Pappadeaux that I was introduced to the world of grills. The specially molded pieces of jewelry worn on the front teeth, popular among Southern rappers for years, were now hitting the big time: suburban malls, I was informed by my dining partner, a sweet seminary student. Even I, most WASPy of WASPs, could be a little crunk. Until then, I'd lived a life devoid of oral fabulousness, content merely to stick shiny things in my ears and nose. Time to cram my largest facial orifice chock-full of solid gold, no?
Deft Googling brought me to K.D.'s Masta Grillz, a dealer in Six Flags Mall. Once a bastion of commercialism, the mall is now full of custom spray-painted T-shirt stores. One hot Saturday, amid jewelry stands and a Dillards clearance outlet that probably had some good deals on blazers with shoulder pads, I found my bling mecca under a giant black sign with a yellow smiley face wearing--what else?--a grill.
A guy in a baseball cap sat behind a weathered table, leaning way back in his chair and staring at the ceiling. Behind him, the store was filled with shirts that came in two sizes: scandalously small (women's) and roughly the size of extra-large trash bags (men's).
"I'm in the market for a grill," I told him, smiling. Silently, he scrambled for several pages of photos under the desk, laying them out for my perusal before returning to the ceiling-staring process.
My teeth could be made to look like shiny dice or silver fangs. I could get a pink stripe on the top and a diamond stripe on the bottom. Or crushed diamonds on every other tooth. But none of these really felt, you know, like me. Luckily, ceiling-staring guy's super-sized associate Leon was there to help. He told me I should get a "six" on the top. So that's what I agreed to. Nothin' fancy, I told him. Something classy. Understated. Six gold teeth across the front of my mouth.
Five minutes later I was sitting in a metal folding chair in the back of the store next to a plywood dressing room with a large man holding a dental mold in my mouth as white goo ran down my face. It'd be a couple of days, Leon told me, and then I'd be in business--right after I forked over $180, cash.
Of course, it wasn't a couple of days. The first mold broke, and I came back a week later to meet K.D. himself, a diminutive guy with a whole lotta cell phone business to take care of. I was in and out in a matter of minutes with K.D. sliding that smooth mold in and out like a pro, all the while talking on his mobile. Two days later, I was back for my solid gold mouthpiece.
When I cranked up my radio on the way home, a chorus of children sang a new version of the nursery rhyme "Do your ears hang low?" I popped my grill into my mouth and hummed along.
Do your chain hang low/Do it wobble to da flo/Do it shine in da light/Is it platinum; is it gold?
The words of that great bard, St. Louis rapper Jibbs, rang true for me: I didn't have a chain, but I was blinging. For real.
Obviously the first thing I needed to do was hang out with a local rap star. Nothing predictable and stereotypical about that. No, sirree. So Pikahsso, one-third of innovative local hip-hop group PPT, came out to Club Dada one night to spread some cred on me.
He stopped laughing after about 45 seconds. Every time I smiled at him, he'd start it up again. We tried having a normal conversation about PPT's upcoming album but to no avail. The giggling was unavoidable. For most grill-wearers, their mouthpiece is a serious status symbol. For me, it was comedy gold. Literally.
Later on, I saw an episode of Girls Next Door, a train wreck of a reality show about Hugh Hefner's blond, big-breasted girlfriends. The "sporty" one, Kendra, had gotten a grill. Pink. Top and bottom. Real diamonds. Cost her (or, more likely, Hef) thousands of dollars. Kendra was an inspiration: She was Caucasian, grilled-out and proud. I decided I could lamely misappropriate black culture and attempt to be ghetto in what would ultimately turn out to be a sad farce, or I could be like the Playboy model sleeping with the 80-year-old white dude and go about my daily business--with bling.
When an invitation to my fifth-grade sweetheart's wedding came in the mail, I knew immediately that my grill would be a key accessory. I'd be running into people I hadn't seen in years.
Things were quiet until the reception at WASP headquarters, the Walnut Creek Country Club in Mansfield. With my man of the hour on my arm, I strutted around the ballroom in a royal blue strapless dress, black velvet heels and $180 worth of metal in my mouth. Cheek kisses abounded. Former youth ministers, high school crushes and sworn enemies smirked politely as I lisped out hellos. (There's a reason, I had learned, you hear the word "toof" instead of "tooth" in rap songs. It's cooler to make up a new word than to spit out madd phat rhymes with a speech impediment.)