Jerry Zezima: Nothing but the tooth

I used to think that criminal possession of a forged instrument involved stealing a tuba. Now I know what I should have known for the past 40 years: It’s the act of writing a note to an unsuspecting child while pretending to be a fictional character.

That’s why, in my latest act of forgery, I plead guilty to impersonating the Tooth Fairy.

I was pressed into conducting this shameful ruse when my 6-year-old grandson lost his first tooth. Because his parents were out of town, and my wife, Sue, and I were watching him and his 3-year-old twin siblings for the weekend, I had to write a note from the Tooth Fairy congratulating the excited boy on his initial dental dropping.

Then I had to slip the note, along with the five bucks his parents had left for me, into a small canvas bag with a picture of a smiling, bow tie-wearing tooth on the front.

After the kids went to sleep, I put the bag under my grandson’s pillow while he presumably dreamed of an overnight windfall from a winged pixie whose handwriting closely approximated that of his sneaky grandfather.

Against the advice of my attorney, who is in jail, I will admit that my career in forgery dates back to when my two adult daughters were as young as my grandchildren are now. Under orders from Sue, who took care of everything else, I wrote notes from Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and, of course, the Tooth Fairy.

Naturally, the girls kept the notes, so I had to remember whose handwriting was from which character.

The Tooth Fairy’s writing couldn’t match that of Santa, whose writing couldn’t match that of the Easter Bunny. And none could match mine, which ordinarily looks like the chicken scratch of a man whose hand was caught in a trash compactor.

Eventually, the girls went from suspicion to the dismaying certainty that their father was a well-meaning but incompetent fraud.

I had been on probation for the past four decades until my grandson lost his first tooth, a lateral incisor in the bottom row.

The problem was that we couldn’t find it. The tooth wasn’t in his bed, in his pajamas or on the bedroom floor. Sue suspected that he swallowed it. I told her that even though I am a devoted grandfather, following the tooth through his alimentary canal and into the toilet was out of the question.

I assured my grandson that the Tooth Fairy didn’t need evidence that he had lost a tooth. And besides, what the hell was she supposed to do with it?

The next morning, the beaming boy ran up to me and said, “Guess what, Poppie! The Tooth Fairy came last night and left me five dollars! She also left me a note. Wanna read it?”

Since I’m old and forgot what I wrote, I said, “Of course!”

The note read: “Congratulations on losing your first tooth! I am so proud of you, and I loved coming to your house to leave this gift. Keep being a good boy and don’t forget to brush your teeth every night before bed! Love, the Tooth Fairy”

My grandson’s little sister, who initially said she was scared of the Tooth Fairy, saw the moola and said, “I can’t wait to lose a tooth so the Tooth Fairy can leave me some money!”

Her twin brother added, “Me, too! Then I’ll be rich!”

It dawned on me that inflation had increased the Tooth Fairy’s monetary gift from the 25 cents my daughters used to get to the five bucks my grandson received.

At least the Tooth Fairy still uses cash. What’s next? A check? A credit card? Venmo?

But the most important question was asked by my granddaughter.

“Poppie,” she said, “when your teeth fall out, will the Tooth Fairy leave you some money?”

“I hope so, sweetheart,” I answered. “And she might even write me a nice note.”

Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service and is the author of six books. His latest is “One for the Ageless: How to Stay Young and Immature Even If You’re Really Old.” Reach him at [email protected] or via