reaching out to the ypsi tooth

I’ve written here several times over the past few years on the subject of the Ypsilanti Tooth vandal. While I don’t necessarily approve of her tactics, I find her work fascinating and look forward to the occasional discovery of new tooth-centric artwork hidden around town. It makes life more interesting. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I suspect that I met the Ypsilanti Tooth vandal once before. As I recall, she was a nice young woman. She reminded me, for some reason, of the middle daughter on the television show Full House. I can’t remember why though. She approached me at the Shadow Art Fair and told me that she liked my comics. I told her that I liked her tooth necklace and then mentioned that we had an anonymous artist here in Ypsilanti who was obsessed with teeth. She then looked straight into my eyes and said, “Oh, do you?” kind of half smiling. After a moment of silence, she disappeared into the crowd. I can’t be absolutely sure it was her, but I suspect that it was. Anyway, I mentioned this to a friend of mine some time ago, and yesterday I got a note from her telling me that she’d met someone else who had crossed paths with Captain Tooth. Today she set up a meeting so that I could hear his story.

The man made his way into the Brewery holding a large, gift-wrapped box, tied up with a red ribbon. He sat down and said, “This is the box she left at my house.” We started digging through the contents of the box. There was a gold-plated ceramic cat that he said must have been stolen from his house a week or so prior, during a party. She’d added whiskers and a red cape, but he had no doubt that it was the same cat that had, until recently, sat upon his mantle. “She must have been in my house during a party,” he said. (Perhaps she’s still there – phrogging.) In the box there were also several tiny drawings of teeth. He said there was a cookie, which was dressed in a “paper sweater,” and a toothbrush too. A housemate, he said, probably ate the cookie. He suspected someone had also used the toothbrush. Otherwise, he said, the contents of the box were just as he found them on his doorstep a week ago. The best part was the elegant, elongated, silky, stuffed tooth featured in the picture here.

Probably unbeknownst to her, the fellow had a history with the Ypsi Tooth. According to him, he was drinking beer at the Sidetrack a year or so ago when she and a handful of accomplices stormed in wearing trench coats and “old person” masks, and proceeded to spray-paint a tooth on the face of the marble fireplace. I’d heard rumor of this brazen attack in the past, but this was the first eyewitness confirmation that I’d heard. As there’s no sign of the spray-paint on the fireplace now, I thought that it could have been an Ypsi urban legend, like the flying smeet frog, but I guess it really did happen. (He said that, after the attack, Sidetrack employees scrubbed it off. It apparently took a half an hour, but all signs were erased.)

I’ve seen her work around town about a dozen times now. I’ve been tempted to take what I’ve found, but I’ve always been able to stop myself, thinking that she (the Tooth) would have wanted it that way. I was envious of this fellow who had a handmade tooth left for him on his doorstep. I told him he was a lucky son of a bitch and he acknowledged it.

So, according to her website, she “loves” me, so I’m going to assume that she reads my site and leave her a message. The following is a private letter between me and the Ypsi Tooth. Please do not read it:

I don’t want to know who you are. Please don’t tell me. If I knew, I’d have to tell the Mayor, and I don’t want to see you go to jail. I might feel differently if the spray-paint hadn’t come off the fireplace of the Sidetrack so easily, but, since it did, I can still appreciate your work. Very little is done these days just for the sake of doing it, and I appreciate the work that goes into your pieces, only to be left outside, in the elements. I find it beautiful… So, here’s a secret that I haven’t told anyone else yet. My friend Melissa and I are starting a company together to sell severed unicorn head related material. I know that sounds fucked up, but you’ll have to trust me on this. It’s going to be huge… Anyway, I was thinking that, if you’re up for it, we could carry stuffed unicorn teeth on our site. If that sounds good to you, send me a signal and we’ll work something out. (note: The signal should not involve spray-painting my house, car, pets or loved ones. Cookies and toothbrushes, however, are OK.) I’m thinking that maybe you could leave a box of teeth hidden somewhere in the park and I could leave a cashier’s check in their place. Let me know what you think. I look forward to doing business with you.

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22 Comments

  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 5, 2007 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t 100 percent sure Mark was The Devil until now.

    He sniffs out the one soul left doing “art for art’s sake” and offers to buy that soul for wad of cash left under a rock in the park.

    And, he’s starting a company that will traffic in the severed heads of unicorns? The symbolism couldn’t be more transparent.

    Run Ypsitooth! Flee the Devil before he’s got your soul in his purse and your head mounted in his corporate trophy room.

  2. X
    Posted October 5, 2007 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I hear he will be buying and selling souls at the next Shadow Art Fair.

  3. Robert
    Posted October 5, 2007 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t Melvin Beli interview the Ypsilanti Tooth Vandal on a live call-in television show a few years back?

  4. DD
    Posted October 5, 2007 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    The science of dream interpretation tells us that obsessions with teeth generally mean that a person has a small, undeveloped parasitic twin living inside them.

    Unicorn flesh is the consistency of flan.

  5. Kevin Dole 2
    Posted October 5, 2007 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Ms. YpsiTooth resembles Stephanie, the middle daughter from _Full House_ in that she has layered ‘I’ teeth.

    I’ve met her before, but I forget her name. If memory serves, I watched an episode of Britney Spears’ reality show in her living room.

  6. Posted October 5, 2007 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    “i look forward to doing business with you” always gets my creative knickers in a bind.

  7. mark
    Posted October 6, 2007 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I will neither be buying nor selling souls at the Shadow Art Fair. I do think, however, that Ole EC raises an interesting point. It does, at least on some level, look as though I’m taking this beautiful, sometimes-illegal thing and commoditizing it. At the time I made the offer to the knicker-bound Ms. Tooth, I wasn’t thinking about it that way though. I was just thinking that her work was interesting to me and that I’d like to have her involved in the unicorn project somehow. I like her stuff and I’d like to share it with a bigger audience, and maybe get her some money in the process so that she can buy more art supplies. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time, but I suppose there is a risk in doing so.

    When I lived in Georgia, I was fairly friendly with a number of folk/visionary artists. Everyone I knew, as some level or another, made a living through their painting. I suspect that doing so might have changed the content of their work to some degree. They may have each altered their work in some way in order to appeal to a buying audience. That was certainly the case with Howard Finster. I don’t know that it was altogether a negative though. I suspect that had he not sold his work and actively marketed it, he wouldn’t have been given many of the opportunities that he had. (He loved being on the Tonight Show.) With that said, however, his earlier work was much more significant than his later, mass market work. I don’t think he would have changed that though. I don’t think he would have chosen to make his work anonymously, in private.

    So, I don’t know the answer. Yes, the introduction of money into the equation might change things, but, unfortunately, that’s the system with live under. People need money to live. I don’t know the circumstances of Ms. Tooth, but it’s possible that she barely makes enough to get by. Maybe by selling the occasional unicorn tooth online she could buy some food, maybe even see a dentist. I wouldn’t begrudge her that, Ole EC.

  8. Posted October 6, 2007 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I gotta defend Mark on this one. He made a simple business proposition to an artist to sell their work. The artist can either say, “Hey – great!” or “No thank you.”

    Now, if Mark had kidnapped the Ypsi Tooth and forced her to work 18 hour days contructing unicorn teeth in his basement, that would be different. As would if he bought all rights to her teeth and all future teeth for a nickel, and sold each one for $10,000.

    As for her work around Ypsi, she can very easily both sell unicorn teeth at the unicron megastore, and leave tooth objects around Ypsi. Or she can decline and continue her illegal tooth vandal activities – it’s all up to her.

  9. Posted October 6, 2007 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Melissa is obsessed with heads, apparently. She chose as one of her first photography assignments to shoot Barbie heads floating in our toilet. She must get it from her father’s side of the family…

  10. Posted October 6, 2007 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure where this came from, but reading your post I think there is an episode of The Tick waiting to be developed here. I’ve manipulated the facts a bit, but I think it will work:

    The Tick says, “Quick Arthur, shut off the tv! I’ve noticed the Ypsi Tooth signal on my roof-top out-house.”

    “What Tick, what are you talking about?” replies Arthur.

    “Genius Arthur, pure evil genius. The Ypsi Tooth has affixed a real-estate literature box to my mini house of glory. It has been carefully melted into the shape of a tooth; but wait… there is a business plan. It’s written on parchment paper. By god, the profits will benefit urban spelunkers in Chechnya?! Arthur, we must find this misfit! Spoooooon!!!”

  11. mark
    Posted October 7, 2007 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    So, her name is Melissa, her knickers are bound, she has cable TV and “layered i teeth.” I think I’ve got enough to go on now. Thanks for the clues… I suspect we’ll have her in custody by nightfall.

    [note: I gave DP a ride in my car not more than two hours prior to the leaving of his last comment. At the time, he was perfectly coherent. I’m not sure what happened once I let him out of the car.]

  12. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 7, 2007 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Mark, I can’t resist needling you a bit when you give such good set-ups. (It’s a flaw; I should resist it.)

    “Very little is done these days just for the sake of doing it” followed by a business proposition was just, well, irresistable.

    Of course, the tooth has the right to earn a buck if she desires, and the results would probably make for many happy customers. I got artists friends and completely respect the worth of artists earning income from their art. But, in this commerce driven world, there is something beautiful about folks doing something for the sake of doing it, whether is be art or volunteering at the soup kitchen or literacy group.

    Personally, the tooth lost my attention once she slipped into vandalism (an expression of ultimate ego, i.e., I am greater than you) and created a myspace page (ego seeking external affirmation).

    I know that sounds harsh (I am a puritan and an ideologue) but those things are fine. I function out of ego. It’s human. I like the teeth. They’re nicely done. I can totally see why you’d want to breed them with unicorns. But, I found them most beautiful and pure (puritan again) when they were left to wilt in the wind. And, I’m also willing to pay for a unicorn tooth throw pillow.

  13. Posted October 8, 2007 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I’m a recovering Adult Swim and off-beat cartoon addict. On occasion my imagination goes off on a mildly wacky tangent or two. Eventually I’m sure I’ll be shipped off to GITMO for at times having a free, open and at times a wandering mind.

    All is normal, I’ll try to stick to hard policy conversations from here on out.

  14. Robert
    Posted October 10, 2007 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Time for a root canal.

  15. brad
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    glad to hear that the gold cat is safe and sound! i didn’t even know it disappeared… last time i saw it was sitting comfortably on a living room table during a going away party.

    i found ypsitooth under my windshield wiper one morning last fall, drawn on the back of a huge sheet of construction plans. i left a comment on her myspace about how i’d take some pictures and post ’em, but never got the chance to do so.

    my girlfriend and i have spent the past year trying to figure out who ypsitooth is — running the gauntlet from the proprietoress of a downtown theater to the gf’s uncle’s former girlfriend’s daughter who used to live in our building and seemed sort of artsy. i prefer that her identity remain a mystery, though, mostly ’cause trying to figure it out is a lot of fun.

  16. UBU
    Posted October 13, 2007 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Please do not use the term “knickers” on this blog. It’s just as easy to say “Ypsipanties” and, more importantly, it helps Mark do more business…

  17. The Shadow Knows
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    I know the true identity of the Ypsitooth. Details will be supplied as soon as $50 in unmarked bills is delivered to the tridge at the stroke of midnight. I’ll be waiting, you’ll see.

  18. Катлог статей
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Is this girl you call tooth still alive?

  19. Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t seen evidence of her in quite some time. I’ll ask around for you, though.

  20. kanscagerz
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    If she’s gone, we need to recruit a replacement.

  21. Estor
    Posted July 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Still no word from her toothiness?

  22. Vany Argos
    Posted January 20, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I’ve long been looking for a store that sells do it yourself dental tools that can be powered from car battery in remote area. You have such place?

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