I sit down at the diner and order a cold blueberry pancake and wait for Jenny, who asked me via text to go sit down at the diner and order a cold blueberry pancake and wait for her.
Jenny and I both work at the nearby pharmacy. Not as pharmacists but as people who take things out of boxes and place them on shelves. Sometimes we get lunch together and talk about how it tastes. Other times we get drinks together and say things like, "Our boss is so annoying." Jenny and I are best friends.
The diner door squeaks and Jenny bounces into the room, eventually landing safely on the seat opposite me. Her hair is in a ponytail, but only about half has made it in. She smiles and says, "I replaced my teeth with dimes," but really it sounds more like, "Ithe replathe my teth with dies." Lodged in her gums are indeed about thirty-two coins. Some of them have dried, crusty, maroon blood on their front. Her gums are much redder than normal gums, probably on account of ripping out her teeth and replacing them with metallic objects.
"Why?" I ask.
"Thithe our tithet ouw."
"Thitss our tithet ouwtthh. Weh goin tah be famouthhh ah hell."
Jenny explains she could now quit the pharmacy and move to Los Angeles, where she will become famous. And I could tag along and be the friend of someone famous. I say that sounds good. I figure it must be better than taking things out of boxes. Taking things out of boxes is not my passion.
We stop into the pharmacy and I tell our boss I’m quitting and Jenny tells him to go fuck himself with a roll of dimes. She then takes a roll of dimes out of her pocket and throws it at him. She takes the uneaten cold blueberry pancakes out of the diner box and throws them at him too. We leave.
On the bus from Sacramento to Los Angeles, Jenny shows many people her mouth. They say things like, "Wow, dimes!?" and "Isn't that something?” One little girl throws up.
Jenny's high school pal, Autumn, picks us up from the bus stop. Jenny shows her the dimes and Autumn says, "OMG, that's so you." Then she says, “We better hurry home before the wind turns yellow.” Jenny laughs. I don’t have access to the inside joke and so I fake chuckle for a moment to be part of the group and then look out the window.
Autumn moved to LA to become an actress a few years ago, but now she mainly drives strangers around in her car. She says it’s nice driving us around because we’re non-strangers.
We sleep in Autumn’s basement. In the morning Jenny says we should go to the local news station on Sunset Boulevard and show them her mouth. Autumn drops us off and then goes to drive other people to places so she can continue to eat and drink.
The local news building is made of glass. Its name is KPLA. Jenny does not know what the “KP” stands for and she doesn’t care. Inside, a receptionist is looking at the wall. His skin is very pale. Jenny asks me to do the talking because her mouth hurts and she doesn’t want to move it. I tell the receptionist that we have an important story, that we would like to speak with a reporter. He stops looking at the wall and says a lot of words that mean “no.” Jenny grabs each of her lips between finger and thumb and pulls them open. The receptionist gives us a one-day printed pass to enter the office.
The local news people love the dimes. They’ve never seen anything like it, they say. They tape Jenny for a segment to air the following morning. Jenny tells the camera the brand of pliers she used to remove her teeth and the average age of the dimes. The news people ask if she has had any struggles and she talks about her difficulty eating, about how she has to cut food into minuscule pieces and swallow them whole like a pelican. They film her mouth from many angles. After we leave, Jenny says she made up the age of the dimes.
The next morning, we watch Jenny on the television. It’s just like when they taped it, except two-dimensional. Within minutes, videos and messages start to pop up on social media—people reacting to Jenny’s mouth. One man in a football jersey has tweeted that Jenny is a “dime with dimes.” She likes it. An anime snow leopard named KindCat625347922 has tweeted that Jenny is a “stupid attention-seeking cunt,” who he’d love to “throat fuck until the dimes fall out.” She doesn’t like it. A gay youth has glued dimes to his teeth and posted it to TikTok, writing, “Jenny shows us it’s okay to be ourselves.” She likes it.
By the time Autumn gets home from driving, “#dimegirl” is trending all over social media. The world is awash in dimes.
Jimmy Fallon’s new LA office gets in touch. Jenny goes on Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy says it's time to play a game called “Guess That Coin.” He holds up coins and asks Jenny to guess them. “Ten cent euro,” she says to one. “Halfpenny,” she says to another. She gets none of the answers right. Jimmy asks if he can touch her mouth. The crowd laughs and makes noises like “oh oh!” and “yessss!” She wipes her hands against her thighs and smiles at the ground, looking bashful. I can’t tell whether she is actually bashful or is pretending to be so because it will look better when she ultimately acquiesces. The audience begins to chant, “Let him touch! Let him touch! Let him touch!” Jenny lets him touch. The crowd explodes: one old bespectacled man knocks out his own teeth with a hammer; a teenage boy tears off his shirt and fervently rubs his crotch; a rail-thin woman attempts to snort a pile of pocket change; a rail-thin woman fails to snort a pile of pocket change; two pudgy middle-aged couples pee themselves, holding each other and moaning, “Delano!”; a child crawls the floor for loose coins. Screams of “We Love Dime Mouth!” ring through the theater.
Jenny goes on more talk shows and starts to make money from Instagram endorsements. She and I move into a hotel, but Autumn stays at her place. She doesn’t want to impose. Jenny says if anyone mentions acting roles she’ll be sure to give them Autumn’s information.
We fly to New York City, where Jenny makes appearances on even more talk shows. These talk shows are just like the ones in LA except colder. The two of us buy matching sequin gowns—their silver discs looking like thousands of miniature dimes—from Saks Fifth Avenue. On the sidewalk, a man with trash bags on his feet who only has a beard on one side of his face screams something at us he probably thinks is nice, but we think is frightening. We eat at a place so expensive they serve only crumbs: one crumb of parmesan-encrusted, gold-flaked salmon, one drop of Negroni, half a caviar egg. I tell Jenny how grateful I am to be her friend. She’s still the same Jenny; the fame has not changed her except in that she now looks at her phone much more often, maybe a few times each blink, and she’s perpetually making little pouts and smiles in case people are taking photos of us, and she has a more expensive hair tie in her hair, and more of her hair is in the hair tie. Which I guess is maybe a lot of changes (I don’t know how many changes are a normal amount of changes for when one becomes famous), but she is still just as nice to me and she is my best friend and she lets me try half her steak crumb. She says she loves me and asks what I’d like to do besides being the friend of a famous person, now that I don’t have to spend all my time taking things out of boxes. No one has ever asked me this before. I think about it and then say I’d maybe like to glue rocks and twigs onto paper to make art. Jenny says that sounds great. She says she’ll just continue to be famous. I put the meal on my credit card and Jenny will pay me back—hers is maxed.
We sit in the airport. Done with the talk shows, the future is Jenny. Her inbox is filled with brands begging her to become their spokesperson. Wendy’s says she perfectly fits their irreverent online persona. Capital One says the money connection is impossible to resist. Crest says they want her for their new “When You Don’t Brush” ad campaign. Netflix has requested full access to her life to make a six-part origin documentary, tentatively titled, “Nickel, Copper, and Love.” Marvel has reached out about adding Dime Mouth to their cinematic universe. Jenny smiles while she scrolls through the endless emails. I think about all the ways one can arrange sticks on paper and I smile too. We get on the plane and continue to smile.
But as soon as we land back in LA our phones blow up. Everyone on the flight is already staring at theirs, mouths agape. A man has cut off his dick and replaced it with a large red carrot. The carrot is the size of a small arm. “#CarrotCock” is trending everywhere. It’s horrific. Mentions of Jenny are found only in comparison and nostalgia. For example, one Instagram caption reads, “Dime Mouth walked so Carrot Cock could run,” on a photo of Carrot Cock’s carrot cock. Another user has replied, “Who the fuck is ‘Dime Mouth’?” Jenny rubs her temples and yells. Then the stewardess yells at her. Jenny shows the stewardess her mouth. The stewardess does not care.
We take a taxi to Autumn’s house, essentially maxing out my credit card in the process. Autumn says we can stay there as long as we need. She and I fall asleep, but Jenny can’t due to the increasing, pounding pain in her gums and jaw. She spends all night replying to the brand offers, contacting the representatives of the shows she’s been on to ask if she could do another round. No one responds. In the morning she takes and posts varying photos of her open mouth—her mouth in the bathroom, her mouth in the living room, her mouth in the kitchen, her mouth outside. All receive a paltry number of likes. Half the likes are from me. Jenny smashes her hand into a pillow twenty-seven times. She continues this pattern of posting and smashing for a week before giving up. We go back to the building named KPLA and the receptionist refuses to even look away from his wall.
Outside, I try to think of ways we can get her famous again. I suggest she chop off her breasts and replace them with balloons filled with oregano. She drops to the ground, sitting cross-legged on the curb. Salty water emerges from her eyes and falls down her cheeks. She moans between sobs, “Ithe ovah! He replathe his cothe! He replathe his futhing cothe!”
I rub Jenny’s back. She says there’s nothing to do. She just wants to go home. She says we can get jobs at the local pharmacy and move back to Sacramento once we have enough money for a security deposit. This makes me sad because I won’t have much time for the rocks, but it's what has to happen.
We sit in the sun and Jenny sends an email to our old boss in Sacramento to ease tensions, in case she needs to go back there once we return. She explains that in her culture—she is a white atheist—it is actually a sign of respect to pelt someone with dimes and cold pancakes, in fact, in her culture, when one turns thirteen, one is supposed to pelt their own parents. She then scrolls through her old Instagram posts and whimpers. She says she’s hungry, but there’s no food at the curb in front of the building named KPLA.
At the pharmacy, we fill out applications. Jenny grabs M&Ms because they’re cheap and she’ll be able to swallow them without chewing. “Two ninety-nine,” says the cashier. We search our pockets and wallets—neither of us has cash. And of course, our credit cards are used up. Jenny shakes her head and rubs her foot into the floor and makes a noise that can only be described as a short sorrowful mewl.
One by one, she pulls the dimes out of her gums.