Kirk Tegelaar’s mouth is marred by rows of crooked, yellow teeth that stick out from his gums.
With choppers like these, the average guy might try to keep his mouth shut. But Tegelaar’s not an average guy — he never stops smiling.
“Sometimes at the end of the day I’m rubbing my jaw because it hurts from smiling so much,” said Tegelaar, who is known by family and friends strictly by his nickname, “Skunk.”
Ask around Somerville, and it won’t take long before somebody shares a story about the first time they met Skunk.
As a welding artist at the Artisan’s Asylum, “fleet admiral” of a funk-busting bicycle gang called SCUL, and a custom bike-builder at a shop in Watertown, he is celebrated for his charisma, and for taking on odd jobs and pro bono favors for acquaintances without hesitation.
And while he never expects anything in return, a group of close friends — and complete strangers — have decided to give something back: they want to help Skunk fix his teeth, once and for all.
In January, Patrick McCarty, a dental school graduate and anesthesiologist, and friend Joshua Beckmann teamed up to create a campaign without Skunk’s knowledge, to help him get to the root of his dental issues.
In three months, they’ve raised a whopping $17,000. They think they need $30,000 to get the job done, based on estimates by dental specialists.
“This is a guy who is well-liked by everyone,” McCarty said.
Almost anyone who knows the jovial welder will echo those sentiments.
“He isn’t smooth, he’s not flashy, and he doesn’t have a particularly eloquent way with words,” says artist Bathsheba Grossman, who has known Skunk for nine years. “But he’s a hell of a nice guy. . . . If anyone deserves this, it’s him.”
Skunk, 45, has had serious problems with his teeth since his was 7 years old, so the surgery is long overdue.
First, he had a jaw-expander placed in the roof of his mouth, anchored to his molars, to keep his teeth from crowding together.
The robotic-looking headgear came next — which he loved — but that was soon replaced with the basic braces that are the bane of all teenagers.
By age 14, when he no longer had dental insurance because he moved away to live with relatives, he resorted to snapping the braces off himself.
“That was my first real experience working with metal,” Skunk said.
Since then, Skunk’s teeth have been in steady decline, plagued by oral problems that came with astronomical costs to fix them that he simply couldn’t afford.
Skunk has even resorted to bartering website design jobs and welding gigs for root canals and other dental surgeries.
“Things just got progressively worse, and every time I went to a dentist they would have discouraging news about my mouth. It was very disheartening most of the time, and at one point I decided to give it a rest,” he said.
But friends say Skunk’s selfless personality and constant good attitude will continue to help fuel the surge in recent donations, and the money generously donated on his behalf will get him the dental attention he’s needed for so long.
“A lot of people could have put up a similar fund-raiser and it wouldn’t have raised this much,” Beckmann said.
Skunk has high hopes that the days of trading jobs and getting piecemeal dental work are over.
“It’s been an overwhelming feeling of support from my friends, family, and this community. People are spreading the word and contributing financially and it’s pretty powerful,” Skunk said. “It really makes me rethink what’s possible.”
As for facing the drills and tools used for surgery, he’s prepared to suffer.
“I’m not squeamish,” he said.Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.