I arrive, as usual, about two minutes late to Suite 639 of Douglas Plaza. I know this suite is the right one by the fact that the metal plate behind the doorknob is somewhat askew. The receptionist, glancing up from her work, displays a noticeably metallic smile. She knows me; I need not enlighten her as to my name, age, father's place of business, or other such triviality. As I sit down in the waiting room, a loud grinding noise comes from a nearby room; and a general malaise, as evidenced in their countenances, spreads among the younger children. Little do they know that its origin is merely a technician grinding out imperfections in the braces-to-be of a patient who is nowhere near the office. The groans turn to grins when a lusty and clear falsetto rendition of "Raindroppers Keep Fallin' on My Headbone" [sic] fills the air. The mothers of the tittering little ones try, with little success, to conceal their amusement by pretending to concentrate on the contents of one of the "Peanuts" treasuries on the large table in the center of the room. Personally, I am becoming a bit impatient. Then the inevitable occurs: a pretty young thing chirps "Rick!" and leads me down the greenish-hued carpet to the second room on the left.

As I lean back in the yellow chair, I am immediately enveloped in the sheer delight of genuine Naugahyde and the irresistible aroma of polymers issuing from the nearby lab. The pretty young thing fiddles with the headrest. When she maneuvers it into a likely position, she asks, "Is that comfortable?" Then she flops a large yellow card on the tabletop before me and struts out. (Fortunately, the headrest is just right.) A voice identical in timbre to the "Raindroppers" voice, yet lower in pitch, floats melodiously from a room across the hall with the words, "This is cool and white and tastes like Doublemint." The man is making a mold of someone's teeth, as he had done mine countless eons ago. What he leaves out now, as he had done then, is the part about the stuff's being gooey and runny and apt to ooze down one's throat and gag him; I laugh in spite of myself. Soon the soft, but hopelessly obsolete, piped-in music and the placid western view, which features Texas Stadium, Love Field, and a couple of seemingly tiny grain elevators just on the horizon (a property of them that always sets me to wondering how far away they are) produce a soporific effect, and I commence an attempt to doze.

The attempt is abortive. Stephen Decatur Mobley, D.D.S., enters the room with a flourish. He is grinning ridiculously, probably as the result of some private joke he has cracked to the receptionist. "Hello, Rick!" he intones in a major key. He washes his hands violently with a hexachlorophene solution and turns to me with the words, "Bite for me now." After a bit of gentle prying and probing with his fingers and a little mirror, Dr. Mobley says, "Open for me now. Rick, I don't think you're being as careful as you could about brushing." He removes my retainer, adjusts it with a fancy tool, replaces it, and announces, "Now, this may feel just a little bit tighter. Does it? Good. We'll see you in four or five weeks, the good Lord willing."

I rise from the plush Naugahyde chair with the feeling that Dr. Mobley may have left a wrench of some sort in my mouth by accident. Such is, however, not the case. I try to look at the bright side by remembering how much worse I have felt after certain previous visits: the first installment of braces, which put my head in a vise and crossed my eyes for days; the time I got my retainer and drooled all day, and smelled like dog food, because new retainers do. In pain I walk up to the receptionist, who says, "Oh, yes, you're late in the afternoon—how about 4:45 on Tuesday, November 13?" In pain I nod. My mother, who has just arrived from parking the car, asks, "Is that OK by you?" In pain I nod. The receptionist hands me a little yellow card, which I put into my pocket, grimacing. As my mother and I exit, my mother asks brightly, "How does it feel?"