Cowboys and teenagers

Feb. 1, 2002

Let's play a game of cowboys and teenagers. Nah, I'm not trying to be politically correct by inserting a substitute for "Indians." And I'm certainly not insulting Native Americans by comparing them to ... well, maybe the torture rituals of the Apache warrior and squaw can be compared to today's teenager.

Come on outside. Let's divide up into teams. Some of you can be the "cowboys." Allow me to explain. Every so often, I'll rip through several authors of Old West literature for the soothing effect of mental "cotton candy." The good guy in the white hat gets the girl after ridding the mesa of all the unsavory characters. Scratch beneath the surface of a western, though, and what do you have? Beyond the valor, what we're talking about is feudalism at its best. Everyone who packed up and headed west basically crossed the Mississippi River to make money — through furs, cattle, gold, etc.

In our game, you enter a "lawless" area and try to strike a balance with the other entrepreneurs who have settled with you among the cottonwoods down by the river. If you're brave, have verve, and possess an uncanny sense of survival, the key to the feudal kingdom of the Old West is yours.

If you find your niche, they'll later name a street after you 50 years later. My ancestor got his dirt path named Hartley's Cul-de-sac, or, as the Indians called it, Bigfoolee (translated, it means (bump-in-the-road-where-village-idiot-lives.")

The rest of you can be the "teenagers." You can spend your entire young adult life trying to squeeze out of whatever box your parents have designed for you. "Think outside the box" usually isn't advice you receive until you're 25 years old and reading your first biography of a Fortune 500 CEO.

Usually, the box parents dream about is too small, too dull, and too simplistic for your yearnings. Simply state, "I'm not sure what I want to do," and the response will be, "Well, you could get straight A's. That'll get you into an Ivy League school, and then you'll meet the right kind of young man/woman. Afterwards, the two of you will give me plenty of grandbabies." Gee, let me hop right into the box and, when you're sealing it up, be sure to use that tape that has those tough fibers running through it so that I'll never get out.

If you play the role of a teenager, you can resist the shape of the box. Once you exhale from that effort, you can define the shape of the box called "your life." Just don't apply for a job at RDH magazine until you get all that goofy stuff out of your hair.

This game may or may not be a terribly exciting one for you to play. It depends on how you look at it. If Doc is operating his practice like the year is 2002 instead of 1952, make yourself as comfortable as you can be when on the cutting edge of contemporary dentistry.

This issue, however, features some people who play cowboys and teenagers out in RDH's backyard, and none of them resemble the wacky street life of San Francisco.

Kim Miller lives in Traverse City, Mich., which is way up there at the base of the little finger of Michigan. She likes to play cowboy. She studied the fine print of dental law and determined there's nothing in it that prohibits her from operating an independent teeth-whitening spa. Valencia Clark lives in Zanesville, Ohio, which is sort of close to Columbus — if you call 60 miles close. She likes to play teenager, defining the quality of her professional life by driving a huge recreational vehicle all over the countryside along the Muskingum River. Then we have Marian Frazier, an 80-something hygienist from Seattle. She plays a teenager whom we shall speak of in present tense, simply because she enjoys dental hygiene too much to give it up. Her youthful spirit is marvelous to behold.

So ... wanna play?

Gee, let me hop right into the box and, when you're sealing it up, be sure to use that tape that has those tough fibers running through it so that I'll never get out.

Editor Mark Hartley can be contacted at [email protected]