LPs, Braces, And The Generation Gulf

My son Peter held the vinyl LP in his hands. It could have been a dinosaur bone.

“Wow,” he said. “This plays on both sides!”

I was amazed by his amazement. And then I thought, why should I be?

Peter had never seen an album before. He grew up listening to CDs, which only play on one side, of course. As he marveled at the grooves in my musical artifact, I felt Age tap me on the shoulder, look me in the eye, and wink.

Generation gap? It’s more like a gulf. Show anyone under age 20 a typewriter or TV rabbit ears or a wooden tennis racket and they look at you as if you were from a different planet. Which in some ways you are. Life today is not what it was a generation ago.

Consider orthodontia (from Greek orthos, “straight, true, correct” + odontos, “tooth”). While I dreaded getting braces, my three kids couldn’t wait to get rigged out. In my sixth grade class, I was one of only two students out of 25 who had tinsel teeth. Today, according to the American Association of Orthodontists, 70 to 80 percent of teenagers in America have or will have braces.

My path to braces began with a retainer in second grade – a futile attempt to corral the toothy Stonehenge that had emerged from my upper gum. Soon it was clear: I had too many teeth and not enough room. So when I was in fifth grade, my dentist extracted four of my bicuspids. Then an x-ray detected a rogue tooth in my palate. That had to come out, too. This time I went to an oral surgeon. For a week afterward, I lived on lemon sherbet, which is forever linked in my mind to an aching mouth and dizzying medications. When my stitches were gone, so was my appetite for lemon sherbet.

The braces were the easy part. My orthodontist, Dr. Prescott, was kind and assured. The nurses were sweet. The appointments were quick and painless.

As my twelfth birthday approached, I received a card from Dr. Prescott. The front showed a bunch of buck-toothed, braces-laden cartoon characters, with the caption “Lots of people have them…” Right, I thought. Then I looked inside: “BIRTHDAYS WE MEAN!”

I broke into a silver smile.

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