Philip and his mother had almost arrived on their drive from Mesquite, Nevada to Littlefield, Arizona, a small, nearly indiscernible town in the odd corner of Arizona between Nevada and Utah. There, in Littlefield, was what became an important resource for Philip's family, a humble dental clinic with extraordinarily low prices, providing cost effective relief at a rate Philip's father felt was appropriate.
Mrs. Baselli, the mother of Philip's elementary-aged classmate, Jessica, was a dentist at this understated, pop-up looking clinic. From the time he began school, Philip admired how Jessica always seemed so happy and nice; he might have even been in love with her. This thought, and Super Mario Sunshine, occupied most of Philip's mind from the ages of 6-9. To confuse matters further, Jessica's last name was unfamiliar, and he couldn't figure out where people who looked so pretty came from. At any rate, Philip thought she was splendid, and did a great job in Mr. Dasel's Grinch play. Jessica's brother was a few years older, and a talented golfer! Philip could sense high expectations in the Baselli family, and he knew he had to keep it together for his dental appointment.
Philip was 7 years old at the time, and was still learning what to think about visiting the dentist. This dentist's office was confusing and even surprising for Philip, as he didn't understand why his dentist was situated in the middle of a nameless expanse of desert; he hadn't been to the dentist much, but this wasn't what he expected. The clinic performed technical procedures, to Philip clearly on par with mortgage finance, out of portable structures that appeared more similar to camping furniture than the stuccoed and dry-landscaped buildings he was used to.
An inquisitive, reflective boy, Philip took the 30 minute drive across the familiar orange sagebrush steppe to consider his experiences in school thus far, as this was likely to be a topic of conversation during his appointment. He was also sure that thinking about school, and Jessica, would distract him from any impending discomfort.
He attended the only elementary school in Mesquite, Nevada: Virgin Valley Elementary. Mesquite was a small casino/resort town an hour outside of Las Vegas, with endless stucco of orange and beige, brimming planned communities and golf courses for wealthy retirees, and a distinctly different side of town where some other friends lived. It was his first experience at school, and to him, a sort of proving ground for everything his self-employed, loan officer parents taught him during his rapid childhood, thus far. The school, an old yellowed-beige vinyl and green-trimmed school, had as many detached portable buildings as indoor classrooms; it was surprisingly dated, reminiscent of a time Philip knew he was not familiar with, and mostly dimly lit with yellowish purple lighting, like dark fish tank areas at the zoo. There was an odd warmth and comfort to the old school, with dim rooms and old-ish brown desks, colorful educational posters and spatterings of bright, construction-paper autumn crafts, as though the school belonged to a different dimension that he got to visit each day, by himself! Sort of a contrapositive to the adult-oriented casino and golf world he felt surrounded in. Sometimes Philip even got to meet the principal or take important state-solicited tests to prove to his father how acute he was.
"Bulldogs are cooperative, responsible, caring, courteous, and respectful."
Some of the teachers themselves had attended the school as children, which assured Philip that it must have been at least from the 1970s. The school's librarian, Mr. Hardy, spoke with such grace and rhythm as he divulged magnificent stories from large, illustrated children's books, his fingers effortlessly peeling back one page at a time from the plastic-covered books, lifting the floor-seated children into their wildest dreams. The sound of the thick pages and plastic-protected books was as remarkable to Philip as Mr. Hardy's breathy and expressive storytelling. He wondered if Jessica, too, appreciated Mr. Hardy's enchanting hands and voice. Philip was surprised that Mr. Hardy was so kind and told such interesting stories; he spent so many years learning from TV and his parents what school was going to be like, and to Philip, going to school was even better than he expected.
Jessica's aunt was even a 3rd grade teacher at the school, further reinforcing to Philip that she came from an established family in this small casino town.
The school was promptly rebuilt when Philip was in second grade, and the principal gave Philip the opportunity to deliver a 2-page-long speech commemorating its construction, which he wore a tie for, and brought his typed papers, but didn't need to read from them. Philip liked how clean and nice the new Virgin Valley Elementary was, he admired how interesting the suburban-modern architecture was, which at the time was beyond his description or understanding. By that time, he also realized it posessed a different characteristic. It was plainly modern and convenient.
Philip's family had a sensibility for real estate on the golf course, from Pebble Beach, to Park City, to Las Vegas, and his father occassionally took him on the golf course to collect misplaced golf balls at dusk; Philip did not understand how sick his father was at the time. His father loved desert golf neighborhoods, although he assured Philip that Mesquite was a "one-horse town", and that he would need to figure out how to make a name for himself. These thoughts and others occupied Philip's mind as his parents perpetually drove around looking at real estate. Philip knew what his father meant, and it was especially clear to him when he was at the dental clinic in the middle of nowhere.
Philip was excited to meet Mrs. Baselli, because he was certain that introducing himself would earn clout in the Baselli family. Mrs. Baselli was bound to be educated, although he didn't understand her humble workplace. Somehow this anticipation helped him avoid the fear of going to the dentist, at least during the period his family visited this dental clinic. Philip was always surprised to learn that so many of his classmates' parents worked for the local casinos in Mesquite, and was never certain what was expected of him when he met them.
The clinic was oddly similar to many of the portable classrooms at his old school. Philip waited patiently as his mother filled out the paper work, and anxiously pondered all of the horrific things that happened in this dental clinic, until his name was called and he and his mother were ushered into an office. Mesquite was a small town, but there had to have been a dentist there, he thought...
Mrs. Baselli expressed a curiosity in Philip's school life that he had come to expect of adults, and he was careful to present himself the way he did to other adults when he introduced himself to them. Philip was distracted, fully, by the aesthetic of the dental clinic, although he thought he made a good impression, enough that he could stay quiet while his mother and Mrs. Baselli exchanged seemingly boundless anecdotes and praise of their respective children. Philip's procedure was nearly over, with Mrs. Baselli announcing that there'd be just one more pinch.
Philip wondered whether he should tell Jessica that he went to her mom's clinic, but he was still unclear as to why the clinic looked the way it did and was located nowhere near Mesquite. What would he say, and would Jessica have her own ambiguous opinion for her mom's clinic? He liked her so much, and couldn't bear the thought of unknowingly offending her. Philip knew he didn't have enough context to have a discussion about visiting the dentist, and he was also afraid to ask his parents why Mrs. Baselli worked at this clinic; he wasn't even certain of how dental clinics are supposed to look, or whether Mesquite had other dentists in town. He later learned something about how this clinic being in Arizona made it cheaper. His all-knowing and put-together parents were increasingly careful with money as he got older and he wasn't sure why.
Something about the experience at the dentist empowered Philip, although he was barely present for the actual procedure; he felt like he knew Jessica better, the reality of her mom's work made Jessica easier to talk to, although he couldn't completely explain why, and he never did mention that her mom pulled his teeth. He sometimes wondered what her father was like. Philip looked so fondly on his experiences in elementary school, he pleaded and wished to himself that he might know Jessica when he was older, and understood the world better. He knew that his parents were constantly moving, that something may soon change, and he would have to learn to carry Jessica on in his heart. He couldn't have possibly known what his future would bear, and remained in awe.