It's like sitting in an autumn glade somewhere in New England, all orange and brown and gleaming yellow. The boles of the trees are gray in the moted light. A burble of soft rock music fills the air—it could be a trout stream running over stones. Houseplants aspirate: feather fern, wandering Jew, the grasping green legs of an herbaceous spider.
The illusion shatters. This is a dentist's office, the off-season habitat of William Edward Lenkaitis, 6'4" by 250 pounds by 31 years of age, better known to the sporting world as center for the New England Patriots. His hands, bigger than most men's feet, look as though they could disjoint a mandible with one minor slip. And he's about to clean your teeth!
O.K., relax. Finger for finger, Bill Lenkaitis is probably the most talented young dentist in Foxboro, Mass. Certainly he's one of the nation's most calming. His autumn-woods wallpaper, the big windows that let light into his spacious suite on a quiet side street of the small (pop. 14,218) town and the gentle FM music that he plays reinforce an image of self-assured competence—and put to rest the deep fears of going to the dentist.
The ultrasonic vibrator whines against your ivories. "I'm a bit heavy-handed sometimes," says Lenkaitis, "so I prefer not to use the scaler. You know, that little hook thing that a lot of dentists use to scrape away the tartar. If you slip, it's Bleeding Gumsville. And who needs that?
"I hate that sterile music you hear in most dentists' offices. If I'm going to have to be here from nine in the morning to nine at night, as I often am, I should feel like I'm at home. It's tough to get started in dentistry anywhere. You go around to the grade schools and ask if you can have the honor of showing kids how to brush their teeth. You work long hours on your feet, concentrating, trying to keep people calm, trying to help them. You join the Jaycees. Wider there, please. Fine.
"I had orthodontia as a kid," Lenkaitis says, "braces for I don't know how many years, and it got me into this. I mean, everybody has to go to the dentist, but do they have to think of it as a visit to the Bastille? I hope not. After pre-dent at Penn State, I was a part-time student at the dental school at the University of Tennessee from 1969 to 1974. Opened this office on the day of our first league game last season. It's building, slowly but surely, but it's building."
Lenkaitis steps back from the chair. His wide, calm face brightens in a smile. He has good teeth.
Later he works on an elderly woman named Caroline Duesing, 83 years on the planet and all of them in New England. Still, you can sense her tension. Lenkaitis bends over her and whispers sweet nothings, an instrument moving in micromillimeters, big hands flexing with surety.
"Didn't hurt you there, did I, Caroline?"