“Hold that thought, fellas. There’s a girl at the bar who keeps eyeing me.”
Dan stands up and smooths his shirt while L.A. stops midway between popping another fried mushroom into his mouth. The weird frozen position he stops in is a mix between a hunch like a cat hissing and someone caught in a time loop with their mouth hung open. L.A. looks older than his mid-sixties while holding this strange pose. Dan, far from old and still handsome, marches to bar leaving the rest of us puzzled. L.A. drops the mushroom onto his plate and throws his hands in the air in a gesture of disbelief.
“What is it with you damned young people and your peckers these days? Can’t even enjoy a dinner with the boys for an evening,” he laments.
I met L.A. while crashing on my friend Bill’s couch after returning home from Iraq. Months earlier, Bill met the older man as he rode around their apartment complex on his skateboard. Far from the cantankerous stereotype, L.A. tried to prove he was “hip” and hopped on the skateboard, wiggling his butt back and forth to make the contraption move (this was after a few beers together mind you). From that one event, Bill and L.A. began a Sunday evening dinner tradition — adding friends along the way — that’s been ongoing for the past ten years.
But back to Dan and his pecker.
Perhaps it was the impatient look in L.A.’s eyes, or the glance at his watch every few minutes, but when old men grow incensed with young men, you can push all your chips on black and bet something bad will happen. After fifteen minutes, I no longer have to place bets. Black is about to pay out big. L.A. stands and mimes Dan’s previous actions, smoothing his shirt, and then saunters to the bar where the young woman giggles under the spell of Dan’s charisma.
I will be the one to freeze in a hunched over position while my jaw hangs slack in disbelief this time.
“Is this man bothering you, miss?”
The obvious confusion emanating from the woman’s face makes it clear she assumes the old man who interrupted may be lost or senile. Her smile is compassionate as she turns to face him.
“Not at all! In fact, Dan here, was just about to buy me a drink!” She says jabbing a playful finger in Dan’s sternum.
In the Hindu tradition, the God, Shiva, is known as the Destroyer of Worlds. At the end of the age, he dances a Dance of Destruction cleansing the Earth to once more begin anew. The words that leave L.A.’s mouth not only lay waste to Dan’s chances of buying the young woman a drink, but will also become Dan’s personal Destroyer of Worlds for the foreseeable future, because we never let him live it down.
“Well miss,” L.A. responds as he smacks his lips to gather saliva for the Dance of Destruction. “This man is a sexual predator and deviant. And I’ll have you know,” One finger lifts as if to to emphasize the next point, “I am his parole officer.”
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my 73-year-old friend revolves around time well spent. In today’s society, we can become distracted by events we believe we might miss out on. Talking to a girl or guy we think is attractive only to bail on friends. Constantly checking our phone for texts or notifications. While L.A. made up an absurd story about Dan to the young woman, it was to teach him a lesson — You’re supposed to be spending time with me, not fishing for dates. The next time you go to a restaurant, observe how prevalent this is. Men and women stay glued to their phones when they should be engaged with one another. L.A. has a strict “no looking at your damned phone” rule while at dinner. He asks you show up, be present, engage in conversation, and enjoy the company you’re with.
Lesson #1: Be Present. Remove distractions and enjoy the people you’re with.
“Your wife… does she ever remember who you are?”
L.A. sips his beer, then chuckles. “Shit no man… it’s been…” He removes his cap and scratches the baldness on top. “Six years? Yeah, six years, buddy. She thinks I’m some nice visitor that shows up every day.”
For several years during our dinners we would ask about L.A.’s wife. As the two grew older, she developed dementia (a disease similar to Alzheimer’s where the ability to learn, reason, retain or recall past experience deteriorates to the point of a vegetative state). Being that L.A. was older and couldn’t lift his “bride and joy” to bathe or care for her, he was forced to place her in a nursing home. This didn’t stop him, however, from seeing her everyday.
Almost every day for eight years until her death, L.A. would drive to the nursing home and visit his wife. He would read to her, bring her flowers, celebrate their anniversary, spend Christmas together, and just talk like she still remembered him.
While L.A. lived a modern version of the popular movie The Notebook, he didn’t get the happy ending where his wife became lucid and remembered him for a moment. But that didn’t matter. For eight long years he emulated the vows, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.”
Lesson #2: True love is sacrificial and selfless, not self-serving like the garbage being thrown at us in today’s “you make me happy until you don’t” society.
“So what does L.A. mean exactly?”
I’m surprised it’s taken this long for our waitress, Rachael, to ask. She’s a pretty blond girl that L.A. has taken a fondness to. We sit in her section every week and are so consistent on arrival time and orders that appetizers and drinks are out within seconds of us sitting down. This pleases L.A. to no end as does the question she’s asked.
But he won’t answer her until he’s had a drink of his Bud Light (he’ll drink nothing else). Then after a long draw and an audible “ahhhhhh” he flashes a cheshire grin.
“Lovable…” he gulps his beer once more then continues, “and Adorable!”
I roll my eyes while others at the table moan. We’ve heard this tall tale with every waiter over the past several years. The way he answers the question is creepy too. It’s almost like the word “moist.” It just doesn’t sound good. But hey, when you’re seventy you can say whatever you want. Even steal. All L.A. has to do is act confused, and suddenly we’re the kind grandchildren taking care of our senile grandfather.
To his benefit, L.A. really is “lovable and adorable.” Everyone he meets — to his waiter or even a random friend we bring along — he treats with kindness. No matter how creepy he tries to come off to embarrass us (parol officer included), at his core he oozes tenderness.
When Rachael left her job for college we all chipped in for a gift, L.A. spending the most. Years later, she would get married and join us for a few of our dinners as part of the gang. ‘Ol Lovable and Adorable made sure to pay for her meal and finally told her what L.A. stood for — Leo Alfred.
Lesson #3: Kindness and compassion go a long way and can turn the most unlikely encounter into a friendship.
When I tell people I’ve been meeting for the past ten years with a man older than my parents, most assume I’m doing it out of charity for a widower.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. L.A. is one of my closest friends.
Many in my generation wrongly conclude they’re in different life stages than the elderly and that making friends with an older man or woman is out of the question. What on earth would you have to talk about? WWII? The sad reality is the statistics back this up. Half a million people over the age of 60 spend each day alone, with no interaction from another human being, and nearly half a million more do not see or speak to anyone for five or six days a week.
During our youth and into our thirties, we are apt to believe we understand the world and the direction life should take us. We think we know what jobs, friends, or relationships will make us happy and content. But wisdom is not gleaned by trailblazing a path through life without the council of the wise. When we marginalize older generations as being out of touch with reality we miss out on the joy and knowledge they bring to a friendship. We miss our chance to learn from their battle tested expertise and foresight.
So here’s a bonus lesson: If you want to grow wise, make friends with someone in an older generation.
You won’t regret it. Even if they pretend to be your parol officer.