And what happened was, the other evening when Roy and I left the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after an evening of live jazz there, in the parking structure we found a young man, 20-something, holding court with a girl and a guy, using as his orator’s throne the trunk of Roy’s beloved black 1971 Buick Electra 225.
Roy, someone I’d seen lose it over an initially friendly debate regarding just how many collies were used in the old Lassie TV series (“It’s the principle of the thing”), was surprisingly genteel in asking the young man to move. However, the young man, either under the ill-informed influence of an illicit narcotic or simply feeling his oats, not only took time removing himself, but mumbled something out of line.
Graciously, Roy ignored it. He, like myself, believes, in the immortal words of a certain Whitney Houston tune, that the children are our future. In this impromptu summit of generations and minds, Roy must have glimpsed an opportunity to contribute something–say, a lesson about respect for the property of others–to a young citizen of the world.
The young man didn’t possess such a vision. Instead, what he saw was Roy’s height–5’7 tops, to the kid’s six feet-plus–and a severe widow’s peak of gray. When we approached, the young man might have even caught the slight limp in Roy’s stride that occurs when his bad knee from an old motorcycle mishap flares up.
Mostly, though, when the young man looked at us, he most likely saw what I might have seen at his age: He saw two “old” guys.
George Bernard Shaw got it right with that sagacious line, “Youth is wasted on the young.” In your early twenties, you think you know how to communicate, think you wrote the book on sex and think you know what the future holds. What you don’t know is that you basically don’t know shit.
Moreover, when you’re in your twenties, you think anyone over forty–thirty, even–is old. Only after your twenties do you even begin to realize just how mistaken you were about things.
It’s like the 1957 Sci-fi classic, “Invasion of The Body Snatchers,” where the suspecting earthlings fight like hell to stay awake to avoid becoming Pod People. Eventually they do nod off and awaken, emotionless and zombielike, insisting that being a Pod Person isn’t so bad.
In real life, waking up on the other side of thirty can mark the beginning of a wonderful journey of personal discovery and growth. Life after all, is the ultimate university. The only tuition to be paid is attention.
Of course, sheer time on the planet doesn’t guarantee clarity of life. The gem in the crown of this existence is experience and a willingness to learn. That is when youthful agility is replaced by knowledge-tempered technique; when compulsion is contrasted by contemplation, when impertinence is countered by a respect for self and others.
There are plenty young adults who know parts of what I’ve said. I’m not sure what part of it this young man knew, but in a gesture of goodwill and apology, he extended his hand to Roy. I did witness that much.
However, in the next second, the young man was lying on the cement. You won’t read exactly what happened here, because I didn’t see it. In the moment that I glanced over my shoulder, distracted by a car leaving the parking garage, I missed it.
But Roy didn’t. Lacking the young man’s arm reach and youthful energy, he relied on instincts and experience. He’d later say the youngster’s eyes betrayed his true intentions.
Eyes that couldn’t see that to step to Roy, a peace loving guy one year shy of his fifty-eighth birthday, was to go up against a man with a black belt in Life.
To “go there” with Roy was to venture to ‘Nam and Woodstock, both places where Roy says he saw people die. Roy has done some living, seen some things. Slight to the naked eye, he is, no offense to his prized Buick, built like Chevy claims to build trucks.
And so, before the young man could swing with his other hand, Roy rang the school bell.
But this ass whipping was meted out with love. Compassion. As I said, Roy sincerely believes that children are our future. And because of Roy, in that future, perhaps the young man will come to open his eyes to more than an incoming fist.
However, at that moment, while the young man’s friends sought to revive him–as Roy and I slowly rolled away to the hi-fidelity pleas of Buddy Guy on the stereo–I couldn’t help but think that somewhere deep in the crevices of that young man’s foggy semiconsciousness, rang three prolific words: Old. Guys. Rule.
Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]