It was a time of innocence. April, 2020. We were checking the latest advice from the CDC; it kept changing, as was to be expected in an unfolding epidemic as experts sought to unravel the means and circumstances of transmission. I made cotton face masks and bought hand sanitizer and worried about bicyclist-breath and whether six feet was enough distance to keep from my fellow potential virus hosts. It was obviously going to be a long haul.

Dave and I were walking home, wearing our cotton masks (his matched his shirt, which can happen if the lady of the house made both the shirt and the mask). An old man was approaching us. He never said a word. But suddenly he looked up and started clawing at his own bare face, and spitting, and glaring. Was he ill? Should we do something?
He veered off and kept walking and tossing his arm back at us as if he were throwing out trash, clearly, now, with hostile intent. Dave and I looked at each other, mystified. Could he possibly be upset at our face masks? That was too far-fetched to be true. Maybe he was psychotic. It was puzzling.
A time of innocence.
Now, of course, we know that unthinkable numbers of people are incensed that anyone wears a mask per expert guidance in the face of a public health emergency. Who imagine themselves victims of tyranny and oppression, in a world not lacking examples of actual tyranny and oppression. It’s nuts. It’s depressing. What is the antidote to the Grumpy Old Man?
Why, I’ll tell you.
It’s young people. Dave and I have been collecting them for years. Today’s young people are the nicest, kindest, smartest, most earnest people you’ll ever want to meet. They’ve been taught from an early age to consider other people’s feelings, to go out of their way to not offend, to keep track of preferred pronouns and respect tribal identities. They are fucking adorable.
Dave and I don’t always come off so well in this group. We’re still bantering with the snide remarks and dark humor we were raised on, and don’t recognize how offensive we now sound until we get that perplexed, concerned look (are they ill? Should we do something?). But they always give us another chance. They allow themselves to be collected.
So it was nothing new the other evening when the back door opened and in walked a young man who was even taller, thinner, and furrier than Dave. “I’m Ben,” he said. “I was coming down the alley and your husband here invited me in.” Hi Ben, want a beer? Ben thought he might. He was supposed to meet a friend, but not for another fifteen minutes.
I was making dinner. This was one of those dinners that is supposed to take 22 minutes to make, which it does if your prep cook is your friend Scott, who can turn a whole garden into dice in the time it takes you to scratch your butt. No Scott, though. I was looking at an hour, minimum.
“Do you have another cutting board, and a sharp knife?” Ben asked. I did.
And Ben sat at our kitchen counter and de-kerneled four ears of corn, chopped three zucchinis and a turnip, sliced green beans, stacked a cone of cilantro, and presented it all in five neat heaps of geometric perfection while I labored over an onion and a hand of ginger. Then he was sorry, but he had to go see his friend. It was nice meeting us, he said. We exchanged contact info. Soon an email landed in my box. Please note the effort made to avoid referring to Dave and me as old:
It was a pleasure meeting yall and spending that time together. As I age, I get more insight and perspective from those born before me…I’d honestly love to prepare dinner with yall again.
A dorable. The Bens of this world, and I’ve found there is no shortage around here, are the antidote to the Grumpy Old Men of every age. I hope he does feel free to pop by again.
I think I could get him to clean our kitchen.