I’ve really only seen the seniors of Friendship Manor—an Isla Vista retirement home—at a distance, drawing brief impressions from glances shot at the building’s large parlor windows.
Through the windows, I can see people laughing and eating across from one another on tables covered with white tablecloths. I wonder for a moment what exactly these men and women—their lives like novels to my short story, who’ve lived through a world I’ve only seen playacted in movies—think of us, their gum-snapping, Red-Bull swilling young neighbors? I wonder, but I always keep walking, my thoughts flitting on to the next thing.
One Isla Vista afternoon, I decided to do more than wonder; I went to find out for myself.
After checking in at the front desk of Friendship Manor, I was introduced to John Patterson, a tall man sporting a UCSB cap. Patterson directed me to fellow resident Don Coray, and we headed to an upstairs conference room to begin our conversation.
Many of the students “treat me with tremendous respect,” Patterson said. “They are wonderful young people, they’ll move to give me a seat on the bus … but I think that there is a wonderful resource here at Friendship Manor that is not being utilized. There are people here who could give so much of themselves.” And of conversation with the students who do visit, he said, “Despite their good intentions—it can often feel superficial.”
Don Coray, a man with friendly blue eyes and slicked-back white hair, stopped to note that, while he agreed with John, when he was a college student in the late 1950s, students maintained a similar remove from local elders. “We were too busy living day to day, having our own heartbreaks and adventures,” Coray noted. “I think we just found mentors in our professors.” So, kids are kids, regardless of the generation.
“But still,” Patterson interjected, drubbing his fist on the table, “it’s tragic. There are mentors here that are not being used.”
“We do have some endangered species here,” Corey admitted, making Patterson and I laugh. “We have a POW vet, guys who have lived through the Great Depression … ”
Evidently, both men not only admire their young I.V. neighbors, they want to get to know us better. They did voice a few minor concerns. “All these kids are wired,” Patterson said. “I’m deep in my thoughts, and they’re talking loudly into their phones about their personal business. Then there’s the lingo … these girls who say ‘like’ every other word.”
Coray volleyed back his own view on the generational language gap. “It’s [verbal] laziness,” Coray said. “But we were lazy, too.” He did have one complaint, though. “I’m no prude, but there are girls here that cuss like my platoon sergeant.”
Despite the aforementioned, words of criticism from the two men were few. Coray noted fondly that, several years ago, after forgetting his wallet in an I.V. video store where he had gone to rent a Cary Grant movie, he was pleasantly surprised to see the young video store clerk come to Friendship Manor to hand-deliver him the wallet. “In my generation, we probably would have done that too. But still, I’ve seen generous people [in this generation],” Coray said.
Then Coray directed a question my way. Did I think that my generation could be more political?
I didn’t rightly know how to answer that one. I brought up the organizations that I knew were working to help Haiti, and thought of the environmental activist groups that I knew of—but I noted that I often asked that same question of myself. Most people want to be political, I offered, or at least like to think that they are.
“When I was in college [in the 1950’s] we were pretty apathetic,” Coray admitted.
After the interview concluded, as I shuffled out of the second floor conference room, Patterson stopped me. “One more thing—you kids have it hard,” he said. “Things are much more complex for you than they were for me, there are so many choices, and you have the environment to deal with,” Patterson said.
Both men politely wished me the best, and I walked down the stairs and out of Friendship Manor. I passed by the large parlor windows again, just like I always do, now having looked through it from both sides.