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JewishJournal.com

July 22, 2008

New Old Friends

http://www.jewishjournal.com/50_Plus/article/new_old_friends_20090722

From left: Frank, Seth and Abe. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

From left: Frank, Seth and Abe. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

I’ve recently become close with Abe and Frank, two older guys in my neighborhood. At 90 and 88 respectively, they’re not the typical age of my other friends. At first I wasn’t sure if it was friendship. Maybe they were just humoring me or passing the time. Why would old people want to be friends with me, a 35-year-old?

But then there was one day I heard a knock on my neighbor’s door. Soon the voice of an older man, who sounded confused as he spoke with my neighbor, grabbed my attention. I peeked through the blinds and there was Frank. two-thirds the way up my neighbor’s stairs, his hand gripping the railing intensely.

Frank had seen me entering my apartment on a few occasions, but didn’t know exactly where I lived. I don’t even think he had remembered my name at that point. I helped him down the neighbor’s stairs and then back up to my apartment.

“I just came to say hi,” he told me.

As we sat on my couch and chatted, that’s when I knew we were friends.
Almost every day Frank walks over to Abe’s house, where they sit on the stoop and speak to each other in Yiddish. I would pass by as I walked my dog, and soon I was sitting with them (they switched to English for me). I’d spend upward of an hour talking to them, sharing details about my life, but my interest was in learning about their lives.

I’ve always felt a kinship with the elderly. I’m sure, in part, it’s because of the close relationship I had with my grandparents. But it could also be my penchant for comfortable clothing and early-bird specials.

Collecting advice from the older generation, thanks to Abe and Frank, suddenly became a habit, which in turn inspired me to start a blog (LifeAdviceFromOldPeople.com). The blog collects pearls of wisdom from aging Hollywood celebrities to people like Abe, whose advice to me always focuses on finding a good job and getting paid for whatever I do. I think that’s mainly why he agreed to talk to me for my blog.  He mistakenly thinks this is a living.  How am I supposed to tell him I just enjoy it?

I started collecting advice because I love to hear from the older generation.  I miss my grandparents, my dad died when I was 18, and I live far from my family on the other side of the country.  Collecting advice is a way for me to constantly evaluate the choices I’ve made in life.  I’ve also met some pretty great people.  And, I’ve learned that they get something out of giving me the advice, as well – a reminder that what they say matters.
The blog is barely a month old and it’s still difficult for me to walk over to someone, introduce myself and then ask for some life advice. I feel like I did when I was single, nervously approaching an attractive girl. I used to break my neck at a nice pair of gams in a short skirt; Now I cross the street to chat with the lady holding a walker.

I get “no” on a daily basis. We’re not used to strangers coming over to us and asking for our opinions on life. Also, the word “blog” doesn’t exactly resonate with someone born before 1940. But, once there’s a “yes,” something interesting happens. People begin to open up, and they usually don’t want to end the conversation.

Not all of the advice is the most original or brilliant:

“Be happy.”
“Enjoy life.”
“Have friends.”

These aren’t gems destined to change the way we look at life, nor are they roadmaps for how to accomplish them. But the people giving me advice have influenced me with their stories.

Some of the advice has been powerful.

Jon Voight, a man whom I probably have little in common with politically, has given me advice I still think about. I was lucky enough to spot him in my neighborhood, hanging out with a friend, another man I’d interviewed.
“Cherish the beautiful things you have, take care of your health, and go forward and be a good guy,” Voight told me. “When it’s all finished, look back and say, ‘I was one of the good guys,’ and then you’ll be fine.”

And after directing me in a commercial, I was lucky enough to ask Oscar-winning director Errol Morris for advice.

“Life is an opportunity to make mistakes that can never be fixed,” he told me.  Maybe he was right.  I should strive to be a better person – always.  But, when I make a mistake, don’t keep kicking myself.  Accept it and move on.

Frank, one of the guys who inspired this whole project, told me how important it is for him to lead a “quiet life.” That was his advice to me, both on and off camera. He doesn’t want for more than is necessary. He reminds me of the importance of simplicity, and after striving for the simple and basic pleasures, being content and happy with what you have.

Even when the advice doesn’t seem as interesting as I had hoped, or one person is not as eloquent as another, I take pleasure in the conversation and in getting to know someone new.

And now I have a whole lot of new old friends.

Murray just mailed me pictures of his art, and asked me to spend time with him in his studio while he paints. David wants me to go with him to a blues club I recommended. Mollie asked that I come to her house for a Sunday brunch. I’m even receiving invitations for Shabbat dinners and drinks – simply for stopping strangers and asking them for a little advice.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles.  His blog can be seen at www.lifeadvicefromoldpeople.com.

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