I’ve dropped my kickstand in front of a weather-beaten old place that looks abandoned. There’s a shadow cast across the front of the building as the morning sun barely peeks over the mountain and the Beast is resting in the shade. The gauge says it’s 93 degrees.
An old man comes out to sit on the porch as I dig around to find the water bottle I have stashed. I guess him to be Navajo, but I don’t ask. He eyes me for a few minutes before he grunts in my direction and mumbles, “Guess you don’t read English, huh?” He leans back in his rocking chair, waiting for my reaction. I sit on the Beast, put my foot up on the passenger peg and take a swig of the warm water before I answer that yes, I’d seen the faded old “No Parking” sign. I wipe the sweat from my face before offering, “But you know, there’s nobody else around, it’s hot as hell and this is the only shady spot there is. Pretty sure I’m not bothering anybody. Unless I’m bothering you, of course? Didn’t even realize you were here, though. I thought I was alone.” He says nothing for about a minute or so, then leans forward in his chair. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, you are bothering me. Everybody bothers me. That damned thing is noisy, ya know that? I heard ya coming for miles… Can’t get away from people these days. What are you doing out here anyway? Sure do have a lotta crap tied to your horse there, young lady. What do you need so much crap for? Ya moving or what?”
I just listen as he works his way through the rant, complete with waving arms and hits from his cigarette before he settles down. I ask about Tuzigoot, the National monument of the Sinagua people’s ruins that I had wanted to see. “You’re not gonna go out and trash the place, are ya?” he asks with squinted eyes. “Buncha kids went out there and partied, said they wanted to ‘commune with the spirits.’ Left beer bottles all over the place and trash. Idiots. What is it with the kids these days? When I was in my 20s I had respect. I was already a husband and a father when I was 25. These kids today are worthless.” He throws his cigarette butt on the rotted wooden porch and stomps in disgust. “And smartasses. They always got some smartass thing to say about everything. Can’t even be civil, can’t have a conversation with a damned one of ’em!” I nod. “It’s a different world, now,” I explain. “They’re called millennials, though they don’t much like the term. Yeah, there’s an odd sense of entitlement with them that I don’t get, but remember when you were young? I bet you thought you knew everything, too. I was riding a Honda chopper back then and I thought I knew all there was to know. I had the world by the tail! I was still willing to listen to the elders, though. Old people always have cool stories. So much to learn from the old folks. I’ve got a couple of grandkids in their 20s and I’m pretty lucky; they still think I’m cool and I enjoy their company.”
He fishes through his pocket for another cigarette and pulls one out. There isn’t a pack, just individually-rolled cigarettes tucked into the snapped pocket of his cowboy shirt. The long sleeves aren’t snapped at the cuff and the top three snaps are also undone, revealing a dingy undershirt stained with sweat. He runs his fingers through his long grey hair before lighting the cigarette and exhaling slowly. “I bet you think I’m old, don’t you?” he asks as he stares me down. I laugh and tell him I think he’s cranky and ornery, but I couldn’t begin to guess his age. “Well, I don’t have any grandkids, I can tell you that!” With that I realize he’s decided I’m older than he is and I get a reality check as I scrutinize his features. Though grey and thin, his hair is darker than mine. His skin is set with worry creases and deep wrinkles from the sun, with long thin fingers and scars across one hand. His movements seem fluid, not stiff and it dawns on me that maybe I’ve misjudged my unwilling host when he shares that he is 50 years old. “Do you think that’s old?” he asks. “I remember when I thought 30 was old, and here I am, half a century. Just had a birthday a week ago and you know what? My son didn’t even call. Not a card, not a tweet or a text or whatever they call that social stuff these days. Not one damned word. His mama is turning in her grave for sure.”
He sucks on his cigarette in silence as I try to figure out the right thing to say while staring at my boot. Then it hits me; stashed in my bag is a fake, battery-operated candle and a granola bar, which I fish out and take over to the stump next to his chair. Placing the candle atop the granola bar, I launch into a round of “Happy Birthday” while doing a Mexican hat dance jig and clapping. He cracks up and flicks his cigarette butt at me as he yells, “Git outta here, you crazy gringo!” And that is how Ira and I became friends.