Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

It started off as a nice offer from the husband. “He can come and stay with us for a while!” We were talking about our friend’s 21-year-old son. They live in the U.K. I never thought it would happen, really didn’t. “What a nice suggestion!” she responded. “Let me think on’t.” And then we let it go, as you do. Don’t want to labor the point!

Twenty-somethings the world over have a bunch of issues these days, it seems. Whether it’s all the pressures of social media and looking just right, or the post-pandemic mental issues that seem to pervade the youth especially, or a combo of all of it, compounding on their undeveloped brains, I don’t know.

What I do know is that many of my friends with 20-something boys, most often, are dealing with the fall-out of their mental health that takes a great strain on their families in addition, as they should be transitioning from the home to the big world outside and they don’t seem to be able to do that. It’s an epidemic, post pandemic, I tell you. Is there a level of entitlement mixed in there that our generation has endorsed? I am not really qualified to say.

Anyway, time passed as she does, and my friend tells me that her son is seriously interested in coming to Cali. All the way from the U.K. to Cali by himself. (“Yeah, believe that when I see it,” I thought to just myself.) He could barely make it to college by himself; I could not conceive how this might work out.

“That’s fine,” I respond. (Still a non-believer.) Husband was excited, boy scout master that he is, in reality several moons ago and always at heart. And so, the seeds of Operation Boy were sown.

“Did boy get on the plane?” I ask. Yes, boy did. There was a little flutter right before he left, but he managed. It’s as if boy knew that he needed to do this for himself and his future life. He needed to get out of his room and away from his videogames, also the familiarity and comfort of his family and his home, and get a taste of the world outside. “I’ll email you a list,” his mother said. “Oh, I thought I’d just wing it,” I reply, and that was really my plan. It wasn’t until I read her list that I started to feel the onus of this monumental task.

I was going to have, in my care, a young man with some serious issues and the pressure was on us to try and make a difference in this young person’s life in just a couple of brief weeks. I so wished I had not read that list. Despite good intentions, I am much better with animals than people.

But never fear, the scoutmaster took charge of this young chap who was almost a mirror image of himself, truth-be-told, with matching panic attacks and social disorders. They went shopping and enjoyed cooking together. Young one learned how to make chicken enchiladas, how to master a BBQ skirt steak and manufacture some superior cherry jam, to name a few culinary experiences. He realized what an affinity he had with animals — and especially dogs — and most evenings had a dog pile right on and next to him that gave him enormous esteem. He thought about how he might get involved in animal volunteer work where he could help socialize dogs and how good he would be at that.

I saw a different side to this boy that spoke to me of how, when a person is a little off track in life, sometimes a change can be as good as a rest, as granny would say — and one trip on your lonesome can maybe alter your world for the better, if you are open to the possibilities.

“You need to help me pull the engine on Vandura,” husband tells him. Knowing that boy was not a super fan of getting his hands dirty, I was curious to see how this would work out. Poor Vandura, the old VW van, was always in various states of not running. I arrive home from work to find one young chap underneath the van and one old guy sitting in the supervisory chair. Boy’s hands were covered in oil.

I sent a photo to his mother, and I think that tickled her heartstrings just a little. Boy was stepping out of his comfort zone and trying new things. “I need to cut a hole in the wall and install that thing,” husband tells him, pointing at a large box. I see the power tools coming out and rapidly make my exit. I also heard that he may have handled a (legal) firearm, but I never want to know about that stuff. It’s all boy town to me.

For my part, I tried to teach him some domestics, picking up and cleaning around himself. This wasn’t quite as successful a venture and certainly not after suppertime, but he did seem to grasp the concept that, when you live with people, you need to consciously work toward being thoughtful concerning the others and contributing to sharing a space. We discussed that topic a fair bit and the fact that his parents both work hard so that he can have a nice life and go to college. He seemed to accept that he needed to do his part and I hope that, going forward, he will.

We took him to the beach and the mountains. He enjoyed clam chowder on the wharf and the sight of an otter eating abalone on his back. We gave him a taste of Cali life that he, perhaps, hadn’t imagined before and then, without even having got his bags packed to leave, he started already talking about his return visit.

I think we did well with boy over the last couple of weeks. No matter I couldn’t get him out of his shaggy old tennies, nor allow a glimmer of Cali sun rays to hit his white-white skin or learn to properly clean up after himself, I think he learned a lot.

And as for the husband, the old man, I was reminded that he likely missed his calling in life as a teacher or counselor; except that he didn’t really miss it at all. He made a huge difference in the life of a young person these last couple of weeks and that speaks volumes about him and his abilities to effect change.

Boy town is coming to a close at Solace and soon it will be just us golden oldies again. We’ll see boy again out here — of that there is little doubt — and next time he’ll be a pro.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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