I found some teenagers and asked for a few minutes of their attention. That wasn't hard, since we were at a 7-Eleven and I promised them all their choice of sugar foods in return for their cooperation.
I opened the book and began reading, "Please don't think that I'm merely expressing a personal and professional opinion if I say that we are now in an era in which communications play a greater role than ever before. . . ."
I could tell their attention was waning rapidly. They were already looking over the doughnut display. I started reading faster.
"The only item that worries me in all this is that in paying so much attention to communicating with people elsewhere, we seem to be neglecting one audience . . . your family."
I asked, "Agree or disagree?"
The teenagers, a couple of girls and a boy, drank some Coke and pondered. "Agree, I guess."
Yes, I was truly establishing a rapport.
I continued, "Only the other day I was on my way to my car in the parking lot after `American Bandstand' had gone off the air."
I could tell that the teenagers needed some explanation:
Before Arsenio Hall's "Party Machine," before MTV's "Club MTV," there was "American Bandstand." It was basically the same thing. Records were played and kids danced.
I continued reading, "A young girl I had never seen before came up to me . . . her expression was so worried. . . . There was a lot on her 16-year-old mind. Her boyfriend, same age, had been pleading with her for the past month or so to run away and get married."
The kids nodded. Not an unfamiliar scenario.
I continued reading the story, which told how the girl said her parents were still treating her like a child, and she couldn't talk seriously to them. But the girl agreed to have a phone call placed to her father and was finally reunited with her family.
I continued reading, " . . . the relieved father assured me, at least a hundred times, that from now on he would listen to anything - anything his daughter would want to tell him. . . . I'm sure . . . he listened to his daughter in a new way, and heard her speaking for the first time as a woman. . . . It was a hard lesson, and I'm sure both he and his wife, and the daughter, were grateful that night that it served to bring them closer together. . . ."
I asked the kids, "Good advice or bad advice?"
They replied, "It's OK."
You can't really get a better endorsement from a kid. "It's OK." You could show them a Michelangelo painting, and they'd say, "It's OK."
I asked them one last question. I asked when they thought this book was written.
"I don't know . . . a couple years ago?" one of them asked.
I showed them the copyright: 1959. "Your Happiest Years," by Dick Clark.
"That's old!" one of them said.
That's true. But some things stand the test of time. Back in 1959, Dick Clark was one of the biggest stars around. Kids all over the country made sure they were home every weekday afternoon to catch "American Bandstand." At one point, the show brought in as many as a million fan letters a week.
I ran across his book while researching a story on a completely different subject. I started reading it, and, I thought, except for some dated references here and there, Dick Clark could reissue this same book 32 years later.
He suggested to kids that, to better understand their parents, they follow their folks around for a day, just to see their grueling days.
He suggested to parents, as with that teenage girl, that they treat the children with respect.
He told girls, "No girl has to a kiss a fellow good night - ever!" He told boys, "A kiss is a precious thing. Precious to the one bestowing it, and to the lucky one winning it."
In the 1990s it's usually more than a kiss that we're talking about, but the advice is still sound.
I called Dick Clark's office to ask if he remembered the book. But he was not there. At age 62, Clark is busier than ever producing TV shows.
"With the independence that becoming a teenager brings, there is often a tendency to think we're discovering everything by and for ourselves," he told kids back then.
"It's hard to realize that parents, even your parents, have had similar problems. Not only that, they may have solved them and remember enough to show you how to do the same thing."
As I said, in these disposable times, it's nice to know a few things, particularly an unexpected book, hold up.
Erik Lacitis' column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Scene section of The Times.