Several years ago, I was on a suburban commuter train in warmer weather, and I overheard a man who claimed to be a psychiatrist, a big man festooned with silver rings and bracelets, sweating in a suit, talking with an incongruous companion, a tattooed young woman in a skirt. He told her he sometimes worked in a clinic where there were currently 20 men claiming to be Jesus. O.K., I thought, sure, right. Nice round number. I've heard that joke. The man and the woman were just getting acquainted. Perhaps it was a blind date of some sort. He told her how he would never greet patients on the street until they first greeted him, so as not to violate doctor-patient confidentiality.

And she asked about his rings and bracelets, and he told her that he loved silver, that he had shelves and shelves of it, but that he had to spend a lot of time caring for it, that it was interfering with his social life. He would put a big white towel on his lap and watch TV while he cleaned it.

His patients would sometimes ask him what he was doing that night, he said, and he would answer, "Polishing my silver."

If the young lady was perplexed by this, she did not let on.

I thought of my parents' silver, tarnished, in a box in a closet, and wondered if I should ask him if he wanted to buy it. But I was sort of hanging on to it in case the monetary system collapses. You never know. This was not long after 9/11, so apocalyptic thoughts were in the air.

On that train trip, I had my folding bicycle, and had been exploring possible towns to live in north of New York, in Westchester County. I had ridden down through several, on a bike path, and along the river, before getting back aboard the train before dark. I imagined us raising our daughter there, commuting into the city every day. The towns seemed pleasant enough, but a little too "Mayberry RFD" crossed with "The Stepford Wives." (Let's stipulate that is a terribly unfair characterization.)

On the way up, a different man had had an altercation with a Metro-North conductor. He had tried to sneak some of his kids on board without paying. He seemed a little buzzed. The conductor threw them off the train at the next stop. From the station platform, in front of his small daughters, the passenger cussed the conductor out, called him fat, a stream of vitriol that lasted until the doors shut again and we were moving.

I can't say for sure, but that might have been the day I decided I didn't want to move out of New York City. Something caused me to write this all down afterward, and I recently stumbled across those notes, a form of time travel.

What do I do at night, when work is done? I don't polish my parents' silver. It's still in the box.

AuthorPatrick LaForge
CategoriesNew York