Friday, November 25, 2016

Adjectives and Adverbs

"What is a good book to read?"

I boarded the rush-hour train north at Airport Station on a chilly afternoon before Thanksgiving and took the first forward-facing seat near the door.  At Garnett, I think it was, a man about my age breezed on and took the seat perpendicular to mine, facing inward.  He was dressed much more appropriately for the cold than I:  a toboggan, hoodie sweatshirt, tradesman's pants (I assumed "a painter", for some reason) and comfortable-looking, well-worn shoes.  He had the newspaper in his hand, opened to the crossword.  So I assumed that he was looking for an appropriate word when he asked the question:

"What is a good book to read?"

"How many letters?  Have you tried 'novel'?", I asked.

At first he appeared confused, then glanced down at the paper, "Oh, no.  I was just curious about what you'd been reading lately.  You look like someone who reads."

"Well, I seem to read a lot of James Patterson novels.  Do you know them?"

"Yes, I do.  They're an 'easy read'; detective stories and such.  Which do you prefer:  the Women's Murder Club series or the Alex Cross series?"

"One reason I like them so much is that they require very little of the reader.  They're easy to put down and pick back up again.  Plus, you develop a relationship with the principle characters across the series that helps move from one book to the next."

"You know, I read that Patterson only made $95 million last year.  I guess he's a little off his game."

"Maybe we should start a GoFundMe benefit for him!", I said in reply.

After exchanging trivia and speculation about James Patteron's finances and those of his many co-authors, my new friend asked, "But what kind of books do you REALLY like?  Patterson is more a pastime than a devotion."  (Interestingly, that was my thought exactly.)

"Well, to be honest, I've always been a huge fan of Fitzgerald, though he's a subject I haven't thought of or discussed in a while.  His romantic style is sort of out of favor these days."

His eyes lit at the mention of Fitzgerald's name.  "The only one of his books I've ever read is GATSBY.  But I loved it so much that I read it over and over again.  Isn't it interesting how tragic Fitzgerald's life became?  He had everything...very much like Gatsby.  And what was his wife's name?"

"Zelda.  The parallels are fascinating.  If you have the chance, you really should read some of his other work."

Then, he segued, "Did you ever read THE ROAD?"

"Cormack McKenzie, was it?"

"McCarthy.  It was so brutal and in your face.  It was the most beautiful thing I've ever read.  Do you think people are really like that?"

Just then, the man crossed his left ankle over his right knee, the bottom of his foot clearly facing in my direction.  I don't think that my face gave me away in my utter surprise and shock.  Where there should have been a shoe sole, there was nothing.  I didn't want to stare but at first (and last) glance, it looked like nothing more than the bottom of a foot covered in a filthy sock.  What?  My entire perception of the "reality" of this meeting and conversation suddenly changed.

" naturally, I'm anxious to read some of his other books.  What was that movie that did so well based on one of his books?"


"Yep, that's it.  They say that that Spanish actor really did a nice job in it."

The train had progressed quite a bit on our journey since the beginning of our literary conversation.  Suddenly, with no advance warning or introduction of intent, my train-mate rose from his seat.  The train slowed as we neared Midtown station.  We stopped.  The doors opened.  He turned and exited.

Our conversation was over.  Our relationship had ended.  Is something wrong with me that I feel sad about that?

Adjectives and adverbs are the words we use to describe, to account for, to attempt to ally others to our view and our opinion.  Which?  What kind of?   How many?  When?  Where?  How?  I wonder at how different our world might be with only nouns and verbs.

The man I met and spoke with on the train wasn't my superior or my subordinate.  He was neither rich nor poor.  He wasn't a homeless man.  He wasn't an "altered" man.  He wasn't an erudite man.  He wasn't a well-read man.  Though I've described him subsequently as all of those things.  In those moments, in our unique reality together, he was really none of those things.  As uncertain as I am about what "kind" of man he was in that situation, I'm equally uncertain about what "kind" of man I was in that situation.

He was a man.  And so was I.

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