Monday, October 6, 2008

Stranger on a Train

Larry and I went to New York a couple of weeks ago to see two plays. We did this for the very first time last winter, going all that way to see the Seafarer, and it was worth it. We went back in the spring to see Port Authority, and that too was worth the expense and the time away from work and home. We aren't rich. No writers are, but going off to see people performing at the top of their profession in drama feels less like an extravagance and more like a pilgrimage. 

In this past trip, we didn't have quite as much luck. Not true. The pilgrimage was different and enlightening in a new way. First, we found magic. Standing on the platform in Boston, waiting for the Accela, I noticed Larry looking grim. He's always worried about getting a seat. I don't know why he worries about this, but he does. I patted his belly and his cheek. I smirked at him and then kissed him, hoping to chide him a bit and to comfort him. I don't know why but men prefer to be teased a bit while they take comfort. Perhaps they don't like to feel coddled. 

Anyway, there was an older man standing next to us on the platform and he exclaimed to his wife, "Look. That woman patted her husband in broad daylight." He was leaning on a cane and wearing a Red Sox hat, but the letters looked to be in Hebrew. He went on and on about belly patting and how much men need that. I couldn't quite figure out how to take him, and this fuss. But the train came. As it turned out, we couldn't find a seat. And wandered to the front of the car, and found ourselves sitting across from each other and across the aisle from this man and his wife. He recognized us. Said to his wife, "Look who that is, the lady who pats her husband." Or some such. 

I took out my notebook and began to write. The best part of the trip is the train ride and having all those hours in which to write undisturbed. I saw the man take out what looked like a small plastic kit of some sort. He unfolded it and it had compartments and inside that a little tiny flask of water. I went back to my writing. Turns out that he was unfolding a small watercolor palette. Two hours later he handed me the above picture, one he painted on the train while we rode. He does this all the time. He carries this little painting kit and these 5 by 8 cards and he paints people he sees every day. He paints them at Fenway Park and on the Common. "Usually, they don't even know they're being painted." 

On the back of the picture he wrote in pencil, "Jane Austen finishes chapter 19 on the train to NYC." Afterward he asked if I was writing a book. I said yes. "I knew it," he said. He seemed happy to have guessed it. We were on the train just a few days after attending my friend Jack's funeral, and I was still selfishly very sad about my own loss. To me, the picture felt like a blessing for the trip. I couldn't get over it, and I couldn't quit looking at it.

The plays themselves were somewhat less exciting, although I shouldn't complain. We saw this as a matinee. And that's really the only time you should go to one of the big blockbuster-type comedies. If you're not surrounded by 70-year-old Rotary Club members from Madison Wisconsin who are laughing so hard at the par boiled laugh lines that their contact lenses are popping right out of their eyes, well, you're cheating yourself. Truly. 

We walked out afterward and Larry said, "What did you think?" I said, "I miss the Carol Burnett show." No snark intended. It's like a really long, but pretty good skit of the old Carol Burnett show. Not till we got home did I look it up to find that it's the most exported play of the French theater. Ever. 

That night we saw Three Changes. The acting was good and there were several astonishing emotional moments, but I didn't quite understand what was going on or why. I'm going to come right out and admit this. It's very disappointing to be facing a long train ride home in which to ponder one's own inadequacy as a viewer or appreciator of drama. Fortunately, there was a klatch of ancient ladies behind us in their sensible sweaters and chunky jewelry who were just as confused as I was. It was somewhat cheering to overhear them parsing out the plot after while waiting to file out of the theater. (So the gay boyfriend became the man's son? Yes. But he wasn't the son before, right? I don't think so. And the brother became the husband? Right. How did he do that? I don't know. Who was that girl talking in the corner? That was the girlfriend. No. Really?Whose girlfriend?)

Better to console ourselves with Carol Burnett-style comedy.

1 comment:

Julie said...

I love that painting. I bet his Red Sox hat was in Gaelic, not hebrew.