Divine Aphasia

Train Ride

December 9, 2007

I’m sitting on the Amtrak to go home, and right behind me are a posse of chatty Catholics of a certain age. Their ringleader, probably in her early sixties, has been going on, since I first noticed her in the station, about television, TiVo, Christmas trees, her (apparently emasculated and largely silent) husband Joey, the train, the construction she saw outside the train, the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Hilton Rewards program, those Garden Inns, Comfort Inn, the jail that they’re tearing apart, how she is ready for a cup of coffee, should I go to that car, does anybody else want coffee?, don’t pay me now, I’m adding it all up, wait till you see your bill, ha ha ha, do you want anything to eat, like a bagel? I know they have bagels, how she will carry the food back in a tray (they have trays).

In the meantime, a WASPy young family, dressed predominantly in a uniform and festive red, one set of grandparents in tow, is occupying the four-seater ahead of me, mirroring some aspects of the conversation of the older people, covering such topics as the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Cold Stone Creamery located therein, the jail that they’re tearing apart, how there are many different kinds of trains, bird sanctuaries, human sanctuaries, rivers, marshes, and wetlands.

Our hero returns from the café car, relates how the attendant informed her which coffee was decaf, to which she replied with the cutting witticism “You mean the one marked with a D?” Merriment ensues. Coffee and danishes are distributed. She wants to know who takes cream. Reports indicate that the coffee is hot. She leaves again to retrieve more cream.

1 This is how I knew they were Catholic. Originally I thought they, too, were WASPs.

Now they’re talking about priests.1 They’re talking about Uganda like they never heard of it before. They’re all big fans of someone named “Father Jimmy”, they’re impressed by how you can get sugar free anything, and it seems like a lot of young people smoke. She doesn’t have the patience for a flat-iron like the kids do, she just blow-dries it and sprays it. It used to drive her mother crazy that she couldn’t get her hair done every week. She only got four hours of sleep last night, but she needs five or six, she can survive on five or six, but four wasn’t enough.

As we leave New Haven the conductor announces over the PA our remaining station stops (I think of the Jack Benny gag “…and CUC-amonga”), and that the café car is the second car and is ready to serve me. The train barrels out of the station faster than before (“They have faster track here” she says).

Post Scriptum

You can’t dance to that rap music. And it’s so loud. The kids don’t know what they’re missing.

Evan Silberman