Some New York streets were crowded and busy, others were empty, as if the population had fled in advance of some apocalyptic event. At Lexington and 42nd Street it was busy, but then Grand Central Station sat there, breathing people in and out like a gigantic huffing lung. I had just come from school uptown, following the plan to meet my father in front of his office to take the train home to Connecticut. It was five o’clock. As I closed on the Channin Building where my father’ offices were, among the many people hustling along the sidewalk was a clot of business executives. There were eight of them all involved in some kind of conversation like a traveling meeting. I stepped to the side a bit to yield abut they didn’t. I felt a jolt of pain as a briefcase slammed into my knee and was bowled over by a shoulder check from one of the suited men. I was knocked right into the street and a Yellow Cab slammed its brakes on just in time not to run me over. The cabbie leaned out his window and honking, yelled at me to get my dumb ass out of the street. I was barely out of his way when he jammed down the accelerator and took off down Lexington.
Falling into the street will get you dirty in New York and I was the proof. I had dark stains on my chinos and tan button down shirt. My loafers were scuffed as well. I brushed at myself and walked unsteadily toward the door to the office building. My dad stepped out just as I got there. He looked me up and down and growled “Can’t you at least take care of the clothes your mother and I buy for you?” I looked down and saw how dirty my pants were and noticed the knee was torn and a little bloody.
“Some guy knocked me down.” I said.
“What? You got into a fight?”
“No, some guy wasn’t looking where he was going and bumped into me. I tried to get out of his way, but …well, I got knocked down.” My father shook his head letting me know I was the disappointment of his day and maybe his lifetime and without a word he stated to the corner. The light changed as he approached and I caught up to him as he started across. I walked behind him as we made our way into Grand Central and headed down to the train platforms. It was really crowded in the station. Packed with commuters, people shoved and pushed, bobbed and weaved as they made for the levels and gates for their trains. In the wink of an eye I was separated from my dad, unable to see him anymore in the crowd. But I knew the train and I had my commuter ticket so I wasn’t too worried. Even if I couldn’t sit with him on the train, a prospect that actually appealed to me, I would catch up to him when we got off in Darien. I did find my father parked in a window seat in the third car from the end, but he hadn’t saved me a spot and the other two seats of the row were occupied. I told my dad I’d see him at the other end and strolled forward to find myself a place. The first passenger car in the line was pretty empty. Since the trains loaded up facing outbound, they filled from back to the front. I found myself a window seat in the middle of the car, the best place to sit. The center of the car was a smoother ride than over the wheels.
Fifty minutes later I stepped off the train and walked to my father’s car. He had a Volkswagen bug he bought in Germany and had shipped over. It was way more expensive that way, but he liked that it came with an oval sticker on the back that said USA. Dealership purchased cars didn’t have that sticker so it was an ego trip, a neener-neener to other commuters. I grabbed the handle to open the door and my father told me to hold on. He made a show of looking through the car (which was empty) and the trunk (also empty). He told me he was looking for a towel or something clean to put under me so I wouldn’t dirty his precious naugahyde seats. As if. When he came up empty I told him I could sit on my shirt, but he nixed that saying then my sweaty back would touch the seats. He looked into the distance a minute and then nodded to himself. “It’s only two miles to the house. Why don’t you go ahead and walk it?” It wasn’t a question, more like a command. With that said, he got into the car and drove away leaving me standing there thinking wow, what a jerk. I was rescued by one of our neighbors and I started off towards home. My friend Doug’s dad, Mr. Beardsley, stopped and offered me a ride. I took it, my knee still bothering me.
He asked about my scuffed appearance and I explained about getting knocked down. Mr. Beardsley was sympathetic and said he was glad he’d come along in time to give me a ride. I didn’t tell him my own father had stranded me because he didn’t want to chance a smudge on his Beetle. Doug’s dad, driving a Thunderbird like the one my mom drove wasn’t so fussy I guess. I thanked him as I got out of the car and he waved and pulled into his driveway and then his garage. I walked the short distance to our house, walking up the driveway as my dad was collecting his briefcase from the back seat of his precious Bug. He did a double take at me and asked who gave me a ride. I told him no one, I felt like jogging and walked past him and into the house.
Upstairs, I took a shower in my bathroom and changed into clean clothes for dinner. I put on jeans and a pale yellow boat neck pullover and went down to the den where the family TV, an old Zenith, sat. I turned it on, waited for the three minutes it took to warm up and put on channel thirteen to watch cartoons. My mom came in after a while and kissed me on the head and told me that I’d impressed dad. He’d told her that I jogged home from the train station in almost the time it took him to drive. He expressed concern that I’d no doubt cut through other people’s property, but still thought that I was pretty fast. I giggled and my mom gave me a look. I told her not to tell dad, but that Mr. Beardsley gave me a ride after dad wouldn’t let me into the car. She looked surprised. “What do you mean he wouldn’t let you into the car?” I explained everything, from my fall in Manhattan to the train ride to dad’s refusal to let me in the car for fear I would soil his seats. Mom got this look on her face that made it real clear she didn’t approve, and she went off to ask my dad how come I’d jogged home since we both rode the same train.
My mom was a sweet and charming lady, but certain things ticked her off something fiercely. One of them was being mean to her precious boy. I was adopted, a fact my father reminded me of with the consistency of sunrises, a fact my mother never spoke of because she loved me as much as only a mother could. I could hear the rumblings of tersely inflected words coming from the living room and knew my mom was explaining to my dad just what he could do with his damn car seats.
“Your mother pointed out to me,” said my father at the dinner table later, “that I was a bit insensitive in making you find your way home from the station. I didn’t realize you were hurt.” I looked at him, incredulity clearly on my face, and said it was okay. My dad knew good and well that my knee hurt. I knew good and well that his apology was as sincere as a gypsy fortune teller and was issued to keep peace. My mother looked on smiling, happy that all was well again. While my mom was an incredibly smart woman with a PhD from Columbia University, she could be a bit unrealistic. Okay, really unrealistic. Anyway, the evening passed peacefully.
On the way to school in Manhattan the next day, riding to the train station in my dad’s Beetle, I noticed he had put a towel in the back seat. What a guy.