When I moved back to St. Petersburg a few years ago, my sister came over to help me unpack. That's a mixed blessing. The last time she helped me put kitchen items away, it took me forever to find anything, so I suggested she unpack my books. After going through several boxes of books, Jean asked, "Who's Joe DiMona?"
I was a blank. "Joe DiMona? Never heard of him."
"Really? Well, he seemed to know you well!" She held a book in her hand. I hadn't the foggiest idea what she was talking about. I looked at the inscription: "Dear Babs, Thanks will never be enough. You're special! Always, Joe DiMona." No one who knows me well would think of calling me "Babs." And then I remembered. Jean looked incredulous when I told her the story.
Living in New York can be both fun and vexing. One thing I missed when I moved to St. Pete was having the time to read on the train. An annoying habit some New Yorkers, who are not readers themselves, have is to lean toward someone sitting next to them and start reading along with them. I have a friend who claims she can do it surreptitiously so that her host never knows she's doing it, but I don't believe it. You know. I lived in northeast Queens and had the option of taking the Long Island Railroad to work and did for years.
One night, I was one of the first passengers on the 5:27 train out of Penn Station, and I had my pick of seats. I sat in the aisle seat of a two-seater bench on the south side of the car, and I pulled out my book and started to read. By 5:26, the train was almost full, but I still had a vacant seat next to me. That changed about 30 seconds later, when a man said, "Excuse me," which is the commuter's way of saying either get up so I can get in or be prepared to have me climb over you. I didn't really look at the man when I stood and moved out in the aisle for him to move into the seat, but I got an impression that he was a middle-aged man and probably not a businessman. It wasn't a businessman's suit.
The train pulled out seconds later, and we hadn't cleared the platform, when I realized the man on my right was reading along with me. I was determined to ignore him, because some people, who make their reading obvious, really want you to stop reading so you can talk to them. Determined not to be lured into that trap, I endured his reading all the way through the tunnel. When we broke out into the daylight of the Sunnyside yards, the man cleared his throat.
"That looks like an interesting book," he said.
Oh, give it up, Barbara, I told myself. He's going to drive you crazy for the next 20 minutes. I marked my place in the book and closed it. Looking straight at him, I agreed that it was. In short order, after introductions, we talked about books and his life. He told me he was a writer and had just finished a book. He claimed to be a member of Mensa and told me that I was very intelligent and should take the test to join the organization. I didn't pursue that piece of flattery, and he rambled on, telling me the gory details about his first wife. By the time we reached that more intimate part of the conversation we were about a block from my station. I stood up, and he asked me where I lived. I pointed vaguely out the windows on the other side of the train at my apartment building and said I lived in the apartment, which I thought was vague enough, since there were several other buildings north of it.
"Which one?" he asked insistently. I foolishly clearly pointed out my building and got off the train. In an hour, I had forgotten the conversation.
A few weeks later, a book arrived in the mail. It was Last Man at Arlington, a crime novel set 10 years after the JFK assassination. I was mystified. I opened the book and found an inscription, but I couldn't imagine what it meant. I looked on the flyleaf of the back cover, and there was the author's picture. It was the man on my right on the 5:27 train.
I never heard from him again, nor did I try to contact him. I've never read the book, but I kept it. Maybe this is the year to read it.
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Editor's note: Author Joseph DiMona passed away in 1999. Perhaps his best-known work is the Watergate memoir The Ends of Power, which he co-authored with H.R. Haldeman, the imprisoned former White House chief of staff. DiMona wrote numerous other books and also wrote the screen adaptation of the 1964 film The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
M. Barbara Mulrine is a graduate of Eckerd College and Florida State University. Her book, "The Price of Honor: The Life and Times of George Brinton McClellan, Jr.," is scheduled for release in 2011.