A Hen, a Lion, a Passenger & a Pachyderm • Part 2 of 2

If you missed the first part of
“A Hen, a Lion, a Passenger & a Pachyderm,”
go back to  Part I.

giant was coming down the grassy slope.  I was riveted to the cold ground.  I wanted to escape but I couldn’t stand.  I turned my torso back around quickly to see if anyone else was observing his approach, but the number of kids had diminished even more by that point, and Sandra was still talking to the boys with her back to me.

Twisting back around so that I faced awkwardly up the slope again, I got a better view of the approaching figure.  He was like no stranger I had ever encountered.  Immensely tall, much more so than my father; he had to have been over six feet.  This man was very thin and seemed almost rubbery, to judge by his delicate, loping strides down the incline.

What he was wearing greatly contributed to how slender and how high his form seemed to reach.  On top of his narrow head was a vertical, black, stovetop hat.  For the moment I thought the man was Abraham Lincoln; after all, this was Illinois.  But that impression changed after I could see the man’s face a few moments later.

He also wore a body-length, tattered brown overcoat, cut like a suit jacket towards the top, but slowly broadening out towards the bottom like a dress.  The hem was ringed with a mangy-looking fringe of what appeared to be some sort of animal fur.  This coat extended all the way down to the man’s ankles, and billowed loosely around his feet as he walked, over black shoes that tapered to an almost sharp point.

The closer the man came to me the odder he looked.  I saw that he wore a brightly colored vest underneath the coat, with rainbow stripes running lengthwise, buttoned up neatly; below that was a lavender shirt, believe it or not, with ruffles leading straight up to his cleanly shaven but chicken-like neck.  He looked both dapper and utterly ridiculous at the same time.

As he approached, I found the courage to look up. When I did I encountered a face that could only be described as hatchet-shaped.  It was like watching the blade-like hull of a warship drift brazenly into your personal space.  Except for the man’s wild, jet-black, curled moustache, which one usually didn’t find underneath a ship’s figurehead.  He had long, thin lips, which the moustache did not obscure, that when I first saw them were flattened broadly in a wide, inviting grin.

Time seemed to suspend, and the surrounding noises stopped, or maybe they all merged somehow into one steady tone, a chord, ringing out over everything.  Yet I could also hear the wind, the ever-present wind, the perpetual rush of air.  The giant-man seemed to descend the hill in three to four long, bow-legged strides.  Suddenly he was standing right in front of me, still seated on the grassy slope, looking up the long, absurdly draped flagpole of him.  The man bent down at the waist, his ship’s-prow nose and the bridge above it carving its way to the point that I almost thought it would ram into mine.  It stopped just short, so that the man could inquire:

Boy, have you seen an elephant nearby?

A wizard, I thought.  A magician.  The only possible explanation for who this man could be.  My throat froze and my vocal chords flat-out vanished.  I stared up at him.  He waited.  The man had wrinkled skin, parchment-like, but his eyes were the most unusual green-blue shade I had ever seen. They bore deeply into my own and dragged up from within me a memory, some moment when I had seen the exact same color.  Then it came to me.  A few months earlier my family had spent two days at a hotel right alongside Lake Michigan.  This man’s eyes were the exact same color as the water, the way it looked from our hotel balcony.  My mom had called Sandra and I out to look at it as the sun was falling one night.

The man still waited for my answer.  I tried to remember what he had asked.  My voice suddenly returned, sort of.

I’m not supposed to talk to people like you.

You’ve never met a person like me, said the man, leaning back to an upright stance.  His voice was dry and wistful.  He sounded old, but it was hard to tell exactly how old he might have been.

People I don’t know, I said.

Yes, but we do it anyway, don’t we.  Your sister’s doing it.

Yeah, but she’s not supposed to.

Don’t you want to know how I know she is your sister?  Aren’t you curious?  The man dragged out that last word to twice its length, again drawing his face nearer to mine.

I didn’t know what to say, so I shrugged.

The man leaned back again, standing upright.

Hmmm, he said.  I think you are a more inquisitive boy than that.  I hope you’re a more inquisitive boy than that.  I’ve just startled you, is all.  You haven’t seen me before.

I shook my head.

Yet I’ve been around for so long – right here in Chicago.  A really, really long time.

Again I couldn’t think of a reply.  I felt like I had been there a long time too.  But I was pretty sure he was talking about longer.

How long? I asked.

Too long.

Who are you?

Just a passenger.

But … but … what’s your name?

Oh, you know, said the man.  How about Passenger.  James T. Passenger.  I’m at your service.

He suddenly reached up, plucked the stovetop hat off his cylindrical skull, and executed a long, graceful bow.  It seemed like a gesture he had done before, perhaps lots of times.

Oh.  Okay.  Well … I’m …

Not to worry, boy. I know who you are.  Which is good, because I always will.  More importantly, you will know me.  There won’t be another day in your life when you don’t.

I was not sure what was happening, for I felt intrigued and confused at the same time.  I did the only thing I could think, which was to twist around and look for my mother.  But she wasn’t there.

Ah.  Thanks for reminding me, said the man.  She’s not done yet, boy.  But there’s not much time.  So, have you seen one or not?  He stepped down next to me, on the side of the hill.

What was going to happen?  For some reason, although I didn’t want to, I turned slowly to look at his face, where I found his eyes boring directly into mine once again.

Seen what? I almost whispered.

An elephant.  A huge, white elephant.

Around us, the remaining kids kept right on playing.  Sandra had finally moved away from, or more likely had been dismissed by, the older boys.  I could recognize her bunched-over brooding from five miles off.  She wasn’t even facing away from us anymore, but she was in her own world.  She didn’t see either one of us on the hill.

I haven’t seen any elephants, I said.  I don’t think they live around here.  But I did see a lion.

I never did know why I said that.  I knew the man wasn’t talking about an artificial elephant.  That seemed clear.  Yet, for whatever odd reason, he terrified me in the exact same way that lion did.  I never felt in physical peril that day.  It was a terror more difficult to name, or to explain away.  Like a dreadful anticipation of something you think may be coming, but you just aren’t sure of.  Something that could happen, that maybe should have happened, but by some inconceivable calculus of chance and conditions, hasn’t happened yet.

In any case, as soon as I said that, the man’s lake-eyes widened, and for a moment that water, or at least the color of it, seemed to flood out over everything in the world.  But then he was in front of me, dry, his face near to mine yet again, asking me a question in one forceful, elongated word:


I pointed past his upper arm to an area behind him, towards where that lion held its empty court, waiting patiently for victims. But I wouldn’t look at it.  For my fear of that lion, and of James T. Passenger, had reached their apex, together, at that very moment.  Whatever is happening here, I thought, it doesn’t include me, it has nothing to do with me.

But of course it had everything to do with me.

ext thing I knew, I was trying to make a getaway.  I had my back turned to Passenger.  In another instant I would have taken off at a sprint, forgetting my sister.  But I was too slow, and the stranger’s long hand with its talon-like fingers outstretched had grabbed the hood of my Bears jacket.  The very same way Sandra had!  Could it be possible that she had cooked this guy up somehow, elaborately, to bump me off?  If so, at the very least, Sandra was more inventive than I had previously given her credit for.

Are you sure you have not seen an elephant? asked the stranger.

The iron-like grip guided me backwards, until I took the not-very-subtle hint and turned around.  He stepped to one side, and there was the lion, the fountain, mostly at a profile to where we were standing.  But that was not all I saw.  Reaching out of the lion’s wide open jaws – slowly, waving around in the air, as though feeling for something not seen – was a massive white trunk.  An elephant’s trunk.

knew it, he was saying.  Suddenly his hand felt protective on my shoulder.  Like a father’s.

As soon as I set eyes on you from the window of that train, I knew it.  I don’t know how I knew, but there was something about you that told me instantly that you would be able to see.  That you are one of those who can perceive what so many cannot.

I stared at the elephant’s trunk, just waving around, from inside the drinking fountain.  How could that be?  How many times had I stuck my own head into those same jaws?  Had I ever seen a hole, a tunnel … a passage?  No.  But my eyes were seeing, obviously, what this man’s were.

Yet, the other kids, the adults walking by … no one was making any noise, or saying anything.  No one acted like the trunk was even visible!  Let alone the weird-looking man towering over the innocent five-year-old on the side of the hill!

I could not remove my eyes from that waving appendage.  Now that the shock of seeing it had sunk in a little, I wondered what the thing was doing, why it was sticking up out of there in the first place.

I felt the man grab both of my shoulders, so he could gently turn me away from that wildest of visions and talk to me face-to-face, mano a mano

Boy, he said, leaning over so he could look at me closely once again, his eyes twinkling with a rejuvenated energy and excitement I hadn’t seen there before.  You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this.  How long I have searched for it!

What is that thing? I asked.

An elephant.  As I’ve been saying.  I finally tracked it down.  Or it tracked me down.

What’s it doing?

Looking for me.  Its job is to carry me across.

Across what?

I will try to tell you, he said.

ou may not understand all of this now, but that’s okay.

A long time ago, there were a lot of people around here that were like me.  There was, right here in this city, a great big gathering of people from all over the world, with all kinds of events and exhibits, entertainments, tents, carnival rides, crazy inventions, food stands, even wild animals.  People came from near and far to represent their culture, their experiences, to see how other people lived, and, most importantly, to share stories.  It was glorious.  It lasted for weeks.  So many people gathered together at once, interacting, teaching one another.  Like school, but more fun.

Along the way, while all this was happening, something took place. Something amazing!  With so many people visiting it at once, so many cross-currents of stories, so much energy and information and memories together at one huge event, the city of Chicago created its own great big imaginary world – its own place that people could visit in their minds, in their hearts.  It’s a little hard to explain.  It’s as though everyone in the city combined their ideas and creativity together and came up with another, separate place.  Then they put a lot of things in that place: all kinds of people and animals and fantastic machines and vehicles.  I am one of them – a man, yes, but built out of the memories, ideas, and imaginings of a million different people.  That’s why I seem so oddly assembled.

I stared at him, completely dumbfounded.  Yes, I was having a tough time understanding.  But then again, somewhere inside of me – this is a feeling I can remember so clearly, and that I have tried to recreate for my entire life – there was a small light glowing, gathering heat, trying to catch fire.  In a way that I could not grasp, what he was saying made perfect sense.

For a while, the man continued, all of us, the creations of this city’s imagining, lived here, together. Adjacent to your world, but accessible to nearly everyone.  Over time, though, something terrible took place.  Other human events occurred, awful ones, which tore people’s minds away from the stories they’d created.  There were wars, great crime waves, fires, bouts of destructive weather, political battles.  It all led to one simple but devastating tragedy: the city began to forget.  It became disconnected from its own experience.  It lost its stories.

Those of us who were living in that sideshow world, the alternate place, became separated, and gradually began to fade into nothing, one by one.  There was a great agony of confusion.  We no longer belonged anywhere.  We wandered for years in darkness, looking for each other.  We tried to reach people in your world, talk to you, but it was as though no one could see or hear us anymore.

You folks changed.  Everyone began to look and act differently.  Only rarely would someone be able to see us at all.  But by then so much time had passed and so many other events had happened that our world had been dismantled, disbanded.  Some of us were still alive, still around, but there was no longer one place for us to go.

Along the way, I heard somewhere, I don’t remember where, rumblings that a new place had been created for those of us who were still left.  Whether it was created by the same people, their children and grandchildren, or by one singular imagination that had not been around here before, I have never known.  I’m hoping to find out – today, in fact.

There were rumors among my kind, those of us who could still be found, of a creature, a carrier – a white elephant.  If you could find the elephant, it would carry you into that new place.  There you could find out who was responsible for the place and why it had been created.

Thus, I began to search for the elephant, so that it could carry me there.  Only the white elephant knew where to find the passage through.  I hunted high and low for years and years.  And now, through you, I have found it.

ime to go, he said.

Can I go with you?

No.  It’s not the place for you.  But you can visit.  In fact, you will need to.  However, you will have to find your own passage.  You have a lot of searching and exploring to do.

Will I need the white elephant?

I don’t know the answer to that.

Will I ever see you again?

What do you think?

With that, the stranger turned on his heel and started off towards the lion.  The wind threw leaves at his ankles and danced with the fringe of his overcoat. I watched his back as he walked away.  Suddenly, he turned around.

One more thing.  Someday, I don’t know when, you will discover the courage to tell this story.  As soon as you do, I tell you now, someone will be there to say it isn’t true.  Don’t believe it.  You know better.

He turned again and walked off.

When he got to the fountain, with the white trunk still flailing around, he positioned himself directly in front of the lion’s open maw.  Out of nowhere, leaden clouds rumbled thickly overhead.  He did not touch the trunk, but it seemed to sense his presence.  He leaned forward at the waist one more time and whispered something.

Then, very deliberately, he looked at me one final time.  The elephant’s trunk slowly, painstakingly, encircled the man’s waist.  The stranger removed the stovetop hat and tipped it in my direction.  I held up my hand.

Next, in one shocking, rapid motion, defying everything I understood to be possible, the trunk simply whisked the man into the lion’s jaws.  All of him.  The hat, clutched in his long fingers, vanished last.

ast year, when I was having a hard time, I acted against my better judgment and told this story aloud for the first time, to my former therapist.  She listened closely, then nodded with a curt smile.

Well, she said.

Well what?

There’s only one explanation for that.

Really. What is it?

Well, naturally.  Your father was studying L.S.D.?  Obviously you got into it somehow.  Tell me, did he bring it home often?  How long was he a junkie?

I feel sorry for her, truthfully.  For such people will never understand.  And it’s so simple.  Unless you are willing to pursue the world within the wonder, the wonder within the world will never pursue you.

A Hen, a Lion, a Passenger & a Pachyderm • Part 1 of 2

lthough I have lived in a number of other places
, my life began in the city of Chicago, in the shadow of elevated trains.   My family left there when I was still young, and I have not returned often, so it feels inauthentic to identify myself as a Chicagoan.  Yet, while a tree’s branches may sprawl out high and far, its roots stay put.  So perhaps my trunk still remains, cooling in that same shadow.

Also, both of my parents were raised there.  When asked, Where are you from? their answer is unambiguous.  They were married in 1965 and set themselves up in an apartment on the west side in 1966, just as my big sister Sandra was born.  I came along in 1970.  Then, in 1977, we moved away.

So, am I from Chicago or not?  The question seems important, because Chicago, as I have seen, is no typical American city.  It is situated over another place, a kind of reservoir, like the mossy stones of an ancient well.  I want to know if I can claim some of that magic history.  Perhaps telling the story now, as I have done only once before, will reveal the answer.

y mother used to take my sister and me on walks through the neighborhood around where we lived, west of the city.  I know all those streets in my memory.  They were arranged in perfect squares, lined with sidewalks, street lamps of gothic black metal, and huge oak and elm trees along either side that were old enough for their boughs to form church-like ribs over the procession of cars underneath.

Indeed, the whole neighborhood has a cathedral aspect to me in remembrance.  The sun would lance in downward shafts through those branches in bursts of illumination, as through stained glass.  Each time you rounded a corner to walk up another straight-edged avenue it felt as though you were approaching a mystery.

She’d spent her entire life there, my mother, and she loved those streets with all her heart, all her mind, and all her soul.  But even then I think she knew that she would soon depart from them and not return again but as a visitor.  It seems in my memory as though we were walking every single day, the three of us, but that cannot be accurate. Sandra would have been in school a lot of the time. Yet it seems like there were thousands of those walks – like it was all we did.

Of course I have a father, but didn’t see much of him:  he was at work all the time.  I knew by then that he was a scientist. I remember being so proud of that, without even fully grasping what it meant.  I knew he had to make heavy use of his brain, and it was funny to mention that because the human brain was his subject.  You have to use your brain to learn about your brain, he would say.  What I had no notion of at the time, of course, but found out decades later, was that he was a research chemist, and during those years he was involved in a massive grant-funded study on the effects of L.S.D. on human cognitive processes.

He worked at the University of Chicago.  The word I would use to describe him during that time is not Tall or Warm or Stern or even Intimidating.  The word I would use is Gone.

ctober, 1975.  I think all we needed that day was milk.  I don’t think it was a Saturday, yet Sandra was with us, so who knows. It might have been Columbus Day.  It might have been one of those ‘teacher meetings’ days, where the parent doesn’t realize it’s coming up and finds themselves at home with all their children and no plan.

Either way my mother had resolved to take a walk with the two of us.  Within walking distance of our house was a corner convenience store, and it was towards this destination that we set off.  It wasn’t a cold day, but in Chicago, autumn afternoons are chilly and windy enough to require some sort of parka.  I didn’t need a lot of encouragement to wear my Bears jacket with the hood.

I never paid much attention to Sandra, but for whatever reason I remember that day she had two barrettes in her long and straight brown hair, parted down the middle.  The barrettes had these red ribbons with colorful beads on them hanging down on either side.

My mother had thick, brown hair, wavy, cut to about shoulder length.  She had always been slight of frame, short, but her body seemed to exude energy; she was one of those rather small women that seem to compensate for their lack of physical presence with superhuman tirelessness.  She flounced along those concrete sidewalks at a clip I couldn’t keep up with.

The one thing I can visualize most clearly in hindsight is the poncho she wore.  She kept it for years, but at that time it was new.  My father had gone on a business trip to Mexico that year, and he had brought her home this handmade garment that she seemed to adore.  It had Technicolor autumn tones – red, brown, orange, yellow – in a wild tangle of crooked stripes.  The poncho seemed wonderfully suited for that time of the year, draped over my mother’s frame to repel the strafing winds.  It was like she had the season itself thrown protectively over her shoulders.

We set off briskly, and I settled into my well-worn retinue of hurdling the cracks in the sidewalk, beaning the lampposts with small stones, and picking up sticks in an infinite quest to locate the perfect sword.  Sandra ambled ahead, at pains to put space between herself and her pipsqueak brother.  My mother was jabbering, asking questions.

She spent a great deal of time with us already, but these walks seemed to be the times when she would make a concentrated effort to genuinely connect with us.  Of course, at that time, it wasn’t her I longed to connect with, it was my father. She seemed to know that this wouldn’t happen, and perhaps the conversation she was always trying to engage us in was intended to distract us.

What are you going to do with it when you find it? she asked that day.

Find what?

The right stick.

I’m not looking for the right stick.  I’m looking for a sword.

When you find the right sword, then.  What will you do with it?

Stab me, probably, Sandra offered from ahead.

I dunno.  Whack things.  It’s just a game I like to play sometimes.

How are things going with Miss Richlick?  She shifted the subject, agonizingly, to my kindergarten teacher.


Do you like her?

Yeah.  She’s nice.

Do you still like the reading unit?

Yeah.  I got in trouble for reading ahead two chapters.

Well, not every child in the class reads as well as you do.

I just wanted to know what would happen next.

Don’t we all.

t was called The White Hen.  I never knew why, and didn’t become aware until later that it was a chain and that more of them existed elsewhere.  I thought there was only one, and that the name was a tangled mystery for me personally to unravel.  But I never did.

I can still see that white silhouetted figure on the sign rising high above the corner, like some kind of sentry at the gates of the world of wild fowl.  It was painted in profile, facing towards its left, my right, over the top of the store towards the back.  It seemed to guide the visitor towards the door.  This struck me as a proud hen, and otherwise I never would have had much occasion to consider whether a hen had anything to be proud about.  In fact I would never have taken hens into any consideration whatsoever.  I hadn’t even known what a hen was before we started going to that store.

The White Hen faced a busy avenue, snarled with traffic no matter what time of day.  But behind it was a different story.  There was a small parking lot with a dumpster, and behind that, my all-time favorite spot: a playground.  These days I get the feeling that every park is an elaborately engineered, exorbitant affair – with six or seven big lakes, a fitness trail, volleyball and tennis courts, lawn bowling lanes, parking for pregnant mothers, a place to land a helicopter, and so on.  Back in the 70s, they seemed to be stuffed in wherever they would fit.  All you really needed was a set of monkey bars, a couple of swings, and a slide or two.

This park, which I considered my own personal stomping grounds – even though it was always overrun with kids, sometimes tough ones – had the essentials, as well as a tether ball pole, some of those metal horses mounted on thick springs that you could buck back and forth on, a see-saw, a steel merry-go-round that creaked agreeably as you rode it in circles, and a drinking fountain.

I can’t bring this park back from the annals of my memory without mentioning the steep grass hill behind it, the kind you could roll or sled down, as long as you didn’t climb all the way to the top.  Because what was on top of the hill was definitely off-limits for children.  My father had told me once to stay away from the tracks of the El train because of something called the third rail.  If you stepped on that particular rail you would get zapped by a massive bolt of electricity, like lightning, and probably die.  This is why as long as we had been coming to this park I never really went close to the top.  However, like most small boys, I never got tired of the spectacle of big metal cars whizzing by at dangerous speeds.  They were a large part of why I loved that park in the first place.

I never knew what my mother did in there, aside from buying whatever it was we’d come for. But she always gave me time to play.  Parental oversight, even though we were living on the outskirts of the third largest city in America, was a little more relaxed then.  When my sister was with us she would keep an eye on me until my mom came back, but in an extremely half-ass manner.  Even if we didn’t have Sandra, my mom still sent me back there to run around.  It wasn’t fenced in or anything, and God only knows who was coming through that park or what transactions were going down.  Yet nothing untoward ever happened.  To me, it was just a place to play, with an El train stop on top of the hill.

From time to time a train would come to a screeching halt and disgorge a stream of weary-looking passengers, men and women with shopping bags and briefcases, dressed in nursing outfits, hard hats, suits and ties.  They all seemed to get off in a hangdog manner and trudge off towards their separate homes without saying anything to anyone.  It seemed to me like the exact opposite of the way in which my friends and I disembarked from the school bus.  It amounted to a none-too-subtle discouragement from ever reaching the age of adulthood.

On the day I’m talking about – in one sense, the only one from my Chicago days worth remembering – we were dispatched to the back of the store as usual, and Sandra, none too pleased with anything, especially the prospect of baby-sitting for me, grabbed my hood, yanked my neck and head back abusively, and growled, Don’t. Go. Anywhere.

I wriggled free from her grasp.  Release me, tyrant! I shouted, using a line I had come across in a book.  Hadn’t she figured out yet that there was nowhere else I wanted to go?  Sometimes Sandra was just plain dumb. 

She then set out to separate herself from me, showing me her back, her long hair, and the clicking beads.  I watched her go without misgivings.  She’d post herself on a bench somewhere if she couldn’t find kids her age, and I was free to explore.

I’ll admit that I was, and still am, a bit of a loner.  Being by myself has never been troublesome.  I ignored the other kids.  They usually seemed iffy anyway, and as far as I was concerned, there were better things to do than to get amoeba’d into one of those globules of city kids.

The reason why I loved going to that park behind The White Hen in the first place, though of course I could not have explained it at the time, was that it was an ideal grounds for both my body and my mind to run around simultaneously.  Even back then, I loved having the space and time to let both of them romp around uninhibited.  The playground seemed to provide the right backdrop for creativity and imagination to take over the helm of my existence.

There were countless props and triggers in the park that could inspire make-believe scenarios. The monkey bars were a castle; the metal horses my cavalry; the tetherball tower a monolith; the sloping grass hill the untamed landscape that fell within my realm; the El train a cosmic transport, or a huge metal serpent, or a dragon; the disembarking passengers invading hordes.

And then there was the lion.

knew in the bottom of my gut, from the first moment I set eyes on it, that there was something else to it.  It wasn’t only an artificial lion, and it certainly wasn’t just a drinking fountain.  Over the years I have wondered whose brainchild it was to make a large plastic or fiberglass lion’s head, paint it red for some reason with a brown mane and yellow eyes, and plop it over the top of a standard-issue city drinking fountain.  So that in order to take a drink you had to stomp on a foot pedal sticking out from the base of the lion’s neck like an arrow, and then shove your head into the beast’s jaws.  Oh, and if you were going to do it at all, you may as well make it the fiercest, meanest-looking fake lion imaginable, with oversized white teeth bearing down on the vulnerable flesh of a young child’s neck, and an aspect of eternal malice on its painted face.

Because today I have small children myself, I know that at the age of five, or thereabouts, they’re big enough to read and explore and go to kindergarten and all of that, but they’re still young enough to have unrestrained terrors.  That lion, for me, was one of those.  It was located to one side, fortunately, isolated in a kind of imaginary ring of doom, as though it had wandered in off of some killing plain in the realm I’d created and decided to station itself there to watch.  One day, I was sure that the thing would simply come alive and attack, even though it was only a head and neck; it would attack disembodied, thereby making the inevitable about ten times scarier.

I kept to the right side, avoiding the beast on my far left.  I didn’t want to even look at it unless I had to.  Eventually it might come to the point where I would require a drink, but I found that if I didn’t go too crazy in the time I had, especially during the fall, I could get by without one.

I don’t entirely remember what I did first.  In my memory I see only a smattering of other kids there.  Sandra, near the swings, had engaged in conversation with three boys that seemed older.  I think I sat for a while on the creaky merry-go-round, the cold metal no doubt freezing my buttcheeks right through the corduroys.

Owing to my semi-contemplative side, I was capable of occupying myself longer than most kids simply by finding a quiet but interesting place to sit and mull things over.  I don’t know if this made me an introvert or anti-social or what.  To me it just means I like to look and listen and think.  It doesn’t feel anti-anything.

Whatever you call it, this quality was as true of me at age five as it will be at fifty-five.  That’s why it’s no surprise that I ended up seated about halfway up the sloping grass hill, towards the El stop, looking down at the park with my back towards the rails.  The hill was steep enough that it gave you a kind of towering perspective, at least to my perception, and that was agreeable.  It spoon-fed the imaginative process I so loved to engage:

Here sits the King, high on his Judgment Seat, surveying the breadth of his lands, when suddenly—

The lunatic screech of metallic brakes behind and above me shattered whatever waking dream I was having.  I had my elbows on my knees, and was painstakingly pulling apart a dead maple leaf that crumbled to flakes in my chapped and grimy fingers when the train arrived.  For some reason I hesitated before looking over my shoulder.  I figured the train was disgorging passengers into the autumn gusts, a displacement of moody people from one corner of the city to the next, like some depressing riff on cross-pollination.  Yet I remained fixated on the destruction of the maple leaf.  I can still see that desiccated thing in my fingertips, piffling away to nothing.

Then I heard the whistle blast, screaming out across the city, as the cars slowly propelled themselves forward, blue sparks crackling between wires, steel wheels grinding on the rails.  No longer able to hold back, I turned around.  I watched the train pulling away, but instead of the usual stream of melancholy workers heading towards parking lots or sidewalks, chased by the wind, I saw only one figure: a very tall man.  He was not walking away.  Standing on the top of the slope, somehow on my side of the tracks, he was staring straight down at me.

Once the train was completely gone, the man stepped off in my direction down the hill.

Part 2 of “A Hen, a Lion, a Passenger & a Pachyderm” is coming up tomorrow.