"Is 9:00 to late to go to temple, do you think?"
I had no idea what he was talking about. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, it's almost 9:00 now. Do you think it's too late to go to temple?"
"Temple? I'm sorry, but I really don't know what you're talking about."
He gestured in the general direction of my book, and I start thinking that there was something fundamental about the Murakami that I had missed. Before I could panic, he said, "Well I saw the lettering on your shirt so..."
"Oh! That's the Yale crest. I've a friend who works at the Yale library."
He looked disappointed. "So you're not Jewish?"
He paused for a moment. "Are you a student around here?"
"I'm actually a professional."
"Oh? Where do you teach?"
I smiled before responding. "I'm not a professor, I'm a professional. I work for Public Health."
I went back to the Murakami, and he opened up his book for moment before he continued. "So, how is that?"
"It's really good. I've very much enjoyed it so far."
"I haven't read it... but I've heard really good things about it."
"The weird thing is that whenever I start reading it in public, someone starts talking to me."
The disappointment crossed his face again. "...so I'm kind of late to the party. I probably should have read it."
"Not at all. It's my first time with it. I just think it's interesting how beloved it is."
He held up his book. "Have you read any Bret Easton Ellis?"
"I can't say as I have."
"Seriously? Not even Less Than Zero?"
"Nope. Missed it. Didn't even catch the movie."
There was another pause, so I again tried to return to my reading. Soon, he gestured to the young Japanese woman who was sitting next to me reading about Vermont's roadside geography and asked, "Are you two together?"
I grinned. "No."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Why is it that reading a book, this tangible object that will probably be around a hundred years from now, is more compelling than engaging in a conversation with someone you'll probably never see again?"
The question felt like a challenge on some level, but it put me in a contemplative state of mind. It struck me almost in the same way a Zen koan might, so I just answered with the first thing that came to my head. "I don't know that I can answer that question."
He left the train at the next stop.