She sees him for the first time in years, almost 30 years. She and her husband, Val, are attending an art show at the Museum of Modern Art when she spots him. The world is in the midst of 1966, but she has just entered her most eventful year, 1938.
She plays it cool, though. The surprise of seeing his face barely registers on hers as she squeezes Val’s arm and says, “Tinker.” He admires the photograph of an ill-shaven man with dirt on his face drawing on a cigarette with his thoughts elsewhere. Believing she is about to start one of her many guessing games, Val asks, “What did he tinker with, Hon?”
She is about to say “my heart” when she realizes the two have never met; although, she met them both in the same year. The 1930s, a decade of broken dreams, were a time of transformation for Katherine Kontent. She went from 16-year-old Katya to the trendier 24-year-old Katey in 1938, but she has to wonder when this picture was taken.
The museum is filled with portraits of subway riders who are being snapped by a hidden camera. Walker Evans took them between the years 1938-1941 per the entryway poster. Each one transfixed on personal thoughts as the rocking motion lures them away from being conscience of others and more of themselves.
“No, Dear. This is Tinker Grey.” Val’s mind races through his friends and acquaintances and admits he knew a Grey once. She says, “This is his brother.” Val furrows his brow as he tries to picture the brother’s face from so long ago. They move down to the next portrait and Katey admits that Tinker was once a friend.
Two rooms later and they are about to call it a night when they stop in front of a handsome man in black tie. She makes an audible gasp as Val turns to look at her. It is Tinker again, and this time he is smiling directly at the camera as if he knows he is about to be photographed. The two portraits are so vastly different that Val is unaware that she has seen the same ghost.
She explains that it is Tinker and Val is utterly confused. He shoots his eyes across the room and realizes the other Tinker is directly at the other end juxtaposed in dirt. In a bemused way, Val asks, “Which one was taken first?”
Welcome to the incredibly alluring read, “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles. We welcome you to an open discussion of the book Tuesday, October 29, at the Northwest library in Senatobia. This Reading Roundtable event is sponsored by Sycamore Bank.
Maggie Moran is Director of Learning Resources for Northwest Community College