Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Knight on the D Train to Brooklyn

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Knight on the D Train to Brooklyn

Article excerpt

WHEN I was a boy, my father entered the knighthood. He is not a man of high birth, and our holdings did not even extend to our apartment in Flatbush, which was rented. His steed was usually the D train, and he did most of his jousting with his boss.

But once a month his routine was gilded with ceremony at the regular meetings of his lodge of the Knights of Pythias. My father had a modest job, yet as a knight he rose to the exalted status of chancellor and assumed the mantle of leadership. When his term was up he was known as Past Chancellor; p.c. was appended to his name whenever he was mentioned in the newsletter.

It would be easy to dismiss my dad's knightly past as a vestige of adolescence in an otherwise thoroughly practical man. Yet there was more to the lodge than ceremony and secret handshakes, although it was supposedly the secret rules and rituals, of all things, which helped drive him from the knightly fold. My mother couldn't stand it. She wanted to know whatever irrelevancies my father claimed he was sworn never to disclose. They became symbols of withholding, but for him it was a matter of honor. Finally, busy with work and unwilling to further antagonize her, he hung up his armor and quit.

When he did, much else was lost with the clandestine greetings. My father is not a rich man, but as a knight he threw himself into the lodge's charity activities, which provided an outlet for his best Samaritan instincts. There were blood drives, gifts for needy children, and other fund-raisings. The lodge enabled my father to rise above the grinding pettiness of everyday life - of making a living, finding a seat on the subway, holding an unrewarding job. The lodge let him do some good for those to whom he bore no familial obligations.

More than that, the lodge was his community, a decent, citizen-governed polis in the heart of indecent, ungovernable, and anonymous New York. The lodge offered that crucial "third place," not the workplace and not the home, but a refuge and buffer and place of belonging between the two in which one man - and thus every man - mattered.

It was a democracy purer than most. Everybody got a chance to be chancellor sooner or later, though this didn't diminish my father's satisfaction in his term, and everybody came roughly from the same socioeconomic slice of Brooklyn. They were dry cleaners, salesmen, cabbies, modest tradesmen. I don't remember anyone in "marketing," and there were no consultants, although perhaps now and then someone was unemployed.

Nor do I remember wild parties. My father came home from meetings at a decent hour, stone sober and with no sign he'd been wearing a fez cap. He's never used a hand-buzzer in his life.

In retrospect those days seem innocent. There was always a nice Hanukkah party for us kids, and when the annual installation and awards dinner rolled around, my mother always referred to it, like all roast-beef occasions, as "an affair. …

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