My wife Randi and I were walking in Park Slope, Brooklyn, headed back to a party in Manhattan.
I was holding a frying pan I’d found. I needed one.
An older man stopped to ask about my pan.
Hesitatingly, I said I needed a new non-stick pan, and the answer pleased him. He started to talk about a tour he’s giving in Prospect Park tomorrow.
“Did you know that the arch at Park Slope is one of the two or three largest in the world?” he asked. “It’s marvelous, really.”
His eyes twinkled behind librarian glasses, and his diction was cultured and clean. But him? Not so clean. His tweed coat had a blue ink stain. His shirt was dirty, with grime on the cuffs. The French cuffs, that is. He also wore a tattered Yankees cap. But there was something about him. He hadn’t asked for change, only our time. The man opened a folder, removing documents.
“On the top there, did you know the horses have no reins on them?” he asked pointing to the arch sculptures. “It’s really quite wonderful.”
Did I mention it was 12:30 a.m. on a Saturday night? Well, it was.
We walked to the subway. And he walked with us. He’s going to Manhattan also, he said, to his office downtown.
“I have a collection of subway maps from all over the world,” he said. “I was in Tokyo and asked for a copy of their subway map. They brought me in and we had a tea ceremony, and then they gave me the map. You simply have to come into my office, it’s in one of the last great skyscrapers in New York.”
We didn’t answer, we just kept walking. With him.
In the subway he repeated the story about the arch. This worried me.
Upon arrival at Wall Street, Randi and I looked for a graceful way to leave, but there was none. As we walked down the deserted streets I asked his name. It was Bob. He never asked our names. We turned a corner and were at 70 Pine Street, his office.
Bob walked up to the door, knocking on it with his cane. Eventually an older guard, black and sleepy, answered. He recognized Bob and let us in.
“This lobby was built in the style of Mexican temples,” Bob said, as he pointed to the impressive masonry in the lobby. “Isn’t it magnificent?”
He hit the button for floor 35, and within seconds we were there.
“You get out,” he said, less genially.
To our surprise we were in the hallway of a posh law firm.
“I’ll show you around and get you an article they wrote in the New York Times,” he said. “I’m in it, talking about this building.”
Bob opened a heavy door and we followed him into the offices. The doors locked behind us.
“These are original Audubons I bought years ago, in the ‘50s,” he said. A small fortune, I realized.
Bob leisurely showed us his collection. Among many other things it included an ancient Roman print covering a wall and a North American map from 1507 with north pointing east.
Bob beckoned us to the map, explaining it’s “the only one like it you’ll ever see. Breathtaking isn’t it?”
Then we walked through the cubicles of the firm, with their Dilbert cartoons, coffee mugs and desk calendars—like a really boring version of the afterlife. Finally, we approached Bob’s pride and joy: the subway room.
As we entered, Bob retold the tale of the tea ceremony. And we pretended it was new. Inside, yes, there they were: subway maps! New York, of course, and San Francisco and London. There was also Madrid, just three lines long and Tokyo, where they serve tea to strangers.
“See?” he asked. “I don’t think anyone else has a collection like this one. Stay in here,” he said, “I’m going to get that New York Times article.” Then he left. There was a beat as Randi and I looked at one another. And then …
“What the hell?” I asked Randi. “I almost pissed myself when the door locked behind us.”
“I know! Me too!” she said.
“Do you think he might leave us here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think he’s, like, you know, fucked up?”
“I don’t know!”
Then Bob returned. We smiled. He handed me the article from the Times. It gave his name and said he was a partner at the law firm we were in.
Of course. This guy is a millionaire.
He can do whatever he wants. And apparently, what he wants to do is talk about the subway and lead private tours that make no sense.
Tour concluded, Bob guided us back downstairs. On our way out I held the door open for him, but he demurred. “No, I’m staying here to do some work,” he said. “But you and I should have lunch one day at my club!” He smiled as the door closed, and then he walked back inside. Quite marvelous, really.
David Serchuk is an editor at Forbes.com and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. He blogs at www.brooklynbabydaddy.blogspot.com.