Friday, March 6, 2015

The Third Rail

Most people's mothers told them fairytales and classic bedtime stories about shit like lemon drops and gum drops and lollipops and happy landings on a chocolate bar.

Well, not mine.

Regular readers of O.H.M. might recall that my mother has always been rather unconventional in most ways.

Among other things, those ways included walking me through old New England cemeteries while remarking upon all the dead babies buried there, and how sad their tiny old tombstones were, and how everyone used to die of dysentery and cholera back in the Plymouth Rock and pilgrim times.

That's why everyone had dozens of babies, she said. For insurance. And that's why we are so lucky to live in the era of Tylenol and Immodium and regular visits to the pediatrician.

So it should come as no surprise that a favorite cautionary tale--which my mom would recount at least weekly while waiting to pick up my dad at the Metro North train station on his evening commute--involved something macabre.

"Never touch the third rail of the train tracks," she would tell me, as if I--nine years old and scared of clowns--was planning to jump down there and start hopping around on the first and second rails.

"The third rail is electrified and it will kill you in a second. Homeless men who urinate on it have been electrocuted."

Sensing a follow-up question I didn't actually ask or want to ask, she would continue:

"The electric current travels up their urine stream and electrocutes them via the penis. The police find them with little burns on their penis heads and finger tips."

"Hi dad! How was your day?" was the next thing I would find myself saying as the train pulled into the station and hundreds of commuters poured out.

Yes, it's clear my mom wasn't much for storytelling, but she believes in therapy, and always made sure I had plenty of it.

So it all comes out in the wash.

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