“Parley.” It rhymes with barley, Charlie, gnarly. It’s an intransitive verb meaning to speak with another, confer; more specifically, to discuss terms with an enemy. Its first known use was in 1570, according to Mr. Webster. It comes from Middle English, and before that from Middle French.
Anyway, it means to talk – when you parley, you parlez – so it’s related to other words of that ilk, such as parole, when you give your word to the authorities that you’re not going to abscond; and parlor, a formal room where you chat with the parson when he comes to take some tea; it’s a room set aside for receiving people other than close friends, people you don’t entirely like and/or don’t entirely trust and/or have some social reason to keep at arm’s length – while still, at all times, maintaining a fixed smile on your face, a smile that should be as transparently insincere as possible, because you can’t be faulted as long as you keep up appearances.
Where was I? Oh, so you might parley or parlez, whether or not you do so in the parlor, which immediately puts me in mind of my Aunt Jennie’s parlor – a front room that, as far as I could tell, was there only to hold decorative objects that needed frequent dusting, such as a strange, electrified potted “plant” with glass leaves and glass blossoms, each of which had a small light bulb in its center; whereas any actual living was done in the living room, which held such comforting items as a Sylvania HALOLIGHT television and an upright piano at which Cousin Ray used to receive his music lessons from Mrs. Haypenny, and I swear that was her real name.
Oh, and the parlor, where you might parlez, also brings to mind the parlor car on a train, where the seats were arranged in such a way that the passengers faced each other and might, at least in theory, chat. This seating design also obtained in the smoking sections of other train cars (smoking sections! imagine that!), where at least there was the possibility, and sometimes the reality, of a pleasant conversation as you clicked along toward your destination.
(“Click Along With Us and Train Yourself to Relax” is a message I remember seeing on a handmade sign in the Berlin train station, oodles of years ago. But clicking along seems to be a thing of the past; those clicks happened when the wheels went over small gaps that allowed the rails to expand a bit in hot weather. Nowadays, they use welded rails that seem to have no expansion joints – which I guess is why the rails go all wavy in very hot weather, so they have to slow the trains down – but is that any way to run a railroad?)
Where was I? Oh, so that brings us conveniently, if circuitously, to the Berlin depot (at 51 Depot Road, Kensington), where I recently took my brother to catch a train that would carry him, with a little luck, to Pennsylvania. “You leave the Pennsylvania Station ‘bout a quarter to four” – I advised him, trying, as ever, to be helpful – “Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore.” But it turns out that’s the Chattanooga line. Oh, well.
Anyway, it turns out that Berlin is not going to get a glamorous new railroad “loading platform” like Meriden and Wallingford. Nope, they’ll just have to make do with their actual station, with its actual ticket window with and an actual person inside it, and its two big steam radiators that actually work.
Oh, and its actual restrooms.
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com