In the middle of it, Paul Simon said this:

"You know, the first time Artie ever came out and said, 'Well, Paul wrote all the songs,' was only a few years ago, on a '20/20' show. It was right around the time of our Concert in the Park. It wasn't that he lied before; he just never said it. I had said it, but Artie, I don't think he could ever quite bring himself to say it.

"All people really know is the caricature of our lives. There's still a lot of tension between us, there will probably always be a lot of tension between us. You might say our relationship is on the level of a marriage. It's certainly on the level of love. He was my best friend since fifth grade. Well, at least sixth grade. I met him when I was 10 years old.

"I'm divorced, you know, and that fact obviously says something about me and the state of matrimony. And if Simon and Garfunkel was a marriage the first time around, well, then, I've been divorced twice, haven't I?

"The real story of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, separately and together, is very, very complex, and I doubt if either of us wants that story told publicly. How can I tell the real story to a stranger who will write it down for thousands of other strangers--unless, somehow, it could be made into a work of art . . ."

Rhymin' Simon is two hours late. And is Artie at a party? Who knows? Artie isn't available today and Paul is still abed somewhere uptown. He was supposed to show up at noon and it's past 2 now.

But wait, all isn't lost. You hang around someone's rich New York office in the middle of a summer afternoon, doing nothing, wishing you could be homeward bound, and sooner or later you start picking up odd bits of random conversation.

"So what's happening with the tour?" says a slim blond fellow in a pink sleeveless jersey; he looks like a Bee Gee.

"Everything's happening with the tour," says a woman behind the desk. Her name is Julie and she speaks with a British accent. The phone has been ringing a lot. Everybody wants tickets.

"Video packages?" he asks.

"Video packages," she says.

"Hey, you know what I did today?"

"No, what?"

"Made a dog food commercial."

Suddenly the look-alike Bee Gee's voice goes a wondrous falsetto. His body tenses, his chords tighten, he leans hard into an imaginary mike. "I got a dog whose name is BO!!!" The melody sounds vaguely like that of "I Got a Girl in Every Port." He sings another line of the jingle (something that ends with "glow"), then says, "Yeah, you feel stupid, but the money's great. It's gonna be on TV. It's already on TV."

This is happening in an office five floors above the Great White Way. This is the famous Brill Building, nearly in Times Square, where Carole King, for one, wrote famous tunes. She and Paul Simon went to college together.

Out the window you can see marquees for "Cats," Marilyn Chambers, "Snow White." These offices could belong to a post-modernist architect, so exquisitely designed are they, except that they belong to the wee half of the most famous singing duo in the history of American pop-rock. Paul Simon has been in here a little more than a year, and one reason he moved in is that his recording studio is two floors down. And his close friend, producer Lorne Michaels, of "Saturday Night Live" fame, is a couple of floors up. He likes to keep it simple.

Everything is airy and woody and elegant. You feel like you're in someone's penthouse living room. You want a seat? Take that overstuffed leather job. You want to make a call? Use the flashing console phone by the rich sofa.

There are Oriental screens. There is an autographed baseball sitting alone on a shelf. Paul Simon is a great baseball fan. If the Yankees win, it can mean a 5 percent difference in his day. He saw the Cubs when the tour hit Chicago. He went to see the Blue Jays when he and Artie played Toronto. In L.A., alas, the Dodgers were sold out.

There is a framed, 1937 letter from George Gershwin (signed "George G.") to a Mr. A.M. Wattenberg: "Our Astaire picture, 'Shall We Dance,' looks first-rate and I hope you will get a chance to see it when it plays the Music Hall."

Over in the corner is a polished piano with the lid up. Leaning against it are architect's plans for a huge house, a compound, really. The legend reads: "Simon House, Montauk, New York."

In a way, this office, and the things in it, seem a correlative for what the music always was: tasteful and sanitized, full of harmonies, not for everybody, and a little too rich for some. The ragged Dylan wouldn't have an office like this, or would he? No, Bob Dylan would have taunted you with questions about being on your own, with no direction known, and his office, if he had one, would somehow say that.

Simon and Garfunkel, a critic has said, borrowed protest from Dylan and harmonizing from the Everly Brothers--and turned it into a rock fortune just when rock itself was turning into a billion-dollar dream baby.

And yet that is too slick. Because in their best moments, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel delivered songs that audiences at the strung-out end of the '60s could fasten on to with a kind of hunger, because the songs, because the lyrics, seemed suddenly to be telling them who they were and what they were and where they were.

Come tonight, at Laurel Race Course, for $17.50 a head, that audience, which now has houses and cars and dental bills, will be back. Artie and Paul, both 41 now, who have gone their separate ways for nearly a decade and a half, will be back, too, singing about Mrs. Robinson and bridges over troubled waters and how a man gets tied up to the ground and gives the world its saddest sound.

Not that it's just a nostalgia tour, a merchandising of the old sounds of folk-rock silence. They'll have some new tunes, too. This is their first American tour in 13 years, and the turnouts across the country have been large and enthusiastic. They did 37,000 in the Rubber Bowl in Akron. They did almost 50,000 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. "Hello darkness, my old friend," they cry in every city in those famous, sweetly reedy New York voices. "I've come to talk to you again."

The cynics might say (and have) that Simon and Garfunkel's decision to tour comes at a time when their solo careers seem badly flagging. Garfunkel's last solo album went down without a trace, and his movie career (which had started out so promisingly with "Catch-22" and "Carnal Knowledge") now seems permanently on hold. Simon wrote fine songs all through the '70s ("Mother and Child Reunion," "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"), but his big foray into the movies, with "One Trick Pony," was gone a few weeks after it opened. Maybe they don't need a financial boon as much as an emotional one, although nothing wrong with stoking the coffers a little. Reportedly, they will split an estimated $4.5 million from this tour alone.

On a September night two years ago, S&G came back together for a free concert in Central Park. They drew half a million people, more than Woodstock in a single day, which must have astounded even them. The concert, widely billed as their gift to the city, resulted in a live, double LP and an HBO performance reportedly bought for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million.

"Look," says Simon, "what's happening here, on a positive level, is that two very complex human beings are trying to overcome huge obstacles and work together for the space of a concert tour to bring some pleasure to hundreds of thousands of people around the country. I mean, I never thought to myself, 'We're going to go out and recapture an audience.' At first, I thought, 'What's the point? It's on the record.' But what I've been discovering is that it is its own unique experience. I can say, 'Hey, that was Paul Simon once upon a time.' I don't feel this way about the world anymore. It was very romantic, moody. There was something very post-adolescent about it. Well, I was 23 or 24.

"You say you can sense in me some protectiveness about Artie now, and that maybe it wasn't always this way for me, and that what I might really want to do is say something more archly about him. Yes, yes, that may be true, but it's a lot deeper than that, too. I mean, it was only a few years ago that Artie and I sat down and had our first real heart-to-heart talks. We had never really done that."

Asking only workman's wages

I come looking for a job

But I get no offers

Just a come-on from the whores

On Seventh Avenue.

I do declare

There were times when I was so lonesome

I took some comfort there.

He is astonishingly small, not just short, but tiny. He has on a black Oriental coat, black stovepipe pants, brown European loafers with slightly elevated heels. On his left wrist is a tiny watch. The whole watch, face and band, is aquamarine, which coordinates perfectly with the aquamarine socks.

The nails on his fingers are long and fine and shiny. His head is like a dark, underripe coconut with two walnuts painted on it. He looks like a spooky Richard Avedon photograph. In fact, Avedon once photographed Paul and Artie. That was for their album "Bookends." Artie is hanging back in that 1968 picture, bemused, scratching his head. Paul is nearly leaning forward, eyes bugged, lips in a thin line. They looked like straining Jewish boys out of Forest Hills, though actually they were already millionaires.

In school, Artie leaned toward mathematics and art history. He loved abstract concepts. But Paul could write the tunes--and peg a hardball to home with those small muscular arms. "I think one of the reasons I love baseball so much is that it was the most ordinary thing I ever did. It forms some image of your masculine self, playing sports. My experience is that guys who grew up feeling good about themselves athletically had a somewhat easier time. A certain sense of masculine grace, I guess."

When they were 16 they landed on "American Bandstand" with a hit called "Hey Schoolgirl." They went on in red jackets and crew cuts that Thanksgiving Day 1957. Nothing much happened after that. Paul enrolled in Queens College as an English major; Artie went to Columbia. After college, Paul briefly entered law school, dropped out, went to England on a tour of one-night stands, suitcase and guitar in hand, a poet and one-man band.

When I left my home/And my family

I was no more than a boy/ In the company of strangers

In the quiet of a railway station/ Running scared

Laying low/ Seeking out the poorer quarters

Where the ragged people go

Looking for the places

Only they would know.

He is thumbing through the Boston papers. He and Artie played Boston the other night, and, dammit, these reviewers can still sting you, even at 41, even after 20 years. Geez, they did 40,000 people in a 60,000-seat stadium and they could hardly hear themselves sing for all the screaming. There was this one kid in the front row--she must have been 16--who was holding up a picture of Paul and pointing at it and looking at him and mouthing words he couldn't make out. What does Boston want?

"Look at this headline," he says, flicking his finger at the smeary newsprint of the Boston Herald. 'Gray-headed fans.' Are you one of my 'gray-headed fans?' "

He puts it down, picks up The Boston Globe. The reviewer in The Globe thinks some of the new songs on the tour, especially one called "Allergies," are "cutesy."

"No way," Paul Simon says, flicking a finger at "cutesy." The paper makes a loud SNAP.

What's worse, the reviewer says Paul was "visibly shaken" at the end of another new song called "Late Great Johnny Ace." There have been various interpretations of this tune, and some say it is really an anthem to John Lennon.

"No way shaken," says Paul Simon. "Not even close."

He'll tell you when he was shaken. He was asleep in a Milwaukee hotel room two weeks ago when his manager, Ian Hoblyn, called and said: Can you be dressed in about 20 minutes? The FBI is here.

"So I got in the shower and I thought, 'I haven't been doing anything pharmaceutical, and nobody I know has been doing anything. So, yes, it must be that somebody is going to kill me.' And that's what it was. The letter had rifles drawn on it and said that if either Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel played anywhere near New York, they were dead men."

The letter had been received at the Paramus, N.J., office of the FBI. "At the Meadowlands concert the adrenaline kept swelling up in me. We were out there an hour and I said, 'He isn't going to do it!' 'The guy isn't here!' God, I felt great. I sang great. Artie sang great."

Julie, the woman at the front desk, has brought in coffee. He reaches for it with his left hand. "I'm a left-handed athlete," he says, "but I play the guitar right-handed. I'm ambidextrous in that odd way. Like I'll open a door with my left hand. I remember very early my father bringing home a baseball glove. I must have been 5 or 6. I put the glove on my left hand, I'd catch the ball he threw to me, throw the glove on the ground, and then throw it back to him with my left hand. 'You're not supposed to do it that way, son,' he said."

In the clearing stands a boxer,

And a fighter by his trade

And he carries the reminders

Of ev'ry glove that laid him down

And cut him till he cried out

In his anger and his shame

"I am leaving, I am leaving."

But the fighter still remains.

He is talking about his own growing up and about the exquisite joys of being a parent to 10-year-old Harper Simon. Paul Simon and his ex-wife, Peggy, live three blocks from each other on the west side of Central Park. They are jointly raising their only son. The other day they drove upstate to see Harper at camp--and got into an argument.

"I think 10 is one of the perfect ages of man," he says. "I look at my son, and I see him at the peak of his boyhood, and I remember it was just that way for me, too. The world was so under your control. It doesn't happen again until the end of adolescence.

"I don't do it anymore--I'm too old--but when I was in my twenties I used to look at my contemporaries and convert them back to 10-year-olds. It was mostly in the context of old yearbook pictures.

"You know, I think Harper is going all over this town by himself. On a Saturday afternoon he's going down to Soho, to the Village, hell, I don't know where all he's going. And we're living in a city of weirdos. But think of it: He'll always have Manhattan as his neighborhood, like Queens was mine. When he gets older it will be so rich for him."

Paul's longtime girlfriend is Carrie Fisher of the "Star Wars" trilogy. "When I walk down the street with her, it's like every 7-year-old in America wants her autograph." Before Fisher, Paul was in love with Shelley Duvall. As with Woody Allen, being small has never hurt his love life.

The title of a new S&G album, long in production and not out yet, is "Think Too Much." Which prompts a question: When did you first realize you were . . . gifted?

"Well, I was superior and inferior both. Well, I could figure things out better. I was unable to follow. And yet I was uncomfortable making the statement, 'Okay, everybody follow me.' Some did. I got elected to stuff.

"Nobody ever said the word 'artist' in Forest Hills. Nobody was conditioned. It was a middle-class Jewish neighborhood. There were going to be doctors and lawyers, yes, and maybe someday they'd elect us to something. But artist, no. I had a kid's fantasy about becoming a ball player, but it was replaced early on . . . well, actually, it was replaced at just the right moment. Just when I realized I was never going to be big enough to be a professional athlete, I said, 'Well, actually, I'd rather be Elvis Presley.' "

Now the years are rolling by me

They are rockin' evenly

And I am older than I once was

And younger than I'll be

That's not unusual, Lo, it isn't strange

That after changes upon changes

We are more or less the same.

Paul Simon has gone down two floors to the recording studio. A woman behind a glass door buzzes him through. He walks with a jaunty little bounce, a man obviously happy to be going where he's going. In the mixing room Roy Halee, who goes back years with Paul and Artie, through the feuds and the reunions, is sitting at the board. The board looks like something out of "WarGames."

"This place is a mess, as usual," says Halee, making a half stab at clearing away some ketchup-smeared paper plates.

"Let's put it on. 'Allergies,' " says Simon. He is still stung about the word "cutesy." He stands with his hands jammed in his black pants. The song swallows the room. At the end of it, Paul Simon says this:

"There's no Art Garfunkel on that track."

All lyrics from "The Boxer," 1968, Paul Simon. Reprinted by permission.