It isn't a bad book, but it isn't the kind that makes you miss your stop, either. As the train leaves Dupont Circle, you force yourself to turn from page 44 to 45. Then you realize that you're listening to the novel that this novelist should have written.

A man in the seat behind you is starting to put the moves on a woman sitting beside him. You would never turn around to sneak a look, because Mama raised you better than that. But overhearing romance-in-the-making is another matter, especially in a city where everyone swears that romance is extinct.

So you mark page 45, and as the train roars toward Woodley Park, you settle back. The title of this epic? You silently decide it has to be . . . .


Man: "So did you have a good day?"

(You: Oh, come on, pal. Can't you do better than THAT?)

Woman: "Pretty good. But one of my professors yelled at me."

(You: Promising. She could have stopped after the first two words. But she opened the door.)

Man: "What did he yell at you about?"

Woman: "Well, like, I didn't do the reading."

(You: A good test. She's as much as told him she's not the intellectual type. Maybe he'll assume she's a Good Time Charlotte. Maybe he'll ask for her phone number right now. Maybe this is going to get steam-m-m-my!)

Man: "Where do you go to school?"

Woman: "Georgetown."

Man: "What year are you in?"

Woman: "Second."

(You: Serves you right for guessing, you vicarious old man, you. Steamy, huh? It sounds about as steamy as an audit at the IRS.

Man: "Where are you from?"

Woman: "Towson."

Man: "Tow-zin? Where's that?"

Woman (as if she has explained this many times before): "It's a suburb of Baltimore."

Man: "Oh."

(You: When it gets down to syllables, instead of words, it's a bad sign. Come on, pal. Don't give up. If you do, I'll have to go back to page 45.).

Woman: "And what do you do? Are you a lawyer or something?"

(You: In other words, 'Are you a typical boring Washington Yuppie?' For a college sophomore, this young lady sure knows how to hurt a guy.)

Man: "I work for a congressman."

Woman: "That sounds exciting."

(You: There ought to be a law against that expression. Or at least an asterisk next to it. Every time someone says "That sounds exciting," it's a sure sign they think just the opposite.)

Man: "Well, sometimes. Listen, what do you do for fun?"

(You: Be still my heart!)

Woman: "Gee, I don't know. Lots of things."

(You: Has the door ever been opened wider?)

Man: "I don't . . . . I mean, I don't usually do this sort of thing . . . ."

(You: Come on, my man! Out with it!)

Woman: "What sort of thing?"

Man: "Ask a total stranger for her phone number right here on the Metro."

Woman: "Does that mean you're asking me for mine?"

(You: He isn't asking what you played in the lottery, honey.)

Man: "Yes, if you don't mind."

Woman: "No, I don't mind."

There is silence for about 10 seconds. What could be going on back there? A gaze into each other's eyes? An embrace? A kiss?

Man: "There it is! Thought I'd lost it for a second."

Woman: "Yeah, those Farecards come in handy in the strangest ways."

(You: A Farecard? What does a Farecard have to do with her phone number?)

Man: "Okay, I'm ready."

Woman: "Three-six-five . . . ."

(You: I don't believe it, pal. You aren't REALLY writing her phone number down on your Farecard, are you? Tacky, tacky, tacky!)

Man (as the train pulls into Tenleytown): "Well, okay, thanks, this is my stop."

Woman: "Bye, bye."

Man: "By the way, what's your name?"

Woman: "Melinda. What's yours?"

Man: "John."

Melinda: "Nice to meet you, John."

John: "Nice to meet you, too."

(You: Gosh, you two, I've heard more sophisticated dialogue in a day care center. Not even a whiff of romance as you part? A little je ne sais quoi to keep the thrill alive?).

Woman (loudly through the open door, to the man's disappearing back): "I gave you the wrong phone number, John! Hope you understand!"

Door: "BONG, bong."

Metro operator: "Next stop, Friendship Heights."

(You: What a world. What a cold, cruel, romanceless world.)