The first time I met my neighbor from Brooklyn, he was sitting outside with a friend, cigar in hand, on a warm July evening. Beach chairs on the sidewalk. Tank top under an unbuttoned buttonhole. Sweat on a bald head.
“Man, how can I have so much fun?” I asked him.
“It’s easy,” he said, a missing tooth in his smile. “Be a New Yorker.”
We’ve since become friends, the kind who stops and talks long enough – him in his Bronx accent – for me to know he’s divorced, often in love, and works as a clerk. office. He is annoyed by the neighborhood rats and hires a friend to plant his front yard every spring.
One morning he told me that his cat, Fidel, had died. Fidel was loved; I have pictures of him posing on various steps around the neighborhood. My neighbor didn’t look sad when he told me what had happened, but his animated gestures seemed to hide the loss he felt.
That night, a guy who hangs out at the nearby bodega came over with a box of mangoes. He knocked on my neighbor’s door. When he came out, the guy nodded and opened the box.
A little kitten stuck its head out.
Two summers ago, I was sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty when I started to feel overwhelmed.
On the trip back to Manhattan, rather than join my son for sightseeing, I snuck under the stairwell of the ferry to take a nap, and the hum of the engine put me to sleep.
— Andrew G. Raymond
I was in the subway during a service change, summer Saturday. An ad hoc committee had formed in the car where I was. We were debating where the woman sitting next to me should be transferred to get to the Brooklyn Museum.
After deciding which stop made the most sense, she and I talked about our lives as we made our way there. She had lived in New York for more than 50 years. I had just returned after a year’s absence. She had done IT work for a company based in Germany, and I also worked in technology.
When we got to where she was going to transfer, I got off with her and we waited together for the next train. I wondered if anyone thought we were grandmother and grandson, rather than strangers who had met just 20 minutes before on a roundabout D.
When I mentioned that I had just gone through a breakup, she told me that in bad times, I had to tell myself three things: “I love you. I will take care of you. I will never leave you.”
She insisted that I memorize the phrases, and I mumbled them over and over in the tacky subway car.
When we got off the train, I started asking her name. Rather than telling me, she made me repeat what she had taught me.
“I love you,” I said. “I will take care of you. I will never leave you.”
She headed for the museum, and I walked back down Eastern Parkway toward home. I said the words one more time, this time just for me. They were barely audible against traffic noise.
— Ethan Peterson-New
Against an iron fence near the town of Stuyvesant
I leaned down to watch a flock of birds soar
Harness the summer sky and quietly
Equivocal, as if they were the net
Particles of a diffusing spirit.
On which roof to land, on which austere flat city roof?
Only a bird, against the common will,
Flew closer to a cloud and a delighted part
Of the space she took to be hers.
Then I took her, a thousand feet or more,
In this moment long since extinguished
Mute against the grid, for my friend.
It was December 1967. I had just finished basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was heading to Boston in uniform. For reasons I can’t remember, I stopped in New York on the way.
Walking down the Upper East Side in a snowstorm, I spotted another man in uniform. He was older and his cap bore the familiar gold band that identified him as an officer.
I returned a sharp salute. It was not returned. The uniform was unfamiliar, so I guessed it was a foreign officer. Military courtesy always compelled me to salute.
A little further down the street I met another officer and offered another salute which was not acknowledged. His uniform was also strange to me.
The third time this happened, the man I greeted ignored me while holding the door for a couple walking towards a tall building.
I realized that I had greeted the doormen.
Illustrations by Agnes Lee