When Lisa and I first moved to NYC (in 1996), we were walking towards Washington Square Park when we heard a shot. (I was born in New York and visited it often as a kid. I had just been telling Lisa, who was new to the city, how safe it was, nowadays.) Suddenly, all these people were running towards us as if a maniac was after them. Then we heard a couple of more shots and people started screaming.
We ducked into a restaurant and moved as far to the back as we could. Then, we realized that since we were hungry, we might as well stay there and eat. We’d wait out whatever craziness was going on outside. So we sat at one of the tables, and pretty soon a waiter came and took our order.
Forty-five minutes later, we left, and when we got outside, we saw the police had put yellow tape up on both ends of the block, keeping everyone out. We were inside the tape. We shrugged and ducked under the tape to get out of the cordoned-off block.
A cop started yelling at us, “Get back!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You can’t go under the tape like that!”
“Well how are we supposed to get out?”
“You shouldn’t have been inside a crime scene to begin with. How did you get in there?
“We were just eating in a restaurant, and you put the tape up while we were inside.”
“That’s impossible. We checked all the businesses on the block before we put up the tape.”
“Well, you couldn’t have checked all that carefully. We were right there, inside that building.”
“No you weren’t. We checked!”
“Whatever. How can we get out of here?”
“Get out the way you came in.”
“That is the way we got in,” I said, pointing at the tape.
“No it’s not,” he said.
At that point, I lost it. I started screaming at him while Lisa tried to calm me down. He got tired of arguing with me and walked away. We slipped under the tape and went home. Lisa has had to remind me several times to not argue with people who are carrying guns.
Back in 2000 I was working at an e-consulting firm in Silicon Alley that, even before 9/11, everyone knew was going under. A friend of mine and I would sneak out early to grab drinks at a local bar called Ciel Rouge, which was just around the corner – there was no work coming in and there was nothing to do anyway, so we didn’t feel too guilty about playing hooky.
One day I walked in and noticed a new bartender at the bar. This place had very good Mojitos, but when I ordered one, the new bartender said: “I don’t know how to make one. Have a beer.”
I was a bit put off, but grabbed a beer from a six-pack sitting on the bar. I took out my wallet to pay, but the man behind the bar said: “Forget about it, buddy. It’s an open bar.”
In FRONT of the bar was a VERY attractive blonde woman. She turned to me and said, in a thick New York accent: “So… who are you?” In a moment of luck or great genius, I said the first thing that popped into my head: “I’m a producer.” She smiled and said: “I thought I recognized you.”
I spoke to her for a few more minutes, made everyone laugh, and then went back to meet my friend, assuming that we were crashing somebody’s private function.
When I found my friend at her seat, she was sitting there, slack jawed, and shaking like a tuning fork: “DO YOU KNOW WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE?” she whispered.
“I have no idea,” I said, honestly.
Now, understand, at the time, I was living in a part of Greenwich Village that didn’t have cable service. (It seems hard to believe now, but many parts did not get cable until 2000 / 2001.)
“THIS IS THE CAST OF THE SOPRANOS” she said.
Like I said, I didn’t have cable, so I had no idea what that was and didn’t much care.
“Cool,” I said.
As it turns out, the very attractive woman I was chatting with at the bar was Drea De Matteo, who played Adrianna on the show, and the guy at the bar was Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher. I was so blase about the interaction that, apparently, they all bought my story and thought I really was a producer.
As a side-note: I finally got cable a few months after this meeting and, like everyone else in America, became addicted to the show. Obviously, if I had run into these people at THAT point, I would have been a drooling, gibbering mess. But at that moment I was Mister Cool, crashing the Season 3 wrap party for the Sopranos.
I had a few more drinks and talked to more people and, eventually, Michael – are we on a first-name basis now? – came over and said, “Hey, we have tickets to Miracle on 34th Street (this was a Christmas concert that included Michael Jackson and others at Madison Square Garden) and we have a tour-bus outside. Why don’t you come with us?”
I felt like I had mislead them long enough and explained we had really just wandered in off the street. I half expected to get thrown out of the bar, but Michael – a really, really nice guy, as it turns out – said: “Ha – that’s cool. Come along anyway.”
I got in the tour bus and sat in between Drea – I HOPE we are on a first name basis now – and Annabella Sciorra in the bus and went to the concert.
On the way in, I called my wife, and said: “Guess who just gave me tickets to Miracle on 34th Street – THE CAST OF THE SOPRANOS!!!”
She replied: “What’s The Sopranos?”
Looking down at the subway tracks, I saw a rat investigating what appeared to be a half-eaten McDonald’s meal – specifically a chicken nugget meal, honey mustard included. The rat approached a nugget, began nibbling, but then proceeded to walk over to the dip, before returning to the nugget. He kept going back and forth between the chicken nuggets and the honey mustard. The frightening realization that the rats are intelligent enough to have developed a crude understanding of “dipping” rattles me to this day.
4. Andy Cheung
A few years ago I left my phone in a cab. A few hours after it happened, my wife got a call from my phone from a person who had picked it up. She kindly arranged to have me go meet her to retrieve my phone, so I went. When I got there, it turned out to be Joan Jett’s drummer. She gave me my phone, plus a free CD.
5. Adam Turner
In my twenties, I got stranded in NYC. Well, not really stranded; my folks lived there. But I lived in Austin, TX. Being poor, I had to take the bus.
I get to the Port Authority (NYC’s central bus depot) and have a while to wait. I go outside and start milling about. The area around the PA is a bit shady, even today, but was much worse then (early 90’s.)
A man walked up to me, perhaps in his forties. If not homeless, he looked like he was working on it. He asked me about my hair wrap — colored embroidery floss braided into a length of my hair — and reached up to touch it. I drew back and started away. He walked after me. There were enough people about that I found the courage to turn around and demanded, “WHAT!?!”
He was startled. He looked around a little bit, and then, meekly, “Man, I need some help.”
“Look, man, I really don’t…”
He interrupted me, “I don’t know how to write.”
I was caught off-guard, “Pardon?”
“I haven’t seen my daughter in six years. I just got her address and want to try and talk to her, but I don’t know how to write,” he went on, “and she lives in Augusta.”
“Okay, got a pen?”
Ten minutes later, with a ‘borrowed’ pen, we’re sitting on a bench. He’s ranting stream of conscience sentences that would run on and on and seemingly jump back and forth in time with lengthy descriptions of places he’s been, things he’s seen and that time when he was being chased by the cops and…
Looking down at the pad, I had the young woman’s name and a comma.
Finally, I said, “I think I have plenty to go on. How about I work on it and I’ll read it to you when I’m done, okay?”
He agreed, and we sat quietly, except for a few questions I had.
Because I’d be on the road for forty-four hours, I’d brought provisions. It was still morning, and I had a corn muffin with me. I reached into my bag, pulled it out, unwrapped it and broke it in half, absently offering my new friend the other half. He took it and thanked me.
I went on writing. After a bit, I looked over to see him with his hands in his lap, looking blankly at the muffin half. Then, a single tear.
I asked what was wrong.
He said, in that way that people who are crying talk with food in their mouth, “No one’s ever been this nice to me.”
We both sat there and quietly cried for a while.
It crushed me that such a simple act of kindness was the nicest thing anyone had done for this poor guy.
If I may, go out and perform a simple act of kindness. It could change someone’s life.
My wife has only been out of Texas a few times and had told me it was one of her dreams to go NYC. So one fall morning I took told her we were going to her favorite breakfast spot in Austin and took her to the airport instead. I had everything for a week packed in 2 backpacks. I had no idea how fortunate a decision that was until several days later.
After we landed our first stop was the Empire State Building. I had read to expect an hour wait but we were able to walk straight to the front of the line! The view was amazing, the lights of the city where around us the stars were above and no one else was up there. The only thing that struck me as a little odd was a small cloud on the horizon with some very active lighting.
The city treated us like royalty for the next 2 days. There were no lines, discounted prices, and a genuine sense of appreciation for our patronage wherever we went. We first thought we were extremely lucky, but then we turned on the news. We had flown in to NYC as Hurricane Sandy was creeping up the east coast.
Within a few minutes of our realization of the dire situation we were in the lights in our hotel had begun to flicker and the sky had darkened. Within a few hours a giant crane next to our hotel had broken in half and we were evacuating onto the streets. My wife and I adopted an older lady in her late 70’s who was down the hall from us and kept her with us for the next 24 hours. The NYPD moved us out of the way of the dangling crane next to central park. It was every bit as wild any tornados I’ve experienced in Texas. There were tree branches flying and anything not bolted down was being thrown about in the streets. We were taken to 3 different shelters over the next 12 hours, each time we were told there wasn’t enough room for us and we were shuffled to a new location. Along the way we told everyone that the older lady we had adopted was my grandmother. Eventually we were taken to East Harlem and placed in a FEMA camp.
My wife and I were the only ones in the hotel that were able to make it out of the hotel with all of our belongings. It was a huge blessing! I was able to set up a phone charging station next to our cots so fellow travelers could contact there loved ones.
The next morning we woke up to a text from our “grandmothers” cousin. He lived in town and was also evacuated. He said that he was a producer and was very grateful for the help we had given his cousin. He then gave us 2 tickets to see the Book of Mormon, which he produced, 2 rows from the front exactly in the center! He also gave us the hotel room that Judd Apatow was supposed to be using but couldn’t since he flight never left.
All in all we had an amazing, if not bizarre, adventure. My wife can’t wait for our next trip :-)
7. Steven Wolk
Some people think that NYC is unfriendly and cold, that people only look out for themselves and that they won’t give strangers the time of day. Not so. Here are some stories. I have intentionally included the races of people in certain instances because of the point it makes about people of different races interacting. To start with, I am white/non hispanic.
- 1. Several years ago I had knee surgery and had to walk around with crutches for a while. I got used to them enough that I even took the subway. Whenever I’d get on a subway at least one or two people would immediately get up to offer me their seat.
- 2. I was on my crutches in the subway station once and a youngish Hispanic man came up to me and said “I was on crutches once and tripped over my shoe laces, your laces are untied.” At which point he bent down and before I could protest, he tied my laces, stood up, and walked away.
- 3. I was on a subway (1 or 2, can’t remember) coming from work (an ecommerce startup) at 11:00pm. The subway went from 181st street downtown on the West Side. It was nearly full. At one of the stops an elderly couple walked out and a large black man ran after them and yelled loudly “WAIT!” When they turned around, he held a wallet in his hand and said, “You left your wallet on your seat” and then gave it to them and rushed back on the train before the doors closed.
8. Ken Horkavy
I lived on 14th st between 7th and 8th. It was a fantastic year of living in the city on the cheap. I didn’t have to work a day job at that time, so I spent most of my days wandering the city, eating and finding the most amazing spots as I developed lists for film location scouts. But some of the most memorable times were close to home.
Downstairs was a doughnut shop. At 4am the doughnut smell wafted up to my apartment and was so good it consistently woke me up. I would usually never be up this early so it was fun to see the city so quiet during these times. I would wander downstairs in my night clothes and after a few visits, a fresh coffee and doughnut were waiting for me at the counter each morning. The ritual and friendship that developed was palpable and it all started with the smell of a New York doughnut.
9. Kent Fung
So there I am on the subway during a rush hour evening. As you might expect, it’s jam packed, with everyone mashed up against his or her neighbor. The guy behind me, a pasty-faced white guy in baggy clothes, apparently finds fault with the fact that my ass accidentally made contact with his. “Don’t touch me!!” he snarls, prompting me to turn around and ask, “Excuse me?” “Don’t fucking touch me!” he screams. I note that “Buddy, it’s New York City, and it’s rush hour. What the hell do you want from me!”
At which point he yells, “You fucking n*gger!!”
You know those movie scenes where suddenly a crowded bar goes still and the sound of a record scratching to a halt is heard? Yeah, it was like that. I was momentarily confused, because if you couldn’t tell from my name, I am of Chinese descent — and thus had never been called that epithet. I was about to get angry when I glance around and notice that every. single. black. man. on the train. was glaring at the guy, nonverbally daring him to say even one more word. Most are just office workers, but some are nevertheless quite huge. He suddenly noticed too. So I aimed my best shit-eating grin at him as he tried to make himself invisible. He got off at the next stop.
10. Ed Yazijian
Sometime during the late summer in 1984 I was playing harmonica in Washington Square Park when a fellow who appeared to be slightly drunk came over to listen. He was dressed in worn out clothing and looked like he had seen better days, but he was very enthusiastic about my harmonica playing. When I was taking a break he came over and told me that he loved my playing, could he buy me a drink? I politely declined–I had my guitar stolen a week before by a junkie, so I was suspicious of anyone who acted overly friendly. The man persisted and after some hemming and hawing I reluctantly agreed. He looked like he didn’t have two dimes to rub together, and I wondered if he even had the money for one mug of draft beer. He insisted on going to Mills Tavern on Bleecker St.
I was in a bad mood that day, so I can’t say I was very friendly. He seemed not to notice and talked enthusiastically about music. He told me that the Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos and many other really good jazz musicians would bring their instruments to the park and play, so there was a lot of good music to be heard there. He said nothing about himself and I didn’t bother to ask his name.
When we walked into the bar people started looking over at us and whispering. At the time it made me think something was wrong until I overheard someone say, “Hey, Paul Butterfield just walked in!” I turned around to see if I could catch a glimpse and realized that everyone was looking at the scruffy stranger who brought me there for a beer. I can’t remember him interacting with anyone except for me and the bartender when he ordered our drinks. At first I felt bad because I was a fan of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and he was obviously not well, but then I felt even worse for treating such a kind and generous person with condescension no matter who he was. I was so embarrassed that I quickly drank my beer, thanked him, and ran out the door. A few years later I tried to look him up, but found out that he had died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles.
11. Adam Nyhan
I saw a woman give the best slam in response to a catcall that I have ever seen.
I was waiting for the Q train on the platform in Park Slope. Early August. Sweltering heat. 35-ish brunette walks down stairs onto the platform past a group of the three young ruffian lads about the age of 25. One of them sings out the time-honored mating call “Hey baby.”
Brunette doesn’t miss a beat. She whips around, gets in ruffian’s face and sneers “Hey, baby?! Are you kidding me? That’s the best you’ve got? You’re pathetic!” And she keeps walking. Ruffian’s two friends are now howling with laughter, pointing at him and making fun of him. Ruffian looks like he wants to cry, like some input was fed into his brain that just did not compute.
This was just weeks after I had moved here from Washington, DC. It erased any doubt I may have had that this was the city for me.
On the shuttle bus from the JFK airport terminal to the subway, there was a very proper Orthodox Jewish couple with a daughter who must have been about 5 or 6.
There aren’t many seats on these buses, so the family had to stand. After about the first stop (maybe 5 minutes or so), a man got up and offered the little girl his seat.
The mother turned to her and said, “This man is giving you his seat, sweetheart. What do you say?”
And the little girl looked at the man and said, “It’s about damn time!”
13. Marco North
At around two AM on a Saturday night in the summer, a lot of street characters emerge and many of them have razor wit, and unpredictable humor. I remember strolling down Eight Avenue, turning onto 23rd street one hot summer night wearing a Superman t-shirt.
“Yo, Superman!” A man shouted from the sidewalk.
I was not impressed.
“You can save me!” He continued. “With a slice of PIZZA!”
Later that night, a man pointed into the air – his face full of drama.
“I fucked Tony Curtis! He announced to me.
There was a guy who rode the six train. He had a cat that sat on his shoulder and he had pretty crazy clothes. He had an alto sax hanging from his neck. Most people just pan-handled and said they had no money, nowhere to got. Some sang a Gospel song, or some doo-wop. This guy had a different approach.
“I am from MARS!” He would shout. “And I must now torture you with my inter-stellar music!”
He would play some kind of Ornette Coleman sounding stuff.
“If you give me money, I will stop.” he would say.
Some people gave him money because he was so different form the desperate ones.
One Sunday morning, the day after my thirtieth birthday party, I went downstairs to Roger’s and got a bacon, egg and cheese and a coffee. I sat outside and ate it. A guy came up to me. His eyes were dripping white puss. He was laughing and laughing. I had never seen him before. He sat next to me, and told me that last night had been crazy. He told me that he had invented Disneyland, but they had stolen the idea from him before he had the chance to make it.
14. Peter Hondo
Lower East Side, 1987. Eating outside at a place I can’t remember. Street person walks by, staring straight ahead, and says the following, smacking his fist into his palm with increasing emphasis: “Two and two is four. Four and four is eight! Eight and eight is sixteen!! And what’s sixteen?! It’s a fucking load of CRAP–that’s what it is!!!
Never saw him again.
15. Karen King
The filming of I Am Legend – So, generally when they are filming stuff in Washington Square Park, they put up a sign that says if you walk past here you might be filmed and by walking past here you are agreeing to be filmed. So, depending on how much of a hurry you are in and how important it is to you to be filmed (or not) you go ahead about your business or go around. Well, in a movie about zombies where there are no people, therefore no authentic NY extras, not so with I Am Legend. My office was right on the park (Washington Square East), and I taught in the evening. So, leaving my office around 9:30-10pm and it is pitch black, no lights. Whoa!? It is never dark in NY with all of the ambient lighting. They are filming a scene and I just want to go home. Some guy says “You can’t go that way, they are filming.” I give him a blank stare as if to say “who cares?” He says back, “I Am Legend.” Me: another blank stare as I had not read the book and didn’t know anything about it. He explains the plot to me and while he is doing that a HUGE spotlight comes on a Will Smith and some zombie types are running through the empty park. Amazing.
16. Morgan Downey
My sister and I grew up in Stuyvesant Town on the East Side. Around 1954, my sister started ballet lessons Sunday afternoons. My mother always took her and always said what a nice young man played the piano for the class. And how well he played. She really enjoyed listening to him. A few years later, we were watching TV when a big announcement was made that an American had won the Tchaikovshy Competition. My mother jumped out of her seat, “It’s him!, she shouted. “From the ballet class.” It was van Cliburn. Evidently as a student at Juilliard, he was earning a few bucks playing at the ballet lessons.
17. Kyle Lelli
Each year, when I was 7, 8 & 9 years old, my uncle used to take me to New York. We’d go shopping during the day, go to lunch, fun dinner, etc. Since I’m not originally from here, it seemed like a different world.
This story is from the first time I was in New York, when I was 7.
One night after we were leaving the restaurant from dinner, we’re walking up to a corner (not sure but I think it was Lower East Side. We see a man on the pay phone frantically trying to make a call, at which point we both look to our left and notice his car is parked on the side of the road… On Fire. There were a bunch of people around, and my Uncle wanted us to avoid the danger. We gazed for probably around a minute and walked away, content that no one was in immediate danger.
About two minutes into our walk, on our way back to where we were staying and we see a gypsy… Walking a Donkey in the middle of the sidewalk. My Uncle and I looked at each other in amazement. Seeing that I was 7 – and he had been coming to New York weekly since he was young and had never seen anything like that, let alone back to back – it was pretty awesome.
This was my first time in New York, and a memory I will certainly never forget.
18. Barbara Gibbons
I worked in lower Manhattan. One snowy, cold winter morning the streets were pretty empty and I was trudging through a foot of snow on my way to work. Suddenly the snow in front of me rose up and a person arose out of the snow. I was shocked and jumped. I later realized this homeless person had been sleeping on a subway grate to keep warm, but initially I was shocked.
19. Steven Chu
I assisted a friend one morning who was having a business meeting with the famous fashion photographer Craig McDean and his wife. This was also the same morning news broke that Alexander McQueen had killed himself. It was so surreal being in the company of all these people and watching history unfold before me.. but that I was a complete stranger as well watching this in their home. I was to do a quick job for them of digitizing a McQueen tapestry print, and without thinking accepted the print and biked around the city in a daze.. down to the McQueen store in Meatpacking to see if any vigils had been lain (it was only about 11am at this point). Shortly after, their assistants began ringing frantically to retrieve the tapestry in case of bad luck.
So for 3 hours, on the morning of Alexander McQueen’s death, I carried an original tapestry draft print of his… and the significance did not occur to me until now re-thinking about it!
20. Lisa Borodkin
I walked out of my Chelsea apartment one day into a crime scene – cop cars with silent police lights on, yellow tape, officers. I thought, oh no, wonder what happened?
Then I saw Jerry Orbach walking around.
21. Pamela Booker
Upon moving into my Upper West Side apartment, I discovered that my sofa wouldn’t fit. Unfortunately, no one had explained the concept of “apartment-sized” furniture to me. I was in a real jam because the employees of the moving company were not allowed to take it.
I was wondering what to do when a fireman poked his head in the doorway and said that the moving van had to be moved so they could get their truck by. I guess I must have looked like I was pretty stressed because he asked me if I was okay. When I explained my dilemma, he said they’d be willing to take it off my hands because they could donate it to a needy family. I couldn’t believe my luck!
He got a couple of guys from the truck and they hoisted it up on top of the ladder and drove off with it. This was my first day in the city.
22. Diane Campbell
My family was living in another city where my father was CEO of a large corporation. Business required he make frequent overnight trips back to NYC . He always stayed at the same small , quiet and posh hotel, where he always slept in the nude as he always did .
One exhausted middle-of-the-night as nature called, Dad stumbled into the bathroom only to hear a loud Thunk behind him as his room door closed behind him and the bright lights revealed he was in the hotel hallway, not the bathroom. Stark naked, door locked. and of course, nature still calling.
He woke up mighty fast, only to hear the elevator door open on his floor. He sprinted quickly behind a potted palm, and luckily the arriving and quite elegant couple went the other way down the hall. When they were safely gone, Dad raced down the hall to the hotel phone, placed his desperate call to hotel security, and raced back to his somewhat protective potted palm
Security arrived and let him back into his room. No ID required, as hotel staff knew him well as a frequent guest for many years.
Next morning, dressed impeccably as always for business, Dad arrived in the lobby and was greeted more warmly than usual by the gentlemanly hotel staff. “Good morning, sir, we DO hope you had a good night’s sleep.” Word, shall we say, had gotten around.
To his credit, he continued to stay at the same hotel every time he was back in New York.
23. Thomas Poirier
I was reading the newspaper the Long Island Press, it had a story about a bank robbery in Manhattan. The man fled on foot and disappeared into the crowd. He was wearing a Pink Suit and a hat with a feather in it.