I had never met my next-door neighbor, but I often noticed him around the East Village. I’m pretty sure everyone in the neighborhood knew who he was: the guy who went everywhere and did everything on roller skates.
Once, I watched from the back of a taxi as he skated in and out of traffic while pushing a newborn in a stroller, prompting drivers to hit their car horns.
Another time, from a bench outside, I was amazed to see him grab a coffee to go and glide across the shop’s linoleum floor as other customers turned their heads to watch.
But I was surprised to encounter him up close when he knocked on my apartment door one afternoon. He didn’t introduce himself, just got right to the point.
“I locked myself out,” he said. “Do you mind if I jump over your fence to get into my backyard? I think I left my sliding door open.”
I invited him in before noticing that he had his roller skates on. He skidded effortlessly across my living room, turning the old wood into his personal rink.
When he got to the garden, he took the skates off and threw them, one at a time, over the ivy-covered chain-link fence before hoisting himself over.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
Back inside my place, I heard him turn on some music through the wall.
— Ricky Lewis
Walking up University Place toward Union Square, I saw a man coming out of a hardware store.
As I walked by, a gray-haired woman holding a dog approached the man and asked whether he worked there.
He tapped a cigarette out of a pack and nodded.
“If I brought in a machete,” she said, “Could you sharpen it?”
— Cindy Augustine
Waiting for Denzel
My mother loves Denzel Washington. So it was only natural that we would go see him in the “The Iceman Cometh” when she visited a few years ago.
My legs were stiff and my mouth was dry after the four-hour production ended, and I was ready to go home. But my mother loves Denzel Washington. So we waited outside the stage door for the cast to emerge.
My mother was easily the oldest person there, but she was grinning like a teenager about to meet her hero.
“Do you have a pen?” she asked me nervously.
“These actors always carry pens,” I said with confidence. “Don’t worry.”
Soon, though, I was frantically asking everyone around us for a pen while my mother continued to wait for the star to emerge.
When I got back to where she was standing, I overheard her chatting with other members of the cast.
Denzel Washington never came out that night, but my mother still proudly tells everyone back home how she invited half the cast of a Broadway show to visit her in Colorado.
I’m glad I didn’t have a pen.
— Sid Gopinath
I had a social work internship in Queens near the City Clerk’s office. Every morning, I would pass photographers and merchants loaded with flowers and balloons, waiting for a newly wed couple to come out after getting married there.
One day, I was walking to the subway after work and I found myself alongside a middle-age man who was holding a small bouquet of roses. He had on a worn blue hoodie and jeans. I can only describe the expression on his face as a combination of wonder, disbelief and joy.
He glanced at me. I smiled.
“I bought her flowers,” he said, half to me and half to himself. “I’m about to meet up with her and I’ve never bought her flowers before, but today I bought her flowers!” He shook his head in amazement.
“I’m sure she’ll love them,” I said.
We took one more step together before he turned and went into a McDonald’s.
— Audrey Chao
It was 1972, and I was a freshman at Brooklyn College. I had just turned 18 and was required to register for the draft.
One morning, I drove to school, attended my classes and then strolled out onto Flatbush Avenue, where I caught a bus to Downtown Brooklyn and the Draft Board Office there. A few hours later, I was the owner of a newly minted draft card.
After I was finished at the draft board, I wandered to the nearest bus stop. When the next bus arrived, I began to get on and then paused before dropping my token into the fare box.
“Do you go to Brooklyn College?” I asked the driver, who was busily counting transfers.
He stopped what he was doing, slowly turned toward me and looked me in the eye.
“Yup,” he said with a straight face. “I go at night, but I’m nonmatriculated.”
— Steven Wilensky
Illustrations by Agnes Lee