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    This is New York City

    I have a story to tell and it’s going to seem like fiction. I’ll insist it’s the truth, and you will accuse me of lying or exaggerating- something I’m often accused of when I tell these kinds of stories. You’ll interpret my tale as a fable- a story conveying a moral. It’s hard to be believe; it’s farfetched; and thank goodness it ends with a happy ending.

    But this is not a lie, an exaggeration, a tall tale, or a fable. This is a true story.

    I guess the story starts a long time ago. It starts whenever I heard that New Yorkers were crude. It starts whenever I heard they were rude, impolite, bad-mannered, and only out for themselves.  The story begins when I learned that the streets of New York- and many of it’s inhabitants that walked on them- were dangerous, struggling and scary. Yes, that’s where this story starts.

    Right before my move to New York- when I still lived in Chicago- I found an iPhone in a cab. After learning it wasn’t the cab driver’s and realizing that I’d want a honest and good-intentioned person like myself to take my phone had I lost mine, my instincts told me to take the iPhone and try to get a hold of its owner. Wincing and Clorox wiping the phone, I thought to myself, I’d want someone to do this for me.

    I finally got a hold of the owner, and it was a nightmare. She couldn’t care less that I not only found her phone, but also found a way to get a hold of her. She was drunk, ungrateful, uncooperative, and on a train back to her home in Wisconsin after a Friday afternoon Cubs game. Finally, after an irritating and lengthy conversation, I agreed to mail her iPhone to her house.

    Friday evening, I left the phone on my counter with a plan to ship her phone the next morning. Then, at 5 am I woke up to a blaring alarm. I was disoriented. I was shocked. I was waking up to a fire alarm. Grabbing my laptop and my most expensive designer bag – two things I instinctively knew to protect in my disoriented state- I ran downstairs to my lobby. The doorwoman looked at me startled. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

    I then realized that I had not woken up to a fire alarm. It was the stranger’s iPhone’s alarm clock. Embarrassed, frustrated, and downright pissed off, I turned off the phone, and swore that no good deed goes unpunished.

    The next day, I marched to the post office and sent the phone to the stranger. I wanted the phone out of my hands, and to wash my hands clean of the situation. Although I knew I was paying twenty dollars to send a complete stranger the phone she drunkenly lost, I thought to myself, I’d want someone to do this for me.

    As I complained to my friends and family and retold the story over and over again, I got the same response: You’re a sucker. You better get rid of that naïve Midwest kindness.  You’re moving to New York City. You’ll get burned there if you keep that up. Don’t forget where you’re moving. New. York. City.

    I also got a few jabs for instinctively grabbing for a laptop and Chanel handbag in the event of an emergency.

    ***

    Last Monday night, my mom and I went spinning. She was visiting me from Michigan, and I wanted her to experience my latest NYC obsession: SoulCycle spinning. Walking home from an intense 45 minute evening class, we felt invincible. That is, until we stumbled upon a dark, suspicious block near my apartment. Although my mom is NYC’s #1 fan; although she’s pretty tough; and although she just survived a 45-minute exercise class cycling out of saddle while doing pushups and crunches… her instincts told her to run.  Instincts are a powerful thing. If the “fire alarm” taught me anything, it at the very least taught me that. So we ran.

    And while doing so, my iPhone must have fallen out of my pocket. Upon discovery, we lost all inhabitations and fear, and found ourselves slowly wandering the same streets separately on the block we were once afraid to run on together.  Negative and cynical thoughts raced through our heads.  Most of them I vocalized with a few choice words hollered in between. This is New York City. Of course someone has already taken the phone. Of course someone already picked it up, cracked my password, and stolen my identity. Of course someone has already scraped it clean and sold it to an armed, violent person. Of course that person is about to jump out of the bushes and rob us.

    The asshole that stole my iPhone is definitely celebrating to the tune of the new Red Hot Chilli Peppers song I downloaded this morning.

    Defeated, distraught and down on everything, my mom and I sulked into my apartment lobby where my two doormen asked us what happened. My friend who previously lived in my apartment building once raved to me about one of them, Tali. Frankly, I never really knew much about him. Until that evening.  Once we told them I lost my Iphone, his response was autimatic. He grabbed a flashlight and asked us to backtrack. Running down the “mean streets” of NYC, as he brightened up the streets with his light, as my mom ran alongside him showing him our track, and as I continuously redialed my phone number from my mom’s phone, I felt empowered.  Accompanied by him- and his light- I could see clearly.

    And then my phone was answered. His name was Carlos. He was brief, unresponsive, and sounded somewhat cryptic. As I cheered in delight and thanked him profusely, he responded with the same sentence over and over: “Meet me right now in the lobby of XXX 29th St.” We were all stunned. Not only that someone actually answered my phone, but that the only response he had was his address. It sounded like he was reading the sentence off a script. Tali was skeptical. “I know that area. It’s walking distance from here, but on a bad block.  And there are no apartments with lobbies over there. They are all walk-ups.” We all looked at each other nervously.

    And the next thing I knew, Tali was escorting us to the address Carlos offered. Running east on 29th St, stopping traffic as we crossed avenues, I felt optimistic.  Sure, it was 11 pm and we were heading to a suspicious address. Sure, he allegedly lied. Sure, this complete stranger’s response wasn’t anything like mine when I had found someone’s phone. But he answered. And that was enough for us to feel it was worth heading there.  Instincts are a powerful thing.

    We arrived at the address Carlos offered, and there was indeed a lobby. Tali asked the door guard if Carlos was there. And he was. A slender, nicely dressed elderly man walked towards us smiling. Once confronted with him, it was clear he didn’t speak English well, which accounted for his brief demeanor on the phone. I sighed in relief, frustrated with my preconceived notions from our brief phone conversation.  As he handed me my beloved work/play/music/GPS/toy/internet, I gasped in excitement. We offered him money, until we realized we were insulting him. He didn’t want money; he asked for a hug. And although I was once scared of a quiet block on my commute home and although I was once terrified of the stranger behind the phone and although I was once down on the streets of NYC, I embraced him.

    My mom and I walked out of the building delirious with excitement, waving goodbye and marveling at how lucky I was. Tali was still looking inside. “That’s a homeless shelter,” he informed us.

    We all walked back to the apartment silenced by the fact that this man was far from our perception of what homeless is. And more importantly, that he picked up my phone with the intention to return it to me, just how I once did almost a year ago in Chicago.  Someone – in NYC- who had the most to gain by taking my phone had the least intentions to do so.  Touched, we thanked Tali for escorting us to a place we could have never walked to on our own and for instinctively responding to my problem by running out the door with a flashlight. Instincts are a powerful thing. His were to automatically help me and that touched us.

    He looked back at us turned off by our astonishment. “Get used to it. This is New York City. This is what we do here.”

    And us in our workout gear and him in his uniform, the three of us walked back knowing we all had much more with us than a recovered iPhone.

    In a world where there’s such hatred and violence and fear- and in a city where people don’t hold elevator doors, men don’t give up their subway seats for pregnant women, and rushed employees steal others’ cabs- this is what goes down on the streets.

    As my mom and I ate a midnight meal, Clorox wiped my phone, and showered, we couldn’t stop talking about the selfless kindness we received that night.  Instincts are a powerful thing. All because we sprinted down a dark block from an instinct of fear, it took us losing something, and getting it back, to see what we had all along.

    No, it wasn’t the Find My iPhone app.

    It was the Midwest kindness I offered to the stranger in Chicago. And that kindness, in New York City, is so magnificent that it’s scary.

    5 Responses to “This is New York City”

    1. Lauren says:

      Love this!

    2. dad says:

      u r the kid we raised and good deeds r coming back to u–well written aesop!–lu

    3. Angela says:

      Emily,
      I am a New Yorker now living in Detroit. Thank you for your wonderful story. I am always defending the misconceptions of New Yorkers. You have captured the essence well! Thank you.

    4. Marie B says:

      Karma is a great thing. Very powerful if used correctly.

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