The Five New Yorkers You Meet In Heaven

New Yorkers don’t get the credit we deserve for being good humans. I always meet kind New York heroes and I’m 100% not one to chat with strangers.

This morning, I squeezed inside the downtown train with my lunch container. I shared a corny, polite exchange with an older man.

“That’s Wordscapes? I love that game.” he asked.

“Yea, it’s addictive.” I looked up at him but fixed my gaze on this screen puzzle. I had to unscramble the last word or die trying.

“Try A-D-R-A-L-L,” he offered.

“I already tried that, it doesn’t work,” and then I dragged my finger across those letters to show him. Another nonsense word. It looked like “Adderall” so I couldn’t blame dude for choosing it.

“And then when you use your hint, you get so mad because you like — “

“ — I coulda got that!” we said in unison.

I had one stop left before mine. He could see my frustration but he kept smiling his old smile and chuckling. He made my day and didn’t even know it. He gave me a moment to write about in earnest. He had much more to do, including moving whatever was in his duffle bag.

Last week, on my way to a book event, I saw a public display of safety on the 6 downtown.

A woman, 30s, with long, straightened hair boarded in a rush.

“If you keep following me on the train, I’m gonna report you to the cops!” she shouted. Passengers froze what we were doing to assess. In New York, we decode threat levels with a formula that calculates: the volume of the distressed, the eyebrow angle of the nearest bystander, and the distance to the exit. We can’t stop for everything but we can dodge spewing vomit or piss. If a woman shouts like this one did, and my neighbor removes his earphone, it’s code red.

“It’s not ok. I’m going to call the authorities on you. I see this every week with you following ladies onto their train.”

We were all looking intently at a younger man, maybe 20s, leaning on the door. His head tilted down, he twitched his way into a half-grin but never spoke.

A big man, seated behind the woman shouting, removed his white earphones. As the woman in front of her reached out her arm to ask if she was ok, he spoke up.

“I’ll ride the train until you get off. I’ll ride it after my stop.”

And then another woman seated near the door:

“I be seeing him do that all the time. He not slick. That’s nasty. I see you! You nasty!” Then she explained to her fellow passengers how often he rode this same train and what he did.

Other riders pulled out their phone cameras and pointed them at him. Lens witnesses popped up two by two. He shrunk into his mid-length locked hair. The strands folded around his face as he became smaller and also, somehow, bigger in our minds.

There are New Yorkers you’ll meet in heaven. The perfect New York day wraps around you in a way that heaven would mimic if it had the chance. The divine city day disrupts your distracted mind with kindness. I’ve enjoyed perfect New York days because of the New Yorkers I’ll describe now, who are humble angels.

  1. Salt-pepper-ketchup? The dedicated sandwich chef at your local deli can change a neighborhood of moods. He toasts the bread right. He lets the cheese melt. He knows Hot Pepper Guy versus Sweet Pepper Woman. In his brain, the index of regular orders sticks, and the newbies matter too. Deli sandwich man is the first New Yorker you meet in heaven.

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I’m a Caribbean and American writer from New York. My stories are about coming-of-age, learning how to relate, and family. It’s a living, breathing memoir.

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Andrew Ricketts

I’m a Caribbean and American writer from New York. My stories are about coming-of-age, learning how to relate, and family. It’s a living, breathing memoir.