I’m crossing the street at 94th and Columbus. Just behind me I hear a man’s voice say, “Hello.” The idiot is on his cell-phone with the crossing clock counting down from eleven. 


Again, “Hello.”


“Hey, pal, “ I begin to say as I turn back and see a man of about 50 in a wide-brimmed hat with a cane. Just an ordinary cane, but I can see in his blue eyes that he’s blind.


“Could you help me across the street?” he asks.


I take him by the elbow. The clock is now at three and we’re only halfway across. A woman a few steps ahead sees us, stops, turns her back toward traffic, and extends her arms on either side of her to hold it back.


An impromptu working trio, we complete our maneuver.


Safe on the other side of the street, the man says, “I live at 65.”  I look east and see the green awning of his building.


“I thought you were on your cell phone,” I call after him as he heads home. The back of his head nods his understanding. 


I head into Mani Market. I place a bag of almonds, a wheel of Laughing Cow cheese and two Fuji apples on the counter. I’ve been coming here for years and the cashier has never been friendly to me, but I need to talk. “I wanted shrimp but the line was too long.”  


“How much did you want?”


“A pint.”


She heads to the deli department but returns empty handed. “They’re too busy, and I don’t know how to use the scale. I can have them hold some for you for later, if you like.”


“That’s all right.”


And so it is.


Originally appeared as "Instant Karma on Columbus Avenue," The New York Times Metropolitan Diary,

October 31, 2016 









“What do you think?” my son, David, asks.


We’re standing in a medium-sized room on India Street in Greenpoint, which David wants to rent. I see two narrow windows, chipped paint, no closet, a disgusting shag carpet. The place stinks.


“It’s a decent size,” I say. “You like it?”




This is what he can afford. It’s not about the apartment, but the neighborhood, about his freedom. He’s twenty-nine. It’s time.


“Go for it,” I say.


We head out to the kitchen to give our verdict to the guy who’s subletting the place. The linoleum floor is badly warped; there’s a bathtub in the corner.


I watch David write a check for $1,700 (two months’ rent plus a hundred-dollar deposit). The guy takes the check and hands him the keys.   


“Congratulations,” I tell David over $5 Fill Ups at KFC back in Manhattan.


“It’s a great neighborhood,” David says.




David heads off to work.


“What’s the place like?” my wife asks when the two of us are in our big apartment on the Upper West Side. 


“It’s good. A decent size.”


 “What’s the other guy like?”


“He’s fine.”


“$800 for a room; it’s outrageous.”


“That’s what a room in Greenpoint costs. We agreed he should live in a place he can afford.”


“It’s an SRO.”


“In Greenpoint.”


And I’m thinking: this—us, arguing, fretting––is exactly why David had to get out.


And I’m thinking: with her bad knee, my wife will never make it up the three flights of rickety stairs, past the dead water bug, to see how horrible our son’s wonderful new apartment really is. 


Originally appeared as "A Son's New Apartment," The New York Times Metropolitan Diary, December 31, 2015