I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for about a third of my life and the rest in the suburbs of New York, except for college when I was in a Boston suburb. I think it makes me uniquely qualified to see both sides of the spectrum—city folks and suburbanites and their impression each other. Sometimes it seems as if they are two separate worlds. But what they have in common – a sense of community that is most apparent in times of tragedy – came through this past week more intensely than usual.
I’ve lived for the last seven plus years in a sixteen floor pre-war building on the upper West Side, which, by Manhattan standards, means it’s old, charming and relatively small. Although I don’t know most of my fellow tenants by name and have only made a few friends in the building, I recognize just about everyone.
Our building is a real mix of ages and family situations. We’ve got babies and teenagers, dogs of all varieties and single and married folks from twenty-something to a few close to one hundred.
Last week, one of our doormen died suddenly. Larry passed away from a diabetic shock. The last time I saw him was the week before, when he was helping us load up our car, something he’d done hundreds of times. Each time he’d wait with me while my husband went to get the car, chitchatting about plans for the weekend, the holidays or one of our vacations. Often while we were standing there, usually early in the morning, the other tenants would emerge from the building and before heading off to school or the office or an errand would stop and talk to Larry who would joke with them the same way he did with me, in a totally irreverent teasing manner, no matter who they were or how old they were. It was part of his charm.
In the afternoons, when he was on duty he would take care of the new mothers, helping them carry their strollers onto the street all the while cooing and interacting with the toddler or baby. If an older wheelchair or walker bound person needed assistance or simply a genuine interaction, Larry was there.
We all loved him, though I’d say his biggest fan club were the kids. Starting on the day he died, someone put a single white rose in a vase on the table in the lobby of the building. Before long, a lit candle was added, and then condolence cards, along with a pen for all of us to sign our names and express our sympathy. Most compelling were the handmade cards by the kids. I can only imagine what Larry’s family felt when they saw those. But it also said something about city living and how one young man—he was only 35—touched so many people.
City living is viewed by many as an anonymous existence where no one interacts or cares. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, as evidenced by the impact the death of an Upper West Side doorman had on our building.