Brief Encounter


Our Daily Correspondent

“Polite New Yorker”

Guess who I ran into this morning? Three guesses. And if you guessed Jacob, my neighborhood friend, you’re right! 

I was enjoying a toasted, buttered bialy, a coffee-cart small, and a newspaper on a traffic island, when who should sit down on the bench opposite but my old comrade-in-arms! He was looking very natty in a bright green fedora and tweed jacket. On his lapel was a button that read POLITE NEW YORKER.

I recognized the pin at once, of course. It’s sported by all the counter people at Gray’s Papaya, the venerable, twenty-four-hour hot-dog-and-tropical-juice institution. I am a great Gray’s Papaya devotee; my descriptor on all social media—“Aristocratic Melon of the Tropics”—is an homage to their brash signage. (It seemed as good as any.) 

In delight, I wrapped the foil around my bialy, firmly lidded my “We Are Happy to Serve You!” cup, and crossed the few feet to my friend’s side of the island. He eyed me warily.

“Hello!” I said. “Jacob! It’s me! Sadie! We met on the traffic island at Seventy-Ninth Street!” (I didn’t mention our other run-ins, at, respectively, Gristede’s, Columbus Avenue, Zabar’s, Eighty-Third Street, and the stoop of my childhood building—many of which I’ve chronicled in this space.) I also didn’t mention that at our last meeting (at the deli) he’d asked me to be a special guest on his podcast; I didn’t want to push my luck. 

“What do you want?” he demanded.

“Just to say hi,” I said cautiously. “And maybe compliment your hat, which looks like spring,” 

“Leave me the hell alone and give me your paper,” he snarled.

“Fine,” I muttered. “I’m done with it anyway.” I left him the paper and the rest of the bialy. “That pin used to mean something, you know,” I added as a parting shot, even though it’s true that everyone at Gray’s Papaya is really grim and surly, too, and they always have been. Why wouldn’t they be? 

As I stalked away, I reflected that if this was one long, Truman Capote–style hallucination, I could see why people always seemed irritated with the voices in their heads, and sullenly fingered the POLITE NEW YORKER button pinned to my Westsider Books tote bag. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.