(Note, this is not a startup post. The rest of ’em are. But not this one).
For five years, I had a pretty standard routine.
I’d walk from my office down in Soho to my apartment in the East Village after work each day. It was a 23 or 27 minute walk, depending on whether I cut through Washington Square Park or not. I work late — Tacklebox sessions start at 7pm — so this walk usually happened at 10pm or later.
The walk never disappoints.
I’d leave the office stressed, exhausted, sometimes overwhelmed, then walk into a world that didn’t give a shit about me. Nothing makes you feel more insignificant than NYC. It’s terrific. I’d get smacked with a dose of perspective as 100 movie plots played out around me. Groups of people going out for the night, people coming home from work, people going to work, homeless people, rich people, people buzzing by on bikes to deliver food.
I was a spectator for 23 or 27 minutes and I loved it.
Then, I’d walk in and say hello to Manny.
Manny was our 70ish (80ish?) year old doorman. He was born in Puerto Rico but had been working in the building for 35 years. He’d watched the neighborhood go from downright dangerous to seedy to upscale.
Manny was legitimately hilarious. He’d had a stroke so sometimes the words came out slow, but he was witty as hell.
He played favorites and held a grudge. You got your packages based solely on how much he liked you on that given day. He had three greetings when you came home, and if you got the “yeah hi,” you weren’t getting your packages any time soon.
When I’d walk in around 10:30, he was usually bored and hungry. He’d give me a few dollars and I’d go grab him a slice of pizza. Not at Joe’s, the place 20 feet away that has literally been named the best pizza in NYC, but at the place 5 blocks away he liked more that was truly awful. Then, he’d hold court. He’d tell me about his current girlfriends with an “s” (again, 80ish), about his life in Puerto Rico, about the times he had to spray drug addicts outside the building with a hose and about the time Alec Baldwin got mad because Manny didn’t know who he was (“I said I don’t know you and this isn’t your building”).
Manny had… a lot to say.
I’d start giving him the “welp…” and walking to the door about 10 minutes into a conversation, but he’d just keep talking. I’d get in the elevator and have to hold the door open as it beeped at me while he finished a story. He knew I wanted to go home, but he also knew he wanted to finish his story.
From the minute I got my dog Ruby, Manny and Ruby were inseparable. She’d pull and whine in the elevator and then sprint behind the desk while he’d gleefully pet her and play both parts of the conversation using a super high-pitched voice for Ruby.
“Manny loves you Manny loves you Manny loves you!”
“I love you Manny I love you Manny I love you Manny!”
This went on and on, and then Manny would give her treats from a bin he kept in the desk. This happened every time we went out, including when Ruby was tiny and went out 10 times a day.
About 2.5 years ago a good friend of mine, Michael, moved into the building. Soon after, he had a daughter named Faith. Faith might’ve been the only thing Manny liked more than Ruby. Manny would light up when Faith was around. He’d hold her and show her off to everyone walking by, “have you met my very best friend?”
I moved uptown at the end of 2019, and as silly as this sounds I couldn’t bring myself to ever give Manny an official goodbye. I never realized how close we’d gotten. But five years of nightly 10–20 minute conversations will sneak up on you. I planned on coming back with Ruby to say hello when it started to warm up. I couldn’t wait to see how crazy Rubes would go when she saw him.
About two weeks ago, Michael texted me saying Manny was in the hospital. He’d had emergency stomach surgery, and from what he’d heard it wasn’t looking good.
I called up the hospital and asked for details, but not being a family member I couldn’t get any. Worse, with Covid-19 stuff, I couldn’t visit.
Manny passed away last week. My old building is going to do something for him once everything gets back to normal.
Manny always used to talk about how lucky he was — how he’d lived such an amazing life. And he had. He had friends everywhere. When he’d come back after the weekend he’d always tell me about staying out until 3 in the morning on the Upper East Side or in Harlem or wherever — laughing and drinking and listening to music.
I didn’t know what the point of writing this was until I got to this sentence. But that’s how these things always go, right?
People get old and people die. You make friends and you lose friends and you miss friends when they’re gone. That’s life.
But we’ve all been given a pretty unique opportunity here. We’ve been given perspective. We all just got tossed out into the NYC streets against our will and forced to realize how tiny and insignificant we are. Our lives have been jarringly zoomed out but it’s given us the chance to reshuffle the deck. Permission to reshuffle the deck. To reset and rebuild our lives, prioritizing what’s actually important.
Let’s not waste it.
Manny and his very best friend, Faith