I live right near a school bus stop with a crossing guard named Mrs. Love. She wears lipstick and fancy earrings, and she has very short, spiky gray hair. Mrs. Love has always been a well-known character in town, especially to the kids who went to my elementary school. She is a classic Debbie Downer in every sense of the word. I’d walk up to her and say, “Hey, Mrs. Love, how are you doing?” and she’d reply with something like, “Oh, just fine, but those kids who got into a car accident yesterday on McElwee Road aren’t doing so fine.” You couldn’t avoid her either. If you walked by her at a distance, she’d yell out, “HEY, DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THAT YOUNG BOY FROM PENNSYLVANIA WHO WAS ABDUCTED?” or “I THINK WE’RE IN FOR SOME REALLY BAD WEATHER TOMORROW.” Her bad-news-bearing is legendary, and ultimately hilarious, because she has no idea how horrible it is. —Hazel
My Landlord Mike
My awesome landlord Mike looks and acts exactly like Larry David. He wears the same glasses, has the exact same receding hairline, and speaks with the same thick accent of a lifelong and super over-it Brooklynite. He dresses a bit like Larry, too, tucking his T-shirts into his jeans and wearing a ball cap to cover up the bald. The first time I met Mike, in the alcove outside my apartment door, he delivered a lengthy and detailed monologue, peppered liberally with F-words and accompanied with wild gesticulations, about his messy divorce from his wife, which seemed like a scene from season six of Curb Your Enthusiasm that had been erroneously cut. Mike so resembles Larry David that when he goes out, people assume he is Larry David, and are constantly pestering him for pictures and autographs. When Mike told me this I 80% believed him, but it actually happened when I was out of town and Mike took my boyfriend out for man-dinner: someone came up and asked for an autograph. Mike always complies, because when he tries explaining that he is not Larry David, people still think he is Larry David, and that his denial is just another one of his quirky Larry Davidisms. Even the fact of Mike’s existence is very Larry Davidesque. So Mike eventually gave up explaining. If you are ever in New York City and see Larry David on the street, he might not be Larry David, but get an Instagram with him anyway, because no one will believe that he’s not. —Julianne
The Cowboy on the F Train
My most favorite subway entertainer in New York is the man I’ve dubbed “the cowboy on the F train.” He is an older gentleman, thin as a rail and always clad in black leather. He wears a cowboy hat (thus the name) and sunglasses no matter what time of day it is, and travels through the city on the F playing classic jams on his electric guitar, which are blasted through the li’l portable amp he carries with him. I’m sure his repertoire includes more than one song, but for some reason I only catch Guns N’ Roses’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (OK, so it was originally written by Bob Dylan, but to me it’ll always be about Axl’s screeches). The guitar sounds perfectly muddy and dirty, and it’s the one time when I’ll take off my headphones to listen to a song. I recently started spotting him outside of the train, which totally turned my world upside down, especially the time he was walking out of a Chinese restaurant with a taller fella. I wondered: Are they best friends? Partners? Is he talking about how his day went and what crazy things he saw on the train? I guess even subway stars are just like us! —Laia
What’s your favorite color? Personally, I can never truly commit to one, unlike a certain lady I used to see all the time during elementary school. I think she was a parent of a child at the school, but she was always standing alone, and what made her particularly memorable was that she adorned herself entirely in purple. Her hair was purple. Her shoes were purple. She wore a purple robe that billowed when it caught the wind, and she smoothed it down again with her hands, which in my memory featured purple-polished fingernails. I still see her around occasionally, in her usual attire. I’m giving her four out of five stars, for her diehard 20-year dedication to a single color, and because she radiates a mystique worthy of a character in a fantasy novel. —Minna
My husband and I used to live two doors down from a neighborhood legend. His name was John Doyel. He was in his 90s, lived alone in a giant old brownstone, and was always nattily dressed (and usually on the arm of some pretty young woman). We heard all kinds of outlandish rumors about John Doyel (as with many legends, no one ever called him “John”—it was always “John Doyel” or “Mr. Doyel” out of respect and reverence): he made his fortune from the BeDazzler, which he invented; his house was filled with Santa Claus figurines; he used to party with Fellini; he flew planes and ice skated into his 90s; he dated really young women. Then we became friends with John Doyel—and all of the rumors turned out to be true! Well, mostly. He did invent the BeDazzler, but he didn’t own the rights to it—he worked for Ronco (the company that makes all those “As Seen on TV!” products) and was also responsible for the Portable Cordless Sewing Machine, the Record Vacuum (a washing machine for LPs), the Smokeless Ashtray, and many more—so he wasn’t rich. He bought the building he lived in, which would cost millions now, for $55,000 in 1965. When he found out that one of its previous owners was Clement Clarke Moore, whose poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (aka “The Night Before Christmas”) basically invented the modern American myth of Santa Claus, Mr. Doyel started filling his home with antique and mechanical Santa figures from all over the world. He did indeed party with Fellini back in the ’60s, and was a photographer and a filmmaker himself. Often when I’d run into him on the street he’d be on his way to appear in some young friend’s student film. He was a painter, too, and used to get drunk with Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock at Cedar Tavern in the ’50s. The ice-skating and plane-flying things are totally true (he even flew a plane on his 92nd birthday). As for the girls: though these relationships were platonic, you could tell, when you spotted him drinking at a neighborhood bar or eating pizza in Brooklyn with one of them, that he simply enjoyed the company of pretty women in their 20s, and they enjoyed him too. His charms were pretty irresistible—at one of his notoriously wild house parties (he threw two each year, on Christmas and his birthday), when I was just getting to know him, he and I sat in a corner for a while, drinking and talking. When he told me about the BeDazzler and his other Ronco creations, I said, “Oh, so you’re an inventor?” and he said, “Well, I like to think of myself as an artist.” I nodded solemnly, and then he goes, “A bullshit artist!” By then the two of us had polished off a whole bottle of red wine, and I laughed in a way that was so obviously flirtatious that he felt compelled to inform me that I, being in my late 30s at the time, was way too old for him.
Four months ago, my friend Mary, who lived in the building between mine and John Doyel’s, called me with horrible news: Upon leaving a party at a neighbor’s house the night before, Mr. Doyel had tripped and fallen down a flight of stairs. He didn’t survive.
That night at the party, after I had drunkenly flirted with him, Mr. Doyel started telling me about his wife, Rowena, who had died just a few years earlier. She was the love of his life, he said. His soul mate. He pulled out a scrapbook and showed me pictures of her, and of the two of them when they were young, and told me about the adventures they’d had during their 60-some years together. That’s when the young girls, the student films, the parties, etc., started to make sense—they were nice diversions, but he wasn’t looking for love anymore, or sex; he knew he would never find another Rowena. —Anaheed
The Behemoth Poop and Everyone Involved With It
Here’s how I first heard the story: On an otherwise ordinary day, someone took what may have been the world’s largest dump in a toilet in the boys’ bathroom at the high school down the street from mine. It was so huge that a whole team of janitors was unable to remove it. The school had to call in extra help to shovel it out and dispose of it. The second time someone told me the story, I heard that the kid who first saw the brown made himself a little bit of green. He supposedly stationed himself outside the bathroom and would charge a dollar for students to see the poop, and a little more if you wanted to stick a pencil in it. In every version of the story, the pooper remains anonymous. Everyone gets five stars: the janitors and extra helpers for their bravery, the kid who charged people to see the poop for his entrepreneurial spirit, and the pooper himself for pooping a formidable poop and surviving. —Katherine
The Jolly Bookseller
I work at an independent bookstore that specializes in children’s books. We’re a relatively small store, hidden in a part of town filled with big chain bookstores. I have nothing against these big stores, but their ubiquity can be hard to compete with. Anyway, there is this fella who works at one of them, and I don’t want to get him in trouble by using his real name, so let’s call him Maurice, after Sendak. Maurice works uptown, in an area populated by wealthy people. Whenever there is a children’s book that his store doesn’t have in stock, rather than search around the chain’s other locations, he’ll send them to us. He regularly calls to see which books we carry, and he’s got this big, booming voice, like a less-scary Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. Sometimes he’ll just call to ask us how the cat that lives in our store is doing, or to wish us a Merry Saint Nicholas Day. Everybody at our store is familiar with this mysterious man who is perpetually happy and actively supportive of independent bookstores. I always pictured him as an older man, maybe a little chubby with a beard (OK, I pictured him looking like Santa). One day, I was up on the second floor of our store, reorganizing our Tintin display, when I heard a familiar jolly voice from downstairs. Could it be? I rushed down the stairs and there was Maurice, way skinnier and younger than I’d imagined. He bought a big stack of books, pet the cat, and was on his way. —Anna
His name is Conrado, but for some reason everyone in Mazatlán knows him as El Maromero, which means “the cartwheeler.” Yesterday I went to the dentist to get a wisdom tooth removed (I guess that’s not relevant, but I just wanted to put it out there), and as I was walking home, I saw him buying a coconut. I ran up to him with my mouth full of blood and cotton balls and asked him a couple of questions, which he kindly agreed to answer. I learned that he used to be a fisherman, but would never do it again because that much time on a boat gets boring. He has a motorcycle that is the same color as his favorite boots: neon green. He is always accompanied by his dog, Fifi. (She’s very kind and gives kisses if you ask for them.) Anyway, he says hi to you all, and also thinks you should look up at the stars more often. —María
Boca Raton, a quiet resort community in South Florida, is exciting precisely three times a year: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. But there’s one person who brings excitement to Boca every day, and his name is Ray Sipe. Ray Sipe is in his 70s, loves current pop music, and is usually wearing one of his trademark shirts—solid in color, with “BEYONCÉ” written in all-caps glitter on one side and “JUSTIN BIEBER” on the other. I don’t know how many of these shirts Ray has, but I sometimes see him in several different ones in a 24-hour period—the guy goes through more outfit changes per day than Lady Gaga during the Monster Ball tour. He’s also always wearing headphones, and I always smile at him, because he is badass and I appreciate that he puts his enthusiasm out there for the world to see. I recommend you check out Ray’s a YouTube channel, where he talks about popular music events in South Florida, as well as what’s hot in pop music in general. I have to give him five stars in the hopes that my friends and I will all be as fun-loving when we reach his age. —Tyler
The Twin Sisters
I used to see these identical twins all over my town. Though they were older women, they were always together, and always dressed identically: fake flowers in their hair, cat-eye glasses, and matching dresses festooned with pins depicting their Scottish Terrier. (I’m talking like 50 pins—each.) I was totally mesmerized by them, obviously. Several years ago, my mom and I were out driving somewhere when we spotted the twins walking their Scotty together. We decided to pull over and talk to them. They told us that they were retired now, but that for years they ran the musical program at a high school in a nearby town. One of them was in charge of all the music, and the other directed. I haven’t seen them around town much since that conversation, which makes me sad. Seeing those sisters walking around, looking amazing at all times, was one of the only good things about my boring old town! —Hazel
I know a lot of special characters, but Robert Dayton takes the cake. I heard stories about him for years before I actually met him. He was famous for doing 24-hour shows with his old band, July Fourth Toilet, often in his birthday suit. He draws, paints, writes, acts, does stand-up comedy, sings, and makes comics (nerd). He’s usually fronting a band that reminds me of Roxy Music. And he’s also a DJ—he was in charge of a weekly night called Feelings at a local Toronto venue. It’s all too much for my brain. I’m sure I’m missing something. Oh, right: he has alter egos. The Canadian Romantic kind of incorporates all of his talents. Hanging out with Robert is a wild time, because he knows EVERYBODY, EVERYWHERE! He can ride his bike through the streets of Toronto and wave a hello to every third person. It’s amazing. Five stars, obviously. —Sonja
My Strange Neighbor
My first encounter with him was outside, as I was walking to the train one morning. He was driving by, and when he saw me, his neighbor, walking, he stopped to offer me a ride. The station was only five blocks away, so I said I was perfectly fine walking, but he INSISTED that I get into the car. I finally relented, not only because he wasn’t a stranger, but also because on the surface this guy seems harmless, even dignified—like a dapper gent in his 50s or 60s, his graying hair always neatly combed, his suit nicely pressed, and a smart black trench coat. His car, which looked like a clunker on the outside, was totally wrecked on the inside—the carpet was worn through to the metal below, and a greenish substance that I hoped was just antifreeze was sloshing all over. I awkwardly held my feet up as he horrified me with stories about how he used to do “errands” for the Mob. When the crappy car was exchanged for a Jaguar and then a Mercedes, I started to think the stories were true. I went out of my way to avoid him after that, but it couldn’t quite be done. He and his girlfriend were always outside drinking and/or fighting. One night I was talking to an off-duty cop at the bar where I work; when I told him where I lived, he said, “I’m sorry.” I asked if he was referring to my neighbor and the cop said, “Yeah, that crazy taxidermist. He causes all kinds of problems.” Taxidermist!!! This was somehow even weirder than being in the Mob. He’s definitely entertaining, but I can’t give him more than two stars, because I once saw him dump a margarita on his girlfriend’s head while protesting that he was “a nice guy.” —Stephanie
Gangster Gary was a man in his mid-30s whose job it was to deliver the newspapers to stores and vending machines in my tiny, sleepy hometown of Kernersville, North Carolina. Since papers are delivered around 4 or 5 AM, you really only got to see him if you were a serious night owl. Gangster Gary delivered papers in his usual attire: a brightly colored zoot suit, a jaunty hat, and shiny shoes. He accessorized with an infectious laugh and the most positive, friendly attitude on earth. While most of us were dragging ourselves home at 4 AM, exhausted and spent, he would be scatting and snapping his way through the town, dressed to the nines, listening to opera music. In two minutes of conversation, he’d ask you about school or work, explain his entire outfit to you, and insist that you watch Raging Bull with him sometime. We never took him up on that offer, afraid it would ruin his mystique, but it became something of a good luck charm to run into him. —Emily G.
Last summer, while we were on the road trip, I got a frantic text from my husband: “KATIE HOLMES MOVED IN NEXT DOOR!!!!” He attached a blurry photo from the cover of that day’s New York Daily News of OUR BUILDING with a black SUV parked in front—our doorman said the car was paparazzi. Everyone in our building was freaking out, Ira reported. Everyone in the road-trip van started freaking out too. It seemed really exciting! But…why? I don’t think any of us had devoted any significant brain space or time to the idea of Katie Holmes. Seeing famous people on the street isn’t unusual in New York, nor is living near someone you’ve seen in a movie. I think part of it was that our neighborhood—Chelsea, on the west side of Manhattan—is usually really boring; the most exciting thing that had happened in the past year was that someone stole the vegetables that our neighbor Missy had planted in a median between lanes on Ninth Avenue. So the thought that our snore-worthy block might suddenly be worthy of intense tabloid attention made us feel a little bit special, I guess, which I recognize makes us seem really pathetic (it’s not an illusion—we are). It turned out Katie’s apartment wasn’t on our block after all, but across a wide avenue, but anyway, rumors started to fly around the area: Katie and Suri were spotted at Whole Foods, shopping for groceries! Someone saw a hot guy accompany them into their building—and he lingered in the lobby! After a paparazzo followed Katie into her parking garage, the building put the garage on lockdown, and no one could get their cars in or out—and her neighbors were pissed, because they were trying to leave town for Fourth of July! No, she actually never used the garage but rather walked in and out of the building’s front doors because she wanted paparazzi to take pictures of her and Suri acting like regular people! No no, they actually never left their apartment, because they were scared that Scientologists were spying on them! The black SUV was actually Scientologist spies!!! I don’t know if any of these things are true. I’ve never seen Katie Holmes in Chelsea, or anywhere else. I don’t even know if she still lives in my neighborhood. And it turns out that I don’t actually care. I give Katie Holmes a medium amount of stars—2.5, with an extra .5 for livening things up around here for a bit. I hope that wherever they are, she and Suri have found some peace from the paparazzi, the spies, the rumors, and nosy neighbors like me. —Anaheed