One of the many tips offered by Roger and Sally Howchow in their book The Art of Friendship is to keep your friendship antennae open at all times.
So yesterday, when my wife Veronica and I took one of our periodic walks in New York City, I determined to keep my eyes and ears open for possible new friends.
Perhaps because I was so attentive, people were looking the other way. It just seemed extra hard to make eye contact, or engage folks we met in in conversation. We went up to Zabars to buy our monthly cheese ration, and dropped into Zabar's Cafe next door. This is a popular upper west side hangout: one large table with seating for maybe thirty people. We usually have no trouble striking up a conversation.
But this time no dice. Sitting across from Veronica was a distinguished gentleman who seemed unusually pre-occupied with his plate of suchi and his cell phone. He never looked up once. On my right sat a mother and daughter team, who turned their chairs to face one another. I never even got a view of what the daughter looked like.
Following another one of the Horchow's tips - to evesdrop audaciously - I leaned as far to the right as I could without sitting on her lap - but like a true New Yorker, she was speaking so rapidly I couldn't catch a word.
There was, however, the one that got away.
We went to the lower east side, and caught sight of an historical walking tour in front of Yonah Schimmel's Knishery, which I remember from my youth mostly as a name - a real mouthful, so to speak - that struck me as very funny. Twenty New York history buffs from all over the world were gathered inside and outside of Yonah's, selecting and devouring knishes while the guide droned on about Jewish immigration to America. One Asian young woman - perhaps twenty years old - grabbed my eye. We fell into an easy conversation - her English was surprisingly good. She was from Viet Nam and was here to learn about U. S. culture. I assured her that Yonah's had been an important cultural landmark in my youth.
She asked which knish I would recommend. I told her that Veronica and I had shared the potato. She would have been glad to hang out and talk more, but Veronica indicated that it was time for us to move on. Later my new Vietnamese friend, whose name I did not get, left Yonah's with a mouthful of knish. She stopped to stay goodbye and to wish the two of us a pleasant afternoon. Perhaps she also felt that she was parting forever from a possible friend.
There is always a tomorrow. I'll keep my antennae out.