New York, New York

8 Million Stories in a New York Minute

New York has enough eccentrics to make the normals seem crazy. Excerpts from a pint-sized book.


Jerry’s obsession was string. He collected it—saved the red-and-white strands that came tied around the boxes of cookies he got from Amy’s Bread. He bought twine by the case at Odd Job and ordered exotic brands of jute on the Internet.

He never used any of it—he just liked having it around.

Eventually, the string took over his tiny apartment on W. 43rd. There were scraps in drawers; fresh rolls in bags; two whole closets were packed with it. The former contents of his closets—clothes and shoes—lay draped over chairs, or in piles near his bed. Under his bed was more string.

One morning in the middle of summer, he woke up with a ball of No. 9 Seine Baler Twine wedged under his back. Disgusted with himself, he hauled all the string out to the trash, and began to collect sugar packets instead.


Luke Simpson, age six, liked to watch the rats come out at twilight in Central Park. If his mom knew about this, she’d freak-out, so of course he didn’t tell her.

He’d wander around the playground bouncing his pink Spaldeen, and wait until his mom was engrossed in her book or a conversation with whoever was sitting next to her on the bench, then he’d bounce his ball over near the rocks by the swing sets.

Hundreds of rats lived in the rocks. Luke imagined it was like an apartment building, with a rat doorman and stone living rooms where the rats watched TV all day. Then as it got dark, the rats would switch off their sets and swarm out onto the rocks. Black and slick and big as cats.


When Michael opened the door to his apartment on Bleeker Street, he knew it was time. His cats swarmed at his ankles. Not out of love, out of hunger, and the answering machine’s red eye glared solid at him from the kitchen counter. No messages. Again.

He opened a new box of cat food and went about serving Eeny, Meeny, Miney, and Mo.

Having done that, he reached into the Duane Reade bag that he had stuffed into the pocket of his coat; and pulled out a bottle of Duane Reade brand sleeping pills.

He swallowed them one by one, lay down in the middle of the living room floor, and wondered how long it would take before his cats started eating his body.


‘God, you can find the best stuff on the street,’ said Robyn.

She’d already found a halogen floor lamp of dubious working order, and she and her boyfriend, Peter were standing in front of cartons and cartons of string on the corner of 9th Avenue and 43rd Street.

Peter didn’t want to be involved in transporting this find to their apartment that was already crammed with garbage-picked items. Nearly everything they sat on, ate off of, or tripped over had come from the trash.

‘What are you going to do with it?’ Peter said of the string.

‘I could use it to tie up those magazines I found last year,’ said Robyn. ‘And you never know when you’re going to need string. Just one carton. I’ll carry it. You take the lamp.’

She handed him the lamp, chose a large box of string, and then squealed with delight at the site of a baby blue sofa across the street.

As she ran over to get a better look, she was hit by not one, but two delivery boys on bicycles.


Jacquelyn stood on the uptown E platform of the 34th Street subway station on an August afternoon with her hand over her nose, trying to block out a potpourri of odors.

Why does New York always have to smell like something? she thought. Piss, burning pretzels, mold, popcorn. Why can’t New York just smell like nothing once in awhile?

She was cranky, and hot and tired from shoe shopping all day and not spending a dime.

If she went home, she’d smell her roommate’s cats. Her boyfriend’s apartment reeked of coffee from the Starbucks below him, her gym smelled of sweat and wheat-grass. There was no escape.

The E train pulled into the station; Jacquelyn got on, and sat down next to a woman wearing too much Channel No. 5.


The plant in the window of Fred’s Wine & Liquors on Spring Street had been a good-luck-with-your-new-business gift when Fred had opened the store in 1961. It was huge and green and dusty.

Fred never moved the plant and it had grown around bottles of Galliano that he’d sold in the 70’s to mix Harvey Wallbangers and around the first bottle of Absoult that had come in during the 80’s. Labels faded by the sun.

Fred always said that when the plant died, it’d be time for him to retire, but it didn’t look like that would be happening any time soon.

Heather Holland Wheaton is the author of the novel, Skin of Our Teeth, the story collection Eight Million Stories in a New York Minute, and “Haley’s Comment,” a fictional series on Her poetry has appeared in Slipstream, Common Ground, and a bunch of literary mags that nobody’s ever heard of. More by Heather Holland Wheaton