The evening of September 8, 2001 I was sitting on a patio at a coffee shop in downtown Toronto. I was pondering the week ahead and not looking forward to it. My sister was scheduled to go in for surgery and the outcome was not expected to be positive. Trying to wrap my brain around the possibility that she might never get well, I was enjoying the solitude. In fact, I thought I needed the solitude. Right then, the silence was broken. “Hey Sweetheart. What’s your name?”. It was beyond obvious that this man was not from here. He was too brash, too forward, too...New York. Even if I don’t want to talk to someone I find it difficult to ignore them completely. It is one of my great flaws. “Fine” I said “just enjoying the quiet”. “Quiet” he said “is over fucking rated, move over”. There he was, Hampton Phillip Stevens III. Not only was he from New York, he was New York. He poccessed all the infurating and wonderful qualities of that great city.

Turns out my new friend was in town to cover the Toronto International Film Festival for the New York Times online edition. But he hated going to movies, so he decided to hang out in this coffee shop instead to meet the locals and see what this “polite, clean city” was really all about. We talked about New York and how much I loved it. We talked baseball (he liked my Roger Clemens is a savant theory), we talked theatre (he agreed that Sondheim is a “freaking national treasure”) and we talked food (coffee should be a food group). He couldn’t understand why everyone in Toronto was so rude. He had spent three hours trying to talk to people before he got to me and nobody would bite. I told him that we weren’t rude, we were quiet. We were gaurded. And then, Hampton Phillip Stevens III uttered the words that would echo in my mind a few days later “Life is too short to be gaurded.” It didn’t seem like anything but foolhardy advice until later that week. After the events of September the 11th, that statement would somehow become profound. I excused myself and told Mr. New York that if he was still not going to movies by the end of the week, I would be performing at The Second City at the Midnight show on Friday. I thought he might enjoy a taste of Canadian comedy.

Two days later, like so many others, I sat slack jawed in front of the television and watched the unthinkable happen. The hours turned into days and suddenly it was Friday, September 14th. The day my sister went in for her surgery. It was going on for hours more than it should have and I started to prepare for the worst. I may as well go on and do the show, I thought. Better to keep my mind off all the death that seemed to surrounding me. Do like Mr. New York says, put yourself out there. Life is too short to be gaurded.

Shaken, but determined that the show must go on, I got out there did some rather mediocre comedy. When I came off stage, there he was, a little torn around the edges, dark circles under his eyes and a black arm band around his arm, Mr. New York, Hampton Phillip Stevens III. We hugged like we were old friends and over a beer he told me about his attempts to reach friends and family. About his feelings the last few days. What struck me the most was that this man seemed hurt and angry but he did not seem defeated. He was ready to move on and he could not wait to get home. I admired his strength, his fortitude. My sister should have been out of surgery 12 hours ago and I still hadn’t heard anything. I told him her story, told him how scared I was. Told him how guilty I felt for dumping my personal fears and anger on him so soon after his home had been attacked. Before he could respond my phone rang, with good news from the hospital. Once again, the unthinkable had happened. She was going to have another chance.

I brokedown and wept in Mr. New York’s arms. “I never cry” I whimpered “not even at movies”. “Sweetheart, this isn’t a movie” he said “this is life. I told you I hate movies.”

I have always loved New York. The energy it has and the way it has of making you feel so alive when you are there, immersed in it. I know that every September 11th, I will remember my own experience that week and my brush with the man as tough and warm as the city itself.

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