The true story behind Emil (The Italian man on the bench)


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There is one person in Yonder that is based on a real person and I wanted to tell his story.

I moved to New York City in June of 2001 to attend school, a musical theater school. When I first arrived I lived in student housing in a building known as the Stratford Arms. Now this building was rumored to have been the “Doggy” hotel that Holden, in Catcher in Rye, stays in and almost gets himself a prostitute. It even had the windows that overlooked other parts of the hotel / housing as Salinger said it did, but I did not live in that part of the building or have a window that looked in at the hotel. I lived on the tenth floor, the top floor. I never really stopped and thought about living in a building that was also in a book but now I really love that fact.

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The residents here, besides the students, were a group of elderly people that had been taken off the streets and given housing or had stayed there before it was student housing and had been in a recovery house for alcohol, either way, they were grandfathered into our building. They made for some fun stories and nights. We had Mumsy, a lady who wore ballet slippers, a mickey mouse skirt and a Christmas bow pinned in her hair or there was June, a lady who never showered and when you saw her getting in the elevator you took the stairs. We had an older man rumored to be the original Buckwheat, he was not, but we were theater kids and stories always were larger with theater kids. There was Mumbles, a man who would just mumble at you (just like in Dick Tracy) and then shuffle off... and then there was Emil.

I don't remember meeting Emil for the first time but when I think of New York City, I think of Emil. What Isabel says about him is really my story of Emil. I would come out of the building and see him sitting on a bench watching traffic. Usually I would join him and we would talk. I once asked him why he was always on this bench and he said, “I do it when I miss the ocean. Today I miss the ocean.” He went on to tell me how the waves of cars were like actual waves - they never changed and remained constant. We spent many days outside just talking or sitting in silence. He could never remember my name just right, he always called me Lillian, and thus began my nickname in New York City of being called Lilly. It is a nickname that followed me to California.

I never got to really say goodbye to Emil. I later moved to the Upper East Side with a friend and hardly went by that building. My roommate once ran into him and he asked about me. It seemed only fitting that Emil found his way into this book. He had left an impression and a lot of memories.

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