This little duo holds a story in itself of a sulky one being sort out and comforted by another one puzzled by the sulkiness.
I have been taking photos of stoop sitters each day on my way to work and hadn't realized how historical it all is...
This practice took several forms – sitting on the steps, sitting in a rickety chair just outside the door at the top of the steps or a variation thereof—wall-sitting.
There was etiquette to all of these forms. For instance, if you passed a stoop-sitter whom you recognized, you would say hello and if the sitter replied with only a nod or a brief hello in return, you moved on. This was an indication that the sitter just needed to get out of the house for a minute and wasn’t looking for conversation.
If, however, the sitter replied with a questions such as “How are you? Haven’t seen you lately”, you could continue the conversation. You would do so by putting one foot on the bottom step and leaning on the railing. You did not sit on the stoop until invited. Then you sat.
Of course, if you hadn’t the time to sit, you were permitted to say something like “I’m in a bit of a hurry—I’ll talk to you later.” And you would move on.
The rickety chair-sitter up by the door was a different matter. The person sitting on a chair was an observer. This person usually would chat a bit after you said hello if there was nothing going on to be observed.
Once an activity started, you were obliged to move on so the observer could watch and take in all of the details. The incident would be reported later, probably when the chair-sitter moved down to the stoop.
The stoop-sitter and the chair-sitters usually lived or worked in the building in front of which they sat.
The wall-sitter, however, was usually an elderly neighbor who needed a rest. Again, the procedure was the same – you would sit only if the conversation warranted sitting.
Bob from Cleveland was a famous wall-sitter. He could be found sitting on a wall on Henry St. so often that a friend dubbed him “the Mayor of Brooklyn Heights.” It was understood that if Bob was there you could sit with no preambles. That was probably true of other wall-sitters.
Nancy on Orange Street had a completely different from of the basic sitting. She brought her chair to the sidewalk in front of her apartment building. There she held forth with stories about her husband who had played for the football Giants back in the 1940s.
There will never be another Nancy because the apartment building is now a co-op and any current sidewalk chair-sitter would probably get a ticket.
And so the times they have indeed changed. Now that the apartments are mostly gone and have been replaced with condos and co-ops, the population in the Heights is comprise of doctors, lawyers and merchant chiefs.
On rare occasions today, you might encounter a stoop-, chair-, or wall-sitter. If you do, remember the appropriate etiquette!