A friendship from Words

Rapper Spencer Sleyon, 22, and and retiree Rosalind Guttman, 81, connected over the Words With Friends game on their mobile phones.
Rapper Spencer Sleyon, 22, and and retiree Rosalind Guttman, 81, connected over the Words With Friends game on their mobile phones.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Spencer Sleyon, a 22-year-old rapper from East Harlem, and his friends were going around a living room in October, talking about who their closest friends were. When it was his turn, he said: "My best friend is an 81-year-old white woman who lives in a retirement community in Florida."

To be clear, he was exaggerating. They were not quite best friends. But she was a friend and the joke set off a chain of events that led to his flying to Palm Beach to meet Ms Rosalind Guttman, the woman he had known only through the Words With Friends game on his phone.

"When I met her, it was so natural," he said on Wednesday. "It wasn't like anything spectacular or different from you speaking to one of your friends."

Based on the flood of positive reaction on Twitter, it seems people appreciated hearing about an unlikely friendship that formed despite countless boundaries that would often keep people apart.

Their friendship began at random when Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like game, assigned the two strangers to play each other last summer. Ms Guttman used the word p-h-a-t, which is hip-hop slang for excellent. "I was like, yo, how do you know that word?" Sleyon asked her. And so they started messaging as they played more than 300 games starting in the summer of last year.

They began discussing current events and the details of their lives, including his plans to move from Silver Spring, Maryland, to New York to chase his dreams of a music career. They played almost every day. But the demands of life eventually interfered and he could not find time to keep up with their games.

He decided to delete the app, but made sure to say goodbye to Ms Guttman first. Before he left, he asked her if she had any advice.

"Whatever you want out of life, just go grab it," she said.

In October, a few months after moving to New York, he decided to reinstall the game and reconnected with Ms Guttman. But he had no plans to meet her until Ms Amy Butler, a friend's mother, overheard him talking about his online pal in her living room.

Ms Butler, a pastor in Manhattan, wanted to tell the story of their friendship, so she asked if he would put her in touch with Ms Guttman. After the women talked on the telephone, Ms Butler decided an inperson meeting "would really finish the story off".

So she and Sleyon flew to Florida last Friday. They did not have much time, but the photos Sleyon tweeted afterwards attracted widespread attention. He said he was thrilled his story had touched so many people. "A lot of people I saw online said, 'I needed a story like this, especially with the race relations in this country right now.'"

According to Ms Butler, Ms Guttman does not know what all the fuss is about, since "people should be behaving this way with each other all the time".

But she did send Ms Butler an e-mail, in which she said: "Dearest Amy, I'm at a loss for words to describe today. Without question, it was one of the most memorable days of my life... You and Spencer extended yourselves to me and embraced me in a most unbelievable fashion. My only words in this moment are a humongous thank you. I love you both to the moon and back. Ms Roz."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2017, with the headline 'A friendship from Words'. Subscribe