New York

‘It Was on Just Such a Cool Day That I Set Out From the Upper West Side’

Long Sleeves

Dear Diary:

I’m about six feet tall and in my early 70s. As long as the wind is not blowing too hard, I’m comfortable going out for a walk in just a light, long-sleeved sport shirt and no coat even when the temperature falls into the low 30s.

It was on just such a cool day that I set out from the Upper West Side to cross Central Park and spend a couple of hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As I walked east along 72nd Street, a woman who was probably in her 80s and headed in the opposite direction walked up to me briskly and jabbed her right index finger toward my chest.

“Young man,” she said, “you go right home and put on a jacket.”

— Spencer Karpf


Dear Diary:

I called it the rasp: the steep, treeless blocklong scarp of a sidewalk that connected Amsterdam and Convent Avenues in Harlem and was my playground when I was a 6-year-old girl growing up in the 1950s.

It was a time of learning. I learned to roller skate. Before that, I could only watch the big kids do it. Now, I had my own pair, hand-me-downs from my older sister.

I used the skate key to affix the metal skates to the soles of my red oxfords, a worn-out pair of shoes my mother held in reserve for playing outside.

I learned about momentum. Without a care, I tested my mettle, staring down the rasp from the top of the hill, and took off — whoosh! Flying, unrestrained, astonishing myself, Newtonian laws be damned!

But before I could take a second breath, the clamp on my left skate came loose. Attached only by a tattered strap, it dangled treacherously from my ankle, while my right foot rocketed on, detached and indifferent to the plight at hand.

I learned that the rasp was a flesh-eating serpent, and that roller skates can betray you. Together, they had colluded to take a respectable chunk of my tender young flesh, and blood, from my knee.

I learned that Mercurochrome stings … a lot.

— Lorenza Vidris

At the Counter

Dear Diary:

I was sitting at the counter at my neighborhood diner, having a toasted (well-done) corn muffin and coffee, when a man in his 40s came in. He was dressed casually but nicely. He asked if he could take the seat next to mine.

“Sure,” I said.

He ordered an omelet with spinach and tomatoes.

“That looks good,” I said when it arrived. “And healthy.”

“Yeah, but your corn muffin looks good, too,” he said. “I love cornbread.”

I don’t know why, but I said, “Do you want a piece?”

“I’d love it,” he said.

So I gave him a piece of my muffin, which he gobbled up.

Can you imagine — taking food from a stranger’s plate in a diner? Somehow, we both knew it was OK.

— Aimee Lee Ball

Crosstown Bus

Dear Diary:

Heading east on the crosstown bus from the Museum of Natural History, we watched a nanny struggle on, laden with a stroller, some packages and an obstreperous toddler.

As the bus lurched into traffic, she directed the young boy to the lone empty seat, where he loudly refused to sit.

Balancing her bundles and the stroller, she worked patiently to try to get him to sit down as the bus bumped through the park. Other passengers tried to cajole him into taking the seat. He was not having it.

At Fifth Avenue, a well-dressed woman stepped forward. Gripping the pole as the bus bounced along, she reached into her purse, held out two small toys and asked the wailing child if he knew what they were.

“Dinosaurs!” he said, whimpering through his tears.

The woman gave him one of the toys, and they started to play together. With that, the caretaker scooped him into the seat. He played with his dinosaur and then asked for one for his baby sister, who was in the stroller.

The woman reached into her purse and pulled out another dinosaur, which she gave to him. Then she gave dinosaurs to everyone who was sitting nearby, including me.

The woman said she was a volunteer at the museum and always carried toy dinosaurs for just such moments.

“Children everywhere, no matter their language or age — they all know ‘dinosaur,’” she said. “It works every time.”

— Elyse Montiel


Dear Diary:

Very excited about the arrival of my niece’s new baby, I was searching for a baby store in Dumbo.

One had closed; another seemed to be online only. Finally, I saw an adorable little place, chock-full of little toys and outfits. I was taken immediately by a tiny plush jacket.

“Is this for a newborn?” I asked the clerk.

She hesitated.

“It depends on the breed,” she said.

— Debbie Plumer

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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