Wednesday, 22 May 2024

‘Not Waiting for Her to Answer, I Quickly Slipped Off My Right Shoe’

Nice Shoes

Dear Diary:

I was at the corner of 42nd Street and Third Avenue rushing to work on a sunny morning when a well-dressed woman came up next to me. I could see that she was trying to ask me a question, so I took out one of my earbuds.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“What brand of shoes are you wearing?” she said.

I glanced down at my shoes. They were soft and pale pink and had white rubber soles.

“I can’t remember,” I said.

She didn’t move.

“They look so comfortable,” she said.

“Do you want me to take my shoe off and look?”

Not waiting for her to answer, I quickly slipped off my right shoe. I squinted at the insole but couldn’t make out the letters without my reading glasses. I turned the shoe over. Finally, I held the shoe out toward the woman.

She leaned in, and the two of us looked at the insole together.

She read out the brand name.

“Yes, that’s it,” I exclaimed.

I slipped my shoe back on and hurried to work.

— Deborah Rood Goodman

Piece of Cake

Dear Diary:

I was at a bus stop in front of Lindy’s on a bleak night in the early 1960s.

As I waited, I was drawn to the restaurant’s enormous, glowing, refrigerated windows, where a cornucopia of tempting food was on display. I was particularly focused on my favorite sweet: mohnkuchen, a cake filled with poppy seed jam.

As I was admiring the cake, a tall man in chef’s whites and a soaring toque appeared in the window. He gestured to me to come into the restaurant.

“What are you staring at?” he asked.

“The mohnkuchen,” I replied.

“Do you want to buy a piece?” he asked.

“I don’t have enough money,” I said.

“How much do you have?”

I reached into my pocket and plunked a few coins on the glass counter. The man in disappeared into the restaurant.

When he returned, he handed me a paper bag. Through the refrigerated window, I could see my bus pulling up to the curb. I would have to hurry to catch it.

I waited until I got home to my apartment to open the bag. Inside was a generous slice of Lindy’s mohnkuchen.

— Arno Selco

Blessing the Schlep (After Lucille Clifton)

Dear Diary:

may the street sweeper
that is even now flicking
detritus pass downwind
may your double-park
cause no cop’s double-take
may your fenders avoid rear-
enders on West End or
highway may your chariot
clear computerized toll-
takers E-Z-ly may no gunk
clog your plugs as
you navigate bumpily
jerkily recklessly
stubbornly from
city to suburb.

— Catherine Wald

My First Dead Body

Dear Diary:

It was 1979, and I was driving a Checker cab. I picked up a fare at La Guardia Airport. He was a heavyset man who appeared to be in his 50s.

He was flushed and smelled of alcohol. In an angry voice, he gave me detailed directions to his apartment in Manhattan.

Halfway there, bouncing along on the B.Q.E., I noticed that he was slumped over in the back seat. Ten minutes later, I pulled up to his building. He didn’t move.

“We’re here,” I said, loudly.


I got out of the cab, opened the door and tapped the man. No response. Then I shook him. Nothing.

I quickly drove to a hospital, parked and ran in. A few people were hanging around, and for a moment I wondered if there was a line. Then I yelled that I had a dead passenger in my cab.

Within seconds, he was on a gurney, and from there into the emergency room, where a doctor ripped his shirt open.

A police officer arrived, asked me some questions and walked away.

When he came back, he said the guy hadn’t made it, and that I could go. He handed me a $10 bill. He said the guy had it in his hand. The fare was $8.25. I thanked him.

An orderly asked if I was doing O.K. I said I was. Then he asked me out. I declined, but thanked him as well.

I drove the cab back to the garage in Long Island City, noting the death on my trip sheet.

The dispatcher, sitting in the office behind bulletproof glass, bored and tired, looked at my note.

He shrugged, said, “O.K.” and counted my cash. It was 4 a.m.

— Eric Smith

Family Snack

Dear Diary:

It was around 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, and I had just missed the ferry from the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park to Lower Manhattan.

I boarded a subway train and stood in the doorway rather than taking a seat. Across from me to the left, sitting in order of age, younger to older, were a girl who appeared to be around 12 and what I assumed to be her mother and grandmother.

The grandmother reached into her purse. She took out a small, plastic bag and delicately removed a cucumber. She bit into it, and then passed it along to her daughter, who bit into it and passed it along to her daughter.

The girl bit into it, and then passed it back to her grandmother. The cycle repeated until I got to Atlantic Avenue and got off to change trains.

Crunch, pass. Crunch, pass. Crunch, pass.

— Sean Cullen

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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