September 30, 2020

‘One Day While I Was Shopping at Macy’s, I Lost Track of the Time’

Dear Diary:

I moved to New York City from Toronto in 1984. One day while I was shopping at Macy’s, I lost track of the time. I wasn’t wearing a watch and I didn’t see a clock on the wall, so I worked my way through the crowd to the information counter.

“Excuse me,” I asked politely, “Do you happen to know the time?”

A short, middle-age man behind the counter looked at me blankly.

“Yes,” he replied.

That was it.

After an awkward pause, I tried again.

“Can you tell me the time?”

His expression didn’t change.

“Yes,” he said flatly.

Our eyes locked.

“What time is it?” I demanded.

“4:35.”

After that, I knew how to ask a question like a New Yorker.

— Brenda Nielson


Dear Diary:

I loved going to Coney Island with my girlfriends in the 1940s, when he beach would be completely covered in blankets and bodies.

Once, when we were getting ready to leave, I couldn’t find my shoes. They had disappeared. The blankets were constantly shifting on the sand, and my shoes must have gotten buried somewhere near where we first sat down.

My three girlfriends huddled around me to hide my bare feet as we left. Walking back to the subway, we searched up and down Surf Avenue desperately trying to find a store that sold shoes, but there were none.

Finally, a woman in one store offered me an old pair of dancing slippers. They were too small for my feet, but one of my friends was able to squeeze into them. Another friend squeezed into that girl’s shoes, leaving me with a pair that I could just barely squeeze into.

We traveled back to the Lower East Side with our aching feet squeezed into shoes that barely fit us. But thanks to an old pair of dancing shoes, no one had to go barefoot.

— Florence Nissel


Dear Diary:

Over many years, I have become used to total strangers asking me if the white streak in my black hair is natural. Yes, I tell them, it’s hereditary.

One day, as I was walking down Fifth Avenue, a woman approached me and pointed to my hair.

Here it comes, I thought. The inevitable question.

Then she addressed me in a rather stern voice.

“You,” she said,have a vitamin deficiency.”

— Madelyn Larsen


Dear Diary:

It was a Saturday morning in February 2002. A few months earlier I had sold everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket to New York City.

I was determined to start a career in book publishing. I had a sub-sub-sublet in the West Village and I spent the weekends walking the city.

One day, I was walking down Prince Street when I saw a display of breads in a light-green storefront. The faded gold letters on one of the windows spelled “Vesuvio Bakery.”

I opened the door and inhaled the scent of warm bread. An older man in a white apron stood behind a low counter. I looked at the breads, carefully choosing something that was in my modest food budget. I smiled and pointed to a small sandwich roll.

The man in the apron asked if I was sure. He pointed to a larger, round loaf topped with sesame seeds that looked like a crown. It was the one I secretly wanted.

I said I was sorry, but I didn’t have enough money.

“No, young lady, never say that,” the man said, pointing to his heart. “You are rich in here.”

With that, he took the $1.50 I put on the counter and handed me the round loaf.

— Laura Holmes Haddad


Dear Diary:

It was a drizzly Thursday night in February, and I was on my to visit my parents in the Bronx.

After landing in Newark, I took the airport bus into the city, got off at Fifth Avenue and walked over to Madison Avenue to catch the BxM4 express bus. The bus was pretty full, but I got a seat.

After we reached Grand Concourse and 161st Street, the passengers got off one by one, stop by stop. By the time we got to Bedford Park Boulevard, I was the last one on the bus.

I moved up to a seat at the front that was diagonally across from the driver.

“Where ya goin’?” she asked.

“Woodlawn,” I said.

“What stop?” she asked.

“233rd and Kepler,” I said.

“OK,” she said.

The rain was getting heavier. We lapsed into silence.

We passed the gate to Woodlawn Cemetery, and then turned onto 233rd Street. It was dark and I was watching the street signs closely so that I didn’t miss my stop.

The bus passed Van Cortlandt Park East, Herkimer Place and Napier Avenue.

“My stop is next,” I said at Oneida.

There was a pause.

“You need to ring the bell when it’s your stop,” the driver said.

— Mary Hayes

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee


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