World

‘Feeling Smug, I Sat Down and Began to Look Around’

Empty Seat

Dear Diary:

Rushing wearily onto a packed 6 train after a long day, I spotted an empty seat across from the door. I beelined toward it hoping no one else would get there first.

Feeling smug, I sat down and began to look around. Glancing at the man sitting next to me, I saw that he had what appeared to be an albino snake wrapped around his neck. Its head was resting on one of the man’s arms and facing me.

I stared in disbelief, wondering if it was a real snake because it wasn’t moving.

Just then, it flicked its tongue out at me.

You have never seen anyone jump up so fast and move as far as possible.

No wonder no one had taken the seat.

— Anna Sanidad


Reflections

Dear Diary:

After college, I lived in the East Village, scraping by. I found a neighborhood barbershop that advertised $10 haircuts and went inside.

A barber, Toufik, ushered me to his chair with a friendly grin. With our reflections in the mirror, we swapped stories about our nephews — mine in Baltimore, his in Algiers. He was a musician, and I was, too.

I became a regular. I learned about the ins and outs of renting a barber’s chair as I followed Toufik from storefront to storefront over the next few years.

One day, I showed up for a haircut and the barbershop was empty: doors locked, barber’s chairs gone. I had no way of finding out whether Toufik had set up shop elsewhere. Eventually, I moved out of the neighborhood.

Years later, I landed at Kennedy Airport late one night, returning home from a work trip. Tossing myself into the back of a taxi, I gave the driver my address.

“I know you!” a friendly voice said from the front seat.

In the rearview mirror, I saw Toufik’s familiar grin. Once again, our reflections were swapping stories as if no time had passed at all.

— Adam Gwon


Home to Canarsie

Dear Diary:

Growing up, I told everyone that I lived in Canarsie, along the L line.

That’s what I thought because that’s what all the subway signs that led toward home said when we went to and from Manhattan. (My mother did not correct me because of her own, similar confusion when she arrived in New York as a young immigrant.)

It wasn’t until my friend Ian challenged my geography in high school that I was finally corrected. My stop was Bedford Avenue. I lived in Williamsburg.

More than 20 years later, Ian still greets me with “Canarsie in the house!” and it makes me chuckle.

— Jennifer Ma


Saturday Matinee

Dear Diary:

I was sitting in my regular Saturday afternoon seat at the Midwood Theater in Brooklyn, halfway down on the right. As usual, I had my corned beef on rye and a pickle. This day was special. The main feature was “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.”

The only thing I remember is the monster being freed from a block of ice. When he came to life — that was it! It was too much for a 10-year-old to take. I freaked out.

That night, I had a nightmare about Frankenstein melting above my bed. And no one was home at the time. My mother was playing gin at Mrs. Langbaum’s, and my father was driving the cab.

My mother lost her keys and asked the Langbaums’ son, Ira, to climb up our fire escape and get the spare. Up three stories he went to an unfamiliar apartment.

He opened the window, tripped and crashed through the blinds onto my bed.

Frankenstein had come for me!

I sat bolt upright, moving my lips with nothing coming out.

My mother got her keys, and I got into the habit of getting up in the middle of the night, pushing the blinds aside and checking to see whether Frankenstein was on the fire escape.

More than 75 years later, I still remember you, Ira Langbaum.

— Stewart Steckel


Bookmarks

Dear Diary:

A friend and I had plans for a jazz night in SoHo, and we decided to get a quick drink at a wine bar beforehand. It was a pretty intimate spot, and a few minutes after we sat I noticed how cute the bartender was — a bit younger than I was, maybe, but very much my type.

I had been trying to be more forward lately, so as my friend and I were getting ready to leave, I decided to give the bartender my number.

I fumbled around in my bag for a pen and a scrap of paper and found neither. So I resorted to eyeliner pencil and a McNally Jackson bookmark. After scribbling down my number, I handed the bookmark to my new crush when he walked past.

He quickly said he had a girlfriend, and my face reddened impressively.

A short time later, I was reading my book during my morning commute, lucky to have finagled a seat by the door.

As the train pulled into Canal Street, the page I was reading was suddenly obscured. A man on his way out the door had tucked a folded piece of paper right into the spine of my book and melted away into the bustling crowd before I could react.

Taken aback, I unfolded the paper to find a name and a number.

Looks like I got my bookmark back.

— Charlotte Rea

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee


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