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‘As I Turned Around, I Saw the Woman in the Colorful Jacket’

Dear Diary:

I went to the Museum of Modern Art and stopped at the gift shop before doing the galleries.

I was at a counter checking out some pens when I noticed a woman a few feet away examining a display of artsy earrings. She was wearing a striking jacket of many colors, and I watched as she walked off.

Walking over to the jewelry, I admired a pair of tiny earrings that looked like zipper pulls. I spotted a cellphone, and I took it to the cashier and explained where I had found it.

As I turned around, I saw the woman in the colorful jacket. I remembered that she had just been at the jewelry counter. I told her I had found a phone.

She got a panicked look as she felt through her pockets. When I told her to check with the cashier, she hurried off. In a minute, she turned back toward me with a big grin.

“It is mine,” she called across the room. “Thank you, thank you. What can I do for you?”

“Nothing,” I said. “‘Thanks’ will do.”

“Well thank you,” she said. “But I must do more. Here, do you like these?”

She held up a small card holding something blue.

It was a pair of tiny earrings that looked like zipper pulls.

— Judith Hoy

Dear Diary:

It was on Putnam Avenue in Brooklyn between Ralph and Patchen, sometime in 1946 or ’47. Word went around the neighborhood one day that you could buy a pet snail for a penny.

All you had to do was provide your own can of water, give your penny to the storekeeper and “plop,” the snail was yours.

All day long, kids were walking around carrying tin cans with snails climbing up the sides trying to escape. When they got to the top of the can, they would be dunked back down again.

When it was time to go home, the snails were all dead. The pet snail craze had started, peaked and evaporated, all before dinner.

I think they were land snails.

— Ted O’Neill

Dear Diary:

It was Fashion Week, 2010. I was on a downtown R during the evening rush sitting across from a bored-looking red-haired man in his late 20s who was wearing a puffy down jacket.

At Union Square, a good-natured-looking older man with a wool hat stepped in and took the seat next to red-haired guy.

While the doors were still open, a younger man on the platform advised the older man where to get off the train.

“See you later, Dad,” he shouted as the doors closed.

The older man turned to the man in the puffy coat.

“Isn’t it great to have a son that takes care of you?” he said. “You take care of your pop like that?”

“I don’t see him that often,” the younger man said with an unmistakable English accent.

“Oh, he’s back in England, huh?” the older man asked.

The younger man mumbled a yes.

“What part of England are you from, Northumberland?”


“Well, you sound like you’re from there,” the older man said. “Say ‘I am not from Northumberland.’”

The younger man smiled despite himself.

“I am not from Northumberland,” he repeated.

They went on to discuss where the younger man was actually from, that he was a tourist, that he had just arrived in New York that day and that, no, he hadn’t gone to the Met yet.

Then the older man looked him up and down.

“Well, you certainly fit in here with your bluejeans,” he said. “I’d say those are either Lee or Levi jeans. Am I right?”

“Dunno,” the younger man said.

“You don’t know what kind they are?” the older man said. “Don’t know? Don’t you know New York is all about fashion?”

— Elizabeth Toomey

Dear Diary:

One day in 1998, I walked from my job on Barclay Street to spend my lunch hour at the Borders bookstore at 5 World Trade Center.

After a pleasant half-hour or so, I took my books to the checkout. When it was my turn to pay, I noticed that the clerk who was ringing me up was wearing two watches, one on each wrist.

“Why are you wearing a watch on each wrist?” I asked.

He looked up at me briefly, and then looked back down at the book.

“I’m ambidextrous,” he said.

— Gail S. Clark

Dear Diary:

It was 1967, and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” was being performed by the Metropolitan Opera. I wanted to see it but I didn’t have a ticket.

Outside the hall, I found a person selling a single ticket. I negotiated the price down and went inside.

The woman sitting next to me was friendly, and we started to make small talk. I told her proudly of my successful negotiation.

“That was me,” she said.

— Peter Beier

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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