It was a Monday morning in 1985, and I was running late for work. I barely had time to put on makeup and brush my hair before dashing out the door of my Cobble Hill apartment.
When I got to the sidewalk, I hit my stride. With a Walkman wedged in my pocket and music filling my ears, I loped down the six blocks to the subway, bopping along happily to Madonna’s “Material Girl.”
I still had my headphones in when I got on the train. I quickly sensed a ripple of mirth around me. Somebody said something, and people started to laugh. I paid it no mind and kept my head low, glued to my music.
When the doors opened at the next stop, a woman in a crisp business suit brushed past me as I stood near the door. She motioned for me to turn off my Walkman.
“You have your curlers on,” she said.
— Reni Roxas
Every morning before I left for school, my mother would hand me an emergency quarter. This was back when cellphones were a luxury and you couldn’t turn a corner in New York without seeing a pay phone.
“Only use this if you absolutely must,” she said as I slipped the coin into my pocket, where it would sit next to the one she had given me the day before.
I spent Fridays after school in a small barbershop in Corona, Queens, either getting a haircut myself or accompanying a friend who was getting one. Every Friday, an older Dominican man would walk into the shop pulling a red-and-white camping cooler.
Inside the cooler was a black bag. Inside the bag was what I had looked forward to all week.
The smell of fried dough would overwhelm the combined scent of talcum powder, barbicide and bay rum that had lingered in the air through the day. A well-trained nose could also pick up the scent of onions, olives and seasoned ground beef. Chicken, too, if the man had any left.
“Empanadas, one dollar and twenty-five,” he would bellow as the barbers continued cutting hair without flinching.
Every Friday, I would dig deep into my pocket and fish around for five quarters, one for every day of the week.
This is as good an emergency as anything, I would think to myself before making my request.
“You have any chicken left?”
— Carlos Matias
It was my first year of college and I was new to New York. As part of a fine-arts course, my classmates and I were sent to study various buildings in the city. Bonwit Teller, on Fifth Avenue, was one of them.
The assignment called for us to describe the building, so I crossed the street to face it and started to count the number of floors.
I must have been counting aloud, because when I got to “five,” I paused, and a woman who was walking by turned her head toward me.
“Six,” she said over her shoulder, and then continued on her way.
She was right. I hadn’t counted the ground floor.
— Naomi Kassabian
I was on my way to meet my mother at an art gallery in Chelsea. As I crossed 10th Avenue and was about to disappear under the High Line, something hit my left shoulder with a squish and a thud.
I looked at the ground and saw the eye of a silvery fish staring up at me. I also noticed opalescent scales and a bit of blood on my shoulder and back. I looked up and saw three sea gulls flying overhead, probably taking dinner back to the river in their beaks.
I immediately looked around to determine whether anyone else had seen what had happened. I motioned toward several teenage girls who were nearby.
“Did you see that?” I shouted.
They had, and we all laughed about it. Then I texted a picture of the fish to my crush.
“I got hit by this fish,” I wrote. “I think this is super good luck.”
Hours later, she replied.
“I’m a Pisces,” the message said.
— Neela Wickremesinghe
Seeking a Shortcut
My husband and I were newly married in February 1963 and rushing to what was still called Idlewild Airport for a flight to St. Croix for our honeymoon.
I was struggling with a large map and trying to figure out how to get from Philadelphia to New York via the New Jersey Turnpike.
Noticing what I thought was a shortcut that could save us some time, I gave my husband new directions. Eventually, we found ourselves blocked by large detour signs.
I saw a workman by the side of the road and I rolled down the window.
“Which way to the Verrazano Bridge?” I asked.
“Well, lady,” he said in quite a serious tone, “if you come back about this time next year, you can be the first one across.”
— Kate Hall
Illustrations by Agnes Lee