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‘Sitting Across From Me Was a Man Eating Sardines From a Can’

Dear Diary:

Two summers ago, I was riding a downtown bus in Manhattan. After taking my seat, I started to look around. I always like to get acquainted with my environment.

Sitting across from me was a man eating sardines from a can. He noticed me staring at him.

“If only I had some crackers to go with it,” he said.

Just then, a woman sitting nearby opened her pocketbook, turned and, without saying a word, handed him a package of saltines.

— Annabelle Alston

Dear Diary:

She let me go. Suggested
I go.
It never would have occurred to me.

Ignore hustlers. Wait on the subway steps, not the platform. Walk with purpose.
Advice gratefully received.

Out the train window, woods whiz by,
morphing into houses,
rising into tall buildings.
Seventeen magazine outlines options for hair removal.
Thirty, sixty, ninety minutes I count.

FWOPP! We burst into the tunnel
ears popping as we
rickety, rickety under Manhattan.

At Penn Station, doors yawn, ejecting us.
We shuffle and clump, scatter and weave,
bump and

Into the sensory symphony
Howling taxis, a slap of stinging cold,
air infused with bitter chestnut.

I hold Mom’s hand-drawn map,
a grid on lined loose-leaf.

I am here.

— Carol Studier

Dear Diary:

Some years ago, my daughter rented her first apartment in Manhattan. She asked me to come in from Queens to wait for a furniture delivery so that she wouldn’t have to take time off from her new job.

The delivery came very early, leaving me with the rest of the day to myself. I walked down Third Avenue, window-shopping and people-watching.

After a few blocks, I came to a movie theater that was showing a Swedish film I had planned to see when it came to my neighborhood. Perfect!

I bought a ticket, went inside and chose a seat in the middle of the theater.

As the lights went down, a woman came in and took the aisle seat of the row I was in. After the movie ended, she approached me.

“Can we talk about the movie a little?” she asked.

We did for several minutes. Then she thanked me and left.

— Louise Duke

Dear Diary:

I was on the M4, reading my book and only aware that I had not yet reached my destination, when I felt a gentle touch on my wrist.

I looked down and saw a praying mantis, full grown and perhaps four inches long. It was an incredible, almost otherworldly creature, with a huge head atop its body and six legs like thin sticks.

It walked hesitantly over my hand and onto my book. Its movements were as strange and wild as its form.

Was I going to shake this beautiful insect off onto the floor of the bus to continue its ride downtown? That way led only to concrete, traffic, more people and probable death.

As the mantis walked slowly and sweetly over my hands, onto the book and then back onto my wrist and arm, I stood up slowly. The look on the face of the woman opposite me was one of horror. How could she see this harmless creature as dangerous?

As the bus continued on, I saw a green patch of garden but no bus stop nearby. Approaching the driver, I asked if he would please let me out.

“This guy really needs to get to some green grass and plants,” I said, holding the mantis up for the driver to see.

He grimaced and shuddered.

“Whoa,” he said, stopping the bus and opening the door near the small triangle garden.

I carried the mantis, still wandering over my hands and my book, to the edge of the plantings. It seemed reluctant to leave me, but I soon urged it onto the first available leaf.

— Tom Hurwitz

Dear Diary:

It was spring 1982, and I had recently moved to the Upper West Side. I had brought my beloved clock radio, a gift from my mother in 1968, with me.

After unpacking, I discovered that, sadly, it was no longer working. I took it to a repair shop a few blocks away.

The man there looked it over carefully, tweaking its buttons. After a moment he announced regretfully that he could not fix it.

“But I’ll tell you what you can do,” he said.

I awaited my instructions eagerly.

“Make a right out of the store,” he said. “Go to the corner and make a left. When you get to the end of the block, you’ll see a trash can. Drop it in.”

— Jessica Lauria

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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