Off the Menu
We were hungry high school kids in Sheepshead Bay in the early 1960s. A Chinese takeout restaurant opened on Nostrand Avenue, and it became our favorite neighborhood hangout.
The owner was sympathetic to our poverty, and we negotiated with him for a dish that never appeared on the menu.
For a nickel, he would serve us a medium-size container of white rice with a ladle full of egg foo young gravy. For another dime, we could get a can of Patio orange soda from the machine there. We enjoyed this special meal four or five times a week.
Time passed, and we were headed off to college. We encouraged our kindly friend to raise his price to a dime to future customers.
He smiled and said it would stay a nickel for hungry kids like us.
— Joe Trachtenberg
I was working as an occupational therapist at a preschool on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 19th Street. The therapy room had windows that looked out onto the avenue, but the lunchroom’s view was out the back, onto a courtyard of sorts.
We were told that the building we could see from there had once been a department store and it had windows that measured probably eight feet high. They were perfect for viewing the comings and goings of the residents of the building’s renovated co-op apartments, à la “Rear Window.”
Through the bare windows of one apartment, we could see a young couple as they moved in and began to make the place their own. After a few months, one of the rooms began to fill with baby stuff. It was being turned into a nursery.
As the months went on, it became a topic of lunchroom conversation: Would the baby be a boy or a girl? When would the child arrive? There was talk of getting a betting pool going on the date of birth, but we tried to not to be caught gawking too obviously.
The big day finally arrived, a Friday, and the proud parents brought the baby home. How could we get the answer to our remaining question?
One of the teachers put up a sign facing the apartment.
“Congratulations!” it said. “Boy or girl?”
The father responded quickly, raising his own sign in our direction: “It’s a boy!!”
We all waved at one another and flashed thumbs-up signs.
By Monday, all the apartment’s windows had curtains and shades.
— Robert Flynn
At the Morgan
Visiting the Morgan Library and Museum, I ventured into the West Room of J. Pierpont Morgan’s library, a cavernous and elegant space.
Surveying the giant fireplace, the endless bookshelves and the substantial desk, I was taken with a desire to see what it would be like to command that empire.
The desk chair, of course, was roped off, but I walked behind the desk and got a sense of the solitude and power that came with being in that spot.
“Congratulations,” a hearty voice said as I began to leave. I turned and saw that it was a young female security guard. She was smiling at me.
Sensing my surprise, she told me that while men frequently ventured behind the desk, I was the first woman she had seen do it.
“No,” I replied. “I’m sure that you have done it.”
Her smile widened into a mischievous grin.
— Christine McCormick
I had celebrated my 78th birthday with a few relatives at my sister’s home in Connecticut. We ate, watched a video, opened presents and talked. It was a lovely day that came to its conclusion with me taking a cab to my apartment from the 125th Street train station.
As we approached my building, I found that I wanted to hold onto the day a little while longer. I told the driver that it was my birthday.
“Really?” he asked.
I had paid him and was preparing to get out of the cab when I noticed that he was rather frantically looking for something. I was a little curious about what he was doing, but I was mostly focused on the delicate task of climbing out of the car.
“Happy Birthday!” he said, reaching his hand awkwardly toward the back seat. Did he want me to shake it? I was confused.
“Look,” he said, opening his palm.
In it was a single hard candy.
— Ellen Diamond
I was working construction as a carpenter in Manhattan. Every morning before work I would stop at the same deli for coffee and a bagel. I liked the deli because you could make your own coffee there.
At one point, I stopped working for about three weeks. When I returned to the job, I resumed my daily routine of stopping at the deli.
My first day back, I ordered my bagel and then started to make my coffee. It felt to me like the cups were slightly smaller than they had been. When I went to pay, I said so to the woman at the counter.
“Maybe your hand got bigger,” she said.
— John Ioveno
Illustrations by Agnes Lee