World

‘Going Down a Flight of Stairs Into the Station, I Saw a Tiny Coffee Shop’

Behind the Counter

Dear Diary:

I was in the city for my high school reunion, and I was looking for a shoe repair shop. A doorman on West 57th Street directed me to one “down the subway.”

Going down a flight of stairs into the station, I saw a tiny coffee shop.

“Do you know where the shoe repair guy is?” I asked the man behind the counter.

He smiled.

“It’s me!” he said.

I held up my shoes, broken strap dangling.

He looked around and made a gesture that indicated he was alone in the store.

“Oh, come on,” I said. “I’ll work behind the counter for you if you’ll fix my shoes.”

I was only kidding, but he nodded, took off his apron, held it out to me and waved me behind the counter.

I put the apron on as he explained the operation: Here’s the register. Coffee and bagel is $1.75. Here’s the milk and coffee cups.

Then he walked out the door and disappeared.

I was so surprised I just stood there looking around. There was a grill, a sign advertising a scrambled egg breakfast special, a candy display, soft drinks.

A customer came in.

“Please don’t let her want the special,” I pleaded silently.

“I have a terrible craving for a Peppermint Patty,” she said. “Do you have those?”

I looked at the candy counter and to my great relief saw none. I wouldn’t have to guess what to charge for it. Crisis averted.

A few minutes later the man returned with my repaired shoes. I gave back the apron, paid him the $4 he asked for and made a joke about this being my new job.

Janet Poutre


Chelsea Sidewalk

Dear Diary:

I was walking by myself in Chelsea in the late 1980s. As I approached two construction workers on the sidewalk, I steeled myself for the possibility that they would start making provocative comments.

Just as I came alongside them, one called out in a loud and jolly voice.

“Those are the cutest socks!” he said.

It made my day.

— Karen Lee Schmidt


Regular, a Play in One Short Act

Dear Diary:

A gas station convenience store, Staten Island. Summer. The present.

TOM, a man in his mid-50s, approaches the counter, where ATTENDANT, a man about 30 years younger, stands behind the cash register, staring at his cellphone. TOM takes out his wallet.

TOM
Thirty dollars, unleaded.

ATTENDANT
Regular?

TOM
It says “unleaded,” but I guess, yeah … regular.

ATTENDANT stares at TOM, who hands him two twenties. ATTENDANT rings up the sale.

TOM
You know, there used to be regular and unleaded. Now, when you say regular, you mean unleaded. Regular unleaded. As opposed to plus or premium. Though it’s marked “unleaded” on the pump … Regular, back in the day, I suppose, was leaded, even if it didn’t say so.

(Beat)

You’re too young to remember that.

TOM starts toward the door.

ATTENDANT
Change.

TOM turns. ATTENDANT reaches out a $10 bill. TOM takes it.

TOM
Thanks.

(Lights fade.)

— Tom Diriwachter


“Untitled,” 1986

Dear Diary:

I was at the Museum of Modern Art. After reading the curator’s blurb on a wall about the wooden bed that the artist Robert Gober had built himself, I turned to view it.

It seemed similar to any normal single bed I had ever slept in. Leaning up against one of its legs was a pair of white, knee-high boots and a small, fashionable backpack.

Wait a minute!

Under the sheet and purple blanket was a woman who was returning my stare. I made an inane comment. She smiled politely, and then closed her eyes to feign sleep.

I immediately returned to the blurb on the wall to find out whether I had missed something about the piece being performance art.

My answer came from the mouth of a security guard who sped over from an adjacent gallery and commanded the woman to get out of the bed.

She sat on the edge of the bed, put on her boots, stood up, put on her backpack and walked over to the white, wooden platform supporting Jeff Koons’s “Pink Panther.” She stepped up on it and retrieved the smartphone she had been using to record herself. Then she walked off, slowly and stylishly.

Later on, I returned to Gober’s art-bed and chatted briefly with a guard who was standing near it. I told her I had seen what happened earlier and asked whether she had remade the bed.

A curator had been summoned to do it, she said.

— Bob Siegel


Warming at Last

Dear Diary:

With the weather finally getting warm, I put on the spring version of my uniform: black T-shirt, loose black jeans, beige sneakers and tortoiseshell glasses. My hair was tucked behind my ears and canvas tote bag was on my shoulder.

I was on my way to get Thai food with a friend when I looked across Willoughby Street toward Flatbush Avenue and saw him: loose black jeans, black T-shirt, beige sneakers, tortoiseshell glasses, hair tucked behind the ears and an overflowing canvas tote bag.

He appeared to be going somewhere important, maybe the airport.

He pointed at me.

I pointed back.

We both burst out laughing and headed our separate ways.

— Keighly Baron

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee


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