I was at a thrift shop on the Upper West Side when I saw a set of two framed, unsigned drawings of birds.
The drawings were clearly the work of the same artist. They were of odd-looking birds with huge, wide eyes done in charcoal.
I liked one but not the other. The one I liked was of a single bird resembling an emu that was staring off to the side.
The other drawing was of two birds that looked like dodos. They had similar expressions and were facing forward, as if to stare at the viewer. I just couldn’t see hanging that drawing on my wall and looking at it every day.
Since they were obviously by the same artist, I felt funny about breaking up the set, so I didn’t.
Stopping at the shop again a few days later, I was surprised to see that the drawing I liked was still there but that the other one was gone. Someone else must have seen them, liked the drawing I did not and wasn’t worried about breaking up the set.
I immediately bought the drawing that remained.
— Michael Fishman
5 Words; 4 Coins
In 1964, when I was 8, I ventured out of my family’s apartment in Riverdale nearly every day at my mother’s request.
Down the elevator and past the stairwell door, where the milk machine and the cigarette machine lurked in the dark side by side, and then on through the lobby and outside.
A right, then a left, then two blocks and a right to Mother’s bakery.
Five words and four coins: Rye bread without seeds, sliced. A quarter, a dime, two pennies.
My mother said she couldn’t send my brother because he would eat half the loaf on the way home. With me, only the two heels were missing.
— Gerri Ginsburg
I was walking slowly around Stuy Town, fully immersed in my phone as I prepared for a job interview.
I was so absorbed in what I was doing that I almost bumped into an older man who was out for a walk. He looked at me with a touch of disapproval.
“I’m so sorry,” I’m said. “I’m interviewing for my dream job tomorrow, and all I can do is prepare.”
He continued on, resuming his brisk pace. Then he turned his head over his shoulder. He had a smile on his face.
“Put me down as a reference,” he said. “Good luck!”
— Melissa Ertl
West Fourth Street Courts
As courtesy meetings go, it was disastrous. Afterward, I staggered through the streets feeling as though everything was going against me.
After giving me many hints over the years, I thought, the city was clearly telling me once and for all to get out. Maybe it was finally time to listen.
At some point, I wandered over to the West Fourth Street basketball courts. As I was watching the game, a well-dressed man with a satchel approached me.
“People take you for granted,” he said unsolicited. “You give and you give, and you don’t get anything in return. But you’re a good person and … ”
I don’t remember exactly the rest of what he said because I was trying very hard not to burst into tears.
He pulled out a pad and asked me to think of — but not tell him — the answers to a number of questions: my favorite number, my wife’s name, her age, my favorite color, the first name of my nemesis.
He then produced a neat list of all of my answers. I’m no rube when it comes to magic tricks, but this guy was a certifiable warlock.
He reassured me that my life would be all right and that I would get my dream job later that month. Then he wrote down three numbers: suggested donations.
I told him I didn’t have that kind of cash.
“There’s an A.T.M. nearby,” he said.
— Mark Hsu
Broom and Dustpan
I stepped out of the apartment building I had just moved into. It was an early September morning, and a light rain was falling.
My train was coming soon, and it wasn’t pouring so I decided not to go back upstairs for an umbrella and just headed to the station instead.
I passed a man who was out sweeping. He had a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other.
“Hey, miss,” he said, speaking so quietly that I almost didn’t hear him. I thought he might have been talking to me, but as someone who has had plenty of bad interactions with strangers on the streets, I thought it seemed best to keep walking.
“Miss,” he said again.
I wondered whether I might have dropped something. Before I could check my pockets, I heard him again, a little louder this time.
I turned. The broom in his hand had been replaced by a clear plastic poncho. He was wearing a yellow one with the hood up. Beads of water were running down the front.
“For the rain,” he said, extending his hand.
— Aiza Shahid-Qureshi
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Illustrations by Agnes Lee