‘The First Time I Met My Neighbor, He Was Sitting Outside With a Friend’


Dear Diary:

The first time I met my Brooklyn neighbor, he was sitting outside with a friend, cigar in hand, on a hot July evening. Beach chairs on the sidewalk. Tank top under an unbuttoned button-down. Sweat on a bald head.

“Man, how do I have that much fun?” I asked him.

“That’s easy,” he said, a tooth missing from his smile. “Be a New Yorker.”

We’ve become friends since then, the kind that stop and talk long enough — him in his Bronx accent — that I know he’s been divorced, is often in love and works as a public defender. He’s annoyed about the rats on the block and hires a friend to plant his front yard each spring.

One morning, he told me that his cat, Fidel, had died. Fidel was beloved; I have photos of him posing on various stoops on the block. My neighbor didn’t sound sad when he told me what had happened, but his animated gestures seemed meant to hide the loss he felt.

That evening, a guy who hangs around the bodega nearby came around with a mango box. He knocked on my neighbor’s door. When he came out, the guy nodded and opened the box.

A tiny kitten peeked its head out.

— Laura Buccieri

Long Day

Dear Diary:

Two summers ago, I was on tourist’s visit to the Statue of Liberty when I began to feel overwhelmed.

On the return trip to Manhattan, rather than joining my son in sightseeing, I sneaked down beneath the ferry’s stairwell to take a nap, and the engine’s hum lulled me to sleep.

— Andrew G. Raymond

3 Things

Dear Diary:

I was on the subway on a service-change, midsummer Saturday. An ad hoc committee had formed in the car I was on. We were debating where the woman sitting next to me should transfer to get to the Brooklyn Museum.

After deciding which stop made the most sense, she and I talked about our lives as we made our way there. She had lived in New York for over 50 years. I had just moved back after a year away. She had done IT work for a firm based in Germany, and I worked in technology, too.

When we got to where she would transfer, I got off with her and we waited for the next train together. I wondered whether anyone thought we were grandmother and grandson, rather than strangers who had met just 20 minutes before on a rerouted D.

When I mentioned that I had just gone through a breakup, she told me that in bad moments I needed to tell myself three things: “I love you. I’ll take care of you. I’ll never leave you.”

She insisted I memorize the phrases, and I mumbled them over and over in the sticky subway car.

When we got off the train, I started to ask her name. Rather than telling me, she made me repeat what she had taught me.

“I love you,” I said. “I’ll take care of you. I’ll never leave you.”

She shuffled off toward the museum, and I turned back down Eastern Parkway toward home. I said the words once more, this time just to myself. They were barely audible against the noise of traffic.

— Ethan Peterson-New

Bird Watching

Dear Diary:

Against an iron fence near Stuyvesant Town
I leaned to watch a flock of soaring birds
Exploit the summer sky and leisurely
Equivocate, as if they were the netted
Particles of one diffusing mind.
Which roof to land on, which stark flat city roof?
Alone one bird, against the common will,
Flew closer to a cloud and ravished part
Of space she took to be her own.
Then I took her, a thousand feet or more away,
In that long since extinguished moment
Mute against the grating, for my friend.

— Herbert Klein

At Attention

Dear Diary:

It was December 1967. I had just finished basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and was traveling to Boston in uniform. For reasons I no longer recall, I stopped in New York City on the way.

Walking on the Upper East Side in a snowstorm, I spied another man in a uniform. He was older, and his cap bore the familiar gold band that identified him as an officer.

I rendered a snappy salute. It was not returned. The uniform was unfamiliar, so I guessed he was a foreign officer. Military courtesy still required me to salute.

A little farther down the street, I encountered another officer and offered another salute that went unacknowledged. His uniform was strange to me as well.

The third time it happened, the man I saluted ignored me while holding the door for a couple on their way into a large apartment building.

I realized I had been saluting doormen.

— Stephen Salisbury

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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