‘As I Started to Walk Away, the Second Man Reached Out His Hand’

Dear Diary:

As I left the No. 6 train station at Bleecker Street, I noticed two young men on the corner. One was holding a map, and they both had puzzled looks on their faces as they scanned the nearby street signs.

I asked whether they needed help.

The one with the map said he knew where they were but couldn’t find the spot on the map.

I pointed out Houston Street a block away, and then showed them where it was on the map. They thanked me.

As I started to walk away, the second man reached out his hand — not to shake mine, but to give me a $1 bill.

It was the only time I’d been offered a tip for giving directions.

— John F. Backe

Dear Diary:

It was the early ’70s, and we were at our favorite Chinatown restaurant. Our party of five included a former New York City junior high school teacher, Cathleen McDonnell Pietronuto.

As usual, the restaurant was crowded, and the noise level was getting out of control.

At some point, Cathy stood up.

“There is the entirely too much noise In this room,” she announced In her classroom-tested voice.

Total silence.

Then a tentative voice piped up from across the dining room.

“Miss McDonnell?”

— Joseph Demas

Dear Diary:

I was a tourist In town, walking up the east side of Central Park, when I saw a woman sitting on a stone bench inside the park.

It was midday, but she was dressed as if for a party. Her face was In her hands, and she was sobbing as if she had just lost everything In the world.

I make my living with words and pictures, and this one was perfect: the woman’s bright red dress, her perfectly coifed blonde hair, the gray stone and green leaves, the jarring contrast of beauty and grief.

The woman’s head was down, and my camera was ready. It would take only a second, and she would never know.

I couldn’t do it, not even to snap a photo for my eyes only. In this very public place, it was her private moment, and it could not belong to me. I longed to console her, but even that feel like a trespass.

I kept on walking, and silently wished her well.

— Jil McIntosh

Dear Diary:

Moving to the West Village from the suburbs was a dream that finally became reality when my children went to college In the early ’90s.

As I moved into the tiny apartment, I realized that my beloved antique iron headboard would only fit In the bedroom if I was willing to live with the door opening just enough for me to pass through sideways. I decided I was.

I lived that way for a few years before finally bringing the headboard to the curb and replacing it with a much smaller one that allowed me to open the bedroom door all the way.

About six months ago, I heard some banging and scraping outside my apartment. I opened the door and saw my next-door neighbor dragging my old headboard out of his apartment.

Apologizing for the noise, he said that he had found it at the curb years ago and loved it, but that he grown tired of walking into his bedroom sideways so he was returning it to the street.

— Ellen Myers

Dear Diary:

My wife and I came to New York In November 2002 for my second New York City Marathon. We splurged and booked a room at a boutique hotel near the New York Public Library, where runners board early morning buses that take them to where the race starts on Staten Island.

We registered at the desk with an assistant manager, who struck us as the type of well-mannered, middle-age gentleman one might encounter at a traditional European hotel.

I made conversation by mentioning the huge number of international runners I had seen. He volunteered that he was from what had been known as Czechoslovakia. We fell into an easy, extended chat about distance running.

Eventually, he insisted on personally showing us to the room we had booked on a lower floor. He seemed intent on continuing our conversation.

As he pulled our luggage trolley onto the elevator, a twinkle came to his eyes.

“I bet you don’t know the name of the greatest Czech distance runner of all time,” he said.

Somehow, my usually unreliable memory jumped to life.

“Um, yeah, Emil Zatopek,” I stammered.

His face lit up, and he beamed with pride.

After a moment’s reflection, he spoke again.

“The room you reserved just isn’t right for you,” he said. “Allow me to upgrade you to a larger suite on an upper floor.”

— Geoffrey Vincent

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee