‘I Always Bought a Grapefruit From the Bodega Across the Street’

Clocking In

Dear Diary:

When I was in my early 20s, I worked at a cafe in Park Slope. I used to walk to work in the darkness at 4:30 a.m., lacing up my black sneakers in my Clinton Hill apartment and schlepping past halal trucks on my way as they set up for the day.

I always bought a grapefruit from the bodega across the street before starting my shift. The man at the counter would greet me with a wide smile, its warmth washing away the tired feelings left over from the morning trek.

Clocking out? I’d ask.

Yes, he would say. Clocking in?

Yes, I’d say.

And then each day, like a mantra, he would singsong to me: “You are beginning your day … and I am ending mine!”

— Annabelle Lewis

Turn It Down

Dear Diary:

I was on a crowded M11 bus heading downtown. A tall man with lots of gold jewelry around his neck and a boombox perched on his walker got on and found a seat. He was playing loud music and moving to the rhythm.

“Turn that music off, please,” the driver called.

No response.

“Turn that music off,” the driver said again, louder this time.

People who were sitting near the man whispered to him to please lower the volume.

No go.

Finally, the driver had had enough.

“This bus is no longer in service,” he yelled as he pulled up to the stop at 50th Street.

Everyone except for the man with the walker and the boombox got off. We all stood there waiting to see what would happen next.

I started to get anxious. I was supposed to meet up with some friends to see the Edward Hopper exhibition at the Whitney, and we had planned to have lunch before going to the museum. Traffic was heavy; there were no available cabs in sight.

I got back on the bus and asked the driver what he was waiting for.

“The police,” he said.

“Would you mind if I offered the man twenty bucks to get off the bus?” I asked.

“Sure,” the driver said. “You can try.”

I did.

“Thank you, Grandma,” the man with the walker and the boombox said. He pocketed the $20 and got off the bus.

I signaled to the other passengers to get back on, and we were on our way.

When I got off at the Whitney, the driver thanked me and told me that whenever I rode his bus, the fare would be free.

The exhibition was exhilarating.

— Phyllis Palm

Random Cafe

Dear Diary:

I had been unable to leave my bed for most of the weekend. I had gotten over a cold, so it wasn’t because I was sick. I just craved solemn shelter from the world.

I had struggled with a sense of displacement or fogginess since moving to New York City for college. Each day had begun to feel insurmountable, and I was spiraling downward.

Desperate for rehabilitation and grounding of some kind, I did what I often did: looked on Google Maps and picked a random cafe that I had never visited.

I walked about a mile to SoHo and timorously entered the colorful little shop. I was the only customer there.

A kind-eyed woman behind the counter greeted me. I gave her my order and admired the pictures on the patterned walls around me.

“I love this place,” I said quietly to myself.

The woman behind the counter heard me.

“Then honey,” she said, “I am so glad you stopped in.”

— Anne Schwanke

Tangled Up

Dear Diary:

I was on a jam-packed rush hour R train headed for Manhattan. A young woman who appeared to be getting ready to get off and transfer as we pulled into the 36th Street station realized that her purse strap had become entwined with a young man’s iPod.

Rushing to untangle the wire so she did not miss her stop, the woman asked the young man if he was switching to the D.

“Yes,” he said.

And still attached, they hurried across the platform when the doors opened.

— Kathleen Scarola

Good Call

Dear Diary:

I had parked my car on Ludlow Street just south of Houston one day several years ago. When I returned to it, I noticed that another vehicle was squeezing into the small space in front of mine.

Realizing I had time left in my spot, I retrieved the parking receipt from my dashboard, approached the vehicle that had just parked in front of me and handed the ticket to the driver.

As I returned to my car to depart, the driver asked me to wait. He opened his back door and reached inside. Approaching me, he handed me a slightly used baseball.

“Thanks so much for the parking time,” he said. “I am a semipro umpire. Have a great day.”

— Don Leenig

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