‘Surprised, I Turned to See an Older Man There on the Sidewalk’

Birthday Bouquets

Dear Diary:

It was my father-in-law’s birthday, and I had already gotten the strawberry cheesecake. My husband was busy preparing a special birthday dinner. There was one thing missing: flowers.

I went for the corner bodega, chose two premade bouquets that looked happy and decided to get some more flowers to make a grand display.

I picked up a bunch of sunflowers and contemplated which green stems to buy to go with them.

“Don’t you have enough flowers?” someone behind me said.

Surprised, I turned to see an older man there on the sidewalk.

“I’m looking for some coordinating flowers,” I explained. “What do you mean?”

“You must have 35 stems in just one of those bouquets,” he said. “Why do you need more?”

I asked what he would be happy with if he were 94.

“I’d be happy with three flowers,” he said. “It’s the thought that counts, you know, and anyway, what would I do with so many flowers?”

He walked away, his wisdom hanging in the air and leaving me feeling silly.

The test of his advice came at dinner. Was he correct that less would be more?

Reader, the birthday boy was happy.

— Rebecca Mattoni

Greenpoint Deli

Dear Diary:

On the corner of Driggs Avenue and Humboldt Street in Greenpoint there is a little Polish deli. The man who works there has known me even before I knew me, yet I could not tell you his name.

My family shops at the deli for fresh cuts of Polish meat, bread, pickles, horseradish and other charcuterie accompaniments from the homeland.

When I was younger and still living in Queens, I would often join whichever parent was going to the deli, purely for selfish reasons.

Like clockwork, the deli man would give my parent change with one hand and give me a Polish treat, either Krowki or edible gum, with the other.

“And this for the little one,” he would say, extending his fist and opening his palm to reveal the treasured confection.

My father still goes to the deli whenever my family has a hankering, despite having crossed the Horace Harding Expressway to Long Island nearly two decades ago. Last July, while visiting, I joined him on one of his trips. Now fully an adult, I had not been to that intersection in many years.

From behind a counter packed with pickles, head cheese, kielbasa and rye bread, the deli man handed my father his change. With his other hand, he reached to a shelf above the register.

Bringing it down, he turned over and opened his fist to reveal three yellow Krowki.

“And this,” he said, “for the little one.”

— Ania Zolyniak


Dear Diary:

I’m a bus operator for New York City, lately driving the M72. Sometimes I use the hazard lights when pulling into stops.

One day, an older woman, perhaps in her 70s, got on at 67th and Fifth, just before the bus turns west to go through the transverse.

“I like how you blink the lights,” she said. “My late husband used to make them blink when driving away to say goodbye.”

Her fare was not required that day.

— Timothy Brandoff

The Ride Home

Dear Diary:

I was in the midst of my weekly Gowanus-to-Washington Heights trip on the A. Sometimes, I call an Uber to avoid the 90-minute train ride home. But on this day, I couldn’t justify the cost.

At 42nd Street, a small woman stepped into the subway car and sat next to me. She had the Playbill for “A Strange Loop.”

I had recently seen the show, and this woman appeared to be just as captivated by it as I had been. I asked her what she thought of the show, and out spilled a flood of thoughts.

Before we had a chance to introduce ourselves, the conductor announced that we had to find a new train: This A would only be running to West 145th.

“Where are you headed?” I asked

“Dyckman Street,” she said.

“Oh, me too!”

It turned out we lived on the same side of the same street and only two buildings apart.

“Want to get a car uptown?” I asked. “It’s on me.”

We climbed the stairs out of the subway and waited for the driver to arrive.

— Katherine Lenhart

Like Katniss

Dear Diary:

Some years back I took my 15-year-old daughter to dinner at Little Owl in the West Village.

This was when “The Hunger Games” books were very big. At the time, my daughter had her hair done just like Katniss, with an “arena braid.”

The place was crowded, so we ate at the bar. The bartender was fascinated with my daughter’s hair, and they had a long chat. She excused herself and disappeared for some time.

When she reappeared, her hair was done just like my daughter’s.

— Tom Parsons

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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