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‘I Was Walking Along the Path by the East River Near 20th Street’




Dear Diary:

I was walking along the path by the East River near 20th Street when I encountered a man playing the saxophone. I told him he sounded good and asked if he was practicing.

“No,” he said. “I’m working.”

I was confused because he had no tip jar for those who might want to give him something for his playing.

“How are you working?” I asked.

“A man and a woman are going to come jogging down the path,” he said. “And when I see them coming, I’m going to start playing. And when they get to me, the man will stop running and get down in his knees and propose.”

Then he pointed toward a couple in the distance who were running in our direction.

“Look, here they come!” he said. “You’d better walk away now.”

I hurried to a spot about 50 feet away where I could still see and hear everything. The sax player started into what seemed like a perfect song for a proposal: Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”

As the couple got closer, I got excited at the prospect of witnessing this very special, intimate scene.

Finally, they arrived exactly in front of the sax player — and then they just kept running.

Had the man gotten cold feet and changed his mind? Had the sax player been pulling my leg with his story about a proposal? Before I could ask, he walked off, and I was left with “Let’s Stay Together” playing on repeat in my mind.

— Allan Yashin

Dear Diary:

I was moving out of my Upper West Side apartment and I had two short bar stools I couldn’t use anymore. I decided to leave them at the curb, as New Yorkers often do with such items.

Twenty minutes after depositing them on the sidewalk, I returned to find that they were gone and a tall wobbly stool was standing in their place.

— Melanie Petersen

Dear Diary:

It was 1958, and the first American Express cards had recently been issued. For my 19th birthday, my parents signed me up for one and described its purpose: I could use it to buy stuff without needing money to pay for it, at least not immediately.

A week later, I decided to try out the new card during a day trip to New York from my home in Connecticut. I soon discovered that credit cards were not yet widely accepted. The New Haven Railroad would only take cash. Same for the subway, the bus, taxis and hot dog vendors.

I stopped at a Sam Goody store. It appeared that I could use the American Express card to buy something there, but I was completely out of cash. How was I going to pay for the subway and the train home?

I picked out several albums and got in line to pay. When I got to the register, I handed the cashier my card, and he rang me up.

As he handed the card back to me, I nervously made my first attempt at something like arbitrage.

“Could you do me a favor?” I asked. “I’m short on cash, so, for the next few customers, could you charge their items to my credit card, and then give me the equivalent amount of cash?”

He mulled the proposal for a minute.

“Sure,” he said. “no problem.”

My first adventure in the world of high finance, courtesy of Sam Goody.

— David Klahr

Dear Diary:

One afternoon in the late 1990s, I was on a downtown train headed to a job interview. I was wearing the requisite black pantsuit and carrying a briefcase.

I stood in front of one set of doors and, using the opposite set as a mirror, evaluated whether to tuck in my shirt or leave it untucked.

A man sitting next to my makeshift mirror watched as I considered my options. He looked to be in his late 20s, like me, had a diner cup of coffee in his hand and was wearing dirty clothes and boots that suggested a job in construction.

With a twinkle in his eye, he gave a thumbs-up to the tucked-in option, nodded and smiled. No one else on the car noticed, and he got off at the next stop.

I don’t remember if I got the job, but I do remember his approving smile.

— Lara Cohen

Dear Diary:

Holding his newborn daughter in one arm and a Christmas tree in the other, my friend navigated his way down a narrow Astoria sidewalk through a crowd of frustrated pedestrians slowed by a Christmas market.

“Hey,” he shouted to a tree vendor. “Which tree is more expensive — this one or that one?”

“That depends,” the vendor said. “Which one do you like better?”

— Casey Barrett

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee