‘The Cashier’s Expression Saved Me From Having to Ask the Obvious’

Earning Points

Dear Diary:

I was in line at a Panera Bread shop in Queens. A woman in front of me took out her phone and began snapping photos of receipts that had been left on the counter by other customers.

The cashier’s expression saved me from having to ask the obvious.

“When I get home,” the woman explained, “I’ll plug the receipt numbers into my Panera account and earn points.”

“Not a lot,” she added, “but why let them go to waste?”

I was reminded of how, when I was growing up in Rego Park in the 1950s, I used to scour gutters for discarded Bazooka bubble gum comics and Raleigh cigarette coupons, both of which were redeemable for merchandise. And being in charge of my mother’s S&H Green Stamps books, I never let stray stamps lie on the floor at the A&P.

Once the woman had her pictures, she got herself a big cup of hazelnut coffee, and I stepped up to place my order.

The cashier asked for my rewards number. I said I didn’t have one.

“But,” I added, “I think I know someone who’ll appreciate my receipt.”

— James Penha

Late Summer Storm

Dear Diary:

It was close to 6 p.m. on a drizzly September afternoon. The wind was picking up — a sure sign of harder rain to come — and many of the people out in the street on the Upper East Side were hurrying home.

I was standing under an awning, waiting for the worst of the rain to pass. I watched as an older man in a suit looked up from his phone and saw a toddler making funny faces at passers-by through the window of a yellow cab that was stopped at a light.

The man put the phone away in his breast pocket, stuck out his tongue and crossed his eyes to match the child’s funny face.

The child grinned through the window and waved to the man as the cab drove off.

The man smiled and let out a small giggle before crossing the street.

I heard a thunderclap, and the beginning of a late summer deluge. The streets were empty now.

— Olivia Bensimon

In Sync

Dear Diary:

I was in the Times Square subway station, walking from the 7 train to the A, C and E lines. It was the evening rush hour, and hordes of people were racing to escape Midtown and get uptown, downtown or to New Jersey.

I was in full commuting stride when I heard the notes of the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen” in the distance. A woman soon began to sing along to the music, and I began to mouth the words.

By the time I got to where she was, we were fully in sync, singing “l’amour est enfant de bohème … ”

As I passed her, she caught my eye and smiled. I hopped onto the A with a toreador’s spring in my step.

— Nicolas Gerard

Shoe Shopping

Dear Diary:

Frustrated by an interminable apartment search, I stopped into a shoe store on the Upper West Side for a diversion.

As I sat down, a woman nearby turned to me.

“Do these shoes make me look old?” she asked quietly.

Of course not, I said. They look great on you.

She mentioned that she lived on the Upper East Side but used to come to the store with her late husband.

She asked where I lived. I said that my lease had not been renewed because of what I considered corporate greed and that I had been living in a hotel for the past two months.

She said her building’s management company had three rental properties. I took the company’s name and thanked her.

After she left the store, I looked at the shoes she had tried on. I asked for a pair in my size. They were perfect.

Back at the hotel an hour later, I looked the management company up online and did not see any available listings. I sent a note anyway, advising of my interest and explaining what I was looking for in a new place.

Two days later, I received a response about a brand-new listing. Two days after that, I saw the place.

“I’ll take it!” I said after about five minutes.

— Joan Hershey

Deep Freeze

Dear Diary:

It was some years ago, and Manhattan was in the middle of a weeklong deep freeze.

Although temperatures were in the single digits, there had been no precipitation, meaning no black ice to keep me off my bike. Just wrap up in layers, a warm hat to cover my ears and a good pair of gloves and I was good to go. Midwesterners know how to handle the cold.

I rode up to the Post Office just as a fellow hardy soul was unlocking his bike from the post I planned to use to lock mine. We glanced at each other.

“Minnesota,” he called out.

“Michigan,” I replied, and then he went on his way.

— Michael A. Kaplan

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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