‘We Chose a Bench Beneath Good Lighting for Safety’s Sake’

Good Light

Dear Diary:

I was chatting with my German teacher after a class at the Goethe Institute on a chilly November evening. We were both hungry, so we decided to get chicken sandwiches at a halal food truck near Union Square Park.

The park was mostly deserted, but we decided to sit there and eat anyway. Being two women alone at night, we chose a bench beneath good lighting for safety’s sake.

As we were eating, a man approached us.

“Can I ask you something?” he said.

We were hesitant but said, sure, go ahead.

“Can you tell me the name on that bench?” he asked.

Looking at the plaque, we read off the name: Richard Helm.

The man held out his driver’s license and asked that we read the name on it: Richard Helm!

He told us it was his bench and that he sat there every morning drinking his coffee. His brother had arranged for the plaque.

“I walked by, and the whole park was empty, and you chose to sit on my bench!” he said.

He seemed amazed at having been so chosen. We told him it had good light.

He handed us each $2, told us to buy a coffee with it and walked off.

We finished our sandwiches and headed off as well, with two more dollars apiece.

— Colleen Alkalay-Houlihan

No Time for That

Dear Diary:

Overheard in a Greenwich Village hardware store while buying an extension cord.

“I don’t have time to teach New Yorkers how to be New Yorkers,” a cashier mutters after finishing a call with a customer.

— Leslie Breeding

An Owl on West 81st

Dear Diary:

My husband and I were on West 81st Street on an unseasonably warm fall evening. A group of us were gathered in front of the Excelsior Hotel around a very small owl that was looking up from the sidewalk with otherworldly eyes.

One man told people to avoid stepping on the owl while a woman redirected those who approached with dogs. It appeared to be a baby, though it didn’t have any baby fluff. Its tiny feathers were sleek and mature. Surely it was injured and unable to fly.

We all had our phones out, taking pictures of the bird and searching the internet for bird rescue groups. Finally, someone reached a rescue center operator and was told to bring the owl to an office on the East Side, where it would receive proper care.

“I have a box in my apartment,” one man said.

“No,” said someone else, “I think I have a bag you can use.”

The sense of camaraderie was palpable.

“I am used to handling wild animals,” said an elegantly dressed older woman who was wearing gloves despite the warmth of the evening.

She bent down to pick up the owl, which appeared calm and quite interested in the group that had gathered. It turned its head freely to take us all in.

As the woman reached for the owl, it squawked loudly, spread its small wings and flew into the nearest tree.

A spontaneous cheer erupted as we ran to the tree to make sure our little friend really was OK. By the time we got there, it had flown into the night.

— Melaney Mashburn

Manhattan at Dusk

Dear Diary:

That moment when the office towers
shimmer in gray shadows,

when the Tiffany lamp in a bay window
glows warmly, and you wonder,
Who lives here? Whose life is so charmed?

On the parkway, commuters lumber home,
while a fresh horde hurtles into town
for a “New York evening.”

The streetlamps flicker on. They sing:
“Day is done, the small victories,
the petty squabbles, let them go.”

But something in you clings to twilight,
wants to hold on to that sweet sliver of time,
that faint glimmer —

before it vanishes in the bright darkness
of a city night.

— Jimmy Roberts

Sadie’s Bench

Dear Diary:

It was a Sunday morning in October, and I had gone for a long walk on the path along the West Side Highway with a friend I’d recently reconnected with.

Afterward, we grabbed a coffee in the West Village and sat on a bench on Washington Street to chat and enjoy the sunshine.

As we were talking, a man walked up with his dog. She stopped walking just before the bench we were on.

“C’mon, Sadie,” the man said, “we’ll find another bench.”

“This is her bench,” he told us, shrugging.

As he tried to tug her onward to the next bench nearby, she walked a few steps, looked us in the eye and lay down again.

“We’ll go to the next bench, it’s OK,” we told the man.

He thanked us, and as we walked away, we saw Sadie stand, trot over and hop up onto the bench next to the man.

— Katie Perkowski

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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