‘I Watched People Pass My Booth and Listened to Scraps of Conversation’

How to Buy Art

Dear Diary:

I was in New York City for my annual exhibition at an art fair. During a lull, I watched people walk by my booth and listened to scraps of conversation.

“My theory about buying art,” I heard one woman walking by say to another, “is, if you love it, can afford it and it doesn’t scare the dog, you buy it.”

— Joel Soroka

Walking Tour

Dear Diary:

I stepped out of an East Side funeral home into the bright June sunshine. I examined the white plastic bucket containing my mother’s ashes, and then I raised my arm to hail a cab.

One pulled up, but something made me wave it on. I stuffed the bucket into my backpack, loaded the pack onto my back and started walking.

For the next hour or so, I took my mother on a tour of some of the monuments of our New York lives.

Past the old Drake Hotel, where we would duck in to grab a handful of mini-Swiss chocolate bars from the cavernous bowl in the lobby.

Past Saks Fifth Avenue, where we would squeeze into the tightly packed elevators operated by “elevator men” calling out the floors in deep baritones.

Past the MoMA sculpture garden, which my mother’s first New York apartment overlooked.

Past the Pierre Hotel, where my mother had conned the receptionist into giving her a room when she ran away from home as a teenager.

Past the long gone Auto Pub in the General Motors Building, where my parents threw the best birthday party of my life.

Past the old Rumpelmayer’s on Central Park South, where my mother would take me for vanilla ice cream sodas on special days.

Into Central Park and onto the park drive, which my mother hectored many a taxi driver into taking to “save time.”

And, finally, home to the empty apartment on the Upper West Side.

Thanks, Mom, for sharing these things with me. How pleased I was that day to return the favor.

— David London

Thrifty Eye

Dear Diary:

It was summer 1972, and my art history class at Michigan State University had organized a trip to New York. It was my first visit to the city.

One of my classmates, a man I regarded as kind of nerdy, accompanied the rest of the group to all of the museums, galleries and other destinations, but he didn’t come along for any of the restaurant meals or shopping trips.

I didn’t have much money, but I was determined to soak up as much of the culture, wine and Italian food as I could, and to bring home some cute new clothes as well. I spent every extra penny I had enjoying all the city had to offer.

When we were boarding our flight home, I was surprised to see the classmate who had skipped the restaurants and shopping with a large package under his arm. I did not remember seeing him buy anything during the trip.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I saved all my money by not eating and bought this painting by an artist named Brice Marden,” he said.

I asked how much he had paid.

“Two hundred fifty dollars,” he said.

I wonder what happened to that young man with such great taste and so much self-discipline.

— Maureen Knoll

Who Is It?

Dear Diary:

I graduated from a Jersey Shore high school in 1965. After graduation, a few of my classmates and I took a trip to New York City to do some shopping and see the sights.

At one point, as we were standing at a busy intersection, we noticed an older man in a nicely tailored overcoat nearby. He looked very familiar.

My friends and I all looked at one another, wondering, “Could that be who we think it is? No, it just couldn’t, could it?”

We were buzzing with curiosity and excitement and frustrated we couldn’t remember the man’s name. Finally, on a dare, I agreed to approach him.

I walked up to him slowly.

“Excuse me sir,” I said. “Were you the Lion in ‘The Wizard of Oz?’”

He smiled at me and nodded his head.

“Yes,” he said.

Bert Lahr died two years later.

— Gail Skabo

On the B9

Dear Diary:

After boarding a B9 bus in Brooklyn, I noticed a woman having a loud FaceTime conversation.

She was smiling and gesturing as if she were talking to whoever was on the other end of the call in person.

I had my headphones in and was listening to an audiobook so I wasn’t really aware of how loudly she was speaking until she got to her stop.

As she got off the bus, the other passengers burst into a round of applause.

— Reva Singer

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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