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‘It Was Hard Not to Eavesdrop on the Two Men at the Next Table’

Credit…Agnes Lee

Dear Diary:

It was fall 1969, and I was a college student in Manhattan. One afternoon, I met a friend for lunch at a busy dairy restaurant on Broadway.

The place was full of businessmen from the garment district. The tables were close together, and the patrons were packed in like sardines.

As my friend and I enjoyed our lunch, it was hard not to eavesdrop on the two men at the next table. They were talking about a client, discussing intimate business information and throwing around numbers.

After a while, I couldn’t help myself. I turned to them.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but you’re talking about my father.”

— Judi Poloner

Dear Diary:

The homework assignment for my digital photography class involved making a cyanotype, a 19th-century developing process that produces prints using sun and water as a fixative.

To complete the assignment, I carried a cake pan, a pane of glass, a white collar, a green wire and a package of blue papers to the roof of my building.

Two women I had never met were on the roof when I got there. Thinking that they would find the obscure procedure I was undertaking bizarre, I told them that I was making something called a cyanotype.

They quickly cut me off.

“So are we,” they said.

— Kathleen Brady

Dear Diary:

It was the early 1980s, and I was an aspiring cartoonist from Oregon. I had traveled to New York for a conference where I would be able to show my work and meet people in the industry.

I could barely afford the airfare, but a high school friend who was a conductor with New York City Opera let me sleep on the daybed at his rehearsal studio.

There was a cocktail party on the conference’s opening night, and I walked there to save money. But at the evening’s end, I felt uncomfortable about walking home alone.

Someone pointed toward an older woman in a trench coat who was tidying up.

“Ask Selby,” this person said. “She lives near where you’re staying.”

As we settled into seats on the bus, I asked what Selby did for the cartoonist guild. I assumed she was a secretary.

“I’m vice president,” she replied.

My eyes widened.

“Then you must be a cartoonist!” I said.

“I was an animator with Warner Bros. for years,” she said. “But you might know me better by my husband’s work, ‘Pogo.’”

I realized that I was sitting next to Selby Kelly, an acclaimed animator who had kept Walt Kelly’s comic strip alive after he died.

As we rode though Manhattan she told me about how they had met and about their lives and careers.

When we arrived at her stop, she turned to me.

“Don’t lose me, Jan,” she said.

I almost did, but years later we were reunited years at a cartoonist party in California. I had finally “made it,” and Selby had retired to Calistoga.

I still have the original “Pogo” she gave me hanging on my studio wall.

— Jan Eliot

Dear Diary:

It was a cold, rainy evening in Brooklyn in October 2017, and I was training for the Philadelphia Marathon.

I was running up Ocean Parkway in Kensington on my way to run a loop of Prospect Park. I didn’t mind the rain, but it was early into my run and I was already pretty wet.

I was stopped at a crosswalk at Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue when a woman with an umbrella stopped next to me.

She looked at me and then put the umbrella over my head.

“You look like you need this more than me right now,” she said.

— Knox Martin

Dear Diary:

I invited a neighbor to join me on my daily walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood. I thought it would be a nice change to share my peaceful ritual of getting some vitamin D and fresh air with somebody else.

As we started out, she began to get irritated about the number of dogs she was seeing that were off leash. She didn’t like that.

“I’m getting a dog,” she announced, visibly unnerved.

“Really?” I said.

We passed some trash piled on the sidewalk.

“I don’t know why you walk this way,” she said. “I’d never walk this way. It’s so gross.”

It was my least favorite street, but I was feeling protective.

“Well, it’s not always garbage day,” I replied.

Moments later, she said that something had bitten her finger.

“My finger is swelling!” she said. “Can you see it? It has a pulse! What should I do?”

I asked if she needed ice or water, or if she wanted to just go home.

“No,” she said. “I’m fine.”

As we continued walking, though, she began to wonder aloud about the possibility of anaphylactic shock.

After a few more blocks, she said she needed to use the bathroom and headed off.

My phone pinged before I got back to my building. It was a text message from her.

”Thanks for the walk, babe,” the message said. “I loved it! When can we go again?”

— Amy Shapiro

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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