Brief Encounters

Life in the city is not always easy—is it?

If you watch carefully, daily life in this town of eight million people presents a constantly flowing series of  little movies—small struggles, brief interactions, moments of unexpected joy. The staff of The Ink spent some time observing the city and its residents. We found a man with a lizard, a girl in a graveyard, a lady who wants everyone to be happy, and much more. We share their stories below.


Fumbling Fingers, Far from Eire

“And then there’s these goddamn, dumbass pizza boxes,” says the old man under his breath.

He’s bent over a pile of unfolded cardboard. He’s been struggling with the first box for well over ten minutes and grimaces as he tries to fold it into some kind of recognizable shape.

The man’s knuckles are large and swollen, and the waitress pauses at his table to sympathize.

“You pissed off?” she asks.

He shuffles in his chair and shakes his head. She turns away. “Holy crap!” he says, back to hunching over the boxes. Thank You For Your Business is written on the side in polite cursive. EXTRA CHEESE mocks him on the front of the box in friendly, bold letters.

“I don’t give a fuck!” he yells.

The old man is sitting at the back of Rocky O’Sullivan’s in Red Hook. It’s early on a Saturday evening and all the regulars are there.

A man and a woman sit at the bar. She’s ordered a Guinness, which sits half full in front of the bartender. The man turns away to speak to the waitress, who greets him with a hug and a kiss. She digs into her large purse and pulls out a compact, quickly freshening up her blush before he turns back to continue their conversation.

“So have you been to the third world a lot?” he asks. She says something in response.

He pauses for a moment to think. “Mexico kind of doesn’t count,” he informs her, shaking his head.

Music plays from the next room and the band plays an old ballad.

“It’s been 22 years since I set foot in Dublin,” the singer croons in a strong Irish accent.

Two women sway with the music at the back of the room, Guinness in hand, then jump at another yell from the old man in the other room.

“Arrghhhh! I’m going to have a breakdown!”

He slaps the small pile of completed boxes away from him. They fall to the floor and he pauses, looking up at the bartender. He collects himself and goes to pick them up.

The two women grin at each other and turn back to the music.

The old man slams the boxes back on the table and shuffles off to the bar, climbs up on a stool, and orders a Guinness.

— Rosa O’Hara


A Fallen Man

A man lies in the middle of the road on Franklin Street in Greenpoint. His backpack is a few feet away, close to his tumbled bicycle. He doesn’t move.

“Are you ok?” someone shouts from his car on the other side of the road. No response.

A woman walks in hurried steps towards the man in the street. She seems to be asking him how he is doing. No reaction from the man. A fellow in a suit and dark sunglasses approaches him, too. The man in the street slowly rises up, but says nothing. The suited fellow helps him to the sidewalk. The woman follows.

The fellow in the suit starts to examine the man, who is sitting looking at his hands. The woman goes into the deli behind them. She comes out with a napkin that she hands to the man.  He is bleeding from his right hand. The deli man comes out with a package of ice. The suited fellow is bending his knees, and hunching his back, scrutinizing the man, looking and talking.

He takes the man’s phone. Someone must be on the other end because the suited fellow says, “This gentleman needs to…” He hands the phone to the man, removes his sunglasses and gives the man a clap on his shoulder. He puts his sunglasses back on, and crosses the street to his parked car. He drives away. Moments later, there are sirens. A fire department ambulance arrives and two firefighters approach the bleeding man.

He is having trouble reaching his helmet. He is led to the ambulance by one of the firefighters, a few yards away.

“So were you riding fast?” one firefighter asks.

The man, apparently a little offended, replies,  “No.”

The woman who had tried to help the bleeding man returns to her car. She sits and looks at her phone and while another woman dressed in baggy shorts and a black hat walks in front of the ambulance, stares into it, smiles, turns around and steps into the deli.

A fire department truck arrives and a firefighter approaches the woman still sitting in her car.

One of the firefighter leans over to me and asks if I saw whether the man went over the handlebars. “Yon’t have to go to court or anything,” he says. I hadn’t seen.

The police arrive, and also speak with the woman in the car. Two hours have passed since the man was in the street. The ambulance drives away. Hopefully the wounded man is still in it.

— Kajsa Lundman


Saturday in Al Safa

The phone rings inside a Lebanese restaurant on the corner of 80th & 5th Ave in Bay Ridge. Zain al Abdeen answers, “Al Safa, aywa?”

As he takes the phone order, a middle-aged couple enters and begins examining today’s menu. The man, with neatly trimmed gray hair, asks about the tabbouleh salad. After ordering, the couple finds a table near the open windows carrying in the cool breeze and bustling noise of busy 5th Ave. outside.

The woman sits quietly, gazing out the window when the tabbouleh arrives. Zain places it in the middle of the table, then exchanges a few words with the man before disappearing. Moments later, he reemerges with two plates.

The man digs into the tabbouleh while the woman watches. Occasionally, she pecks at her food, but her plate remains empty while he eats.

She slides her plate aside when Zain presents a tray of tea. For the first time, she smiles as she carefully picks and places the mint into each tea glass—his glass first, then her own. Filtering the tea leaves, she fills the glass with tea before adding sugar and placing it next to his right hand. She delicately rotates the glass so that its handle reaches out to him.

Now she prepares her own, gently tapping the spoon against the side of her glass before setting it down and slowly taking the first sip of her tea. Then she folds her hands into her lap and stares intently at the man, who is still eating.

Zain approaches again. “How you doin’ over there? Like the tea?”

“Yes, very much,” she says, smiling. She continues sipping tea, resting her elbows on the table, and tilting the glass slowly as she drinks.

— Sanaz Rizlenjani


The Man with the Reptiles

The man with the reptiles sits on a bench outside Dunkin’ Donuts—a high-traffic street corner on Bedford Avenue and North 7th Street in Williamsburg. An iguana, about four feet long, sits patiently on his head, its tail curving across his face.

A snake, too, bends around the man’s neck, like a rapper’s extravagant gold necklace. The man remains stoic while hundreds of people pass him by and a carnivorous reptile slithers near his esophagus.

“Foto, foto,” the man with the reptiles says —“photo, photo.”

“Picture? Picture?” he then says to people he suspects speak English.

He doesn’t say much else.

While he clearly wants to generate money, his attire suggests he is trying to stay incognito: Each article of clothing is a different shade of green. He wears a camouflage Brooklyn Nets hat with a plain camouflage shirt and pants and green Adidas sneakers.

Finally, a child with a temporary tattoo approaches the man with the reptiles. Her dad doesn’t seem to mind.  “Look, it’s alive,” the child says.

The man takes the iguana off his head and extends it to the girl with the temporary tattoo.

“Yeah, it’s alive,” her dad says. “It’s cold-blooded. Be careful, it might bite your finger off.”

Fearlessly, she begins to pet the iguana. A crowd then begins to form around the man with the reptiles.

Next, a man with a blue shirt walks over and tries on the snake as if it were a suit for a momentous occasion. He carefully places it around his neck, smiles, and takes a selfie. “This is one of my small snakes, named Suzy,” the man with the reptiles says.

The crowd eventually shrinks, but the man’s confidence seems to grow. He takes the iguana off his head and begins extending it to people as they walk by.

“How much?” a passerby asks.

“Cuatro, cuatro,” the man with the reptiles says. “Four.”

He offers the snake to another passerby, this time a lady, who giggles, shies away, and continues to walk.

Moments later, in a neighborhood where about 57 percent of people live below the poverty line (according to the most recent NYC Census), the man with the reptiles busts out his wad of cash and starts counting. Some point, some laugh, but almost everyone turns their head and looks at the man with the reptiles.

— Chris Cirillo

The Ink/Susmita Baral

Tipping Trouble

In a small cafe off Wycoff Ave., on a warm Saturday afternoon in Bushwick, a woman sits engrossed in her work, which is scattered across a table that could seat six. She only looks up when she needs to place an order. Over the course of two hours she orders coffee—black, no sugar, no milk—five times.

The frenzied nature of her labor is echoed in her appearance. Her dirty blonde hair looks as if a child had rubbed a balloon over her head to create static, and her sweater is freshly wrinkled. She remains engaged in a one-on-one conversation with herself: Sometimes she beams with pride with what she has done. Other times, she criticizes herself.

As her work comes to completion, her lean frame relaxes and she settles back into her seat. Then she hustles to organize her papers, carefully placing them into color-coordinated folders, and asks for her check.

Seconds later, everything comes tumbling out of her purse as she frantically looks through her bag, dumping the eclectic contents—a comb, a peach, a bottle of Febreeze—on the table. A look of relief sweeps across her face when she gets her hands on a worn lavender pouch with bundled up bills. Dropping the cash by the check, she runs off, trailing an aroma of coffee behind her, her heels clicking against the floor.

Some two hours later, she’s back. She runs up to the curly-haired waitress who served her and hands her cash. “I’m so sorry. I was in a rush,” she says, her words tumbling out.

“In my country tipping isn’t regular,” she says. “So sometimes, I forget.”

— Susmita Baral


Watching the Big Boys Play

A young boy, looking polished and warm in dark jeans, a plaid button down and a sweater, strolls into Coffey Park alone and makes his way to the empty swings.

He plops down onto the last swing in the row. He begins swinging back and forth, back and forth. The squeaking of the swing’s chains, back and forth, back and forth, give off a hypnotic ambiance. The boy is quiet, looking lost in thought.

Suddenly a burst of laughter rings throughout the park.

While the boy is swinging, high up in the air, he turns his head to observe a group of boys his size playing basketball on the courts behind him. As the swing heads back to earth, the boy drags his feet on the ground to stop. He hops off the swing, walks around and plops back down in the direction facing the basketball courts.

“You call that a layup? Let me teach you how it’s done,” says a tall boy in grey sweat pants to a small boy drowning in his oversized t-shirt.

The tall boy sprints to the hoop, lifts one foot off the ground, bounces the ball off the backboard and watches the ball fall through the net.

“Bang Bang! Bang Bang! Now that’s how it’s done!” he yells in excitement, showing off a smug grin to his mesmerized smaller friends.

The boys continue their game, laughing and talking smack to one another.

“You suck ass!” one of the basketball boys yells to his friend.

The boy on the swings cracks a smile. He starts to swing again, back and forth, but with less intensity, his attention now fixed on the boys playing basketball.

Minutes pass by as the boy continues to sit on the swings and watch the game unfold. The boys on the court laugh, tease, and play, not noticing anything outside the parameters of their game.

Then a voice, older and mature, misplaced amongst the sound of basketball and the laughter, cuts through the air.


The boy on the swings is jerked out of his trance as he turns back to see his mother, father and baby sister standing at the other end of the park. His mother waves him over. Kevin takes one last look in the direction of the boys playing basketball. They never notice him. His last look lingers, and then quick as a flash, he hops off the swing and sprints, full speed, towards his family, the sound of laughter echoing behind him.

— Saher Khan


Stitching Together a Living

A small man in a neon green jacket walks up to a doorway crammed between windowed storefronts of a Chinese restaurant and what was once Li Fu Furniture but which now houses a cell phone repair and accessory shop. He hands a dark green jacket to a woman sitting on a wooden stool in the tiny room behind the door. The jacket needs a zipper.

All that fits in the cramped space is her stool, a woven mat, an ancient sewing machine, and boxes of buttons along with thread and needles. He sits on a chair just outside the open door and begins to chat with the woman in Chinese as she drapes the jacket over her machine.

She shuffles through a box, pulling out the matching color of thread, a pencil, and some pins. She marks the places on the jacket where she needs to sew new stitches to keep the new zipper in place. The man keeps talking. The woman nods as she maneuvers a needle along the cloth’s edge.

She pulls the thread in and out of the cloth in loops until she reaches the final stitch. She tangles the string in a neat knot, pulls it tight, and snips the extra string with a pair of silver scissors.

Finally, she holds up her work for the man to inspect. He takes the jacket, smiling, and hands the woman a few folded bills.

As he walks away from her sewing station, the woman picked up a pair of light blue women’s shoes. She sets them on top of the sewing machine and starts pulling out tools and glue to repair the soles.

– Katie Shepherd



The old man was busily arranging his things. He took something from a black suitcase, whose flap was hanging open. He stuffed it into an already bulging black backpack.  A couple passed near him. One said, “Yeah, it’s just around the corner.” Neither the man nor the couple seemed to notice one another.

The man’s skin was black, the true black that one may find in some people in Ghana or Nigeria. His beard was white, and stubbly. His coat was greasy brown and hung unevenly upon his body. He wore a blue knitted beret-type cap with black netting covering it. Though he appeared to be old, his movements were smooth and balanced, unlike the slow, cautious movements of an older man.

He pulled his backpack on and hung something onto one of the poles of the gray scaffolding nearby, a bag that looked much like the yard bags used for gathering leaves.  Then he headed in the direction of the Supreme Courthouse and Cadman Square, toward the subway across Court and Montague Streets, his black backpack pulled onto both his rounded shoulders and resting on his overcoat. He was pulling the black suitcase with its flap still hanging partially open.

He crossed the street and disappeared underneath even more scaffolding that was in front of the Courthouse, near Cadman Square. Then he was gone—out of sight.

— Scott Selmer

The Ink/Grete Suarez
The Ink/Grete Suarez


Two teenage boys are sitting on a bench outside Café Pedlar on Court Street in Cobble Hill. They are both dressed in black T-shirts, jeans, and sandals with dark socks. They stop people passing. Some of the passersby hand them money.

A woman with a baby in a stroller stops and asks the boys a question.  She has to lean forward to hear one of the boy’s reply. Then she hands him a few dollars.

The young man thanks her and folds the bills into the palm of his hand. Then a middle aged man hands over a few bills.

Some passersby ignored the boys. Others gave them money. One man stops and says in a raised voice “There is a real charity up the road for homeless people. Why are you here?”

One of the boys responds coolly, “we are collecting for the homeless.”

“You are collecting for that charity?” asks the man.

Slightly losing his cool, the boy replies that they are.

“You shouldn’t be here,” says the man. “There is a place for this.”

The man walks away and the boys laugh.

“Excuse me madam,” one says as a woman passes by. “Can I ask you a question?”


“Would you spare a few dollars for the homeless shelter in Brooklyn?”

“Sure thing.”

A policeman appears across the street. The boys follow him with their eyes.

— Grete Suarez


Muslim Bluetooth

An old couple, the woman wearing a traditional brown abaya and a leopard-spotted hijab, her husband in sober Western clothes, walks down Bay Ridge Avenue on an autumn day. It’s lunchtime, and lamb and chicken kebabs are rotating on spits at various spots along the street, slow-roasting over flames. A soft breeze moves the rich smell of meat around the area.

A phone starts ringing and the couple stops for a second. The woman puts a hand into her pink fluorescent bag, roots around for her cell phone, as pink as her bag, then picks up the call. She starts talking lively—and loudly—in an Arabic dialect.

After a few sentences she tucks her phone into her scarf, trapping it between her cheek and her hijab, so that she can be free to move her hands around during the conversation. She walks down the avenue making circles with her hands and shaking her head. Her husband walks quietly by her side.

Three men in their thirties, wearing matching-color T-shirts, walk in the opposite direction, laughing and joking among themselves. When they pass the old couple they shout a few jokes about the way the woman carries her phone:

“How nice! Is that a new form of Muslim bluetooth?” one says.

“Or maybe a wireless detonation system—with no hands use?” another one says, as they fade down the street.

The woman does not even notice the men, as busy as she is with her phone conversation, her voice rising above their jokes. Her husband hears everything. He looks over his shoulder at the group and shakes his head. He keeps walking next to his wife, as silent as before.

— Stefania D’Ignoti    


Graveyard Off The F Train

It’s overcast and the graveyard is quiet. Next to it is a park where kids are playing soccer. In front of the park is an ice cream truck. Two girls are eating ice cream cones with sprinkles.

A sign says “Gate closes at 3:30 p.m.” and “NO BIKE RIDING.”

Birds chirp and wind rustles the grass.

There are hundreds of people here; almost all of the shiny four-foot gravestones lining the walking paths are engraved with vivid faces, as if welcoming friends and relatives.

There is a blank space for a face on a headstone shared with Leonid Borushek. Leonid Borushek: 4.5. 1957 – 11.6. 1999. An empty rectangular plot reserved for Mrs. Borushek lies in front of the empty outline of a face. Mrs. Borushek, a widow for the last 16 years.

Flowers light up the grey and granite stones. A bouquet next to Larissa Ferdman. Roses on the headstone of Diana Prizova.  Some of the flowers are dry and some of the pots are overturned.

In this graveyard city, filled with ten-foot towering monuments and giant arched mausoleums, some have small headstones flush with the ground, the faces looking up.

An old woman is hunched over a shopping cart. She pushes it slowly down the path next to the gravestones and looks down at all of them.

Twelve people are leaving a funeral on the corner of Hyacinth and Aster. Men in suits, women in dresses, but something is odd: The men are wearing baseball hats; One woman wears a bright pink backpack; Another woman is wearing a neon green jacket. They hug goodbye. No one is crying.

Large green trees canopy the funeral gravesite; another living thing with roots underground.

After the funeral, four caretakers start digging a new grave.

This is a Jewish cemetery and most of the gravestones have both English and Russian inscriptions. Jewish stars, menorahs, and Torahs decorate the stones.

Solomon Zak. Polya Tsirulnik. Zinaida Pintel. Lyubov Baumblit. Lev Tsypin. Dora Avrumson. Hannah, Max, Marilyn, Sara, Simon, Malka. Berkowitz, Rosenzweig, Abramowitz. Beloved Son. Beloved Daughter. Beloved Father. Beloved Mother. Forever in our hearts. Rest in peace. Gone but not forgotten.

Riva Mindlina: October 9, 1922—March 9, 2009. “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on.”

Peter Gomberg: April 24, 1921—October 2, 2011. “To the world you were One person / But to us You were the world. The Great Heart stopped.”

Boris Vekster, a handsome man pictured under a spotlight in a dark suit with a white shirt and a black bow tie, proudly plays an accordion. December 8, 1930 – September 9, 2005. “SUPREME KING OF RUSSIAN ACCORDION VIRTUOSOS.”

Four women speak in Russian as they sit on a bench beside the grave of Mikhail Yerikman.

Two women with dyed blonde hair silently take red flowers out of a plastic bag and place them on the grave of Anatoly Ruduvsky.

A group of women hug each other in front of a headstone while a child scampers around them.

Birds land on the path, birds perch on the mausoleums.

— Zara Lockshin

The Ink/Pete Vernon
The Ink/Pete Vernon

A Guide Appears

We are packed into the subway car at rush hour, looking less like sardines than cigarettes. We are Brooklyn-bound aboard the F train. A middle-aged woman with a sun hat and a sizeable handbag is leaning against the doorframe. In her hands she grips a yellow sheet of lined notepad paper,  worn and crumpled up at the edges. Blue ink fills the page with hand-written notations. The woman holds the paper with both hands, scanning the note up and down. Every few moments she stops and looks out the subway window, searching the blackness with her eyes. She seems uneasy.

The subway pulls into the Jay Street station. The woman checks her yellow sheet once again. A manicured young man wearing a black backpack is leaning near her—almost on her. He interjects just as the train comes to a halt.

“This is it,” he says, looking down at her yellow sheet of notepad paper.

She looks up at him apprehensively. “Is this Jay Street?” the woman asks, uncertain.

“Yes it is,” the boy says, nodding his head with confidence and stepping off. “This is your stop.” The woman grips her paper and steps off the train behind him. She is smiling now.

As the train leaves the station the woman turns to the boy. They exchange a look. She nods her head. “Thank you!” she says. Then the boy and the woman walk towards the street and away from the subway.

— Ashley Chappo


Busy Bee

Sunset Park Diner and Donuts is bustling on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. Visitors of all ages squirm through the narrow door and into a cozy space, some waiting for tables and others for takeout. Just one employee is in charge of the flow: a young Latino girl with long black hair and tattoos on both forearms, one of which, in black ink, appears to read, “Ramirez.”

The flow is steady. The girl with the tattoos picks up menus and dries off cutlery as she moves to and fro. The small size of the diner means her trip lasts only a few steps, but almost every time she returns to the entrance, a new customer is waiting. Responding to the growing flow of hungry customers, she soon brings a notepad with her when greeting them. It is loud inside—a combination of talking, pop music, and TV news coverage of the pope. She is softspoken and struggles to be heard.

But she gets right down to business. “Two, right?” she asks a woman. “Two and two,” replies the woman, standing beside a small stroller. She seems to mean two adults and two children. The girl tells another woman the wait will be ten minutes, but doesn’t say how long the group of four will have to wait. Yet, perhaps anticipating a hearty Sunday breakfast, they do.

— Natasa Bansagi


Self Love

“Don’t you love yourself? Don’t you love yourself? Don’t you love yourself?”

A woman wearing a red scarf and bright pink makeup proposes this question to the trio of women who had asked her to take their photo on the J train. “You scared to take pictures of yourself?” the woman asks, half jokingly and half drunkenly.

The roaring train to Broadway Junction causes her to stumble as she parades up and down.  “I take pictures of myself everyday,” she yells. “If you don’t love yourself nobody will right?”

Bystander’s eyes begin to dance around the car. Some strangers within earshot smile in amusement at one another.  The woman carries on with her speech. “I’m happy because I love life. After all I been through nobody’s gonna steal my joy. Amen? Life is too short: love yourself.”

The train grows silent. She sits down to listen to the music on her phone. Strangers go back to busying themselves with whatever they can until she yells again.

“Drop it like it’s hot!”

She jumps up smiling and begins to spin around the subway pole. She makes her way down the car shaking her butt until she finds a young man and squats in front of him with both legs open. He looks up from his phone, embarrassed but amused. Some people are uncomfortable and try not to look. The smiling strangers go back to smiling at one another.

She marches up and down the train calling women and children beautiful. She tells one little girl with braids that she’s a princess. A woman with a curly fro enters the car looking confused and she stays close to the door. She doesn’t laugh until the red-scarfed woman starts dancing again, while repeating:

“Anybody got a dollar? Drop it like it’s hot!” The trio of women who asked for the photo are the first to pull out money.

As the train slows to a stop at Broadway Junction the woman with the red scarf gathers her money from her dance routine and puts it in her bra. People gather their things to get off the train. The little girl that was called a princess earlier is smiling happily.

“Mommy she is getting off with us!” she announces. The mother smiles at her daughter and nods.

— Meagan Jordan

The Ink/C.P. Northcott
The Ink/C.P. Northcott

Heat of the Moment

A storm is brewing near the corner of Myrtle and Throop avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Rain is pouring as a woman and a teenaged girl argue underneath a construction sidewalk shed. Bystanders stare at them or walk away.

“She is a fucked up bitch. I’m done,” the woman yells as she slurs her words. The girl quickly turns around and tells her to calm down, but the woman charges at her like a bull. A man with dreadlocks, who is wearing a tan fatigue coat and tan boots—comes over and tries to defuse the situation. Tears are streaming down the girl’s face as she yells at the woman, calling her an angry drunk.

The girl accuses the woman of slapping her. The man jumps in between them and tells the woman to stop. She responds by saying, “Fuck you yo.” He manages to keep his composure and soothes her with words.

Moments later a second man walks by and greets and hugs the woman. Now the man with the dreadlocks is enraged. He yells at the woman for hugging the man.

The men yell at each other. The man with dreadlocks calls the other man a “Faggot ass nigga” and threatens to shoot him. The woman jumps in between the two men and manages to talk the second man into leaving.

The argument comes to an end. An ambulance’s siren can be heard in the distance.

— Ozzie Gooding


Small Losses

It is early fall. Too early for colored leaves and overcoats, but with a warning in the air that the carefree days and long, bright evenings are finished. On Albany, the housing towers stand cold and imposing, backlit by overcast skies, across from brick row homes. The sidewalk, rundown by use and neglect, looks forlorn, almost as if it is a part of the tattered newspaper and discarded food wrappers that stir in its gutters. By the edge of the street, the bike is still chained to a thick metal rack. Both tires gone, the frame hanging suspended, it lies naked and exposed.

They come out of the store and find me standing by the corner. The two of them—younger than me, but not by much, wearing the oversized white T-shirts that had gone out of style in most neighborhoods a decade ago—walk over and look down at the urban shipwreck at my feet.

One laughs. Feeling out of place in my button-down shirt, I smiled and shook my head. “Shit, they took both of them,” the second said.

The first man sips his iced tea and looks at me.

“Yours?” he asks.

“Nah” I say.

He laughs again.

“Damn. What do they expect leaving it next to the projects?” All three of us smile, a bond established. We stand in companionable silence for a minute. Glancing up at the towers across the street and then back to the bike, I nod a sort of goodbye to the men, turn to cross the street, and continue down the block alone.
— Pete Vernon


Looking for Work

A woman in a tight skirt is walking down Flatbush Avenue. She is tall and slim, with an Afro, dressed in black, talking to someone on a flip-phone. She passes an overflowing trash can. Napkins stained with ketchup and plastic cups have blown onto the road. She weaves between them, irreverent. Her mind is somewhere else.

A man is walking towards her from the opposite direction. He holds a crumpled black leather bag under his arm. His trousers are dark and ironed, and he is wearing a white shirt.

They meet half way across a zebra crossing where Cortelyou Road joins the avenue.

“You looking for work honey?” he asks her.

She gives him a withering look. A silent f*** you. She continues to walk down the road, still talking on her phone.

“Anybody looking for work?” he shouts, smiling, lifting his arms in the air. A couple of passers-by glance at him from the pavement. He walks on, still smiling, towards the over-filled trash can.

— C.P. Northcott


Happy Pills

It is three in the afternoon, and Zabar’s café on 80th and Broadway is full of elderly women in vibrant-colored clothing and heavy makeup. They all seem to know each other, and they are all intensely engaged in conversation.

As customers indulge in their grilled cheese sandwiches and turkey barley soup, there is a loud noise—the kind of noise that can make you jump. The chatter vanishes. People turn their heads towards the source of the noise, only to realize that a bald middle-aged man has kicked a chair and is storming out of the café.

As the elderly women look at each other unamused and resume their conversations, the café’s cashier quickly follows the tantrum-throwing man out the door. The cashier is a tall and stern man, probably in his 60s, with a handlebar mustache and piercing blue eyes. He stands on the sidewalk with both hands on his waist and watches the troublesome customer walk away.

On the sidewalk, the cashier begins what will become a five-minute rant on Americans and anti-depressants. “Sixty percent of Americans,” he says in a strong Eastern European accent, “are on happy pills.”

I ask him to elaborate.

“You know, happy pills. Americans pop them like cereal. I have to deal with people like that every single day,” he says. He later tells me he is from Hungary, where such scenes, he says, are rare.

I ask if he is okay.

“I am fine,” he says, “but they are not.”

— Taeko Itabashi