Boys of Brooklyn

October 16, 2014 § 4 Comments

Two elementary-aged boys, enjoying a day off school, approached me as I took photographs this afternoon in Brooklyn. It’s an old part of my hometown, a section I never really explored until I started taking photos regularly a few years ago.

The boys were inquisitive and charmed me with their constant chatter, moving effortlessly from one topic to the next. If I’d stayed all afternoon, they would have entertained me with their imaginations as well as tales of their lives, neighborhood, and ambitions.

I’ve interspersed pieces of our conversation with some of the photos I took.

Candy office

Candy office

Boy 1: I got this bike for free.

Boy 2: No, you didn’t. Just the tire.

Boy 1: Uh-uh. The whole thing was free.

Boy 2: No, just the tire.

East Hibbing Garage

East Hibbing Garage

Brooklyn Fire Hall

Brooklyn Fire Hall

Boy 1: I saw you taking photographs over there.

Camille: Do you like taking pictures?

Boy 1: Nah. I like bikes.

Camille: Are you enjoying having a day off from school?

Boy 1: Yeah. It’s okay, but Christmas vacation is better, because you get 15 days off.

Camille: And summer. Summer you get a big break.

Boy 1: Well, yeah, summer. That’s a given. That’s like 94 days off.



Boy 1: I’ve climbed every tree in this neighborhood. My grandparents live in Alaska.

Camille: Wow.

Boy 2: My brother lives in Alaska too.

Camille: Have either of you been to Alaska?

Boy 1: No. I’ve been to Wisconsin, but that doesn’t count because it’s attached to Minnesota.

Boy 2: I haven’t been to any other state.

Camille: Do you like living in this neighborhood?

Boys 1 and 2: Yes!

Boy 1: But people steal your stuff. That’s why my dad joined the army, so people wouldn’t try stealing from us.

Hibbing Bowling Center

Hibbing Bowling Center



[As I’m taking a photo of an old shed]

Boy 1: That burned.

Camille: When?

Boy 1: Oh, about five years ago. You can go in there if you want. You don’t need to be scared.

Camille: I’ll pass.

Boy 1: Someone told me there were big snakes living in there, but I went in and stayed for two hours and didn’t see any snakes.

Boy 2: We could make it into a house! We could live in there.

Curing Cancer and Feeding Baby Tigers With Eyedroppers

November 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

Good writers eavesdrop.

Think about conversations you’ve overheard at a party, in the cube nearby at work, in a public restroom, or while riding the subway. Just one perfect random sentence or two and you’ve got a story, or at least a solid start on one.

New York is an ideal place to eavesdrop, for there are many conversations to choose from, and you can casually listen in without blowing your cover (crowded subway during rush hour = opportune time to hear about how the woman next to you is suffering from bunions and a husband who won’t stop bringing home peppered mackerel and kippered salmon from Russ & Daughters despite her severe smoked-fish allergy).

But seriously, wait until rush hour. Empty subway cars do not good eavesdropping make.

But seriously, wait until rush hour. Empty subway cars do not good eavesdropping make.

One of my favorite overheard conversations took place on Coney Island on a quiet, cold morning. It was a long discussion among three friends on a bench, a portion of which I posted last year.

I also vaguely remember listening to two college students talking somewhere near NYU. I’d forgotten about the conversation until I came across my notes the other day. They were talking too fast for me to get much of anything. But I did manage to capture this little gem:

“Curing cancer and feeding baby tigers with eyedroppers.” 

Those eight little words are the perfect start to a short story on two volunteers who constantly try to one-up each other. Or a piece on lame college application essays. Or whatever I want it to be.

Tomorrow morning you should go out and listen in on a conversation to which you weren’t invited. But be discreet. And respectful. And then see what you discover about your capabilities as a writer. The exercise will stretch your creative muscle and help you develop well-rounded characters upon which all your readers will love to eavesdrop.

Car Dealership Conversations, Overheard

September 6, 2013 § 1 Comment

I took my trusty little car in early this morning for its annual physical. I brought along my laptop to do some work until the oil change and check-up were finished. While working and waiting, I picked up a few snippets of interesting conversations.

Enjoy the highlights:

Employee 1 hands a note to Employee 2: It’s a brain teaser. Grab another piece of paper and see if you can figure it out.

* * *

Service manager: Oh I remember you — you went to the fair. Yeah. Sorry. We were never able to duplicate the problem.

Customer: Really? Huh. When I go through the car wash, it goes [lurching forward] Brumpf! Brumpf! I don’t know what’s going to happen at this point.

* * *

Car salesman: That was such a long drive. It’s not just the miles. It’s the traffic. Okay buddy, I’m at work. I need to go.

* * *

Service receptionist: Ready for the heat? I have my sister’s wedding reception tomorrow. Outdoors. Guess I need to stay hydrated. Which means I’ll be picking up a case of beer on the ride up.

You “Aura” Known Better

October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Two women, early fifties. Waiting in line for Tatzu Nishi: Discovering Columbus exhibit in Columbus Circle. Woman 1 pulls out something from her purse.

Woman 1: This is my aura from Lily Dale, New York.

[Woman 1 unfolds the picture lovingly and shows it to Woman 2; it looks like it was drawn by a toddler.]

Woman 2: From…what?

Woman 1: My aura. My spiritualist community in Lily Dale, New York. That’s my aura.

Woman 2: [unimpressed] Your aura? You “aura” put it away.

I’ll Be Drinking

October 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

Overheard on a Coney Island boardwalk, two men and one woman sitting on a bench facing the ocean. All in their thirties. Brooklyn accents. Woman says nothing.

Man 1: Yesterday was funny, huh?

Man 2: It was.

Man 1: Right?

Man 2: See, I told Johnny O., I says, you know what? Every time…we don’t have to go out drinking to have a good time. If we’re just with the right people in the right surroundings, you don’t need to drink. Like right now. We’re having a blast, talking about this and that…

Man 1: Yeah, but we’ll get bored after a while, and I’ll want to get lit up. Hanging out tonight, I’ll be drinking.

I’m All Ears

September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Overheard: West Village, 12:15 p.m., man, late 50s or early 60s with a thick New York accent

“Remember when you were young and they used to have male boxers on the corner and stuff? Now you don’t see that anymore.”

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