The Witty Wordsmith

New York, late winter, the sky is an intense shade of grey. The trees remained bare of any lively bright leaves. In the midst of the eerie grey, a remarkable bit of sunshine played peek-a-boo behind a rainy cloud.

On such an idyllic winter’s day, I set off on foot for St. Nicholas Park in Harlem. It’s a most wonderful park, which fades into hilly fields of green. Regardless of the cold, I’ve always adored sitting on a park bench and reading a good book. Quality time with a book is my ideal form of therapy. I fade into a character’s shoes and forget any of the day troubles.

On one riveting expedition, I sought a most wonderful park bench. As, I picked a perfect little spot for literary madness, the cold winds penetrated through my layers, and pea coat.

For once in my life, I shivered. The goose bumps on my arm grew more sensitive. At that point, I had to look elsewhere for a romantic date with my used book from the Strand bookstore.

I wandered through Harlem’s Hamilton’s Heights neighborhood. It’s the perfect backdrop for any quirky film (Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums was filmed there). The brownstones are eccentric yet sophisticated characters in their own right.

The hills have provided an escape from the quintessentially Manhattan painting. Bay windows, dramatic stoops and old world charm could inspire poets, painters and playwrights of life to create a proper work of art.

While heading up the hill toward Broadway, I was craving a hot chocolate from the Chipped Cup (my favorite coffee shop, uptown). On that pleasantly quiet Sunday, everyone had the same idea.

The quaint coffee shop was filled with patrons. I was disappointed, since I just wanted was to read a good book. So, I headed back down to 145 street.

To my disappointed, Dunkin Donuts was also filled to the brim with people. I didn’t want to go back to my apartment, since I was really craving a coffee shop. Instead of giving up hope, I took an unexpected turn.

The Eighth avenue subway provided the ears with a classic sound, which only a raspy record player could rival. I found my reading spot, a seat on the subway platform. Even though, the subway has many distractions, I’ve always found it an easy place to concentrate on a book there.

When the A train arrived, I boarded it merrily. I even found a seat. However, distraction found me. “Why don’t you put a chip in me, so you know where I am at all times, said a girlfriend to an equally angry boyfriend. They fought. They whole train watched. Trying to hold back laughter, I tried very hard to not loose concentration on my book.

The arguing heightened into theatrical satire. “Fuck it, I can’t think with this racket going on. At least, there aren’t break-dancers on this train, ” said I. “Showtime,” yelled a boy with a boom box.” Break-dancers with a giant boom box appeared from the blue to everyone’s annoyance.

My eyes didn’t leave my book. Anyhow, my brain was completely distracted. I made it to West 4th Street. Randomly, I decided a cannoli would be amazing.

So, I boarded the F train to Second Avenue and ended up in the East Village. I headed up First Avenue and into the old world charm of Veniero’s (legendary dessert restaurant in the East Village). I ordered a cannoli and opted for a cappuccino rather than a hot chocolate.

I took out my book and found a swell place to concentrate. It only took a long walk, two trains and another somewhat long walk to find my literary Zen. Regardless, my literary Zen was a whole lot better with a delicious cannoli accompanying it.

Think Unicorns

Pretzels, potato chips & goldfish (sushi’s cheesy cracker cousin), all foods I thoroughly enjoy. However, one life event made these delicious foods, a forbidden fruit. Let’s back track. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in the East Village. I wandered around First Avenue, pondering life deep philosophical questions. Should I have Indian for lunch? Or Thai?

There was a tingle in my mouth. Wow, something just doesn’t feel right. I called my dad. “Antoine, have you not been wearing a scarf over your mouth?” he asked with a stern tone. ” No, I never do,” I replied. ” It’s bad for your teeth, wear a scarf. It’s too cold out there,” he replied. I didn’t believe I could actually get frostbite in my mouth, especially after being quite accustomed to New York winters.

The next night, the temperatures dropped dramatically. As expected, the Polar Vortex had become a part of New York daily life like the deli or a metro card. Regardless, of the Polar Vortex, I took advantage of the empty sidewalks. I had a most magnificent walk on Manhattan Avenue in Harlem. Everything was quintessentially adorable and bursting with character. Sadly, the beauty didn’t diminish the pangs of pain, which eventually developed in my mouth. “Ouch,” I said.

I convinced myself, it was nothing, just an unrealistic case of frostbite in my mouth. When I rose from slumber, the pangs of pain arose with me. “Shit, I think I am going to have to see the dentist.” Casually, I browsed the Internet to make an appointment. As I bit into my croissant sandwich, all hell broke loose. I was in too much pain.

In a great panic, I made an appointment. There was something cool and hip about my dentist’s office. There were plenty of Rolling Stone magazines to read and good people watching from the Union Square crowd.

My dentist walked in. He looked more like a recent art school graduate than a traditional dentist, which put me at ease, since I am in the creative field.

He brought me for an X-ray and as expected, bad news. ” Yeah, you have a wisdom tooth, which needs to be pulled out. This going to be harder, since you’re 30 and they typically get more imbedded within the gum as time goes by. Oh and you also have an infection from this. You need to take both teeth, he said.” I opted for only one tooth, since it was cheaper.”

While numbing my gums for the archaeological dig, I braced for madness. Also, I prepared myself for a voyage into a mystical land, which mirrored English countryside. It had unicorns and jellybeans blossoming from the ground. “Okay, kiddo are you ready? He asked. “Oh yeah,” I said terrified, but said with great confidence. The digging began.

The dig for the tooth intensified. I could feel the pressure as he strategically dug for that precious relic. A few minutes later, I experience a tug and surprise, my wisdom tooth came out. “Congratulations, do you want to take a picture for your friends to see?” he asked. Naturally, I pulled out my iPhone and snap. Then I went my merry way to Walgreens for some fun medications.

After my adventure in the pharmacy, I took the N train to Times Square (where I transfer to the West Side trains). Naturally, I was in terrible pain, as the N, Q & R trains stopped running properly. Feeling loopy from surgery, I tried to take a cab home, which didn’t quite work out for me. In the middle of chaotic Herald Square, I schlepped it to Seventh Avenue and got on a 2/ Uptown train.

The subway was itself typical sardine can. I desperately wanted a seat. The thespian in me had an idea. Back in 1988, when I was 4. I pretended to be dizzy, playing to my unsuspecting cousin’s emotions. All I wanted was a soda and I knew I could get it by being dramatic. I was ready for performance, but no need. The subway emptied at Times Square and I got a seat.

Arriving at my apartment in Harlem, I opened up the fridge and ate cheese. I had to consume the cheddar like a mouse, since I could barely move my jaw. Two pills went were taken and the pain was gone. Eventually, I started feeling normal. However, booze and crunchy foods were out of the question.

Until the next episode of dental surgery, I will jam out to “Geek Stink Breath” by Green Day. The music video reminds me of my journey into the land of dentistry and teeth pulling.

Can’t Stop Dancing

Drum roll, please. The creature more freighting than Godzilla, King Kong & Frankenstein is the New York City cockroach. Congratulations! The cockroach is the one critter, which makes any New Yorker, leap out of their tough shell.

Throughout my life in New York, the cockroach was only seen rushing through the bustling sidewalks. Like porno theaters in Times Square and the SoHo-artists lofts, the critter was viewed as a symbol of the gritty city.

My OCD went into high gear with the fear of ever seeing a roach. Until one day, while thoroughly cleaning my bathroom, I finally met eyes with a cockroach. “Oh no, oh no,” I proclaimed. Quickly, I grabbed a paper towel and flushed it down the toilet. I panicked. After all, I had kept my studio super clean.

Later that day, I met up with Ben. I told him ” I found a cockroach in my bathroom.” He asked, ” Is it the first one.” I nodded “yes.” He replied “Don’t worry, it’s probably a lost soldier.” In disgust, I replied, “Why do cockroaches roam the earth?” Ben answered, “I am Buddhist, and believe all living creatures have a purpose. “Go buy some repellent. I don’t think you have a problem,” he said.

I hunkered down and took a field trip to Home Depot on 23rd street. As I entered, I asked the friendly sales lady, ” excuse me, I found a roach in my bathroom. I’ve had several apartments in New York and never had one. Oh and I keep my apartment super duper clean. What product should I use?” With a little dry wit, she replied “You can’t blame yourself for having a cockroach in your apartment. These things happen to all New Yorkers. It’s okay, I have a OCD too.”

As I smiled and nodded, it dawned on me. “Wow, a trip to the Home Depot, really felt like a session with my shrink.” I bought repellent and called my dad. ” I bought this powder stuff to kill insects, but I am afraid to put it around my apartment, I said with a nervous laughter. My dad replied, “crazy, just put it on already. You’re not going to go blind or grow an extra arm. Now, it’s dinnertime here. Goodnight Antoine.” He hung up. I placed the repellent and I didn’t see any insects, especially roaches.

A few weeks later, I was out with my gal pal, Rachel. She moved into a gorgeous apartment in Stuyvesant Town. I was excited to see the new pad, which she shared with Susie & Cristal. I walked in; they loved organization and cleanliness as much as I do. ” I found something, said Susie.

On the wall of the living room, was the world’s biggest cockroach. We all screamed in unison. ” One of us has to smash it,” said Rachel. Then the enormous cockroach started flying around. “La Cucaracha,” played in my head as we all jumped around in fear. Our jumping looked more like a Mexican hat dance, sans the sombrero. Cristal walked out, took a shoe and finally smashed the roach. We all laughed.

At that moment, four New Yorkers bonded over a common enemy. By the end of the night, I realized that “shit happens.” However, having a good laugh, even at flying cockroaches, helps one get through life’s little mishaps.

My Very Own Mary Poppins Bag

Marie Antoinette’s lavish wig collection, traveling banjo players and a used copy of Catcher in the Rye, would fit perfectly in Mary Poppin’s bag. The unique fashion item, featured in both the film and book are a hoarder’s dream. You could fit your whole life in there, then take a magical umbrella and fly around London.

Years ago, I wandered around New York with my Pan Am messenger bag. Like Mary Poppins bag, I too thought that everything including the kitchen sink could fit in. Old copies of the New York Times, snacks, a notebook, a couple books and an iPod charger were placed in strategically. Then one day, I found out that bags break.

While walking in SoHo, I felt my bag lower and then rip. I nearly cried. I ended up with a new bag and decided to make it a shrine to organizational thinking, which lasted 15 minutes, just like fame. After years, with a messenger bag, I switched over to having a backpack again. I felt like a college kid again. Then my backpack felt like an elephant was living in its tight quarters.

Therefore, I wondered New York without a bag. Then one day, after coming home from gay bingo, I noticed my pockets. They were filled to the brim with crap. “So, I decided the time had come to invest in a bag.

One afternoon, I stopped by the Strand. It’s one of my favorite bookstores in the city. I wanted one of their easy to carry, colorful tote bags, which they are renowned for. The smell of old books welcomed me into the old shop, like lavender on a spring’s day. A particular bag stood out from the rest.

William Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Homer, Herman Melville looked more like mighty super heroes, than dead writers. Growing up, their words inspired me to not only drift away into imagination land, but also take on writing. Emily Bronte and Jane Austen spoke to me “Love, buy the bag, it might inspire you having writers tagging along on your every New York adventure.”

“You might be inspired to write the next Pride Prejudice,” said Jane. ” Or Wuthering Heights, dear,” replied Emily. “Ye ol boy, buy the bag and then a notebook to write a saucy sonnet.” said dearest William. ” Just buy the bloody bag and don’t go before the wallpaper,” said Oscar. Herman and Homer simply zapped me. Soon, I bought the bag. The literary superheroes cheered.

I took my tote bag everywhere with me. They adored the New York adventures as much as I did. Having a smaller bag also meant, I was forced to only put a few items in. Sorry Mary Poppins you can keep your magical bag, I love life with my tote.

Quack Says Duck

New York weather is radical like Sylvia Plath, Jackson Pollack & Joan Crawford at a dinner party. What could be the most beautiful day; eventually ends becoming a humidity induced rain shower, followed by a rainbow, but more rain. On one of those quintessentially humid (& seemingly rainy) New York afternoons, I waited for Tony outside the Plaza hotel.

The forecast called for rain showers. In my own grand tradition, I left my umbrella on the subway. As I waited for Tony to arrive from Queens, I was praying to the weather gods. Please weather Gods don’t rain on my parade. Naturally if Barbara Streisand landed from the heavens and started singing “Don’t rain on my parade,” I’d be ok with that. Tony showed up with a surprise.

“Here, it’s going to be raining.” He handed me an umbrella. Unlike the generic umbrella bought at the local bodega, this umbrella was bursting with character.

The handle had the face of a duck. I smiled and proclaimed, “Oh my it’s a ducky umbrella.” Though, the rain didn’t appear that day, we had a wonderful day at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). While admiring all the avant-garde gems at the New York legend, I was most excited about the umbrella. While an hour previously, I had fear torrential rain with my new cute umbrella, I longed for it.

Ducky (as I lovingly named my umbrella) & I wandered the streets of Manhattan together. He kept semi-dry and refreshed in the most intense of storms. One day, my life changed.

I took Ducky to my favorite deli in Midtown. It’s where I go before work to enjoy a bagel & coffee. The forecast called for severe thunderstorms, but the morning was bursting with sunshine. I took Ducky out anyways. Hours after leaving the deli, I forgot Ducky. “Oh no, my quack is missing.”

However, the weather was still sunny and gorgeous, till I left the office. As I got on the subway to meet a friend for coffee, it looked like rain was on its way. I thought, Ducky was gone for good, no need to check the deli. As I exited the 6 train at 23rd street, the skies over Manhattan were dark and haunting. While, I sat with Jenny over coffee, a major thunderstorm hit. No umbrella in sight.

While walking down a rain soaked Broadway, I stepped into a Duane Reade & bought a new umbrella. “$11 bucks for an umbrella?” that’s not right, I told the cashier. She didn’t really care & I bought a very boring umbrella to keep dry.

As I walked toward the West Village for supper, the umbrella wouldn’t open all the way, leaving me partially soaked. Walking past the perfectly adorned brownstone residences, I proclaimed “Ducky, I miss you.”

As time went on, I returned to my deli. There in a shelf close to the cashier was Ducky. He was safe & sound. I almost kissed his beak, until I wondered where that beak had been.

From then on, Ducky & I enjoyed our rainy days together. We loved walking from the East Village to the West Village with rain pouring & fashion by David Bowie playing on the iPod. What can I say? We’re always going to be New York boys.

Cherry Blossom Boy

“Oy, I am schvitzing!” said I, while walking home on a random Tuesday night. New York magically transformed itself from Antarctica sans the penguins into a sunny paradise with a Margarita or two (or three).

The heat penetrated through my buttoned up shirt. Oddly enough, there was a charm to the change in temperature. The gritty city was beaming like a ballerina on stage at Lincoln Center.

However, as the journey to my apartment commenced, it hit me. “Oh no, winter is over.” My cardigans and sweaters will go back in the closet (unlike their owner) and hibernate till late fall. Nothing quite compared to strolling the West Village & East Village in my fall/winter wardrobe. Tears flowed down my cynical cheeks.

I finally arrived in my apartment and stared out the window. The sky was simply cinematic and devoid of cotton balls. At that moment, I realized it was time to embrace change. Rather than turning on my window unit, I walked out of my apartment building and enjoyed the early evening.

I took my nightly crosstown walk to the West Village. Although the sidewalks had awoken from winter’s slumber, I still missed the cold dearly.  Then I ventured into Washington Square Park madness, which captured my attention.

There were Skateboarders, street musicians & banjos vs. drums competing for the undying attention of my eardrum. Sword fights with glow sticks turned the park into a rave meets Star Wars film set.

I sat on a park bench and celebrated the dose of massive stimuli. If heat brought about all this fun, then I would fancy more spring weather. As I wandered more, the city truly morphed itself into a giant block party.

The next day, I woke up to more enchanting blue skies. I excitedly stepped out in a light sweater, only to run back upstairs and put a pea coat on. Spring only came for a day and went back into hibernation. Winter winds would dominate the weather trends in New York for weeks to come.

A few weeks later, spring arrived again and I embraced the comeback. Cherry blossoms colored the sidewalk with impressionist inspiration. Cafe tables spilled into the sidewalks invoking a bustling cafe culture from the East Village to Hell’s Kitchen & beyond. I went back to weekend morning walks along the Hudson.

Alphabet Soup

In super market aisles across America-land, lives a can full of words. Alphabet soup is the dream that after school specials are made of. Not only, is it a tomato broth meet pasta marriage, but a very educational way to eat and learn.

The most thrilling part about the literary soup is find interesting letters to play with. Growing up it was always a delight to spell out words with my soup. Sometimes, I would find amazing acronyms and adjectives to play with. Other times, I thoroughly enjoyed discovering unexpected nouns.

Living in New York is similar to diving into a sea of alphabet soup. There’s always an unexpected and very joyous adventure.  The sweet sounds of piano playing in the heart of Washington Square Park, serenading the jaded senses.

Strolling into a Lower East Side art gallery for free booze, only to realize my buddies just happened to be there. Then there are always the quirkier moments, i.e . naked painted people as an art exhibit all to themselves.

However, sometimes we become someone’s inspiration. Audria and I had a day of brunching and working on creative projects. After reaching our creative goals and doing a little happy dance, we decided to reward ourselves with a walk to Tompskins Square Park in Alphabet City.

While enjoying the lovely blue skies, which over naked trees & gentrified graffiti, we found Zen on a bench. While we talked, a very bohemian photographer approached Audria. ” Excuse me, could I photograph your shoes?” he asked. Audria wore a pair of distinctive leopard print ballet slippers. She gladly obliged.

Soon, we were asked both asked to be photographed. He took candid pictures of us conversing on a park bench. ” I hope I don’t come off as creepy,” he asked, looking a bit embarrassed. Being an extrovert, I told him ” no, go ahead take more pictures.” So he did. Soon Audria, her shoes and I went from muse to friends with the photographer.

We had so much fun, talking, that an older gentleman sitting next us, joined in on the conversation. He gave us a whole history of the neighborhood from which buildings were burnt down thirty years to freighting stories of a decaying New York.

As our conversation became endless, it hit me. From sitting in a park bench, we made two new fascinating friends. It all happened in a very unexpected and New York kind of way.

Scruffy

Late winter in the East Village brought out more love birds, than there are tulips blooming on a spring day. There were the scruffy tattooed bearded men rushing home for a cuddle and probably more. While somewhere on Second Avenue, the perfectly manicured theatre major couple picked out cupcakes at the independent coffee house. Then, there are the slew of older men oozing creativity and romance.

As for me, I was on a date too, with the city that is. While I had lunch with a friend at one of the many pop music playing, colorful gay restaurants in Chelsea, I made a major announcement. ” I just want to stay single,” my restaurant buddy looked at me in shock.

“I am not ready for a relationship, besides I live in the city, it’s a singleton’s paradise,” I uttered those words. With one swift bite of my burger, I finished dinner and walked into a utopia of men.

When it comes to the male population, New York really stimulates the senses. Every minute of every day, a new possible husband walks by. While, walking toward my apartment, I had to pee. There was a relief half way between my apartment & Fourteenth Street. The scruffy boy’s gay bar is where Sylvia Plath reading, Talking Heads listening, independent film loving gay boys with plenty of facial hair, a couple tattoos and hip fashion sense hang out.

Since, I had to pee and love beer, it was the perfect layover on the way to my modest apartment. As I ordered the first of my beers, I laid eyes on a scruffy world wonder.

He was also drinking beer and looking quite marvelous under the dim light. It had been a while, since I hit on a guy at the bar. Even though, I said I wanted to stay single, something said go out and mingle.

So I walked over to him and made conversation. Mr. Scruffy bear was visiting from Boston and as the conversation progressed, the unthinkable happened.

Yes, the conversation hit the dreaded wall of silence. It’s that awkward moment, when you realize “Shit this conversation isn’t going anywhere.” I drank my beer at high speeds. However, he decided to go back to his hotel room and I needed to go to the grocery store.  Then it hit me; I talked to him and won’t have regrets later.

Homo-Neurotic

The usually upbeat sky looked bleak and depressed. As tears fell from above, I was drinking too much Dunkin Donuts coffee. As a fan of shit weather (i.e. snow, rain, grey skies), that particular day just felt gloomy

I called my dad in California. He didn’t answer. I called again and he still didn’t answer. Even though we have a continent in between us, our phone calls always make him seem like he’s just around the corner.

In order to alleviate my nerves, I went for a walk in the East Village (O.K., I do that everyday). Rain poured on the Bowery, which was emptier than usual. My dad still didn’t pick up the phone. I grew more nervous, since I couldn’t fly to California to check up and feared something had happened.

Instead of playing in the sand box of neurotic thinking, I knew the one way to solve my problem was through art. So, I headed to one of my favorite art museums. Lucky for me, there was an exhibit on obscene art from New York in 1993. As I wondered into a world where breasts, graffiti, dildos, living rooms sets and arty videos equated art, I slowly felt better, but nerves persisted.

Then the unthinkable happen. Boom, shit, fuck, shit. I ran straight into a glass wall. The whole museum went silent. My first thought was “shit, I broke my nose.” As everyone looked at me with mouths open in shock.  I felt mortified. The following words came from my mouth “I am a genius.” I laughed then everyone laughed with me.

The museum curator walked up to me. “Excuse me sir, I have to take down your information,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “We have to take down the info of anyone who walks into that glass wall,” he replied, while taking out a notepad. “Could I get free tickets to your gorgeous, but edgy museum as compensation?” I asked with a smile. ” No, sir” he replied. “Oh,” l said, looking quite disappointed, I proceeded with giving him my information.

My dad finally called. “Where have you been? I was worried sick and I almost broke my nose,” utilizing guilt and a worried tone made him apologetic. So, I was worried for nothing. Therefore, I learned to say no to the neurotic voices in my head, since it only creates fear.  When they do make a comeback, I will delve into art instead.

Underground Show

Music is the lifeblood for my right-sided brain. David Bowie, Blondie, Velvet Underground, Elvis Costello, the Ramones and Madonna supply stimulation while I work on creative endeavors.

New York rock bands from the early 60′s and the 70′s capture my interest. I was always sad that I never had the chance to visit CBGB’s, while it was still a piece of Downtown Manhattan’s quirky collage. However, the bands that emerged from the legendary venue live in my music collection.

While CBGB’s has been replaced with a pricey, John Varvatos shop, life south of 14th street still has a great music scene. For the longest time, I spent all my time downtown and didn’t walk into any music venues. One faithful Saturday night that changed.

Gino phoned me and asked, “Do you wanna see a show in the Lower East Side tonight?” I replied “I’m already in my pajamas.” With a little laughter, he said ” there are going to be half well off drinks.” I walked to my closet to pick out an outfit. “I’ll see you in 30 minutes.”

I took the subway to the Lower East Side and waited for Gino outside the Cake Shop (a coffee shop with an underground concert space). Waiting outside the venue was a parade of hip people. Black rim glasses, quirky style and a bit of irony were the fabric tied to the scene that night. I looked down at the horse at the left hand side of my shirt. “Oh, I’m definitely bringing preppy back.”

Gino met me and we walked downstairs to the show. It was packed, thanks to the drink specials, but I actually was excited to see the band. I hadn’t gone too many concerts.

After, Gino picked us up drinks, the band played. They had a distinctive New York rock band sound. It was Julian Casablanca meets Vampire Weekend. Thanks to my half off drink, I found myself jamming, even with my little horsey, distinguishing me as the lone prep.

I might have missed CBGB, but wow, this was truly fun entertainment. After the show, I felt excited. Not only did I have a fun time, but also did something out of the ordinary. I haven’t gone to many concerts since, but would be open for more fun.

Today, I have a concert playing in my head almost hourly. My favorite music listening experience revolves around ordering a chai latte, blasting Bjork on my iPOD and freely strolling the Lower East Side. It’s my form of creative therapy. Cheers to more loud music and booze.

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