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.

Everything Is Pink

In the West Village, the grit and grime is simply splendid. The brownstones, designer shops, diners, hidden jazz clubs, indie book shops and cobble stone streets scream old New York character. In the land of the Marc Jacobs with a soy latte, I’ve always wanted to secretly loose the cool facade and break into a smile.

While walking where Bank meets Bleecker street, my smile grew into something more. While trying to keep a straight face and listening to the world’s most depressing hipster oriented song, I thought about a very neurotic person. It made me giggle.

As I reached West 4th Street, the giggle turned into medium sized laughter. I walked past the too cool and his equally chic accessory. My giggle eventually turned into a massive attack of laughter.

I stood in the middle of the West Village, trying to control a beast of laughter. I was enjoying my laugh with such great gusto, that appearing like a fucking weirdo didn’t matter much.

In a town known for it’s intensity, humor is better than a trip to the pub. However, my adventures in the land of laughter would persist.

Krista and I had most delightful lunch at quaint European cafe in Tribeca. Afterwards, we couldn’t stop giggling. I wasn’t sure whether it was the Tiramisu or the Billy Crystal DVD collection we spotted at the discount store.

Everything was filled to the brim with humor. When we made our way toward Chelsea & the M14 (the crosstown bus), we discovered a whole comedy show on wheels. There’s always been something about the New York City bus, which attracts more characters than a Woody Allen film.

While we tried to control our laughter, the most awkward moment arose. “There ain’t no place to put my walker,” said the old lady with her “Joan Rivers-que accent. ” Excuse me miss you could have my seat,” replied a most friendly 40 something lady. ” I can’t sit in that seat, my walker will block the entrance.” I looked at Krista. We were both unsure whether to laugh or hold it in.

” Hey you, I want your seat,” the old lady approached an equally senior citizen. ” I can’t get up, I’ve got a bad hip and look at all these shopping bags I got,” said the baffled old lady. ” I don’t have a bad hip, so there,” answered our grandma with the walker. Yes, at that moment, Krista and I lost it and laughter persisted. Somehow sassy grandma didn’t notice.

We ate more sugar that day and laughed more. Eventually, we took another trip on the M14. A lady sat across from us with her precious tulip and a stern exterior. She stared at us and soon her tough coconut exterior was being cracked open. It was wonderful to have made the most jaded of bus riders smile, even for a moment.

Fairy Tale Land

Thanks to Disney, we grew up with a fairy tale vision of romance. Snow White, Cinderella & dearest Sleeping Beauty were beautiful and had flawless skin. A handsome prince married these gals. Fairy godmothers and dwarfs were a staple of their wedding party.

Of course, they didn’t tell us what happened after the nuptials. Farting in bed, whinny children and heated debates on which China should be served for dinner party guests were never brought up. Hence, there weren’t any sequels to these fairy tales.

New York is a fairy tale land for us who come from less stimulating parts of the world. There is the promise of career prosperity, a rich social life and romance. With so many eligible bachelors, it’s difficult to find that special prince that could wake us up from a restless night’s sleep with a kiss.

However, for millions of gay New Yorkers love commences with the touch of a keyboard. Personally, I’ve always gone for older men. The cute college boys were a part of my university life. One day, that all changed. On one of my gay dating site expeditions, a twenty-one year old guy from Staten Island sent me a message.

I saw quite a bit of me in him. We both had the boy next-door vibe; quintessentially New York looks and smiled a bit more than the average person. We messaged and I found him not only adorable, but intellectually stimulating. After a message spree, we finally agreed to meet in the West Village.

That icy January evening, I was actually running late for once. I took the F train to 14th street and rushed up Sixth Avenue, cutting corners before arriving at Christopher & Seventh Ave. We met at the intersection of gay and uber gay. After a quick hug and amazing eye contact, we walked to dinner.

First dates are always terrifying, but I felt quite comfortable. We walked to charming Italian bistro and discussed politics. It’s usually, the first thing one wants to avoid on a date. Yet, we both swung the liberal way, so commonality was found. We talked and talked. Then the bill came. I pulled out my credit card. He pushed my credit card away. “My dad says a gentleman should always pay” and he did. He even opened doors for me.

While strolling the Village’s many opulent sidewalks with gorgeous brownstone blocks, shops and cafes, we ended back at Christopher Street. He was returning to Staten Island.

Before, entering the subway, he had a surprise. He kissed me in the middle of the busy sidewalk. Manhattan faded into a far memory for that brief moment when our lips touched.

Till this day we remain friends. I always remember that night and how charming Mr. Staten Island was (and still is). Even though, we didn’t get married with dwarfs as groomsman, it was one of the most memorable dates ever. Disney’s promise of fairy tale romance can be a reality in fast paced New York City.

The Gay Boy’s Birthday

What do you get a gay boy for his birthday? For those in the know, it’s easy. Something glittery (we like sparkly things), anything Madonna oriented (please hold the swept away DVD) and a gift certificate for Bloomingdales.

I’ve had many memorable birthday parties. During elementary school, my mom would show up to the class with pizza and cupcakes. Everyone sang me Happy Birthday as my cheeks turned bright red. My parents would then take me to the local mall to buy action figures.

As a teenager, birthdays were equally memorable. While I was living in Riverside, CA, my friend Elizabeth picked me up from school. It was a grey autumn afternoon, but her brightly colored present lit up the horizon with pink and electric blue. The new Madonna CD, I couldn’t have been more delighted. My mom banned Madonna’s music from the house.

However, when she was out n’ about, I would listen to her music. Not only, did Elizabeth buy me a CD by my favorite singer, she also invited me to Simple Simon’s. It’s a sandwich shop in Downtown Riverside, which is one of the finest in the country (in my humble opinion).

My most memorable birthday as twenty-something happened one rainy Manhattan day. I decided to have a field trip in my favorite New York neighborhoods. It started with an early morning stroll in Nolita, followed by a cappuccino, independent bookstore madness and more java via the Village coffee house culture.

During that time, I worked in politics. So on one of our breaks from campaigning, my co-worker invited me to coffee and a vegan chocolate cake in the East Village. I still remember how delicious it tasted, even though the vegan title scares me just a bit.

Feeling stuffed on cake and an endless supply of coffee, I returned to our office on 40th and Sixth Avenue. “Surprise!” everyone yelled. They brought out a gorgeous chocolate cake (not vegan this time) from a bakery on the Upper West Side.

There we were enjoying cake and having excellent conversations, when one of my co-workers suggested a daring idea. “Anthony, you need to stuff your face into the cake and take a picture.” I really loved my outfit that day, so I politely declined. Then everyone chimed in ” c’mon!” I caved in and lightly covered my face in chocolate cake.

” That doesn’t count,” they yelled. I looked nervously at the cake. It never dawned on me that chocolate cake could give me a bit of anxiety. Motivation promptly arrived. Somebody yelled “Anthony just pretend it’s a man.”

Mission accomplished, I smashed that chocolate cake in my face. My co-worker was kind enough to take a picture and send it to my dad. He text messaged me and said, ” tell your friends thank you for the birthday cake.” The outfit survived.

Later that night, we all hit a gay karaoke bar. I sang Jay-Z. It was funny; I can’t free-style to save my life. Luckily, my martini got me through the performance. The gays gave me praise and even bought me a birthday drink.

Booze, cupcakes and wonderful friends have made my birthdays memorable. I haven’t had a lavish birthday with elephants and jet set trips to exotic destinations. However, being around my loved ones is the best present of all.

On The Fringe

I remember the very minute and day I came out of the closet. It happened one chilly March morning. I sat with my friend Kelsey behind the history class along a grassy knoll, complaining about my mom’s conservative views. Suddenly, I let it slip ” I like men.” My life would change from that moment on, even though school was no stroll through Christopher Street.

My high school years lacked the charm promised in the films of John Hughes. Therefore, I thought to myself ” the hell with it.” I came at fifteen years old. My life then transformed. Bullying continued and I would come out of the closet more times in life. However, as I grew older going to college, living in New York and working in the creative field, being gay became second nature.

Growing older meant I had many friends who came out of the closet to me. There was the cute guy in art class. We mingled at art museum exhibition. He had red hair, glasses and was completely adorable.

As we talked, I could feel his artistic energy, but thought he was just another open-minded straight guy. Then I changed the subject from art to “Sex and the City,” which made him come out of the closet. Wow, the seemingly unattainable arty guy and I started dating.

Then there are guy friends, whom I was close with but have no idea were gay. One of my best friends in the city kept his gayness hidden for years. I had no idea. Even with all my gay talk, he didn’t say anything about his own feelings.

Until one day, we had dinner in the Village, when he goes ” I like guys.” Our friendship would deepen with the revelation. We celebrated by having drinks at some fun gay bars in the West Village.

Most of the time, guys who I know are gay and I will just get into our homosexual talk quickly. Talk about fashion, music and art ensues, while men are always brought in at the tail end. No “surprise I’m gay announcement” required.

When I came out of the closet, homophobia was accepted. The word “fag” was uttered often. These days with bullying making news headlines, I can honestly say I survived that era in my life. I find humor in my journey as a gay man. The best part of being openly gay is the ability to be who I am without carrying about somebody’s opinion.

The Stoop

The roar of the subway echoed through my apartment like Pavarotti’s voice at an opera house. The lights were dim and then the subway’s penetrating yet soothing sounds diminished as a pebble hit my window. I didn’t think much of it and continued my dream of marrying a prince and living in a palace.

Suddenly, a second pebble hits my window. “Anthony come down to the stoop for a cigarette.” I look out my window and there are the smiling faces of my neighbors Doug and Lauren. My dreams of being a queen diminished for an opportunity to partake in laughs and coughing out a lung or two.

I put on my winter coat and to stoop land I go. Our stoop wasn’t just a set of staircases leading the front door of our building, but a gathering place for our neighbors. We had BBQs, ate pierogis and conversed, creating a great sense of community.

When I would come home from work tired or having a rough day, my Doug, Lauren and Tony would be waiting. They had a pack of American spirits and coffee ready to go. Having a support system makes living in the city even more magical. Stoops are also an inexpensive ways to enjoy life.

One of my favorite free forms of entertainment in expensive New York is walking the West Village. The charming cafes, old bookstores, enchanting coffee shops, dive bars, mix of students, Marc Jacobs clad house moms, old people, gays, post collegiate bankers trying to pull off the boho chic look and tourists make up the neighborhood’s character.

However, nothing is more quintessentially Greenwich Village than brownstone apartments characterized by imposing stoops. Charles, Bank and Perry streets are leafy have some of the most amazing stoops in the city. Villagers don’t frequent the stoop as often.

However, my dream would be to live in another building with a stoop, specifically in the West Village. To re-create my fun times drinking coffee and dreaming about big things to come in New York would be heavenly. I love forming family units in my neighborhood and the stoop is always the perfect place to accomplish that goal.

Fruit Fly

One magical St. Patrick’s Day evening, I met my lesbian gal pals at a (what else) gay bar in the West Village. I was the only guy there. The fact that lord gay (me) surrounded by a fascinating mix of lesbian subcultures was simply entertaining to watch. My friends and I enjoyed a drink, while we listened to a very sporty looking lesbian angrily singing “You outta know” by Alanis Morrisette.

After drinking my vodka, they suggested I go up and sing karaoke. At first I hesitated, but then I go why not. I was dressed in my work attire. They suggested I go and sing in the go-go cage. I did.

For some reason, I decided to sing a cheesy 90′s pop tune. There I was in a cage, dressed like a proper prep school boy surrounded by lesbians. I belted out a little bit of the song, and then as I garnered more courage, I hit the high note, swinging from one side of the cage to the other.

The lesbians cheered me on, as I hit a high note. Wow, this is what Judy Garland, Cher, Madonna and virtually every icon revel in every time they hit the stage. They gave me a round of applause. Wow, they loved me. Was it my haircut? Or did they really like my crackly voice? For once, I was transformed into the fruit fly.

Traditionally, the fruit fly is a gal pal who loves hanging out with a bevy of gay men. I’ve had many fruit flies in my day. In fact, they’re all on my speed dial. The bond between gay men and straight women is obvious. There is a brother/sister dynamic. In a more obvious analysis, we both date men. My gal pals and I meet at the wine bar/coffee shop and even the diner. We talk about men and relationships, building a support system when that cute boy rejects us.

I’ve met my fruit flies in a variety of different ways from Christian camp to Pilate’s class. Although, my formative years were filled with filled with a lack of acceptance, my adult life was very different. I had friends from different sexual orientations and ethnicities. It widened my social network and gave me a window into different life experiences.

I haven’t sung in a go-go cage with a room full of lesbians for a while. However, I loved all the adulation. Gal pals are important to one’s journey. Not only as a support system, but someone to laugh with and dish about men. When I have days we’re I cry without knowing why, my gal pals always understand. They reply ” me too.” Letting me know I’m not alone.

My Jogging Shoes

When I would come to visit my dad in California he would take me shopping. He knew I was on a tight budget in New York and bought me shoes to walk around the Village comfortably.

Like any proper New Yorker, my dressy outfit came equipped with a pair of jogging shoes. I walked an average of eighty blocks a day and sometimes went crosstown twice a day.

Therefore, wearing dress shoes was unheard of. Regardless of convention I paraded up the concrete canyons of Midtown in my worn out Nikes. When I arrived at the office, the more dressy Kenneth Cole loafers were placed on my tootsies and the Nikes hibernated in my messenger bag.

Recently, I was on the Upper West Side on Yon Kippur. It was lovely seeing all the Jewish families walking along Columbus Avenue going to synagogue. They were beautifully dressed and wearing sneakers. It reminded me of why I love New York. In a city that is dressy, you can still travel in comfort.

My favorite sneakers of all time were my shiny black Creative Recreation sneakers. I wore them around in London. They joined the Sloane Rangers (blond rich girls who hang out in Chelsea) on Kings Road, took strolls along the canals of Camden and had a cardio vascular workout on the tube’s maze of escalators.

Some shoes are too cute not to wear everywhere. Therefore, even though they didn’t have the comfort of old jogging shoes, they were shinny and pretty. Us, gay folk love shiny things.

I love the looks I get when I wear my sneakers with a proper outfit. While, some my point their noses far up the air, I’m rebelling against the system.

Either way, I don’t ever use jogging sneakers for running. The only time that would happen is as follows: if someone placed a hot pastrami sandwich on a stick and had me chasing after it.

The Merry Singleton

Rejection is like shit, it just happens. The gay archetype is smooth as butter, chiseled like a fine Renaissance statue and Milan fashion week chic. Even with the quintessential gay clone look, the inevitable fact of life, rejection looms.

I feared rejection like not finding my size at a Lacoste sample sale. Certainly, I am not the gay archetype. After all, I wake up with my stomach smiling back at me. Hello stomach, another date with Ben N’ Jerry’s I see. I’ve been a twink (skinny hairless gay guy) and a cub (hairy, chubby gay guy). Through both states of gayhood, I had lots of rejection.

When I turned twenty-five, my perception started to change. One particular date brought me into a new level of adulthood. On a beautiful winter night, I met Mr. Corporate finance on a gay site. He was handsome, charming and ready to mingle.

We met in Union Square and surprise; he really did look like the ideal corporate finance guy. Like any good first date in the city, we hit a few bars. As we sipped mixed cocktails in the furnace like heat of the Christopher street dives, conversation revolving around travel and current events persisted. He became more attractive with every sip of his Brooklyn lager.

However, something was missing from his end. I was smitten. He seemed distracted. I suggested hanging out in the East Village, he obliged. There we were in another humid dive bar, surrounded by men in flannel, beards and black rim glasses.

I grew some balls and asked him straight up ” are you not interested?” He quickly answered “no.” The rejection felt like a California earthquake running through me. I was shaken up. Then he smiled and offered to buy me a beer. I accepted.

I ran to the bathroom first and cried. There in this bathroom was a cute dark haired guy. “Hi I just got rejected. Will you make out with me?” He grabbed me and made out right there. I walked out of the bathroom, feeling triumphant, but the pangs of rejection ran rampant. The date ended awkwardly.

I went back to my modest apartment feeling blah. The next day, I did what any proper New York boy would do when rejection, feasted on gyros from the Greek place down the street and watched countless hours of NY1. That afternoon, I received a call from Mr. Corporate finance, checking up on me.

After a very dramatic first date, we ended becoming close friends. Although, I wanted more at first, having a buddy is always wonderful.

Rejection is tough business. Valuing oneself and knowing that shit happens softens the blow. At the end of a bad date, one must remember there’s always cable TV, Ben N’ Jerry’s and a gyro to make life sexy again.

Eating With Chopsticks

My holidays haven’t revolved around a Christmas tree in almost twenty years. Changing planes at airports for such exciting destinations as Tokyo, Buenos Aires & California were the norm in more recent years. Forget freshly roasted turkey, yams & a pecan pie, my Christmas dinner centered on Panda Express. Chopsticks, orange chicken & chow mien were the Christmas staple.

Sure, it’s not a proper New York Chinese eatery, but when you’re starving at Atlanta airport & changing planes it tastes as gourmet as Joe’s Shanghai’s (New York’s best Chinese eatery, in my opinion). There were the holidays where even having a loaf of bread was a blessing.

My father & I spent Christmas in Rome one year & couldn’t find any open restaurants. Therefore, we kindly asked the hotel to give us whatever they could find. That Christmas, we ate stale bread, while watching CNN International.

Italy proved a whole different animal from our family Christmases in the late 80′s & early 90s. My family, the Alas’ love Palm Springs. My grandparents had a beautiful vacation house in nearby Cathedral City.  We would all gather there & have family time. I always found a way to sneak a peek at my gifts & complained every time; someone gave me clothes as opposed to action figures.

There were truckloads of food. Everyone found a spot to pass out from food coma. My grandma’s famous turkey graced the table. A variety of apple desserts made everyone smile. The Alas family loves apple pie. Sometimes, the reunions felt as humorous as a Neil Simon play, other times they would’ve inspired a Shakespearean style production. However, those were fond memories.

As an adult, I experienced a very foreign concept, spending holidays by myself. New York is the holiday’s capital of the world. Fifth Avenue is decked in flashy Christmas decorations. As always there are remarkable window displays at tony department stores Bergdorf Goodman’s & Barney’s. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center sparkles with holiday delight. It’s the epicenter of holiday cheer.

This didn’t deter from missing my dad during thanksgiving. I moped around the Village, not feeling super upbeat. When I returned to my modest apartment, there was a special phone call.

My friend Rebecca called. I told her, I’m feeling awfully lonely. She goes ” that’s too bad, I’m at LAX right now waiting for my flight to JFK.” I jumped in excitement; my bitter mood transformed into sweetness only butterscotch could match.

The next day, I woke up in a very enthusiastic mood. Although, Rebecca couldn’t hang out with me till the weekend, I made the best of Manhattan holiday cheer. I went to Central Park that day & walked toward the edge facing Central Park West.  That day was my first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Of course, I watched it on TV. I’m not really impressed by parades. However, I love the artistry that went behind the floats, the music & just the cheer excitement. My jaded card flew out the window as the Harajuku girls, snoopy & superman floats passed by.

After the parade, I walked around the East Village & noticed many other people were alone too. I didn’t feel so bad. I didn’t enjoy my grandma’s famous turkey recipe that year; instead I had a burger at the diner for lunch. Then, my big thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese delights. Like my many Christmases at the airport, I utilized my chopstick skills & made it a great day.

I met up with my buddy Rebecca & we had an amazing holiday weekend of walking around Midtown & enjoying dinner in the West Village. The following year, felt less lonely. My roommate & I hosted a wonderful thanksgiving dinner at our apartment. However, nobody bought a turkey. Our innovative alternative, tacos, enchiladas & other Mexican delights for the big day.

These days, it’s less plane travel on holidays. My dad & I usually hang out by the fireplace. In the past year, we traded chopsticks & turkey for steaks. In the tradition of the Alas family, there’s always a big apple pie & plenty of wine. Even though, I do love having my family close by. The magic of New York during the holidays is truly missed.

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