Queens-landia

While New York’s swelters in humidity, the only ice seen on the sidewalk comes in a Dixie cup. Yes, those shaved flavored ices for $1 are the closest we get to slush for months. Daydreaming about the resurrection of Frosty the snowman and Starbucks holiday drinks always brings about nostalgia.

When I first moved back to New York, the city was an urban Eskimo’s dream. There was still ice-skating at Rockerfeller Center, long coats and mittens dominated the streets from Amsterdam Avenue to the Bowery. Snow pilled on to the sidewalks next to less romantic piles of garbage.

The most exciting news of all was the possibility of a blizzard. I had just started a new job and was staying on a friend’s couch in Queens, while I looked for a new apartment in Manhattan.

Queens is my former home borough. It’s a place, which seems largely untouched by high rise, steel + glass condos and designer shops. Instead, there were still butcher shops, mom n’ pop restaurants with quaint apartment blocks and row houses.

Like the rest of the city, Queens was anticipating a snow-magedon. I was delighted. After all, I was living in California, where snow was only viewed from a distance on top of mountains. Then there was fake snow, which delighted the masses at Disney land. Little did, I know something shocking was going to happen.

I took the subway back from Midtown and arrived at Tony’s basement apartment (where I was staying). He looked terrible. ” Hey buddy, you ready for that blizzard?” he asked. ” Yup, I am a snow bunny,” I replied. ” Good, you’re not gonna mind shoveling snow? I’ve got the flu and can’t do it,” he asked with a worried expression. Without much thought, I replied ” of course not,” then I realized what I agreed to.

I’ve lived through many blizzards, but shoveling snow always alluded me. Since, I was staying in a basement apartment, it was impossible to see the blizzard pouring from the sky. Instead of worrying about snow, Tony & I were good gays. We stayed in and watched a Golden Girls marathon. As we laughed at the hijinks of Rose, Dorothy, Blanche & Sophia, the whole shoveling snow adventure was in the back of my mind.

The next morning, I woke up. I turned on NY1 (our very own news channel). New York City was blanketed in snow, but Long Island had the worse of it. That meant my snow shoveling shouldn’t be too bad. I opened the door to find that the staircase (leading to the basement) had disappeared. Instead a tiny hill of puffy, pure snow had magically taken over.

Like any great adventurer climbing Mt. Everest, I took on the challenge. ” What fuck are you wearing?” Tony asked. He was puzzled by my wardrobe selection. “This is my cute, I am gonna shovel snow outfit.” I replied with great wit. “You look like you’re going shopping Bergdorf Goodman’s. “Here wear this and these boots,” he answered with a bit of eye rolling.

As I slipped into my new outfit, I looked more like a lumberjack ready for some logrolling. Tony stepped outside with me and showed me the whole process. “Now remember you gotta scrap the stairs for ice and be careful throwing it over the neighbor’s fence, ” with a stern look he handed me the shovel and away I went. It took forever and I kept throwing snow on myself, rather than in a nice pile.

Eventually, I finished one stair then another and so on. Tony stepped outside. He surveyed my handy work. ” You were definitely in California before this,” he said with a giggle. ” Ok, I am gonna buy some salt at the store. Just go to the Village and do what you need to do.” I once again, slipped into my cutest outfit and quickly (but with caution) bolted to the Village.

After a day of shoveling, I enjoyed a field trip to Washington Square Park. A few weeks later, I moved into my new apartment on 20th & the FDR. Rather, than shoveling snow I ended up admiring it from my window and playing in it. With the current heat wave, I can’t wait for winter. Once it arrives, I plan on jumping into a big pile of icy goodness.

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Splendor in Central Park

“Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, an off -Broadway theatre & Central Park?” In New York, culture happens in the most unexpected moments. When I moved uptown to Harlem from the east 20’s, I was worried about feeling aloof from my Downtown bubble. Instead, I found new rich cultural experiences, walking everywhere from Lenox Ave to 135th Street.

Spontaneous swing dancing on 125th Street, old men playing dominos & street parties with the smell of crawfish flowing through Seventh Avenue filled my imagination with a new found creativity. Nothing quite compared to my adventure walking from my fifth floor walk-up to Central Park.

The park’s northern boundaries are my favorite. Unlike the more buzzing corridors. Central Park North retains a feeling of tranquility. While the sun slowly faded into hibernation mode, I wondered toward a small grassy hill. In the distance, I saw a most inviting pond.

I walked the trail toward the pond and saw people gathered. Across the pond, people were dressed in period pieces, possibly from the late 19th century. They were entertaining a mesmerized audience. “Oh my, I just stumbled upon a play being performed in the park.” I asked the lady next to me, who informed me, it was indeed an “Anton Chekhov” play, but didn’t know the exact title.

I stayed across the pond to view the play. Although, my tuckus was covered in grass, bugs were swarming around me like Costco customers at a sample table and fireflies were buzzing through, I stayed in my grass knoll and enjoyed the show. I could barely hear anything, but the actors running around and the flickering lights spoke to my senses.

As the last light went dim, the actors took a bow. The audience clapped as I scratched away at my bug bites. While walking along Central Park West, I smiled. This is why I live in New York, moments like these. It’s the unexpected, which keeps the mad love affair alive and well.

The Perkiest Boy In New York

Admiring the Flat Iron building from Madison Square Park. People watching at Union Square, hearing a jazz band turn the subway station into their own personal Carnegie Hall, discovering a quirky title at the independent bookstore and the anticipation of the unknown make New York exciting.

As the self-proclaimed perkiest boy in the city, I always find something to smile about. However, my move back to New York was quite a saga. Years ago, I traded the city for purgatory, Southern California. Although, I adored Palm Springs, Mexican food, driving through winding canyons (only when I had my motion sickness pills) and having my father close by, something was missing.

“Oh that’s right, I really left my heart in New York.” When I moved to California, I was in an expedition to find a career. Eventually, I ended up in advertising, then advertising school. I wanted to become a copywriter. My weekends were spent coming up with cleaver ad campaigns for my portfolio. I would go to Palm Springs on the weekend, grab a coffee and do fun homework.

As ad school winded down, I grew increasingly homesick (for you guessed it) for New York. I missed my friends, the food, snow, tall buildings, crowded subways, lots of high culture and all the diverse neighborhoods.

Suddenly my life turned into Star Wars. I would be Luke Skywalker and life could easily fit into the role of Darth Vader. Things were falling apart, but I had to battle through them. In the shadow of things falling apart, I was determined to finish my portfolio. I hired a talented art director/web designer to make magic. The first draft of the website was disastrous.

Not many things make me cry, but that did (tear, tear). After whipping away the rain from my cheeks, I took a piece of paper and drew out a dream website. Suddenly, my website went from an Ed Wood movie to a glorious Martin Scorsese film. With my website and portfolio finished, I was ready to hit the New York pavement.

Problem, I was still living in Southern California. I channeled my childhood companion, E.T. He wanted to phone home. I just wanted to be home with a bagel + coffee. Unlike ET, I couldn’t take a flying bicycle back to Manhattan. I applied to many jobs in the city from California and didn’t get anywhere.

Then one day, something daring happened. My dad cornered me. ” I think California is over. You need to move back to New York.” It was scary to think about going back without a job.

The next day, I went online. There was an inexpensive one-way plane ticket from Ontario (CA) to JFK. I booked the ticket and was ready to make the move back to New York.

I called my friend, Tony. “Hey Tony, I need to find a job in New York. Could I stay with you for a while?” He said, “You could stay as long as you want.” I told everyone, ” guess what? I am moving back to New York.” I printed out my portfolio and bought business cards. In order to save money, I placed all my clothes in a carry on (everything else was shipped). The night before moving back, I grew nervous.

“Oh my God, I am really moving back to New York without a job,” I panicked. The next morning I woke up to my last day ever as Californian. My dad and I cried a bit as we drove to the airport. I took one last look at him as I descended up to the escalators. I passed through security and entered the terminal, this feeling ran through me. “This is really over,” I thought to myself.”

I boarded the plane to Salt Lake City (my layover). As the plane took off into the hazy sky, I thought to myself “E.T. is really going home.” The maze of freeways, brown mountains and track homes looked oddly magical from above.

The purple mountain majesty of Utah were blanketed in powdery snow. It was desolate. Then civilization appeared in the form of Delta airplanes. I landed in Salt Lake City. I hurried to my gate for the flight to New York/JFK. Typically at airports, I like to walk around and people watch. This time, I was electrified by the whole moving back to New York experience. People -watching at the gate was great too.

There were the arty dudes in beards and pea coats and fashionable women wearing chic leather coats. Diverse faces representing every section of the globe, nuclear families and hip old people. This overwhelming peace overcame me while I took off once again into the afternoon skies.

Hours later and a couple glasses of wine, the plane flew into an endless sea of fog. The twinkling lights of Queens were barely visible. After a couple shakes and rock n’ roll, the plane landed into falling snow. It was more cinematic than E.T. flying over the moon in a bicycle. At that moment, I had officially moved back to New York.

I wasted no time, in job hunting. The buildings seemed taller, the grey more intense and the sidewalks more jammed pack than I remembered. Everything was a little intimidating. However, I persisted on. I was determined to make into an advertising firm in the city. I worked from the New York Public library’s study and created my own work/creative space.

Then one day, I finally landed an interview. Coincidentally, it was at my dream-advertising firm in the creative department. I went in feeling very relaxed and had the most enjoyable interview ever. As I watched CNN with Krista, I received a phone call. My eyes grew wide. Somebody, please Cue the theme from New York. It was official, “I got the job.” In just a few days, I had made it in New York.

From then, I became like any other New Yorker. I took the subway to work, walked everywhere, moved to a walk-up, had a huge social network (still do) and more importantly, appreciated every moment here. Even in the most jammed packed subway car, I always find a reason to smile. I am living in New York for life.

This Is Harlem

The roar of the 2 train pulling into 125th street.

Generations of families enjoy a laugh on the stoop.

Church ladies in extravagant hats line up for the bus.

Soul food scents the old New York sky.

The lights of the Apollo, shine brightly. On Seventh Avenue, the bodega flashes with flamboyance.

Late night hair cuts at the barbershop, cafes bustling and a boy quietly reading in the corner.

Somewhere in today’s Harlem, the ghost of Langston Hughes still searches for the Harlem renaissance.

 

Cucumber Sandwiches

Long before, I lived in a walk-up, did brunch in the East Village & took the subway to work in Midtown, there was a place called suburbia. During my teen years, “Varsity Blues,” “She’s all that” & “Never been kissed” were the big films of the day. Culture was experienced through watching endless amounts of TV, everything from Dawson’s Creek to (re-runs of) the Real World: San Francisco took me away from the confines of my modest track home existence.

While Saturday nights, I’d go to Borders and spend countless hours browsing through the art, LQBT, poetry and travel section. My dad would then drive me to Starbucks, where we would talk and blast my music very loud while driving around my hometown. I spent my teenage years in Riverside, CA. Everyday, I’d daydream about living in New York, but little did I know, that charm was all around me.

Riverside could’ve fit perfectly into any John Hughes movies, whether it was Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink. There were the obvious signs of suburbia in my town. Teenagers would carpool from school to the local galleria. They window shopped at Nordstrom’s, ate at Hot dog on a stick and constantly talked about the world outside Riverside.

The houses were quite quaint, ranging from Victorian to Craftsman. There was the old fashioned Italian family restaurant, the Mexican diner and the gourmet sandwich shop, which welcomed everyone from the ladies who lunch & golf to the large families armed with mini-vans. In this town of strip malls and green grass, I met some of my best lifelong friends.

Growing up, an only child, I gravitated toward friends with big families. They always welcomed me as the son, they never had. My best gal pal growing was Elizabeth. She always invited me on outings with her family. The Densmores consisted of five girls. Everyone was lovely, perfectly dressed and well mannered. Going over to their house meant, that freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and watching indie films (on TV) was inevitable.

Elizabeth invited me over to her grandma’s tea party. Like many parties to come, I was the only boy. I was excited to meet Riverside’s ladies who lunch (secretly don’t we all want to be a lady, who lunches?). We arrived at her grandmother’s perfectly appointed home, which was in the upwardly mobile community of Victoria. She answered the door and welcomed us in.

I’d always been a coffee drinker, but decided to try out tea. It was delicious, actually. However, I was met with a food group, very foreign to me and quite frightful, the cucumber. For years, I couldn’t eat a cucumber. The texture didn’t agree with my palate.

Instead of passing up the beautifully presented miniature sandwich, I bravely took a bite. Since, it was thinly sliced and came with cream cheese inside, I didn’t mind much. As the tea party progressed, a sea of very glamorous women and equally glam daughters arrived.

Surprisingly, I had a couple more cucumber sandwiches. A vegetable, which scared the living daylights, became my friend. After eating half of the desserts at the tea party, I once again tried to conquer my food phobia.

Till this day, I don’t like cucumbers. It’s still the texture. I must say, thanks to the tea party, some food phobia was lost. I ate more foods, which I would typically not bravely eat.

Romantic Comedy

Like any proper Nora Ephron film (When Harry Met Sally/Sleepless in Seattle), New York evokes a spirit of wit & romance. Snow falls romantically, where 72nd meets Broadway. Jazz fills the taverns of old bars along Bleecker Street. At Katz’s, couples find love over a hot pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup. The city is truly the most magical setting for a romantic comedy, until shit hits the fan.

Summer in New York can be described as three months of living in pea soup. Stepping out of one’s modest apartment equates instant schvitzing (sweating). The only romance involves that special feeling, when the a/c is turned on. Icy cold winds spew from a precious window unit spurring up a three-month love affair.

During the summer, I hibernate. However, one summer’s day I looked out my window and decided it was time to go out and have a date with the city. I had a fancy dinner at a pizzeria and wondered around Union Square. There were the quintessential anti-war, anti-chemical & anti-government protests. In the midst of liberal thinking, skateboarders, every weirdo and their mother, an old fashioned moment was just around the corner.

As I wondered through the opposite end of Union Square, a romantic sound filled the air. The sounds of tango echoed across the busy crossroads of downtown & Gramercy. There underneath a dimly lit arch, tango dancers danced cheek to cheek. The violin accentuated the guitar, in a perfect musical marriage.

Regardless of the heat, couples of all ages just danced. Some struggled, while others glided effortlessly against the heated pavement. It was one of those only in New York moments and would’ve been the perfect setting for a romantic comedy. Afterwards, I was in the mood to watch every romantic comedy set in New York from Moonstruck to Serendipity.

Gay Cowboys Never Get The Blues

In my junior year of high school, I hosted a senior citizen’s dance. It was for school credit and counted toward community service hours. Every Wednesday, I’d gather up with my fellow teenyboppers and come up with exciting ways to entertain the geriatrics crowd. We came up with a 50’s theme dance.

In a church hall, a bevy of old people gathered. We dressed in our most spiffy 1950’s attire. Being a certified wallflower, I didn’t want to dance. Instead, I volunteered to myself as the master of ceremony. I watched the young at heart strut their stuff to the sounds of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper & the Platters. Nothing wooed the crowd more than the sounds of country music. Albeit, the old people got tired of swinging each other and wanted a little line dancing.

Somehow, I was talked into joining in the Yee-haw fun. At that moment, my Madonna/Brit pop/80’s new wave heartbeat did a two-step to the sounds of country music. I smiled and really enjoyed myself. The music stopped and I didn’t listen to country music for over a decade.

Years later, I re-visited line dancing. While attending Judy’s birthday party at a country themed restaurant on Long Island, I was once again reunited with the sounds of states far from my New York bubble. Judy wanted to line dance and insisted I join her on the ride.

I kept tripping over my feet, as I swayed to the sounds of Martina McBride & Shania Twain. Like my sixteen-year-old self, I refused to show that I was enjoying all the dancing. Unlike years before, I had an excuse to enjoy all the most foreign style of dancing.

There in the midst of the two stepping arrived cowboys. They were Long Island cowboys. So, I decided to line dance a little better, just in case one of the fellows was gay. I also realized how handsome a guy could look in a most delightful cowboy hat. After my country infused weekend on Long Island, I returned to the city. Little did I know cowboy boots and a whole lotta Yee-haw followed me into the pop & hip-hop infused canyons of Midtown.

After a fancy event at a rooftop in Hells Kitchen, my gal pals decided to take me to a country music gay bar, the Flaming Saddles. Like any gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, there were a bevy of perfectly manicured gay men. However, missing were the dance tracks often heard in the gay meccas. Country music filled the dodgy walls of the gay watering hole. Nothing could prepare me for what happened next.

As I finished the last drop of Jameson, the gay cowboys started dancing on the bar. The crowds hooted and howled as the sexy bartenders did one amazing and perfectly choreographed two-step. It hit me. “This never happened at the senior citizen dance I helped organize.” I am sure if it did happen, there would’ve been more grandpas questioning their sexual orientation.

 

 

Coachella East

Coachella is a music festival not far from Palm Springs, CA. It has bands of all kinds. In April, Coachella Facebook statuses/pictures dominate my daily feed. Flying to California from New York is very expensive. In the City, we have our own special festival sans the bands. The Frieze art festival is a magical event, which happens once a year. It’s on Randall’s Island, (in between Queens & Manhattan) which has a baseball field & plenty of lush green land.

Krista invited me to go with her. We met up and rode a magical boat to the site. “This is like Coachella east,” said Krista. While giggling at her comments, I looked up and yes indeed it felt like Coachella (just from the boat ride). There were the obvious subcultures, hipsters, trendy old people & hippie types.

In the grand tradition of New York, artsy types there were plenty of folks in all black, blazers & big glasses. The boat ride provided us with spectacular views of the City. From the high rises of Sutton place to the curiosity of Roosevelt Island, the boat ride showcased the diverse landscape of the concrete jungle.

As the boat docked, tents dominated the typically remote terrain of Randall’s Island. Entering the tent was like dying and falling into a world of endless eye stimulation. Every type of art from pop to avant-garde & the obscene to traditional were well represented. As I walked from gallery to gallery, my artistic senses were alive. I felt inspired by the level of creativity, as did Krista. It really made me want to take up painting & sketching again.

After a day of feeling artsy, we gathered up in a school bus with the rest of the social outcasts and art enthusiasts. The bus dropped us off on Fifth Avenue across from the Guggenheim. It hit me. The folks, who live in glorious apartments along Fifth Avenue, traditionally collect the art viewed at festivals like Frieze. The rest of us visit museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art & The New Museum for our art fix.

Penguin Feet

A Saturday afternoon party includes a proper cardigan (check), dazzling trousers (check) & vividly colored black socks (uh,wait.hold that check). While preparing my most favorite outfit for a party on the Upper East Side, something was missing, black socks. I looked in the Bermuda Triangle of socks, underneath my bed and in every nook + cranny around my room. However, I fell short. I sent the whole black sock collection to the laundry mat drop off.

Then I found a pair of black socks, but remembered, oh yeah it’s raining outside. I’ll probably have to take off my shoes at the party and these socks have taken too many glorious walks downtown this week.

Fortunately, I had a pair of white socks, which were not smelly. White socks and black dress shoes scream tacky. Anyways, I took the plunge & made my feet a shrine to tacky.

I walked out of my apartment, confidently. As I boarded the Uptown 6 train, I noticed my white socks were peaking their head out. I did what I could to hide my blunder. My feet resembled two miniature penguins. As I exited the 86th Street station, I arrived a bit early to the party. Therefore, I took a walk around Park Avenue.

In classic New York weather scenes, intense winds blew through the gilded cages of the ultra wealthy. I walked along Park Avenue, feeling very much like a prince. Then the wind kept blowing through my trousers, revealing my little secret. White socks & black shoes were the edgiest combo seen on the legendary avenue, since t-shirt & jeans wowed the blue bloods.

I made it to the party and took off my shoes. However, I was having such a lovely time with my friends that I simply forgot about my feet. Instead, I focused my energy on hogging up the karaoke machine & eating very well. From then on, I decided to invest in more socks and less cardigans (well until autumn appears again).