The Very Merry Otter

On a sweltering June afternoon, a teenage otter wandered around Times Square. He hailed from California’s sprawling suburbs. Armed with a Kodak disposable camera, he endured the extreme humidity and excitedly anticipated a life altering experience.

At the Palace theatre, he saw a vision. It was a Broadway show. “Aida” was the show, which popped his musical theatre cherry. Although, not the most amazing show; it was a trailblazing experience. Blossoming into a Broadway aficionado, he saved his pennies for the thrills of lavish musical numbers.

Eventually, our perky otter traded the Inland Empire’s sprawling mountain ranges for New York’s islands. After years in Queens & Manhattan, our heroic otter was a bit jaded.

He vividly daydreamed of a beautiful log cabin, surrounded by pine trees with a flowing stream of water. Alongside natural beauty, the cabin’s interior had a wood-burning fireplace, extensive book library & shabby furniture with scotch tape, masking it’s deteriorating beauty.

Even in the midst of wanderlust, our otter had graduated to the “hey, I am a New Yorker (from California). I can fucking complain, if I want to” phase of life. Rather than buying a one-way ticket to Oregon, he braved the chaotic plateau.

He was diagnosed with extreme jadedness. Nothing could stimulate his sense of wonder, anymore. Unexpectedly, he grew weary. On an unseasonably cold, April day, he received a text from (his friend, almost a sister), Natalia. “I want to make you smile, let’s go to the theatre.”

Merrily our otter was all dolled up. Coincidentally, the Broadway show brought him back to the theatre, where his love of musical theatre was born, the Palace.

Jadedness departed his soul, upon arrival. He enjoyed watching the parade of old people, all dolled up and excited about Broadway. The smell and old world appearance were as thrilling as his fist visit to the theatre.

As the curtain rose, he finally cracked a smile. There were lavish dance numbers, campy songs and impressive sets. Once again, our otter found his happy place in life.

Eventually, he returned to his jaded self. However, he was reminded that musical theatre saves souls. It lifts one from depression, even for a brief exhilarating moment.

He came to appreciate his New York surroundings, again. The forest and log cabin were more ideal. However, where would he find musical theatre in the woods? Otter thanked the Broadway gods for his smorgasbord of theatrical options.

Bear In A Cardigan

In the midst of rugged mountains, track homes, and vast freeways hides a surprising counter culture. In Riverside, CA, weird rules. Odd balls gravitate to the suburban sprawl like guacamole to a tortilla chip.

Growing up in Riverside, the counter culture frequented Back 2 the Grind, a coffee shop. It had comfy couches, art, and a dizzying array of books. Back 2 the Grind served as the perfect life alternative to my Catholic school conformity.

It’s where gay kids would hang out. They sipped lattes, listen to bands play, and form wanderlust of a world beyond rugged hills and orange groves. Conveniently, it was located next to a gay bar.

On any given night, disco lights would shine from the bar’s window onto the sidewalk. The Thompson Twins’ campy classic, “Lies” would seduce the gay eardrums. For a teenager (like yours truly), it was mesmerizing. A room full of sweaty, dancing gay guys, it was almost surreal, especially steaming from a conservative upbringing.

Curiosity blinded my senses. I declared, one day, I’d like to visit a gay bar. There were the obvious allures of sex and friendship, but also experiencing a life altering liberation.

After experiencing my first gay bar, it was exciting. Then, I quickly grew out of loud, sweaty bars. I found more liberation in myself rather than an institution.

Living in New York, I preferred cozy dives, where the bartenders knew my favorite drinks and life biography. I also couldn’t stay up super late, anymore. Taking the subway at 3 A.M. seemed as appealing as being chased by ferocious bulls in Pamplona.

Mirroring my Riverside upbringing, I preferred the warmth of a New York coffee house. I adored reading my books and writing on any given Saturday night. One night, I took a time machine ride back to my youth, thanks to a night out in Hell’s Kitchen (New York’s big gayborhood).

Thanks to a few whiskies, I was lured into one of those loud bars with a sizable dance floor. While the room was spinning, loud pop music threatened my eardrums. Oy, I think I am too old for this. Indeed, I was. My bladder agreed with me. I spent most of the night, peeing, which gave me practice in social skills. There was always a bathroom line.

When I wasn’t in line, I tried dancing with friends. Since, I am a wallflower, dancing didn’t come as easy. Then, I spotted a guy. Our eyes locked. He was dressed in a preppy manner, with wavy blond hair and blue eyes. Instantly, he grabbed and kissed me.

I was shocked, but secretly enjoyed it. Does this make me a male cougar? He seems a few years younger, I noted to myself. Instead, I giggled and declared, “why yes, I still have it going on.” He brought out the tiger in me, but it was only a kiss.

Fearing a burst of misery on the late night subway, I took a cab home. Happily, I noted my night out as a life experience.

The next day, I sipped on coffee, listened to an indie band, and enjoyed tacos with my neighbor. I realized that I am still a mellow, Riverside boy. Although, getting kissed by that cute guy will remain a most wonderful memory.

Squeak Says Mouse

I live in a fifth floor-walk-up apartment. Lovingly, I call my apartment, the penthouse (with breath taking views of the projects and delis). Thanks to cheap rent and abundant space (for New York), I’ve remained in my shabby, but charming old studio apartment.

On one my voyages upstairs, I huffed and puffed. “I miss living in an elevator building” are the words, I proclaim, everyday. On a particularly cold January evening, I rushed up to the penthouse, bracing myself for Wonton soup to sooth and warm the soul.

Quickly, I met the face of fear. My eyes widen with terror. It was the grey creature of death and destruction. It squeaked. “Shit, that’s a mouse,” it was tiny. Rather, than disregarding mighty mouse, I took a calmer route.

With an earth-shattering scream, the mouse grew fearful. He fell a down a flight of stairs. Bolting toward my apartment, I arrived and locked the door. Anxiety raced through me.
Then, I thought about that poor injured mouse, falling down all the flights of stairs.

Poor guy, but it didn’t take away from his wrath of evilness. My heart grew worrisome for home, oddly. Afterwards, I took in deep breaths and listened to show tunes. While being entranced by the sounds of Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Fiddler on the Roof, I soon drifted into a mouse free land.

Months later, I forgot about Mr. Mouse. He was a distant memory. On a spring morning with sparkling blue skies and delicious coffee, I received a nervous text from my friend, Anna. “We have a mouse in our apartment,” she texted.

Being the strapping gay lad, I texted back, “I’ll be over to help you find it.” As I strolled past coffee shops and brownstone blocks, terror returned. “Shit, a mouse. I hate mice. The only mouse, I adore is named Mickey and he lives in Disneyland.”

Hesitatingly, I arrived into the den of anxiety, my friend’s apartment. My favorite neighbors, Anna and Sigourney’s faces spelled terror. Mousetraps lined the floor of the apartment. Furniture was scattered. Only one piece of furniture remained in tact, the couch.

Armed with broomsticks, Anna bravely moved the couch. We had a feeling the mouse was under it. While the couch moved, a sign of terror appeared. “Oh, my god, it’s a mouse tail, yelled Sigourney. Like any rugged and manly man, I took a quick gulp, bolted toward the bathroom and locked myself in.

“Anthony, grow a pair of balls,” said, Anna. I didn’t want to leave the bathroom. It was comfortable and safe. Eventually, I came out of the bathroom and quickly grabbed a broomstick. What looked like a tail, was actually fallen fabric from the couch. After moving the couch and re-arranging the furniture several times, the mouse still didn’t appear.

It was a grueling afternoon of screaming and anxiety. Rather than dialing up my very reliable therapist, I found my Zen place. If you guessed a coffee shop, then congratulations, you’re a fucking genius.

Anna and I sipped on lattes. We forgot about the mouse, which was never captured. Our lattes were a badge of honor for surviving a deeply traumatizing scenario.

Mice are a reality of New York, sort of like shit weather and high rents. Personally having two mouse encounters of a close kind has made me braver.

Fuck it, if I see one mouse, I am going to scream and have a heart attack. Oh and if this does happen, I hope some hunky fire fighter revives me. Cheers to you, Mickey Mouse, Jerry (of Tom & Jerry fame), and (who can forget) Mighty Mouse.

Melancholy on Mars

The penguins marched on a perfectly iced road. Glaciers drifted along the murky seas. Hills of powdered snow soothed the bleeding heart. Wait, why is there a deli in the middle of Antarctica? “Oh, it’s not Antarctica, but New York in the winter.”

Like any good New York winter, it obviously snowed. The sound of shovels hitting concrete was surprisingly nostalgic. Salt dusted the sidewalk. Twinkling lights adorned the tiny shops of East Ninth Street with its funky vintage clothing and knick-knack empires.

Naturally, I viewed the serene falling snow from the comfort of a warm coffee shop. Although, I had many New York winters under my belt, there was a phenomenon, which didn’t yet contaminate my happiness. While drifting between coffee shop and bus stop, I fantasized about my hometown.

Across the Rocky Mountains, orange-hued plains, and tan desert sands is Riverside, California. It’s a historic suburb, sixty-five miles east of Los Angeles. Unlike most sleepy suburbs with bland homes, chain stores, and homogenous faces, Riverside was weird, in the tradition of Portland or Austin.

There was a surprising counter culture, which frequented the cozy coffee shops of Downtown Riverside. Gay friendly churches, a sizable live music scene, quirky antique shops, mom and pop restaurants, street lined with Sycamore trees, unexpected graffiti art gave and a multi-cultural population gave the leafy Suburb, an unexpected edge.

Of course, there were country clubs, a fabulous mall, old Victorian homes and mini vans, which reminded us, “Oh, yes, it’s not quite Brooklyn.” Alongside rolling hills was my childhood home.

My father still lived in the same house. I missed him, terribly. Since it was just the two of us, we reveled in our time together. We always ate dinner together on an old wooden table. It was a marvel, which symbolized wonderful memories and scrumptious meals.

The downfall of Riverside was it distance, over two thousand miles from New York City. Back in Manhattan, the temperatures dipped below zero. I daydreamed of my house, the smell of an old fireplace, and family.

Bravely, I took my evening walk. While the cold winds penetrated through my pea coat, I felt aloof from the world.

The sidewalks were crowded. In typical New York fashion, everyone was in a rush, but it didn’t deter me from aloofness. In a sense, I was viewing life from my own private planet. For the first time in years, I was homesick.

In the grand tradition of being homesick, I moped around. I was hopeful that a walk around the East Village, it didn’t. However, the loneliness stuck like a snow bank to a frozen sidewalk.

Steam rolled off Second Avenue. Sirens shattered eardrums. I played peek-a-boo with the Chrysler Building. On a typical Saturday afternoon, I headed to the Odessa. It was a distinctly old school Polish diner.

I thoroughly enjoyed the elderly New York population, which frequented the grease spoon. There was an older lady, who always sat opposite me. She was as a tough as nails, native New Yorker. We often had small talk whenever, I’d visit. We’d complain about everything. Therefore, we bonded.

One afternoon, I just sat silent. Staring out the window at a buzzing Avenue A, I tried to enjoy my surroundings. After finishing lunch, I paid my bill and said, bye to my dinner friend.

“You don’t have to eat lunch alone. Next time, come sit at my table, we’ll eat together,” she said, while cracking her coconut shell. I smiled, “I would love that, thanks. See you next week,” I replied.

I left the diner feeling a little less alone. Still feeling homesick, I went to the Strand bookshop. Retail therapy proved quite effective. Walking crosstown toward the Seventh Avenue subway line (with my yellow Strand shopping bag), a strange feeling sent electricity through my brain

“Oh, I feel at home,” said I, giving a stunned facial expression. “That’s right, New York has been home for years. Even though, it’s loud, crowded, claustrophobic, dirty, critter ridden and infested by juice bars, the city will always be my home. Being a brave penguin, I marched on.

Afterwards, I eventually traveled to Riverside. Thanks to Google maps, I felt at home without leaving the East. The Only thing missing was a hug from my dad and an amazing burrito, cha, cha, cha.