Vodka and the Gayve

How do I not break my neck, climbing these stairs? I asked myself.

I had reached my glorious apartment, a bit tipsy. My poison of choice was the chocolate whipped vodka. It contained seltzer, chocolate cream flavored vodka, and a lime. It tasted of the classic concoction, egg cream, the boozy version, of course.

Rather than craving General Tso’s Chicken or tasty Latino diner fare, I hungered for something more enticing. Like any good drunkard, I sifted through my beloved bookshelf.

“Ulysses, I’ve never read, Ulysses. How can I be a future English teacher of America and not read this classic?” I asked myself.

Rather dizzily, I pulled out the bed from my sofa, for a reading session. Ulysses’ beautiful green cover was intoxicating. The literary journey began. Initially, James Joyce’s important classic had me surprisingly glued. The first few chapters went by relatively quickly.

Since New York’s temperatures had dropped below zero, I was trapped in my fifth-floor walk-up. I spent much needed time with James Joyce. After a three-day weekend, the inevitable happened.

“Ulysses you’re boring the shit out of me,” said, the future English teacher.

I placed the lengthy novel back in its rightful place, the closet. Boarding two trains, I arrived in Union Square and bolted to the Strand Bookshop. “Welcome, book lovers,” the entrance sign read.

The shop’s book display case greeted, my bookworm eyes. It has always been the most beautifully arranged book table, in literary history. Somewhere between “The Catcher & The Rye” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” A yellow sign beckoned my attention.

“Read a challenging book,” the sign said.

Beneath it, were several stacked copies of Ulysses. I opened the book, and observed how far along I was.

“Still, I can’t fathom finishing this book,” I told myself.

As I boarded the subway back to Harlem, the words, “read a challenging book,” haunted me. Then I arrived in my humble studio apartment. Ulysses came out of the literary closet.

I was back to reading the behemoth of book. Some parts grew increasingly enjoyable, while others made me want booze. Every moment not spent at work, were spent with Ulysses.

During my lunch break, I read my final sentence. After re-reading that sentence over and over, I closed the book.

“Shit, I actually finished, Ulysses.” It wasn’t my favorite book, but it ended up being quite enjoyable, and rather sexually explicit towards the end. The bookworm literary decathlon had ended.

I read more and more challenging books from then on. Ulysses fulfilled my wordy appetite. In celebration of completing, Ulysses, I did have another of those chocolate whipped vodkas. James Joyce would’ve approved.

 

That Poet Dude

Dude, You’re reading “Infinite Jest.” Like, David Foster Wallace is a genius. I’ve gotten all the way to page 400, said, Skylar (that’s his alias).

“Yeah, I am plugging away. I am on page 200,” I said.

We smiled at each. It was thrilling to meet another bookworm, especially a cute one. His style did scream, “Pacific Northwest Reject.” With sandals, ragged jeans, and a hoodie, he stood as that rare creature unique to the gay (the muscle bound/fashion conscious) mainstream.

After an intellectually stimulating conversation, we parted ways. I tried my best to preserve remnants of cynicism. Naively, I kept thinking about my Skylar.

“Gee, I bet he has a huge, huge, huge book collection. We could swap books. We could read James Baldwin, Joan Didion and James Joyce under a grand Sycamore tree. Heck, we could even get into lengthy debates about Dystopia novels vs. the current political climate.

The following week, I arrived promptly at art class. Skylar strolled in a bit late. He traded the hoodie for a “Nirvana” band t-shirt. Rather than have a serious expression, I decided to make eye contact with him. He returned the eye contact, with a smile.

After an hour of studying Post-Impressionists, I needed to tinkle. Miraculously, Skylar appeared.

“Hey, dude, can I read you a poem I wrote? It’s about some dude who committed suicide, he said.

I shook my head. He read with emotion. The men’s room entrance became a little poet’s den. Rather than a tinkle, Skylar and strolled around the campus. Throughout the walk, I wanted to find out if he were gay. The sexuality question was never brought up.

The following week in class, I brainstormed ways to ask him out. Unlike the previous week, he seemed more rush.

“Hey, where are you parked?” I asked.

“Oh, I am walking home,” He said.

He then left the classroom. I went home, regretting not being more up-front.

Skylar grew more and more distant, each week. We said, hi, to each other. He didn’t make much conversation. A month after meeting, I hit a literary milestone. I conquered reading, “Infinite Jest,” with Its 1,000 + pages.

As for my love life, I predictably lost interest in Skylar. After ending the semester, I still wondered if he was gay. It would’ve been great to date a fellow bookworm. My (future) bookworm boyfriend has been probably hiding under a rock (or the Strand Bookstore’s rows of shelves).

Fortunately, I wouldn’t have to hear his depressing poetry. The art class didn’t bring romance. However, I did receive an “A” on my report card (from that class) & a G.P.A. boost.

The Geriatrics Crowd

In a pleasant ranch home in Los Angeles’ Mar Vista section, stereotypes had come to die. It was my family’s Fourth of July reunion. Nobody ate healthy salads, worried about dieting, or drank anything with Kale.

Instead, a chubby pig roasted over an open fire. Initially, we all noshed on Cuban appetizers (Croquettes and little sandwiches). It helped quench hunger for an hour. However, the seductive air of roast pork awoke taste buds.

In a corner table sat, the “Metamucil Mafia” (old people, not an actual mafia). Rather than gambling and trading dirty jokes, the “Metamucil Mafia” had eyeballs bulging in despair. Concerned, I sat at the geriatric’s table.

“Are you starving, Anthony,” asked Auntie Melba.

“My stomach is growling in pangs of hunger,” I replied.

“Nephew, I love how straightforward you are,” said, Auntie Melba.

The geriatrics table grew increasingly gloomy. Everyone just stared at each, depressed. Mr. Piggy over the fire just kept on cooking and cooking and cooking.

Hours dragged on. I went from calm to hangry (when hunger meets anger). I leaped from the table. The startled seniors stared on.

“Why don’t we smuggle in a Domino’s Pizza?” I asked.

Their eyes lit up.

“What happens if someone catches us, “ asked Aunt Amarilis.

“We’ll eat out in the driveway. I’ll order it. My treat, “ I said.

At first, everyone was skeptical. When hunger took over, they shook their heads in agreement.

I pulled out my phone and designed our pork friendly pie. Sausage, pepperoni, bacon, it was a clogged artery’s wet dream. The seniors looked joyful again.

By the time I was about to push “order,” something miraculous happened.

“The pig is ready,” shouted my cousin.

The seniors forgot about their arthritis and rushed to the front of the roast pork line. They avoided greens and just went for the meat and potatoes. After returning to our senior friendly round table, we feasted on the pork.

Everyone stared at each other. We could read our minds. The pork had the consistency of a rubber band. Although, we would usually complain, hunger made the rubber bands taste scrumptious. Eventually, everyone regretted not ordering a pie. It would’ve made the Metamucil Mafia a bit more “bad ass.”

1988

My first apartment in Manhattan smelled of nostalgia. The smell was similar to an old bookshop meets Katz’s deli. It did have an elevator, and was just blocks from the East Village.

When the elevator doors opened, fluorescent hallway lights and green apartment doors welcomed me to the cocoon. A special box had arrived at my door, on a freezing March evening. It was a care package from my father in California. The box weighed thirty pounds.

I dragged it into my bedroom, and opened it. “Wow, my Mickey Mouse comforter was stuffed inside.” Excitedly, I hugged the worn out comforter.

Back in 1988, it was my childhood, “blanky.” My parents had bought me a whole Mickey Mouse bed set. While all the bedding had been tossed, the comforter remained mostly intact.

The Mickey Mouse comforter provided a sense of warmth. During cold winter nights, I cuddled up to it. It was a part of my youth, which provided much need nostalgia, in the midst of neurosis.

After spending my final three years in Harlem (my favorite neighborhood), I decided to switch careers and coasts. My studio apartment became a maze of boxes. Most of my belongings made it safely to California.

However, the Mickey Mouse comforter remained (I needed some bedding during my last few weeks). Upon my last night, I decided not to stuff the comforter into my suitcase. Instead, I left it behind.

A material object from my childhood was gone forever. I wondered if it was donated to a shelter or simply burned. Regardless, it provided a sense of home and coziness, in tenement crazed, New York City.

Since my relocation to California, I opted not to buy another Mickey Mouse blanket. Instead, I now count sheep in a gorgeous mint green comforter, which perfectly matches my old apartment door in Manhattan.

The Forgotten Cinema

Sandwiched between a fifties style café and gourmet bistro, stood the mighty cinema. Its tower had distinct turquoise bay windows. Its façade was pinker than a flamingo.

In fact, the whole shopping center was pink. It represented the highest in late 80’s architectural sophistication. Inside the Canyon Springs Cinema, great films of 1989 and early 90’s played.

Moviegoers stood in line for such classics as Wayne’s World, Addams Family Values, My Girl, Clueless, Too Wong Foo, The Lion King and (dare I say) Titanic. It was a gathering place for the community, which included many workers from the nearby, March Air Force Base, and students from UCR.

In the late 90’s, Riverside had a movie theatre boom. Theatres were easily found in two-mile radius. The Canyon Springs Cinema stood strong. Then pinker than a flamingo shopping center began it’s gradual decay.

Soon competition from nearby theatres finally hit Canyon Springs, like an incurable virus. The cinema and its mighty tower eventually faded away.

Once a beacon to mainstream cinema, where tears and laughter filled tacky red seats, neither emotion was ever felt again. Rather than being torn for a more modern structure, the cinema has remained abandoned. It’s interior, emptier than the Great Plains.

The shopping center did have a beacon of hope, curry. The neighborhood’s most delicious Indian restaurant livened up the bland scape. At least one can still have a spicy and delicious Chicken Tikka Masala, in the shadow of an abandoned shrine to film.

Alas in Wonderland

It was my first winter back in Southern California, after years in the New York City. The skies were grey. The hills resembled the robust green of the English countryside. Pea coats, coffee cups, and steaming hot soup replaced flip-flops, iced soy mochas and gazpacho.

The grey skies were welcoming, especially as the only weirdo, who missed New York winters. Orange groves provided the only pop of color. I made the best of my more quiet surroundings.

Like my teenage years, I’d drive the old Honda around Riverside. K-ROQ (local alternative music station) blasted. Cappuccinos fueled energy levels. As the ghettos of University Avenue became ornate Downtown, I felt strangely stimulated.

One condition crippled the brain waves. Writer’s block became a constant enemy. Everyday, I promised myself, “Hey, I’ll write a story. Instead, I looked at a most depressing blank page, and proclaimed, “fuck.”

Did the move out west kill my creativity? Many of my stories were New York-centric. They revolved around Harlem, the subway, East Village, bookshops, dive bars, and snarky Tri-State humor.

New York was in my past. However, I needed its anxiety filled lifestyle in order to function. Comfortably, I had settled into the suburbs. It was too comfortable. I needed to a certain level of misery to write.

It had been a month, since I had written anything. Depressed, I was constantly brainstorming story ideas. No luck, I just kept staring at a blank page. It was the white canvass of death.

The birds chirped. Coffee flowed through the veins. Stimulation was becoming drier than the Santa Ana winds. In the tradition of a well-read intellect, I made a bold move. I flipped on the TV and watched the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

A tear ran down my cheek. “Shit, this can’t be my existence.” As brain cells diminished, gradually, I feared for my sanity. Then I turned off the television. I walked over to my laptop and just started writing.

I didn’t need to be in a specific geographical location. My brain just needed to relax. With a more mellow brain, I completed a story. It was grand. My writer’s block had been cured (for the time being). Now, I could watch shit television, sans the guilty conscious.