Mr. Bookworm climbs a hill

Hills are a nightmare for cubs (chubby, hairy, thirty to twenty-something gay men). One hill served this bookworm, well. Located in New York City’s Morningside Park, the stairs led to a pot of gold. This pot of gold smelled like old paperbacks (if they could only bottle that smell). It motivated yours truly to actually climb an actual hill.

Book Culture (on 112th and Broadway) had the distinct bookshop smell. Along with being a refuge for fellow bookworms, the shop features shelves filled with used books. Murakami, Morrison, and Didion, my hands would sweat the poundage of great literary works. The used bookshop (along with the Strand) inspired a very important career move.

Surrounded by used books, I became motivated to switch careers, from advertising to education. “I wanted to become a school teacher and inspire young minds to read the classics.” My proclamations oozed with cheesiness. However, cheese has always been a friend.

A year later, this bookworm climbed a very different hill. This one led to a classroom. After relocating to (my native) Riverside, I began studying literature. On a painfully warm day, this professional student (me) climbed a steep hill to he American literature class.

Sitting in class, I anticipated the return of (The) Invisible Man research paper (Mr. Ralph Ellison’s version). As the professor handed back the paper, my hands shook in terror. Flipping to the last page (where the grade is), I shut my eyes. I should’ve left them shut.

My eyes opened, shockingly. In blazing red stood the letter D, with a minus at the end. Shit, fuck, shit, it’s been years, since I received a “D” in anything. I’m a “Dean’s List” student, sans that first semester in college.
“Why did I leave Manhattan and advertising? This whole school experience wasn’t working out.” I continued to sit in class. Afterwards, I climbed down the hill, and sped home.

Hiding out in the gayve (gay man cave), teardrops fell. Staring at books, records, and decorations (synonymous with my New York years), relief became a temporary state. Soon, depression took over. Netflix and wine provided escapism.
A whole weekend went by, recovery didn’t seem realistic. Monday, the depression bubble began to deflate. “Fuck, the Charles Dickens research paper was due in three days.” Like any good student, I went back to work (I finished the research paper in a day).

The following day, I climbed up “Cardiac” hill and returned to class. Surprisingly, I sat in the American literature class, nearly recovered from the D- trauma. In a surprising twist, my professor handed back another paper. Rolling my eyes, I flipped to the back page.

“Fuck, shit, fuck, in the best way.” I got a “B” on the Harlem Renaissance paper. Hope restored. Weeks later, while hibernating from the desert sun, Spring semester grades were posted. I passed everything.

Thinking about the steep hill, leading to class, I made a wish. “Book Culture, please open a shop at my college. It would serve as a wonderful community gathering space. There’s also a huge, steep hill to schlep up.

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The Secret Bookshelf

Before the world turned into a (virtual) “Zombie Apocalypse,” there was a bookshelf. Used and deeply discounted copies of classics like Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I know Why the Caged Bird Sings competed for literary affection.

The old shelf could be found at New York’s Strand Bookshop. With a sea of beautifully curated book tables, the shelf suffered from anonymity. However, it meant, I could stock up on the classics, without competition.

While braving the bookshop’s tropical heat, in winter, I made a discovery. It was a $3.00 copy of 1984. Elated, I bought the copy. Immediately, I re-read, the George Orwell classic.

Everyday after work, I’d head to Café Grumpy at Grand Central Station, and immersed myself in Orwell’s disturbing Dystopia fantasy. It was a most splendid way to avoid rush hour. I re-read it in three days.

My used copy of “1984” joined other novels for the move to California. The box arrived at my father’s house. He took pictures of the inventory, since I was still wrapping up life in Manhattan. Scrolling through the pictures, 1984 had been missing from the pictures.

“Daddy, where’s my copy of 1984?” I asked.

“I don’t see it, “ he replied.

“Oh my God, please look for it,” I told him.

Nervous, I tried to figure out how my precious $3.00 copy went missing. A few minutes later, my father texted me.

“Is this the stupid book?” he wrote.

1984 had arrived safely, via camera phone evidence. It was now sandwiched between “Giovanni’s Room” and “A Confederacy of Dunces.” No Prozac for me, everything was swell. I looked forward to being reunited with my well-traveled books, in the Gayve (the gay man cave).

Five months later, Trump became President elect. (According to several news sources) 1984 hit the best sellers chart, again. The old cliché rang true, “life imitates art.” The Zombie Apocalypse dawned upon us. My very own Gayve has served as a refuge for art, literature, and cool records.

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.”

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.

Homo-Neurotic Art

What am I sitting on? My mother yelled. She made a most campy discovery, while sitting on our old striped couch. This is a gay comic book isn’t it? Her fury was elevating within seconds.

Mother had this ideal vision of a clean-cut son, who acted masculine and aimed for business school. Instead, the Goddess above handed mom, an eccentric, quirky looking gay son, who loved theatre and books (in other shocking news). Finding the gay comic book tore into her conformists hopes for my mannerisms.

“Shit, fuck, shit, I should’ve been more careful with my gay goods.” She handed me the comic. It was tossed in the trash. When mom went upstairs to read her bible. I fished the comic out from the garbage. Its adorable new home became my Catholic high school locker.

2016, present day

Not surprisingly, I didn’t end up with a husband, finance job, or  test tube babies. My mother’s worst fear became an artful reality. In a friend’s artist loft in New York’s NoHo neighborhood, funky and serene art surrounded me.

Painted scenes from the French and Irish countryside, disco balls, paint splatters, squeaky old wooden loft, canvases filled with pastel colors; it was an arty outcast’s pinnacle moment. “Gee, I want some art..”

I was due to move back to my native California in a few weeks. Colorful art would go fittingly in the Gay-ve (gay man cave). “Here’s some art for your new home.” My artist friend handed me some divine prints. They featured naked men kissing.

Wow, original art by the original artist, and there were naked guys. I was harkened back to the sofa incident. Since I was in my thirties, there was no need to hide my gay art. Hours later, I attended a party on the Upper East Side and showed off the prints. Everyone was thoroughly impressed.

A week later, the art was shipped to dad’s house in Riverside, CA, along with cardigans, books, and records. As I walked back from the UPS store, alongside Harlem brownstones, I thought of my father’s face opening the suitcase filled with the gay erotic art.

Although, he could be more open minded than myself, I didn’t want him to have a heart attack. “Daddy my suitcase is on its way, don’t open it. There’s valuable art in there.” He could’ve sounded less interested.

Within weeks, I traded Manhattan for Riverside. Upon my arrival, the suitcase remained unopened. Unearthing the gay art, I laughed. “Where do I put this? My gayve is already much too distracting and this art is raunchy.”

“Uh-oh, was yours truly turning into a prude.” Rebelling like any good gay boy, I decided to bring a bit of edge to my track home. In a rare confessional moment, I told daddy, “The art in my suitcase is naked gay male art.” He shrugged his shoulders, “son, I would be more surprised if you didn’t have naked gay male art in your suitcase.”

We went back to watching Daria. In the same room, where mom found the gay comic and freaked, dad came to accept my outlandish artful tastes. This “freak of nature” officially felt acceptance.

An Insomniac’s Solitude

A dusty old bookshop is my solitude. Sifting through titles, finding unexpected used gems (at a discount) lifts dark clouds of depression. Stepping into a curious little literary shop, I was met with a fire-breathing dragon.

Shit, fuck, shit, it’s the Fox News Channel Bookshop. Every shelf was littered with Donald Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal.” Like any well-adjusted Democrat, I dashed out of the peculiar bookshop.

Eventually, I woke up in own darkened room. Dashing to the Gay-ve, I turned on the light. Smiling back at me were books by Zadie Smith, James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, Hunter S. Thompson, Jane Austen, and many more.

The Fox News Bookshop was just a nightmare. Unfortunately, I had eccentric dreams every night. Sometimes they boarded on avant-garde madness. Other times, fluffy dreams soothed the brain’s intertwined wrinkles.

Surprisingly, sleep anxiety didn’t quite build. Feeling increasingly comfortable, I found myself wandering New York City. Short of subway fare, I purchased a one-way ticket to Harlem, via the Seventh Avenue line.

A well air-conditioned train pulled into the 14th Street Station. Taking a seat on the orange seat, I glanced out the window. Dying animals appeared in between the Uptown and Downtown tracks, as the train sped, uptown.

Horses, dogs, and cats were tied to IV machines, clinging to life. The scene was terrifying and the animal hospice continued to line the tracks, all the way to 125th Street. Once again, I woke up with fear. Turning on the television, I was reminded of my safety zone in sleepy California.

The animal hospice dream finally triggered sleepy anxiety. Having nightmares became a frightening nightly occurrence. Each night, I dreaded sleep, not even sleeping pills could deter a mischievous brain.

I battled my own self-conscious by taking imitative. Sleeping next to a journal, I wrote down the nightly dreams, which stirred up panic. Eventually, the panic was turned to art. It was the equivalent of watching art house cinema, at it’s most raw.

From hamburger eating gold fish to being stranded on islands, every night had a different theme. It added to the crazy mosaic fabric of the dream journal. In the meantime, I continue to embrace stories from the subconscious. Yet, I really hope to never end up at the Fox News Bookshop. My liberal self would not approve.

Ambulance Chasers

Cole Porter dreams, and enchilada wishes happen in the desert. Palm Springs serves as my glittery backyard. It’s where the gay geriatrics lounge with martinis and collect art. They stare at mountains, art deco buildings, and shirtless men (of course). The gay desert is an escape from the shallowness of city life.

I’ve always been an ambulance chaser. This is other wise known as a “daddy chaser.” Although, wrinkles and grey hair are most appealing, age has always been just a number.

Hipster Boy, Meat-head, and Mr. Pseudo Intellectual were just a few of the fellows I dated. Inevitably, these counted as disaster dates. They also led me back to the Townhouse (a Piano bar) in New York City, where dapper older men sang alongside a piano, while sipping booze and discussing the latest Broadway hit.

My visits made me forget about the vile twenty-somethings, mentioned. My fascination for older men grew as I relocated, back to my hometown (which is fairly close to Palm Springs).

As a daddy chaser, I had all the right apps to meet men, virtually. However, after a terrible disaster date, I tried to delete the app. A most appealing man randomly messaged me.

He mirrored Nick Lachey (the cub version). After messaging me, I investigated his profile. “Only twenty-three? Shit” His messages were quite endearing, but I became weary. After disaster dates with Hipster Boy, Meat-Head and Mr. Pseudo Intellectual, dating a twenty-something didn’t appeal to me.

Revolting against common sense and preference, I sent him a message. Surprisingly, he was quite mature for twenty-three. His messages grew increasingly lovely. The messages were endless. Finally, I gave him my phone number, where he asked me out on a date at a Redlands coffee shop.

Obliging, Mr. Twenty-three became an ambulance chaser. My ego was suddenly boosted. However, I grew fearful. “If this works out, would I surrender into a parallel universe of cute couple photos, dinner by candle light, and snuggling on the couch?

Jadedness injected the soul with sharp pangs. Guilt kept me obliged to meet up. Coordinating my outfit, I received a text. “Will have to cancel, sorry.” Gloating, I responded back, “no worries”

“He’s so ghosting. He’s really ghosting” (the act where a fella texts and texts, then suddenly disappears). Surprise, he ended up texting me hours after canceling. Our correspondence continued. In a matter of days, he stopped texting.

It was my first relationship done entirely through text message. Having never met him, physically, I garnered an animosity toward modern technology. Men weren’t meeting other men in the real world, which remains disheartening.

“No cheesy couples’ photos! No romantic dinners! No cuddling on the couch!” I celebrated my spinsterhood. Predictably, Palm Springs beckoned. It’s an ambulance chaser’s dream.

Being the old cat lady would be swell, but what happens at eighty? There will be less of an abundance of older men to date. “ Thanks to modern technology and sophisticated medicine, one hundred year old gay men will still be sipping martinis and singing Cole Porter staples at the piano bar.

The Introvert Sips Espresso

Which asshole am I going to tell off today? Asked the eccentric man on the subway platform (I am being nice by using the word, eccentric). In the grand tradition of subway riders, everyone was unshaken, including me.

Public transportation can make the sane go insane. Man spreading, break dancers, sweat dripping from unknown sources, germs, germs, more germs, body odor, the possibility of contracting bed bugs, this ideally described the daily subway riding experience.

During my New York years, anxiety levels were raised high. In case of entrapment in a subway tunnel, I carried a Murse (man purse) full of distractions. Books, a sketchpad, sketching pencils, Batman notebook, and an iPOD filled with catchy tunes.

“Oh, geez, it would be swell to drive a car. No germs, no spreading, no surprise street performers!” After a nose wiggle, my quirky-self ended up in Riverside, CA. Strolling from coffee shop to coffee shop, driving a car through freshly scented orange groves, and reading on a bench, it was a perfect distraction from the chaos of New York City.

Within a month of returning to Riverside, I took the CBEST test (for my teaching credentials). Anxiety levels were at an all time-low. Yet all the Prozac in the world couldn’t rid the anxious clogging my head, upon taking the test.

A few weeks later, an email was sent. “Your test results are available, next day.” Smirking, I played it calm, “oh, well, there’s still fresh air and coffee in abundance.” Unfortunately, this New York/Riverside hybrid really proclaimed, “Shit, we’re all going to die. If I didn’t pass my test, everything is over.”

More riveting than electroshock therapy, anxiety levels rose, and rose, and rose. Even a relaxing drive through the beloved orange groves wouldn’t smash crazy in the nose.

Glancing at the passenger seat, the murse smiled back. It had an eyeglass-wearing cat plastered on the bag. “ The caption read, “Don’t bother me now, I am reading right meow.” Feeling nostalgic for the days of artistic therapy on the train, I took charge of my anxiety.

Heading to the coffee shop in the strip mall, breathing exercises followed. I drew gay cowboys, with tortoise shell glasses. It distracted anxious feelings for a bit. After an afternoon of cowboys and lattes, it was back to my humble track home.

Unexpectedly, anxiety, my old friend returned. “What happens if I didn’t pass the test?” The test results were emailed. The file opened. In (huge) bold letters the PDF read, “You did not pass the CBEST.”

My hours of studying were flushed down the grand toilet of life. However, being Mr. Optimistic, depression didn’t loom over me. For an hour, everything remained normal. The next day, anxiety turned into depression.

Failure and disappointment, it happened. Hiding in the Gay-ve (the gay man cave), depression wouldn’t subside. Great literature and pretty pictures couldn’t boost up morale.

After a day of licking wounds and dying of failure, I made a comeback. Carrying my murse, I marched to Wallgreen’s, bought notecards, and found an open table at Augie’s Coffee.

Taking a different approach to studying, plans to retake the test were cemented. No giving up for this future teacher of America. Life’s great villains (Algebra and multiple-choice tests) would receive a kick on the tuckus. Thank you, note cards, I’m ready for a test taking comeback.

Yawn, Otter, Yawn

Fuck, shit, fuck, a tragedy just rocked my campy existence. With tears streaming down, I glanced at the vertical mirror. “Hola, muffin, muff top, that is. For half a decade, my weight had stayed consistent. Finally, bagels, pizza, and nachos had taken their revenge.

Leaving the dressing room, traumatized, the inevitable persisted. I caved in and bought a gym membership. The Treadmill became a major yawn. Power walking and jogging ignited a yearning to eat carbohydrates, drink coffee, and read books.

Rather than dying of boredom, coffee shop culture made a surprise cameo on the treadmill, sans the coffee, or treats. Indie rock, a classic novel and the “infamous” Batman journal sustained a tolerable (working-out) experience.

Glancing around the gym, muscles, six packs and pecs were as common as sweat and germs. The guys had the cheesy,” hi, I’m a Chippendale’s dancer” look. Secretly, I wished to have similarly sculpted features.

Alas, in the gay galaxy, I belonged to the bear tribe. Bears could eat as many burritos as possible and still get dates. Chub and fur were the only pre-requisites.

Confidently, I stepped off the treadmill. Basking in my bit of bohemia, an inevitable interruption serenaded gay eardrums. It was the “Scruff” app notifying me of an interested fellow. “Hello, looking for a nice guy to date,” read the message.

Jaded from past disaster dates, I rolled my eyes. However, after a week of feeling rejected by one’s own trouser size, a date would elevate self-esteem. “ Otter seeking bear,” were very persuasive words (Otter is a hairy, but skinny gay guy.).

We chatted; I sent him sexy pictures of yours truly wearing dazzling cardigans. He showed off his colorful tattoos. As expected, I asked him out on a proper date. Being a man of great taste, he naturally accepted.

Meeting at Simple Simon’s (a cool deli in Downtown Riverside), we locked eyes. If you thought, Barbara Streisand came out of the bushes to serenade two gay stereotypes, then you’re somewhat wrong. An awkward handshake greeted me, upon meeting.

His brightly colored personality was a distinct grey in real life. Sitting a table by the window, we ate. Conversation was forced. Diagnosing myself with a slow death from boredom, I threw random and funny topics to gab about. Drinking was one such topic. He was disturbed. “Drinking is stupid.” Geez, in all of California, I find the one gay, who hates booze.

Observing him eat a croissant sandwich served as the only excitement. Finally, hitting the wall of boredom, he took a last bite. The date ended. We parted ways. Like many mature acting gay guys, I immediately deleted him from Scruff. “Going on treadmill for five hours would’ve been more delightful, rejection loomed.

Upon returning home, dad observed sadness. I confessed everything and told dad, “He doesn’t drink alcohol. ”Dad smirked, “never trust a man, who doesn’t drink.” As the old cliché goes, “father really does know best.”

Recovering from chronic boredom, I delved back into my coffee-centric/book-centric life. Most surprisingly, I returned to the treadmill and had burrito daydreams, like a good bear should.