I See Dinosaurs

I spend half my days in the (steel & glass) canyons of Midtown East. My desk is adorned with decorative paper dolls, a Rubik’s cube, and vintage postcards.

A portrait of the St. Jacinto Mountains in Palm Springs is prominently displayed. When I stare into the portrait, it takes me back to my native land, Southern California. A great deal of nostalgia follows.

I hate driving. In fact, my hatred of driving drove me to the east where trains are abundant. For years, I delighted in trains, but as I grew older, I longed for my own little cocoon (also known as an automobile). My wanderlust for driving ignited a deep desire for a drive to Palm Springs, one particular trip.

While visiting my childhood home in Riverside, I threw anxiety into the smog filled air. My heart was aching for adventure. I selected my favorite 80’s music and was Palm Springs bound.

The route to Palm Springs is rather scenic. It could inspire everyone from Jack Kerouac to Hunter S. Thompson to write fantastical stories about the quirky towns and environs along the way.

With Culture Club seducing my left-brain, I set sail. Through the track homes of Moreno Valley, signs for a Mexican market, fast food, and Target distract the emotional senses. Quickly, suburban civilization fades into the dust.

A set of narrow mountains magically appears. Rugged and filled with imposing rocks, the road twists and turns with great fury. Anxiety races through my arms. The pangs are similar to great shocks of electricity. Cars tail gate. They change lanes with Superman speeds.

The desert below peeks it’s graceful canvass from the dust filled mountains. They continually rise to the heavens. Smog infused skies fade into a flawless, electric blue.

Automobiles roar alongside fields of yellow grass, roasted by the sun. Commercialism is resurrected. Gas stations, a 24-hour Denny’s restaurant, roadside fruit stands and billboard after billboard re-appear in the boon docks’ nearly open fields.

The 60 freeway merges into the 10. More cars battle for lane space. The electricity up and down my arms dissipates. A very colorful outlet mall rules the kingdom. Discounted cardigans are a distraction. I could see myself, strolling around New York in a beautifully adorned cardigan.

However, I remind myself that I have too many cardigans. I’ll stop by after Palm Springs. Opposite from the outlet mall is the Cabazon casino. It’s gridlocked with traffic and bright lights. The casino’s flashy hotel rises high into the sky. It’s more of an escapee from a lavish city than a desert rat bursting with character.

Mountains rise more triumphantly toward the heavens. They stand in the shadows of Dinosaurs. Here’s where I ask myself? Dinosaurs? I love Jurassic Park. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I obsessed with Dinosaur everything.

The dinosaur park is a Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum for the extinct species crowd. A T-Rex and Brontosaurus strike a pose for flashing cameras. I still long for a Facebook profile picture with the Dinosaurs. It on my bucket list of life goals I need to achieve; alongside publishing a novel and launching a cardigan/sweater line on QVC.

Dinosaurs bask in the sun, but dissolve into pre-historic memory. Tall, white, windmills perfectly are perfectly aligned. They sway, free-spiritedly in the wind. Sands float peacefully. Palm Springs is inching closer.

On a desolate road, the canyons once again narrow. “Welcome to Palm Springs,” the road sign reads. My little automobile is a speed demon. I slow down my speeds. Pink stucco track homes intertwine with blue skies.

Finally, I have arrived in the town’s artery. The 80’s fade into the 90’s, both musically and weather wise. “Groove is in the heart” plays as Palm Springs’s kitschy heart appears.

Palm trees sway in the wind. Mountains rise even further into the cloudless blue canvas. 50’s modern infuses with Spanish architecture. Rainbow flags fly proudly.

For all kids growing in the Inland Empire’s nearby towns, Palm Springs will always be our gay-landia. In the cluster of heroic sidewalks, gay subcultures live side by side. Bears walk with twinks. Senior citizens socialize with one another. Muscle boys roast like chestnuts under the desert sun. A rainbow sorbet of faces, enjoy life.

The pavement becomes buzzier. Cafes bustle. I always park my car on the gay strip, Arenas Road. Merrily, I drift from my car into the pavement. Although, not a lover of the sun or heat, I feel myself fading from New York neurotic, back to California mellowness.

I celebrate my road trip with a burrito at Las Casuelas Mexican restaurant. It’s my favorite restaurant in town. The sprinklers produce mists, which cools down the Hacienda style patio. As I sink my teeth deeper into the burrito, I realize how fortunate I am to have grown up so close to paradise.

The worst part of Palm Springs is leaving. I am city kid, but my heart still lies within those landlocked mountains. When New York gets too noisy, crowded, and smelly, I mentally escape to Palm Springs.

It’s the only place I don’t mind driving too. In fact, the drive is a bit of stress relief. In a world full of blandness, the drive from Riverside to Palm Springs is more delightful than noshing on skittles. Where else could I get dinosaurs, cute gay guys, and delicious Mexican food?

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.

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.

T.V. Dinners In Bed

“I’m schvitzing. I’m schvitzing,” I declared, upon arrival at my favorite East Village coffee shop. The heat turned the quaint coffee shop into a tropical paradise, close to the equator. It wasn’t pea coat friendly, obviously.

Rather than ordering a tropical drink and wearing a decorative Hawaiian shirt, I sat outside. In the midst of a chilly New York evening, I sipped on coffee and observed East Village humanity walk by.

Sipping on black coffee on a Sunday night was a treat, but pangs of hunger soon ravaged my creative juices. “I really want Chinese food,” said I. Oy, I’m on a budget. “Don’t think about sit restaurants, rather you fantasize about a hearty T.V. dinner, since it’s on the budget, “ I told my famished brain.

Walking crosstown, I passed my favorite Chinese restaurant on Sixth Avenue. Across the street was the rival restaurant, which was tastier. I had only been going to the rival for a few months.

Faced with a classic, first world dilemma, I made a bold decision. “Dinner for one,” I said. The waiter walked me over to an inviting table by the window. “Don’t sit me by the window,” said I.

He sat me closer to the back of the restaurant. That’s right I went to the rival restaurant. I didn’t want anyone from my typical Chinese haunt to see me. I ordered a wonton soup, pepper steak and brown rice. Sitting alone, I savored in the warm and comforting tastes of China.

I dipped my chopsticks into that last morsel of rice. Staring into the sea of couples, I felt completely alone. This is where I break into a fantastic dance sequence and sing about how lonely New York is. In a perfect world, the restaurant would have morphed into a Broadway stage.

Instead, I contemplated resurrecting my imaginary friend from the dead. He & I hadn’t spent quality time together, since the early 90’s. A week after a lonely Sunday dinner, I flew to Riverside, CA for Thanksgiving.

While New York was more barren then a drive through the Arizona desert, Riverside provided me with something I was missing. “I have a date, wow,” said I. Thanks to modern technology, the Scruff app to be exact (the one where guys with beards meet other guys with beard), I was no longer a lonely urbanite.

I sat in a restaurant, which screamed authentic Indian food. Bollywood played on the television. Curries, roasted chicken, Nan bread hypnotized the soul. In the midst of Indian kitsch and culture, my date arrived.

“Wow, this fella looks like a young John Wayne. If John Wayne looked like a modern day hipster with a trendy haircut,” said I. Charming him with stories of the old world (a.k.a. New York), he glanced into my eyes.

“Would you like to be my house husband? I have the job offer in Bakersfield and we can live together. I can bring home the bacon,” he said.

I was sickened by the thought. Then I thought about my life in New York. Being alone had its disadvantages. However, I had my urban family and didn’t answer to anyone, but myself.

Soon, Mr. John Wayne and I parted ways. I told him, I wasn’t interested via text. He called me “ a straightforward guy” and thanked me for not leading him on. We stayed in touch as friends.

I returned to New York on chilly winter’s evening. Dreading the loneliness of that old studio apartment, I grew scared. Finally, I stepped into my shabby residence. It was lonely, but I was still the king of the tiny principality (a.k.a, my studio on Seventh Avenue)

An hour after arriving from my flight, I had a spontaneous dinner with my gal pals. In the midst of the East Village, we laughed and shared stories. I was thankful for an urban family to laugh my way through the gloomy moments. Now, excuse me as I find another date off Scruff.

Hiking In A Cardigan

In old New York, a boy from Harlem randomly ended up on the Upper East Side. With deep seeded lust in his heart, he took a riveting plunge.

“Everything bagel, cream cheese and lox; Oh and also a small coffee,” said I, standing at a quintessentially New York deli. I took a bite of New York’s most beloved nosh, and glared into Lexington Avenue.

“Oh boy, I feel like a modern day bohemian, going on this big expedition out west, “ said I. As the fusion of cream cheese and salty lox seduced my tongue, I nearly melted.

“Gee, I will miss the bagels here. However, when I return to New York, I’ll be filled to the brim with fabled tales of Portland and California,” said I with great illusion.

Afterwards, I reveled in Gotham’s revered wind chill. “I’m freezing. I’m freezing, but I feel so Jackie O’, strolling in the Upper East Side, all dolled up.” Said I, marveling at Madison Avenue’s opulent shops.

I took the scenic route, crosstown. Central Park always represented tourists and crowded fields of green. While walking around the park’s many reservoirs, precious trails and nearly barren trees, I finally marveled at it’s green charms, but something distracted me.

“90’s alternative rock (with the sounds of Nirvana, the Cranberries & Everclear, naturally), cute bearded men, coffee, rain & more rain were thoughts, which dominated my head.

You’re probably saying, “hey Mr. New York. You could you get that shit in Brooklyn or the East Village. To you, I respond with this. There’s just something special about having those things in Portland, a new frontier for this cardigan wearing, Uptown boy.

After reaching 96th street, I strolled into Central Park West. “ Goodbye, Central Park and hello, west-coast style laid back-ness, said I. Somewhere between New York and Portland’s cloudy skies, the sun arose.

Indeed, I was in the beginning stages of my trip out west. Sitting at a Starbucks in Riverside (my hometown), I continued writing my novel. Only, the words weren’t flowing like a river. They were dried by the valley’s penetrating sunrise.

Feeling like a failure, I longed for New York. “Maybe, I can only write in New York City?” I asked myself. Regret filled my heart as I questioned taking such a long voyage.

Like any proper author, I let my mind go on vacation. It needed a Pina Colada and burrito in order to function, once again. After taking a few days off, I drove to a local coffee shop and sat. Once again, I couldn’t write. The words were not flowing.

Panicking, I took another drive. “I’ll never finish my novel, never. New York, I miss you,” were my exact words. While parading around Downtown Riverside’s historic district, I found a bit of Brooklyn. “Oh, this coffee shop is wonderful. It could easily fit in New York,” said I.

Blasting some retro tunes, I sipped on a coffee and the cloudy skies returned. “Hello, konishiwa and bonjour, inspiration,” said I. Happily, I returned to novel writing after a brief hiatus. It was sweeter than the chocolate chip cookie, which accompanied my caffeine fix.

Excitedly, I wrote, everyday. Thank you, Riverside for providing me with a bit of New York in the suburban sprawl. Dearest, Portland, crank up your 90’s grunge rock, I’ll be in you soon.

Dress Your Bear In Flannel

The birds chirped. Leaves pranced merrily along the pavement. Echoing winds accentuated a charming portrait of the town hamlet.

“Wait, town hamlet? This is the East Village. How is it so eerily quiet and peaceful on Tuesday afternoon?” asked I. Strolling up Avenue A, I avoided jamming to music and savored in the lack of background noise.

My inner Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound & James Joyce, longed to write exquisite poetry. Artistically, I pulled out my journal. Taking in a deep breath, I longed to scribble down beautiful words, which described my great time of need.

Instead, a monster jumped out of the bushes and slaughtered my attention span. “Oh shit, I was going to write the next “Leaves of Grass,” but I think I’ll go on Facebook, instead. Everyone on Facebook land is just dying to see (more) marvelous photos of a traditional Northeast fall,” said I.

“I’ll write the next Leaves of Grass right after this next status update,” said I. Instead of amusing the world with witty banter and funky photos, I messaged one of my best friends.

Rather than talking of beautiful scenery, I broke down through Facebook messenger. “I’m still unemployed and can’t find a job,” wrote I, with tears, which mirrored a monsoon season.

“You should go spend December in California. It’s going to be slow here, in regards to finding work,” she wrote back. As I stared across the East River with Queens & Brooklyn glistening in the sun, emotion ran rampant. “I’ll consider it,” I wrote.

Instantly, I daydreamed of taking the dream trip to Portland along with visiting my dad in California. “I could drink organic coffee, grow a beard, jam to my favorite 90’s alternative band, hike in lovely cardigans and it’s only a two hour flight from my hometown,” said I.

As soon as I daydreamed of California and Portland, the city dazzled me again. Pretty window displays, high fashion, and frosty weather enticed the senses. I didn’t want to miss out on the holiday season.

“Fuck it,” said I. That very evening, I booked my ticket to the left coast. I lost the fear of missing out on New York-ness (which I have experienced countless times before) and was headed to old familiar, California and the new flannel, loving frontier, Portland.

My bohemian retreat commenced, a few days later. I stuffed my favorite cardigans, sweaters and pea coats into a carry-on, ready to be paraded around Portland.

Taking another gander at my apartment, I declared, “See you on January 1st, New York. When I comeback, I’ll have a journal filled with new stories,” said I, confidentially. Channeling Ernest Hemingway, I set off for a new literary adventure. Waving good-bye to the Manhattan skyline, I was ready to re-conquer the West Coast.

Kangaroo in the Wild

“Oy, I just don’t look like me,” said I. While on an exodus in California, I happened to pack a New York friendly fall wardrobe. Hence, I was roasting in the roaring California sun. Rather than buying brand spanking new t-shirts and shorts, I took a drastic step.

For years, I always avoided my father’s closet, since we have dramatically different fashion sensibilities. With sweat dripping from every direction, I took my father on his offer.

When we headed to lunch, the two of us had almost matching outfits. I finally caved in and borrowed my father’s clothes. He thought I looked dashing in his red polo shirts. Rolling my eyes, I declared, “of course, I look dashing to you. I’m wearing your clothes.”

On a warm Friday afternoon, we had a Mexican lunch in Palm Springs. My California retreat was drawing to a close. I look forward to returning to New York. Unfortunately, I was returning to Manhattan, unemployed. Nerves sprung from the soil of my brain.

I missed my old job and life in New York. However, life tossed me a blank canvass. I had to cleverly decide if I wanted to turn my blank canvass into pop art, impressionism or even cubism. My brain harvested the seeds of my anxiety.

After lunch, an oak tree grew from my head. It leaves fell, anxiously. My father sensing fear took action. Since I was a kid, one place cheered me up in the midst of purgatory, also (commonly) known as adolescence. “Anthony, we’re going to the Palm Desert mall,” said dad. I lifted my head and clapped in utter enthusiasm.

There was always a bit of nostalgia with malls. Somehow, my oak tree shed its dead leaves. Beautiful branches jutted out. I grew giddy, once again.

As we walked along the 1980’s nostalgia, I took in a deep breath. I pictured myself merrily walking in the East Village, in my own clothes, holding a coffee cup, while reading a good book. Hello, positive thinking brought to you by the American mall.

We returned to my father’s house. I packed up for the return to New York City. “Everything is going to be just swell. Goodnight, California” said I. Upon, waking up, my heart nearly pounded out of my chest.

Going back to New York City seemed more nerve wracking. My dad and I were equally dazed. “I’m not nervous, he said, while driving in circles at Ontario airport.

Finally, we reached the terminal. I took my sweet time checking into the flight. It was painful to leave my father in California. Like an astronaut heading into the deep abyss of space, I put on my best brave face and said, “goodbye.”

After changing planes, I was on a red-eye to JFK. The plane landed and I was off to my apartment, uptown. I was far too tired to think about the worrisome unknown.

Instead, I arrived at my apartment and fell asleep to the unexpectedly soothing sounds of sirens and honking cars. A few hours later, I woke up alone to grey skies.

Instantly, my anxiety returned. That morning, I made plans to have a birthday brunch with friends. Quickly, I slipped into my fall wardrobe, which consisted of a cardigan, buttoned down, and navy trousers. While staring into the mirror, I proclaimed, “at least, I look like myself again. Oh, I love my New York friendly wardrobe.”

The city with its brownstones and tenements was exotic, after ten days in Southern California. I headed toward my neighborhood coffee shop. “Wow, we haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been?” asked the friendly barista with a smile. I replied, “California.” She sounded excited to hear that word, and warmly, responded, “welcome home to New York.”

“It really is home here, nothing to be scared about,” said I, feeling revived after hearing those simple words. I walked toward the subway. Everything lost its scary monster on the subway seats feeling.

Fall had arrived in Gotham. The weather was refreshingly crisp. Fourteenth Street turned into an enviable fashion catwalk. Coffee cups promenaded alongside a concrete backdrop.

As I hopped off the crosstown bus, my feet touched the East Village. “Heck, I don’t remember there being so many hipsters,” said I. Merrily, I walked toward brunch on Avenue A. I was greeted from the warm smiles of my friends at the cafe. With laughs and hugs, I knew I could make it through this obstacle known as life.

My paintbrush finally touched the blank canvass. I didn’t know what my beautiful painting would look like. Inwardly, if it didn’t come up with anything, Andy Warhol worthy, that was ok. With hands thrown in the air, I proclaimed, “fuck it” and enjoyed a whisky on the rocks with my urban family.

 

 

Free Fallin on the Jukebox

Back in the late 90s, I called the local mall, my catwalk. It was the place to window shop, grab a Frappuccino and watch all the cute guys walk by. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t drive and many of the cute guys, I admired were still closeted or not gay.

I didn’t quite bask in my high school existence, which screamed suburban America. There were many prominent subcultures in school. The jocks who played football, jocks who didn’t play football, cheerleaders, drama geeks, math geeks and the anti-establishment, hacky sack crowd, made up the quilt of existence for my local high school.

“Gee, where I do I fit in, here?” asked I. As one of the only openly gay kids at school, I lived in my own imaginary land. I dreamed of living in New York, seeing exotic lands, becoming a published author and of course, meeting a cute nerdy dude.

Once in a while, I departed imaginary land and was brought back to my very own brand of teenage angst. “Shit my grades suck, my face looks like a greasy pepperoni pizza and my stomach fat is giving me a muffin top,” said I, while in the back of the local convenience store.

My friend Clifford just shook his head. “That’s cool dude, just run with that,” said Clifford. He pulled out a precious white box from his backpack. From the box, he pulled out a cigarette. With great ease, he lit the cigarette. The smell was slightly intoxicating. More mesmerizing were his bright green eyes. He noticed I stared at his cigarette in curiosity.

“You want a puff?” he asked, with a calm exterior. “I’m okay,” said I with great confidence. “C’mon, it’s one puff, he persisted. “I am not one to give into peer pressure,” said I.

He handed me the cigarette, “c’mon give it a try,” he said. I peered into his eyes and took the cigarette. I examined it. With great ease, I took a puff. It was still wet from his saliva touching the tip of the cigarette.

After taking one puff, coughing persisted. “Shit, fuck, shit,” said I. “Wow, you’re one step closer to being a bad ass, said Clifford. “Really?” asked I. “No, dude,” he replied. “I can’t believe I smoked, my parents are going to kill me,” said I. Internally, I was delighted to have a bonding moment with Clifford, whom I regarded as an attractive confidant.

While basking in the initial glory of breaking the rules, I was later, riddled with guilt. “Oy, I pay too much attention in religion class. Should I go to confession and tell the priest I was smoking behind the convenience store?” asked I, internally.

As predicted, my guilty conscience persisted. Then I took a shopping and lunch trip to Newport Beach with my mom. We sat for lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen. As I sipped my soda, she asked me about school. Instantly I replied, “ I smoked a cigarette.”

My mother was a very conservative lady, who didn’t take kindly to smoking and booze. I was waiting for her face to fade into intense rouge. “Anthony, nothing you do surprises me,” she said. Rather than getting grounded until retirement age, it was dismissed as a life experience.

Years later I dropped the guilty conscience and enjoyed life. Being well-behaved gets old. A little rebellion and middle fingers to the air make life exciting. On the subject of exciting, I look forward to my next trip to California(where I grew up), since I still secretly love mall culture, especially the Nordstrom shoe sale and going to Cinabon for (you guessed it), a cinnamon roll.

Boy About the World

Ten years ago, in the blazing Riverside sun, I arrived for a photo shoot. In a matter of minutes, I struck a pose and proudly, “vogued.” Not quite, but I did shine my brightest smile.

On the faithful day, I took my passport photo. Upon receiving my new photo, an eyebrow was raised in terror. “Oy, I look like Butthead from Beavis and Butthead fame,” said I. Obtaining a new passport was one of the highlights of 2004: a suburban odyssey.

At the time, I was traveling to Spain for the Christmas holiday. When I touched down on Madrid, the excitement filled the drab customs hall. With one brave swoop, I had my first passport stamp (on the new passport).

My passport became my constant companion on visits to the Prado Museum and Barcelona’s lively Las Ramblas (Street). When I returned to the States, I wondered, “will I have other stamps gracing the pages of my beloved passport?”

Time would answer my question with great vigor. Soon, my feet touchdown on Australia. I marveled at the grandeur of the Sydney Opera house, sky blue seawater and marvelous cliffs, which epitomized Aussie living.

Then I ate plenty of pizza in Rome, with the backdrop of ancient history and vespas. It made me feel just a little closer to the artistic eye of Federico Fellini. Excitedly, I made the impossible happen.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Tokyo Narita,” said the flight attendant upon arrival in Japan. It was a destination, I had always dreamed of visiting, but never thought I would actually make it to.

I fell madly love with Japanese quirk. Vending machines, Pachinko halls, Harajuku’s street fashion and neon lights, it delighted me. I longed for another trip to Tokyo and returned, two years later.

The Tokyo metro, a fashionable tweed coat, admiring kitschy art, it was a dream come true, x 2. However, my adoration for travel didn’t end in Japan. Paris eventually beckoned.

Coffee sipped from a porcelain cup, coupled with a dizzying array of experimental and enjoying live jazz at an underground bar, made Paris more inspirational than sitting through a Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard film marathon.

As my Air France flew out of Paris, I shed a tear. “Oh, I think I am sick,” said I. That’s right, I didn’t need WebMD to diagnose this condition. While sitting through the same Family Ties episode on the flight for hours, a diagnosis was reached. “Oy, I have the travel bug,” said I.

It’s that condition, which is medically untreatable. However, more stamps on the passport would help elevate any wanderlust symptoms. I trekked on. After listening to the Evita soundtrack, one too many times, I was inspired to head south of the equator.

Buenos Aires was elegant, even in the midst of deep humidity. I ate steak and more steak and even more (you guessed it) steak. I also found romance with a flan with dulce de leche, which melted from the afternoon sun. “Oy, I must eat vegetables, when I get home,” proclaimed I.

On my return to the States, I didn’t exactly become a vegetarian. I did marvel at my collection of stamps. One stamp was still elusive. On an icy, but sunny Tuesday in an island, which was also known as a kingdom. I ran around in a navy pea coat and proclaimed, “hello London.”

I had a most magnificent time in old London. It was a place, which dazzled me as a teenager. As an adult, it still captivated my imagination.

While wondering around one of the capital’s many spaces of green, I took a deep breath. “This has been amazing, all this travel. The ducks on the pond are charming. Look at those clouds above. Oh, that beer from the pub last night is my making my head chime like Big Ben. I am in London and feel like a real world traveler,” said I.

After a quick trip to Amsterdam from London, I plotted my next trip. However, as time went on, the only jet setting my passport saw was moving from one New York apartment to the next. The traveling stopped as adulthood responsibilities took over.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, the passport and I finally took a voyage together. Did you take that fabulous trip to Rio, you ask?” Why, no, the next exotic destination was better known, as “Casa de Daddy,” (dad’s house) in Riverside, CA. I didn’t receive a precious passport stamp for flying cross-country, but it was a treat to finally use it on plane travel.

After stuffing my face with my dad’s famous turkey and stuffing, I was heading back home to New York. Like most voyages to Riverside, I had a lay over. As I rushed through Phoenix airport, I felt like a jet setter again. The plane was boarding. I was given the news, which most airline travelers dread.

“Folks, you have to check in your carry on, we’re out of overhead space on this plane,” said the (not at all) merry flight attendant. “Oy, what’s the point of having a carry-on? Asked I.

The plane took off into the darkness of Arizona’s rustic desert. “With the all this modern technology, how does this plane not have television sets behind the seats?” asked I with a strategic eye roll.

I checked my pocket, “oh no, my passport,” said I. “ Oh that’s right, I stuffed it in my carry on luggage, I replied with ease. “Shit, I had to check it in. Dear travel Gods, please save my precious little passport. I promise to go to church. Actually, I promise not to say fuck so much on Sundays,” said I.

The flight commenced and we finally landed in Jersey. I rushed to baggage claim. I waited with a bit of anxiety kicking in. The colorful array of suitcases made their way through the conveyor belt.

Hello, hint of olive green, that’s my suitcase, I declared. I grabbed it and opened up the top zipper. Shining navy blue and bright was my passport. I skimmed through the pages. “Oh stamps, you are more colorful than any of those silly suitcases in the conveyor belt. With great relief, I made my way back to the city.

Whoever says New York doesn’t sleep, hasn’t stepped out of a train at a 6 AM on Sunday. Walking through a sleepy Manhattan to grab a coffee, my own backyard seemed more exotic, even after being away for only four days. “Hey I really like passport stamps and writing about my travels,” said I, while reminiscing on my good ol’ days of travel.

When I returned to my apartment. I put my passport away. Soon it will retire, since I have to renew my passport. I’ll miss our many journeys together. Optimistically, I head to McNally Jackson’s (bookstore) travel section.

It’s the closest I get to the international travel. As I opened up books on countries, which I aspire to walk in, I proclaim, “don’t worry new passport, you will be filled with precious and very colorful new stamps.” I just need to strike a pose and vogue, for the next passport photo. Excuse me, while I practice my best cheesy smile.

The Californian

 

“I am not a beach guy,” said I, at age, sixteen. The sand, surf, and blazing California sun, didn’t quite tickle my fancy. One summer, my dad talked me into a road trip to Malibu.

In the midst of a-list celebrities, glitzy trailer parks, and rugged hills, was the piercing blue ocean. The most popular spot was Zuma beach, a grand surfer’s spot with an eclectic beach going crowd.

After recovering from extreme motion sickness, my father and I walked into the piping hot sand. It contrasted a very mellow California sun.

The waves crashed against the sun. It’s ferocious roar sounded like a lion. “Why don’t you get in the water, Anthony?” asked my father. I don’t wanna go into too deep, I forgot how to swim, said I, drenched in sunscreen.

“Oh give me a break, enjoy the water,” said my father, who was basking in the Malibu grandeur. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a gaggle of attractive, shirtless guys dash toward the Pacific Ocean. “Fuck drowning, I am going in,” said I.

The relatively cold Pacific Ocean was refreshing for me. It was a treat for me feet, which were roasting in the sand. I went in a bit deeper. “ Oh this isn’t so bad,” said I.

My Malibu buzz was quickly killed. A flying football narrowly missed my precious face. It also nearly knocked me into the water. “Oh who’s the fucking asshole, who threw that ball?” said I, internally (of course).

”I am sorry about the ball,” said the voice with a distinct California accent. Unexpectedly, a handsome young man appeared. He smiled with his big brown eyes illuminating perfect white teeth, which contrasted my mouth full of metal (I had braces, forever).

“You’re not a beach guy, are you?” he asked with a giggle. I smirked, “no, I am from landlocked Riverside. He went back to playing football with his buddies.

“Shit, times like this, I should’ve fake drowning, I would had some mouth to mouth madness,” said I. I admired the Malibu charmer from a distance as the football was tossed from one well tone and muscular guy to the other.

I walked toward the sand, with the following thoughts in my head, “gee, I wish more guys at my age were out of the closet or that I could ask a guy out and not be disappointed that’s he not gay or not into me.” Disappointingly, I left the shores of Zuma, lacking romance.

The old song, “why must I be a teenager in love” played in my head. “Oh well, I thought, at least dad and I will go for ice cream. The world tastes better sprinkled with hot fudge and a cherry on top.

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