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.

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.

 

Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Only Zombies

Back in my days as a lad, nobody walked with heads down. Folks acknowledged each other, enjoyed the scenery, and were aware of surroundings. Nowadays, most people walk, while glaring at their phones.

They bump into people, things, and it’s funny, but tragic. Staring at a mobile makes me quite dizzy. In the grand tradition of being single, I succumbed to dating apps. Even this bookworm-extraordinaire had a Tinder account.

Tired of rejection, but mostly bored with the same faces, I took a bold step for spinsters everywhere. I deleted the Tinder application, along with Grinder. On that park bench in Harlem, overlooking ducks, I was officially off the Tinder/Grinder market. In fact, I was dating myself. I was such a cheap date, too.

There were romantic outings to my favorite used bookshop, dinners at the Polish diner, and romantic rendezvous by the fireplace, on my computer, naturally. Weekends were spent huddled in intimate coffee shops, reveling in the sweet scent of Oregon based coffee.

Opportunities to date actual guys arose. However, I really enjoyed my own company. I didn’t want anyone interfering in my introverted happiness. Then, I ended up in my therapist’s office.

“I don’t want a husband, a boyfriend, or a relationship, I just love my alone time.” Thinking my dear shrink would call me out for living a depressed life, I was applauded. Feeling validated, I headed to the used bookshop to celebrate.

Standing in line, I smiled and thought to myself, “look, at me! I’m independent. I don’t need a fella to fulfill life’s emptiness. I have my imagination and artistry to fill in any empty void.

Venturing toward the cash register, I placed my books down. Staring up, he stood, triumphantly. Blue eyes, a cardigan, and messy brown hair, I met the cutest bookworm in New York.

“Wow, you found A Clockwork Orange, used. Now, that’s a steal. You never see that these days,” he said, winking. Eyes wide with literary lust, I stumbled on words. He loaded the bag with books and extra bookmarks. He wished me a happy evening.

Stepping into a freezing East Village sidewalk, I was dazed. “I want to be a spinster. If a cute bookworm like him did come around, I’d have to say, the hell with spinsterhood.”

Instead of re-uploading dating apps and seeking a man with a large book collection, I took myself on a date, Indian food (to be exact). If one can’t find a man to warm you up in the late fall, curry is a most appropriate substitute.

Porn for Bookworms

New York City is a most ideal place to have a nervous meltdown. Crowds, noise, bugs, extreme weather stimulate the happy neurotic. Exhaustion and agony arise from the trekking up a fifth floor walk-up. With brain cells about to explode into a glittery abyss, salvation is uncovered. Lust awakens.

More potent than a handsome man’s pheromone’s, is the smell of an old bookshop. Familiar, dizzying, and nostalgic, the scent beckons me to lands far from my chaotic mindset. Marvelous little bookshops line side streets, narrow venues, and quirky tenements.

Stacking up on used books, pages slightly bent, words underlined or highlighted with flashy neon serves as an ideal happiness. While practically waltzing on the icy New York pavement, I revel in my deeply discounted literature.

As an introvert, books are merry friends keeping riveted and delighted, in the midst of fear and boredom. The “I love books more than people (most of the time) song constantly delights my ear drums, upon the reading of a new novel. A deep seeded and very first world predicament erupted into my wordy principality.

“Shit, I’m running out of room in my apartment.” My books were pilling up higher than a kite along a windy sky. With closets and kitchen cabinets cluttered with books, paperwork, and sweaters, I took a bold step for bookworms of all kind.

My holidays (and virtually every break) have always been spent at my father’s home in Riverside. I would create my own little bookshop/coffee shop hybrid in his spare bedroom. It would be like being in the world’s greatest library without a subway ride (just an expensive plane ride, of course).

Speed reading through my favorite books, they were soon on a box to Riverside. Studying home libraries, online, my heart nearly bounced out of my chest. It will be a shrine to the literary greats, which inspire me, daily.

The first rounds of books arrived. Excitedly, my dad took pictures for me. With great excitement, I booked a trip to California. Though, my home library remains a work in progress, I already have the role-playing scenario in my head.

Here it is:

I’ll walk up the stairs with my murse (man purse), eager for coffee and a day at the bookstore. Excitedly, I’ll see the books lined beautifully on the shelves and jump with giddiness. “Look, Books, Books, books! Oh, coffee, too! My, what a marvelous world.”

After stuffing a few books in my murse, it will be coffee time. Taking a seat on a very comfortable chair and clipping my own coffee card, I indulge in literary deliciousness. Poetry, novels, autobiographies, Double shot of espresso naturally follows. It will be a holiday to remember.

“What a day at the bookshop/coffee shop. I didn’t even have go on a subway to get here, just a 2,000 something mile plane ride. That is my ideal scenario.

With far out dreaming, I must wait for my next visit to make this bookworm’s fantasy come to true. In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoy my bookshop visits and the high from finding that “Charles Dickens” book, deeply discounted.

Weirdo

In high school land, subcultures are everything. Jocks, slackers, theatre geeks, science nerds, cheerleaders, rich kids, emo kids, it’s a smorgasbord of distinct tribes. Where do I belong? In my four years of high school, this question constantly baffled me.

I was the gay kid (insert, surprise appearance) with major gay vocal cords to prove it. My gay voice made Liberace look butch. In the grand tradition of gay kids, growing up in a conservative catholic school, I had stereotypical interests.

You might a psychic, if you guessed the following about me. Hey, Anthony, I bet you were into musical theatre, European travel, Madonna, glittery disco balls and drag queen revues. Congrats, if you guessed these mind blowing facts, friend. I’m just going to file you under, Dion Warwick and the Psychic friends network.

I fit many gay stereotypes, which led to a life oozing with arty experiences. After graduating from film school, I followed my tribal heart to New York City. It’s the ultimate right of passage for gay men. I found a fantastic urban family. Surprisingly, I struggled to find my own tribe within the gay scene.

There’s always been a hierarchy of beauty within the gay male community. Here’s what the ideal man sounds like: Hi, I’m a perfectly sculpted, six-figure earning, handsome, well endowed, twenty-something, gay male living in Chelsea, love me.

For us alternative kids, this can be a freighting expectation to stride for. Many of us value individuality and no obeying by stringent standards. This leads to the philosophical question of the century. Is adulthood, just an extension of high school with rent payments and broken hearts?

While at one of my many boozy brunches, I complained to my gal pals. “Where are all the anti-establishment, alternative, bagel loving, granola eating, anti-gym bunny gays at?

Kelly suggested, “join a gay book club.” The bacon strip nearly slipped from my mouth. “Wow, a writer’s group, that sounds most satisfying.”

As a self-proclaimed bookworm, I have an extravagant book collection. Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Isabelle Allende, J.D. Salinger, Jorge Luis Borges, their books line my shelves. Every day, I glance through the titles with great pride.

A day after brunch, Kelly sent me the link for a gay book meet up. I joined. The book chosen didn’t tickle my fancy. In fact, I procrastinated. I was too busy finishing up “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” The weeks approached and I still put off my reading assignment.

On a humid, Sunday afternoon, the book club was meeting within hours at an indie bookshop. So, I rushed to Barnes & Noble, found the book and attempted to skim through it. With the turn of every page, I proclaimed, “Gee, I wish I was a speed reader.”

To my surprise the book was an okay read. It’s nothing I would buy or long to have in my collection, but not terrible. Feeling confident, I dashed toward the book club meeting. Every granola gay from the East Village to Upper West Side was in attendance, along with our lesbian friends.

We sat around in a circle and discussed the book’s many euphemisms and metaphors. My brain farted. I couldn’t remember a damn thing I read. As the circle went around, they picked people at random to discuss an aspect of the book. Predictably, my brain was still gassy.

It reminded me of the time; I skipped reading a chapter of (George Orwell’s) 1984 and had a pop quiz. That same sensation crippled any intellectual functions. Time was ticking and boom. Our group’s designated meet up time had ended. I was obviously relieved.

Even though, I didn’t quite finish the book, I still had a “gay old” time (gay in the happiest use, possible). It was thrilling to know, I wasn’t the only granola, book-loving gay in town.

It was satisfying to know, there many gays more interested in flexing their literary muscle, as opposed to biceps. I found a possible tribe, to call my own.

Adulthood is very similar to high school. There are the popular kids, cliques and oh, so much drama. Fortunately, detention or fears of being stuff in a locker are not part of the experience. Oh and sans the pop quizzes on Animal farm.

I once dreamed of being tackled by the football team. These days, I seek something different. That’s right, I yearn for a geeky man and his huge book library. Since merging our collections could mean further literary grandeur. Life would be swell and filled with interesting nouns, adjectives and verbs.

Town Hamlet

Earthquakes strike. Elves bolt through a patchwork of tiny village houses. It characterizes the town hamlet. A Fire-breathing dragon attacks with fury.

An Earthquake erupts. Imposing bean stocks spring from the soil, corrupting the precious cobblestone roads. This scenario exists in my head. In fact, this is my head on stress.

Here’s my head, while reading a good book. Somebody cue that song, Mellow Yellow (by Donovan). Elves cheerfully dance along fields of green. Jellybeans fall from a cloudless blue sky. Even the fire-breathing dragon is happy. He morphs into a sassy drag queen with killer heels and a blonde wig.

Back in New York (aka, reality), I didn’t see dragons in drag or merry elves prancing down First Avenue. Instead, I always find my own pot of gold, at the end of sparkling rainbow.

Across (approximately) 2,000 miles of Middle America, the Rocky Mountains, and the Hudson River, it arrived. Naturally, the pot of gold came in a standard UPS box. “Oh, my god. It’s my care package from dad.”

I opened the box with great enthusiasm. Books upon books were haphazardly piled on each other. Don Quxiote, Valley of the Dolls, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Emma & Three Lives were a few of the delightful titles. In the grand tradition of care packages from dad, he left many pairs of socks under the literary grandeur.

“Hello, stress relief.” The first book I read from the pile was “Engulfed in Flames” by David Sedaris. From coffee shops to park benches, I reveled in it’s witty humor.

Since I have a long subway commute to work, reading a funny novel always provides a nice kick. While indulging in espresso-like inspiration, handsome man sat next to me on the train. In a very New York style, I avoided him and concentrated on the words of Mr. Sedaris.

From the corner of my eye, I could see him casually glancing at the book. Soon, his eyes wouldn’t deter from the page. There was a certain connection in sharing the book together.

The elves in my head sent a signal, “talk to him, you, yutz.” A certain earthquake erupted inside of me. “Hello, anxiety.” Palms were sweating, leaving wet marks on delicate pages. More pages turned, his eyes still glued to every word. The train was closer to approaching Times Square.

Alas, I glanced at him, quickly. Unfortunately, I didn’t build up bravery. The elves sighed in misery. I left the train, without uttering a word to my literary lover. At least, I had a nice train ride. I can’t say that every day.

Books are my stress relief. I read many. They delight me. I admire authors and dream of having my future novel sold everywhere from Powell’s Books to the Strand. In the mean time, my town hamlet remains a peaceful utopia for elves and that fire-breathing dragon, who adores heels and blonde wigs.

Duck, Duck, Goose

It’s another adventure in fun-employment land. This edition is brought to you by those institutions, television shows and cafes, which distract the soul. Your contribution is greatly appreciated. Now on to today’s story.

Feeling like New York gave me a swift kick in the tuckus (ass), I wandered around Nolita. High fashion, cupcakes shops, and pricey walk-ups were quite lovely to look at, even on a budget.

While feeling quite blue and ready to break into an operatic performance, I ditched the stage of Lincoln Center for an anti-depressant. Naturally, this anti-depressant came in the form of a bookshop.

“Hello, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac and yes, even J.D. Salinger, “said I. Intoxicated by the sweet bookshop scent, I browsed the titles. Taking a step back, I admired the perfectly organized books and shed a tear.

Somebody cue Simon & Garfunkel’s “hazy shade of winter,” please. Inspiration flowed through my blood stream. Armed with my laptop, I dashed to my favorite East Village coffee shop. After finding a cozy table, I made a major life decision. “Oh yes, I will join the National Write a novel in 30 days contest,” said I.

Opening up my laptop, I took a gulp of coffee. For months, I had daydreamed the idea of this particular novel. Even with a sizable amount of time, daydreaming, that first blank page was terrifying. Rather, than overly intellectualizing my dilemma, a voice spoke to me. It was my novel’s protagonist.

“Have you heard of GOYA? Asked the voice. I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head, “no.” His intensity grew. It means “Get off your ass, if you want to start writing a novel, go ahead and do it. Don’t worry about writer’s block, I shall lead the way,” he said.

Rather than pressuring myself to write the next Less than Zero or Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, I simply let my protagonist guide me through an expedition. Like going on a proper field trip, he took me on an adventure, Indiana Jones would envy. Soon, I wrote my first few pages of the novel.

Departing the coffee shop, I was liberated with power of the written word. Soon, my protagonist and I became best friends. He spoke to me in the most random of places. The whole city became a personalized creative space.

“Would I finish this novel by the end of November?” Asked I. My character, responded with a proper, “who knows, who cares” answer. In the meantime, I reveled in a novel writing adventure, which beats a trek up the Himalayas, any day.

 

I Bleed Glitter

New York City, high above a dive bar, lived in a modest bloke. On a chilly fall day, he arose to the sounds of campy show tunes. Within a night’s slumber, he had listened to so many show tunes. His ears bled glitter.

With a waltz and a tap, he looked himself in the mirror. Somewhere between “Anything you can do, I can do better (hello, Annie Get Your Gun)” & “Suddenly Seymour (hello, Little Shop of Horrors),” his eyes widen with fear. “Oy, I’m unemployed, but shit, I can still listen to the best of musical theatre. He smiled.

The anguish was an excuse to sing songs all day. He tapped danced around his apartment, but decided that the world needed to hear his sweet, sweet voice. After a quick brushing of teeth, he took his laptop and ventured into the delightfully frigid day. Everyone on the subway was dressed up in stylish outfits. They looked busy on their way to work.

Our musical theatre loving, writer with a passion for coffee, felt left out. He wanted nothing more than to get back to work. “Fun-employment could only last for so long,” he said. By the time he reached St Mark’s Place, he tried to hold back singing a sad song.

Fortunately, he found relief. Hello, bagel and coffee. Rather, than singing a sad song, he put fingers to keyboard. Fueled by coffee and campiness, he wrote a story. His eyes widened. “This is my own private writer’s retreat. I could write a novel, beautiful poetry and daydream the days away, said he, staring around the East Village coffee shop.

Channeling the ghosts of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, our campy, unemployed, boy wonder set off new literary adventures. He found inspiration and a revival of storytelling. On the stage of life, audiences cheered. Glitter fell from the sky. Thank you, old New York & its many unexpected opportunities.

That Coffee Shop In Brooklyn

A parade, street markets, protests; it was end of summer in New York City. “Oy, I can’t deal with crowds, today,” said I. Naturally, I fueled up my private jet and set off for a trip to Palm Springs. This scenario happened in my head. Here’s what really happened.

Randomly, I hopped on the subway to escape the crowds gathered for a parade on my street. I planned on eating Chinese at my favorite mom n’ pop’s restaurant in the Village. The need for escapism persisted, while riding on that downtown train. “I need a day trip to an exotic land, I just don’t spend enough time in,” said I.

“This is a Brooklyn bound 3 train,” announced the train conductor. “That’s it, I am going to Brooklyn. It may not be Palm Springs, but by George, it’s certainly a different island,” said I. Excitedly, the train traveled underneath the very depth of the East River. “Hello, island getaway,” I proclaimed.

After a long voyage, I felt slightly jet lagged (hold the time zone change) and emerged from the subway. “Boom, hello crowds. Shit, it’s another street festival. I thought I was going to escape this,” said I. Frustration turned into euphoria. I starred at the signs, which dazzled my eyes. “Oh, it’s the Brooklyn Book Festival,” said I, with eyes open wide with joy.

I excitedly wandered around the tents, browsing the titles. Poetry, LGBT literature, classics, obscure short stories, there was something for everyone’s literary palate. I was dazzled. This was my kind of day trip. For a moment, I pushed the delete button on my jaded self. After immersing myself in the world of literary candy, I decided to get lost.

The humidity levels rose. I complained. “Oy, I can’t. It’s like I am taking shower in my own sweat,” said I, while schvitzing up a storm. Then I found an adorable coffee shop in Cobble Hill. The breeze of a well-fused air conditioner beckoned my heat sensitive senses. I bought an ice latte and pulled out my notebook. Finally, I was able to relax. It was heavenly and had the benefits of a proper trip to Palm Springs.

I took one more trip around the book festival. Shedding a tear, I returned to Manhattan. “Oh Brooklyn, you may have more baby strollers and hipsters than the average borough, but you still now how to charm a Manhattanite,” said I. Returning to Harlem, the noise and crowds welcomed me from a long voyage.

The beating drums of the parade shook my apartment building. However, I was oblivious to its effects. Instead, I reveled in my unexpected day of literary and caffeinated delights. “New York, I still love you, even with your endless street festivals and fondness of parades,” proclaimed I.

The Witty Wordsmith

New York, late winter, the sky is an intense shade of grey. The trees remained bare of any lively bright leaves. In the midst of the eerie grey, a remarkable bit of sunshine played peek-a-boo behind a rainy cloud.

On such an idyllic winter’s day, I set off on foot for St. Nicholas Park in Harlem. It’s a most wonderful park, which fades into hilly fields of green. Regardless of the cold, I’ve always adored sitting on a park bench and reading a good book. Quality time with a book is my ideal form of therapy. I fade into a character’s shoes and forget any of the day troubles.

On one riveting expedition, I sought a most wonderful park bench. As, I picked a perfect little spot for literary madness, the cold winds penetrated through my layers, and pea coat.

For once in my life, I shivered. The goose bumps on my arm grew more sensitive. At that point, I had to look elsewhere for a romantic date with my used book from the Strand bookstore.

I wandered through Harlem’s Hamilton’s Heights neighborhood. It’s the perfect backdrop for any quirky film (Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums was filmed there). The brownstones are eccentric yet sophisticated characters in their own right.

The hills have provided an escape from the quintessentially Manhattan painting. Bay windows, dramatic stoops and old world charm could inspire poets, painters and playwrights of life to create a proper work of art.

While heading up the hill toward Broadway, I was craving a hot chocolate from the Chipped Cup (my favorite coffee shop, uptown). On that pleasantly quiet Sunday, everyone had the same idea.

The quaint coffee shop was filled with patrons. I was disappointed, since I just wanted was to read a good book. So, I headed back down to 145 street.

To my disappointed, Dunkin Donuts was also filled to the brim with people. I didn’t want to go back to my apartment, since I was really craving a coffee shop. Instead of giving up hope, I took an unexpected turn.

The Eighth avenue subway provided the ears with a classic sound, which only a raspy record player could rival. I found my reading spot, a seat on the subway platform. Even though, the subway has many distractions, I’ve always found it an easy place to concentrate on a book there.

When the A train arrived, I boarded it merrily. I even found a seat. However, distraction found me. “Why don’t you put a chip in me, so you know where I am at all times, said a girlfriend to an equally angry boyfriend. They fought. They whole train watched. Trying to hold back laughter, I tried very hard to not loose concentration on my book.

The arguing heightened into theatrical satire. “Fuck it, I can’t think with this racket going on. At least, there aren’t break-dancers on this train, ” said I. “Showtime,” yelled a boy with a boom box.” Break-dancers with a giant boom box appeared from the blue to everyone’s annoyance.

My eyes didn’t leave my book. Anyhow, my brain was completely distracted. I made it to West 4th Street. Randomly, I decided a cannoli would be amazing.

So, I boarded the F train to Second Avenue and ended up in the East Village. I headed up First Avenue and into the old world charm of Veniero’s (legendary dessert restaurant in the East Village). I ordered a cannoli and opted for a cappuccino rather than a hot chocolate.

I took out my book and found a swell place to concentrate. It only took a long walk, two trains and another somewhat long walk to find my literary Zen. Regardless, my literary Zen was a whole lot better with a delicious cannoli accompanying it.