In my early twenties, I was young, broke, and living in Astoria, Queens. From the edge of Astoria Park, I glared across the East River at Manhattan.
“One day, I will have conquer you, “ said I. Astoria was the place I longed to escape. I had a romanticized image of living in the alluring city. Manhattan was hip, glamorous, and very cultured. Therefore, I made it my life’s mission to call Manhattan, home.
Years later, I finally moved to Manhattan. On an icy March morning, I settled into an elevator building in the east twenties, which overlooked Queens. My existence in the city had every charming component, imaginable.
Then, I hoped on a hot air balloon ride, which eventually burst over Central Park (the hot balloon, a metaphor for unemployment). I fell face forward. Like any tough, resilient New Yorker, I dusted myself off and paraded on Fifth Avenue.
With turbulent times came feelings of isolation. As an intense grey engulfed my Uptown bubble, I longed for a temporary exodus. I hopped on the M60 bus from my current life in Harlem to the good ol’ days in Astoria.
Off I went across the Triboro Bridge. The Bronx’s red brick project buildings, Manhattan’s skyline, and the calming waters of the East River dominated my eyes. While on the bus, I thought of my old neighbor, Tony.
I really hoped to see him on this trip to the old neighborhood. When we first met, he was enjoying laughs with our neighbors on the stoop. He was a blue collar, native New Yorker with the accent to prove it. With a wicked sense of humor, he could charm the most jaded of folks.
The night we met, I had a date with this random guy, a few blocks away. “Can I walk you to the corner?” he asked. I shook my head, yes. Sensing some insecurity on my part, he uttered the following, “you look beautiful.” With a surprise stare, I thought to myself, “wow, this is one open minded straight guy.”
In the midst of a quiet block of brick and candy colored homes, he drew me close. Intense winds blew from the East River. With one quick swoop, he kissed me.
“I am gay,” he said. In a bit of shock, I just smiled in awe. “You’re gorgeous, have fun on your date, tonight,” he said. Walking away into Queen’s darkened, but charming sidewalks, he left.
The date went well, but nothing romantic came from it. Instead, Tony and I formed a strong bond. I missed him terribly, when I left Queens. Then, the bus finally arrived in Astoria.
The change of scenery was a very warm welcome. The charming borough felt like home again. Immediately, I walked toward my old apartment building. The row houses and brick apartment buildings retained their cozy charm.
From the distance, I saw a blue baseball cap. “Oh, please tell me that’s Tony,” I whispered to myself. It wasn’t. Disappointingly, I had to face the awful pangs of truth.
“Tony is really gone,” I declared. He had died almost two years ago. Naively, I wanted to believe he was still watering his mother’s rose gardens and handing me new coupons, he had just clipped. His death seemed more real, but there was closure.
Holding back emotion, I could hear Tony’s witty banter. “Just enjoy your life, buddy,” he would tell me. Remembering his favorite neighborhood spot, I walked over to glorious Astoria Park.
The peace and quiet of my old neighborhood was a refreshing change from Manhattan’s frenetic pace. It still retained the quaintness, which was further characterized by cozy fall skies.
Finally, I reached Astoria Park. The leaves colored the green grounds with leave of yellow, pink, and rogue. From the vantage point, I once declared my future move to Manhattan, I really had returned.
Although, my life across the East River turned into a parallel universe, full of uncertainty, I felt a great deal of peace. I sat on a bench and turned my uncertainty into a sense of adventure. With great confidence, I walked to the subway and returned to Manhattan.
Descending up into East Village madness, I felt part of a very busy anthill. Albeit, a very hip and fashionable anthill, indeed. I longed for a bit of peace and quite, once again. While walking to my favorite coffee shop, I was reminded of Astoria and especially, Tony.
Even though, that era had ended, it provided me with endless happy memories. In fact, when I couldn’t find enough campy Broadway musicals to sing, I would just think of my old home borough. Instantly, it lifted my spirits. Queens, I never thought I’d say this, but “I think I fancy you.”