The Little Bookshop

When I blew the candles on my eighteenth birthday cake, obvious life changes followed. It was my last year of high school. I had my first kiss ever. I also received my SAT results, which made me cry in agony.

In the midst of life changes, I opened myself up to new life experiences. Literature was a retreat from the mundane. Naturally, I gravitated toward independent bookshops. One bookshop in particular garnered my attention, Midnight Special.

I visited the old Santa Monica bookshop on trips to L.A. It had exposed brick walls, a maze filled with books, and a distinctly bohemian vibe, in the midst of yuppies and chain stores.

The travel section was my favorite. London, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam and Paris, I traveled to all of them, without leaving the cozy bookshop confides. While en route to the Eiffel Tower, I stumbled upon the gay and lesbian section.

My only exposure to LGBT literature had been through magazines. I glared at the books and picked one. The author had signed it. Enthusiastically, I read through each page. It spoke to me.

Raw desire, guilt and camp, my eyes delved into every word. I picked a desolate corner and reveled in finding a relatable novel. I wanted to buy the book. Nonetheless, as an unemployed high school student with a conservative mom, it wasn’t going to happen.

On each trip to L.A., I delved further into the novel (I couldn’t find it at my local bookshop). It was my first lusty affair.

I wanted to buy it, while my mom wasn’t looking. As we reached Santa Monica on a blue-skied day, I anticipated more queer literature. Excitement reached my fingertips. Enthusiasm serenaded a rainbow stripped heart. My eyes longed for word porn.

Mother and I made our way through the Third Street Promenade, packed with tourists. I longed to read my book in a dark little corner, invisible to the eye. Suddenly, my mouth widened in shock.

Midnight Special closed to make way for an Apple Store. Worst of all, I couldn’t remember the novel’s name. The lusty affair ended. I suffered a great loss. My mother couldn’t understand why I appeared upset. I never told her. Time passed and I never saw that book again.

Through my voyages to Midnight Special, I came to appreciate literature more. As an openly gay adult, bookshops became miniature retreats. When life in New York (where I’ve lived for years) became too hectic, I found a little dark corner at the Strand (bookshop) and escaped. Inevitably, I still experienced lust with the written word. It had the same electricity. It was grand.


Before pimples, braces, film school, New York and coffee addiction, there was Garden elementary school (in Riverside, CA). It produced well-behaved and impeccably mannered private school children. Inevitably, I was the lone rebel.

Staring at brick walls, detention, and infamous phone calls with my parents remained a mainstay of elementary school memories. Nothing symbolized my zany brain like my desk.

Fridays were known as feather duster day. Our principal would tour the classrooms. The class with the cleanest desk would win the feather duster and receive additional recess time.

When the class would lift their desk’s interiors, books and paperwork became a shrine to organization. Nervously, I awaited her reaction when she peered into my desk.

Books from Charlotte’s Web to Fudge-A-Mania were scattered. Crumbled paper work, broken pencils and cassette tapes representing 90’s grunge were a shrine to childhood disorganization. Her eyes widened in disgust. “Mr. Alas, your desk is a mess,” my principal would proclaim.

Naturally, the well-organized future lawyers and doctors of the class were displeased. They gave me the death stare. I shrugged my shoulders and threw more crumbled up paper planes into my desk.

Eventually life took me to Geekdom. It’s what I lovingly call my New York City apartment. It remains a shrine to geeky living. The Star Wars theme played on repeat.

Like Mars, it was desolate. I had always been the only inhabitant. It’s served as an ideal retreat from the annoyances of Manhattan’s glittery existence.

Aliens, dinosaurs, and unicorns paraded freely as figments of my imagination. Geekdom resembled my elementary school desk perfectly. It was cluttered.

The closet and kitchen cabinets had been filled to the brim with linens, books and old paperwork. Wall Portraits were lopsided. My bed hadn’t been made. I was drowning in a sea of clutter.

Everyday, I walked in and declared, “today, I will organize my apartment.” When I actually arrived in my home, nothing was actually cleaned. The tiny hills of paper work, clothes and books threatened to obstruct my sanity.

I laughed off my disregard for organization. Lovingly, I declared it, “creative chaos.” With the embrace of chaos, I grew tired of dramatic expeditions to find a missing Isabelle Allende novel or that black cardigan.

I grew tired of digging. On a spectacularly spring morning, I uncluttered Geekdom. The man made hills were flattened. Exotic novels discovered. Sanity emerged from the rubble.

Geekdom was resurrected for my alien, unicorn, and dinosaur friends to stroll freely (without tripping on random boxes). I was delighted, too. Shockingly, I grew to enjoy the perfectly organized closet and book collection. It brought continued peace into my unconventional existence.

However, I wouldn’t take a one-way trip to Type-A personality land. I still needed that one cabinet filled with crumbled-up paper work and magazines. Disorganization exudes comfort. It reminds me of my childhood and chaos, which remains inspirational.

No feather duster days here. I was proudly disorganized. Even in a Type-A world, I stayed true to my Type-B self. No brick walls to stare at, just art formed in the hills of used books, sneakers, and cardigans. It was home. It was Geekdom.

Quirky in L.A.

The Cranberries, Blur, & Nirvana played on an old car radio. Palm trees swayed with the brutal force of Santa Ana winds. Automobiles nearly collided. Smog paraded merrily along an ideal turquoise sky.

Houses with 50’s American charm were reminiscent of the California dream. Freeways, empty sidewalks, and breezes from the Pacific exemplified a land of wanted boredom. This was L.A. in the 90’s.

Often times, my family and I took day trips there. Growing up in nearby Riverside, L.A.’s Fred Segal was a perfectly packaged representation of la la land.

It was (and still is) the legendary store were celebrities shopped. They did lunch, bought super duper, cool graphic t-shirts, and browsed for hip home décor. My mother would take me to Fred Segal’s for a very important initiation.

“You like donuts, don’t you?” asked, the statuesque Nordic sales lady. I unapologetically shook my head, yes. Unlike most perfectly quaffed Fred Segal clientele, I had a pimples and a tummy pregnant with tacos and chimichangas.

She recommended products to diminish my pimply woes. As she applied the best of Scandinavian skin care products, 90’s alternative rock blasted for the trendy Angelenos. Glaring to my left was the alternative to grunge.

Standing tall was the ideal L.A. man. Perfectly sculpted, handsome and confident, he tried on various graphic tees (in the neighboring t-shirt shop). My teenage soul sank to the ground. I wish I didn’t like chimichangas, so much, I thought to myself.

Lust filled my existence. After my facial treatment, I stared at a face full of red dots. If I get bored, I could always play connect the dots with my zits. Staring at my normal exterior made me a bit disillusioned. However, my interior was filled with art and wonderment.

I wouldn’t grow into a Gucci model, but it didn’t matter. By the teenage years, I knew I would venture east. Everything about New York fascinated me. The East had promises of intellectuality, classic architecture, public transportation, seasons, and a less vain society.

After several years in New York, I found that my city had embraced L.A.-isms, the gym, frozen yogurt, and yoga. Had New York become the new L.A.? In the midst of New York’s great beauties, I couldn’t get a date.

Although, I had a gorgeous complexion, I wasn’t exactly an Adonis either. I spent many nights alone with Chinese food and sitcoms. Alas, a handsome (or any) prince had not yet rescued me from fifth-floor walk-up land.

Were my quirky looks igniting perpetual rejection? Strolling New York, I was quite melancholy. At therapy, a breakthrough arose. “I’m alone,” with those words, I took a giant leap for gays, everywhere.

For years, I brushed off lonely sentiments. Instead, I put on a brave face as independent boy about the world. After therapy, I embraced vulnerability. Maybe, I am not that muscle guy from Fred Segal? Maybe I am not that handsome? However, I returned to the beauty within.

That week rather than focusing on dating apps and outward appearance, I channeled my inner author. Compiling a collection of short stories, I printed out the pages. Musically, the pages spewing out were Mozart to my ears. When the last page arrived, I held it close.

My heart pounded rapidly. In my hands, I held my first book. It was mine. Ideally, my inner art produced outward beauty. The pages were warm and smelled of a pine tree adorned forest. I found my happy moment, even in the midst of loneliness and insecurity.

This quirky boy still longs for a trip to Fred Segal. I’ve haven’t been in years. I loved their Santa Monica outpost. One day, I’d like to linger in their café and play, connect a zit. It’s the game, which best exemplifies my quirky teen years. Luckily, I no longer have the zits to play with.

The Gay Owl

The Hudson River was frozen over. My old brain farted. Below zero temperatures made the humble polar bear, hibernate. Coffee warmed the sensitive soul.

It’s always colder than the New York’s previous bout with the Polar Vortex. Birds of a feather flocked to Miami, Rio de Janeiro and anywhere tropical.

This bird of a feather couldn’t leave the city. Instead, I reveled in the next best thing to a Brazilian holiday, an East Village brunch date. Laughs with my gal pals, bottomless mimosas, and piles of bacon were just as wonderful as sipping Caipirinhas on Rio’s white sands.

Despite a wonderful existence in the city, filled with friends, theatre and delicious bagels, I was bluer than my navy pea coat. Rather than retreating to warmer pastures, I remained in the city.

After writing poetry and watching endless YouTube videos, I took a drastic step for mankind. In the shadow of the Queensborough Bridge, I sat in a therapist’s office. In the words of film school professor, “therapy is a badge of honor, since it’s shows an attempt to make improvements in life.”

While acting out a dramatic one-man monologue, my therapist took notes. My performance was grand. Instead of receiving applause, I was given a surprise. “You have seasonal mood disorder. It’s been common with New Yorkers, since we’ve had the coldest winter in eighty years.” he said.

I smiled. He smiled. Finally, there was a diagnosis to my woes. “ I want you to take up a new hobby, which isn’t writing or reading books. We need to take the angst alleviate it through an alternative channel,” he said with a confident smile.

Instinctively, I yearned to feed my brain’s desire for art. I took up sketching. An owl statue inspired me. I sketched the owl. The first owl was born on a scribbled notebook page. More owls were drawn. Soon, I had owls, which evoked many emotions.

Like a snowbird fleeing for winter, illustration gave me a sense of escapism. I was distracted with sketching owls, which made me forget about the winter blues. With a hoot, hoot, hoot, my hands birthed art.

At last, spring arrived. The Hudson River was re-born. Sidewalks sprung back to life. I sat in a park bench with a coffee. This was my re-ward for surviving, a sunny day, Morningside Park and a notebook full of owl sketches.

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?

The Enchanted Peacock

Where did all the cardigan loving, coffee drinking theatre geeks go? Am I the only one? In the grand metropolitan known as New York, I found a new life as an introverted singleton.

In the grand tradition of gay spinsterhood, I took a positive outlook to dating woes. Fuck you, Grindr. Fuck you, Tinder. Fuck you, dating apps with false promises of good sex and/or a relationship.

Rather than deleting the apps, I kept them. There was the false hope I could meet a potential prince charming. Like a grand peacock, he would delight me with his colorful shell and dazzling wit.

I met a charming fellow in Portland, during my great bohemian expedition out west. He shattered the walls I built around my own private kingdom. With a simple grabbing of the hand, I was swept off my feet.

Unfortunately, my bearded, Pacific Northwest prince lived too far. So, we couldn’t ride into the sunset together. Thanks to modern technology, we stayed in touch via text.

On a particularly lonely spring morning, I awoke from slumber at 4 AM. For the world’s most non-morning person, this was agony. A minute after rising from slumber, I received a text from the Portland guy. “I miss you,” it read.

The phone rang with great fury. We talked. It was amazing. Together, we indulged in his vinyl music collection. As we drifted into musicale ear pornography, I realized, “oy, he has great taste in music, but lives oh so far.

The conversation grew more intimate. Although, we only spent a week together, the bond had been formed. Had I found my enchanted peacock? The conversation drifted toward its end.

Before hanging up, he played, “So far away” by Carol King. My heart sunk. Why couldn’t he live in New York? Why was there a continent in between us? Will I find another guy with such an extensive vinyl record collection? I thanked the gods of bad sleep for my intriguing early morning.

After hanging up the phone, I felt a little more connected and loved. If my long distance relationship never amounted to anything, but phone dates, we’ll always have Portland.

The Very Merry Otter

On a sweltering June afternoon, a teenage otter wandered around Times Square. He hailed from California’s sprawling suburbs. Armed with a Kodak disposable camera, he endured the extreme humidity and excitedly anticipated a life altering experience.

At the Palace theatre, he saw a vision. It was a Broadway show. “Aida” was the show, which popped his musical theatre cherry. Although, not the most amazing show; it was a trailblazing experience. Blossoming into a Broadway aficionado, he saved his pennies for the thrills of lavish musical numbers.

Eventually, our perky otter traded the Inland Empire’s sprawling mountain ranges for New York’s islands. After years in Queens & Manhattan, our heroic otter was a bit jaded.

He vividly daydreamed of a beautiful log cabin, surrounded by pine trees with a flowing stream of water. Alongside natural beauty, the cabin’s interior had a wood-burning fireplace, extensive book library & shabby furniture with scotch tape, masking it’s deteriorating beauty.

Even in the midst of wanderlust, our otter had graduated to the “hey, I am a New Yorker (from California). I can fucking complain, if I want to” phase of life. Rather than buying a one-way ticket to Oregon, he braved the chaotic plateau.

He was diagnosed with extreme jadedness. Nothing could stimulate his sense of wonder, anymore. Unexpectedly, he grew weary. On an unseasonably cold, April day, he received a text from (his friend, almost a sister), Natalia. “I want to make you smile, let’s go to the theatre.”

Merrily our otter was all dolled up. Coincidentally, the Broadway show brought him back to the theatre, where his love of musical theatre was born, the Palace.

Jadedness departed his soul, upon arrival. He enjoyed watching the parade of old people, all dolled up and excited about Broadway. The smell and old world appearance were as thrilling as his fist visit to the theatre.

As the curtain rose, he finally cracked a smile. There were lavish dance numbers, campy songs and impressive sets. Once again, our otter found his happy place in life.

Eventually, he returned to his jaded self. However, he was reminded that musical theatre saves souls. It lifts one from depression, even for a brief exhilarating moment.

He came to appreciate his New York surroundings, again. The forest and log cabin were more ideal. However, where would he find musical theatre in the woods? Otter thanked the Broadway gods for his smorgasbord of theatrical options.

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.

Squeak Says Mouse

I live in a fifth floor-walk-up apartment. Lovingly, I call my apartment, the penthouse (with breath taking views of the projects and delis). Thanks to cheap rent and abundant space (for New York), I’ve remained in my shabby, but charming old studio apartment.

On one my voyages upstairs, I huffed and puffed. “I miss living in an elevator building” are the words, I proclaim, everyday. On a particularly cold January evening, I rushed up to the penthouse, bracing myself for Wonton soup to sooth and warm the soul.

Quickly, I met the face of fear. My eyes widen with terror. It was the grey creature of death and destruction. It squeaked. “Shit, that’s a mouse,” it was tiny. Rather, than disregarding mighty mouse, I took a calmer route.

With an earth-shattering scream, the mouse grew fearful. He fell a down a flight of stairs. Bolting toward my apartment, I arrived and locked the door. Anxiety raced through me.
Then, I thought about that poor injured mouse, falling down all the flights of stairs.

Poor guy, but it didn’t take away from his wrath of evilness. My heart grew worrisome for home, oddly. Afterwards, I took in deep breaths and listened to show tunes. While being entranced by the sounds of Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Fiddler on the Roof, I soon drifted into a mouse free land.

Months later, I forgot about Mr. Mouse. He was a distant memory. On a spring morning with sparkling blue skies and delicious coffee, I received a nervous text from my friend, Anna. “We have a mouse in our apartment,” she texted.

Being the strapping gay lad, I texted back, “I’ll be over to help you find it.” As I strolled past coffee shops and brownstone blocks, terror returned. “Shit, a mouse. I hate mice. The only mouse, I adore is named Mickey and he lives in Disneyland.”

Hesitatingly, I arrived into the den of anxiety, my friend’s apartment. My favorite neighbors, Anna and Sigourney’s faces spelled terror. Mousetraps lined the floor of the apartment. Furniture was scattered. Only one piece of furniture remained in tact, the couch.

Armed with broomsticks, Anna bravely moved the couch. We had a feeling the mouse was under it. While the couch moved, a sign of terror appeared. “Oh, my god, it’s a mouse tail, yelled Sigourney. Like any rugged and manly man, I took a quick gulp, bolted toward the bathroom and locked myself in.

“Anthony, grow a pair of balls,” said, Anna. I didn’t want to leave the bathroom. It was comfortable and safe. Eventually, I came out of the bathroom and quickly grabbed a broomstick. What looked like a tail, was actually fallen fabric from the couch. After moving the couch and re-arranging the furniture several times, the mouse still didn’t appear.

It was a grueling afternoon of screaming and anxiety. Rather than dialing up my very reliable therapist, I found my Zen place. If you guessed a coffee shop, then congratulations, you’re a fucking genius.

Anna and I sipped on lattes. We forgot about the mouse, which was never captured. Our lattes were a badge of honor for surviving a deeply traumatizing scenario.

Mice are a reality of New York, sort of like shit weather and high rents. Personally having two mouse encounters of a close kind has made me braver.

Fuck it, if I see one mouse, I am going to scream and have a heart attack. Oh and if this does happen, I hope some hunky fire fighter revives me. Cheers to you, Mickey Mouse, Jerry (of Tom & Jerry fame), and (who can forget) Mighty Mouse.

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.


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