From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories – Take 8)

(…Continued from Part 7)

Disclaimer: This part of the travelogue doesn’t have much about the travel aspect. It’s about a moment during the trip that needs documenting. There’ll be more travel-related destination banter in the next one. So there you go.

The next day, I woke up in the Bronx with a pounding headache, lying next to a near comatose Italian* chef from Detroit. This man was NOT the DJ; this man was not who I was supposed to end up going home with. So what the hell happened?

I wish that I’d taken pictures that night, because my memory is not quite as sharp as I wish it were…

When Lisa and I got to the DJ’s gig, the first thing the DJ did was take us inside and make sure his bartender friend Neela took care of us. We sat at the bar and got comfortable with the plethora of shots that began making their way to the bar, into our hands, and down our throats. The DJ was in good form. He was always in good form. He’s one of those people who always maintain the perfect amount of positive energy. You know when people say “your smile could light up a room”? He’s one of those people you’d say that about. And boy did he like to keep those dark rooms bright.

Throughout the night, we saw the crowds come and go, mixed bags of yuppies and out-of-towners and aging hipsters and people just looking for a night cap. The DJ played on, and took cigarette breaks as often as possible, and then began taking dance breaks as often as possible; his tall, lanky self pulling Lisa and Neela and I out on to the dance floor, smiles aplenty. And the drinks, and the drinks, and the dancing and the drinks until my head was swimming and I wanted to grab him and kiss him and tell him that he still meant something to me, that he always had. The streets of Manhattan were quiet outside while the noise in my head was only muffled slightly by the alcohol.

The hours went on and the party did too. I would sneak over to the DJ while he worked sometimes, and I held his hand, and he squeezed his fingers in mine, and I would get sad because I knew that it might be years before I got to see him again, and how long would this go on? More drinks, more smokes. And then another man walked in, and this one knew the DJ well, so much so that he and the DJ began to dance. Then the DJ introduced us, flinging me into the strangers arms as he made his way back to the DJ booth. This is how I met Parker.

Parker hit me like a ton of bricks. That’s not the right way to say that. He didn’t hit me. But something about him hit me. He had another one of those smiles, though nowhere near as endearing as the DJ’s. But still, he had a good one, and I’ve always been a sucker for a nice smile. Parker was working overtime that night. The way he’d look at me. The way he’d do anything to force me to stare back into his eyes. And my god, did he lay it on thick. “Beautiful.” “Baby.” “Gorgeous.” I would tell him he really didn’t have to, but then he’d spew another “I’m not a player or anything, I’m being serious,” and i’d laugh it off because there really wasn’t anything else to say or do. Lisa began sitting out more dances, buying us more drinks. Parker kept on, and on and on. Until he’d invaded every inch of my personal space, and with his finger tips lifting my chin up, he kissed me. It hit me. Like a ton of confused, awkward bricks that have landed everywhere after an explosion. It was fantastic and awful and i’m pretty sure the only thing I said or thought for a good while afterward was, “Oh, fuck.”

The DJ saw everything. The DJ kept playing music. The DJ kept drinking and smoking. The DJ, the DJ. Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ…

I ran to him like some scared little girl, unsure of what to do next. The DJ was still my friend. I felt terrible about Parker, and worse about what I knew would happen next. I grabbed the DJ and asked him what he knew about Parker, what he thought.

“He’s a good guy.. I like him. You should go for it.”

 

…Alright, It’s been over 6 months since this incident. It’s taken 6 months for me to say all of these things and be (almost) okay with them. But I’ll tell you this: at that moment, it was one of the worst things I’d ever heard anyone say to me. Ever. It’s tough to admit when we’re wrong about something, and even tougher still to admit when things just don’t go your way. Because I know deep down I would’ve wanted there to be some kind of jealousy, or at least a sign to say “hey, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” Nothing. Go for it. So let’s just say this: It fucking hurt.

Why didn’t he care? This plagued me to no end. He didn’t seem thrilled about the situation, but I couldn’t tell if he cared at all. At that point in our lives, we hadn’t been talking very much. For all I know, he was seeing someone. Maybe having an affair with Neela the married bartender. Maybe he had a girlfriend that he didn’t like to talk about. Maybe he’d just finally stopped feeling that chemistry that had existed between us for so long. I couldn’t be sure. When you’re plastered at 3am in the city that never sleeps, it’s hard to be sure about anything.

What I did know was that Parker seemed to have taken a liking to me. He wasn’t the DJ. The DJ was lost to me now. Parker was real, and his arms would wrap around me, and his lips would kiss me deep, and my head would spin. So I said fuck it.

“Parker wants me to go home with him,” I said to the DJ on our final cigarette break alone.

Parker was back inside, maybe talking to Lisa or Neela, maybe drinking more, I can’t be sure. I couldn’t care less at the time. He was a man I didn’t know and the man I did know was doing everything possible to crush all the feelings I’d harbored for him for the better part of a decade. He smiled and hugged me tight. I wished with every fiber of my being that I could read his thoughts, that he would tell me something that would reassure me that I wasn’t insane. That whatever that thing was that existed between us still did indeed exist. That this would not be the last night. That he cared in some way but didn’t know how to say it, just like every other time had been, when he’d act like everything was fine only to tell me months down the line how much I’d actually been wanted and missed. For fuck’s sake, anything.

“He’s a good guy. Like I said, you should go for it.”

I’m surprised, given how drunk I was, that I didn’t cry or yell or even get angry. Maybe I knew it was coming. I could hear tires driving over the slick streets blocks away. It had rained again, just like it’d rained every day that I was in NYC. I met his gaze and gave him the saddest false smile I’ve probably ever given anyone, and I let him go.

Parker was eager to get out of Manhattan. Lisa thought I was crazy to go home with a near-stranger, but I trusted the DJ. He wouldn’t send me off with a total nut job. At least, that’s what I figured. Parker bummed a final cigg from the DJ and I said goodbye to Lisa, Neela, and the infamous Mr. DJ. Parker and I walked/stumbled down the street, searching for a cab to hail. I could see his Squee tattoo on the back of his calve and figured he couldn’t be so bad if he was a Squee fan. I grabbed his hand and decided to go with it.

In case you're not familiar with Jhonen Vasquez's Squee...

A cab ride to the Bronx. My first time in that most avoided of boroughs (aside from Staten Island, although I’m not sure which one is avoided more – any native New Yorkers wanna take a stab at it?) And then we were inside the apartment, which was by far one of the most spacious NYC apartments i’ve ever been in.

“Just one of the perks of living in the Bronx,” said Parker, who actually absolutely hated New York City, and who had plans to move back to Detroit to open up a fine dining establishment someday.

Sigh. From there, you can guess what happened next. The sex was alright, but not terribly memorable, probably for numerous reasons (we were both too drunk, I was still hurt about the DJ, we’d only just met a few hours before, etc). I spent the next morning hydrating and smoking (his very low grade) grass while he snored away, sleeping off the hangover. I felt terribly awkward about not coming back to Tyler’s for the night. Not that I owed him explanations, but all my things were there and he’d been nice enough to let me stay with him for the duration of the trip. I tried to come up with different excuses as to why I hadn’t made it back to Manhattan. I tried to forget all about the DJ.

Parker had to get to work that afternoon, so we took the train back to Manhattan that afternoon. He got off two stops before I did.

“It was nice to meet you,” we both said, with the knowledge that we’d likely never speak again. I thought about how ridiculous life could be sometimes. So many years feeling one way about someone, regardless of time and distance, and now it was over. 6 months later, I still don’t know how I feel about all of it. Except maybe a little grateful.

The DJ and I discussed the matter about 2 months or so later. I told him how awkward the whole thing was, how strangely I felt about it. He was candid, telling me he just wanted me to be happy and have a good time. That he didn’t feel like he had any claim over me, and that he genuinely felt that Parker was a good guy, that he also wanted him to be happy and have a good time.

“I may be perpetually unavailable, but I’m not a bastard; you’re still a good friend, and I do care.”

…And that’s it, really. That’s the anti-climactic conclusion to the longest non-relationship i’ve ever had, all wrapped up in one New York City night. It feels strange to write about it now, but I couldn’t have written it any sooner. So much has happened since then that I’m able to be somewhat disconnected about the situation. The DJ and I have spoken very briefly online since, but for the most part he’s rarely around and it’s for the best.

By the end of the next day, I wanted nothing to do with anyone. Sometimes people need a night away from the world, to walk silently with ones’ thoughts and memories in a city of eight million people. Lonesome as can be. And that’s just what I did.

But I’ll write about that later, because that night did take me to some unexpected places, including making my first friend from Amsterdam. For now though, it’s 5am and definitely quitting time. Quitting on the past, and quitting on tonight.

Here’s a song to keep you company that’s been helping me out while writing all this.

 

Part 9 in this series will be up soon!

 

*He was Italian and a chef, not a chef of strictly Italian cuisine. There’s a difference.

Rough Drafts of My Nicaraguan Stories

Earlier this year, I began putting together a series of short stories about sex and love and debauchery and travel that I essentially plan to publish. It’s an on-going process that I’m either too busy for or not motivated enough to work on. However, I promised myself I would have all the stories completed (at least a rough draft of each) by end of year. I’ve spent the whole day trying to think of what to blog about, trying to push myself to type anything out, when I remembered that promise and finally opened up the word document that contains more than 50 pages of memories and almost-memories and heavily-fictionalized life. I worked on Virgin Territory a little (a piece I posted about once on here before) and today I was working on another piece, with the working title of “Pochomil y no Poneloya” (I need to come up with something better). Since I’ve been trying to work more on my travel stories, I figured I’d share en excerpt from this one today. Advice is much appreciated!

Photo by Jaime Buitrago

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“The maldito mosquitoes are making a full feast of my body, I can’t stand it anymore! We need to get out of here!”

My cousin Gaby was lying on the bed with her head and arms dangling over one of the corners. I was sitting Indian style on the small cot next to her, scratching away at a million pink welts. It was my third time visiting Managua and I still wasn’t getting used to being lunchmeat for the swarm of flying parasites that followed me around incessantly. We could hear my Tia’s novellas loud and clear in our room, just like she could probably hear our conversation. The walls at my Tia’s house were incomplete; they prevented you from seeing into the next room but except for the outside walls, they didn’t connect directly with the tin roof, so privacy was exceptionally hard to find. I’d never seen anything like it. Nicaragua was full of homes with disconnected walls like this. I walked over to the white, electric fan in the corner of the room and let the artificial wind hit my face.

“What about Poneloya or Pochomil? They’re both about the same distance and I bet I could get Javier to take us!”

The prospect of a beach night got me to jump away from the fan and I began digging through my bags for a bathing suit while Gaby called her boyfriend. Javier worked the bar at a joint called Samantha’s, two blocks from Gaby’s place. I’d met him a few times and he seemed like a decent sort of guy, the kind that was always up for good times and rarely had a frown on his face. He was older than Gaby by almost a decade, which had alarmed her mother when they first began dating when she was 17, but he had stuck around for a few years and now that she was 20, her mother had begun to hope he’d end up making her his wife.

“Alright, we’re all set! It’s gonna be me, you, Javier, and Yader. You remember Yader, right?”

I nodded. Yader also worked at Samantha’s. He’d bought me drinks a few times over the past week in hopes of getting to know me better, and he already knew to bring extra lime for my vodka sodas, so I guess it was working. His shaved head made him look kind of gruff until you noticed he also had these really great dimples and then you realized he was just a big puppy dog. I liked him just fine.

Gaby tossed my blue triangle top and it landed at my feet. The night was looking up.

 

Chapter 2

Javier honked the horn of his 91 Corolla twice and we scurried out of the apartment, happy to be free from our skeeter-ridden prison. Gaby took the passenger seat, leaving Yader and me in the back.

“Hola, mi Chinita,” he greeted me as I closed the door behind me.

We picked up two 12-packs of Tona at the last gas station before leaving town. Javier had already brought a bottle of Flor de Cana he swiped from the bar for good measure. The car’s a/c was broken so we kept the windows down and the sounds and smells of Managua wafted through the car at 88 km/h. We drove past seedy bars full of under aged girls and hungry souls kneeling inside of destitute churches and dust-covered children asking for Cordobas; past all the old drunk men sitting in the middle of the road looking for a way out of town or just plain out. We passed the skeletons of mangy dogs, small bodega’s run from people’s living rooms, large women cooking Fritanga on the street corners, and occasionally, we had to stop for emaciated horses and mustachioed street vendors on their way home from a day of yelling out “TORTILLA!” “CAJETA!” “CUAJADA!”

Soon, we were going up the sides of mountains and into the clouds, quite literally. We stopped on the side of the road to take turns pissing and you could feel the dew sticking to your skin as the billows drifted past. It was much colder in the mountains than in the mugginess of the country’s capital and I was glad to finally feel the need for a jacket again. We jumped back in to the car and drove further into the night.

Our hands greedily reached into the cardboard box for cans of beer. Click, pick-shaw. Glug and more glug. The sky was black and the road was black and the clouds were grey and turning black. Click, pick-shaw. The stars so numerous, endless like the bubbles from my can of beer, tickling my nose, keeping me intrigued. They shone down bright, and then the sky was an endless piece of black construction paper punctured a million times over by a sharp No. 2 pencil. And the glow of the stars wasn’t so many tiny sparkles so much as they were all part of one gigantic light, a luminosity hidden behind the curtain that keeps the planet from falling apart. And the further into the night we went, the brighter that light seemed to want to shine. Like it wanted to burn up the sky and take over.

It wasn’t even half way into the drive and I was already drunk.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler (Living New Orleans – Part 1)

New Orleans. The Big Easy. The City that Care Forgot. Immediately upon arriving here, you pretty much begin to understand why this place has the nicknames that it does. New Orleans is quite literally unlike any other city I’ve ever been to. It’s been over 2.5 months into my travels, and it seems appropriate that this is where they would end (at least temporarily). People talk about New York being the city that never sleeps, but I can assure you that it is just as easy to never sleep in this town. 24 hour bars and a lack of open container laws, jazz music and hustling performers on the streets, obnoxious tourists attempting to re-enact Mardi Gras on a nightly basis, thousands of folks just trying to get by, and still not a day goes by that I haven’t heard someone bring up Katrina. I’m trying to find my place here, but I know it’s going to be a bit of a challenge. The people certainly don’t move as fast as NYC, but they certainly take care of their own in the same way. Since arriving, i’ve stayed with 3 different CouchSurfing hosts, all pretty fantastic people, each with their own stories about how they got here. The people, on the whole, are genuinely nice, which is, well, nice in itself. Strangers start up conversation, and not just because they’re drunk at the bar. This is certainly not Miami. On the whole, people are more than willing to point you in the right direction of whatever you might need. And there’s a small town feel because it is inherently a small town. The city proper, which is where i’m staying, only has a bit over 300k individuals. It’s no wonder i’ve already started running into people and recognizing people, and i’ve been just shy of a week! It’s bizarre, i’ll say that.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been to 7 different cities and slept on more beds and surfaces than I care to count. I’m not sure if I’ll actually be able to sustain myself here in New Orleans, but I’ve begun to hunt for jobs and hope that something pops up. Money is of course an issue, but hopefully won’t be for much longer. This is definitely a hustling city. Jobs are hard as hell to come by, especially the kind that i’m used to, in cushy offices. Service industry seems the best route to go, or so they tell me, so i’m basically putting my eggs in as many different baskets as I can. Everyone says I should at least stay for Halloween, and fingers crossed i’ll at least achieve that. But honestly, I really wouldn’t mind sticking it out here for at least a few months, maybe through next year or even past that. There’s something so alluring about this place. It has a different energy than anywhere else I’ve been. I’m an agnostic on the whole, but it’s like there’s magic in the air. Maybe it’s all the voodoo shops and the random pagan folks I’ve met and the enchantment of the above ground cemeteries. The night air just feels different. And every day i’m here, even if it’s a bit rough hunting down employment, I fall in love with something new. The houses, the architecture. The street cars, especially at night. The music, which i’ve only yet begun to hear. The whole concept of the Second Line. Like I said, there’s just an energy here that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Some people say this is the most unique city in America, and while I haven’t seen all of America yet, I’d say they were right in my eyes. There are plenty of amazing places in this country. I’ve been surprised at the things I’ve found on my journey thus far, changing my own misconceptions about what places were “supposed” to be like, allowing myself to get lost in foreign towns and then found again. If I was in love with travel before, I am basically feeling obsessed with it now. This is definitely going to be a lifestyle to maintain for the rest of my life. But for now, I’m courting New Orleans, or she is courting me. We dance a little and flirt a lot and man, does she like to buy me drinks. And even if I end up having to go back home and reassess for just a little while until things pick up, I can definitely see myself coming back.

But for now, as the French say, laissez les bon temps rouler!

From Morgan Avenue with Love (Take 6)

(Continued from Part 5)

A good New York City day has to involve one or all of the following: a good (preferably free) activity, good food, good drinks, and most of all, good company. And if you’ve ever been to New York, you know that is entirely possible on any given day. July 31st was such a day. Danny wanted to hang out at least one more time before he left for med school in Albany, so I asked him to accompany me to the free Raveonettes show happening that afternoon. He was game. After dropping off some laundry, I met up with him just blocks from Tyler’s place.

“So what’s first on the agenda?” he asked.

“I need shorts and underwear,” I replied.

Like I said, I was doing laundry and it was another scorching hot day in the City. He took me around and we wound up at an Aeropostale where I was able to surprisingly get both items fairly cheaply. He confessed it was his first time shopping for underwear with a girl. I was happy to bring him that experience. We got back on the train and made our way toward the South Street Seaport. There were no awkward silences, only sarcastic remarks punctuated by light jokes and the occasional laugh. The kind you give when you know you could really like someone if you only let yourself.

After a quick stop at Midtown Comics (just one of the countless comic shops that dot the maps of NYC), I could see a barrage of khaki shorts and SLR cameras and knew we must be close to the South Street Seaport. Now, the Seaport is definitely for the tourists, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are tons of picture taking opportunities: giant ships with giants masts, a spectacular view of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, a giant Chess set, and for the extra cheap drinkers (as we were), you can buy these gigantic plastic cups (closer to buckets than cups) of beer for about $5 in the food court. Danny and I, being a couple of cheapasses, split 2 of those and were good to go. We wandered around the inside of the shopping plaza, which was filled with your usual array of tourist shops (a Hello Kitty gift store, a candy shop, a place to get sweaters that say South Street Seaport, etc), and proceeded to feed Danny via free honey chicken samples in the food court. A note to vegetarian/vegan friends: There are very few options available to us in the food court. Basically, pizza and maybe a few sides here and there. You’re better off leaving the port for nourishment or eating beforehand! The same rules apply if you’re looking for a good meal in general. After walking the perimeter of the food court for a half hour, and with me reaching the point of rabid hunger, Danny and I hit left the port for a bit and found a nice Japanese sushi place*, where I had some of the best veggie rolls of my life (faux crispy chik’n, anyone?) Danny was not a fan of my crispy chik’n.

Finally, we made our way down in to the Beekman Beergarden (another worthwhile stop if you’re in the South Sea Port and can afford to drop a few bucks) and found the Raveonettes were already playing. I’ll be honest- I hadn’t heard too much of their stuff before going to watch them perform, at least, up until a couple days beforehand. I can safely say, though, that they’ve quickly become one of my favorites. A harmonic mix of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Cults, their songs have quickly become some of my most frequently played travel anthems. More than the music, it was nice to have someone to share the experience with and Danny was a good guy to share the moment with.

 

 

We wandered the neighborhood after that, popping into random shops, stealing frozen yogurt (alright, “fro-yo”) samples and trying to figure out what to do next. We wound up in the East Village, over at St. Mark’s Place, a hip and somewhat college-y side of town that has some interesting claims to fame (i.e. the former home of Klaus Nomi, buildings that were photographed for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and a basement where Anita and Abbie Hoffman once lived), with lots of bars, smoke shops, cafes, record stores, and well, more bars. A few places boasted having nightly karaoke. It seemed like a good area to land in for the night.

Now, a few weeks before I left Miami, I became “online friends” with the co-producer of what is a pretty popular animated TV show**. And by online friends, I mean he messaged me after I tweeted about his show and then added me on Facebook. It seems really bizarre I realize, and if his accounts hadn’t been confirmed, I wouldn’t believe it either. Anyway, I told him about my travel plans and since I mentioned I would be in NYC, he immediately recommended Crif Dogs. Crif Dogs is awesome for several reasons:

  1. They have very tasty hot dogs for a mostly reasonable price.
  2. They also offer very tasty veggie dogs.
  3. You can add just about anything to these dogs (three cheers for condiments!)
  4. They have a speakeasy bar you can only access through an unassuming phone booth within the place itself (but you didn’t hear it from me!)

We grabbed our dogs and munched away and when we were done, Danny suggested going in to the bar. We stood awkwardly in the phone booth for a bit and lo and behold were let in to the opposite side where we were greeted by well-crafted cocktails, sharply dressed bartenders, and stuffed animal heads on the walls. We shared life stories, with mine being slightly longer than his. I got a Flor de Cana cocktail called Shark Week and he drank microbrews and the flirtations that began before the concert were beginning to become more apparent. There was something about this boy that just felt good to be around. Sometimes people just have a way about them. He wore these leather sandals without socks that kinda made me cringe, but he just had a rare confidence about him that nothing else seemed to matter. Part of me wished a lot of different things, like that I were younger, or that we lived in the same town, or that I didn’t care about things like that. But it wasn’t about that. We were just having one of those magical New York City days and nights, the kind that keep me coming back to the city, and there was no need to dig deeper into it than that.

Feeling warm and happy, we walked hand in hand down St. Marks to the Continental. My friend Ezra had mentioned this place to me before; the infamous 5 shots for $10. But Danny and I weren’t feeling quite so adventurous (read: foolish), so we stuck to beers. I had a conversation about Miami with the bartender, who said she’d lived down there for a little bit, and we debated which men did the majority of cat-calling: ones from Miami or ones in NYC. Danny and I did our best to enjoy eachother’s company for as long as the night allowed. And when we kissed it wasn’t anything other than being fully in a moment, something that’s almost always hard to come by.

“Can I walk you home?” he asked, but I refused. There was no need for complications, there was no need for anything. He wanted to see me again, but I knew it wouldn’t happen, that I wouldn’t let it. We hopped the train and went our separate ways.

(Part 7 soon!)

 

* = I have been trying so hard to remember and/or find the name of the place but unfortunately my Google searches have not yielded a favorable result. However, according to Google, there are several other Japanese places nearby and basically all of them have vegetarian/vegan options.

** = I probably shouldn’t say any more than that it airs on the Cartoon Network.

From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories – Take 4)

I haven’t known many who could refute the fact that New York City is in fact a drinking town. And that if you only casually drink back home, you will certainly be drinking a-plenty once you’re in the City. So it’s not a surprise when I say that the next day also began much the same as the last, and that from now on, I’ll spare you the details of hangovers long past, unless there’s something especially exciting about them (I had a hangover and then Tom Hanks showed up at my door after he read my Tweets telling him that I wanted to meet him and he brought me an autographed replica of Wilson! Okay, not really.)

After a quick exchange of words with CJ and his roommate, I opted to head in to Manhattan to kill some time. Rumor had it that They Might Be Giants would be playing a free show that eve over at the Williamsburg Waterfront, so I figured I should head back to one of my favorite parks and do a little people watching in the meantime. No, not Central Park (although if you’ve never been, you really should. It’s a fantastic park and it will take you several visits to see all of it – I am particularly fond of the Alice in Wonderland statues and Strawberry Fields is quite iconic as well). Come to think of it, this is the first trip where I didn’t end up in Central Park at all, an error that should be rectified if I make it back up there before the year ends. But I digress…

After a short hop on the L, I wound up smack dab in the middle of Union Square. Now, the first time I came to Union Square, I was 21 and it was my first time meeting up with The DJ since our first interaction (the infamous date where I had to have him pick me up from my friend’s father’s car dealership and we ate sushi and drank wine and danced to the Squirrel Nut Zippers in his North Beach apartment) back when I was 18. I was with my friends Sara and Eli at the time and the DJ called me to tell me to meet him at the McDonalds at one of the far corners of the park, so being 21, I dragged my friends along with me. That turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my brief liaisons with New York… But that wasn’t this trip. This time, I walked around, drenched in sweat among the few trees in the park and sweat some more until I found an opening on a bench, where I proceeded to sweat more. Have I mentioned that NYC is really fucking hot in the summer? Because it sure as hell is.

People watching in NYC is definitely one of my favorite (free) activities. No matter where you are, because there are over 8 million other walking, talking, breathing individuals to choose from, you’re guaranteed to see something or someone interesting and your chances of it being terribly entertaining are automatically increased than if you were in, say, Boise, ID*. Point is, park benches (and apartment stoops) are prime real estate when you’re in dire need of some real street theater, or at the very least some interesting sights. At one point, while walking around the park again and checking out the Farmer’s Market, I got to see a group of Hasids, a group of Krishnas, a group of Greenpeace canvassers, and a group of skateboarding teenagers in the same 15 foot area and I felt there had to be a joke in the making there somehow.

After I got my fill of amateur ethnographic research, I hopped back on the train and made my way to Williamsburg (a.k.a. Hipster Mecca. Or at least it was a few years ago, I’m probably behind on the times on that). Walked around and got lost a bit in a slew of pretty brownstones, record shops, thrift stores, and organically grown coffee shops (the coffee was organically grown, not sure about the shops themselves… hrm…). Stopped in one and grabbed an iced coffee so I wouldn’t wither away under the sun and made my way to the Waterfront.

The show was supposed to begin at around 8pm, so I figured if I got there around 5, I should be fine. But it didn’t hit me that NYC has 1. a hell of a lot more people than back home and 2. a hell of a lot more TMBG fans (or at least people who know of TMBG). So I walked a block, and then two, and then another, and then two more, until I finally made it to the end of the line. Ahead of me was a family; a blond girl of maybe 15 with her mom and dad. I stood there sipping my coffee when this snowflake of a boy came and stuff behind me.  I turned and asked him if he thought we’d make it in. He figured there was a good chance, and we began chatting about TMBG and he then informed me that the show wasn’t just them, but a slew of comedians including Patton Oswalt, Eugene Mirman, and Jim Gaffigan. Pretty damn sweet.

The wait lasted about an hour or so and during that time we continued to make small talk. He had this very subtle accent that was punctuated with sarcasm; I would later find it was Russian. I learned the boy’s name (but have since forgotten) and that he came to the US just a few years ago to attend college and was now making loads of money working for some Wall Street folks, or at least, that’s what he said). After a while, his friend (an awkwardly tall guy with slightly buggy eyes and a shaggy haircut, who enjoyed doing improv in his spare time) and another girl (a short, curly haired nurse with a good, strong smile) came to join us. They mostly discussed the girl’s work and talked shit about the friends they had in common. When we finally made it in, we grabbed some Bánh mì‘s from the only food vendor around and proceeded to get closer to the stage. The conversation kept dwindling and I could feel myself itching for an overpriced festival beer, so I wandered back over to the beer garden and grabbed a Brooklyn Lager. I was going to meet the group back with my beer, but the security wouldn’t let me leave the garden, so I opted to get a nice bit of standing real estate while I caught a buzz. Eugene Mirman was on first, followed by Jim Gaffigan, whose serial killer-like voice only adds to the comedy in my mind. The skies had been getting progressively cloudier over the afternoon but I was hoping for the best. Unfortunately, half way through his set (and 3/4 of the way in to my beer), the clouds burst open and it was like a horizontal dam had been broken. The red headed boy ahead of me looked back and smiled as I bitched about the rain to myself. A bespectacled blonde to my left made similar remarks, and then the three of us began our “Bonding Under The Circumstances” moment.

Between commenting on Patton Oswalt’s set and discussing how ridiculous the weather was, I came to find that the blonde girl’s name was Lori and that she had been an illustration major and was now working as a public school teacher living while in Astoria. She was friendly. She came prepared (she let us put our electronic devices in her plastic bag to keep them from getting ruined). She had cats. The boy was Danny, and he was about to start medical school in Albany, wore leather sandals, and made me laugh more than the comedians on stage whom I could no longer hear.

Rain on, rain off, and then finally, TMBG came on stage and rocked it. We danced and when we got tired of dancing, we watched the hardcore fans, the ones that all looked like your old high school Math teachers, bust a move like i’ve never seen done. It was pretty fantastic.

At the end of it all, Danny left with his friend and I left with Lori and got a few $1 beers at a bar down the way, and it didn’t rain the rest of the night.

(Part 5 soon!)

PS. On the completely non-existent chance that he’s reading this… Tom Hanks, let’s be friends?

* = To be fair, I’ve never been to Boise, so I can’t be 100% sure of that. It’s just an educated guess though.

Steady As She Travels

Trying to regain my inspiration in Chicago. (That's not me though, that's a bird.)

As a writer and a traveler (and certainly more as a writer THAN a traveler), I have a bad tendency of over-thinking my blog posts, over-planning my writing, and generally becoming overwhelmed in the process. I constantly compile lists of “blog post ideas” and “story ideas” and “essay topics” and “future projects”, well, you get the point. But then, too much time passes and I completely let all of these once brilliant (or at least not too terribly mediocre anyway) ideas go to complete shit. Often times it’s because these are time sensitive writings (a review about an event I just attended or perhaps just a situation I completely changed my mind on), but other times I know I could easily dig in to my list of “Drafts” here on WordPress, brush up one of those unfinished pieces and finally write it out. And why not? Well, I guess probably because that would fall in to the category of work, which I obviously have a severe allergy to (Note to potential employers: I am joking! Seriously! Hire me and i’ll prove it? Sigh.)

Still, you don’t get better at something without practicing, without perfecting, without pushing. Writing, in this respect, is much like traveling. Not “Hey, let’s go for a guys weekend in Vegas” kind of traveling or “time to hit Milan for some shopping” traveling, since those concepts are completely foreign to me and even mentioning them leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Supermarket checkout romance novels kind of bad. Justin Bieber: First 2 Step Forever* bad. I’m talking about real travel. Going on adventures. Taking risks. Experiencing it every bit of the way. For me (and many other travelers I’m sure), it’s the entire trip that appeals to us. We enjoy getting to our destination when we have one, but everything in between is great and our destinations would not be so amazing and magnificent if it weren’t for the journey involved. We would be ill prepared for our destinations if our journeys didn’t make us grow and learn beforehand. And the longer it takes to arrive, the slower you travel toward it, the more you get to experience what’s currently around you! There’s a reason some choose to hitchhike, road trip, freight hop, bike tour, and even walk across the world rather than take a quick and simple plane ride. And if you lose your patience too soon or get overwhelmed thinking about how long the journey might take, it’s guaranteed you’ll miss out on all the great little things that accompany steady travel, including all the lessons learned as a result.

The same goes for writing. It’s easy to allow oneself to get bogged down by the idea of never completing a major work, to get agitated because you’re a few days past your self-imposed deadline, to get frustrated at all the work you want or need to do to the point you want to just say fuck it and throw your hands in the air (like you just dont care). If we all did this, sure there’d be some good times had but eventually there would be no writing and we’d never get anywhere.  I mean, shit, hasn’t anyone seen Idiocracy?!

So while I know that I might not be the world’s most consistent blogger/writer, I am going to try and begin making some real changes in my current traveling/writing habits and make writing my top priority and I challenge you all to do the same. I know I will never grow as a writer and person if I consistently allow myself to become paralyzed in thought when I don’t know what step to take next. When I’m in a different city or town and I don’t know which direction to go in, I might stop for a few minutes here and there to collect myself, to potentially find directions, to consult my compass or cellphone, but in the end, I know I need to keep going. This is certainly a new mantra to be adopted with writing as well. Even if it doesn’t turn out exactly the way I want it, I know I need to continue forward with writing.

Not to be hokey, but are you a writer reading this right now? If so, take the next 5 minutes and write something, write ANYTHING, and if you have a blog, link me to it! Or just leave a comment with your writing so I can see what you put out there as well. I’d love to see what my readers are coming up with. Planning is good but doing is definitely where it’s at. Time to be a little more proactive (but with less acne – score! another shout out to the Beebs!).

 

 

*Let’s see how many hits name dropping the Beebs gets me today! I wonder if it’ll beat the time I wrote about meeting James Franco. But no, seriously, I had no idea this kid wrote a book! Amazon’s nifty “search inside this book” led me to this quality find:

“‘It’s a big, big world. It’s easy to get lost in it…’

I love those lines in the lyrics. Sometimes I feel like that’s what everyone’s expecting. My world got very big, very fast, and a lot of people expect me to get lost in it.”

Yeah. …Yeah.

From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories, Take 2)

CJ was really busy the entire time I stayed with him, which was unfortunate, but I understood. The freelancer life must be quite the hustle. After getting settled in to my new home away from home, he took me to the corner bodega and we got a cheap breakfast – egg and cheese on a roll. For some reason, every sandwich in New York City is automatically cheaper if served on a roll. Regular sliced bread or some other variation seems to almost always automatically incur additional fees and I kind of wonder what kind of bizarre deal the city as a whole gets on these rolls. Or worse, I wonder if anyone has the real ingredients list for these mystery carbs that sustained me for a good part of my NY adventure. Regardless, they taste fine and at $2 for a breakfast sandwich, there’s really no need to continue wondering.

After brunch, we walked down the street to get a key made for me, which was fortunate since it allowed me the freedom to come and go as I pleased, without getting locked out (which, unfortunately, was a scenario that I encountered twice later on in my trip – more on that later, in detail). I asked CJ where I might go about buying some second hand shoes since I only thought to bring one pair of shoes (and a pair of flip flops) for my adventuring. He showed me a few places and then he went home and I opted to go hunt down some new footwear. Two thrift shops in, I found a comfortable pair of sneakers and a cheap pair of shorts, since I had underestimated the heat when I was packing back in Miami. Living my whole life in a sub-tropical climate, I figured i’d prepared for 26 years for summer conditions anyplace. But I was wrong. There’s a definite difference between the heat in Miami, which we constantly avoid by never going outside unless we’re in bikinis jumping in large bodies of water, and heat in a New York City subway, basement, or basically anywhere in that city during the summertime.

New (old) shoes in tow, I decided to head in to Manhattan. I’d read about a bar that gave free bread and cheese during happy hour in the Village and I figured that’d make for an excellent lunch/dinner. When I got in to the area, I realized it was much too early and feeling famished, I decided to pop in to the pizza joint near the bar and had a delicious slice of NY’s finest. When I finally made it to the bar, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Excellent beer list, but chock full of yuppies who all seemed to be running in the same pack. Wearing my thrift finds and about a pint of sweat, I began feeling out of place and letting insecurities get the best of me. I stuck to my cellphone and began texting my friends in the city.

There was Mark, whom i’d stayed with last year for a brief stint, who had a girlfriend now. I was almost sure we wouldn’t end up hanging out. Not because we weren’t friends, but also because we weren’t really good friends. There had been a short-lived semi-intense meeting of the minds with us which wound up fizzling into nothingness when it became painfully apparent that we probably weren’t meant for each other. And there’s just always that unspoken rule that you almost always end up staying away from ex-flings once they have new, steady relationships, so I didn’t press too hard for the company.

Then there was Carlo, a good friend from high school, who was also living with a girlfriend. He was good people, but like most New Yorkers, severely busy. I would get to see him later on luckily.

And then of course, there was the DJ. Anyone who’s known me for a while knows about the DJ. If you’ve ever had a long-term, non-relationship with someone, maybe you know what I’m talking about. He’s that guy that for some reason you’ve never really been able to shake. Time passes, relationships come and go, and there he always is, kinda smug, always sharp, but only showing just enough interest in your friendship that it makes you almost wish you never met them. But then you see them again and you don’t know what to do with yourself because it always feels like regardless of all the other bullshit in the world, this was the person you should’ve been able to have something with, but you also realize that it would never actually happen in reality. Yeah, that guy. More on him later.

So I texted one and then the other and then the other and then texted friends and proceeded to empty my wallet into some really great tasting microbrews. An older gentleman sat next to me and began chatting me up about beer. His name was John and he had just retired a few days ago at the not-so-old age of 63. He would be the first of two recent retirees I would spend hours conversing with. He recommended beers and then bought me a few but he didn’t act like a creep so I was fine with the arrangement. We talked to people who came to the bar and left and made recommendations according to their tastes. After a while, I realized that I never even got my free bread and cheese, as it was never set out at the bar, but rather at a small table on the opposite end of the room that had so many guys exchanging business cards that I couldn’t even see it. It was okay though. I had beer and company and that was good enough.

After a few beers, I decided I should head back to Brooklyn and get some shut eye. It had been a long day, after all. On the way back, I got absurdly lost on the train and wandered around in circles a few times and then it began to rain. Rain would become a highly prevalent and not-too-amusing theme for the last month. When I was a little girl, my mother would tell me that people would catch colds if they got caught in the rain. I believed this wholeheartedly growing up to the point that I think I almost psyched myself into always getting sick, or at least developing symptoms, every time I got rained on. If I still believe this old wives tale, let’s just say I would probably be dead considering the amount of times I got soaked in various cities.

The walk back to CJ’s started off somewhat miserable, but after a while, realizing I was in New York and not in Miami, realizing that I was actually traveling, realizing I was working toward making my dreams come true, and realizing that I in fact would not be catching a cold, I said fuck it and slowed down and enjoyed the cold drops of water falling on my head, streaming down my face, making my clothes heavy but my heart light. It reminded me of how fun it was to play in the rain as a kid (right before the faux colds hit). I smiled to myself, hiding under the shelter of bodega awnings whenever I needed to wipe my glasses a bit. I made it back to the apartment and wished I had something to smoke. Everyone was either asleep or not home. I stumbled down into the basement, changed into some dry clothes, and passed out.

(Part 3 coming up soon!)

*Names have been changed more or less to protect the innocent and guilty alike. If you happen to guess real identities, keep it to yourself.

The Front Porch

There’s a movie going on outside your house and you get a the best seat when you sit on the front porch. A petite Asian woman wears her hair in a braid and she wears and pink shirt and while she walks, her arms swing back and forth, soft and careless. A neighbor drives his brown pick up truck up the road and take a smooth left turn and disappears behind his house where he parks the car, turns off the engine, gathers his belongings, and walks inside the back door. I can hear crickets from where I sit, interrupted by another car speeding by down the river of pavement that separates this house from the one directly across from it. A tiny bug explores the screen of my laptop computer and I let him do it because it’s new to him, he’s never seen these words before. My right foot is propped on part of the wooden beam that holds the front porch up. The man that went inside just cme back out again. He moved his car on to the road and parked it closer to me. He wears a light green t-shirt and jean shorts and a frown, looking down the whole time as he walks back in to his house. I slap my leg because I feel some intrusive insect trying to make a meal out of my flesh and blood. I smile because I’m so far from home and i’m far enough that I miss it intensely.

I think about the moments that got me to where I am – the scene, the city of Athens, Ohio; college town belonging to the idle minds of Ohio University and the families that decided these wooden houses were just where they belonged. I take a moment to switch feet, to allow the relentless bugs to feast on my freshly shaved leg, the one that has the tattoo on the upper back of the ankle, the one that still has the remnants of bruises from when I kicked down a friend’s door just some nights before this.

I have two favorite things right now from where I’m sitting. The first is the chair that holds me up from falling on to the wooden, green floor of the porch. The chair is white wood, and the right arm is a little broken but not so much as you’d notice right away but rather it hangs there waiting for you to try and prop yourself against it and then falls again. Rocking chairs take me back to my childhood, to the living room of my parents, of my aunt and my grandmother. The chairs were enormous to me then, these soothing pieces of furniture to climb on and move about in, to give me a sense of motion when I was really just staying still. The ones I grew up with were imported from Nicaragua, where my family is from. They came in boxes, the pieces wrapped tightly in plastic and sealed up with flimsy scotch tape. I remember my father bringing out this smelly, yellow colored glue, piecing each component together, holding them tightly until they sealed and dried evenly. And then at the end, there was this wonderful piece of furniture which had traveled so far and seen so much and yet said nothing except that one should sit down and use it and rock themselves back and forth and they thought about anything and talked about everything.

My second favorite thing about this particular porch is the tree to the left of me that’s planted on the miniscule patch of grass that would be the lawn. The tree is not as tall as the house, but it’s certainly taller than I. It divides itself in two very distinct directions, and then the branches multiply and divide and reach out in every which way, toward every neighbor, toward me. The branches are thin and thinner still, and from them hang mostly dead and dying leaves the color of rust and mud, with a few specks of fire in between. The leaves are anticipating the Fall, the great fall when they drop down onto the earth to be re-born again, immortalized and idolized from this front porch, that is like any other porch in this country, a front row seat to the neighborhood picture show.

But the owner of the tree, she gave the tree more life, dressed it up the way young girls dress up dolls and later dress up themselves. There are multi-colored beads hanging all around the tree. You can tell she had fun throwing these up and around so that different branches caught different necklaces each time. They are the types of beads that are thrown up and around during Mardis Gras so that different men catch different necks each time, catch glimpses of different breasts each time, catch the eye of different women each and every time. The beads hang tightly around some and loosely around others, depending on the shape of the branch, the strength and the height of the branch, the weight of the beads varying, conversely weighing the branches down differently each and every time. Some are like thick, white pearls and others are flat and crimson like speckled blood. There are lime colored ones, and broken gold ones, and ones with medallions, emblazoned with the hopes of sports teams, or with the face of Bacchus, or with inscriptions like “ZULU: Social Aid and Pleasure Club” and I only wish I knew what the hell that actually meant. They hang there and bring the tree a bit of magic, and they bring the street a bit of magic as well.

And I sit here because I need a break from running around and flitting from place to place. I sit here on the rocking chair, moving but knowing I’m just sitting still. And the sun, it starts to get sleepy and begins dipping down behind the trees on Sunnyside Drive, the street that I rock back and forth on, the stage of my current story. A woman down the street wears pink and purple plaid and a white bowler hat and she waits patiently for her dog to do its business, which is just a nice way of saying it’s pissing and shitting. I can hear the squeals of small children having a grand old time from afar. The crickets get louder. I fail at killing a mosquito that silently attacks my arm. Another song come on my computer. I rock faster and faster, using both sandaled feet. A white pick up truck squeaks at the end of the road. A young girl bikes down in the opposite direction, wearing a shiny bike helmet and bright yellow shorts. An American flag is wrapped around a pole on the neighbor’s front porch. And I’m so far from home.