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“And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in a slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company.”

– E.B. White

The quintessential icon of New York, for me, was never the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty, but rather the blue Greek deli coffee cups. Maybe they’re sold in other places, but I’ve only seen them here. Watch any movie or television show filmed in New York and the actors (Woody Allen, Christopher Meloni) will be clutching them as they talk excitedly on street corners. Perhaps it was this mixture of specificity and glamor that got to me, but I would see those little blue cups on the big screen and burn with quiet longing; a desire that I knew I’d eventually realize, if it didn’t kill me first. And now I’m here. And for the first month I’d catch sight of them, in a woman’s hand on the subway, laying near the top of a garbage can, and the sight would fill me with deep satisfaction. I wanted one for my apartment, so I could look at it everyday and remind myself of my accomplishment; if nothing else, I’d at least tried my luck in the greatest city on earth. I knew right where I’d put it, on top of my fridge, next to my mother’s photo, a flash of blue warmth as I reached for the milk.

It took me forever, though, to find one. Despite their ubiquity I hadn’t come across one in my sojourns till one early day in October, following the advice of two readers, I’d ventured to a barbershop down near Tompkins Square Park. Early for my appointment I ducked into a coffee shop on the corner of 9th St. and Avenue A, and there they were. A stack of them next to the espresso machine. I forsook my usual large coffee and ordered the small, just so that finally, six weeks after my arrival, I’d own the little icon.

They still catch my eye everyday. They still make me smile.

E.B. White, in his 1948 essay, “Here is New York”, displays disturbing powers of foresight when he mentions the dangers of living here:

“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.”

That day in September, three years ago, when four planes crashed within our boundaries. Two in New York. One in D.C. And one in a barren Pennsylvania field. Is it just sarcasm that draws the connection? Not one of those states voted red.

The black headlines shadow us as the week passes and their grim news settles over the island. If there exists a cocoon of left-wing liberal intelligentsia, I’ve found it at Columbia. It’s comforting if ineffectual. Perhaps the business students voted Republican, but the School of the Arts is another, if predictable, story. As Bush promises to pursue his Constitutional amendment against gay marriage, and as the decimated ranks of U.S troops invade Fallujah, I search for some cool salve of explanation, some reason, small and bitter it may be, to have the same faith in my country as I do in my new city. And I come up empty-handed, save for my eternal optimism and resolve to keep writing till the people I love are no longer second-class citizens. I distract myself with blue icons and essays. We hunker down along the sea-swept edges, blotting ineffectually at bleeding wounds, busying ourselves with projects which may be destroyed but without which we cannot endure.

The rumors of my death are gr…oh shut up, Michael.

How have I spent this unintended vacation?

Filling several pages with writing inspired largely by a chronic case of heartache, writing which is too self-indulgent to show to anyone.

Falling far behind on my e-mails. All apologies.

Watching a numbing array of scary movies on cable during the week of Halloween.

Enjoying the crisp weather that has come to San Francisco, weather that justified a new jacket and a couple of thermal shirts.

Working with a new sponsee/mentee in AA. I don’t know why the good-looking guys ask me to sponsor them, it’s God’s form of punishment. Fortunately, as the weeks pass I come to realize that they’re even more insane than I am, which kind of dulls their sex appeal.

Leaving an AA meeting and wandering through the closed-off streets of the Castro on Halloween evening, in the few minutes before the hordes arrived. It was only seven p.m., and there was a girl sitting on the steps of a house on 18th Street, puking her guts out. At first I thought she was an amateur, then I realized she probably drank like I did. Which means that if the party started at 8pm, I started just a little bit earlier. Like at noon.

Breaking out of my funk by finally working my ass off on the grad school applications. Selecting and polishing the pieces for my writing portfolio, writing why-I-want-to-go-to-your-school essays, tracking down transcripts and letters of recommendation and daydreaming a little about the future.

Planning a couple of short trips to New York to attend information sessions at two of the schools, looking forward to imposing on Jennie and dressing up her dog Malcom in that big furry hat of hers.

Cracking open my window last night so that I could hear the rain pouring down through trees on the side of the hill.

And finally, enduring my second root canal of the last two years, which has required endless hours in the dentist’s chair with my mouth propped open. Hours made more bearable by my new iPod, which I bought from Jonno when he upgraded to a newer model. The celebrity patina that lingers from J-no’s touch is worth the price alone. After today’s dental marathon I treated myself to a white chocolate mocha from Peet’s, which I sip while I write this, savoring the warm flavor on the unanesthetized portion of my tongue.

Presidential Hangover

Norman, Trevor, and I caught the last show of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade’s “George Bush is a Motherfucker” tonight in Chelsea and had some laughs. Afterwards a fuzzy image of Tom Brokaw was projected on a large screen onstage, and the actors improvised a mock celebration at the Nader campaign headquarters while the election returns, nearly illegible through the static, added up behind them. It didn’t look so good at first, and while the room erupted in joy when California and Pennsylvania went to Kerry, a grim mood descended when Florida was projected for Bush. Norman and I wandered back to his place, grabbing Cherry Coke and Kettle Chips on the way, where we watched CNN, more cautious in their projections, on the new flatscreen. I stayed till two a.m, then walked in the drizzle to the 28th St station. The streets were quiet. I caught the 1/9 uptown train, the sleepy car rocking through the tunnels. A man curled up, back to me, on the seats reserved for the elderly. Latino boys in baggy jeans and headphones stared solemnly at the young woman across from me. Black knee-high boots, torn stockings, long blonde hair with dark roots. She fished a book from her purse: Sandburg’s “Chicago Poems”. Nearby a plump woman held her own book propped up on her knees: “American Assassination”. A line visible on the back cover: “Paul Wellstone was murdered.” A pale gray handkerchief tied over her head, a button on her vinyl jacket that read “W stands for Wimp.” Her eyes closed, the book shifted slowly in her hands, and her chin dropped towards her chest. She jerked awake when the train pulled into the 72nd St. station. Her t-shirt read: “I wish I could vote everyday”.

M or B

I voted for John Kerry today at P.S. 165, three block from my apartment. The kids were selling donutes and cake and hot cider, clearly they knew how to take advantage of a financial opportunity. Good little capitalists. I signed up at a long lunchroom table staffed with earnest if slightly inefficient poll workers.

“What letter does your last name start with?”

“M,” I said.



Repeat for added entertainment.

The voting machines themselves were old gray metal contraptions from the 50’s, the kind of thing you’d see in shop class back in the day. One of them was broken so I had Nabokov’s Speak, Memory for company during the thirty minute wait. There weren’t any Republican challengers (shame!) questioning our right to vote. My guess is that they knew Manhattan was a lost cause. Either that or they knew they’d get beaten down by the little old Jewish ladies of the Upper West Side.

Afterwards I got an everything with herb tofutti at Absolute Bagels. It was still warm.

The Train from D.C.

Late again. Hit the ground running after DC and never really stopped. Well, what can I say? Bob and Jimbo, with the help of Rich (who’s even better looking than his pictures in this month’s OUT magazine), put on an excellent show. No real glitches (except for the upstairs bartender who was late. Thank you to those who were kept waiting downstairs). There were a couple of last-minute cancellations from the performers, but in the end I think it was for the best; the show was the perfect length. Leave them wanting more is one of those clichés that works. There was a great turn-out and I got to meet some of the other bloggers for the first time. Joe, a fellow New Yorker, used to patronize the Powerhouse, where I bartended in SF. Andrew Sullivan came in fashionably late wearing a tight t-shirt advertising Detroit. And good old Geekslut aka American Horndog, made good on his promise to kiss me, and pulled me into the back room where I teased him for awhile. Get the hell out of Florida, Steven, it’s a wasteland.

All the boys read well. There was a good mix of material; funny, poignant, and raunchy. And then there was me. I had decided earlier in the week that I would memorize my piece; a five page poem, and spent many, many hours devoted to that task, walking in a tight circle around my studio apartment, down Riverside Drive to 72nd and back, staring out the window of the train as it sped towards DC. And though I did have it memorized, at the last second I decided, after pacing nervously around the back of the bar during Andrew’s reading, to just bring the damn poem up on stage. I was far too anxious and knew I’d forget a line and would be up there, blank expression on my face, sweat trickling down my back. Most of my nervousness was probably self-induced; the pressure to memorize and the pacing around didn’t help matters. And then there was the set-up; a bar, with a large group of gay guys standing in a tight semi-circle around the stage, which was only a foot or so off the ground, so that everyone seemed about three feet away. The poem trembled in my hands and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. You’d think I had never read in public, or acted on stage for that matter. But then it was over and I could relax. Sullivan gave me a hug. Homer bought me a Coke with my drink ticket and we got to chat a bit. He had a great calming influence. Great to see Ultrasparky again, another fellow New Yorker. Bob was spinning some excellent music, I would have stayed much longer but Jimbo, my host, was starving so we hit the Ethiopian restaurant down the block with his roommate and wandered home in the cool dark, where we ate at the kitchen table.

The weather that weekend was dismal, and I was struck with dread and sadness on the train back to New York. I didn’t know where it was coming from, and though the leaves along the tracks were all changing color, they seemed muted by the heavy sky. I was hiking through the mind-fuck of Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 as we passed through Philly, glancing up now and then at the damp landscape. I worried that my dread was about New York. Did I hate my life there? Or was I just hungry and tired?

The train pulled into Penn Station around three that afternoon, and I took the underground mall to the 1/9 platform, a block away. It’s an amazingly convenient commute to my apartment, and as I waited for the train I felt the dread and sadness stall a bit.

I had a couple of hours before class. I showered, changed clothes, then headed out again for something to eat. And on Broadway the sun had come out of the clouds, and the rush of people around me didn’t exhaust me, but rather energized me. And I sat upstairs at Pinnacle with a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza, watching the customers mill around the deli and soup counters below, and gradually my mood improved.

Over the past week I’ve felt more and more comfortable in New York, and though I keep struggling to find that balance between school, friends, the gym, and sobriety, I’ve realized that my perception of this city depends almost entirely on my state of mind. This isn’t a brilliant realization, I admit. But nevertheless, people here really do make eye contact. And Columbia really does seem smaller and less imposing. And I care less and less about the students with whom I’ve had problems. I’m a pretty agreeable guy, and it’s a rare soul that I can’t charm. Obviously their problems aren’t really about me. And there’s great people in my program, two of whom came to my reading at P.S. 122 and who make me laugh. Life’s too short to dwell in confusion over other people’s strange agendas.

Fall is my favorite season. The leaves are changing color here, and the stretch of Riverside Drive near my apartment is lovely. Yesterday the sun was out, and the temperature hovered around 65 degrees, and I walked over there and sat on the bench where I go to make my phone calls, to friends back in California. And the sidewalk was covered in crisp yellow leaves, and each time a faint wind shook through the trees the leaves fell in slow, delicate paths. I went to the gym and afterwards I stopped at the farmer’s market on Broadway and bought a gallon of fresh cider. And I walked home, the sun on my face, the cider knocking against my leg. I wished this season could last. I don’t want to leave here anytime soon.