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Empty Avenues

I bring a book of poems down to Riverside Drive. Find a bench in the shade, green paint peeling from its slats. Mud, dried leaves and narrow sticks spread in continents across the cracked pavement beneath my feet. A fly crawls across the ledge, where a pigeon spins in a circle, burrowing its beak into its tail feathers. Below us the traffic song of the West Side Highway. A boy walks by clutching a skateboard, knows I’m watching him, his eyes flitting between nervousness and determination, a sleeve of ink stretching up his arm. Behind me a man sits in a parked car mopping his chest with a t-shirt, passenger door open, Al Green’s voice carrying to me beneath the trees’ canopy.

Not yet settled I study new friends for cracks, find that when stirring jasmine rice in the pot that I remember streets: Lyndale Avenue from our second-floor window – October in Minneapolis – cars coughing up leaves in their wake. The empty road near the Sarasota airport, night, languid warmth, driving past the dying motels, pool chairs with their arms facing the road. In San Francisco the wide avenues near Saint Ignatius, the single night I drove out to the second-run theater near the ocean, ate popcorn alone, drove back through the dark, the fog, that single night caught in my head, a memory that crowds out others till it becomes something I used to do.

Last night I dreamed that I was at a party in the middle of a group of people who were all feeling up my bicep while I stood there and – modestly, of course – flexed for them.

Then I woke up with my arm trapped between my head and the mattress. I was drooling.

p.s. My friend Kelly, who drove me out to Trader Joe’s in Jersey yesterday, pointed out that if you rearrange the letters in “dogpoet” you can spell: “Got Dope?”

One Year in New York City

Well kids, today’s the anniversary. I’m too sentimental to let it slide without comment, and too tired to do it justice. How about a list? Everybody loves a list.

Read about three books a week during the school year.

Let a bitch in my fall workshop work my every last nerve.

Wrote about it later.

Wrote the first fifty pages of my memoir.

Rented an absurdly large number of dvd’s over summer break.

Read maybe two books.

Grew much more conscious of my physical appearance and clothing, producing more confusion than results.

Eventually grew to understand that grocery shopping in New York is not about driving to Safeway once a week, but requires daily trips to about three different stores in my hood: One for meats, one for produce, and one for chocolate sorbet.

Bought raspberries from a sidewalk vendor around the corner at midnight.

Became slightly more aggressive about putting myself out on the dating market. Grr.

Fell in love every two blocks with some straight boy. At least the ones who hadn’t started plucking their goddamned eyebrows.

Realized that wasn’t getting me anywhere.

Went to a gay bachelor party and a gay wedding. Stayed out till nearly five a.m. both nights.

Accepted after much kicking and screaming that one has much less personal space in New York.

Felt constantly overwhelmed by the embarrassment of riches the city has given me through new friends. Flaked out on hundreds of phone calls and emails, trying to figure out how to be an introvert in New York.

Realized that New York is the ideal city for introverts.

iPods help.

Accepted the inevitability of everyone reading over everyone else’s shoulders on the subway.

Discovered that the subway was the only place I was ever going to keep up with my New Yorker subscription.

Realized that a New Yorker’s most important possession is a decent apartment.

Spent an amazing amount of time in said apartment, frequently described by visitors as “cozy.”

Lived without a pet for the first time in ten years.

Became all-too-familiar with the comings and goings of Little Miss Slammy Slammerstein across the hall.

Lived through four seasons for the first time in seven years. Bought a parka. And later, some shorts.

Became a much better writer.

After I wrote that last sentence I spent about thirty minutes attaching all kinds of qualifiers and defensive clauses to it, anticipating those who’d argue otherwise. But ultimately it doesn’t matter. I know it, that’s what counts.

Moving to New York was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Getting sober and watching my mother die were the others, and quite honestly I’m not sure which one takes the cake. There were so many moments, especially in the beginning, when I didn’t think I was going to make it, moments where I still don’t think I’ll make it. I whined a lot this year. At school I grew cranky because I wasn’t twenty-five anymore, till I realized that the twenty-five year olds didn’t have much to write about. In Chelsea I got sick of hearing about everyone’s half-shares on Fire Island, but only because I’d never been invited. “New York has more snobs per capita than any other city,” I told friends back in California, “and the gay boys are all legends in their own minds.”

But it takes one to know one.

I made the rather humbling discovery this summer that the most important weapon I have in the New York battle is my gym membership. Endorphins, vanity, who the fuck cares? I don’t whine after the gym.

I miss my friends in San Francisco so much some days it hurts. I miss day trips to the Marin headlands and beer busts at the Eagle. I miss Joe’s Barbershop. I miss Peet’s Coffee and Trader Joe’s.

I only realized after I moved away how much Wade aka Bearbait saved my life.

New Yorkers have ambition. San Franciscans have, arguably, a better quality of life. There may be, as someone once told me, something “lotus-eater-y” about SF, but it makes for ripe daydreams. I’m still stuck between the two.

New York has more artists, and they’re the best kind of peer pressure. New York has the fall. On Sundays I can walk two blocks to Riverside Park and sit on a bench under the golden leaves and call friends back in Cali. At midnight I can get raspberries from a street vendor around the corner and on the nights I don’t he’ll still smile at me. At one a.m. I can get sorbet. I can hear Joan Didion read at the 92nd Street Y. I can get tickets to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

I can walk towards the 23rd St station in Chelsea, carrying a carton of Chinese leftovers, and a boy with big arms in the window of Better Burger will smile at me and everything’s okay in la vida dogpoet.

I guess that’s my way of saying that I love New York, on the days I don’t hate it, and that I’m not leaving anytime soon. And if I ever do it will be on my own stubborn, pig-headed terms.