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 clich├ęs 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.

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