Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer is Almost Over (Thank God)

Summer is my least favorite time of year. The summer of 2009 was no different. I won't go into details but for the most part, this summer sucked, so I am not especially sorry to see the back end of it.

But this was a good week with which to end the month of August. And there was nothing especially amazing about it. Well, the weather broke so that was indeed a good thing after last week's heat wave. I think if the Russian kids who were staying with us last week were here now, they would have been exploring the city a lot more.

But I was outside a lot more. I visited a friend's mother who was returning home after visiting for a few months, I helped out with a Tuesday night community dinner and I spent the past two days volunteering at my friend's workplace to help organize things. My friend works in a private library setting and all I could think of was, "That was a wasted opportunity." I suppose if I went back in time, I would do a lot of things differently and taken an actual library job out of grad school rather than falling for the "dot coms are the here and now!" argument. Ah well...

But after two days of hauling boxes, sweating, running up and down stairs, handling books older than this country, getting red rot on my hands , I felt rejuvenated. It's a good thing I've been doing my four mile morning walks every day for the past several months because I didn't feel all that tired. But had I done this earlier in the year, I'd have been winded after an hour.

Man, it felt good to be working and useful again. Who thought I'd ever miss good old hard work?

And now as a reward, I'm heading out on vacation for a week (if one can really take a vacation when they haven't worked in forever. )

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Boys from St. Petersburg

There were two young Russian visitors from St. Petersburg staying in the apartment over the last several days. One of them left yesterday and the other one this morning. They were complete strangers to us; neither my roommate, W., nor I had ever met them before and I don't expect we'll ever see them again. The visitors came to stay here as a favor to a friend of my roommate. The friend would have taken them in but HIS roommate objected hosting people for five nights so W. was called upon to help out. After all, W.'s friend said, we'll never see the kids because this is New York City and they will be out all the time. I wasn't entirely sold on the idea but then, I don't really have much pull when it comes to decisions made in this apartment. That's a story for another time.

W.'s reasons for taking the guys in were not entirely altruistic; what W. really wanted was a passage to St. Petersburg. I think a lot of this "taking in people out of the goodness of our hearts" is more of a quid pro quo situation than anybody cares to admit. If you can stay in our apartment for free in New York, there's an expectation that people will reciprocate and let you stay with them gratis in their home country.

There was a problem with this theory right off the bat: these guys were only 19 years old (born in 1990!), probably don't even have their own places and while they were certainly not arrogant or rude, they didn't really have any interest in hanging out with two (curiously single) American guys, one in his mid-forties and the other in his *ahem* late-thirties. (And where is our third roommate, V.? V. is out shooting a short film in Bolivia and will be gone for a month. He left two weeks ago and W. asked me "Did he cut his hair before he left or does he still look like a homeless guy who you'd see asking for money on the number 1 train?" The latter.)

There was no bonding that happened with our foreign visitors, no moments where we sat around and talked and laughed. Most conversations we had were short and rushed; often I'd be left talking in mid-sentence as they would appear to lose interest, turn away and go onto the Russian language Facebook. I tried to get them talking about Facebook, but that went nowhere.

The most serious conversation I did have with one of them came about when I was in the kitchen getting a drink. The kid came in, looked me square in the face and in a very serious tone asked, "Do you know where we can get doughnuts around here?" Sadly, I didn't. This is just not a doughnut neighborhood. These guys don't have doughnuts in Russia and they came upon a bakery in upstate New York earlier in their travels and fell in love with the fried delicacies. It was hard to explain to them that bakeries in Manhattan don't really specialize in doughnuts.

As for the guys being out all the time and us never seeing them- lies, all lies. I think our visitors spent more time in the apartment than they did sightseeing. One day they went to the Brooklyn Bridge. The next, they took the Staten Island Ferry but were back in the apartment by 3 pm and stayed the rest of the day. They didn't just stay in a corner either. These guys spent almost all of their time in this heat trap, playing loud rock music, fiddling on the computer, organizing and reorganizing their luggage which they seemed to do about five times. They even cooked, something I haven't bothered doing since the summer began and it became far too hot to turn on the oven or stove. They subsisted on rice and some kind of stir fry vegetables the entire time they were here, washed down with a bottle of Dr. Pepper that lasted five days. Their luggage and belongings were spread out all over the front living room so we could see some of the things the guys had collected during their travels. Little American flags (from their trip to DC), bags of candy, toys and, oddly, dozens of packets of Sweet and Low.

I can't blame them for not wanting to be out too much. Their visit coincided with some of the hottest, most humid weather of the summer, but even the apartment was sweltering. The night before their arrival there was a microburst so severe that the city, Central Park especially, lost hundreds of trees. I'm still in mourning.

Now they're gone and a weird thing happened this evening. The apartment is quiet, the front room is empty and I miss the chaos. Just a little bit. Turns out, having a full house that was crowded and noisy, even for a short while, was a nice respite from all the endless days I have been spending here alone looking for work. Now I'm feeling lonely again. Joni was right, you really don't know what you've got til it's gone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Everyone's Crazy for a Sharp-Dressed Man

I was killing time at a bookstore today and was looking through the book, "FML" which is based on the website of the same name (which in turn is based on a website created by a group of French friends.) The title stands for "F*** MY Life" and is full of purportedly true incidents, usually only a sentence or two about horrible situations that have befallen the narrator and they end each with "FML." The book was sort of amusing but there are way too many entries about "I found out via a mistaken text message that my boyfriend was cheating on me - with my best friend! FML" or "I asked my mom if I looked fat in this dress and she said I'd look fat in anything! FML." FML is overrun with cheating boyfriends, cruel moms and people with bad acne. That it's now out in book form can only mean one thing: the toilet read. Okay, perhaps I am being cruel and you can bring it out at a party but I think the amusement would end quickly after the fifth "My boyfriend dumped me and asked if my sister was single. FML." story.

The one thing the book "FML" did do was make me think about some of the embarrassing things that have happened to me over the years. It's a blessing and a curse that I have a memory like a steel trap. On the one hand, I am able to remember dates and incidents; I am the family historian. On the other hand, I remember times when people have hurt me or even worse, when I have been cruel to others and caused people pain. It would be nice to forget about all of those time by taking a pill, sort of like an "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" because really, I can still feel badly about things that I did YEARS ago. I feel my face turn red and it's as though the incident happened yesterday. Much like the story of the brown corduroys in 7th grade.

Remember corduroys? Not the wide cord kind, but the thin cord kind we wore in the 70s and 80s that would make the "vhoop vhoop" sound whenever we'd walk? The kind that would wear out at the knees and the behind but they were so comfortable we just didn't want to give them up? I wore a lot of corduroys in 7th grade (the 1983-84 school year) and preferred them to jeans. One particular morning, I was tearing about the house trying to find pants to wear and I couldn't find any clean clothes. (Too many incidents like this precipitated my mother giving us all laundry baskets when we were in our early teens and saying that our personal laundry duties were up to us now.) But at the last minute, I did manage to find pants in the dryer, a pair of tan corduroys. A lucky break! I put them on and went to school.

Junior High was not the high point in my school career: kids were crueler, teachers grew meaner (and nuttier.) There were all sorts of adjustments I had to make to get used to life at Kiley Junior High and I was only, at this point, (March of 1984) starting to get into the groove. But on this day, after lunch, the kid behind me (his name was Jason. Where are you now, Jason?) was laughing and pointing to my butt. A word about my butt: I don't really have one so that can't be what the amusement was. I wondered if my pen had exploded in my pocket; that had happened earlier in the school year but I didn't carry pens in my back pocket anymore. What could have been so funny that he was laughing and calling somebody else over to take a look? Were the pants torn revealing my underwear. A cursory feel back there revealed that no, the pants were intact. Thankfully, the line started moving and nobody else came to witness what was on my ass.

I then forgot about it. Jason didn't press the issue and the day went on. But when I was about to go home the day, one of the girls in my class looked at me in that oh so serious way only a twelve year old can muster and said, "Chic is for girls." I had no idea what she was talking about but something was going on and I was just glad to go home and find out what it was.

I got home and my sister, who is two and a half years older than me, yelled at me because I was wearing her pants, her "Chic" brand pants. I had worn them to school. And then, worst of all, she and my brother started laughing at me. You see, dear reader, those were NOT my tan corduroys in the dryer that morning, they were my sister's "Chic" tan corduroy pants. I had worn my sister's pants to school and all day I had the "Chic" label emblazoned across the back pocket on my ass. I was so humiliated by my siblings laughing at me that, in a rage, I overturned a small table. So then the day, which had been bad enough, ended with me getting punished because I had knocked over furniture. Something like this could only, only happen in Junior High.

And the worst thing about it all? That entire day I was going around wearing girl's pants, I never noticed any difference in the way my sister's pants fit me as compared to my actual brown cords (which, as it turned out, were still in the dirty clothes basket.)

I may as well say it: FML.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The True, Sad Saga of the Prospect Street Society

The Prospect Street Society, a group dedicated to the pursuit of creativity and the higher arts and doomed to a very short life, met for the very first time on a Wednesday evening in May of 1996. It was the only time when all five members – Madeleine, B., Joe, Todd and I- were present. Despite the initial burst of enthusiasm we had for the idea, (inspired partly because I grew all excited by the film “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” about the Algonquin Round Table which I then showed to Madeleine and B. and we decided wouldn’t it be fun if we had a little society of our own) each consecutive meeting would be missing one or two people. But at the very first gathering, we were all there, happy and hopeful, determined to be the next great movement of arts in this country, one that we could say started in the living room of Madeleine and B.’s place, and then we could relate the story of our humble beginnings to arts magazines and interviewers. Okay, to be fair I doubt anybody else in the group felt this way but my runaway imagination – always ten steps ahead- did get this far.

Four out of five of the Society members had met several years earlier while we were working together at a large bookstore near the Massachusetts/Connecticut border.I had started the job there after college, as part-time Christmas help that became permanent after the holiday. I was also working another job as an admissions clerk at a very quiet local museum complex, but it was the bookstore job that was the one I always looked forward to every night. There at the bookstore, I met several other disenchanted kindred souls who were working there because of the bad economy.While times were tough there was still optimism in the air as it was early into Bill Clinton’s first term – the ignominies of the Defense of Marriage Act and the Lewinsky scandal were still down the road - and after the previous twelve years of Republican rule, it felt like a new day. After we all left the bookstore, we remained friends and once Madeleine and B. moved back into the area after living on Nantucket for a time, we formed the group.

By this time in my life, I was looking for any escape from suburbia (where I lived with my partner) into Northampton, near where I had attended to college. To me, the area of the upper Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts was a fairyland in contrast to where I was living in Enfield, CT. I was secretly happy that the sojourn to Nantucket hadn’t worked out for Madeleine and B. I wasn't ready to cut them loose yet and I was glad that they were, for the time being, back in the area and back in my life. They moved into the handsome brick building, up the hill from downtown Northampton and directly behind Smith College campus. It was the only brick apartment building in the neighborhood. Memory has a strange way of making me think that their apartment was up several levels, like on the sixth floor but this can’t be possible as the place wasn't even six stories tall. The building was big but not tall.

Madeleine had decorated the living room with photographs and paintings she had created. The bookshelves were filled with all kids of different cookbooks; it was the first time that I had ever really considered cookbooks to be literature but Madeleine had them on the shelves with as much reverence as I used to place my first editions of modern novels. In Madeleine’s hands, even "Martha Stewart's Entertaining" looked perfectly in place next to her books on Gauguin, Josephine Baker and Pablo Picasso.

I can’t remember if there were drinks or food passed along at the first meeting, but I figured there had to be something. It was around dinnertime and I wouldn’t have had time to eat between my job as a bank teller in Springfield and then heading up to Northampton. I sat on the floor and Madeleine and B.’s cats, Punkin and Frida, came and went as they pleased in the room, not entirely thrilled by the strangers who had invaded their space and not willing to be affectionate. Since none of us were particularly sure as how to conduct a meeting, we went around one by one and shared what we had. Todd passed around some slides of paintings that he had made at college. We all would take a slide, hold it up to the light and try to discern what the image was in the acetate. Joe presented less of a short story than random thoughts of the state of the current literature and the real lack of anything exciting or new happening.

I had just recently read “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time and had been completely taken by it. Very few books before or since have held such a power for me, and it was one line in that book that I found both hilarious and worthy of seizing upon, the description of the temperament eldest Bennet daughter as “the super-excellent disposition of Jane.” I took that line and used it as the title of a short story I’d written in Jane Austen’s voice, but transported to the current world of Amherst, Massachusetts in the mid-1990s. I can no longer find any trace of my story and cannot even remember much of it, just that the heroine Jane (whose personality remains to me as some big blank, I was so busy trying to be witty that I forgot to give my character any personality) and where she lived that it must not have been a very impressive achievement. But when all we want to do is parody, what is impressive? (Embarrassingly, a year later a friend wanted us all to write short humorous essays on a theme and I again went to that Jane Austen parody well for inspiration. How lame!) Madeleine passed around some artwork, and B. presented some of his paintings.

The initial meeting got off to such a good start that we were all looking forward to the next week. We did gather, but Todd was unable to attend so we were already short one member on only our second meeting. I figured this would be a one time occurrence so we put things on hold and headed into town for dinner and walked around afterward. But the Prospect Street Society never got back on track. In subsequent weeks, there would always be somebody who couldn’t make it, or we’d be too distracted to get down to business. One night, there was a huge blowup between two members. It’s kind of hard to keep a meeting going after that. And so, only two months after the Prospect Street was formed, the Prospect Street Society mutually dissolved. Sometimes, when you try too hard to make something happen, it feels forced.

A couple of years after we ended the Society and I was leaving the area for graduate school, B. gave me a gift of an abstract landscape he’d painted that represented Northampton. It still hangs on my wall. Even though I am currently struggling and unemployed, I doubt I will one day have to sell it for food like Gertrude Stein did with some of her Cézannes during the Second World War and I don’t intend to ever get rid of it. But B. himself has faded from my life entirely; I don't expect I'll ever see him again.

I’m still friends with Madeleine and Todd and Joe and we sometimes reminisce about the Society and we laugh. It came to nothing, just like a lot of things have and will in our lives. And for the positive outcome - I have not written any more Jane Austen parodies in over a decade.

Ed Beats a Dead Horse with this Novel of His

I mentioned my novel "Semesters" the other day. I wrote five drafts of it, often coming home at the end of a work day and writing it. But it's far too many pages, so I decided to just print the synopsis of it here. I did send it to a publisher (lot of good that did, I'm sure) and the synopsis is supposed to be like the jacket copy. So if you're wondering what the story is about, here ya go. Think of it as "Hollywood Wives" meets "Tales of the City." I doubt this will be the only novel I'll ever write, but it was my first. And if it never gets published - I still did it. So pretend you've picked this book up in the store and are reading the jacket copy and are REALLY interested. (Special thanks to Dave and other friends who helped write the synopsis. I couldn't do it alone.)

“On Todd Salazar’s first day of college, while his belongings were still in neatly labeled boxes on the dorm room floor, he had sex with his new roommate Darin.”

From the first line of the first page of Semesters, a loopy, original novel about gay life at a large New England state university during the early ‘90s, it's clear that the people populating this novel certainly are more interesting that those saintly, asexual members of the class of 10 percent portrayed in heterosexual college novels. Set against an era when gay marriage is a pipe dream and being “out” is still a precarious choice, the students of Semesters feel safe enough in their campus microcosm to be Here and Queer—so get used to it! They have sex, do drugs, have sex again, make all the wrong decisions, wage war against their conservative enemies, bum cigarettes, have more sex, all the while struggling with questions universal to young Americans. The writing is breezy and the drama generous. You'll encounter scandalous revelations, parties out of bounds, back stabbing, and an unforgettable, topsy-turvy final confrontation. Has it been mentioned that there is sex? Lots of it!

The protagonists are three gay men: BEN BRISTOL, the transfer student looking for sex or love, whichever comes first, TODD SALAZAR, the freshman who already has quite the track record but is looking for new conquests, and DARIN BURKETT, Todd’s whiny and underhanded first semester roommate, the self-appointed perpetual victim.

Ben Bristol is the heart of the novel. After two years of living closeted at home and attending a local community college to save money, Ben has high expectations for his junior year. But despite having a hot, straight British roommate who has a habit of walking around in his underwear, Ben’s only affections are from a fedora-wearing Trekker named EDGAR whom he met during orientation. Undeterred, Ben joins the University Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance (UGLBA), writes a column for a newsletter, and falls hard for a guy who barely knows he exists—and that’s only in the first month of school. We follow the uninitiated Ben as he discovers the thrill of off-campus parties, drinks bad sangria and goes to the UGLBA-sponsored dances. Finally an active member of a gay community, is Ben happy? And what if his quest for love ends with Ben in the arms of somebody he’d never expected?

Among Ben’s new college friends are: JULIA, a fellow member of the UGLBA whose claims of bisexuality are suspect; JEREMY and ARTURO, who are at a crisis point in their relationship, which Arturo relieves by hitting on other men in front of Jeremy, oblivious to Jeremy’s growing attraction to a sexy TA; TOBE, the self-appointed DJ who plays music nobody requests and refuses to wear weight-appropriate clothing; and TERRI, the beleaguered leader of the UGLBA who discovers her ex-girlfriend is in an abusive relationship and finds herself thrust into a brutal life or death situation.

Countering Ben’s cautious and naive romantic tendencies, Todd Salazar is all magnetic sexual appeal. Todd can’t help but oblige the men who line up the moment he steps on campus in September. In addition to sleeping with his roommate, Darin, Todd seduces super-senior RICHARD, who already has a boyfriend. No matter. After Richard, there’s KIRK, a golden boy from California, who has his own apartment. But Todd is carrying a dark secret about a taboo relationship he had over the summer. There’s a problem with secrets, though ... they have a funny way of being exposed at just the wrong times.

And then there’s Darin Burkett, a weaselly freshman from the suburbs of Boston not thrilled to be stuck in a provincial western Massachusetts state school. The relationship between roommates Darin and Todd, at first full of passion, quickly dissolves as Darin’s inconsiderate habits drive anal retentive Todd crazy; Darin doesn’t make his bed, breaks Todd’s lamp [gasp!], smokes in the dorm room, and has people in at all hours, notably MARIA, the cynical fellow UGLBA member who lives down the hall. Together, Darin and Maria bring their own half-baked brand of stoner politics to a campus that Darin feels is too complacent. Eventually Darin takes up with the mysterious revolutionary and begins a prank campaign against the Young Conservatives Club. Darin also manages to acquire a boyfriend, the sexy LARS, a former swim team member with a great tan line who doesn’t seem to know why he's dating Darin. Tensions between Darin and Todd explode into a nasty fist fight which ends the first semester with a bang and sets the tone for an even larger confrontation just before Spring Break, the ramifications of which send shock waves through the campus.

So take a study break, wring out your wet Speedo and grab a cup of coffee and peanut butter chocolate chip cookie at the Blue Book Café. Semesters demonstrates how much fun college can be when you’re not attending class.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Obligatory Cooking Post or Curse You, Alice B. Toklas!

In the summer of 2003, I became obsessed with Gertrude Stein.

I’ve been a man of obsessions my entire life and some previous fanatical leanings have been everything from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” to Joan Baez to “As the World Turns” to Anne Rice to the musical “Gypsy.” With that last one, I ended up buying three different cast albums in the space of one month and then, not completely happy, I had to buy the original recording on vinyl to be a completist. Most of these former loves have never really left me and I still have the CDs in my collection, I still have “Alice in Wonderland” items in my room and I still listen to Joan Baez on occasion.

The Gertrude Stein obsession was brought about by an article Janet Malcolm had written for The New Yorker (and an eventual book) entitled “Gertrude Stein’s War.” The article detailed the story of how Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, were able to survive the French Occupation despite being two Jewish lesbians. There was more to Malcolm’s article than that: it was a glimpse into Stein’s life in Paris in the early twentieth century. I was so taken with the article that I ran right out and bought a used copy of “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.” I’d never given much thought to the whole Parisian expatriate community, but suddenly I wanted to know everything about it and especially these two women.

And what true obsession about Stein and Toklas could be satisfied without owning a copy of “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook?” The book is still in print and I bought it more for the thrill of it rather than trying any of the recipes which I had heard are notoriously difficult. “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” is more useful as a memoir of her life in France than as a recipe book, but there was one recipe that caught my eye. No, it wasn’t the infamous “Toklas Brownies” that, as it turns out, wasn't even a brownie recipe but for Haschisch Fudge that was added into the cookbook by a friend without Toklas really knowing much about the most potent ingredient.

The recipe that caught my eye had one of the simplest names: Very Good Chocolate Mousse. There were only two ingredients: 6 eggs and half a pound of sweet chocolate. Now how hard could that be, I wondered? I’m not a cook even though I used to love browning the ground meat for my mother whenever she was adding it to a recipe. It was just one of those simple pleasures…

My first attempt at Very Good Chocolate Mousse took place one summer night. My roommate's two new kittens were in the kitchen with me, both fascinated and terrified by the swinging electric cord for the mixer. And for a recipe that only had two ingredients, I made every mistake a person could make. I calculated amounts wrong and put in a pound of chocolate (I was an English major, okay?), ended up beating the chocolate and eggs together when then recipe does not tell you to do that (No excuse here - I was an English major) and then, at the height of everything, I lifted the beater (still whirring) out of the bowl and chocolate went everywhere. All over me, the walls, the kittens. The evening was a failure, enough of a failure that I did not attempt the recipe again for six more years.

This year, I finally went to Paris and had the time of my life. I brought a rose with me to the Pere LaChaise cemetery to lay onto the grave of Gertrude Stein- after all, had it not been for her, I’d never have started my interest in Paris to begin with. I wanted to thank her that I finally made it. Once, I got back to New York, I took out “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” again, blew off the dust and once again attempted Very Good Chocolate Mousse.

In a fairy tale ending to this post, I could tell you that everything went swimmingly this time out. But that would be a lie.

I do give myself credit this time for perfectly separating the yolks from the whites and correctly measuring the amount of chocolate (which, I must add, you need to shred in a cheese grater, bit by bit, until you have chocolate dust in your nose and under your fingernails.) But the mistake I did make this time was stirring the chocolate and frothy egg whites together when I should have folded them. This does make a difference (who knew?) and Toklas' promise for a spongy texture eluded me; I had mousse that was maybe a quarter of an inch deep in its bowl. It looked very sad. At least this time out, the result was edible and gave me enough confidence to not wait another six years to attempt the recipe again and get it just right next time.

After all, mousse shouldn’t be chewy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Father? No. Best!

"I love children - especially when they cry and somebody has to take them away."

Anybody familiar with the 70s sitcom "Maude" starring Bea Arthur knows that in the first season, there was a controversial two-parter about Maude discovering that she is pregnant at 48. After much debate, Maude decides to undergo an abortion (a procedure than legal in New York State but not yet in the country at large.) While this episode has become notorious, it's actually a very thoughtful, poignant and intellectual take on the issue. (And as a trivia question, it was written by future 'Golden Girls' creator Susan Harris!)

For me, the most striking part of the episode is not Maude's final decision, coming as it does in the very last moments of the episode, but something that occurs earlier. Maude and Walter are discussing the option and Walter lets loose with his own confession: he's never wanted to be a father. He says that in his life, people have thought he was crazy for voicing that opinion but it was just how he felt. I was nearly teary-eyed when I saw that because what Walter - a fictional character- and I - a semi-real person- felt were one and the same. And yes, I've often been asked why I don't have any interest in becoming a father.

The simple answer is: I just don't. It's not because I'm gay. I know lots and lots of gay guys who have children, consider it or are in the process but for me, I've never felt the urge. To some people, that makes me selfish. Yes, I've been called selfish. And maybe I am. But I think it would be a lot worse for me if I did adopt a kid just so I wouldn't be considered selfish.

My best friend Dave has two absolutely fantastic young boys who amuse me endlessly whenever I visit. My cousin Christine has a boy and a girl who are so cute it's painful. And my own brother has two really, honestly, great kids who are not only beautiful but good. I just don't feel as though I am missing anything after I've visited them. I look forward to seeing them again, but I still don't want to partake in being a father.

I never hear too much about this opinion in the media, and I think it is because some people are afraid of being labeled as "selfish." That's just how I've always been.

Terror at 135 Feet

Found this old story from a few years ago (2006) when I and a coworker decided to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of a thunderstorm. My friend Allen has since moved away, I no longer work at this job but I'm sure I wasn't the last person to get caught on the bridge during a storm.

Yesterday, my old friend Allen (from my long lost UMASS days) invited me over for dinner. We’d both been feeling a bit down lately, career wise and personally so it afforded a chance to get together. I knew I’d probably get stuck watching the Will and Grace series finale, but what the hell. I’d gladly have to endure that so I could see an old friend.

Whenever I have gone to see Allen in the past, I’ve taken the subway so I never really saw much of Brooklyn, just Court Street and Atlantic Avenue but yesterday was a gorgeous spring day, sunny and warm. I love Brooklyn and thought what a great day to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. I had these grand ideas in my mind of walking over the bridge with the blue sky above me, seeing Manhattan behind me, Brooklyn ahead of me. And I probably even imagined it set to the tune of the Mary Tyler Moore theme, with all the gender specific pronouns changed to fit me. Yeah, this walk was just what I needed.

The only problem was I wasn’t sure how to get to the bridge from where I worked, so I asked Heather, a woman whom I work with how to get there. A few minutes later Heather came up and said she’d walk over the bridge with me; despite having been born and raised in Brooklyn she only had walked over the bridge twice and both times it was for emergency reasons: the blackout of ’03 and the Transit Strike back in December.

We left about five and the clouds were gathering and the sun wasn’t shining any more. The forecast I read said that there was rain due but not until about 6. I figured if we hit the bridge about 5:15, we’d have plenty of time. For those not familiar with the Bridge, the walkway for pedestrians and bikers is OVER the traffic. It’s pretty amazing and it also allows the views to be unobstructed by trucks and what have you. About five minutes into our walk, we felt a few drops but I figured it would pass. The dark clouds were above us but it was already lighter in the west so I figured we were fine. I did notice that to the South, it was pretty dark and things were obscured. And then it hit. Suffice it to say that for the next hour, Heather and I were trapped on the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of a fierce, nasty hurricane-like thunderstorm. Once you’re on the bridge, you’re pretty trapped. You can either go back to Manhattan or forward to Brooklyn but there are no shortcuts. The rain was HORIZONTAL. I didn’t have my umbrella but Heather had some Disney Tigger umbrella that broke the minute she opened it and the wind hit it. All we could do was use it as a shield. We were drenched and I had puddles in my shoes.

We reached the first arch and huddled with a bunch of other people who’d been caught in the storm. After twenty minutes, the rain seemed to be easing up so we decided to walk on. The minute we walked out from under the arch, the storm howled right back up as though it had been laying in wait. Now I know why people give hurricanes names, as though they do have human characteristics of malice. Once again, we were trapped and this time the umbrella did half the work it did before. Again with the torrential rain and this time, we saw lightning. After forever, we reached the second arch and stood there with more people. We stayed under the second arch even longer because this time the rain was not letting up. WE did manage to befriend a poor tourist from Amsterdam who was soaked to the bone and gave him suggestions as to what to see in the city. Thank God he didn’t get wise to us and ask, “If you know the city so well, how come you crossed the Bridge when it looked as though it may rain?” I wouldn’t have had an answer for that.

The rain eventually tapered off, we got off the bridge and went our separate ways. Too bad for me, I was wet the rest of the entire night and my shoes may never recover. I was not the first person to be caught on the bridge in a storm, and this won’t even be my last time walking across it but next time, I’m making sure that there aren’t even slight vapor trails in the sky.

I was never a huge fan of Will and Grace to begin with and enduring the final episode while damp was not a fun experience. And poor Heather, she has yet to cross the bridge in a normal manner.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The story of "Semesters" the greatest gay college novel you'll never read

One rainy day when I was six years old, I complained that I was bored. My mother took out some loose leaf paper and told me to write a story. So I did. Impressed by what I had accomplished, my mother decided that I had a talent for writing.

From then on, everybody assumed that I would grow up to become a writer. I possessed a good imagination and from the few stories that I did put down to paper, (regretfully, there weren't enough) I showed talent but I never pursued the gift with much vigor. I wrote some well-received stories in junior high classes but whenever I tried to write on my own, I quickly lost interest or the story did not shape up the way I had hoped. The story I was writing down onto paper never came across as original or striking as the one I was hatching in my head. This disconnect stopped me from writing almost entirely until my sophomore year of college. Thanks to a wonderful Creative Writing teacher, I was able to write more than I had in years, but the problem remained: I was still unable to write for myself outside of school.

In college, I hung out with an unconventional, colorful crowd whom I figured would make great material for a novel. After graduation, the story grew in my mind but again, I had no idea how I would make the tale come alive. How could I make the story unique? What could I do to make the characters seem real? I didn’t have any idea.

Thirteen years passed. In the summer of 2006, I finally sat down at my new computer and began the story I’d put off for so long. Five months later, I had completed a 700 page first draft of my novel. Since then, I have gone through four additional drafts. I now have the story I wanted to tell. Is the novel publishable? Would anybody really ever want to read it? I don’t know.

What is this magnum opus? Is it a heartrending tale of personal adversity? A bildungsroman about a young, plucky kid? No. It's a novel entitled "Semesters" about gay and lesbian college students whose opening sentence is

"On Todd Salazar’s first day of college, while his belongings were still in neatly labeled boxes on the dorm room floor, he had sex with his new roommate Darin."

Not exactly the stuff of literary immortality. But I wanted to write a novel that was fun to me, one that I would enjoy. It was inspired by a story that had always been gnawing at the back of my mind ever since I graduated college. I just had no idea how to write the story until I read the novel that would make all the difference: Jackie Collins' "Hollywood Wives." Finally, a way to structure the tale! Yes, I suppose I should say it was Faulkner or Morrison - no less influential upon me- but it was Collins who sealed the deal.

What I do know is that I finally – after too much time- wrote that novel I knew I had in me. I keep telling people that the main reason that I want it to be published is so that I can take a trip back to Paris - or anywhere for that matter. I'm tired of living on unemployment and sick of sending out resumes into the ether. I can always start a second book, and I probably will but there's something special about "Semesters" for me because in my way, I finally did fulfill some of my promise.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jumping into Things Far Too Late

So, because I have been out of work for months, because I am bored, because I recently just had a severe bout with depression, I decided to try and do something else to take up my time. I have resisted the blogging thing for a while because I just didn't feel like I had anything new to say. How many people in this world do we need to have talking about themselves? But I really could use a break from the tedium of my daily routine which is now:

- Get up and realize I am still out of work.
- Go on my four mile daily walk and get alarmed when I see the little schoolchildren looking taller than they were when I first started walking.
- Arrive home, shower and turn on "The Young and the Restless." (Oh Nikki and Victor, will you ever get it together?)
- Send out my daily quota of three resumes.
- Spend the rest of the day worrying about money.

So, this is a good place for me to get out my thoughts. Even better, you don't have to read it if I get all down and depressing and dull.

I know the blogging wave seems to have passed and people are all into Twittering and Facebook now, but there's some small comfort that I am coming into this so late. It seems to be my role to come into things late, after the fun has come and gone.

When I was a teenager, I joined a Catholic Youth Group, not so much because I was so devout but because my parents were worried that I didn't have enough friends and was too much of a loner. So I joined and made a good pretense of really being a good Christian boy. (To this day, I still don't drink but that's the only vice I didn't pick up.) But when I joined, there was this group of teens who'd been in the crowd longer and they used to spend their time talking about how much more fun things used to be.

I moved on, went to college and joined the local gay, lesbian and bisexual college group. A constant refrain around the student office then (which was painted lavender) was how things weren't as wild and crazy as they once were, how too many of the fun people had graduated. Oddly enough, despite so many people convinced that the magic was gone, I ended up having a pretty swell time .

My first job in New York was at a now defunct dot com that had seen a lot of growth in a short time. This was a place where beach balls used to bounce around the office on West 26th Street and bongos would play whenever a sale was made. But for the group of the original employees who saw themselves as pioneers and had fond memories of the summer outing at the founder's beach home where original Picasso's adorned the walls, the newer hires (me being one of them) were intruders and just didn't know how good things once were.

And then there's New York City itself. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting somebody who talks about how much better the city was in the 50s/60s/70s/80s/90s. What am I to do? Here I am, happening to be in the city at a time which is apparently the least fun, least exciting, most soul deadening time ever. Drat the luck. If only I'd had the hindsight to join any of these groups/jobs just a few years earlier, I'm sure that my memories would be just as rosy as everybody else's.

So I apologize in advance in my blog isn't as exciting or thrilling as blogs used to be. It's just my luck to always be late to the party.

Who I Am, Why I Am

Name: Ed
DOB/Age: October 5, 1971 (37)
Status: Single for as long as I can remember.
Location: New York City
Career: Unemployed
Achievements in Life: A completed novel, a sexy college romp entitled "Semesters" even though a friend told me nobody wants to read novels about college.
Goal: To get a job, get the novel published so I can one day visit Paris again.
Is any of this realistic? At this point, I'd say no.
Realistic goal: Get rid of the annoying rash on my left arm.
Really? That's it? That's all for now. This rash is really itchy.
Okay, once you get rid of the rash, then what? Master the Art of French Cooking.
And if you can't even do that? Chef Boyardee.