Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cabin Fever

At first they were just bug bites. Simple bug bites. They were a part of urban lore. Something that would happen to a friend of a friend of yours and finish stories that began with "So I know this guy who went home a girl and..."

But then they started to appear.

My first experience with bedbugs was three years ago when a coworker curiously noticed itchy bites on the back of his neck. It was the dead of January. "That's odd," I thought "what kind of bug bites in the winter" and continued typing. How funny not to think anything of them then. It only dawns on me now that's that what those bites were. The beginning of it all.

Over the years the stories grew more frequent. They seemed to heighten during the summer. The friend of a friend became your friend and the consequence for drunken one night stands now included the only STD you could get without actually having sex.

Soho was the first to be hit. A giant warehouse sized clothing store shuttered for business because of these "little critters." They were nothing at the time. A minor inconvenience. But then South Street Seaport became infested. The expensive clothing stores were quick to act. They covered all stock clothing in plastic garment bags. Their newspaper ads touted "plastic encased clothing" in the same sunny manner as things like "free range chicken" or anti-bacterial soap. But then the New York Times and The New York Post reported stories of people leaving movie theaters with bites. Soon it was less about where you were shopping, and more about where you were going, and who you were seeing.

The bites continued. People stopped riding the subway. They stopped getting in cabs. The risk was potentially everywhere. People began wearing garbage bags over their clothing. Some even went as far as putting surgical masks over their mouths. The paranoia was setting in. And then, as if it were ordained, they began to appear. They flooded the city.

The laundromats and supermarkets were the first to be looted. Food and water was ironically much less of a commodity than containers and anything plastic. People started running for the exits with such haste they forgot about Manhattan being an island. The subways stopped running. The traffic clogged the tunnels. Ferries capsized due to overcrowding. People jumped into the Hudson. The power went out.

That was four days ago.

Through the crackled reception on my radio I can hear scientists trying to blame the outbreak on the heat: This summer has been (crackle) heat indexes in decades. The bugs are a species (crackle) they (crackle) respond to heat. Due to large underground (crackle) probable infestation (crackle) gross multiplication. After that there's nothing but static. I turn my radio off. Then on again. I leave it on.

I've been waiting for another emergency broadcast but one hasn't come for over a day now. I'm on my own. It's alright, really. I have resolve over it. Life sucks. Nature is nature. Bugs are born and if the planet says so, they'll take over. I just never imagined it would be this. What with all the trouble in the world, it just seems so easy and comical that I'd be taken out by humanity's break under a bug no bigger than a chocolate chip.

The gun shots echo up from the street and the screaming of women is endless but what kills me even more is that you guys are in Fire Island right now! Of course you are! Of course you're away from all this! But, what can I say? Work's work. Who knew this would happen? You lucky fucking queens, I swear...

I suppose I do have the last laugh though. I TOLD you this building in Murray Hill was worth something. I'm the only guy alive on my block! This, as you guys say, "dingy" post-war apartment of mine is so well built and tight that the bugs are at a minimum. I'm diet-bedbug here while the city has gone super sized. And, while we're at it, let's just call a spade a spade: You know David's Bagel is the best in the city. Can I get an amen?! Thank you. I'll tell the owner you guys say hi. Last I checked his body was still crumpled beneath the street light.

I can see you now. Speedo clad, mixed drink in hand huddled around the pool listening for the next radio update. The rescue boats from Maryland and Boston should be arriving any minute now. Hell, if they get there soon enough you can get toPtown in time for Tea. If that's the case, which going by your luck, probably is, please tell Tommy I always had an eye for him and if I wasn't being attacked by bedbugs, in a city bursting with chaos, I'd have asked him out.

I knew I shouldn't have picked up that call. You guys begged me not to, but it was just an ordinary day. Had I known I was going to be maggot-food in a week I wouldn't have taken the work call, but it was Saturday afternoon and I already had my fill of booze and boys. Now you guys are soaking it all up. Your own isle of male. I suppose Fire Island is now the literal Never-Never Land we've all been searching for. The place where you never have to grow up. Where you stay young and beautiful forever. Let me know some years down the road whether that legend actually proves to be true or not. That island, that glistening sliver of land. A swimmer on his back drifting at the edge of the ocean. Damn you lucky bastards.

The terror in the streets is growing. The glass is breaking all around me. My radio has been silent for more hours than I'd like to admit. This city, the high rent, the heat, the hustle and bustle and the creepy-crawlies which only exist in the shadows have finally taken me under. The city has officially caved in.

But hey, look on the bright side, at least they don't have to debate building that fucking mosque anymore.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

At the Corner of My Mind

Recently a friend asked me where I see myself in ten years and I couldn't conceive even the slightest semblance of an answer. Then he asked what it is I want out of life and I couldn't answer that either. He suggested I begin a ritual of sitting quietly, searching the depths of my brain and asking myself what are the things I truly want in life. He believes that knowing oneself completely is the crucial key to the success of happiness, for once you know who you are and accept that, all else falls gently into place. He said memories are good to focus on and that knowing one's first memory is a good start in the process of self discovery.

I've found that to recount one's earliest memories is a difficult task, if not impossible. I rove my brain hoping for a first word, my mother's embrace but I only trundle up images in clip: The Green-knit blanket, the kitchen wallpaper, the feel of the linoleum floor. Everything else, whole important events and the pure, simple moments are scattered about like toys on the suburban front lawn of time.

The moment I may very well have been snapped into life was when I was three years old and wandered away in Disney World.

I was obsessed with the elevators. Well, obsessed with anything, really, as fidgety was my nature but on this trip with my family, the elevators dazzled me. We had been there for a few days and I in my black and red Michael Jackson sweat-pant suit was being led by my father's hand through the Grand Floridian hotel to the indoor arcade. My sisters are on the other side of him. I'm too small to play any of the games. I can't reach the joy sticks and without success my father tries to hold me up for the length of a quarter's game. There are not many people in the arcade and it's during the day. My Father and sisters are playing an arcade game. I am close by, a few feet away at most. I'm bored and I begin to fidget. I begin looking for a quarter on the ground, beneath the arcade games. I flop to the floor and look into the small space between the floor and arcade game. There are some popcorn bits and dust but no quarter. I turn my head around and see through the archway arcade entrance the elevators moving up and down. Up and down. Mom's upstairs. She's taking a nap. I'm going to go to Mommy. I glance up at my family. I see them there. Rachel, smiling, her pointy nose, so tiny at the time laughing and quickly hitting the buttons. Mer, my big sister, next to me, her hair pulled into a pony-tail, taller than Rachel and also hitting buttons. My Father watching with a smile. I am right behind him. Just right there and I walk away. My Father feels no departure, no slight gust of wind, no sneaker shuffled on the carpet. By the time he checks back, I am already gone.

Apparently there were lost child alerts. Security began screening the exits and somehow two hours had passed. None of this I remember. What I do remember is riding up the escalator. A pretty woman with gold bracelets asking, "where's your mother?" To which I reply, "She's upstairs." She takes me by the hand and leads me to a jewelery store which I think she works at. She puts me up on the counter and I sit there, looking around, kicking my feet. My mother comes running in, hand over mouth and hugging me. She thanks the woman at the store. She leads me to my Father, his eyes red and bleary, he takes me from my mother's hands and shakes me hard. So hard. Then hugs me. I can't tell if he's angry or happy it seems a frightening blend of both. "Don't you ever do this again! DON'T. YOU. EVER. DO. THIS. AGAIN!" He shakes me so hard I bite my tongue. I feel the pain. I remember the pain. The jerk of my neck. It is that pain. That one single flash of heat upon which all my memories are brought back. That is when my eyes first opened. When life as I know it, truly began.

Friday, April 16, 2010


(see also; two posts below)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It Wouldn't Have Mattered

I could tell you it was the White Party or The Winter Party or some weirdo after party where you dance in the middle of a zoo, but it wouldn't matter. I could also tell you that this was the party where the lights went out, or where the DJ collapsed on her turntables, or where Teddy and Eddy broke up, or where somebody took a dump on the dance floor, or where that guy I've seen a few times out died of a GHB overdose. I could tell you all that, but it wouldn't matter.

What matters is that it was Carmine and me, old pals, arms slung around the others shoulder, stumbling through loose-fit sneakers through the rocky terrain of empty water bottles and plastic cups. Danced-dazed-drug walking shirtless human apes, trudging for an exit. And we were with them.

It was balmy outside. Our bodies sticky with the crowd, the heat and sweat. The lights glowed, thumping lightly. We stood there rolling on our heels for awhile coming to our senses. Buoys in the middle of the sidewalk.

I lit a cigarette. "Where to now?"
"Let's go back to my room. We'll shower, sit down for awhile and head to the after party."
"Aye, Aye Captain."

The walk was pleasant and goofy. I kept grabbing Carmine from the back and squeezing his ribs, tickling him. Making him run away from me and then whining that he was too far away. Pals. Real true pals. It's the only word that comes to mind. That push-push, "I've known you forever/we've been through this thing together" familiarity and old-root strength. We've been there, with each other, the whole time.

At a stoplight I went to poke his ribs another time. He had a delayed response. He wasn't paying attention. He was somewhere else. He pushed away my arm and began walking closer to the wall. Our energy dropped.

"Hey," He said, "I have to tell you something."

I knew the tone. I stopped short, clenching my teeth.

Carmine and I go way back. Back to the days. Back to AOL Chatrooms. Back to the days when he would meet me after class and we'd take our fake ID's to the straightest Frat bar and pretend to be straight guys just "getting to know one another." It was good that we became friends and never had sex. There was never any interest on either of our parts. Instead we were allies. Comrades in a new terrain. The years of 19 and 20 were adventuresome. Flooded with memories of our delightfully shared secret amongst the keggers and house parties, of renting cars and driving to Phoenix on the dusky desert roads just to go to Pulse for the night. Man, how our hearts would pump. Together we were unstoppable. We we're going to figure this whole thing out.

I came out a little before him. And I was much more loud about it too. He was the jock. Played sports. Had a scholarship. Showed me how to work out. He was the reserved one. But what he enjoyed about my willingness to have fun, to be carefree I took from him his patient resolve, his even-keeled temperament. He challenged my urgent need to come out. He wasn't concerned about the fight or the cause or the plight. To him it didn't exist. It's not that he lacked compassion or was sheltered it's just that Carmine really is that guy who could live in the suburbs: "Give me a house, a dog a boyfriend and a 9 to 5 job and we'll call it a day." To which I'd respond with something like: "The Suburbs?! They'll lynch you!" He would shake his head, roll his eyes and continue sliding his tray down the line at the Student Union Panda Express.

He graduated earlier than I did. I had an additional semester learning how to put the useless "Fine" in Fine Arts. He held back, soaking up the desert sky. Going to the gym. Happy in his out-of-college entry level IT job making a buck and reclining before the sunset in his $400 a month Spanish style one bedroom house. I told him about my internship in Los Angeles. He wished me well. He told me he'd come visit and that I'd better too and with that we stepped out into the world alone, the first chapter of adulthood, waiting to be engulfed.

The years carried us. I bounced from LA to NY. Climbing up the ladder. Getting involved. Stirring passions and he doing the same in his own way. Finding a house, securing a job, jumping from one long term relationship to the next. Always these guys, his stability, contrasting my jump-about Rubik's cube restlessness. He was where he wanted to be, in the openness, and me in the thick of it, Tetris-like buildings falling all around me, encasing me.

The Cell phone crackled:
"So what are you working on now, big shot?"
"Big Shot? Please, I'm moving to Brooklyn."
"Still more money than I have."
"Yeah well, you've always looked better than I have."
"Fuck you."
"So are we going to this party or not?"
"Yeah, let's do it."
"Ok so I'll book the plane tickets and...we'll rage."
"I hate when you say that."
"....Is the latest coming? I promise not to say it around your beau. I want to meet him."
"Nahhh. He can't get away. It's cool. We're good."
"Cool. How you guys doing?"
"We're good, you know, I really like him. It's just that he's so young and, you know, with everything going on.... I just want to be there for him. It's really tough. But I really like him."
"I hear you, man. You just take your time, communicate. That's all I got."
"Ok speak to you later."

What I heard Carmine saying, although it wasn't actually said, is that Carmine's 22 year old boyfriend tested positive after a few months of them being together. Their lust for one another flowed in the turbulent waves that are the dramatics of the situation, the being there for one another, the passion, the taking of each other's hands through the complexity of this new found situation. The younger man coming to terms with his status the older man confronting it.

Through these waves they churned. Like magnets flipping sides. They were attracted and repelled by one another depending on the week. They loved, they split. They loved again. They saw one another. They loved again. They split. They opened things up. They split. They shared the latest information and medical research to one another. They visited the doctor together. Carmine remained negative, the younger man continued armoring himself.

A year and some months later we find ourselves back on that very same street. We're waiting for the light to change and I'm still clenching my teeth, bracing for an impact.

"Well, I am.......Positive."
I exhaled. I breathed in again. Turning toward him. Staring into his eyes. "Ok." I said in the calm way the voice allows for only the real life moments like these.
"And I don't need the lecture from you, okay?"
"I wasn't going to give it to you," I spit back.
The traffic light clicked. The blinking white man appeared in the black box across the street. Carmine started to cross, his back to me. I threw my arms around him, tight as a harness. I held him back, cupping my fists over the center of his chest and held him. Our bodies warm against one another. I kissed the back of his neck with one long meaningful kiss. A kiss which would translate how much I would be there for him, how much I loved him and how much everything was going to be ok. He took it in, allowing himself to be vulnerable. To let it all go and we stood like that until the blinking man had a chance to appear once more.

We released, dabbing tears from the corner of our eyes. Smiling at one another and sucking the loose snot back into our noses. Back to being pals again he pushed my shoulder. I pushed him right back.

"Alright asshole," he said, "Let's get going."
Nothing more needed to be said.

I received the call on a violet-laced Sunday night. The sun was fading fast. You could see your breath in the air and the bare twigs huddled together like fingers trying to stay warm. Autumn was almost finished, only giving an encore at this point.

The phone bleeped with Carmine's name as I took off my coat and ran upstairs away from the television my roommate had on. I tucked myself into my room. Not turning on any lights. I shared his call in the darkness.

"Hey dude."
"Hey," He said flatly.
"What's up?"
"I just don't understand it man. I don't know what he wants. He doesn't even know. One minute He wants to be together. Then on his own. The he wants a threeway. I just don't know. And on top of it I feel like a girl who just got pregnant and dumped."
"He's 23 years old! Do you remember us when we were 23 we had no idea what we wanted. Fuck, I still don't!"
"I just wish none of this gay ever happened to us. I just wish he could be an ordinary guy without all this gay bullshit to deal with. I don't want to keep going out, the drinking, the meeting people, I don't want any of it anymore! I want what I always wanted. Just a regular guy, with no issues and no hangups who just happens to be gay. I mean is that so hard? He wants to get all caught up in the scene and I don't want any part of it anymore. Positive or not, I don't want spend my time trolling around bars, trying to find a boyfriend who when the tough gets going all the sudden wants an open relationship. I just want," he yelled and then slowed his pace, "A regular fucking guy." "I don't want to do this anymore, man."

The room grew darker. The temperature dropping.
"I know, man. I know what you're saying. I see it too. I feel it too. We all do. We're all out there searching for something. It'll be fine. It'll be ok. Maybe you two just really need your own space. Break away from one another awhile. Take time to find yourself again. Weigh your own priorities. " I kept going, not waiting for pause. I didn't want him to interject. What he was saying was all too much, too real, too true. There was nothing more I could say. I finished another few sentence and when I stopped it seemed as though the phone went dead.

It had. I looked at the brightly lit LCD screen, the only light in the room. The screen bleeped, "call failed -- call failed -- call failed." I waited for him to call back and when he didn't I didn't attempt to call him either. There was nothing more to be said and anyway, it wouldn't have mattered.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Nothing really prepares you for seeing your 96 year old grandmother. My mother and I got off the elevator on the third floor of the retirement center. As soon as the automatic doors crack open and the fluorescent lights reflect off the linoleum floor the stench of old punches you in the face. The smell is sour, sticky and humid, nearly dead.

We walked past a reception area where the elderly, unmoving, almost drooling slumped over bean bags of people stared into space or seemed lost in a perpetual daze. Hanging above them was a sign that read "non-ambulatory."

My mother, having done this every other day since we moved my grandmother up from Florida last summer, was used to it. I, who had only visited my grandmother a few times, had to mentally deflect the surging thoughts of life and the inevitable approaching mortality. "Non-ambulatory" throbbed across my brow. My mother, sensing the onslaught of emotions from her sensitive son, grabbed my arm the only way a mother knows how. Delicate, soft, encouraging and lead me into a big open room with a dot-matrix printed sign above the door. "Rec Room."

The elderly all sat in circle. The wheels of their wheelchairs touching one another. Some rolled back and forth wanting a better angle around the perimeter of the circle. An overweight Hispanic woman with too much make-up and a heavy accent were encouraging the elderly to throw weighted balls on to a target on the floor. It was a game, like darts, where the elderly limp-lobed their balls on to the target gaining a score or hoping for a bulls eye. There my grandmother sat, her back to my mother and I.

"Excuse me," my mother said politely squeezing herself through the wheel chairs trying to get to my grandmother. She placed a hand on the back of my grandmother's shoulder and my grandmother turned to greet the hand with a delayed response. She placed a hand on my mother's, thankful she was there to relieve her of this game she hadn't been paying attention to anyway. My mother backed her wheelchair out of the circle in a k-turn and reminded her I was there to visit. When my grandmother's eyes met mine she smiled, dentures oddly placed, as a child would to a shiny object. She had grown older since the last time I had seen her just three months ago. A little thinner, her hair more disheveled.

"Well hello dahhhh-ling," she said as she had done so throughout my childhood. I bent down smiling to kiss her cheek and as my face met hers my heart cracked sending a surge of emotions to my eyes. My trembling lower lip the only protection against producing real tears. I cleared my thoughts while my mother and I walked her to a nearby table. We pushed her in and I sat very close.

"How are you, Gram" I asked. "Stuck in this place," she said dryly but jovial. My mother rolled her eyes. I pulled myself even closer to her because, for the last 10 years, I always went on the assumption that this might be the last time I would see her. My grandmother, too, for the last 10 years has been telling my family that she's ready to die. Her birthday is next week, March 21st so I wished her a happy 96.

"I never thought I'd live this long," she said aloud to myself and my mother but more so as a reminder to herself. Her brain is completely functional but her body is struggling to keep up. Fearing this might actually be one of the last times I see her I dug in with questions.

Born in 1914 in the Lower East Side of New York City my grandmother, Sarah Papish, was the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Growing up in a tenement on Delancey St. my grandmother was the third of four children. Two boys and two girls. Sarah at the age of 5, like many children her age, was given the responsibility of taking care of her younger sister, a job which she loved having. She went to school but states she mostly hung around and socialized within the Jewish community of the Lower East Side. "We were insular in those days. If you spoke Yiddish, you spent time with those who spoke Yiddish. We went to school together. We went to temple together."

"And how did you have fun," I asked wanting to hear something I haven't heard before hoping I'd peel back an unseen layer, a secret tidbit from within my ancestry. But it's always the same answer, "We didn't have fun like you have fun these days. We were poor. We worked. In those days girls didn't socialize with boys!"

"Yeah but Gram....Did you drink, smoke?"
"Who do you think I am?!"
My mother chuckles.

"Ok fine. Then, tell me about Grandpa." Grandpa Manny, Emanuel Lesser, the man from whom my name derives, died in the summer of 1980. One year before I was born. I never met the man and it stands as one of my mother's greatest sorrows that he was never an influence in my life.

"He was a great guy...a great, great guy," my grandmother remembers through a giant smile. Again my heart slingshots emotions to my eyes. I hold the forming tears back. It's funny how my grandmother has trouble remembering the name of her roommate in the retirement center but the memories of 70 years back are as clear and present as ever. "Oh! He was so handsome," she says reaching across the table and grabbing my mother's forearm. "You have his eyebrows and nose," my mother says to me.

"I met him at a party," my grandmother continues, "he was quite the man at the time because he had his own car. My friend Meryl introduced us and that night he offered to drive me home. He was living in New Jersey, taking care of his father and I was still in the Lower East Side taking care of my mother. I was old for a single girl. I was 30 and unmarried! He was 33 and single! I accepted the ride which was a little...daring. Women.... didn't accept rides from strange men in those days. But I took the ride and pretty soon we were dating. Before too long he was shipped out to the army but refused to marry me because he didn't want to leave me a widow with a kid, which was happening to couples all around us. Our relationship really began when we started writing letters back and forth to one another. He was overseas in god-knows-where and I was in New York taking care of my mother, but every day I would write. When he came back, we were in love. We got married." She quickly offered and aside, "He loved to dance. He loved to tell jokes. He was a great guy," she added once more.

"Maybe that's where you get it from, Eric," my mother suggested to me, knowing I love to tell jokes and love to dance. "Maybe," I responded knowing I'll never know the answer to that question.

Being around my grandmother and in the center of all this old made me think about life. How we go from infancy to adulthood to only return back to infancy. Again and again this cycle replayed itself in my head. Slumped over, old, achy with everything we did, and everyone we know, dead.

My grandmother's entire family is dead. At 96 she is the only one left alive. Her children now bear the responsibility of carrying the memories of her life. It seems impossible, unimaginable that I'll be there too one day. A place in life where all your artifacts, friends and family are gone. Memories become the only thing that validate your existence. My grandmother was incredibly well liked during her life, she knew so many people, but at her funeral there will only be a handful. My grandfather died nearly 30 years ago. More years than I'm alive now. This person, this love of hers, has been gone for nearly a lifetime.

This immediately made me think of my own life. What I have, don't have, what I've done, what I haven't. My heart suddenly grasped at the desire for a boyfriend, a husband. My confident independence no longer seemed like an asset. I craved somebody. Somebody to share this existence with, someone whose existence will be shared by mine. It's what we do now that matters because in the end we're all liable to be sitting in wheel chairs, throwing weighted balls at a target on the floor, just as a means to pass the time until our heart stops beating and our eyes no longer open. I thought about the stories I haven't written. The video projects I've left incomplete. The loves I've had and had not. I thought about the stresses in our lives, the achievements and for a moment it all seemed worthless and pathetic.

It's not like we have any other option. We must live. We must complete this cycle. Having a boyfriend or a husband isn't the benchmark of our lives, it is neither a success nor failure whether we fulfill that societal norm or not. The same goes for completing that project or getting to that level of success but to try is to live, and to play the game is to experience and when all is said and done and the decades of my life flash by like chapters in a book, I'll know what is written on those pages and those pages will be what I know of life.