September192013

008

Hey hey, I’m reading “Twilight,” baby.

I got the first three in the series from my friend Genevieve (her relationship with the novels is another story), and lemme tell you boy…they are not that bad. 

The structure and dialogue are stilted, but I’m still on the first book, so I’m giving Meyer the benefit of the doubt about trying to find her voice. On a Serious Writer Note, I know how hard it can be to get into the grove of basically making up stuff and making it sound not shitty only usings words. 

Yes, the facts and Tumblr essays speak for themselves about how the relationship between whatshisface and whatshername mirror key elements of classic domestically-abusive relationships, how it’s a modernization of helpless female character waiting around for a man with perfect hair and perfect fucking teeth and a perfect chest chiseled from pure white marble to…wait, where did my pants go? 

How…how did I get this erection?

Part of me wants to laugh, as I read this, but part of me wants to be 110% honest in giving it a chance. You know what? It’s a book, and someone’s reading it. It’s not a David Fucking Foster Hippie Wallace novel, but it’s a book. It’s a book that’s probably sold a lot more copies than he has. Or had, I hear he killed himself. 

I mean, let’s be real. Teen fiction is not always written that well. When I was a teenager, the last fucking thing I wanted to read was stuff that I could tell was “aimed at teens.” In fact, to put the critical writer/English teacher/former academe/journalist hat back on for a while longer (Spoiler Alert: It looks like a dunce cap), I recently read a piece criticizing the structure of Young Adult books, romance, and just how cliche and 2-D their casts sometimes seem to be in the name of “realistic.” I think the term they used was “carefully constructed to be perfectly flawed” or something like that, I guess in building romance for Very Serious and Very Unique 15-year-olds so that somehow their first love/sexual experience isn’t the bland five minutes or total fucking trainwreck it usually is, but rather some kind of magical serious experience.

It’s a slippery slope from there to the wrong side of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, hustling to get that latest dimebag of glitter and knitting yarn before the shakes make it impossible to dance in the rain or repeatedly tell me just how much you love reading a good book with a cup of tea, not coffee, by the window on a rainy day when I have to go to fucking work like the rest of society.

I read my mom and dad’s cop and lawyer books, John Grisham talking about lawyers drinking during the day and popping pills is probably what made alcohol sound so cool. William Heffernan and Tom Clancy are what I’m blaming my fascination with violence, that’s the story and I’m sticking to it. 

I was a young kid craving literature and a literary challenge of sorts, and god-fucking-damn it, I wanted something adult. Something cool with so much sex and violence it’d permanently scar me. I mean granted, I feel that unlike other teenagers I didn’t read to find voices similar to mine but rather to escape through new voices, and I think that that also played a part in why I was reading about laywers and cops and spies and explorers and doctors and whatever instead of other sensitive bookish teens who were experimenting with bad hair and Sharpie tattoos, huffing paint, alcohol, and loud music. 

We all make mistakes. 

The point was, I was a fucking snob as a kid when I read, I liked black-and-white comics over color because for some reason I thought that all the good violent and sex-filled stuff was only printed in B&W. I know, I was an idiot. But in a similar vein, I thought that kid and teen books were beneath me because they sucked. 

Turns out I was sort of right about them. The majority of the young adult stuff I got my hands on as a kid wasn’t that memorable except for the real tearjerker crap. Uninspired dialogue, stock characters, vaguely-religious and feel-good endings that made very little sense. I was a teenager craving something else, and I looked for it outside of the Books For Teens world that was pre-selected by the publishing industry. 

I’m sure nowadays kids have better fare. My students all talk about Percy Jackson and know Harry Potter and Twilight as cultural staples. I’m genuinely curious as to how they sort of stack up against what I had, and hey, who knows, they could get better.

Believe it or not, I have actually read much worse. Like, this is not even anywhere near the far end of Absolutely Fucking Terrible.

September172013

007

I can’t help it. It’s like a virus.

I got Instagram for my iPhone because hey, I’m a hypocrite and decided I needed an iPhone and Instagram is just One Of Those Things You Need, right? One more social media thing that, in theory, would grow into another insurmountable and un-followable passive stream of crap, like Facebook or Twitter.

I told myself though that I’d be different. I’d keep a lid on it, an experiment in social media. It used to be my job to manage this sort of crap (for a while I had the nausea-inducing nerve to bill myself as a freelance writer and social media manager), how hard could it be to keep my Instagram feed manageable? 

You have no idea. I’m already at the tipping point, alternating between checking it obsessively four or five times a day, or just ignoring it for a few days. I swore I wouldn’t keep adding and adding people so that I could actually, you know, enjoy stuff? And still, I find myself missing stuff. I don’t know how the hell it happens, it just does. It happens and I’ve had to make a couple of passes already through my list of Instagram followers to cull idiots who I barely know but connected via Facebook or whatever meta-computer algorithm works like that. 

I’m pleased to find out that my friends are not nearly as awful on Instagram as most people are on the Internet or in real life. It’s refreshing. Still, just because the pictures of coffee cups at cafes or of the new braid styles or nail design or Chinese food or concert you at are at a bare minimum of annoying, doesn’t mean that I can’t already feel like it’s a feed too crowded, a bridge too far, a world where I know I missed something and have to go back through to re-see it. 

It’s October, I’ve had Instagram since July, and I’ve already gone through it four or so times unfollowing people, refusing to follow others who follow me, just because I have this vision in my head of how this is going to work. I’ve been using social media to try and pimp my own burgeoning work and writing for so long I fucking forgot how to just use it to be a dweeb and like pictures of my friends’ kids or dogs or their vacations. 

Someone pray for me and hold my hand, because I’m holding a line here, boys and girls, I’m holding a line like the Russians were in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT against the Germans. I’m in those trenches worried I’ll be forced to go “over the top” by an aristocratic Instagram colonel or captain to battle against a swarm of other people to follow and get once again, like every other thing I’ve gotten myself into, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. 

Pray for me kids. Pray to Satan that uncle Costa manages to survive Instagram.

September52013

006

Oh hey what’s up, haven’t actually thought of this in a while (this sad little broken lonely place, a home away from home away from work away from home…wait, what’s going on again?), seems apt.

So this time last year I had moved back to New York after a few years abroad…in the American Midwest, for an anthropological study of Rust Belt hipsters and the descendents of Catholic German settlers who fled the bloodthirsty blade of Lutheranism. I realized this past month that I’ve been in what I call “home” quite easily for about a year.

Holy shit.

First off, I turned 30. In and of itself it is, as I’ve heard, a monumental event in any young man’s life, when his fancy turns to the birds and the bee…or whatever.

I spent that holiday alone eating Thai and blasting thrash music, reading comics books. Go 30. However, I did realize that I had what I’ve been thinking of and, God help me, hashtagging as, a New York City Summer.

I’m not going to lie, when I was a Rust Belter (man, I love saying that…”Rust Belt.” It just sounds kind of badass), I was out there for a girl. A girl who I fought with a lot, a girl who I had a terrible relationship with in hindsight but I hid a lot of that out of some fear of seemingly like a failure. I never had any fun, and while a nice chunk of that no-fun time was of my own doing, it still sucked. Go on, cue The World’s Smallest Violin playing for me, I deserve it.

Last summer was a mad dash of being broke as a joke and throwing together a fragment of a life (hey if anyone wants to use “fragment of a life, I’m letting that copyrighted phrase go for cheap, looking at you Nicholas Sparks) into some boxes and duffel bags to get the fuck on a plane and end up in New York City, feeling like I’d never left. Not necessarily a good thing, but not bad. I was depressed, trying to bury myself in work, angry, unfunny (well, I thought I was hilarious, but you know…), not actually working since I was just writing short stories and comic book scripts and teaching a single measly class and living off of selling furniture and guitars…you get the picture.

Before this summer back home, I didn’t have summers for a while. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had a summer as fun or as comforting as this one. As a kid I got shipped off to visit family in the Motherland in Europe a lot, and later on, I’d just take summer classes and work extra hours, occasionally going to punk shows or the movies or out with a girlfriend, eating shitty food, watching horror movies, crap like that. Whatever it is teenagers and 20-somethings do instead of actually living life.

I actually, through the miracles of science and Satanism, managed to travel. I reconnected with close friends, old friends, made new friends. I went to the beach a lot for the first time in a while, actually shaved regularly enough to keep my beard trimmed (if you know me in real life you’ll know that’s sort of a big deal). I made an effort to do things, try crap, make up for a few lost years of summer spent in a weird “will they or won’t they (murder each other)?” space with another person who, I’m sure might find this one day and get even madder at me than she already is because it sounds like she’s awful.

She’s not. Well, I think she sort of is. But that’s neither here, there, or related to several colossal mistakes and awful behaviors I had at the time.

What was the point of this again? Oh yeah…it’s the end of summer. A summer I spent enjoying myself, getting back into the grove of rebuilding my life from scratch and finding my footing, as my friend A describes it. 

I’m glad it happened. Otherwise I never would have gotten a chance to do that thing with the monkey and the six pounds of peanuts in a tub.

May302013

005

A few nights ago I was walking home, it’s a warm May night, Memorial Day weekend, and kids are playing in the streets in front of 7-11, screaming and laughing and chasing each other, fighting monsters or whatever. Some girl yelled her Barbie doll was a voodoo doll and threw it at a boy. Earlier that day I saw the first Italian ice cart of the season, and all weekend at night I’ve been seeing groups of kids just wandering, hanging out in the dark.

It was one of those cheeseball “fond childhood memories” moments from autobio comics and nonfictions books/essays. Bear with me and suck it up.

Two nights ago I had the first watermelon of the summer season, and then yesterday I was barefoot at the fountain in Washington Square Park. I’ll be at Coney Island this weekend. It’s summer in New York City, even though the seasonal calender won’t truly change over until the summer solstice in June. 

To me as a kid, summer was going to the movies and feeling that freezing-cold AC, comic books, my bike and my skateboard, onion rings at the community pool, and the beach. It was going to a foreign country to visit my family, exploring all day and playing all night, wired to the gills on ice cream and Cokes.

When I got older, summer was mixtapes, skateboarding every day, punk shows at night, girls in short shorts and tank tops while we postured in black metal band shirts, the deli at midnight, more exploring, road trips, brown-bagging on stoops and roofs and parties. In college and grad school through my 20’s it was more hours at work all day, and the bar or shows and concerts for frozen beers and bad food, or movies till 4am and late-night train rides, either soaked with sweat with a new band shirt under one arm, or the taste of a girl on my mouth and a big doofy shit-eating grin on my face.

The thing is too, is that I wasn’t even a particularly popular or adventurous kid or teenager, and I still managed to get all that in. Imagine if I’d actually tried.

Seriously, what is is about summer? I mean it’s probably, on paper, my least-favorite season. I’m a swarthy hairy guy, heat just makes me bake and sweat inside my own skin, I don’t really have reliable AC right now, I hate the feeling of my t-shirts sticking to my skin from the sweat…you get the idea.

But all the amazing free and cheap shit happens outdoors then, it’s t-shirt weather (my favorite piece of clothing ever), the food tastes better for some reason, and no matter how old I get, I’ll never get tired of wandering around all night in the summertime because that’s the only time it’s cool enough. Summer in New York is fucking magical, when even the murderous rage that intense heat brings about (I’m pretty sure summertime is when all the major crimes I’ve witnessed outdoors take place, including a murder), there’s always a level of “we’re fighting this heat together” among people here. 

I’ve spent summers in other places, but summer here in NY is pretty one-of-a-kind. It’s also one of those places where I feel like these major signifiers of summer are intensely visible and are as much a part of summer as the season and heat itself. You know it’s summer season when you do those things, you don’t just do those things because it’s the season. 

 

May222013

004

I’ve done a lot of shitty things in my life.

I’ll admit it, I haven’t been the best son, the best brother, the best boyfriend, or the best friend in general at times. What can I say, my own glorious paranoias and gut reactions have led to a string of terrible decisions and poor judgement calls I’ve been intensely fortunate to bounce back from, for the most part.

Probably the shittiest thing that I’ve ever done? In all honesty, I’d have to say that it was getting rid of a book that a friend gave me and wrote in the cover. The fact that someone gave me a gift like that meant a lot, I obviously love books and am one of those guys who gives them as gifts.

Yes, I will give you a book suited to your tastes as a gift. Quit your whining, read a little.

I got rid of that book. I don’t remember how, but I’ll be damned if I can find it now, and I feel intensely bad about it. The friend and I fell out a few years ago but reconnected, and considering I have a stupid t-shirt an ex gave me years ago (and I hate that ex) but I lost this book a dear friend gave me…that kind of kills and guilts the living fuck out of me, I have to be honest. And I’ve lost some very dear gifts and mementos over time, trust me.

The book was the autobiography of some guy who detailed his life living with bipolar disorder and then undergoing electroshock therapy over an extended period of time, finally triggering enough of a change that meds and other stuff could actually work. I’ll be damned if I remember the title or the author’s name, and I’m usually really good about that sort of stuff. 

I don’t think that it really matters though. The fact that I lost it or threw it out in anger or gave it away…man, that fucking kills me. A recent ex was very into minimalism and gasped in horror at the sheer number of books I’ve had and continue to have, just all this “stuff.” And it is just stuff, but some of that stuff really matters to me, dammit. 

I’ve scoured my personal library, the massive collection of books at my parents’ house (I come from a family of book-hoarders) and that book, which I’d recognize from what I remember being a bright yellow (or was it green?) cover, is nowhere to be found. I’ve looked several times, and will probably look again tomorrow instead of doing actual work. 

You know what though…it’s not like I’d actually re-read that book if I ever found it again. It’ll go back up on the shelf next to my dog-eared copy of “Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72” that I inherited from my dad. It’ll be another thing to drag around when I move again and stand a 50/50 chance of getting lost or left behind. I’ve lost and left behind a lot of shit from move to move, a lot of my music collection, books, clothing, shoes, furniture…the last time I moved all I retained are some books, a shoebox of CD’s, clothing, and a Tupperware crate of notebooks and original art from the comics I’ve drawn. 

At the very least, I have my friend back. I’m trying to be a better friend and boyfriend. Well, next time around I’ll try to be a better boyfriend. And I have a to-read pile that’s the size of a cinderblock.

May82013

003

I like getting emails. 

I don’t know what it is, but even getting junk mail and mailing list notifications…I love them all. There’s an odd calming and comforting thing going on with them, a reminder, even false, that someone knows you’re alive. 

I used to not have a job at all. I still don’t, really, but i didn’t even have freelance work coming my way then, so I sat around applying for jobs all day and then, when the guilt about being useless was temporarily assuaged  would work on some writing or cartooning at night after dinner, or watch TV instead of just having in on in the background to distract me from the hollow silence of sitting on the couch or in the same room as the partner I was living with and engaged to at the time even though our relationship was dying faster than a kidnapped orphan in an ill-ventilated box being shipped to the United Emirates. 

Emails at least gave me something to do, in the same way that lonely old people fight against the closing of their local post office because even getting bills they could barely afford and junk mail they don’t need gives them something to do during the day when the kids ignore you and all your friends are dead.

In the same way, having an email inbox gave me something to do, something to justify my own existence. “Oh man so many emails to go through” I could post on Facebook or Twitter, instead of just wallowing in unemployment, a sexless life, and nothing else going on. I’d be making sure that I stretched my time out by reading every single one and sorting them by “important enough to keep for a week or so,” “delete after reading,” “follow up when it’s an RSS/email list notification about a blog or webcomic I like,” or “delete and/or mark as spam after a glance.”

The thing is though, even when I am busy working all day every day, or just all day every other day, the ritualistic reading of emails for work or giving myself some time to check personal ones…it’s comforting. 

When you don’t have a wide-ranging or constantly-chatting circle of friends, when the people you know and love don’t necessarily always talk to each other all the time (with EVERYONE ELSE), it can get a little lonely. When

Now, before you start crying and bemoaning my sad life, dressing in sackcloth and rubbing ash in your hair on my behalf, I’m not sad. Nor am I lonely, especially not in that “oh I have no friends” writer way. But I do tend to work from home, I don’t have a fixed office right now for my non-freelance work which means that when I’m done there I tend to just go right home or go out with a friend or two, 

But we’re straying from the point. Bear with me, I’m getting back on track…OK, we’re here.

"Someone out there knows me! I matter!"

There’s a scene in this God-fucking-awful movie “Wanted” where the character Googles himself and checks his email in box, both of which return zero results and no incoming emails, respectively. It’s mean to be representative of the hollow emptiness of his life through his own eyes, a reality/viewpoint we as the viewer of this terrible movie based on a Mark Millar comic book are meant to see is stupid compared to the character’s ultimate life later on as a gun-toting badass assassin. And while “Wanted” is really shit and you should NEVER be taking philosophical life lessons from Mark Millar, there is something interesting in noting the depression of not even having a single junk email coming your way.

It’s just nice to know you matter to someone and are known to someone, even if that someone is a computer program that you subscribed to. It may be a hollow and empty way to fill the day, but it sure beats sitting on the toilet reading Superman comics for three hours.

April212013

002

I like to think I take good care of my feet.

It’s weird, I turn 30 this year and a couple of years ago I hurt both my back and my left leg. The sciatic nerve in my leg likes to flare up, it’s the worst goddamn pain you will ever feel as a man who doesn’t have to give birth to a child.

So as of almost a year or two ago, I made the conscious decision to appease foot fetishists, and start to take care of my feet. My reasoning was that if I could care well enough and support my size-12 feet, my bum leg and my back would somehow work themselves back into alignment or whatever voodoo science process allowed me to not spend a whole weekend with my left leg coated in IcyHot, my veins full of Ibuprofen and Scotch to deaden the pain and be able to actually be able to sit through a DVD or sit at the dinner table and eat without constantly shifting in my chair, trying to both apply pressure or avoid pressure on the right and wrong spots on my leg and left butt-cheeks, which is where the paoin always seems to concentrate, pulsing down to the spot right between my heel and the ball of my foot.

It’s the worst. 

But what to do? I’m poor, I went to a doctor about my leg a year or so ago and all he told me for far too much money was to keep doing what I was already doing, which is probably the most infuriating piece of advice you pay for can be. Thanks, captain Asshole, I already knew not to keep walking or running down the block when my leg is throbbing pain like I’ve been stabbed with needles by a waif-like Japanese demon-girl from an early-2000’s Japanese horror movie on DVD at 2 am in a friend’s house.

My first move was to stop wearing nothing but the zero-arch support canvas skateboarding shoes I’ve rocked since I was 15, almost exclusively except when it snows or rains (which is when I wear the same pair of Doc Martens, but we’ll get to that later). I started wearing running shoes, I started massaging my leg like a pervert (indoors) when the pain flares up and not ignoring it, I stopped wearing shoes when indoors at home (if I can help it), and I started walking more to build up my strength. 

And, it sort of worked. I stopped having near-constant flareups of leg pain, though humid summer months and the dead of winter are still terrible. I decided to add insoles to pad and support my feet in my sneakers and work shoes and boots, and that helped even more. My decade-old beat-up-as-fuck Doc’s, which I’ve had since high school, feel like they’re formed for running marathons now. Even the shapeless old Vans I have feel amazing. 

I started running. I jog now, every day in theory and every other day or so in practice, being careful to stretch before I do a mile or so in the mornings before work and writing, I worry about shin splints and the burning in my thighs as I stagger home and shower, realizing that despite that pain I don’t remember the last time my sciatica in my left leg was so bad I could barely walk. 

It’s awesome. And my feet are aren’t even that pretty to look at, I tend to treat my extremities like shit, my friend G is horrified at the state of my hands and nails and she’s insisting I I get a manicure at some point in the immediate future, which does sound a little cool  so yeah, I’m doing that. I don’t treat my tattoos (on my arms) that well, I have scarred hands, beat-up knees and shins from skateboarding. My feet are calloused and rough and the nails on my pinkie toes are almost non-existent, I crack my toe knuckles and have cut up my feet a few times from walking around barefoot as a teenager in summers in Greece when I grew up. 

Imagine if I actually took really good care of myself.

March72013

001

When I was in high school I had my first girlfriend, A. I’m a little ashamed to admit that at first, I wanted to date her friend S, who ended up dating my friend T. In the end though A and I dated on and off for two years, and she was my first real girlfriend.

She was an Ecuadorian girl from Jackson Heights who liked nu-metal and spoke French and Spanish and enjoyed spending time with me at fast-food joints for “dates,” watching movies at my house and making out, and talking for hours on the phone. A was the first person I’d ever met who was queer in any sense, admitting to me about fantasies of sleeping with women, and not just in a “getting attention from boys” sense. We talked about music and movies and what it was like to finally meet someone to be romantically involved in. I was 16, she was just turning 15 when we met. I was her first anything, first kiss, first date, first whatever. She wasn’t my first kiss, but she was my first real date or girlfriend and the first girl I ever saw naked. It was wonderful.

On the other side, she was also a horrific drunk from a terrible home life, and soon after our first break-up and getting-back-together, is when I started getting the phone calls from friends on weekends. I spent my weekends that weren’t with her either skateboarding or in kung-fu movie marathons. She spent them in the woods of the various parks of Queens at bonfire parties, drinking a lot and making out with our mutual female friends.

The calls were invariably the same, A was drunk and yelling or humping a tree and it had stopped being funny, either S would have to take her home, or A and S would be drunk together and I’d find out they slept on the floor of T’s room while he slept in the living room. T was a nice guy and in hindsight an intensely loyal friend, but that’s another story.

One night, I got a chain of phone calls on a Friday night from a party in the woods somewhere in Queens I didn’t go to because I was a wimpy kid who didn’t go out too much, even with my girlfriend. The calls were updates on the state of my girlfriend’s drinking, worried calls from my friends S, J, and finally A herself, slurring her words about how much she loved me before disappearing to throw up behind a tree apparently. The calls continued. She was outside the park and yelling at a cop on the street, and was almost arrested. She was sick and shaking nonstop in the back of T’s car. She was being hidden in the car because the cop came looking for the crazy Spanish girl who was clearly drunk and swearing at him at 11 pm on a Friday night.

I lived at home at the time with my parents and grandparents, a whole extended Greek family who saw me receiving call after call from borrowed cell phones and payphones all night, my mother getting a little confused as to why I was so popular all of a sudden.

Then A’s father called me.

He’d found my phone number somehow, either in the who-knows-how-many caller ID sessions A and I were on the phone at night, or maybe written down. Regardless, I’d never met her family and all I knew is what she’d told me. He was a drunk, and resentful of the fact that he was South American and his wife was a light-skinned Spanish woman from a family that lived outside Barcelona. He beat A. He beat A’s sister, who was developmentally disabled. He beat their mother most of the time, and verbally abused all of them.

It was the most profoundly awkward experience of my life so far, beating out the time my father had discovered my stash of pornography as a kid.

He was a worried wreck, and I was intensely uncomfortable as he told me how he didn’t know how to deal with an out-of-control daughter, even though she was a “good girl” and he knew that I was a good guy who calmed her down or whatever. All I could tell him was that I knew her friends were with her and would take care of her, and besides, they’d called me, she’d gotten violently sick from eating something so she was sleeping it off at S’s house. He thanks me profusely over and over again, and the next time I called her, he answered the phone, called me by my name, and wished my family well before giving her the phone.

We drifted apart after I started college, and had one last fling that ended badly. Last I heard of A, she was working her way through med school after a brief affair with an older woman. 

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