Monday, August 15, 2016

What am I doing here?

What do you do here?


That was a question I've been asking myself for ages. Inside my head I was understanding him completely, yet all I could muster was how nice it is that Long Island has the beaches and Fire Island and well, you know. I wasn't even convincing myself.

The guy was a late twenty-something from New Zealand, working as an architect in the city, and I'd been chatting with him on the dock at Cherry Grove waiting for the ferry to take me home on Saturday night. It was his first time on the island ever.  He'd gone with some work friends of his that had abandoned him there. 

The half-hour or so that we chatted on the dock and then during the ferry ride afterwards was the lone bright spot on a night that I would have been better off staying home. I'd had the best night of the summer there the Saturday prior and I guess a re-creation of the same was a long shot to begin with.

The dude, Collin I believe, was a Long Island novice. He knew nothing of it except that you had to travel two hours through it just to get to Fire Island, which he didn't seem to care for very much anyway. Forget about knowing where or even what Patchogue, the place where I live, is. 

He asked the same question more than once, and each time he asked it only brought me to the same place I've been in my mind for the past eight-plus years.  

Long Island is a beautiful place. It's got its own multitude of sub-cultures and beautiful spots.  But it's a big, spread out place, a place where you go to settle down in your own little nook or cranny and hang with the people around you, raise your family, take care of your house and...I'm not really sure what else. It's definitely not a very exciting place to be single, especially gay and single.

I've been thinking a lot these past few months. Those of you who read me already know that. For the longest time I've been yearning to be where life is, where I could just leave my house and not be alone, or even where I am alone and am given opportunities to not be.  Get it? I dunno, a lot of people around me don't seem to. 

So I am finally beginning to formulate a plan in my mind. When I visited Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago I fell in love. Philly is like a smaller, more open-spaced New York with a lot of life and a thriving gay community. A year from right now I'd like to be preparing for that change I've been talking about, a move there. 

Of course, Philadelphia doesn't compare equally to New York, my city, the Center of the World, but I'm figuring it's the next best thing. Hopefully the job opportunities are ample, as well as the housing, and it's certainly more doable than NY.

Of course there is one thing that can keep me here and that would be if I found someone to make me not want to leave, which seems unlikely.  Even the few I've met this summer, and it has been an active one, haven't panned out into anything meaningful, even the dude from the ferry ride the other night. 

During his and my conversation, I was trying to help him find a way to get back to the city. He'd thought he'd just take a taxi, which would've cost him about $300.  I checked the train schedule...nothing.  I offered him my couch and a ride to the train station in the morning and he seemed grateful.

The conversation throughout was really easy and nice, and In the back of my mind I thought, hmmm, who knows?  On the upper deck of the ferry, he leaned over and kissed me before snuggling up next to me, and suddenly the night seemed like it was going to be a different kind of special than the previous week. Then his phone rang. 

It was one of his friends who had abandoned him. It turns out they waited for him on the other side.  He smiled as he told me, understandably relieved, and I was relieved for him. The ferry soon pulled into the station and we got up to get off.

I walked in front of him through the crowd as we disembarked and then I let him pass me once he saw his friend. That was when he turned into an asshole. Where I expected him to turn and introduce me, maybe exchange numbers, he kept walking with his friend, ignoring me completely.  To him I was no longer there.

I actually had to walk past them at one point on my way to my car.  He was in animated conversation with his pal, still without any notion that I was ever there. I walked past, head down, no words. It wasn't worth it!  All I could muster under my breath as I walked past was the word dick!

Though the guy turned out to be a complete, mean jackass, it was still an opportunity.  That doesn't happen too often here, and when it does, it's usually in the summer on Fire Island. 

I need to have more opportunities like that, chances to meet people, and hopefully more that have better results. It's not going to happen in my yard or at the mall or supermarket, but even a trip to the coffee shop in the city will offer me more opportunities. 

I don't have much hope that anything's going to happen for me in the coming year here, but you never know. If not, hello Philadelphia!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Bitmoji: A Cool New Generation of Emoji


I remember it was years ago that one of my students told me about emojis.  I think I had asked him how he got those cute little smiley faces and such on his phone and he helped me download it on to my own.  Well, in the years since then, emojis have become commonplace and I don't think I know anyone who doesn't use them.  In the past couple of months, however, thanks to my sister-in-law, I've discovered a whole new generation of emojis, and I am loving it!


Bitmoji is a free app in the iTunes store that combines the best of emoji and you.  The App Store's description says it's the "your avatar emoji," and that's exactly what it is.  After downloading the app, you create your avatar, a cartoonish likeness of yourself.  The process is relatively easy and it takes you through detailed information about your appearance.  Once you're done creating your likeness, the app then adds a sub-set to your keyboard and voila!  You can start using your Bitmoji.  


Bitmojis come in a wide variety of images (I currently have 105 on my phone) and it's always possible to find one that'll fit any conversational situation.  With popular phrases built into images with themes like movies and television shows, the Olympics and more that are constantly changing, this app is tons of fun.  So if you're an emoji type of person, you should definitely check out Bitmoji.  It's a great way to personalize yourself in a fun way while talking to your friends. So click the link below and try it out.  You won't regret it!


  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Philadelphia In One Day and In One Post


I've got the whole world in my hands!

Well, it is officially August and summer is halfway gone, but rather than lament how the summer is whizzing by, I'd rather celebrate what it's been so far and look forward to the month ahead. Since I've been a teacher, summer has always been a time for catching up with friends I don't often get to see and exploring new places I've never been before, and this summer has been no different.



July was so full of great times I can't even begin to recount them all.  From the Invasion of the Pines on the Fourth of July to a fun barbecue at my home with some former students, lots of dinners and happy hours, camping, trips to the city and a whole lot more, it's been a blast, for sure.  July ended on one of the happiest moments for me as I got to fall in love with a brand new city...


This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the city of Philadelphia with my friends Manny, Larry and his partner Jason. It was Manny who had asked me if I wanted to accompany him, as the trip was Larry's brainchild, and Larry had asked him to go.  Of course I said yes...always my motto to take advantage of any opportunities for travel...and I really hadn't thought about it too much from the time he asked me until the trip finally came.

I had been to Philly once in my life, as a chaperone to my sister's school trip when I was about 17 years old.  Well that was a long time ago, and I had no recollection whatsoever of anything to do with the City of Brotherly Love, but in just two days I found a place that I'll surely return to one day soon.


Hello Philadelphia

This was the first photo I took upon arriving in Philly.  It was early Friday evening and I had just dropped Manny off at the hotel to wait with the luggage as I parked the car a few blocks away.  I was immediately impressed with what I saw around me.  I found out later that we would be staying in what they call Center City, the most central of districts in the heart of the city.  Just from the walk from the parking lot back to the hotel I was reminded a little of New York, only with a little more open space.  Along the walk I passed the city's breathtaking City Hall, which was once aimed to be the tallest building in the New World (It never quite got there!).


Welcome to the Gayborhood

Once Larry and Jason arrived and we'd checked in, Larry was super-excited to show us the nearby sites and so we immediately set upon Center City.  Within minutes, I was in love!  Only a couple of blocks' walk from the hotel was what they call Central Philly's Gayborhood, a six-block or so perimeter neighborhood full of establishments catering to the gay community.  Cool bars, restaurants and shops lined the streets.  It sort of reminded me of Chelsea in New York, the way it once was not too long ago, where the atmosphere was open, friendly and buzzing with activity.

Along our walk down 13th Street, we came upon the famous Woody's, a popular local hotspot.  It was only around 8 p.m. and the place was already full of patrons, enjoying conversation and drinks in the downstairs bar, but that's not where we stayed.  Larry led us to an entrance to an upstairs dance hall, where I held a smile on my face for the next half-hour or so.  



As we walked up the stairs, you could hear a whole different type of music playing and just around the corner from the upper landing, there they were, a whole lotta people dancing together in time and they all looked so happy doing it.  Dancing is such a liberating expression and I know that feeling of bliss while doing it, and for all of these people, from all walks of life, to be doing it together, for pure enjoyment, was a thing to watch.  As the beats turned towards couples dancing, Larry and Jason, who would be celebrating five years together this week, joined in on the fun.  Larry even pulled Manny in for a turn.  I loved every minute! 

The rest of the night was spent exploring the Gayborhood some more, dropping in and out on some of the coolest nightspots, such as Boxers, ICandy, and The Bike Stop.  All cool, and I couldn't wait to check out some more the following night, but Saturday was going to be a long day, you know, one of those days where you see a whole city in one day, and so we all turned in for whatever rest we could get.

Philly in a Day


Pictured above is one of over 3,000 murals located throughout the streets of Philadelphia.  The city's Mural Arts Program has been aiming to eliminate graffiti since 1984 by sponsoring artists to do their thing on the blank canvases that are the walls of Philadelphia.  We got to see only a couple of them during our stay, and they were hella cool!

Manny, Larry and I paid a morning visit to Reading Terminal Market, just across the street from our hotel.  I'd read about the place just a couple of days beforehand and I couldn't for the life of me imagine what was so cool about such a huge farmer's market, but it was!  Although the great majority of wares came in the form of foodstuffs of all kinds, there were various unique eateries and some very cool merchants, as well.  

Larry had told us about these two kiosks towards the back of the market run by the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish.  He says they only come around on the weekends and part of their journey is by horse and carriage.  Their wares of baked goods and meat dishes are highly popular in the market.  Indeed, Manny and I met Larry at one of their stands, while he waited on a long line for a piece of this stuff called scrapple, which is kind of like an amalgamation of all of the leftover parts of the animals that don't get used otherwise (sounds gross, no?).  To me, it kind of looked like an Italian pane-tone fruit cake, but it sure didn't taste like it.  The flavor was more like a breakfast sausage and I'm told it goes great with eggs.
   
                                      scrapple                                                           The Amish at work

After about an hour in the market, we all decided to see the city in the best, most efficient way: a good old-fashioned tour bus.  This turned out to be a really cool way to do it, as we were allowed to get on and off at the various stops and catch a later bus which came by every 20 minutes or so.  This afforded us to see what we wanted to see and not have to walk around too too much.  

For the better part of the day we saw most of what Philly had to offer, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's resting place, the statue of Rocky Balboa and the famous steps in front of the city's Art Museum, and we also spent time at a very cool place I'd never heard of before, the Eastern State Penitentiary.  This prison was once the country's largest and most expensive such facility, operating from 1829 until 1971. Today, the once beautifully designed penitentiary now lays in ruins, with a unique beauty all its own. Rather than give an in depth account of the place here, I'll let you see it in pictures.  If you like, click on the link within to learn more about it, and surely make it a place to visit if you ever find yourself in Philly.














Night Out on the Town

After our daylong tour of the city, we dined at a very cool pub called Good Dog, recommended by my pal Sean. (I'm going to talk about that one on my food & recipe blog soon!).  After the very welcome respite of dinner, we all headed back to the hotel, where the hurting and tired Manny and Jason decided to spend the rest of the evening.  Larry and I had other things in mind.  He wanted to show me the bars I hadn't been to the night before and I am so glad he did.  That Gayborhood was absolutely awesome!

The inside of Voyeur

We hit two bars that night, a place called the Tavern and one called Voyeur.  Both bars were equally packed with men of all sorts, with great music and even greater atmosphere.  Tavern was a combination upstairs/downstairs piano bar and dance club and was well attended.  Voyeur was the coolest of places and was the late night jaunt for seemingly every gay person in Philly.  Larry and I had a blast as we danced and drank the night away at these two great clubs, both of which I see in my future.  It was a great way to end the weekend.   


My favorite picture of the weekend!

I never expected to enjoy Philadelphia as much as I did.  It seems to have everything in a city that you can ask for: great shopping, beautiful sites, and a great neighborhood to mix and mingle in.  It's definitely a place I'm going to be visiting again when I get the chance.  Who knows, it even seems like a great place for a guy like me to live.  In the meantime, here are a few more photos of beautiful Philly for you to check out...












                      













Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Blast at the Invasion of the Pines


If the rest of the summer is going to be like this past weekend, well it's gonna be a great summer! This particular 4th of July Weekend was a great one from start to finish, full of friends new and old, plenty of fun, new memories, and a little bit of discovery to boot.  Sandwiched among drinks with friends on Friday night and a 4th of July party on Sunday, I got to experience the Fire Island Pines a bit more extensively not once, but twice, and on Monday I had my first opportunity at experiencing the infamous Invasion of the Pines...a complete blast!

The Invasion

According to legend, 40 years ago, in the summer of 1976, a Cherry Grove man by the name of Teri Warren was denied service at a Pines restaurant called the Botel, simply because he was dressed in drag.  Upon hearing of the incident, the freshly crowned Homecoming Queen of the Cherry Grove Arts Project, Thom Hansen, lead a small group of about 9 fellow dragsters over to the Pines to protest.  Though the drag queens expected confrontation, they were instead welcomed wholeheartedly and invited to hang for awhile at the Blue Whale by their more affluent neighbors who were amused at this "invasion of drag queens."  And thus, the Invasion of the Pines was born and has continued and grown ever since.   


After All These Years

In all of the years I have been going to Fire Island I have never gone to see the Invasion of the Pines. Sure, I'd been invited before, even to ride on the boat, but I never accepted an invitation to go until this year.  Since I'd missed the NYC Pride Parade with my pals Manny and Ozzie a week earlier, I couldn't pass up a chance to see what all of the fuss was about.  Besides it was the 4th of July and a beautiful day to boot.

Manny, Ozzie, their friend Tara, her friend Jeannette and I made our way out to the Pines on an early 10:00 ferry.  The invasion is supposed to start at noon, but that's really when the festivities begin over at the Grove.  The main event doesn't really get underway until about an hour later.  When we first arrived the crowd was sparse, but not for long.  By noon the place was absolutely buzzing with people from all walks of life; straight gawkers, wannabe queens, muscleboys and pretty much everything in between.  As the time got closer and closer to the arrival of the boat it was literally standing room only on the dock.  Virtually every inch of space was filled, and it was going to be hard to see it all.  Finally, around 12:30 or so, the red carpet had been laid and the festivities were about to get underway.

After about a half hour of intros and filler, the time for the invasion had come...


Dragsters Galore

As you can see from the video, there were A LOT of drag queens on that boat, and the crowd loved it.  There was something about the spectacle of it all, the outlandish costumes, the performances of God Bless America and other tunes, the dancing and the parading, that made for an exciting celebration.  One by one the dragsters exited the boats as they were introduced and then made their way down he red carpet and off into the depths of the Pines community.

At Manny's suggestion, we had earlier purchased passes to the pool area, and once the parade had begun, my friend ushered us all to that very spot, as that was where most of the queens would end up. He was right, and this was where we got to check out some pretty colorful sights...




The Star of the Show


For me, the best part of the entire day was my friend Ricardo, who participated in the invasion as one of his alter-egos Miss Piggy.  Now Ricardo is a huge part of the gay community out here on Long Island, seen at virtually every major and minor event, recording all with his photos, and he even hosts a Latin Fusion Dance Party once a month at the Veranda in Bay Shore.  He's donned his Piggy outfit once before, but not for such a huge audience.


Piggy was on fire all afternoon, taking 2nd place in a contest of about 85 contestants and he was even mentioned newnownext/logo's blog post about the event.  Yeah, she was that good and you couldn't hep but smile every time you saw her.  God thing for me I got her on video doing her thang so you can see for yourself just how electrifying Piggy was...

   

All in all it was an awesome day under the sun at the Pines, with good friends and several hundred drag queens. I honestly don't know if I ever really have to do this again, it was soooo crowded....but it was a blast while it lasted!