One man's attempt at literacy

Category Archives: Serious

I walked down the street in Clinton Hill, my hopes low. My stomach gurgled familiarly, demanding ice cream in penance for putting my psyche through such torture. The light was fading as the sun set, twilight silence engulfing the neighborhood where neither man nor beast seemed to be awake. I studied the buildings and the streets with attentive disinterest, the same way you might look at that thousand dollar dessert in Manhattan, knowing it was probably delicious but that you would never taste it unless you seduced a rich widow. And in the back of my mind, I remembered being in this same position one year ago.

I strolled across the south side of Prospect Park, enjoying the view of autumnal leaves cascading around me. I was on my way to Sunset Terrace to view a three bedroom. The meeting was in a half hour, so I might arrive a bit early, but I knew it’d offer me the perfect opportunity to surround what was, I hoped, to be my future neighborhood.

I casually took my phone from my pocket, completing another neurotic check to make sure I had the right address and time. As I searched for the email, a new one from the very man I was about to meet loaded. Confused, I opened it hastily.

The message was brief: “Hey Greg, we found someone to fill the room. Good luck!”

Well, crap. I turned around.

As I turned the corned I quickly saw the building I was heading towards. A young man in his 20’s was adjusting the blinds as I peered up, and our eyes met for a moment. He waved like he knew me as more than someone answering a Craigslist ad, and I waved gingerly back, knowing if I let myself feel any form of enthusiasm my hopes and dreams will be as crushed as when I discovered Santa was a farce.

Moving to the door, I pressed the buzzer. I bit my lower lip in nervousness like a teenage girl who had been asked to prom by the most popular boy in school but suspected it was just a ruse to get covered in pigs’ blood.

A few moments later, the door opened to the the same friendly man from before. “Hey, Greg? Nice to meet you.”

As I walked up the stairs to the house in Astoria, I began dialing the number I was given. As it rang a girl went to the window and looked at me briefly, before turning around. Through the glass I could hear a muffled, “Shit! He’s here already!” Then she fled from my view as I stood, baffled.

I waited five minutes in the dark, confused by what had happened, a constant inner monologue about whether I should leave or not. As I began walking down the stairs in bafflement, the door opened. The same girl I had seen earlier greeted me. “Oh, hi, Greg? I’m sorry, I just noticed your call, my phone was off…” 

Sure, tootsie.

She showed me the room, her words slurred and her footing wobbly, as three of her friends stood awkwardly in the kitchen, their voices a whisper as if they were afraid I was keeping track of what they were saying. As she took me back down the stairs into the living room she turned to me briefly and sputtered, “Okay, I have a confession; I’m a little wasted.”

Well, no duh.

“That’s fine,” I simply said. She stammered a bit more and introduced me to her friends who were also sloshed, and I feigned interest while mostly questioning my ability to get into these situations.

She turns to me and starts talking about the other guy who would be living there, and I feign interest as I prefer to actually meet someone. In her drunken stupor she insists on showing me his room even though he’s gone, and I appease her, fearing the wrath of a drunken event planner scorned.

She knocks on her roommate’s door briefly before opening the door. “Oops,” she happily stutters, a hiccup almost escaping her lips. She quickly closes the door of the other man who lives there and turns to me once more. “They’re in there.” I can only imagine what she saw.

At that point, I politely flee. A day later she offered me the place, but I decide I’d rather not live with the woman who seems to regularly get drunk on Tuesday and the guy who I first encountered when I almost walked in on him and his girlfriend.

“This is Phoebe, the other roommate,” the man explains as we enter the apartment on the second door, gesturing to a woman in her late 20’s eating a huge sandwich. She waves to me, her mouth full of meat and cheese.

The man, Josh, shows me my room, the bathroom, the living room, before we sit down with Phoebe. Everything is gorgeous, and, with the exception of my room being a bit small and lacking windows, it’s perfect. So perfect that I knew that, in the shadows, there must be something sinister lurking. There always is.

I sat in the apartment in Carroll Gardens, my legs going numb. The man on the couch with me continued talking, changing subjects like a stereotypical teenage girl debating what to wear. Four others stood in the room, too, listening to him talk, barely saying a word as they couldn’t keep up with his word diarrhea. Half of what he said wasn’t about the apartment or himself at all, but rather things like the pros and cons of Trader Joe’s or the effects of Celiac Disease.

As we were leaving, he somberly said, “What I’m looking for in a roommate is someone who is clean, nice, and, mostly, someone who can put up with my shit.” I turned without saying a word, knowing that I had no desire to handle anyone else’s shit.

Phoebe, Josh and I talked for 20 minutes — which might be about as much bonding as I did with my previous roommate after 3 months. Despite my gloomy nature at this process and the impending sense of doom I generally felt, I was actually hopeful.

We parted ways, both sides making it clear that we were interested in — to use as sterile of terms possible — interested in proceeding with this venture. I walked out the door, my heart uplifted at the prospect of living with sane people in a neighborhood I liked and an apartment that wasn’t haunted. I would hear back from them that night, they had said.

I waited for an email from the man in Prospect Heights, and when I opened it I was a little despondent; he said everyone he had shown had loved the apartment and a bidding war had erupted. But then, the silver lining; he had liked me more than any of them and would be happy to have me be his roommate if I would simply pay him $300 more per month than he had originally said I would.

I tensed, my reptilian brain slithering about, debating what to do. “$300 is a lot of money! … But it’s in Prospect Heights. But $300 is a lot of money! But he seemed cool. But $300 is a lot and this is probably me being a sucker. BUT I LIKE THE APARTMENT!”

In the end, I took the apartment, and my hunch that I had been a sucker was consistently reaffirmed. But that was coming to an end.

The email arrived 3 hours and 20 minutes after I had left. As it loaded my brain was in turmoil, a mix of fear, hope, hunger, anger, happiness, and zestiness clouding my thoughts.

The email started nicely enough, saying the pair had enjoyed meeting me and would like to have me as their new roommate but — at that word my stomach always lurches — their current roommate had decided to stay.

My head did a free fall onto the desk, my brain turning into a puddle of mush and seeping out of my ears, pooling into a formless mass in front of my face. After so many terrible run-ins I thought I had finally found freedom, only to be gunned down all the same.

And that’s why looking for an apartment makes me want ice cream.


Totally belongs to Disney YORecently, one of my favorite comedy shows, Happy Endings, ended (unhappily, hahahaha PUN). This was a sitcom kind of in the vein of Friends, only I like it more. One of the best parts of Happy Endings is a certain character, Max Blum (Adam Pally). He’s a loveable curmudgeon who is chubby, hairy, and dirty, eats and sleeps most all of his days away, hates committing to relationships, and has no work ethic. Max is a slightly unusual character with all of this, but what makes him completely unique is that he also happens to be gay. In fact, Max is probably the single best gay guy I’ve ever seen in a show (not to mention one of the funniest characters), and it’s because he has such a huge list of vices.

You might think that me pointing to Max as the best gay character is preposterous, as he’s not even necessarily a good character with all of these flaws. You might say, “But there are so many other shows with better representations of gay men!”

There are, after all, many, more positive portrayals of homosexual men. You have Will and Grace, a show with two gay protagonists, where both are relatively successful, witty, well kempt, and fit. Will is masculine enough, and the other gay lead, Jack, is a sassy diva. The current gay comedy dream team, Modern Family, where Mitch is a successful lawyer and Cam is the stay at home dad. Both are witty, fashionable, and urbane. Again, Mitch is somewhat masculine (though still very effeminate) , and Cam is more of a sassy diva. Another show that only had a one season run in 2012-2013 was The New Normal, which is… Surprisingly similar. Both are clean, fit, and well educated. One is a masculine doctor, and the other is a sassy diva who is a producer for a musical TV show. There were also similar gay characters on Partners, but that was pretty bad so I didn’t pay attention.

All of these characters are very similar — they have good comebacks, and are intelligent, funny, clean, successful, kind, fit (generally), and metropolitan — but they’re all similar in good ways, really. Each pair follows a very similar trope, where one is vaguely masculine and one is vaguely effeminate, though both end up just being vaguely androgynous (which is not a problem). Their only flaws are also shared, being that they gossip a bit too much. That, admittedly, makes them pretty great, if a bit too similar. Shouldn’t I be praising Mitch, the lawyer, or Cam, the mom man who would sacrifice anything for his partner or child? After all, many gay people themselves have embraced the characters as being what people should look to when they think of LGBT people!

Greg, what is wrong with you?!

Liz Lemon/30 Rock owned by NBC and such DAWGMax is empowering — more empowering than any of these other characters — in the same way that Liz Lemon, Tina Fey’s character on 30 Rock, is considered empowering: both, while they have some redeemable traits, also have many, many unique flaws. Liz Lemon is successful and attractive, but she’s afraid of commitment, is not afraid of devious action (including going to the AA meeting of the guy she likes to hear his secrets and using her power to create a fake job for a pregnant teenager as a ploy to get the baby), and is addicted to hotdogs.

What makes them both, somehow, role models, is that they are unique. Let’s get one thing straight: stereotypes are inherently bad — even if the traits that are pointed to are positive — because they create a narrow expectation of what is appropriate. It’s like how making a huge amount of  Black characters in movies the wise, friendly person who offers white people life advice doesn’t empower Black people; it makes it seem like there’s only one appropriate way for Black people to interact with white people. The same is true when you say that gay men need to dress well, be witty, and know the trendiest spots if they want to to earn a place on prime time TV.

Max is a character with just as many (if not more) bad traits as good ones, what with being chubby, lazy, moody, overly competitive, slovenly, insecure, afraid of commitment, etc. Surprisingly enough, this makes him an amazing gay character because he’s not at all what you expect from a gay character; he’s unique, and he breaks the mold from pretty much every homosexual in mainstream TV. Max’s faults end up being even more empowering for me, as a gay man, than any “positive” stereotypes from other gay characters.

It isn’t really acceptance to say, “I accept you as long as you fit into this box.” A box is, by definition, confining. In movements that are about embracing sexual/ethnic/gender diversity, shouldn’t there be just as much of an emphasis on embracing physical/mental/psychological diversity? The answer is, to put it as simply as possible, “Yes.”


As spring has progressed, I have made an exciting, insightful, and terrifying discovery; I live in a place popular for film shoots. It all started two months ago, when a film code named “Iron Side” was scheduled to be shot in my very own apartment building. Another movie had a shoot in my neighborhood later, called Animal Rescue, which apparently has Tom Hardy and other stars, and there have been shoots by Adidas. All in all, there’s been a film or photo shoot here for something very well known in my neighborhood — literally using the road in front of my apartment building and the surrounding streets — every week for over a month.

Excuse the bad photography; I took them all myself and I have no eye for 'em...

Excuse the bad photography; I took them all myself and I have no eye for ’em…

Having so much filming originally seemed like it would be amazing; who doesn’t want to live near the center of Hollywood action? Iron Side ended up being the phrase that the Spider Man 2 team was using so it wasn’t so well known where they were. But there have been issues, especially for myself and my roommates, people who live on the top floor of the building that apparently is the must-film location of the summer!

The Daily Bugle

The Daily Bugle

Spider Man 2 caused the first problems as soon as they began filming, because they filmed on my roof (AKA my ceiling). They started at about 6:30 AM and had no qualms with being as loud as they pleased. They slowly packed more and more stuff into my hall until they literally blocked my door  that afternoon, because they had no idea anyone even lived there, and my friend had to tell them politely to make a path.

A few weeks later, I got home in the afternoon and decided to take a nap, only to discover that another, smaller movie was filming on my roof, this time with a chainsaw. Needless to say, my only solace was slamming pot lids together to irritate them (I’m so mature).

This last Saturday, Spider Man 2 returned to filming. The good news is they were not on my roof this time; the bad news is they were blocking off the street in front of my building since it’s apparently so photogenic, and they had taken all the parking spaces in a three block radius. When I made my way down the street towards my apartment that morning, a woman in a green coat with a radio asked me to move out of the road. I simply walked out of the road but didn’t acknowledge her, clearly a bit perturbed, but my boyfriend looked her squarely in the face and said that people lived here and she was disturbing them. She said nothing.

We left again a bit later for a walk around the park near my home, and when we returned they were still filming. As we approached my building the same woman was there, and, this time, with a little less enthusiasm, she told us that we couldn’t use the street. Again, I said nothing, and this time my boyfriend said less but made her aware, again, that she and the crew were an unwanted presence.

Throughout the day I watched them below me, and while I tried to remain passive I couldn’t help but let a bit of derision enter my voice whenever I thought of them. These people had come here, without my permission, without asking me, for their own personal gain; envy and hostility were pretty well warranted. When rain started pouring so much that a flash flood alert came up on my phone, and the film crew below scattered to the safety of their tents, I will admit I reveled in their misfortune a bit.

Later that day, I left for yoga and parted with my boyfriend. After I got back from yoga, I encountered a man blocking my street, because, much to my chagrin, filming had resumed when the rain subsided. He tried to stop me feebly, but I cut his, “We’re filming this way” short with a terse “I live here.” As I progressed, that same woman I had seen twice before was there again, guarding the street south of mine. As I passed she feebly asked, “Are you going to 135?” and I ignored her, not making a sound, my face a mask of ice.

photo 3It wasn’t until I got inside that my feeling of triumph was replaced by shame; her voice hadn’t had any edge to it, or confidence, it was the voice of someone who was defeated. The truth of, for every person like me — walking by without acknowledging her — there were probably people who verbally berated her for merely doing her job. She was just as innocent and irritated as I was. It wasn’t even the filmmaker’s who necessarily caused this; places like DUMBO offer incentives for people to film there because it makes them more exciting and can help local businesses. The people who own my building probably also got paid directly to have films shot here, and just chose not to inform their tenants or give them any breaks in rent despite making money off our inconvenience.

After hearing the dejection in that woman’s voice, a post that was meant to merely be a cathartic rant has become something I’m much more proud of; it’s a story of remembering that people are people. We aren’t all callous, and when we cause each other grief we generally do care. Those people who make the movies you love — or love to hate — aren’t above you, they’re just as susceptible to be put in bad situations as you are. The proof is in front of my home on a weekly basis. The problem is the people who don’t deal with this personally, who don’t see the people they inconvenience. In the end, lots of people end of being frustrated by an industry that, for all its apparent glamor, is slow, tedious, and trifling.

Despite all this, I think I could’ve forgiven them if I had been offered some ice cream, though.


This last weekend, I was at a convention for the company I’m interning at. The company? Just Food. Just Food is about providing urban populations with local food, primarily fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on helping underserved communities. As you can guess, the convention was comprised of hippies (one teaching assistant poured me some water into a compostable bowl  from a pitcher with the cut of a plant in it, and said, “we’re drinking to celebrate the passion and creation within all of us”) to upper middle class, older progressives.

The crowd, especially the latter group, reminded me of the stereotypical Californian, and a story I had heard but don’t really remember; apparently, my brother was ostracized as a child because he had been born and lived for four years in Los Angeles. See, in Montana, Californians are considered elitists — really, Californian elitists are a pretty commonly accepted group nationwide, but in Montana and the Midwest they are especially well known and despised, to the extent that a politician who drives a Prius (a “California car”) is at a disadvantage.

If Californians are considered elitist, than the people at this conference must surely be elitists, too; everyone there was concerned with waste reduction, fuel efficiency, renewable energy, etc. You know, the same things that Californians are.

In America, we hate the idea of the elite, to the extent that it came to be one of the main talking points in the 2000 election, with Al Gore being that elitist who harped on climate change and George Bush being the champion of guys you’d really like to go have beer with. And the idea of elitism is clearly not even directly linked to money, as Obama was smeared as an elitist even when facing off against McCain, who owned seven homes, 13 cars, and had access to a private jet.

What this spells out is simple: somehow, if you want to help those around you you are an “elitist.” Caring about people who aren’t your family, aren’t directly in your neighborhood, or aren’t a member of your church makes you a member of the elite. After all, why would you want to help those you don’t interact with?

I’m here to say something I am sure I will have to say many, many times in the future: empathy is not elitist. Wanting to protect the environment so that future generations don’t have massive, avoidable flooding, fires, and droughts is not something I should be stigmatized for. Thinking that all people should have access to nutritious food, potable water, and adequate shelter, no matter what part of the world they live in or how economically productive they are, is not something I should feel apologetic for. Thinking everyone should receive a basic education and be free to pursue a higher education if they so choose for free is not something that should earn me ridicule.

These things don’t make me elitist: they make me the exact opposite.

The fact that I think no one should suffer — especially not because of my actions — is not due to some noblesse oblige (the idea that people with power/wealth should take care of lower class people because they’re obligated to). It’s this little thing called I care about other humans. Ignoring people outside your community, your race, your social class, your sexuality — ignoring people at all for any of those reasons — that’s elitist. Thinking others should be fine on their own because you were fine on your own (assuming you actually were ever on your own) doesn’t make you a pragmatic fan of tough love; it makes you an apathetic jerk.

I want to help the poor and the uneducated so one day they are neither poor nor uneducated. I want a safety net that works better and social security that is constantly improving. I want an environment that continues to support both humans and the other species that exist on this planet. You think that makes me an elitist? Then you don’t know what it means to truly care about things that don’t directly benefit you, and that makes you among the most brazenly elitist people I’ve ever met.


In the past week, two things happened: Occupy Wall Street “turned one” (though that seems like bad wording because the movement is mostly dead), and I became aware of the $3 Change For Change movement, which is all about supporting candidates who pursue campaign finance reform through “Money Bombs” — that is, getting as many people to donate $3 as possible to those campaigns. While these two movements might seem different, they are essentially the same. Continue reading


I’m really not an exceptionally sentimental person. I don’t own framed pictures of family and friends — not because I don’t care about them, but I don’t necessarily think I need to own them since I can scour the internet and find many of them all over Facebook. But I do own one framed photo, and it’s of Nikita, my dog, from a few years back.

Continue reading


On Friday the long anticipated final piece to the latest Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, finally came out. Though you probably knew that. While I did enjoy this movie, I must say I agree with more or less everyone I have spoken to about it, and that’s quite simply to say, “It ain’t no Dark Knight.” Continue reading