Anthony Alas is a four times published author. His works have appeared in the Pacific Review , Scribble Lit, and Azahares Magazine. After many years in New York City, Mr. Alas now calls California’s Inland Empire home, again. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in English literature, from CSU San Bernardino.
Cherry Blossom by A. Alas
Cherry Blossom stood in the doorway, half Bjork, half Geisha. Her kimono, platforms, black wig, and bit of eye shadow suggested eccentricity. However, sweat beads ran down her face. Hence, her lack of make-up and leggings, gave Cherry a sporty air. She stood and stared at Oscar and Giovanni, who also stood at the doorway. Oscar, an older man, had a more conservative appearance, shirt, tie, slicked back hair, and raincoat. Giovanni was an infusion between punk and cowboy. Green hair, leather jacket, ripped jeans, but with a cowboy hat and boots, reflected the ultimate contradiction. Behind them were old doors and a maze of staircases.
“So, sorry, loves. I’ve just come back from teaching a pole dancing class,” Cherry said in, an accent, which hinted at years in Brooklyn and Tokyo.
Where do you keep your family jewels?” Oscar asked, in a raspy Bronx accent, to the dismay of Giovanni.
“Same place you, do, queen. Come in, take a look at the jewel of the East Village,” Cherry Blossom said.
Oscar and Giovanni walked in. The first bit of culture shock hit them, like a flying, angry high heel, at drag queen amateur night. There was an old fashioned bathtub, in the middle of the kitchen. Oscar and Giovanni observed the oddity, in both freight and curiosity. Stunned, Oscar stared at Giovanni, angrily.
“So, the tub, it’s an art installation?” Oscar asked.
“Dad, shut up, it’s a tenement. What did you expect?” Giovanni said.
“Actually, this tub is a fully functioning tub. It comes with the apartment,” Cherry said, while Oscar and Giovanni looked around.
“Bathroom in the apartment, right?” Giovanni asked.
Cherry laughed, and answered,” this is uncomfortable New York living, only for those brave enough to take on. In other words, we share a key to the bathroom. It’s exclusive to this unit, though. Just wash your hands after your done, and disinfect the key after using it, got it?”
“Okay, okay, at least there’s somewhere to go to the bathroom, right?” Giovanni asked, nervously.
Cherry signaled them to the bedroom. Unlike the apartment, which was just a huge kitchen with brown cabinets and two mysterious doors, the bedroom exuded old school East Village funk. Puke green walls, a large window (which opened into a fire escape), retro orange bedding, lava lamps and Mexican art, made the room a den of eccentricity. One quality, which caught the attention of Giovanni and Oscar were the wigs, which lined a floating shelf. Blonde, pink, red, black, purple, and even grey, the wigs were beautifully cut and displayed on a mannequin heads.
“What the fuck are those?” Oscar asked.
“You’ll be dying of shock, but I’m a performer. Drag queen karaoke and drag queen bingo, but these I designed. I need wigs, but so do my lady friends,” Cherry said, with a wink.
Giovanni looked elated. He became hyper focused on the wigs. They were so colorful. It distracted him from the room’s even more quirky qualities. Oscar and Cherry stared at Giovanni completely entranced by the wigs.
“Do you mind if I try one? I mean, these are too gorgeous,” Giovanni said.
“Of course, darling,” Cherry responded, as Oscar looked on baffled.
Giovanni tried on the pink wig, cut into a bob, and replied, “Oh, I look so glamorous.”
He was glued to the mirror. Oscar observed the walls, fire escape, and floors. He still couldn’t believe how much Giovanni enjoyed staring at himself, in that pink wig.
“I forgot to ask, $1200 for this room? No utilities included? Oscar asked.
“That’s right, best deal in the East Village,” Cherry said.
“Best deal would include a bathroom inside the actual unit,” Oscar said.
“I want to put in an app, dad. This is place is too fun,” Giovanni said, still glued to the mirror.
Cherry handed Oscar an application. It was written in long hand. Even the signatures lines were squiggly. Oscar looked horrified. Giovanni kept trying on wigs. He continued to become more and more entranced. Cherry stood, with her arms crossed. Oscar gave her a smile.
“Listen, we’ll think it over. In the meantime, can I buy two of those wigs off you?” Oscar asked.
Cherry and Giovanni were stunned. They both laughed.
“Dad, are you serious?” Giovanni asked.
“If it makes you so fucking happy, I’ll do it,” Oscar said.
“$30 bucks for two wigs,” Cherry said.
Oscar handed her cash from his wallet, and said to Giovanni,” pick the wigs, you want.”
Oscar and Giovanni walked out of the apartment, down the five-story walk-up and onto the East Village pavement. They held on to the wigs in paper bags. While regrouping on Ninth and First Avenue, Giovanni stared at Oscar, in curiosity.
“Wow, dad, thanks for the wigs,” Giovanni said.
“Giovanni, I know you do drag. In all honesty, the wigs are for the both of us,” Oscar said.
Stunned, Giovanni nearly fell to the ground, and said, “What do you mean both of us?”
“Yo, son, fool, I’m a drag queen, on the side” Oscar said.
“You can’t be a drag queen. You forced me to sit through all those Yankee games. That’s pretty hetero, pops,” Giovanni said, still in shock.
“Those dresses in my closet. Those were gifts from girlfriends, who were cool with me going out in drag. You follow? We good?’ Oscar said.
Giovanni struggled to find acceptance. He breathed heavily. Not being able to immediately accept his father’s words, made him question his own open mindedness.
“I think, I need a bit of time to digest this,” Giovanni said.
“Fine by me,” Oscar said.
“Can I get a nose ring?” Giovanni asked.
“No, I already bought you wigs, enough alternative for one day,” Oscar replied.
“Let’s go back to the decay of civilization, known as the burbs,” Giovanni said.
Oscar and Giovanni walked up the tenement filled First Avenue. They didn’t speak much. However, both men stared at each other, with a bit more sympathy and warmth.
By Anthony Alas
Books stacked high to the ceiling. Andy Warhol knock-offs fell from the wall. Brightly colored (cloth) laundry bags were stacked to high to the ceiling. Dust created a perpetual fog over the tiny apartment. Old newspapers, vinyl records, half-drunk water bottles, a few John Waters DVDs, and mismatched pillows covered the floor. This sight welcomed me home from Tokyo.
Quickly, I took off my scarf, beanie, and unbuttoned my coat. Opening the closet, a flood of sweaters and wire hangers attacked me. After placing my pea coat on the hanger, the closet collapsed. Cardigans, jeans, and plastic dry cleaning bags flowed into the already messy floors. Shrugging my shoulders, I opened the curtains. Harlem tenements with the iconic New York fire escape smiled back. Peering into other people’s apartments proved disappointing. Everyone had well-organized apartments, without mountains of books or laundry nearly collapsing.
Am I the lone slob of Harlem? I asked myself.
The apartment felt increasingly subtropical, thanks to the radiator. Turning on the air conditioner, I dusted off my messy bed. Finding some clean Long Johns, in the suitcase, it was time for a nap, derived from jet lag. The dust and mess became somewhat comforting. However, the apartment’s chaos was hard to ignore. Salt trucks, sirens, people yelling, and honking of horns made a blissful morning’s sleep impossible. It complicated the funk felt inside of me. Grabbing War & Peace, it was time for a literary sedative. Rather than becoming one with Russia’s most complicated novel, anxiety kicked in.
“Oy, this mess can’t be good for my physical or mental health. This is it. I must become a normal, and functioning human being,” I said to myself.
Placing aside War & Peace, I took the journey down five flights of stairs. The door to my building opened. Harlem was alive and buzzing. It cured a bit of the old anxiety. Stepping into the brownstone filled 132nd street, the charming brownstones sparkled. Suddenly, massive depression slapped yours truly across the face. Closer to Lenox Avenue, a stack of paperbacks littered a stoop. A sign taped to the stoop read, “free books! Please take one.” One of the books shattered me. It read, “Stanley goes to Work.” Walking past it, the massive depression became impossible to shrug off.
Finally making it onto Lenox Avenue, the local bookshop’s storefront distracted me. The storefront displayed authors from James Baldwin to Toni Morrison to Kurt Vonnegut. Bravely, I walked past it. One place, I couldn’t resist, the neighborhood coffee house. After sipping coffee, confidence and energy were invigorated. Cleaning supplies were bought. While power walking in the midst of an icy afternoon, the bookshop once again distracted me. Hesitant to go in at first, I finally decided to step inside. The shelves were perfectly stocked. Display tables enticed bookworms, with the modern classics. Heading toward the fiction, I looked for “Stanly Goes to Work” by Pablo Alvarez. Picking up the book, I placed the book on the cashier’s counter. A classic hipster boy, with glasses, dyed black hair, and self-imposed irony smiled.
“You’re reading this crap? I’ll be happy to refund you, if you don’t like it,” he said.
“Right, critics hated Ulysses. Now, it’s Ulysses,” I replied, confidently.
Paying with cash, I bolted from the shop. Dashing up brownstone filled 132nd street, I end up on my tenement filled block again. Huffing and puffing up the five flights of stairs, it was back to the dust filled comfort of my studio apartment. Throwing the book across the apartment, it landed on what used to be a coffee table. Rather than cleaning the apt, I wept in bed. Depression had once again taken over. The crying fest wouldn’t stop. Grabbing one the half drunk water bottles, I took a happy pill and fell asleep. The next few hours were spent watching television and eating Chinese food. Sleep followed again.
The following morning, at 3 A.M. (jet leg, obviously), I decided to face my fears. In a shoebox were beautifully printed letters with fancy letterheads. These were all rejection letters from publishing houses. Behind the letters were various reviews of “Stanley goes to Work,” from the New York Times to Daily Tribune Reading the reviews was earth shattering, just terrible. Fortunately, I kept the letter from my publisher, raving about the novel. Inspiration was awoken. Cleaning my apartment commenced. Hours of Windex-filled horror, turned into a magical space. Everything from the old books to the windows sparkled, just like glitter. After hours of cleaning, I decided to reopen War & Peace. The cleanliness distracted me.
“Wow, this is just not who I am. I’m not some organized writer. I’m proudly messy.” I declared.
Rather than enjoying my newly clean space, clothing, books, and paperwork were tossed. The Andy Warhol knock offs once again fell to the floor, while my closet went back to my disarray. Grabbing a notepad, my old self made a happy comeback. My apartment became a personal art exhibition. The theme? “The art of being functionally disorganized.”
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