Monday, July 20, 2015

Homecoming to Jackson Heights

I was born in Elmhurst Hospital in Elmhurst, NY. Elmhurst is a neighborhood in Queens, a heavily Asian and Latin neighborhood. At the time we lived in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood that’s largely a combination of South Asian and Latino (Central and South American and Mexican). When I was a little boy we left the neighborhood. But Central Queens always seemed like home. I had fond childhood memories, and I often visited my aunt there. After finishing up at Cornell University I ended up staying with my aunt. Queens seemed like the perfect place to come out of the closet as being gay, as I had such wonderful memories of it.

But childhood memories are deceptive. Children are often not fully aware of what’s going on around them. In my early 20s upon moving back to Jackson Heights, I rather quickly got to know my neighborhoods. I was living in the historic district, near the post World War II apartments. The neighborhood had a diverse array of food, and as someone who was an exchange student and who studied Spanish at the university, it seemed cool to be able to use that in my everyday life.

I soon started looking for work. My first few jobs were temp jobs in the banking sector. I used the money I earned to buy more clothes. Walking around the neighborhood, I was often offered bazooka. Bazooka wasn’t the gum. Bazooka was a crack cocaine derivative. Two people on my block I’ll call Marco and Fred would offer it to me all the time. I quickly rejected it. Fred and Marco were aggressively insistent. When I would go grocery shopping, in order to get to my place I had walk past there’s. They would ask for my food. During the day in those days I would dress professionally, a sign in their minds I had money. I was afraid of Fred and Marco. But in order to get them off my backs I told them I did 5 years in a state psychiatric hospital for arson and that I was on a variety of prescription pills and therefore had no need for crack. That wasn’t true, I would never do arson or anything violent. But Fred and Marco didn’t know that. So they were nervous and stopping offering me drugs and stopped trying to get my food. Marco and Fred in those days hung out on 37th road. It was called Vaseline Alley as male prostitutes sold their services to other men in those days. Eventually the NYPD under Giuliani cleared out Vaseline Alley, plus prostitution generally went online to sites like Adam4Adam.

The other two notables on my neighborhood were the grandparents of the block. Jim and Louise, an elderly couple who had lived there before the neighborhood had changed demographics. They were friends with my aunt. Through my aunt I found out which of our neighbors were bad. Allegedly, Jose and Jose had robbed a candy store and killed the owner. Those two were creepy enough, so it wasn’t like I was going to ask them detail or if what Jim and Louise said was true. They were friends with Julio, a crack addict male street prostitute.

But not all of my neighbors were bad. Though I would say I eventually learned appearances can be deceiving. Alfonso was a recovering drug addict who got a job, got married and raised a family. I knew his daughter Elizabeth. She was often outside with her friends Stephanie and Anthony. They were in high school. As far as I know they were law abiding, and they certainly never gave me trouble. Last I heard from Alfonso Elizabeth had gone off to college. Alfonso was nice and always friends with my aunt and with the elderly landlord couple. There was a huge Pakistani family in the apartment above us. The guys worked as cab drivers and they also worked for our neighbor Anit. Anit was a photographer and filmmaker. The men and Anit had their differences as they were Muslim and Anit was Hindu. Still, they worked together professionally. Anit also had others who worked with him. Matt, who lived across the street from me looked like a stereotypical California surf dude. He was tall and blonde. He worked at NBC Universal.

After getting reintegrated into my block, I decided to explore the gay bars in Jackson Heights. My favorite drink in those days was red wine. I soon got to know a number of people in the bars. My friend Anna worked as a secretary and then a licensed massage therapist. She always came out to the bar early in the week. We often discussed spiritual topics and what we read about herbal treatments. Matt hung out in those places, and he was friends with George. George was a neurologist. He shared my love of fantasy and sci fi movies, and we could talk for hours about Xena, Charmed, Hercules, and related shows. I was friends Pedro, the bartender from Peru. Yosef was an accountant who lived in Chelsea, in Manhattan. But he hung out in Queens. Frank was an older man who worked for a car service. Frank would appear in the bar at rather odd hours, as his work schedule varied. It stressed him out and he drank rather heavily. The bar was pretty much a home for Frank. He often slept in the bar. He was lovers with Gerald, a retired professor who lived in the East Village. Those two fought frequently.

As I always loved X-Men comics (and other Marvel Comics) I went to a local comic book store in Jackson Heights. There I met Paul the hippier owner. The main people who hung out there where Serbian twin brothers Adrijan and Darko. Darko was a normal stable man. He ended up marrying a woman from the old country, and they had 4 children. Adrijan was a cringing machoist who attended S& M conventions with his sexually liberal girlfriend Michelle. The Serbian twins were good friends with Raul aka John aka Franklin aka Davio aka Daniel aka Gustavo, the cool man of many names and many a bar fight. I always had fun at that shop. Adriana, Tiffany, and Isabel were the girls who hung out there. Tiffany was the lover of Paul. The others made fun of her and called her ghetto because she was originally from Harlem. The others in the shop accused Tiffany of being a player, so there was often tension between her and the others. The relationship between TIffany and Paul fell apart when she pawned his mother’s old ring, which was a gift from the heart to Tiffany.

From time to time I would hang out with Yosef. We would hang out at the beach. It was fun for us as we were both swimmers. I learned that Yosef was really a swimming instructor, not an accountant. He worked part time. And that wasn’t the only think Yosef was hiding. He lived in a low income apartment in Chelsea and was on welfare as he made so little money from his swimming instructor job. Yosef exploited the system in ways I never thought possible. His low income apartment had two bedrooms. He paid $500 a month in rent. He rented out both bedrooms for $1,000 each, while he slept in the living room. He collected food stamps and medicaid, so his income from his low income apartment was obviously unreported. As time went by, Yosef became a bolder con artist. He got yet another low income apartment (also in Chelsea) and rented it out as well. The second low income apartment was an 80/20. 80/20 apartments are 80 percent luxury/market rate and 20 percent low income. So Yosef got a low income apartment in a luxury building in a prime location. He rented it out to tourists he found off craigslist and off certain agencies that find temporary housing for European and Asian tourists. Yosef began taking vacations to Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

As for me, the type of jobs in banking I was able to get quite frankly sucked. The better, more interesting career paths were out of reach. Since that clearly wasn’t going to work out in any worthwhile way the effort I put into work went down. I began hanging out at the bars more often. To be completely honest what was the point of having a regular job, I began to wonder, when the Yosef’s of New York City did so well financially by living this less than conventional lifestyle. Of course that’s just a polite way of saying criminal lifestyle. Still, I decided it was not a good idea to do anything that could put me behind bars. Still, it seemed nice that people from the clubs could take such extensive and frequent vacations all over the nation and the world. I began wondering about some of the others. I did know legitimately wealthy people from Cornell who worked as lawyers or certain other professionals (I looked up their post graduate lives via Google). And at the same time, I respected people’s right of privacy not to prime into every claim. But still, I wondered. I myself had legitimately been all over the US and I was an exchange student in Paraguay. I’ve visited Brazil. So I personally like to travel. But something seemed a little off with some of my friends trips.

At this time, Anna and I had become close. She lived in Manhattan. She was often in and out of town, so she would ask me to house sit for her. I glady did so, as who wouldn’t like to stay in Manhattan if only temporarily. Of course, I should have been a bit more suspicious on how does a secretary/massage therapist afford a Manhattan apartment. Still, Anna was nice to me so there was no reason for me to question her or get into her business. She had her share of family drama with ex husbands and the rest of her family. Still, her children had grown up and become productive citizens. Who doesn’t have issues or drama in their life?

At this time my friend George had grown tired of working as a neurologist, or so he claimed. He got a job at a floral shop owned by Cassandra and her brother Miguel. George and Miguel often went to Colombia, supposedly to visit Miguel’s family. One day I got a hysterical call from George. He told me a disaster had happened on their last vacation in Colombia. But he sobbed so loudly he couldn’t talk straight. He said he had an e-mail for me. I checked my e-mail. An article from a newspaper named La Patria (from Pereira, Colombia) showed a picture of Miguel. I read the article in Spanish. Miguel was unfortunate enough to be busted in an airport in Colombia for trying to smuggle cocaine out of the country. George called me back to tell me he and Miguel were supposed to run coke for Cassandra. But George always made Miguel carry all the coke. So when they got busted, George put all the blame on Miguel. Miguel got locked away in jail in Colombia and 14 years later to this date I never found out what became of him. George was hysterically guilty as he was truly close to Miguel. But he quickly got over it. Cassandra, after attempting to smuggle coke herself, also got busted in Colombia and did time there. Upon returning to the states she existed the drug business and legitimately stuck to working as a florist. Or at least that was the story George told me 10 years ago. Cassandra refused to speak to George again as she wanted to cut all her ties to that world, so I have no idea what she’s currently doing. Similarly, Pedro the bartender got busted. He would work for two months, and then stay in Peru for one month. Allegedly he was taking care of a grandfather who had cancer. But the reality is he was a mule. A mule is another name for international cocaine runner. Pedro got fired by his job (they suspected something shady) and after he attempted his last run he got busted on the Peruvian side. I’m told by those in the business that due to increased scrutiny at the airports, most drugs are brought in on cargo ships and cargo planes as it’s two difficult to get drugs past the airports. Unless of course one wants to put the drugs inside condoms and place them in one’s own stomach or intestines.

At the comic book store, it eventually fell victim to new development. The owner Paul moved on to opening up another store elsewhere. The man of many names, now calling himself the Sphinx is the same as ever. He still gets in bar fights and can still drink everyone in any bar under the table and still remain standing. It would take something industrial strength to put him down. The Serbian twins, sadly, both got played big time. Darko found out his wife Bojana cheated on him many times and was only interested in marrying him to get US citizenship. He had their children dna tested and found out he was the father of only two of them. They got divorced. Adrijan’s girlfriend, Michelle, after she tied him to the bed during an S&M act, left him tied there and robbed his apartment. Poor Adrijan was found two days later, still tied up and alive. His girlfriend had fled the country. Adrijan had valuable baseball cards, gold watches, an expensive stamp collection, and a rare coin collection. All of this was stolen by Michelle, and these assets were worth an estimated 800k. We still don’t know of Michelle’s whereabouts. Oh, and what happened to my friend Matt . He was a typical Jackson Heights case after all. He turned out to be a gigolo, and this was confirmed by people who saw his dirty little deeds in action at various Midtown Manhattan bars. He was evicted from his apartment. That wasn’t the end of him. He swindled his way into a lover’s apartment, and stole quite a bit of money from the lover. After that, he disappeared. Perhaps he returned to his home state of California (if he is really from there) or maybe he went to jail. Or perhaps he went elsewhere. Who knows?

The aunt that I was staying with retired and moved away. Now there are those who thought why stay in Jackson Heights, which is so full of such sketchy characters? So my friend Anna had decided to rent out space in her apartment in the Upper East Side. I happily moved in. From Queens to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That was a great transition. I loved living in Manhattan. I was a shorter train ride to work in midtown, and on a good day I often walked home. It was nice living more upscale people and not around the scammers of Jackson Heights. All was apparently well. But I of course forgot that I met Anna in Jackson Heights. I’d been living there for awhile, lots of men came by the apartment to see Anna. Noises came from Anna’s room that sounded like Cape Buffalo on the savannah in heat! And clearly these were too many men to be boyfriends. Anna confessed that being a licensed massage therapist didn’t pay enough to live the lifestyle she wanted, so she had become a prostitute. She made an upgrade to her career and become a madam. So gave me a deal on the room, free rent in exchange for writing the advertisements for her business. She recruited desperate illegal immigrant girls from places like Jackson Heights, Corona, the Bronx, Washington Heights, Harlem, Woodside, and other neighborhoods full of immigrants. She pimped them out.

After a few years of living in Anna’s apartment, I ended up moving to a nice part of the Rockaways (the Jewish part of Far Rockaway). I loved living there, where in the summer I went swimming in the ocean on a regular basis. Hurricane Sandy ended that, unfortunately and now I am presently out of New York. Still, I fondly remember my Jackson Heights days and my New York days. I know real success in much harder than it appears, and aside from inheriting money from one’s parents or having influential parents who are able to hook you up with opportunities, there are no magically easy paths to success. For many, it won’t just happen. Others are determined to make it happen in any way possible, no matter at whose’s expense or what laws they have to break. The tales of Jackson Heights would be the tales of a significant portion of any large international city. In these places, the traditionally hard working people are basically treated like suckers and are played by the every economy of the city itself. The nature of New York’s economy encourages the shenanigans of those I mentioned in Jackson Heights, and clearly not just in Jackson Heights. Anna slept her way all the way up to an apartment on the Upper East Side, one of Manhattan’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Two English professors I had and the cranky old man Frank said there’s only two ways make money, to inherit it from your parents or to steal it. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And by the way, Frank can be found in the same spot in the bar that he has been occupying for 30 years, still fighting with his lover Gerald. Some things never chang

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