Follow Me – published by The Manifest-Station

My short story ‘Follow Me’ was just published by The Manifest-Station. I really had fun playing with surreal elements while writing this story, which focuses on a young couple who are haunted by increasingly bizarre episodes of sleepwalking each night.

Click here to read the full story now! Here’s a brief excerpt:

The hot, wet tears falling down her face released the immense pressure that had been building inside her head. She calmed down, pulling herself off the floor to sit on the bed. She stared down at his leg still sticking out and felt a sudden urge to kick him, hard. That small flicker of rage disappeared before it could grow into something dangerous. I love you, she whispered, no matter what you decide. 

Follow this link to read the full story. And let me know what you think in the comments below. Enjoy!

City Filled with Expectant Mothers – published by In Parentheses Magazine

My short story “City Filled with Expectant Mothers” was published in the “Crowds” edition of In Parentheses Magazine (v. 5, issue 4, Spring 2020). You can purchase the magazine here (digital download, print copy, or both). Below is an excerpt from my story:

They’re everywhere, they’re all I see, and no matter how far I run I know I’ll never escape. What started on the train continued in the grocery store and followed me on my run along Riverside Drive. This city, suddenly filled with expectant mothers. They’ve sprung up like weeds, their stomachs so swollen I wonder how they keep from falling over.

Purchase the latest issue of In Parentheses here to read the full story. It’s a great magazine filled with poetry, prose, and photography!

Make sure to check out In Parentheses, based here in New York.

Entertainment for the Apocalypse

I live in the East Village, New York, and, like most of the country, we’re currently on lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sharing some entertainment recommendations for everyone who’s stuck inside like me. Let me know what you think and feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments below – and please stay safe and healthy!

Television
Tiger King – I can’t enthusiastically recommend this Netflix Quarantine-and-Chill docuseries hit, mostly because it’s more trash TV than thoughtful documentary. If you’re a fan of that genre (think The Bachelor, The Real Housewives of whatever city, or that Kardashian nonsense), then there’s plenty to like about Tiger King. You have a group of larger than life characters – namely, Joe Exotic – doing awful, no-good, terrible things. There’s murder-for-hire, polygamy-a-plenty, toothless husbands who do interviews shirtless for some reason, a zoo worker missing a hand after a run-in with one of the animals, and another staffer who lost his legs but not because of the animals! Tiger King has it all!

Since pretty much everyone has already binged this series, I don’t need to explain much about the plot. I will say that no one featured comes out looking good. No one.

The main storyline centers around Joe Exotic’s ongoing war with Carol Baskin. He runs a sketchy roadside zoo filled with tigers and other exotic animals; she owns a Big Cat sanctuary trying to shut down folks like Joe Exotic. Some might argue that Baskin is unfairly villainized by the series, which I don’t necessarily disagree with; that being said, the woman seems kooky, based on her own words and actions. I mean, that whole story about how she met her second husband while wandering the streets and only got into his truck once he offered to let her hold a gun on him – that’s just whacky. The mysterious disappearance of that same husband is explored in one episode. I have no idea if she had anything to do with it, but Joe Exotic gleefully accuses her of killing her husband and feeding him to the tigers. He even “sings” a song about it and films a video with a Baskin lookalike.

Some takeaways: I wish the animal abuse didn’t feel like such an afterthought. It would have been nice if the filmmakers did more to explain the laws that allow people like Joe Exotic, Jeff Lowe, and Doc Antle to run sketchy-as-Hell zoos in the first place. Also, am I the only one who never really caught on to what Carol Baskin’s missing husband did for a living? He was a millionaire, but they never really explain how he became one – was it real estate investments? That’s a problem that plagues the series throughout – the filmmakers spend so much time on crazy shenanigans when they could have been offering more thoughtful context.

Anyway, if you come away thinking Joe Exotic is a hero, think again. He’s clearly not.

Other shows to binge (also available on Netflix):
Dark – In this dark sci-fi thriller from Germany, kids start disappearing, but that’s just the start of the strange events in the small town of Winden. There’s time travel, multiple timelines that show characters at different ages, and so many twists and turns it’s hard to keep everything straight. I’m still not sure I totally get what’s going on, but it’s a fun ride.

Billy on the Street – I love watching this because there’s something nostalgic and comforting about watching Billy Eichner yell at strangers in New York before the age of social distancing.

Reading
With the Beatles by Haruki Murakami.
If you’re like me and can’t wait for the next Murakami book, check out this short story recently published in the New Yorker (February 2020).  It’s a nostalgic, bittersweet tale with all the typical Murakami magic: mysterious things happen in the midst of the mundane, and things are never as they seem.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Originally published in 1962, this novel holds up well and is especially fitting for these crazy Quarantine times. It’s a dark, claustrophobic story about two sisters: Merricat, the mysterious narrator, and Constance, the elder of the two who hasn’t left their large estate in years. They live in a grand house set apart from the nearby village. About six years earlier, the rest of the family – excluding their Uncle Julian – died after being poisoned by arsenic.  Since Constance prepared the meal, the townspeople blame her for the poisoning and think she got away with murder. As a result, they shun what’s left of the family.

Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian lead a quiet, quaint life together, largely cut off from the rest of the world. When cousin Charles enters the scene, everything quickly changes. A fire in the house leads to a dramatic confrontation with the villagers. Much of the house is destroyed, but the sisters remain.

What’s most memorable about the novel is the voice of young Merricat, the narrator. She’s a complicated character you won’t soon forget. This book is Shirley Jackson at her magical best.

More Books for the Apocalypse:
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami Actually, anything by Murakami is a safe bet. How about a big giant book like 1Q84? It’s fantastic too! You have the time, so why not tackle it now!

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
Get lost in another culture during your downtime. This collection lead me to so many other Japanese writers to explore.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
This very short book left me breathless. It’s one of the few times I’ve had a hard time setting a novel aside, which worked out fine since it’s such a quick read. I hear it’s getting adapted into a movie by Netflix, so make sure to read the book first.

Music
I don’t listen to a lot of “new” music, though I love Tyler, the Creator’s Igor album, which came out last year. Key tracks: New Magic Wand, A Boy is a Gun, and Earfquake. I loved Igor so much I’ve really dived into the rest of his catalogue.  Check out his performance at the 2020 Grammys below:

Movies
I haven’t been watching many movies during the NYC Lock Down. I saw Little Joe, a weird film about a scientist breeding a new species of plant that makes its owner happy, sort of like an antidepressant .. but is the plant dangerously infecting those who come into contact with its pollen? In ways, this was like a more subdued version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Here are some other movies coming up in my queue: Carnival of Souls, The Ice Storm (I haven’t seen this in years and look forward to re-watching it), Jojo Rabbit, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. What are you watching next?

AIDS Walk New York: Sponsor Me Now :-)

I’m participating in the AIDS Walk New York this year as a runner! I’ve really enjoyed raising money for this great cause in the past.  Though we’ve made great strides in the fight against AIDS, we still have a long way to go:

  • One in eight of those infected with HIV is unaware of their infection.
  • Nationally, about one in four new HIV infections are among youth, ages 13-24.
  • According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if current HIV diagnosis rates persist, about half of all gay black men and a quarter of gay Latino men in the U.S. will be infected with HIV in their lifetime.

I can’t do this without your help. Please consider sponsoring me now by visiting my fundraising page

Thank you!

Eggs – published by Gravel Magazine

My short story ‘Eggs’ was published in the April 2019 issue of Gravel Magazine.  Follow this link to read the full story.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

While fighting through the throng of passengers on the train, I started panicking.  The cramps were so bad I feared I’d never make it in time.  Out on the platform, I doubled over, gripping my stomach as I wondered what in the hell I could have eaten that would wreak so much havoc, like my insides were being ripped apart.  No one offered to help or glanced my way at all despite the fact that I was clearly in pain.  Not that I expected them to.  In New York, it’s best not to get involved.  Even making eye contact with a stranger can lead to trouble.  Holding my stomach, I shuffled along, hobbling up the stairs to the sidewalk.  By the time I reached my block, the cramps suddenly stopped.  I wiped the sweat from my brow, relieved I hadn’t had an accident on the street.  Now that would have been embarrassing, though I’m sure my girlfriend would’ve got a kick out of it.  She laughs at all the bad things that happen to me. 

Continue reading here.  Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

Sweet, Sweet Boy – Published by Coffin Bell

My short story ‘Sweet, Sweet Boy’ was published in Volume 1, Issue 2 of Coffin Bell – a journal of dark literature.  Click here to go directly to the story.  Below is a brief excerpt:

A penis is an ugly thing, especially once it’s been detached from the body. It hangs so limp in your hand, small and soft, flailing around like fat, water-soaked noodle. Despite the terrible thing he’d done, he couldn’t help but note how ridiculous the penis looked rolling towards the hole in the sink, getting caught in the plastic flaps of the garbage disposal. After giving it a nudge and watching it disappear into blackness, he flipped the switch. As the blades pulverized the penis into tiny pieces, he stared at the hole, wishing it was big enough to swallow his head. He tried sticking his thing in there once when he was little, mostly as an experiment. He climbed up on the counter and pulled his shorts down, bending this way and that over the sink, but no matter how much he twisted and turned, jutting his bony hips out or spreading his legs wide, he just couldn’t find the right angle.

To continue reading, click here.  Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

A Visit to the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, June 2017

When Your Roommate Rips You Off

Finding housing in New York is never easy.  I’ve called NYC home for almost nine years and have had a variety of experiences with living arrangements.  In late 2015, I had the absolute worst apartment experience ever when I discovered my new roommate was ripping me off.  Finding out that she was illegally overcharging me was only the beginning, however.

First, let’s backtrack – I had to move out of the apartment I’d lived in for years when the owners decided the building would go full co-op.  This is a renter’s nightmare, especially when you like your apartment but aren’t in a position to buy.  So I began the hunt for a new place. I looked at a number of rooms but was having a hard time finding something I liked that was also within my budget.  That’s when I answered an ad on Craig’s List (yes, some people still use this as a way to find apartments/roommates – I’ve had both good and bad experiences with CL).  The apartment in question was within my budget, it was only a couple of blocks from where I work, and the pictures showed what looked like an adequate space.  So I made arrangements to meet with the person advertising the room, a girl I’ll refer to as “H.”

The first thing I discovered upon viewing the space was the fact that it was actually a 1-bedroom apartment.  H used the living room as her bedroom and was renting out the sole bedroom.  With the design of the apartment, this actually worked fine as long as you didn’t mind not having a living room.  The bedroom was on one side of the apartment, and the living room/makeshift bedroom was on the other side; in between was a small kitchen and bathroom.  H’s room had a door that closed as well.  For NYC apartments, this didn’t strike me as too strange.  I mean, when I first moved here, I remember seeing an ad from a woman who was literally renting out her bathroom – serious, no joke!

H seemed fine, although I must say I didn’t warm to her in any way.  Her current roommate was there, who seemed much friendlier – I actually talked with her more than I did with H.  After looking around, I told H I was interested but would have to think about it.  She was offering the room for $900, plus a $900 security deposit.

Lesson 1: Trust Your Instincts: I didn’t have a good feeling about the apartment for some reason.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but my gut was telling me not to take the room.  I felt like I was missing something.  I put off making a final decision as long as possible, hoping something better would turn up.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so I decided to take the room with H.  I wasn’t signing a lease, so I could move out whenever I wanted (giving an appropriate notice, of course).  I had no plans on staying in the apartment long-term but figured it’d be ok for a while, especially since I could actually walk to work from the building.  Unfortunately, I quickly learned what a big mistake I’d made.

I signed a roommate agreement with H, paying $900 for the first month’s rent and $900 for the security deposit.  Fast-forward a couple of months, and I find a slip of paper that’s been shoved under the front door.  It was a rental slip from the building management clearly showing the rent – I was shocked by the amount listed.  The full rent for the apartment was less than $1300, yet H was charging me $900 for my half.  I had a feeling she was overcharging me, but I had no idea it was by so much.

I talked to some residents in the building and discovered that I lived in a rent-stabilized apartment, which is something H never told me.  After doing some initial research on my own, I found that NY housing guidelines are strict when it comes to rent-stabilization.  In a nutshell, tenants are being protected from burdensome, unfair rental increases from their landlords – they’re getting a better deal on the price of their apartment than they would be enjoying in a building that wasn’t rent-stabilized.  However, it’s illegal for tenants to make a profit by overcharging a roommate.  Basically, they’re getting a good deal, so it’s not fair for them to turn around and rip someone else off – makes sense, right?  By law, if the apartment is rent-stabilized, the rent must be divided equally.

In my case, my half of the rent should have been approximately $650, not the $900 H was charging.  I checked with a housing attorney to make sure I understood the law.  He verified that H was violating housing regulations.  He gave me information about filing a complaint against her with the State of New York Division of Housing and Community Renewal‘s Office of Rent Administration, which I did.  (Check out their website for more information.)

Lesson 2: ALWAYS ask for the Details: I was livid and decided not to pay more than $650 in rent from that point forward.  I should have asked to see a copy of the lease before taking the room.  I should have asked if the apartment was rent-stabilized.  Anytime you’re looking for a room, make sure to ask these important questions.  The official lease will show you how much the full rent is.  I understand some people charge whatever they want when renting out a room, but don’t feel bad about asking questions.  If it’s a rent-stabilized apartment, it’s against the law for them to overcharge you.  If it’s not, you should still be aware of exactly how much the rent is and what you’re paying.  When everything is out in the open, problems concerning rent are less likely to come up.  If someone renting a room doesn’t want to show you the lease, that’s a big red flag.

I talked to H via text (our schedules were very different, so I often didn’t see her), telling her I knew how much the rent was and wanted to discuss it.  We met the next day, but it wasn’t much of a discussion.  She went berserk, telling me I had to move out right away.  She wouldn’t admit that she had been overcharging me, nor would she verify how much the full rent was (though she didn’t deny what I’d discovered).  It quickly became obvious there was no reasoning with H.  She wanted me to move by the end of that month (September).  I calmly explained that finding a new place in such a short amount of time was unreasonable.  Also, I had a trip booked to go out of town over the first week of October.  I told her I would start hunting for a new place right away with plans on being out by the end of October.  I didn’t want to stay in the apartment any longer than I had to considering she’d been ripping me off.  She agreed that the end of October was fine.  When I asked her to refund the money she owed me, she adamantly refused.  Since I was familiar with the housing laws, I informed H that I would file a complaint against her if she didn’t willingly refund the money.  Again, she claimed she didn’t owe me anything.

Lesson 3: You have a Right to Feel Safe in Your Apartment:  Things quickly got bizarre.  At first, it was mostly weird stuff, like coming into the kitchen to find my coffee pot and microwave unplugged.  I was in my room one day and heard H talking with someone.  They then knocked, so I opened the door to find some strange man I’d never seen before; H was standing behind him.  I’ll refer to the man as “M” to make things easier.  At first, M was relatively calm.  He started talking about the rental dispute, telling me I needed to go ahead and move out.  I was a little confused – first of all, it was none of his business as far as I was concerned.  Second of all, I had every intention of moving out as soon as possible.

Then, M started telling me that it would be better for everyone if I didn’t take the dispute to court.  His tone got a little more aggressive as he told me I needed to just move out right away.  I decided I didn’t have to talk to this man, which is what I told him.  I also told both him and H that I’d already started filing the complaint.  I knew H wasn’t going to willingly refund the money she owed, after all.  When I told M I was done talking to him, that it was none of his business, he got visibly upset and started yelling at me.  I shut the door, figuring he would go away, but he didn’t.  Instead, he started banging on my door with his fist, screaming obscenities at me.  He screamed that I would move out one way or the other, that he would beat my ass – that he’d make me leave.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but I didn’t like some strange man threatening me.  I knew nothing about this M guy – with the way he was acting, I thought he was a lunatic.  What if it got worse?  I opened my door and told M that I would call the police if he didn’t stop beating on my door and screaming at me.  He laughed, telling me to go ahead and call them.  H was behind him, looking very concerned.  She asked me not to call the police, so I told her to get her friend away from me then.  He got into my face, which is when H reached around him, holding him back.  I shut the door, totally freaked out by this point.  M continued yelling and banging on the door, so I finally called the police.  When he heard me on the phone, he backed away and went into the kitchen with H.

The police soon arrived.  I heard M and H talking to them, telling the police that I was refusing to pay rent and they had simply asked me to move out.  When the policemen came into my room, I summed up what had been going on in regards to the rent, then I told them about how M had threatened me.  They explained to H that any rental dispute we had would have to be taken care of in court.  They also told her that neither she nor any of her guests could come into my room.  They told me they couldn’t make M stay out of the apartment, but it was up to H to make sure he didn’t harass me.  And under no circumstances could he enter my bedroom.

I thanked them for their help.  At first, I wondered if I’d done the right thing by calling the police.  But the situation with M was very unpredictable.  I had no idea how far he’d go.  I also had no idea what H had told him to get him so angry at me.  But, at the end of the day, everyone has the right to feel safe.  H should have never brought someone into the apartment to try to intimidate me.  From what I understood, H couldn’t afford to live in the apartment on her own.  If I wasn’t going to pay the majority of the rent, she would have a hard time making ends meet.  She thought she could get M to scare me into leaving right away so she could then get a new roommate to scam out of money.

The confrontation with M really shook me up.  I took some of the boxes I’d been packing and stacked them up against the door at night while I slept.  I also kept a hammer nearby.  I honestly wasn’t sure what this M guy was capable of, but I didn’t want to take any chances.  He was clearly unstable.

Side note: I talked to H’s previous roommate.  She was going to sell me her air conditioning unit, so I had her number handy.  I told her that I’d discovered H was overcharging me in rent.  When she found out how much the full rent was, she was shocked.  Apparently, H had been overcharging her as well.  She said she was going to look into filing a complaint against H in housing court, though she also said she was mostly relieved to be out of the situation.

H had previously told me she’d lived in her apartment for about 10 years.  My guess is she’s been ripping off roommates from the very beginning.

So anyway, I found a new apartment and made plans to move on October 31.  In the meantime, some other weird things happened.  I saw M a few times, though he never threatened me again.  As I washed dishes, he walked over and put a piece of paper down beside me, saying, “You’ve been served.”  He then went back into H’s room.  I didn’t pick up the paper, but I did notice that it was something H had typed up, telling me I had to vacate the premises ASAP.

I actually got a laugh out of that one – telling someone they’ve been served doesn’t magically make it official.  I did let H know that I’d be moving by the end of October.  I asked her one more time about refunding the money she owed me, but H refused.  She claimed she didn’t owe me any money.  I suggested she confer with a housing attorney to find out more about the relevant laws.  I think she was depending on M to give her advice, and he clearly didn’t know what he was talking about.

On the day I moved out, I saw M one last time.  He approached me – while I was bringing stuff downstairs – and showed me a piece of paper with numbers scribbled on it.  He’d done calculations, trying to convince me that the money H had overcharged me was justifiable.  He said H cleaned the apartment weekly and deserved compensation from me for that.  I just laughed and told him it was over – I was literally on my way out.  M said he thought it’d be best if I didn’t take H to court.  They knew I had a case against H, so they were still trying to convince me to drop it.  I told M that I’d already filed the complaint and looked forward to settling the dispute through official channels.  “Look,” I told M, “I don’t like you, and I have nothing else to say to you.”

And that was that.  Other than a lamp going missing, my move into a new place was very smooth.

Lesson 4: Follow Through: A month or so later, I got a notification from the NY Housing department acknowledging they had received my complaint against H.  About a year later (September 2016), I got more paperwork from the housing department.  They sent me H’s response to my complaint, which she had filled out earlier in the year (it took a while for them to send it to me).  They asked for my response, which I quickly submitted.

In December, I received their judgment.  They found in my favor, saying H had illegally overcharged me in rent.  They said H had 30 days to refund the money she owes me.

So, even though it took over a year, I’m vindicated at last.  If you find yourself in a situation like mine, take the time to file a complaint.  It might take a while, but it’s well worth the wait.  This way, people like H will think twice about ripping off their roommates.  Keep in mind that H’s landlord now has grounds to evict her.  If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment and are found to have illegally overcharged your roommate, the landlord can immediately evict you.

Speaking of landlords – I talked to H’s building management during this ordeal, and they were not happy at all.  They told me H didn’t have permission to have a roommate in the first place.  I’m not sure if they’ve made any move to evict her, but at least they know what she’s been up to in their building.  I really would hate to see anyone else go through what I did with H as a roommate.

Check out the link below to see the “Order Granting Application” I received from the NY Housing division.  I’ve redacted some identifying information.

Order Granting Application

A Night of Fiction

Come out for a night of fiction at The Bureau of General Services – Queer Division with authors Gerard Anthony Cabrera, Brad Windhauser, and Cameron L. Mitchell (that’s me!).

The event takes place Saturday, December 3rd, 7pm-9pm – the venue is located at 208 West 13th Street, Room 210, New York, NY 10011 (inside The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center).

I’ll be reading a short story of mine called “Grow,” published by ImageOutWrite (vol. 5).  You can order your copy directly from their website or from Amazon.

I hope you’ll come out for what is sure to be an exciting literary event!  In the meantime, here’s a brief excerpt from “Grow,” the short story I’ll be reading:

With the garden full of vegetables he could still see, the potted flowers hanging over the porch with their sweet scent, the eggs hatching with chicks, the calves and pigs out in the pasture, and so many other things, his childhood had been marked by a series of transformations, big and small.  Sitting in the dark outside the botanical gardens, John wondered if he would ever change.  Could he grow into something else – someone different?

“A Day in the Park” – a short story published in Glitterwolf Magazine

My short story, “A Day in the Park,” was published in Glitterwolf Magazine‘s special Halloween edition in October 2015.  Check out their website to find out more about the magazine or to order a copy.  You can also purchase the issue over at Amazon.

Here is an excerpt from my story (“A Day in the Park”):

I think of my day in the park, the hunt for inspiration, and the hope that a story would find me.  It found me alright, but I wasn’t careful.  An involuntary twitch, a nervous tick – a sharp, startling noise in the distance and it was all over; the firefly crushed in my hand, its neon mush warm against my palm.  I open my hand and find the sticky mess remains, still warm.  I’ll hold it there until it cools down.  It shouldn’t be much longer now – as long as it takes a dead body to go cold.  The image of a child’s body lying on a path in the park flashes before my eyes.  The blood pools along the backside as the flesh turns rubbery and cold.

The loss of such a tiny light is hardly noticeable in a night full of other lights, flashing on and flashing off. 

I take my notes from the park and rip them into tiny pieces.  The paper snow settles on the floor all around me. 

Want to read more?  Order your copy today!

[Glitterwolf Magazine]        [Amazon]