agustin rivera

Wait, wait!

My parents weren’t too religious, my mother perhaps slightly more than my father, but in general not so much. My grandmother on my mother’s side on the other hand, she possibly is the more religious one, to the point where she’ll refuse to take any medication and go the spiritual, religious route along with natural and herbal medications. She is the typical grandmother.  I always looked forward to visiting her.  She often spoiled me with my favorite meals and snacks, her endless love, gifts, everything a grandson could ask for.

When I was about ten years old, I started to have general questions about life, and I remember asking her “How do we know we belong to the right religion? Or that we’re praying to the right God?” - I’ll never forget her reply, because her usual endearment completely changed, her reaction made me feel uncomfortable.  She says to me “God does say that some people will be lost, that not everyone will make it to heaven”, in other words, I was told I wasn’t going to heaven because I have doubts and I’m questioning religion. As if I needed yet another reason that I was not going to heaven, I can’t imagine if I had said “I think I may be gay.”  

Because of my family’s religious beliefs, I was sent to a private catholic school from first grade to sixth grade.  I’ve never been a good student, and while I was never physically punished by nuns like the stereo types of nuns, I was definitely punished for not paying attention. The method? Child developmental deprivation.  These nuns had some serious techniques.  I remember fourth grade in particular, I couldn’t figure out a math assignment, and it was time for lunch.  The nun told me I would not be allowed to go out for lunch break until I finished my assignment.  I was not allowed to eat even though my stomach was growling and demanding food “Do you hear my stomach!? That’s my stomach crying because it’s hungry!” I would say, but she wouldn’t budge.   Lunch break was over, and I never finished my assignment and we moved on to the next topic.

Now that I’m older, I wonder what went through her mind “I will stop that child from properly developing by starving him, that’ll teach him to pay attention” but how can someone even concentrate when you’re hungry? Isn’t the opposite true, if you don’t eat how can your faculties even function? 

I once read a joke in Spanish on Twitter that said something like “When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to eat until we thanked the lord for our food.  Now, I’m not allowed to eat until everyone takes pictures of the food and posts them online.”

When my mother and her husband visited me last time, we went to a very nice, small Italian restaurant.  It seems to be a very popular restaurant because the waiting time for our table was about 6 hours.  Okay, it was 40 minutes, but it felt like an eternity.  When it was our turn, I felt so special, like we won the lottery, we were the chosen ones, we were finally granted the privilege to get a table and eat. Our food was served and we were all impressed with the presentation of each dish, and how good everything looked and smelled.  "Mmm! It looks so good!“ my mother says.  I just nodded, I was so hungry; I didn’t even care about what the food looked like at this point.  I reached for the fork, almost tasting my lasagna when she instantly says "wait, wait! Let me take a picture of everything”.  She has always been extremely patient with me since I can remember, and boy was I a spoiled kid thanks to my doting grandmother.  Now I guess it was my turn to return my mother’s patience.   My stomach and I both grumbled at the same time while she took her pictures of my what looked like a delicious lasagna, a picture of her own dish, a picture of her husband’s dish, then of course a picture of all three dishes together, and finally a picture of us all, selfies.

When I finally had the first bite it tasted like the best lasagna I had ever had.  But now, I don’t know if it truly was.  When you’re at this level of starvation, everything tastes like the best thing you’ve ever had.


The Kissing Spaniard.

“Subway surfing” or “train surfing” is a skill I acquired out of necessity, in the train though–not on top of the train, like in the movies. That would be awesome, but a bit of a challenge underground, and probably illegal.  My first attempts were mostly for fun and laughs. I was hanging out with a friend I had recently met online. Our passion for video games brought us together and developed into a great friendship. He’s quite the skilled acrobat and not shy to show it off. He once rode his unicycle from Brooklyn all the way to Long Island for a party, I believe he said it took him almost three hours. He doesn’t get called thighs of steel for nothing.

My friend and I were on the N train on our way to Nintendo World in Manhattan. As someone who grew up playing Nintendo, it’s a dream come true to live in the only city in the country where there is an official Nintendo World store. Our trip took place during rush hour; the thought of finding a seat didn’t even cross our minds.

My friend didn’t seem to care the poles were completely covered with hands like flies to fly paper.  He stood without holding onto anything, and says to me “just pretend like you’re surfing, like this.” He spreads his legs, points to his feet and looked like he was surfing. I attempt to do the same; I spread my feet, and pretended like I was surfing. It was surprisingly easy and I was proud of myself for having picked it up so quickly, until the train made an unanticipated fast turn and I fell on a woman behind me.  Apparently she was used to it because she didn’t seem disturbed, nor did she look at me when I apologized.
I was a self-diagnosed germaphobe at one point. To this day I don’t know how I developed an irrational fear of infections. I could not share drinks; I couldn’t even hug people, much less kiss or be kissed. I would not touch door handles, or hold onto the train pole with my bare hands. I bought finger-less gloves and they made me feel cool, like a video game character or a DJ. However, I didn’t like using my gloves too often so train surfing it was. With time, I became a professional train surfer, and would certainly be wealthy by now if only I got paid for it. I still prefer to sit of course, play my video games as I listen to my music tuning out the world.

I would hesitate to hug people, especially the kissers, like the ones that like to land a peck on your face when you are being introduced for the very first time,  "Why do they need to kiss you?“ I always wondered. A friend introduced me to his best friend visiting from Spain.  We took him to a bar in Manhattan where they have pole dancers dressed as cowboys on top of the bar.  I of course couldn’t take my eyes off them, not because I found them attractive, which I think they were.  I don’t really remember what they looked like, because all I would see is their bare hands on the pole.  I kept imagining myself wearing gloves if I were one of them.   My train of thought was interrupted by the Spaniard, "Hola! So nice to meet you!”, and MUAH! He plants a loud kiss on my forehead. I pretended like it was fine, I then went to a corner and texted my friend “I just got herpes”, “WHAT!?” he responds. I then replied “I just got HERPES!”. Which of course is irrational, but I truly believed I had just gotten herpes that very moment. This is when I realized this fear was getting out of hand. While I still don’t like being kissed by strangers, I’ve gotten better. Bring it on, you kissing Spaniard! My forehead is ready.

There’s this tiny white furry dog that lives a few houses down from where I live, and his owner is so in love with me. Okay, perhaps he’s not in love with me, but the way he stares at me like I was a dinosaur or as though I walk out my house naked. I’ve lived in my current neighborhood for years, and it never fails every single time I walk out my house there he is staring at me.  He doesn’t feign indifference or just doesn’t attempt to be discreet. To my surprise, his dog was out by himself this one day as I was walking up the block. Like his owner, he kept staring at me, until I walked by him. The dog for some reason got scared, and in his attempt to run back into the house, he got stuck between the bars on his owner’s gate. He barked and howled as if he was being murdered. It was so loud, I could hear it through the music playing on my earphones. Silly little dog! To think I overreacted the same way when I thought I had herpes, except I didn’t bark or howl, or get stuck anywhere.


Signs that you’re a New Yorker.

“25 things that New Yorkers do”, “25 signs that you’re a New Yorker”, I always come across these all over social media.  One of the signs of becoming a New Yorker, according to one of these articles, is that you pretty much ignore celebrities when you see them on the street, another one was about how you consider the wind from an approaching subway car to be “a nice breeze" in the summer, or becoming immune to the smell of garbage on the street. 

Walking on 5th avenue with a group of friends, we saw a woman who seemed so excited going through knockoff bags from a street vendor.  Her excitement caught my attention and I couldn’t refrain myself from staring. She probably felt my indiscreet stare that she turned my way, and when I recognized who she was, I found it even more difficult to stop staring.  

It was a famous Mexican soap opera actress, with a very successful career from the 70s to the early 90s.   Her excitement quickly diminished, and turned into what seemed to be embarrassment  as soon as she noticed we recognized who she is.
She looked at her husband who was a couple of feet away, and who seemed bored while patiently waiting for her to do her shopping.  She approached us with a more confident look on her face to ask where we were from, and to offer her autographs.  Very polite, and seemed flattered  that we knew who she was.  Perhaps she was still embarrassed, and this was her attempt to make us forget what we saw, pretending to be excited to see some fans. She is an actress after all, and a good one. She sure knows how to cry on TV.
While she was chit-chatting with us, I couldn’t help but wonder what she says to her friends back home. “I bought this beautiful, expensive purse on fifth avenue in New York City”, which she did. She wouldn’t be lying as long as she omits some details.

I still have her autograph.  I use it as a bookmark when reading a book on the train, like the one I recently bought online.  I received it in the mail a few days ago. I normally prefer to buy digital books because I can easily carry my tablet in my messenger bag, but to save about $6, I decided to buy it used for a penny on Amazon.  The thing is though, the book is too big to carry in my messenger bag, it doesn’t fit. So now, I have to buy a bigger messenger bag if I want to read it on the train.  I will end up spending more than $6 now, perhaps I should go back to where I saw the famous actress, buy a knockoff bag for my one penny book, and brag about having gone shopping on fifth avenue in New York City.