Sunday, June 28, 2015

LINDA & I

I can never predict what seemingly random blast from the past will headline my day. It’s a pleasure to let my subconscious surprise me. Enter Linda Ronstadt. She sang me awake with a little help from Dolly Parton. No doubt, it’s all on account of U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, but an album track from her 1977 album, Simple Dreams, played in my head: “I Never Will Marry”.

I recall my first impressions of the song. I wanted to hug Linda. The song was so melancholy and yet she sang it with conviction. She knew. It wasn’t that she had anything against the institution; it’s just that her choices and experiences would never lead her down the aisle.

Maybe she should’ve gone easy on that conviction.

I heartily joined in with Linda and Dolly. It was my chance to harmonize with two of the greats. In the basement of my family’s home in Hamilton, Ontario, I was their Emmylou. From an early age, I’d envisioned getting married and having six kids. Too many “Brady Bunch” viewings, I suppose. But singing this song gave me the first thought of “expect[ing] to live single all the days of my life.”

It would take several more years before I accepted the fact I was gay. Ah, yes. No wonder the song resonated so much. Gay. No marriage. In my years grappling with coming out, it was part of the equation, a matter-of-fact element of self-acceptance.

And, my, how things have changed! I’ve had the right to marry for a decade in Canada. And now, if I my immigration papers are ever successfully processed, I will be able to marry anywhere in the United States. Even Texas! Not that I’d ever go back there.

I can marry!

As a right, it deserves the exclamation mark.

But, in reality, it warrants standard punctuation. I can marry. Ho hum. It doesn’t change a whole lot. Here I am, still singing along with Linda.

Linda understands. Some of us make poor choices. Sometimes we get it all wrong. There are no magic potions to entice a Prince Charming. It’s days like this when Linda provides an entire soundtrack—“Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”, “When Will I Be Loved”, “The Track of My Tears”, “Blue Bayou”, “Desperado”.

Dammit, the words still resonate. Walk with me, Linda. If you’re going to awaken me, you’re stuck with me for the whole day.

 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

GONE GAY

Nearly three months back in the city and I don’t have much to blog about. All those gay opportunities? All that gay exposure? Not so much.

The city’s changed. Most have. Gay ghettos aren’t what they used to be. I can’t walk down Davie or Denman Street and awkwardly attempt to make eye contact with a stream of gay men going to and from the gym. There are still plenty of people, but the gays are gone. They no longer travel in packs in the West End.

And, yes, I know that’s a good thing. Generally speaking, it’s awesome. We can feel comfortable living anywhere in Vancouver or in the suburbs. We are accepted. Hurrah.

It’s funny though. A loss comes with the gains. Gays are not an inherently visible minority. As we pushed for rights and protested discrimination, we strove to make ourselves visible. I remember joining in the chant “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” Twenty-some years ago, I had an earring in my left ear and a pink triangle on my car bumper. See me. See my gayness.

And now, as I walk, I wonder, Where have all the gays gone?

Are we invisible again? Is that progress?

I think I’m supposed to say I’m more evolved. Don’t see my gayness. See me as a whole person. I’m a writer, a vegetarian, something of a fitness fanatic (maybe without the results for you to see that!). I’m an educator, a solo traveler, a literacy advocate, a quirky dreamer who gets lost in nature (figuratively and, unfortunately, literally).

But I am still gay. And it still matters. Try to make a list of what you are in terms of roles, not characteristics. Notice how gay keeps popping up even as you try to prove how you are so much more than that. Gay still defines us, at least in part. For those of us who grew up before society’s enlightenment, our gayness may define us more than it should have. We often fought our gayness before we fought for it. We weren’t instantly accepted or even tolerated. The gayness created a divide as well as a uniting force. (Hello, ghetto.) It weighed on us more. And despite the radical differences between then and now, our past doesn’t just fade away.

So as I walk the streets of Vancouver—I do everything I can to keep the car in park—I don’t see people like me. Not in that way. In some respects, that brings relief. I don’t have to look good when I go to the grocery store. I can wear the t-shirt I should have tossed five years ago. (Okay, ten.) But there are days when I miss it. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the glances or, more accurately in my case, the missed glances. I miss the hope that I might run into my future longtime companion (yes, it’s “husband” now) while trying to decide between Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s.

         Let's talk ice cream. Let's talk "Mindy".
We’ve gained acceptance and then dispersed. We’ve abandoned the bars and taken to Grindr. Yes, the app can tell us we’re not alone as we walk the streets. But, as I understand things, it simply announces who’s horny. This is what we fought for?

Perhaps because I am single and because I don’t shop on Grindr, I still would like to know I’m not alone in the Vancouver crowds. Show yourselves, guys. A simple nod will do, a sign that says, “Me, too.” And if you’re single and you see me in the frozen foods aisle, let’s talk—and eat—ice cream. I’d love the company.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

TWO DATES IN A DAY: Part II

This is the second of a two-parter blog post, involving a double-date Saturday in Seattle. Thankfully, unlike “The Bachelor”, the dates ran consecutively rather than concurrently. The bunch date with Jeff was chronicled here. And now, There’s Something about Larry:


Ah, yes. Larry. He was the first person I messaged when I joined OkCupid last August. His body was beyond buff. Too much? Maybe. But the dating site gave us a 95% match rating and I guess I was new and overly optimistic.

He never replied. Well, not until six weeks ago, the same day I first messaged Jeff. I don’t like messaging more than one person at a time. It takes more thought in remembering what is shared. I’d tried to get one date out of the way, but these guys lived in Seattle. This was the weekend both were available. Brunch with Jeff and now the possibility of meeting Larry. It was up in the air as he was spending some time at a campsite. Might come back early, might not.

He texted just as I was heading for a jog around Alki Beach, a part of Seattle I had yet to see. “Let you know when I’m back,” I replied. After my run, the text exchange went something like this:

                Larry:     Going for cocktails on the hill around 9:30 or 10.

                Me:        How about a bite to eat or ice cream at Molly Moon’s?

                Larry:     Come for drinks.

Me:        How about ice cream before you hit the bars?

Larry:     The club is called Diesel.

                Me:        Okay. See you at 10.

Damn. I can still have fun at a gay bar when I’m with a group of friends, but it’s not my scene at all. Times have changed. The bar used to be the social centerpiece. Now I’d prefer coffee, a walk, even a quick sniff as two cars idle at a stoplight. But I told myself to turf the reticence. This was a chance to shed the shell I’d crawled back into during my ten years living in oblivion.

I went for dinner and ice cream on my own. Then came another text:

                Larry:     My friend insists on going to CC Slaughters first. Meet us there.

Great. So we’re barhopping. Reticence can show persistence.

                Me:        Text me when you get to Diesel.

                Larry:     We’re near the front door?

                Me:        Which club?

                Larry:     CC Slaughters. Come.

And so I Google-mapped the location. No getting lost this time. Slaughters had a line out the door.

                Larry:     Are you in line yet?

                Me:        Yes.

I thought he’d come out to meet me. A moment to be the gentleman. A chance to chat before being lost in the crowd and drowned out by the music, an opportunity to talk without the friend in tow.

Nope. I waited solo as the two men in leather in front of me fondled one another, the two guys behind practiced their hyperactive bitchy shtick and a guy yelled “Suck dick!” from a passing car.

I miss the bars.

Oops. The bitchiness from behind me was merging with the reticence from within.

As I entered, I put on my happy face. Yes, isn’t this fun?! I LOOOOVE THIS! And, hey, it’s Saturday! But then I got bumped by one sweaty man, and then another, and another. Sweaty men in leather getups that flashed a whole lotta skin. It was officially Fetish Night. What a bonus.

The smile fled and I tried to figure out where the line was to order a drink for those who couldn’t do Cash Only. I inched through the human maze and kept getting trapped in dead ends. Where was Larry?

And then he found me. My knight in regular clothes. Hurrah! A form-fitting tee and jeans. He looked good. We hugged and as I pulled away, he didn’t. We carried on our first round of chitchat fully in hug. A far cry from the awkward start to brunch with Jeff.

We left the club immediately. With Jeff’s friend, Amir. They’d arranged for a cab. We were going to another club. Not Diesel, but The Cuff. Apparently the Seattle bar scene is thriving more than what we’ve got in Vancouver.

Turns out Amir was great to have as the third wheel. (I suppose, to him, I was the third wheel.) Amir had me laughing from the outset. In Cuffs, Larry seemed to know everyone—or, at least, all the studs. A club within the club. Everyone got a warm hug. I’d stand there with my smile, trying to like the music a little too much before Larry introduced each friend. Darren. Hank. Joe. John. On and on.

I had tried to remain open, but there was no denying that Larry was a barfly. And, despite his hotness (“just right” in the muscle sense, it turned out), there was no way we were a match. Not sure how many times “cocktails” was part of the conversation. He’d bought the first round so I felt I needed to stay long enough to get the second. I have no idea what he does or if he’s close to family. We didn’t talk of that or of art, politics or much of anything. It was gay bar banter. Quips about cum, tops and bottoms, and fetishes. I’m not a total prude. I laughed freely, even relaxed thanks to Amir’s warmth. Unfortunately, Amir headed home so my relative ease shifted back to unease as Larry continued to hold court with an endless stream of drinking buddies. He’d keep me in the loop when he could but my introversion surged.

Larry went off somewhere and his friend John said, “This is hard, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Why fake what I couldn’t? “I think I’m ready to go.”

“No!” said John. “Larry’s great. He’s on the dancefloor. Come.” And I followed John, but somehow lost him. Couldn’t find John, couldn’t find Larry.

Admittedly, I didn’t look too hard—a squinty-eyed 360 and I headed to the exit. I texted goodbye. Tacky, sure, but I was done. We live in different countries. A hot body was not enough. And, most likely, neither was I.


Maybe things would have been different if we’d met for ice cream. (There’s a beer flavor.) We could have talked at normal volume and gotten a better sense of who we are. But then maybe the bar was the perfect site. Maybe it’s what I needed to get; if not the full essence of Larry, what really mattered.

And so Sunday in Seattle was for me. An art gallery, a vegan bakery, a walk at Madison Park and, yes, more ice cream.

Two dates down. I used to think that each time you crossed off one guy, you were that much closer to finding the right one. But I am no closer. And it’s not just a geographic thing, having coffeed (yes, that’s my verb) with all of Vancouver and Seattle. I don’t feel the leftovers in Calgary or Portland will be any more promising. My message box is empty. Perhaps it’s time to switch from Plenty of Fish to a bowl of clownfish with a scuba dude lurking at the bottom. All I need, right? If only…

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

TWO DATES IN A DAY: Part I

I'm not the only one trolling in Seattle. Stop by this
         sculpture whenever I'm in Fremont.
Saturday was date day. In Seattle. I’d been communicating for about six weeks online with both Jeff and Larry. Technically, I initiated things with both. Jeff’s profile caught my eye since he worked full-time as a writer (career envy!) and cycled everywhere, not owning a car (fit environmentalist!). Larry caught my eye as well. He too was fit. Muscle fit. There was a shot of him lying on an air mattress in a Speedo. Wow. If anything, he appeared too fit. Muscle boys can overdo it.

I knew these would be very different dates and I was right.

Jeff and I met for brunch. I arrived a few minutes late. I always get lost when driving in Seattle. This time I got another unrequested glimpse of an industrial area. Is it progress that getting lost leads me to “familiar” unfamiliar places? Jeff had already scouted a table and once I approached we exchanged a rushed hello. Not sure, but as I sat down his eyes seemed to pop out. I’m never sure of anything when it comes to dating, but it seemed like he liked what he saw. I did, too. There was a geeky sexiness to him—glasses, scruffy beard and an ironed button-down white short-sleeve shirt with all but the top button done up. During the entire brunch, the look created one of those optical illusions. I saw a bow tie where there was none. His reaction, or my interpretation of his reaction, embarrassed me. I immediately looked down at the menu. And just like that, we had our first awkward pause.

Normally that’s not a good thing. For the next two minutes, it remained awkward. We’d start on a stilted small talk subject, get interrupted by the waiter and then struggle again to get the conversation going.

Why had he suggested brunch? Maybe coffee would have been better. Maybe the waiter would relate the awkwardness at Table 4 to the kitchen. SOS! Get that French toast out lickety-split!

But slowly we warmed up. We talked about our careers and why I’m drawn to Seattle. He writes a column about the city so we exchanged our impressions of Seattle and Vancouver. We talked of homelessness, infrastructure and transit systems. It was more intricate than Space Needle versus Stanley Park. The conversation remained “friendly formal” but I found Jeff interesting.

The Olympic Sculpture Park came up as we talked. I told him I’d been a couple of times and loved it. I sensed disappointment as I think he wanted us to walk there after brunch. If I was reading things right, it seemed like another sign of interest.

As we paid the bill, Jeff asked, “Do you feel like going for a walk?”

“Absolutely. Let’s go to the sculpture park.” We looked at a few pieces and then meandered along the shoreline, eventually sitting on a bench. Jeff immediately spread his arms so his right arm was behind me. Comfortable position or another sign of like? Oh, god. I’m so bad at this stuff.

        Is it too much to hope for an "&"?
We talked of family, pets, our stints living in L.A. and more about Seattle. The conversation flowed. We were equal in terms of speaking and listening. I’d sneak glances and he kept getting sexier. We walked back, stopping to look at more sculptures. We talked about each piece. He clearly liked art, had an opinion and a reason for said opinion. Even sexier.

The date lasted three hours. It ended with some of that initial awkwardness. Hello and goodbye can be loaded words. I know he had a good time, but I wasn’t sure that was enough. Jeff is a practical guy. We live in different countries. He doesn’t even have a passport. Was mutual interest enough? Hope so but my senses say no. We hugged and I drove off.

A good man, a nice time.

Sigh.

But there was still Larry…

Saturday, June 6, 2015

PARLOR GAMES


I get two scoops, he gets none. And this after twenty-minutes of waiting in line at Earnest Ice Cream. He whispers in my ear, “I can’t. I’m getting naked with a guy in three weeks.”

This friend of mine is fifty-two. He’s slim and active. And yet he’s still ruled by the thought a man will reject him if he fails that f*#king Special K test.

I have a date in three days but I can still eat my ice cream. It’s not that I’m any more accepting of my body. I’m just not as optimistic over how far things will go. It usually ends with “We should keep in touch.” It’s an ironic phrase as it couldn’t be farther away from any semblance of touch. So this is my silver lining: the salted caramel is amazing.

My friend caves. He asks the girl behind the counter for an extra spoon. He digs in, coats his spoon with a portion as large as a five-year-old’s pinky fingernail. He tastes. “Too sweet” is the verdict. He tosses the spoon. There will be no going back for more. I’m not exactly disappointed. I’m not so good at sharing, especially ice cream. Too sweet?! I know he means not what he says. Just like all those we-should-keep-in-touch guys. To rid himself of all that sweetness, my poor friend will go home and do five hundred sit-ups. Then he’ll most likely do the “getting naked” pre-test. And another five hundred ab crunches.

My honey lavender scoop is just as delicious. “I don’t like lavender in food,” my friend says. “It makes me think of soap. Whenever I taste something with lavender, I taste soap.”

Poor thing, I think as I shovel in another mouthful. But he doesn’t need my pity. He is, after all, getting naked in three weeks. All the dieting and depriving will be worth it. The wads of money he shells out for extra sessions with his personal trainer/life coach will instill self-confidence…or at least lessen the self-consciousness.

This is what it’s like to still be single in our fifties. Chronically single. We’ve fought off the middle-aged belly. It never came so we’ve never abandoned hope and gotten into a habit of grabbing a second or third Corona to go with a Family Size bag of Cheddar Jalapeῆo Cheetos. (A friend who has abandoned hope dragged me down the chip aisle at Safeway recently just to show me the bag. He fondled the bag but then left it on the shelf as I shifted my gaze to the rice cake display.)

The obsession with diet and exercise continues. We think it will make the difference. If they like us on the outside, maybe things will progress so they’ll like us on the inside.

I write of “we” and “us” because I am no more enlightened. I am not better adjusted. These two tasty scoops are my ice cream intake for the month of June. I’ve used up my ration awfully early. It’s a good thing June has thirty days, not thirty-one. If I continue working out six days out of every seven, I might cave and allow a second ice cream experience. I can hear the rationalizing ping-ponging about in my brain already. I won’t be on a three-week alert for months, maybe years, maybe never. But my own disciplined approach to diet and exercise shows I still have hope, however f*#ked up that hope is.

My friend’s date will be in Los Angeles, with a guy who lives in Phoenix who hates the cold and will only consider possible travel to Vancouver in the summer—since Vancouver is so close to the Arctic Circle, after all. There are so many holes in this budding relationship but he doesn’t need me to point them out. I know he knows they’re there. It’s all f*#ked up but it’s as hopeful as things have been for my friend in the past ten years.

I toss my empty plastic dish in the trash. I’ve scraped the bottom so many times and there’s nothing more to reward my tongue.

“Good luck,” I say. “I hope it goes well.” I do and I’m a tad envious.

And that too is f*#ked up.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

SNIP IT


I’m hair intolerant. It’s genetic. From my mother’s side of the family. We don’t handle unruly hair.

My hair intolerance came late in life. It’s not that it wasn’t there, but I fought it. I tried to be strong.

I made it through the big, poufy, mega-permed ‘80s and early ‘90s with barely a tic. When I saw Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack in “Working Girl”, it registered that their coiffures needed taming, but I didn’t respond like it was a horror movie, clenching the armrests and casting my eyes downward to see if popcorn-fed rats lurked at my feet. I watched and told myself movies are make believe and New Jersey is on the other coast. (Admittedly, I may have had my own case of poufy hair, a circumstance that was entirely perm-free.)

I only registered mild annoyance after moving to L.A. twenty-five years ago and seeing middle-aged men deal with receding hairlines by growing it where they could—extending the neckline, clumping it together in a ponytail. Not braided like Willie Nelson. Too much work. This was California casual. On occasion, I wanted to shake these guys and shout, “Your hair’s still receding. We still see that.” But I took my deep breaths, I let that Bobby McFerrin ditty dance in my head and I did some mental “Vogue”-ing. I worked through it.

I thought I made it.

I am not my mother’s son!

Then came the mullet. It proved a greater challenge. I could hear my grandfather in my head. Needs a haircut. Very succinct. He was a keen observer, always wanting to keep the younger generations in check. His tone conveyed more: Thugs and no-goods. A barber would fix ‘em. I believe that was my grandfather’s answer to all the evils of the world. Forget prisons; we need more barbers.

My mother learned well from my grandfather who, incidentally, went bald at the age of twenty. But she was always more verbose. I shudder to think what her commentary would be if she watched an old Michael Bolton video with me. “Where are my scissors? Honestly, what was he thinking? ‘Love Is a Wonderful Thing’? I’ll tell you what’s a wonderful thing. A haircut. Once a month. Five weeks at most. Just look at that mop. It’s like a lion’s mane. I’ll tame it. Clean, crisp snips. And there’d be three new wigs for cancer patients. Although Genie Mulgrove has a stylish collection of bandanas to make the most of things. Satin. Some of them are even from Neiman Marcus. But when you’ve got cancer, you need your splurges.”  

It was a struggle, but I made it through mullets, too. “Hockey hair”, they called it. That helped. I accepted it in the name of national pride. Hockey. Canada. Suck it up.

But I’ve come undone due to the latest hair misstep. I hear my grandfather’s voice saying, Needs a haircut. I hear my mother rambling about her scissors. And even more succinctly than my grandfather, I pose the question: “Why?”

“Why, oh, why, oh, why why why?!” Okay, not so succinctly. I see the redundancy in my thinking but I can’t help myself. I can’t lop off even a single “why”. I. Am. Hair. Intolerant.

There are men walking around with a tiny lock of hair clumped together in a rubber band so that it sticks out of the top of their head. Like a shaggy antenna. Or, more accurately, a ponytail stump. (If you Google "man bun", you'll get lots of scary versions; the men I've seen attempt the look don't have a thick enough clump to form a bun in the first place.)

Why?!

I suspect someone like David Beckham started this. Some sort of soccer requirement. Clump up that loose tuft of hair at the top of the head in case some gust of wind kicks up in the stadium and he gets a red card for giving an opposing player an unwanted hair whipping. But, men, we need to get real. David Beckham can carry off almost anything. He’d be hot in a squirrel costume. We are not David Beckham. We cannot carry off the ponytail stump.

We should know this. As boys, we were told not to play with rubber bands. Clearly, some boys weren’t so compliant. Or perhaps they were and now they are demonstrating a latent need to experiment with elastics.

I’d gladly buy them a geoboard. Anything to keep the rubber bands out of their hair.

Please.

This will not hold up well in one’s personal history. Like crocs and pants that sag down to the knees. I am certain of this. And there will be oodles of incriminating evidence in the form of Instagram and Facebook selfies.

I can hear the children of these men, years from now, looking at pictures of their dads when they actually had hair. But that relatively full head of hear won’t be something the young‘uns marvel at because there will be that overriding distraction. “Uh, dad, why is your hair sticking up at the back in every picture?”

“I meant to do that. It was the fashion.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“It was.” And, god willing, I’ll be there to chime in and say, in a cathartic release, “It wasn’t! It really wasn’t!”

So please, gentlemen, put the rubber bands down. Tame your hair with gobs of goop if you must. It is time to clip the ponytail stump.

If you don’t do it, I may just have to pull out my mother’s scissors. I’m not afraid to use them. My ancestors will cheer me on.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A COSTLY SWIM

Okay, this back-in-the-city thing can be dangerous. I just went for a $183 swim.

Technically, pool admission was only six bucks, but after my laps, I took a stroll down Main Street. Nice day and all that. One wander into a funky clothing store and I coughed up the rest of the tab on four tees. It could have been worse. I tried on eight.

The most I ever spent after a swim in my former small town was the price of milk. All right, milk and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. A bargain outing.

In my decade of rural living, clothing shopping was a ferry away. Good thing, in retrospect. But only when I peek at my bank balance. I do love clothes. And, more than that, I love the unexpected discoveries that come from seeing what a neighborhood has to offer.

Vancouver’s gotten trendier in my absence. Casual wear still rules but retailers have ventured beyond hiking gear and Dockers. As long as I don’t have anyone come up to my condo unit, it doesn’t matter that I still have no furniture. I’ll be stepping out in style. And, really, without a sofa, there’s no reason to sit around on a stool at home.

Still, it would be good to show some restraint. I shan’t swim again until next weekend.