Monday, October 25, 2021

MISSED CONNECTIONS: A MEMOIR IN LETTERS NEVER SENT (Book Review)


By Brian Francis

 

(McClelland & Stewart, 2021)

 

 


 

Sometimes I get stuck on an issue. It turns to all-out perseverating. This is never a good thing. 

 

Get over it!

 

But I don’t. If I could, I would.

 


I tell you this because my take of Brian Francis’s new book, Missed Connections, is tainted. I never got past the premise. Actually, the premise was wonderful. It’s the execution that failed. What was advertised wasn’t what I got. Like those sea-monkeys you could send away for in comic books from my childhood. I’d look at the sea-monkey drawings, pause and ponder spending a week’s allowance on what I knew would turn out to be mini shrimp. Cool. But not swimming, smiling monkeys. Not what the ad showed. Not what I wanted. Sorry, shrimp.

 

Francis explains the premise for his memoir in the book’s introduction. Back in 1992 when he was twenty-one, he shelled out sixty-five dollars for a personal ad to run three times in the local paper which I presume was a weekly publication. (Side note: Sixty-five bucks in 1992?! Yes, it was a lot for someone who was a university student at the time. Heck, it’s more than most single guys invest now. Many of us, me included, balk at paying monthly subscriptions to dating sites, opting instead to accept the annoying inconveniences that come with a free account. Yes, single gays, I’m cheap but, really, I’m a catch. Message me!

 

Francis got twenty-five replies which sounds like hitting pay dirt. (I just might steal the words in his ad for my new and improved profile, a few tweaks to get around messy plagiarism allegations. If you knew me, Brian Francis, you might let it go, considering it an act of charity…assuming you don’t read the rest of this review.) 

 

As he sorted the letters, thirteen went immediately into the No pile. Nonetheless, he saved them, interesting mementos from his early coming out years. 

 

A few years ago, Francis found these unanswered letters and reread them. As he explains:

Where were these thirteen men now? …And had they

ever found love? …I found myself asking, How might 

I reply to them now, writing not from the perspective 

of a wide-eyed youth but from the decidedly more 

wrinkled perspective of a man firmly at the midpoint of 

his life? 

 

No, the author doesn’t don a reporter’s cap and track down these men. How could he when most signed their letters with only a first name, perhaps an alias, one going so far as to create a code for Francis to cryptically respond in yet another newspaper ad? Sigh. We were so much more closeted in 1992. The risks felt greater. Mannerisms, topics of conversation and confidants had to be painstakingly considered.

 

The book is the author’s very much belated reply to each letter, each chapter opening with one letter, followed by Francis’s reply.[1]

 

Again, great premise. If only he’d done that.

 

Admittedly, I wondered how he could turn this idea into a whole book. Each reply averages about fourteen pages. My god, isn’t that a bit creepy as a response to someone whose initial letter basically said some version of, “I’m gay, too. Wanna go for coffee?” It’s true, we were wordier in 1992. Texting and all its abbreviated lingo didn’t exist. It’s astonishing to see that all thirteen communicated in full sentences. Paragraphs even. For a quick comparison, my last three messages on dating apps, in their entirety, are: (1) “Hey dude”; (2) “Good afternoon”; and (3) “Hi there great profile and pictures”. Yoo hoo, Pat Sajak, I’d like to buy a punctuation mark….not picky…period, exclamation (Cool!), or, throw in a beloved ellipsis, and I’m smitten.

 

Time machine, take me back!

 

Really though…a fourteen-page reply? Imagine what coffee would be like with this author. He’d spend ten minutes talking about tying his shoelaces that morning. He wouldn’t roll his eyes if you asked, “Do you come here often?” Hell, no. First, he’d spend five minutes explaining his contextual understanding of here, another three defining often and then—

 

Good god, can’t you fake getting an urgent text telling you Dear Old Aunt Clementine just had another stroke?[2]  Flee! Aunt Clementine needs you!

 

Each letter is an excuse for Francis to talk about himself and his life experiences. Yes, I’m aware that “memoir” is mentioned in the book’s subtitle, but the whole setup of replying to people who responded to his personal ad is contrived. There’s a paragraph, sometimes two[3], addressing Randy M. or Craig or Snuggles—admittedly, I would never respond to that last guy…not even three decades later—but then it’s all The Life of Francis. Sometimes there’d be some relationship between something mentioned in the letter and the author’s memoir topic. In one of the better linked chapters, he tells Liam, who was thirty-four when replying to the personal ad: “Your age was a definite deal-breaker.” Francis then writes about the divide between generations of gay men and his own feelings about growing old.

 

It only takes a few seconds of me looking at a younger

man to think about how I might appear to him. I forget

how much older I am. I forget about the canyon. But 

then the subway passes through a tunnel and my 

reflection suddenly appears in the window and I see

myself as he must see me.

 

Off the radar.

 


Brian Francis is a talented writer. His 2004 young adult coming-of-age novel, Fruit (published in the U.S. as The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington), was very funny with a distinct voice. In this memoir, I found his thoughts about self-esteem, coming out, the AIDS crisis and aging eminently relatable. If he’d written the book as a straightforward memoir, I’d have absorbed his words without distraction. I’d have been spared my perseverating. I’d have settled in with a platter of shrimp, no visions of sea-monkeys swimming around in my head. I have no doubt the premise provided a novelty that appealed to the publisher. It was a way to make this memoir stand out from all the others. Ultimately, the premise feels like a gimmick. I’d read along and the author would every so often arbitrarily mention the letter writer’s name—for example, “I know, Brett, I’m rolling my own eyes”—and I’d wonder, Who the hell is Brett?

 

When it comes to replying to his potential personal ad suitors from yesteryear, the “missed connections” in Missed Connections are the replies themselves. 

  

 

 

 

 

 



[1] If you sent Mr. Francis a gift for his high school graduation, I suspect your thank you note will arrive sometime in the fall of 2022.

[2] I know. Clementine is a lame name to come up with on the spot, but it’s so out there, it’s almost believable, right?

[3] I almost abandoned the book at the beginning of chapter four as the author replies to a letter from eighteen-year-old Sam who’d mentioned he was a part-time model and included photos. Francis writes: “Based on the photos you included with your letter, I think it’s safe to assume your modelling career never took flight…[T]here’s a fine line between dreams and delusions.” Wow. Savage. This is the response from a guy who had serious issues with his own body image. Really, reading this again, I’m kicking myself for the fact that I did continue reading.

Monday, October 18, 2021

DATING ODYSSEY, 2021


It’s enough to get myself psyched up for a coffee date in the best of times. I’m way past the age of feeling jitters. Hope doesn’t pop up much anymore either. The self-talk before heading out is, Just be open. Truly, I try.

 

Most of the time, the guy is decent enough. Sitting down to coffee with a stranger is harmless. It’s often no more exciting than a stilted job interview but, fortunately, I’ve always liked job interviews. Weird, I know. Still, it helps keep me resilient after a string of dud dates.

 

The score since COVID is 0-4. I’ve met four guys in the past six weeks or so. Nothing memorable, nothing to build on. That’s not unusual. What is hard to adjust to is how these coffee dates are different due to the coronavirus. I’m really not liking the new parameters.

 

All four dates have taken place outdoors. I’ve been super careful throughout COVID and I’m not about to not put myself in risky situations. I have my inconsistencies, as I think is the case with most of us, but I’m far more cautious than anyone in my family and most people I know. While I’ve had both vaccine shots and my physical health is great, I wonder about possible long-term issues that may come from getting the virus, even in a mild form. Sitting in a café with a dozen or more unmasked strangers seems totally unnecessary.

 


Outdoor meet-and-greets would have been better in the middle of summer, but it took me months after getting double-vaxxed to muster up the motivation to dive back into online dating. Hello, autumn. This being Vancouver, the rainy season tends to extend through the calendar seasons of fall and winter. Yes, this is just the beginning…

 

Two of the four dates have been all wet, one in pouring rain, the other only in steady rain. Yeesh. It’s hard to make your best impression in raincoats and boots. Who are you under that glorified garbage bag? One poor chap showed up in leather shoes that weren’t weather-appropriate. “Are you sure you want to go for a walk?” I asked. Yes, yes. Very well—not your Mom. It was a go-nowhere date and I have no doubt he drove home cursing and muttering, “I ruined my shoes for that?!”

 

Yes, so sorry. Next time, listen to your mother.

 


My next coffee date was another soggy encounter. I trekked a half hour each way in the rain to meet Jorge, a sweet man from Mexico City. He showed up without an umbrella, the hoodie of his jacket covering even more of his appearance. We stood under an awning, a welcome dry spot where we could figure out how to proceed. Jorge proposed grabbing a drink on a sheltered, heated patio at a nearby pub. As it turned out, we couldn’t go because Jorge had not been vaccinated. (In British Columbia, you have to show proof of vaccination to access non-essential indoor settings.) 

 

“I’m sorry, so sorry,” he said. He showed me an appointment card he’d gotten earlier that day to get his first shot. He explained he’s been holed up in his apartment throughout the pandemic, contemplating life and reflecting on himself. The implication was that he hadn’t stepped out at all. 

 

That’s a lot of contemplation and reflection. Had I missed a reference to Buddhist monk in his profile? I asked, “Did you at least set aside time to make banana bread?” He looked at me quizzically, my humor lost in translation or just not funny. Jokes are always a risk, more so when someone doesn’t know you at all.

 

The vaccination issue abruptly ended our chat. Or maybe he despises banana bread. (If he’d only shared a dislike for banana bread, that would have been something we had in common. Maybe something could have grown from that.) Jorge wasn’t up for a walk. He told me he has chronic health issues. (But no urgency to get vaccinated? Um, okay.) 

 

Perhaps I bear some of the blame for the nonstarter date. Prior to meeting the other guys, I’d asked if they were double vaccinated. I’d neglected to do so with Jorge; if I had, we wouldn’t have met at all—not yet, at least. COVID still has implications on dating. While there are obvious differences, dating during COVID reminds me of meeting guys during the AIDS crisis. Here, with someone you barely know, you’re forced to ask about an otherwise private medical condition due to possible implications. Putting hands over your ears, closing your eyes and humming loudly does not remove you from the current times. Raising the subject is part of staying proactive about your health. Asking Have you been vaccinated? is significantly more informative than What’s your sign? 

 

A couple of days ago, I grabbed coffee with a guy in Whistler. First impression: Nice black mask! Sleek, industrial quality. In the year 2021, is that the basis for physical attraction? 

 

Nice dresser…just look at that mask! 

 

Gosh, I wonder what he’d look like if I got him 

out of his mask! So naughty.  

 


After grabbing our coffees, he chose for us to go for a walk instead of sitting on the patio. (It’s interesting that, on my three dates with vaccinated guys, each of them seemed even more cautious than me.) Rain was in the forecast. My phone indicated a 100% chance at that hour. Still, we walked…and stayed dry! 

 

The masks came off, without any foreplay. Nonetheless, it’s hard to get a feel for whether I was attracted to him with his heavy coat and a baseball cap that he kept on. (He wore a cap in both his profile pics, too.) 

 

Part of a first date is checking the guy out. Really, it was hard to get any impression. I wonder if my shoulder-to-knee coat left much of me cloaked in secrecy, too.

 

Each of these four outings ended with “It was nice meeting you.” (Three out of four, at least. Not sure about Jorge. We stood at a street corner with me hoping he’d stop telling me about his health condition so that he could get back home, warm up and be well.) 

 

I sent no follow-messages; I received none.

 

I’m rather certain the outcome would have been the same even if we’d taken off our coats and sat in a café, gingerly sipping lattes. These were not matches. Still, each of the four dates was shorter than my average indoor coffee date, pre-COVID. I suppose we saved ourselves at least a half hour or an hour’s time meeting in a less cozy environment. It felt less personal, more transactional. There seemed to be a timer running. There was less incentive than ever to share an extended one-off conversation with a stranger. Venturing out is possible again, but connecting continues to have its limits. 

 

The rainy season will only get rainier. The temperatures will drop. I’ve often lamented all the coffee dates I’ve had. I’ve joked that I might have to swear off caffeine. I don’t know if dating in parkas, hoodies, baseball caps and rolling sheets of Plexiglass is my thing. (Okay, no Plexiglass, but that’s probably temporary, supply shortage and all.) 

 


Maybe I can figure out a Plan B. Apparently, I could emulate Jorge and spend more time contemplating and reflecting. 

 

Plan C: If you know anyone in Vancouver that would love MORE banana bread, shoot me an email. With extra time on my hands, I suppose I could become their banana bread dealer.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

WHEN MR. RIGHT BECAME MR. WRONG…AND LESSONS LEARNED


It’s been a few months since running into him. My ex. The one I’d thought would become the great love of my life. I started writing this after all the dreams that followed, but I set it aside. I wanted more distance. He’s popped up in my dreams a couple more times. Same tone, an almost nostalgic sense of our better times; same sense of horror when I awaken. I haven’t allowed myself to savor anything that made me fall in love with him in the first place. In our last years together, my entire focus had been building a wall to create distance and protection. For too long, I’d allowed his good side to slip through cracks, misleading me into trusting and hoping again. 

 

My family and my friends who knew me during that seven-year relationship still know nothing about the abuse I endured. I don’t see any purpose in that. How would they feel to find out they never knew? What might they think of the fact I didn’t reach out while it was happening?

 

I’ve shared some bits with a couple people I’ve met since that time but mostly in general terms. I don’t want to open things up. I don’t want to be judged, probably not so much by them but by myself. I don’t want to feel the shame again. I knew what was wrong with him, but I stayed. What was wrong with me?

 


Something positive came from recently running into my ex. One morning, after yet another unwanted dream with him popping up, all sweet and caring, I got on my bike and pedalled out of the city, through suburb after suburb. I was disturbed that the entire tone of the dream had been loving, that my subconscious was intent on showcasing his kinder side and that it had taken so long for me to bolt upright in bed, calling an end to this glossy, fairy-tale version of us.

 

The ride offered a chance to try to work things through without reaching for the distraction of something on the internet or retreating to the numbing comfort of a bag of microwave popcorn or a stack of blueberry pancakes.

 

I’ve often reflected on my relationships, trying to pinpoint the things I’d done wrong or could have done better. When reflecting, I focus on my actions and inactions since that’s what is within my control. That’s where I can learn and grow. I’m a big believer in the notion that “history repeats itself.” I feel that, being acutely aware of past lessons, I have a better chance in a future relationship, nixing any repeating cycle. 

 

As I pedalled, I began with safer subject matter. I went through the lessons from the other three relationships when I fell in love. Yes, I knew my mistakes. I was relieved that these mistakes were different in each case. I’m (fairly) confident I have grown and can continue to grow from lessons learned.

 


Then I allowed myself to consider the relationship that turned out to be abusive. Never an easy reflection. It began, as always, as a destructive rather than constructive exercise. Friendly fire. As I rode farther, I grew tired of beating myself up once more. Blaming myself for staying in that relationship was an old tune I knew by heart. That’s part of the relationship’s legacy, the nagging sense that I’d been weak, pathetic, a doormat. Why had I allowed the abuse? 

 

When you’re repeatedly called useless, the defenses break down. It sinks in. It becomes who you are.

 

Then my thinking shifted. Fuck blame. Fuck shame.

 

Somewhere on my ride between Port Moody and Belcarra, I had an epiphany. The demise wasn’t my doing at all. I had loved as much as I possibly could. I’d fully committed. I’d been loyal and supportive. Adhering to “for better or for worse” had been my downfall. I’d perhaps had too much faith, thinking that “worst” would change course, that we could ride it out.

 

Still, I tried to pinpoint my faults. What were all the things I had done wrong? This is normally a simple exercise. I’m a master at finding fault in myself. One psychiatrist I saw weekly for many months declared on several occasions that I was at a genius level in terms of putting myself down. (Um…thanks?) 

 

No fault this time. I felt elated. Maybe I’d finally discovered that elusive euphoria people always talk about when endorphins kick in during exercise. Maybe I’d just never pedalled hard enough. But no. That was just my reflex response, dismissing the epiphany. My endorphins will always be dormant. What was suddenly clear to me was that the undoing of my longest relationship had not been my doing in any way. In fact, I allowed myself to think of all the things I’d done right. (I won’t go through them here. It’s one thing for me to take a break from putting myself down; it’s quite another to openly praise myself.) 

 

For the first nine months of our relationship, absolutely everything was pure bliss. I’d fallen in love as I should have. We were fully in sync. I didn’t change; he did. I remember the morning he finally let the cracks show. When the tirade ended and he left, I drove to a beach and walked back and forth along the shore, feeling scared and shocked, trying to figure out what I had done wrong because this man I loved could not have snapped for no reason. I had no answers, but I decided to stick with him because that’s what you do in a committed relationship.

 


“What’s wrong with me?” has been a familiar refrain over the decades. My parents have been married for sixty-one years, my sister for thirty-six, my brother for thirty-two. My best friend has been married for thirty-two years as well, my next closest friends for twenty-six and twenty-seven years. Facebook shows me anniversary pics of others along with Valentine’s celebrations and declarations of devotion and appreciation whenever it’s a spouse’s birthday. I am happy for them, but there’s always a sting. They succeeded in a loving relationship. Obviously, I didn’t.  

 

I know I did all the right things. I was just as loving, just as loyal, just as committed as these people. It was just with the wrong guy. I stuck with him because that’s the way I’ve always heard it should be, that’s what I saw all around me. 

 

You stick with it. You work things out.

 

It cost me dearly. I was thirty-two when I fell in love with him. For gay men, I feel the thirties are when the time is ripe to settle down. My generation often came out later and the twenties were about messy exploration. Indeed, the first time I fell in love, I was twenty-six and I made plenty of cringe-worthy mistakes, things I can shake my head over or laugh about. It was the equivalent to a much-belated high school or college romance, destined to be a steppingstone to something more mature and secure. The love that followed, still in my twenties, was another that helped ready me for something more. These relationships, along with my own personal growth, prepped me for the relationship I walked into at thirty-two.

 

It was you; not me.

 

My epiphany is bittersweet. I’m a single man, but I have a clearer, even fairer, understanding of how I got here. It’s late in coming and it’s accompanied by a sense of regret. I was as committed and loving as any of my friends and family members who are still in relationships. I gave up my thirties to this man and then, due to the abuse, I retreated to a rural setting for ten years, effectively taking myself out of consideration for a viable partnership. Taken together, the wrong guy and then the wrong place sucked up almost two decades of my life, notably “prime time” for romance. 

 

Sometimes you put all you’ve got into a relationship. You love as largely as you possibly can. You keep reminding yourself of that damn vow, “for better or worse” and, because you don’t want to fail, you add on “or worse than worse.” You believe and then you believe again. And again. 

 


Yes, sometimes it’s an evil prince that pops up in the fairy tale. Sometimes hope and belief are misplaced. Sometimes you can’t wring a happily ever after out of the relationship in which you invested the most and gave your all. Sometimes being out of a relationship is the best thing that can possibly happen. Sometimes being safe is the best way to end the story.

Monday, October 4, 2021

THE GUNCLE (Book Review)


By Steven Rowley

 

(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021)


 

So often, comedy goes unrewarded. I’m in hysterics whenever I watch “Best in Show,” a mockumentary about dog shows, starring Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey and Christopher Guest. Oscar nominations? Zero. I worry the neighbors will make a noise complaint to the police as I roar with laughter watching Steve Martin and John Candy play off one another in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” No Oscar love. The Academy honored Martin with an honorary Oscar in 2013 despite never nominating him for any of his film roles. I know the common stance: comedies aren’t that kind of movie. As if being funny is effortless, as if we should shrug and take it for granted.

 

When I say that Steven Rowley’s The Guncle is a fun read, I mean that with the highest regard. He is supremely talented in writing humor. The quips and the antics hold strong throughout the book’s more than three hundred pages.

 

The Guncle is the story of Patrick O’Hara, a forty-three-year-old gay actor, very out and very out of touch with the career that’s allowed him to live comfortably and carefree in Palm Springs. Patrick won a Golden Globe as a sitcom star, but the show finished its run and he, well, ran. That was four years ago, an eternity in Hollywood. Something has kept him away, from his career and life.

 

When his best friend, Sara, dies after a battle with cancer (this is not a spoiler; we know this by the third page of the first chapter), Patrick flies to Connecticut for the funeral and to be with brother, Greg, who happens to have married Sara. I’ll admit that all this connectedness struck me as too convenient for the plot. Yeah, right. I went with it because, contrived or not, it sets things up beautifully.

 

Greg requests that his brother take care of the two kids, Maisie and Grant (ages nine and six), for the three months of summer while Greg gets his act together. Patrick, Mr. No Responsibilities, balks. How the hell would he fit his niece and nephew into his cocktail-abundant Palm Springs life in a plush home never intended for kids as guests much less as inhabitants? 

 

As we see from the outset, Patrick has no business being a stand-in parent:

 

He takes the kids to brunch—horrified that that’s not a thing for them—and breaks it to them that he isn’t going to take them. (Who does that?!) Young Grant asks, “Why do you live in Palm Spwings? Why do you live tho far away?” Patrick explains: “[I]f you must know, I’m young in Palm Springs. Okay? This is the sad truth for gay men. Forty is ancient in Los Angeles, middle-aged in San Francisco, but young in Palm Springs. That’s why I live there.”

 

“You’re forty-three!” Maisie bellowed.

“Who are you, the DMV? Lower your voice.”

 

“That’s almost fifty!” Grant’s eyes grew big.

 

Patrick took the jab, then closed his eyes and bit his lower lip, the observation just shy of a hate crime. Do not punch a child, do not punch a child. “Can we please focus?”

 

Of course, no becomes yes, perhaps for the wrong reasons. I’ll just say that sibling rivalries can make people do crazy things. 

 

Patrick’s way of parenting is, no surprise, unorthodox. He isn’t used to being around children and he does little to edit himself, still drinking, still swearing, still inserting snappy references which fly over the children’s heads. I’m not going to look up the specific quotes, but Maisie often asks, “What are you even saying?” while Grant says, “You talk funny.” Indeed, Patrick drops so many movie references and Oscar Wilde quotes that adults (characters and readers, including myself) don’t always know what Patrick is saying.

 

It’s my understanding that, being a guncle, you get to be the fun relative in the lives of nieces and nephews. Obviously, Patrick’s got that in spades. It’s an interesting premise when he has to shift (somewhat, at least) from guncling to parenting. There are times when the humor seems inappropriate, even for Patrick O’Hara. As Rowley adds deeper layers to the story, his main character resists and almost sabotages his writer. Some of the potency doesn’t quite land. In some ways, that’s all right. A story involving how to cope with the death of your best friend—not to mention the children’s mother—can get melodramatic. No risk of that here. Still, there are grays, something in between, a sweet spot, which The Guncle orbits around. 

 

I’ve known many a Patrick O’Hara when I’ve been more connected to gay circles. They may seem like caricatures—old, campy queens, as they were once known—but they are still around and, in small doses, at least, they are a riot. Often, I’ve sat at coffee or stood in a bar around one or two Patricks and been in awe, not wanting to be them, but at least wishing I could keep up. How do they stay so ON all the time? 

 

I’m surprised that the main character didn’t wear on me after the first hundred pages. Steven Rowley is just that skilled as a writer to make a would-be shell of a character something more and someone whose every comment and action entertains. 


How good is the writing? It’s so jam-packed with humor, I look forward to a second read to laugh and smile again at certain passages and to discover funny bits I glossed over the first time. When Rowley writes almost as a throwaway sentence, “Guest smiled and waved as Patrick weaved through the crowd, many hugged him tight and declared some version of Where have you been?, each putting their emphasis on a different word in the question,” I had to stop, channel my inner Chandler Bing and pose the question with different emphases as well. Again, a FUN read. 

 


As well, Rowley has done the impossible for me personally. I lived in Los Angeles for five years and friends often went to Palm Springs for weekend getaways and the annual White Party. The idea going along was always a firm HELL, NO for me: too hot, too gay. People would tell me, “But they have misters everywhere,” meaning little showerheads or something that spritz water on you to keep you cool and refreshed. (Or did “misters” really refer to older men?!) I’ve had several friends move to Palm Springs and privately mourned. Looks like I’ll never see him again. Why didn’t he move to Pittsburgh? Rowley regularly mentions the heat in his setting (where he, incidentally, lives), but the descriptions and the places named had me Googling—Ooh, The Parker hotel!—and wondering which month would be best for a heat-intolerant gay like me to finally pay a visit. 

 

Imagine that…a fun read that may reconnect me with old friends. That’s quite something to pull off, Steven Rowley. Bravo!

Friday, October 1, 2021

BELLS AREN'T RINGING


As per my last post, it should be no surprise that I didn’t remember a so-so date from at least six years ago with Mr. Ten-Year-Old Photos. That guy seems stuck in the past, but I typically have only fuzzy recollections of things that have brought me to where I am today. It amazes me when someone writes a memoir detailing not just decade-old conversations, but the color of their date’s socks and the patterns of drapes in the hallway they momentarily passed through. Good god. Embellish much?

 


Really, why would a so-so date linger? My brain has to be brutally selective in what it holds onto because I can’t go freeing up space by chucking random facts I yell at the TV while watching “Jeopardy,” even if such “facts” regularly put me in negative territory. I didn’t want to play Final Jeopardy anyway! (“I’ll take Sore Losers for $1,000, Alex.[1]”)  

 

As I searched “Victoria” on my blog for any mention of Mr. So-So, other posts came up. Pre-COVID, I went to Victoria a couple times a year. I skimmed but didn’t feel like reading them since that wasn’t my purpose. But then I came upon a December 2014 coffee date with another guy, Saul, who’d just moved to Vancouver from Victoria. 

 

Now THAT was a coffee date! 

 


There was something adorable about Saul. I could tell from what I’d written that we’d clicked. The coffee date continued and evolved into dinner and, during dinner, “I reached my hand across the table and held his.”

 

WHAT?! 

 

I like physical affection, but it’s hard for me to do in public. Maybe things would have been different if I’d made a habit of that early on, but my high school years in East Texas didn’t involve dating a girl, exchanging class rings, letting her wear my letter jacket and fawning all over each other in the courtyard like everyone else seemed to do as a rite of passage. Later, after escaping Texas, I still feared I’d be gay-bashed if I held hands with a guy or so much as pinkie-swapped. For me to take initiative and hold a guy’s hand—ON A FIRST DATE!—well, I’m glad I wrote that down because otherwise I’d say that could never have happened. Pure fabrication like the pattern of those hallway drapes from yesteryear.

 

And that’s the thing. Did it happen? 

 


Not just the hand holding but the entire first date. Logically, I know it did. I could never have made up that date. I’d have never put in the hand holding moment because I would have known it defied credibility. Fictional me would have to be something like me; otherwise, I’d just post shirtless shots of Matt Bomer, saying I’m his doppelganger and writing about my orgies with at least five of People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive. (I’d uses aliases, of course. Names like, oh…Bryan Reynolds and Huey Rackman and Ritchie Gear.[2])

 

I LOVED rereading the account of my delightful date with Saul, but I don’t remember anything at all about that. Being as it was a hand-holding first date, it should be in my personal dating Hall of Fame. (What a sad hall of fame that would be. Most definitely not a hall; more appropriately, the back corner of a shelf, perhaps in my fridge beside that four-year-old jar of sauerkraut.) 

 

What makes recalling Saul more challenging beyond that fact I seem to have a generally faulty memory—I’ll admit to now feeling a tad panicky—is that I never use people’s actual names when I blog. Just like with “Huey Rackman,” I don’t get ridiculous about it. These aren’t Russian spies I’m writing about. (Not knowingly, anyway.) I don’t rename George as Bubba and I don’t rechristen Al as Engelbert.[3] Usually, the name I use rhymes or begins with the same first letter but, in this case, “Paul” didn’t ring any bells either. U-Haul?! (No parent would be that cruel, even if that’s where the kid was conceived.) Running through the list of “S” list from Sacha to Sylvester got me nowhere.[4] Not Saul but…

 

Stumped.

 

I read subsequent blog posts. I needed Saul, Part 2. Saul cannot be a one-date guy.

 

But he was. 

 

He got a mention two weeks later when I wrote, “Despite a good start, I expect nothing more to come of it. The occasional message becomes more detached. I’m not as interested and, no doubt, neither is he.” These are saving face words. You can’t fire me; I quit. Sure, if you say so.

 

I don’t know if I was crestfallen then, but I am now. He wasn’t “the one that got away,” but he was certainly one that got away. Perhaps I knew it at the time. Perhaps repressed memory was my best way of coping.





 



[1] RIP, Mr. Trebek, in my mind, the one and only host.

[2] Blake Shelton? Seriously?! 2017 was unlucky enough to host Trump’s inauguration. “Sexy” Blake adds insult to injury. 2017 is still waiting on that retraction, People.

[3] Makes me think of all those celebrities who thought they had to change their names for a shot at becoming famous, e.g., Marilyn Monroe, née Norma Jean Mortenson; Rock Hudson, née Roy Harold Scherer, Jr.; Elmo née Red Sock. (I made up that last one just to see if anyone other than me reads footnotes.) Seriously, if Engelbert Humperdink can have a successful music career, there are no name barriers, unless your sadist parents have a certain last name and put “Adolf, Jr.” on your birth certificate.

[4] If anyone knows a decent single gay guy named Shaw, shoot me an email. I would DEFINITELY hold hands with a guy named Shaw on a first date. If he let me. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

HAVE WE MET BEFORE?


At first blush, it sounds self-absorbed for me to say I’ve been reading a few of my old blog posts over the last twenty-four hours. Is that like spending a day gazing at all your selfies? (Okay, I had to do that too, but I limited it to twenty minutes. I’ve got an article that’s supposed to get published and they need a photo of me. Made me realize I don’t have anything other than selfies, in part because I’m too embarrassed to ask anyone to take my photo, but also because I do most things on my own. Not a sad thing. I enjoy Me Time.) I’m telling myself it’s okay to reread some of my blog writing. People can spend afternoons looking through old photos or reading past journal entries. Let laughs and horror abound. 

 


I waded through past posts for a reason. I’d received another “Someone Likes You” notification from online dating site Plenty of Fish and, when I looked at the profile, the pics seemed vaguely familiar. Do I know you? 

 

I recognized that he was one of those longtime fishermen on the site. (Hey, me too.) Sadly, this was confirmed as I clicked on each of the five photos he’d included. He’d gone through the trouble of giving each one a caption to provide some context. Good move, generally speaking. It shows more attention to creating a profile than most guys. Unfortunately, his photo captions included the date of each photo as well. 2009. 2009. 2010. 2011. 2009.

 

Okay, mister, what do you look like nowadays?

 

Many of us would like to believe that we are ageless. Surely there’s no difference between fifty-six-year-old me and forty-six-year-old me. Heck, maybe I even look younger. (My hair stylist, Melanie, can do wonders!) Even if I can’t see the signs of aging when I look in the mirror, I know others do. Compared to a decade ago, I get called “sir” so much more. If Queen Elizabeth had knighted me, I’d be okay with it but, that not being the case, it rattles me every time. Good god! What is it they’re seeing? (Note to self: Get Melanie to dye my graying sideburns.)

 


Later in the day, I logged into another site. It’s for hookups. I’d set up an account when I decided my 2020 New Year’s resolution was to loosen up sexually. As with most resolutions, there was a flashy start—I’m doing this!—then nothing. I’ll blame COVID. (Sometimes a pandemic comes in handy.) Whenever I see a message on this site, I panic. I can tell myself that a quickie would be good for me, but the only reason I’d want to drop to my knees immediately upon entering a stranger’s home is if I’d lost a contact. (Heck, that would be awkward enough.) The guy who liked me on POF sent me a message on the smutty site, too. 

 

Isn’t this a little stalker-ish? Keep it to one platform, please.

 

The message was lengthy, squirmy Either/Or blend: Let’s date…or let’s just meet and do these (very) specific sexual things. What a mess.

 

The message also confirmed that I did know him. We’d gone on a coffee date at some point more than six years ago based on information he recalled which was, in fact, a lot: where we’d had coffee, things I was writing, other parts of our conversation.

 

If it was ringing any bells, the sound was faint. I now had a foggy image of us having coffee on Granville Island. I have some sense that he was okay. He liked me, but I felt relief that he lived in Victoria which meant he wouldn’t be in Vancouver all that often. He would have had to be much more than “okay” for each of us to be coordinating ferry rides to the city. 

 

Still, I was curious to get a clearer account of that previous date so I blog-checked him. I’ve written about so many dates. I did a quick search of “Granville Island,” another on “Victoria.” Posts came up but nothing about him. 

 

He wasn’t blog-worthy. 

 

That confirms he was indeed okay. Not a horrendous coffee date which is always oh so bloggable and not a hopeful coffee date that I might blog…unless I didn’t want to jinx things. If it were that great, a blog tour would have been unnecessary. I would have remembered, even with the fuzzy brain of a guy who is frequently called sir.

Monday, September 20, 2021

SHAKING THE DUST OFF OF DATING


I’ve joked many times that I’ve met so many guys for coffee from online dating sites, that I might have to switch to tea. At what point does coffee leave such a bitter aftertaste that it can’t be sweetened by a dozen packets of sugar? (Or stevia, if that’s your thing.)

 

I’ve gone on two post-vaccination meet-and-greets with guys from Plenty of Fish. No coffee. For the first one, everything was perfectly pleasant, but I knew we weren’t a match, not as boyfriends, not as friends. 

 


On Friday evening, I met John under a strange art installation that looks to me like a bicycle seat. (Vancouver’s public art is hit and miss, mostly miss.) If nothing else, the thing offered shelter. It had poured rain all day and things hadn’t let up by 6 p.m. The plan had been to maybe grab a drink—John had suggested tea—and walk part of the seawall. What Vancouver lacks in art, it more than makes up for in natural beauty. There was a café still open right by the bike seat thingy, plenty of covered outdoor seating. John didn’t want to sit or grab a drink. Instead, we would walk in the rain. All good. I had my umbrella, my Rains jacket and my waterproof Vessa shoes. (No, I’m not getting paid for product placement.) John’s shoes were definitely not water resistant, but he said he was fine. His mother would not have been pleased but okey dokey.

 


This was a date I knew we’d both been looking forward to. Sometimes you just get a good sense of things through the messages exchanged leading up to meeting. His profile had full paragraphs. (That’s not so hard, guys. Make the effort!) He’d included a quote above his profile and said, “Bonus points if you can identify its source.” In the Google world, that seemed too easy. I felt it was more fun to go old-school and use my imagination so my guess was Grover from “Sesame Street” and, if not him, then his Muppet colleague, Animal.

 

I should mention that John’s profile also mentioned he was an elementary school teacher and one of his photos was a crayon portrait drawn by a student.

 


John LOVED my reference. Incidentally, the quote was from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a 1953 movie starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. I know I’m supposed to have seen this flick since it’s the one in which Marilyn sings “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” that’s scene Madonna pays homage to in “Material Girl.” I’m a bad gay. Lance Bass and a drag queen named Benny Boop just came to my door and took away my Pride flag. (What? You really think Lance had anything else to do? He was very apologetic—a gig’s a gig—and politely asked that I sign the online petition for an NSYNC reunion.)

 

I figured John and I would have plenty to talk about since we’d both spent many years working in elementary schools. With the school year just starting, he would have some amusing and precious stories about the kids and I could be a sympathetic ear to listen about how exhausted he felt getting back into it. (The first month is always rewarding but also somewhat painful as the pace is so sloooow, introducing all the routines and fielding kids’ questions about whether they can use their brand-new back-to-school purple pens and glitter glue for all assignments.)

 

We walked. We talked. Both of us had our jeans soaked through from below the knee. John’s shoes reached that sad level of sogginess unbecoming to even an abandoned bowl of Cheerios.

 

Nothing connected. 

 

He’d ask a question. I’d answer. I’d ask a question. He’d answer. There were obvious follow-up questions, but neither of us went there. There was nothing terrible about it. No friction. No coldness. Altogether, it was a forty-five-minute shrug. 

 

Maybe caffeine matters.

 

I had a very nice coffee the next morning. No bitterness, no sugar added. My drink of choice remains unspoiled, my favorite cafés remain unharmed. 

 


I’m hoping that, on my next meet-and-greet, I feel something…like when I view that giant bicycle seat (or whatever it is) art piece. Feeling good would be great, but bad wouldn’t be so awful at this point. Something needs to register or why bother? 

 

Maybe some of us are rusty at the dating game after all those months masked and locked down. Maybe that long, long pause offered new perspective. Maybe we realized that dating isn’t that much of a need anymore.  

 

I just logged in again to Plenty of Fish. No message from John. (Whew. That would have been awkward.) I noticed there’s a guy with “bomber” in his profile name—um, what?—and I have a message from chase_booty (Full text: “Hello Handsom”). 

 

Yeah, lockdown wasn’t all that bad.