Wednesday, May 11, 2016

RESERVATIONS FOR TWO


Recently I responded to an online profile of a guy who wanted someone who, among other things, loved to laugh. That amused me. Reminded me of old cliché personal ads that invariably sought a person who liked long walks by the beach. Shouldn’t a profile narrow things down a bit? You know,…be personal. Who doesn’t love to laugh? (The guy never replied to my message. I’ll have to laugh it off.)

I’ve heard it stated many times that everybody thinks he’s funny when few are. But, if it’s not all-out, bust-your-gut-and-snort guffaws, can’t we all reach some sort of light-heartedness at-will?

I ask this because it’s rare that I feel funny on any of my innumerable first coffee dates. And the other guy isn’t humorous either. These meet-and-greets have become too serious. Not gloomy like a funeral, but smile-free. I’m not sure if the last three guys I met even had teeth. (It’s coffee, remember? I just assumed that skipping scones was about watching one’s weight.)

We sit and talk politely. He’s nice, I’m nice. Everything is perfectly pleasant. I think back to the city planner I went out with a few times in December. We dug into some heady issues and found ourselves agreeing on most but the conversation was an exercise in academia. We’d both had far too many years of schooling. We’d excelled in that realm. He’d even been a professor. I recall his talking points feeling like they’d been extracted from a lecture. I was supposed to admire them as sage nuggets from a smartypants. I should not have been surprised when, after the third date, he said he felt no spark. I didn’t either. The difference was that I hadn’t ruled it out. I didn’t think we’d let down our guard yet.

And last month I got another “no spark” assessment. We’d been so chatty. But, again, the conversation had all been in a safe zone. So much talk about topics related to work and workouts. Comfortable. Pleasant. Nothing more.

In both situations, I am certain that neither of us laughed even once. After forty (and, yes, even more so after fifty), people who’ve found themselves single once more have experienced a fair share of rejections. (Maybe even an excess of it!) We’re seasoned enough to no longer have first date jitters. For example, I no longer worry about a layer of sweat oozing its way down my forehead and spreading from my armpits. I don’t even think of slipping a towel in my backpack.

But these dates have become routine. Not rehearsed, but the topics rarely stray from the familiar. How do sparks arise when we play it safe? We’re reserved. Too guarded. No wild swings and misses, but no home runs either. So we come off as swell. That’s not what anyone is looking for.

Ooh, I met this guy and he’s swell! He could be The One.

No wonder someone would put “likes to laugh” in a dating profile. We may all like it, but humor is risky. I’m not talking about unpacking an offensive joke. Witticisms, sarcasm and bemusements can miss the mark when we’re unfamiliar with the teller’s tone and nature. The humor can fall flat. So we don’t go there.

I’m not sure how to break what has become a bad habit. Yes, being pleasant is a bad habit when dating. I should save that for the lady at the bakery who has the power to give me the corner cinnamon bun, the one that is stickier and slightly bigger than all the others. That’s when pleasantness pays! I’ve got to figure out how to infuse some light-heartedness, maybe even some playfulness on that next first coffee. It could fail. It could repel. But there is no gaining ground staying in The Safe Zone. If I fail, I can laugh at myself the whole way home. Laughter for one is better than reservations from two.

Monday, May 9, 2016

SAME OL' FISHING HOLE


Go ahead, my inner voice says. Try again.

Hard to know if that's an entreaty or a taunt. But it's been a full week since the last dud of a date. Time to make the rounds.

I log in on Plenty of Fish first. No messages. Two views. No. And no. So I'll have to dig up something myself. I could try my saved search criteria: between 41 and 55, within 50 miles of Vancouver. I know what that will turn up. Same thumbnails, some of whom I messaged in yesteryear, some I even gambled on and met for coffee with typical slot machine results: cherry, cherry, lemon. Makes a tasty summer beverage but lousy date. Most of the profiles I've passed over countless times. There's a point when you know it's pointless.

I dare to glance at the New Users link. Has it always been there? I suppose I've unconsciously trained myself to look past it, like the pop-up ads. I learned years ago to avoid the newbies. These guys are testing the waters. Just looking. Maybe still bruised from a fresh breakup, maybe not even officially broken up. Even the new guys who are fully ready to dive into the Fish pool are off-limits. They have too many options. They are fresh bait. All of the seasoned Fish want a taste. The newbies are primed to get the most messages they'll ever get. They are inclined to keep looking ahead at the next message and the next. No chance of getting reeled in. Maybe it doesn't reflect a high opinion of myself, but I need a guy who is starting to smell fishy in that rotting sort of way. Dejected. Disillusioned. Expectations drastically lowered. My kind of guy.

Go ahead, my inner voice goads. And so I click New Users. Show me some fresh Fish.
Halfway through the second page, I am staring at overly familiar faces. “New” is such a relative term. The gay Vancouver dating pool is stagnant, a thick layer of scum at the surface.

I scroll up again. One new face warrants a second look, even a click to read the full profile. He’s 43. Photos look good—none of those distant shots where you can barely see the face. He’s got a long list of the kinds of things he’s looking for in a guy.


Okay, I’m not a golfer, unless there are tiny windmills on the course. But a score of 14 out of 15 ain’t bad. Above par. Or is it below par? Again, not a golfer. I type a message—carefree, with a bit of wit. And right after pressing Send, Plenty of Fish flashes what feels like a No Confidence vote: “Message Sent! We strongly recommend that you look at the following users as well.” These sites aren’t interested in matching people up successfully. It’s all about clicking and maximizing page views. A business, not a service. I shall not be lured. I log off.

I log in at OkCupid next. I’ve committed to doing the rounds so I need to at least check in. Four visitors since yesterday. New York City, Oslo, Memphis…apparently a layer of scum forming on gay pools is an international phenomenon. There is one visitor from Vancouver. I recognize the user name if not the photo. The thumbnail photo depicts his face sticking out from the center of what looks like a giant rhubarb leaf. Maybe a great pic for a Facebook post but the most flattering shot on a dating site. (Or what if it is?!) This guy has messaged me before on Plenty of Fish and on OkCupid. I’m still not interested, but I make a mental note to pick up some rhubarb at Whole Foods. It’s in season and tasty when cooked with a generous amount of sugar.

I’m not up for another search. One message sent and now I’m spent. (Besides, I’ve got that rhubarb craving.) Let a few days pass. Give it another go on the weekend if The Golfer isn’t looking for a caddy. No “A for effort” today. C- maybe. It’s a bump above failing. Maybe next week I’ll think about moving to Memphis. Or Norway.

Friday, May 6, 2016

TWELFTH NIGHT


Somehow I’d managed to forget the first eleven dates. I suspect they were duly forgettable. How else could I explain Brad’s twelfth date appearance on what was actually a first date? More accurately, it seemed like the kind of get-up you wear twelve years into a relationship, but I couldn’t possibly forget such a chunk of time. Not even with a guy like Brad.

His entire outfit looked like it was ready for the thrift store…or maybe that’s where he got it. The shoes were the worst. Overworn dad shoes, a cross between a hiking boots and slippers. Hideous. Practical for walking the dog—in the dark, on a deserted street—but not first impression material. My commitment to fashion consciousness may be waning but even I know you have to pick out something other than the 70% Off bargain you scored at a Polo factory outlet store…fifteen years ago.

Harsh, I know, but the first coffee is not the time to flash your I-don’t-care attitude. Save it for your coworkers, the ones who got you a Safeway cake with too much blue icing for your last birthday, one of whom keeps eating your peanut butter and banana sandwich in the staff fridge. Let them have to stare at the discount shirt eight hours a day at least once a week—twice if you really want to send them a middle finger. (They’re eating your lunch, after all!)

But Brad doesn’t work at an office. As he told me, “I’m a realtor. When I have clients. Otherwise, I guess I’m unemployed.” Too honest. This I-don’t-care vibe can be so off-putting.

In retrospect, I suppose I pissed him off at “Hello.” He’d shown up with his new puppy and I crouched down to pat Rowley before shaking hands with Brad. It’s a puppy! A golden retriever! It was only once I got eye level with Brad that I realized my own first faux pas. Rowley wore one of those Guide Dog in Training vests. I was supposed to ask for permission. Wait until the pooch was sitting and totally connected with its master. Oh, but a puppy! So cute! I apologized. Profusely. Brad shrugged it off. Clearly he’d already encountered plenty of stupid people like me. Vancouver is such a dog city.

Come on, smokers. You can do better.
We walked half a block. That’s as far as Rowley wanted to go. (Smart dog. He knew this date wasn’t going anywhere.) We sat on a low concrete wall as Brad tried to keep Rowley from putting cigarette butts in his mouth. (Rowley’s mouth, not Brad’s. To be clear, the dog was only beginning training.) The conversation crawled achingly along. Rowley insisted on being the primary focus. When he wasn’t trying to satisfy nicotine cravings, he barked repeatedly and tried to jump up on Brad. I didn’t mind. What can you expect from a twelve-week-old pup? And, of course, I’d established a primary orientation toward Rowley from the outset. Golden retriever! Puppy! Twelve weeks old! Even Ryan Reynolds would play second fiddle.

“Have you had dinner yet?” Brad asked.

“No,” I said. Nothing more. Even if I wanted to extend our twelfth date, it wasn’t practical. Rowley was barking plenty. Just because a guide dog can go in a restaurant doesn’t mean it should. As much as I love dogs, even I know that. Even in a dog city.

Then it was Brad’s turn to bark. “Stop it, Rowley! You’re getting on my nerves.”
And just like that, I was done. You bring your dog at your own peril. A dog can misbehave, but the owner can’t. 

“I think Rowley needs to go home,” I said. “He just needs some attention. So adorable!”
I told the dog to sit. I waited for eye contact. “Good dog, “ I said. “Such a good dog.” I needed Rowley to hear that. The three of us walked the half block back to Starbucks. Brad and I exchanged obligatory “Nice to meet yous” and then we parted ways.

As I walked home, an initial sense of indifference evolved into gratitude. Mr. Date #12 was out of sight, gone for good. I surveyed myself as I waited for a signal to turn green. Yes, I hadn’t gotten my dates crossed. I’d thought about what to wear. Classic casual punctuated with a sense of fun from my light blue Chuck Taylors. Every stitch of clothing was bought in the last six months (and nothing from an outlet mall). I’d even ironed! I’d shown up in first-date mode and departed with the satisfaction that I’d been spared eleven more. In no time, even the first will be forgotten.




Tuesday, May 3, 2016

FAREWELL TO THE IRON AGE


As I ride the ferry to work, I glance down at my shirt. No coffee spills. (It’s sad that I view that as an achievement. Sadder that it’s bound to be temporary.) When did I start wearing t-shirts to work? It’s not even casual Friday.

I’m a school principal. I’m supposed to wear a dress shirt and tie. And a blazer or a suit. Okay, I’ve never been a suit. When I worked in larger school districts, I’d see them all arrive at management meetings, dressed formally yet immediately draping their jackets on the back of their chairs. What’s the point? I’m too practical for that. When I head back to my school, I don’t spend much time in my office. I’m sitting on the carpet with groups of children, coaxing unskilled students off the bench to learn dribbling skills and traipsing through sand and gravel to marvel at the civilizations children have imagined outside with branches and pine cones.

I can justify the t-shirt. It has the school logo on it. All students and staff have one. It’s harder to justify all the wrinkles. I used to iron everything. (Okay, not socks and underwear. That would be silly.) When no-iron dress shirts appeared in department stores, I scoffed. Lower quality. For divorced men with caveman brains who believe ironing is women’s work.

I wear iron-free shirts now. When I’m not wearing wrinkled school tees. Haven’t worn a tie in months. There really is no one to impress.

Perhaps it’s freeing not to care. But I feel a sense of alarm. Is this a sign of aging? First, it’s wrinkles on a shirt; then, it’s wrinkles that can’t be ironed away, even if I bothered. And there’s more to come.

Untamed bushy eyebrows.

Knee-high brown socks with sandals.

Crocs. In bright green. Worn with anything. Matching doesn’t matter.

Gaudy Bermuda shorts that couldn’t possibly match anything. (Good thing it doesn’t matter.) They’re a thrift store bargain. So what if the pocket linings have holes in them.

Fanny packs. A logical response to having cheap shorts with holes in the pockets.

I need to stop there. No doubt it gets worse, but I’ve seen the future. Ain’t pretty, indeed.

And to think it all started with a wrinkly school t-shirt.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

MORE & LESS


It's still a few hours until the coffee date. Another one. Not with Brad. This is a first. There have been loads of firsts. Enough for baristas to start mocking me.

"Grande Nonfat Latte's back. The other guy keeps checking his phone. I give them eighteen minutes."

"Should've just ordered a tall."

I ought to have the conversational routine down by now. Funny anecdotes. An obscure literary reference to feign intelligence. Neck stretch warm ups to prepare for generous head nodding. But I'm always unprepared. I'm determined to be authentic. Let each conversation unfold--and unravel--on its own demerits.

There is more at stake as years pass and I continue to have coffee experiences with an indistinct aftertaste. Hints of lemon and oak and casual rejection. Time ticks. I’m 51. The wrinkles will become more prominent. The belly won’t stay tucked in forever. I’m past prime and still searching. Am I stuck in the discount bin with a pile of irregulars? The “As Is” sign sends passersby into a quick jog.

A year back in Vancouver and I’ve already worn out my welcome. Plenty of Fish has a “Meet Me” page where a stream of profiles pop up and you click Yes, No or Maybe. When I checked today, the message said, “Sorry—our Meet Me list shows you users we’ve specifically chosen for you! Sometimes, this list runs out.” This was a hunch I didn’t want confirmed.

It’s all up to this one coffee with Brad. Guy with a new pup. I’m hoping he’ll bring him. Dogs always like me. At least that’ll be something.

There’s less at stake, too. With rejection comes restraint and resignation. Any newness to dating has worn away. The nerves aren’t there either. If I get that it’s-been-nice-meeting-you vibe, I can shrug it off on the way home. I got to pat a dog. Hurrah.

There’s still time to work myself up into a positive, hopeful state. That will come on the half-hour walk to his local Starbucks. Haven’t had a first coffee at that location in ages. With all the hope I stir up, some of it will be channeled into hoping the baristas don’t recognize me. Presumably, I could confuse them and order a Grande Decaf Iced Americano instead.

A fresh start.

Maybe a different outcome.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

COVERING UP


Seems I’ve spent too much time hiding what I read.

I remember checking out E.M. Forster’s Maurice from a Dallas library and being relieved that it was one of those old hard covers without any illustration or adornment. Title, author, that’s all. (Maybe that’s where the expression, You can’t judge a book by its cover came from…a time when you, quite literally, couldn’t.)

I wasn’t one to checkout a lot of gay fiction from libraries. Fear? Perhaps. But back then I wasn’t much of a novel reader in the first place. Newspapers, magazines and way too many textbooks provided enough—too much—reading for my liking. I filled much of my free time watching hours and hours of television.  Maybe that proved to be a good thing. If I’d read even a few gay novels, I might have concluded that, once out, my social circle would consist of gay prostitutes. I might still be in the closet.

Somehow I mustered up the gumption to buy Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic while still living in Dallas. I don’t remember where I bought it. I can’t imagine twenty-three-year-old me doing it without having to take a shower as soon as I got home. No doubt, I bought a few other books—never read?—at the same time so I could sandwich The AIDS Book in between them. Maybe the cashier wouldn’t notice the word AIDS in bold letters on the cover. Maybe he or she would see the word Band and think I was a musician. But maybe not. This was 1987 in the midst of the AIDS crisis when people talked about getting it from toilet seats and water fountains. Call it an act of enlightenment that the clerk didn’t put on a pair of latex gloves just to handle the book. (I’d have remembered that.) I am certain I was red-faced and sheened in a layer of perspiration by the time my books were bagged and I rushed for the exit.

When I moved to L.A. two years later, I could buy books without embarrassment at A Different Light bookstore in West Hollywood. A gay bookstore! How wonderful to browse without having to wander away for a single Gay and Lesbian shelf in the Self’-Help section of regular bookstores. (The message I took always away was that, if you were gay, you needed help.) Still, I appreciated having a plain paper bag to take the books back to the car.

I’d also pick up a copy of Edge, the free gay newspaper of the time, whenever I was in West Hollywood. No bag to hide it from view. I was not so ironically on edge about Edge as I carried it back to my car. I worried that the wrong person might see the name on the front cover. If I folded it so the back cover was in sight, things were worse. Invariably, the back had a full-page advertisement for a gay chat line with an alluring image of buff boys in jock straps. I felt like I presented a clear target for anyone venturing to West Hollywood wishing to bash a fag.

Fortunately, I’ve evolved. But then so has society. In fact, my ability to buy a gay book—even one with a let’s-be-clear title like Two Boys Kissing—without going red in the face may be more about society’s enlightenment than my own personal comfort level. The lion in The Wizard of Oz oozed courage than I do.

I felt shame again today as I stepped up to order a Frappuccino at Starbucks. I had about an hour to kill before my appointment with my psychiatrist and I had pulled my current read from my backpack. While paying, I set the book on the counter. The barista glanced at the cover and I realized the title was in clear view with an even clearer title: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me. I quickly flipped to the back cover. An obvious signal that I didn’t want the guy to read it, right? Well, he went out of his way to bend over and read the spine. I was momentarily mortified.

And then I regained composure and shrugged it off. So what if he saw the title? Why should I care if he concludes that I have a mental health problem? My problem, true enough, but in this context, not my problem.

Maybe there’s a smidgen of personal growth. Give it another decade or two and I won’t give a flip what people think about my books…assuming books still exist as we know them!

Monday, April 4, 2016

WAIST-DEEP


April marks a year since I’ve moved from my home and into a teensy, still empty condo in Downtown Vancouver. Based on my experiences following past moves, it takes about two years to feel settled and to establish social connections. I’m beyond the point of getting my feet wet; I suppose I’m waist-deep.

It is true that I lived in Vancouver for ten years before moving to the Land of Nowhere, but there was another ten year gap before I moved back. As well, more than seven of my years during Round 1 Vancouver were spent with my ex and friendships faded as time with him took over.

When I began Round 2, I naively thought old friendships would blossom anew. I was, after all, excited to reconnect. We’d had good times. Now I was free and in closer proximity to pick up where we left off.

But things don’t work that way. I’m not that special. The world doesn’t wait. I’m reminded of this every day as I see the condo building across the street from me and I know that one of my closest friends from the ‘90s lives there with his partner. I see them, always together, about once every six weeks as I head off to the gym or return from a run and they are out walking their two bulldogs. The first exchange lasted about five minutes. Now we’re down to “Hello.”

So, yes, this is starting all over again. This would have been clearer and less ego-crushing had I moved somewhere completely new. Winnipeg. But having driven through that city several times and never stopping longer than to grab a coffee, I have no yearning to settle in the place that’s not so lovingly referred to as Winterpeg by many Canadians. There were a few places I’d have gladly have moved to. Los Angeles. Seattle. Portland. And, after a visit last summer, maybe Minneapolis. It comes as a surprise after living in the U.S. for sixteen years and all the while yearning to return to Canada that I realize I fit in better in the States. Yes, I know it is the land of Trump and I hear about people swearing they’ll move to Canada if Hillary or The Donald gets elected. I’m used to partisan politics and all that is broken and yet I still want to move there. Surely that’s the immigration test, isn’t it? Maybe we can do an exchange. But seriously, the application I sent six years ago, sponsored by my American parents, remains somewhere in what has to be the mother of all backlogs.  I’ve let that American dream go.

All that said, Vancouver is home. It almost sounds like it is so by default. Sorry about that, dear city. It’s breathtakingly beautiful here. In fact, after jogging along the Thames in March, I couldn’t help but feel pride and renewed appreciation for how gorgeous Vancouver’s seawall is. I love to jog it, bike it, walk it. I’m geeky about mass transit and Vancouver’s is decent, even if it comes nowhere near the efficiency of London’s system and even though there was the overwhelming smell of urine where I sat at the back of the bus. It’s an urban thing. The arts scene here is weak. I see flashes of hope though. Nothing to rival New York or Toronto, not even Minneapolis, but I can find a few exhibits and performances to attend over the course of a year. It’s something.

I’m realizing that the few friends I have reconnected with are routine-oriented. Maybe people get that way as they get older. Unfortunately, I’m terrible about planning ahead—I see it as being spontaneous—and so, by the time I get around to thinking about the weekend, it’s, well, Saturday afternoon. When I texted a friend about getting together, she suggested the last Sunday in May.

Wow. This is hard.

In the past, I’ve made friends through school and work but I’m finally done with academia and my work remains back in that rural area. Teachers don’t socialize with the principal. The go-tos of the past went away.

I signed up for the gay volleyball league. Unfortunately, I dislocated my pinky finger on the third night and it’s still not right. More physio and a prognosis that I’ll never play volleyball again. Sorry ‘bout that, Team Canada. Carry on that bid in Rio without me.

I’ve attended the gay running group three or four times but I haven’t made inroads and I wind up running alone. I’ll give it another go. Someday. The fact is that I’m an extreme introvert, very reserved, painfully shy. When a social group initially feels closed, I pass the time retying my shoelaces, petting a dog or just slipping away. Yes, indeed, this is hard.

I can do better. I moved back to Vancouver for more than solo jogs on the seawall. I still have another year to finally get back on course. Let me start trying to make something of next weekend tonight. Or I can at least firm things up for that Sunday in May. It’s a (re)start.