Saturday, October 18, 2014


This isn’t a Sears catalog or an International Male flyer. Hopefully, you’re not on site as a mere peeper. The people behind the pics aren’t just posers. Presumably, they are interested in dating. It is, after all, a dating site. Each profile is ostensibly a real person. He has hopes. Sometimes, alas, it’s just a need for validation—internet strangers conveying a message that he is interesting, hot or, well, message-worthy. I suppose that’s something. Another guy is looking for a hookup. It’s nice when he makes that clear. I wish he’d stick with Grindr or Scruff or an equally handy app for the horny, but he’s waiting, too.

And then there are the rest of us, the ones wanting to date, hoping that something longer term may evolve. Two dates, two weeks,…dare we hope for more?

But it all starts with a message.

Have some guts. Do it.

Dating sites have all sorts of tactics for the timid. You can “favorite” the guy, rate him five stars, wink, nod, blush, do whatever the site’s gentle nudge option is. That’s not brave. It reminds me of my first school dance in sixth grade. Painful. All the girls lined up against one wall of the gym. All the guys leaned on the opposite wall. “Get Up and Boogie” blared through the speaker system. No one got up; no one boogied.

Be bold. A distant wink gets lost in the dim lighting.

I say this knowing how brutally risky it can feel. I can out-shy almost anyone. But it becomes exhilarating when you have a flash of bashful-intolerance. Way back when at that dance-less dance, I looked at Gary Elliott and he looked at me. No, it wasn’t a googly-eyed glance. I was still programmed to think girls were the intended partner. We nodded, counted to three and strutted—er, shuffled—across the gym floor. He asked Becky; I asked Della. And then the dominoes fell in place. We got the party started.

I peaked in sixth grade.

But it’s time for a renaissance, guys. Nix the nudging. Create a new peak. Cross that floor. Make the first move. Take some control over your life.

Send him a message.

Yes, him! He’s probably been nudged a thousand times (or, at least, ten). Your nudge doesn’t stand out from other nudges.

SEND HIM A MESSAGE. (But, please, not in all-caps. That’s just annoying.)

The good news, if your mind automatically defaults to Worst Case Scenario, is that rejection is rarely overt online. I’ve yet to have someone message back and say, “For real? What in the hell made you think you were in my league? You REPULSE me. I gagged when I saw your message. Literally. Vomited. Had to steam clean the carpet. Yeah, thanks for that.”

When he’s not interested, he doesn’t reply. Sometimes rudeness is an act of mercy. Let him go. And do like I do—reward yourself with ice cream. You took a shot. You did something. That’s more than 80% of the guys online who keep hoping and praying that the wink/poke/like button will bring true love. Or a quick romp. Or whatever the hell it is that they’re passively waiting for.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Perfect day and then I had to ruin it. I went to a gay pub. My timing was off from the start. 9:40. Too soon. It wasn't a matter of being overly eager. I had to walk around the block twice to convince myself to go in. No, I had left my Seattle hotel early on a quest to try two scoops of ice cream before Bluebird it closed at 10.

The Caffe Vita and pumpkin flavors were oh so creamy.

I suppose the ice cream was the enticement I needed to place me in the Capitol Hill district which my tour guide referred to as the LGBT neighborhood. Like almost all such neighborhoods, the Ls, Gs, Bs and Ts are so identifiable anymore. What I saw was a lot of young people—and “young” has been redefined as well to under 35, maybe 40. The too were on a quest: the hot spot to get drunk on a Saturday night. (It seemed that some had put in considerable time researching this.)

Amidst all this buzzy hipness and cigarette smoke, I knew I was out of place. I needed an old-fashioned gay bar. Something simple. The kind of place where I could walk in a day shy of the big 5-0 and draw a few head pivots as the New Guy.

Of course, that place is somewhere in Neverland, but maybe I was still riding my own little buzz from the coffee ice cream.

According to Yelp, the Madison Pub was my best bet. Sports bar. Pinball. Friendly bartenders. No attitude. (And no mention of twink dancers in skivvies taking the limelight off a New Guy. Bonus!)

Destination known. Still, I wasn’t that excited. Walking into a gay bar alone on a Saturday night takes guts. I needed the two laps around the block to convince myself that no one would see an “L” on my forehead. I reminded myself that there are pleasures beyond ice cream.

Or so I'm told.

I needed to stop waiting around for some ideal.

Get what I can.

If I can.

The fifteen-year drought had to end and it wouldn’t come to me with a knock on my hotel room door. "Room service!" No, that only happens in badly acted porn scenes. In real life, the pizza guy only offers pizza and police officers only issue tickets. At least, that’s been my experience.

Stepping foot in a gay bar would be a nice change from constantly checking to see if someone new had sent me an online message. Or if Hot Guy #78 has finally replied to my clever missive. (I know,...I should stop hoping after three weeks. Four tops.)

Finally, I was all pepped up. Must go in. Get it over with. Work your big smile. Not too big. Must not appear deranged. A chill kind of smile. A post-ice cream grin. Yeah, perfect.

I hadn't even fully walked through the door before I knew this pub outing was a mistake. Had they had one of those awesome revolving doors, I'd have spun myself right back out to the sidewalk. Alas. No such amusement. Instead, I quickly oriented myself and stepped right to the bar.

Friendly bartenders, right? Well, this one got the guy ahead of me his beer and then walked off. Apparently a spill needed urgent tending. Or limes needed cutting. Or I just needed to serve my time. I leaned against the bar and lost myself in thought.

What to order? I really wanted a glass of Chardonnay. Not a gay bar drink. Rum and Coke. With all the ice they load in the glass, I'd gulp it down in thirty seconds. No, I fell back to my old routine. I ordered what I hate. Beer. No chance of guzzling. I'd take wee sips and extend my stay to thirty minutes, maybe forty (if it turned out they were fresh out of limes).

When I got my Corona (with lime!), I toured the bar. The intent was to peruse the setting in a slow, casual manner. I wanted to look at ease with my aloneness. But I was like a too-young flower girl, rushing down the open aisle, just wanting to get it over with. So much for the rehearsal.

I parked myself on a stool and dared to gaze around to see what I’d left in my wake. Nothing. No conversation halted. No flirtatious wink. Not even a lewd stare from a creepy old man. (Oh, god. Maybe that’s my role!) I refused to go there, instead devoting my stare to the nearest TV screen. American college football highlights.

Yeah. I could watch this all night. (Not terribly convincing.)

After a quarter hour, the pub population multiplied—doubled, then doubled again. It got noisy. People sang along to Eric Clapton's "Cocaine". (I'm not even going to start on all that's wrong with that sentence.) Hooting and hugs followed. Each “So glad to see you” came with triple the exuberance of a chance street meeting. This was about getting noticed. And me not.

I looked about. No obvious cruisers; no one I had any inkling to attract. I watched the same college football highlights again. Yay, team in green! I played with my iPhone. (Okay, I did more than play. I wrote this blog post. Right there. In the bar. I’d waved the white flag, not that anyone noticed.) I finished my beer. Blech. Lime can only do so much.

And then I left. Forty- two minutes. Exceeded expectations. Not that it amounted to anything.

It's okay. The evening wasn’t a total waste. The ice cream was excellent.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Escaped again. Not from Alcatraz this time. I’m just not a big holiday guy and I had to get away. Relax, you didn’t mix a major celebration. National Nut Day isn’t until the 22nd (but you really should start decorating). Sunday was my birthday. My 50th. That’s a biggie—five decades, half a century. Egad.

So I ran away. Holidays are the time when I struggle most with being single. I’m not close to family so the occasions feel empty. And birthdays are loaded with awkwardness. Notice me! Not. I don’t need someone to pay for my coffee solely because it’s a certain day on the calendar. I don’t want to gather in the office for a slice of pineapple upside down cake. (Who decided to put pineapple in cake anyway? Or on pizza? Blech.) And I really don’t need to hear a roomful of coworkers perform “Happy Birthday” off-key. (Does it sound particularly lame because I am the guest of honor or do others abhor pineapple as a baking ingredient, too? Do I want to know the answer?)

I headed to Seattle. But running away from something doesn’t work so well when the thing you’re trying to flee follows along. Unfortunately, this was not time travel. I did not magically become twelve years younger. “Fifty” and “birthday” swirled around in my head. And “pathetic” joined them as I idled my car and chatted with the solemn U.S. border guard. (He’s the one that could really use the free coffee.)

“Where you headed?”


“Who do you know there?”

“No one.”

Sad. The man demanded my keys and searched my trunk. I read his mind:  It’s sad people like this who stow body parts there. Still, I wouldn’t let his stoic demeanor and the delay crush me. I quietly hummed “EleanorRigby” and waited.

I cleared customs. He didn’t get to me. Neither did that HUGE number.

I’ve officially reached that point where I no longer count as a television viewer—18-49 is all that counts. Advertisers and network execs presume we ancient folks are entrenched in our buying habits. (Where can I purchase a jar of Tang, for Pete’s sake?) They also assume we keep the TV on as a napping aid.

And I became ancient in gay circles about fifteen years ago. That’s when guys switched from looking right through me to looking aghast to be cruised by an old troll. I stopped going to White Parties before they had to turn me away at the door. (Okay, I never went. Couldn’t ever carry off the plastic-bottle-and-tighty-whities look.) And I refuse to play along and join #TeamMiley or #TeamBritney. Heck, I was never even on #TeamKiley. (Apparently there is no such thing as a #TeamOliviaNewton-John. I checked,…even without the hashtag and with the proper spaces.)

Yeah, fifty. So what?

I celebrated with two 10-K runs in scenic areas of Seattle I’d never explored. And, of course, I topped that with a double scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone. Holding an ice cream cone is the closest thing to that elusive elixir. Makes me feel like a kid again, even if I chose decidedly adult flavors: Earl Grey and Stumptown Coffee. I had the urge to wear the ice cream the way four-year-olds do, but the tastes were too good to waste on chin and cheeks. A certain wisdom comes with all that experience.

So I made it through the big occasion. I suffered no meltdown. I didn’t have to hear that sad little birthday song even once. And I enjoyed my own pizza without the pineapple. I left Seattle happily listening to an oldies station—The Eagles! Bob Seger! Linda Ronstadt! (Oh, where art thou, Olivia?) The music made me smile. It served as confirmation that there must be a few us geezers still kicking,…with a trace of hearing intact even.

The day is done. Escaped. Survived. Coped. Let’s move on, shall we? National Nut Day looms large.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


So you’ve decided on a particular online dating site and you’ve started your profile. You’ve taken my advice on photos. (Quick recap: more than one, background scrutinized, head uncovered, smiley face.) Now you’ve got to say something. And say it now. Don’t type something lame like, “I’ll fill this in later.” Get over your commitment issues. Candy Crush and the Kardashians can wait.

Put in the time. If you list three interests, say you hate writing about yourself and stop after a sentence or two, you don’t give a browser much to go on. You must be relying on a dazzling set of photos. Blindingly so. It still speaks to a clear lack of effort. If you can’t be bothered, why should he? And if you’re too brief, you provide nothing for someone to connect with should he decide to send you a message. “Hey, I’m guessing you like breathing. And eating. Me too!” Lame message but what were you expecting? You gave the guy NOTHING.

I have never responded to a guy with a too-brief profile. It looks incomplete. Maybe I’ll click on it at some later point in time. Maybe you’ll go back and write more. But we all know those maybes are highly unlikely. You failed to register and it was your own doing,…or lack thereof.

The easier writing assignment is listing your interests. But still put some thought into it. Is your list a set of clichés? Are two-thirds of the items mentioned in that Pina Colada song (getting caught in the rain, sunsets, the feel of the ocean, the taste of champagne martinis)? Try to show some range in your interests. If you’re an active dude, awesome. But you can’t be at the gym, biking, jogging, swimming, bungee jumping, snowboarding and log rolling all the time. Be mindful as well about putting yourself into too much of a niche. For a moment, I was amused by the guy who listed napping as an interest. But only a moment. I don’t want to feel like I’m putting a guy to sleep during our first coffee conversation. And I could not click away fast enough from the profile in which the guy listed Pokémon as a favorite thing.

When you write a few sentences—hopefully even a paragraph—about what you’re looking for in a guy, go beyond saying you want someone who is honest and has a sense of humor. Does anyone want an unfunny liar? And whatever you write, spellcheck it. Paste your five lines into a Word document and deal with all the red squiggly lines. And maybe sticklers are a teensy minority but please PLEASE give some thought to whether you’ve got the right homonym among your/you’re, to/two/too and there/their/they’re. Capitals and punctuation are also much appreciated. This is not a text message.

Whew. I said it. I haven’t changed the online dating world, but I feel better. It will last until I read the next dissertation in which the guy thinks “LOL” is a punctuation mark. (Just no.)

Be careful on sites like OkCupid that have endless questions that you can easily respond to so that an alleged calculation formula will produce a match. Some of those point-and-click responses are landmines. Take the question, “In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be sexy?” I’ve come across several guys who intrigued me but answered “Yes”. Uh, what? Too much time reading apocalypse novels and playing video games. Sorry, dude. I immediately moved on.

Then there was a guy who responded affirmatively to “Do you have an ex that you’d really like to date again?” Really?! Who the hell wants to wade into that dynamic? Get your closure or see a therapist before you put out feelers for someone new.

The one that makes me flee the fastest is “Do you have a gun in your home?” Maybe that’s a helpful sorter. Look elsewhere. I’m sure the NRA has enough in its coffers to launch a Gays for Guns mixer at its annual convention. How convenient. And, yes, that really is a gun in his pocket. Chat him up. Fire away.

So go on. Review what you’ve written. Does it say enough? Or, perhaps as in my case, does it say too much? Anything one writes could stand a proofread and a revision or two. The written word still matters.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Okay, given my track record, I am the last person who should be offering advice about online dating. But you could flip things and realize that I have extensive experience in this realm. I may not know what works, but I have an idea or two about what doesn’t.

I keep seeing the same ill-conceived tactics and I feel compelled to comment. Give yourselves a better chance. And if you think I am completely off base, please leave a comment. Prove me wrong. Maybe I am the one who needs a new approach.

Just One Look:  Basic rule—Must include a photo on your profile. Actually, photos. In the age of the selfie, how can you only have one photo? Snap away. Change your clothes, move to another part of your home. Snap again. Upload. Post. I’m a brain-stunted techno-sloth, but even I can figure out how to do this.

Why do you need multiple photos? Everyone can have one insanely good photo. The stars aligned and the shot gives off a slight resemblance to George Clooney. Not the National Enquirer caught-off-guard-with-some-mistress-in-Madrid Clooney, but the photoshopped swoon-worthy Clooney. (And we’d all settle for “slight resemblance”, wouldn’t we?) I’ve gone out with a few of these one-shot wonders. I don’t recognize them in the coffeehouse. How could I? Heck, they’re not even a slight resemblance of the slight resemblance of Clooney. From the in-person intro, the interaction is doomed. No match between the photo and this coffee mate. No match at all.

Keep Current: Think of your photos like that carton of milk in the fridge. Eventually it goes sour. Chuck it. Even if it’s the best picture of you. Ever. I’m getting to be a schoolmarm over this. A guy messaged me yesterday with a brief, complimentary note about my profile. I glanced at his. Common interests,…great. Multiple photos,…super. But the captions under each of them noted they were from 2008. Ah, a very good year, to be sure. Katy Perry Kissed a Girl, that cute little American Idol kid sang about a Crush, Betty was still Ugly, the Housewives still Desperate. But time didn’t stand still. This guy even anticipated ogler perplexity by writing, “I still look as young as these photos.” We all like to think that. Prove it. Again, selfies have become so much more commonplace in the past SIX years. Don’t be lazy with your profile. This is not how to stand out amongst hundreds of other alleged singles.

Even if you are less forthright and don’t disclose the date, people will make assumptions. If you say you’re 53 and your main photo looks like you’re skateboarding to a pep rally, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Eventually you’re going to meet a few of these online browsers—that’s why you created a profile, isn’t it?! You’re ensuring disappointment for the first coffee. A dated photo is deceiving, even dishonest. Is that how you want to come off on the first meeting? If you happen to look much younger than your age as people say I do, add the month and year that each photo was taken under each photo. Be real. Eliminate the doubt.

The Devil Is in the Detail: Once you’ve mastered the phone photo, take a look at all that appears in each photo. Go beyond marvelling at the astonishing feat of minimizing your crow’s feet. What else will an online peeper see? Maybe you want to share your continuing obsession with Iron Maiden on a date—I’d suggest the fourth or later—instead of letting a sloppy t-shirt do the talking. Fashion might not matter to you, but is this really your best first online impression? (Iron Maiden?! I'm not making this up.) Same for holes just below the t-shirt collar. It may be your favorite shirt for lounging around the house because you can splash bacon grease and ketchup all over it, but it’s too homey. (Hint: Put on a shirt that matches your eyes. You want someone noticing them more than a t-shirt flaw.) These sites are designed to get browsers to keep clicking and you’re making it so much easier. If a shot of you provides a glimpse of your unfolded laundry strewn all over the sofa, I’d suggest kicking all the garments to the floor, out of view, and taking another picture. (Folding and putting them away would be preferable, but I am not your mother. I’m guessing that if a first date goes really, really well, you’ll lobby hard to go back to his place instead.)

I’ve passed on a few profiles of self-declared non-smokers who have a cigarette in their hand in a photo. For a growing number of us, it’s as bad as having a ring on a certain finger. Is this a dated photo? Delete it. If you are a smoker, then be honest about it. Non-smoking means just that. My ex has been “trying to quit” for twenty years. Until he actually succeeds, he’s a smoker. There’s no sugar coating that.

Go Easy on the Gear: Apparently there is some online dating advice guru who advocates extremism. I suppose the correct term is xtremism. Get your tandem skydiving bud to snap you in the air. Throw in shot of yourself motocrossing through a muddy course. Have your guide take a picture of you rappelling down a rock cliff. All very impressive. But there is no way to make out your face or your body. Too much equipment. You might as well be this guy  or one of these guys. Type your daring endeavors in the Interests section of your profile and stop hiding under a helmet. And as an aside, don’t cover the top of your head with baseball caps and toque in every single shot. Whether you’ve got hair or not, give the browsers a glimpse. If you are self-conscious about a receding hairline, gray hair or a full head of hair that doesn’t shine and bounce like in those shampoo commercials, so what? There’s a whole spectrum of head hair and an equally broad range of what guys are attracted to. Show what you’ve got (or haven’t got).

Got Teeth? I know there’s a study out there that says men are deemed more attractive in photos in which they don’t smile. You can find a study that concludes just about anything. This study keeps popping up online because it’s utterly ridiculous. If you want a stud shot—all sunglasses and stoicism—go for it. Let it be one photo. But it can’t be just me who finds a half dozen unsmiling pics distressing. Why so serious/sad/grumpy? Are you hiding braces or some dental disaster? I can’t bear the thought of coffee with you. I fear I’d spend the hour watching you sit in silence or listening to you blather on about that goldfish that died when you were five and your thoughts on the apocalypse. Lighten up. Smile.


So have fun with that phone camera. Snap away! Delete what doesn’t work. You’re bound to come up with a few decent pics. Give it a shot.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Beautiful September day! Sun shining, temperatures warm but merciful thanks to a gentle ocean breeze. Perfect day for a walk in Stanley Park. This walk is more special, more than just an extension of summer. This is AIDS Walk Vancouver. It’s a far cry from the chilly, rainy day last year when I walked alone along with a threadbare entourage dedicated to the cause. This time I have a good friend with me and the larger group, while nothing the size of the hordes from twenty years ago, is boosted by a human injection as well.

 If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well. We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother’s or your grandmother’s best friend from college, the author of that book you found in the gay section of the library. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore.
       --David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

AIDS Walk numbers will never match the masses from a generation ago. That’s a good thing. Great strides have been made in terms of research, treatment and other care issues. Still, I feel that those of us who lost and feared the most back then have to recommit to the cause. Without the urgency, the front-page headlines and the sensational letters to the editor, people less impacted by AIDS are no longer stirred to action. They have moved on to bike rides for cancer and opportunities to garner several dozen YouTube views from getting cold water poured on their heads.

I am one who believes each person’s charitable priorities should be private—only you, the organization and the taxman need to know. I will, however, continue to post about my renewed commitment to supporting AIDS charities to encourage you to consider whether there might be something in your wallet that can go to a local AIDS entity. The competition among charities nowadays is fierce. All the more reason why we must keep AIDS in focus.

It was an exquisite irony: Just when we stopped wanting to kill ourselves, we started to die. Just when we were feeling strength, it was taken from us.
 –David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

This year I walk in honor of my friends Farrell and José. Farrell was a guy I befriended in a tennis class in Dallas in the late 1980s. We formed a tennis connection that evolved into a friendship, albeit one that was limited by our reserved dispositions. Only after he visited me in L.A. did he come out to me in a letter, the self-hate as a lifelong Bible Belt native pouring out on the page. By telling you I’m gay, I know you must detest me. I wrote back to say that what I truly detested was the fact both of us felt so compelled to live(?) in the closet. The friendship became stronger but not enough for him to tell me he was sick with complications from AIDS. I only found out in late 1994 when a letter I mailed was Returned to Sender with “Deceased” stamped on the front. There was no funeral service.

José was a friend I met in Malibu while I was going to law school. He owned an independent clothing store in a large space that is now a Banana Republic. José was a jovial individual, the guy whom everyone in my group of club-going gay friends kidded, sometimes mercilessly. He played into it, soaking up any kind of attention. He was generous to a fault, sweetness to the core. In 1995, after I’d moved to Vancouver, a friend called to say José had died suddenly. A brain aneurism. Two summers ago, as I had dinner with that friend, the real story came forth. He’d died of AIDS, but the shame was too great. None of us knew. He retreated and died alone.

For both Farrell and José, the shame was too great. It saddens me to think they couldn’t reach out. I know that each died completely alone.

This is part of the past devastation from AIDS. This is what I cannot forget. This is why walking remains imperative. Circumstances are drastically different, but I need persons with HIV or AIDS to know they will continue to be supported. I know that shame remains. I read it in the dating profiles of men who are HIV+ and I occasionally see it manifested as anger on Twitter.

This is not over. AIDS still matters.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Two drowned and five are listed as “missing and presumed drowned”. That should have deterred me. But I yearned to escape.

For two nights, I barely slept. Part excitement, part self-doubt. Both feelings manifested in a single thought: I can’t believe I’m doing this!

I told everyone I know about my pending adventure. Heck, I even blabbed about it to the U.S. Homeland Security officer at Vancouver Airport. Main purpose of my trip to San Francisco? Castro cruising? No. A search for BarbaryLane? No. A ploy for a free hug at some impromptu love-in at Haight and Ashbury (or at least a scoop of Cherry Garcia)? No.

“I’m swimming from Alcatraz to shore.”

Remarkably, the officer let me through. No psychiatric examination. Not even a cursory round of Rorschach testing. Clouds. More clouds. Blood splatter from a murderous crime scene.

Swimming from Alcatraz. Why? Well, why not? I’m wanting to shake things up these days. I need to feel alive.

I’d gone to considerable expense for this previously unknown bucket list item. Airline ticket. Hefty registration fee. Wetsuit purchase. Hotels (including one to stay overnight in Vancouver as I’d miss the last ferry home when I returned).

Why hadn’t blindfolded hopscotch made the list instead? Sidewalk chalk, bandana, large bandages,…done.

By 6 a.m. Saturday, I knew it was time to discontinue the charade of sleep. I got up, showered, dressed and walked the two blocks to Fisherman’s Wharf. The morning was overcast, a tad chilly with grey skies. The Pacific would be cold. Would the wetsuit be enough?

Another chance to talk myself out of it. Why not just hop on a bus tour and see the city the normal way? Warm sourdough bread seemed more enticing than cold ocean water. Neither the seagulls nor the homeless folks stirring at this hour offered anything to counter my exit strategy.

Do it. Do something. For once. You’ll remember this more than a loaf of bread.

And so I went back to the hotel. I slowly consumed a banana and a cup of coffee. I unpacked the wetsuit and stuffed a change of clothes in the plastic dry cleaning bag that always hangs in hotel closets. I fretted over the fact I’d left my swim goggles in a backpack in the trunk of my car back in Vancouver. How much would the salt water sting my eyes? I’d know soon enough.

When I couldn’t wait any longer, I headed back to the meeting place, one block from the Wharf. On the sidewalk, two dozen adults milled about in various stages of wetsuit dressing. I asked the obvious: “Is this the place for the Alcatraz swim?” And suddenly I was not the only crazy one. I had my flock of crazies.

Milling about lost its appeal. Ten minutes felt like an hour. I wasn’t in the mood for chitchat. I wanted to get aboard the boat and head out to sea. I didn’t want any more opportunities to talk myself out of this. Finally, we boarded. Our numbers had grown to forty. One woman graciously loaned me an extra pair of swim goggles. My last excuse disappeared. Our “coach” gave last-minute instructions. “We may have to reposition some of you,” he said. Apparently the currents might take some of us off course. Or we just might not be able to handle the waves. “If you experience distress, float on your back and raise your hand. A boat will come by to pull you out. If at any time we determine that you need to stop, you must board a boat. The Coast Guard requires that you comply.”

“Any questions?” I thought of raising my hand then and there. So much easier than while floating on the ocean, swallowing salt water. But the boat pulled away.

No backing out.

I happened to stand beside a very good looking man, shirtless and buff. Coach told us we needed to be smiling. We needed to say hello to our neighbors. Swim coach and dating coach. I chatted briefly with a Frenchman, Pierre. His first time. Nervous and excited. Then Bonnie. First; nervous; excited. Trent. Fourth time. Still nervous; still excited.

At last, Buff looked my way. Nineteenth Alcatraz swim. La di da. Infatuation ended. I wanted to push him over. But he’d have liked that. Something new this time ‘round.

I stared out at the water and at my foe. No, not Nineteen. Alcatraz. You wicked slab of sand. Just as the captain cut the motor on our boat, a small passenger ferry pulled alongside the island. Here was a taunting reminder of the more obvious way to experience Alcatraz. Coach played the theme from “Rocky” and one by one we jumped ship. Walked the plank.

“Wetsuits first,” said Nineteen. There he stood in just a swimsuit. Of course. The only surprise was that he didn’t have his arms and legs bound, too.

Treading in the water, I quickly adjusted to the temperature. It wasn’t as cold as my practice ocean swims back home. Not exactly bath water, but tolerable. I glanced around at the kayakers and paddleboarders that surrounded us. They would be our chaperones, staying close by just in case. I glanced at the passenger ferry with its tinted windows. Were people still aboard, gawking at us?

We counted down from four and then we were off, a green-capped school of fish hoping to beach ourselves. Within thirty seconds, I’d swallowed a large mouthful of ocean water. I quickened my stroke until my arms tangled with another swimmer.



We stroked onward. After a few minutes, we’d spread ourselves out. I didn’t have to keep putting my head up to navigate around green buoys. Every thirtieth stroke, I peered forward to ensure I was on course, with two towers and a small strip of beach directly in front of me. A rower shouted that I was too far to the right. I tried to alter my path. After ten minutes, I glanced back. Alcatraz didn’t shrink in the distance. I wasn’t making any headway.

Why the hell are you doing this?

I miss the pool. I miss the lane ropes.

I miss my towel.

Self-doubt doesn’t leave when you set sail. It stays with you even after you jump ship. It swells with the waves. Float on your back. Raise your arm.

You don’t need to prove anything. Lie if you must. Tell them you did it. They’ll never know.

But I swam on. Another five minutes. I looked back again. Alcatraz loomed just as large. And the rowers and kayakers weren’t anywhere near me. I may not have to surrender. They’ll force me aboard. Against my will, of course. Bloody Coast Guard.

I started looking up every twelfth stroke. I glanced at the number they’d written on the back of both my hands. 29. So they could ID me in the morgue weeks later when my body washed up. If the sharks passed on me.

Stroke, stroke, stroke. I became annoyed. Where had all the escort craft gone? I glance about and saw a green cap a short distance away. Stroke, stroke, stroke.

Eventually, Alcatraz did fade. Instead of looking back, I glanced ahead at the towers and the small opening between piers that would get me to the beach. I continued on.

“You’re too far to the left,” an approaching paddler said. An ocean companion! But two minutes later, he was gone. Eventually, I glanced up and saw tourists watching from the pier. Gawking, no doubt. Taking over from the ferry folk.

At last, I swam between the piers. I saw the beach more clearly. I needed to swim past a pirate ship replica and then I’d reach shore. Easy. Five minutes more. I swam on. Foreign heads bobbed on the water’s surface. No green caps. Apparently some other fools craved an ocean dip.

I swam until my right arm touched sand. I stood up in two feet of water, took a second to right myself and then trudged onto the beach where a guide with a clipboard congratulated me and checked me in.


No. Make that Done!


Finally, I smiled.

I felt a burning sensation on the back of my neck. I feared it was an intense sunburn. As I have skin cancer issues, I don’t go out in the sun during the day. Barefoot and in my wetsuit, I dodged tourists on the street as I headed back several blocks to the boat near Fisherman’s Wharf. But it, along with my change of clothes remained at sea. I raced to the hotel, begged them to open my room, showered and changed. The burn wasn’t from the sun; instead, it was chafing from the wetsuit. Proof to take home with me. I’d done the swim.

I smiled again. This time, that grin remained plastered on my face the rest of the day.

For the rest of the weekend, I eyed Alcatraz from so many vantage points. The island represents so much more than a piece of history or a tourist stop. It inspired me, it challenged me and ultimately it strengthened me.

Mission complete. I escaped Alcatraz.