Saturday, October 13, 2018

VISITING A GAY MECCA, MY WAY

Okay, so I’ve been halfway there, done half of that. For my entire adult life, I’ve heard about Fire Island and Provincetown as being East Coast gay meccas. Last week I checked out Provincetown.

I realize the “optimal” time to visit is during the summer, but I figured it would be too crowded, too overwhelmingly gay for me. Too many people wanting to be on display and wanting to check out the other displays. Call it a hunch. So early October seemed reasonable. Foliage season. I was already going to Boston. Why not add P-town to the itinerary?

And my first impression was negative. Not too gay, but too touristy. My Cape Cod bed-and-breakfast was on the main street, Commercial, and I had to drive about ten miles per hour, braking constantly as pedestrians took to the middle of the road without a care in the world. Yes, there was signage telling drivers to yield to pedestrians, but at some point that notion can be abused. And that point had been passed! I was cranky by the time I reached my destination. Relieved I’d only arranged to stay one night, I fretted over how I’d spend even that limited period of time.

After checking in, I dutifully meandered, keeping to the sidewalk or the parking lane, modeling how cars and pedestrians can coexist. Really, it wasn’t so hard to do.

None of the shops enticed me but that was fine. I didn’t need a tchotchke to cram into my suitcase. Not even a nifty rainbow t-shirt from the Human Rights Campaign store. I drifted off the main drag and ended up on the beach, gazing at sailboats, puffins and the sea.

Okay, this place has something.

Based on a friend’s recommendation, I later drove to Herring Cove Beach to catch the sunset…and a seal that seemed to like an audience. (Maybe even the seals here are gay.) By nightfall, I was relaxed. But more than anything I looked forward to seeing Provincetown during an early morning jog, when shops would be closed and tourists would still be sleeping off a drink or two too many.

I caught the sunrise from the beach and then from a pier. I ran along Commercial Street, sharing it only with a few delivery trucks and the occasional dog walker. Everything seemed more charming without all that human clutter and clatter. The appeal of P-town started to make sense. Having it all to myself was glorious.

The rain waited until I’d finished my run. I headed up the 252-foot Pilgrim Monument—another recommendation from my friend—to get panoramic views of the area. Remarkably, I had the entire tower to myself as everyone else apparently presumed soggy views weren’t worth the climb. Sure, the raindrops on the windows at the top and the shower from the overhead made me keep my phone camera in my pocket but that served as a reminder that experiences are still worthy even though they are not documented on Instagram. Being the sole visitor was a wonderful contrast to when I fought for elbow room atop the Empire State Building last summer as people posed for selfies. This moment was perfect.

Most gay men would say I didn’t do it right. I missed out on the quintessential Provincetown experience. I wasn’t seen and I didn’t take in the gay scene. No gay bar, no gay-frequented restaurant, not even a conversation or an exchange of looks. I’m okay with that. I got what I wanted—a tamed visual of this gay haven and a solitary exploration.

If I ever return to Provincetown, maybe it will be in February, during the week, when shops are closed down for owners’ extended vacations, when vacancy signs are common and when there is absolutely no excuse for pedestrians walking in the middle of the street. The rainbow flags and the store windows will still remind me that I’m in a gay haven, even if the gays are all in Puerto Vallarta. That’s another mecca I suppose I should visit, whenever the off-season happens to be.



Sunday, August 26, 2018

UP, UP & AWAY!

These are supposed to be the good times. And, relatively speaking, they are. Being Bipolar II, I experience chronic periods of depression and fleeting episodes of an elevated state...not all-out manic, but an energy and mood greater than most feel. So, yeah, I’m in that sub-mania phase, something that’s been going on for about two weeks.

Got to the café where I write on Sundays at 7:00 on the dot. Had to wait for a barista to unlock the door. Tried not to look impatient or too eager while waiting all of fifteen seconds. I really don’t like being the first one. “Sorry,” I said. “I’ve been up for hours.”

“Hours?!” Yep. Read some chapters in a novel, completed a batch of French lessons...and Swedish lessons. Did the morning rounds online: CNN, Facebook, Twitter, email, local news, Plenty of Fish (nothing), OkCupid (always nothing!). Washed the dishes I should have done last night. Ironed several pairs of shorts (just because). Got on my hands and knees and washed the hard-to-reach floor crevasses. Cleaned my glasses. (Turns out neither my vision nor the world has blurry spots.) Shaved, showered, read some more. And waited. Come on, 7!

Now I can be out in public. I can write. In a few hours, I’ll devour The New York Times. I’ll read more of it, faster and I’ll have all sorts of ideas about how to solve the world’s problems. (Sorry, not Trump. The Rust Belt’s gotta wake up.) I will hit the farmers' market, finding the holes in the crowd to dart quickly from stall to stall. I’ll go to the gym and tell myself to be gentle. Skip a few sets. Never works. It’ll be the full three hours. More French, more Swedish, more writing (all good ideas!), more reading. I’ll abruptly shift back and forth between tasks. My brain will run too fast, adding more thoughts, expanding the agenda. It’s a constant state of edginess. There’s one never-ending chant: “Let’s go!” Fast isn’t fast enough.

I’ve got bags under my eyes. Worse than usual. They’re the physical sign that things are off. I don’t sleep much, but when I do, the dreams are exceptionally vivid. It all has to mean something!

It’s hard to complain about being too up. It beats the agony, the self-hate, the hopelessness that will come. All that lurks. The mania is wonderful, but a crash always follows. I know this and yet I’m always taken aback—devastated—when the excruciating low returns. That’s when the real work comes. So much slower, underscored by a hum—no, a moan—that says, “Why?” And I struggle for any kind of answer. I write through it. I push myself to exercise. I try to be out of my place, surrounded by people, if not interacting. Anxiety mucks it up even more. And I long for the next round of mania.

For now it’s here. Darkness is (hopefully) far away. Good times, indeed.

Friday, August 24, 2018

SHAKING OFF THE "NO" (AND A TUMBLE)

I deal with rejection all the time. As a writer, it’s part of the process.

No.

No thank you.

Often, simply no reply at all.

I get frustrated and impatient, but it’s the constant yearning to be published that keeps me going. That and perhaps the delusional belief that I’m good enough. I shake off the latest slight—perhaps with an indignant “How dare they!” to keep the fires lit—and type on.

Dating should be the same. For the longest time though, it wasn’t. Every no, no thank you and no reply felt deeply personal. Each one underscored all my flaws. Big hair, bags under the eyes, pale skin, freaky elbows. (Yes. My self-esteem was once so low that I wanted plastic surgery on my elbows. Well, and on everything else, too. A “Queer Eye” makeover would never suffice.) Picking myself apart focused on the physical. After all, the personality feedback was consistent: nice guy, nice guy, nice guy.

Too nice? Do men really want nice? Even I can see that “nice” sounds bland. When someone travels to Paris and comes back and says it was nice, you know they hated it. Just not the croissant kind of homme, I guess. You want “nice” in a neighbor; in a boyfriend, apparently not.

I do my best not to attack my personality. Deep down, I know that’s more dangerous territory than all the brain chatter about elbows and such. So, yeah, let’s just say shook off the latest dating rejection—the too-familiar “no chemistry” line—as soon as I read the text. Really. An even better recovery than usual. That’s what a life-or-death experience only an hour earlier will do.

I’d gone for a bike ride despite the poor air quality that hung over Vancouver, a reminder that forests were burning, rain wasn’t coming and, despite what some lunk-headed politicians profess, global warming is happening. No end in sight, a new reality, they say. I needed a break from the gym and felt restless after spending the day fine-tuning and sending off a couple of writing queries. (More rejection fodder? We’ll see...)

It felt good to pedal. I found myself cycling beyond Vancouver and following the meandering bike lanes in one of the suburbs. New territory. Unfamiliar ground makes me more alert. Heavy vehicular traffic whizzing by to my left heightens the awareness even more. I refer to it as mindfulness in motion. I have no choice to be in the moment. Personal safety requires it.

But the mind strays despite the best of intentions. The bike lane disappeared as I approached an overpass and I had to cycle on the sidewalk. No problem. Perhaps a nifty little variance in the journey. And then, back in the bike lane, I looked ahead and noticed two concrete barriers set in the lane, creating a narrow passageway between them. It was wholly unexpected. At a slower speed and with a bit more anticipation, I’d have ridden through without a glitch. For some reason, my width perception caused an instant of panic and I had to shift my hands from the upper part of the handlebar to the brakes. My reaction time reduced, I pressed too hard, hit the left barrier with the front tire and flew over the concrete slab onto the highway. In that very moment, an SUV whizzed along in the same lane. The driver had no time to honk or swerve.

I still don’t know how I didn’t get run over. It defies any explanation. I bounced back up, my left leg scratched up and bloodied, my lower back sending pain signals and a bump growing under my helmet from whatever my head hit. Light injuries. Nothing really. Just enough to confirm that, yes, that really happened.

And so I cycled for the next hour toward home, my bike moaning and groaning more than my body. It wasn’t until I’d chained up my bike and stepped in my condo that I broke down. A near-death experience. I washed up, showered and then checked my messages.

Hello, “no chemistry” text.

Easiest personal rejection I’ve ever shaken off. Could’ve broken several body parts, might’ve been paralyzed, should’ve died. And yet there I was, standing in my kitchen getting the brush-off from a guy after two dates I’d thought had gone well.

So what? I mean, really. All the same, I’d like to pass on another life-or-death encounter before the next rejection. Let me go back to the wallowing, the self-pity and the elbow inspection in the bathroom mirror. All messed up, for sure, but familiar terrain. Let my version of flirting with disaster be dozens more dating rejections, let me continue to repulse men with my niceness. It’s far better than disasters with pedals.




Wednesday, August 22, 2018

QUOTING RINGO

Easy come, easy go.

That’s the expression that comes to mind as I begin this entry. After two decent dates with Travis, I got the text I didn’t want: nice guy, chemistry not there.

Nothing new. I’ve read it before. Many times.

Damn chemistry. I swear I got an A in it during high school. But like so much of my studies, the curriculum was not practical enough. And it’s the practical elements, not the periodic table of elements, that have challenged me my entire life.

No chemistry. I’ll add it to the file, mixed in with all the “no fireworks” feedback. Whatever I file it under, the key word is “no”.

Easy go? Sure. I have plenty of experience with that part of the expression. Another chance my friends will classify as “not meant to be”, another guy whom they’ll dutifully say was “not good enough”. It’s an earnest attempt to twist a light dose of rejection into recovery and empowerment. Really, my friends just don’t want to hear me whine again. (If my passwords to dating sites suddenly stop working, I suspect it will be my friends, not Russia, who meddled!)

It’s the “easy come” part that doesn’t ring true. First dates don’t come easy at all and second dates, well, sometimes it seems I’d have better luck encountering a unicorn on a forest run. Never thought I’d be quoting Ringo Starr, but “it don’t come easy” at all.

So it’s back to the dating sites and maybe a different kind of online site. I wonder how much a child’s chemistry kit costs. Lifelong learning with a purpose. Small steps.

Monday, August 20, 2018

YOU'VE GOT MAIL...SORT OF

Sometimes it’s worse to get mail than to not get mail. Take my VISA statement which arrived in my mailbox last week. (Seriously,...take it. Please.) The thing felt more like a brick wrapped in paper than a credit card bill. But this blog is not supposed to be about my irresponsible spending binges. Let me redirect things to my inbox on the dating sites OkCupid and Plenty of Fish. The Cupid one is easy to address. It’s clearly out of order. Nothing for weeks on end. I log in, I hear nothing but crickets chirping—it’s gotta be the critters’ version of mock laughter—and I sheepishly log out.

Mail. What was I thinking?

Plenty of Fish isn’t much better. To extend the website’s fishing analogy, I get a nibble, I reel it in, I throw it back. It’s the kind of catch-and-release that comes with hooking a paltry minnow or, worse, one of those creepy, prehistoric looking, slimy bottom feeders.

I got a bite today. Mail, for those of you not following the fish talk. I suppose the bright side is that it wasn’t from a ghastly creature with an overbite, beady eyes protruding from the sides of its face and spiny growths springing up seemingly everywhere. (I can’t gaze long enough to be precise. And, as you might guess, I get a little freaked out swimming in lakes and rivers.)

No, I pulled in a minnow.

The tiniest of nibbles.

hi man

No capital letter, no punctuation, no name.

It’s not a record for fewest characters in a message. No, I’ve blogged that before. Winner “communicated”—I have to put that word in quotes—in a remarkably concise three characters:

h r u

I went ahead and read hi-man-guy’s profile. (I’ve already established that messages are a rarity.) Nothing glaringly offensive, but then nothing to latch onto either. Yeah, if I’d messaged him, the best I might have been able to come up with would have been, “Hi man.” But, yes, a capital and a period. For self-respect.

Alas, why bother?

Delete.

Enough said.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

SECOND THOUGHTS

I’m nervous. I suppose that’s a good thing. It means it matters. 

I have a second date with someone tomorrow night. And, for all the coffee meet-and-greets I’ve gone on, the number that have led to a callback is sadly small. Something happens after a for-all-appearances decent first date. Anything decent quickly evaporates. Maybe it’s fresh air on the walk home that makes the other guy think he can clearly do better. Maybe it’s the Grindr app. Whatever it is, decent—or, yes, even better than decent—rarely warrants a followup.

I get ghosted. And it isn’t any more comforting to know that “ghosted” is a thing. It’s a term, defined by dictionary.com as “to suddenly end all contact with (a person) without explanation, especially in a romantic relationship”. True, a coffee date hardly constitutes a romance, but there’s a related definition: “to leave suddenly without saying goodbye” as in My friend ghosted my birthday party. My experience with ghosts falls somewhere in between.

But not this time. Travis and I met for drinks three and a half weeks ago. A great start, as I mentioned here. What was supposed to be a two-week gap stretched out as Travis’ commitments in Bermuda kept him away longer. As remote as second dates seem, one after this kind of gap is practically miraculous. And perhaps a little more awkward. There’s no momentum. What exactly did we talk about last time? Will I repeat questions or anecdotes? Will he? Will it seem like a second first date? If Drew Barrymore can have “50 First Dates”, I suppose I can have a couple.

Full disclosure: Travis and I met by messaging on a hookup site. Not a promising place for something that leads to anything but a one-off. I am on a couple of the more reputable dating sites too, but Plenty of Fish seems out of stock and any arrows fired from Okcupid hit my feet, not my heart. Even before we went out, I made it clear to Travis I wasn’t interested in a hookup and if he’d thought, “Yeah, yeah,...they all say that,” the hug goodbye would’ve felt like the cold shoulder. Definitely no seconds in that case.

This time it’s dinner. Reservations required. I want to do this right. I feel something might be there with Travis. My gut’s been wrong so many times before that I should have reservations of my own. But that’s not how I function. I go in, earnest and honest. Mr. Nice Guy. We’ll see...I’m rusty with encores. Third dates are practically uncharted territory.

One step at a time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

PLAYING DADDY

“I think when I’m a father I’m going to be the cool dad.” And then ten seconds later, he passes his phone to his coworker: “This is the guy I was talking to you about!” Oh, to have a crush! But the bigger reaction comes from merging the two utterances. Same person, almost in the same breath. A young barista with dreams.

Yes, how far we’ve come. There have always been gay boys pining for love. (How many truly want it, I’ve always questioned.) But it’s the casual mention of being a dad that I find remarkable. Like it’s in the cards if he wants it to be. And why shouldn’t it?

At least once a day, I marvel at the progress. At 53, I’ve become one of the old-timers, someone who can remember when what so many younger gay men take for granted was unimaginable.

I wanted to be a dad. But I knew marrying a woman so I could have kids was both dishonest and selfish. Even when I was closeted, I wasn’t so delusional to think maybe, with a little effort and a lot of denial, I could live a straight life—wife, two kids, a dog and one of those dreaded Disney family cruises. (All those little girls running around as Belle and Mulan would just make me Grumpy.) I was messed up and I didn’t want to mess up anyone else.

Had I had the chance, I wouldn’t have always been the cool dad. I’d have been positively fuddy-duddy at times. No princess costume till you put away your Tonka trucks. No Pokemon anything—I don’t ever want to understand that world. (“Dad! No! That’s Digimon.” Ugh.) And no becoming a teenager. Ever.

Fuddy-duddiness notwithstanding, I’d have been a decent dad. A great one even. I’ve worked with kids my whole life. We connect. I can easily get in the head of a child—or even an adolescent—and understand and appreciate what he or she is thinking even if it is expressed in a problematic manner. Kids relax with me because they learn quickly that I get them. I listen, I commiserate, I do my best to help coach them to their own way out of a problem. It’s a process that takes more time than spouting directives and a string of should’ves, but I see it as a wise investment in someone’s future. I’m proud of the fact that, even in the most difficult and shocking situations, I’ve made sure the younger person’s dignity has remained intact.

To be sure, as a dad, I would have had to grow thicker skin. No matter how hard I’d try, I’d still get my share—and then some—of eye rolls, moody mumbles and all-out shutdowns. Because, despite how hard I’d work to understand, my child(ren) would find it easier at times to pretend I just don’t get it. Yep, the teenage years would come against my orders. Dang it.

But being a dad would have still been worth it.

Alas. It wasn’t to be. Wrong time. It’s a missing piece I’ve done a respectable job pretending I don’t miss.

I’ve made it through the Facebook posting years whereby my old college friends share photos and videos of piano recitals, horseback riding lessons and soccer trophies. I’ve duly pressed the Like button and acknowledged their proud parenting while cynically wondering about the moments that would never be Facebooked.

I’d like to think I’d have shielded my child(ren)’s images from Facebook. Sure, emailing the grandparents and aunts and uncles may be practically prehistoric, but I know I wouldn’t have wanted my parents posting photos of me to their high school buddies now living in Iowa. I hope I’d have been more selective in channeling my pride instead of using my kids for Likes. But, who knows, it’s easy to speculate when I’ve never been on that hamster treadmill known as parenthood. Maybe I’d have needed that external validation of my carefully curated family life.

Before I was twenty, I thought of adopting. There were a couple of teenagers with developmental disabilities who’d been given up by or taken away from their parents. Two or three years younger than me. Impractical. The heart was there, but I knew my noble intentions would have led to failure.

In my thirties, my partner at the time would often raise the issue of parenting and I would skilfully bat the idea away or change the subject. Thank god, he had a short attention span. In truth, I was stuck in an abusive relationship. It was too much for me, even as I couldn’t seem to find the emergency exit. Still, I had enough sense and inner strength to know that I would never bring a child into that dynamic.

Free again in my forties, I felt the clock ticking and stalled nonetheless. Technically, where I lived, it was possible to adopt as a single gay man, but I think all those years of society screaming no had seeped into my psyche. How could I be good enough? What if my desire to be a dad shortchanged my child of a second parent? What if parenting was still a selfish act?

And so the time ticked on. I hit fifty and had enough sense to know that the age gap was too great. I didn’t want my son to be asked about his “grandfather” holding the handmade, purple painted “Seth #1!” sign at the high school swim meet. (The fact that I wanted a child named Seth—or Timothy—may have abruptly ended adoption proceedings anyway.)

How cool or uncool would I have been as a dad? I’ll never know.