Friday, January 23, 2015

MOVIN' ON UP

I’m feeling like George and Weezie.

Bought a condo in Vancouver. My days as Rural Gay are numbered. I move April 1st, no foolin’.

Looking out the condo. So long, ocean & mountain views.
 
There are a couple of things about the Vancouver real estate market that you may not know. First, everything is ridiculously expensive. Second, listings sell seemingly instantaneously. Both factors came into play regarding my new home.

Last week, I contacted a family friend who is a Vancouver realtor and gave her a list of a dozen condominiums I wanted to see. After selling my house, the plan was to rent an apartment in Vancouver. See if this was really the place for me. I’d fled the city before; best not to get tied down. But I wanted to do my due diligence. Get a peek at the condo market, affirm my decision to rent.

On Sunday, I took the ferry over to view seven places. (The others had already sold.) I had one clear favorite, one possibility and five nos. “I’m not ready,” I told my agent. “And I know the one I like will get offers tonight. It’s just too soon.”

While on the ferry home, my agent called. I was right. Two definite offers coming in, with a third as a possibility. Was I interested?

Of course not. Too soon, remember? I hadn’t even worked out the financials. No pre-approval on a mortgage. This condo was less than one-third the size of my house AND it cost more. With competing offers, I’d have to put in an offer above the asking price. As a Vancouverite, I’d played that game before. It’s not fun. Pass.

And yet I found myself fiddling with a mortgage calculator, all too accessible on my handy iPhone. Things looked feasible. I called my agent back. “Let’s do it.”

The next hour was a frenzy. I ran from the ferry terminal to my house and then zipped to work to print, sign and scan the offer. And then I waited. I hope I get it. I hope I don’t.

Sure enough, at 10:30 p.m., the buyer accepted my offer.

Yippee!

Yikes!

I didn’t sleep that night. My god, what have I done? I’ve spent more time contemplating a sweater purchase. Seriously!

I’ll be living two blocks from the poorest area in Canada. For many reasons, that’s where I think I want to be. I’m not a NIMBY guy. I don’t want problems out of sight. I want to see them, understand them and be part of a solution. I spent nine days last spring in a hospital alongside people from this area. I feel a calling. I need to be there.

Or do I?

How will I live in such a small space? Do I really want to live according to a series of bylaws by a potentially overzealous group of condo owners? Didn’t I swear I’d never live in a box again?

At work, the doubt rose as people asked me about the condo. What kind of floors does it have? I don’t know. Does it have window coverings? I don’t remember. Do you like the bathroom? Beats me.

WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

But now I’ve had a chance to go back and get my bearings. A block from Starbucks and movie theaters. I think I knew that. A park across the street. Yes, I saw it—just didn’t realize it was so close. The reality of 570 square feet is setting in. I’ll get to keep my bed and a nightstand. Everything else is too bulky. That lovely designer chair I bought last fall? Nice knowing ya. Naturally, it will be tougher parting with beloved sweaters, but some will have to go. I must have enough room for my twenty-six pairs of Converse. As for my treasured vinyl record collection from the ‘70s (that I haven’t played since the ‘80s), well, I’ve got ten weeks to figure that out.

I am reminded of the reasons I chose to go rural in the first place. So much space. But space also came to mean distance.

Soon, I’ll be immersed in density and 24/7 people watching. This evening, while waiting to walk—WALK!—to a restaurant for dinner, I was warmly greeted by a local seated on a bench outside the Starbucks: “Hey! Don’t fuck around with me.” Okay, so not all people like to be watched. Duly noted.

A change is gonna come. I’ll take the city and all its grit. For now, it’s feeling like the right decision.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

FIVE YEARS, FIVE DAYS

“DONE!” That’s how I posted it on Facebook along with this lovely photo.

It’s a far cry from how I’ve felt for the past twelve months:

done.

Depending on how you look at it, five is my lucky number. I first tried to sell the house five years ago. I was over the whole rural living experiment. Reconciled with the reality that we sometimes make bad decisions, listed the place, applied for and accepted a job back in the Vancouver area. But then the listing languished on the market. I stuck with the five-hour daily commute (there’s that number again) for three years and any sense of resiliency got worn down and wiped out.

I resigned myself to living that line from The Eagles’ “Hotel California”: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Yes, I’d completely checked out. But I was trapped. And so I changed jobs again in order to work locally. Life became less hectic, but also less of anything and everything.

Just less.

All fall I delayed putting my house up for sale. I knew I had to do it. I just wasn’t ready—not strong enough—to have my spirit further beaten down by another long, long period of showings and up-turned noses from prospective buyers.

“Pass.”

“The place needs work.”

“The front door should be a different color.”

I met with a realtor in September. She took pictures for the listing and then I sat on the idea of putting the house on the market. I spent my weekends running away to San Francisco, Seattle, Whistler and Victoria. Too busy to think about the house, I told myself.

I am a master at avoidance.

But then I texted her in late December and we agreed on a date to meet, sign the papers and list the house. No turning back.

Perhaps timing is indeed everything. Five days after the listing got posted on real estate sites, I had competing offers coming in. Out of three showings, I had two offers being presented. Each offer was rewritten, the price upped. That’s unheard of where I live. Other houses in my area continue to have For Sale signs posted. One sign three blocks away from me is now completely obstructed by overgrown shrubs. Another house owned by a senior has basically been abandoned. The market remains bleak and yet somehow I am set up for an April 1st release date.

April Fool’s Day. I still brace for the deal to fall through. I delayed posting this news. Too good to be true? But all the conditions have been removed. I have to believe it’s done. Yes, DONE!

I can look forward once more.

High fives, indeed!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

RUING THE RURAL

It’s time to give this another try. Five years ago, I decided to sell my house. I needed to escape rural life. I felt extremely isolated as a single gay man. The whole move-to-the-country notion had become a horrible, failed experiment.

But just because I’d made the decision didn’t mean that the universe would be cooperative. For twenty-two months, I went through three realtors and the house got little more than a few sniffs. Apparently it smelled bad.

I happen to live in a stagnant real estate market. The value of the house has declined in the ten years I’ve lived here. (Statistically, the decline began three months after I moved in. I’ve never had a good business sense.) I will take a loss; the only question is how big. Still, I must flee. The events of the past year have made it crystal clear that living here is literally killing me. Every day is a struggle. Turns out I am not meant to live as a hermit. I am not thriving here. It’s not even close.

So what’s next? I can’t think that far ahead. The house could languish on the market for months or, yes, years. To contemplate some other future only leads to frustration and despair. One step at a time.

Sell, baby, sell.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

EXERCISING YOUR RIGHT

January is Christmas for gym owners. That’s when all the folks with official and unofficial resolutions tour the place and pay for a new membership. It’s the month I hate the gym. The place is crowded. I have to wait for dumbbells and machines.

Come February, it’s all clear once more. The flocks have lost interest. Presumably, they’ve settled back into more familiar routines, munching on Doritos while keeping up with the Kardashians. Selfishly, I’m relieved. No more sharing in the sandbox. But deep down I wish a few more of the nobly intentioned people could make a longer go of things. No one needs to feel badly about their appearance and then feel like a failure on top of that. I know what it is like for self-esteem to take a beating. “At least you tried” is no consolation.

This is why I humbly offer my own thoughts about how to make a more successful run of striving to get in shape. Bear in mind that I have no training in kinesiology or any other fitness-related domain. No doubt, I do a lot of things wrong. But I’ve exercised regularly for the last twenty-five years in all sorts of gyms (and outdoors). I have some perspective. Here goes:

(1)    You belong. It’s difficult walking into a new gym, especially if you are out of shape. You are immersed with the regulars who can be quite territorial about “their gym”. They don’t look up. In the best of times, they grunt. They are focused on their established routines—and the incoming texts on their phones. It feels like they want to break you. They are absolutely bearish: Who’s been sitting on my bench?

Really, you simply don’t exist to them. And that can be a good thing. The most in-shape people aren’t judging you. Just watch them. If they look up, it is only to check themselves out in the mirror.
 
(2)    Step right up. January is particularly hard to elbow your way into a gym. Mondays are the worst. Many a time, I’ll walk into the gym and consider turning right around, walking out and going surfing instead. Couch surfing. Bless whoever came up with that term. Surfing is such an active way to pass time. Why distinguish?  

In its most crowded moments, the gym can look like there is no open space. It simple requires stopping and scanning. Find something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be part of your brand new routine that was created for you during that free, one-time session with a highly disinterested personal trainer. If there’s a mat, take it. Do those sit-ups you used to do in high school. Who cares if the form has since been proven to require corrective back surgery? This is for five minutes, not the next five years. Stretch if nothing else. Just identify a teensy space, mark it as yours and do something. In time, a machine or a barbell will open up. Then you can pounce on it without any residual muscle pain. You’re sufficiently stretched, after all.

(3)    Go easy. I know there are people who say that all that soreness you feel from a strenuous workout is a good thing. It’s your muscles waking up. That’s what you want. But, no, that’s not really what you want. Not at the outset. Achy muscles make it easier to skip the gym the next day. And the day after that. Before you know it, a week has passed and you’re not into the gym at all. You’re three seasons behind on “Downton Abbey” and it’s really starting to get good. Binge-watching sounds more appealing. After “Downton”, then “Dr. Who” and “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent” and, well, you can probably find the entire library of “The Beverly Hillbillies” somewhere. Jethro was awfully hunky. Nine more months pass before you have the nerve to cancel your gym membership. An expensive mistake, that’s what it all was.

I suggest beginning with shorter, easier workouts. Twenty minutes, thirty tops. Don’t be the least bit self-conscious about sharing your dumbbells with that ninety-two-year-old woman with the walker. I’ve already said it,…you belong.

You are in this for the long-term. A few impressive workouts with gawk-inducing heaving sounds isn’t going to tone your body or add muscle. You’ll only want your gym relationship annulled as your calf muscles cramp up with excruciating pain in the middle of the night. If it takes three weeks to establish a routine, then be patient. Go weak, go light for twenty-one days. Get to know the layout of the gym. Get a better understanding of how all this pseudo sweating impacts your laundry day. Discover your signature doodle in the margins of that Workout Journal you bought at the dollar store.

Only after this routine is set should you start to add on five pounds of weights and five minutes in time. Build up gradually. You won’t get to be that buzzy New Year’s resolutionist at the office who loses fifteen pounds in January, but you’ll still be working out in July when she’s regained all that weight and then some. (Poor thing, another summer with a self-imposed swimsuit ban.) Remember, this is a long-term thing. Come next January, you want to be like me and the other regulars, irked by all these naïve newbies who think a gym membership is all that’s required to get in better shape.

Best of luck to you! As cranky as I get in that first month of every year at the gym, I want to see you stick it out. I won’t dare make eye contact—I still am plagued by moments of feeling like I don’t belong—but just know that I am in that gym too and I am rooting for you.

 

 

Friday, December 26, 2014

A CHRISTMAS CRUSH

I can be particularly vulnerable over the holidays. Maybe then it should come as no surprise that I started to fall for him.

I first met Jonah about two weeks ago. They say this sort of thing happens when you’re not expecting it, when you’re no longer looking, and that seems to have been the case. I’d popped into the library after work to pick up one of those broadly written inspirational books for the professional work environment. I never get past the first chapter of any of them—somehow in striving to reach the masses these authors fail to convey even an ounce of relatability. But there it was, on the shelf just as my online search had said it would be. And as I rushed to head to the checkout—I looked pretty silly in my shorts in mid-December as the next stop was the gym—I bumped into Jonah. Only at that time we did not introduce ourselves. Still, I felt a clear pang of interest though I could not get a clear read of him in that fleeting moment.

I stumbled into Jonah the following night, this time as he played a guitar and sang—An artist!—to a small audience that included a core group of friends that would welcome me: Jules, Ash, Ethan, Cathy and Goodman. In the days that followed, Cathy and Goodman would make their exits as happens during the holidays while Dennis and Robert would enter the fold. They clicked in an odd way, just as I’d imagine the characters of “The Breakfast Club” or “St. Elmo’s Fire” would continue to connect because of, or in spite of, their surface differences. As much as I enjoyed their company, my eye was always drawn to Jonah. Alas, as is so brutally common in life, Jonah’s eye was clearly on Robert.

There you go, I told myself. Not meant to be. They seem happy, a poster gay couple even. Let it go. It was never ever meant to be.

But each time I got together with this group, I seemed consumed in wanting to know more about Jonah, the quiet one. Sometimes he’d be a no-show and that only magnified the mystery and the allure. We want what we can’t have. It’s safer that way, I suppose. Nothing grounded in reality. No real risk.

Right before Christmas, Robert dumped Jonah. Right before Christmas! The cad! (Hooray!) That’s not a whiff of gingerbread, that’s the smell of opportunity. Still, Jonah didn’t seem to notice me. He just broke up. Give him time, you putz.

I’d planned to spend Christmas Day alone. To cope, I’d decided to head to Whistler for the day, a chance to test my ski legs after a decade away. At the last minute—really, 3:30 Christmas morning—I decided to forego the mountains and spend the day with Jonah. Well, Jonah and Jules and Dennis and Ash and Ethan. I knew that Jules and Ethan would dominate, but I’d take whatever glimpses of Jonah I could get.

From my longing observations and from the snippets I got from the others, it was clear to me that Jonah was my kind of guy. Handsome—the kind of man for whom “beautiful” is a better descriptor. Soft spoken. Vulnerable. He was raised to be sensitive and apparently never rebelled against it. His mother had made a career out of being a well-regarded folksinger. There was something about Jonah getting caught up in a cult for a brief period in his twenties, but that was long ago and, really, it only underscored his vulnerability. Wounded yet healed. In my quirky mind, that made this musical engineer—An engineer!--even sexier.

The day turned out to be a pleasure. I felt fully accepted and entertained amongst this company. It was the perfect way to spend a day I’d been dreading. Sadly, it all ended at 7:30 Christmas evening with me being no closer to the sweet Jonah Bay.

It’s not the kind of book that lends itself to a sequel.

Yes, that’s what it’s come to. I am now apparently lusting after fictional characters, this Jonah dude the most promising man I’ve come across in months. Thanks a lot, Meg Wolitzer. You and your hefty tome, The Interestings, proved to be, well, too interesting.

Ah, but these things happen. We lonely readers may indeed be the most vulnerable. Think of all the women who have fallen for Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy. And then there’s that more recent kinky wooer, Christian Grey. Thankfully, my next read is Nora Ephron’s screenplay for “When Harry Met Sally”. No doubt, I will become great friends with these beloved characters, but I can say with complete certainty that Sally Albright and I—and Harry Burns and I—will never become anything more than friends. Yes, Nora, that’s entirely possible. That comes as a great relief as I still need time to get over my feelings for Jonah.

 

 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

SEARCHING FOR ANYTHING

NOTE: This is a follow-up Post-Date blog entry after I'd put up a Pre-Date entry earlier in the day.

Not Naughty. Not even close.

Just wrapped my second date with Wade, one that followed a six-week break from the first and, well, if it didn’t fizzle, it didn’t crackle either.

People have insinuated that, since I’ve been single for a decade, I must be too picky. That comment heckles me as I feel a date going absolutely nowhere. And in response, I prod myself. Give him a chance. Tim Gunn even makes a cameo appearance in my head: Make it work.

And so, despite having a sense five minutes in that this would be a flat date, I gave him four hours of chances. The conversation remained polite the entire time. To be sure, Wade is handsome, fit and intelligent. But there just wasn’t a connection. As much as we talked, it never seemed like we found common ground, building on each other’s thoughts. Neither of us playfully touched the other’s arm and I felt no urge to hug him or kiss him. Not once did either one of us laugh.

It could be that he’s too formal. And it could also be that so am I. But I’d felt a breakthrough on a recent date when I’d reached across the table and touched the guy’s arm. I could have done the same at dinner tonight. The thought crossed my mind, but the desire wasn’t there.

At the end of the date, Wade stated that he was interested in seeing me again. He wanted to see how things might evolve. “We’re both adults though,” he said. “If either of us isn’t feeling it, we should be able to say it or take it.” That’s the familiar out that we give the other person in the early stages. I’ve said the same thing. Here’s your opening to run for your life.

And I failed to speak up. Maybe another chance. Maybe he’s even more reserved than I am. Maybe there is a fun person in there somewhere.

For this date, I’d done something I’d never done before. I stuffed a toothbrush and deodorant in my backpack. Just in case. But, alas. It ended with a hug and a quick lip peck. Physically, there was no chance it could have been anything more.

At least I can have fresh breath and spinach-free teeth for the ferry ride home. For tonight, that’s as good as it gets.

A SECOND FIRST?

It’s almost over. The holidays. At least the Christmas end of it. I’m blocking out the whole “What are you doing for New Year’s” thing. Need to break the holidays down into manageable chunks.

I’m on the ferry, heading in for another coffee date. A rare second date! (Maybe Bigfoot exists, too. And Santa.) This midday Sunday sailing is full, loaded with people coming and going from visits with the relatives. No doubt, there are more than a few last-minute shoppers, too. I never know how I am going to respond inside to being immersed as a spectator in social hoopla. For now, it is fine. The date helps. I have a purpose. We’ll see how I handle the return trip if it turns out to be a fizzler.

The first date happened sometime around a different holiday: Halloween. Our schedules just haven’t meshed since then. Consider that a bad sign—not meant to be—or think of it as a good sign: persistence against all odds. I’m not viewing it as any sign at all. I am more concerned that I don’t remember an awful lot from our previous coffee encounter, a pleasant exchange at a café outlet just outside Vancouver’s central library branch. I’d spent the afternoon researching and writing for a current project. I don’t remember much about that either. So, technically, it is a second date but it feels like a first all over again.

What does he look like again?

I knew at the end of our first meeting that he’d wanted to meet again. I was game, too. But there is no momentum. He’d initially suggested a day of skiing which I kiboshed. I don’t know him well enough to embarrass myself on such a grand scale. And a full day on the hills seemed like a big step for a first-ish second date. So it’s coffee to go and an exploration on foot of Vancouver’s West End until things naturally play themselves out. Smaller steps. I just hope I’m not left with half a cup of still-hot coffee when we bid adieu!

The ferry buzz has quieted down. Not as many teens loudly chatting—Notice me!—as they do laps around the boat’s interior. No children running around playing tag as their parents play Let’s Pretend They’re Not Ours. The biggest distraction is a grandma sitting across the aisle from me. She is playing some sort of game on her phone and she’s got the volume at max. DING! DING! I feel like a Skinner rat or a Pavlovian dog. Where’s my treat?

Maybe it will come on the date. There’s still time to add me to the Naughty list. It’s as much as I can wish for this Christmas.