Saturday, April 11, 2015

(ME:) SHAKEN. (HIM:) NOT STIRRED.

They can't all be good ones. I of all people should know that. But some bad dates weigh heavier than others. Sometimes the event even makes you question yourself. That old teen angst question – "What's wrong with me?"– resurfaces.

Bad date. Bad, bad date.

If he had been rude or obnoxious, I could've handled it. I could've dismissed him. A jerk. Who wants him? But it seems that indifference is more crushing.

It started with hello. Slight nod, a formal handshake. He ordered his coffee and paid for it. I ordered mine, paid for it. (So what that it took me forty minutes in the snails’ queue over the Lions Gate Bridge to get to his area.) Not a big deal but still awkward when the barista thought he was paying for both of us.

As I waited for my coffee, he stood ten feet away, scanning messages on his iPhone. The disinterest was instantaneous. Really?! I thought. This is ridiculous.

Something pretty to look at after all.   
Unfortunately, we had arranged to grab a coffee and go for a hike. And so we went forward, out of a sense of obligation rather than any hope of a connection. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's an introvert. Maybe he just takes time to warm up. Maybe he's nervous.

But all that would just be flattering myself. No, he had no desire to be invested in the date. I did my best to create a flow to the conversation, asking him question after question. I continued to smile, nod and respond to his polite remarks. None of the questions were lobbed back my way. Not a single “What about you?” Why attempt any façade of wanting a two-way conversation?

This despite the fact that we had a number of things in common on a superficial level. We are both in the teaching profession. Both of us lived in Texas for extended periods of time. Both of us have our families still living there. We both lived in Southern California. The time frames match. We both played in the gay volleyball league in Vancouver. We know many of the same people. The conversation should have been breezy, even if neither of us felt an attraction.

Clearly, it pained him to be with me. And he was the one who initially messaged me online. Apparently seeing me in person came as an extreme disappointment. It is hard to conclude otherwise. If only I had thicker skin. After all this time and all my stand-alone first dates, I certainly should.

As we walked across a suspension bridge, he took a selfie. I offered to take his picture and he passed over his phone. Again, he did not offer the same to me. I got the sense that his selfie moment was wishful thinking.

I don't have a problem with guys not being into me. Frankly, it happens all the time. But it's jarring when somebody does not want to even carry on a cordial conversation. Nobody wants to get the sense that they are a pariah. But it's hard to shake the disdainful aloofness. By the time we made the return drive to my car, I let the time pass in silence. Why not? He’d be done with the date in five seconds. I was done after eighty minutes. I'm a slow learner.

Two blocks from my car, we were idled at a stoplight. I reached for the door handle, more than happy to escape a little early. He insisted on turning onto the side street where I was parked. A dutiful hug goodbye. And then we were both free again. Indeed, free at last.

An awkward date. An awful date. I tell myself I should shake it off. It should be easy. I had not been attracted to him when I first walked into the coffee shop, but I flashed a bright smile. Give him a chance, I thought. I did everything I could to be amiable. (I even made him laugh—presumably involuntarily—a few times.) Not every relationship arises from an instant spark. And a friendship is always possible. Or, at the very least, a pleasant exchange with someone I may never see again. Any of those options would have been fine. Sure beats being repeatedly snubbed.

I should be telling myself that he has the social problem. Still, there's that pit in my stomach, that feeling that maybe I should do the right thing and pull myself off the market. Maybe I could learn to like cats. Maybe I could master the art of knitting tea cosies.

Ack!

I need to stay positive. But this is my first date since being back in Vancouver. It feels anything but good. I should let it go. And I will. Tomorrow. But it doesn't make for a great Saturday.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

IN NAME ONLY

Okay, I have a name problem. Like the helpless Doberman some sap named Pooky. Or the gun-control pacifist unfortunately named Hunter. Or anyone name Engelbert—well, just because. I’m Rural Gay. That’s been my blog moniker since 2008. And yet I’m rural no more.

Let me restate that, with more appropriate punctuation: I’m rural no more!

I’m back in the heart of Vancouver. For various reasons, I spent my first six days in my new condo without having to go to work. I got out plenty, meeting friends for dinners, going to the gym, trying out cafés, grocery shopping, clothes shopping, popping in the hardware store. Not once did I have to use my car. I didn’t even take mass transit. Everything was in walking distance. Everything.

I’ve satisfied my immediate urban fix and it feels good. Still, there’s work to do. After ten years away, my friendship pool is seriously depleted. It’s not quite at the California drought level, but it’s not all that healthy either. Aside from the two dinners, I spent that six-day span entirely on my own. Conversations were limited to “Thank you” and “Have a nice day” courtesies that I said to baristas. Some even responded in kind. I am a solitary man who has grown even more solitary by default. It’s become too comfortable.

 
I have to break my rural ways. In essence I am now Rural Gay in Recovery.

Challenges remain. There’s still that pesky D word. Depression. It’s not the kind of thing you can just run away from. Indeed, I experienced flashes of it at completely random moments during my extended weekend. And then there’s a more basic issue. My urban time is compromised. While I’ve moved my residence, I haven’t changed jobs. Thus, I’m back to commuting by ferry on a daily basis. My work continues to be in the rural area where I lived. The commute is two hours in the morning, two hours in the evening. Quality urban time must wait for weekends.

Still, there are possibilities once more. And that’s enough to savor for now.

Monday, April 6, 2015

GUILT ON WHEELS

                          Not really me.
I’ve let myself go. For three weeks and counting, I haven’t swam laps, I’ve run only half as often and gym workouts only dot instead of fill the calendar. Most guys would still find the routine satisfactory. But most guys aren’t fanatical about body image. Not, at least, once they’ve hit fifty. They’ve accepted, even embraced a little belly flab.

I am verging on distraught. But it’s still only verging. And so getting serious about shedding three pounds gets postponed another day. I’m still in my first week living back in Vancouver after a decade detour in rural isolation. I can’t be too hard on myself for succumbing to some of the evil lures of the big city. Not yet.

I walked across the Cambie Street Bridge, intent on buying a bike lock and a petite trash can for my teensy condo. Unfortunately, I know the city too well. My walk gave me time to think. And it gave my stomach a chance to be heard. Loud growls. Clear signs of rebellion over the plan to skip breakfast. I remembered that a favorite Jewish bakery is only a block away from the hardware store. Suddenly, the thought of buying a cinnamon bun seemed more pleasurable, more urgent than picking up a trash can.

Yep, I caved.

But Vancouver is one of those crazy West Coast cities where fitness is a religion. As I sat down and let the buttery goodness of my treat melt on my tongue, a jogger passed in a fully coordinated outfit from Vancouver’s own, Lululemon. I shamefully looked away. Be one with the bun. Enjoy your indulgence. And then, five cyclists pulled up. For a moment, I thought they were coming in, seeking a logical reward for all that pedaling. But, no. They were just waiting for the light to turn green.

The fitness parade continued. In the short time it took me to devour my supersized sin-amon bun, two dozen cyclists rolled by. The freakin’ bakery is sitting at the intersection of two bike route streets! Foul!

I almost lost my appetite. I almost stopped two-thirds the way through. Almost. I can tell you that the bun didn’t taste nearly so good by the end. My stomach stopped growling, but now it feels loaded down. Ever the malcontent. I’ll blame the bikers rather than my general intolerance for excessive sugar. It’s easier that way.

And now I’ve got to go get that bike lock (and trash can). I’ve got miles to pedal this afternoon. Haven’t planned my route just yet, but I will steer clear of a certain bakery. Why ruin another fitness avoider’s day? Let him eat his rugolehs and Babkas without eyeing one more fitness disciple trying to get back in gear.

And, as much as I think I know Vancouver, I’d better find another hardware store.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: "HOW WILL I KNOW"

The café where I’ve been writing before work each morning is on an ‘80s music kick. INXS, Belinda Carlisle, Madness. (Madness!) One particular song triggers today’s Throwback Thursday post.

The song is “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. It always takes me back to one moment in time—1986, Bedford, Texas, a nondescript urban pit stop between Dallas and Fort Worth. I’d just graduated from university and landed my first teaching job at a private special education school, working alongside nuns and bitter, abrasive divorced women. Obviously, there was no chance for dating in the workplace.

Not that I would have turned any heads back then. As special education students were entitled to remain in school until they were 21, several of my students were older than me. I grew a scraggly mustache as a feeble attempt to distract from my continuing battle with adolescent acne and to give myself some semblance of being a man despite my scrawny body. (Had it been a different era, strangers would have approached me for selfie snaps to post on Facebook with remarks like, “Stickman Lives!”)

I had a one-bedroom apartment in Bedford and I thought I was living the glamorous life. My parents hauled my old bed from East Texas and I furnished the living room/dining room with two bean bags and a card table. I was independent and intent on succeeding in my career, in dating and in all things that come with being an adult. I was Mary Richards, only a different gender, different job and in a location far less exciting than Minneapolis.

At least I had a vivid imagination.

Oh, and my living room also had my prized possession: a stereo system, complete with turntable, receiver and tape deck all neatly stacked on the black shelves of a stereo cabinet with the magnetic glass door that both protected and showed off all that hi-tech glory.

As my friends lived in Fort Worth, it was hard to coax them to drive out to a sleepy Bedford midweek. That gave me plenty of time to slouch in my bean bag and belt out my duet version of “Saving All My Love for You” with Whitney. She and I were a formidable duo, the next Peaches & Herb. (Based on my horrendously off-key singing voice, I should have shut up and played an air keyboard, aspiring for Whit and I to be the next Captain & Tennille instead.)

Whitney and I sang the heck out of that entire debut album. Sometimes I’d have the good sense to be quiet and just listen to her gloriously pure voice, but more often she’d entice me to join in. The songs spoke to me. Sort of. I had no frame of reference for “You Give Good Love”. The closest I’d gotten to any kind of experience was when I got stuck having to make out with a very drunk girl during my first year in university. I was relieved when she threw up on my bed before she ever took off her bra. (God knows, I wasn’t going to fiddle with the clip or whatever it was that kept it in place.) I’d spent the rest of university declaring that I was “voluntarily celibate” and failing to disclose anything more despite the persistent questioning of my psych-major roommate. “Good Love”? Not a clue.

But, again, I had a vivid imagination. I was sure it had something to do with going out for ice cream.

I drew more personal connections to the hopeful and pining songs on “Whitney Houston”. Sure, I was saving all my love for someone. (Please don’t let it be some side affair. I deserved better. Whitney deserved better.) While I felt the pain and helplessness of “Saving All My Love for You”, another tune made me gleefully hopeful. The uptempo arrangement of “How Will I Know” awakened excited butterflies inside me. It compelled me to roll out of my body-sucking bean bag and dance around the apartment, only stopping momentarily to check for bruising each time I smashed into the card table. (My dancing and coordination matched my singing abilities.)

My clearest and happiest connection to “How Will I Know” comes from a weekly stop at the local Tom Thumb grocery store. I had to stock up on a bagged loaf of Mrs. Baird’s bread, smooth peanut butter and no-name boxes of mac ‘n’ cheese. (The private school paid 40% less than public school salaries. I took a vow of poverty alongside Sister Herman Marie.) I queued for the express checkout and, thankfully, there was a bit of a wait. In an instant, I’d fallen for the grocery clerk. He had wavy light brown hair, long in top and closely cropped at the back. As he intently scanned soup cans of a shopper ahead of me, I had the opportunity to stare and to pine. Such a pretty face. From my recollection, it was entirely zit free. How could that not instill lust and envy? His lips were soft and full. So kissable.

When it was my turn to check out, he looked up and I glimpsed his blue eyes. “Hi,” he said. I wanted to extend the opportunity to connect so I went with the two-syllable “Hello.” But, alas, I couldn’t come up with anything else. I felt sweat coating my forehead. I kept my arms tight at my side to conceal the growing pit stains. My social awkwardness was even greater way back then.

With his head down, I gazed at that hair. It was TV-commercial shiny and bouncy. Must use Pert. Or Jhirmack. He was done scanning before I was. As he announced the total, I fumbled the pen I was using to write a check/cheque. (Remember paying for everything with checks? Why use cash?) After I retrieved the pen off the floor, I rushed to fill in the check, feeling the annoyance of the customers behind me. Clearly, they did not see this for the momentous occasion that it was.

In my rush, my penmanship faltered. (Mrs. Martindale, my fifth grade teacher always felt my cursive was subpar. Too much of that lefty slant.) I wrote “Sexteen” instead of “Sixteen”. Check/Cheque flirting, the obvious precursor to sexting. Did he notice? I couldn’t look up. I had an “e” to alter. Big dot on top, lots of ink shading in that hooped space. I handed it over. He briefly eyed the front and remained stoic as he jotted down my driver’s license/licence info on the back of the check/cheque. A true pro. Alas.

I retreated to my car, feeling humiliated and exhilarated at the same time. I’m with the grocery clerk! I wiped by brow down with a hand towel. (I was always prepared. Everything embarrassed me. Everything induced unwanted sweating. And I needed to do what I could to abate the acne affliction.) I turned the ignition and Whitney soothed me while masterfully extending that state of excited confusion. “How Will I Know”? Indeed.

In the remaining months I lived in Bedford, I found myself making excuses to pop by Tom Thumb. Why buy a week’s work of no-name mac ‘n’ cheese? Surely, it’s fresher if I get it and make it that same day. And maybe I should make another run for a bottle of Jhirmack. Recommended by Victoria Principal and the grocery god.

I always glanced at the checkout lines as soon as I stepped in the store. Caught my guy on his shift a couple more times. Always chose his line. I was still an awkward, perspiring mess, but I kept composed enough to hold the pen. (Too firm of a grip, Mrs. Martindale would have said.) Sadly, the way he checked me out and the way I checked him out never meshed.

Grocery god sightings ceased altogether after two months. Hope faded. I came to realize that love had nothing to do with ice cream. No, Häagen-Dazs was all about solace. Pleasure for one. I could spoon to the bottom of the pint with Whitney understanding my woes and remaining my steadfast duet partner. Hearing “How Will I Know” again, I only wish I could link the song to some other guy. Oh, how I wanna dance with somebody who loves me.

He doesn’t even have to be a grocery clerk.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MENACE ON THE STREETS

My first photo during my New York stay. (Robert Indiana's)
LOVE went largely unnoticed.
I am enjoying my first trip to New York City. Still, it’s not the place to take a leisurely stroll. The pace is hurried. Pedestrians don’t wait on the curb at traffic lights. They inch into the street. But it’s not even inching. They foot into the street; they yard into the street. Yes, New Yorkers have created two new measurement verbs.

I could really fit in here.

Even as I browsed the aisles at Whole Foods, I had to keep my eye out for aggressive cart pushers and basket carriers. I stepped aside, brushed up against boxes of gluten-free rosemary flatbread. Let ‘em pass. I didn’t see any shopper crashes, but I didn’t want to take my chances.

On the streets, it’s an onslaught of environmental print. It’s not just the colossal signage in Times Square. There’s something for sale everywhere. Even in the library. (I bought a book but passed on the Wizard of Oz t-shirt.)

There’s one sign that seems to be following me. It’s one of those ad campaigns that completely envelopes a bus. And I’m not sure if it’s just one friggin’ bus that keeps circling my path or if NBC splurged with its marketing and transformed a Manhattan fleet, but I keep encountering whole-bus signage promoting the new show “Undateable”.

Damn bus.

This is my vacation. This is supposed to be an escaped from my everyday reality.

Wasn't my intention, but I love that the sign on the other bus
says, "Mad Me", the last letter, an N, lopped off.
Customized signage, indeed!
I see it as I schlep to the Museum of Modern Art. “Undateable”.

On my way back from Central Park. “Undateable”.

As I search for authentic New York cheesecake. “Undateable”.

Sorry, NBC, I don’t need the reminders. When I first heard about the show, two thoughts came to mind: (1) I should sue them for mocking my life, or (2) How did they ever cast anyone other than me in the starring role?

I really have no idea whether this is a reality show, a sitcom or something more aptly based on a Greek tragedy. I don’t want to know. The title hits too close to home. Even when I’m 2,400 miles away.

So much for getting away from it all.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

TAKING A BITE OF THE FORBIDDEN BIG APPLE

I hear the stories. Gay guy goes on vacation, imbibes in a margarita or four, hooks up with a hot local guy and returns home with a scandalous story to tell for the next week.

How Steven got his groove back.

Apparently the chances are good. Barflies get tired of the same filler material. They keep their eyes open, waiting for the first “Say, you’re not from around here” guy to walk in the club. Well, maybe not the first. It takes a while for their own liquid relaxants to kick in.

New guy + barfly. It’s a potent combination. Two men with low/no expectations. One night. Maybe just one hour. It’s practically anonymous. Go in with a new name, the one you wish your parents had given you. Remember when “Dick” was acceptable? Try it on if you can say it with a straight face. If not, there are other studly names. Dirk. Gunnar. Just not Rolfe. (He turned out bad in “The Sound of Music”.)

Go wild. What happens in Vegas and all that. So what if your holiday is in Acapulco. Or Cleveland. Conjure up your own Vegas state of mind.

And, yes, I could stand to have a Vegas moment. I’m in New York City and there are so many attractive men. Men with a fashion sense. Men who clearly seem to be gay. Especially when I’m spending all my time in art galleries and in line for Broadway shows. Of course, the boys of Broadway march two by two. I wind up eavesdropping on two old Jewish women in front of me as they kvetch about all the stars of “Glee”. (They catch me nodding as one of them says Jonathan Groff and Darren Criss make a cuter couple than Kurt and Blaine.)

On my third night in Manhattan, I should be going to a gay bar. Perhaps even a bathhouse if I don’t feel like margaritas. But I get bored looking up gay bars on Yelp. I dash out with the clear intention of picking Steve. I cruise the aisles of Whole Foods on 7th Avenue until I spot him: a pint of Steve’s Mexican Chili Chocolate ice cream, the perfect way to end the night after a Broadway show. Yes, that’s the kind of Steve from Brooklyn that truly whets my appetite. I'm thinking I'd love another go at Steve. He’s my sure thing.

On my final day, I decide to walk through Greenwich Village and to check out the Stonewall Inn. For a Saturday afternoon, the streets seem quiet. I don’t get any sense of a Bohemian culture. Neither do I get a sense that this is a gay area. The Stonewall Inn appears to be a teeny establishment, a big surprise since everything in Manhattan seems so big. I had told myself I’d pop in for a beer but I see no one coming or going and, frankly, I have no desire for any kind of alcohol. I move on, stopping for a moment to gaze at a subpar all-white sculpture to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. The historical milestone deserves better.

If I’m going to stumble on a fling or at least a moment of flirtation, I figure my best chances are just off Christopher Street. I stroll into Big Gay Ice Cream.

Yes, this is my kind of cruising bar.

But, alas, the stereotypes must be true. Gays don’t do ice cream. Not in broad daylight, at least. There are twenty people in the shop. All families and straight couples. I no longer feel inspired to order the Bea Arthur. The camp factor would be fruitless. I settle on the Pumpkin Gobbler instead. I get it to-go.

Two days in a row of self-soothing with ice cream. I’m definitely staying in tonight. And I’ll be doing penance when I get back home—longer jogs, harder swims, heavier weights. It’s not the kind of penance I’d hoped for.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

THE TIME FOR SECOND THOUGHTS

Okay. I see it. My current internet search windows scream, “Mistake!” And the message is ripe. With my move only two and a half weeks away, second thoughts are natural.

I’m writing at my regular table at my third favorite café in my ferry-dependent community. Yes, I’ll admit to liking and frequenting six or seven cafés here. They do cafés well. Shopping, restaurants, the arts? Not so much. Anyway, here I am writing and sipping a nonfat latté from an oversized mug when I see the woman at the table beside me tip her newspaper upward just enough for me to see the nameplate: The New York Times. Well, that gets me excited. A New York Times available here? Is it today’s? A Sunday New York Times?! It takes great restraint not to snatch it out of her hand. And despite a stir of excitement I’m too shy to ask where she got it. Instead I stop writing and conduct an urgent Google Search: “new york times sunshine coast”.

Nothing.

Maybe it’s just as well. It would be heartbreaking to discover after almost ten years that I could have been more informed and culturally connected just by stopping by the local gas station on Sunday mornings. The woman probably came over on the ferry this morning. A Vancouver purchase to pass the time while unwatched tots yell and play tag on the boat ride over.

My search does lead to an article I click on. It’s a 2008 travel piece about the Sunshine Coast in The New York Times.Basking in the Sunshine Coast”. And the place sounds lovely. A great place for a weekend of kayaking and hiking.

On the 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, the geographic and mental shift happens quickly, taking passengers from an urban, glass-walled landscape to one dominated by snowcapped mountains and wide-ranging swaths of green.

Yes, I recall my vacation getaways before I actually moved here. It always felt like I was being transported to another world. Peace, serenity and all that. Notably, the writer states that she only encountered one person on a three-hour hike, an experience I find each time I venture into nature here. When I go, it always feels like it’s mine and mine alone. And therein lies the reminder. At some point, “alone” trumped “serenity”.

The other internet article that is currently open on my screen is glaringly different in tone and subject matter. It’s a CBC report about a Vancouver incident last night. “Double stabbing leaves two dead”. Okay, big city. Crime happens. But this particular happening occurred a block and a half from the building where I’m moving. And even though it’s a quickly released story, there is no chance that a reporter could ever get a quote from a neighbor saying something like, “I’m shocked. You always hear about this sort of thing happening. You just never think of it happening here. It’s just not that kind of place.”

Truth is, it is that kind of place—rundown hotels converted to housing for the most destitute people in Canada; rampant drug use; under-treated persons struggling with mental illness; assorted crimes associated with addiction and the basest efforts to survive.

Home?

Two articles. The differences between where I’m leaving and where I’m going couldn’t be starker. One portrays my current surroundings at its best, a vacation paradise. The other depicts my pending environment at its worst, a chronic urban blight. If ever I were to have second thoughts, these articles would be the impetus.

But, really, I’m aware of the extremes. I may very well once again retreat to the Sunshine Coast on weekends when I need to decompress on the ferry and wander alone along rocky shores and on canopied forest treks. My new home is true urban grit, trendy restaurants and shops coexisting with inebriated entrepreneurs hawking stolen goods on the sidewalks out front. I am stubbornly naïve in thinking I can gain a better understanding of the problems, maybe even make a difference. I am also wary, knowing that my desire to be sympathetic and supportive won’t matter if someone wants my wallet or seeks to find spare change in my parked car.

Life will be different. That is certain.

For now, I’ll savor my latté and the local color as a dozen chatty seniors pull tables together, the men with lumberjack beards and rubber-banded greying ponytails, the women still wearing socks and crocs. Time stands still here. Unfortunately, I cannot.