Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NEW EYES

With the For Sale sign pitched out front, I am able to see things differently in my local environment. Instead of cursing my neighbors’ muffler-challenged pickup trucks and the five-year-old who stands in the middle of our street yelling four-letter words (and I swear my cursing didn’t influence him; perhaps vice-versa) , I can focus on the forest that the road backs onto, the fresh snow dusting the mountains and the view of the water. Yes, the scenic beauty that attracted me to this area stands out again.

It’s not that I had a tree trimmer come by and hack away at all the trees and hedging on my property. The view has always been stunning. It’s just that there have been times when all I wanted to see was city lights (even though it drives me crazy that entire office floors remain fully lit through the night). I am surrounded by young families and retirees and that same demographic exists in the nearby town. I’ve always been an odd duck, but here I’m stranger than Daffy and Donald combined—I’m more like that whacky “Disco Duck” that even 70s radio stations shun.

Since that sign went up, I’ve been like a tourist as I’ve driven into town, taking the longer scenic route to enjoy the peekaboo water views and to see the quaint knickknack shops decked out for the holidays. I’ve stopped and gazed at the sleepy harbour and the even more remote island enclave across the strait.

This afternoon the sun is scheduled to make a rare December appearance and I’m planning on walking the dogs along the hiking trail only a block away from home. We seldom go there as I’m usually in a hurry and more inclined to stick to the roads. (I also tend to lose all sense of direction and have gotten miserably lost back there so we won’t go far. I’ll kid myself in saying it’s because of my older dog’s weak legs. And it’ll work—sad how easy it is to play with my own mind!)

When I take the ferry to the city on Christmas Day, I might even give up my usual perch in one of the “business work station” carrels and stake out a window seat to do nothing but take in the soaring gulls, the choppy ocean water and the smoke seeping from cottage chimneys on islands we pass.

There has been no action on the house listing. It’s a far cry from Vancouver when both my houses sold in a week. I’m telling myself people are too busy with gingerbread houses to look at real ones of the plain brown and white stucco variety. Maybe some overspending on Boxing Day will humble home buyers into considering properties with a little less curb appeal. Buy those plasma screens! Scoop up the whole lot of hideous sweaters, still overpriced at 75% off!

This is a waiting period for me. Could last for months. I may nervously resume my childhood habit of gnawing on my fingernails, but I will also take the time to appreciate the charm and beauty of the present. Indeed, it shall be the holiday present to myself.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR

As if I needed confirmation that listing my house was the right decision, today I passed up an opportunity I’d have jumped at if I lived in Vancouver.

I noticed in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun that the new movie “A Single Man” was going to be showing at 10 a.m. today with the screenwriter present for discussion. This movie is an adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel. Directed by Tom Ford, it stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore and is generating Oscar buzz. (Xtra West calls it "one of the best gay films ever".) Sure, there will be more screenings when the film goes into wide release, but this was a chance to hear the writer, David Scearce, talk about his process and the final product. (Tom Ford shares a writing credit, having revised Scearce’s original script.) As a fledgling writer, I would have been inspired listening to this Vancouverite’s success story. Moreover, I would be able to identify because he is an acquaintance of mine though I haven’t seen him in several years. I have heard bits and pieces of the process over time from a mutual friend.

So what stopped me? I had planned to go. As is so often the case, I was gung-ho last night, only to be awakened with practicalities in the middle of the night. By the time my alarm went off, I’d backed out. A twelve dollar movie ticket was going to cost me $52, factoring in the ferry cost. (I’m on a year’s leave from work to focus on writing. It’s a wonderful experience except for the fact that my bank account is being battered.) On top of that, the two-hour movie would have taken eight hours to see, from the time I left to catch the morning ferry to the time I caught the first available afternoon sailing and arrived home. Once again, the ferry sank my plans.

I’m going through some regret at the moment. Should’ve gone perhaps. But that’s the reality of living where I do. The movie hasn’t started yet and, if I were living in Vancouver, I could still make it. However, the ship has sailed. That personal helicopter and pilot? Not gonna happen. After all, my house has a slanted roof.

Listing house? Great idea. Selling house? I sure hope there are some impractical dreamers looking to buy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

THROWING IN THE TOWEL

Four years, two months, ten days. That’s how long I’ve lived in the boonies. And hopefully I won’t have to count the days much longer. I met with a realtor today to list the house. Rural life hasn’t worked out. I need to get back to the city.

I suppose things might have been different if I didn’t have a ferry to govern my trips to the city (and my friends’ visits to see me). I don’t mind driving distances, but I like to have control in when I travel. Being dependent of the ferry schedule broke me.

Of course, it was more than that. I’m simply not a country boy. Folks I met here avoid going to Vancouver at all costs; I, on the other hand, yearn for any excuse to get there. Dairy Queen Blizzard? Road trip! (That is a head scratcher. How could this area not even have a DQ? If anyone cares, it’s a goldmine of a franchise for these parts.)

I tried Internet dating, but guys were quick to press Delete (and maybe a blocking mechanism) when I explained where I lived. I even went to a couple of gay/lesbian events here. Typically, I was the only single guy amongst a horde of women and a handful of coupled senior men. People were nice, but I couldn’t find a connection.

Moving is always stressful. I’ve moved eighteen times since university so it shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is. The angst heightens in the middle of the night, leaving me with raccoon eyes that are becoming more and more dramatic. What if the house doesn’t sell? What will I ever be able to afford in the Vancouver market? Should I rent? Who will rent a place to a guy with two dogs? What if I forget what traffic lights are for?

Breathe. One step at a time. The sign goes up Monday. Fingers crossed for a quick sale.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

THOUGHTS ON WORLD AIDS DAY

I’ve been thinking a lot about AIDS lately. I am writing a novel set in 1990-1991, a time when I was fully committed to the cause. AIDS Walk, A Loving Spoonful, AIDS Project Los Angeles, I helped wherever I could. Now it only seems like something I read about in the paper, the headlines appearing less often and buried on the back pages.

Maybe it’s because I’m so far removed from the gay community, but I think we’ve become complacent. Well, I have. It is true that I no longer see men with recognizable signs of AIDS when I walk through Vancouver’s West End, but I’m guessing that’s because drug treatments have become more effective in allowing people to live with AIDS. It’s still there,…just not in your face.

I don’t know current stats. Perhaps things are much rosier for gays now. If so, great, but today is a day to remind us that there is a generation of gay men greatly reduced in numbers due to what came before. I think of Stephen and Don, two men I supported as a buddy in L.A., both magnificent men in unique ways. Don would be 64 this year if he hadn’t died of AIDS-related complications at 47. Stephen would be 47 had he not died at 28.

No doubt, great progress has been made since AIDS was a curious affliction known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) in the early ’80s. I read in the Vancouver Sun today that there is a walk-in clinic where you can get an HIV test through a finger prick and know the results in a minute. A far cry from when I went with my lover to have a test and I ended up lying on the floor, the poor nurses watching to see if I would pass out after the dreaded needle. The information and much better medical resources are out there. Still, there is much work to be done to ensure that the best education and treatment are offered throughout the world.

Today is a day to reflect on the past, hope for the future and give myself a kick in the ass to do something.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

FIREWORKS? AT STARBUCKS?!

Rejection sucks.

Amidst a generally sucky atmosphere of a month of rain and unknowingly stepping in my dog’s vomit this morning, I read a follow-up email after having gone for coffee in Vancouver with an Abbotsford realtor I’ll call Ron. (If I were bitter I’d call him Dick or Doofus. But, of course, I’m not bitter.)

He said he didn’t feel any fireworks during our first meeting, but would really like to be friends. Yeah, that “friend” tag always seems lame. People go on Plenty of Fish and other dating sites to gain a bud to watch the Canucks with on Pay Per View. (Again, to clarify, I’m not bitter.)

This is a guy who contacted me first, indirectly, by adding me as a “favourite”, an odd junior high feature on POF that I guess is the equivalent to “Hey, I think you’re neat. Hee hee. But I’m afraid so send a message so I’ll just ‘favourite’ you. Hee hee.” Being as my profile is entirely accurate and I have several photos to negate that One Miracle Photo Effect, I figured he wasn’t physically repulsed by me. Heck, I was neat.

Coffee then. I don’t like exchanging messages for weeks on end. Get together in person and see if there’s a spark. Not fireworks,…a spark, for frickin’ sake. Who expects fireworks from a midday meeting at Starbucks?! I was just pleased to sit across from a guy who dressed nicely instead of some dude who’d just thrown on a 1999 Sun Run t-shirt with holes in it. (Yeah, that was another coffee experience. Not. Going. There.)

I have felt fireworks before on a first meeting. But that was probably the Bacardi talking. And aided by the fact my gym god date wore a vest with nothing underneath. Shallow, yes. I was in my twenties playing in the shallow end with all the other young ’uns. Of course, Ron didn’t have that opportunity. He got married (to a woman) at a young age and had a family. (Okay, maybe a little bitter. I’m really wanting to change his fictional name to Doofus.) The divorce will be finalized “any month now” and Ron has recently had a three-month gay relationship, long distance no less. Three months. Remember those? Shall we go to dinner again at that place where we celebrated our two-and-a-half week anniversary? Oh, and by the way, I haven’t told you lately (i.e, in the past two hours): You’re really neat.

Are fireworks really something to expect on a first date in a coffee shop? Am I the one whose expectations are out of whack? Is hoping for some a pleasant conversation with a few interesting tangential comments beyond the lifetime resumé too low a standard? Honestly, I’d love to hear from someone who actually saw fireworks while sipping a latté on a first meeting.

OK, Ron, go find your fireworks. Never really my thing. They don’t last. And even in the midst of them, the oohs and aahs start to feel a little forced. (Maybe I’m still scarred from that Unfortunate Sparkler Incident when I was six. Can’t find the mark. Maybe it’s just bad lighting. Or maybe it’s on the other hand.)

Plenty of Fish, eh? What the hell am I doing fishing at forty-five? I’m a vegetarian! And even before I saw the light (or whatever), I hated fishing. You sit forever waiting and waiting and waiting for a bite and lose your lure on a rock. Or pull up seaweed.

Fishing sucks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Remembering Stephen

Tough day of writing today. I am working on a semi-autobiographical novel, set in 1990-91 when I lived in Los Angeles. My main character, like myself, decided to add a little substance to a life that was then consumed by go-go boys, drag shows, bar hopping and a lot of clothes shopping. Enter AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Buddy Program.

As I introduced various characters attending the three-day Buddy training, I took a break to dig around my basement, wondering if I'd find a memento that survived my nine moves since that time. Call it a hunch, but my first thing to search was an old blue plastic carton that contained old tax files and appliance manuals. In an unmarked double pocket folder, I discovered items that left me weeping. I could only look at one item at a time before taking a break to compose myself. The first thing I noticed was the catering business card of Stephen, my first Buddy who died of AIDS complications in August 1991. Next came a research project quote from grieving parents in September 1987, the coded source now lost:

He was our son.
He is all our brothers.
Our Michael is gone.
Try and save the others.


I found the contact list of the twenty-seven other people who participated in the same Buddy training, an old APLA news bulletin and then the really emotional documents. First was a sheet of scratch paper on which I'd scrawled notes from my first phone conversation with Stephen. It included facts about him, his needs, his current medical issues and my first meeting time, simply written as "Wednesday 4:30". I found a journal entry about the day I first met Stephen, the note reflecting my own naive optimism of the time. Also, in the folder were head shots of Stephen from his fledging acting days and the addresses of the hospice where Stephen lived his final days and the Jewish temple with the date and time of the funeral service. Hardest of all to take was a thank you card from Stephen's parents, sent a month after the funeral, the front containing a simple quote from Stephen:

Don't ever leave me,
but don't hang on too tight.
Love is like a balloon:
sometimes you have to let go.


Inside was the brief handwritten note: "Steve grew very fond of you. You can be sure you played an integral part in all of our lives. Please keep in touch."

And, of course, I didn't. Stephen's parents didn't know how to respond to me whenever they came up from San Diego to see their son. His dad was always a nervous bundle of energy, searching for something--anything!--to do to pass the awkward moments. He was a tinkerer, used to fixing things, but he could do nothing to fix his son. Stephen's mom, a schoolteacher who'd taken leave to attend to him, was initially cool to me, not understanding why Stephen needed a volunteer to do things she was well-equipped to handle. In time, however, she was able to use my visits as respite opportunities. We grew to respect each other for our unique roles in supporting Stephen and that respect deepened when we took Stephen on one last trip to Santa Barbara to celebrate his 29th birthday, only weeks before he died.

Sadly, after Stephen died there was a physical distance between those of us who remained as well as an relational awkwardness. All contact had revolved around Stephen and, after his passing, I didn't know what was left other than a painful sense of loss that I never shared with Stephen's loved ones. My role was as a supporter and I grieved alone after all the arrangements were finalized and the reception concluded.

There was more in that folder,...things about my second Buddy. I cannot look through anymore today. My head and my heart are with Stephen today. Had AIDS not taken this sweet, idealistic man, he'd be forty-seven.

I honor you, Stephen. Much love!

Friday, November 13, 2009

YOU HAVE A WIFE?!

I need a gaydar repairman. Can’t find one in the yellow pages. Another inconvenience of living in the boonies.

I brought my twelve-year-old dog Lincoln to the vet this morning, worried about a lump in his hind region. Now that’s not the point of this entry—just provides context—but, if you’re like me, there is no focusing on anything else until knowing how the dog is doing. Turns out it was a harmless cyst. Just what I’d hoped, but I’d have been wracked with lifelong guilt if I didn’t have it seen to and, a few months later, had been told it was a tumor.

I waited in the little doggy patient room, my younger dog frantically whining and bouncing off the walls. Literally. It was live-action Pac-Man. Lincoln was perfectly content, cradled in my arms, occasionally smacking my nose with his pale, stinky tongue (an unfortunate side effect of his chronic renal failure, one of a slew of conditions duly noted in his ever-thickening veterinary file).

In walked the vet, not the affable, stout lady I was accustomed to, but a tall, late-forties man I’d not seen before. He introduced himself, explaining he was finishing up his last week here on a contract basis. From the moment our eyes locked, it was clear to me that he was gay and vice versa. In fact, he stared and stumbled through his introduction, apparently startled to finally encounter a gay man in these parts. Undoubtedly, he’d seen many of the local lesbians with their beloved dogs, cats and ferrets, but this place was parched of gays.

He looked at me more than he looked at my dog. Perhaps it was on account of attraction, but as he was only here temporarily I suspected he was dying to say, “And you live here?! Why? Why?!” Nothing I haven’t said to myself. Countless times.

The examination was essentially done in sixty seconds. As I said, harmless cyst. (Ooh, I love that word: harmless.) He even had time in that minute to explain that, even if it became something more ominous, it wouldn’t ever become the primary concern, given Lincoln’s other conditions, his medications and his specialized diet. Basically, a lump was the least of my worries.

Still, despite the fact that the lobby was crowded with other reluctant critter patients, he let the session linger. He went into detail about options for grinding flax seed and cleaning my coffee grinder thereafter, all the while looking intensely into my eyes. I couldn’t sustain the stare. I had to keep looking down to pat Lincoln and attend to the other one, now frantically bounding at me from the rear.

As he finally ended the examination, he volunteered that he would be back again in December. Uh, thanks for sharing. It seemed clear that something else was going on during this visit. He wasn’t quite my type. It was only a hunch, but I suspected he was a little too much the Mr. Leather type for me. After all, I’m a strict vegetarian (a near vegan, but I just can’t give up ice cream—the soy stuff doesn’t compare). Although I didn’t feel a Love Connection, it was flattering, even exciting, to be ogled by an attractive man.

Back in the lobby, I waited to pay my bill. A tiny woman in full cycling garb, helmet included, yammered away to the receptionist about the ingredients of a single can of pet food she was contemplating buying. I had enough time to jot down some blog sites from an article in Modern Dog Magazine and work out my entire Christmas shopping list while this woman continued to find a question and follow-up comment about every word on the damned label. Dr. Pleather—hey, I could fantasize, right? The word of the day is “harmless”—popped out twice, again eyeing me and seeming to have no other reason to make an appearance.

Between his two peekaboo curtain calls and since I had no desire to start on a To Do housecleaning list, I glanced down at the counter and noticed a bio for Doc Pleather for clients to read. I skimmed it, just to pass the time, of course. Former Canadian Olympian in water polo! Yada, yada, yada. And then, midway through the overly long single paragraph, I read the sentence that began, “He lives with his wife…”

I stopped right there, mid-sentence. I suppose the rest of the sentence said something like “on a farm with three rescued goats and a horse named Howard.” But then, maybe I shouldn’t suppose at all. All bets were off. Come to think of it, everything about the day was awry. I awoke late due to a power outage that gave my alarm clock the morning off. I had a warning signal flashing the alert “Low Caffeine!” somewhere inside me, a result of having to forgo my pot of coffee (a 40/60 caf/decaf blend, potent nonetheless). The pool had been freakishly busy when I swam my laps, a couple of newcomers failing to grasp the concept of lane swimming despite several collisions and flustered tutorials by other pool regulars. Given the tone of the day, why shouldn’t my gaydar be on the fritz?

But, you see, I’m 90% sure the gaydar was in fine form. Now I realize medical practitioners often have a soft, compassionate disposition. I could have mistaken sensitive, skilled doctor for gay man. (Hence the need for the gaydar systems check. I was overdue for a tune-up anyway.) Hell, even as oblivious as I am to all things gay, I know he was gay.

Gay and married. Bisexual? I don’t know. Does anyone have bisexual-dar? Is there even such a thing—the dar, that is. I’m sticking with gay and married. And that bothers me. My friend Rob recently recounted a story about an acquaintance who’d moved to B.C.’s Interior and placed a personal ad online. He was deluged with offers to meet up with married men. All I can think is, In this day and time?! Gay men are still getting married? To women?!

Gay marriage is legal everywhere in Canada. If marriage seemed like the way to conform (and hide) twenty years ago, haven’t we made strides in getting closer to living a life of integrity in the time since? Gay and still married?! I’m a naïve person, I realize, and that I hope that naïveté never fully goes away, but any excitement over being cruised by a doctor quickly transformed to sadness and annoyance. No wonder this vet likes to contract his time, traveling to all parts of the province—away from his wife and Howard the horse.

Back to my word of the day: harmless. Was it just an episode of harmless flirtation? I can’t seem to shake it off so flippantly.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

COYOTE SIGHTING

Things have been quiet lately. Okay, it’s always quiet. But this is the kind of quiet where the tree falls in the woods and no one’s there—and I still manage to hear it! Yes, it happened! Now can that expression be done away with? Permanently?

When I was at the cottage an hour outside of Ottawa, the newness of Gay Ottawa got me in the car and my Just Visiting status made me more of a risk taker. Not risky as in crazy sex, but risky as in show up to gay events solo. Yeah, radical, isn’t it?

Now I’m back home and feeling complacent about my remoteness. There was a Halloween party last weekend that I skipped. I don’t do costumes. It’s always terribly stress inducing. I have no idea how to put together a getup from scratch and I’m not motivated (or rich enough, at the moment) to hop on the ferry to buy a ready-made Spiderman costume in Vancouver. (I’m also not one of those gays who looks forward to October 31 as a time to dress in a Speedo and spraypaint my body gold, shirtless firefighter costume—with darling suspenders!—retired after three years running. I’ve been working out with results to show for it; I just choose not to show. Yeah, push me off the Pride float. I don’t belong.) Coming up with a costume is work for me and knowing that there was a good chance I’d be the only single guy present was the thought that put the final nail in the vampire’s coffin.

Last night offered another opportunity to follow my gayness. Ivan E. Coyote, a homo author and storyteller, was performing at a small town half an hour from home. I marked the event on my calendar weeks ago so there was no backing out. Calendars must not mislead! Still, as the afternoon rolled into evening, I felt content at home with the dogs and my library copy of Eat, Pray, Love. If Julia Roberts is going to be in the movie, I’d better damn well read the book. She had me at “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (if not “Mystic Pizza”).

The tug-and-pull continued as the time when I’d have to leave neared. Must stay--look at those pleading dog eyes! A lesbian author in your environs—must go! As a writer, I knew I could use some inspiration and, to my astonishment, I couldn’t recall ever going to an homo author event. I ironed, I dressed and then the climactic moment arrived. Something brown—and smelly!—was smudged on my pants. Oh, beloved dogs, what have you done?! Was it a desperate ploy to keep me home for yet another evening of idle tummy rubs and ice cube treats?

Almost worked. I’d sworn I wouldn’t wear jeans, but I had no time (or desire) for more ironing. Jeans on—and snappy little 70s jingle bopping in my head—I made my first drive in months to the town so near, yet so far.

The place was packed. I knew it would be. The crowd almost all female. Knew that, too. A few dutiful husbands tagged along with their wives. It was Saturday night, but the Canucks had a rare weekend off.

There was a long introduction of the honored guest, one of those rambling speeches read directly from an earnestly written script. Verbal diarrhea, really. We want Ivan! At last, she stepped to the podium. It took less than sixty seconds for me—and the crowd—to be hooked. Ivan E. Coyote, a proud, butch lesbian who does not mind being mistaken for a man—relishes it, I think—proceeded to share story after story for two hours, breaking only for a brief intermission/book signing.

Was I inspired? More than that. Awed. She had notes, but glanced at them only occasionally without interrupting the flow of her narrative. Ivan was in full command throughout.

Could I ever do that? Not likely. If it were a room of kids and no adults, sure. I can work the room, feeding off the reactions of the audience. But it’s different with adults. The sweat stain quickly begins under my arms, the heat of the spotlight moistens my forehead, my mouth dries, the voice wobbles and my breathing becomes as desperate as when I try to pick up the pace swimming freestyle at the local pool.

Ivan Coyote is a master storyteller. I haven’t read any of her short stories. Sometimes I even skip her column in Xtra West, the Vancouver gay news rag. And now I’m a fan.

Glad I went. During the many quiet times ahead of me, I have a little more to think about—and read.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW SHOPPER

357 (ostensibly) single guys sounds like a lot, eh? I conducted an online search on Plenty Of Fish to find gay men in the Vancouver area within a nine-year age range, my own age roughly in the middle.

I pump myself up before viewing the results. "Be open." I become as hopeful as when I blow a twenty on lottery tickets. You never know.

I scroll down. Many familiar thumbnail photos. Have I worn out my welcome on the website? Come on, stay positive! I click on a thumbnail to read the profile. Does confusing your and you're constitute grounds for dismissal? Would he be open to receiving Eats, Shoots& Leaves as a first date gift? (Yes, I know the book focuses on punctuation. It's a conversation starter.)

I move on. More clicking. All right, the stickler in me must be set aside. I don't need love notes from Mr. Right.

How is it that a thumbnail photo, when clicked and enlarged transforms into something less appealing? (It's like those trick mirrors in clothing store dressing rooms.) The icky thing about Plenty Of Fish is every time I click on someone's profile that person can find out by looking at the "Viewed Me" link after logging in. I get embarrassed by some of my clicking. Sorry! My mistake!

I am suspicious of the one-photo wonders. Doesn't everyone have one impossibly good shot? A lawyer with a great mug I communicated with a few months ago recently posted a second photo. Yech. There was almost no resemblance! (I feel better that he inexplicably ended the message exchange before the obligatory coffee date.)

It would be so much easier if I could say physical attraction isn't necessary. But it is. I've met some guys whom I knew I wasn't attracted to based on their photos and I've hoped that great conversation would create a connection. Sure, a couple of them were funny, interesting...but potential friends, not partners. And no matter what guys say, they're not searching online for another friend.

Click on. The profiles start to sound the same. Loyal, funny, successful,...the adjectives read like clichés. Everyone's a terrific catch, but the messages seem hollow. There are a few who go out on a limb to make each sentence witty. It feels contrived--and flat.

I tell myself again, "Be open," yet I am aware that the sentiment evaporated after the first few clicks. I browse some more and try to fake it. To be honest, there are some profiles that interest me. Problem is I already sent these guys a message and, for whatever reason, my photos, my words elicited repulsion, or at the very least, inaction.

357 single guys. The search is over. And note the lack of an exclamation mark ending the preceding sentence, all you Lynne Truss followers.

I'm not entirely deflated. When I head into town later, I'm buying a lottery ticket.

Monday, October 26, 2009

STILL?!

I wasn’t always single. My longest relationship lasted seven years and ended five and a half years ago. There’s a clichéd response I’ve heard from some: Seven years, eh? So who got the seven-year itch? No one. Had I been stronger, it would have ended after nine months. I know the moment when the relationship jumped the shark.

While I don’t live with regret, I’m not proud of prolonging that partnership. At the time, I didn’t want to be the flake. There was that phrase, “for better or for worse”, that kept nagging at me—not that we were married or even could have been married back then. (At any rate, I should have distinguished that language from “for better or for worst”, but didn’t.) More than anything, I didn’t want to be single again.

It came with tremendous relief when I finally and firmly announced I’d had enough. No need for specifics here. We’ve moved on. Any belatedly bashing would be tacky.

So a couple of text messages I received last night baffled and frustrated me. Both from The Ex, of course. I’d just picked up the dogs after he’d looked after them for the weekend and I was shorter and colder with him than usual. I could blame it on standing out in the rain waiting for the doggy changeover or a lack of sleep after spending two nights on my best friend’s too-short sofa or the fact that my ex tried yet again to pass off the dogs early yet again despite the fact I was at a conference. Who am I kidding? The faint sound of a siren twenty blocks away can make me cranky in front of The Ex.

When I realized I had a couple of messages—I’d shut off my cell as it was running out of power—I knew whom they were from and didn’t bother to read them until this afternoon. First message, sent right after the drop off: “I still love you!” Okay that could be read any number of ways—as an in-your-face way to rile me, as an apology for throwing off my schedule, as, um, well okay, I’m searching here.

The second message came an hour and a half later, after opportunity for reflection, clearly not an impulsive statement: “You need to know that I still miss being with you, you have to know that.”

What?! Five and a half years later?! Got me an Urban Cowboy, looking for love in all the wrong places. What am I supposed to do with that? I’ve always hoped he’d find someone new sooner than I. Why hasn’t that happened? Okay, I can think of lots of reasons, but he’s supposed to be A Catch to all those window shopping single gay men. Damn.

I’m tired of things being awry in my life. Where’s the kismet?

I really have to stop watching romantic comedies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HELLO, GOODBYE

I have a greater chance of spotting a bear than a gay man where I live. And I haven’t seen a bear since early August. Actually, it wasn’t dissimilar from seeing a gay man. I was on my bike, cycling back from an evening ride to the local mill and I braked as I spotted a bear crossing the road ahead of me. He heard me, stopped briefly to check me out and then ambled away, completely disinterested.

I’m sure the gays pass through from time to time. I just don’t seem to be in the right place at the right time. Of course, I can’t really explain why a gay sighting matters. It just does. As weeks go by without seeing another gay man, I begin to feel like that lone hippo that was at the Vancouver Zoo. (Note to self: comparisons to hippos are probably a sign of low self-esteem. Check into it.) When I go about doing errands in the small town near home, I vaguely recall a childhood jingle, “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.”

When I do spy a gay guy, it’s not like I have any intention of attempting to pick up the guy. Ha, just writing that amuses me. It could be raining gays and I’d have no such luck. I’d be the guy standing under an eaves, hooded raincoat zipped up, revealing only my eyes with the dark rings under them, too oblivious to notice the queer change in precipitation. Rain, rain, go away…

I did spot what I believe was a young gay man at the local Tim Horton’s this morning. (I must make the disclaimer that my gaydar may be faulty from lack of use.) I was reading by myself at a booth and when I looked up he seemed to be coming from the washroom area. He quickly made his way to the exit, never looking my way. He left without even buying a donut. (No donut?! Maybe the gaydar still worked. It’s a stereotype, but the gays do like to watch their figure. Heck, I’d ordered the coffee and skipped the carbs myself. They looked at me funny when I asked for a single Timbit.) From my vantage point I couldn’t see the parking lot, but I’m sure he got in his car, got back on the highway and headed to Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto. Places where gays aren’t an endangered species.

I guess all I would have wanted was a brief moment of eye contact wherein we each conveyed that knowing look: Hey! You’re gay! That’s all, a little public acknowledgment of our gayness. I am not alone. It just seems that way.

Maybe next time.

As it’s autumn, the bears are out more often, presumably to fatten up before hibernation. Maybe this is the onset of a few more gay sightings. Of course, I don’t want to carry the bear comparison too far. Not with hibernation season to follow!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TOO MUCH GINGER?

There was a time when I was a gay bar regular. Not knowing any other place where gays met, my first steps in coming out involved walking in on my own, ordering a drink and nervously studying the ice cubes in my glass. As you might surmise, it wasn’t a very effective tactic.

Somehow a few people did approach and struck up a conversation. Hell, in your twenties, you could be digging deep for a massive booger and still drum up a little interest! Over time, my gay bar trips would include friends. I always had my sights on a pretty hunk who’d finally make eye contact and dismiss me in a split second, turning to renew his gaze on a go-go boy or the bartender with biceps bigger than my waist. In that moment, I could always seek consolation in my friends and belatedly dismiss the guy who dismissed me, pointing out his uneven ear lobes or a freaky fingernail.

The online scene has replaced the bar scene. It’s back to going through the process alone. And the dismissals are just as quick., typically without explanation. I’ve had many messages initiated by gay guys in the Ottawa area, but they typically end abruptly. Things start with a short note with a vague reference to my “nice profile” and my photos. After one or two emails, the exchange dies. What happened? Did a virtual go-go boy make contact in the interim? Or is the initial message dating Spam sent indiscriminately to a herd of gays? Moo!

This week I had four guys sending me messages. I politely replied to each, but all conversations dead ended. The guy I was most interested in had a master’s degree and interests in hockey, cottaging, running and tennis—all things in common. His profile also mentioned barbecuing so I noted with honesty in my first reply that, as a vegetarian, tofu on the grill did nothing for me. Undeterred, he continued the conversation. My next message was the end of the line. Somewhere in four innocuous sentences I revealed the equivalent to asymmetrical ear lobes. I’m guessing it was my comment about enjoying a ginger cookie at a quaint bakery. Should have known. Ginger was the death of the Spice Girls after all. I’m figuring I should have stuck more to the Sporty Spice path. What’s with the Canucks’ bad start? How ’bout dem Sens?!

Ah, the things I can learn online! The bar scene may be far in my past, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find new ways to be summarily dismissed and for my self-esteem to get messed up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

CAFFEINE WITHDRAWAL

You know that spherical plastic toy for preschool children with the holes of different shapes and the pieces that fit through them? I think I’ve always identified with it. Only my version of the toy has slots for circles and squares and I’m a triangle. There is no clear match. No matter which way I turn or how hard I push, I don’t seem to fit in any of the damn holes!

The image flashed back again as I walked away from my coffee date with Luc. Yes, I managed to find the right café this time so I’m grateful we had a chance to meet. (You don’t want to think the one that got away was the one you never met.)

With the date still fresh in my mind, the question that lingers is “What just happened?!” I’ll say that Luc was definitely cute. Although twenty-seven, he looked younger. I still don’t know why he messaged a forty-four year old. I may be a young forty-four but it’s a stretch to twist into a twentysomething. I would need some sort of Transformer power, a time machine or a magical therapist like on “Being Erica”.

The meeting lasted forty-five minutes, probably the shortest coffee date I’ve ever had. Even the bad ones last an hour. The encounter felt like an exchange of biographical information without any anecdote leading to the telling of a similar experience from the other. Common things surfaced like a dabbling in triathlons, but a connection never surfaced.

We talked about an art exhibit he went to last week and agreed that art should evoke emotion, good or bad. An artist has failed if the work generates no feeling whatsoever. While we sat together, I could not get a read for how Luc felt—if, that is, he felt at all. True, he used a napkin to pat his face early on, a possible sign of nervousness that he attributed to a hot room temperature in the café (that I never felt) and lingering body heat from a midday run. I’m inclined to accept one of his explanations since his demeanor seemed aloof or indifferent.

We walked a couple of blocks from the café before going in different directions. While I continued to try to find something in the conversation, I suspect he would have been content to put on a pair of headphones—no need to hook them up to anything; just a visual to show that I’d been officially tuned out. When we arrived at the parting corner, neither of us said, “I really enjoyed meeting you” or “We should get together again.” Instead, he said, “Have a nice drive home.” Isn’t that the equivalent to “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out”?

It’s only been a half hour since the cool goodbye, but obviously I’m still trying to figure out what happened (and what didn’t happen). I knew going in that the chances of a strong connection with a much younger guy were remote. Yet I know I was open to it, even hopeful. Not like in Please let me score with a young guy, but more like I’d love to find someone who fits, age be damned. I replay things, searching for a spark that I never felt and I’m sure he never felt. As I bargain to retain some hope, I wonder if his coolness was tied to his French culture and not a reflection of a lack of interest. Unfortunately, I know the answer.

It’s easier when I can dismiss someone for a lack of physical attraction. When that’s not the case, the rejection comes down to who you are a person. Ouch. I’ll go home and continue to hope for a message from Luc in the next day or two. I may send him one. Just in case I missed something.

I’m still doing it, trying to cram that triangle into the circle slot. One day I may finally meet another triangle. Then I can toss that stupid toy in the trash. No passing it on to someone else to play with. Let the next nascent triangle proceed with fewer molds to try to fit into.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

THE URBAN ITCH

From October 4:

It’s the weekend and my morning starts couldn’t be more different. On Saturday, I drove into the city to tour some neighborhoods I’d been told were hip and affordable. Turned out to be an urban myth, of course. The first area had four businesses on a single block and that was it. Not even a convenience store to pick up the morning paper or a café to get the heart pumping. I’m learning that the word like can be cruelly deceiving. The Glebe is a vibrant part of Ottawa. Other neighborhoods like the Glebe don’t measure up. As much as I’ve taken myself out of the mix by living full-time in a rural setting, I know that I can’t settle for a quasi happening area in the city if I should decide to return to civilization.

I had a couple of other neighborhoods to check out, but when I got back in the car I ended up back in the Glebe. And happy. I picked up a bagel at Kettleman’s to fortify myself and wandered Bank Street, browsing at the storefronts before stopping in a magazine shop and going bonkers on picking out a stack of specialty magazines along with the newspaper. (Urban deprivation takes its toll on the credit card.)

A bagel, plenty of reading material…next stop coffee. My favorite café was so packed, there wasn’t a seat to be found. I heard two mug toting patrons who were searching for a place to settle say, “It’s so loud, I can’t even think.” She said it like it was a bad thing. I soaked in some hip immersion just walking through and moved on to the next possibility only half a block away. Choices! Yes, Dorothy, we’re not in The Sticks anymore. It wasn’t ideal as the only table was beside two screaming preschoolers and their parents who desperately took in the adult hustle and bustle while ignoring the muffin tossing that accompanied their two adorable toddlers, both up and coming Ultimate Fighters. I took my chances, thinking the public spectacle would send the young family on its way in ten minutes or less. (I bet right! Wish I had more luck on the lottery. I’d gladly trade in another half hour of kiddie mayhem for a cool mil. Alas. I’ll take my winnings where I can find them.)

Forty-five minutes later and I was off to Westboro, another happening zone in Ottawa, one that requires a bit more walking than the Glebe. After parking the car, I had to walk down two blocks of seedy folks frequenting a bowling alley and a thrift store and spilling out onto the street for cigs and a lover’s quarrel, with the dueling couple keeping a half block between them as they shouted unpleasantries. Yikes. Not the kind of urban action I wanted to stumble across.

Fortunately, the walk improved as I strolled by chic boutiques for the young mom crowd, bistros, coffeehouses and a magnificent Jewish deli that reminded me of an old hangout, Mort’s in Pacific Palisades, California.

At one time, city life stressed me out—battles for parking, traffic lights (always red, no?!) on every corner and lines in every store. I’ll never idealize the traffic issues, but the rest of the urban busyness on this day calmed and excited me at the same time.

Now it’s Sunday morning and I’m writing this while in a small town Laundromat fifteen minutes away from the family cottage. It’s a happening spot on this particular day, but the Laundromat is one place I don’t want to find a crowd. Sorry, but I have a bit of a hangup folding my underwear in public. I don’t have Kermit the Frog on my boxers or, worse, a flaming red thong, but still, we’re talkin’ undies. And small town. Those scenes of encountering some dreamy dude at the adjacent dryer and having him hand you a renegade sock you dropped don’t happen here. It’s all dowdily dressed moms who keep darting out for another cig break. Nothing like a fresh scent of second hand smoke seeping into my stack of clean clothes. The husbands that come along remain in their pickup trucks listening to Classic Rock, waiting for the women to finish their work. (The one man who ventured in, bragged about how good his three-year-old daughter was a sweeping the kitchen. Nothing like a proud father.)

Saturday, an urban rush; Sunday, pickups in the sticks. There is no comparison.

My rural days may be numbered.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PARDON ME

Saint Luc replied to my apology the same evening. “You’re forgiven.” He called the mix-up a “funny situation”, which it really was once I could get past feeling like a complete jerk/ditz. He’s out of town for a few days, but is willing to try again next week. We’ll see; maybe his was simply being polite to an obviously stressed out old guy. Who wants to have a stroke hanging over you? Still, I am looking forward to the chance to meet him more than ever.

I suggest we meet at a café that isn’t part of a franchise.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TWO TABLES FOR ONE

I got stood up. He did, too.

People have different standards as to what is comfortable to do as a party of one. I’ll eat dinner at a fine restaurant on my own as long as I bring a book along. I’ll go solo to see a movie at a matinee or on a weeknight but not on a Friday or Saturday night. I don’t think twice about sitting in a café by myself. Nothing uncomfortable about that.

Except when I’m actually supposed to be with someone. Being stood up changes everything. The environment shifts from perfectly natural to utterly pathetic.

I showed up at the Bridgehead Café in downtown Ottawa ten minutes before the time I’d agreed to meet Luc. It’s always good to do a quick check in the restroom mirror. First impressions are crucial. I ordered my coffee and selected a prime table, a two-seater that seemed to have a bit of distance from other patrons, allowing more privacy during our conversation. It was also a perfect spot for glimpsing people as they entered the café.

I sipped slowly as I sat and waited. I occupied the time reading a section of an abandoned newspaper and then switched to jotting down some ideas in my writing notebook. As coolly as I could, I glanced up as people filed in and out. Lots of women, some guys clearly shorter than Luc’s stated 6’0” frame and some men far older than 27. Luc? No. Not yet.

I didn’t have a watch or a cell phone with me, but I knew a good chunk of time had ticked by. Hope faded and then completely extinguished. I tried to bargain with myself, wondering if my sense of time was out of whack. Maybe my nervousness made my internal clock race ahead of real time. Alternately, I tried to account for Luc’s delay. Maybe there’d been an accident. Nothing severe, but just enough to detain him. A minor flood in his kitchen perhaps.

Slow sipping switched to gulping. I needed to get out of there. I’d like to think the barristas had plenty to distract them, but somehow it felt like they knew I’d been stood up. Maybe they saw this kind of thing once a day. And today’s sad sack is…moi. It’s hard to stave off that feeling of despair after so much anticipation. Coffee time was a bust.

I got up and took one last glimpse around the café. I knew I hadn’t overlooked a possible Luc sighting, but I scanned the room just in case. I headed for the exit. I can’t remember when a cup of coffee tasted as bitter.

I got on the freeway in rush hour traffic and began the crawl home. And then it hit me. I’d gone to the Bridgehead on Elgin. It was the one I was familiar with. Hadn’t his message referred to the one on Bank Street? Oh, my god! I wasn’t the stood-up-ee. I was the stood-up-or. All the feeling of rejection I’d felt was brought on by my error. And over on Bank Street at the same time, Luc had been feeling the same kind of isolation!

Seventy minutes after our agreed upon meeting time, I desperately tried to swing over to Bank and locate another Bridgehead coffeehouse. Being Ottawa, the next freeway exits were closed due to construction. When I finally was able to get off, I tried racing back to the downtown area. Problem is street racing is impossible in the heavy traffic of late afternoon. Red lights, more construction and one way streets caused further delay as my stomach knotted and I felt more and more like a heel. Eventually—more than ninety minutes late—I found the Bridgehead on Bank. I knew Luc would be gone, but I tried to park to go in to see for myself. Problem is there is no street parking (or stopping) anywhere in the area between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.

I had no choice but to turn back home feeling completely distraught. It was a struggle to keep any composure when all I wanted to do was berate myself over missing a rare opportunity. Yeah, I know the age difference could have been a big issue, but I never even allowed the chance for it to be up for discussion. Physical attraction, chemistry, common interests, sense of humor, intelligence,…none of it had an opportunity to be explored.

I completely blew it.

I drove considerably faster than the speed limit once I got out of the Ottawa metro area. I needed to get to the small town library ASAP to get on the Internet and send off an apology message to Luc. As I well knew, it sucks to feel like you’ve been blown off, to wonder if your coffee date took a peek in the window and kept on walking, to think that a rerun of “Judge Judy” might have suddenly become more interesting than a meeting with a guy from an online dating site. My apology was profuse and sincere. I mentioned hoping for a second chance to erase a terrible first impression. Of course, I’m well aware that first impressions usually stick. And I have only myself to blame.

Monday, October 12, 2009

ACTING MY AGE?

I still get hyper on days when I am meeting someone new for a coffee date. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and that’s not a good sign—I’m merely going through the motions, agreeing to get together with a guy who hasn’t really piqued my interest online. Sad to say, the photos make all the difference. Physical attraction still matters. Sadder to say, not once in the past five years has that feeling been mutual.

So I’m legitimately hyper today. The online dating site I use produces hot and dry spells. I hadn’t heard from anyone in a couple of weeks so I figured the well had run dry in Ottawa. I hadn’t expected much in the first place since I indicated I was seeking Friendship (not Dating, not Longterm Relationship, not Intimate Encounter) and noted that I was only in the area for a couple of months.

I received three messages yesterday, two of which included attractive photos. (Yes, I know photos can be fakes, but I’ve yet to experience that.) I’m going for coffee today with a French Canadian named Luc today. I see no point in following some rule of playing coy and waiting a week. The online messaging doesn’t compare to face-to-face conversation and, if I seem desperate in wanting to meet right away, so be it. Everyone’s a judge.

To work through my extra energy, I’ve got a CD playing. It’s one of those compilations, a collection of songs from 1977, my favorite year in music. That’s the year I started to tune in to pop music. Most of the songs I already have in various formats, but I bought the CD because of two songs I never hear anymore: “Strawberry Letter 23” by The Brothers Johnson and “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again” by L.T.D. I realize these details are tangential, but here’s the point: my favorite year of music occurred before Luc was even born.

Let me restate that he initiated contact with me. I don’t go below age 38 when I search the dating site. Luc is, gasp, 27. I have a couple of friends whom I’ve teased over the years for being cradle robbers. They’d say there was no one their own age that was fit and had his shit together. All the same-age peers were discards for a reason. My friends and I were the exceptions to the over the hill misfits. A little bad luck, a few poor choices, a cheating bastard partner.

I’ll be forty-five in two weeks. You can compute the age difference. I’m trying to block it. Am I the latest cradle robber? Why would a very good looking 27 year old contact me? Does something about me scream Sugar Daddy? Is Ottawa that dry? Oh, Luc, c’est dommage.

I’m trying to stay calm. I have no idea how the conversation will go. I’m not up on “Gossip Girl” or any “Real World” season since Pedro. I shall take heart in the fact that the entire Beatles collection has just been re-released and the premise of Courteney Cox’s new show, “Cougar Town”, is about fortysomethings browsing the New Releases rack.

Coffee is still hours away. Good thing I’ve brought along my favorite CDs for the road trip from B.C. Andy Gibb, Fleetwood Mac and sweet sweet Olivia can keep me company in the meantime.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

GOING FOR ANOTHER SERVING

If at first you don’t succeed, try try try try try try again. My fingers didn’t get stuck on the t, r and and y keys; that’s what I meant to write. Actually, try should take up several lines, but you get the point.

For those of us who are single, what choice do we have? I’ve done the don’t try approach. And it worked! I didn’t try and I got nothing. Sure, no disappointment, no rejection, no mortifyingly embarrassing situations, but that only made me prone to sitting at home watching third rate television fare like Emeril’s cooking show. (Still yelling “Bam!” to the delight of his impressionable core following. And now I’m pouring milk on my bowl of Trix. Bam!)

After a miserable experience with Ottawa’s gay running group, I was prepared to block out dating for awhile and play Jann Arden’s “The Sound Of” on repeat to convince myself that the lines “I am not lonely, swear to God, I’m just alone” reflect my situation. Only two days after the running incident, however, I tried again. I went to a gay volleyball recreational night.

The fact that I’ll go anywhere near a volleyball net is remarkable. Back in fifth grade, I learned that volleys jam your fingers and bumps sting and make your arms red. Serves were the worst. They represent your moment in the spotlight when everyone gets to watch you fist the ball with such force that it doesn’t even reach the net. The only thing I liked about the sport was rotating. I’d get to the bench and then stay there, letting everyone rotate past me. Worked for me, worked for my teammates, worked for my teacher.

Fifteen years ago when I moved to Vancouver, a friend conned me into signing up for Novice Night. That friend lasted a single session before bumping up to a better quality play night. I struggled to show up Friday nights, watching my teammates go into Emergency mode every time I made contact with the ball. Someone would have to run wildly to keep the errant ball in play. I was tolerated at best. For some reason, I continued showing up and got (a little) better over time. Everyone I got to know eventually moved up to Intermediate Night. I stayed Novice.

Haven’t played in years so showing up to play with strangers was a risk. I gave myself a worst-case scenario pep talk. “If it’s a disaster, you’ll never see these people again.” And on that positive note, I was ready to play.

I don’t know how many times I said sorry over the two hours of playing time. The ball hit the floor when I thought someone else would give it a try. “Sorry.” The ball hit the ceiling after my forceful—butch?—bump. “Sorry.” The serve went out. “Sor—” Yeah, you get the picture. (Note that the serve always made it at least to the net. Mrs. Martindale, my fifth grade teacher, would be so proud.)

Of course, I wasn’t there because I had a yearning to play volleyball. I needed to know that Ottawa gays are friendlier than the ones who showed up for a particular running group session. A spark with someone else? That would be a nice bonus, but I really needed to erase a bad impression and in the process remind myself that I am not a social pariah.

Mission accomplished. Yes, there were still odd situations like playing on the same team for an hour with certain players who never introduced themselves or said a thing to me. I couldn’t even establish eye contact to introduce myself. When it doesn’t happen in the first ten minutes, it feels too awkward to bother. Apparently you don’t care so neither do it. (A childish derivative of “I know you are but what am I?”)

The person I talked to the most was a very young, nervous straight girl who showed up with a friend. We didn’t get into a conversation about the role of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, or the healthcare debate in the U.S. or whether the new season of “So You Think You Can Dance” is too soon after the summer session, but I said semi-poignant things like “Good serve” and “How’s your wrist?” (which she seemed to be nursing).

I forced myself to go along to a nearby gay bar after the volleyball session. It was awkward and there were quiet times when I had the opportunity to study my Corona label. I did get into a conversation with a retired teacher and a government worker so that confirmed that, unlike the Emperor’s New Clothes, I do exist. (Nothing happened on the lust front. I was attracted to two of the forty-five men who were at volleyball night. Both showed up at the bar and each sat as far away from me as possible. The one turned out to be a smoker and the other remained hot and unapproachable all night.)

Was it a great evening? No. But was it enough for me to keep trying, maybe even show up for a second night of volleyball? Thankfully, yes. And that’s what I needed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

COMING OUT FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

I had coffee with Donna this morning. She is a neighbor of my aunt and uncle in a rural community outside of a town of 7,500. Her son Carter is seventeen and gay. She had cried on my aunt’s shoulder and, after meeting me last week, desperately needed to talk to an older gay man to gain some perspective on what might be best for Carter. (Bless Donna. She thought I was approaching thirty, not forty-five. How could I not want to bond with this woman?)

We chatted for almost two hours and both went away feeling nourished. As she explained Tyler’s coming out process, I was reminded how much things have changed in the past thirty years. When I was Carter’s age, Elton John had declared himself bisexual, but had a wife. A guy named Jack on “Three’s Company” pretended to be gay to get closer to Suzanne Somers’ breasts. That was it. I had no other gay reference points. Oh, there was a song by Rod Stewart, “The Killing of Georgie”, a stunningly accepting testimonial about a friend’s gayness. Unfortunately, as the title reveals, poor Georgie was beaten to death by a less accepting swarm.

Carter had found a gay confidant online in a distant Canadian city. He’d also found some of the more risqué sites, satisfying his curiosity and graphically revealing what gay sex is all about. He also lives in a country where gay marriage and gay adoption are legal. Protection against discrimination is embedded in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Carter has grown up with far more gay influences. Ellen Degeneres is one of the most beloved TV personalities out there. Adam Lambert overshadowed all contestants on this season of “American Idol” and made the cover of Rolling Stone. Television is filled with gay characters on past and present shows like “Will and Grace”, “Brothers and Sisters”, “Desperate Housewives”, “Ugly Betty” and “Glee”.

Coming out is still a challenge, a burden even. So much drama. So much to carry on your shoulders. Despite all the recognition in pop culture, the personal resources remain hard to come by, especially when you don’t live in a big city. Donna had never heard of PFLAG and had only talked about Carter’s sexual orientation with my aunt and myself. She grew up in Toronto and could recall gay acquaintances there. Her husband grew up in this rural area and still can’t even say the word gay despite knowing for over a year that his son is gay.

While I believe most high schools still have too much machismo, too much gay taunting, Carter’s school in town is particularly brutal. He suppresses his love of writing and photography and plays up his fascination for fast cars. He has not come out to a single peer. He is as lonely and isolated in his personal world as I was.

Still, Donna and Carter are ahead of where I was in my teens. Carter accepted his identity at least five years before me. He didn’t have to make a Grand Declaration of Gayness to Donna; instead, she stumbled upon a letter he’d written on the Internet, hugged him and told him she loved him. (I had to fly from L.A. to Alabama for my official Coming Out Weekend to my parents when I was twenty-eight.)

Donna began our talk saying she felt uncomfortable. By the end, she was smiling and hugging me and hoping I would move closer—to Ottawa, not the local town. I felt like I was giving back in a way to another family, maybe making their growth a little easier, their bonding a little stronger. At the same time, I feel a little less isolated and a little more encouraged.

Friday, October 2, 2009

HAVING NUN OF IT

I have a gay friend in Vancouver who is perfectly content being single for life. He says it and I think he means it. He claims that nothing matches the sex from the first hookup (or two). Basically, he doesn’t want to be stuck with the baggage when he’s done with the balls.

Maybe that would be okay. Trouble is, I’m getting nothing. If you’d ask me when I was eight years old what I wanted to be when I grow up, I’m sure nun wouldn’t have been on the list. Not in the top ten anyway. And yet, if it lives like a nun,…

I’m not just drawing the nun link based on my involuntary celibacy. I worked with nuns for three years when I was a teacher in Texas. It used to bother me when they would handle problems by sitting back, praying and waiting for divine guidance. Am I doing the same thing—just without the religion?

Last Saturday, I drove into Ottawa to do a few errands and then I went to a Bridgehead café which I’m told is a lesbian-owned chain in the city. I went to the one on Elgin Street, figuring it would have the best chance for gay traffic. As I walked in, a dreamy guy in his late thirties was heading out. We did that “After you” door dance thing, my heart went pitter and that was that. I was so taken by surprise, I think I managed to smile instead of putting my head down.

I took my massive mug of joe out to the shaded patio area and there he was, sitting at a table with a thin pretty boy who bounced an infant in a sling against his chest. Were they poster boys for Hot Gay Dads? Despite that nice little thought, my pitter went plunk. Taken. I sat, read the paper and waited passively. Here I am, single gay men of Ottawa. Sitting having a coffee in a public place. Waiting. It was the typical movie moment when a hunky guy is supposed to ask if he can read the Style section or sit at the empty table beside me and make smart conversation about the bushy-tailed squirrel mounting the tree on the other side of me. Or spill scalding hot coffee on me. Something to start a budding romance.

Divine intervention? It wasn’t to be. I waited. Sipped, read about Matt Damon at the Toronto Film Festival, and that was that. I’d dumped a load of quarters in my parking meter, giving me sixty minutes for love to bloom. I think my odds would have been better on the slot machines in Vegas.

Next time I head to the city for a solo coffee, I may even wear black. Sure, it’s slimming. It’s also my next step in emulating a nun’s life. I pray that I won’t take things beyond that.

Monday, September 28, 2009

KEEPING HOPE ALIVE

It’s the morning after The Great Snub, aka The Grand Shunning. All is calm on the river. A band of cloud cover appears to rest on the water just behind the small island that I grew up calling Big Island. As I type this, the honking of a flock of Canada geese distracts me. They’ve been journeying overhead for a week or two now. This band seems to be flying in the wrong direction and makes a descent. I follow them with my binoculars. They skim the water for a minute before landing just to the left of the island. It’s a retreat to the familiar, I presume.

Last night I caught a television airing of “Last Chance Harvey” starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. The actors play single characters, him divorced, her never married. For the first half hour, they experience rejection and isolation concurrently. His appearance as father of the bride at the rehearsal dinner and her encounter on a blind date are devastating. There was a moment when I could not help but utter “Brutal” aloud. Alone, each has to quietly suffer the indignity and somehow keep going.

The movie was brilliant, the actors as amazing as they’ve ever been. However, coming on the same day as The Great Snub, it was hard to take. After so many rounds of disappointment, how do you retain hope? Or do you simply expect to be let down? Isn’t that safer? Remaining positive in my twenties was enough of a struggle. How do I muster the feeling twenty years later after so many more defeats?

I know that resilience is key when facing any kind of struggle. Unfortunately, there are times when it feels hollow. And that’s when self-pity seeps in. I keep trying to put a new spin on things, looking for a new approach. Online dating. A gay running group. Looking in an entirely new city. A critic—likely someone well settled in a relationship (or my mother)—would say I’m not putting myself out there enough in each situation or I’m thinking about it too much. I don’t find much constructive in that kind of feedback. It’s ignorant and insensitive considering that I’ve gone so many years without affection.

As I walked the dogs this morning, I thought about hope and how to maintain or retain it. As soon as I turned on my laptop, I searched my blog entries for the word. It only appears twice and only once with respect to myself. Diminished by the word preceding it. Faint hope. Ouch.

I will rebound. Keep going to the gym and taking care of myself. Continue enjoying the quiet moments of my life. For the moment, I need to find my own retreat to something comforting and familiar. Music? Another walk with the dogs?

Maybe pancakes. With lots of syrup.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

YOU LOST ME AT HELLO

Okay, to be honest, there wasn’t even a hello.

Ever show up for something and realize in a split second you’ve made a mistake? Wonder how to get out of it ASAP?

I gave the Saturday morning session of Frontrunners a try, figuring it would be a larger group than the Tuesday night cluster. More social, too, with brunch following the run. I set my alarm for 6:40, only a half hour earlier than my usual awakening but still ungodly for a weekend. After walking the dogs in a chilly 45˚F, I shaved, showered and tried on a couple of warmer jogging outfits. Always important to make the best first impression. I made it into Ottawa in under an hour, slathered on some sunblock and strode over to the group of runners outside city hall.

My reception was the equivalent to a doggy snub: a quick sniff and turn. No need to smile unless one of these guys had eyes in the back of his head. Good thing I still needed to stretch. I needed something to do as filler after The Great Snub. Thinking about alternate breakfast plans also helped time crawl by. Coffee to go or should I have a seat and wait once more for that movie moment when Mr. Good Looking Sane and Single (and Too Fit to Bother with a Running Group) needs to share my table for some contrived, yet charming reason?

When it came time for announcements, I learned that today was going to be a 2K run. Two kilometers?! For a group of avid runners?! What was the point? I drove an hour to get an instant brush-off and to run a piddly 2K?! Apparently there was a marathon/half marathon the next day so no one wanted to overexert. Now I would never consider running either of the race distances so hats off to them, but, if you’re a marathoner—that’s 42K and some change—isn’t 2K just a warm-up? Wouldn’t sleeping in have been a better way to rest up?

Ah, what do I know?

When the group dispersed, I was on my own. I may sound snarky, but I think that’s warranted after schlepping to the city to run solo in a running group. I kept pace behind four men who were oblivious to my existence and I felt relieved after they all turned back, leaving me to officially run on my own along Ottawa’s picturesque Rideau Canal. Thank goodness for the gorgeous backdrop. In my forty plus years of visiting Ottawa almost annually, I’d never taken in the canal on foot. A silver lining, cool yet shimmering in the sun.

When I finally got to driving home—oh, I sipped that coffee in a café, but Prince Charming must have gotten his to go—there was no way to block out the feeling of rejection. Why do I feel like I’m back in high school when I’m in a new gay scenario? That moment of instant ostracism was brutal. What happened to adults making new folks feel welcome? I’d like to think I haven’t done that to others, but I’m sure there were times when I didn’t care to make the effort to include an outsider. Sometimes I’ve shown up for a group just to mix with the few I’m most familiar with. There’s comfort and safety in that. Still, I know there have been many times I’ve spotted the loner and struck up a conversation. Not as a pickup, but as the decent thing to do. If I can do that as a painfully shy and self-conscious person, I should expect at least one of a gay pack to do the same when I’m the odd man out.

I won’t go back to the running group. If I want to run along the canal, I can do that once again on my own. I’ll just pick a time that works for me. The next round of rejection will have to come from another source.

LOOKING FORWARD TO “LOVE HAPPENs”-ing

My cousin has been talking about the new Jennifer Aniston-Aaron Eckhart movie, “Love Happens” for weeks. Like me, she’s a romantic dreamer, but she is ten years younger and hasn’t gotten jaded from years of disappointment. I used to be a sucker for every Meg Ryan romantic comedy that came out. I still like the genre, but now I view the movies as light entertainment, bearing little semblance to reality.

One of the promos for “Love Happens” caught my attention. Yes, it has a sexy shot of a shirtless Eckhart, but I might never have glanced up to see that had his character not said it had been three years since he’d had a date. Not exactly inspiration, but certainly a statement worth commiseration. And utterly refreshing for Hollywood where characters have little trouble getting it. Since it first aired, the title character on “Ugly Betty” has had a far greater dating record than I have. What does that make me, Far Uglier Gay Guy? I remember an episode of “Friends” where Ross rues going six months (or weeks?) without sex. He and the Central Perk gang regarded the drought as the equivalent to the apocalypse. As much as I loved “Sex and the City”, I never related to the women’s rapid Rolodex of sexual liaisons.

A line in last night’s episode of “Glee” was both funny and more realistic than the way sex is typically portrayed. As Terri desperately tried to make her false pregnancy become real, she stepped things up in the bedroom. Her husband, glee club sponsor Will, boasted that the couple was going at it once a week now. Ah, how refreshing from the two or three times a day we’re hit with in typical showbiz depictions of horny couples. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a healthy, active sex life; I just don’t need Hollywood rubbing its fictionalized glory in my face.

I’m not sure if I’ll go see “Love Happens”. I don’t want the rest of the plot to dilute the potency of the line in the preview. Still, if an Aaron Eckhart character can go dateless in three years, I don’t feel quite as pathetic. Sometimes love doesn’t happen; at least, not for a long time.