Sunday, February 28, 2010


Like it or not, the country where we were born and where we live helps define us. At times, we’ve all seen patriotism become obnoxious, even become misused, but we’ve also seen, particularly over the past two weeks, how national pride can help unite millions.

I spent my teens and my twenties as a Canadian living in the United States. It was just another way I felt like a minority. If anything, it only fostered a greater sense of that part of me that is Canadian. While in L.A., I hosted Canadian Thanksgiving gatherings, cheered the Toronto Blue Jays as they won the World Series and somehow felt a stronger connection to Men Without Hats, Alex P. Keaton and, yes (somewhat inexplicably), Pamela Anderson. (She is a vegetarian and animal rights advocate. I admire that.) Still, it wasn’t the same celebrating Canadian Olympic moments or Alannah Myles’ chart topper on foreign soil. (My boyfriend was thrilled with the Blue Jays’ success, but I think he had ulterior motives.)

When I first moved to Vancouver, it took a year or two for me to become a true Canucks fan. In fact, I’d forget when the playoff games were scheduled. I lived in the densely populated West End and I’d suddenly hear a roar of clapping and cheering coming from the highrises surrounding me. Game on. Goal for Linden! Later, when I moved to East Vancouver, I’d take the dogs for a walk to Main Street after a Canuck playoff win. Cars would slowly pass by, honking, hollering and waving team flags.

Sometimes, as Joni Mitchell so tunefully noted, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. I think that’s why the Taking it to the Streets partying in Vancouver during the Olympics has struck such a cord with me. It reminds me of the first Gay Pride parades I attended. It is uplifting when you feel a link with a mass of giddy people. I may not drink as much beer as some of the revelers just as I choose not to walk around in a Speedo in the name of Pride, but the sense of fun that comes from finding one element that we value and have in common is truly special.

Watching the men’s Canadian hockey team squeak out a win against the never-say-die Americans would not have been the same had I still been living in Texas or California. Sure, I might have earned gloating rights, but that’s not what it’s really about. The glory of seeing your team pull out the win is talking about it and rejoicing with others who will forever remember Iginla’s pass to Crosby and the shot that found its way past the remarkable Ryan Miller.

For that reason, it’s a tad disappointing having only my dogs around when the game ended. I loudly exhaled and collapsed to the floor in relief. The dog on the bed cocked his head as if to ask if I expected him to figure out how to call 911.

After I recovered from today’s Win that Almost Wasn’t, I leashed the dogs and took them for a victory lap through the neighborhood. All was quiet. I ran into my neighbors taking their dog for a stroll and we cordially shared our game experiences—she was too tense so she baked muffins and defrosted the freezer. Not quite the ice connection I was seeking.

Yes, it was wonderful to see the celebrants in the streets in Toronto and Vancouver. I still don’t seem to be in quite the right place. Oh, what a feeling it must have been.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Where have all the Armanis gone? I used to be a decent dresser. Some people even said I had style. Women friends begged me to go shopping with them.

Now I fear I’m dangerously close to being one of those older men who walks around in knee-high brown socks, a pair of Dockers shorts and a factory outlet Hilfiger knockoff shirt with seven colors too many in the pattern. Okay, that image frightened me so much I’m destined to lie awake all night. I dream in color and I have a habit of thoughts during the day creeping into my dreams.

Yes, I’m a nightmare waiting to happen. This morning I headed to my appointment at the salon in a wrinkled pullover that has an inexplicable stain resembling the ring caused from the bottom of a poorly poured cup of coffee. (Yes, the shirt was clean. Seems the stain is here to stay. It’s the second shirt to bear such a mark. What is going on? Is someone using my shirts as coasters? Are the crop circle aliens shacking up in my closet?)

I used to iron my shorts before going to the gym. I never folded up my ironing board because I used it three or four times a day. (I rivaled Lady Gaga for costume changes although there is no way I could have ever carried off anything remotely close to her headgear!) Now the board is starved for attention, dust flying off it when I wrestle it out from behind the recyclables once every six weeks.

As I’m halfway through a year’s leave of absence so I can pursue my writing dream, there is no cash flow. I have not purchased any new clothing. My clothes are wearing down faster than ever. Armani, Michael Kors, Joseph Abboud, I do miss you! I fear we may never meet again.

Initially there was something freeing about becoming less image conscious. I didn’t have to keep a mental note of when I last wore each item of clothing and in whose presence. What I wore last week I will likely wear again this week. (My fingers got a little shaky as I typed that last sentence.) Deep down, I know I have a problem.

When I lived in Vancouver’s West End, I used to curse the fact that I could not simply dash out to buy a carton of milk. Inevitably, I would run into someone I knew. One wrong move and years of building an image would be shattered.

More often than not, I can now be seen in public in wrinkled, tattered clothing, my frizzy, straw-like, chlorine-absorbent hair lacking any trace of product. What was once freeing is now frightening. I fear I’ve reached rock bottom. Worse, I wonder if I haven’t!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The title would be an apt description if I were to share the ice with any competitive figure skaters. Sad to admit that my spot-on hockey stop has been replaced by trying to lose speed as I smash into the boards.

But this isn’t about me. I just need to post my feelings about unsportsmanlike Olympic competitors and then move on to hoping Joannie Rochette is able to honor her mother in today’s skate.

At the outset, I’ll admit that I don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a fiercely competitive, elite athlete. (I was just relieved whenever I was the SECOND TO LAST one picked for a team.) I realize that figure skaters have trained their entire lives and practiced the same routines for hours each day, months on end, in preparation for their Olympic moment. They have visualized standing on the podium and having a gold medal around their neck. (Does anyone really visualize bronze as a motivator?) It’s about setting goals, keeping focused and, as CTV reminds us ad nauseam with its theme music, believing. Awesome. Go for it.

No doubt it can be devastating, as in Patrick Chan’s case, to fail to do what you’re capable of in the Olympic spotlight. For others, like Evgeni Plushenko, it can be bewildering to feel you’ve put in your best performances and still come up a step short on the podium. Plushenko may, in fact, feel angry. Robbed! But that’s where coaches and skating federations take over. If they want to file a protest or grumble to the media, so be it. They are paid to take up the cause for their athletes and for their nation.

Athletes, like it or not, are under a high level of public scrutiny. Right or wrong, many people view them as role models and, in the Olympics, as representatives of an entire country. Despite all that training and visualizing, hoping for gold, the reality is that on any given day someone else may outshine you—if not in your eyes, at least in the opinion of the judges (and millions of viewers). Prior to the Olympics, these skaters have participated in national and international competitions. They’ve stood on other podiums and, yes, missed a few, even if that seems years and years ago. They’ve had to congratulate others who were in the limelight and witnessed the words and actions of “the defeated” during their own shining moments.

The Olympics are more than an athletic competition. Through the years of training and the actual experience, participants have a unique opportunity to build character while creating a memory that will linger. It’s a shame when Plushenko, one of the most revered male figure skaters of all time, leaves his grace on the ice. Part of being a competitor involves perfecting The Brave Face and allowing others to enjoy their moment without distracting putdowns. Swear into your pillow in the hotel room if need be, snap your skate guards in half (out of view of others) if you must, but take the Salé/Pelletier Road, not Surya Bonaly Boulevard.

Plushenko’s pre-competition comments, stating that it wasn’t men’s skating unless it included a quad amounted tactless puffery, a calculated tactic to lobby for himself while attempting to ruffle the other skaters. Standing in the arena during the men’s free skate with quad attempts all but MIA, I couldn’t help but wonder why the apparently macho Russian would even enter what he must deem to be a woman’s competition, ultimately losing to one. A milder quote from the figure skating great after the final results: “I suppose Evan needs the medal more than I do.” Further trying to sleet on Lysacek’s parade (while also slamming most of his fellow skaters), he added, “It’s not men’s figure skating. Now it’s ice dancing.”

In the heat of the moment and with microphones thrust in his face, Evgeni took the low road. Unfortunately, he hasn’t softened his stance in the days since. I just read that he is referring to his silver medal as platinum. If he can twist the meaning and construction of “silver” so too can I question the term “champion” as applied to Evgeni Plushenko.

Plushenko, at least, was oh so close to gold, 1.31 points separating him from golden boy Lysacek. It is even more baffling to read the sour grapes comments from two of the men in the ice dancing competition. Maxim Shabalin, awarded the bronze medal with his Russian partner Oksana Domnina for finishing the competition a whopping 13.93 points behind the leaders, proved his skills as a judge match his skating, asserting, “We skated the best performance and we have a bronze medal,” Shabalin said. “What can you do? We did everything we could.”

Fifth place Italian Massimo Scali, 22.4 points behind Virtue and Moir, was tactless enough to find a microphone to say, “I don’t agree with the system. They [Virtue and Moir] are not real dancers. They are very technical and don’t really ‘dance’ on the ice.”

Somewhere in Australia, Dale Begg-Smith must be smiling. I, however, can only frown. And now I need to change gears, channeling courage and positive vibes to Joannie.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I blame the loveseat. I’d headed into Vancouver for four days of connecting to civilization and the Olympics, yet I headed home a day early. I spent two nights trying to sleep by stretching my 6’1” frame on the stunted piece of furniture. Never reached a stage of rest beyond dozing. By Day Three, I was a caffeine junkie, dangerously close to going from social user (who theoretically could quit any time) to hopeless addict. I realized I had a problem when I found myself begging the barista to throw in a couple of extra shots.

Despite my abbreviated stay, I managed to get a good taste of the Olympic atmosphere in Vancouver. The party energy was something to behold, always positive, sometimes inane—At what point does breaking into a “CANADA! CANADA!” chant every time you spot someone with red face point get old? Still, I went from being in awe of the boisterous crowds on Granville, on Robson and in other swarm zones to feeling the need to hide out in a deserted, ill-conceived establishment destined to close its doors for good shortly after the Olympics leave town, the dream of riding the event’s coattails never coming to be. You know the type of business—a diner called Just Add Milk with a menu of cereals you can buy in the grocery aisle or a retro gay clothing store that sells disco shirts, construction boots and pleather fanny packs. One person’s business misstep is my sanctuary.

Granville Island was the worst. Navigating the market is a challenge on a typical busy day with strollers helping to create an ever-changing obstacle course. But being a beautiful April day (in February) and with the Olympics compelling tourists and the locals to mob the area, the scene was a chaotic pedestrian jam. I couldn’t get myself close enough to vendor counters and I shuffled onward in a maze with no exit, seeking out the elusive stall with a line that seemed to move. I lost the ability to make a decision as I felt that whatever line I chose would lead to doom.

Coming on my third day in Vancouver, the Granville Island visit did me in. Eventually I loaded up on carbs—a loaf of bread at one stall, a muffin elsewhere—but the energy never returned. The will to fight for my personal space in a crowd had gone. Take me to the ferry. Take me home.

Yesterday morning, as a break from a day-long series of recuperating naps, I took my dogs to the beach. I came across three other walkers as I traveled the pristine coastline. Essentially, I had the sand, the logs, the towering trees and the ocean view to myself. I may be a city boy at the core, but there is a part of me—I’m guessing my heart—that belongs in the boonies.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Sometimes you can’t shake the cliché. Of all the events in the Winter Olympics, which one would you expect to be the biggest draw for gay men? Men’s figure skating. Duh! And, yes, Thursday night I’ll be in the stands watching the men’s final.

I hadn’t planned to go to any of the events. Too expensive while I’m taking the year off my regular job to write. When my friend Ron called and said he had an extra ticket he was about to sell online, I leaped. Just a regular jump…no triples and certainly not a quad. The Olympic spirit had been ignited by the torch relay and further stoked by kd’s soaring rendition of “Hallelujah”. By the time the phone call came, I might have agreed to fork over a hundred bucks to watch a big screen at Hockey House. One hundred fifty for the men’s long program is a steal by comparison!

Of course it’s going to be a Gay Old Time. After all, this is the sport that brought us Toller Cranston, the Brians (Orser/Boitano), Rudy Galindo, Emanuel Sandu and Jeff Buttle. (How Elvis Stojko ever stumbled into the sport I’ll never know. Still, he was entertaining despite the fact the poor boy never understood that niche domain of figure skating fashion. He can offer support to this year’s derided Ukrainian pairs entry in the “Avatar” unitards.) I’ll be in a small contingent of gay men from Vancouver and it will be such fun to be in a group where I’ll actually be the least informed. Ron and another friend have already been to the pairs’ final and they’re known to plan vacations around ice shows. (Sorry, I can’t get excited about Nancy Kerrigan doing a double and aging Scott Hamilton doing a flip for the millionth time.) Moreover, I’ll get to reconnect with Danny, a former gymnast and friend I met when I first moved to Vancouver fifteen years ago. We lost touch around the time I found myself wading into a doomed longterm relationship.

I have a couple of things to do before the big night. I need to buy a teddy bear or two to throw on the ice, the figure skating equivalent to “Bravo!” and I finally have an occasion to purchase and don the omnipresent red Canadian mitts. If I’m going to be a cliché, I might as well do it right!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I’m in a vulnerable state these days. I haven’t a clue what lies ahead. I can’t say where I’ll be living, what my job will be, whether I’ll ever see another manuscript published or if I’ll ever get over this single slump. Reminds me of freshman year of university in Texas. The first month was particularly exciting, meeting people from Florida, California, Minnesota, Colombia. Everyone was beginning a new phase and following a dream (or perhaps a family expectation). “What’s you major?” was the question that followed “Where are you from?” There were the bold philosophy majors, the quirky fashion merchandising majors, the khaki-clad, profit seeking business majors and the already caffeine-addicted pre-meds.

I was a pre-major. It was the university’s term of choice in lieu of “undeclared”. Always drew the same response: a quiet “oh” that always came across with the same tone in which people say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Of all the possible majors, I hadn’t picked one. Undecided, uncommitted, unacceptable.

At forty-five, I’m a pre-major all over again. My mother would say I bring this on myself. Or, more precisely, she’d say I do these things just to see if that possible stroke side effect listed on her medication will ever kick in. Forget the meds…she’d say that adult children—because we’re always still children, aren’t we?—need to come with an extensive list of side effects. It’s true that I get bored with the same comfortable routines. My friend Roger, by contrast, tells me he is certain that he will never move from Vancouver and he never EVER wants a relationship. That’s what he said when I met him fifteen years ago and he’s been consistent with everything he’s said and done since. At times, I envy Roger—his outlook makes life easier—but I can’t ascribe to the same views.

I’ve revised my résumé and I’m applying for one or two jobs in the Vancouver area each week. My house has been on the market for six weeks now and the listing seems to mirror my online dating experiences: lots of first coffees, no follow-ups. The feedback: they like the inside. The outside? Not so much. OK, must stop drawing parallels to my (non) dating life!

I’ve resisted sending any messages on the Plenty of Fish until I move back to the city. So many guys can’t fathom dating a guy who lives even beyond the boundaries of Vancouver’s West End. The fact that I am willing to do whatever commuting dating requires is of no consequence.

Last week, I caved and sent a message to a forty-one-year-old who posted an attractive photo of himself cocooned in a parka and wrote a decent profile—avid tennis player, no typos and no grammatical errors. I couldn’t help myself. When I checked the next day, there was a reply, sent five minutes after my initial message. (Again, no writing errors!) Based on my profile, he felt I was “genuine” and “a breath of fresh air”. Promising, eh?

Before sending another message, I reread his profile to ask a question or two based on what he’d shared. I noticed he’d updated his page by adding a few more photos. Without the parka, he looked even hotter. Had I seen them the first time, I’d have never sent a message. Out of my league! Still, I was that breath of fresh air, right? No deceptions from me. My profile has several photos and is (surprise, surprise) one of the wordier ones, proactively spilling some of my quirks. He’d replied even after getting a pretty clear picture of who I am. After a little pep talk, I sent off my second message. I never heard back.

Oh how quickly fresh air becomes stale! I have no doubt that his new photos generated a flurry of interest and some guy baring his pecs took his breath away. Rejection stings all the more when I can’t attribute it to my rural location.

I caught “The Truth about Cats and Dogs” on TV last night. I was single in 1996 when it came out and, yep, I’m single again. Related to Janeane Garofalo’s role as much as ever. Somehow, when I view my ever-uncertain life as a romantic comedy, it doesn’t seem so bad.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


So many times, I get the feeling that where I live isn’t on the map. It’s certainly not on the gaydar. But, thankfully, life isn’t all about being gay and every so often my little community stands out. Today, the Olympic torch comes to town.

In British Columbia, complaining about the Olympics has hit new heights as lifelong Half Empties have been in a fog since this wacky winter has knocked weather from the top of the complaint agenda. (I lost a glove about a month ago—it’s no doubt hiding out with a few odd socks—but there has been no urgency in purchasing a new pair.) I understand the critics, but I do hope the Olympics are a resounding success. And one thing that warrants commendation is the effort VANOC has made to permit as many people as possible to have the opportunity to see the torch firsthand. It’s the only “live” event most of was will experience.

To be sure, the torch didn’t need to get sidetracked coming to my area. But on this balmy day when the sun is shining and snow dusts the mountains across the water, it makes for an idyllic setting. Sitting in the local library, I can view the marina and the main stretch of town where the torch will journey. The arrival is an hour and a half away, but the excitement builds as musicians set up and people stroll through the park, many decked in red, a public fashion choice that usually makes me want to gag on bad Valentine’s chocolate. People mingle in the library as well, putting in time, having nabbed a prime parking space in advance of the big event.

In this moment, pride is inescapable. Not gay pride, not national pride, but a sense of connectedness to a charming little town that at other times has made me feel so isolated. Yes, the torch is but a symbol or perhaps a tool, allowing me to see my environment in a sunny light. That, in itself, is an Olympian achievement.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


It starts with a pair of shoes. They are covered in dust bunnies—dust elephants, really. I hold them over a wastebasket, clean them up and then set them atop my office desk. It’s time to reflect.

Italian leather, according to the label. I bought them because I’d never seen plum colored dress shoes for men and, wouldn’t you know it, I already had a plum colored belt. I don’t remember when or where I purchased them. I have a vague recollection I paid more than I could afford—a Carrie Bradshaw splurge before I’d ever heard of the fictional icon. Whenever I wore them, they gave me power. Forget the ruby slippers, Dorothy! I was stylin’ and daring, the only man in the room venturing beyond ho-hum shades of black and brown.

Alas, those days are long gone. I don’t wear leather any more, having had my vegetarian principles questioned too many times by savage, sushi-loving, rib-gnashing friends. Vegan shoe (and belt) styles and colors are woefully limited and uninspired. For now, I cope knowing that no one in my rural environs seems to notice anyway. Gumboots are the rage. I could walk around in duckie slippers without feeling the least bit self-conscious.

Is it just me or do others seem utterly dumbfounded when waking up one day and suddenly realizing a pair of worn in shoes is actually worn out? Even after a casual cleaning, it is clear to me that I must have worn this pair of shoes at least a dozen times too many. They’re scuffed up, the leather is pinched and creased at the toe and the shoes seem to lean inward. They are unfit to be donated; they are done. And so they go, reuniting with the dust elephants in that wastebasket until trash day.

Yes, it starts with one pair. As I anticipate moving to the city (soon?!), I know I have much to do in preparing for a major downsizing, going from two-level house to cramped bachelor suite. On to my olive loafers. I only hope to find a way to quicken the nostalgia. Good thing I’m starting spring cleaning in February!