Monday, August 29, 2011

AN INCH SHY OF SHYNESS

I’ve always been an introvert. I’m from a family of introverts, my mother excepted (and overcompensating for the rest of the clan). Aside from seeking a peaceful writing environment, I think I chose my current home because there are fewer people to encounter, meaning fewer awkward exchanges and fewer public moments of uncontrolled perspiration.

I drive into town once or twice a day to get a change of environment for my writing, to run errands, to battle with harmless looking dumbbells (a gym reference, not a lame putdown of the locals). Invariably, I run into someone I know. As I held a very public position for three years in the community, I have many acquaintances (though few friends). It used to be that I would spot someone in the cereal aisle of the grocery store and quickly turn away, deciding Wheaties could wait. I’d see someone approaching in our poor excuse for a mall and I’d stop to gaze intently at a poster, advertising a pottery exhibit featuring a new series of—ooh!—“dip dishes”. At cafés, I could wildly type gibberish during a fit of writer’s block when I’d see a familiar family pull into the parking lot. (Works almost as well as a “Do Not Disturb” placard dangling from my neck.)

And yet I’ve noticed a change this summer. Personal growth! While I don’t necessarily embrace the occasions, I no longer scramble to tuck my tortoise head into a shell or bury my head in the sand like an ostrich. I appear socially engaging. Today, I ran into two acquaintances at my favorite café for writing. We exchanged stories about summer trips. I even extended the encounter with thoughtful follow-up questions (e.g., When will you know you have enough garden gnomes?). At the gas station, a mother and daughter had their backs to me—Did they practice the same avoidance techniques?—but I blurted a greeting and got to hear five minutes of highlights about circus camp. At the library, I saw a former colleague and she filled me in on her campaign to stop the latest minor patch of housing development. The lovely conversation ended a tad awkwardly when I declined to sign the petition, but I failed to shed a drop of sweat.

Turns out my mother needn’t worry so much about me becoming a hermit, the scary old man who hides behind overgrown hedging and only communicates with animals. (Caught and released two moths and a fly from my home last night.) I have not lost all social mannerisms. In public, I now notice more than my shoelaces. It is all so encouraging. I’m almost socially acceptable.

Still, on the ferry, I’ll stay in my car instead of venturing Up with People, thank you very much. Everything in moderation.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

MONOLOGUE FOR TWO

I had a date last night and I’m barely awake this morning. Are the two related? Read on.

Who am I kidding? How could they be? (And, really, I wouldn’t want them to be.)


Date first: Rennie and I agreed to meet at a Starbucks in the West End. 7 a.m. I squeezed in a jog along the seawall beforehand and, after showering and walking the dog, arrived two minutes late. There was nobody resembling Rennie’s online photos in the café. I got in line to order. The line moved slowly and a couple in front of me seemed to think they could entertain the queue by speaking loudly and making ha-ha annoying comments about others in line. I must have clearly conveyed my patented standoffish stance because I got a free pass.

At 7:10, while awaiting my drink, I spotted a guy who might possibly be Rennie outside Starbucks. He checked his iPhone, then walked away. Once my drink was up, I scurried out and tried to spot him in the crowd walking up Davie. White t-shirt. Yes, I see him. Crowd obstruction. No, he’s gone. Vanished after a block.

Was it him? Maybe. Maybe not. Why wouldn’t he have walked inside? I tired to visualize the original message. There are many Starbucks in the West End and I have been known to show up at the wrong location, but I was sure I recalled the right street intersection. 80% sure.

Perhaps he’d said 7:30. Lucky I’d ordered a venti. I perched on a stool, skimmed the barebones news coverage in the free dailies and continued to cool off from the jog.

At 7:40, I headed back to the condo. Perhaps he decided at the last minute to catch the latest “exclusive” insider information about that Kim Kardashian wedding on “Entertainment Tonight”. Perhaps he was raised in a military household where being two minutes tardy meant you were shunned for the next seven months. Perhaps he saw my sty from three blocks away and frantically made his getaway.

I walked up Davie, thinking about dinner for one. A cauliflower and a tub of hummus. For some reason, I glanced in a hair salon a block and a half away and there was the guy with the white t-shirt, sitting inside, not looking like he needed a trim. Very attractive! I stopped, hesitated. He looked at me. “Rennie?” I mouthed. He didn’t have time to think otherwise so he nodded.

“Your hair looks much better in person,” he said as we introduced ourselves inside. Thanks. “In your photos, it’s too yellow. Uh,...thanks?

“Do you still want to grab a coffee and go for a walk?” I asked. Another out, but he didn’t take it. We walked to a Thai restaurant. Cauliflower and hummus could wait another night. Hadn’t been a craving; just a convenience.

The monologues flowed. His time in Montreal after moving from Beirut. The unfinished renovations at the condo of his ex. The new, hostile boyfriend of the ex. His homophobic Greek boss at the first salon where he worked in Vancouver. The discovery that he was a diabetic.

All interesting. I made comments and asked questions to show interest. The Rennie Show continued with only two breaks: “Do you speak French?” and “Your profile says you’re a writer. Are you published?” Perfunctory answers. And now back to how he quit his job at that first salon.

No chemistry. How could there be?

Déjà vu. What has happened to the art of conversation? Is there a glut of self-absorbed middle-aged single gay men or am I at fault for failing to jump in and perform my own monologues? How I learned to conjugate être.

Is there a cultural difference? Other Arabic acquaintances I’ve known have seemed assertive, but I recall us talking a great deal about politics and they were genuinely interested in hearing my perspective.

For whatever reason, Rennie and I failed to connect at any point.

The lack of sleep? No, I did not toss and turn in despair over a lackluster date. I’ve built up an immunity after having plenty of them. It was my first night back in my ex’s vacant condo (after he’d had a meltdown in June and told me to get out). All summer I’d stayed in my rural home, sleeping in a silence only occasionally punctured by howling coyotes and screeching Stellar’s Jays. With the summer heat, I had to leave the condo windows open and the racket of revving motorcycles (I’m at the beginning point of the Burrard Street Bridge) and screaming sirens (I’m also a few blocks from St. Paul’s Hospital) and noisy buses (the condo is along a major bus route, with a stop directly across the street) kept me wide awake until 3:30 in the morning. My venti Starbucks had nothing to do with it. I’d ordered a decaf.

Second day back to work after five weeks off and I feel just as tired and woefully single as before the break. I’ll pick up a fan to drown out the din. If I suffer another sleepless night, perhaps I can work on a decent monologue.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

GAZING AT THE ENDLESS STY

If you were someone who had a perfect complexion all through high school, stop reading. Surf somewhere else. You will have no frame of reference. But if you had zits like me, the kind that couldn’t be tamed despite the promises of pimple cream ads, read on.

My acne was debilitating. As an angst-ridden adolescent (Is there any other kind?), I made dozens of mirror checks each day to gauge the latest developments. Those darn zits were peskier than the critters in a Whac-A-Mole game. In high school, my self-consciousness was generalized to class situations and wholly exaggerated. I was invisible to most of the student body. If they didn’t see me, how would they notice my pimples?

But logic has no place when blemishes assault. Not then and, thirty years later—sigh--, not now. The zits are a thing of the past. Hurrah. But for the past two weeks I’ve had a sty on the eyelid of my right eye and it’s, quite literally, an eyesore rather than a sight for sore eyes. (Flip words around and the meaning can be vastly different. By the way, I’m using the preferred spelling, sty, according to my dictionary. Stye is also acceptable though less commonly used. I was raised to use the less common form so, as a writing stickler, I felt compelled to mention this. I am not thrilled that the common spelling for my facial imperfection is also used to refer to a swine enclosure, often heaped with manure. If I am supposed to be calm, then someone should suggest a less offensive name for my unsightly inconvenience.)

I am proud to say that, despite the sty, I have not been holed up in my home, ordering delivery pizza each night, waving payment through a cracked door. “Just leave it on the doormat, thanks.” Alas, my takeout scenario conjures up unpleasant references to my “pizza face” days. Sisters can be cruel.

I have gone about my business in town, not giving a hoot about the sty. I have resisted repeated mirror checks. My life has gone on. Shocking, really.

So why a blog entry? Tomorrow I have another coffee date, my first since the beginning of July. I know, I know,...the sty is a silly thing to be concerned about. Easy for the sty-less crowd to say. I like to go into a date with some semblance of confidence. First impressions matter. In the online dating shopping network, people decide to pass quickly. I think I’ll send Mr. Descent [sic] a message. How much lower can I go? (Not making that up. There is an unfortunate speller on Plenty of Fish who calls himself Mr. Descent. At least, I think that is not his intended name.)

Okay, so I’m going forward. I’m not canceling the date or asking to reschedule, using that Marcia Brady line from “The Brady Bunch”: “Something suddenly came up.” But I don’t think I’ll wear my favorite green shirt which calls attention to my green eyes. Black is slimming. Does it reduce other things?

Hmm, would an eye patch be a stylish accessory? Arrr! Sadly, Talk Like a Pirate Day remains a month away.

I look forward to saying goodbye, sty. If the date doesn’t go so well, I am sure there are many other possibilities for it being a dud. But then, the sty might turn out to be a convenient explanation as I trudge forward, continually mystified by the gay dating world.

I wasn’t me; it was the sty.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

CAUTION: INEXPERIENCED HIKER LEADING THE PACK


I have no sense of direction. Usually, I can get “left” and “right” correct (unless the coffee hasn’t brewed yet), but I must admit that I do the same mental trick I’ve done since I was six years old. I look down at my hands, trying to be subtle of course. I’m a southpaw so I glance at my left hand and then that left/right direction is a snap. I’m not (totally) embarrassed about this. Not every part of the brain works as well as that part that expertly recalls pop music trivia, a truly essential knowledge base.

North, south, east, west? Uh, forget it. I’ve tried using a compass to no avail. Just keep turning the thing or my body. Can’t get the compass point to stay still.

Being direction-challenged, I should NOT be the one proposing hikes on wilderness trails in my area. This occurred to me yesterday morning when we were about two hours into our one-hour hike. But if I didn’t take the initiative, who would? As we assembled for the walk, five humans, five dogs, I provided full disclosure. “I can get lost in a hotel room,” I joked. They (the humans, at least) looked at me quizzically. Who is this fool?

It was the second walk I’d proposed via the local gay and lesbian listserv online. Only Mitch replied. He had brought along his “part pony” beast of a canine on the first walk a few weeks earlier. But as I pulled up to the dirt parking lot, Jean and her partner Sally were there with their dog Xena. A short while later, a good looking man about my age drove in with two dogs.

Good thing I had ironed my shirt, I thought. It had been a last minute decision. I wasn’t going to. Mitch is at least twenty years my senior and, judging from the last walk, anyone else you showed up would be beyond my dating bracket as well. I discreetly checked my hair through the reflection of a car window as new guy Ron poked in the back of his car to pull out some gear. How does one get calf muscles like that?! Years of biking, step machines and the calf machine at the gym and I still have chicken legs. Damn genes!

Ron strapped on a tool belt thingy. “Are you a mountain climber?” Jean asked. She pointed at and named a thingamajig. Mountains? Maybe I should have been clearer in my email: a relaxing walk along a creek.

Ron corrected Jean, calling the thingamajig a whatchamadoodle instead. (My brain also fails to retain technical terms for items outside of my realm of comfort. Corkscrew? Got it. Specialized hiking gear? Huh?!)

With his dogs, Vera and Sherry, out of the car, we began our hike. Initially, there was awkward silence, none of us knowing each other. Mitch chatted up Ron and I talked with the lesbians. Their house was for sale, so was mine. We milked that for a good five minutes and then we listened to the creek water, navigating its way over the rocky bottom. My dog irritated Jean. He kept stopping in front of her or lightly brushing up against her as he passed. I tried not to be offended. She didn’t like Mitch’s dog either, announcing in the parking lot, “That thing’s too big. I don’t want anything to do with it.” Ah, yes. First impressions.

Eventually, I got some time to walk with Ron. Like me, he’d practiced law in the U.S. and now wanted nothing to do with the profession. In fact, he’d moved here a year ago and started a business as a dog walker/care provider.

Common interests, a clear attraction. I was smitten.

“My partner is older than me,” he added. “He’s at home now, taking care of the other dogs.”

And end of smite. Yes, the sound of rushing water can be quite calming.

Eventually, we reached a dead end. Well, the trail continued, but it was a steep climb. “That’s it, then,” I said.

Jean, however, seemed to interpret my comment as a judgment about her physical ability. “I’m not stopping here.”

“I’m sure there will be a clearing at the top. Lovely view,” Sally added in her beautiful Dutch accent.

And so we climbed, Ron leading the way, forgetting about his short-legged pooch Sherry who struggled at several points and needed a boost from me to pass a fallen tree. The last fifteen meters were the most challenging. Thankfully, there were ropes to pull us up as the soft ground gave way underneath us.

Once we’d all made it, we marveled at how wide and clear the upper path was. It extended out of sight in both directions. Obviously, there was an easier way to reach it somewhere. All of us sweaty, we stopped to refresh with water bottles, something I hadn’t thought of bringing. Neither had Mitch who deserved a medal for making the climb. He was breathing harder and sweating more than the rest of us, but I seemed to be the only one to notice. Mitch, a perfect gentlemen, did not gripe a bit. Jean, however, had to say, “Well, that was ridiculous. They should make the ascent easier than that.”

Sally added, “Lots of trees here. No view.” It was an observation, not a complaint. And then she added a statement of eternal hope that greatly extended our little hike: “I bet if we just walk five minutes ahead, there’ll be a nice clearing where we can stop and look down.” We walked on. And on. And on.

Eventually we bumped into two other humans, returning from that vast unknown area ahead of us. Both outdoorsy senior citizens, he walked with a cane and didn’t stop, but the woman obliged us, letting us know that the waterfall that Ron had pointed at on his map (another thing I didn’t think to bring) was still an hour or more ahead of us. The news deflated the group, other than me and, I’m guessing, Mitch. Time to turn around!

Ron and Mitch noticed what might be a clearing in the opposite direction (I think) of the creek and we traipsed off the trail, following the patch of open sky. A clearing, indeed! We’d arrived at someone’s massive, architecturally built log home, the summit of a sizable subdivision none of us knew existed. The view was stunning: the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver Island, smaller, rolling islands in the foreground. No doubt, all of us would have gazed longer, but we were on private property. The man peering over the deck of his stately home made that clear. He’d paid millions for this view. Just like Jean with my dog, he just wanted us to shoo.

Back into the woods we went. We followed the path downward until it ended at a fence. We turned right (East? South?), walking along a gravel road which spilled onto a paved street that curved around more homes in the subdivision. “Well, this isn’t what I wanted,” Guess Who grumbled. “Suburbia.”

For fifteen minutes, we traversed the curved roadway, reaching several dead ends. I began to feel responsible as I had been the one who suggested a walk along trails I didn’t know. Of course, I’d have turned back much earlier, but logic has no place when you’re off the beaten path and wandering aimlessly on pavement.

At last, we came upon a gentleman tinkering with his car in the driveway. I approached and asked how he could get back to a path or, worst case scenario, follow the streets down to the highway. He must have sensed my cluelessness because he guided us for a block and a half before pointing toward a clearing that would lead us back to the path and take us to our cars.

The dogs had a final dip in the creek as I watched enviously. At the parking lot, we said our goodbyes, Ron saying, “Thanks for organizing this.” Not a trace of sarcasm in his voice. He’d enjoyed it. I tried not to watch enviously as he packed up his car and called his partner to arrange their lunch date. Mitch also expressed thanks as did Jean and Sally. When I brought up doing it another time, even polite Sally couldn’t disguise her reaction, eyes popping out, mind telepathing the message, “Fat chance.”

There will be another walk, with or without the others. Mitch, in all likelihood, will come. In the meantime, I’ll take my trail map down from the wall in the extra room in the basement, make a mental note to remember my water bottle and maybe stop in at Mountain Equipment Co-op next time I’m in Vancouver. Might buy a thingamajig or two. Maybe even a compass. Perhaps this old dog can learn a new trick.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

RUNNING AWAY

When I think of going on a vacation, I envision sipping margaritas while lounging by a pool and reading something “lite”, something so breezy that silly spellings like lite are liberally sprinkled on each page and I take no offense.

Traveling on my own, I can do exactly that. There is no one else’s itinerary. I don't have to tactfully explain why lining up for thirty minutes for free cheese samples would not be "fun". I don’t even have to defend why I am holding a copy of a Candace Bushnell novel or the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly or, gasp, The National Enquirer (let’s assume someone else left it behind on the neighboring chaise lounge).

Of course, the last time I had a kind of lounge-by-the-pool-and-pretend-the-sunglasses-make-me-look-like-somebody-famous vacation was spring break, 1985, in Puerto Vallarta. I just don't do that anymore. Maybe it's because I know it would take much more than some fine eyewear to make anyone mistake me for a celebrity. More likely, it’s because the margaritas on my one and only Mexican vacation led to illness like I’ve never experienced. (Yes, my mother had warned, “Don’t drink the water.” I assumed freezing it was the same as boiling it. And how did I get an A in high school Chemistry?!) I lost ten pounds that week, but the sacrifice was too great.

My vacations tend to involve too much driving, not enough sleep and an overused VISA, this latest jaunt being no exception. I booked one night in Bellingham, Washington, two in Portland and one in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast. Half my suitcase was filled with workout wear: in case I find a pool to swim laps (tanning and lounging lost its appeal after a string of skin cancer procedures), in case I rent a bike, in case I find a gym.

I did none of those things. But I needed some sort of exercise to serve as penance for my ice cream indulgences. Portland has five Ben & Jerry’s! And, for some inane reason, you can’t buy Häagen-Dazs’ Bananas Foster flavor in Canada. My Member of Parliament has yet to respond to my request for assistance in this matter. An aide mentioned something about a global financial crisis. Priorities, people!

So I did my least favorite form of exercise. I jogged. For a change, it wasn’t a miserable slog whereby I pass the time counting blue cars just because a song tells me to or contemplating what kind of tattoo I’d get (and where) if I ever drank THAT much (and, specifically because of that worry, I never will). Three different places, three unique experiences.

In Bellingham, I stayed at a small hotel in the historic Fairhaven district, well removed from hideous outlet malls and Olive Gardens. Three blocks away marked the beginning of the Interurban Trail, a fully shaded pathway for walkers, joggers and bikers. I ran until I came to a marker for Teddy Bear Cove which caused me to cross the scenic Chuckanut Drive and railway tracks to the water’s edge where I had the view to myself. On the return run, I proved that I still have not overcome my sense of direction challenges. Where did that road come from?! Is it possible that I didn’t pay attention to this wooden bridge? The bright side: I extended my run. I returned to the hotel feeling exhilarated and not having counted cars of any color.

After a groggy day of shopping in Portland (see previous post), I revived myself by walking ten blocks to the Willamette River and then jogging on both sides, crossing on a former railway bridge, continuing on a floating bridge, passing small homeless encampments under other bridges and finding narrow dirt pathways where tall grasses tickled my calves. Again, the return route proved surprising. When did they put the Portland Opera building there? Do they add dead ends after 8 p.m.? I’m sure I annoyed a few joggers as I passed them, took an unexpected detour and passed them again. I was just really happy to see them again!

The noise outside my hotel room in Lincoln City may have been just as loud as the bar frenzy across the street from my quarters at the Ace Hotel in Portland, but the constant crashing of ocean waves calmed me more than any poolside margarita. Normally I jog once or twice a week maximum when I can’t conjure up an excuse to stay in and watch THIS or THIS. But on this trip, I became one of those crazed runners—except without the bright red designer gear and the pedometer/timer gadget affixed to a shirt sleeve. I was compelled to put on my sneakers again, even as the blisters between and at the bottom of my toes begged me to give it a rest. (Blisters speak in teeny tiny voices that, while grating, can be easily tuned out.)

As other beachgoers strolled and crouched to admire starfish clinging to rocks or to grab another beer from the cooler, I ran along the shoreline. I took in the sea air, viewed the soaring gulls (wary that they may find the dude below in the neon green shirt and easy target) and watched the sun go down—not a technically perfect sunset due to the low clouds, but still pleasing. Fortunately, the route was rather simple, allowing for a straight return leg (other than one foray onto a sand bar). With the sun fading, the people cleared, a good thing since my stride became jerky as I looked down and realized that sand fleas were hopping all over the beach.


How many had I unceremoniously squashed?


How many could I spare?


I tried to gaze out at the ocean and block any thoughts of the little critters, but I couldn’t get them off my radar.

Today I’m home again. In a few moments, I’ll drive to the gym, embarrass myself through a weight routine and then wind down on the treadmill. If I count vehicles that pass outside, I’m thinking pickup trucks will keep me more engaged than blue cars. But if I allow myself to imagine, I’ll be back on vacation, not at a pool, but on a wooded trail, along an urban river expanse or on a beach where little critters dig tiny holes and seek refuge before my arrival.

A good vacation lingers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

SLEEPLESS IN PORTLAND

As mentioned in my last post, I am taking a breather from romantic comedies. And so when I spontaneously decided I needed to zip off on an American shopping adventure, I consciously bypassed Seattle. Best not to risk re-enacting rom-com movie scenes, hanging out at gorgeous float homes and precious beaches, stalking cute, witty single dads with meddling sons named Jonah.

On to Portland!

But first, of course, I needed to book my accommodations. My friends are into Hotwire and Priceline, bidding on unknown hotels. I’ve tried that and paid dearly for it, not from my wallet but in all the extra time schlepping back and forth from a Holiday Inn Express that was in a very liberally defined “downtown Victoria”. Bargain hunting has never worked for me. No playing games with hotel rooms. I searched for exactly what I wanted. No surprises.

I surfed the internet to find a trendy boutique hotel I’d read about somewhere a year ago. God bless Google. While it seemed like finding a needle in a haystack, I typed in “hip Portland hotels” and The Ace Hotel popped up. Kind of like a chic dorm. Definitely not your run of the mill Hilton or Holiday Inn. I was excited to experience something different. One of the advantages of traveling on alone is there is no one to blame you if the booking turns out to be a bad move.

It was a long drive with many stretches of inexplicable stop and go traffic—no construction, no accidents. I searched the radio dial, half expecting to hear a DJ giving directions for a vehicular flash mob. Simon says go slow. Simon says go even slower.

Once I reached my destination, I pulled up and got my room key (on a dog tag chain which fell apart within three minutes in my care). As I unloaded items from my car, I spotted a young gay man having a drink on the outdoor patio of the bar directly across the street. No doubt about his gayness. His limbs constricted and jerked in the equivalent to a body-length Notice Me hair flick. Later, I left to explore the amazing Powell’s Books and identified other gay patrons on the patio. My, Portland is a gay mecca. Who knew?! Picking up a copy of the free gay rag, my gaydar suspicions were confirmed. My hotel was directly across from a gay bar.

Pure coincidence. I’ve had partners who wanted to base entire trips around gay bars, gay plays, gay coffee hangouts. I always resisted. When I travel, I search for vegetarian restaurants, not gay bars. With the club constituting my view from my hotel room, I wondered if I should pop over. And then the question arose, “Why?” What need did I have to connect with gay Oregonians? I wasn’t looking for a hookup and I’ve never been skilled at mindless chitchat. I decided to turn in early.

Of course, when a bar with an open patio is directly across the street from where you’re staying, sleep is a challenge. As the club got busier, the noise wafted up to my third floor room. My bed vibrated like one of those coin-operated “rides” I think they used to have in motels in Niagara Falls. Sorry, there’s a reason that “luxury” never caught on.

I putzed around my room, flipping through complimentary copies of artsy magazines I’d never heard of before surveying the other extras for hotel guests: eucalyptus body wash, cilantro conditioner and, most telling, ear plugs. While a thoughtful touch, they didn’t help. I spent a fit-filled night, partially suffocating myself with a pillow as I tried in vain to sleep.

At daybreak, I finally found silence but my body had resigned itself to insomnia. My mind wouldn’t relax, a vigilante mentality taking over, just waiting for another noise to prove that any attempt to doze was futile. I gazed groggily at the wall in front of me. Each room at the Ace has a kitschy design. Since I came here to write as well as shop, it was fitting that entire wall was covered by a black and white mural of a boy resting his chin in his hands as he holds a pencil before an open notebook. Well, it seemed like a perfect touch when I’d checked in. However, in the light of the new day, staring blurry-eyed at a giant sized little boy from my bed was mighty creepy.

I needed to get out of my room so I showered, fuelled up on caffeine at the neighboring Stumptown Coffee and wandered the streets. It was just me and dozens of homeless folks. I think my zombie impersonation scared them. Whereas the night before I was regularly asked for money for coffee/transit/dinner, they’d suddenly cross the street as I approached in the early morn. I looked to be the needier case. Excuse me, do you know how to hook me up with a caffeine IV?

I did manage to recover at some point after a few catnaps, some extravagant clothing purchases, a walk through the Pearl District and an invigorating run along the Willamette River. Come nightfall, I thought about the if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em option, but by then a massive sty had formed on my right eye and the club’s apparent glow-stick/pajama party theme was most definitely not for me.

My Portland adventure underscored what I already knew: my forays into the gay nightlife are a thing of the past. The only thing I regret is that I don’t have anyone else to blame for my poor choice in accommodations.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH ROM-COMS




Curse you, Meg Ryan/John Cusack/Renée Zellweger/Marisa Tomei/Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

You’ve misled me.

You made me believe I could exchange a flurry of written communications (then, letters; now, emails) and then meet my pen pal atop the Empire State Building to begin a life that will undoubtedly be wedded bliss. I could hold a blast a love song on a boom box outside Mr. Right’s home and not only avoid neighbour/police intervention, but also win his heart. I could have a weight problem, a few addictions and constantly embarrass myself and still end up with Colin Firth!

Oh, how you taunt.

I know it’s all a ruse and yet I fall under your deceptive spell over and over again. As recently as last night, in fact. Yep, I rented Love Actually. Third time—and that’s not a charm, it’s a strikeout. Watching you, I learned that love is all around. Whether you’re a porn actor, a person who cannot speak the same language as people in your environment or an eleven-year-old kid, love is right in front of you. Just take it! It’s yours!

Curses, curses, curses. (Portuguese translation for Colin Firth’s character: #%!*, ^$#*, */!#.)

I resolve to go a whole month without watching a romantic comedy. I shall chuck my Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and About Last Night tapes behind the stacks of boxes in the closet in the basement. May mice poop all over you! I shall resist seeing any movie starring Jennifer Aniston. I shall not sit through even five minutes of ABC’s “Bachelor Pad”. (Okay, that part is easy. It’s like swearing off fruitcake when starting a diet.)

In a week or two, I will feel my life changing. I will no longer pivot after passing a beautiful man, expecting to see him looking back with longing. (That whiplash issue involving my neck will be resolved, saving me hundreds of dollars in chiropractic bills.) I will not expect Prince Charming to shelter me under his umbrella during an unexpected downpour. And I will come to accept that the adorable, brainy guy behind the counter at the bakery will never memorize my complex drink order (large of the dark blend), much less learn my name and chat me up about the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Anita Baker’s best songs or Vancouver’s “bummer summer”.

Yes, I shall be free. Free at last!

At least until mid-September.

Friday, August 5, 2011

DON'T WANT TO PLAY THIS GAME

Okay. I tried gay.com. Signed up a few weeks ago, created a profile and then I avoided the site. Today I did a search.

I got an immediate stomach ache. That may be partly due to the fact I hate a whole bowl of potato salad for lunch. (Damn you, nugget potatoes!) But surely gay.com must take a big chunk of the responsibility.

There were 685 names that came up based on a search of gay men in their forties living in the Vancouver area. You know, that sounds promising. Surely there is a needle in that haystack, no?

No.

No, no, no, no, no!

I’ll admit that the growing stomach pains caused me to only conduct a cursory squint at the thumbnail photos. There weren’t any lewd snapshots—they apparently exist; you just have to pay for a Premium membership. Pass. Still, there were many fortysomething men posting shots of their potent pecs and admirable abs as their main photo. (My image is a headshot and you can tell I am wearing a tie and jacket. I laughed when I just realized this. A tad overdressed.) I know the impressive pecs and abs are supposed to entice browsers to click the pic, read the profile, start a chat, send a message.

Is there something wrong with me? Hey, you...CRUISINBTM. Just how many people have ogled your abs? Are they disappointed when you show up at Starbucks wearing a shirt? Silly me, one can always forgo the coffee.

In creating a profile, each member can indicate what he is looking for. The options: Friendship, Love/Relationship, Action/Sex, Conversation and what I see as the flirty/cryptic/creepy Ask Me. For myself, I chose Love/Relationship. Of course, you can select more than one. Every profile I did click had Action/Sex as the sole option or one of the options. If you select both Love/Relationship AND Action/Sex, what does that say? How committed might you be? Again, these were all guys in their forties. The big rainbow-waving parade was only a week ago and already I feel my Pride waning.

Each member chooses a moniker. Joining the aforementioned CRUISINBTM on the site are TheCockfather, Orgasmmm, Hot2GoMan, Spanking_ and the age-confused 41-year-old BoyToyPup (not to be mixed up with 46-year-old BoyToy1). I did not make these up! It’s one thing to go through life with the name Englebert. Blame the parents. But these names were specially created after much thought, designed to make a super-duper first impression. I stopped glancing at the names as my lunch starting churning.

Many of the more respectable photos were ones I’d already seen on Plenty of Fish. Yes, we’ve already rejected or overlooked one another on one dating domain. No need to slap the other cheek.

I must have clicked on ten photos, enabling me to read the profiles. While I bemoan the fact that many Plenty of Fish members are word/grammar/spelling-challenged, they are skilled communicators compared to what little people write on the gay.com profiles. It’s like dating on Twitter.

Suffice it to say, not a single profile piqued my interest. I do not belong on gay.com. Reminded me of the Bruce Springsteen song “57 Channels (and Nothing on)”, only up the number to 685.

I will, of course, happily explore other options. What are the options?

Suggestions?

An unfortunate side effect of this stint at dating research is that I may never want to eat potato salad again. Never been a coleslaw connoisseur, but I’ll give it a go.

Monday, August 1, 2011

GOING STRONG

If you read my last post, you know I finally took some initiative and called on other gays and lesbians in my area to join me on a forest walk. While I am told that fifty people turned up for the annual potluck a few weeks ago, we had eight of us on the walk. Four of them dogs. (I had an extra one since my ex offloaded his newly acquired schnauzer for the weekend to allow him to take in the Outgames and Pride Parade. Not all of us sacrifice everything for our beloved canines.)

If there had been any thought of love in the cedars—and there hadn’t—it was snapped at the outset. No, I didn’t get the sense that any of them were coupled, but at 46, I represented the younger generation. The other three were longtime residents who knew each other by name, acquaintances at best. Sheila and Curt did a run-through of their latest health scares while Mitch, the eldest, focused on taming his two-year-old beast which in his words was “part Mastiff, part pony.” I kept my two dogs close, worrying about how my ex would take the news that his pooch became a Scooby Snack.

The conversation was stilted during the walk, but it didn’t matter. Dogs are like toddlers, constant fodder for trivial talk.

“Yes, he always seems to poop in the middle of the path.”

“Mine is so much better off-leash. Really.”

“Does he mean anything when he bares his teeth like that?”

Curt, the chattiest, was the only one without a dog. He interspersed the dog talk with tidbits about the healing powers of local berries and running commentary on hippie activities in the park before retirees and yuppy weekenders changed everything.

I tried my best to be sociable, but I spent much of the time observing and thinking. These three people represented me in twenty years—assuming I am still single and if I am lucky. Each was in good shape, each with plenty to keep them vibrant.

For Sheila, it was her Labradoodle whom she walked early each morning with a group of women in her neighborhood. She had some medical condition for which she’d recently sent out an email asking for donations to support a related fundraiser. This was her second walk of the morning, but she was the one who suggested we take a longer route than what I’d initially proposed.

By appearance, Curt seemed like a flashback, still dressed as he would have twenty years ago in a sleeveless tee, construction boots, jean shorts, a colorful hanky in the back pocket and a feather earring dangling from one ear. I’ll give him credit—the look suited him. Makeover candidate? Perhaps, but no urgency. When you are confident, you can carry off anything. Curt was heading for the ferry after our walk, set to take in a weekend of the Pride Parade, a Pride art exhibit, a play and a night at a club. “I might get a little bit naughty,” he whispered, a devilish smile suppressing any iota of self-doubt. Once back home, he’d be back to writing, painting and freezing berries for winter.

Mitch was the quietest. He represented my most likely flash forward. While Sheila and Curt had attended the potluck, Mitch stayed away intentionally. Curt, in fact, thought I might have the wrong name as we waited and I mentioned that Mitch had replied that he was coming. “Oh, Mitch doesn’t come to anything. He’s happy being antisocial.” Like me, Mitch is a vegetarian. While we didn’t exchange notes, I am sure the diet plays a factor in his passing on potlucks. During the walk, it came out that Mitch held the same career as I currently have. He, in fact, worked at the same site where I am in the Lower Mainland. That, of course, was thirty years ago.

Mitch was reserved in every way, a stark contrast to out-there Curt and the take-charge, abrupt Sheila. He answered questions cordially, but did not elaborate. He dressed conservatively, a polo shirt neatly tucked into pressed jeans. He followed up the walk with a thank-you email and a link to other local trails, something he’d referred to during our outing. Mitch was a man of his word.

Sometimes with my single gay friends, we’ve wondered what it will be like to grow old alone. We joked about it in our late twenties. The questions seem more sobering now. How will I know if I am going senile? Who will call 911 if I have a stroke? How long might it take before I am found?

Morbid? I suppose. But there have been some recent news accounts that make the implausible plausible. Perhaps a group of us can book a wing in a nursing home. Little rainbow banners can adorn the hallway, guiding us “home” should we lose our way.

Staying vibrant is essential. We should all have trailblazers ahead of us. To be sure, Mitch is not creating a path through slash and burn tactics. He strikes me as the type to hold his pruners through a pair of gloves, snipping away any errant weeds or blackberry offshoots. Yes, there is a clearing. Should I remain single, quiet contentment is possible.

I’ll post another invite for another walk at another park in the next couple of weeks. I’m not looking for a crowd of fifty. A human headcount of four is just fine. Or something like that. A little fresh air is always good.