Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BOOK ENDS--Part 1

I’m a book guy. I like turning the pages, checking my progress as my bookmark creeps toward the halfway point and wondering what I did to create an orange splotch in the otherwise crisp white margin on page 143. (I swore off Cheetos years ago after my nephew couldn’t help licking the residue off each finger before fetching more from deep inside the bag.)

I have friends who swear by Kindles, Nooks and other techie reading gadgets. “So good for travel,” they all say. Funny how I can’t remember the last time any of them ventured beyond the international food aisle at Safeway.

I know that I’m unlikely to reread the finished books that sit like trophies on my crammed bookshelves. And all I can do is pick up and recycle abandoned plastic bottles discarded in gutters as penance for the fact I am contributing to the elimination of forests of trees that sacrifice their lives so I can hold my beloved tomes.

Logically, I realize I should change my ways. I am sure I could adjust to more hours spent gazing at a screen. Maybe I’d even look good in glasses.

But I don’t want to change.

I like my books, dammit. I like holding them, I like the simple acts of opening and closing them. I like glancing at familiar spines and forgetting most of the plot but recalling varying feelings of satisfaction (and author envy) from each reading experience.

I love wandering into a bookstore, seeking out the one title I’d gone in for and walking out forty-five minutes later with an armload of new reads. Every book shop visit is a treasure hunt and I invariably find a nugget or two of gold. Typically, the book I’d originally sought gets bumped down my reading list as a new Must-Read takes priority.

A week ago, I made a rare appearance on Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End, a gay hub of old that is losing its signs of Pride. In an era of greater acceptance of LGBT people and in a time of rising housing costs, the gays are leaving Vancouver’s gay ghetto and settling in the suburbs. (There is word that one unfortunate fellow even moved to an outlying area, accessible only by ferry.  The fool!)

I had a few minutes to kill so I wandered into Little Sister’s Bookstore aka Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium, a LGBT bookstore. I wanted to pick up something new in YA gay fiction, a compelling memoir and perhaps a collection of humorous essays. (Surely David Sedaris doesn’t have a monopoly on the market.)

Little Sister’s has long been a business that has struggled to survive. When I first moved to Vancouver, the store filled the upper floor of a dilapidated wooden structure and relied on donations to help pay legal fees arising from censorship battles. Its move to a new space a decade ago with the large uncluttered, well stocked book collection was a sign that it would endure, even thrive. I remember stopping in during its opening weekend and feeling proud that this was a pillar of the gay community, a worthy hub instead of the bars.  

Little Sister’s 2013 looks a lot different. When I walked in, I immediately turned right in order to head to the spacious book section with the beautiful wooden shelves. I was shocked to see plastic hangers with dangling rainbow thongs, glittery kites, sex toys and a large greeting card section. Little Sister’s has always carried this merchandise but not to this scale. And not in the amazing book section.

I pivoted and reoriented myself. Ah, books! They were in the area that used to be a porn magazine or video section—I don’t fully remember as I was always too embarrassed to venture there, a lingering side effect of a reserved upbringing in which “Charlie’s Angels” was too racy.

I wandered over and dutifully surveyed the selection, a sparse mix of new and used books on shabby shelves.  The books in Little Sister’s Bookstore seemed like an afterthought. I shudder when I think of the logic: Well, no one buys cellophane-wrapped magazines anymore with free porn on the internet. Maybe we could unload a few books here. It was probably a sound business decision to relegate books to the back section, away from the windows, away from natural light, away from the natural foot traffic flow of the store. Apparently, lube, thongs and flags are the bigger sellers.

The book nook had a few general headings—Gay Books, Lesbian Books—but the collection seemed no more diverse or in depth than what one might find at any mid-sized urban bookstore (assuming that a few still exist).

I purchased nothing. The shock proved too much. I desperately wanted to support Little Sister’s in hopes that my single book purchase would be just what was needed to spur a book renaissance. Unfortunately, I could not find a promising new piece of YA fiction, an intriguing essay collection or a prized, unexpected nugget. While rainbow flags adorned other parts of the store, the book area might as well have been marked with a white flag.

Book days are over.

And I am in mourning.

Monday, April 29, 2013

GAY FOR PLAY

Let me be clear. I do not follow the NBA. While I enjoy the fast pace of basketball, I’ve always found NCAA games more interesting with allegiances slightly more meaningful and university coliseums more intimate venues. I did go to a couple of L.A. Lakers games while I lived in Los Angeles and I also went to a couple of games during the short Vancouver Grizzlies era.  But I am completely out of touch with the game. Steve Nash? Yeah, I know he plays for the Lakers. You can’t be Canadian without knowing that (or at least knowing his name from a NellyFurtado song). I know of Kobe Bryant and, well, then things get hazy. Dennis Rodman can’t still play if he’s cavorting with the leader of North Korea in the middle of the season. Michael Jordan? He’s probably at home, hoping for a “Space Jam” remake/sequel. Larry Bird? Okay, now I’m just dating myself.

Until today, I had never heard of Jason Collins.

But now I’m a fan. If not of the NBA, certainly of Mr. Collins.

Just last week, I blogged about the difficulty in being out where I work.  I reasoned that the public scrutiny would be too much. I am no Jason Collins. I do not have my story plastered in Sports Illustrated. I have not set the internet abuzz. I do not have to show up on court and in the locker room where homophobic taunts and “jokes” are perpetuated as long as microphones are turned off. Coming out in men’s sport takes raw guts.

I first read that Mr. Collins came out as gay in an Entertainment Weekly article (reporting on the SI article—no surprise, I do not regularly check the SI website). I scrolled down to the comments section to see what kind of negativity the usual post-ers could stir up. (Read any EW article. There is always someone who craves the negative attention. The predictable result is that other post-ers try to reason with (or putdown) Negative Neil and that tangent overshadows anything in the main article. I say this because inflammatory internet comments are the norm. If the article were about a little girl selling lemonade to pay the vet bill for her sick puppy, there would still be vile.)

Still, the negative comments about a man coming out add to a lifetime of homophobic comments and behavior that LGBT individuals have had to endure.

When I arrived home, I had the opportunity to read the full article at si.com. As anyone who lives a prolonged life in the closet, Mr. Collins has clearly put great thought into the coming out process and what it means to him personally, to his family and to his career. He knows how to get our attention, opening with three simple sentences:

“I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.”

By coming out, Jason Collins establishes another “first” in the pursuit of equality, acceptance and understanding for the LGBT “community”. There is already debate over what precisely the “first” is since Collins is a free agent and his current NBA season is over. There isn’t any need to quibble. Until today, the code has been that gay basketball players with aspirations of playing in the NBA now and/or next season do not come out. Why risk the repercussions? Why expose your personal life? Why not leave it to someone else? In 2046.

Mr. Collins gives a simple explanation: “I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.”

Those of us who have spent prolonged periods of time holed up in the closet know why he raised his hand when others haven’t. We know how exhausting it can be to censor our comments and actions. We know how infuriating it can be to hear our friends and colleagues make homophobic slurs about others while in our presence. We know how incomplete and dishonest a life of secrecy can be.

Nothing I write here is new and I am certain others have had more time today to express things more powerfully. I just want to acknowledge Mr. Collins and note that, whatever exactly this first is, it is a big deal.

It took courage for Jason Collins to come out. It will require more courage for him to be the new target of hate from the good Christians who damn him to hell. I thank him for providing more inspiration to myself and to other gay boys and men who struggle with leading honest, open lives.

Congratulations, Jason Collins. With no one else in men’s basketball to share this spotlight, you are both a beacon and a target. I hope teammates and other professional athletes will come forward in the days and weeks ahead, if not to join the Out Wagon, then to show support for a thoughtful man with a passion for sport.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

IT'S A LIVING

While my 2.5 hour-commute to work is typically a focused rush, I had an opportunity to pause this morning. That’s what happens when the car doesn’t start and you have to wait for roadside assistance. It was a lovely morning, the perfect time to linger along the waterfront, gazing out at boats in the marina as the sun shone brightly and seagulls flitted about in the sky. No need to stress over being late to work. Life happens.

The mechanic arrived and quickly replaced the battery. When it came time to pay, he ran my credit card through one of those handy little machines and then attempted to print out my receipt. Unfortunately, the paper jammed.

“Stupid fuckin’ piece of shit.” Not me, the machine.

Immediately, I had job envy.

I have no desire to try to fix cars. I don’t like motor grease on the hands. And it often takes me two tries just to pop the hood. (The first attempt usually opens the trunk.) I stress just adding air to the tires. What if it’s too much and they explode? My father earnestly tried to pass on the garage-is-my-sanctum gene but my body rejected it.

“Fuck! Fucking piece of shit.”

More profanity. On the job. How refreshing.

Okay, I’m not actually one to swear a lot. I can go days, even months, without cussing. (It all depends on how long I go without banging my foot on the bedpost.) Some people are not meant to swear and apparently I am one of them. When I say the F word or the Sh word or even the harsher version of “heck”, people laugh. It just sounds funny coming out of my mouth.

So I am not making myself clear here. I don’t want to be a mechanic and I do not long to swear like a sailor (or a mechanic). The job envy comes from the fact this guy can show up for work and just be himself. No filter, no concern with how he might be perceived. How freeing!

I began this blog hiding my identity under the name Rural Gay. (Many other titles came to mind, but they were already taken by bloggers. Dear Gwyneth, “goop” was supposed to be mine, all mine!) In time, I also set up a Twitter account as Rural Gay, but I attracted very few followers. Apparently tweeps were reluctant to follow someone with a cryptic name and an image of scenic British Columbia. My follower count languished below 150 for over a year. Eventually, I dared to refer to myself as James Gregory and include an extreme close-up head shot. I now have more than 2,300 followers. Even on something as relatively anonymous as Twitter, people want to have some sense of who you are.

James Gregory is a pseudonym. I do not use my real name because of my job. I do not want my employer to know that I have struggled with an eating disorder, but more importantly I do not want my bosses or other stakeholders to read about my dating experiences and ongoing travails as a gay man.

While I live in a country where gays and lesbians have had the right to marry since 2005 and there are provincial and federal antidiscrimination protections pertaining to sexual orientation, I suspect that an unfiltered gay me would be problematic.

I am an elementary school principal. Everything I say and do comes under scrutiny. I hear myself quoted as I stroll down the hallway and, when I run into parents outside of school, I often get, “We were just talking about you...” I have been told it wasn’t principal-like to show up at work with a few blond highlights. (This from a colleague with far more obvious streaks of blonde dye in her hair.) While very few Canadians spew vile about gays being pedophiles, there remains some discomfort with gay men being teachers or principals. This is a society which still tolerates the Boy Scouts’ No Gay Adults rule.

I have no doubt that many staff members, parents and perhaps even some students know the truth. I do not ooze oodles of testosterone (as evidenced from the fact I just used the word “oodles”). I have some voice inflections and hand gestures that may even be regarded as effeminate. I’m past the point of caring or, God forbid, self-monitoring every utterance or movement. It’s basically a don’t ask, don’t tell existence. Everyone’s happy.

Except me.

As a writer, there are several projects I am working on that would present an extreme disconnect from my life as a principal. One manuscript centers on a young gay man’s dating experiences, including comically sexual mishaps. Should it be published, I would not share it with my family and I certainly would not want members of the school board to have it on their Kindles. There remains a clear divide between my work life and everything else.

I know there are openly gay teachers and principals. I follow a blog by a grade six teacher who has no qualms with blogging about his dating life. Some people are more courageous or perhaps they are just better supported. Years ago, I worked at an elementary school with four gay men on staff. It was far easier to be completely open, at least among colleagues. Every work setting is different. It makes it disheartening, however, to find myself retreating to the closet as my career “advances.”

While I am highly skilled and respected at work, dissatisfaction creeps in when my life is rigidly compartmentalized. We’ve all seen how Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a step, but not an endpoint.

Ideally, I would love to abandon the career, one that I have so loved but that now keeps me in a box. To write full-time or to eke out a living as a barista while writing on the side feels like a daring, exhilarating dream. As long as I still have a mortgage, a radical pay cut is out of the question. It’s just another reason I feel desperate to sell my house.

For now, I continue my muted existence in a career that I am otherwise passionate about.

It’s a living. But sometimes I wonder if it really is.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

RECONSIDERING THE GAYCATION

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I was part of a series of long-term relationships. Travel was an exciting part of being with a partner. I wanted to have our pictures taken in distant places. Look at us! We have our arms around each other! We’re smiling! We’re happy! We’re in love!

Photos don’t lie.

I loved the idea of sharing a king-size bed and waking up each morning chatting about we’d do without the distractions of work, our regular social circle and “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee”. (Okay, only one of us needed an update about little Cody and big Frank. (And I told you it was a long time ago.))

Travel also included risks. What if we got tired of being around each other 24/7? What if he insisted on checking out every outlet store? What if he got upset if I couldn’t eat at that highly recommended restaurant that lacks a vegetarian option?

The trips were never exotic. While we talked of India, Portugal, New Zealand and Botswana, we only got as far as San Francisco, Dallas and Whistler. None of the vacations prompted me to start scrapbooking our Romance on the Road. Each trip included heated arguments and nights spent sleeping at opposite edges of the roomy mattress. We always made up before heading home, but the excursions never lived up to all we anticipated. It was as if he were supposed to be sprinkled with fairy dust once reaching our (not so) foreign destination and, when Tinkerbell proved to be a no-show, well, we were doomed to disappointment.

One recurring source of friction involved the daily itineraries. Invariably, my partner wanted to find the gay ghetto and take in a Pride Parade, eat a mediocre hamburger at a gay restaurant or a jiggle a glass of ice at a gay nightclub.

Almost always, I resisted. Didn’t we have enough of the gay scene back home in Los Angeles or Vancouver? Why did we need to immerse ourselves in homo havens when we had each other? How much love did we have if we had to dress to impress other gays or sneak peaks at our “foreign” “community”?

I was defensive and insecure, it is true. But I also genuinely wanted to tour museums and galleries, drive off on day trips and try eateries that didn’t necessarily have campy or beefy waiters. I wanted a break for The Gay Life.

For the past nine years, I’ve had full power to set my own itineraries. My travel choices are only limited by those damn “Based on double occupancy” qualifiers and unexpected, budget-sucking car repairs that pop up just as I get the itch to wander far afield and see...Seattle.

Gays sites are not on the agenda. I can shop all the trendy stores I want, take my time pondering oh-so-modern scribble art in fine museums and curiously chew mock veal parmigiana at the token vegan dive restaurant.

When I spent a weekend in Portland a couple of summers ago, I booked a room at the Ace Hotel, a place I’d discovered online in a post about the Funkiest Hotels in the U.S. From the write-up and from its own website, I knew I would never convince a friend (or, should it ever happen again, a partner) to stay in a glorified dorm room so this felt like an opportunity. An advantage of traveling solo is there is no one to negotiate with. I could do it all My Way.

Nothing in what I read indicated that the hotel was directly across the street from a gay nightclub. It amused me at 3 p.m. to see clusters of gay men having cocktails on the outdoor patio. For a moment, I entertained the idea of popping by later that night. As a single man living in isolation from All Things Gay, I thought a look, a nod or even a brief conversation would be a welcome opportunity to renew my homo credentials before the expiration date.

But then as night came, I pictured myself sitting alone, sporting a strained smile, trying to sell the look of perfect contentment as nondescript house music pulsated (What do you mean you don’t have “Dancing Queen”?!) and others laughed around me.

Why bother? Why do that to myself? I had no answer. I passed.

Four years ago when I went to San Francisco, I attended a football game and a pumpkin festival. Not exactly an update on Tales of the City.

I am beginning to rethink things. The lack of any gay component of my life makes me feel stagnant. I am as full of life as a run-of-the-mill earthworm, asexual and all. The Homo Card lapsed. Seems I don’t even know where to get an application form for reinstatement.

Perhaps a gaycation is indeed in order. I am not thinking about the extreme scenario of being stuck on a cruise ship full of Fake ‘n’ Bake twinks and daddies who squeeze into sherbet-shaded Speedos and hoot loudly as some form of a desperate mating call. Notice me! No, I’d rather be on one of those Carnival sea adventures with no power and boxes of stale Saltines to ration as Kathie Lee Gifford sings “On the GoodShip Lollipop.”

Man overboard!

Still, a weekend wandering The Castro or Chicago’s Boystown might be what I need to revive a dormant component of my identity that I had once fought so hard to understand and embrace. I can’t get my gay back from watching The Saga of Kurt and Blaine. And I daresay that it isn’t good enough to sit back and await Anderson Cooper’s next giggle fit.

Seems I am in need of a full gay immersion. Maybe a sweet man named Pablo will snap my photo as I don a dollar store necklace of rainbow beads and stand in front of Tulsa’s top gay club. I’ll smile broadly and download the pic, reminding myself that I was there. Yep, I’m gay.

Like I said, pictures don’t lie. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

SMALL STEPS

It was two months ago that I awakened with an intense headache, a combination of uneasy tingling, piercing pain and a strange humming sound. A feeling of nausea soon added to the discomfort. I got up and walked toward the bathroom, but never made it. The next time I woke up, my beloved schnauzer was frantically licking my face, an ineffective(?)canine version of CPR . I’d fainted and, as I tried to get up, I felt more pain, this time from my left foot. Eighteen hours later, I had full confirmation that I’d broken my foot, but on the bright side, there was no evidence of a brain tumor or whatever other grim possibility a CT-scan might detect.

Today I am on the ferry, ninety minutes away from another X-ray and what I hope will be more good news. I need to hear that the foot has healed and that there is no need for surgery. Ideally, I need the good doctor to scold me, indicating that I’ve been pussyfooting around too much, telling me I should be jogging half marathons by now. Oh, if only...

I have weaned myself of the crutches which I rented for what I initially thought would be for a weekend. I’d been so naively optimistic. At a rate of $2.50 per week, they are one of life’s little bargains, but I will be thrilled to relinquish them and never hear that clunky clang again as they fall repeatedly when I prop them up. (My fearful little dog will be even more elated to bid them good riddance.)

Despite what the doctor may say, I am proud of how I pushed myself. Foolishly perhaps, I was back in the gym five days after the fall. No treadmill work, but I needed to maintain my upper body fitness so the long rehabilitation could focus solely on the injury. Each week, I pushed myself, regaining bits and pieces of my former 2 ½-hour workout. A couple gym goers mentioned that I inspired them or at least guilted them into doing more. Yesterday, I noticed a new person at the gym, a woman in a familiar air-cast boot, crutches at her side on the floor as she pedaled away on the exercise bike. I stopped to offer encouragement, to share some fitness “tricks” and to commiserate in general.

I have learned from the experience. Any setback should bring with it a few epiphanies. That notion that work cannot go on without me has been (thankfully) shaken. I should have taken the first week off and then worked four days a week during the first month. The combined sense of duty and martyrdom did nothing to help the healing process. Next time I’ll know better. Life happens; adjustments must be made.

This experience has frustrated me to the point of tears many times. Still, I have regained an appreciation for simple things. Walking my dog, even in the pouring rain when he can’t decide where to leave a larger than life deposit, is a luxury. Carrying a dinner plate to another room is something that feels exotic. Stepping into the bathtub for a shower without have to first sit and enter granny style seems utterly exhilarating.

I have felt jogger envy every single time a runner passes by. It’s not like I ran daily or that jogging was even the core of my exercise regime. Quite frankly, jogging bores me. But it’s like a pint of Haagen-Dazs when you’re on the grapefruit diet: you want it more when you can’t have it. Actually, jogging is nothing like ice cream, no matter how I portray it. Still, I do long to put on the new running gear that I bought on the eve of the fall. Five minutes walking on the treadmill would be an accomplishment. I am still waiting for the day when my still-swollen left foot will fit into a shoe. My hallway closet only has right shoes. I don’t even know where all the lefties wandered off to. I’ll be sure to check behind the dryer as that is the site of a hidden portal, the avenue for great escapes by a range of foot accessories.

I have to celebrate the small steps even when I’m antsy to go into intensive mode. I want to be able again. I want to shed the extra weight I gained while being sidelined. I want to be able to peek in the mirror again without glimpsing a bloated belly, feeling disappointed on a good day, repulsed on the others.

During my eight weeks of being “differently abled” there have been surprises. Twice at the gym while still using crutches, I had guys take my bench as I got up to switch weights. In a game of Rock Paper Scissors Steroids, the last category beats all.

I have momentarily bonded with seniors in my community who chat me up while moving in wheelchairs or with the aid of a cane. “Skiing accident?” they ask. Half the time I nod. Maybe it’s time to switch to snowshoes.

I have watched how people who seem long-term disabled are ignored while people give a nod or exchange mundane chitchat with temps like me. We’re comfortable talking about a freakish fainting episode that results in a broken foot. Multiple sclerosis? Not so much. Seems many of us heeded our parents’ “Don’t stare, it’s not polite” admonishments and never learned anything more socially sound.

Three or four months after my fall, all should be back to normal, but that doesn’t mean I should go back to the way I used to be. Evidence of true learning comes from actions, not mere thinking.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

LEAVE 'EM WANTING MORE (or something like that)


Last summer, I stumbled upon a Meetup link on the internet. I discovered that people weren’t waiting anymore for their spouses and friends to commit to a “dreaded” art gallery visit or fondue tasting adventure. Shockingly, your partner or BFF doesn’t share your interest in a creamy vegan cheese fondue party. Seems opposites do attract.

You can go online for anything. Casual, momentary connections? Twitter. Peeping updates from old high school friends? Facebook. Potential dates? Take your pick of sites (and don’t take any advice from me). Turns out you can create any club you want online and you don’t even need to get the Chemistry teacher to be your sponsor.

I joined a Vancouver screenwriters Meetup group and I have attended a couple of worthwhile events. Have I truly connected with anyone? No. Perhaps because this cluster of people was birthed from technology, everyone turns to texting or playing Angry Birds or checking Pinterest during breaks. Still, I sit in a room, take in information from a speaker and marvel at the fact I’m not the only one hanging on to a Hollywood dream without moving to L.A. (Heck, if my writing’s that good, they’ll move Jay, Gloria and the rest of the Modern Family cast and crew to Vancouver, right? Or maybe CSI: Miami. The viewers will never know the difference.)

I also found a Meetup group of adults that met on Saturday afternoons to play tag in various parks. That made me laugh. And make no mistake, if I didn’t have to come over on a ferry, I’d be right in on it, quick to yell “Not it” at the outset and shouting “Time out, time out” every time someone got close to tagging me. (I have NO idea why the kids back in Hamilton forbade me from neighborhood tag all those years ago. Lifetime bans mean nothing when you cross provincial lines.)

About two months ago, I joined a gay Meetup group, started by someone who may be creatively challenged. The founder called the group “Nice Intelligent, Successful Vancouver Gay Men”. Sure, that’s the kind of people you want to attract, but I think he should have consulted a drag queen for something cheeky or at least a tad sparkly. No need to worry about scaring off a few guys. The self-consciously butch gays wouldn’t give up a night of “Ice Road Truckers” or inventorying Phillips screwdrivers anyway.

This group plans quite a few events, one or two each week, things like attending an Oscars house party, going to see a gay-themed play or snowshoeing on the North Shore mountains.  The problem (for me, at least) is that all activities are scheduled for weekends. It takes an awful lot to get me back on a ferry on a Saturday after my grueling weekday commute. Perpetual isolation is not enough.

Finally, someone posted an announcement for a weekday event, a 6 p.m. social at a club called The Junction in Vancouver’s West End. I did not RSVP until the morning of since attending would mean I’d have to take a later ferry home and, after hobbling around work in my boot cast all day, I usually want to get the commute over with as soon as possible. I was the fourteenth person to commit to the event so I figured I could have a few quick conversations before dashing—er, limping—out at 6:30 to catch the 7:25 sailing. Being a shy guy, thirty minutes of socializing with strangers would be a fine first effort. Best to leave before people spot the pit stains.

This Meetup group is not meant to be a dating pool. It merely offers an opportunity for gay men to socialize, to create a few connections in a city that is gaining a reputation for being disconnected. I looked forward to an opportunity to mingle and to be reminded that I am not the only gay man on the planet. (And if some guy happened to be single, attractive and “nice, intelligent [and] successful” as advertised, well,...bonus!)

By the time I found parking a few blocks away and limped to the meeting site, it was 6:10. At the door, I talked myself out of entering. Why feel so rushed in making it to the ferry terminal? For once, I ignored that nagging inner voice, pulled the handle and walked in.

The place was empty. Well, almost. Two women sat at a nearby table and, in the darkened cave at the back of the place, a few men gathered around a two-top. I headed toward the bar and figured there was no harm in ordering a club soda before hitting the road. They always load the glass with ice anyway. Besides, my cuticles were overdue for an inspection.

I asked the bartender if a Meetup group was gathering here and he pointed to the cave dwellers. I took my drink and approached. The five guys introduced themselves and, as I pulled over another chair to squeeze in, I realized none of the names registered. Oh, yes, this is what social awkwardness is all about. Funny how long bouts of isolation don’t miraculously improve my social skills.

After introductions, Guy Number One resumed telling a long story about a charity fundraiser he’d just done. Or maybe he was talking about a trip to the dentist. Or giving his opinion about what it will take for Lindsay Lohan to reconnect with that persona we all loved in “Freaky Friday”. I can never follow conversations that begin in the middle. Taking the cue of others, I simply smiled and nodded along. My understanding was wholly unnecessary. Guy Number One had come with a monologue and, dammit, he had to tell it.

Ten minutes later, there was a pause and I realized he’d finished. The fundraiser had been a success or he had no cavities. Or something like that. He smiled and sipped his beer.

The Meetup host had done his homework and knew that I traveled by ferry so the focus shifted to me for ninety seconds before Guy Number Seven arrived and I got another shot of ascribing names to people. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Or something like that. I did learn that Seven was actually named Lucien (George Costanza would be relieved), a transplant from Quebec, also attending his first Nice, Intelligent, Successful Vancouver Gay Men Meetup. He openly shared that he’d lost most of his Vancouver connections in the past year—a breakup, a dog dying, friends retreating to Montreal, a couple moving to the (relatively) affordable suburbs. All unfortunate, but I was thrilled that I retained something—ears and mind still worked after all.

Another person arrived and I hoped that the group could finally break off into smaller conversations. Larger group talks always lead to a few big talkers and a passive audience. There were others who’d been limited to silent gesturing and stating their name. As wallpaper, I had company. Alas, I glanced at the time, announced that I had a ferry to catch and departed. I hobbled back to the car, fretting that some may have thought my hasty exit arose from boredom, a perfectly plausible deduction. I’d made no impression and neither had most of the other guys. I’ve had Twitter exchanges—a couple of 140-character back-and-forths—that revealed more.

Still, it’s a small step. The next event is on a Friday night, a movie at someone’s home. I cannot attend as I would have to miss the last ferry home. (Yes, all ties with civilization are controlled by BC Ferries. Last time I Googled helicopters, they were out of my price range.)

I’ll keep my eye out for another opportunity. Fondue at five? Heck, yeah! As long as I live where I live, it cannot be about the event. If it fits with my commute, I’ll be there.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

JUST PASSING THROUGH


I know a lot of people who don’t get Twitter. Or they get it, but they don’t want it. Hashtags, retweets, unfollows—gasp, what has happened to the English language!

To be sure, there are days when I feel like a Twitter outsider. Sometimes when I log in, it’s a stream of mindless tweets about hangovers, the pope and guys posting naked Instagram pics of themselves in the name of #NakedSunday. Yep, sometimes I find the content downright depressing. Does this truly reflect the life I am missing in my rural setting? Is this the sort of thing that drove me from the city seven years ago?

It’s truly a hit or miss affair. I liken Twitter to an airport waiting area where people from all walks of life are temporarily crammed together, waiting for a boarding call that will only lead to them being crammed together with more people, including a little kid who inadvertently keeps kicking the back of your seat and a petite woman across the aisle with an active case of whooping cough.

But I digress. Back to the waiting area. These are moments, not hours, when a group of diverse people is thrown together by one common cause: a yearning to visit Cleveland. (Okay, yearning is most likely a huge overstatement. All the convention centers in Honolulu were booked.)

On a recent day, I had the day off and, as I was feeling worn down from weeks of overwork and hopping about with a broken foot, my writing wasn’t flowing. I fell for the Twitter diversion a few times.

In the morning, I sent a random tweet about how excited my dog is when he gets to piddle on a tree when a young guy with the tag GayIsTheWay (or something like that) tweeted another random thought: Do gays ever eat? I think he was trying to be funny. Another guy—let’s call him NJQueer—replied, “My fat ass does. I wish I was one of those gays who didn’t tho.” I should have let it go, but my history of eating disorders flashed to mind and I didn’t want other gay Tweeps to see the comment passed off.

My reply to NJQueer (and GayIsTheWay, who quickly vanished from the Twitterverse): By all means, eat! I’ve struggled with eating disorders my whole life. Wish weight didn’t matter. That spawned a dialog with NJQueer who opened up about his own struggles with eating and self-image. Another Tweep joined the conversation, revealing an eating disorder and, in a matter of minutes in our virtual airport terminal, we were sharing things we hadn’t mentioned to family and friends. I geared the conversation toward solutions, even if temporary—So how do you cope? What makes a good day?—before we each went on with our day with something positive as a focus.

Incidentally, this conversation went on while I engaged in shorter, clearly lighter conversations about dogs and trees, but while that was amusing, it is not worth sharing.

At the same time, a man in England tweeted about having just discovered a lump while in the shower. I replied that I hoped he was getting it seen to and wished him the best. That conversation continued over a period of days, with him talking about his father and his grandfather’s bouts with cancer and the agony of waiting for test results.

Later that night, I peeked at trending Twitter topics. One caught my eye: #SingleBecause. Hmm, I think I know a thing or two about that. I fired off a string of tweets, chuckling away as the topic tweaked my odd sense of humor. Here they are. Laugh or scratch your head as you like:

1)      #SingleBecause it turns out Hugh Jackman is straight. And married. #sigh

2)       #SingleBecause I caught the bouquet at my cousin Brandy’s wedding & my Aunt Constance put a hex on me.

3)      #SingleBecause Anderson Cooper won’t take my phone calls. Or my emails. Or my lock of hair. I don’t understand why.

4)      #SingleBecause it turns out Clark Kent isn’t real. (I have to stop stalking phone booths.)

5)      #SingleBecause Do you think it has anything to do with my porcelain doll collection? (I can’t have tea without them.)

6)      #SingleBecause I made an ugly face to my sister when I was 5, the wind came & it froze. #MamaWasRight

7)       #SingleBecause ...Well, isn’t it obvious? That’s what all my friends say, but, no, it isn’t. Not to me & not to Mr. Fluffykins.

8)      #SingleBecause I don’t want to mess up Solitaire Saturday Nights. #Woot!

9)      #SingleBecause Liza Minnelli was The One that Got Away. (These little town blues...)

10)   #SingleBecause that damn alarm went off when I tried to haul the mannequin out of Macy’s. See also #InstitutionalizedBecause

11)   #SingleBecause there’s nothing better than trading Pokemon cards at the kiddie table at my co-workers’ weddings.

12)   #SingleBecause guys don’t seem to like when I pull out the BeDazzler on the 1st date. Why wait when you know it’s right?

13)   #SingleBecause I can’t pull myself off friggin’ Twitter. No, really. Where are they hiding the sign out button?

14)   #SingleBecause the justice of the peace refused to marry me & my Ken doll. And I thought everything was legal in Canada.

Utter nonsense, no doubt, but it can be most helpful to find humor in Chronic Single Syndrome. As I experienced earlier that same day, there are far more serious issues.

Piddling dogs. Eating disorders. Cancer worries. Living the single life. On Twitter, it seems there is something for everyone. Sometimes you just need to add a few more followers to create a new waiting area.

Monday, April 1, 2013

BARRY PICKING

I’ve been trying online dating for the past four years.  When I began, I knew I had to do it. My ex and I had broken up years prior and, while the first year of being single and setting my own agenda proved blissful, I realized I might be missing something. Face-to-face connections and set-ups from friends were not going to happen. During my first few years living in this rural setting, I discovered that gay men did not make the hour long journey from Vancouver. (Okay, maybe ninety minutes,...two hours when your schedule does not mesh with ferry time.) Yes, online dating had to be the way to go, a long shot but my only shot.

I filled out my Plenty of Fish profile, putting more thought into it than most of internet desperados. In addition to photos, a quick checklist (Smoker? Drug user? Car owner?), I filled in my interests, a bio and my thoughts on what would constitute a first date. (Being past my twenties, I went with the standard “coffee and a walk” instead of skydiving. Relationships have to build, you know. And as the guy gets to know me, he will (hopefully) come to accept that jumping from planes will NEVER be an option.)

There was one last requirement before hordes of desirable single gay men could begin wooing me with online roses and dazzling me with artful usage of LOLs and ur cute. I had to type a title for my profile, something like “Smile with me”, “Men are from Mars and I am hunting Martians” or “Have a thing for nerds—glasses/freckles!!”, all real headings I pulled from a quick search just now. (Darn, I have the freckles, but no glasses. How ‘bout if I squint a lot and ask you to read the fine print on the menu for me?)

I chose “Ready to Take a Chance Again” as my heading. I felt it characterized who I was and where I was at. Enough time had lapsed from my abusive seven-year relationship that I believed once more that love might be possible. The dreamer in me had been restored, jadedness replaced by some of my standard naïvité and my conviction that people are good. And far more importantly, I felt no embarrassment in giving an open nod to the fact I still listened to Barry Manilow music. Let it be a small window to my mysterious, lingering connection to the smiley-faced ‘70s.

Years later, I have changed my heading a few times. One must appear to be fresh in the fish pond, even if starting to resemble one of those prehistoric looking bottom feeders. For awhile, I stole Michael Bublé’s “I Just Haven’t Met You Yet”. Currently, I’ve taken on some truth in advertising with “I should be on clearance by now.” Sure, it’s not exactly a prudent means of self-promotion, but I am a self-deprecating soul and, well, nothing else seemed to be working. Surprisingly, it triggered new interest from guys who say they can relate...which may or may not be a good thing.

After two months of hobbling around in a cast, on crutches and in a clunky gray air-cast boot after haplessly breaking my foot, I am ready to peek once more at the fishing hole, even if my sedentary body should steer clear of a pool party. It starts with a new heading, but what does one do after “CLEARANCE” isn’t enough of a lure? Should I throw in a Ronco spatula and a patented Slice-O-Matic apple corer? It’s something to think about, but I am leaning to my fallback guy, Mr. Manilow.

Clearly, “Mandy” and “Oh Julie” are out. “Could It Be Magic” might work but it has always bothered me that the song title lacks a question mark. (Yes, all you texters and tweeters, punctuation matters!) “It’s a Miracle” clearly oversells myself and I have no idea how to create a segue for the beloved “Weekend in New England”. That leaves the truest title of them all to reflect where I am at: “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again”.

No, the lyrics still aren’t a perfect match. (I am so beyond seeking such a thing.) My woman is not “comin’ back home late today”, thank goodness. Seems I’ve done something right. (I suspect poor Barry could fully relate to the lyric.) Still, the song fits.

'Cause the feeling is gone and I must get it back right away
Before (s)he sees that

I've been up, down, tryin' to get the feeling again
All around, tryin' to get the feeling again
The one that made me shiver
Made my knees start to quiver
Every time (s)he walked in

And I've looked high (high), low (low)
Everywhere I possibly can (high)
But there's no (no) tryin' to get the feelin' again
It seemed to disappear as fast as it came.


 Something is missing in me. As I spent the last month blogging about crushes, a sense of melancholy seeped in. As silly as it was to long for Antonio Sabato, Jr. or a guy at the gym who was too sweet to tell me to stop staring, the infatuations arose from hope. Misplaced hope, for sure, but still hope is a good thing.

I haven’t blogged as much about my online coffee dates over the past year. They may be infrequent, but they do happen, one as recently as last week. I muster up my optimism, smile a lot, listen, chat engagingly and I feel nothing.

I recall once being infuriated after a daytime coffee date when the guy said the fireworks weren’t there. I don’t expect that. (Even oohs and aahs can feel forced.) All I want is to hope for a Next Time. Sure, there is disappointment when I email a guy after what I think is a promising first meeting and he never responds or gives the “It’s not you, it’s me” brush-off. But how wonderful to email a guy, hoping he too thinks something just might be worth building on!

Even when a second date is likely (as seems imminent after last week’s date), I am wholly ambivalent. I say yes, thinking maybe something can be stirred up, but I know the date is D.O.A.

And so I limp along—in a week, hopefully without the stupid boot—waiting for a reawakening within. It takes effort to fight off a feeling of resignation that I will remain alone in this world, that this is what really is my Meant to Be. I keep smiling—it’s genuine—, I continue to laugh over every little reaction of my dog and I stop to appreciate the natural beauty of my once-chosen rural setting. But hope takes kindling to stoke it. No fireworks, just the tiniest of sparks will do, thank you very much.

Here’s hoping for hope. And, if all else fails, I might have to call a travel agent to book a Weekend in New England. I can’t rule out anything.