Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DANGLING DELIGHTFULLY

There's a temptation to Google everything. Why let a question go unanswered? Used to be that a random wondering could die in the middle of a conversation.  No lingering harm in not knowing what Karen Valentine is doing these days...or if she's even still alive. And the day could proceed just fine without confirmation about whether Phil and Marlo got divorced. In fact, I'm happy not knowing. Let the talk move on. Googling takes time. It interrupts the flow. Sometimes knowledge is overrated.

I cringe when a date pulls out his iPhone. It breaks the intimacy and serves as a reminder of waiting text messages, tweets to read, Facebook posts to "Like". Pressing personal business.

But I may have actually been turned on when he fished in his pocket and pulled out his device. (Yes, I’m still talking about a cellphone.) With his eyes focused on the teeny screen, I snuck a better look at his arms, his hair and, yes, his body as he typed, "What is a dangling participle?"

This was not your average first date conversation. I’d repressed my odder conversational openers like “I’ve noticed a commendable absence of gum on Seattle sidewalks” and “Don’t you feel sorry for that troll sculpture under the bridge? Doesn’t he deserve a companion?”

It was Evan who brought up annoying spelling errors. He sought a refresher on its versus it’s. I provided a succinct explanation. He then he asked the question du Google. I answered but blanked on an example. And so he searched: What is a dangling participle?

And right then and there, I was his.

If he wanted me, that is.

And maybe he did. We moved beyond grammar—right after I provided a mini-lesson on prepositions. (Yes, he asked. I swear.)

Our first coffee date lasted three hours. Eventually, we spilled out of the café and strolled through parts of Seattle’s peculiar Fremont neighborhood. By the water, he pointed out the house he thought Tom Hanks’ character lived in “Sleepless in Seattle”.

Seriously?! Just the day before, I’d snapped pics of a Seattle beach that I’d thought might have been the place where Meg’s character spied Tom’s character playing with his son. And, yes, elsewhere I’d photographed a couple of seaside homes I surmised could have been where Tom’s character lived. For someone else to bring up a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, well, maybe there is such a thing as fate. And maybe I don’t have to lurk atop the Empire State Building.

He described the peaks of a nearby mountain range as looking like they’d been created by Dr. Seuss. Again, I’d had Seuss on my mind the day before as I snapped shots of colorful churnwazzits and crankbangoozles at Gas Works Park. Elsewhere, I’d spotted a part of a train trestle that had to be the cousin of the infamous Snort from Are You My Mother?

Nobody—NOBODY!—connects with me on these terms.

Smitten, indeed!

What will come of this? Who knows? He’s in Seattle, I’m kinda sorta Vancouver-adjacent. But then Meg’s Annie pined for more in Baltimore and Tom’s Sam suffered insomnia in Seattle. I’d like to believe they found lasting love. Maybe this could turn into something. We’ve got a quirky beginning. Oh, the places we might go!  

Monday, October 27, 2014

LONE WOLF

The whole point of going to a running group is being with the pack. Carry on a conversation while trying to regulate gasps of breath. Act as though it’s nothing to sound like a heavy-breathing asthmatic as you talk about, oh, let’s say Seattle rain.

I could have run at 7 a.m. when my alarm went off. I’d looked out the window and the pavement was dry. With rain in the forecast for the entire weekend, this was an opportunity.

Run for it! I told myself. Forget Frontrunners. They don’t know you. You don’t know them.

And yet in my mind I felt I’d made a commitment. It was the only definite part of my Seattle weekend itinerary. 9 a.m., Green Lake Community Center, rain or shine. I am not the flake that all those other single gay men seem to be.

Thirty minutes later, I heard the sound of car tires swishing through puddles. I looked out my hotel window to confirm that my hearing remains entirely adequate. No hearing aids just yet—a silver lining.

By 8:30, I began my walk to Green Lake. The half-hour stroll provided the opportunity for a pep talk. Smile. Be friendly. Listen more than you talk. You don’t like talking while gasping anyway.

My legs were sore from a couple of weight workouts this week and a swim session in which I swam the last thirty minutes with intense quad and toe cramps. It had been foolish. Afterward, I awkwardly limped to the hot tub as the keen new lifeguard chirped, “Great swim!” She had the good sense to look away as I hugged the rail while bent over as leg spasms failed to relent to the misinformed self-therapeutic prescription of hot, bubbly water.

I tacked on a pep talk addendum. Don’t try to be first. Go easy on your legs. Stay with the pack. This is about being social.

But not too social. I paced myself so I would arrive just in time for the group circle wherein everyone says their names. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stand around ahead of time, listening to idle chitchat about, oh, Seattle rain. Wouldn’t want to run out of topics before, “Go!”

I adhered to the pep talk. I smiled. I said my name several decibels above my family’s default mumble. I even said “Hello” and laughed. To someone’s black lab but it counts. That lab was on a leash held by an actual person in the circle. Alas, the dog turned away, resuming squirrel patrol.

Within two minutes of my joining the circle, we dispersed. Having run with this group three weeks ago, I knew which way to begin for the four- or six-mile option. I recognized none of the runners, but I settled into the back of the pack, following someone else’s pace and pretending that jogging in the rain is pure joy. Or mildly tolerable. That’s as upbeat as I could muster after I sloshed right through sidewalk water that I dubbed Wolf Lake.

Yes, that’s it. Stay with the pack. Your pack.

The woman beside me said nothing. I could have introduced myself and asked the only non-weather icebreaker I could think of: “Are you running four or six miles?” But after three hundred yards of silence, the moment had passed.

One guy broke away, setting a faster pace, one that I wanted to go. No! Be social. You run alone all the time back home.

ALL the time.

The men immediately in front of me talked about Halloween plans. They seemed engrossed. One looked over his shoulder briefly, perhaps annoyed that the woman and the new guy were on his heels.

By the time we’d gone half a mile, the cracks in my pep talk became unsightly. They’re not going to include you. Their backs are boring. Stop listening. They’re not talking to you.

I could have imposed myself. I’d given up a few miles of dry running for this. I should make the sogginess mean something.

But I knew I was done. The fast guy was getting away from us and I could not recall the zigzagging route through streets and park trails. I needed to make a quick decision: stare silently at these backs for the next fifty minutes or catch the lead rabbit.

And so I bolted. Social experiment over. I knew the lead guy wasn’t social either. That’s why he’d set off on his own. I caught up but then gave him a five-yard gap. I’d get lost if I passed and I didn’t crave another round of awkward silence.

But he cut off for the four-mile run and I veered to the right and uphill for the six-miler. The rest of the pack was out of sight behind me. I’d have to wing it. Run what I could recall of the route, take a fateful wrong turn, wind up hopelessly lost and then stop and ask a police officer or a kindly homeless man for directions once my shoes became intolerably drenched or my feet returned to their painfully blistered state of being.

A heretofore untapped sense of direction kicked in. I continued to jog familiar terrain—the street with roadside cement barriers that resembled mini tombstones, the museum that I surmised was loaded with hokey dioramas, the University of Washington’s big fountain and the forest trail that paralleled a highway. I even made the correct meander choices through the ravine trail, jogging under bridges I recognized.

And then when I knew I was back on the leg of the run that was a retread from the start, I turned back in the direction of the hotel. I’d pushed myself to a better than expected pace and I’d successfully navigated a route that I could have sworn I would never be able to do solo. Still, I knew I’d failed.

Specifically, I’d failed to register. At all.

Let them forget me. Let us start again next time I’m in Seattle. I’ll refine the pep talk. I’ll get my teeth whitened. Superficial confidence! Maybe someone will include me from the start, posing his own safe introductory question: “Are you new here?” Yes, I’d say.

Maybe Miley or Lindsay or Britney or Justin will do something incredibly stupid again, providing more innocuous fodder than the weather. I’ll find a way to fit.

Or maybe I’ll bravely set off on my own trail, get lost and finally meet an incredibly cute police officer or homeless man. As long as it’s in the future, anything remains possible.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

ONLINE DATING TIPS, Part 3: ACT ON IT

This isn’t a Sears catalog or an International Male flyer. Hopefully, you’re not on site as a mere peeper. The people behind the pics aren’t just posers. Presumably, they are interested in dating. It is, after all, a dating site. Each profile is ostensibly a real person. He has hopes. Sometimes, alas, it’s just a need for validation—internet strangers conveying a message that he is interesting, hot or, well, message-worthy. I suppose that’s something. Another guy is looking for a hookup. It’s nice when he makes that clear. I wish he’d stick with Grindr or Scruff or an equally handy app for the horny, but he’s waiting, too.

And then there are the rest of us, the ones wanting to date, hoping that something longer term may evolve. Two dates, two weeks,…dare we hope for more?

But it all starts with a message.

Have some guts. Do it.

Dating sites have all sorts of tactics for the timid. You can “favorite” the guy, rate him five stars, wink, nod, blush, do whatever the site’s gentle nudge option is. That’s not brave. It reminds me of my first school dance in sixth grade. Painful. All the girls lined up against one wall of the gym. All the guys leaned on the opposite wall. “Get Up and Boogie” blared through the speaker system. No one got up; no one boogied.

Be bold. A distant wink gets lost in the dim lighting.

I say this knowing how brutally risky it can feel. I can out-shy almost anyone. But it becomes exhilarating when you have a flash of bashful-intolerance. Way back when at that dance-less dance, I looked at Gary Elliott and he looked at me. No, it wasn’t a googly-eyed glance. I was still programmed to think girls were the intended partner. We nodded, counted to three and strutted—er, shuffled—across the gym floor. He asked Becky; I asked Della. And then the dominoes fell in place. We got the party started.

I peaked in sixth grade.

But it’s time for a renaissance, guys. Nix the nudging. Create a new peak. Cross that floor. Make the first move. Take some control over your life.

Send him a message.

Yes, him! He’s probably been nudged a thousand times (or, at least, ten). Your nudge doesn’t stand out from other nudges.

SEND HIM A MESSAGE. (But, please, not in all-caps. That’s just annoying.)

The good news, if your mind automatically defaults to Worst Case Scenario, is that rejection is rarely overt online. I’ve yet to have someone message back and say, “For real? What in the hell made you think you were in my league? You REPULSE me. I gagged when I saw your message. Literally. Vomited. Had to steam clean the carpet. Yeah, thanks for that.”

When he’s not interested, he doesn’t reply. Sometimes rudeness is an act of mercy. Let him go. And do like I do—reward yourself with ice cream. You took a shot. You did something. That’s more than 80% of the guys online who keep hoping and praying that the wink/poke/like button will bring true love. Or a quick romp. Or whatever the hell it is that they’re passively waiting for.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

BAR NONE

Perfect day and then I had to ruin it. I went to a gay pub. My timing was off from the start. 9:40. Too soon. It wasn't a matter of being overly eager. I had to walk around the block twice to convince myself to go in. No, I had left my Seattle hotel early on a quest to try two scoops of ice cream before Bluebird it closed at 10.

The Caffe Vita and pumpkin flavors were oh so creamy.

I suppose the ice cream was the enticement I needed to place me in the Capitol Hill district which my tour guide referred to as the LGBT neighborhood. Like almost all such neighborhoods, the Ls, Gs, Bs and Ts are so identifiable anymore. What I saw was a lot of young people—and “young” has been redefined as well to under 35, maybe 40. The too were on a quest: the hot spot to get drunk on a Saturday night. (It seemed that some had put in considerable time researching this.)

Amidst all this buzzy hipness and cigarette smoke, I knew I was out of place. I needed an old-fashioned gay bar. Something simple. The kind of place where I could walk in a day shy of the big 5-0 and draw a few head pivots as the New Guy.

Of course, that place is somewhere in Neverland, but maybe I was still riding my own little buzz from the coffee ice cream.

According to Yelp, the Madison Pub was my best bet. Sports bar. Pinball. Friendly bartenders. No attitude. (And no mention of twink dancers in skivvies taking the limelight off a New Guy. Bonus!)

Destination known. Still, I wasn’t that excited. Walking into a gay bar alone on a Saturday night takes guts. I needed the two laps around the block to convince myself that no one would see an “L” on my forehead. I reminded myself that there are pleasures beyond ice cream.

Or so I'm told.

I needed to stop waiting around for some ideal.

Get what I can.

If I can.

The fifteen-year drought had to end and it wouldn’t come to me with a knock on my hotel room door. "Room service!" No, that only happens in badly acted porn scenes. In real life, the pizza guy only offers pizza and police officers only issue tickets. At least, that’s been my experience.

Stepping foot in a gay bar would be a nice change from constantly checking to see if someone new had sent me an online message. Or if Hot Guy #78 has finally replied to my clever missive. (I know,...I should stop hoping after three weeks. Four tops.)

Finally, I was all pepped up. Must go in. Get it over with. Work your big smile. Not too big. Must not appear deranged. A chill kind of smile. A post-ice cream grin. Yeah, perfect.

I hadn't even fully walked through the door before I knew this pub outing was a mistake. Had they had one of those awesome revolving doors, I'd have spun myself right back out to the sidewalk. Alas. No such amusement. Instead, I quickly oriented myself and stepped right to the bar.

Friendly bartenders, right? Well, this one got the guy ahead of me his beer and then walked off. Apparently a spill needed urgent tending. Or limes needed cutting. Or I just needed to serve my time. I leaned against the bar and lost myself in thought.

What to order? I really wanted a glass of Chardonnay. Not a gay bar drink. Rum and Coke. With all the ice they load in the glass, I'd gulp it down in thirty seconds. No, I fell back to my old routine. I ordered what I hate. Beer. No chance of guzzling. I'd take wee sips and extend my stay to thirty minutes, maybe forty (if it turned out they were fresh out of limes).

When I got my Corona (with lime!), I toured the bar. The intent was to peruse the setting in a slow, casual manner. I wanted to look at ease with my aloneness. But I was like a too-young flower girl, rushing down the open aisle, just wanting to get it over with. So much for the rehearsal.

I parked myself on a stool and dared to gaze around to see what I’d left in my wake. Nothing. No conversation halted. No flirtatious wink. Not even a lewd stare from a creepy old man. (Oh, god. Maybe that’s my role!) I refused to go there, instead devoting my stare to the nearest TV screen. American college football highlights.

Yeah. I could watch this all night. (Not terribly convincing.)

After a quarter hour, the pub population multiplied—doubled, then doubled again. It got noisy. People sang along to Eric Clapton's "Cocaine". (I'm not even going to start on all that's wrong with that sentence.) Hooting and hugs followed. Each “So glad to see you” came with triple the exuberance of a chance street meeting. This was about getting noticed. And me not.

I looked about. No obvious cruisers; no one I had any inkling to attract. I watched the same college football highlights again. Yay, team in green! I played with my iPhone. (Okay, I did more than play. I wrote this blog post. Right there. In the bar. I’d waved the white flag, not that anyone noticed.) I finished my beer. Blech. Lime can only do so much.

And then I left. Forty- two minutes. Exceeded expectations. Not that it amounted to anything.

It's okay. The evening wasn’t a total waste. The ice cream was excellent.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

TIME TRAVEL

Escaped again. Not from Alcatraz this time. I’m just not a big holiday guy and I had to get away. Relax, you didn’t mix a major celebration. National Nut Day isn’t until the 22nd (but you really should start decorating). Sunday was my birthday. My 50th. That’s a biggie—five decades, half a century. Egad.

So I ran away. Holidays are the time when I struggle most with being single. I’m not close to family so the occasions feel empty. And birthdays are loaded with awkwardness. Notice me! Not. I don’t need someone to pay for my coffee solely because it’s a certain day on the calendar. I don’t want to gather in the office for a slice of pineapple upside down cake. (Who decided to put pineapple in cake anyway? Or on pizza? Blech.) And I really don’t need to hear a roomful of coworkers perform “Happy Birthday” off-key. (Does it sound particularly lame because I am the guest of honor or do others abhor pineapple as a baking ingredient, too? Do I want to know the answer?)

I headed to Seattle. But running away from something doesn’t work so well when the thing you’re trying to flee follows along. Unfortunately, this was not time travel. I did not magically become twelve years younger. “Fifty” and “birthday” swirled around in my head. And “pathetic” joined them as I idled my car and chatted with the solemn U.S. border guard. (He’s the one that could really use the free coffee.)

“Where you headed?”

“Seattle.”

“Who do you know there?”

“No one.”

Sad. The man demanded my keys and searched my trunk. I read his mind:  It’s sad people like this who stow body parts there. Still, I wouldn’t let his stoic demeanor and the delay crush me. I quietly hummed “EleanorRigby” and waited.

I cleared customs. He didn’t get to me. Neither did that HUGE number.

I’ve officially reached that point where I no longer count as a television viewer—18-49 is all that counts. Advertisers and network execs presume we ancient folks are entrenched in our buying habits. (Where can I purchase a jar of Tang, for Pete’s sake?) They also assume we keep the TV on as a napping aid.

And I became ancient in gay circles about fifteen years ago. That’s when guys switched from looking right through me to looking aghast to be cruised by an old troll. I stopped going to White Parties before they had to turn me away at the door. (Okay, I never went. Couldn’t ever carry off the plastic-bottle-and-tighty-whities look.) And I refuse to play along and join #TeamMiley or #TeamBritney. Heck, I was never even on #TeamKiley. (Apparently there is no such thing as a #TeamOliviaNewton-John. I checked,…even without the hashtag and with the proper spaces.)

Yeah, fifty. So what?

I celebrated with two 10-K runs in scenic areas of Seattle I’d never explored. And, of course, I topped that with a double scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone. Holding an ice cream cone is the closest thing to that elusive elixir. Makes me feel like a kid again, even if I chose decidedly adult flavors: Earl Grey and Stumptown Coffee. I had the urge to wear the ice cream the way four-year-olds do, but the tastes were too good to waste on chin and cheeks. A certain wisdom comes with all that experience.

So I made it through the big occasion. I suffered no meltdown. I didn’t have to hear that sad little birthday song even once. And I enjoyed my own pizza without the pineapple. I left Seattle happily listening to an oldies station—The Eagles! Bob Seger! Linda Ronstadt! (Oh, where art thou, Olivia?) The music made me smile. It served as confirmation that there must be a few us geezers still kicking,…with a trace of hearing intact even.

The day is done. Escaped. Survived. Coped. Let’s move on, shall we? National Nut Day looms large.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ONLINE DATING TIPS--Part 2: SAY SOMETHING

So you’ve decided on a particular online dating site and you’ve started your profile. You’ve taken my advice on photos. (Quick recap: more than one, background scrutinized, head uncovered, smiley face.) Now you’ve got to say something. And say it now. Don’t type something lame like, “I’ll fill this in later.” Get over your commitment issues. Candy Crush and the Kardashians can wait.

Put in the time. If you list three interests, say you hate writing about yourself and stop after a sentence or two, you don’t give a browser much to go on. You must be relying on a dazzling set of photos. Blindingly so. It still speaks to a clear lack of effort. If you can’t be bothered, why should he? And if you’re too brief, you provide nothing for someone to connect with should he decide to send you a message. “Hey, I’m guessing you like breathing. And eating. Me too!” Lame message but what were you expecting? You gave the guy NOTHING.

I have never responded to a guy with a too-brief profile. It looks incomplete. Maybe I’ll click on it at some later point in time. Maybe you’ll go back and write more. But we all know those maybes are highly unlikely. You failed to register and it was your own doing,…or lack thereof.

The easier writing assignment is listing your interests. But still put some thought into it. Is your list a set of clichés? Are two-thirds of the items mentioned in that Pina Colada song (getting caught in the rain, sunsets, the feel of the ocean, the taste of champagne martinis)? Try to show some range in your interests. If you’re an active dude, awesome. But you can’t be at the gym, biking, jogging, swimming, bungee jumping, snowboarding and log rolling all the time. Be mindful as well about putting yourself into too much of a niche. For a moment, I was amused by the guy who listed napping as an interest. But only a moment. I don’t want to feel like I’m putting a guy to sleep during our first coffee conversation. And I could not click away fast enough from the profile in which the guy listed Pokémon as a favorite thing.

When you write a few sentences—hopefully even a paragraph—about what you’re looking for in a guy, go beyond saying you want someone who is honest and has a sense of humor. Does anyone want an unfunny liar? And whatever you write, spellcheck it. Paste your five lines into a Word document and deal with all the red squiggly lines. And maybe sticklers are a teensy minority but please PLEASE give some thought to whether you’ve got the right homonym among your/you’re, to/two/too and there/their/they’re. Capitals and punctuation are also much appreciated. This is not a text message.

Whew. I said it. I haven’t changed the online dating world, but I feel better. It will last until I read the next dissertation in which the guy thinks “LOL” is a punctuation mark. (Just no.)

Be careful on sites like OkCupid that have endless questions that you can easily respond to so that an alleged calculation formula will produce a match. Some of those point-and-click responses are landmines. Take the question, “In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be sexy?” I’ve come across several guys who intrigued me but answered “Yes”. Uh, what? Too much time reading apocalypse novels and playing video games. Sorry, dude. I immediately moved on.

Then there was a guy who responded affirmatively to “Do you have an ex that you’d really like to date again?” Really?! Who the hell wants to wade into that dynamic? Get your closure or see a therapist before you put out feelers for someone new.

The one that makes me flee the fastest is “Do you have a gun in your home?” Maybe that’s a helpful sorter. Look elsewhere. I’m sure the NRA has enough in its coffers to launch a Gays for Guns mixer at its annual convention. How convenient. And, yes, that really is a gun in his pocket. Chat him up. Fire away.

So go on. Review what you’ve written. Does it say enough? Or, perhaps as in my case, does it say too much? Anything one writes could stand a proofread and a revision or two. The written word still matters.