Monday, December 28, 2015

BEYOND "FRIENDS"

My first reaction: I hate Facebook.

It is responsible for a culture that waters down the term Friend. How does someone have 842 Friends? Or 216? Or 167?

I have gone out of my way to limit who I invite or accept as a Friend on this beast. I have resisted the temptation to “recruit” more so drive up my Likes for my goofy and scenic photos. Whenever something I post has more than ten Likes, it’s a monster hit.

My world is small. And, sadly, through Facebook, I learned that it just became smaller.

Dear, sweet Cory has died.

I opened Facebook this morning, delaying the start to my writing, expecting to see photos from the weird weather my family and friends are experiencing in Texas. I got the update. Massive tumbleweeds blowing across highways, shared news links of tornado devastation, shots of the snow dump in the Panhandle. I also expected to see belated Christmas and Boxing Day posts of people in dreadful sweaters and poor dogs looking sheepish sporting felt reindeer antlers. Ho ho hum.

But then the shocker: “RIP my brother Cory.”

Please, no.

Another post and another. I felt a surge of pain, deep sorrow and regret. Truth is, I’d been a terrible Friend.

For years, I Googled Cory and followed his career from afar. Only a couple of years ago did I finally invite him as a Facebook Friend. He accepted and that was that. No personal messages. His posts rarely included him in the photos but I always looked, always read, always smiled. Dear, sweet Cory.

I met Cory in 1991 at a weekend training session for volunteers who wanted to be part of the Buddy Program at AIDS Project Los Angeles. Cory was going through the two-weekend training with his then-partner. At the time, I was a Pepperdine law student, looking for something more meaningful than the contrived stresses that came from studying and discussing already-adjudicated legal cases on a pristine Malibu campus. I often escaped with my textbooks to El Matador State Beach, a less frequented slice of heaven north of the popular Zuma Beach. Increasingly on weekends, I found myself driving from the Pacific Palisades along the winding Sunset Boulevard into West Hollywood, doing “laps” in gay bars, rarely getting noticed. Life was all fluff and yet I could see how AIDS was destroying so many men around me. I needed APLA more than the Buddy Program ever needed me.

After the training ended, the volunteers were split into two ongoing groups which were required to meet monthly with a facilitator. I was part of the West Side group. Cory was too. There were about fifteen of us in all. Eventually, our facilitator introduced me to a new Buddy Program coordinator who became my first love. I was too inexperienced and insecure for it to last. Members volunteered to host the monthly meetings which often included potluck feasts and lasted for hours. Supporting Persons with AIDS was intense and draining. We leaned on each other. We laughed and cried together. We formed a special bond, a motley group of over-our-heads do-gooders, attempting to help the terminally ill navigate the cruelties of AIDS, the agonizing side effects of the drugs of the time and the discrimination and dissociation from agencies and families.

Somewhere around the time when my first love crashed and burned, Cory and his partner broke up. There was always special between Cory and me. I was in awe of him. He was a gentle, loving soul with a master’s from Harvard, working as a top executive position in an entertainment network. In time, a small group from our group met more often socially. The hugs and warmth were something I’d never experienced. I knew that Cory liked me and I desperately wanted to like him in the same way. He invited me out to dinner, just the two of us without the others. I called another group member, fretting over whether it was a date, hoping it wasn’t. I didn’t want what we had to change.

As he drove me home and pulled up to my Palisades apartment, Cory leaned in and kissed me. I pulled back and awkwardly retreated to my place. I cried. I wanted so much to want him. And yet I knew it could never be. Cory would do everything to take care of me. I knew I would too easily let that happen and I still had too much growing to do. On my own.

Cory has always been the one I wish I could have loved. The shallow me of the time concluded I just wasn’t attracted to him. In reality, I knew I was not good enough.

I last saw Cory in November 1994. I took him to lunch the week before I left my L.A. dreams and moved to Vancouver. As so many people who find their way to Southern California, I had Hollywood dreams. Writer. Programmer. Agent. Cory had met with me on a few occasions as I talked excitedly about insights that I’m sure came off as naïve. He always acknowledged my ideas and offered encouragement. If you want it, you can have it. Even during that last lunch, the invitation was still there. He would be there in whatever capacity. As a mentor, a booster, a friend.

For so long, I liked to say I lived with no regrets. Regrets are rueful steps backward. Missteps are part of the journey. Keep moving forward. In time, I allowed myself to admit that leaving L.A. was a mistake. That last lunch with Cory provided one last opening that I walked away from.

Maybe things were better in the era before the internet and social media. I'd have always wondered about whatever became of Cory, the fond memories continuing to mix with the rueful what-ifs. I certainly wouldn't have to face this day of aching and further regret. How I should've reached out. Could've. Would've. Facebook continues to give us an open window to Friends who may best be left in those nostalgic chambers of the brain.

Aside from the Facebook invitation, I never contacted Cory again. He was too good, too important. He was an infinitely better man. Two months ago, his students at the university where he came to work as a professor started posting “Thinking of you” messages. I Googled and found a posting on the university website, indicating Cory was taking a medical leave of absence. I wanted to know more. I wanted to send Cory my love and support. But I didn’t. We were Facebook Friends based on a last contact from two decades ago. I didn’t want to insert myself at a time when he needed to focus on the love of those closest to him as he fought whatever the health issues were. More messages of support popped up over the past two months and each time I searched the internet for information. I wanted to know, but I knew not to insert myself in a clearly difficult time.

And now he is gone. The Facebook posts of love and memories continue to pour in.  “Numb.” “Devastated.” “Heartbroken.” Every post provides anecdotes of Cory’s love, laughter and unwavering support. Perhaps this is one of those rare individuals who can never have too many Friends. He was that giving. What was he…55, 56? Too soon, for sure. And yet I was too late.

Dear, sweet Cory. I miss you so.

     

Thursday, December 24, 2015

'RUDOLPH" REDUX

I make sure I watch my favorite TV show in the whole wide world at least once a year. Being as it's "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer", it makes sense to view it now rather than in July. But that doesn't mean it's off my mind in summer. Of course not. I'm not kidding about that Favorite-Show-In-The-Whole-Wide-World designation. (For the record, the runners up are "The Brady Bunch" episode where "something suddenly came up" after Marcia takes a football to the nose, the "Newhart" finale, the "Friends" show where Joey explains what is a "moo point" and the "Seinfeld"—oh, there are so many worthy candidates!—where Elaine hates on "The English Patient".)

I’ve extolled the virtues of my FSITWWW previously and it’s one of my most-read blog posts. (Interestingly, no one has ever left a comment. Perhaps I’ve disturbed my readers.) I’ve decided to add another post after one of the guys I’m dating made some disparaging comments about the show.

What?! Did I just write “one of the guys I’m dating”? As in more than one living and breathing man? Yes. The total is two. And there is a third date in the works with each of them. This would be the time for me to run out and buy a lottery ticket, too.

And a second What?! I’m still dating a guy who spoke negatively of my FSITWWW? Yes. Even with another man on deck, I know how rare encore dates are for me. Clearly, I’m cutting him a great deal of slack.

To be honest, his comments were on point. He is, after all,--oh, what’s the sophisticated term?—a smartypants. Ph.D and all that.

And let’s go on one more tangent, shall we? No, I did not bring up my FSITWWW. Not directly. We were simply sitting in the movie theatre, waiting for the onslaught of advertising to cease before seeing the achingly wonderful “Carol”, when I asked, “Do you have a favorite Christmas movie or TV show?”

“Interesting question,” he said while pensively scratching his chin as smartypants are prone to doing. “Well, not ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and not ‘Miracle on 34th Street’. Those Claymation TV shows are interesting…”

Ooh, I tried not to squirm in my seat.

“…Like Rudolph—”

Yes!

“—although it’s so American.”

Saying something is so American is an easy way for a Canadian to toss out a putdown. As in Having a gun in every drawer of your house is so American or Treating the Kardashians as royalty is so American. (Never mind that we’re the country that gave the world Alan Thicke, Pamela Anderson and Justin Bieber. Sorry, sorry and Sorry. I have to admit the Biebs has some catchy tunes out now.)

But smartypants explained himself. “It’s the way the characters talk.” Uh,…okay. I just nodded. His Ph.D is in linguistics, after all. “And it’s all so heterosexist.”

I could not let that go with a nod. I piped up, “Sure Santa is. His chosen reindeer have to be of a certain caliber. And the adult bucks, Donner and Comet, are both intolerant of Rudolph. Furthermore, Donner refuses Mrs. Donner’s offer to help search for the runaway Rudolph with a curt, ‘No. This is man’s work.’”

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have paraphrased instead of offering the exact quote. There is such a thing as Too Much Information on a second date. And then I went on to explain how Santa and the adult male reindeer are subordinate characters, foils even, along with those you-can’t-join-in-any-reindeer-games young ’uns.

“Rudolph” is about the acceptance and triumph of the odd ducks. It’s that classic theme about being special just the way you are. Rudolph. Hermey. Yukon Cornelius. The Jack-in-the-box named Charlie. Even the woefully misunderstood and nightmare-inducing Abominable Snow Monster. (Well, he caused me many a bad sleep.)

The one character that confuses me is Burl Ives’ Sam the Snowman, a solitary figure, a dapper gent—a mature bachelor!—with a well-groomed mustache and goatee and a snazzy plaid vest that sports a chain from which dangles a stylish pocket watch. I had him pegged for gay, but maybe he’s still more closeted than the younger generation of misfits. Sam isn’t very sympathetic of Hermey the Elf and his aspirations of being a dentist. Hermey is ridiculed by the other elves and quits. Sam dismissively says, “Ah, well, such is the life of an elf.”

Donner may be the worst. From the beginning, he is insistent that his son Rudolph will be a normal reindeer, immediately deciding to hide the illicit red nose. Even Sam the Snowman refers to the Donners hiding “Rudolph’s, um…nonconformity.” If Donner is intolerant, Santa isn’t much better. Truth is, Santa comes off badly in the production. The elves seem to irritate him with their singing. When Rudolph outshines the other young bucks, flying through the air, Rudolph’s talent becomes irrelevant when his red nose is exposed. This glaring difference is unacceptable. Santa’s intolerance is clear when he admonishes Rudolph’s father: “Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself. What a pity. He had a nice takeoff, too.”

And, after my command viewing this year, the heterosexism is more evident. (I was always more drawn to all the misfits.) Why, it’s Comet, the adult buck, who takes the lead in excluding Rudolph! “From now on, gang,” he tells the young bucks, “we won’t let Rudolph join in any reindeer games.” And then there’s Sam’s flippant response as narrator after it seems that Yukon (and his dogs which never even get a mention) died going over a cliff: “Well, they are all very sad at the loss of their friend, but they realize that the best thing to do is to get the women back to Christmas Town.” Ugh. Yes, my smartypants date has reason for reticence over “Rudolph”.

1964. The show is a reflection of its time. (I love that it premiered the year I was born!) It’s not that Donner, Comet and Santa are admirable. They represent straight men from fifty-one years ago. Considering the times, it’s even more glorious that Rudolph, Hermey and Yukon stand out. They are special, even as regarded as misfits. These are the characters that outshine the all-too-conventional others. Their “nonconformities” are what help to save Christmas. And again, in an era before all that “It gets better”, gay marriage and magazine covers with Ellen and Caitlyn, these stop-motion misfits helped me through many of my darkest days, whenever they came in the year.

Favorite show, indeed!

Monday, December 21, 2015

FOOL ME TWICE...

Okay, so two months ago I mentioned a guy named Clive. Again. Back from the dead. We’d had a first date at a local Starbucks two years ago, ending in the best hug I’ve ever experienced followed by…nothing. Clive dropped the ball. Lesson learned. Not all promising beginnings go somewhere. And so I continued to drink coffee with strangers, most of the time feeling like I was going through the motions. Lots of smiling, lots of pleasant enough chitchat, a cordial hug and a goodbye. See you never again.

Clive, of course, resurfaced on a hookup website. I’d joined the site at the urging of a couple of friends who couldn’t understand how I’d gone sixteen years without sex. It’s out there for the taking, they said. Standards are overrated.

So, yes, Clive and I hooked up. Once. Twice. Neither occasion was the mindless wham-bam I’d imagined. I was determined to keep things light but Clive went beyond. He showed up when I went to Emergency for a minor mishap. Took me to dinner. Shared a long story about his readiness for commitment. Cooked a vegetarian dinner for me. Talked of taking me to Palm Springs for Christmas. Insisted I spend the night so he could wake up with me by his side.

And just like that, I could see myself falling for this guy. Again. The chemistry seemed explosive.

But then just like that, Clive performed another vanishing act. I’ve compared him to Carrie Bradshaw’s Mr. Big on “Sex in the City” but that’s not quite right. After all, Carrie gets Mr. Big in the end. Clive is more like Lucy with the football. And, good grief, I’m that gullible Charlie Brown, lured back into the game and falling flat on my face.

We’d had another tentative date set up but, without texting me, he wound up going to a gay bar with a friend. There was no apology the next day. Only this: “Ya kinda felt obligated to go out. Anyhow what are you doing today?” I had plans. And I kept them.  And that was that.

Clive did text again while he was on vacation in Hawaii last month. “Let’s connect up again when I get back!”

And, again, that was that. Nothing.

I’m done with being Charlie Brown and, quite frankly, I always sucked at football. I have no urge to play any more games with Lucy/Clive. That’s a good thing. There are those who tempt us. When it gets to the point that it feels like they’re taunting us, it’s time to walk away. Leave the ball. Take up fencing instead.

So there you go. Sorry I’d left that dangling. It can be hard to admit being played for a fool. I went out for coffee again today. On my own. No helmet required.

   

Saturday, December 12, 2015

REBRANDING THE COFFEE DATE

I suppose it's because I've been doing it so long, this coffee dating thing, that I need to rebrand it. If I keep calling them coffee dates, the time will surely come when I will hate coffee. And I need my coffee. I love my coffee. Coffee cannot--shall not!--symbolize ambivalence, rejection and failure.

So I'm digging back to my days of watching "America's Next Top Model". No, I am not looking in front of a mirror and practicing smizing. And I am not silently sizing up my dates and thinking, "Congratulations. You are still in the running..." Instead, I am likening my dates to that episode in each season of ANTM when the models go on go-sees.


That's what these dates are. I go. I practice my strut into the café. (Really, the only thing I’m thinking is, Don’t slouch. The thought comes in my mother’s voice, not Miss J’s.) I share some of my portfolio. This is me, all happy in the job that I do. And this is me, even happier that I left Texas while my family stayed behind. And here I am, readjusting to beautiful but hard-to-connect Vancouver. I do my best to stay focused, even if lose the link between his monologue about someone named Luke’s flooded basement and the guy across the table from me losing a camera while getting in a gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice. Water! The link is water! (Though I still don’t understand why either monologue needed to be shared. Sometimes I can work through the small stuff; the bigger questions continue to confound.) I correct the frown I’m certain overtook my face. I’m rather certain I’m smiling. I second-guess myself about not practicing that smizing thing. (It’s too aggressive, I remind myself. Stick to the plan: cool and carefree.)

He stands and I realize he must’ve said something about leaving. So I stand, too. We exchange perfectly civil nice-to-meet-yous and then we’re on the sidewalk. He goes one way, I go the other, even if it means a more roundabout route home. Never prolong the dismissal. As I walk home, I’m thinking, “You are no longer in the running. You must immediately pack your bags and leave." This time it’s in Tyra’s voice. I’m just glad there are no cameras to capture the aftermath. I have no reality show rejection tears to shed, but I’m sure the camera would add ten pounds and ten years to my look.

I keep busy the rest of the day, only checking my phone and my emails a few times—a dozen at most—to see if I get a call back. Chances are slim. But it’s okay. There will be another go-see.

Maybe next time I’ll try to smize. Seems I’ve got to do something differently.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

DON'T STARE

"Don't stare." It's what parents tell their kids when caught looking at a woman in a wheelchair, a teen whose walk is impacted by cerebral palsy or a blind man who navigates with a cane. (Not that the blind man would notice but we're quick to correct.)

Children, of course, are naturally curious. Why is that woman in a wheelchair? Why does that boy walk like that? How does that stick help the blind man? Difference draws attention. It always has. As we get older, as we are properly socialized, we look away, we don't intrude with question. We're not necessarily more enlightened. We see through rather than see. In looking away, we eliminate the unnerving gaze but we also take away the opportunity for a smile. Guilt, self-consciousness and persistent training—"I said, 'Don't stare!'"—get in the way of a momentary connection...or something even greater. We settle for tolerance instead of understanding.

I heard my inner voice say, "Don't stare!" as I jogged along the seawall on Sunday. Yes, I suppose I was staring. I'd spotted a difference and I was both curious and awed. Sad that I should have either response. I should know better.

It was a cool day but there were throngs of people walking the seawall. We were experiencing a gap between the rains. And the forecast called for rain for as far as the forecasters dared to reach. I am rather certain I stared at no one else during my seventy-minute jog. I had Carly Rae Jepsen ditties and water views to hold my attention. People merely represented moving pylons I had to dodge.

But this man caught my eye. He hadn't adjusted to the chill. As he walked, he tucked his head into the body of his companion as if to block winds I couldn't detect. His arm locked with his partner's. Oh, yes, you guessed it. The arm of another man.

And I stared.


I'm gay and still I stared.

Just for a fraction of a second. I wasn’t gawking. It was more like, Did I just see that? Because in this day and age, in a country as progressive as Canada, in a city that is even more progressive than the national average, I still thought for a moment that my eyes were playing tricks on me.


Despite all our gains and all the talking about achieving equality, we're not there yet. It remains a sight to behold that two men should walk arm and arm far, far away from any Gay Pride Parade and on the other side of the water from Davie Village and Vancouver's West End. Maybe it was the cold that made them not give a crap over encountering a jogger who stares.

I have seen men hug and kiss thousands of times. At parades. In bars. On dance floors. We are comfortable in the Gay Zones, official and otherwise. Still, while we may be technically equal, we're not as free. Not yet. And so walking arm in arm in a random public space still seems different.

Shouldn't be. Shouldn't trigger a double-take. But it does.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

REMEMBERING

My first thought on World AIDS Day was, Let this not be about Charlie Sheen. The media likes to make things topical and timely. But pop culture needn’t drive such a significant day, a time to reflect on lives lost far too soon. Needlessly. Painfully. All too swiftly.

There was a time when the pop factor mattered. Rock Hudson. Freddie Mercury. Magic Johnson. They helped “normalize” HIV and AIDS by shining a paparazzi-driven spotlight on the crisis. Pedro Zamora educated young people about AIDS, talking openly about his diagnosis on “The Real World” during what I believe was the reality series’ finest season. And for a while, Entertainment Weekly ran “The Faces of AIDS” on an annual basis, showing how the death toll impacted the industry. It was a somber, compelling statement, part tribute, part tragic reminder of the personal and creative toll.

Movies like “Philadelphia” and plays like “Angels in America” provided memorable characters to show the public the struggles that came with AIDS and to provide those of us closer to the crisis another means of grieving. Still, two works continue to impact me to this day as I reflect on the fears and frustration I felt throughout the AIDS crisis: (1) Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On which awakened me to the magnitude of the problem and the infuriating politicking that interfered with sound public policy and research efforts, and (2) “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt”, the Oscar-winning documentary on The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt which achingly told the stories of loved ones lost.

Today, as I stop to think about Stephen and Farrell and Don and Jose and Steve and Greg and others whom I knew who died from AIDS, I wish there were a public initiative for yet another grand-scale unveiling of the AIDS Quilt. Parts of the quilt tour the U.S. during the year and I am not sure that the 48,000 panels can be displayed in one setting. Let it be shown in large sections in public parks and stadiums on this day. The individual panels were meant to be displayed as a collective. While we marvel at medical advances today, people need to be reminded of the scope of the devastation from AIDS and its continuing destruction in parts of the world.

Today is a day to love, to honor and to remember.

Monday, November 30, 2015

COUPLES THERAPY

I love my Sunday New York Times. I have to wait until my local grocery store opens at 9 a.m. to pick up a copy. Just so I don’t seem desperate for my fix, I usually saunter in around 9:06 with a can of soup and a bunch of under-ripened bananas added to the basket. Then I head home, forcing myself not to scan the front page as I navigate the foot traffic in my neighborhood: a few smokers spilling out of the local bar where a European football match seems to always be on the telly; a dishevelled man hauling his wares in a grocery cart; and a few drug-addled citizens who’ve awakened from their bed-bug laden cots in the area’s SROs. The hipsters don’t appear for brunch until an hour and a half later.

I enter my condo—no wait for the elevator. And that’s when I get my first peek. I get excited. I want to read every lead story. I go through my French press coffee before I’m even finished with the first section. Each story satisfies even as I curse The Times for having every article continue on another page. Back and forth, back and forth I go.

I’m an antsy reader so I don’t get to the lighter sections until the afternoon. In “SundayStyles”, I glance at Bill Cunningham’s “On the Street” fashion photos, I read the “Modern Love” essay and then I come to “Vows”. This is where the hoity-toity couples post their wedding announcements, usually with a photo of the smiling couple. (I don’t get why some don’t submit a picture. No doubt, it’s costly but you chose to be in The New York Times. Splurge for the pic and nix the chocolate fountain at the reception. Chocolate is overrated. Yeah, I said it.)

I’ve never been the guy to steal my sister’s bridal magazines. With the exception of wanting them to play The Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You” for my spouse at my wedding, I haven’t ever thought much about weddings. I grew up thinking that weddings were for Other People. My New York Times addiction started about two years ago and I remember being fascinated by the photos of smiling male couples in the “Vows” section. Bold. Empowering. While I’d had the right to marry in Canada for years, marriage equality was still in contention in the U.S., my adopted country where I lived sixteen years, many in fear in Texas before coming out in Los Angeles. I read the blurbs about the couples and, invariably, my excitement and admiration turned to jealousy. He works for a prominent law firm in Manhattan and graduated from Yale before getting his law degree at Stanford. The Other He works as a translator at the UN, after earning a degree at the University of Oslo and a master’s in public policy at Cambridge. Yes, guys like this existed. Now they were taken. And here I was considering a possible hookup with an unemployed guy from Calgary. Damn.

This week’s “Vows” section isn’t so crushing. One lesbian couple—they could be sisters—and one gay couple. The men live in Indianapolis. Normal universities. I’m okay. Wedding envy is in check. I can celebrate their marriage.

And the last line in their blurb even offers hope: “The couple met on a dating website in August 2012.”

Okay, I’m logging in to browse my matches again. Maybe there’s a reason for all these coffee dates after all…

Saturday, November 28, 2015

ALL TOO FAMILIAR

Sometimes you can tell from the first three seconds that this is not just a "No" date but a bad date. And sometimes a bad date can become even worse than anticipated.

I headed to Breka Cafe for the second time in as many weeks. Not a place of my choosing. The stakes in Vancouver's coffee wars are rising as upstart roasters introduce better, bolder, stronger beans. Starbucks, Blenz, Tim Hortons and, yes, this heretofore-unknown Breka are now Why Bother hubs. But Richard suggested it as a halfway point. Fine. Better than my last date there where Mr. Meet-Me-My-Way suggested it since it was across the street from his place. (These are the "normal" dates, springing from the very polite Plenty of Fish site, not hookup-minded men from my Manhunt "studies".)

As I arrived ten minutes early, I received a text from Richard, giving his location and saying he was on his way. I knew it was twenty minutes away. Simple math word problem. If Person A arrives 10 min early and Person B is 20 min away, that equals a late start. "Take your time," I texted.  My laptop was malfunctioning but I figured I could text-type some work on my phone's Notes app. There is never an excuse not to write.

The first red flag arose before Richard's entrance. He texted again to let me know he'd hopped on a bus. From two blocks away! I'd already given him a Late Pass. This smacked of desperation. "Silly man," I texted and left it at that.

When Richard arrived seconds later, he sat down and commented about how much he loved reading my profile. "You don't know it, but I learned extra things about you." O...Kay. Perhaps Richard possessed uncanny inferential skills. I tried not to be creeped out. But there was an intensity in his stare. I had to look away.

And in so doing, I spotted my previous date, Mr. Meet-Me-My-Way, entering the cafe. Yes, awkward became awkwarder. (I'm aware that's not a word; it just fits.) I tried to focus on a conversation I was ready to end. I needed Last Date to get his coffee and go. You see, I'd thought that date had been a decent one, with pleasant conversation, laughter and common interests. When we stood on the the sidewalk and I said, "Message me if you'd like to meet again", I saw that look of horror register for a nanosecond before a skilled recalibration. Oops. Not interested. Totally misread the situation. But then a full week later, Mr. Last Date messaged the equivalent to a grunt: "How was your week?"

I replied. He replied. I scratched my head and then dared to ask, "Do you want to meet again?"

And...silence. End of conversation. Never more.

But then this. And as I waited and waited to spot Last Date leaving, I saw him take a seat. Two tables away. With another guy. And, yes, it sure looked like another first date.

So I had no choice. I guzzled the latte I'd been gently sipping and announced to Richard--still staring ever so intently--that I needed to head out and get on with the errands of the day.  As Richard and I exited, I made sure not to catch Last Date's eye. And for the umpteenth time, I wondered why I even bother with any of this. My dating history is an endless series of mismatches.

At least I got my errands done early.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

KEEPING MY OPTIONS OPEN

Last I'd written about dating, well, I wasn't really dating at all. I was hooking up, only hooking up felt a lot like dating. Here, I try to settle in and figure out how to hook up properly.


When a relationship is undefined--does an encore hookup constitute any kind of relationship?--it is best to keep one's options open. And so after two dates/hookups with Clive, I continued to "cruise" the Manhunt website.

I must admit, I found the site fascinating. Look at all these men! Or, at least, all these select body parts of men. Patterns emerged. People didn't write about a love for walks on the beach. Really, they didn’t write much at all. They skipped all the extreme sports photos that predominated conventional dating sites. (Seriously, how can every single gay man be a bungee jumper?!) And, if someone chose a penis pic as their main profile photo, they had no facial image. (Did that sort of thing work? What if it's an imposter penis, lifted from some porn site? By the time the fraud was discovered, could you back out? I think I was overthinking, well, everything.)

I was clear with myself that I would not fall for a dick pic. But that didn't mean I couldn't swoon over a man's chest. Indeed, one such photo caught my eye. Pecs apparent but not too defined. And when I clicked to see the full profile, I ogled an image of a man reclining in a chair with a starched white shirt and black dress pants. Yowsah! I've always been a sucker for a simple business attire. Unfortunately, the photo lacked a head. (Selfies can be tricky.) I knew I should be suspicious. To be honest, the only photo that included a face didn't appeal to me, but I reminded myself that this wasn't about finding a match or playing Cupid. This was about some quick fun.

And so we exchanged some naughty messages and agreed to meet. That's when Mr. Starched Shirt got a little stuffy. The conversation veered from my-place-or-your-place to let’s meet for coffee. Fine. A café near my place. In a to-go cup, I figured.

I’ve had far too many coffee dates. I didn’t join a hookup site just to engage more awkward chitchat.  

How's it going? What do you do? Uh,…who photographed your chest?

Someone’s got to move things along.

I arrived early, as I always do. Prado Café. Ordered the pumpkin space latte, a recommendation from my physiotherapist. (You’ve got to talk about something as a guy tries to pull and twist your finger back into place.) Not the syrupy sugar-coma blast you get at Starbucks; made with actual pumpkin puree. The verdict? Yum.

And then Jerry walked in. Okay, not so yum. Nothing wrong, just not my type. Had the clean-cut look of an Oklahoma preacher. Unfortunately, I don’t have any creepy clergy fantasies. After hello, he got in line to order. It gave me (too much) time to sit and think. What now? This was supposed to be a hookup. Can you back out? And how?

I decided stop questioning things. Isn’t that why I’m a single man? Hadn’t I passed on perfectly decent men? And this wasn’t ever going to be a relationship, right? Wasn’t this about keeping busy before Clive deliberated and realized he wants a real relationship?

Ahem,…stop questioning!

And so Jerry sat down and we fell right into that comfortable discomfort of a regular coffee date. We searched for common ground. Found some. But there were too-soon pauses when we seemed to be in freefall (without even a bungee cord). This was work. I’d thought hookups were supposed to be anything but.
Twenty minutes in, Jerry abruptly called time. “Sorry, I don’t see this happening.” I knew he was right. I felt relief. But I also felt like I’d failed. I got the hook instead of the hookup. Jerry rambled something about being friends and I nodded even though I knew neither of us wanted that. And then, as I lifted our coffee mugs to load them in the dirty dishes cart, Jerry bolted. Exit, stage left. It was the first time I’d ever seen a “date” literally run away.

As I stepped onto the sidewalk, the man had vanished. I was simultaneously humored and humiliated. No-strings-attached became an emphatic no-thank-you. I tried to smile as I made an unexpected kind of Walk of Shame home. As I neared a traffic light, a woman walked alongside me. “How’s it going?” she asked.

“Fine,” I lied. I continued to walk but she kept pace.

She added, “You look good, by the way.” We shared a smile before going separate ways at the corner.

And there it was. Perfect timing. A prostitute, sure—I live in a sketchy neighborhood—but why consider the source? These were the words I needed to hear after being abruptly rejected on a hookup coffee date. He’d said no.

It's good to know she would have said yes.

For a price.

Details, details.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

CREEPING IN ON CHRISTMAS

So apparently it’s the Christmas season. Despite all the kerfuffle over its simple red cup, Starbucks has the holiday soundtrack streaming as I try to cram in some writing time. (Since everyone is supposed to weigh in on the red cup debate, I’ll say I’m fine with it. The coffee is as hot as ever and, truthfully, I can’t tell the difference between a Christmas blend and the Sulawesi. Maybe all that hot coffee burned my taste buds.) I want to scream “Humbug!” as Michael Buble sings, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. But, dang it, I know the tune too well. I’m listening more than I want to. The lyrics dance about in my brain.

And I like it.

Again, dang it. I set aside the outline I’m working on for a new manuscript and surrender to Christmas. Or at least to Mr. Buble. But this distraction does not pass. Celine’s on deck, singing “The Christmas Song” and, despite the fact, that roasted chestnuts do nothing for me, I’m feeling calm, even warm, as if that open fire were right by my side.

My natural reflex is to resist All-Things-Christmas. It’s about self-protection. ‘Tis the season when I am in danger of feeling lonely. ‘Tis the time when I am hit over the head by the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend to hold and to fret over getting the perfect gift. ‘Tis the period when I have to prep myself with a simple soundbite over why I must answer “No” to “Are you going home to see your family?”

While others feel jolly, I struggle. Until a year and a half ago, I would berate myself with “What is wrong with me?” Now I know. I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. It’s chronic. Goes back to adolescence, possibly as far back as when I was five years old. I’ve always been overly sensitive and that led to anxiety which evolved into depression. Holidays are hard. And Christmas is the hardest.

The good news is that I seem to have a handle on my depression. I have a new psychiatrist who is earnest, if not terribly effective. (It beats the adversarial relationship with the last one.) And, after shutting down any talk of medication for a year, I’ve given a drug a chance. It took some tinkering, but the meds seem to be working. I haven’t experienced the lowest of lows in weeks, maybe even a couple of months. Christmas will be a big test.

It’s early in the season. Frankly, it shouldn’t even be the season. But Starbucks started it. And there are other signs. As my commuter bus headed over the Lions Gate Bridge in morning darkness, I spotted one house fully decked in Christmas lights in West Vancouver. Keeners. Maybe they’re the sort that never take down their lights. The Christmas spark has been lit.

And Buble is still in my head. What am I to do? I suppose I’ve spent too much energy resisting, year after year. I’m going to try something different this time around. I’m going to let it be. I may even enjoy a few traditions. Shortbread! The smell of pine indoors! I might even buy a carton of egg nog this weekend. (And, yes, I’ll add rum.) My favorite TV show of all time happens to be Christmas-themed. If some guys can go on and on about “Star Wars” and the December 14th release of “The Force Awakens”, then I can say a little “Woot!” in my head over the December 1st airing of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. I’ve got a soft spot for all those misfits.

Ready or not, it’s coming. Starbucks says so; yes, even in simple red. The season of pumpkin lattes is over. If you can stomach it, sip an egg nog latte and rejoice in the fact that you don’t have to spend a weekend writing Christmas cards. You can probably just try on a hideous sweater with Santa and some snowmen, snap a selfie and pre-program a “Happy Holidays” post for Facebook. Send one card to grandma. She still likes that tradition. Then, use the extra time to try new shortbread recipes. Be merry or at least be lulled into a sugar coma.

Happy November 12th. Time for me to “fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” off.

 

  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

SEEKING TO DEFINE

To review: My first hookup (and possibly second date) with Clive started with him waiting for me at the Emergency room and taking me to dinner. Granted, this is new territory for me, but I don’t think this is how people typically do it. Call it a hunch.

The next day, Clive texted, “We need to plan a sleepover soon. I want to wake up with you.” Hmm. What did it mean? We agreed to meet four evenings later. And I told my brain to put the brakes on thinking this was anything but casual fun. As confused as I was, one thing seemed clear: Clive is not commitment material.

And so Friday night came. I texted, “So what’s the plan? Are we grabbing a quick bite or just hanging out at your place?” I needed to know whether I should microwave one of my in-a-rush meals—nachos or veggie dogs.

Clive replied: “I’m a terrible cook but I’m putting together a spinach salad and ravioli dinner. All vegetarian.”

Interesting. Don’t overthink this. Don’t ask what this is. Just live it. And so I packed some overnight clothes in my backpack, picked up a bottle of wine and headed over. This is not dating. Do NOT let your brain go there.

Clive greeted me with a kiss and another one of his long, warm hugs. In an instant, there was no place I’d rather be. Easy, boy. It felt so good.

Over dinner and the hours that followed, we talked and talked. Clive seemed to have this desire to know me—my family, my experiences, what makes me tick. He also shared lengthy stories about his past marriage, his ex-partner and his work. I did my best to stay in the moment. Still, I had to remind myself: Don’t ask. Don’t seek to define this. Stay carefree. Stick to the plan.

Eventually we began to make out and Clive escorted me to the bedroom. It had been a lovely night. We’d spent hours learning about one another and now, after the extended hello, we were getting to what this was all about. Just a hookup, I told myself as Clive kissed me.

But my brain is a pesky organ. It always wants knowledge. Don’t ask. Don’t you dare ask!

“What are we doing? I mean, we connected on Manhunt. But then…” Yep, I asked. Of course I asked.

And Clive smoothly answered, “Let’s just see where things go.”

Somehow I managed to put my brain in park for the rest of the night. Eventually, Clive slept and I stared at the reflection of the digital clock on the ceiling. I must have drifted off in a light sleep a few times. Clive pulled me closer whenever I turned toward the edge of the bed.

As I showered in the morning, Clive prepared my coffee with a fancy gizmo and served pastries he’d bought the night before. All my thoughts were punctuated with question marks.

Thoughtful?

Smooth?

Routine?

And again, what are we doing? This time I kept my questions to myself.

I headed off for an appointment as Clive readied for a busy weekend of work. We’d see each other again.

Or would we?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

RIGHT NOW

Okay, so I hooked up. It was easy. Why did I wait so long?

But, of course, I know why. I’m not that kind of guy. All I’ve ever wanted is a solid, loving relationship. Get out of The Dating Game. Re-establish Starbucks et al. as my writing hangouts instead of convenient hubs for dating interviews. Let weekends pass debating what color to paint My Guy’s hall closet. Enjoy evenings with the two of us sitting on the sofa, channel surfing. (I’ll let him have the remote. It’s not at all about the TV for me.)

Then there is reality. My Guy has been missing in (in)action.

Perhaps someone else scooped him up.

What if he’s not a coffee man? Why, oh why, doesn’t tea do anything for me?

Maybe he suffered a miserable bacon-related death. (Try Meatless Mondays, folks. It’s a start.)

The wonderings are infinite. The fact is, My Guy is a no-show. I searched and searched. I waited and waited. And in the back of my mind, there is an unwelcome voice. It’s from a talk show psychologist whom I can’t stand: Dr. Phil. I see him prying a bit of steak from his front teeth with a toothpick, totally bored with my relationship whining, completely unimpressed with my efforts. When I stop to take a breath, he says what he always says, “So how’s that working for you?”

The answer is obvious. It’s not. There are no signs of life in terms of relationship opportunities.

And so I’ve decided to be the Not that Kind of Guy. I’ve decided to live in the moment. Step out of my comfort zone. Hello, hookup. Allow myself some superficial satisfaction. I am single, after all, as I am acutely aware and, frankly, I’m neither a cat guy nor a knitter. I need other ways to keep busy.

It’s not an either-or scenario. I can continue to check more reputable dating sites and I can go back to trying to rebuild a social network, dropping in on the gay volleyball league (when my dang pinky heals!) and the gay running group. I don’t need to completely turn my back on One Day.

This is not ever what I thought I would do. This is not who I imagined becoming. Far from it. Eighteen years ago, not long after I moved to Vancouver, naïve and hopeful, with the lyric “You’re gonna make it, after all” from The Mary Tyler Moore Show dancing about in my head, I rented a room in an older gay man’s townhouse. Older. Ha. He was fifty-two, a mere year older than I am now. Alvin had most everything going for him. He was an intelligent professional, an avid art collector, a master gardener, a keen conversationalist, fit and active. More than anything, he was a kind, loving soul. But he had two strikes against him as a single, gay man: he was old and his face bore the scars from what must have been one helluva battle with adolescent acne.

I’m not sure that an online version of Manhunt existed then. I do recall chat lines by telephone, with billboards at Davie and Burrard showing men in well-packaged Speedos inviting the needy to give them a call. Maybe Alvin tried that, I don’t know. What I do know is he frequented the bathhouses. No shame about it. On occasion he’d continue the connections in his bedroom. Married men whose wives couldn’t give them all they needed.

Alvin and I only talked about it once after a guy named Scott rushed out one Sunday morning, an awkward “Oh, hello” to me as he frantically put on his shoes and scrambled to get back to his wife after having fallen asleep after a particularly noisy romp that disturbed my efforts to sleep at two in the morning and again at four. I asked Alvin a simple question. Why? I was curious, but I’m sure there was extreme judgment in my voice. And Alvin said, “I’m done. I’m not going to find a partner, but I like a good fuck.” I wanted to offer Alvin a dose of naïve positivity. You’re such a great guy. Don’t give up. I know you’ll find love. But I kept my mouth shut. The way he said “I’m not going to find a partner” was definitive.  And negative. Door closed. Game over. I wanted to cry for him. I felt such sadness. But I knew he didn’t want my pity. I have no poker face so I fled the living room almost as swiftly as Scott and went for a walk, leaving Alvin to enjoy his morning coffee alone.

I don’t know what’s become of Alvin. I hope he was wrong. I’d like to think he found love. But my gut tells me he didn’t. You’ll find it when you’re not looking is an empty phrase. I suppose the speaker says it to offer hope, but there seems to be a subtext: Stop obsessing and stop rambling on about it to me. Yes, Alvin is still single. I’m sure of it. And a part of me hopes he’s still hooking up if it fills a temporary need. Alvin deserves to be connected at whatever level it may be.   

And, yes, so do I. I’m not sure how long I’ll want to be Manhunting. What’s interesting is that I don’t feel as much of the dating pull now. I don’t hold my breath when I log in on Plenty of Fish or OkCupid anymore. It’s more of a going-through-the-motions thing. Part of the routine but thankfully no longer a twice or thrice daily habit. Manhunt serves as a distraction—a pleasant one, at that.

I’d like to think that I’d still be up for The Dating Game should the right opportunity arise. In the meantime, I’m living in the right now. It is what it is.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

YOU AGAIN

Just had a second date.

Two years after the first.

The first almost didn’t happen and the second wasn’t supposed to be a date. I think Clive causes lice. Whenever I see him, I’m left scratching my head.

In October 2013, Clive showed up out of nowhere. He appeared on Plenty of Fish, a site largely comprised of smelly dead fish in an algae-filled mud puddle. I viewed his profile and, to my surprise and delight, he messaged me. “Hey there, handsome.” Three words, but at least he knew what to do with a comma. He had me.

But then he didn’t. As I took the ferry over to meet him, he cancelled. Work and all.

I pushed. What about the next weekend? I had to go into Vancouver again anyway. I’d bought a chair and needed to pick it up. Clive would be a quick coffee. Closure to something that would never be. As an event planner, his work peaks on weekends. He figured he could dash over to the nearest Starbucks from the Hotel Vancouver for twenty minutes. Hello and goodbye. But then I caught an unfamiliar look as soon as he rushed into the café. He stopped, stared and barked. Okay, he didn’t bark. But the thought bubble over his head said, “Woof.” Maybe even with an exclamation mark.

Now I’m known for misreading guys all the time. They absolutely confound me. But he woofed. I am sure of it. And, yes, there was an exclamation mark. I just tend to be modest.

The twenty-minute coffee lasted an hour. He didn’t want to leave. Damn work. I’ll never forget the goodbye. Standing in the middle of Starbucks, he wrapped me in his arms in the warmest hug I’ve ever had. It lingered. My legs literally weakened. I was completely his.

But, really, I wasn’t. He messaged later: “Ur a super sexy guy and I would def like to see you again. I think you might need to show me where you live. I see a ferry trip in my future.”

I never heard from him again. Yes, I texted. I messaged on Plenty of Fish, too. Nothing.

Until last Sunday.

But I’ve got some backstory first. If you have read this blog in the past, you may know that I’ve gone through a dry spell. A drought. One of those biblical ones that leads to utter devastation. I have not had full-on sex in the new millennium. Yes, yes, I know it is 2015. And, no, I have not been locked in a room or living in a biosphere all by myself as some sort of evil science experiment/reality show premise. I am fifty-one and the prolonged drought may in part explain why I’ve acquiesced to taking antidepressants. Dating has been dreary.

After a dozen dates with a music professor with erectile dysfunction, I ended things. No, it wasn’t about what wasn’t happening in the bedroom (though that didn’t help). Our connection just wasn’t growing. And so after ending that, I filled out a profile on a hookup website, Manhunt. Typing that last sentence made my fingers shake. Literally. They’re still shaking. Please don’t judge me, dear reader. Not too harshly, at least. Reread the previous paragraph. The one about the drought.

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care anymore. (Hence the antidepressants.) For now, I’ve stopped hoping. And I’ve decided it’s time to end the drought. I need some fun. So what if it’s temporary. So what if it’s superficial. The miserable streak has become a deep crevasse or a high hurdle. I’ve decided it must end.

And, yes, that’s how Clive re-entered my life. He messaged me on Manhunt.

I ignored him, of course. For five minutes. And then I thought, Why not? Within the past year, he tried to Friend me on Facebook and Liked me on OkCupid. But I didn’t want a friendship or relationship with this guy. He’d let me down in terms of a significant relationship. This would be a test of the more evolved me. Free love or maybe sex as a weapon. Get what I want and move on.

And so we negotiated the re-introductions with sexually playful banter. We arranged to meet the following evening. Why wait? 7 o’clock, his place. No coffee necessary.

I shouldn’t be surprised by what came next. My body resisted. Actually, it was my pinky finger that spoke up. I’d dislocated it weeks before and suddenly it looked newly bruised and out of whack. My work colleagues grimaced at the sight. See the doctor, they urged.

And so I did. After work, I took the ferry and the bus back to the city and headed for Emergency, feeling stupid for taking up time when more urgent matters may need attention. Any guilt subsided as I realized I wasn’t taking up time at all. I sat in an ER waiting room. And sat. And sat. By 6 p.m., I sensed my tryst with Clive might not come to be. The Pinky Objection.

I texted Clive and explained the circumstances. Clive responded: “Do you want me to come there? Did you have dinner yet?” What and what?! No! This was supposed to be meaningless sex. No dinner and definitely no hospital TLC.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just letting you know I could be late.” I had the sense that guys on hookup sites flake a lot. I was not that sort. I had a valid reason for being tardy. A doctor’s note would be forthcoming.

Clive continued to check in. Hospital waiting rooms can be might boring. This one didn’t even have a stack of four-year-old People or Reader’s Digest. Nothing to do but surf on my phone and, yes, reply to Clive’s queries.

7 o’clock came and went. The window for a simple romp was closing. I focused on the matter at hand. My health is more important. Give the runt digit its due. Splint it. Ice it. Do those exercises the physiotherapist suggested. Fine, fine. Message received. At 7:10 my name was called. An orderly escorted me inside ER, sat me down and pulled the curtain around my new space. “You’re in, at least,” she said. “But it’ll be a while.” Yes, of course.

I listened as a doctor talked to the drifter couple on the other side of the curtain. I knew them from the waiting room where they made out in between her hacking cough fits. “When did you last have a place to stay? Indoors?” Winter. Montreal. The couple had since wandered to California and up the coast to Vancouver. “We’re hoping to find a place in a week or two,” she told the doctor. “You’ll he’ll faster,” the doctor said. And then the good doc lowered the boom: dislocated shoulder, full anaesthetic required. This to the guy. Apparently her uncontrolled cough was not the issue. The guy muttered, “Whoa, man”, then regained composure, asking to step out for a smoke first.

Again, I felt stupid for taking up space. A tender pinky. I had it good.

Clive texted, “Where r u?”

After I explained, he replied with “Ok. I’m here in the waiting room. I’ll just hang out here with the other crazy people! Are u sure u don’t need me to hold ur other hand right now?”

Above and beyond. A hookup is not supposed to meet you in ER. He’s supposed to go online and find another right-now guy. Dammit. That ol’ tug came back. Sexy Clive just might be a good man.

The finger turned out to be nothing. Swollen, sure, but the X-ray was clear and I hadn’t re-dislocated anything. Basically, I’d been a big wuss. I got the standard mini-lecture about splinting and finger exercises and I nodded convincingly enough before being sent on my way. And there in the waiting room was Clive, tall and handsome, standing up and giving me a great big hug. A hello as warm as the goodbye from two years ago.

“Hey, handsome,” he said. “I’m taking you to dinner.”

No, no, I thought. This is just about sex. Nothing more.

But as we left St. Paul, we headed to Davie Street, away from his condo, and settled on Malaysian food. His treat. Over dinner, he talked at length about a four-month relationship he’d been in during the time since we’d last met. I don’t know why. I assumed he was just filling the space. Two strangers passing time. But he talked of falling in love and realizing for the first time in his life he could be monogamous. Again, interesting. Yet here we were, the two of us, connecting from a hookup site.

I don’t need to go into detail about the rest. Things happened. No regrets. But it was more than sex. I swear that’s all I wanted but the chemistry—that which I felt so sure of on our first date way back when—came right back even stronger.  

There is a strong attraction and it is mutual. But Clive is a man of the moment. He’s not the kind of guy you settle down with. I learned that the hard way two years ago. Not sure if I know what I’m doing now despite the fact I tell myself I am totally aware of the boundaries and limitations.

Damn you, Clive. This could get messy.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

TAKING OUT THE COMPETITION

I'm a bad, bad man! Sunday should have been a day of rest, right? If only.

I am always concerned about my weight. Obsessive, in fact. My new meds have increased my hunger and I can’t get my body as lean as I need it to be. Always five pesky pounds. No rest. I had to run.

And so I headed out, a lazy Sunday, the day before Thanksgiving. I was having a really good run on the seawall. No doubt, I annoyed a few with my iPhone—no headphones—playing Carly Rae Jepsen ditties. (Her songs are insanely catchy. Can’t figure out why radio shuns her.) As the path dipped inward at a cove, I found myself in the midst of a 1K Turkey Trot for little kids. I turned off my tunes so as not to distract them. Thoughtful, huh?

All these little ones took up the pedestrian side of the path so I ran in the bike lane. I still had to dodge some wee ones who seemed to think zigging and zagging were basic parts of running. A really young one—three, I’m guessing—almost trotted into me. I did a masterful maneuver to avoid impact. She ran on, never knowing how close we’d come to colliding. I felt good. I’d slowed my run, but I’d basically saved a toddler.

Maybe I got too confident. Maybe I let down my guard. Maybe the laws of probability came into play. On those old high school obstacle courses, I always took out a pylon or two.

Yes, you know what’s coming. If only I’d known.

Once again, out of the blue, a young one decided that running straight was too boring. She took a sudden left turn and I ran into her. Minor impact. But minor impact with a lightweight five-year-old can have troubling implications. She fell forward and went splat in a puddle. As luck would have it, that puddle was the only one I came across on my entire run. A piddly puddle, really. But a small puddle causes maximum coverage when the splat is a wee one. I helped her up. Poor thing. A muddy mess. There was that split second in which she was stunned. What happened? Who are you? I don’t know you. Stranger danger! I apologized profusely, feeling the glare of parents all around. Mean, mean man.

The little girl gazed at the mud and her face scrunched up. Oh, no! Don’t cry. Please, don’t cry. I spoke softly and almost kept her calm. But then she noticed a dab of blood on the palm of her hand. She bawled.

And bawled.

And bawled.

Yes, I am truly evil. Despicable. My running shoes should be confiscated. I looked around. There were no adults. Just more toddlers trotting by. I’ll admit I did a little deflecting. Seriously?! Where are all the parents? Who is supervising this race?

But that didn’t take away from the fact that I was a mean stranger suddenly entrusted with coaxing a wailing wee one to hobble along as my eyes looked ahead desperately seeking adult support. And ear plugs.

It felt like an eternity to go about forty meters and turn a corner. A rescue! A paramedic on a bike and a woman whom I presume was a race volunteer.

So there we were. Three adults. Strangers. Not at all calming. The wailing grew louder, if that was possible. The paramedic asked to look at the hand. More attention to blood. More hysterics.

I should have grabbed the paramedic’s first aid kit. As a school principal, I know how important it is to clean and cover the bloody spot ASAP. Out of sight, out of mind. But, no. I deferred to his expertise. He slowly opened the kit. Did he think zippers made her skittish?! He seemed stunned by the girl’s trauma. Was this guy really a paramedic? Was this his first day?

He decided the first thing to do, after five minutes of staring and hoping she’d stop crying, was to use some gauze to wipe the mud splatter off her face. The only part of the body the girl couldn’t see! A couple approached. “Oh, Abby. It’s okay.” Her aunt and uncle apparently. The aunt stayed, the uncle went to get the parents. He walked. Leisurely. Perhaps he worried about taking out another kid.

Five more minutes passed. Maybe ten. It felt like an hour. And then the aunt said, “Here comes Mommy.” Not that Abby heard. She was still crying. I looked up and saw a man and woman walking our way from what was apparently the finish line. Mommy held a sign that read, “We love you, Abigail!” All hand decorated with balloons tied to it. The man’s sign said, “Go, Abby, go!”

Was it possible to feel worse? Why wasn’t I wailing?! I had ruined the big moment that they’d prepared for as a family. I’d taken down their kid and taken away that photo finish, the one that would have gone up on Facebook with a hundred Likes from granny, the neighbors, coworkers and other tenuously connected folks.

I braced for a stream of How-dare-yous. Would they call the police? Threaten a lawsuit? But they did double duty, calming little Abby and reassuring The Big Meanie. Accidents happen. Still, I felt like the worst person ever. That dang exposed blood spot on the girl’s hand now bothered me more than it did Abby. (Amazing, the healing power of a Mommy.) As the paramedic finally bandaged the hand, he tried to heighten the drama. “I don’t think she needs stitches.”

Stitches?! No. No one thought that.

Then he said, “Has she had a tetanus shot?” A needle?! Wasn’t it enough that this girl will never want to willingly run again?

I offered more apologies as the parents bid me farewell and told Abby to high-five the evil stranger. I should have stayed home and grazed on a bag of Doritos. Maybe the costs in trying to stay slim are too great. But I ran on. Apparently nothing will slow me down.