Saturday, January 31, 2015

DAYDREAM BELIEVER

I’ve never been a believer. Those weren’t aliens; someone just slipped Sigourney Weaver hallucinogenic drugs. Any life on Mars must merely be something like that paramecium we all had to squint and sketch through a rudimentary microscope in high school Biology. Not enthralling, not scary. (My assigned lab partner, tobacco-spitting, Bible-toting running back Ted Fields? Now that was scary. Never got my name right. Only knew me as Faggot. Again, minimally evolved Neanderthal, not an alien.)

But as I reflect on recent dating dead-ends, I have had an epiphany. Aliens exist. And, yes, they are despicable. We should all be wary. I am all for upping the NASA budget, not for sending on some squeaky buggy to roam Neptune (until it hits a pebble and flips on its side to forever spin its wheels in place), but to create and implement a strategy to fend off the aliens.

If the aliens are messing with me, surely there are other poor saps being victimized as well. How else can I explain the string of lovely coffee conversations—first dates, if you will—with seemingly decent men who subsequently vanish from Earth?

Abducted, of course.

Yes, it’s the only sensible explanation.

These aliens are cunning. They’re making off with only the best single gay men. (That explains why I’m still here. And Boy George.)

Maybe I’ve always known this, at least on a subconscious level. I’ve never found any of the All-Star aliens to be endearing. Never liked Marvin the Martian, that Looney Tunes nemesis. Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester the Cat and Elmer Fudd were harmless foes, but the Martian dude with the creepy voice had sinister plans in his helmet-clad head.

And ALF? A lame knockoff love child of Muppets Fozzie Bear and Animal.

I also never bought into the adorability of E.T. In fact, I suspect E.T. is the kingpin in abducting my dates. He lures the gays. Gets them lulled into that “on our side” mentality by looking like a walking penis and doing drag. I can’t prove it, but E.T. has me under surveillance. That beast is on a special mission to take me down. Follows me to the café, then calls my dates over when they can’t think clearly due to the coffee buzz. “Touch my finger.” Spaceship lands and swoops the studs away.

I’d be married by now if it weren’t for Steven Spielberg.

I’ve tried to explain all this to the local police. They’ve been smugly dismissive ever since I called 911 when there was no parking at Starbucks. (Yeah. That was me.)

This alien thing is serious, people! Good men are vanishing! If they are sabotaging my dating life, surely others are being victimized. (See? I’m not paranoid. This is way bigger than me!)

Without any intervention from NASA or the police, there is little I can do. Still, I shall warn my next date about the aliens. It’s my only chance at a second date. If he avoids contact with E.T., we have a real chance at a relationship. I keep talking until he completely gets it. I am sure he’ll be eternally grateful.

I may not save the world, but I can at least restore my dating life.

Friday, January 23, 2015

MOVIN' ON UP

I’m feeling like George and Weezie.

Bought a condo in Vancouver. My days as Rural Gay are numbered. I move April 1st, no foolin’.

Looking out the condo. So long, ocean & mountain views.
 
There are a couple of things about the Vancouver real estate market that you may not know. First, everything is ridiculously expensive. Second, listings sell seemingly instantaneously. Both factors came into play regarding my new home.

Last week, I contacted a family friend who is a Vancouver realtor and gave her a list of a dozen condominiums I wanted to see. After selling my house, the plan was to rent an apartment in Vancouver. See if this was really the place for me. I’d fled the city before; best not to get tied down. But I wanted to do my due diligence. Get a peek at the condo market, affirm my decision to rent.

On Sunday, I took the ferry over to view seven places. (The others had already sold.) I had one clear favorite, one possibility and five nos. “I’m not ready,” I told my agent. “And I know the one I like will get offers tonight. It’s just too soon.”

While on the ferry home, my agent called. I was right. Two definite offers coming in, with a third as a possibility. Was I interested?

Of course not. Too soon, remember? I hadn’t even worked out the financials. No pre-approval on a mortgage. This condo was less than one-third the size of my house AND it cost more. With competing offers, I’d have to put in an offer above the asking price. As a Vancouverite, I’d played that game before. It’s not fun. Pass.

And yet I found myself fiddling with a mortgage calculator, all too accessible on my handy iPhone. Things looked feasible. I called my agent back. “Let’s do it.”

The next hour was a frenzy. I ran from the ferry terminal to my house and then zipped to work to print, sign and scan the offer. And then I waited. I hope I get it. I hope I don’t.

Sure enough, at 10:30 p.m., the buyer accepted my offer.

Yippee!

Yikes!

I didn’t sleep that night. My god, what have I done? I’ve spent more time contemplating a sweater purchase. Seriously!

I’ll be living two blocks from the poorest area in Canada. For many reasons, that’s where I think I want to be. I’m not a NIMBY guy. I don’t want problems out of sight. I want to see them, understand them and be part of a solution. I spent nine days last spring in a hospital alongside people from this area. I feel a calling. I need to be there.

Or do I?

How will I live in such a small space? Do I really want to live according to a series of bylaws by a potentially overzealous group of condo owners? Didn’t I swear I’d never live in a box again?

At work, the doubt rose as people asked me about the condo. What kind of floors does it have? I don’t know. Does it have window coverings? I don’t remember. Do you like the bathroom? Beats me.

WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

But now I’ve had a chance to go back and get my bearings. A block from Starbucks and movie theaters. I think I knew that. A park across the street. Yes, I saw it—just didn’t realize it was so close. The reality of 570 square feet is setting in. I’ll get to keep my bed and a nightstand. Everything else is too bulky. That lovely designer chair I bought last fall? Nice knowing ya. Naturally, it will be tougher parting with beloved sweaters, but some will have to go. I must have enough room for my twenty-six pairs of Converse. As for my treasured vinyl record collection from the ‘70s (that I haven’t played since the ‘80s), well, I’ve got ten weeks to figure that out.

I am reminded of the reasons I chose to go rural in the first place. So much space. But space also came to mean distance.

Soon, I’ll be immersed in density and 24/7 people watching. This evening, while waiting to walk—WALK!—to a restaurant for dinner, I was warmly greeted by a local seated on a bench outside the Starbucks: “Hey! Don’t fuck around with me.” Okay, so not all people like to be watched. Duly noted.

A change is gonna come. I’ll take the city and all its grit. For now, it’s feeling like the right decision.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

FIVE YEARS, FIVE DAYS

“DONE!” That’s how I posted it on Facebook along with this lovely photo.

It’s a far cry from how I’ve felt for the past twelve months:

done.

Depending on how you look at it, five is my lucky number. I first tried to sell the house five years ago. I was over the whole rural living experiment. Reconciled with the reality that we sometimes make bad decisions, listed the place, applied for and accepted a job back in the Vancouver area. But then the listing languished on the market. I stuck with the five-hour daily commute (there’s that number again) for three years and any sense of resiliency got worn down and wiped out.

I resigned myself to living that line from The Eagles’ “Hotel California”: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Yes, I’d completely checked out. But I was trapped. And so I changed jobs again in order to work locally. Life became less hectic, but also less of anything and everything.

Just less.

All fall I delayed putting my house up for sale. I knew I had to do it. I just wasn’t ready—not strong enough—to have my spirit further beaten down by another long, long period of showings and up-turned noses from prospective buyers.

“Pass.”

“The place needs work.”

“The front door should be a different color.”

I met with a realtor in September. She took pictures for the listing and then I sat on the idea of putting the house on the market. I spent my weekends running away to San Francisco, Seattle, Whistler and Victoria. Too busy to think about the house, I told myself.

I am a master at avoidance.

But then I texted her in late December and we agreed on a date to meet, sign the papers and list the house. No turning back.

Perhaps timing is indeed everything. Five days after the listing got posted on real estate sites, I had competing offers coming in. Out of three showings, I had two offers being presented. Each offer was rewritten, the price upped. That’s unheard of where I live. Other houses in my area continue to have For Sale signs posted. One sign three blocks away from me is now completely obstructed by overgrown shrubs. Another house owned by a senior has basically been abandoned. The market remains bleak and yet somehow I am set up for an April 1st release date.

April Fool’s Day. I still brace for the deal to fall through. I delayed posting this news. Too good to be true? But all the conditions have been removed. I have to believe it’s done. Yes, DONE!

I can look forward once more.

High fives, indeed!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

RUING THE RURAL

It’s time to give this another try. Five years ago, I decided to sell my house. I needed to escape rural life. I felt extremely isolated as a single gay man. The whole move-to-the-country notion had become a horrible, failed experiment.

But just because I’d made the decision didn’t mean that the universe would be cooperative. For twenty-two months, I went through three realtors and the house got little more than a few sniffs. Apparently it smelled bad.

I happen to live in a stagnant real estate market. The value of the house has declined in the ten years I’ve lived here. (Statistically, the decline began three months after I moved in. I’ve never had a good business sense.) I will take a loss; the only question is how big. Still, I must flee. The events of the past year have made it crystal clear that living here is literally killing me. Every day is a struggle. Turns out I am not meant to live as a hermit. I am not thriving here. It’s not even close.

So what’s next? I can’t think that far ahead. The house could languish on the market for months or, yes, years. To contemplate some other future only leads to frustration and despair. One step at a time.

Sell, baby, sell.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

EXERCISING YOUR RIGHT

January is Christmas for gym owners. That’s when all the folks with official and unofficial resolutions tour the place and pay for a new membership. It’s the month I hate the gym. The place is crowded. I have to wait for dumbbells and machines.

Come February, it’s all clear once more. The flocks have lost interest. Presumably, they’ve settled back into more familiar routines, munching on Doritos while keeping up with the Kardashians. Selfishly, I’m relieved. No more sharing in the sandbox. But deep down I wish a few more of the nobly intentioned people could make a longer go of things. No one needs to feel badly about their appearance and then feel like a failure on top of that. I know what it is like for self-esteem to take a beating. “At least you tried” is no consolation.

This is why I humbly offer my own thoughts about how to make a more successful run of striving to get in shape. Bear in mind that I have no training in kinesiology or any other fitness-related domain. No doubt, I do a lot of things wrong. But I’ve exercised regularly for the last twenty-five years in all sorts of gyms (and outdoors). I have some perspective. Here goes:

(1)    You belong. It’s difficult walking into a new gym, especially if you are out of shape. You are immersed with the regulars who can be quite territorial about “their gym”. They don’t look up. In the best of times, they grunt. They are focused on their established routines—and the incoming texts on their phones. It feels like they want to break you. They are absolutely bearish: Who’s been sitting on my bench?

Really, you simply don’t exist to them. And that can be a good thing. The most in-shape people aren’t judging you. Just watch them. If they look up, it is only to check themselves out in the mirror.
 
(2)    Step right up. January is particularly hard to elbow your way into a gym. Mondays are the worst. Many a time, I’ll walk into the gym and consider turning right around, walking out and going surfing instead. Couch surfing. Bless whoever came up with that term. Surfing is such an active way to pass time. Why distinguish?  

In its most crowded moments, the gym can look like there is no open space. It simple requires stopping and scanning. Find something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be part of your brand new routine that was created for you during that free, one-time session with a highly disinterested personal trainer. If there’s a mat, take it. Do those sit-ups you used to do in high school. Who cares if the form has since been proven to require corrective back surgery? This is for five minutes, not the next five years. Stretch if nothing else. Just identify a teensy space, mark it as yours and do something. In time, a machine or a barbell will open up. Then you can pounce on it without any residual muscle pain. You’re sufficiently stretched, after all.

(3)    Go easy. I know there are people who say that all that soreness you feel from a strenuous workout is a good thing. It’s your muscles waking up. That’s what you want. But, no, that’s not really what you want. Not at the outset. Achy muscles make it easier to skip the gym the next day. And the day after that. Before you know it, a week has passed and you’re not into the gym at all. You’re three seasons behind on “Downton Abbey” and it’s really starting to get good. Binge-watching sounds more appealing. After “Downton”, then “Dr. Who” and “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent” and, well, you can probably find the entire library of “The Beverly Hillbillies” somewhere. Jethro was awfully hunky. Nine more months pass before you have the nerve to cancel your gym membership. An expensive mistake, that’s what it all was.

I suggest beginning with shorter, easier workouts. Twenty minutes, thirty tops. Don’t be the least bit self-conscious about sharing your dumbbells with that ninety-two-year-old woman with the walker. I’ve already said it,…you belong.

You are in this for the long-term. A few impressive workouts with gawk-inducing heaving sounds isn’t going to tone your body or add muscle. You’ll only want your gym relationship annulled as your calf muscles cramp up with excruciating pain in the middle of the night. If it takes three weeks to establish a routine, then be patient. Go weak, go light for twenty-one days. Get to know the layout of the gym. Get a better understanding of how all this pseudo sweating impacts your laundry day. Discover your signature doodle in the margins of that Workout Journal you bought at the dollar store.

Only after this routine is set should you start to add on five pounds of weights and five minutes in time. Build up gradually. You won’t get to be that buzzy New Year’s resolutionist at the office who loses fifteen pounds in January, but you’ll still be working out in July when she’s regained all that weight and then some. (Poor thing, another summer with a self-imposed swimsuit ban.) Remember, this is a long-term thing. Come next January, you want to be like me and the other regulars, irked by all these naïve newbies who think a gym membership is all that’s required to get in better shape.

Best of luck to you! As cranky as I get in that first month of every year at the gym, I want to see you stick it out. I won’t dare make eye contact—I still am plagued by moments of feeling like I don’t belong—but just know that I am in that gym too and I am rooting for you.