Sunday, April 26, 2015

COFFEE GRINDS

Got up relatively early this morning, walked a small stretch of the Vancouver seawall and wound up in a favorite bakery, enjoying a scone while writing. It’s a good start. Once I pick up my Sunday New York Times, chances of writing become slim. I become consumed.

I’m a writer with ADD. It’s a self-diagnosis. I go in short spurts, flitting from café to café. I do love a strong cup of coffee and the bustle of activity helps me feel as though I have company while working alone. (The people watching amuses, too. No telling when or how something I observe or overhear will find its way into a manuscript.)

But cafés are not just my writing hangouts. They are where I typically meet guys for that first, and usually final, meet-and-greet after an initial online dating site connection. This morning’s spot is no exception. I’ve only been at this location of the local bakery chain once, perhaps three years ago. Maybe four. Time flies when you’re working your way through the online parade of gay men professing to want a relationship. (Really, I’m not so sure what they want anymore.)

At this location, I chatted with Steve, an avid marathon runner. He showed up in running gear. No post-run sweaty smell. Perhaps he just wanted to be properly attired in case he needed to make an emergency exit. It was one of those puzzling dates—nothing overtly wrong, but something not quite right. Nice guy, but no real connection despite having surface things in common.

He didn’t flee during coffee. Instead, he escaped a week later. He messaged me to say he’d enjoyed our chat but had accepted a job in Edmonton. People don’t usually leave Vancouver for Edmonton. I blame myself. (Coincidentally, I just took a writing break and peeked at OkCupid to see who had visited my profile of late. No joke, a certain Steve in Edmonton. What timing! Apparently, things are no rosier in the land of black flies.)

It’s funny to have moldy coffee grinds from past dates all over the city. At some point business owners will appeal to city council to ban me from all establishments. Then I’ll have to learn to write on park benches or—here’s a novel idea—from my own home.

For now, I’ll try to try to push aside foggy memories of fizzled firsts and appreciate the ambience as I continue to write in dating graveyards.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

HOW GAY IS YOUR DOLLAR?

In 1991, when California Governor Pete Wilson vetoed AB 101, legislation that would have prevented California employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation, I joined the evening protests. Masses of gays, lesbians and their supporters marched up Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Hollywood. The marches lasted a few days—I stopped after that mob mentality led to a confrontation with a driver and a few protesters almost got run over—but the political activism continued. I’d grown up feeling like a sinner and a miscreant. I’d witnessed the most powerful government in the world move at a snail’s pace to address AIDS, many of its actions embarrassing response to public fear. Gay men, the group most largely impacted seemingly didn’t matter. This was the dawn of empowerment. We mattered and we would stick together.

I got my ear pierced. I slapped a pink triangle on the back of my car. I ate really bad food at gay and gay-friendly restaurants. At the next monthly meeting for volunteers who buddied with Persons with AIDS, another group member asked each of us to take out all our paper money so he could stamp it with pink triangles. The intention was to remind the public, businesses in particular, that gay dollars mattered. This became a ritual before we got into sharing about the emotional turmoil and practical needs of our AIDS buddies.  

When I moved to Vancouver, I recall a thin little phone book you could pick up at various gay establishments. It was the LGBT business directory. Basically, if you’re gay, then shop gay, support gay. Help your own community.

And so I tried.

Three times, my ex and I worked with gay realtors to assist in selling a condo and buying a house. Unfortunately, the level of service was wanting. Flakey, in fact. For subsequent real estate transactions, we switched to a fashionable Romanian straight woman and an Italian woman whose image was plastered on bus benches throughout the city. These women were more aggressive, more responsive and never batted an eyelash as my high-maintenance ex muddied each deal with peculiar demands. They got the job done.

But I didn’t recycle the LGBT Yellow Pages. When we needed to completely renovate our century-old house, we contacted business listed within. We got quotes from three gay designers/contractors. On each occasion, there was much delay in getting the proposals together. I had the feeling these guys took our business for granted. They’re gay, I’m gay. It’s a lock. (It didn’t help that two of the three were overly flirty with my exotically handsome ex. There was a blur between professionalism and their need for personal validation…or something more.) We went with other people, hygienically challenged tradesmen recommended by friends and family. Despite the best intentions, I failed to support to support The Team.

Still, I wasn’t ready to abandon the gay cause. I knew I wanted a gay doctor. One straight general practitioner in Santa Monica ended a standard checkup by saying, “I never want to see you again.” It was during the AIDS crisis and I had responded to a question by revealing I was gay. He may very well have been homophobic, but I suspect my behavior during the examination that was just as off-putting. I am a frantic patient. Even a stethoscope makes me flinch and gets me to starting rambling from nervousness. I needed a doctor who would get me…or at least tolerate me. A gay doctor seemed like a logical starting point.

At the first gym I joined upon moving to Vancouver, there was a hunky doctor that many of my friends went to as their family doctor. He was renowned for his antics on the party scene and his regular use of party drugs and steroids. I bucked at going to Doc Popular. Why would I consult this guy regarding the best decisions for my personal health?

I did stay on the gay doctor stream. I chose another gay doctor, a man whom I was told took his time with patients and might be able to handle my medically-triggered anxiety. For the most part, it has proved to be a good decision and I have stuck with him for nineteen years, even when I had to travel by ferry to see him.

Confession: I would say my doctor is far more attractive than Doc Pop. I have crushed on him all this time, but it is his calm nature and his amusement over my quirks that keep me going to him. The fact he is easy on the eyes is a bonus.

That’s all.

I swear.

I’m just doing my part to keep gay dollars in gay pockets.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

BACK TO THE BARS

God knows my internet dating attempts have yielded, well, not much of anything. So who am I to bash the bars? Being back in Vancouver, I figured I should at least get an update on the scene. While out on a late afternoon bike ride enjoying the seaside views, I stopped and texted my friend Graham to see if he wanted to go for drinks.

As it so happened, he texted back to say he was already at one of the bars with a long-term gay couple. Their idea of a night out starts at 3:30 and ends at 5:30. I passed on the suggestion that I stop by as I wasn’t about to cut short my outdoor adventure. Besides, I wasn’t bar-ready: too much daylight, too problematic bike helmet hair, too much unresolved history. (Eighteen years ago when this couple had just begun dating, I kicked them out of a party I was hosting. I’d spent hundreds on booze and food and the pretty young new boyfriend had the gall to ask for milk. If I’d been drinking milk that night, the flare-up that followed would have never been.)

Graham and I agreed to meet later at 9 p.m., still not a club-happening hour but I knew Graham, at 59, wasn’t the sort to hang around ‘til closing time. We met at a bar called Fountainhead. I don’t think it existed at the time I left Vancouver ten years ago. May have. I’d been clubbed to death—read that however you’d like; it fits—long before that.

The place was too crowded, too warm and the music blared. I knew the evening’s conversation would go something like this:

“How are you?”

“Pardon?”

“What?”

“Huh?”

I used my best charade gestures to suggest we leave.  Since when did people starting packing in a gay bar before 10:30? Has Vancouver become too mellow? I’m not being critical. In fact, I find it rather accommodating to my altered pace. I didn’t get a good look at the Fountainhead crowd. Perhaps the bar scene is now ruled by middle-agers.

We walked down Davie Street to a place I’d never been, a bar called Pumpjack. “Be warned,” Graham said. “The place makes me feel pretty.”

As we entered, the place was crowded but there appeared to be enough elbow room so that any bumps and grabs could not be shrugged off as accidental. Awesome. I can’t handle the ambiguity. Graham balked at the $5 cover charge. My party mate is a senior on a fixed budget, after all. “It’s the principle of it,” he said. “This is not a cover charge kind of place.” But there was a special event. Battle of the Bulge. Our lucky night. (The lack of an exclamation mark is intentional.)  I covered the cover and in we went.

The trek to bar and then to bar stool was entirely bump/grab/ogle-free. Clearly, the crowd wasn’t liquored up enough yet. Such a relief. I think.

Graham sipped his beer while I tried to extend the life of my bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. (I really wanted a glass of the house white but, dammit, this is not a Chablis sort of establishment.) Within half an hour, the “special event” began. Most of the patrons gathered on the dancefloor for optimal viewing. Graham and I remained on our comfy stools. “If I can’t see it from here, it’s really not much of a battle, is it?” I said. Three men entered the contest, two coaxed from the crowd and a young go-go dancer type they apparently paid to participate. Yes, our covers were going to a good cause.

To be sure, the also-rans never had a chance. A rigged affair. And yet I’m sure they can go to brunch today and regale their friends over their derring-do. “I dropped trou! On stage! You should have heard the cheers!” The highlight of a lifetime or maybe just another Saturday night. We all have our needs.

Graham and I missed the coronation. We were foolish enough to keep our conversation going throughout the special event. Still, the victor savored his victory by spending the next half hour mingling through the crowd in a jock strap and sneakers. It took the spotlight off an old guy in a kilt and chains across his chest. And, really, the spotlight did need to come off him. But perhaps I’m just sounding bitter. Without the buzz of yesteryear. Everyone was looking for his own kind of fun on a Saturday night. If it comes from a jockstrap, a kilt and chains or a Batman costume with a piggy mask—yes, this was another “face” in the crowd—so be it.

I had a nice chat with Graham from the safety of my stool against a wall. As we left, we took a detour through the dancefloor. Yes, it might have been fun to get up and boogie, shake my groove thing, maybe even laugh off some unsolicited twerking. But that’s not what I do with Graham. We sit. We talk. And then we move on.

Back on the streets. 11:30. The end of a night on the town. Research done. The bars aren’t for me. That’s no surprise. How could I grow back into something I’d long ago outgrown?

Regardless, I had a pleasant time. Progress! That’s more than I can say for the past ten years of Saturday nights in Nowhere-land. But if I want to find a man who can invest in at least two dates, I need to explore other options.

And I knew that all along. If only it were easier.

 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

(ME:) SHAKEN. (HIM:) NOT STIRRED.

They can't all be good ones. I of all people should know that. But some bad dates weigh heavier than others. Sometimes the event even makes you question yourself. That old teen angst question – "What's wrong with me?"– resurfaces.

Bad date. Bad, bad date.

If he had been rude or obnoxious, I could've handled it. I could've dismissed him. A jerk. Who wants him? But it seems that indifference is more crushing.

It started with hello. Slight nod, a formal handshake. He ordered his coffee and paid for it. I ordered mine, paid for it. (So what that it took me forty minutes in the snails’ queue over the Lions Gate Bridge to get to his area.) Not a big deal but still awkward when the barista thought he was paying for both of us.

As I waited for my coffee, he stood ten feet away, scanning messages on his iPhone. The disinterest was instantaneous. Really?! I thought. This is ridiculous.

Something pretty to look at after all.   
Unfortunately, we had arranged to grab a coffee and go for a hike. And so we went forward, out of a sense of obligation rather than any hope of a connection. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's an introvert. Maybe he just takes time to warm up. Maybe he's nervous.

But all that would just be flattering myself. No, he had no desire to be invested in the date. I did my best to create a flow to the conversation, asking him question after question. I continued to smile, nod and respond to his polite remarks. None of the questions were lobbed back my way. Not a single “What about you?” Why attempt any façade of wanting a two-way conversation?

This despite the fact that we had a number of things in common on a superficial level. We are both in the teaching profession. Both of us lived in Texas for extended periods of time. Both of us have our families still living there. We both lived in Southern California. The time frames match. We both played in the gay volleyball league in Vancouver. We know many of the same people. The conversation should have been breezy, even if neither of us felt an attraction.

Clearly, it pained him to be with me. And he was the one who initially messaged me online. Apparently seeing me in person came as an extreme disappointment. It is hard to conclude otherwise. If only I had thicker skin. After all this time and all my stand-alone first dates, I certainly should.

As we walked across a suspension bridge, he took a selfie. I offered to take his picture and he passed over his phone. Again, he did not offer the same to me. I got the sense that his selfie moment was wishful thinking.

I don't have a problem with guys not being into me. Frankly, it happens all the time. But it's jarring when somebody does not want to even carry on a cordial conversation. Nobody wants to get the sense that they are a pariah. But it's hard to shake the disdainful aloofness. By the time we made the return drive to my car, I let the time pass in silence. Why not? He’d be done with the date in five seconds. I was done after eighty minutes. I'm a slow learner.

Two blocks from my car, we were idled at a stoplight. I reached for the door handle, more than happy to escape a little early. He insisted on turning onto the side street where I was parked. A dutiful hug goodbye. And then we were both free again. Indeed, free at last.

An awkward date. An awful date. I tell myself I should shake it off. It should be easy. I had not been attracted to him when I first walked into the coffee shop, but I flashed a bright smile. Give him a chance, I thought. I did everything I could to be amiable. (I even made him laugh—presumably involuntarily—a few times.) Not every relationship arises from an instant spark. And a friendship is always possible. Or, at the very least, a pleasant exchange with someone I may never see again. Any of those options would have been fine. Sure beats being repeatedly snubbed.

I should be telling myself that he has the social problem. Still, there's that pit in my stomach, that feeling that maybe I should do the right thing and pull myself off the market. Maybe I could learn to like cats. Maybe I could master the art of knitting tea cosies.

Ack!

I need to stay positive. But this is my first date since being back in Vancouver. It feels anything but good. I should let it go. And I will. Tomorrow. But it doesn't make for a great Saturday.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

IN NAME ONLY

Okay, I have a name problem. Like the helpless Doberman some sap named Pooky. Or the gun-control pacifist unfortunately named Hunter. Or anyone name Engelbert—well, just because. I’m Rural Gay. That’s been my blog moniker since 2008. And yet I’m rural no more.

Let me restate that, with more appropriate punctuation: I’m rural no more!

I’m back in the heart of Vancouver. For various reasons, I spent my first six days in my new condo without having to go to work. I got out plenty, meeting friends for dinners, going to the gym, trying out cafés, grocery shopping, clothes shopping, popping in the hardware store. Not once did I have to use my car. I didn’t even take mass transit. Everything was in walking distance. Everything.

I’ve satisfied my immediate urban fix and it feels good. Still, there’s work to do. After ten years away, my friendship pool is seriously depleted. It’s not quite at the California drought level, but it’s not all that healthy either. Aside from the two dinners, I spent that six-day span entirely on my own. Conversations were limited to “Thank you” and “Have a nice day” courtesies that I said to baristas. Some even responded in kind. I am a solitary man who has grown even more solitary by default. It’s become too comfortable.

 
I have to break my rural ways. In essence I am now Rural Gay in Recovery.

Challenges remain. There’s still that pesky D word. Depression. It’s not the kind of thing you can just run away from. Indeed, I experienced flashes of it at completely random moments during my extended weekend. And then there’s a more basic issue. My urban time is compromised. While I’ve moved my residence, I haven’t changed jobs. Thus, I’m back to commuting by ferry on a daily basis. My work continues to be in the rural area where I lived. The commute is two hours in the morning, two hours in the evening. Quality urban time must wait for weekends.

Still, there are possibilities once more. And that’s enough to savor for now.

Monday, April 6, 2015

GUILT ON WHEELS

                          Not really me.
I’ve let myself go. For three weeks and counting, I haven’t swam laps, I’ve run only half as often and gym workouts only dot instead of fill the calendar. Most guys would still find the routine satisfactory. But most guys aren’t fanatical about body image. Not, at least, once they’ve hit fifty. They’ve accepted, even embraced a little belly flab.

I am verging on distraught. But it’s still only verging. And so getting serious about shedding three pounds gets postponed another day. I’m still in my first week living back in Vancouver after a decade detour in rural isolation. I can’t be too hard on myself for succumbing to some of the evil lures of the big city. Not yet.

I walked across the Cambie Street Bridge, intent on buying a bike lock and a petite trash can for my teensy condo. Unfortunately, I know the city too well. My walk gave me time to think. And it gave my stomach a chance to be heard. Loud growls. Clear signs of rebellion over the plan to skip breakfast. I remembered that a favorite Jewish bakery is only a block away from the hardware store. Suddenly, the thought of buying a cinnamon bun seemed more pleasurable, more urgent than picking up a trash can.

Yep, I caved.

But Vancouver is one of those crazy West Coast cities where fitness is a religion. As I sat down and let the buttery goodness of my treat melt on my tongue, a jogger passed in a fully coordinated outfit from Vancouver’s own, Lululemon. I shamefully looked away. Be one with the bun. Enjoy your indulgence. And then, five cyclists pulled up. For a moment, I thought they were coming in, seeking a logical reward for all that pedaling. But, no. They were just waiting for the light to turn green.

The fitness parade continued. In the short time it took me to devour my supersized sin-amon bun, two dozen cyclists rolled by. The freakin’ bakery is sitting at the intersection of two bike route streets! Foul!

I almost lost my appetite. I almost stopped two-thirds the way through. Almost. I can tell you that the bun didn’t taste nearly so good by the end. My stomach stopped growling, but now it feels loaded down. Ever the malcontent. I’ll blame the bikers rather than my general intolerance for excessive sugar. It’s easier that way.

And now I’ve got to go get that bike lock (and trash can). I’ve got miles to pedal this afternoon. Haven’t planned my route just yet, but I will steer clear of a certain bakery. Why ruin another fitness avoider’s day? Let him eat his rugolehs and Babkas without eyeing one more fitness disciple trying to get back in gear.

And, as much as I think I know Vancouver, I’d better find another hardware store.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: "HOW WILL I KNOW"

The café where I’ve been writing before work each morning is on an ‘80s music kick. INXS, Belinda Carlisle, Madness. (Madness!) One particular song triggers today’s Throwback Thursday post.

The song is “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. It always takes me back to one moment in time—1986, Bedford, Texas, a nondescript urban pit stop between Dallas and Fort Worth. I’d just graduated from university and landed my first teaching job at a private special education school, working alongside nuns and bitter, abrasive divorced women. Obviously, there was no chance for dating in the workplace.

Not that I would have turned any heads back then. As special education students were entitled to remain in school until they were 21, several of my students were older than me. I grew a scraggly mustache as a feeble attempt to distract from my continuing battle with adolescent acne and to give myself some semblance of being a man despite my scrawny body. (Had it been a different era, strangers would have approached me for selfie snaps to post on Facebook with remarks like, “Stickman Lives!”)

I had a one-bedroom apartment in Bedford and I thought I was living the glamorous life. My parents hauled my old bed from East Texas and I furnished the living room/dining room with two bean bags and a card table. I was independent and intent on succeeding in my career, in dating and in all things that come with being an adult. I was Mary Richards, only a different gender, different job and in a location far less exciting than Minneapolis.

At least I had a vivid imagination.

Oh, and my living room also had my prized possession: a stereo system, complete with turntable, receiver and tape deck all neatly stacked on the black shelves of a stereo cabinet with the magnetic glass door that both protected and showed off all that hi-tech glory.

As my friends lived in Fort Worth, it was hard to coax them to drive out to a sleepy Bedford midweek. That gave me plenty of time to slouch in my bean bag and belt out my duet version of “Saving All My Love for You” with Whitney. She and I were a formidable duo, the next Peaches & Herb. (Based on my horrendously off-key singing voice, I should have shut up and played an air keyboard, aspiring for Whit and I to be the next Captain & Tennille instead.)

Whitney and I sang the heck out of that entire debut album. Sometimes I’d have the good sense to be quiet and just listen to her gloriously pure voice, but more often she’d entice me to join in. The songs spoke to me. Sort of. I had no frame of reference for “You Give Good Love”. The closest I’d gotten to any kind of experience was when I got stuck having to make out with a very drunk girl during my first year in university. I was relieved when she threw up on my bed before she ever took off her bra. (God knows, I wasn’t going to fiddle with the clip or whatever it was that kept it in place.) I’d spent the rest of university declaring that I was “voluntarily celibate” and failing to disclose anything more despite the persistent questioning of my psych-major roommate. “Good Love”? Not a clue.

But, again, I had a vivid imagination. I was sure it had something to do with going out for ice cream.

I drew more personal connections to the hopeful and pining songs on “Whitney Houston”. Sure, I was saving all my love for someone. (Please don’t let it be some side affair. I deserved better. Whitney deserved better.) While I felt the pain and helplessness of “Saving All My Love for You”, another tune made me gleefully hopeful. The uptempo arrangement of “How Will I Know” awakened excited butterflies inside me. It compelled me to roll out of my body-sucking bean bag and dance around the apartment, only stopping momentarily to check for bruising each time I smashed into the card table. (My dancing and coordination matched my singing abilities.)

My clearest and happiest connection to “How Will I Know” comes from a weekly stop at the local Tom Thumb grocery store. I had to stock up on a bagged loaf of Mrs. Baird’s bread, smooth peanut butter and no-name boxes of mac ‘n’ cheese. (The private school paid 40% less than public school salaries. I took a vow of poverty alongside Sister Herman Marie.) I queued for the express checkout and, thankfully, there was a bit of a wait. In an instant, I’d fallen for the grocery clerk. He had wavy light brown hair, long in top and closely cropped at the back. As he intently scanned soup cans of a shopper ahead of me, I had the opportunity to stare and to pine. Such a pretty face. From my recollection, it was entirely zit free. How could that not instill lust and envy? His lips were soft and full. So kissable.

When it was my turn to check out, he looked up and I glimpsed his blue eyes. “Hi,” he said. I wanted to extend the opportunity to connect so I went with the two-syllable “Hello.” But, alas, I couldn’t come up with anything else. I felt sweat coating my forehead. I kept my arms tight at my side to conceal the growing pit stains. My social awkwardness was even greater way back then.

With his head down, I gazed at that hair. It was TV-commercial shiny and bouncy. Must use Pert. Or Jhirmack. He was done scanning before I was. As he announced the total, I fumbled the pen I was using to write a check/cheque. (Remember paying for everything with checks? Why use cash?) After I retrieved the pen off the floor, I rushed to fill in the check, feeling the annoyance of the customers behind me. Clearly, they did not see this for the momentous occasion that it was.

In my rush, my penmanship faltered. (Mrs. Martindale, my fifth grade teacher always felt my cursive was subpar. Too much of that lefty slant.) I wrote “Sexteen” instead of “Sixteen”. Check/Cheque flirting, the obvious precursor to sexting. Did he notice? I couldn’t look up. I had an “e” to alter. Big dot on top, lots of ink shading in that hooped space. I handed it over. He briefly eyed the front and remained stoic as he jotted down my driver’s license/licence info on the back of the check/cheque. A true pro. Alas.

I retreated to my car, feeling humiliated and exhilarated at the same time. I’m with the grocery clerk! I wiped by brow down with a hand towel. (I was always prepared. Everything embarrassed me. Everything induced unwanted sweating. And I needed to do what I could to abate the acne affliction.) I turned the ignition and Whitney soothed me while masterfully extending that state of excited confusion. “How Will I Know”? Indeed.

In the remaining months I lived in Bedford, I found myself making excuses to pop by Tom Thumb. Why buy a week’s work of no-name mac ‘n’ cheese? Surely, it’s fresher if I get it and make it that same day. And maybe I should make another run for a bottle of Jhirmack. Recommended by Victoria Principal and the grocery god.

I always glanced at the checkout lines as soon as I stepped in the store. Caught my guy on his shift a couple more times. Always chose his line. I was still an awkward, perspiring mess, but I kept composed enough to hold the pen. (Too firm of a grip, Mrs. Martindale would have said.) Sadly, the way he checked me out and the way I checked him out never meshed.

Grocery god sightings ceased altogether after two months. Hope faded. I came to realize that love had nothing to do with ice cream. No, Häagen-Dazs was all about solace. Pleasure for one. I could spoon to the bottom of the pint with Whitney understanding my woes and remaining my steadfast duet partner. Hearing “How Will I Know” again, I only wish I could link the song to some other guy. Oh, how I wanna dance with somebody who loves me.

He doesn’t even have to be a grocery clerk.