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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

DEAD AND THEN SOME

So I faced another birthday. 51. There was a time making 50 was very much in doubt. Each extra year is a bonus even if I’m still not very appreciative. What did I do for my birthday?

First stop, the hospital. Silly follow-up appointment after dislocating my pinky playing volleyball. Another X-ray and then a hand therapy session. Then an unrelated medical appointment later in the day.

Yep, this is 51.

Used to be I could go years without seeing a doctor. Way back in the realm of thirtysomething. Really, I haven’t slowed down a bit. I’m as fit as I’ve ever been. This was just bad timing. The payoff, I suppose, was that I didn’t have to work on my birthday. Woo-hoo. Except I am not one to celebrate. Haven’t for decades. (There’s another sign of aging—I speak in terms of decades, not years. Somebody better slap me when I begin my sentences with, “I remember last century…”)  

Ever since I hit my 20s, I’ve cringed at the notion that someone would buy me dinner or a card just because the calendar makes it obligatory. I don’t even earn a free coffee with my Starbucks Rewards card on my birthday. (I chose my dog’s birthday instead.) I don’t know why this is such a thing for me. I suppose it came from a disappointing birthday long, long ago. Something I have successfully repressed. I might be able to dig it up if I cared. My second medical appointment was with my psychiatrist. I’d say he’s got some work to do!

If I’d wanted to, I could have had my boyfriend take me to dinner. But I broke up with him two days ago. It’s okay. It was a short run. Not quite a click. No reason to drag things out. I can pay for my own pizza. 51 and single. Again. (The birthday and the breakup were in no way connected. Well, maybe I accelerated to the ending so he wouldn’t splurge on a dinner only to get dumped. Wasn’t that into him, weren’t meant to be…and all that.)

One might say it is foolish to choose to be single, especially since I have craved connection. I’m too choosy. I should compromise. I am, after all, 51.

As a gay man, 51 is beyond ancient. 40 is ancient. 50 is dead. 51 then is beyond dead. I am a zombie or some other living-dead thingy. I don’t follow that genre. Being gay and irrelevant should be freeing. No more watching my weight. No more manscaping. Stop checking for ear hair. I should learn to play pinochle. Go lawn bowling. Make a scrapbook for someone else’s grandchildren.

But I’m not ready to be ancient or some living-dead creature. I’m not ready to throw in the gym towel. I still want to matter. To someone. Maybe even to myself.

The “big day” wasn’t so big. Came and went. Skipped the gym but went for a long bike ride. Admired the trees as they marked a new season. No cake when I got home. I’m not much of a baker and I’m one of those weird ones who successfully brainwashed himself to believe kale is better than cake.

I strolled the seawall after dinner. Earnest salted caramel ice cream called. A risky indulgence. But better than cake, better than kale. (The mind will only succumb to so much trickery.)

51. Made it. Now it’s up to me to make something of it.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

BUMPING AND BUMBLING

So I’m playing volleyball on Fridays. I joined a league. This is not the least bit interesting to the average reader but, to twelve-year-old me, it’s amazing. More accurately, unfathomable. Frightful. Masochistic.

It’s a gay league if that calms my twelve-year-old self a bit.

It doesn’t.

All through my years of school gym classes whenever we had that annual three-week volleyball unit, I became physically inactive. I sat on the bench. I remained on the bench. I practiced acts of chivalry, allowing all the girls—and well, yes, the guys—to go ahead of me into the rotation. It worked well for all. People who actually wanted to play got more time on court and I gave myself a primitive manicure, gnawing on cuticles and biting off hangnails. (Okay, it didn’t work out well at all for my hands, but I couldn’t just sit on them. What if a stray ball came my way and I suffered a Marcia Brady moment? I looked bad enough, fearful and scrawny, without suffering a broken nose from some unfortunate bench incident.)

On rare occasions, a teacher would make me start on the court or would shoo me off the bench. On the gym floor, I did my best to step out of the way of any approaching ball. (Why couldn’t I transfer this skill to dodgeball games?!) Stephen Kreshni said “Mine”, didn’t he? Gymnasiums have terrible acoustics. It didn’t take long for teachers to see the hopelessness of the situation. Or maybe they saw the pained look on my face as I slouched on the gym floor and stared at my still bright white running shoes. (As a kid, I don’t think I ever wore out a pair.) I went back to warming the bench. Less agony for all involved.

I’m not listening to twelve-year-old self these days. There’s plenty of distance between us. I have ten normal length fingernails and I’m not so scrawny, thank god. I’ve even done this gay volleyball league thing before, twenty years ago.

Admittedly, the first season didn’t go so well. Old insecurities resurfaced on the third night as I bumbled bump after bump and it became clear that my teammates opted for a game of Keep Away. Nothing was “mine” even when I surprised myself by calling it. I headed home that night, walking with my trademark slouch and I didn’t return for the rest of the season. Weirdly, I signed up again the next season and played a couple seasons after that. I think I was that desperate to find a date and I hated gay bars that much.

Four weeks ago, on my first night back in the same high school gym in Vancouver’s West End, I struggled with my nerves. My stomach ached, my legs wobbled and my arms tensed. My bumps soared in unanticipated directions, my blocks were mistimed pogo jumps and my sets lacked oomph. I said, “Sorry.” Over and over again. I worked up a sweat, not from physical activity, but from an outpouring of angst.

But I played on. There were no benches. There was no time off the court. I forced myself to smile after every point. And somehow I improved. Nothing miraculous, but I wasn’t the worst player in the gym. Probably not even second worst. This was a beginner league, after all, my niche in the larger gay league. I joined this year as part of my efforts to reconnect with people in Vancouver. I needed to take an active role in rebuilding some semblance of a social life. And so I have returned, attending three of the first four sessions, only missing one occasion due to a trip to Texas.

This past Friday, I was tempted to bail. It had been a stressful day of work and I had to race to complete urgent tasks before making the ferry back to Vancouver. I forced myself to go and I faked that smile again, walking into the gym late, knowing I hadn’t made any connections with the other players. I got changed and found my place on the court. On the previous week, my skills seemed to regress, but I was back to playing better, surprising my teammates who clearly had low expectations of me.

Midway through the night, I made a play that really got me noticed. It wasn’t my spiking. I didn’t suddenly switch to a dazzling overhand serve. Nor did I dive for a play and keep it in play. Someone on the other side of the net hit a wild ball—Yay! Not me!—that sailed out of bounds and looked to interrupt play on the neighboring court. I ran to retrieve the ball and I got it on time. (If only there were more running in volleyball.) Unfortunately, my left hand met the ball on the rise after it took its first bounce on the gym floor and I felt a surge of pain in my pinky finger. I’d jammed it, I thought. Game over for me for the night. Only when I glanced down, it was more than a jam; my finger was a stunted, bent-up version of its former self. Broken? Dislocated?

I held up my hand as I raced off-court to a chorus of gasps. Yeah, it looked gnarly. This was my moment to stand out. A mangled finger was not as bad as a Marcia moment, but as I gathered up my belongings in order to dash to Emergency, a crowd gathered. I started to panic. I offered full disclosure: “I faint easily. Anything medical can do it.” Now the sheen of sweat on my brow was far more troubling than anything arising from athletic ineptitude. A kind colleague called a cab and waited with me outside. A true gentleman. In my state of anxiety, I don’t know if I thanked him enough, but he embodies everything I’ve sought in trying to connect with gay men—a kinder, more compassionate soul. In those minutes, I felt a little less lonely. Through the awkwardness and the pain, I became a little more hopeful.

It only took three appearances for everyone in the beginner league to know my name. Or my nickname, at least. I’m the Finger Guy. Maybe this is the start to making some connections. But who knows when I’ll be back on court again. I am fortunate to have only dislocated it. Nothing broken. I fought back tears of gratitude when the ER doctor pulled it back into shape. Routine to him perhaps, but miraculous to me. I have to see a hand doctor tomorrow. (Is that a specialty?! Dr. Madge?) Yes, I shall return to volleyball. I am determined.

I’m thinking my twelve-year-old self, while far more timid, might have been a whole lot smarter.