Wednesday, March 30, 2016

FIRST DATE #432

 
New green tee. It’ll bring out the color of my eyes. No cologne. He could be allergic or maybe the person behind us will have sensitivities. My shirt won’t look great with a fresh spray of sneeze-phlegm. My hair needs extra attention. It’s frizzy more than curly and out of control even though I just had a haircut. Did she snip anything or were we too busy talking about books? I should get a new stylist but we’ve got a good relationship. I’d date her but, well, she’s the wrong gender. A few more razor zaps. I stare at myself in the mirror. I still see the bags under my eyes before anything else. Is that what everyone else sees? How could they not? I could blame it on a lingering jet lag, but these fleshy, saggy rings are permanent. If only I had the guts to go for Botox. It’s not quite the rah-rah send-off I want before heading out on a date. I have to settle for a diluted affirmation: This is as good as it gets.

I check the time as I exit the elevator. I’ll be right on time. A have a hunch this guy is prompt. On the street, I practice my smile on strangers. After two blank stares, I grin at my shoes. I eye a syringe resting in the crack of the sidewalk. Yes, I chose this neighborhood. When I get to the intersection closest to Revolver—a coffee snob hangout in Vancouver, nothing like the gay bar in West Hollywood—I spy a lanky guy across the street, walking toward the cafĂ©. He’s dressed in some long, draping thing, more cloak than coat, and he’s got busy sneakers—higher than high-tops the tongues the size of beaver tails. What a mess.

That’s my date. Of course it is. I consider walking on. It would be rude. How long would he sit inside? At least he’d get a great cup of coffee.

But I’m not a ditching kind of guy. I turn toward Revolver. Go. Talk. Be pleasant. At least I’ll get a great cup of coffee.

I greet him—was it a handshake, a wave, a nod? I don’t remember—and we get in line. He’s a competitive swimmer. It’s common ground. (I’m a regular swimmer, at least, with a sideways roll for a flip turn.) As I ask him about his morning workout, I notice how much I’m looking up. He’s 6’4” to my 6’1”. More than that, I gaze at very high cheekbones and pretty eyes. (In an authentic Elton moment, I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue.)

I’m suddenly nervous. And it’s warm in here. Please don’t let my green tee develop pit stains. He goes off to find seats after his cappuccino comes up minutes before my pour-over. I’m interested. And I’m all too aware there is another exit from the other room. It would serve me right if he ditched me.

But he doesn’t. We chat for the next ninety minutes. The swim talk is a surface-level thing we have in common but the conversation gets more animated as we talking about our writing projects and about favorite authors. This guy’s genuinely nice. It’s exciting to talk to someone else who is so passionate about writing. There are moments when I think he’s better than me. He’s giving Salman Rushdie a break; I’ve never even given Rushdie a chance. But we’re connecting. It’s going really well. Even a chronic doubter like myself can see that.

As we’re leaving, I notice our cups have been cleared. So engrossed in the conversation, I didn’t see it as it happened. That’s a very good sign. On the street corner, the very same one where I considered bolting, Craig says, “That was really enjoyable. I want to get together again.” I smile, and not at my shoes. We hug and go our separate ways.

It’s a promising beginning.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TAKING EXCEPTION

So London was great.

Except that it wasn’t.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed jogging along the Thames. And it was great to brush up on the theatre scene (if 2008 Tony-winning “In the Heights” counts as current—this is the place where they keep performing 400-year-old works of some dude name Billy Shakespeare). Being wholly ignored by the salespeople at Harrods, not as great, but still a kick to say I’ve been there.

But I’m home again and there isn’t an email or a text from a Ted Baker-clad gentleman, saying he wishes I were still there. No Skyping or Facetime to hear that gorgeous accent and see that sexy face. He has dimples. And thick, wavy hair.

Except he doesn’t.

My prince never appeared. No doubt he had to trek to Scotland to oversee a reno of one of his lesser castles. Terribly bad timing. But that just takes me right back to where I was. Hopelessly single in Vancouver. And still without furniture. Hello, condo. It’s an instant comedown.

And so I search for inspiration. This time I harken Taylor Swift. I shake it off. And after a YouTube detour that leads to “Teardrops on My Guitar”, “15”, “22” and the cathartic “Mean”, I find “Love Story” and get back on the hopeful track. I log on to OkCupid and Plenty of Fish and muster up a renewed sense of optimism. I’ve been gone a week, after all. Surely new local guys have decided to give online dating a whirl.

Except they haven’t.

But I try to be open. I am jetlagged but refreshed. I commit to sending one guy a message. A sign of effort. An act to delay the insufferable whining. (Yeah, I can hear myself.) I squint and scroll through the POF thumbnails generated by my wide-open search criteria—40 plus, photo, within 100 kilometres—and click on a few, quickly shouting “Oh, no!” and “Oops!” each time. This has a purpose. It reminds me that I really need to splurge and buy a new pair of glasses after losing the last ones four months ago.

After ten or fifteen minutes, I settle on one profile. An active guy, swimmer and jogger like me. He describes himself as artsy. And best of all there is not a single writing error in his profile. He even paragraphs properly. So I draft a message. I reread it. I pause to reconsider. I press send anyway. He’ll never reply.

Except he does.

Five minutes later. I’m still going through the obligatory profile search. Nobody replies that quickly. It goes against all the rules. Even for people who don’t go by rules. Too eager. Too desperate. This could be a match.

Sending my first message was all I’d committed to. I still have to unpack my suitcase. (I’m the opposite of most travelers—I cram everything in during the hour before I head to the airport and then take days after my return to get around to the unpacking. The suitcase can sit in the living room for a week. Okay, longer.) I don’t feel like drafting another message. Things can get chatty. Like text messages. And I still hate text messages. They can end so suddenly. Besides, my mind will be fresher in the morning. Perhaps I’ll throw in some witty asides. I decide to write back tomorrow.

Except I don’t.
I suck it up and send a reply to the reply. I don’t play games either. Two days later, we’re meeting for coffee. And, just like that, I’m giving Vancouver another try.

Monday, March 28, 2016

VACATION READJUSTMENT

Maybe it was when I hit the snooze button, not once but four times, on Saturday morning, a lingering jet lag as the acceptable excuse. I would end up arriving at Hyde Park twenty minutes late for the gay running group.

Perhaps it was two nights earlier after logging in to Manhunt and changing my location to Kensington only to check back and find no messages. Not even a record of profile views.

I suspect it was earlier, maybe even on the first day as I wandered in and about Harrods, realizing I wasn't registering as the new kid old man in town to, well, anyone.

Hell, the moment may have even come before taking off from YVR as I spotted two gay couples boarding and sensed quite strongly that that wasn't my lot. At least not in the foreseeable future. I tried to swat away any defeatist thinking. Your Stella moment awaits! Get your groove back! Or, if you never had it, then just get it. And, if not a full-on groove, a slight indentation. A back scratch.

Whenever it was, it was blessedly early on. Any notions of finding a prince in this land of palaces, a Mr. Right or Mr. Slightly Left of Centre evaporated along with any sighting of that notorious London fog.

Whether I view it as pessimism or realism (even self-preservation), abandoning any hope of a romantic interlude proved a good thing. Shaking off all expectations, I felt complete freedom. Isn't that how a vacation is supposed to be? No goals, no agendas. Seeing what I see. Not seeing everything else. (Oh, why would I ever want to go to a wax museum?!)  The only man I had a conversation with was a daft Scotsman who'd just witnessed a woman stumble on a raised portion of a sidewalk near Trafalgar Square. As had I. Unfortunately, he needed to debrief this exciting event and chatted me up for two long blocks as I politely nodded--in part, I struggled with his accent--before I got wise and asked for directions to a place I'd just passed. Complete U-turn and I was safely all alone once more.

A vacation for an extreme introvert like me mutes all the people, single and otherwise, and allows a closer pondering of the lone black swan in the pond at Hyde Park, of the utter nonsense of being a boy king and of the lives lost while building the fanciful Tower Bridge. I leave London still single but feeling a greater sense of inner peace.

Bloody hell. Maybe Stella got 'er groove back after all.

 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

TUBE TIME

As a kid, my first image of London was the double-decker bus. I had one as part of my Matchbox car collection. It crashed a lot. Occasionally it soared over a desktop cliff but typically it simply tipped on its side. Maybe I didn’t have the greatest imagination.

Prior to landing in London, I pictured myself hopping on big red bus after big red bus, climbing to the top. With my amazing view, there was a chance I’d spot the Queen, slipping out of Waitrose with a fresh batch of hot cross buns tucked away in her stuffy old purse.

First London selfie: Trying hard to be inconspicuous.
My plans changed shortly after landing at Heathrow. I hopped on the London Underground and snapped my first selfie as a rider sitting across from me smirked.

Bloody hell. Spot the tourist.

She could smirk all she wanted. I put my phone away and glimpsed the surprisingly unkempt yards that bordered the rail line. I don’t know where “the wrong side of the tracks” came from. It seems to me that either side—at least, immediately adjacent—is rather seedy in any city. But the trip was lovely all the same.

After checking in at my hotel, I did board a double-decker. One of those hop-on, hop-off tourist beasts that allows passengers smirk-free snapping at whatever we like. Alas, the luster wore off shortly after I secured a front window seat. Shockingly, a sizable splat of bird poop photobombed all my pics. Worse, the bus sat idle more than it moved. Being a tour bus, the route involved all of the busiest streets in central London. I abandoned the tour several blocks from Westminster Abbey, certain that I could travel faster afoot.

No more double-deckers.

And so I reverted to my new love: the Tube. I’m a geek when it comes to mass transit. I suppose it goes back to my boyhood in Hamilton, Ontario. Not long after outgrowing my accident-prone toy cars, I discovered the wonders of the city bus. It meant greater freedom, a chance to hop on for a dime—God, I’m old—and go downtown with a friend, without my parents. I was nine or ten when I started. Back then, parents didn’t worry about childhood abductions. Or maybe mine just knew I’d be returned within the hour.



The lovely thing about relying on the Tube for getting about London is that I never have to get my bearings. North, east, south, west, they’re irrelevant. Instead, my navigation is based on Piccadilly and District lines. I have no idea if I’ve traveled great distances to the far corners of the city or if I’ve simply crisscrossed the same quarters time and again.

It’s simply wonderful. When I’m not people watching, I’m staring at the straight line “map” between the windows and the ads for slimming one’s body “in just 12 weeks!” and for Gaviscon, granting welcome relief from heartburn and indigestion. It’s bonus reading, aimed at the betterment of my life. If I just heed the ads, surely I’ll be hotter and healthier!

The crowds on the Tube vary greatly. It wasn’t well populated on that initial ride from Heathrow and, truthfully, that had come as a disappointment. My geeky love of mass transit heightens when a system is well-used. There have only been a couple of times when I’ve had to stand, but that’s when I like it best. By golly, I’m a part of something!

The best ride was 4:00 Saturday afternoon when I crammed on the Piccadilly from Leicester Square to King’s Cross. I squeezed on—last possible body!—and extended my arm to grip an upper bar as bodies gently bumped into me during rougher patches on the rail.

When it came time to disembark, and after heeding that lovely caution, “Please mind the gap,” I joined swarms of people merging onto two heavenward escalators and emptying into the ultra-busy station. It all felt part of one exhilarating ride. I was giddy for a full hour afterward, with no one to exclaim, “That was fun!” Probably a good thing.

And so I know what to say when people back home ask me about the highlights of my first trip overseas. The Tower Bridge. The Tate Modern. And, sure, Buckingham Palace even if the Queen declined to invite me in for tea and hot cross buns. Frankly, though, it’s a wonder I spent any time above ground at all.

Friday, March 25, 2016

TREASURED MOMENTS OF THE SOLO TRAVELER

There are so many must-sees in London. This being my first visit, I’ve decided to cram in as many of the tourist stops as possible. It’s what people will ask about back home. Did you go to Westminster Abbey? Did you linger at Trafalgar Square? Did you see a show? These are the things you’re supposed to do. A “no” response comes off as incomplete homework. (Or, technically, away-work.)

The good thing about traveling solo is that I can pack more in. I don’t have to wait for yet another toilet stop or line up to see the Crown Jewels as part of my visit to the Tower of London. (A big diamond does nothing for me. I could Google Image it if I feel the need. But I won’t. Ever.)

There are times when I can slow down, too. I don’t have to listen to a companion’s strategic sighs as I seemingly take too long gazing at an Assyrian colossal guardian lion’s face or standing and absorbing a sense of historic awe while studying the artifacts from the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos at the British Museum. (Another great part about traveling alone is there is no one to berate my lack of direction as I spend ninety minutes circling the same area in search of the elusive British Museum! It’s uncanny how consistently wrong my lefts and rights are. Okay, this might be an argument for traveling with someone. I’d shut up and follow.)

It is at art museums where I most appreciate being on my own. I tend to dawdle in rooms that most people pass through en route to “the real art”. Sometimes I feel the stares as patrons wonder what in the world I am photographing. Really?! What does he see that I don’t? I can appreciate a Rembrandt or a Gainsborough for the fine brushwork and the meticulous details, but I tend to do so whilst suppressing a yawn. Lovely. Such a marvel. Like the Crown Jewels.

My memories of the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the Tate are of the quirkier pieces. A Dubuffet collage (“Vicissitudes”). Rebecca Horn’s “Pencil Mask”. Nam June Paik’s “Bakelite Robot”. Sometimes my fascination shifts from the art to the people. I found great joy in parking myself on a bench in a room at the Tate Modern devoted to the photographs of Simryn Gill, everyday portraits of people in her Malaysian hometown, made remarkable by the exotic fruits fitted on their heads. Many viewers smiled, even laughed, as I did, but others frowned, scrunched up their noses or scoffed and quickened their pace to move beyond such drivel. These are the people who will find greater merit in Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” simply because, wow, it’s a Picasso.

Two particular pieces at the Tate engrossed me even though, or perhaps because, they failed to dazzle. Each served as the genesis of stories in my mind as I contemplated the artist’s initial inspiration, the reactions of friends and the process for constructing the final piece. When is a work finished? Both pieces were beds of one form or another. The first one I came across was the encased “Bed” by Antony Gormley, comprised of 8,640 slices of Mother’s Pride bread and featuring double resting places fitted for the artist. I wonder if his mother was indeed proud of little Antony’s bread bed. It was a refreshing installation after touring so many elaborate and reverent memorials and sarcophagi throughout London. The second piece was “My Bed”, a 1998 creation by Tracey Emin consisting of an unmade bed with personal belongings strewn on the floor beside it. I could not help but admire its simplicity and the audacity of the artist. I have been creating a version of “My Bed” all my life. How did I overlook my own artistic flair?! Sure, Ms. Emin’s work is edgier for she has cigarette packages and empty liquor bottles on the floor whereas I would have open copies of “Entertainment Weekly”, a backpack and the packaging from a one-sitting caramel popcorn feast. If only I’d seized the moment in, say, 1997. I could have been in the Tate! Alas, now my unmade bed is simply derivative, a harkening back to a mother’s scorn rather than pride.

I am thankful that not everyone sees the merit and the amusement in the same things I do. It means I can enjoy what I like with little chance of having my view obstructed. It also means I can go to all the same tourist stops as thousands of others visiting London on the same day and still have entirely unique memories.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LOOKING IN LONDON

Anything is possible.

That’s how the vacation begins. Never mind all the worst-case scenarios. (Flying’s not really my thing.) I’ve dwelled on them aplenty. It’s the best-case possibilities that give me butterflies. And, as I’m headed for the UK, let’s call them monarch butterflies.

It wouldn’t be so bad to meet my modern-day Mr. Darcy now, would it? I am still waiting for my “When Harry Met Sally” moment, after all. No, I don’t fancy falling for some Billy Crystal type who crassly spits grapes at closed car windows. I’d just be happy to be one of those lovely couples sitting on a loveseat between Harry-Sally scenes as they recount meeting and falling in love. Perhaps my story—our story—begins in London. On a double-decker bus or reaching for the exact same tie at Harrods or listening to a busker performing in Trafalgar Square, our eyes meeting as the singer belts out a mushy lyric.

Yes, anything is possible. That’s what make all the anticipation of a trip—my first overseas!—so grand.

And, even if it doesn’t lead to Forever Love, a fling would be fine, too. I’ve seen “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”. I dig Taye Diggs. So what if the real-life situation didn’t end well for author Terry McMillan. In my book, the fact that the guy turned out to be gay is a good thing. Yes, let this be my Jamaica! (I can’t be in the sun anyway.) May I be so lucky as to meet a hunky Londoner! This is the land of princes. (Just, please, not Harry. He strikes me as a bit of a buffoon. Too much Charles, not enough Diana.)

One possibility is dashed as I take my seat on Air Canada 855, Calgary to London. I’ve seen “Up in the Air” and know all about that George Clooney character’s frequent travels. Alas, no Clooney for company on this long flight. I’ve got the window seat beside a rather large couple who have already claimed the armrests. The woman drifts off to sleep and I’m penned in, too polite to wake her up to allow my legs a stretch in the aisles.

Without Clooney, I remain decidedly single when the plane touches down at Heathrow. Yes, English gents, still available. Let the possibilities begin.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

WRITER BLOCKED

I have a dream. As I slog away with various in-progress manuscripts, I am discovered the easy way. Query-free! A reader retweets or shares a link to one of my blog posts and this gets passed on to a friend who has a cousin with a neighbor whose uncle’s new boyfriend is an agent or editor or publisher who is looking for just the kind of writer that writes my kind of blog.

No, not my kind of blog. MY blog.

Yes, through blogging and social media, I become recognized as a veritable writer. Three-book deal for starters. The advance is enough to let me take a sabbatical to write full-time. Movie rights are still being negotiated. These things get tricky. It’s hard to align Clooney’s and Spielberg’s schedules. If not Clooney, Affleck wants in. (I’d be happy to share a screenwriting credit with Ben as long as we share some time in the writers’ room. I promise not to sing this song about us.) Affleck is pushing to star and direct. And, let’s face, I’ve always been Team Ben, even during that JLo/”Gigli” period. So sorry, Steven. There will be more movies based on my writing. They’re talking about adapting some scribble of mine on a napkin from a Lebanese restaurant, summer 2014. Apparently it’s sounding more promising than studio reboots of “The Shaggy D.A.” and “BJ and the Bear”. Hurrah!

My dreams always get a bit weird. Let’s strip it down. Call it a prayer or a dream, it goes like this: Let my blog lead to an agent, an online paid position, a book. Let this passion for writing be worth something. Even without Ben Affleck, it’s an amazing dream.

There you have it. Let me be a full-fledged, full-time writer. So you can imagine my alarm when I discovered this week that an LGBTQ publisher, Dreamspinner Press, blocked me on Twitter. Me? Blocked?!

Has the dream been dashed by Dreamspinner? Maybe I can spin this Dreamspinner slight another way. Is this simply an inevitable narrowing of the field? Every publisher has its regrets. Friday afternoons when the shredder went into overdrive to clear the slush pile. The next J.K. Rowling or David Sedaris. Me!

But, while I’ve got Dreamspinner on my list of LGBTQ publishers, I don’t think I’ve submitted anything to them. I’m terrible about submitting. (Hence, this dream about being discovered through the blog.)

Did my blog offend? (Maybe it was this post or this one.)

Did I tweet something horrendous?

Maybe it was this photo:

 

Or this:

 

Oh, the shame! Perhaps I should follow Shia LaBeouf’s example:
 


Blocked. Ack!

Did someone hijack my account and then tweet my followers with one of those Spammy, virus-laden “Someone is saying nasty things about you” messages? Trust me, tweeps, I don’t spread hate. I’m too busy snapping pics of colon-friendly cookies.

Whatever I’ve done, dear Dreamspinner, I’m sorry. I’m a nice guy. And maybe, just maybe, I can write.

I shall shake off this publishing setback. Blog on! Schlep through the momentarily meandering middle section of my latest manuscript. Revise away on that young adult project I set aside two years ago. And, yes, I may have to carve out some time to punch up my query letter and research agents and editors and other publishers. That last category is suddenly minus one.

But I shall dream on as well. Maybe one of my blog readers—a particularly charming, intelligent and benevolent reader, of course—will begin that hypothetically fortuitous chain of retweets and shares of this blog, catching the attention of an eager and amazed (and astute?) editor/agent/publisher who decides I am the Must Client. Maybe my perceptive reader’s initial share will lead to one of those publishing wars that jacks six-figure deals up to seven. Maybe Affleck really wants to meet in person to discuss co-writing the screenplay adaptation. (He and Matt Damon had a tiff over, I don’t know, the other’s failure to take a stand against some egregious comment from Ricky Gervais or Judd Apatow or Donald Trump that tangentially related to one of them. They’ll eventually make amends, of course, but this is my window of opportunity.) Affleck and me. Together. For the sake of a golden writing opportunity. At least, that’s how it starts.

Hey, it’s possible. This is my dream, after all.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

LONDON CALLING

This being my first year back in Vancouver, I should stay put during my two weeks’ vacation this month. Just enjoy sleeping in and not having to take the ferry to work. Besides, I still have no furniture. My living room has a few moving boxes gathering dust and a stool. It’s a sad abode. I should save all my money and finally buy a sofa. Maybe a coffee table and an area rug, too.

Instead, I’m heading to London.

Perhaps that’s one of the perks of living on my own. I don’t have to be sensible. I don’t have to hear someone else whining about what I haven’t done to the place. It’s depressing, sure. Maybe that’s why I’m not sticking around.

I told my mother last night. (We don’t talk much.) She was excited, knowing that I’ve never gone overseas. Still, she wanted me to be vigilant. I braced for her to say something offensive about Muslims and terrorism. (She’s done it before. Again, we don’t talk much.) Instead, she warned me of pickpockets. “Like in Oliver Twist,” she said. “Yes, mother,” I said. “I’ve seen the movie. I know what Fagin looks like.” (She didn’t pick up on my sarcasm. As I said, we don’t talk much.)

Sadly, there’s some truth that the apple doesn’t far from the tree. I may not be any more evolved. My notions of England are from books and movies. The Oscar-winning musical “Oliver Twist” was my favorite movie as a kid, with “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” a close second. Dickens’ Oliver Twist remains my favorite novel. I couldn’t get enough of the Merchant-Ivory movies of the ‘80s, like “A Room with a View”, “Maurice” and “Howards End”. And I loved the Emma Thompson-penned “Sense & Sensibility”. England is a place of singing orphans, candy-concocting Oompa Loompas and very proper folk who dress in period costumes.

Oh, but I have contemporary images, too. England is the land of bumblers, from Mr. Bean to Basil Fawlty, from Mark Darcy of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to Bridget Jones of, well, you know. And then there’s Hugh Grant in most anything (including “BJD”).

It’s also the land of tennis. Wimbledon. People who play in all-white and snack on strawberries and cream between sets. I may have to pack an extra suitcase just for puffy white shirts and white sportswear. It’s important that I fit in. Nothing worse than standing out as a foreigner.

So let’s just say it would be better if I head to London with no expectations. I have a hunch I’ve got a lot to learn. Let it all begin from one of those obligatory tours on the open deck of a double-decker bus. Hopefully, there will be a stop where I can take a selfie with an Oompa Loompa. And, with a little luck, we’ll be photobombed by Mr. Bean in the midst of an epic pratfall.

This is going to be so much better than sofa shopping!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

WAVING FLAGS

Sometimes you date someone and everything feels right. Well, almost right. In the early stages, things are awkward enough as nagging questions trigger insecurities.

Should I have ordered something without garlic?

Is he even going to kiss me?

What if he’s only going out with me so he has something to blog about?!

More questions than answers. That’s part of what makes us a glorious mess on and in between the first dates. But some questions are bigger than others. Sometimes red flags pop up.

Damn flags. They are lovely at the Olympics and in parades. A particular red flag arouses pride if you’re an Albanian or Turkish patriot. But keep those flags away from the already navigationally challenging dates. A red flag screams DANGER. It’s the equivalent to the skull and crossbones on particularly potent household cleaners. Poison.

Game over.

Unless. The ever-hopeful and/or the dating-desperate try to deal with the flags. Yank ‘em. Burn ‘em. Pretend they’re not there.

My most recent attempt at dating revealed two potential red flags. The relationship did a fade-out before I had to deal with them. Alas, they are now only hypothetical reds.

The first flag appeared on our third or fourth date, a lovely movie and dinner evening. The movie had been surprisingly entertaining and our conversation flowed freely at the trendy Italian restaurant in my neighborhood. Matthew had a way of making me laugh and this occasion was no exception. But then he slipped in a stunner. “You should know I’m positive.”

Stupid me. I leaned forward in my chair, waiting for him to finish the sentence. Positive about what? About us?

He repeated himself. “I’ve been positive since 1985. But I’m on meds and undetectable.”

Oh. Okay. Sure.

I’d like to think I was immediately open and accepting. But I’ve never carried off a poker face. Theoretically, I’ve never had a problem with anyone’s HIV status. But this was no longer theoretical. This was real. This was now.

Matthew had more experience with this. Thirty years. Within a few minutes, he excused himself and went to the restroom. It gave me a moment to collect my thoughts. The news was unexpected. But not a deal breaker. I probed further when he returned, allowing him to share his story. “I’m okay with it,” I said. “I’ll just have questions to work through.”

Our dinner conversation moved on to other topics, a mix of getting-to-know-you anecdotes, questioning and humor. Matthew referred to sleep apnea and joked about some sexy apparatus he wore on his head when going to bed. (My mind flashed to Meg Ryan’s Walter in “Sleepless in Seattle”.) Fine. We’d make this amusing. But then he mentioned smoking marijuana as part of his ready-for-bed ritual.

Red flag #2.

When it comes to drugs, I’ve lived a sheltered life. I may be the only adult on the planet who has never tried pot or anything else. Never wanted to. Hate the smell of it. And I like to be in control. I want full and normal brain function. A crossword puzzle is all I need to get mellow. A rerun of “Friends is sufficient to give me the giggles. (Or this.)

On two subsequent dates, the references to marijuana came up again. I tried not to cringe. I have no desire to spend my time with a pothead. I made the mistake of falling for a cigarette smoker years ago. The nicotine, not me, was what he needed as his first and last breath each day. Any habitual smoking of any kind is a no-go.

So two red flags. Which was the bigger issue?

My friends were divided. Twenty years ago, both flags may have been deal breakers. But maybe not. Knowing someone’s HIV status, one can take the necessary safety precautions. The pot habit will always be an issue.

Not that either flag matters. As Joey from "Friends" would say, it's a moo point. Matthew couldn’t fit me in his schedule. The dating just suddenly stopped. I suppose he had a few red flags of his own.

Friday, March 4, 2016

PERSON TO PERSON

With the rise of social media and phones seemingly affixed to the palm of the hand, alarmists are quick to say that the art of meeting people face-to-face is fading. I don’t know about that. But then I’ve yet to stand on a street corner with a placard proclaiming that the world is ending on a particular date in July. Hell, I didn’t even foresee the end of “American Idol”. But it does seem that dating without any social media impetus is becoming a thing of the past. And this is cause for concern.

Around Valentine’s Day, as the Haves were posting pics of their chocolate and flower haul on Facebook and Instagram, articles popped up on the internet for the Have Nots. The basic message: doom. Dating connections that arise from online dating sites are less likely to endure than relationships that form from introductions orchestrated by friends and family or that develop simply from knowing one another in a common setting. I don’t know if any research was necessary. It makes common sense. And yet more and more people are putting their hopes on websites with a catalog of thumbnail photos of hypothetically single people who are hypothetically seeking a relationship. (You might hypothesize that this writer is a tad jaded.)

I am one of the site seekers. There is no alternative. I cannot recall the last time I had a date that did not arise from a dating website. I’m thinking it was Arnie Jones, a guy from the gym eighteen years ago. We spent six months smiling at each other across the gym floor before my friend John had had enough and made us have an awkward conversation on crowded Denman Street in July. He served as negotiator. Would you two like to go out? Yes! About time. Unfortunately, I was heading to Ontario the next day for an extended summer holiday. Arnie and I got our date at last at the end of August. A lovely dinner and conversation and a commitment to play tennis together next. Unfortunately, there was a circuit party in Vancouver over the Labor Day weekend and Arnie became smitten by a party boy from Chicago. And that was that. My difficulty in landing a second date goes way, way back.

I would love a date that arises from a chance encounter while sizing up bananas at the grocer or that results from being squeezed together during rush hour on Skytrain. It could potentially come from a ride up the elevator in my condominium. There are twenty-eight floors. You’d think there’d be an available guy or two, but no one talks in the elevator. Everyone stares at their phones, the equivalent to invisible electrical fences to keep person-to-person contact at bay. What amuses me is that we don’t get reception in our elevator. It seems there are more socially insecure people than me.

A work colleague could set me up, but my sexuality is never discussed. Everyone knows but I’m the boss in a unionized environment. People only get so close. Perhaps I could be set up with a friend of a friend. Unfortunately, my list of friends has shrunk dramatically and they’ve heard plenty of my dud and thud first dates. It is reasonable to think I am the problem. Why would they wish that on their other friends?

So, as much as I bemoan my online experiences, they are the only realistic option. Chances of success are slim. An internet article even says so! Still, I go through the motions. (Drat. The humorous kale lover on OkCupid has not responded to my message. Apparently bonding over kale quips is a longshot. Now I know.)

Sometimes, I still get hopeful. I haven’t allowed the odds against being published again to deter me from writing and dreaming. I shan’t let the odds push me out of the online dating market either. Sometimes I even buy a lottery ticket. I’m just an against all odds kind of guy.

Or maybe it’s just that I don’t know what else I’d do. That Candy Crush game thingy is out. I don’t even know how to download an app. And, truth be told, I’ve always been a bit afraid of cats. I’d suck at taking up knitting as a hobby.

Sigh.

I log in and slog on.