Thursday, March 16, 2017

A NECESSARY DATE NIGHT


My boyfriend and I hung out at a free clinic Tuesday. It’s my version of a romantic night out. Yeah, I know nothing about romance. We’d decided to get HIV tests together. My idea, my tradition.

For various reasons, the test isn’t as ominous as it once was. A positive result doesn’t bring on immediate notions of a death sentence. HIV is treatable. Thank god. The testing isn’t even as invasive. It’s a prick test to round up a few drops rather than a blood-sucking needle. I’m afraid of needles. Really, all things medical. Generally speaking, I don’t view a clinic visit as a good time. I try deep breathing before going, but it always lapses into hyperventilating.

But when I’m in a relationship, it’s one of our early dates. I’m good at discussing HIV status with a potential partner. When I was coming out, that was part of foreplay. I’ve always felt the discussion brings me closer to the other guy. Look how we can put aside carnal desire—for ten minutes, at least—and have The Talk! It’s part of an adult relationship. It builds trust. It opens the door for ongoing communication about sex. Yeah, I probably talk too much.

Trust is one thing. It’s wonderful, in fact. But there are other “facts” that can best be answered by a medical professional. While I got tested a year ago and have no reason to believe I’ve put myself at risk, there’s always that What if? I suppose it’s a whole set of questions.


   What if the test was a false-negative?

   What if they mixed up my test result?

   What if I’m that 0.03% guy who becomes positive from a not-quite medically disproven cause?

   WHAT IF I UNKNOWINGLY EXPOSE MY BOYFRIEND?


It’s the last question that would haunt me. I don’t know how the relationship would survive and I don’t know how I’d live with myself. Knowledge is indeed power. The HIV test remains the medically responsible course of action.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I got tested annually at least. I’m sure there were times when in was once every six months. Back then, HIV was a fast track to AIDS and to dillydally was considered flirting with death. The first time I ever went with someone to get test was with John, my first love. We went to a clinic in L.A. where they gave anonymous tests and, being as I was in a panicked state about the needle, I went first. John often later delighted in retelling how I reminded him of the Wicked Witch of the West as he was ushered to another testing room. Sticking out in the hall were my two feet, sporting Stan Smith sneakers instead of ruby slippers. I hadn’t fainted; they just insisted that I lie on the floor after they stabbed me with the medical implement “until you get your color back.” Or at least until I stopped whimpering. (I don’t actually have color.)

I got tested again a short time later, not because of any concern, but as a support for my friend Jay who had never been tested, was far more sexually active and whose best friend had recently been diagnosed with AIDS. Jay wasn’t terrified of the needle, just the result. So I succumbed to another stabbing—different clinic so as not to risk being turned away (“You again?!). We went back a week later with our anonymous numbers and I sat with a quiet, shaking Jay as they told him he was negative. He cried and thanked me profusely. I think this is when I began my tradition of going for ice cream after anything medical.

I’m in love for the fourth time in my life and this is the fourth partner I’ve gone together with for testing. At first, the receptionist told us that they don’t allow people to get tested together. “We can fill out a card with your result.” Date night suddenly sounded even less fun.

I went into the conference room first. It’s best that I don’t have extra time to think/snivel/beg for a teddy bear. Once inside, I cautioned the nurse as I do every medical professional. “I have a tendency to faint.” Often. “And, even when I don’t faint, I blather like an idiot. I’m a total wuss.”

“It’s okay,” said the nurse.

They always say that. They never mean it.

At least, not by the time they’re done with me.

“I was hoping my boyfriend could be with me to give me support.”

And, just like that, they made an exception and let him join me. Got what I wanted. Being a wuss has its benefits. The romance was back on!

To be sure, there was great risk in the testing experience. Not about the results. A year ago, I’d had my first chance to consider dating someone who is HIV+…undetectable. While things never became sexual—again, I bring up the conversation early—I had come to terms with figuring out how to make things work. The real risk was letting my boyfriend see just how wimpy I am when it comes to needles, talk of blood, anything graver than a hangnail.

And, yes, he saw unfiltered wimpy. I couldn’t look toward the nurse or whatever the hell they prick you with. There was far too much medical paraphernalia in that direction. Don’t ask me what. I truly didn’t look. (I once fainted during a hearing exam after glancing at a standard diagram of an ear posted on the wall.) As I signed consent forms before the test, I got sweaty and had to remove a layer. I squirmed and spun in my chair. (Good thing it had wheels.) I talked rapidly. There were a couple of times I had to fold in my forearms and crouch over.

I got pricked. No yelling, no tears. And, miraculously, my boyfriend stayed. Every time I think he’s seen me at my worst, something else pops up. Two days later, he still hasn’t come up with an excuse to back away and run. This is one hell of a good man.

By the time we were done, I realized I loved him even more, if that’s possible. We’d done this as a couple. We’d been at each other’s side to be supportive, no matter the result. I’d even borrowed his zip code—Ooh! No letters!—so the nurse could record the area where I “lived”. (A certain border guard would be most displeased.) Call it a flash forward to what may come.

By the time it was all over, I didn’t even need to celebrate with ice cream. The reward of being with my boyfriend was enough.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ALL CRIED OUT?


I’m worried. I seem to be losing my woefulness. I don’t even know the last time I said or typed woefulness. I was once hardwired in the stuff.

Don’t you remember sharing coming out stories? Some weren’t as good as others. If Kevin said, “My parents told me they always knew. We had a group hug and then my dad took me to a Backstreet Boys concert,” I was happy for Kev. Happy but a bit nauseous. And not just because that “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” song is both lame and obnoxious. His story wasn’t a story at all. It was just another example of Kev always getting what he wanted: an associate position in a top L.A. law firm; his daily fill at Sweet Lady Jane without the telltale love handles; even hunky Adrian, the step instructor from the gym whose always-to-capacity classes were more about the visuals than the L-step/grapevine combo.

I may have wanted Kevin’s life, but his stories were always too much of a good thing. True coming out required drama. Jayson’s story was far more compelling. Shunned by family, he was basically run out of Riverside and struggled to pay his rent in L.A. through early work as a bad drag queen in dives I’d never heard of.

Benny’s mother scheduled an intervention with their priest.

Jose transferred high schools.

We grew up in the No Pain, No Gain era. We came out against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis. If the 70s rhetoric about homosexuality being lumped with bestiality, pedophilia and sexual perversion served as my Introduction to Being Gay, the 80s added fear and societal redemption. My kind deserved to die. God’s wrath and all that.

When you’re shunned, reviled and repressed, you yearn to hear other stories of struggle. You commiserate, you empathize. Eventually, you muster up a few drabs of empowerment. More Twisted Sister declaring “We’re Not Gonna Take It” than BSB pleading to “Quit Playing Games”.

I felt the fear and angst of the gay teen in ABC’s “Consenting Adult”. I cried along to NBC’s “groundbreaking” AIDS movie, “An Early Frost”. (Both productions aired in 1985, the year my own coming out to my best friend was met with an abrupt distancing.) I cheered the gay kiss on “thirtysomething”, all the while getting worked up over the accompanying advertiser boycott. By the time I’d seen and videotaped an airing of “Parting Glances” on some nascent cable network, I’d developed a solid understanding that love and death went hand-in-hand. “Longtime Companion”, “Philadelphia” and “Angels in America” only confirmed this. I wept frequently for gay characters. I balled and fumed repeatedly as I read Randy Shilts’ sobering accounts of AIDS and assassination in “And the Band Played on” and “The Mayor of Castro Street.” I bought a copy of the AIDS quilt documentary “Common Threads” and it became my Lenten thorn stick which I pricked myself with whenever I felt complacent about the devastation of People Like Me. Though “The Wedding Banquet”, “The Birdcage” and “Will & Grace” brought comic reprieve, we gays were largely portrayed as a tragic lot when we weren’t otherwise case as filthy sinners.

Somehow I made it through. Well, not exactly “somehow”. I spent many a Thursday night-Friday night-Saturday night going ogle-free in West Hollywood bars. Maybe being undesirable saved my life. Still, I saw what was happening around me, if only a degree or two removed. Most of my friends were relatively ogle-free, too, but we had friends of friends who got the KS lesions and put their trust in devastating AZT treatments.

It used to be that a gay- and/or AIDS-themed production would cost me half a box of Kleenex as I extended my mourning for real and fictional characters hours, even days, after a viewing. It was a sure thing. A good cry, like listening to an Adele album or Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” or recalling beloved moments with my dearly departed schnauzers. But lately the tear ducts aren’t as reliable. I’m barely even moved.

I watched ABC’s miniseries “When We Rise”. At least, I tried. For three out of four nights, I sat down, tuned in and found myself distracted. While I started by leaving laundry tasks to commercial breaks, I got to multi-tasking as the characters quibbled on the screen about protest plans. Each night, I prematurely clicked off the Power button, promising myself that I’d watch what I missed online, including all of the third instalment. But I haven’t felt the need. Further viewing feels like homework rather than something I genuinely want to do. The production bored me. I felt nothing. Had I not had a cold, the tissue box would have gotten no attention at all.

Last night, my boyfriend and I watched “Doing Time on Maple Drive” a 1992 TV movie he’d rented on DVD through Netflix. Only one passing reference to AIDS, but it was all about the angst of coming out in a family where appearing happy meant more than being happy. I’d lived and breathed this kind of dysfunction. I expected my own younger trauma to come flooding back. Yes! A good cry. I’ve still got it.

Except I didn’t. After a key scene of family coldness, I begged my boyfriend to press pause, not so I could regain composure, but so we could wander to the kitchen to mix his homemade marionberry jam with vanilla bean and chocolate brownie gelatos. And I was still plenty full from dinner! (As an aside, it proved to be a delectable distraction, especially the vanilla-berry creation.)

Egad. What has happened to me? How have I developed an immunity to anguished gay/AIDS-themed fare? If I, as a been-there, sorta done-that gay man am indifferent, how will straight people and younger gays be entertained? How will they be informed and enlightened? Will they tune out? (It seems, in the case of “When We Rise”, they did just that.) Will they view our past with a mere shrug? Have we achieved too much too soon? How will we rise again if an erratic new government compels us?

Maybe I’m just going through a phase. I’m in love. I’m happier than I’ve been in, well, ever. Maybe I’ve got the internal melancholy button on mute. For a while. Maybe I deserve a period of boundless joy. I lived much of my life with self-hate, fueled further by the scorn of others. I’ve feared living, thinking it would bring early death. I’ve been consumed by angst. I’ve kept filters on my identity for so long that I can’t seem to shake them. My boyfriend remains a secret to my coworkers and my family. The present joy, however guarded, is most welcome.

But let me not forget. Let us not forget.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

BORDERLINE BEHAVIOR


Many of us are uncomfortable with going through customs/border checks. We say too much. We try to be the funny guy. Yesterday, a colleague of mine mentioned how she inexplicably adopted an English accent when going through the border crossing to the U.S. I, of course, jinxed myself. “I don’t get nervous. I’ve been through it all. I don’t care.”

Okay, I haven’t been through it all. No strip searches. No guard dogs, barely restrained, eyeing me as dinner. But I’ve had my car thoroughly searched, vacation plans doubted (Boise? Really?!), suitcases ransacked—and I’d been so diligent about folding everything! In 2004, I had a U.S. border guard detain me, send me to some back room at Vancouver airport and treat me like I was a criminal for having previously been a permanent resident in the U.S. who’d had the gall to move back to Canada. It seemed to be a personal affront to his daily Pledges of Allegiance in what I’m imagining was a patriotic shrine in the living/dining room of his basement apartment.

But things had been hassle-free lately. I assumed I’d ride this good streak into my On Golden Pond years as skilled officers accurately assess me as the harmless, fifty-something do-gooder that I am. (They may also see me as a regular contributor to the U.S. economy, making impulse purchases and bingeing on $4 donuts, all the while pretending that my Canadian dollar has greater value than the American nickel. (Scrutinizing my credit card statements is an exercise in masochism I choose to avoid.))

Alas, the streak ended.

I’m on a two-week vacation and, as soon as I could leave work yesterday, I bolted for the U.S. border. Seems that, even though I had to formally relinquish any right to live in that country, I keep going back whenever I have the chance. Now more than ever. The estimated wait at the Peace Arch border crossing was twenty-five minutes so I nonchalantly read magazine articles, munched on a whole wheat sesame bagel and readied for an agent to glance at my Canadian passport and wish me a nice trip. Indeed, the line in which I queued seemed to move along smoothly with only one car inspection that I could see. Probably some guy with marijuana smoke wafting in the air when he rolled down the window. Or maybe someone blaring that song from “Frozen”. Maybe a combination of the two. The driver got directed to pull over and head inside for further inquiry. Been there. I feel your pain. But I remained cheery. If it was a random questioning, I was in luck. No way I’d be sent in, too. Border agents shouldn’t be overworked.

And, cut to the chase, I didn’t get pulled over. But I drove away feeling equally, perhaps more, violated. As I drove up to the booth, my passport dangled out the window, open to the page with my photo. Yes, officer, I’m going to help move this along as quickly as possible.

“Where are you going?” he asked, stone-faced. Last time I crossed, I’d gotten the guy to smile, even joke with me. This guy—I’ll call him Barney—was all business. He’d wear the premature wrinkles on his thirty-five-year-old forehead with pride.

“Portland.” Keep it simple, I coached myself. No need to mention an excursion to the Oregon Coast as well.

“Why?”

“I’m visiting a friend.” And that’s where I messed up. Maybe Barney wasn’t just dead serious. Maybe he was having friendship issues.

“Why?” Um,…isn’t that what friends do? Poor Barney.

“For a visit.” I’m a very private person. Neither my co-workers nor my family knew more. Why would I share more with randomly named Barney?

His next question startled me more. “Do you have a significant other in Canada?”

Significant other? I didn’t feel this was part of official border training. In what way had I revealed my gayness? (To be clear, I was not playing that song from “Frozen”. I don’t even know all the words.) My calmness cracked. I was at the mercy of an authority figure and, being a gay man of a certain age, I’d grown up wary of officers. I’d heard enough about Stonewall, about bashings, about how today’s “hate crimes” were once deemed just desserts. It’s taken a lot to be open about being gay, but I still don’t always feel safe talking about it. I remember “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and there was a time when I felt that was actually progress. As good as it’d ever get.

“No,” I confessed. No significant other in Canada.

“So who’s your friend?”

What did Barney want me to say? I coughed up a name. First and last. How would that advance anything? I’ve moved past imaginary friends. For the most part.

“How’d you two meet?”

“Online.” Here, I knew I’d entered another uncomfortable realm. I believe in telling the truth, but I sure wished I could have lied on the spot. Twenty-four hours later, I still don’t have a good alternate story.

“What site?”

Oh, god. Here, I hesitated. Deep breath. Welcome to Too Much Information land.

“OkCupid.” Do people actually meet on Twitter? Or LinkedIn? At least it wasn’t Grindr, but I was red-faced and resentful enough.

“How long have you known each other?”

“A year and a half.”

“Is it serious?”

Seriously?!

I finally lied. “No. We’re just friends.” I felt disgusted with myself. I hate being so guarded with the truth.

Then Barney rambled on about not caring about the details of who I am. “I just need to know you’re not crossing the border and moving here. That’s my job.” Hmm, did the two dozen shirts hanging from the pulldown grab handle on the passenger side lead him to think I was moving? If he was going to make snap judgments about who is gay, how could he really think I’d move with so little apparel? If anything, I’d under-packed. (More possible shopping in tax-free Oregon! Another 0.3% uptick to the U.S. economy, courtesy of a Canadian who can’t distinguish between want and need.)

I assured him I had a good job to return to in Vancouver and, to repeat, my Portland companion and I were just friends.

Liar, liar!

He waved me through. Mission accomplished. On with the drive to see MY BOYFRIEND. Maybe I should even call him my partner. Yes, we’re serious.

Not that some border agent needs to know.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

BRIEFLY SPEAKING

I'm a Nasty Pig.

My underwear says so.

I thought I was worse off wearing old Fruit of the Looms with holes all along the elastic waistband. Not intentional extra hole features. I don't think Fruit of the Loom makes that kind. But I'm betting Nasty Pig does.

My Nasty Pig briefs are tame. A simple Speedo-like cut boldly coloured in red and black. According to the picture on the package, I’m supposed to look cut when I wear them. Six-pack abs. That v-line that’s sort of hot but makes me think of starving people. And, best of all, absolutely no muffin-top overhang.

The picture lies. Maybe I’m too old. (Maybe clothing should have age guidelines. That’d put me in long johns and suspenders.) Maybe I just don’t have the right body. (Why can’t I just accept that?) Maybe I’m just a plain white Fruit of the Loom guy.

It’s crushing to discover that I’m a Nasty Pig fraud. If they wanted to protect the brand, they’d have spent less time on the pouch and more time on developing a sensor tag that sounded the alarm when the wrong guy—that would be me—tried to update his underwear drawer. They should have ejected me from the men’s undies specialty shop like Willie Wonka got rid of Augustus Gloop. No fancy (under)pants for you!

Perhaps that would have been for the better. I’m unsure what to do with my Nasty Pig purchase. My momma instilled in me the importance of always wearing clean underwear, but what if I get in a car accident, I become unconscious and I’m transported to hospital and the doctors discover my scandalous Nasty Pig label? Would they refuse to operate, even if my briefs are freshly washed with Tide Mountain Spring-scented detergent? (Maybe they’d dillydally as an Instagram-addicted scrub nurse posts a pic. It’s the end of the world as we know it and it has nothing to do with the big baby in the White House.)

I’m seriously limited in when I can slip on my Piggy apparel. Can’t wear them if I plan on driving, can’t wear ‘em if I go through an airport screening. Security officials would deem me a risk for…something. I’m sure there’s some language that applies on page 152 of the manual under the heading “General Unsavoriness”. (Updated versions will specifically reference imposters sporting sexy undies under a new heading, “Missing the (Marky) Mark”.)

I can’t wear my briefs to the gym either. No way I’m revealing them in the change room. The exposed belly is enough to show I’m not worthy. Why drive the point home any further? ‘Roid boys don’t take kindly to having protein shake decision-making (Extra shots of bee pollen and Creatine?) interrupted by a fit of laughter. ‘Roid boys must conserve facial muscle movements; everything must be channeled to the biceps.

I guess I can only be a Nasty Pig in the presence of my boyfriend. Really, that’s the way it should be. I’ll try not to take offense when he quickly turns the light switch to Off. It seems he has a special sensitivity to glare. Happens when I wear my ol’ Fruit of the Looms, too.




Thursday, February 9, 2017

GHOSTS FROM DATING PAST


OK, so I'm dating. But it’s so much more than that. The connection is uncanny. I’m astounded how it continues to deepen. If I were truly social media oriented, I’d have changed my status on Facebook. Yep, James Gregory is in a relationship. But I’m neither savvy nor self-absorbed enough to think that a Friend I haven’t seen since high school graduation and a Friend who happens to be a former colleague’s ex-wife’s aunt care. (They’d rather see photos of the roasted potato broccoli pizza I ate last night.) So I share my news on an obscure blog. (This one, in case my reference isn’t obvious enough. Glad you found it as a detour on your quest to search “how to fix Trump’s hair”.)

But my non-Twitter friends don’t read my blog. They don’t know about it. I share things that are too honest, too personal for real life friends. (Being un-Friended in the real world stings too much.) For them, I go the old-fashioned route, sharing my take on “The Bachelor” and bemoaning all the shade sugar is getting these days during occasional one-on-one social encounters.

For once, I have something significant to say when a friend asks the obligatory question, “So what’s new with you?” Yep, so glad you asked!

While I’m gleefully giddy, I must do my best to tone it down when sharing the news. I’m acutely aware how sensitive one can be when chronically single. (My last relationship ended in 2004.) Sometimes I’ve felt more hopeful, even inspired, after hearing about someone else’s new love. But that’s fleeting. It always spins back to another rip in my crepe paper coat of armor. What’s wrong with me? No one will ever notice me. I’m destined to die alone. When being single seems like a state of perpetuity, it’s difficult to ignore the hole, the missing connection. Another person’s newfound love can be celebrated, but it also wounds an already fragile lonely heart.

So I proceeded with caution in sharing my news with two of my single friends. Over an afternoon coffee, I patiently let my retired teacher friend go through the motions of debriefing me on events of his life in the past few weeks. A bronchial condition. A visit from an ungrateful nephew. A tense encounter in the checkout line at Safeway. (Thirty items is not “Express”.)

Oh, the restraint! Thou shalt not blurt. How many more sad-sack anecdotes before my big news?  Alas, the weather rant came next. Yes, it’s cold and, yes, there’s snow, but it’s not raining. Isn’t that the silver lining in Vancouver? I don’t think Oprah is a jumping-the-shark moment for “60 Minutes” but I’ll nod if that helps us move on. And can’t we both agree that your building manager—whom I’ve never met—is an asshole and a lazy one at that? Was I a cup-half-empty guy too during all those years being single? Hard to recall now that my mug is overflowing.

At last, the focus turned to me. Where to start? Do I take it chronologically? How do I condense twelve hours of glorious anecdotes into five minutes?

“I met someone. I’m in love.”

Oops. I’ve been known to give away movie endings, too. But this proved to be a prudent way to share. I’d said what I needed to say, albeit not as much as I wanted to. I’m in love! I’m in love! I’m in love! My friend was then free to ask as little or as much as he wanted. And, to his credit, he asked enough to stretch out our conversation ten minutes, maybe fifteen. He smiled. He congratulated. He shared in my joy.

And then he said, “I think it’s safe to share this now.” As he searched his phone, he talked about watching an old, old (1980s?) episode of a Canadian game show I’d never heard of while he was confined to the sofa one afternoon—bronchial condition reality. It took several minutes for him to find the video he wanted so he spouted off random rules of the game show, some sort of two-against-two trivia contest with the kind of measly prize payoff that’s typical of cheap Canadian productions. (Box of Tim Hortons donuts, anyone? Maybe a baseball cap with a moose on it.) At last, the video. Two sisters competing against “friends” Tim and Fabio.

Oh, no. Ick. Tim. He was a guy who seemed gaga about me in the summer of 2014. Until he wasn’t. Chucked me like a concrete block into the ocean. Why the f*@k did I need to see the clip? Funny? I responded with a shrug and an eye roll. Five seconds and I’d seen enough. “You’ll be happy to know they lost,” my friend said. “And Fabio’s the only one who got them points.” Why would that make me happy? My new guy makes me happy. Nothing more required.

Later in the day, I picked up another single friend for dinner and, as he got in the car, he rattled off a conversational “agenda” for our meal. (He’s a lawyer, but that’s not a good enough excuse.) Items 1 and 2 were about recent trips of mine but then he added, “And then I’ve got something important I want to talk to you about.”

Naturally, I wanted to go right to what was “important”.

“You’re driving,” he said. “We can wait ‘til we get to the restaurant.” Really? Maybe my friend doesn’t know me that well. It’s only been twenty-one years, after all. But I tried to give waiting a go. As we drove, we chitchatted about the latest highs and lows of his pie pursuits. (Yep, he’s obsessed with the pastry. It’s an endless pursuit for the perfect slice. His most rhapsodic moment came from a particular pecan pie at DFW airport five years ago. Aside from a Japanese women’s church auxiliary apple pie sale one weekend each October, it’s been a disappointing quest ever since. And, no, I’m not making this up.)

Pie talk out of the way, I pressed for him to get to the important topic even though I had ten minutes of driving left. Seems he’d gotten together for dinner a few weeks ago with some friends from our past and my ex had organized the whole thing.

Ugh. My ex. A seven-year mess that began well but devolved into an abusive relationship.

My friend talked about sitting beside my ex the whole time and how nice he was. Was this the “important” news? Was my long-time friend dating my ex?! Didn’t he remember how miserable my ex made me, how much I suffered?

Then he said, “I think you two should get back together.”

Clearly, he remembered nothing. I shook my head, emphatically said no and, as luck and good travel time would have it, pulled over to drop him off to get a place in line while I parked the car. This was a bigger What-the-F*@k moment than Game Show Tim & Fabio. Here I’d suggested we get together for dinner so I could talk about a new man I loved and, first, I would have to recite a series of indignities I’d incurred with my ex. To be fair to my friend, I’d never fully spelled it out before. They’d remained in the same social circles and I didn’t need friends to take sides after the breakup. Besides, I was too ashamed of all I’d endured for so long.

While standing in the crowd in the restaurant lobby, it only took a minute of listing terrible experiences for my friend to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.” But I went on. I needed to be clear that my ex had caused real damage despite all my efforts to block and repress the vial that spewed with each left-field rage. Never again.

More apologies. My friend was mad at himself. Not his fault. Thankfully he had a pizza menu to peruse before shifting to the truly IMPORTANT topic of the night: new love, better love.

And so, after a couple of unexpected detours, I’d managed to share my news. The ghosts from dating past were most unwelcome, but they served as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’ve struggled mightily in recent years. I spiralled from alone to lonely to bleakly desolate. Somehow I rode out the worst times and survived by merely existing when that was the most I could muster. I got better—not completely but enough to feel again and enough to want to risk sharing myself with another. I’m with a man who gets me. I believe he won’t ridicule me. He makes me feel cautiously confident. He makes me want to be well and to be invested. I’m one of maybe three people on the planet who hasn’t seen a “Ghostbusters” movie of one gender focus or the other so my pop reference may be off, but I’m feeling deserving this time around, I’m experiencing things fully aware and this time I’m determined that nothing’s gonna slime me. No more being spooked by ghosts and, if I’m lucky, no more singlehood. May status reports be a thing of the past!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

MISSING MARY

The news of the death of Mary Tyler Moore has left me shaken, not because it was necessarily unexpected, but because Mary proved to be a seminal cultural pillar in my life. This post is the first in a series, "Chasing Mary", I originally published in August and September 2015 as I set out to walk through the old haunts of Minneapolis news producer Mary Richards.

Mary will continue to turn my world on with her smile. 


I suppose it began with “Sesame Street”. A crucial episode when M was the letter of the day. It helped me overcome a key sticking point in my learning. I could spout off the alphabet in a familiar singsong voice, but I’d thought the fast part in the middle, LMNOP, was the name of a single letter. Bert and Ernie et al. set me straight. That breakthrough proved huge. My phonetic awareness grew—m is for mom, m is for monkey.

What a cool letter!


And I became conscious of environmental print—my street name began with M and then there was the big yellow M for McDonald’s. But the fast food sign could not compete with the block, typeset capital M on the wall of a sitcom apartment set. M was for Mary. Was and is. Mary Richards, portrayed by MTM, Mary Tyler Moore.

There was always something about Mary. She visited my living room every Saturday night and, being as that was never a school night, I had the privilege of staying up “late” and seeing her navigate the newsroom and the homefront in a tiny apartment where everyone popped by. I got used to Mary’s place long before Jerry’s. Loopy people dropped in at will. She always had the time or was too polite to say otherwise. No wonder she remained single.

Even as an eight-year-old boy, I identified with Mary. She was my role model. Always gracious, always fighting to remain unflappable despite all that flapped around her. Mary taught me that the world was beyond my control. It was best to hold on to my convictions and greet the onslaught of oddities with a shrug and a smile.

Countless times growing up and throughout my adulthood, I’ve been deluged by other people’s problems. I am an established dumping ground. And as my own beloved Ted Baxters and Rhoda Morgenterns go on at length about a current conundrum, I find myself drifting off, if only for a moment, and saying, “Hello, Mary.”

And so it was only a matter of time before I set out to find Mary Richards. While my colleagues planned summer getaways in Italy and Nicaragua, I set my sights on Minneapolis.

I know I am no better than my eleventh grade classmate who showed up at school on a random, i.e., non-Halloween, day dressed as Darth Vader. Perhaps I am no further evolved than the four-year-old boy I recently saw in full Spiderman costume—just because—or all the little girls at Disneyworld in princess regalia. I do know Mary Richards is not real and she is certainly neither princess nor superhero; still, there is reality in her character due to the fine writing of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” staff.

I also know that the show has, as one online source described it, only a “tenuous” connection with Minneapolis. The show was always shot in a studio in L.A. But the opening and closing credits of the show solidly placed it in Minnesota’s largest city. As Sonny Curtis sang “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” we saw Mary Richards driving to town, na├»ve yet filled with aw-shucks anticipation. We saw a balcony restaurant and the opening ended with that iconic scene surrounded by pedestrians as she tossed her hat in the air, a hurrah, a Let’s-make-a-go-of-this. Indeed the optimism evolved in the theme song, with a second season lyric change from “You might just make it” to “You’re gonna make it.” After all, this was Mary Richards. Human, not superhuman. Indefatigable despite mishaps, hard-knocks and humiliations. As far as I could see things, how could one not want to make a pilgrimage to a veritable City of Hope? Yes, Minneapolis.

I will admit to waffling. I’d planned on Minneapolis last summer after feasting on Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s delightful book Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a behind-the-scenes confection about the show. Maybe “feasting” is the wrong word; I consumed the book in bite-size pieces, overjoyed with each passage, needing to set the reading aside to savor the anecdotes.

I doubted the trip. As I incurred too many expenses in the spring—a higher mortgage for a teensy Vancouver condo, car payments for a teensy new car (a Mini Cooper)—I knew the responsible thing to do would be to spend summer at home. What’s not to love about Vancouver in the summer?

But as soon as school let out, I felt restless. Minneapolis was personal business. It had been my destination since I was that eight-year-old, sitting on a sofa in the den of a brick house in Hamilton, Ontario.

I’d put off Mary long enough.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

TEMPERED EXUBERANCE

I’ve been single for most of my time living in British Columbia. There were seven and a half years when I navigated the ups and downs of coupledom and codependence, but the rest of my twenty-two years have been overpriced ready-made meals for one at Whole Foods and go-nowhere coffee interviews. (They say they want a boyfriend but they’re not hiring.)

For whatever reason, single people seem to gravitate toward single friends. We commiserate. We judge less. (Yes, it’s always his fault. What’s wrong with all of them?!) We have established routines when we get together, running through the latest false starts, bemoaning the pervasive flakiness of gay men, offering hollow words of encouragement.

Keep looking. Unless you need a break. Yes, breaks are good. They say you’ll find him when you’re not looking. Just like that American quarter I picked up on the sidewalk at 14th and Main.

You’re a catch. Really! Not for me, of course. (Let’s not get awkward.) But, yes, you deserve a break. One of these dates will finally lead to something. Besides, I heard on the radio yesterday that coffee is good for you. (It came right before the Starbucks ad.)

Single friends never make the offensive suggestions of those rogue attached friends who still sit down occasionally for a rushed get-together. (The car needed an oil change. Gotta kill forty-five minutes somehow.) Attached friends show their impatience as you launch into the first of what was supposed to be a series of anecdotes with the working title “Woes of the Single Man”. They’ve had better luck. (Yes, it has to be attributed to luck.) They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be single. They interrupt and say things your mother says before you abruptly hang up on her.

Maybe you should join a bridge club.

Maybe you should stop walking with your head down.

And then, worst of all, Maybe you’re being too picky, which to the overly sensitive, chronically single gay man translates as, “You’re not all that deserving. Settle. Lower your expectations.”

Ouch. Thank goodness for single friends.

The greatest danger to the friendship between two single people is the possibility—however remote—that one will fall into a relationship. It’s the beginning of the end. Sure, there’s initial joy. High fives. I told you it would happen. I’m so happy for you!

But it hurts. Being single suddenly feels lonelier. Maybe not all gay men are flakes. What’s wrong with me? Yep, self-pity crashes the celebration.

And your relationship status with the formerly single friend changes as his dating relationship deepens. Saturday brunch gets canceled. (“Dwayne and I are doing the Run for Vision-Impaired Peruvian Tree Frogs. And Sunday’s no good either. We’re canoodling. Have I mentioned he’s a great canoodler?”) Weeks go by. (“Dwayne’s cousin’s in town.” “Dwayne and I are going to Open Houses. You know, just for fun.” “Dwayne needs me. He has an infected toenail.” F*@king Dwayne.)

The rare get-togethers now involve seating for three and, while it’s clear The Boyfriend is the one who’s changed the dynamic, you’re the third wheel. Sometimes you’re the fifth wheel as another couple elbows its way in. (“We met at Charades Night at the community center.” Charades? Really?! When did that become more fun than a bitchfest over coffee?)

Your friend has moved on. You’ve been squeezed out. It’s time to lick your wounds, cough up that hairball and call your other single friend. The one who talks too fast, forgets to swallow as saliva builds on the sides of his mouth and makes too many connections to Pokemon characters. It’s all too clear why he’s hopelessly single. You question why you’re having coffee with him thirty seconds into his first monologue. But he’s available. No canoodling. No weekends wasted hypothetically wondering how a kitchen reno will make that overpriced townhouse in the suburbs livable. This default friendship is all Dwayne’s fault.

I’ve lost a lot of single friends to Dwaynes. We’re down to passing waves as the two of them walk their three Chihuahuas in the park and I rush to fit in a 12K run before the next Vancouver rain. (Must lose the belly blubber. Maybe then someone will notice me.) And so it is with trepidation that I’ve arranged to meet a single friend for coffee and another single friend for dinner. I have news.

I’ve found a Dwayne.

Only better, of course. Much, much better! (I stubbornly refuse to punctuate with multiple exclamation marks—it’s redundant—but picture seventy-eight of them prior to this parenthetical aside. In fact, picture them in a bubble font, with hearts replacing the dots. I’ve officially become a tenth grade girl.)

But I can’t get too excited as I tell my single friends. It’s not that I feel a need to be cautious in what I say about him. Sure, I have a clear track record of dating failure, but I’m confident this time around. I know we fit. I’m elated. I’m giddy. I have an urge to blurt, “He’s the one!”

I am eager to share my news but I’ve got to show restraint. Casually insert “kinda” and remove exclamation marks and ALL CAPS as I gush about him. He’s kinda amazing. (You have no idea how hard it is to leave the preceding italicized sentence. Sometimes understatement is tantamount to a lie.) I don’t want them to feel discouraged. I don’t want to say goodbye to my friends—we’re not really huggers—and leave them to head back to their one-bedroom apartments in that Maybe it’s me downward spiral. I can still ascribe to the pervasive flakiness of gay men. Well, most of them. The single ones, my own friends, and the fine, enlightened readers of this blog, excepted.

I won’t abandon my single friends. I won’t stop listening to their struggles and frustrations. I’ll be there when they find their own Dwayne. If ever. I’ll listen and encourage. Knowing this, I can adjust to a gradual release of all the gleeful feelings and moments of this astonishing journey with my Dwayne. (To be clear, his name is not actually Dwayne. It’s way better. Naturally.) Despite the fact I know my life is changing, I’m determined for some things to stay the same.








Sunday, January 1, 2017

GOLD DIGGING


I’ve been working out for almost three decades. I’ve belonged to nine gyms and dropped in to countless others. But I’ve never gone to Gold’s.

It’s not my kind of place. I’m muscle-lite and they’re muscle-max. We don’t mix. That’s why they have their very own gym. Keep the scrawny dudes out.

But I’m out of sorts. Vacations will do that, mostly in good ways. (Yep, I have no idea what day of the week it is.) The problem is that I have to work off my holiday donut fat—please don’t tell me you can get them all year—and my feet are blistered out from a string of jogging days. So I needed to find a gym.

Gold’s was a three-block way. Convenient. But convenience is when you need a Slurpee. (I’m trying to tell myself I never need a Slurpee.) A gym requires more thought. It’s where I’m vulnerable. Exposed chicken legs. Bad form lifting (sorta) heavy objects. Endless stream of sweat dotting my t-shirt. If I get noticed at the gym, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

No Gold.

I Googled “Venice gyms” and that damn Gold’s popped up again, along with a handful of yoga places. My official line is that yoga isn’t real exercise. In truth, I can’t do it. I was the kid who always bent his knees when having to touch his toes in kindergarten. I can’t even keep my balance doing the Hokey-Pokey.

Definitely no yoga.

So I found L.A. Urban Fitness and located it on Google Maps. Close enough. But then their website revealed it was only a store for vitamin supplements and protein powders. And downing two gallons of chocolate-banana protein smoothies won’t even begin to cure my donut gut. Even if I vomit the chalky concoction.

So I had no choice. I’d be the fool at Gold’s. I mentally rehearsed my entrance as I left the hotel. Go forth with confidence. You have every right to do your workout. Just say no to steroids. You will never see these people again.



I remained composed, even as I saw a cluster of motorcycles near the entrance. Harleys? (Is there another brand?) Gang members? Would they swarm me inside and taunt me with some aggressive bicep flexing? Okay, so I dwindled to semi-composed. I blame my parents. They instilled a fear of motorcycles and people with tattoos. (My father was an ER doctor. He’d often come home from work, sit down for dinner and gravely say, “I never want to see any of you on a motorcycle.” Maybe he’d seen dead people. Maybe he just didn’t like the noise on the commute. My mother was more concerned about ink infections and bad grooming. “Those beards! Oh, if I could just take my scissors to them.”)

I forked over my $25 drop-in fee. (That’s got to be about $400 Canadian.) My parents also taught me to get good value for my money. Now I couldn’t leave.

I immediately went to the cables. No one was on them. A coup, I thought. They’re always busy at my gym. But then I glanced around between sets. And it dawned on me. These guys don’t do cables. Free weights only, man. A few sets in, someone joined in at the lat pulldown cable beside me. A woman. With biceps twice as big as mine.

Three decades at gyms. You can do this.

I’d expected a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. Jimi Hendrix. Metallica. That guy that eats bat heads. But perhaps I was confusing steroid gyms with small town facilities. It was hard to hear the music but rap seemed to predominate. Angry. Motivational?

Sit down and shut up.

I don’t give a f*ck about nothin’.

This is me crushin’.

Shut up. Shut up.



When I finished my cable work, I couldn’t find the 65-pound barbell to do curls. Searched and searched. And then another epiphany. They don’t stock 5s. What’s the point? Increase by 10 every time. Like the big boys. (I stuck with 60. This was not the place where I wanted to scream in pain over a muscle cramp.)

Last time I was worked out in Los Angeles, it was at L.A. Fitness. They had palm trees painted on a wall. The subliminal message: If you exercise hard enough, you may be able to go to the beach and shed your turtleneck. But Gold’s doesn’t mess with subtleties. The walls were covered with photos of Speedo-clad Mr. USAs or Mr. Worlds. I may never wear a swimsuit again.

I tried not to stare at people. But I had no wifi on my phone as I didn’t want to pay international roaming charges. (Again, my parents taught me to get good value for my money. I couldn’t justify any urgency to reading about Trump’s latest tweets.) Glancing at Mr. Worlds had caused enough damage and it got boring staring at the time on my phone so I turned people watching into a little game. Like counting blue cars or state license plates, I tried to entertain myself by searching for someone scrawnier or flabbier than me. It was tougher than the New York Times Saturday crossword, but it prompted me to wander into other rooms at the gym. And I dared to look closely at a couple of muscle men. One short, stocky guy’s bald head showed off a maze of protruding veins. I wondered what a Venice fortune teller might read into his noggin. You have a long love line. But I see lots of turbulence. I mistook another bald man as wearing a blue-gray swim cap. And then I realized it was a mass coating of ink. It fascinated me. Only a square area that included his eyes, nose and mouth was tat-free. Where did he work?  What does his mother think? Does he go through extra screening at airports?

These wonderings helped pass time between sets. I grew more comfortable. I gave up the need to find someone scrawnier. I even said, “Excuse me” to a guy leaning on the leg press machine I wanted to use instead of meekly deciding to skip legs for the day. I watched as many guys worked out with a partner and yakked too long between sets. Just like at my gym. I noticed one workout buddy videotaping the other. Okay, not like my gym.

I realized these guys were possibly as messed up as I am, spending way too much time exercising. They just had more to show for it. I don’t ever want the kind of bulk where I can only fit my legs in pajama bottoms and sweatpants—not that that’s even in the realm of possibility—but I had to give a nod to the dedication of these men. They had their own goals and I’d say they were meeting them. I’m sure that some of them will never be satisfied, always comparing their bodies to someone “better”, always being hyper-focused on a millimeter of flab on the big toe or slightly asymmetrical calf muscles, but much as I like to be dismissive, they weren’t born with six-pack (twelve-pack?) abs and biceps bigger than my thighs. They achieved something.

And so did I. I spent ninety minutes in a gym with several dozen men I’d never be able to look in the eye. And I left being slightly less defensive, a tad less judgmental and a trace more connected.

I didn’t firm up my pecs or trim my tummy, but I maybe I got something more out of my Gold-en opportunity.