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.  






Monday, December 26, 2016

BYE GEORGE

This is feeling like a trend. Bowie. Prince. And now George Michael. I’d add Natalie Cole to the list as well. (I’m just glad Joni Mitchell seems to have pulled through.) So now it’s time to end the trend. Let passing away be passé. Lionel Richie, Madonna, Phil Collins, you’ve got to live until you’re ancient. No one will remember you. Except other ancient folks and, when these other ancients reminisce about you dancing on the ceiling and pretending cones were your breasts, the young ‘uns will just think they’re having a delusional moment. Morphine and memory challenges will do that.


But back to George. His death may not come as a surprise. He’s had problems over the years. Maybe he was never supposed to have the spotlight solely on him. Maybe Andrew Ridgeley served a purpose after all. I think the Brits followed his problems more than those of us on the other side of the water. Here, he went from scandalous to a joke to obscure. We moved on. This is the land where we need to know about parking tickets issued to neighbors of fifth cousins of those Kardashian sisters. (Don’t ask me to name them. I’ll only sidetrack you with an analysis of Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Inception”. You won’t be able to argue. But we’ll go back to normal talk, disparaging Starbucks while nonetheless slurping down our caramel mocha half-sweet non-fat frappuccinos.)

See what I’m doing? I’m straying. Because I’m not sure what to make of George’s death. I didn’t know him. I wasn’t part of his circle of friends. I wasn’t even a neighbor of a fifth cousin. I never had a backstage pass to allow me to forever tell every acquaintance my one takeaway: He said hi—well, not to me, but to a hotter looking guy beside me—and I swear he had a distinct scent of green tea, scotch and pot on his breath. (Or maybe it was just Hubba Bubba watermelon.) No, all I knew was the George of MTV and awards shows and of one particular cassette that I’ll always consider a classic. (If only I could play it. Bought it twice as all that damn ribbon had a tendency to unravel in my car radio system.)

I got much more from George than the nickel he got from me in royalties. I had a little crush on that handsome, blond-streaked bopper who first emerged looking way too happy in a CHOOSE LIFE t-shirt. At the time, I thought Wham! was another one-hit wonder. Like Kajagoogoo. And Haircut One Hundred. Oh, those pretty pretty Brit boys. George’s debut act—was it even a band?—didn’t deserve continued success, not with an exclamation mark in its name (just wrong!) and an odd song with a “Go Go” tagged on the end. (Another tangent: I always thought Jane Wiedlin should’ve had as much solo success as Belinda Carlisle.)

But Wham! lived on because the lead singer had more than good looks; he had a voice. And despite “Everything She Wants” and the solo hit “I Want Your Sex”, I always felt there was a sensitive man wanting to emerge, wanting vocals to matter in the pre-Adele era. “Careless Whisper” gave us a window to something greater. I always felt “A Different Corner” and “Jesus to a Child” would never have been released as singles if George had been a lesser pop star.

I will admit that I enjoyed seeing him shake his stuff in those faded jeans in the “Faith” video as much as anyone else. And I enjoyed all the gay chatter. Is he?! But what about Brooke Shields? He was a master at feeding us an infectious hook, from the dopey “I’m Your Man” to the slick “Fastlove”, from the cheery “Freedom” with Wham! to my favorite single, his solo “Freedom ‘90”. These were the songs I danced to in gay clubs between Madonna, Janet Jackson and Bananarama videos. George gave us a good time. Over and over again.

But he went from pop icon to artist with the release of “Listen without Prejudice, Volume 1”. “Praying for Time” haunted against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis. The song begins with a plea for charity but ends in the kind of uncertainty that fit the period:

It's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time.



“Freedom ‘90” represented an artistic shift in its absence of the singer in the video, something that must have given record execs ulcers even as they dropped hundreds of thousands into a delicious fashion video with the supermodels of the day. (My roommates were obsessed with models at the time and we argued playfully (?) over which model was supreme. Being the prideful Canadian, I always went with Team Linda.) Behind the gloss of the video and the groove of the music, the lyrics begged for us to see George as he truly was:

Heaven knows I was just a young boy,
Didn't know what I wanted to be.
I was every little hungry schoolgirl's pride and joy,
And I guess it was enough for me….


But, today, the way I play the game is not the same;
No way.
Think I'm gonna get me some happy.
I think there's something you should know.
I think it's time I told you so.
There's something deep inside of me.
There's someone else I've got to be.

But nobody—other than the gays—wanted George to be anything different. And, really, George already had the gays in his denim pocket. I’ll always believe “Listen” was grounded in a real relationship with a man but no one wanted to see that. Or maybe I wanted to see that too much.

The album didn’t get the sales or the recognition it deserved, perhaps because its songs demanded that the listener actually think, perhaps because he didn’t want his ass or even his face to be a part of the promotion, perhaps because his record label wanted to teach him a thing or two about corporate conformity.

When news broke of George propositioning an undercover police officer in a Beverly Hills park bathroom, I took perverse pleasure, not in seeing a star humiliated—at least not that much—but in finally having confirmation that Georgie Boy was one of us. Hell, he could be mine! If only he’d look beyond urinals or bathroom stalls in public restrooms. (I don’t have a clue where exactly the propositioning occurs. I’m more concerned with there being soap and a hand dryer that works even just a little. (They never work beyond “just a little”, do they?))

I’ve read that George never embraced his coming out. He didn’t want to be the trailblazer. And who can blame him. His career in North America dried up after the bathroom incident. No more U.S. charting singles, even with the buzz-generating “Outside” video. Sam Smith et al. have no idea what homophobia was like back in 1998, particularly for an artist whose sexy looks were part of the draw.

And so a mega-star with ten Number 1s and twenty-three Top 40 singles flamed out. But I continued to have my “Listen Without Prejudice” binges. It was part of the soundtrack to many of my road trips and, just two weeks ago, I spent a Saturday night playing my own George Michael marathon, even discovering a new gem, his Rufus Wainwright cover, “Going to a Town”. Admittedly, I have less than stellar weekends, but there was renewed joy and appreciation in listening to the man sing.

We’ll always have that. It’s unlikely that he would have had any kind of musical resurgence. The real tragedy is for those who knew him personally. I don’t know how he died but I hope it wasn’t at the hand of one of his demons: drugs, depression or a combination of the two. George Michael helped define my days of coming out and the years that followed. He added feel good moments to the process. I’m not sure he ever gave as much to himself.

I’m still listening, George. Without prejudice, but for now with great lament.  






Tuesday, December 13, 2016

THE OUTING SHRUG (aka THIS IS WILLIAM)


Oh, how the times have changed. It used to be that a “Yep, I’m gay” moment for a TV character was an end-of-episode shocker. (Sadly, Ellen lost its funny after the big reveal. Suddenly the sitcom had a responsibility beyond making people laugh.) There was a time when a show created extra characters for the sole purpose of filming a kiss between two men and risking an advertising boycott. (I loved thirtysomething!) That was a safer way to play the gay card. These random characters could be written off after the Very Special Episode. (On thirtysomething, the characters Peter and Russell appeared in four episodes each, only two together. Financial losses from the gay kiss on thirtysomething had a chilling effect on televised displays of affection. On Will & Grace, the first kiss between Will and a date did not come until the third season.)

A character’s gayness can still be a source of dramatic tension (Empire) and some misguided plot points. (What do you mean Jamal slept with Alicia Keys?!) But we’ve moved on. Gay TV characters can exist safely beyond the set of Will and Grace (and Jack and Karen). They can reveal themselves and expect little more than a shrug or a half-raised eyebrow. My god, their coming out moment doesn’t even take us to commercial. The viewer doesn’t need to catch his breath. The surprise is not dramatic enough.

Such was the case when we learned that Randall’s biological father, William, is gay (or bisexual) on last week’s airing of This Is Us. Sure, that’s news. The fact William has a thirty-six-year-old son tells us he had sex with a woman at least once. (I’m proud of that “C+” I got in Sex Ed.) I had not thought William was gay. I made an assumption that I’m sure 100% of the viewers made. I hadn’t thought much about William’s life beyond Randall’s house. Really, my one persistent worry was, Who’s taking care of his cat? Adding an unexpected character element didn’t so much as shock as open up another story line. It merely gave William something to do other than show mild discomfort over stomach cancer and spout words of wisdom about accepting your slice of pie. Now he has a life-before-(and-beyond)-the-Pearsons.

If anything, my only reticence in the William Is Gay (or Bisexual) revelation was that his (ex?) partner aired his grievances over being abandoned in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It was a semi-cryptic public shaming. While Jessie may be bitter and feel jilted, his speech gave me a bad first impression. Don’t accuse William of being indirect in abandoning you and then be indirectly confrontational in return. Maybe I’m just overprotective of soft-spoken, kind-hearted, life-of-hard-knocks William. He’s a poet. He was denied connection to his son by Mama Bear Rebecca. He’s got a terminal disease. Kid gloves, Jessie. I don’t want to see William on his deathbed this season. (I just might have donated to the Canadian Cancer Society to try to save a fictional character.)

I can get past Jessie’s poor form at the N.A. meeting. I didn’t have anything invested in him to start with. As he made is grand speech, I didn’t yet know what the point was of this seemingly random Narcotics Anonymous heckler. My mind even wandered to wondering if Kate’s Weight Watchers group might meet down the hall in the same building. Maybe she and William could carpool next time. (Anything to give Kate more screen time…with a character that doesn’t give a crap about her weight.)

So William is gay (or bisexual). I greeted the news without the “hooray” of old. Been there, done that. More of a restrained “oh” followed by a pensive “hmmm”. I do look forward to seeing how William navigates his numbered days between his newfound family and Jessie. Let the drama play out as messed up and endearingly as the rest of the story lines. Let William be a fully realized character. Let him deal with more of the dysfunction that is indeed life.




Friday, November 18, 2016

A TARNISHED JEWEL


I picked this place. Not once but twice. And it’s not a wholly irrational decision. After all, Vancouver is beautiful. It consistently makes top ten lists for world’s best cities. Usually it’s number one in North America unless you count affordability. A trivial factor, right? Just peek out from under your umbrella and look at the mountains as you amble along the seaside walkways and get passed by Lululemon-uniformed joggers pretending sun is overrated. Our license plates say, “Beautiful British Columbia,” an intentional act of brainwashing as we wait through a succession of ill-timed red lights in a city that refused to build a highway.

And when I returned to Vancouver, I specifically chose my neighborhood. It was a matter of convenience in that I still faced a major commute and needed to be near a particular transit line. I’m in a central location, mere blocks from the sports arenas, parks, the water and the oldest parts of the city in Chinatown and Gastown. It’s a vibrant scene, peppered with trendy businesses. But even at surface level, all is not bliss. I am adjacent to the poorest part of Vancouver and the most troubled place in the country, an area bursting with people struggling with homelessness, drug addiction and untreated (or undertreated) mental health issues.

A block from home
Most of the time, that’s a part I like. Reality in Pleasantville. I chose this area because I’m a do-gooder by nature, a naïve liberal who has in the past spouted off all sorts of cures for the struggles of the less fortunate based on a reading of a few newspaper articles, a free lecture at the library and some documentary downloaded online. I’m done with being naïve. I know there is much more that I don’t know than that thimble of insight I’ve gained from hearing a few interviews and digesting statistics in colorful pie charts.

This morning, as I walked to a local café to write, I cut through an alley littered with the discards from a shooting up session. Heroin? FentanyI? I confess, I don’t have a clue how you consume either. And I still have no idea when to call for medical attention. Is it when I pass a person who is semi-catatonic? Because I see that an awful lot and everyone just steps around them.

I emerged onto a sidewalk where a young woman berated a pigeon. Seriously. It was all-out harassment as she ridiculed its “rude voicebox” and followed as it pattered in semicircles on the concrete. The bird appeared unflappable but it must have wondered how much more of a dance it had to do for a handful of breadcrumbs. A half-block later, a man seized on the opportunity to manipulate some premature festive goodwill, wishing me “Happy holidays” as an icebreaker to “Spare some change?” I walked on and overheard a brief exchange between a customer exiting a Chinese bakery and a man sprawled on the sidewalk. Was the patron ridiculing the man? Or was this some sort of happy banter after the patron had perhaps done better than me and parted with a quarter or two?   

In a year and a half in this neighborhood, I confess that I haven’t learned much. I’ve gained a clear sense that there is absolutely nothing to fear here. We coexist. Parallel societies. Aside from the gentle requests for money, we don’t interact. I’m a Have here. The Have-Nots don’t even see me. I’m not prey. I am nothing. There is a social fabric amongst the Have-Nots. It’s genuine. In fact, they seem better connected than the rest of us in this pristine city which is routinely regarded as a tough place to connect. (Maybe we’re too busy staring at mountains.)

I don’t have any clearer idea for how to foster positive change. Only a few surface-level improvements. More trash cans, emptied more often. The Give a hoot, don’t pollute message never made it here. There are too many more pressing needs. Social and environmental responsibility are not the focus of day-to-day survival. Of course, the garbage improvement makes things better for me, not them.

But I think everyone can agree on more bathrooms. I smell urine as I pass alleys. At this very moment as I type, a man is pissing against a wall behind a telephone pole across the street from the café. The restrooms are locked in many of the local establishments. You have to be a paying customer. You have to ask for a key or a combination. (I hate handling these keys. I know too well that there are many soap-averse paying folks.) I’ve seen arguments between shop owners and the downtrodden. And I get it. I’ve heard two homeless people having sex in a café bathroom—sex should be a basic right, shouldn’t it?—before employees and an apparently bloated customer started banging on the door. I’ve seen another person doing an impromptu laundry load with liquid soap in another café sink. And, yes, I’ve noticed syringes on the bathroom floor.

But where do they go? Can’t there be a shred of dignity in a blatantly undignified existence? Whoops, that’s my naïve liberal voice creeping back in. All I know is the few public bathrooms that do exist cannot meet the needs of all the people here who have no other options. Don’t we all deserve a few private moments for whatever reason? Despite our progressive-sounding mayor, this city, the provincial government and the federal government don’t have the will to handle the influx of desperate people, many of whom migrated to the West Coast from colder, even less hospitable environments. So much time gets sucked up by jurisdictional buck passing.

And I continue to spin in place, ever aware of my ignorance, ever hopeful that I should come upon an epiphany. I’m fortunate that it’s in my backyard. There is no chance for change if we strive for NIMBY-thinking—out of sight, out of mind. Please don’t let me ever come to accept things as they are. This too is Vancouver.




Saturday, November 12, 2016

ET TU?


What now?

Yes, I was wholly disturbed and disheartened by Tuesday’s election result in the U.S. What seemed a novelty to the press and the public sixteen months ago actually came to be. Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. How did a country that endorsed Barack Obama for two terms turn to Trump as his successor? How did a hate-spewing and hate-sanctioning egotistical billionaire become the answer for people who felt they didn’t have a voice in government? As a Trump presidency looked more and more like a reality on Tuesday night, I tweeted, “I can’t cope.” Still can’t.

But something more personally disheartening came to light Wednesday morning. I scrolled through Facebook posts, knowing that many of my American friends would be despondent. I wanted to commiserate and perhaps offer something hopeful. At least you’re in a blue state. Hillary got more votes. Red cups are coming to Starbucks. To be sure, there were many people to try to console.

There was the predictable post from my Baptist sister-in-law, praising God for the Republican triumph. I do my best to ignore whatever she writes. She’s too far gone. (She’d say the same of me.) And my mother, a self-declared “independent” who has never voted Democrat but sat out the vote for the first time ever, expressed relief that Hillary would not have a national stage to bash cookie-baking, stay-at-home moms. Apparently some anti-cookie Clinton comment made two decades ago is the closest my mother has ever come to having her identity bashed.

But then I glimpsed a post from a friend in Dallas. I had to read it three times, certain that I’d misread it due to my sleepless night.

Living through amazing history. A beautiful day and warmth in my heart.

America you continue to surprise. Here we go. About to Make America

Great Again!

I do have a few friends from my days in Texas who are clearly Republican. We went to high school or university together. We have the past, if not the future, in common. But I got to know Ben while working in a department store part-time as I had to supplement a then-paltry teacher’s salary from a private school (since I couldn’t work in public school without declaring an intent to become an American citizen). Ben was far more social than I was and he invited me along with other “sales associates” to restaurants after work. Eventually, Ben got me to join him and a smaller group of his friends at clubs. Gay clubs. Yes, despite my being firmly settled in the closet—it seemed the safer option in Texas—Ben figured me out. He was one of my first gay friends.

And now this. How did my eternally optimistic, treat-everyone-with-kindness pal become an apparently rabid Trump fan? It’s more baffling, given that he is Mexican-American and has an immigrant boyfriend from Vietnam. I’m stumped.

I’m aware that people can have differing views, on religion, on politics, on whether pineapple belongs on pizza. (It doesn’t.) I’ve known about Log Cabin Republicans, gay men who align with The Other Side. Okay, I’ve at least heard they exist, like alien life forms, Rob Schneider fans and The Great Pumpkin. And I thought this was the year that even gay Republicans couldn’t endorse their party’s candidate.

So what did Ben see that the rest of us didn’t? How can anyone whose identity has been bashed by hate while growing up set aside the vile Trump so easily spewed and condoned? How can any other issue trump human dignity? I’m not ready to ask. Frankly, there was a moment when I thought I’d have to “unfriend” Ben. I don’t seem to know him anymore. And, really, I don’t. Haven’t seen him since he flew from Dallas and I flew from L.A. to meet in Seattle in 1992. Time passes but what about core values? I may never understand Ben’s thinking. This is not something to be hashed out on Facebook. For now, I’ll continue to “Like” his photos from his world travels as part of his job and I’ll politely take in his comments that I don’t seem to age—I do get to choose which pics I post, after all.

Despite my dismay, I’m coming to accept the fact that Trump happens. Sometimes even to truly good people.




Sunday, November 6, 2016

FURNITURE VOWS


I suppose it’s fitting that the first thing I write on my laptop while stretched out on my new sofa is about the sofa itself. After all, it took nineteen months to arrive.

That’s not the fault of a delivery truck driver. They only made me wait four and a half hours. And it’s not because a furniture warehouse burned or a vendor went bankrupt or some temperamental maker kept fussing over the fluffiness of the seat cushions. The delay was entirely my doing…by not doing.

When I moved back to Vancouver after an ill-spent decade in Nowhereland, I gave away all my furniture other than my bed. Technically, a little cash changed hands for a few items—fifty bucks for the six-month-old $900 chair, a twenty for a $500 mirror. (Perhaps the best decision I ever made was against pursuing a business degree. I’d have flunked out of college.) I just wanted everything gone. Moving from a three-bedroom, two-level house to a 570-square foot condominium, I knew things wouldn’t fit and, besides, the size and scale would be off. (Or, at least, I think that’s what home décor folks would say.)

In truth, there was a darker reason to chuck everything I’d amassed by the age of fifty-one. I wasn’t set on staying in Vancouver. I wasn’t set on staying anywhere. I remained firmly uncommitted to life, ready to succumb to the undertow of a persistent, profound depression. I held off buying furniture in case I mustered up the guts to jump off the Second Narrows Bridge, leap from the roof of my 28-storey building or swallow a bottle of whatever pill I could track down at the recommendation of a savage Internet troll. I wanted any aftermath to be with minimal inconveniences. My parents live 2,200 miles away. Why task them with posting my wares on Craigslist? They’d first want to figure out who the hell “Craig” is and what happened to the apostrophe and space in his business name. (I wonder myself.)

But sometime in the spring, I had my own reawakening. There were breaks between lows. Sometimes I’d go a whole day without thinking about suicide. I didn’t feel good, but feeling ambivalent was several rungs above where I’d been. I started to believe I might stick around. And that’s when I dared to walk into a Crate & Barrel. Didn’t buy anything—too soon—but I found myself drifting into other furniture stores in the months that followed. Sometimes I’d get sidetracked by funky credenzas or bold prints on pillows, but I knew it all had to start with a sofa. I still wasn’t sure if I could commit.

How long do people stick with a sofa? Longer than any of my past relationships, no doubt. A decade? Two? And still that nagging thought: Who will have to get rid of it?

I put off the couch quandary throughout the summer, instead pouring any extra funds into trips—the Oregon Coast, Ottawa, Dublin. If I spent recklessly, I wouldn’t have to think again about furniture possibilities until 2017. 

But somehow, in changing jobs, I came upon a small cash windfall. I still had money in my bank account by summer’s end. And then I walked into another furniture store with a friend as we waited for a Ramen noodle place to open for dinner. I looked. I touched fabric. I surprised myself by liking two models. My friend sat on one and noted it felt comfy. I tried it out. Was orange too kitschy? Then he waved the ring of other fabric options in my face. The sales guy swooped in and mentioned a half price three-day sale later in the week. That was our ticket out the door. It wasn’t quite the right time to buy. I had time to talk myself out of it. Surely I’d have second thoughts. Maybe even dark ones. My condo could retain its open space character indefinitely. I could go longer with a clunky plastic office chair and a stool that doubled as my dinner table. The sofa was too big a decision. It had come to represent too much.

Over the course of that week, I lowered my expectations. Happiness was too lofty a goal. Feeling stable was good enough. I celebrated by going off both my meds. And then on Friday night, the last day of the sale, my workload seemed to increase as quitting time neared. My co-workers gleefully filed out while I tapped away on my computer, with the finish line for my must-do project pulling farther and farther away. I eyed the salesman’s business card and chucked it in the recycling bin.

Slowly I began to make progress with my work. I solved the snags or found ways around them. Hours after everyone else had left the building, it was my turn to begin the weekend. No plans. Just me and all that condo emptiness. Driving home, I thought of the one that got away. Sleek, clean lines, steel gray. So much better than a wooden stool. And with rush hour over, I made better time as I crossed bridges and darted by drivers with too fixed mindsets of speed limits. (Merely suggestions, right?) I began to feel that sense of elation that comes after running two yellowish lights in a row. I set my sights on getting to the department store before closing.

Yes, I wanted that sofa.

And so, just like in the movies where the doubtful bride or groom makes a mad dash to the altar, I raced to The Bay. I arrived fifteen minutes before closing. (What was the rush?!) I clomped up five escalators and marched straight to one sofa, then the other. Both decent home companions, by the decision became clear.

I choose you.

And so here I sit on my new sofa. Ironically, it’s not the one I thought I chose. Did the salesman err or did I? This is what happens when a year and a half decision gets crammed into the final moments before, “Attention shoppers, the store is now closed.” It seems fitting that I should end up with the bridesmaid. I’m not about to send it back. We were made for each other.

This extended time sitting feels right. My butt and my back feel pampered. I can even feel a nap coming on. A future day home with the flu seems like something to look forward to. But it’s more than the obvious comfort that comes with what some of us in Canada refer to as a chesterfield. From my sofa, I see things differently. I have stopped several times while writing to gaze out my window and marvel at my water view. (It’ll go away with pending condo development, but so what? This is now.) I’ve watched the November sky change countless times in the past hour. The clouds darken and then seemingly softer, white ones drift into the mix. There have even been blinding moments of sunlight, a rare sighting at this time of year in Vancouver.

I see the walls of my living room differently. I glance at the empty floating shelves and realize they should come down. I don’t need them. I don’t want them. It’s exhilarating to have an opinion. I’ll have to Google how to get wallpaper off the wall the sofa rests against. The previous owner proudly told me he ordered it from Belgium and it is classy, but it clashes. (What does that say about my style choices?) I’m wondering about my next purchase. Coffee table? Desk? Maybe I can still find those flashy pillows. It’s a lot to take in. There is so much more to do.

Seems like I might be here for a while.