Anger

When I was 19, I drove my college boyfriend home from school, and we kissed at a red light. Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw a police car stopped behind us.

“Uh oh.” I’d said.

My boyfriend laughed it off and said, “It’s not like we were sodomizing.”

At the time sodomy was still illegal in Texas, though only for gay people. After I dropped my boyfriend off and continued on my way, I noticed the police car was still behind me. The car followed me for several blocks, and then finally pulled me over.

When I asked why he’d stopped me, the swaggering, white cop had said, “Just a routine check to make sure your license and registration are in order.”

He made me get out of my car and hand him the aforementioned license and registration. After making me wait while he took my paperwork back to his car, he eventually came back and said that I was free to go.

He followed me the rest of the way home.

I understood he’d only stopped me to intimidate me. To exercise the power of his authority over me. To put me in my place.

I was just a kid then, and afraid of what someone in his position could do to me. If something like that happened now, I’d get a name and badge number. At the very least I’d file a complaint and at best sue for discrimination. I would not have any fear that a cop might murder me.

Having the luxury of not having to feel terrorized by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us should not be a privilege afforded only to straight, white people.

I have no idea what it must be like for people of color who have the legitimate fear that a routine traffic stop could kill them. I don’t know how the repeated headlines of yet another black person being murdered by police must affect their psyche. I can’t imagine the trauma that must cause.

But I think I have an inkling. The barest sliver of an inkling. Coming from a deeply racist small town in Texas, I have witnessed overt racism my entire life, but I’ve never understood it. The concept of it has never made sense to me. Human life began in Africa. We are all part of the same family tree. The idea of assigning value based on the amount of melanin in one’s skin is insane.

The times we are living through are insane.

I don’t know why the murder of George Floyd by police was the watershed for what I hope is radical reform of a deeply racist, authoritarian institution. It seems like every other week for as long as I can remember there has been a news story of someone meeting a similar fate. There’d be a flash of anger. A Facebook furor. But nothing ever changed.

This time feels different. Maybe the heightened anxiety of dealing with a global pandemic already had everyone on edge. Maybe outrage accumulates. Maybe enough was just finally fucking enough.

Even my mother back in Texas was angry. “They should round up all of those police that did that and shoot them.” She’d said. Of course, she’d also suggested that the people looting should be shot as well. True to her Texan heritage, her solution to most of life’s problems is to shoot them.

I get the anger.

I feel like I’ve been angry every day for nearly four years. I walk through town with my shoulders hunched. I clench and unclench fists. I’m angry at work. I’m angry at home. I go to sleep angry and wake up angry. My anger is a giant, red ball. A flashing police siren. Red. A splash of graffiti over the boarded window of a closed shop. Red. The spilled blood of another murdered black man. Red.

I do not know what to do with it.

I anxiously watch other people go to protests. Anxiety is an easy excuse when there is a deadly virus still rampant. But probably not the whole truth. If there was no virus, would I be out marching in the streets, adding my voice to the angry masses? Or would I still be curled up on the couch watching the last season of Supernatural, “liking” my friends’ posts to defund the police on Facebook?

In Seattle parts of the city look like a war zone. At 4:00am in my neighborhood, streets were fogged with teargas. The police station has been boarded up and abandoned. Tonight in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone people are calmly watching documentaries on a cordoned off street outside the empty station.

At 8:00pm the neighborhood cheers to support our healthcare workers.

I am at home, watching Sam and Dean battle wayward Angels. I respond to posts on social media with the red faced anger emoji.

I am angry in a general sense at the society that voted for the current white supremacist in chief who has used his platform to normalize bigotry.

I am angry at the machinery of institutionalized inequality.

I am angry about gerrymandering and marginalizing.

I am angry that the people who are supposed to protect us are often the biggest threat to our safety.

Then there are the little angers.

I am angry that having a middle aged body means that turning over in my sleep can screw up my back for two weeks.

I am irrationally angry at people who litter.

I am angry at people who don’t seem to know how to walk down a sidewalk.

I am angry at guys on gay dating apps who describe themselves as “chill.”

I am angry that my ceilings are so high in my living room that I can’t hang my mini blinds.

At any given moment, one or more of these big or little angers (or any number of greater or lesser angers in between) is fighting for dominance in my selfish, middle aged, white mind.

Most of all, I’m angry at myself. I’m angry that I have lived for nearly 44 years just accepting the status quo. Of allowing these atrocities and saying nothing. I may not know what to do with my anger or my anxiety. But I know the very least I can do is say something.

Sorrow

IMG_9699She died on the last day of March.

My best friend from high school told me that morning via messenger. I was “working” from home which translated to sporadically checking emails between bursts of packing up cardboard boxes for my move.

I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at my phone, waiting for details. At first I assumed it was due to Covid-19, because that was the monster on everybody’s mind, but it wasn’t. She’d passed from complications of a long suffered illness which I’d known about, but hadn’t thought was all that serious.

“I’m just shocked.” My friend had said.

That made two of us. It didn’t seem real that someone my age, a member of our tight little high school group, could possibly be gone.

“I’m just…shocked.” My friend said again.

And really, what else could be said? I hadn’t even known she wasn’t doing well. I tried to remember the last time she and I had spoken. The last time I remembered I’d been living in New York City, which had to be five or six years ago. We’d exchanged a few messages, and she talked about some day visiting, though she never did, and now never will.

The last time I saw her in person was probably eighteen years ago. She’d come to a party at my apartment in Austin with some friends. Back then I was a person who threw parties. I was getting ready to move to Los Angeles. It was strange to see her in the city, so far removed from the tiny, farm town that we’d grown up in. I remember standing outside with glasses of wine and feeling so sophisticated even though some unruly guests were trying to set fire to a bag of Cheetos on the sidewalk.

It didn’t occur to me that that time would be the last time I’d ever see her. When we were kids, I’d stupidly thought that our little group, the Deadbeat Club, would be close forever. How could any five people who loved each other so much, who went through adolescence in the Bible Belt together ever drift so far apart?

But drift we had, and it hadn’t even taken very long. Three of them were a year ahead of my friend and I. After they graduated, the last year in high-school had been a long, lonely one for the two of us left behind. Three of us lived together in college for a while, but the drift, once it had begun, was irreversible.

I remember being in Kindergarten when she was in first grade. My older cousin Josh had told me that during recess I was supposed to call a girl a name so that the girl would chase me. I didn’t question the reasoning behind this, but I distinctly remember going up to her and calling her “chicken legs” and running away squealing in delight while she chased after me.

We spent our high-school classes passing obscene notes back and forth which, had they ever been read, would have gotten us suspended at the very least. Because she and I were neither a cheerleader, nor a football player, respectively, it somehow fell to us to raise the flag during Friday night football games. I remember standing on the edge of the field, slowly raising the flag while the National Anthem blared squeakily through the loud speakers. She stood with her hand over her heart, and when people cheered, she and I would yell, “Hail Satan!”

I remember a group of us driving the two lane farm roads one weekend night, stealing the flashing lights from construction signs. My best friend saying, “We’ve hit the motherlode,” her eyes moon big as we drove up to a row of ten or so signs all flashing yellowly together.

Other memories. Backstage at one act plays. School field trips. The time in her bedroom where I saw her birth control pills, and she panicked, not realizing that I had absolutely no idea what they were.

The summers back then seemed so long. The school year, endless.

The years since graduation are a blur.

She married. Got her PhD. Had three (four?) boys. I had a string of boyfriends, and lived in a string of cities, worked a string of dead-end jobs. We “liked” the occasional post on one another’s Facebook.

Several people from high school got in touch with me the day she died. People I hadn’t spoken to or thought about in twenty-five years. People I had never been friends with, and had barely known messaged me. Even her husband took time out from his own grief to send me a message. That was the most surreal part. That anyone would think of notifying me when I hadn’t seen her in nearly two decades.

Even if there hadn’t been a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have flown to Texas for her memorial. I couldn’t imagine what I might say to her family or her friends. Part of me was glad to have the ready excuse to avoid it altogether.

Because I’m a self-centered asshole, it was impossible to think about her death without also thinking of my own mortality. In the God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy called 31 a viable, dieable age. If that’s true, then 43 must be even more viable and dieable. I’ve reached a point in life where it isn’t unheard of for someone my age to die.

I was sad for her, for her life that had been cut short, and sad for her husband, her parents, and her boys. But mostly I found myself grieving a time in my life that exists only in memory. There are now fewer than a handful of people that really knew me when I was young. When they’re gone, then that boy will not have existed at all.

I packed my things into cardboard boxes. My condo closed early, and in mid-April, I moved into my new place. Things were so hectic that there were days I didn’t think of her at all. Then suddenly, while unpacking glasses, or struggling to hang curtains, I’d remember she was gone and feel guilty that I’d been happy.

Weeks later, I’m mostly settled into my new place. Sometimes I just stand in the middle of my living room, marveling that this place is mine. I never thought I’d be able to afford a place in this neighborhood and this city. Teenage me had dreamed of owning an apartment in a city, but the adult me who’d spent years struggling just to make ends meet had never really thought that it could happen. I remember sharing that dream with her, back in the days when anything seemed possible, and things like death, and middle-age were as far removed as the stars in a small town, Texas sky.

 

An Apocalypse of Inconvenience

IMG_9580Then things got worse. Shelves in the stores were empty. The bars and restaurants all shut down. No one was out on the streets. The stock market was crashing. There were terrible people who hoarded toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and even worse people who stockpiled it so they could re-sell it at trumped up prices for a profit.

But there were good people too. Healthcare workers who put themselves at risk, working long hours to help others. Strangers who bought groceries for the elderly, and volunteers who got together to make sure that poor kids got enough to eat outside of school.

As usual, I fell squarely in the middle. Of course I don’t want anyone to get sick (well, maybe old, straight, white, male republicans), and I recognize that social distancing can at least slow things down enough so that our hospitals don’t get overwhelmed, and the most vulnerable people can be protected. But mostly I’m just annoyed that I can’t get Thai food when I feel like it, and concerned that with the gym closed, my chest is going to deflate.

On Sunday I met with the Co-op board about my condo. The president (a self described drag queen real estate agent) held out his hand for me to shake. I was mortified, but I shook it anyway, because I wanted to seem friendly and agreeable…and I really wanted the apartment. I was relieved when the other board members bumped elbows with me in greeting, and spent the whole meeting reminding myself not to touch my face until I could go home and douse my offending hand in bleach.

Afterward, I went to the grocery store to pick up some frozen dinners for the week ahead. Standing in front of an empty aisle of cleaning supplies, a fellow shopper caught my eye and said, “This is crazy!”

“Yeah.” I agreed.

It is crazy.

It is absolutely insane.

My mother called from Texas and told me to stock up on bottled water and canned soup. To not leave my apartment.

“Don’t go to brunch.” She said. “Talk to your friends online.”

I did not explain to her that I’m already basically a shut-in, and that social distancing is par for the course for me.

At work things were getting really tense. Employees who were at risk were justifiably angry about having to take public transportation and go into an office when they could just as easily work from home. They were worried about themselves, and about their families. I didn’t blame them. I was worried too.

When management finally gave us the go ahead to work from home yesterday, the team was still ready to riot. I think the anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen just has everyone on edge, and it burst out during a shouted and incredibly awkward meeting that left everybody dazed and uncomfortable, but which I voyeuristically enjoyed.

Today I worked from home, cozy in fuzzy slippers. I watched videos on YouTube and wept a little at clips of Italian and Spanish people playing music and singing together from the balconies of apartment buildings. It was endearing, but I couldn’t help but acknowledge that if my own neighbors started doing that, I’d yell at them to knock it off.

The one great thing about being home was that I’d be there to accept a package I was expecting from FedEx. Or so I thought.

I watched the tracking all morning, and then half past noon it said my package had been delivered. Supposedly someone named R. Barnes had signed for it. I’d been home the entire day. My buzzer never rang. There isn’t even anyone named Barnes in my building. I looked outside and there was no package to be found.

While I recognize that there are people with real problems. People in the service industry who can’t work from home, and others who have lost their jobs altogether. People who are struggling to make ends meet. People who are literally dying…for me personally, this has all just been an apocalypse of inconvenience.

Packages not delivered. Brunches canceled. The gym closed.

I try to remind myself that this is only temporary. New cases are already going down drastically in the regions that were first hit. People are recovering. But I worry that things are going to get worse before they get better, and that many of the businesses that have had to temporarily close down may never be able to recover. I wonder what the long term effects are going to be.

For the time being, I’m glad that I’m still gainfully employed. That my apartment purchase is going along smoothly. That my family and friends are healthy. That there are people in the world who are kind. That FedEx is still delivering…just not to me.

 

 

 

Safe as Houses

eUzl8ji1TMCnje0aRkRbbA“I saw on the news that Seattle is the epicenter of this thing,” my mom said during one of my thrice weekly phone calls home.

“This thing” was cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States. For about the billionth time, I wished my mom didn’t have access to a television or the internet. Now she’s going to spend every waking moment in a state of anxiety over what must surely be my imminent death from the plague.

Because I’ve inherited her temperament, I will also spend every waking moment in a perpetual state of panic. Though my anxiety has less to do with the global pandemic, and more to do with the purchase of my first home.

I’d first started toying with the idea of buying a condo last year. I was finally earning a decent living and not just struggling to survive. A friend had told me about a program to help first time home buyers in Washington state. After looking at a couple of studios that were each too small to fit my bed into that were both going for more than $300,000, I’d surrendered the fantasy and resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to have to be a renter forever.

I still looked at real estate apps longingly, not really expecting to find anything I could possibly afford. I get by, but I’m not making tech industry bucks. So when I saw an open house for a one bedroom in my neighborhood, I popped in for a look more as a lark than any serious expectation that I might end up actually being able to buy the place.

The place was adorable. A historical building. Hardwood floors. Twice the space of my tiny apartment. I immediately started imaging my life there. Movie nights with friends. Chopping vegetables for wine bottle dinners with Nina Simone playing. Dancing in socked feet and working away at my supposed novel.

After that tings began happening at a disconcertingly rapid pace. A bank pre-approved me. An offer was made. An offer was accepted. Earnest money was provided. An escrow was opened. Forms to complete and sign and initial were emailed to me and emailed back.

Now I’m faced with the near certainty of home ownership. I say near, because it’s a co-op, and I still have to go through a process of being vetted by strangers who’ll decide if I’m financially sound and a good fit for the community.

Because of the worldwide panic over the virus, and the tanking economy, I ended up with a rather obscene interest rate, and for the first time think I may be able to actually afford this place without falling into abject poverty.

For the time being, I’m just waiting for the closing so that I can finally relax and breathe again. As the virus impacts more and more aspects of my daily life, I try to decide how much panic I should allot to home buying and how much I should divest to the disease. The best I can do is continue to wash my hands obsessively and hope that the next 30-45 days pass by quickly and painlessly, and hope that the grocery store gets a shipment of toilet paper sometime soon.

The Shortest Month

fullsizeoutput_a7bOne of my New Year’s Resolutions (I generally make about 20-30 a year and immediately break them in quick succession) was to stop eating sugary sweets, snacking at work, and to basically starve myself until I’d lost about 10 lbs and no longer felt ashamed to shower with the lights on.

To my credit, for the first few weeks of this year, I actually did all of those things, only to discover by the third week I’d GAINED five pounds. So I immediately reverted back to a diet consisting almost entirely of Diet Coke and chocolate chip cookies.

Concerned about my thickening waistline, I recommitted myself to adopting a healthier diet for at least the month of February. February being the shortest month, I figured if I could go any month without added sugar, it would be this one. I admonished all of my enablers at work, and rallied behind the mantra, “New month, new me.”

Prior to deleting it…again…a man on the gay dating app, Scruff, had unironically called me “Papa Bear.” This only solidified my resolve to try to get back down to my birth weight before the coming swimsuit season.

Then February 1st rolled around and I immediately scarfed down not one, but three jelly donuts. Now I’m torn between wanting to try to be healthy, or better yet, skinny again, or surrendering to destiny and auditioning for My 600lb Life. I guess there’s always next month.

Fitness for the Middle Aged

IMG_4720Tonight the gym was more crowded than usual, which is saying something, because it’s usually so filled to capacity that I wonder that the fire marshall doesn’t shut it down for public safety concerns.

Apparently the bulk of the New Year’s Resolutioners haven’t given up and dropped back into their old routines yet. While I support anyone’s desire to take control of their health and well-being, I’m still selfish and narcissistic enough to wish they’d just do it somewhere else.

I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more angry I get about things that I know don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Minutiae that in the moment make my blood boil, teeth grind together, and the veins in my neck to throb with unconsummated rage.

Aside from overcrowding, my biggest gym pet peeve is people on cell phones. I’ve had to physically restrain myself from pushing someone down a flight of stairs who is staring into their phone and suddenly stops in the stairway in front of me. I see people, mostly younger than me, who sit on machines that I never see them use, staring into screens, and feel my hands clench into fists.

Since I’m a weirdo who listens to audio-books while working out, I almost never look at my own phone. So tonight, when, between sets of bicep curls, I took out my phone to check the time, I was completely surprised when a fellow middle-aged crank yelled at me to get off my phone or get off the machine. I put my phone away immediately, and sped through my final set, wondering to myself in horror, Is this who I’m becoming?

In addition to my burgeoning anger management issues, there are other disheartening aspects to working out in middle age. In my forties I have to work out a lot harder than I did in my twenties with diminished results. The body of forty-something me is just not the body of twenty or thirty-something me. It is hairier and thicker. In my mind I still have the body of a twink, and it’s always a shock when I see myself reflected in the locker room mirrors and see some muscle daddy staring back at me.

As a young guy, I always marveled at the old men in the locker room and how nonchalant they were about nudity. The dangling scrotums of those manatees always engendered in me a strange mixture of embarrassment and dread. As I’ve gotten older, I understand more where they are coming from. When you’ve seen it all before, you just harbor fewer hangups about letting it all hang out. Who cares?

In other ways, I’m much more relaxed about working out than I used to be. Fitness is still an important part of my life, but I’m not going to get bent out of shape if I miss a day now and then. I’m less attached to the idea of abs that I’ll likely never see again, and happy just to feel healthy. I may have to pop Ibuprofen like Pez in order to move my back without doubling over in pain, but at least I’ve got a nice rack.

 

 

 

 

The Insomniac

Sleep doesn’t come.

Sometimes I lie awake on a bed of dinosaur bones, staring at the purple gray of my apartment’s ceiling. Mind racing. There are Mexican children in cages. Children that have been separated from their parents, and no one is doing anything. I personally am not doing anything. Another angry white man has gunned down another dozen people. Thoughts and prayers. And climate change is rapidly making our planet uninhabitable. And the rainforest is literally on fire.

I toss. I turn. I throw off the blanket because it’s too hot. I pull it back up to my neck because it’s too cold. I lie with one leg uncovered as a compromise. I toss and turn some more.

Other nights the lyrics to Taylor Dayne’s 1988 hit, “Tell it to My Heart” replay in my head on an endless loop, and I somehow know every single word.

Some nights the sun comes up and I am still awake.

Some nights I’ll fall asleep for two or three hours, only to wake up with my heart racing. I’ll get up and drink some water. Practice deep breathing. After that I’ll doze off for thirty or forty minutes and then wake up again. This will repeat until my alarm goes off and I have to get up to get dressed for work.

I feel like I slept better when I was sleeping with somebody. But I’ve been an insomniac for so long that it’s difficult to recall if I’ve ever actually gotten a full night’s sleep. It’s probably only nostalgia.

During the hottest part of summer I flew back home to Texas. My mother and I sat on opposite ends of her couch, watching reality TV in her pristine living room that somehow always manages to look unlived in.

I thought, “Now I can finally catch up on my sleep.” A week free from the stress of work. The crisp, cool breeze of air conditioning and the ceiling fan of my teenage bedroom. The pitch black, country dark. The still, quiet nights, disrupted only by a passing train or the lonesome howl of a neighbor’s dog.

But I couldn’t sleep there either.

I chatted with men on apps on my phone, my limbs heavy with unspent desire.

“We have to do something.” My mother said, as we were sitting at the 50’s style soda fountain breakfast table in her kitchen.

Our options within a comfortable driving distance of their rural, Texas town were limited. We ended up going to a flea market in a town about an hour or so away with my aunt and younger cousin. At the entrance there was a booth sporting a giant oversized TRUMP flag on one side, and a confederate flag on the other.

When I stopped to take a picture of the Trump flag, my aunt nodded her approval, not realizing I was taking the picture ironically to post on Facebook to the horror of my liberal friends back on the West Coast.

We walked past stalls selling rusty, old junk. Pot bellied denizens walked by in camouflaged shorts and sports jerseys with confederate flags on ball caps. I felt unsettled and unsafe, but my mother and aunt and cousin were unfazed. I was further disturbed by the fact that no one else was disturbed.

I wonder what they, or any of the people at the flea market, would think if they found themselves suddenly in my neighborhood in Seattle. Would the multi-pierced and polyamorous hipsters, the men holding hands, and the drag queens on unicycles (I have actually seen more than one), disturb them as profoundly as Trump supporters disturb me?

I realized the extent of the liberal bubble I exist in back in Seattle. The extent that social media has allowed us to divide ourselves into these self-selected groups and create filtered realities of the world around us. Alternate facts. Fake news.

I walked from stall to stall, trailing behind my mother, aware of my surroundings, half expecting some General Lee Neo-Nazi to shout, “faggot” as I passed. Of course this didn’t happen. My aunt bought her dog a collar. I talked my mother out of buying another racist “mammy” figurine. We ate cheeseburgers at a picnic table beside a booth where a man made delicious, sweet smelling kettle corn. Then we went back home.

Later that day, my best friend from high-school stopped by on her way from Dallas to Houston.

When we were kids, she’d come by and pick me up in her old, brown pickup truck, and we’d drive to cemeteries and talk about Interview with the Vampire, and poetry, and…more than anything, escape.

Twenty-five years later she came and picked me up again for old time’s sake. Now we talk about equity, jobs, motherhood. There were wisps of gray in her dark hair, and laugh lines beside her cheeks. I have no hair, and my beard is going gray.

I told her about the horrors of the flea market, and she commiserated.

“I have to live here!” She said. Houston, not the small town where we grew up, but still…Texas. “If it weren’t for our group of friends,” she said. “I don’t think I’d have made it.”

She drove me back to my parents’ house. We vowed to stay better in touch, but of course we didn’t.

“What did y’all talk about?” My mother asked, when I got back home.

“About how we’re middle aged now.” I said, rooting through cookie jars for the candy my father is no longer allowed to eat.

“You are not middle aged!” My mother said. “Because that would make me elderly, and I’m in the prime of my life!”

My father asked how my house hunt was going.

“It isn’t.” I’d told him. The condos in my neighborhood are all out of my price range. The ones that aren’t are tiny and overpriced. The places I can afford are so far away that I’d spend hours of my day commuting.

My only hope, aside from my parents finally winning the lottery, is that the supposed coming recession tanks the housing market, and I can take advantage of some desperate seller’s misfortune.

They are selling my grandmother’s house, and we stop by so that my mother can check the mail. The little house that used to be full of memories stands empty. Linoleum worn bare where her couch used to be.

“It’s sad to see it like this.” My mother said, and I agree.

When they drove me to the airport, I tried not to seem too eager to get back to Seattle. They hugged me goodbye, told me they loved me. “Just stay here.” My mother always says with tears in her eyes. This never ceases to gut me.

In the tiny, two plane airport, a young man chatted me up on one of my aforementioned apps. I saw him walk by, checking me out, and instead of speaking to me, he sent me a message telling me he thought that I was cute.

He sat behind me on the plane to Dallas, and when we landed, he suggested we get together for a quickie. That our connecting flights were in different terminals provided me an easy out. While being propositioned by a cute guy in his twenties did wonders for my self esteem, I’m way too big a prude to engage in an airport “quickie.”

I bid him a safe trip to Miami where he was going to spend his birthday. Then I headed back to Seattle.

When I got back home it was late, and I was exhausted from a day of layovers and flying. But Ducky messaged me to meet him out, and since it was his birthday, I found myself splashing some water on my face, brushing my teeth, and heading back out again to spend a few hours in a crowded bar with he and Gar-Bear.

At the local bar, no one hit on me. I stood between the muscle twins in their short shorts, ignored.

Months passed. The summer ended. I got promoted at work. I finished my supposed novel, which is absolutely dreadful, and began a new one. I go out less and less often. Aside from my weekly brunch group, when I hang out with friends, it is because I’ve run into them on accident.

Most recently I had lunch with a friend, his husband, and their six year old son. He and I talked about books, and his husband and I talked about an upcoming event in a particular fetish community. I offered to buy raffle tickets. Because it is Seattle, the six year old asked me my preferred pronouns.

Still, night falls and I cannot sleep.

I go to bed the same time every night. I put blackout curtains over the window to make it dark, though my apartment is never really dark with the varied glows of speakers, surge protectors, game consoles.

Outside there are city noises, randomly yelling homeless men, police sirens, a party in the building next door, the loud bass of a car in the parking lot, a motorcycle revving its engine.

I try earplugs. White noise. But whether there is silence or not, I cannot sleep.

I stop looking at screens an hour before bed. Read. Take melatonin like it’s candy.

I do relaxation exercises.

I try meditation.

Now I think about not falling asleep. I look at the clock to see another hour has passed. I count the hours left that I might sleep if I fall asleep immediately. I absolutely cannot get comfortable until about thirty minutes before the alarm is set to go off. Then my bed is perfectly soft and comfortable. The air is the perfect temperature. My pillow is a fluffy cloud, and I am drifting into the cool sky of a dream.

Then the alarm rings.

Good Times For a Change

This winter there were record breaking snowstorms in Seattle. The entire city was blanketed in white, and everything shut down. There was snow on the ground for weeks, and I watched hapless people sliding down steep hills on my way to work, only chuckling briefly at their misfortune.

Aside from the freak snow, the winter overall was fairly mild. I barely used my long, striped scarf or the heavy coat I’d worn so frequently in Chicago. Now that it’s Spring nearly every day has been sunny and warm. Summer promises to be long, and hot, and dry. Thanks to climate change, Seattle’s usual, gray dreariness has seemed to evaporate. I wear moisturizer with sunscreen like a responsible adult.

I find myself, approaching the age of forty-three, in very unfamiliar territory. For the first time in…possibly my entire life…everything is actually…pretty good. Normally when I feel that things are going well, I become nervous and wait for the other shoe to drop, but even my perennial existential dread has flattened out in middle age. A worrisome optimism has taken its place. This idea that if something terrible happens…I’ll deal with it.

A few months ago, I paid off the last of my lingering credit card debt from my years of living dangerously. Suddenly I was something I hadn’t been for over twenty years. Completely debt free. My job continues to chug along tolerably, and I feel the strange, and heretofore wholly unfamiliar sensation of actually thinking I might, sort of, have my shit together. Even more remarkably, I’m in a place where I can, possibly, buy an apartment, something I didn’t think was going to be in the cards for me. At least not here in this overpriced and gentrifying city.

Creatively, I’ve nearly finished my supposed novel. I’m almost at the point where it ceases to be an imaginary project I’m embarrassed of, and becomes an actual accomplishment…that I can be embarrassed of.

My romantic life is still basically non-existent. I still go on the occasional first date. And with decreasing rarity, I still occasionally have sex followed by varying degrees of regret. But I no longer feel that I’m held captive by the idea that I have to have a partner to be happy. If anything, the idea of arguing over the remote and listening to some guy snoring beside me for the rest of my life makes me feel that maybe a life of singleness is actually the better of the available options.

Middle-age continues to be a strange plane to navigate. I’ve come to terms that my body is no longer the body of a man in his twenties, and it never will be again. But that’s okay. It’s kind of a fantastic body. My beard is becoming increasingly gray, and the creases beside my eyes have become full blown wrinkles. But for the most part I’m enjoying growing older, even if I have absolutely no idea who most of the “celebrities” are in my recommended YouTube videos.

In my misspent youth I constantly longed for a fantastic life in a big city full of sophisticated, artist friends, wild adventures, and cocktail parties. What I’ve wound up with is very different. The friends I have are (mostly) not sophisticated, and (pretty much) not artists, but…they’re real. And I look forward to spending time with them, and talking about terrible music and politics over brunch while we ogle the cute guys walking past outside, and then getting ice cream and going on Pokemon raids.

While I was waiting for some fantastic life to happen, and dashing from city to city for years, chasing some dream of the life I thought I wanted…a life I actually love has taken root. A life in the present. One that’s green, and glowing, and full of wonder. I love having my own place in a beautiful city. I love being able to spend my evenings reading, writing, listening to music, and playing video games. I love learning things about myself, and I love the fact that after almost forty-three years…there are still things about myself to learn.

So maybe the other shoe will drop, and I’ll have some new catastrophe to try and bulldoze my way through (or ignore and skirt around if historical precedent is any indication). If it does, it will at least make for an interesting story. But I have the burgeoning suspicion that things are going to be just fine. And I no longer find the idea of being fine unsettling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall

Summer ended in a day.

One day I was ogling the shirtless men jogging sweat drenched in the park, the next I was kicking through fat, orange leaves. All the blues turned to gray and the air grew cold.

In the summer I celebrated my 42nd birthday alone in an afterthought cafe. Friends had made lukewarm suggestions to hangout, all easily averted. My perennial desire for a happy birthday blow-job went unrequited.

My fling with A was unsurprisingly short-lived. A week of increasingly flirty texting led up to an evening of kink that somehow managed to strike a balance between sweetness and filth. He in a leather harness and me in a chastity device.

Later, standing naked at his window, looking out over China Town, he came out of the bathroom and remarked on the view.

Another week of decreasingly flirty texts followed by an awkward walk through the throngs at Pride. His hand kept reaching for mine, and my hand kept pulling away. He seemed to know every tall, beautiful man there, and the only people I recognized were the people I wanted to avoid. We ran into his friends and were unable to extricate ourselves from them. A quartet of Millennials all determined to be more minutely unlabeled than the next.

If you ever want to feel old, go day-drinking with a group of 20somethings.

Every time they spoke, all I could see were a school of toddlers with pacifiers in their mouths. They were all still idealistic, pretty and perfectly diverse, uniform in their smooth, unwrinkled skin. Even though they were all significantly nicer than me, I disliked them all both individually and collectively. Impossible not to feel like a cynical, withered gnome, alarmingly out of place among them.

After drinking all day and standing in the sun, A got sick and went home. I walked him to the street car, and walked back to my apartment distilled with the prescience  that our romance was over.

There were other men as the summer bore on. A string of happy hour dates where the line between desire and desperation was rimmed in the salt of Margarita glasses. Nice men with 401(k)s and Mexican vacations. But none of them thrilled me.

I am concerned that I’ve become incapable of being thrilled.

A bleak future where my corpse is devoured by a dozen angry cats in a dingy, studio apartment stinking of urine seems increasingly likely.

My mother calls to tell me that she and my aunt toured the nursing home that they intend to deposit my grandmother in. She’s become more and more unmanageable for my mother and her sisters to take care of on their own.

“I hope you got a good look around, because you’ll probably end up there.” I tell her.

“I will kill myself before I get like that,” she says. Then we have an actual discussion about the best ways for her to kill herself when the time comes.

“I can’t shoot myself or cut myself,” she says. “It’ll have to be pills.”

“But pills are so unreliable,” I say.

“Not if you take enough of them.” She says.

The day they put my grandmother in the home, she calls me crying.

“I know you feel guilty,” I say. “But it’s for the best.”

Her very first day there, the nursing home calls my mother to tell her that my grandmother had a fall from her wheelchair. They are legally obligated to inform her. This does not instill any confidence in my mother.

“They aren’t watching her.” She says. “They aren’t feeding her the food she likes.”

Less than a week later my grandmother is back home. My mom and my aunts are back to watching her in shifts. To bathing her, changing her, doling out her medications. Some days she sits catatonic in her wheelchair and others she is lively, chattering away and seems almost like her old self. Some days she curses at my mother and aunts as they try to change her clothes. Other days she’s docile.

For her 93rd birthday she eats ice cream. Melting and sticky in a hot, Texas August. Back porch flies and hotdog buns. My grandmother, the forgetful matriarch. Mother of eleven children, and an uncounted number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Widow. The sweet and simple maker of banana pudding, has become purse lipped and confused.

“Who’s going to take me home?” She asks.

“You are home, mama.” My mother says.

On her 67th birthday, my mother vows that she isn’t getting older. “I can handle being in my 60s,” she says, “But I absolutely cannot fathom being 70. I’m staying 67 forever.” I agree with this plan.

In lieu of a romantic life, I workout obsessively.

“I can’t get over how buff you are,” my friend Matt comments one day when I run into him on the way home from the grocery store.

I casually flex. We talk about our jobs. His writing gig. My promotion. The novel I still sometimes pretend to be writing. I agree to watch their cats when he and his boyfriend (also Matt) spend a week in Hawaii.

Instead of dating, I spend evenings with friends. Movie nights with tator-tot casseroles and le boisson de le maison. Game nights around comfort food tables with obscene Pictionary and rated R card games. Dinners and brunches where the conversation turns to politics, and I absently check my phone to see if anyone has messaged me who I could possibly be thrilled by.

After months of no contact, I begin to play Dungeons & Dragons with a queer group with none other than A acting as Dungeon Master. It’s a warm, fun group. Hot tea and snacks. The rolling of dice. Although I’d initially hoped that the group would be a conduit for romance, it ends up being something else entirely. A nice excursion.

One day C calls crying. He’s broken up with his new boyfriend. It feels very strange to comfort a man that I spent over 7 years with, moved to different states with, tried to build a life with, as he is heartbroken by someone else. But, despite everything, he is still my best friend and I want him to be happy. So I become his long-distance confidant.

The days grow darker earlier.

I spend evenings listening to rain hit the fiberglass roof of the car port, curled up in a red, patchwork quilt that my grandmother made when she was around my age. I sip hot chocolate and watch movies or play video games. But there is the undeniable sense that all of these things could be improved with the addition of a co-conspirator. Some funny, sexy misanthrope to grow old with, to shake our bony fists at children traipsing across our imagined lawn.

Fall is my favorite season because I love weather, and sweaters, and striped scarves, and coffee cups, and pumpkins, and the changing colors, scary movies. Because in every coffeehouse, around every corner, buried in piles of leaves, and dripping off of rain drenched awnings there is this bristling energy, the possibility of romance. Not even just a possibility, a meaty, muscular thing that for a season seems not just potential, but inevitable.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Strikes

“I’m never going to date again!” This was what I proclaimed to my faggles one Sunday over brunch.

Our table was a hangover of Bloody Mary’s, Diet Cokes, and guacamole.

“Liar,” was Sassy Bear’s succinct response, no-nonsense snark in a scarf with a pierced labret and Unabomber hair.

Of course I didn’t really mean that I would never date again for the rest of my life. But I did think it was probably a good idea to shift the attention away from boys for a while, and focus on myself. The rest of my life was going really well for a change. I managed to stay in the same job, the same apartment, and the same city for over a year. After years of wandering aimlessly around the country with C, the stability was welcome. So I vowed to forget about boys for the foreseeable future. I was going to save money, work on my supposed novel, and continue to enjoy some welcome solitude.

Almost immediately after imposing my moratorium on dating, I went on three dates with three boys in one week.

The first was thin and blond with designer glasses. Thirty-five and put together in a way that I admired, and I looked like I crawled out of laundry hamper by comparison. We met at the same Mexican restaurant that my faggles and I have brunch at every Sunday. In the evenings it’s crowded and trendy with long waits.

We stood outside amidst clusters of other couples and waited for them to text me that our table was ready. I know that we made small talk but the only thing I can remember of our entire conversation was the confirmation that his nipples are pierced.

I made the mistake of ordering an “Ultimate” Margarita with my meal which was entirely more tequila than I was prepared for. When the check arrived, I dropped the credit card slip on the ground without realizing it, and spent 10 minutes looking for it. When my date finally pointed out, I dropped my pen trying to pick it up.

As soon as we left the restaurant I realized I’d forgotten my leftovers that had been so carefully boxed up, and also my date’s name. While both the meal and the date had been pleasant, it didn’t ultimately seem worth it to go back for either.

Date number two was a ginger with a fondness for kink. We made plans to meet at a bar conveniently within walking distance for both of us. As I stepped out of my apartment, a tall, thin red head in a yellow t-shirt walked past. I was pretty sure it was my date, but not completely certain, so I didn’t say anything, I just creepily stalked him the two blocks to the bar. The muscles of his back beneath his t-shirt. His pale neck.

Even after we both walked into the same bar, I still wasn’t entirely sure it was him, so I ordered a drink and studied his pics on the app where we’d met. Finally I opted to trust the statistical probability and introduced myself. We had a fun conversation about fetishes and the flakiness of men in Seattle. The bar was playing 80s music, and I periodically paused to sing along.

In the middle of “Heart and Soul” by T’Pau, he told me, “My mom really likes this song.”

I couldn’t help thinking that his mom and I probably would have had more in common. Not long after that, because we lived on the same street, he walked me home and kissed me on the cheek at the door to my apartment.

The third, and final, of my awkward dating triumvirate was with a 39 year old man, who owned his own home in West Seattle, and who, via APP at least, had engaged me with his witty banter.

He had dark hair, and wore glasses. Taller than me, but so is everyone. He dressed like a J Crew mannequin, but it suited him. We met at a neuvo-Southern place that boasted booths made from old, church pews.

As he sidled up to me, he said, “Lance?” I could tell from the inflection that it was recognition, and as soon as we were standing face to face, I recognized him too. We’d briefly dated 13 years ago when I’d lived in Seattle the first time around.

I was surprised that he recognized me since, back then, I still had hair, didn’t have a beard, and wasn’t nearly as buff as I am now. He looked basically the same. I remembered exactly two pieces of information about him. 1). He was obsessed with Tina Turner, and 2). His father had killed himself. After the initial, awkward realization that this wasn’t our first date, we settled into a comfortable spot outside, and caught up on the past decade plus over fried pickles and poutine.

I told him about C, and living in NYC, Chicago, and Santa Barbara. He told me about his recent trip to Morocco, and another trip to Europe where he saw the world premier of the Tina Turner musical. Neither of us could remember why we’d stopped seeing each other before. While there was no spark of romance, the conversation flowed easily, and the evening was enjoyable, if a bit surreal.

Afterward we vowed to stay in touch this time around, but proceeded to do just the opposite.

When I got home, out of curiosity, I read through my old journals to discover why he and I had broken up. Apparently he’d had a falling out with my former bff, a musician, because he’d had the gall to talk during one of her shows, and this had been enough to drive a wedge between us.

One evening C called. We caught up. I listened to his complaints about life in San Diego, while he listened to my assurances that things would get better. He asked if I’d been on any dates lately. I admitted that I had. He told me about the guy that he’s been seeing. Ben. I tried to keep the conversation light, but I have to admit I was a little winded. It had been more than a year since I’ve even seen him, and of course both of us were going to date again. But hearing about it caught me by surprise.

Apparently he and Ben fight a lot, a stark contrast to the two of us who never fought, not even as I was getting ready to leave. While I wish C only happiness, and want everything to work out, I am just petty enough to take some satisfaction in hearing about his dating difficulties.

After three strikes, I renew my vow to take time off from dating. From all the bluster and bravado, the spilled drinks and awkward silences. I decide to spend more time with my friends. I go to movies. Play board games. The faggles even convince me to go to a Karaoke bar in a sketchy part of town called The Orient Express. It’s comprised of a bunch of old train cars spliced together, with surprisingly good food, and very stiff drinks. Our group reserved the Hong Kong room, which was wallpapered in  gold. We drank Mai Tais and ate Chinese finger foods. We took turns singing pop songs I’d never heard of. I was very disappointed that they didn’t have the Social Distortion song that I’d spent the week previous practicing in the shower.

In the end we all sang A-Ha’s, “Take on Me” together, and the thought of boys was expunged, replaced with camaraderie and the seminal hits of Mariah Carey.

The next night I was still basking in the warm afterglow of platonic companionship, and was content to curl up in bed with video games and a terrible horror movie from the 80s. Yet, I somehow became convinced to meet a 28 year old for drinks at a bar down the street.

“You’re even cuter than your pics.” He said, sitting across from me at the bar, half a drink in, his hand already on my knee.

He was absolutely beautiful, 6’2″, a fuzzy blond beard, hair pulled back over his forehead. I was all flailing arms and fidgety. He was charming.

I bought us blue jello shots from men in jockstraps for some unknown fundraiser, and no sooner had they slid down our tongues, his tongue was in my mouth. Making out with him, I tried not to overthink why a tall, gorgeous, 28 year old was actually enthusiastic about making out with a short, balding, angry, soon to be 42 year old. To my surprise, I was mostly successful in this regard. We kissed what I can only describe as an obscene amount at the bar.

He asked if I wanted to go get burgers with him.

I said I had to get up early the next morning, and should probably go.

We kissed some more outside. Me standing on my tip toes to reach him. Him hunched over in a stylish brown jacket.

The next morning I did get up early to go work out and to cheer on a friend who was running a marathon. Walking to the gym, down rain dampened streets where the homeless people were still sleeping, huddled in doorways, I got a text from the boy. His name is A. He thinks I’m cute and wants to make plans to see one another again.

So I decide to put a moratorium on my moratorium and to give the gorgeous man who is interested in me a chance. I know that I’ll continue to be a walking pile of insecurity, but the benefits of continued making out with said gorgeous man, for the time being, outweigh the fear of impending heartbreak and rejection that I’ve come to expect.