Folsom: The Final Frontier

Caution: the following essay contains strong sexual themes that may be too graphic for some readers.  NSFW version available.


    I’m not sure exactly what I wanted to get out of Folsom Street Fair when I decided to go this year.  It would be my first time and people have always told me I’d love it.  This felt odd seeing as how I am not a big fetish guy.  Rather, I’d describe myself as “vanilla kink.”  So if anything, this could be great opportunity to have my mind BLOWN.  For some, space is the Final Frontier.  For me, it might just be one of the world’s largest fetish festivals. 

    Though my first challenge was to figure out what in the hell to wear for the fair.  I do find leather sexy so I own a couple of harnesses myself.  Thankfully some friends kindly let me borrow their gear so that I could have more options - leather boots, more harnesses, a black jockstrap, and some wrestling singlets.  I took photos of seven options and sent them to various friends.  Each of them selected something different.   

    For the fair itself, I wanted to wear the least clothing possible without being totally naked.  I narrowed it down to two choices.  The first was my white jock with tube socks.  If anything, I’m more of a vintage guy than a leather guy so it fit my personality.  The other was a black jock (borrowed) with leather boots (borrowed) and a harness (mine).  I felt like a total badass wearing it and it truly fit the Folsom style. 

    On the one hand, I wanted to stand out.  On the other hand, I wanted to fit in.  I couldn’t decide!  Which do I choose?  WHICH DO I CHOOSE?!  This is where I am a bit of a weirdo.  Not too many people would have an existential crisis about how to dress for their first fetish fair.  So naturally, I panicked and packed it all (on top of my regular clothes) hoping that none of it would explode out as I handed my bag to the nice woman at the airline counter.

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    One of things about Folsom is that the weekend is packed full of parties - most in the style of the gay circuit party.  This was something I had never really done either, but I’ve always been a little circuit-curious. There were multiple parties happening day and night.  Instead of having an existential crisis about choosing these, I decided just to follow my friends choices which were often cheaper anyway (because I’m a broke ass writer).  

    Our Friday night kicked off with the bear party known as Bearracuda.  I had been to these before and loved the attitude of all body types being accepted.  And although I love a good bear, I found myself trying to flirt with a non-bear couple on the dance floor.

    In truth, I’m not that good at flirting. I struggle to offer more than a smirk and a second of eye contact, and then turn away as I don’t know what to do next.  It’s up to my flirty counterpart to make the next move.  It probably wouldn’t be so difficult if I drank.  But in my recent choice of sobriety, flirting has become more difficult than ever.     

    As the night wrapped up, the couple (now incredibly drunk) put the pressure on to go home with them.  I turned them down as it felt like breaking one of my cardinal rules: never hook up with someone just for the sake of hooking up with someone.  On the other hand, I figured this was Folsom and the weekend was all about letting go of my inhibitions.

    As nice as they were, I shouldn’t have let go of my inhibitions.  Being so drunk, both of them kept dozing off during our play time.  Then neither of them seemed to get on the same page with what was okay and what was off limits.  My being dead sober left me wide awake and way too aware of it all.

    Then one passed out while other then kept saying, “Yeah, fuck me baby.”

    For me, being called “baby” is a total boner killer.  He said it like ten times and with each demand, I got softer and softer.  Finally I called it a night and ordered a ride back to home base.  Of course as I tried to casually slip out the door, I realized I had grabbed the wrong phone and had to sheepishly go back and knock to get the right one.

    The next day, my friends wanted to go to Mr. S Leather - a huge bondage gear and fetish clothing store that’s been around for nearly four decades.  Evidently this is a big event in itself as the store hands out beer while it’s packed with people shopping.  

    Upon arrival, I immediately got separated from my friends and had to explore on my own.  When I turned the corner to go into the harness section, I was startled by a guy in a sling getting pounded right then and there.  Nevertheless, this was more of a surprise than a shock.  I had seen this kind of thing in bathhouses and just didn’t expect it to happen right there in the store.  Thus my mind wasn’t super blown.

    I then met a handsome, hairy employee working in the lube section.  Evidentially BOTH of us were bad at flirting time and we kept skirting around our attraction to one another.  He kept showing me a number of lube options as we continued to flounder and miss these perfectly slippery segues. 

    Per the lube salesman’s suggestion, I tried on a harness that everyone ended up loving.  I barely escaped from the store without dropping $200 on it (remember: broke ass writer).  Fortunately I had to leave to go hang out with one of my best friends who relocated to San Fran a couple years ago.  He and his partner were intellectual quiet types who had no major desire to participate in the weekend’s shenanigans.

    However before meeting them, I decided to make a quick stop at a daytime party called “Big Muscle.”  I had no intentions of going to this party, but I wanted to stop out front to say hello to a couple who did go to this event.  I met one of them on the train coming in from the San Fran airport and was struck by his overwhelming good looks.  He wanted me to come by so that I could meet his partner as well.  

    “You should come in,” they both suggested after our introductions.

    “No,” I told them.  “I have to go meet up with some local friends.”

    “That’s too bad,” they said.  “The dicks are just starting to come out.”

    “Dicks are coming out?!” I perked up like a groundhog who had been dying to see his shadow. 

    When they told me the cover charge was only $15, I felt like I’d practically be saving money!  I called my local friends and told them I’d have to see them at dinner instead.  I felt a bit like a douche, but c’mon… DICKS!

    I entered the venue to find an overwhelming scene of half naked men dancing everywhere - on the floor, on a stage, up the walls, on balconies.  Three minutes and forty-eight seconds later, dicks did in fact come out.  I promised I’d only stay an hour.  Though seeing as how dance-floor-dicks were also new to me, I wound up staying until the end at 6pm.

    I rushed over to meet my local friends for dinner and was suddenly transported to an entirely different world.  The restaurant was nice and suddenly I felt stupid slutty wearing torn up jean shorts and a muscle tee cut so thin that I was practically shirtless.  These friends told intellectual jokes that went over my head and reminisced about how ponderosa pine trees smell of butterscotch.  I adored them.  Things were calm.  I actually needed this.

    Sunday came and so did the actual street fair itself.  I returned to my conundrum of what to wear.  I had actually worn the black jock and harness to Bearracuda.  Still though… do I fit in or do I stand out?  God, I hate making decisions.  I opted for the white tube socks and jock vintage getup and threw on some tiny shorts and a tank over it.  I didn’t want to touch my bare ass on the public transit seats.

    When I arrived at Folsom Street Fair, I could hardly pay attention to the surroundings because I suddenly had two missions: 1. coat myself in sunblock and 2. find food as fast as possible.  Fortunately I met up with another Denver friend to help me achieve both of these.  

    But before food, I had to stop and get a photo of two guys getting it on in a window from a second floor apartment.  This surprised me.  It was hardly even noon yet.  That’s WAY too early for window sex.  Or I guess the real shock was that they didn’t care that any of us onlookers were taking photos.  My slight exhibitionist side felt a little envious of them.

    Other friends joined us and we began venturing our way through the crowds.  We witnessed people being tied up with rope while others were getting spanked with paddles.  We saw the puppy play pen where guys dawned leather dog masks and trotted on all fours.  I didn’t understand.  None of this was blowing my mind.  Obviously I needed something more obscure.  I needed the folks my friends warned me about. 

    Where was the fisting booth? Where was the woman sitting in a baby pool of urine (to clarify… the urine would be from adults, not babies)? And where were the guys who fill their balls with so much saline… they become huge and grotesquely hang between their legs?!  I wanted my freaks, dammit!

    I began to wonder if this was an unfortunate side effect of living such an open minded and exploratory life.  I enjoy being a spectator of all things unconventional so that I leave no stone unturned.  But what happens when you unturn all the stones?  Is my curious nature just like heroin?  Is enough never enough?  Had I already reached my "Final Frontier?"  

      In order to feel our boundaries slightly pushed, I challenged some friends to at least go full monty with me in the middle of the street for a photo.  None of us had ever done such a thing - especially with so many people around.  We bared our junk and got the shots.  And yet this didn’t feel all that thrilling either.

    Then something occurred to me: as we took our dicks out for the photo op, no one around us actually cared.  There were no double takes, no whispers behind our backs, and no shaming of any kind.  In my pursuit of shock value, I realized that I was completely missing the best part.

    We were existing in a world where everyone could be their most unconventional selves and NO ONE WOULD CARE.  I have heard about this kind of thing happening at Burning Man (another item on my bucket list), but I didn’t realize I could also find it here.  When it came to obsessing over which outfit I’d wear, it ended up that it never really mattered.  All that mattered was whichever one felt best for me.  THIS was what I came to Folsom for - not to necessarily find a fuck, but rather to not give a fuck.  

    For the rest of the day, my fascination turned from my craving of shock value to my new found sense of comfort.  I let a straight couple smack me in the rear with their newly purchased paddle.  I hopped on a random guys’ back to take photos of a gay sex show happening on stage.  And I signed up for the Mr. S newsletter so I could make my first attempt at flirting with a guy in a pup mask.  Instead of wanting the day to be something else, it turned into exactly what I needed it to be.  Oh, and apparently I just missed the guys with the saline balls.  

    That evening, my friends and I went to the closing party called “Deviants.”  In my newfound sense of freedom, I decided to challenge myself on my sober flirting skills.  Instead of quickly looking away after my eye contact and smile, I’d make my way over and introduce myself to these men.  Each guy got easier than the last.  I even made out with a few of them too.

    At the end of the night, I came face-to-face with yet another decision: go home with a dashing ginger or hold out for the after party that would be riddled with orgies.  I chose the ginger.  He was a fellow writer and seemed kind (and also coherent).  

    Instead of getting it on right when we got through the door, we sat and ate sandwiches while asking each other deep and personal questions.  Conceivably this was my fetish: uninhibited human connection - be it from sexual expression or deep conversation.  Of course, taking a shower with him before going back home felt pretty damn good too.

    The next morning I woke up feeling slightly baffled by the weekend.  Had it been overwhelming or underwhelming?  I just didn’t know.  Either way, my final day in San Francisco had arrived and I wanted to do something easy and local.  Ideally I would have gone to Marshall’s Beach - a nude beach right by the Golden Gate bridge.  Except I didn’t know how to get there and all the locals were hurting too badly (from alcohol and drugs, not my flirting) to take me.  So I settled on going to Dolores Park. 

    I ordered up a ride share and upon getting in the car, I was bombarded by yet another good looking gay couple in the back seat.  We made conversation and they informed me, ironically, of their own plans to go to Marshall’s Beach.  I fished around for an invite and luckily they took the bait and invited me along. 

    As we made our way onto the beach, we stumbled upon something none of us expected to see: fisting... fisting on a beach… where sand was present.  However it wasn’t just any old beach fisting.  It was, in fact, a fisting train - three men, two fists, and a whole lot of love.  This was apparently not typical for Marshall’s Beach.  Either way, my mind was officially (and finally) blown!

    My new found friends and I didn’t engage in any fisting of our own, or any other sexual activity for that matter.  Rather we laid out, chatted, took photos, and just soaked up our afternoon of spontaneous, naked camaraderie.  Maybe this was another fetish for me: random, impromptu social nudity.  Most people find it incredibly weird, and yet, for me, it makes me feel alive and intensely engaged with the present moment.  My brain doesn’t wander off to worry about money or my work.  And perhaps this is what fetish is all about.

    Before I came on this trip, I read an article online about the “38 Folsom Street Fair DOs and DON’Ts.”  Number twenty-eight said “Don’t expect Folsom to change your life.”  Then number thirty-nine said “Do expect Folsom to change your life.”  So did Folsom change my life or not change my life?  The answer to both… is yes.  I had reached some kind of frontier over that weekend.  But, in the end, frontiers are never really final.

    Thank you, San Francisco, for the unforgettable weekend.  I look forward to being inside you again soon.  

 

Workplace Rejection

    When a different agency took over the organization that I once loved working for, my co-workers and I suddenly found ourselves jolted into a much more corporate environment. All the luxuries we had been accustomed to got stripped away for a more bureaucratic and micromanaging environment. We tried rebelling in all sorts of ways. I, personally, created a wallpaper for my computer that said “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Upper management hardly blinked and, if anything, we were just being aggressively passive-aggressive.

    Really, we just needed to say “adios” and find employment elsewhere. I had started going on job interview after job interview, and, unfortunately each time, I found myself as the runner up. Always a brides maid, and never a bride. Always a Susan Lucci, and never a Daytime Emmy Award winning actress. Although second place should feel encouraging, it started to become totally frustrating.

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    Then one day, my friend, Seth, called me up. He was the head therapist over at an agency that worked with the well being of gay men. They had a position open - one that would have an emphasis with HIV.

    “You’re the perfect guy for the job,” he said. “You’re smart. You already have a social work background. You’re so well known in the HIV community. And you're edgy as fuck. I think you could really help shake things up around here.”

    I had become a bit of a poster boy in my city after writing a column on poz life in the local gay rag. I also regularly mentored newly diagnosed guys on a volunteer basis. Being able to get paid to do this indeed sounded like a dream job. Plus I do like shaking things up… or down… or even to the left.

    At the interview, I sat with Seth, and three of his co-workers, around an over sized table. There was the brunette guy who wrapped himself in an afghan and drank his herbal tea. Then came the blond guy who apparently made the afghans for everyone in the office. And finally there was the muscle guy who barely had anything to say. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a team like this? The interview went well and they were eager to have me on board.

    For the second round, I had to prepare a scenario in which I would do an outreach in the community. We had to role play it with a list of questions they already prepared. For some reason, they all decided that Muscles had to go first and this slightly enraged him. As far as my history with role playing, it was by far the most awkward - especially since it was being video recorded for their upper management. But it think this all went well again. At least Seth seemed pleased.

    One night, before the third interview, I was talking about the position out of pure enthusiasm with someone at a party. An acquaintance overheard and butted in.

    “Oh God, do NOT go work for Don,” he said so boisterously that everyone turned and looked.

    “Uh, who is Don?” I asked.

    “He oversees the whole program and he is one of biggest, narcissistic, sociopathic assholes I have ever worked with!”

    Before I could ask him to elaborate, he stomped off. But it didn’t make sense. Back at the office, those guys seemed happy at their job. I liked them - even grumpy Muscles. They didn’t at all act like they worked for a horrible, narcissistic asshole. Knowing that this acquaintance had a touch for the drama, I didn’t take his words too much to heart and went on shoving my mouth full of hummus.

    For the third and final interview, this was where I would meet with the now legendarily evil Don and the rest of their upper management. It was down to me and one other guy. To give myself an advantage, I created a portfolio of my writings and my work in the HIV community.

    Looking at it, I suddenly became very impressed with my all that I had achieved in my work so far.

    Dressed to the nines in my best business suit (which was probably a seven at best), I presented the portfolio to Don and some other folks whose roles I didn't entirely understand. Aside from the gold rings on his fingers and gold chains that popped out from his dress shirt (making him look like a Soprano), he seemed like a lovely man. They all acted incredibly impressed by work and were eager to make their decision by that afternoon.

    When Seth called five hours later, I confidently picked up the phone ready to accept their offer.

    “I’m sorry, Scott,” he said. “They ended up going with the other guy.”

    I was stunned. My heart instantly broke. This was supposed to be MY dream job. MINE!

    “What?” I said. “But why? I thought you said this job was as good as mine.”

    “It was. You were even more qualified than this other guy. But they went with him because he is bilingual and he asked for less money.”

    “BUT YOU TOLD ME TO ASK FOR THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY!” I shouted in the phone with a similar sense of drama as that acquaintance at the party.

    Seth actually was kind enough to come over to my house and console me in person. He was frustrated. He talked about how they all made a huge mistake. He didn’t even know how we was going to deal with them on their upcoming business trip to San Francisco for a training.

    Seth was trying to rub ointment on my wounds however he didn’t realize that he just accidentally shoved in some salt instead. I had always wanted to work in a job where I could occasionally travel for it. Something just always seemed so romantic about that - especially when you got to go to major cities. Now I couldn’t stop imagining them all jetting off with this new guy in their awesome jobs while I was the loser stuck back home in the job he hated.

    I’d love to say that, next, I floated on to invent some twelve step program in order to deal with this rejection, but that’s not the case. Instead, I lost sight of all that I had accomplished in my life. I felt like Carrie. Ya know… from that one movie called “Carrie.” This group of cool kids made me feel like I fit in only to then throw a bucket of pigs blood on me. I had been made the fool and I hated them for it.

    If I ever saw Tea-Drinker and Afghan-Maker out and about, I’d certainly offer up pleasantries and kind words as if they hadn't totally rejected me. But really in my head, I was thinking about how nice it would be to punch them in the throat. Not too hard. I didn’t want to hurt them. But just enough to make them uncomfortable - maybe make them cough a little bit.

    Of course, since I couldn’t do that, I’d do the next best thing in order to cope: talk trash about them in my head. What a bunch of pollyannas! I’d think. Drinking their teas and knitting their blankets! That’s not gonna help the gay community! None of them are even HIV positive! How do they know what it's like? Seth was right! I WAS too edgy for that job! I mean, sure, I drink herbal tea too but I do it in a mug with a skull on it, dammit!

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    Clearly I was not doing a good job of handling this. It was taking forever to piece back together the self esteem that had been shredded. I’d dealt with rejection fairly well before (see previous essay). But something about this one was way more difficult. I had gotten my hopes up way too high. Plus the other workplace rejections compounded this dismissal even harder. Susan Lucci must have been on some seriously good antidepressants, because, how she didn’t totally lose her shit and drive her car straight through the door at the Emmy headquarters, I will never know.

    Six months later, I caught wind that the guy they did hire had put in his two weeks notice. And some time after that, Tea-Drinker apparently quit too. Perhaps legendarily evil Don was as awful as he was made out to be. Even though time had healed some of my wounds by now, I still found a lot of comfort in this.

    At the last AIDS Walk, I had stopped to talk to a couple of other acquaintances who had ended up working there as well. Individually, they both told me about their plans to get out. And it finally set in my brain that I should be grateful for not getting this job. I would have, in fact, entirely hated it.

    When it comes to rejection for something so promising, we can easily make up all this crazy stuff in our heads as a result of our new found low self esteem. But the reality is… we have no idea what’s happening on the other side of those walls. That dream job could really be a total nightmare. That woman with the perfect marriage could have a husband who can’t stop cheating on her. The guy with the fancy car could be swimming in debt. Rarely is anything as it seems and, ironically, missing out on it can often be our saving grace.

    Perhaps this was the key to coping with such rejection: remembering that the reason something looks so amazing is because we want it to be so amazing. I had essentially blinded myself with the hopes of finding a most amazing job. Looking back, the warning signs were there. But I had gone so far deep into that mentality that I could hardly see that the grass wasn’t actually going to be greener on the other side. So, if anything, the person who let me down the most... was myself.

    A couple weeks ago, I actually ran into Muscles, from the interviews. I hardly recognized him because we were both wearing towels (I’ll let you do the math on that one).

    “I am so thankful you guys didn’t hire me for that job,” I told him.

    He laughed. “Really you should be,” He said. “It was awful there.”

    It occurred to me that this was the first time I had seen him out of that office and thus, simultaneously, it was also the first time I had seen him smile. He wasn’t a grumpy person. He was a man who hated his place of employment - much like myself in my other job at the time. How did I notice that?

    Muscles filled me in on more details about the terrible work environment. The co-workers constantly had their own drama. Their health benefits were awful (apparently each doctor visit had a one hundred dollar copay). And the description of legendary evil Don being a narcissistic sociopath was a surprisingly pretty accurate description.

    And with all that, I suddenly felt like a total jerk. I felt awful for thinking all those bad thoughts about Tea-Drinker and Afghan-Maker. It was a stupid defense mechanism to cope with my own feelings of failure. Ridiculing them never got me anywhere anyway. On the contrary, it just made me feel worse. I hate hating people. And as I’ve said before, one simply cannot build themselves up by tearing others down.

    I realized that it didn’t matter who was pollyanna and who was edgy. It didn’t matter what kind of mug we used to drink our herbal teas. In the end, guys like Tea-Drinker and Afghan-Maker and me were all one in the same. We just wanted to be in jobs that didn’t totally suck and putting my resentment on them wasn’t the correct route to find my way back to self worth. Susan Lucci would eventually get that Emmy. And if she can wait through 19 nominations to get it, then certainly we can have the grace and patience to find a workplace that we love.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Friend Zoned for the Good

Caution: the following essay contains strong sexual themes that may be too personal for some readers.


    When my partner, Luke, and I got comfortable with having an open relationship, we decided to experiment with getting on the gay apps.  We still didn’t want to be the kind of couple who was banging everyone in town.  Not that there’s anything wrong with banging everyone in town.  Some of my best friends bang everyone in town.  But we just wanted to make sure it didn’t become a runaway train - in a few different respects.

    Luke got on first and his train certainly seemed to stay on the tracks (if you know what I mean… which, if you do, is good… cuz I don't).  He was having fun talking with lots of guys and occasionally having his allotted hookup.  I’m not sure why I waited to join the apps.  But once Luke showed me the various men (and occasional friends) he chatted with, I instantly came down with a severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and had to join.

    It quickly became clear why all of my friends had all been so addicted to these things.  In a major city, your options quadruple and sometimes they can even be delivered to your door in thirty minutes or less - just like pizza.  But also like pizza, I would just kind of be filled with regret afterwards, no matter how greasy and fun it got.  

    I don't find anything wrong with hooking up from apps.  But the more I did it, the more I learned it wasn’t for me.  It made sex feel like doing errands.  First, I’m gonna go to the gym.  Then I gotta pick up the dry-cleaning and then go fuck this guy.  After that I’ll pick up the dog’s medicine, get some groceries and I’ll be home.

    After a year’s time, I finally declared myself as one of THOSE guys who states, in their app profile, that they DON’T do hookups.  This, of course, would annoy most people.  However, when a guy struck up a decent conversation, I could tell it was genuine and that we could possibly bang on our own chemistry rather than just out of necessity.

    This very thing happened with a guy named Craig, whose profile named also happened to be “Craig.”  I wondered if this meant that he lacked any sense of creativity and therefore wouldn’t be all that interesting.  But either way, this tall, hairy guy had a dashing mix of being an otter, nerdy cute, and classically handsome all at the same time.  In all honesty, I probably would have foregone my need for a good conversation first.

    Apparently, we had met once before.  A mutual friend introduced us when we all accidentally ran into each other at the naked hiking spot I love so dearly.  But somehow, I had no recollection of this.  As much as I love it when guys don’t remember getting naked with me, I didn’t want to give Craig that same feeling, so I pretended to remember that moment too.

    After a month or so of chatting, we finally met up at a sushi place near his house.  Our conversations flowed effortlessly and we made each other laugh a ton.  One of the sushi dishes came out with a strobe-light centerpiece and for the first time in my life, I took a picture (or a video rather) of food and posted it to social media.  It would also be the last.

    He invited me back to his place to keep hanging out.  His dog absolutely hated me, but we had a shared love for music videos and, thus, we stayed up into the wee hours showing off our favorites.  Finally, we capped off the evening with some banging sex.

    At least I think it was banging.  I couldn’t tell.  I had been enjoying the night so much and he was so freakin’ cute that I suddenly got all self-conscious.  Once I got inside my head, I started getting worried that I may not stay hard.  I think this is what they meant by “twitterpated” in the classic children’s movie “Bambie.” 

    Craig and I continued to hang out and have sex, and while I successfully stayed hard each time, I continued to overthink it and would give slightly mediocre performances in the sack.  It was then that I caught myself having a crush on Craig.  It was more of a small, schoolboy crush really… like the time I had a crush on the gym teacher in middle school… or the time I had a crush on my high school science teacher… and then the time I had a crush on my first writing professor.  OK.  Apparently, I had a thing for teachers.  But the point is that these were loose feelings based in fantasy - nothing concrete in reality.

    So, no part of me wanted to suddenly leave Luke and run away with Craig.  Luke was ultimately the only one I wanted to be with.  So, nothing would ever happen with this little crush.  And that was totally fine.  As long as Craig and I could make a little bacon on the regular, I’d be more than happy with the situation.

    But after a few weeks of our trademarked, slightly awkward action, the sexy part of our friendship quickly got canned by Craig.  Without any real explanation, things felt more confusing than ever.  A couple times, I tried bringing it up, but the vague answers wouldn’t clarify much of anything.  Finally, I had come to the realization that I had been “friend zoned.”

    This was kind of weird seeing as how we would have actually only ever remained friends anyway.  Though it just goes to show that being friend zoned can come in many different forms.  This was the version where we became friends who didn’t have sex and I felt rather disappointed about it for several months afterwards.  

    But in time, a new kind of friendship began to emerge between Craig and me.  Sure, we didn’t get it on, but we started to confide in each other on some seriously deep levels.  We told each other things that we admittedly didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone else.  And we gave some of the best and most genuine critical feedback I ever had with anyone.

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    I helped walk Craig through the times when his new and exciting relationship got a little rocky.  He helped me when my steady and long term relationship got a little frustrating.  And it occurred to me that it was years since I had a good friend like this (probably because I kept having sex with them).

    I realized that getting friend zoned by Craig was quite possibly the best thing that could have ever happened.  He and I genuinely did fall in love with each other, but in the most non-romantic of ways.  It was exactly the kind of friendship that could only be described by the intro song of “The Golden Girls.”  And it was absolutely worth NOT having sex for.

    More recently, Craig had his own experience with a friend-zoner.  As usual, I had the pleasure of getting to be there for him and help him make sense of it - especially as a now experienced friend-zonee.  Like mine, his disappointment would eventually turn into gratitude, and it had us both talking about this odd aspect of life.

      As Craig put it, getting friend zoned feels like getting dumped by somebody you aren’t even dating.  It’s a unique kind of heartbreak that causes a unique kind of anxiety.  Who are we now that we aren’t fucking?  Are we even still friends?  As disheartening as getting friend zoned is, we’ve come to understand that it’s not necessarily a bad thing - especially when it paves the way for a better friendship.  

    “I think it’s just a nature of navigating relationships as gay men and finding our chosen families.  We lead with our dicks and then either our brain or heart kicks in,“ Craig said.  “When I think about it, nearly every single one of my closest gay friendships is with a guy I’ve either friend zoned or been friend zoned by.”

    Even before I learned this value of getting friend zoned, I felt a similar sentiment.  Some gay men act appalled at those who regularly start off friendships with sex.  But when you think about it, it’s a luxury that straight people don’t get to so easily have.  

    When a straight friend of mine went through his divorce, he was having a legitimately tough time making friends.  He said, “I don’t understand it.  How are you so good at making friends?”

    “Well, it’s different in Gay World,” I told him.  “In Gay World, we all just wanna fuck each other.”

    I meant it to be a crass joke.  But, in all seriousness, it felt like a bit of truth sat in there.  Even when things start out on a superficial level, it’s kind of cool that it can lend itself to something deeper that’s not necessarily romantic.  Sure, there are those guys who then just end up with a group of friends who look like themselves (icky).  But aside from that, is this really all that bad?

    Not to get all meta about it, but if Craig hadn’t have friend zoned me, The Bare InkSlinger probably wouldn’t even exist.  As it turned out, he does have a creative side that extends beyond his in inability to come up with a screen name other than just his first name.  Because of his experience in branding and marketing (his website linked), he was able to help me take all my brain goo and create a truly interesting concept around my writing.  He even pushed me to take the bold step of getting naked on here (feel free to send him thank you letters).  

    If we had kept fucking, we probably would have butterfly-effected our way into a situation where that wouldn't have been possible.  So, while getting friend zoned felt like I was somehow falling short, it was actually because Craig sensed the opportunity for so much more.  And in the end, that felt way better than sex.     

    To this day, Craig swears that our sex really wasn’t awkward and that I gave a fine performance in the sack.  But like the best of friends sometimes do, he might just be telling me what I need to hear.  None of that matters anyway.  It’s truly in the past.  All that matters now is the cool thing that came from it.  So my dear Craig, as the classic song goes… “Thank you for being a friend (and not a friend with benefits).”

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If you'd like to creep on Craig, like I once did, feel free to follow him on Instagram at @craigspalding (yet another one of his truly creative profile names)!
 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

An AIDS Walk Asshole

     When I realized that AIDS Walk Colorado was only a few days away, I naturally began to panic.  I am whole heartedly committed to fundraising for charitable events, even when I fail to raise funds for myself. It probably appeases urban hippie liberal guilt.  However, this fundraiser -my most regular one- nearly slipped right past me.

     I scrambled to figure out a clever pitch so I could convince friends to give me a few hundred bucks.  I needed at least one hundred just so I could get the damn AIDS Walk T-shirt.  I called it “$300 In 3 Days.”  And because I am fortunate to know some wildly wonderful people, we managed to raise together nearly $400 in less than two days.  Their generosity instantly calmed my nerves, if not giving me a double dose of the warm fuzzies.

     Nevertheless, something else had me nervous.  What would the AIDS Walk be like this year?  Last year, there had been a dramatic drop in participation.  Apparently it had been on the decline ever since 2015, but last year it was BAD.  It was as if they had Martin Shkreli be the guest emcee or something.  By the way, if that name doesn’t ring a bell, he was the guy who bought out Daraprim, a medication used in some HIV/AIDS treatments, and raised the price 5,000%.

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     After last year’s Walk, articles popped up saying that it could be its last.  The organizers were thinking of turning next years’ into a smaller “memorial event.” This idea made me slightly cringe.  It didn’t make any sense.  This disease rapidly continues to gain so much hope. So now, as a solution, they wanted to make the event even MORE somber?  I didn’t want this to happen.

     So when we made our way through to the park and over to the event, I felt relief when I saw that nothing had changed.  Sure, everything had gotten a little smaller, but more or less it was basically the same - the same check-in tables, the same stage with the same big banner, the same little makeshift store with the same additional shirts for sale (aside from the hundred dollar fundraiser one), and the same vendor booths with the same free shwag.

     Then something occurred to me: maybe this was the problem.  They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Although I think this phrase mostly refers to the mind-bludgering politics in this country, perhaps the same could be true for a major fundraiser on the decline.

     As my partner and I made our way to the check-in table, we stopped to talk to a friendly acquaintance.  He expressed his disappointment in this year’s even lower turn out.  I agreed and offered up my opinion that something needed to change.

     “Well, I don’t see YOU stepping up to help,” he said in a not-so-friendly way.

     I immediately wanted to slap him.  But I couldn’t.  He was right.  Besides, I don’t slap people anyway.  Instead I just awkwardly agree and then look down at my feet wondering what my toes might look like all squished together in my shoes.

     We then went over to the check-in tables where I gave a girl all my information.

     “Great,” she said, “I got you all checked in.”  She smiled at me blankly as if we were done.

     “Uh… Wait. What about my shirt?” I asked her. I NEEDED that fucking shirt. I had gotten one every single year since my own diagnosis in 2007 and it was proof that I could do something for people OTHER than myself.  I NEEDED that fucking proof.

     “Oh, you only get that when you raise more than a hundred dollars,” she muttered as if I had done no such thing.

     “Yeah. I raised almost four hundred,” I said.

      She looked confused.  “Oh… Uh… Well. That’s not on this list.  But I will get you one anyway.  What’s your size?”

     I couldn’t tell if everyone’s numbers weren’t on her list, or just mine.  Either way, she handed the t-shirt over skeptically and without any kudos for my job well done.  I NEEDED those fucking kudos.

      The shirt itself was rather uninspiring too.  Although it had a clever design with an AIDS ribbon forming the number “30” (due to it being the 30th anniversary), this sat on the bottom corner of the shirt.  In the center of the chest (where the ribbon should have gone), it said “Colorado Health Network.”  While they are a great organization I fully support, this layout made the shirt look corporate.  I wouldn’t even bother turning it into a bad muscle tank like I did with last year’s shirt.

     When the walk actually started, it looked more like we were all making our way to jury duty.  We came here because we had to, not because we wanted to.  That was the impression. Once upon a time, people were dying.  The devastation and loss was enough to get folks to participate.  Now that people are rarely dying (at least in our modern country), that same urgency no longer exists.  But still, a need for help seriously continues.  It’s just harder to see.

     Among the swarm of all the lackluster, my brain began to wander off, thinking about possible new motivators.  What else could we do?  What could change?  How can we get people to be excited about this?  How can we make this more fun?

     I know “AIDS” and “fun” don’t really go hand-in-hand, but truth be told, people don’t really get all that psyched up for a “small memorial event.”  When it comes to raising money and doing a 5k walk or run, they want to have smiles on their faces and a laugh with their friends.  They want a unique experience and to “can’t believe” what they just did.  They want bragging rights and solid content for their social media.

     Obstacle courses.  People freaking love obstacle courses!  You can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who’s wearing a shirt for the Tough Mudder or the Spartan Race or the Zombie Run or the Warrior Dash (and eagerly awaiting for you to ask them about it).  My partner once did a race called the “Devil Dash” where obstacles had a “seven deadly sins” theme.

     Zombies and sins probably don't fit well for a walk/race supporting HIV and AIDS, but you get the idea.  The organization can come up with its own theme, even if it’s just the color red representing the iconic color of the AIDS ribbon. Participants could receive a blank white t-shirt with a secret design printed on it.  In one obstacle, they could flop into a vat of red water, dying their shirt and revealing the design.

     Or you could throw shit on people.  Well, not literal shit.  But, like, red dust something.  I constantly see social media posts of people covered in all sorts of neon substances from whatever race that does that.

     There could even be a kids course.  Do you know how much money little Johnny or Janet could raise?  I’m not a father so I don’t know what people are naming their kids these days.  But if they are cute enough, friends and family won’t be able to resist giving money so they could raise funds for a good cause AND have the time of their lives.

     Maybe those other races might rent out some of their obstacles for “free” so they could get a big tax write off for it.  Although I am not sure how any of that works.

     Or maybe the AIDS Walk could switch things up by holding the event at night… and making it a glow-in-the-dark theme.  If there’s something people love more than getting shit thrown on them, it’s wearing weird and wild costumes that glow.  Could you imagine how cool it would look to have the routed city streets filled with people wearing all sorts of red glowing gear?  The visual luminance would have both participants and onlookers buzzing for months and excited to do it again next year.

     And to top it off, when participants cross the finish line, there could be a DJ and a dance floor to keep the night of red glowing goodness going.  Plus, this would make for a great excuse to sell loads of alcohol at a high mark up and raise even more funds.  “IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE!,” people would shout as they accidentally vomit from the hundred dollars worth of booze they just drank.

     AIDS Walk could also make money off of the glow gear itself.  Again, don’t companies want to donate products for a tax write off?  If not, then maybe at least some extremely cheap versions can be shipped in from China.

     Having never planned a major 5k charitable event, I don’t really know if ideas like these are all that feasible.  One would think that if it meant this much to me, I would join the board or the committee that plans the AIDS Walk Colorado and win over their hearts to such concepts.  But I’d never do that.  I just don't have it in me at this point in my life.  And I have been on boards before - they make me want to pull my hair out… one strand at a time.

     Instead, I’ll probably just pass this essay on to a friend who works for the organization, hoping he will pass it on to the board or the organizers.  This terribly passive move makes me realize something else:  I may not be quite as whole heartedly committed to charity as I’d like to think.  Ultimately, all of this might just make me another asshole with yet another opinion.

     When we neared the end of the walk, we saw two sad little signs that simply said “finish.”  No balloon archway way stood tall to welcome us back.  No cheer squad jumped up and down to cheer us for our efforts.  Unfortunately, it seemed all too appropriate.  And although I won’t step up and join whatever committee to make the difference that’s needed, hopefully I’m at least an asshole who can help spark some new ideas.  And make them glow.  Because, in the end, I don’t want to see AIDS Walk Colorado cross it’s own sad little finish line.


Special thanks to this year's donors:  Glen Trupp, Casey Peel, Sinead Kasch, Gage Grotty-Garrett, Wesley Peterson, Bublz LaRue, Kathy Capell, Kevin Lole, Kyle Oliveria, and Richard Viken.

Additional thanks to my guest editor Migue Martínez Vázquez - @okmigue2

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

A Watched Clock Always Boils

    As I sat in the dingy, old classroom, it took everything in me to not get up, walk over, and punch the middle-aged Chinese woman in the face.  Normally I didn’t daydream of such violence.  But time began running out and the all the reasons I came here were slowly slipping from my finger tips.

    Back when I decided to try and make a living off my writing, I had the unfortunate realization that I’d also have to become a business.  Alas, I don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body.  Math hurts my brain and I can barely remember to write things down in my calendar.  Most paperwork stays on the top of my desk rather than in the filing cabinets and I haven't even checked my PO Box since I got it.  

    However instead of feeling all road blocked and self defeated (like most of the time), I decided to take a more proactive approach.  I skimmed through the catalogue of a local adult education center to see if they had anything that could help.  In no time, I found myself signing up for all sorts of classes: taxes for the small business owner, copyrights and trademarks, google analytics, iPhone photography, and how to get good sleep.

    Those last two might not seem all that related to business.  But I figured it couldn’t hurt to bone up my game on Instagram, as well as not lay awake all night thinking about all the various ways I could fail.  Oh, which reminds me, then there was the class on how to not fail under pressure.

    The iPhonephotography course came first.  Except when I walked in the classroom, I realized I might not have paid close enough attention to the course description.  Out of seven students, I was the youngest by about 30 years.  To give you further perspective, I am currently 35 years old.  

    When the teacher went around the room and asked what brought them to this class, literally each of them said they wanted to learn how to take better photos of their grandchildren.  One woman was tired of accidentally getting pictures of her feet all the time.  It was actually all kinds of adorable.

    When the teacher taught us that, in order to save time, you can simply swipe up from the lock screen to quickly find the camera icon, then I knew I had taken the wrong class.  Some people didn’t know this?  I so badly wanted to raise my hand and say that you can also get to the camera by just swiping left from the lock screen.  However this information might make their heads explode, and I didn’t have time to clean up all those elderly brains.  

    Next came the class on how to get good sleep.  However, the day before, I got a phone call from the school saying that it would be cancelled.  Since I was the ONLY person who signed up, they didn’t have enough students enrolled to put it on.  You win again, insomnia. 

    Finally the class on Copyrights and Trademarks arrived - something I could actually sink my teeth into when it came to business.  I was the first one to get there.  When the teacher arrived, he looked like that crazy, disheveled uncle who would use a time machine to go back in time and simply get his haircut in the 1970s.  As goofy as he looked, he introduced himself with 23 years of copyright law experience.

    The next student who arrived seemed like Mr. Rogers’ illegitimate son.  He began handing out smiley face pins that we could hook to our shirts.  “Everyone can use a smile!” he said with a grin so sweet that it automatically meant he had to be a serial killer.  The teacher was delighted.  I played along. 

    Then walked in the Asian woman - the person who, for the next hour and a half, would be the bane of my existence.  I don't know what it was, but I could tell she would be trouble right from the start.  

    “Aren’t there supposed to be two of you?” the teacher asked her, wondering the whereabouts of her husband.

    “Ah yes, he in tha cah,” she said.  “He much slowah than me.”

    Now, before I continue on with this story, let me apologize for my poor attempts at phonetically writing out her Chinese accent.  My liberal side feels like I’m being slightly stereotypical (and therefore slightly racist) for doing this.  But this is literally how she spoke.  Her jutty English knew no R’s and were replaced with an “h” or “ah” or occasional “w” sound.  If you're wondering why I didn’t just swap “L” and “R,” well it’s because that’s the Japanese accent.  Now who’s racist?  

    After waiting a few more minutes, the husband still didn’t come in.  Since the woman didn’t seem to be all that concerned, the teacher went outside to find out what was going on.  When the teacher came back, he informed us that the husband was just sitting in the car, not attempting to get out or come to the class.  Finally the woman got up to grab this man and bring him in.

    Melanie and George Chow were the owners/publishers of a free, state wide newspaper for the Chinese community.  Melanie clearly ruled their marriage with an iron fist.  George practically didn’t speak unless she gave him permission.  I didn’t know if this was a cultural thing or not, but typically I’d appreciate a powerful woman.  However in this case, her power began to dominate the entire class.

    During our introductions, which should typically take no more than twenty seconds, Melanie deemed it necessary to take twenty minutes to explain their situation.  Like all free publications, they made their income from the advertisements.  They hadn’t ever thought about copyrights until recently when another publication stole one of their ads without their consent.  Melanie wanted her questions answered immediately.  It became clear that she hadn’t come to the class to learn, she had come for some personal legal counsel.  To her, no one else existed in the room.  

    To make matters worse, the teacher actually decided to answer her questions rather than just move on with the material (hence the twenty minutes).  You could tell he attempted to do this in a way that educated the rest of us, but it only helped in the slightest.  I needed foundational knowledge, not specific scenarios.  Before I knew it, the clock suddenly said fifteen more minutes had passed.

    Each time the teacher did move on with the course material, it’d last for about five minutes before Melanie would burst out with more irrelevant questions.  He had enabled her for all this one-on-one attention. And she seemed to have a lot of problems.  What if she played copyrighted music on her one hour program at the local Chinese radio station?  Who would be at fault?  Then of course she wanted to know what to do about the time some hooligan stole all of their papers from a newsstand.

    It often gets said that a watched pot never boils.  However when it comes to watching a clock, our brains always seem to heat up at a rapid pace.  And here in this classroom, my brain began to bubble in no time.  All of the irritability was making my squirm in my seat.  I could tell that even Mr. Rogers Junior was getting tense.  

    “How we going to sue the person who take ouh papah?” she screamed, wanting revenge on these Chinese-newspaper-stealing-thugs.

    I checked the clock again.  We were closing in on an hour of class.  Surely the teacher wouldn’t answer this.  How was it even related?

    “You can’t sue them,” he said.  “Your newspapers are free.  You deemed the value of your product at zero and therefore the worth of what they stole is also at zero.”

    This logic seemed clear to everyone except her.  Thus the answer didn't satisfy her in the least.  So Melanie began to argue her desire to sue people from all different angles. 

    “So what if we sell papah for twenty-fi cent and tell stoh employee to tell customah that it weally fwee,” Melanie suggested.

    With only thirty minutes left in the class, the teacher actually started answering this one too and suddenly, my brain began to boileth over.

    “OH MY GOD!”  I let out an involuntary whisper scream. This was the kind of “oh my god” that said “oh my god, are you kidding me with this shit?” or “oh my god, please, for the love of God, just shut the fuck up!”  I would seriously rather kick a bunch of rabbits with my bare feet than deal with this anymore.

    The teacher caught on to our frustrations and tried to rush through the rest of the course content in the twenty-nothing minutes remaining.  But it was too late.  I would be walking away with probably 40% of what I should have learned.  I would most definitely be calling the school tomorrow to ask for a refund or freebie to the next class.  

    When the teacher handed out the forms to rate the class and his performance, I realized that in order to get my refund or second chance, I’d have to be honest.  Although I explained why, I rated the class poor and his doings as average.  I knew he would see them, but I didn’t care.

    Seeing as how Melanie and George left first, Mr. Rogers Junior and I decided to corner the teacher and ask him our last ditch questions.  It was the least he could do.  To our surprise, he didn’t just apologize for everything, but he stayed for nearly a whole additional ninety minutes longer to talk with us.  Not only would I walk away with 100% of the course content, but I’d learn so many specific items to my own journey as a blogger/writer/public figure.  He even offered to help fine-tune some legal paperwork for me pro-bono.  

    Suddenly, I felt terrible for writing him that poor review.  I stared at the envelope which contained them and wondered if there was a way I could steal them out of his hand and re-write mine. But alas it would be impossible.  The school staff would read it after all the good that this guy unexpectedly did for me.

    When clocks cause our brains to boil, we can easily become shortsighted.  I let my temperament with the situation get ahead of me and in that, I misjudged the very man who would offer to be some of my greatest help.  When I got home and told my partner about all of it, he… well he first asked why in the hell I had a smiley face pinned to my shirt.  And then he suggested writing an email to the school to correct my review, and also give additional gushes of the teacher’s sudden, extensive help.  

    The next day, I sent an email to the teacher with the paperwork that he promised to review.  The longer it took to get a response, the more I began counting time again with the passing days.  To a new disappointment, I never heard back from him.  And with that, there was only one thing I could do: still send the school that email telling them how much I appreciated his work. Because instead of letting my brain reach yet another boiling point what didn't come through, I chose to remain thoughtful of what did.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Be Right Back

Hola InkReaders,

As I was writing the essay for this week, I took a break to have a "little procedure."  As it turns out, the whole thing wasn't so little after all.  As you can expect, I will write more about it in detail for a future essay.  But for now, the post surgery recovery has kicked my ass and I haven't been able to do any writing ever since.  So I will be moving this week's essay back to next week.  I hope you understand.

Much love,

Scott
The Bare InkSlinger 

Ballin Like a Blogger

    Six weeks ago, when I announced that I had quit my job in bartending to pursue this whole “writing thing” full time, some people felt concerned for me - like REALLY REALLY concerned.  I had made this decision based on several other people’s belief in me.  But now, my more anxious advocates began to enter my floodgates.  And my floodgates have enough trouble keeping themselves shut as it is.  

    “I’m really worried for you,” a friend/customer/former-naked-yoga-classmate said.  “I remember when Towleroad sent out an email begging for subscribers to click on his ads.  If they didn’t, he couldn’t afford to keep it going and would get shut down.”

    I had never heard of Towleroad because, as I admitted from the beginning, I never actually read any blogs.  I went onto his site and immediately discovered… well, that we had pronounced the name entirely wrong.  I’m sure it happens to the best of us.  People can hardly get my blog’s name right.  But then I discovered how he was no longer a “he,” but rather had become a “leading online news source” with more than 50 authors. 

    It all started as a personal blog of Andy Towle.  From editor in chief at Genre magazine to working in feature film development at Twentieth Century Fox, this man boasted an impressive resume.  I couldn’t tell if it’s evolution made me feel hopeful or nervous.  Either way, I immediately knew what my friend/customer/former-naked-yoga-classmate didn’t mean to actually say. If a guy like Towle struggled to keep his blog financially viable, what chance would I have?

    The question on everyone’s mind kept boiling down to this: “How does one make money as a blogger?”  I've come to learn that some bloggers out there don't like to disclose how they be ballin.  But that's not how I roll.  I don't want to be some cat burglar, all dressed up in black, sneaking around and making stealthy financial gains from under the noses of my followers.

    So for this week’s essay, I figured I would once again embrace that sense of total transparency, explain what I have learned, and how I plan to put it into action.  I want to strip off the black burglar outfit and show that I have nothing to hide.  And for those of you curious on starting your own blogs (as I’m getting asked more and more), pay extra attention.

All Photography by Rob Kavalek

All Photography by Rob Kavalek

    First off, a blogger could start charging for their content.  Fortunately I wouldn’t even have to charge much.  If all newsletter subscribers pledged just one dollar per essay, I could sustain a minimally decent living - enough to afford a few more apples each week (occasionally organic if I’m feeling fancy).  And that’d only be around $26 per year for all of these delightful little stories that hopefully don’t ever suck.

    But in the end, I don’t want to go this route.  As transparent and upfront as it is, I love giving away my blog content for free.  It seems like everyone nickel-and-dimes each other these days.  So the idea of offering up something for absolutely nothing has become a bit romantic.  This is why I keep our home available for travelers on CouchSurfing rather than AirBnB.  Our guests constantly say how we should start charging for the guest room.  However giving it away to help those in need of a solid vacation just feels better than getting a fistful of cash.

    Another way, I could start ballin’ like a blogger is to put ads up on the site.  But alas, I don't want to do this either.  Again, nowadays, we all get slapped in the face with so many ads.  Everywhere we turn, ours eyes get assaulted with them.  I can’t quite tell if we’ve grown tired of it or have just become numb to it.  But it just seems like one less thing the world needs.  Plus having ads on the blog would slow down the site and tweak it’s lovely appearance that I worked ever so hard to create.  Ads would have to be a last resort.

    Then there’s the idea of doing partnerships.  I actually plan to go with this option as my first experiment in making a living as an independent writer - which is ironic seeing as how I don’t fully comprehend how this would even work for a blog like this.  For instance, a blog expert that blogged on blogging might partnership with other sites that help build blogs.  Those sites would then pay this blog expert blogger to recommend them to his audience.  

    It’s like a wordy product placement that makes sense for a field expert, but not for a storyteller like me.  How on earth would I fit products into my stories?  Could you imagine what that might read like?

“I couldn’t believe what Jasper just said.  How dare he accuse me of stealing!  I was so upset that I immediately ran downstairs and started doing laundry with the Boulder Clean all natural laundry detergent.  Boulder Clean gets all the stains out without any harsh chemicals.  But would I ever get these stains out of mine and Jasper’s relationship?”

    Ugh.  That’s terrible.  By the way, Boulder Clean is a real product that I really use.  They didn’t pay me to write that awful example.  But a friend of mine works for them and we will see if I can convince him to write me a check after using them to demonstrate such atrocity.  To be continued…

    So anyway, in an effort to not destroy my storytelling, my partnerships will have to look a little different.  Luckily a new online vendor, Undies & Lube™, contacted me with a great idea.  We could combine forces to create a new under/lube bundle with some Bare InkSlinger twist on it.  Together we will sell this for a limited time.  Those who want it can buy it.  Those who don’t want it can ignore it and just keep reading.  Everyone's a winner.  Maybe.  I think.  

    At first, I worried that partnershipping with an underwear and lube vendor might look a bit too tawdry.  But as someone else objectively pointed out, it's actually well within my brand of body positivity and sex positivity.  Sticking within my brand means my audience won't have to worry about me suddenly trying to sell them tupperware or anything.  Truth be told, I’ve actually already been offered to sell toothpaste.  Even though I certainly have the big teeth to hawk it, I politely turned it down as I don't often write about dental hygiene.

    Regardless of how I do partnerships, my oath to my audience is that I will ALWAYS be transparent about it.  If I get paid to endorse something, or am given free product to promote on the blog or on Instagram (this concept is getting insanely popular on Instagram), I will be honest and acknowledge it.  I would also only do this for items that I actually use or think worthy of use.  I would never promote something I thought sucked. 

    And the final way a blogger makes money is by opening an online store to sell shwag within their brand.  I’ve been watching how other online personalities or public figures do this, and while some do it well, others can do it poorly.  Let’s just say that I don’t want to merely slap my logo or face on a t-shirt or phone case and call it a day.  I don’t want to turn my audience into walking billboards for me.  

    Okay, fine.  There probably WILL be t-shirts.  But through my love of words and artwork, and my good fortune to collaborate with some seriously talented folk, I hope to create some really cool, unique items that people would actually want to buy.  This way, I could hopefully sustain a living by selling original artworks, photography, etc to then keeping my blog content sustainably free.

    By now, I know what you’re thinking.  This all sounds fairly risky.  Actually you may now be thinking of how much laundry you need to get done (I know I am).  But either way, don’t worry.  You will eventually get your laundry done and I will eventually make a living as a writer.  Fingers crossed.

    The fact is that this venture really is truly risky.  I have no idea if my partnerships will interfere with people’s enjoyment of my work, or if my online goods will spark anyone’s interest.  But attempting it will be a whole lot better than going back to the bureaucratic, nine-to-five cubicle from which I narrowly escaped before it fully killed my soul.  And, as much as I enjoyed slinging drinks at the bar, the late night hours and consistent over alcohol consumption began prodding at my Bipolar side.  That’s not even a joke.

    I had spent a whole lifetime of playing it safe and all it got me was being uncomfortably comfortable.  In order to break free from this, one has to take risks.  These various ways of making a living certainly sound like a shit ton of work with a potentially unstable result.  But sometimes the only thing crazier than taking a huge risk, is that of taking none at all.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Photography Copyright © 2017 Rob Kavalek, Used With Permission

Ask and Ye Shall Achieve

    As my partner and I waited in line to meet one of my most favorite musicians ever, I began to break a small sweat.  Meeting your heroes has a certain terrifying edge to it.  You wonder whether they will act kind or rude.  And even if you aren’t religious, you pray a little that you don’t accidentally spit a fleck of food on their shoulder as you tell them how much you love them.

    Being a music geek, meeting such artists gets me particularly riled up.  And this particular musician was Amanda Palmer.  While some know the name well, others have never heard of her.  She began her music career as the brilliant mind behind the “punk cabaret” duo known as The Dresden Dolls.  But she really came into the limelight when she broke free from her record label and then broke a record for one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date.

Photo by Laquena

Photo by Laquena

    Ms. Palmer asked for $100,000 to make the album and all the business that goes along with it.  The lowest giver of $1 or $5 would get musical downloads.  The highest giver of $5,000 or $10,000 would get their own house party where Amanda (or the full band) would play.  I almost considered the $5,000 option but then just threw in $25 for the deluxe edition CD instead.  

    Amanda Palmer ended up raising nearly $1.2 million and controversy quickly ensued.  She defied the industry standard of the record labels and not everyone would take too kindly to this.  Palmer then went on to do a TED Talk called “The Art of Asking” where she explained “I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is ‘How do we make people pay for music?’ What if we started asking ‘How do we let people pay for music?’”

    The release of her book (also titled “The Art of Asking”) recounted her life lived this way and it was also the reason Luke and I had stood in line to meet her.  We had gone to the book reading/meet-n-greet at Denver’s most notorious book shop.  

    As she discusses, people don’t like asking for things.  It makes them feel vulnerable.  I understood exactly what she meant.  So in the spirit of living my own vulnerable life, I decided that I would ask her for something very different than an autograph.  Rather, I would ask Amanda Palmer… for a new tattoo.

    Technically this would be the 5th time I met Palmer.  The first had been at a small film festival called “Fuck the Back Row.”  Her voice was so strained that she couldn’t say a word.  Instead, she playfully tried to pinch my nipple as we posed for the camera.  

    The second time was during the first True Colors tour hosted by Cindy Lauper.  The Dresden Dolls played in the line up and I was one of the only audience members to be rocking out to their incredibly unique, off brand form of rowdy show-tune-esque music.  They announced they'd be meeting fans and signing autographs.  I rushed over to the table and patiently waited in line.  But when I got to the front, I realized I didn’t have anything for them to sign.  So I panicked and did the only thing any normal person would do: took off my shirt so they could sign the back of that.

    The prime meeting came after The Dresden Dolls broke up.  Palmer had gone solo but they decided to do a reunion tour.  I met up with my buddy, Matt, in Atlanta.  Prior to our arrival, I sent Palmer an email telling her my story about HIV and how her music gave me the courage to be open and even start up a non-profit social group to connect young people living with the virus.  I called it “Gravity” after one of their songs.  The night of the show, at the last minute, I got two backstage passes to meet them.  It was only us. No other fans.  Palmer gushed over my tattoos (one of which was the symbol from their second album).  She demanded a photo with them and together, we cried over my story.

    The fourth time came in a typical record store meet-n-greet.  I went back to properly waiting my turn in the queue.  Palmer didn’t quite remember our meeting in Atlanta, but she pretended to after I tried jogging her memory.  She was kind as always as I asked her to sign my hoodie and the album.  Then I got the hell out of the way so the next fan could do the same.

    You’d think all of these meetings would make one a “pro” at coming face-to-face with their favorite musician.  But now back in the bookstore, I felt just as nervous and terrified as ever, knowing that I’d be asking for a little more than just an autograph.  What if she said ‘no?’  What if she told me to fuck off?  Asking someone to draw a new tattoo on you is kind of a lot of pressure.  It takes time and thought.  Our limited time could only make it that much more intense.

    Palmer’s arrival to the store had been delayed because of the flight.  She was exhausted and after the reading, she declared that they’d make a pillow fort right there in the book store so that she could lay down and meet fans on the floor.  It was cute and bohemian - everything I loved about her and everything I wished I could be.  Any moment now, Bette Middler would burst through the wall, not unlike the Kool-Aid man, and declare how Palmer was indeed the "wind beneath my wings."

    When our time arrived, Luke and I got down with Palmer, one on each side as she ushered us down.  She signed our books and Luke commented on how beautiful she was up close.  She didn’t shoot down his compliment or act bashfully flattered.  She said a simple “thank you,” which I also admired.

    The time had come to ask her for this favor.  “So, I, ummm, was, ummmm, wondering if you would, ummm.”  Just spit it out, for God’s sake! I thought to myself.  “If instead of an autograph, you’d draw me a new tattoo?”

    I pointed to the empty space next to the symbol from her second album.  

    She glanced it with a blank stare.  I think her precise words were, “Fuck yeah!”

IMG_3258.jpg

    “Hold on, though,” she said.  “Wait.  I need a second.  I want it to match the aesthetic of the rest of your tattoos.”

    She was actually taking this seriously! I did exactly as told and waited with the giddiest of patience.  

    “Ok, I know what I am going to do,” she made her final decision.  She began stroking the sharpie against my arm.  I had no clue what she was doing.  It reminded me of that game we play as kids where someone draws an image on your back with their finger and then you have to guess what they did.  And you think they drew a penis but they swore they had just drawn a car.

    “Ok, done!” she said.  “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to get it tattooed.”

    I looked down.

    “Your tattoo artist will have to clean up,” she added.

    “What is it?” I asked.  I couldn’t tell.

    “It’s an abstract flower,” she said.  “It’s like the ones I used to give away when I was a street performer.  Since I never got to give you one then, this me giving you one now. 

    “Oh my god, I love it,” I gushed and slightly lied. I just couldn’t tell what to think and over the years I’ve learned that when it comes to getting a tattoo, you need to be damned certain.    

    But Palmer wasn’t done explaining.  “I want it to also serve as a reminder,” she said, “to always accept what others are willing to offer you.”

    Well, fuck!  She just gave it some serious meaning. Now I HAVE to get it tattooed.

    As we started to get up, thinking our turn had come to an end, Palmer told us to stop and get back down with her.  “I want to cuddle with you two handsome men for just a little bit longer.”

    There we laid, Amanda spooning me while Luke spooned her from behind (after spooning, I think it’s fair to be on a first name basis).  I couldn’t stop laughing.  It was quite possibly the best, most perfect three-way that I would ever have.

    After the meeting, I asked Luke what he REALLY thought of what she had drawn.  He confirmed that it would definitely make a great tattoo.  So I avoided all showering until I could get into the shop the next day and have the artist needle over what she had done (rather than just trying to re-create it).  Per Palmer’s suggestion, he cleaned it up and it indeed fit the aesthetic of the rest of my tattoos.  She knew exactly what she was doing.    

    Palmer also knows exactly what she’s talking about when it comes to the concept of asking.  Society doesn’t like asking for things.  It feels shameful as if we cannot suffice for ourselves.  Then the fear of rejection makes us feel weak and vulnerable.  I know I certainly felt more vulnerable asking for something like this - something far more than what I was “supposed to.”

    Here’s the thing.  Even though a thesaurus will lump both in the same, weakness and vulnerability are not truly synonyms.  They don’t exactly mean the same thing and they certainly aren't mutually exclusive to one another.  Someone, in fact, and more often than not, can be vulnerable with a sense of strength - especially when it is you putting yourself in the position of vulnerability.

    It took courage to ask Palmer for the tattoo and, after the fact, I realized the actual payoff far outweighed the potential risk.  Had I let fear or pride stop me, I wouldn’t have had this amazing story to tell.  Being vulnerable and asking for more than “I should” paid off.

    Since meeting Palmer, I have adopted “asking” as part of my experiment in living the vulnerable life.  I ask for things all the time - from airport transportation to help painting the house.  Of course I offer some kind of compensation - whether it be the little money I have or some bizarre slices of pizza (chicken, jalapeño, and pineapple… anyone?)

     I have been amazed at what one can achieve by doing this. It goes beyond badass tattoos and simple favors.  Over this last year, I have gone as far as asking several talented friends for their professional help in the development of my social media and this blog.  I won’t name names (yet) but they know who they are and I cannot thank them enough for this supportive sense of human connection that keeps me feeling motivated and thriving.

    Whenever I need help, I do feel a little vulnerable about it.  But I just look at my tattoo and remind myself of Amanda Palmer’s words: be willing to accept what others are willing to offer you.  And in the end, we won’t really know what others are willing to offer us… unless we ask first.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Giving the Right Amount of Fucks

    The parking garage at my gym has this weird design where we have to drive on the left side instead of the right.  This seemingly pointless British blueprint makes it somewhat difficult to park in the already tight spaces.  I often have to back in-and-out a couple times so that I don’t scrape my car or knock a mirror against a concrete pillar.  It’s all very obnoxious.

    One day, while following a Jaguar up the ramp to the next level, I saw some open spaces ahead.  As expected, the Jaguar opted for the first open spot.  But as unexpected, he deemed it necessary to back in rather than just pull forward.  Because of this, I, the car behind me, and now the car on the other side… all had to wait for him to make his many extra adjustments so that he may park his car this way.

    I normally get slightly enraged when I get behind the wheel anyway.  Then when someone inconveniences others in order to make something slightly more convenient for themselves, it just makes my brain want to explode.  So the longer we all sat waiting for this guy to park his schmancy machine in this unwarrantedly special way, the more I began to roll my eyes and shoot the driver dirty looks - hoping he’d see them.

    Once he finally parked and hopped out, I saw that Jaguar himself was a guy I had noticed dozens of times at the gym before.  He was cute -  maybe slightly younger than me, blond and short with a tight little body.  His boyfriend had a similar build but with a different ethnicity.  Our small gym has a strong social vibe and the two of them always seemed quite friendly with others.  So somewhere in the back of my head, I had imagined I might befriend them at some point too.  

    However now, by the way Jaguar (the guy) looked at me as he walked from his car, I could tell I had blown my chance at a good first impression.  Clearly he saw the many eye rollings and dirty glares I had wanted him to see.  This felt awkward, but in an effort to not be bothered by any of it, I told myself that little saying we all do from time-to-time.  Whatever.  I don’t give a fuck.

    We grow up spewing this kind of rhetoric as teenagers, and as adults, it oddly never seems to really leave us.  I see it all the time on social media in it’s classic form as well as the now more modern and trendy “no fucks given.”  It’s the ironic lie that we use to convince ourselves (and everyone else) that something REALLY MOST DEFINITELY does NOT bother us.  

    Of course we give fucks though - especially on social media.  If we didn’t, then we wouldn’t need to make such a bold statement about it in the first place.  We also wouldn’t need to take twenty selfies and then narrow it down to five, then down to one, then choose a filter and then try to think of a witty comment and an even wittier hashtag to go along with it.  

    In the end, if something truly didn’t bother us, a mere shrug would suffice.  We could just simply go back to wondering what a “torta” is and why we should totally eat it after we drive by that random Mexican restaurant (you know it’s authentic because it looks sketchy).

    After seeing Jaguar a few more times at the gym, I began to feel bad about the dirty looks I dished up at him.  I don’t like responding to negative energy with more negative energy.  Responding to a douche by acting like a douche does not undouche the situation - it just makes it douchier.  That’s, like, Quantum Theory or something. *twirls hair*

    Anyway, the point is I began to realize that I did, in fact, give a fuck about what this guy thought.  But in my last ten years of living vulnerably, I’ve learned that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Caring about what folks think often just means being conscientious.  And if more people acted with conscience, then the world would look like quite the different place.

     Thus I wanted a second chance with Jaguar.  I wanted him to know that I wasn’t such a bad guy after all.  So as I continued to see him at the gym, I’d do whatever I could for him to notice my delightful and easy-going nature.  If I caught him looking in my direction, I’d offer up a small, friendly and polite smile.  If we both went for the water fountain at the same time, I’d step back and offer it to him first.  If we bumped into each other while going into the locker room when the other came out, I’d cheerfully excuse myself and bid him a great day.  

    Although none of this really worked.  He wouldn’t ever smile back.  He didn’t thank me for letting him have that first sip of water.  He didn’t bid me a good day in return.  Jaguar didn’t seem to have any problem getting chummy with some of the other gym-goers.  So why not me?

    When a friend briefly worked at the gym, he secretly informed me that he and Jaguar had recently hooked up off of Grindr.  

    “Oh?” I said, surprised.  “I didn’t know he and his boyfriend had an open relationship.”

    “Apparently they don’t,” my friend said.  “He admitted that he’s cheating on him.”

    I actually found this information rather uninteresting.  In truth, I get so bored with how bad gay guys (and humans in general) are at monogamy that I don't find the concept of “cheating” all that juicy.  Everyone cheats on everyone.  It seems the norm.  

    However I started to wonder if I could somehow use this information as a way to get Jaguar to like me.  Maybe if I told him that I knew his dirty little secrets, he’d think of me as this totally awesome guy who doesn’t narc or gossip. However I had to retract this thought as soon as possible. It would have totally been emotional blackmail - the method of a sociopath (of which I am not - kind of). 

    On a recent day while working out my back, I wanted to do some pull-ups on the rack that hung between the two cable systems.  This set-up offers plenty of room so that people can use both comfortably without accidentally touching each other (heaven forbid).  Jaguar had been using one of the cables and seeing as how we had enough space, I jumped in and started doing my pull-ups.          

    The moment Jaguar noticed me hanging behind him, he immediately stopped his cable bicep curl and stomped off, letting out a loud scoff.  It sounded like a parrot had just been punched in the stomach.  With its unavoidable volume, it seemed clear that Jaguar wanted me to hear how much I displeased him.

    A short while later, he walked off the gym floor and headed back towards the locker room.  Seeing as how he didn’t put back several of the weights he had been using, I imagined that he intended to come back.  But as I quickly wrapped up my own work out, I found him undressing and getting ready to go in the steam room. I also love a post workout steam so I planned on heading there myself. 

    In the steam room, Jaguar and I sat, alone, across from one another.  He wore his towel high up and tightly around his waist.  I barely wore mine at all, leaving it undone with just a small flap hanging over my junk.  This was how I usually sat in there.  In a gender specific steam room like this, I generally try to remain as least covered as possible.

    I realized I had a golden opportunity here.  If I couldn't get him to like me by being polite and if I couldn’t even try by emotionally blackmailing him, then I could at least get him to like me by using my body.  I know.  This sounds a fair bit shitty and shallow.  Plus I hate it when the ONLY thing people like about me is my body.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  

    Therefore I began striking-a-pose while slowly (aka sensually) massaging my pecs and arms while keeping Jaguar in my peripheral.  He didn’t once glance over.  So of course I had to take my rolfing hands down to my inner thighs.  Still nothing.  Finally I just decided FUCK IT, I’ll just get naked.  That’ll be extreme enough to get his attention.  And if he isn’t faithful to his boyfriend, then he’ll be into it.  Right?

    I took the piece of towel that covered my crotch and lifted it up to wipe the sweat from my forehead.  I then tossed it aside now leaving myself fully exposed.  Not only did Jaguar NOT look at me, but he began turning his whole self away from me.  I clearly had made him uncomfortable as he now sat facing the wall.  A moment later, he got up and just walked out.

    There I remained… naked, alone and totally pathetic.  What the hell was I doing?  Had I just tried to seduce him?  Did I try to get him to further cheat on his boyfriend in hopes to get a little validation - the kind of validation I don’t even like?  The time had come to officially end this ridiculousness.  I was acting exactly how I described above: desperate.  Jaguar didn't like me.  End of story.  And I had to be okay with it. 

    In a culture where we constantly try to convince ourselves (and everyone else) that we don’t give a fuck, it becomes difficult to tell not only when we do give a fuck, but when we actually give too many.  Also when we give fucks so blindly, we start to not only lose sight of the bigger picture, but we lose sight of ourselves.  

    I hopped out of the shower just as Jaguar gathered his final things and left the locker room.  I noticed a few more ways that he’d further insult my injury.  He left his wet towels on the floor rather than putting them in the bin where they’re supposed to go.  And he left his locker door sitting wide open.

    I finally realized that Jaguar was actually kind of a twat.  He made everyone wait while he parked.  He couldn’t share space or pick up his equipment off the gym floor.  He didn’t stay faithful to his boyfriend.  And he wouldn’t even pick up his towels or be bothered to close a fucking door.  In an effort to get him to hold me in some kind of high regard, I barely noticed all the ways that he only really regarded himself.  This all made me feel even worse about giving so many fucks.

    Sometime later, my friend, who briefly worked at the gym, texted (with an eye rolling emoji) to tell me how Jaguar was still pursuing him.  He not only wanted more hook-ups, but he wanted something a bit more emotional too.  The more my friend tried to shut this down, the more Jaguar pursued him.  Jaguar might have been a twat, but he was a twat that pursued my friend with a similar desire for validation that I pursued him.  This is human nature.  And it doesn’t matter how good or bad we are, we all do it in some form or another.  

    I still continue to see Jaguar at the gym, but now I truly don’t care whether he likes me or not.  Though with every sighting, I smile inwardly to myself with a little reminder.  It’s okay to give fucks.  Just be aware of how and why you give them.  Also try to save your best fucksgivings for those who would give a fuck about you.  And always try your best to not give too many.  Rarely can much good come of that.    

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

A Pulsating Need For Pride

    When June rolls around, folks start to buzz on their excitement for the arrival of PrideFest and opinions start to fly.  While most are excited about it, there are those who act like it is the worst idea since Pepsi tried to go Crystal.  They think it comes off as either too mainstream, or just full of weirdos and not mainstream enough.  Ironically, these opposing groups are simply landing on the same page… just from opposite ends of the spectrum.  And I find this totally and utterly fascinating.

    I don’t have any strong opinions as to whether gays need to be radical or conventional, and, to no surprise, my love for pride runs in the middle of the road as well. I love it enough to go to a few parties, throw in a bar or two, and have some cocktails while enjoying the festivities. But I don’t love it so much that I continuously snort bumps of cocaine so that I may continue to burst forth with rainbows all weekend long.  Cocaine and I do not mix very well anyway. 

"SENSIBLE GUN LAWS NOW!!!" - A limited edition t-shirt by German industrial band KMFMD.  All proceeds went to help the victims and families of The Pulse Nightclub shooting. 

"SENSIBLE GUN LAWS NOW!!!" - A limited edition t-shirt by German industrial band KMFMD.  All proceeds went to help the victims and families of The Pulse Nightclub shooting. 

    Last year, my parents had the brilliant idea of organizing the family to go on a week long cruise in order to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.  I loved the idea but it unfortunately meant that I would have to miss PrideFest in my home city of Denver, CO.  And to rub some pricey salt on my gay wounds, this cruise would cost $3,000 for my partner, Luke, and I.  For that kinda dough, we could’ve gone on a gay cruise and totally lost our gay minds that way.  But nonetheless, we couldn’t not join my family on this venture.

    Luke also happens to be one of those people who don’t like PrideFest.  So missing it didn’t matter as much to him.  His dislikes don’t have anything to do with unconventional vs mainstream matters - rather he’s just an introvert who doesn’t like being surrounded by thousands and thousands of people.  He’d rather just mow the lawn than go to a bar.  This gets tough for an extrovert like me. While he will occasionally go to a bar with me, I miss having a partner in crime.  

    With the totally not gay cruise leaving port on a Sunday, we decided to get to Orlando that prior Thursday to visit/stay with an old friend and get in some good gay, vacationing that way.  We saw alligators and held snakes at Gatorworld.  We got to strip down and relax at the nude beach.  And we even got soaked running through a rainstorm in the middle of Disney Springs.  

    Seeing as how two out of three required me to take my clothes off (the second being my drenched clothes once we got out of the rainstorm and into the car), this did seem like a true vacation for us (well, me).  But I definitely wanted something with even more shenanigans - the kind that might later require a rear shot of penicillin.  We dipped our toes in the local bar scene on Friday so on Saturday, I just wanted to go ahead and dive right in the deep end.

    When asking our friends and locals on bar advice, they gave a few recommendations, one of which included a nightclub called Pulse.  They said it would be Latin night.  This always rings a certain nostalgia for me since, once upon a time, I was an honorary Mexican.  Not a latino, but a Mexican.  My first serious relationship was with an undocumented worker and I just fell in love with the culture.  Then I studied abroad for a summer in Guadalajara becoming totally bilingual in Spanish.  I later lost it when I ended up in a job that didn’t require it.

    But seeing as how Luke didn’t have any south of the border sentiments of his own, Pulse nightclub didn’t make much sense for us.  I felt lucky just to get him out with me.  I didn’t want to push my luck any further. Besides, that was a life I had long since left behind.  Thus we decided to go bar hopping - meeting up with some guys we had met the night before.  They, and their friends, took us to the deep end that I so desired and we found ourselves closing the joints at 2 a.m.

    The next morning came quicker than we anticipated with my silenced cellphone vibrating nonstop.  I tried my best to ignore it but whoever kept calling deemed it absolutely necessary to disrupt my last ounces of slumber.  Finally, I picked it up to look at the screen.

    “Who’s calling?” Luke asked, barely lifting his head from the pillow.  

    “Ugh, it’s my mom,” I said.  She’s probably just calling to make sure we wake up in time to meet them at the ship.”  They never trust me.  So I ignored it again.  That’ll teach ‘em how responsible I am!

    But she didn’t give up.  Normally the woman isn’t this persistent.  If I wanted to sleep in any bit more, I would have to answer and assure her that we still had plenty of time.  

    I picked up, “Hello?”

    She gasped.  “Oh thank God you’re okay!”

    “Of course I’m okay.  What are you talking about?”

    It was almost as if she didn’t hear me.  She sounded panicked.  “We couldn’t get ahold of you! I started to get so worried!  I knew you guys went out to the bars last night and I didn’t know if you were safe.  When you didn’t answer I started...”  She paused.  “I didn’t know if you had been… if you had been shot.” 

    Shot?  What was she talking about?  I could hear her nearly burst into tears as she started to fill me in on all the details.  There would be no going back to sleep after this.

    Luke and I came out of the guest room to find our friend and his partner awake with their eyes glued to the news.  The four of us sat together watching as reporters tried to piece together the horrors of the Pulse nightclub shooting that happened that very evening.  Suddenly having “plenty of time” turned into having “barely enough time.”  

    On the drive from Orlando to Port Canaveral, I got on Facebook and marked ourselves as “safe.”  Many of our friends knew we were going to be partying it up at the local bars that night.  I tried not to think about the eerie proximity to it all but I couldn’t help it.  As haunted brains usually do, mine raced through it all.

    What if we had gone to Pulse that night?  Or what if the attacker had targeted our bar?  It was a huge, crowded space worthy of a mass shooting!  What would Luke and I have done the moment we heard the first shots?  Would we have found shelter?  A place to hide until it was over, hoping the killer just wouldn’t stumble upon us?  Or would we try to find a way out of there without getting noticed?

    Or worse... What would have happened if I had been shot?  What would it be like to lay on the ground, looking up into Luke’s eyes with his excruciating pain being the last thing I see?  I only thought of this scenario first because it was slightly (SLIGHTLY) easier to digest than the one where I have to watch the life literally pour out of him.  It would have been my fault for forcing him to go out with me.  These thoughts twisted my stomach into knots and it took everything I could to not let the floodgates burst open from behind my eyes.

    When we arrived to the meet my family, I rushed to hug them a little quicker and a little harder than normal - even my oldest sister who I had been at odds with over the last year.  Suddenly my frustrations with her didn’t seem so huge.  But oddly, none of us spoke of Pulse - not in that moment anyway.  The disconcerting thought of it all just had us too spooked.  

    Prior to the cruise, people told us that there would be some kind of LGBT meet-up group during that first night.  Now while physically on the boat, Luke became just as adamant about attending this as I had been.  Though it felt nearly impossible to find.  The info had been written on a small place card and then placed on a small placard located in a small spot on this really, really big ship.  

    The event itself also felt rather disappointing.  No signs existed to tell us whether or not we came to the right spot.  No cruise staff had been there to orchestrate the meet-up.  The gays were just left to fend for themselves on figuring out who each other were and how to strike up conversation with one another.  We imagined that Royal Caribbean probably didn’t slack like this when it came to their Alcoholics Anonymous group (also listed on the little placard).  

    We figured it out anyway and met a small but fairly diverse group of gays. There was Luke and I - the mismatched counterculturist and traditionalist couple with the open relationship.  Then there was the handsomely heteronormative couple from Ireland, Andy and Matt, who had just gotten married and decided to take a caribbean cruise for their honeymoon.  After that came Jason, the hilarious hipster otter who took amazingly dirty photos with the towel animals left on his bed by the cruise staff.  And finally we had Tyler, the twinkiest of all twinks who couldn’t be more of a twink even if he had a twinkle in his eye (which I think he had).

    Okay, so there weren’t any lesbians.  Plus we were all white.  So I guess this actually wasn’t the most diverse group of gays ever.  But it was a freakin cruise.  What could we expect?  The point is that, under any other circumstances, our various fractions of gay men might not have been so quick to click.  And even though none of us would actually say it, the Pulse shooting gave us all a need for community and Pride.  

    This became especially essential after we realized there would be absolutely NO MENTION of the Pulse shooting on the cruise ship at any time.  One would think there would have been something - maybe a candle light vigil or even just a small announcement at dinner to keep the victims and their families in people’s thoughts.  

    As we got to know the gay cruise staff on the boat, we learned of their own great disappointment that the cruise line didn’t take any kind of step.  They told us how they asked their employers to do something.  But in the end… there’d be nothing. Everyone agreed that had a mass shooting occurred at a non-gay establishment, there would have been some kind of mention to recognize it on the ship. After feeling like vulnerably attacked citizens, Royal Caribbean left us all feeling like second class citizens.  

    Now, I felt especially awful that we wouldn’t get back in time for Denver’s PrideFest.  I bet that even the staunchest of pride-pessimists would’ve felt inspired enough to put their differences aside and show up for their community.  But in a group of gay men who, before, could've easily dismissed one another, we made our own community and felt proud to be among each other.  Even the Grinch’s heart would surely have exploded.

    After going through all of this - being so close to ground zero and then suddenly getting whisked away from it all only to find solace in those who don’t “do gay” the same way each other do - I began to realize that the biggest enemy of the gays isn’t radical terrorists or even Donald Trump.  Rather our greatest enemy is that of our own complacency. And the trash-talking of one another is our most nuclear weapon.  It weakens us from within.  

    So what if a guy wants to run around in a jockstrap and angel wings?  Who cares if a couple wants to have a monogamous relationship and adopt a bunch of beautiful test tube babies?  Our renouncement of each other can do more damage than our outfits or choices ever could.  What matters is that we support each others freedom to be who we choose through ideas and concepts like that of “pride.”  When we stand stronger together, we can then stand up to those other enemies.  And I promise… your beautiful babies won’t get scarred by the jock-strap-angel-wing guy.  

    Despite the fact that I didn’t get to make it to last year’s suddenly-so-necessary PrideFest, I wouldn’t have traded my time with the fellas from the boat for anything.  We’ve kept in touch with all of them - except Tyler.  We lost him mid-ship to his love for the straight boys.  Otherwise we all joke that one day… we will take a reunion cruise together.  This will be the “PrideFest” that we once created ourselves.  

    It’s funny how we value our connection to something most when it finds itself in crisis or loss.  We don’t appreciate our tough jobs until we get laid off.  We don’t treasure our introverted partners enough until they get cancer.  And we don’t fully respect our community until it’s under siege.  

    When we get overly critical with those from our own community, the time has come to stop and think of those who lost their lives so that we could even have a community: past, present, and future - Stonewall, Pulse, and TBD.  Our ability to prevail in the face of adversity is something certainly worth taking pride in.  But we can only continue to succeed as long as we are proud of each other too.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Chewing Appropriately to Achieve Your Dreams

    My father once said that the reward for good work is more work.  From the moment I heard it, I secretly loathed this - even as a kid.  I’ll be honest though.  Working hard has never been my forte.  I like to play hard.  I like to work out hard.  I even like to sit on the couch and watch TV hard.  However whenever it has come to my career, I was all about the bare minimum.

    But now my dad’s words have never been truer for me than with The Bare InkSlinger.  This blog is growing quicker than any of us predicted.  And unlike my past career in social work, this reward has me fueled up to work even harder to take it a lot further.  The only problem is that I am actually running low on fuel.

    I’ll be honest again.  Posting a new essay every week (in addition to all of the other work that goes into a blog like this) barely keeps my head above the waters.  Ironically when I first started, I actually imagined I would post three times a week.  This might have worked if my stories were super short.  However I have an excellent tendency to bite off more than I can chew.  So with stories of my size, even once a week seems to keep my mouth pretty full.

    When it comes to writing, I do love to stuff my face.  But the problem is that it leaves me with little room to shove anything else in my mouth (no naughty puns intended).  I’ve realized, that if I keep going at this speed, I won’t be able to take The Bare InkSlinger much further.   Ironically, the only way I can bring more to the table is if I slow it down just a little bit.  

    And there are lots of things that I want to bring to the table - things that will help me make an actual living as a writer.  For instance I want to create unique artworks and other cool items within The Bare InkSlinger brand that people can buy.  But more importantly, I want to write books - real, actual books that will be like the blog posts but on steroids.  And while I don’t consider myself any kind of critic of Kickstarter (if done well), I simply don’t want to ask people for money in advance to help finance this.  

    While my dreams to take this all further are for monetary purposes, I promise that I’m not some star-luster who wants to become rich and famous and make fuckloads of money.  If that were the case, I wouldn’t have chosen to be a writer.  Even if I did make fuckloads of money, being that famous would require me to have a team: an assistant, a manager, an accountant, an agent, a publisher, etc.  After all that I most likely wouldn't even have fistfuls of money.  

    Also I’d probably have to hire a lawyer because I most likely won’t be able to stop sexually harassing the accountant since I totally have a thing for nerdy guys in glasses.*  Then I'll barely even have finger loads of money.  What a mess!  But who cares?!  I have to try anyway.  Making a living as a writer has been a lifelong dream.  However in order to achieve that dream, I have to try to get better at chewing just the right amount.  

    So what does this all mean exactly?  Well first of all, I plan to temporarily drop from posting weekly to every two weeks.  Whenever I have mentioned this to local fans (who've dropped in at the bar), they seem to often say something like Noooo, that will make me so sad.  I have literally heard these words and I feel beyond flattered.  But I figured this would be better than just writing little essays every other week on what it's like to be a writer and why I couldn’t write an essay.  Plus I will still be around to answer all your “asks” throughout each week.  

    Also in order to pull this off, this means that my time in bartending has to come to an end.  So yesterday I called my awesome boss and gave him my official resignation.  Since I loved working at this bar, I decided to ride it out until the end of the month.  But as of July 1st, my drink-slinging nights will stop so that I can go on to live like a classically broke ass artist.

    Making these changes leaves me feeling super empowered to broaden The Bare InkSlinger, and yet totally vulnerable that I will completely fail.  I’m not going to lie a third time.  I’m totally scared.  But these are the qualities I so strongly embraced when I got diagnosed with HIV: to live vulnerably and to run towards fear.  This journey will once again demand a lot of both.  

    This next week's essay will be the last of weeklies before switching to bi-weekly.  I hope that with this change, more people have more time to get to each essay before the next one comes out.  I often hear folks say how they missed one or two because of their rapid speed.  Temporarily slowing things down may be better for everyone's hectic scheduling - especially while it is summer and we should be getting our asses outdoors.

    In order to achieve your dreams, one has to figure out how to chew the appropriate amount.   And in order to chew the appropriate amount, one has to take some risks and make some sacrifices.  These risks and sacrifices make the journey super exciting and simultaneously totally terrifying.  I just hope it’s a journey that you, the audience, will not only stick around for, but will hopefully do something similar for yourselves one day too.  

* Please note: I know that not all accountants are sexy guys in glasses.  Some are sexy girls in glasses.  

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

 

 

InstaSwindled

    When I first found out that I had to get on social media in order to “make it” as an independent writer, I felt slightly devastated.  In order to be successful on social media, one has to have cat-like reflexes.  If my Facebook taught me anything, my social media reflexes were more like that of a bloodhound… on Benadryl… after a beer. 

    A handsome ginger friend showed me how to set up my Instagram, post photos, use filters and hashtags, and find other people. I always trust a good looking ginger (terrible philosophy).  But aside from the basic functions, I got kind of lost on how to find an Instagram following.  It wasn’t like Tumblr where everything links back to everything (and you can go from puppies to porn in six clicks or less).  So how could I get my content to spread like a good STD?

    Luckily my friend Craig (@craigspalding) knew all about this stuff.  He’s not quite a ginger but still handsome and trustworthy.  Besides, what he lacks in red hair, he more than makes up for in fur and smarts.  Craig actually works in branding and according to him, a great way to get noticed was to get featured on pages that post other sexy male Instagrammers.

    I had already been following a few of these kinds of pages, like @bearscubsandskruff and others, who had tens of thousands of followers.  Admittedly, pages like these made Instagram a lot more entertaining.  Although it would get a little strange to scroll through my feed and see my friend’s cute, little baby only then to see a cute, little person in a jockstrap.  But I appreciated it all nonetheless.

    Craig suggested that I send a message to these pages and just ask them to feature my photos.  Meanwhile he pointed out a couple of other pages - ones that had hundreds of thousands of followers.  The @thebubbleone page featured abnormally hot guys whose rears put Beyonce to shame.  And the @tattooedboys page featured guys of a weirdly specific thug-like, yet preppy nature, all ripped on steroids and riddled with tattoos.  How on earth would I ever get featured on these pages? 

    “Well, you might have to pay them,” Craig warned.

    “I’ll have to pay them?!” I was shocked.  “How much does something like that cost?”

    Craig shrugged. “I dunno.  Like ten bucks, maybe?”   He could see the concern on my face. “It could be worth it though.  Think of the exposure.  Besides, you have a great butt!”

    Well, who was I to argue that last part?  But still, something about this just felt weird - especially for a guy who thrives on authenticity.  To Craig, it was a clever marketing strategy.  To me, it felt like one of those dicey shortcuts through the woods. 

    Finally one day I figured I would give it a shot.  I sent a message to @thebubbleone, along with a photo of my naked ass, and asked nicely if they’d post it.  They responded with a price chart: one photo for $22, two for $35, three for $42, and so on and so on.  I didn’t expect to pay this much! I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to get followers this way.  In my immediate confusion, I just decided to not respond and leave it alone.  

(To see the screen shot and ass shot of this conversation, go to the NSFW version of this essay)

    After a few months, @bearscubandskruff, and the likes, began to notice my content and they asked me if they could feature some of my photos.  They didn’t want any money.  They genuinely liked my content and wanted to share it.  This felt right.

    Between them and posing for the ever-so-fucking talented Mack Sturgis (@macksturgis), my follower base began to grow.  I did it the way Instagram set it up to be.  I interacted and collaborated with other users.  People were finding my page and it was directing them to my blog.  The whole thing was working and I didn’t have to pay a dime.  Still though, I couldn’t help but have a nagging sense of impatience.  I still salivated for faster results.

    Then one day, while flipping through Instagram stories, I saw a post from @tattooedboys.  It said “50% off features today only.”  Nothing draws me in better than a good deal.  I will buy the stupidest crap if I think I’m going to get a bargain.

    “I would like to take a 50% off feature,” I wrote them.

    They wrote back “Hello! Posts are usually $40. Can do 1 for $20 or 2 for $30.”

    His posts were $40?!  Even a $20 feature seemed too much.  I tried to backpedal. “Oh, jeez.  That’s a pricey feature.  I’ll think about it. Thanks.”

    But he continued to forthpedal.  “Mate 2 for $30 is a huge package with our page.”

    I still tried to resist.

    “Mate our page is 400k with real followers :)” 

    But would I get ripped off?

    “We have over 6,000 posts and 4 years of experience mate :)”

    It might have been all the stats he kept throwing at me, or maybe it was all the smiley faces at the end of his last few messages, but I caved.  “Ok, where do I send pics/money to?”

    He gave me his paypal address and an email to send the pics.  My gut told me not to do this.  Something felt very wrong here.  But 400k followers?  Even if only 10% of his audience saw my photo, that’d mean 40,000 people would see me.  And then if only 10% of them liked my photo enough to check out my Instagram page, that would mean 4,000 potential new followers.  And if only 10% of them checked out my blog, that’d mean a potential 400 new subscribers.  How could I not try this?!

    The moment I sent the money, I felt a weird sense of pressure to be perfectly muscled and tattooed.  How in the hell do I pick photos for an audience of this size? I immediately started inundating Craig with choices (16 of them to be exact) to help me choose which ones to be featured.  Which ones do I choose?  WHICH ONES DO I CHOOSE?!  I began to panic.  

(To see the 16 photos, go to the NSFW version of this essay)

    Craig did not respond - as he shouldn’t have.  He was not my personal, 24 hour emergency brander/marketer.  Fortunately another friend had the availability to help make my selection.  I sent the money and emailed the photos.

    A few days later, my first photo still hadn’t been posted.  However I did receive a new message from @tattooedboys with a new offer.  He called it some kind “limited” package deal.  For $120 a month, you’d get 10 permanent posts on the page AND their story AND they’d like the post AND this and that and yada yada yada.

    I wrote back “Thanks for the offer.  I’m still waiting for my other pics I submitted to you to get posted first.  Once I see how they do, I’ll consider this option.”  I ended it with a winky face.

    I didn’t hear back and my first photo still hadn’t popped up.  A week went by and I messaged again “Hey so just checking in.  I paid you and sent you photos over a week ago and they haven't been posted yet.  When do they get posted?  Thanks.”

    @tattooedboys responded, “Send photos here.”  Meaning to send them via direct message on Instagram.  This seemed weird seeing as how before he had me email them.

    I sent him the first pic.  He asked for my Instagram name.  This also seemed kind of strange.  Couldn’t he just see it on the screen?  But I gave him my name anyway, along with the second photo.

    After he finally posted my first photo, I eagerly awaited for my numbers to grow on Instagram and the blog.  The Instagram did see a small bump in followers, but no more than when @bearscubsandskruff featured me.  Actually, it might have even been less.  And then the blog didn’t seem to get any new subscribers.  

    I started to get self conscious and constantly check back to see how many “likes” the photo was getting.  They clocked in at less than 2,000.  This didn’t look extraordinary - not for 400k followers anyway.  Something was wrong.  The problem had to be me.  I didn’t look like these guys.  I wasn’t muscled enough to be there. (side note: this is how marketing fucks people up)

    If getting my first photo posted was difficult, then getting the second photo posted would be a total nightmare.  I tried asking numerous times without any response.  When he eventually did respond, he said something about having a dispute with the old owners and that some people didn’t get their photos posted.  Our confusing conversation eventually led to my re-sending the second photo with some shred of hope. 

    Another week and a half went by and still nothing.  I messaged yet again.

    His response: “Hey bro, So sorry we have a bit of a que and it’s hard with timing and everything.  Would you be interested in upgrading this one pic to a deluxe package and we can get you in a fast line and up quicker ??  [fire emoji]  [fire emoji]  [okay finger emoji]”

    This guy now wanted to charge me $30 MORE for what I already paid for?  He couldn’t even place his question marks correctly nor spell the word “queue.”  I’m not even sure I understood his choice of emojis.  But then again, I’m not very good at speaking in emoji.

    I protested but @tattooedboys assured me that this new deluxe package would move me up the line.  I decided to offer some logic.  Why would I pay him more money if he couldn’t even honor what I had already previously paid him for?  It appeared as though this had gotten through to him.  He agreed to post the photo as originally arranged, giving me a good spot to make up for the troubles.

    To no shock, the second photo still didn’t get posted.  And by then, I realized that it wasn’t ever going to get posted.  Nothing makes you feel more shitty and stupid than that of getting ripped off - even if isn’t by much.  I had to keep trying though.  I sent a message again.  Oddly, I received back the EXACT same response as before - offering the same deluxe package with the same spelling errors, the same misplaced question marks, and the same random emojis. 

    Now I knew something was up.  I decided to ignore him and actually investigate his page. Many of his photos (maybe more than half) didn’t even have shoutouts or tags to other people on Instagram.  Most just mentioned another page called @fitboyzofinsta.

    Of course I had to take a stroll over and check out @fitboyzofinsta.  It pretty much had all the same photos as @tattooedboys and this time, the shoutouts and tags promoted another page called @tattoos_n_fitness.  When I checked out this one, it was again all the same photos of all the same guys.   

    Meanwhile back on the @tattooedboys page, I began to notice that I was not alone in the disproportionately low level of likes.  Most of their posts received around 2,000 or less likes.  That’s only 0.5% of their audience.  Occasionally a photo would get around 4,000-5,000 likes.  But even then that’s barely 1% of their audience.  Clearly a majority of his followers were fake accounts that he had most likely purchased.  

     I’ll admit that when I first found out that you could just buy fake Instagram followers, my gut thought well duh, I’ll just do that!  But in the 1.5 seconds that it took for my brain to catch up, I realized that this would be pointless.  Since those accounts are not backed by real people, none of them would be potential blog readers (not to mention it would completely negate my legitimacy).  But for a page like @tattooedboys, it gives the right first impression to lure in the unsuspecting suckers who want some exposure.

    It was official: @tattooedboys was a scam and I had fallen for it.  

    I wanted to retaliate.  I wanted to write him and say “Do you know who I am? I run a very successful blog!”  But in truth, I was powerless and that only compounded the feelings of shitty stupidity even further.  While my blog continued to gain great success, I was (and still am) a nobody.

    And thank God for that!  Had I been famous enough to hold any weight, the lessons in this would've whizzed right past me.  Actually, this is probably why celebrities can’t stop acting so stupid.  When we constantly get our way or feel vindicated all of the time, we never really learn anything.  And truly, I don't want to be beyond the lessons of the everyday person.

    In my pursuit of becoming a successful, independent writer, I got too caught up in the numbers game.  While the size of the audience does matter, obsessing over it gets stressful.  Chasing it too hard can lead us to do some shortsighted things.  In my own impatience, I took the dicey shortcut and now felt worse about myself than ever.  Paying my way to popularity isn’t who I am.  It’s not how I want to gain success.  And as cheesy as it sounds, I want people to like me for me.  Not only was I a sucker, but I sucked for trying to succeed this way.

    This last week, I reached that first landmark of 10k followers on Instagram. I am thankful for the feature pages who have voluntarily reposted and promoted my content - especially George at @bearscubsandskruff, who has clearly built a bona fide audience.  In addition to posting my pics on the regular, he genuinely loves this blog and has often promoted it as well.  He has proven that when I legitimately connect with folks like him, I can grow in good ways.  But when I get too desperate and greedy, I can only lose.

    Still though, I can’t help but be irritated that pages like @tattooedboys persist.  When I called him out on being a scam, he denied it and then proceeded to delete all of his messages from our Instagram chat (just like innocent people do).  Fortunately I had taken screenshots of most of it when I started to have my suspicions.*  

    I asked a couple of tatted comrades to hit him up for a feature to see the current response.  Apparently now, @tattooedboys claims to be a marketing business and their packages start at $89.  I felt fortunate that I didn’t drop this kind of money but I feel bad for those out there who might.  I want this to end -  not for my own vindication but for theirs.     While I may not have the celebrity status or mass following to stop @tattooedboy, I at least I have the skill to write about the truth.

    There’s always going to be con artists in the world and we will always be susceptible to getting taken in.  We can either spend a ton of energy trying to force them to set things right or take them down, or we can just use less energy in figuring out how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place so that we don’t do it again.  For every swindler, there is a sucker.  And since the swindlers will always exist, all we can do is try to remember how not to suck.  

* Please note: Not all of the screen shots and dialogue are presented in this essay.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

 

 

Insider on the Writer: Unpredictably Barfing

    For those who are curious, I do my writing in a three stage process.  I call the first stage “The Barfing Stage.”    Needless to say, I mean this figuratively.   My chintzy plastic Chromebook becomes my new porcelain god and I just try to vomit all of my words onto the screen.  I don’t worry about spelling or grammar or how eloquent the sentence might sound or whether or not I’m using the words “but” or “thus” too often (I don’t know why I love “thus” so much).  I just purge it all out.

    The second stage is “The Molding Stage.”  This is where I take all that I have purged and start to play with it.  I move things around, add or subtract ideas, and rephrase many o’ sentences.  Basically this is where I try to make sure it doesn’t sound like a five year old wrote it.   As much as I hate computers, I thank God I can type these things in a word processor because otherwise, a five year old’s handwriting actually does look better than mine.

    Lastly comes “The Polishing Stage.”  Here I try to find and correct any hiding errors that I didn’t catch before.  To my surprise, I accidentally leave out words on a regular basis.  It’s as if my brain inserts them for me.  Also, in this stage, I run the essay by my partner to get his opinion.  After I get his thumbs up, I then send it to my new volunteer editor, Glen, who is as smart as he is handsome.  I am thankful for his help.    

    So this is how I write.  Barf it, mold it, then polish it.  Sounds sexy, right?  I’m guessing I shouldn’t make an NSFW version of this when you might be imagining me ralphing everywhere.  Regardless, if I stray from process, things can go terribly wrong or get incredibly stressful.  If I try to jump to the molding or polishing stage while I’m still in the barfing stage, I can easily get stuck on one paragraph for several hours.  It’s impossible to predict when this will happen but when it does, what I could have achieved in a day will then take the entire week!

    For this week’s essay, I wanted to get back to something fun.  I knew exactly what I wanted to write and had the layout all built up in my head.  I even took notes in my phone of all the quippy things I wanted to say.  And although the week itself would be a busy one, I felt certain that I wouldn’t have a problem getting it written.  I could probably barf it all up in a matter of a few hours.

    However then I ran into another problem that’s tough to predict:  I couldn’t stop barfing.  I just kept yacking and yacking all over the place (this is still figurative, by the way).  Typically, I try to keep all essays under 1,500 words.  At most, I’ll max out at 2,000 words.  Being one wordy motherfucker, this can be tough.  

    Seeing as how I entered into my third day of The Barfing Stage for this particular piece, I nervously decided to check on my word count.  It clocked me in at just over 2,500 words and I was STILL nowhere near done with what all that I wanted to say!  This wasn’t good.  

I have a theory that when an online read becomes too long, the reader’s themselves don’t have as much time to commit to them - especially if they’re reading them while at work or something.  For me personally, there have been so many good reads that I’ve had to cut short because of their nice, girthy nature.  

    Thus (there it is) anything I write that could easily top over 3,000 words, I nix from the blog and save for a future book.  However this time, I don’t want to save it for a future book.  This piece needs to be written NOW.  Now. Now. Now. Now. Now.  While it’s not necessarily any kind of dire emergency, it does create some awareness (through something I stupidly did, of course) that I want readers (and the world) to know sooner than later.  It shouldn’t wait for five years down the road.

    So as I’ve reached my 2,500+ word yack-up, I’ve realized I could do one of two things.  I could either break my back barfing the rest of it out and then rushing to mold it and polish it (and breaking my partner’s and Glen’s backs to do their part too).  Or I could just save it for next week and write another mini-essay in it’s place.  Seeing as how I don’t want to risk slinging shitty ink and losing my team, I have chosen the latter.

    Besides, these mini-essays aren’t such a bad thing.  They are real insight to the behind-the-scenes process of this whole journey.  And in my opinion, they end up turning out pretty gosh-darn good.  I’m still able to have fun with them and can reflect on a new lesson that the audience still seems to enjoy.  

    Thus (there it is again!) I’m going to turn these essays into a series called “Insider on the Writer.”  They will explain the highs and lows and the joys and woes of what it’s like to be an independent writer, pursue a dream, manage a blog, write a book, and do social media all while trying to live your life and not go insane.

    We can attempt to predict what it’ll be like each time we’re going to barf, but in the end, we just won’t ever know for sure.  Luckily I think we can sometimes learn the trends of the unpredictableness in our lives.  With that, we can either try harder at predicting the unpredictable or we can simply figure out some different ways to adapt when things don’t go as planned.  In this case, if my toilet begins to overfloweth, then I need to figure out what kinds of buckets I should have nearby.  And stories like these might just be the first of the many buckets to come.

PS - This essay was 1,034 words long.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Lessons In Losing

    I never imagined that I would be sitting in a Mormon temple, acting overly cautious about myself in front of these people.  I kept my long sleeves buttoned so that my tattoos didn’t show.  My partner, Luke, and I resisted every urge to put our arm around one another while in our seats.  But then again, I never imagined that I’d be attending this particular funeral.

    It all started on a recent Monday.  Mondays just seem universally bad for everyone and yet this one felt particularly frustrating. That morning I accidentally broke a pint glass in the sink after my breakfast smoothie.  My computer suffered an unexpected glitch - causing me to lose a good chunk of writing.  Then I dropped and shattered a mug while trying to make some tea.  That afternoon I forgot and then missed a doctor’s appointment.  Meanwhile I thought I might have caught an STD.  And after not sleeping the night before, my afternoon weight lifting set just felt like trekking through sludge.  

    When I got home, I instantly demanded that Luke give me a thirty second hug.  This is a weird thing I picked up from my parents - more specifically my mother who also deals with depression. Hugging for twenty seconds can supposedly cause some kind of oxytocin release.  Seeing as how I felt extra grumpy and ever-so-sorry for myself, I demanded an extra ten seconds.

    The hyper long hug didn’t do it’s job though.  As Luke served up the nice dinner he prepared, I continued to sulk and tell myself terrible things.  I’m never going to be a successful writer.  I’m always going to have trouble managing my own schedule.  I’ll never have time to hang out with friends.

    This is where I have to make a confession.  The optimism that I ensue does not come naturally for me.  Once upon a time, after my HIV diagnosis, it did.  But as my diseased wounds have healed over the last near decade, my positive thinking has gone back to being an active process, not a passive one. I have to make a conscious effort at it.  Otherwise my natural tendency is to go dark.  

    “Oh,” Luke interrupted my terrible self tellings as he looked at his phone.  He received a text message and, for some odd reason, decided to check it.  Typically we don’t use our phones at the dinner table.  

    “What?” I asked.

    “It’s from Johnson,” he said.  His brow furrowed. He looked confused - maybe slightly shocked.  “Nate died.  He had a heart attack.”

    Nate was more of a friend-of-a-friend who we had met through one of our favorite people, John Johnson (once a Mormon himself).  Even though we were technically not close with Nate, we felt what I could only describe as a “closeness by association.”  Our fondness of John and John’s fondness of Nate (and visa versa) led us all to just be really, really fond of each other. 

    John and Nate originally met ten years ago working at a Mormon founded wilderness program (maybe it’s the clean, white shirts or the crispy name tags, but I never thought of The Church of Later Day Saints synonymously with “roughing it”).  About three years into their friendship, John came out to Nate as gay.  According to John, he responded the way he did to everything: with an inappropriate joke.  In the end, this kind of stuff didn’t matter to him - not even when John denounced his faith entirely.     

John Johnson and Nate Aikele

John Johnson and Nate Aikele

    For Nate, positive thinking did come naturally.  While going to Med School, he got in a mountain bike accident which completely paralyzed him from the waist down.  Everyone felt devastated for him - as if it were the end of his career. But by no means did it stop him.  It hardly even slowed him down.  He did his residency right on schedule and, ironically, became a podiatrist.  

    Back at the dinner table, Nate’s passing started to hit us harder than we could've imagined.  Both Luke and I began to breathe a little heavier and clinch our eyes to hold back any tears.  Of course, clinching never works.  It only makes the tears come faster.  Nate’s death felt significant - not just out of concern for our dear friend but for us too.  We valued so much about his spirit and often talked about hanging out with him after John moved away.  But we never made the time for it and now he was gone.  

    In that moment, I decided to do something that some may consider grotesque.  I took a selfie.  One shot.  No filter.  I don’t know why I did it.  Maybe because on social media, selfies always seem so attractively happy yet so rarely authentic.  This would be the opposite - showing what I look like when I’m a complete mess but at my most real.  For someone who has little qualms when it comes to taking his clothes off, the photo made me feel entirely too naked.  

    Regardless, I didn’t do this out of any attempt to narcissistically make Nate’s death about me.  Similarly, that’s why John, Luke, and I kept ourselves under wraps when the three of us went to Nate's funeral. While none of us like pretending to be something we’re not, we didn’t want to draw attention away from honoring our friend.  Although the funeral was held in the small town of Greeley, CO (it’s as glamorous as it’s name), it was still quite the packed house.  Clearly Nate touched a lot of people’s lives.

    His younger sister gave a particularly moving speech.  One of her favorite qualities about her big brother was how he didn’t complain.  This rang true of our time with him too.  Once he had to use the restroom at our house but the bathroom door was too narrow for his wheelchair.  So instead he had to use our office in order to change out his urinary catheter bag.  We felt awful but he didn’t seem to be embarrassed or upset in the slightest.

    Another time while leaving our house, the wheel of his chair slipped off the curb on our front walkway.  Nate came tumbling onto the ground.  We all gasped and rushed forward to help.  But he merely sat up laughing, thinking it to be quite funny. 

    All of the speakers recalled stories like this, both pre and post wheelchair.  And suddenly I saw the bigger picture that I needed to realize:  I complain. A LOT. I complain about traffic being too bananas when I go to the gym or that my teeth feel too soft when I’m trying to sleep.  I complain when my scrappy fingers and autocorrect can’t get on the same page or when I spend five minutes looking for my wallet when it was in my back pocket the whole time. And what good does it all do for me?  All it seems to get me is more impatience and less gratitude.

    After Nate got into his accident, all I could think was God that’s going to be such a hard life.  Now after his death, all I can think is Wow he really lived a good life.  If I died tomorrow, I don’t know if I could say the same thing - not with who I’ve been as of lately.  When it comes down to it, living a life of negative thinking just doesn’t seem all that much like a life well lived.  The more I complain about the bad, the less I observe of the good.  Nate's death felt like a stone cold reminder of how fragile life is and how I needed to get back to my roots of appreciating it.

    It is one thing to reflect on these kinds of lessons when we lose someone.  It's a whole other thing to actually put those lessons into action.  But hardest of all is to actually hold on to them.  Once time heals our wounds, we can easily slip back into old habits.  

    Maybe that’s why I took the selfie when we found out the news.  It wasn’t one of the messiest, most real ways I could be entirely too naked on social media.  Rather it was one of the most vulnerable and raw ways I needed to be naked with myself.  Holding onto it, possibly sharing it others, would perhaps help me remember that moment more vividly.  Just like taking photos of our happier moments can help us hold on to the joy, perhaps taking photos of our sadder moments can help us hold on to the lessons. 

    I don’t expect the impact of Nate’s death to suddenly cure me of my negative thinking, but I can use it as one of my more potent tools to overcome it.  Two weeks later, I’ve still been fortunately walking in his positive foot steps… or more fittingly his wheelchair tracks.  Keeping him in my thoughts has helped me practice more patience and gratitude.  The good things in life haven't slipped by me so easily.  And now when I come home, I don’t necessarily need those hugs from Luke.  But of course I want them anyway.

    Thank you, Nate. I was lucky to know you.  I hate to see you go.  But thank you for teaching me something I needed in your absence.  I will miss you.  Sincerely, Scott.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Insider on the Writer: Making Time to Take Some Time

    Back in March, I got fairly hard on myself for not being able to publish an essay and go on vacation at the same time. This last week I came to a similar crossroads. Rather this time it surrounded a rather heavy matter that lead to the importance of spending time with loved ones. As you could probably guess, I will write about it for next week. But for this week, I decided to take time off and not write anything at all. 

    Taking time off has always been a weird thing for me. Before, when I had a career in social work, the organization for which I worked offered plenty of “paid time off.” So taking time off didn’t mean having to worry about money. However since my workload was split up on a monthly basis, it did mean having to do the same amount of work in less time. This pretty much negated the the whole point of taking a vacation. It’s ironic to get stressed out in an effort to make time to relax. 

Photo by Ash Lee

Photo by Ash Lee

    Now being a bartender, the double edge sword slices in a different direction. Whenever I step away from the job, I do not have any responsibilities to worry about. Except now I do not get paid during my absence. To further the irony on this one, I work Saturday nights - a service industry prime time slot. Between birthday parties, weddings, concerts, etc… my extroverted induced sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) is on overdrive nearly every week. 

    And then comes the blogging. When I studied up on this profession (of sorts), I learned that consistency is a key for success. This probably meant not to blog several times a week and then wait a whole month before doing so again. But I kind of took it to heart. If I take a week off, would my audience be annoyed with me? Would they take me less seriously? Would they forget about me? (Side note: I might be a bit of a people pleaser) 

    From social work to bartending to blogging, my fears of the added stress make it hard to ever take time off, much less enjoy it when I do. And as my therapist tells me, all of this “not taking time off” technically means I am not ever really taking any time for myself. According to her (and any rational human being), that isn’t good. 

    That is the thing about therapists: they are almost always right - the good ones anyway. It is because they are trained to be objective. Still though, it kinda makes you wanna slap them around a little bit after you pay them their one-hundred-plus dollars for the hour. But I digress… 

    The fact of the matter is that in some ways, humans are like machines - maybe like one of those robot vacuums. We can run and run and run trying to do our jobs. But if we don’t ever stop to power down and recharge, then eventually we will just run out of battery completely.  Life will do the powering down for us and we will be stuck, lost in the middle of the living room (or God knows where) unable to make it back to our power stations at all. 

    The point is that I am finally realizing the importance of making time to take some time for myself. Sure I risk having less money or losing InkReaders, but that is better than reaching total burn out, losing my job or my passion for writing, and getting committed to a psych ward (again). I just need to get more comfortable with taking time off… starting right now. 

    DAMMIT!!! I just accidentally wrote an essay to explain the importance of why I was not going to write an essay - a mini-essay but an essay nonetheless.  Okay, so this was not the best way to start this new lesson. These things have a learning curve and take time. 

    I guess I am dedicated to writing SOMETHING each week. But maybe for the occasional times like these, it just cannot be the same kind of “thing” as all the other weeks. Being a human machine sometimes means that we are going to have to cut ourselves some slack. Because seriously, in the end, we simply cannot travel very far if we end up just merely running on fumes.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Fear of the Neti Pot

    I first heard of a neti pot in 2012, when I took some courses at a holistic nutrition school here in Denver.  The idea seemed like an actual nightmare.  You take a phallic looking tea pot, shove it up against one nostril, and tip your head so that saline can run through your nasal passages and out the other side?  For sure you could possibly drown.

    The teacher, an intelligent naturopathic doctor, assured me that it wouldn’t cause anyone to drown (there’s a reason I never majored in anatomy).  According to him, the only neti pot related deaths were due to bacteria being in the water which then would go to the brain.  This information did not sooth me.  So when the day came that Luke brought one home, I thought my partner had surely lost his bananas (or whatever fruit you lose when you're not thinking clearly).

    Normally this is the kind of weird, hippie witchcraft that I get into - not him.  Luke is not the carefullest of guys so clearly he was headed to Bacteria-town.  This is why I don’t even want to have a partner and try to regularly break up with him.  I don’t particularly like the potential for people to die on me. But no matter how much I protested it, the pot was here to stay.  I thought about secretly throwing it out but in the end… he’d just go get a new one.

    I wouldn’t touch the damn thing.  That is until I came down with the last cold going around town.  The cold itself wasn’t all that vicious but it produced a jack load of mucous - so much that it gave me a “face ache.”  No air could go in or out of my nose and any blowings of it would not be had.  The Mucinex-D (the kind for which you have to show your ID) was failing to do its job.

    In my sleep deprived misery, I joked that I actually might consider using the neti Pot.  

    Luke perked up. “Really? Yeah!  C’mon, let’s do it!”

    “No no no no,”  I tried to backpedal. “I wasn’t serious.”  After having survived one of the world’s worst diseases, I’d be damned if I’d get taken down by something that looked like it belonged in a child’s tea set. 

    But Luke had already gotten up and started to gather his neti things.  “I promise you… you won’t die and it really WILL make you feel better.”  

    The more I protested it, the more it meant to him that I actually give it a shot.  And secretly, I started to fall weary of permanently becoming a total mouth breather (as if I wasn’t already).  Whether I liked it or not, I had to overcome this angst.

    Luke mixed up the saline with warm tap water inside the pot by covering it with his hand and shaking it vigorously.  Water spilled everywhere and I’d later learn that you're supposed to only use sterile or cooled-boiled water.  See my caution?

    I put the spout up to my nose hole, tilted my head to the side, and gently lifted the pot so that gravity can do the work.  The water tried to enter but the snot was determined to make it difficult.  Eventually it busted through and began filling up my nasal passages.

    Water started to drip out my other nostril before a small, steady stream formed.  I took slow, steady breaths so that I wouldn’t choke and suddenly see a white light.  Then it happened: the saline somehow went to the back of my throat and entered my mouth!  I involuntarily spit/drooled it out and coughed in my panic.

    “It’s okay!” Luke said. “That happens sometimes.  Just relax.  It won’t go down your throat. You won't choke.”

    There’s no need to go into the gory details of all that hung from my mustache and beard after I pulled the pot away.  I quickly wiped it all up hoping we had finished.  However you apparently have to do both sides.  Thus technically we only made it to the halfway point.  Normally you'd just do half the saline water on each side.  But seeing the severity of my situation, Luke opted for me to do a full pot for both nostrils.  

    When all was said and done, I could actually blow my nose and (mostly) breath again.  It worked.  But I’ll be honest: I didn’t “love” this process (as so many claim to).  It felt just too fucking weird and invasive - like maybe a colonoscopy for your face (not that I’ve ever done that either).  

    While it did help my mucous, I decided that the whole experience was just too uncomfortable and I wouldn’t do any neti potting again for quite some time.  That is until now, in a YouTube video, for everyone to see. After I finished the first time, I realized I missed a golden opportunity to film an actual event of me facing an actual fear.  It would've been perfect for the blog.  

    “No,” my partner said when I mentioned this missed opportunity.  “You seriously wouldn’t have wanted people to see what just came out of your face.”  

    Okay, he was probably right.  As “real” as it would've been, it would have been fairly disgusting.  Besides this is how you know you have a good partner - when they can see the things that come out of your face and they don’t immediately move out of the house, set your things on fire, and serve you divorce papers (exactly in that order).  

    Seeing as how people regard the neti pot as an added health benefit to their lives, I didn’t want to run away from it just because it seemed uncomfortable and scary.  Therefore facing a second round of it on camera might as well be the next best thing.  Plus doing it with a healthy nasal passage may reduce the chances of subjecting my audience to any snot-nosed violence.  So check out the video and see if you think I overreacted or if it seems just as disturbing as I had previously thought. 

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Apologizing Without Compromising

    It’s tough to look like serious blogger when, six months into it, one has yet figured out their “elevator pitch.”  This is the idea that you’ve coincidentally stepped on an elevator with some fancy shmancy CEO that kindly ask you about your product.  But you only have ten floors (until you reach the shmancy floor) to explain it.

    When I first tried to describe The Bare InkSlinger blog, I described it as a “fun mix of my classic styled stories and things that inspire me.”  But only a fraction of the residents of Denver knew my work and the rest of the 99.9999999% of the world had no idea who I was.

    If people would ask me what I wrote about, I’d stumble through my words.  

    “I write about myself,” I’d say.  No, wait!  That sounds totally narcissistic!

    “Well, I write about life,” I’d try to correct myself.  Dammit, no!  That sounds way too general!

    Then I’d take a shot in the dark and pick one of my common themes at random.  “I write about taking personal responsibility.”  Fuck! I just sounded like a republican!

    One day I finally came up with the perfect phrase to describe my product: “fun stories on living from someone who once thought they were dying.”  To me, this captured the honesty and humility of it all by wrapping it up in a lovely little bow of light-heartedness. 

    Sometimes it’d click for people.  Other times they’d give me a weird look.  But more often than not, they’d just say, “Jeez, that sounds heavy.”

    What? Heavy?  But I just said it was fun!  FUN, I TELLS YA!

    It’s hard to figure out how to explain your work in 15 seconds or less when you write about such a myriad of things.  So like any dedicated professional, I had shelved this important responsibility and threw it under the bed like the terrible monster it had become.  Aside from figuring out how to explain it to complete strangers, my work just didn’t seem all that urgent to define.  

    That is until a couple weeks ago when my partner, Luke, came home from work with a concern.  “So we’re not gonna make a big deal of this,” he started.  “So I don’t want you to freak out.”

    When someone tells us not to freak out, naturally we start freaking out - at least in our heads.  Luke proceeded to tell me that his nineteen year old niece, Addie (not her real name), stumbled onto my blog and read the essay titled Gold Star Be Gone.  Afterwards, or probably even before she finished reading the piece, Addie unfriended me on Facebook - most likely due to thinking I cheat on Luke.

    Oh, but wait, it gets worse.  Luke found out about this through a text message from his incredible, seventy-eight year old mother who wrote: “Addie found Scott’s sex blog.”

    What the fuck was happening?  She unfriended me? Does his family think I cheat on him?  Do they really think I run a sex blog? Ironically, this was happening right on the heels of writing The Perks of Being Sex Positive.

    In truth, I wouldn’t even mind having a sex blog. But a sex blog isn’t what I set out to create.  So many gay guys out there think they’re experts on sex.  Do we really need another?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  But we already have Dan Savage and it’s not like I’m all that much younger or cutting edge than him.  I’m also not as handsome or muscular or successful or… well, you get the idea.  Although he doesn’t get naked for the sake of his craft like I do.  (note to self: google ‘Dan Savage Naked’)

    In mental health, there’s a saying whenever you feel emotionally affronted: respond, don’t react.  I try to center my brain around this whenever I reach a point of contention with someone else.  It helps me be more diplomatic rather the splooge forth with some terrible brain thoughts.  But I was having a hard time not reacting to Addie’s reactions.  The unfriending and the labeling as a sex blog kind of hurt.

    As Luke requested, we were to not make a big deal of this.  So that evening, I didn’t bring it up again - at least not on the outside.  On the inside, I continued to build my legal defense against the prosecution: 1. In that essay, I clearly stated that the potential for extra-marital activities were not only consensual with my partner, but in fact encouraged by him.  2. Maybe it’d be good for Addie to get out of her bubble and learn about alternative relationships.  3. Sure, 90% of the “ask me anythings” are, in some way, sexually related, but to date only one blogpost (out of twenty) was actually about sex.

    Fortunately, “time” has a way of shifting us from reaction to response.  Thus the next morning I woke up with a little more clarity.  In part, I had kicked back against Addie’s kickbacks because of how much I love and respect her.  She’s an amazing kid who I am insanely proud of and I hated the idea that my work upset her.  

    I had always been a bit awkward with my partner’s family but out of all the nieces and nephews, she made me feel the most welcomed.  Addie not only got good grades but worked a job so that she could buy a car (well, a truck).  Her parents didn’t just pay for it like mine did.  Also without any parental help, she got scholarships and financial aid to go to college out of state (although not too far away). Plus she treats our weirdo dog like a prince.  

    At any rate, Addie grew up in a tight bubble of a small town. The typical dress code included cowboy boots and camo shirts… AT THE SAME TIME! And if ya had a high school sweat heart, you’d most likely marry them and have camo shirt wearing babies.  She loved the small town life.  However in their world, concepts like “open relationships” rarely get mentioned, let alone understood. I could imagine it being especially jarring for an idealistic young woman.

    My gut began to tell me that somewhere I messed up and owed Addie an apology. I take apologies very seriously.  I loath it when people toss them around senselessly.  Thus whenever I have to apologize, I think back to the root word “regret.”  But what exactly did I regret this time?

    Over the next couple of weeks, I’d ask friends to weigh in on the situation.  Some would say I absolutely shouldn’t apologize - I needed to stand by my work regardless of who sees it.  Others would say yes, an apology would be nice - I have a responsibility to best direct my work to the audience for which it’s intended (wow, look at me not ending a sentence with a preposition).

    I realized that both could be true.  I launched The Bare InkSlinger so quickly that when I set up the Facebook page, I just let it force all of my personal page’s “friends” to automatically like it. I set the page to 18+ so that it’d weed out any of the nieces and nephews.  But with Addie being nineteen, she slipped through the cracks.

    She may have unfriended my personal page, but when I went back to check The Bare InkSlinger writer page, she was still there… liking it, unknowingly and against her will.  This was mt fault and I felt awful.  Addie didn’t intentionally seek out my work.  She mistakenly got the link that lured her in for a click and for that I was indeed sorry.  I immediately kicked her off along with the rest of our families.

    But fortunately enough, the fact that she deserved this apology for my misfire didn’t necessarily mean I had to make a compromise on writing about the exposed life.  Not everyone can easily digest some of the deliciously weird ideas I want to serve up (there’s that good old preposition ending).  Occasionally, the wrong person is going to accidentally take a bite.  That doesn’t mean I have to change the recipe.  I just need to pay attention to who’s sitting at the table and better define it so folks can really be sure they want a taste. 

    Our friend Shannon (real name) said it best.  “The way you write in such full disclosure and total honesty is an extraordinary and beautiful thing.  But it’s not without it’s consequence.” 

    The last elevator pitch I tossed around was “fun essays on the disjunctures of daily living.”  Despite this not being a sex blog, nothing seems more disjuncturey than that of sex.  So it’s something I will absolutely continue to explore.  But delving into such subjects can be a bit like running through a minefield (or in this case a “mindfield”).  And whenever we run through such territory, we’re bound to occasionally get blown up.

    I’ve yet to actually make this apology to Addie - partly because of timing and partly because it’ll be horribly awkward and I want to be a coward.  Regardless, since my partner knows his family best, I'll follow his lead on if or when that should happen. 

   And I’m now back to tackling the monster of defining my work.  Seeing as how I don’t plan on changing a thing, some of you dedicated InkReaders might be better at describing it than me.  So if you have an idea, I’m all ears. 

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

The Perks of Being Sex Positive

    As Tom and I continued to butt heads in the little cafe at The Bellagio, the argument just became more circular and more frustrating.  Initially I didn’t care about his opinions on condom usage vs PrEP.  The only thing that mattered was loading up my mouth with some savory chicken crepe.  But what continued to unload out of his mouth just made me want to spit the crepe all over the table.  Of course I didn’t because I’m not a child and I also love food way too much to not swallow it.

    I’m not going to go into detail about Tom and I’s argument as I previously planned for this essay. But let’s just say that it started off by his saying “I don’t understand these guys who bareback all the time and think they shouldn’t be judged for it.”  Specifically referring to guys on PrEP, his words only got more condemning from there.  As I tried to offer up a sex positive perspective, he continually shut it down like a lusty lawyer.

    Truth be told, once upon an early-twenty-somethings, I spouted off a similar sexual rhetoric.  I’d say things like “How does anyone get HIV in this day in age? We know how it works.  Just use a condom!  It’s not that hard.”

    What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that using condoms wasn't that hard… for me.  For many others, it was far more complicated. I passed judgment on that which I didn’t understand and I lacked empathy for those who didn’t do it “my way.”  Ironically (and probably deservingly), I contracted HIV through a broken condom.  

    In the wake of my diagnosis, I embraced humility and thus sex positivity came naturally for me.  Years would pass before I even ever heard the label.  Eric Barry described it best on his Huffington Post piece as “the idea that one’s sexual preferences are a matter of personal choice, and that within the confines of informed consent, those preferences should not be subject to the moral imposition of others.”  It’s not that we all have to like the same things.  We just don’t have to hate on what each other like.

Photo by Anonymous

Photo by Anonymous

    While the harshness of Tom’s words flew in the face of sexual positivity, I understood some of his never-ending arguments:  

  • PrEP doesn’t prevent other STI transmission outside of HIV.  
  • Guys aren’t concerned about HIV because they can just go on government assistance to take a once-daily pill which then affects him as a responsible tax payer (okay, that one’s pretty dicey).
  • And what if all this bareback sex leads to a new disease - one that comes out of nowhere and kills us all again?!

    As my partner puts it, we don’t necessarily have to look at such issues as “A or B” (good or bad, right or wrong).  Instead with sexual positivity, we get to see it as “A through Z.”  It’s a continuum of thoughts and practices.  Such sexual issues are totally worth discussing, but they aren’t ever black and white.  It’s all grey area.  So on the flip side to Tom’s concerns:

  • Those other STIs can be transmitted orally - some even through skin-to-skin contact. So unless you go knob bobbing with a condom or offer up handy-jays in a hazmat suit, we’re all in that together.
  • Most HIV positive folks get coverage through their insurance as well as copay assistance programs through the pharmaceutical companies.  The Ryan White funds from the government are crucial to keeping SOME positive people in treatment.  And with HIV, treatment is prevention.  Plus sometimes the government also helps fund the studies for new medication that pharmaceutical companies decide to later charge three grand a month to get.  So there’s also that for tax payer peace of mind (sarcasm).
  • And yeah, I worry about a new disease emerging too… but from ALL sexual acts, not just penetrative sex.  And luckily with the internet, if a new disease does emerge, then word can spread immediately and people can go back to wrapping it up quickly.

    What I love about being sex positive is that you don’t have to focus so hard on judging other people or their preferences. Judging is just bad for the soul.  Of course we all do it from time-to-time. But some dole it out more heavily than others.  Being judgmental is a bit like eating a donut.  Sure it tastes delicious.  But in the end, there’s nothing really healthy about it.  It’s made up of shitty things that make you look and feel shitty the more you indulge in it. 

    Being sex positive gives me the benefit of treating people the way I want to be treated.  I know this doesn’t sound like that big of a perk.  But somewhere between grade school and adulthood, we lose total sight of this concept.  Sex already has enough potential for guilt and shame.  If you sleep around, you don’t want to be called a slut.  And if you prefer to keep it zipped up, you don’t want to be called a prude.  Giving someone the respect that you want from them is, if anything, like Xanax for the soul. 

    In sex positivity, I don’t have to glamorize sex nor uglify it (that’s a real word!).  I don’t have to feel shameful to talk openly or casually about sex with my friends.  Although I may tone down it down in public so that I don’t accidentally blurt out the phrase “his dick was like a Subway sandwich” upon unsuspecting strangers - because being sex positive also means respecting their boundaries too.  But I certainly don’t have to tolerate slut-shaming of any gender.

    Plus being sex positive seems to keep drama relatively low.  While writing this essay, I stopped to fold some laundry on the guest bed (it’s the flattest surface with the least amount of dog hair).  I noticed an opened bottle of lube on the side table and the throw pillow laying on the floor.  Logically, my partner probably entertained a gentleman friend during one of my recent bartending shifts.  While it certainly had me curious, it didn’t bump any of my jealousy bones.

    While being sex positive doesn’t mean you have to become swingers, it does include owning your own sexuality and not concerning yourself with others’.  It also encourages folks to talk openly, and without judgement, about sexuality. In Eric Barry’s HuffPo piece that I mentioned above, he also describes a tough sexual moment where he acknowledged that communication (or lack thereof) helped him process it with rational thinking instead of rage.

    Being sex positive has also helped me become more body positive.  Sexuality and the human body tend to go hand-in-hand.  And as mental health often boasts, positive thinking and gratitude are often contagious.  Not carrying around a negative attitude about one gave me a sense of self-assurance which then gracefully infected the other.  Of course, there are times when I still feel guilty about sex or I pick at the things I don’t like about my body.  But in general, I am a comfortable, confident, happy guy.  

    But best of all, sex positivity gives me the benefit of not having to be right about everything.  Dr. Phil once said “You can either be right or you can be happy.”  I know Dr. Phil is kind of annoying and while I wish it would've been Buddha or Gandhi who said this, the words still hold a lot of truth.  Twenty-something Scott had to be right about everything.  But he was also a miserable bastard.  Eventually I learned that the taller you sit on that high horse, the harder it is to reach other people.  Trust me, it gets kind of lonely up there.

    I don’t think people, like our friend Tom, necessarily set out to be sex negative.  Some of you may even agree with Tom’s message.  However there’s something to be said for the fact that even prior to PrEP, studies showed that condom usage wasn’t all that great amongst gay men (and other kinds of humans) anyway.  PrEP certainly isn’t perfect.  But neither are condoms.  Sure, some people use both and that’s fantastic.  Except when they become adamant that other’s do exactly the same, they fail to realize that nowadays… they are the exception, not the norm.

    Wanting people to use condoms (in addition to PrEP) to prevent HIV is a bit like wanting teenagers to use abstinence to prevent pregnancies.  Yeah, it’s totally ideal.  But it just isn’t all that realistic.  They’re going to do what they’re going to do.  So we can either shame them to make our preferred choices, or we can equip them with the best tools we’ve got.  Not just with condoms and not just with PrEP, but also with a healthy attitude.  Besides, in the end, you just can’t spell “stud” without STD.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

The Best Worst Vacation Ever

    Pursuing your dreams apparently also means living on a budget.  So when my partner, Luke, wanted to go on a last minute vacation together, we had to make it cheap.  Luckily since we don’t have to worry about hotels, all it came down to was the travel expense itself.

    Our first thought was to visit our friends, “The Johns,” in San Francisco.  We call them The Johns because between the two of them, they have the name John three times.  It’s not because they have an affinity towards prostitutes or toilets or anything in case that's what you thought.  However, I classically waited until the last minute to buy tickets and prices had gone up too high.  So we opted for our fallback plan: just go to Las Vegas.

    To people’s surprise, I actually really enjoy Las Vegas.  I don’t gamble at all but Vegas has three things I totally love: great restaurants, live entertainment, and amazing day spas.  Thus I can get naked, stuff my face, and be insanely jealous of how much more talented other people are than me.  Plus as a bonus, we could just drive there and I love a good road trip.  

    At the last minute, Luke’s longtime friend, Tom, asked if he could join us for the drive out.  He’d stay at a hotel for a couple nights and fly back on his own.  Tom’s a hyper-intelligent guy who has saved our asses many o’ times when it comes to our many flubs in homeownership.  Also he’s just plain fun to be around.

    The evening before we left, I started coming down with a cold.  I slammed Vitamin C, Zinc, and any other supposed immune system booster I could find.  But the next morning I woke up feeling like shit.  I had so much mucous residing in my face, it practically gave me a headache.          

    This was not the ideal way to start the trip.  Nonetheless, the drive offered some beautiful views and we got into Vegas safely that evening.  We dropped off Tom at his hotel and met up with our host at his home where he cooked us a lovely dinner.  

Passing through Utah. I think.

Passing through Utah. I think.

    The next morning I popped some DayQuil and allotted myself a smidgen of caffeine (that of which I normally don’t partake) so that I could muster up some energy for the day.  We met up with Tom to walk the strip and my various chemical intakes seemed to do the trick… aside from the fact that I was still using 130 tissues per minute. 

    After window shopping some games we’d never play and stores we could never afford, we decided to sit down for lunch at a little cafe in the Bellagio. Tom took out his phone, opened his Scruff app, and began venting his frustrations with guys who want bareback sex (regardless of their being on PrEP).  

    If I am to be considered “sex positive,” then the rest of what Tom had to say could easily be seen as “sex negative.”  I tried keeping my perspectives to myself but as Tom’s opinions became increasingly judgmental and offensive (especially for someone with HIV), I got sucked in.  I won’t go into details of how the argument unfolded.  In fact, I’ll just save it for the next essay because I think it raises some questions and issues worth discussing.

    Sometimes when folks are super intelligent, they seem to take issue with the idea that they could ever be wrong about anything.  So between Tom’s incessant need to be right and my increasing frustration, we quickly went from simply disagreeing to being entirely disagreeable.  When I couldn’t take the circular argument anymore, I stood up and excused myself from the table.  

    Okay… actually, I might've been slightly more dramatic than that.  Really, I stood up and screamed “I NEED TO BE ALONE!!!” and stomped off. I don’t get in fights with people often.  So when I do, it feels totally jarring.

    When I safely got one thousand feet away from Tom's opinions, I immediately realized my mistake: I left Luke behind.  I quickly sent him a text apologizing, saying that I was done with Tom for the day but if he wanted to spend more time with him, it’d be fine. I meant it too. I had no problem going out on my own for a while.  Maybe I could find a nice corner somewhere to take a nap or something - just like a hobo.  However Luke responded that he’d like to come be with me.

    When we found each other, we spent some time walking and talking - trying to make sense of what in the hell had just happened with our friend.  Luke isn't the kind of partner who just sides with me because of a relationship bias.  He's incredibly objective.  So knowing that he, too, felt perplexed was comforting.  

    We decided to shake off this next vacation setback by figuring out some shows to see.  Since we had just been in the Bellagio, we decided to check out tickets for the Cirque Du Soleil show “O.”  I had always heard such amazing things about it.  And as fortune would have it, we discovered discounted tickets for the following night’s showing.

    The Cirque Du Soleil gods didn’t stop shining down their good fortune on us there either.  When we moseyed on through the New York New York hotel, performers were handing out discounts for that night’s late showing of “Zumanity" - the Cirque’s sexy adult show.

    “FUCK IT,” we jointly decided.  “Let’s do that too!!”  I really wanted to see something more adult and sexy anyway.  Plus, after the argument with Tom, I needed something that embodied sex positivity.  And for discounted tickets, we got some shockingly awesome seats.

    Zumanity certainly didn’t fail to disappoint.  While the humor got a little hokey at some points, the acts were phenomenal.  They celebrated straight and gay and everything in between.  And to my pleasant surprise, they seemed to feature just as many male acts as female.  Plus during the James Bond striptease act, we got to see a partial dick slip from our seats.  A DICK SLIP - the very thing angels are made of!

    As we made the one mile walk back to our car parked at the Flamingo (the only place that still offered free parking), we thought we had totally succeeded in getting this vacation back on track.  I went to grab my keys out of my pocket and didn’t find them.  I assumed Luke must have had them only to find out that he did not.  Somehow, amongst our fun that evening, I lost my car keys and we were locked out of my little, white Prius.

The look on your face after a great show and you don't yet realize something's horribly wrong

The look on your face after a great show and you don't yet realize something's horribly wrong

    I started to panic.  What should we do?  Retrace our steps?  But we had stopped at so many places over that one mile stretch (over half of which were now closed).  Call a locksmith?  But that’d be so expensive.  Call the lost and founds?  None of them said they got turned in.  

    As we walked up the strip calling locksmiths, we got increasingly annoyed at all of the guys shouting at us to go to their strip clubs.  Couldn’t they see that we were two distressed dudes totally holding hands?  Having boobs floundered in front our faces was the last thing we wanted.

    Finally Luke reached a locksmith and after explaining that we’d need a replacement key fob for the ignition, he quoted us $140.  This didn’t seem as bad as I’d imagine.  It still sucked but I could handle it.  However when the actual locksmith arrived, he suddenly had a different quote… of $500.

    I felt like he’d punched me in the gut.  To a wealthy business man, $500 would be nuisance.  To a blogger/bartender, it’s kind of everything.  While the locksmith worked on resetting my car to a new fob, I sat on the bumper of an SUV trying my best to hyperventilate.  But strangely enough, I couldn’t do it.  No matter how badly I wanted that physically visceral reaction, it just didn’t come.  Maybe my Wellbutrin was actually working.

    The next morning I woke up feeling hungover.  Except instead of alcohol, I had just drank one too many heavy emotions.  Luke and I debated whether or not it’d be wise to go drop the money on a day spa now.  However since it was one of the main reasons we even came to Vegas, and since now I needed some self care more than ever, we decided to go.

    We opted for the Canyon Ranch spa at The Venetian.  Someone had highly recommended it and neither of us had been.  But after dropping the $60 entry fee, we discovered that it wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for.  

    I mean it wasn’t horrible.  It’s not like we ended up in Auschwitz or anything.  It was still nice and relaxing - just a bit lackluster.  Perhaps it was truly the firstiest of first world problems.  But between this, and getting sick, and fighting with our friend, and dropping hundreds on my car... I couldn’t help but just feel sorry for myself.  Hell, I couldn’t even taste the delicious food we came for because of all zinc tablets I’d been sucking on.

    “I’m struggling,” I told my partner in the dry sauna (that felt neither dry nor sauna).  “In addition to everything else that has happened, I just feel so dumb for losing my keys and getting taken advantage of by the locksmith.”

    He tried comforting me by reminding me that, in time, I won’t feel so affected by this anymore.  And while the car situation was unfortunate, we did what we had to do.  We needed to move on.

    “We have already had some good times on this trip too,” he said. Like always, he reminded me not to just focus on the negative.

    Of course, being so damn good at depression as I am, I kept taking his comforting advice and flipping it into something negative only to sulk even more in the idea that our vacation had been ruined.  I could tell he was getting frustrated with me.  Thankfully he doesn’t ever really get mad at me… or most anyone for that matter.

    We broke from the spa for lunch and just found a foodcourt to eat whatever made the most sense.  As we sat there silently chomping on some terrible, fourteen dollar gyros, I looked over at Luke and noticed that he didn’t look like a man having a good time.  I could see him staring over at the table of five older, black women laughing together and wishing that was us.

    In that moment, I realized something.  It wasn’t all these terrible things that were ruining our vacation.  It wasn’t my cold and how junky it made me feel.  It wasn’t Tom and his uncompromising opinions.  It wasn’t even dropping the $500 on my stupid car.  It was me.  I was the one who was ruining it.

    I had forgotten one of the main staples I use to have a healthy brain in day-to-day life: people/things cannot “make” me feel anything. I am solely responsible for how I feel in regards to the things that happen in my life.  If someone or something has made me feel bad, its entirely up to me to change it - not them.

    In my work in mental health, I learned that “thoughts” and “feelings” are not the same thing.  Rather they're cyclical with one another.  Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings which then lead to more negative thoughts and so on.  Now more than ever, I needed to disrupt this cycle so that, if nothing else, the man I loved could have the good time he came here for.

    When we went back to the spa, I began focusing on the benefits rather than the drawbacks.  It didn’t hurt that a couple of hot guys showed up that I could look at.  I also started psyching myself to go see “O” that evening.

    During the show, I lived in the moment and enjoyed the wonder and magic of it all instead of letting those nagging thoughts eat at me.  By the end of the evening, my brain had almost fully returned to that state of vacational bliss. On our drive back to the host home, I had another "fuck it" moment and decided that we should go ahead and splurge on another day spa - one that we already knew was great.

    “Are you sure we should spend the money?” Luke asked when I suggested it the next day.  Luke doesn’t really care about money.  He clearly questioned this out of concern for me.

    “Yeah. It’s one of the main reasons we came to Vegas,” I said.  “I’ll figure out how to make up the money later.  Let’s just enjoy this now.”

    Thus on our final day, we went to Qua - the spa at Caesar’s Palace.  It was everything we needed it to be - from the perfectly temperatured dry/wet saunas... to the cold room that snowed... to the many hot tubs and waterfalls.  We even made a new friend.  Doing this also reminded me that sometimes its worth spending the money you don’t have in order to get the emotional wellbeing you really need - especially when you can share it with someone you love.

    That evening our host scored us tickets to yet another show.  We joined him and his friend at one of their favorite local joints for dinner - getting to have some good insider experience in Vegas.  And while the show was not as impressive as Cirque Du Soleil, we still had a great time there too.  

    When we walked into the garage, we saw security standing around my little, white Prius.  The bumper had been completely ripped off the car in what looked like a parking garage hit-and-run.  Totally stunned, neither of us could say a word.   A split second later, we noticed the bumper sticker that wasn’t mine and that we didn’t even park in that spot.  Luke and I simultaneously bursted out into a relief of hysterical laughter.  Although we felt bad for whoever owned car, we kissed to at least lock in our gratitude that it wasn't mine.

    The morning we left Las Vegas to head back home, we realized it had truly been the best worst vacation we could've possibly had.  

The fountains of Bellagio.

The fountains of Bellagio.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Gold Star Be Gone

    As kids, teachers would use gold stars to reward our good behavior.  As gay men, we use them metaphorically to show that we’ve never touched a vagina.  I’ve never taken pride in being a gold star gay.  For me, it was merely a simple fact: I’d never slept with a woman.  

    My partner Luke, on the other hand, touched so many vaginas that he’s not only NOT a gold star gay, but practically a blackhole.  Okay that’s not true.  I just wanted to use that joke.  But back when he lived a closeted life via working in the ministry, he got biblical with a few ladies who he found fairly special.  

    Luke recalled his time with women fondly.  They weren’t the total icky-pants that some of us get so squeamish about.  So once he and I figured out how to manage a more openly sexual style of relationship, he started encouraging me to, one day, give a woman a shot.  

    I’ll admit that, over the years, I’ve grown a bit fond of straight porn.  Quick note: to my female readers out there (all six of you), I assure you it’s not the kind that degrades women.  I’m not in the market to see any facials.

    It started out as a weakness for straight guys (yes, I’m one of those).  I’d focus solely on him and ignore the woman and the over-the-top squaking noises bursting forth from her pleasure mouth.  But after watching enough of it, I started to get used to her lady parts.  It’s like eating vegetables.  Once you try them enough, you think Oh that’s not so bad after all.

    Luke offered to help facilitate the process but for some reason, I couldn’t fathom the idea of having him in the room if this ever went down.  I wasn’t opposed to a three-way though.  It’d just have to involve the girl AND her hot boyfriend.  In fact that scenario started to sound increasingly preferable. 

    But how does one make this happen?  I could hit the Craigslist ads and make a post: Gay Guy Seeking Straight Couple For First Time. But I’m the kind of guy who likes my sex to happen organically - not forced.  I couldn’t foresee any way this could ever present itself.

 

    During my December visit to my folk’s home in Tucson, I was determined to get out and see some night life.  I planned on just hitting up the resident gay dive bar as these tend to be my kind of joints.  But my local friend Alex invited me to join him and his friends at some nightclub downtown.  He really wanted me to meet his girlfriend. 

    We originally met Alex when we hosted him through CouchSurfing.  He was tall, blond, handsome, and talked in that dumb/bro straight guy kind of way.  Needless to say, Luke and I found it ridiculously hot.  During his stay, I hosted another body painting for me and a couple friends for Tony Dortch’s Pure.  When Alex came home, he decided that, while he didn’t want to get all painted up, he would at least get naked with us anyway.  

    Nothing happened that evening but afterwards, he began texting ambiguously flirty things with Luke.  Alex had us all turned around on just how exactly straight he was but since he was a CouchSurfing guest, we played it cautiously.  So cautiously that unfortunately nothing ever happened at all.  Thus I was determined to see him again during my Tucson visit.

    His girlfriend, Annabel, didn’t come close to what I’d imagined.  She was like a young, blond Alanis Morrissette who’d chosen a career in bodybuilding rather than singing.  Annabel had broad shoulders and dance moves unlike any woman I’d ever seen.  She kept getting in dance-offs with guys at the club and absolutely kicking their asses. In short: I liked her.

    After their friends left, the three of us decided to move on to a different club.  As we waited in line for the next one, Alex suggested we skip this place and go to the gay club just up the way.

    “Oh, no,” I said. “Seriously guys, we don’t need to go to a gay club for my sake.  I’m totally fine where ever.”

    But Alex kept pressuring for it, saying how it was just five or so blocks up the way and would be an easy walk.  His obvious desire to be in a queer joint once again riddled him with sexual ambiguity.  It had me wondering if he had some secret intentions by steering it all in this direction.  Could this be it?  Could this be the night I’d lose my gold star virginity and have a heterosexual(ish) three-way? 

    Like a true gentleman, Alex ran off to go get the jacket Annabel had left at the first club.  She and I got a head start while making chit-chat along the way.  I learned that she’d moved to Tucson with a guy she’d been dating who later turned out to be a total jerk.  Annabel thought she’d given up on men until she met Alex.  Apparently they had only been dating for a few months.  She really liked him.

    My hopes had turned to disappointment.  I couldn’t have a three-way with them if they’d only been together a few months.  I believe that couples should be together for AT LEAST a year before they start getting sexually adventurous.  They need to build that foundation with each other first in order to trust each other with such things later.

    I was also slightly relieved.  The idea of having sex with a woman is a bit scary.  The fear is not so much about the “physical” but more so about the “circumstantial or situational.” Will it be awkward?  Will I be bad?  Would I embarrass myself?  What if I try going down on her and I accidentally sneeze or something?!  That’d be horrible!!!

    In the gay club, we hit the dance floor right away and quickly worked up a sweat.  Since I was now among my queer-peers, I felt comfortable (and overly eager) to take off my shirt.  Alex and Annabel raised their hands and cheered me on.  We were having a blast.

    A few songs later, I noticed another girl and guy dancing near me.  She was thin with gorgeous long blond hair.  Geez, why is everyone in this story blond?  Her male companion didn’t have blond hair but had a lightly bearded square jaw that made me drool.  Both were dressed in fashionable sweaters that still managed to show off their amazing bodies.

    The girl and I flirted and made our way over to each other for some good old fashioned grinding.  I didn’t think anything of it as girls usually love dirty dancing with the gay boys.  I get it all the time.  But her guy quickly moved to join in.

    I decided to take a small risk by putting my left hand on her shoulder and then wrapping my right arm around to put my hand on his shoulder too.  Neither seemed to be bothered by this.  The energy felt connected.

    As most dance grinding goes, it had a short expiration date due to someone falling out of sync (usually me).  We separated and went back to shaking our own booties independently from one another.  But a short while later, she came within my zone and used her finger to beckon me back towards her.  

    This time, I went further with it - grabbing onto her back and pulling her into me.  I pushed her hair away so I could admire her neck, as though I would kiss it.  This is something straight guys do too, right?  Admire ladies’ necks?  Anyway, she certainly didn’t seem to mind as she held tightly on to my naked, sweaty torso.  The guy danced near us watching - not with disdain or jealousy, but with curiosity - perhaps desire.

    It wasn’t long before he pulled up behind her and joined once again. My left hand that held on to her back kept bumping into his hard chest.  So I decided to take it a little further with him too.  Instead of merely putting my right hand on his shoulder again, I slid it up his sweater onto his bare torso.  I felt a fair amount of fur flowing over his abs.

    If I wasn’t fully pitching a tent pole before, I absolutely was now and the girl noticed.  She took her leg that had steadily idled between mine and drove it hard into my crotch. My hand didn’t leave his body and yet he didn’t pull away.  I wanted to kiss her.  Was this really happening?!  Was “this” really going to happen?  It was official.  I wanted to have sex with her.  And, well, him too of course.

    When the song changed, we broke apart for, if nothing else, a break. I found Alex and Annabel off to the side of the dance floor where they had been cooling off themselves.

    “Seem’s like something interesting was brewing over there,” Alex said.

    “Yeah, that was totally unexpected,” I replied.  Really, what I wanted to say to him was “See!  Look!  I am totally down for lady sex!”

     Alex said that the time had come for them to call it a night and asked if I’d like to walk back with them.  I opted to stay behind so that I could see if what had been brewing would actually be drinkable.  I returned to the dance floor and danced patiently and alone… waiting for round three.

    But the mystery girl and guy didn’t return.  In fact there was no sign of them anywhere.  It really was getting late and if this was going happen, it needed to happen soon.  I decided to do a final loop around the club.  If I couldn’t find them, then I’d cut my losses and call it a night as well.  

    No such loss-cutting was needed though.  A couple rooms later, I saw them from afar.  They were talking - she sitting on a ledge while he stood between her legs.  They looked happy.  And suddenly it hit me.  I’d have to face another situational fear: making the first move.

    I have never made the first move in my entire life - at least not in person.  The mere thought of it always kicked in my shy side.  It’s ironic because whenever someone makes the first move on me, I immediately hold them in high regard for the guts it took to do it.  But if left up to me, I would simply flirt and then run away as fast as possible.  I’m always worried I’ll fumble over my words and look dumb.  Plus I have a fear of rejection - something I very much need to work on as well.

    However I couldn’t let fear stop me this time.  I’d waited for an opportunity like this for years.  If running towards fear had worked for me so well before, I certainly had to pick up the pace now.  The adrenaline began to pump through my veins as I made my way over to these gorgeous strangers.

    “Hi,” I said as they both turned and looked at me. “I saw ya sitting over here and thought I’d come by to introduce myself.  I’m Scott.”

    She smiled.  “Nice to meet you.  I’m blahblahblah.” (Technically I can’t remember her name.  But I didn’t want to come up with more pseudonyms for this story.)  

    The guy introduced himself as well and he seemed foreign - a strange name sounding even stranger with an accent.  I didn’t care.  I didn’t need their identification.  I just needed them naked.  With me.

    “So,” I went in for the kill.  “I was curious… I wanted to ask… are you guys looking for a third tonight?”

    The girl smiled again but followed it by shaking her head. “No.  I’m sorry,” she said.  “We aren’t tonight.”

    I had officially been rejected. “No worries,” I said.  And I meant it.  “Thank you both for the fun night.  Have a good rest of your night.”

    Sure I fumbled my words a little.  But while I made the long trek back to my car, I felt a weird sensation.  Or maybe I should say I felt a weird lack of a sensation.  Not one ounce of me was filled with regret or self doubt for getting turned down.  Instead I felt like a (not to use a redundant word from my last essay) total and utter badass!

    For whatever their situation was, I wasn’t the right guy for them.  Or maybe they just weren’t ready for a threeway.  I’d never know.  And I didn’t need to know.  All I knew was that they had made me feel incredibly sexy earlier that evening and it gave me the confidence to do something most folks wouldn't: ask a random heterosexual couple if they’d like to have a three-way.

    The confidence it took to face that rejection simply wouldn’t let me feel degraded or ashamed.  I may have ended that night still having my gold star, but I also ended it getting filled with a ton of guts - the very same guts I often admire in others.  And I realized that, in all my fear-facing, I hadn't ever actually felt my own guts before.  The sensation of it set me on fire from the glorious rush of it all.  

    Perhaps one day my time would come.  But it would come when the time is right.  Until then, I’d wait with a great deal of patience - that truly worthy of a teacher’s gold star.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.