Part III: Water Under The Bridge

Since the dawn of humankind, there have been quarrels.  Archeologists had proven this by digging up several skeletal remains in the shape of wagging their fingers at one another.  And when the cavemen (and don’t forget the cave ladies) sat down to settle these quarrels, they had to ask the age old question: who goes first?

This was the question that Brad and I now faced as we tensely sat across from each other at lunch.  He and I had two years of a really close friendship.  Now, who in the hell first shares their side of the story about what we had been through over the last six months?!

I told him I didn’t care, which was really code for I can’t freakin’ decide.  Finally, he decided for me and suggested that I go first.  The moment had come.  I could finally tell him what it was like to suddenly have your closest friend stop talking to you without knowing why.

I went through everything I had previously written in Part I and Part II of this essay: him pulling away from our friendship even after I told him I was lonely and needed him, the way he left me out in favor of his new friends on New Year’s eve, the fact that I never heard from him again when I stopped making all the effort, and finally the bullshit excuse he gave me when I tried to tell him goodbye via text months later.

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“You’re right,” he said when it finally came his time to talk.  “My excuse was bullshit.  I didn’t realize it until I after I wrote it, but I knew it wasn’t the truth.  The reason I distanced myself from you is because you had become so fake.”

What… the… fuck?!  I was fake?  The moment I heard those words, I immediately wanted to scratch some eyes out - preferably his.  But when you’re in a blinding ape rage, any eyes will do. I am happy to say that no eyes were gouged and instead, I asked him to clarify.

“I don’t understand,” I said.  “How was I at all fake?”

“You had just become Instagram plastic,” he told me.  “You became one of those guys who kept posting shirtless or naked photos of yourself.”

“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO TOLD ME TO DO THAT!!!”  I tried to not lose my shit.  “You’re the one who helped me brand myself as a ‘naked writer.’”

“I know.  It just didn’t seem like the Scott I knew.  And part of it was me too.  I kept following all of these hot guys and I thought, what value does this bring to my life?  So, I unfollowed all of them… including you.”

“But Brad, you know me.  You know that I have no fucking clue what I am doing on social media.  And I came to you and told you I was lonely and needed your friendship.  How could you think I had become plastic?”

“Yeah, after you told me that, I invited you to come out with us to the bar for that calendar release party.  But you spent the whole night talking to other people.  It just felt like all Scott cared about was wanting to be seen and recognized.  It was the same thing on New Year’s Eve.  We almost got to the bar and suddenly I get this text from you that you’re leaving to go somewhere else.  It was like, Oh, Scott’s not getting enough attention again.

I couldn’t believe my ears - most likely because they were filling up with blood from hearing all of this (not literally though).  I first went back to the initial bar night before I got to New Year’s Eve.

“Brad, all those people at the calendar release party were my old bar patrons.  Because of them, I was able to pay my bills.  They also support the blog.  If I didn’t go say hello to them, I would have looked like a total dick.  And I WAS super bummed we didn’t get to really hang out that night.  That’s why, after that, I kept suggesting to hang out outside of gay bars.  I invited you to dinner.  I invited you to that concert.  I invited you to come with me to that drawing group.”

He couldn’t argue any of this which made me feel like I was on the right track.

I continued.  “And about New Year’s Eve...Do you know how hard it was for me that day?  I practically begged you to make plans with me and you wouldn’t.  Meanwhile, I go on Instagram and watch you and your friends wearing silly “Fuck2017” glasses.  That was shitty.”

Brad fell silent.  So, I took this as an opportunity to berate him some more.

“We left the bar on New Year’s Eve because YOU left me hanging.  Yeah, I didn’t know anyone there, but it wasn’t for attention.  Luke and I were just standing by ourselves with no one to talk to - waiting to see if you guys MIGHT show up after the dinner you didn’t invite us to.  I felt like a stupid teenager waiting for you and I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

By this time, Brad’s eyes were more focused on the ground than at me - perhaps a sign that hearing all of this was hard for him to digest and he could no longer look me in the face.

“Besides,” I told him.  “The other bar was a bust too.  I ended up going home and fucking crying like an idiot.”

His head popped back up.  “You cried.”

I nodded.

“Scottie, I didn’t know that you were hurting that badly.  If I had known you had cried, I would have left my friends and would have come been with you guys.”

Hearing him say had helped to cool off the flames that had fired up inside me.  This was the friend I had known and loved.  I stopped coming down on him like a hammer and allowed myself to talk from a more vulnerable place - a side of me that felt more weak, than angry.

“Brad, I told you I had been lonely and you responded by pulling away from me.  And for what?  All because you made this assumption that I had become fake?  If you had even bothered to hang out with me, you would have known I was the same Scott.”

At one point, I decided to tell Brad how, after he stopped talking to me completely, I legitimately thought about spitting in his face if I had seen him out.  To be THAT transparent with someone, to tell them something that makes you look like a fucking psycho, was intense.

He laughed, but not out of finding it humorous.  It seemed more like shock.  Most likely due to the fact that, in all of our deep conversations together, he never heard me say something so intense about anyone.  Brad now knew the gravity of his actions.

Suddenly, Brad offered me what so many people in this situation don’t get: an apology.

“Jesus, Scott,” he said.  “I really fucked up.  I feel terrible.  I am so sorry.”

The whole conversation, of course, did not play out this quickly.  If I tried to write a more detailed and accurate version of the two hours we spent talking, it would most likely be a small screenplay that would get thrown in the trash.  What I have written here is the highlights.  And as these highlights came to wrap his apology, there was still one more thing I had to address.

Just a month before this lunch, I had been traveling in California.  In LA, I stayed with this guy, Chris, who I had met at Folsom the previous year.  Chris was kind and genuine and somehow we got into a conversation about a friend of his who similarly slipped away from him.  He said, “I just had to come to terms with the fact that the friendship just didn’t mean as much to him as it did to me.”

This had been a really powerful thing for me to hear and ever since, I wondered if the same thing was true for us.  Had it all just been a matter of the friendship meaning more to me than it did for Brad?  I wanted to say this to Brad and see how he responded.

“In the end,” I told him.  “I think the friendship just meant more to me than it did to you.”

Brad nodded.  “I think that’s true about a lot of the relationships in my life.”

We talked about this for a bit and I began to see a side of my friend that I hadn’t seen before - probably because I chose to ignore it.  Brad didn’t view friendship the same way I did.  Yet, here he was, apologizing for what he had done and asking for a second chance.  I felt more confused than ever.

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By the time he apologized for every stone I refused to leave unturned, it no longer made sense to keep talking about it.  There was no point in beating any dead horses.  We switched to small chit-chat as we waited to pay for the check.  I was slightly annoyed when he didn’t offer to pay for the whole thing.

When we got up from the table and made our way to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, Brad said, “How about we get lunch again next week?”

“No,” I said at the drop of a hat.  This surprised me just as much as it did him.
“Why not?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, Brad.  If we just immediately put this behind us and go back to the way things were, then I don’t think we will learn anything from all of this.”

This was true too.  Every time I find myself at a disjuncture in life, I try to own my part in it as much as possible so that I could learn a lesson.  Now, I wanted him to do the same.  Though, I will fully admit, it felt pretty damn good to be the one turning him down this time.

“Let’s just take some time to heal and grow.  When either of us gets to a better place and figured out what we needed to learn, we can reach out then.”

And with that, we gave each other a big farewell hug.

           Over the next few months, I had to face the next classic caveman question: where do I go from here?  Since writing Part I and Part II of this story, I have been flooded with heartfelt messages from people who have gone through the same thing.  It makes me sad to know that this is normal and it makes me happy to know that I am not alone.

           I imagine that the “where do I go from here” question is something we all face when a friend lets us down.  And this question is so deeply personal for our own unique situations.  With Brad wanting reconciliation and to continue our friendship, my question didn’t just involve a “me,” it involved a “we.”

           I didn’t know what in the hell to do.  Did I still want this friendship or not?  And if I didn’t, did that just mean I was holding on to my anger?  Would I be failing to find the grace in order to forgive and forget?  If I didn’t take his olive branch, would I never actually let this whole thing be water under the bridge?

           By the time five months rolled by, neither Brad or I had contacted each other.  And these thoughts continued to weigh on my mind as I still missed him.  It wasn’t until this last fall, when I went to visit my friend, Sinead, in Philadelphia, that I began to think differently about Brad.

Sinead and I have known each other since college and she is truly the only person I could refer to as a “best friend.”  She has always seemed to do well with friends and rarely had quarrels.  During the trip, I asked her how she did this.

“I just meet people where they’re at,” she said.

Sinead then told me a recent story where she felt frustrated with a friend who regularly wasn’t following through with their plans.  By her motto, she realized this woman didn’t offer friendship in the same way that Sinead did.  So, instead of letting it be a source of stress and conflict, she met the friend where the friend was at by not investing as much energy into her.

In Amy Poehler’s book (which has practically become my bible), she does an essay on the awesomeness of getting older.  She talks a bit about friendships and says, “Now that you are starting to have a sense of who you are, you know better what kind of friend you want and need.”

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As Chris in L.A. said, the friendship simply didn’t mean as much to Brad as it did to me.  And although he wanted friendship again, this wasn’t the kind of friendship I wanted or needed.  The time had come for me to meet Brad where he was at.  Like all of us in the situation, my energy could best be spent elsewhere.  I officially made the decision.  I wanted to let Brad go.

But in order to find peace by letting him go, I would have to start by honoring what our friendship once was.  If I let go with all this hurt in my heart, then I wouldn’t truly be letting him go.  I would simply be doing what he did to me: pushing him away via some distorted lens of what he did wrong rather than what he did right. 

The fact of the matter is, Brad was a great friend.  He helped me brand the blog and wrestle with social media (even if I still fucked it up).  When I bartended, he frequently visited me on my shifts.  Whenever I did a burlesque show, he always came even if he had seen the act before.  On a couple occasions, he even helped me record the acts.  And Brad always provided me a safe space to tell some of my deeper secrets.

There is a saying that goes something like “Friends are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”  Brad had been in my life for so many reasons - all of which I am so grateful for.  But things changed for him.  Thus, our season had come to an end.  He wasn’t meant to be along my side for a lifetime.

One day, not long after my visit with Sinead, I took my laptop to the park and worked on my book at a picnic table.  After a while, I looked up and saw Brad with a couple of guys.  They were laughing together while they walked their dogs.  Judging by the distance, they would have had to pass fairly close behind me.  Brad didn’t stop to say hello.

Perhaps he felt too awkward to do so.  Or perhaps he didn’t even notice me.  It didn’t matter.  While seeing this made me feel a bit lonely, it reminded me of one simple fact: feeling lonely when you’re with someone is far lonelier than when you are actually alone.

At that moment, my heart gave a tiny smile as I thought, Goodbye my friend.  Brad was a wonderful person.  I loved him very much.  And I hoped he would be well.  The water had finally gone under the bridge.  It just flowed in a different direction than I thought it needed to.

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

Copyright © 2019 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Part II: Mourning Mayhem

Trying to figure out whether or not a close friend still likes you is a tricky task.  Their slow withdrawing only sends vague messages, which makes the whole thing more confusing.  If you call them out on it, you run the risk of looking crazy and insecure.  If you don’t call them out on it, then the friendship just continues to disappear.

As told in the previous blog post, I now stood in this exact pit of quicksand with my friend Brad.  If you didn’t read it, here’s a quick recap:  He was a great friend with whom I hung out regularly.  He had become distant in the fall of 2017 - unfollowing me on social media and being less and less responsive to texts.  I tried my best to maintain our friendship.  And on New Year’s Eve 2017/2018, he left me feeling truly alone in favor of his other friends.

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After that night, I was left with a massive decision as to what to do next.  Do I keep trying to be friends?  Do I just let go of the friendship?  Do I put on a designer ski mask and go slash his tires?  Or should I simply reach out and try to talk?  What?  Like mature adults?  No.  We couldn’t do that.  Could we?  

Technically, I HAD already tried talking to him about it when I first noticed his distance in the fall.  He said he was merely feeling depressed since the weather changed.  Like a good friend (who has battled depression), I gave him the number of my therapist and offered to help in any other way that I could.  God, was I an idiot.  

In order to make peace with the end of this friendship, I needed more solid evidence that it was actually done.  I decided to stop reaching out to Brad - no more phone calls, no more texts, and no more funny memes over social media.  If I didn’t hear from Brad in any context, then I would have the info to better understand the situation.

I began this experiment on New Year’s Day.  A week passed by.  I hadn’t heard from Brad.  Two weeks passed.  I STILL hadn’t heard from Brad.  A month later, still…nothing.  If action is information, his lack of action was giving me all the info I needed.  My plan was working.

Simultaneously, my plan was backfiring.  I could now visibly see that he no longer had much, if any, regard for our friendship.  His absence was like him sprinkling salt all over the little wounds he’d been jabbing into me over the past months and the pain was making me really, REALLY pissed off.

What had been a milky love for a good friend was now curdling into hate.  My revenge fantasies no longer involved slashing his tires.  Some cutesy vandalism just wouldn’t suffice for how angry I felt.  Instead, I fantasized about how nice it would be to walk right up and punch him in the face.  

Of course, I am NOT a violent guy and would have never physically harmed Brad.  At age 37, I‘ve still never even thrown a punch.  It’s just not in my nature.  But, by week six of not hearing from him, I had succumbed to full-blown rage.

“So, if I were to see Brad in public,” I told Luke one night at dinner, “I‘ve decided I’m gonna spit in his face.”

Seeing as how I said this so matter-of-factly (hence no exclamation point), Luke was concerned.  “Are you serious?” he said.

“Yeah.  I have given this a lot of thought,” I continued.  “I think it would be good for me to spit in his face.  It would show him how much all this really has hurt me, and it would make him feel hurt too.”

Admitting this now, in front of you all and the entire world, makes me feel a bit sick at my stomach.  Or maybe it’s the fact that I had way too much coffee before writing this essay.  Either way, looking back on this, it is not one of my prouder moments.

Luke gently suggested that I should go see my therapist.  I am fortunate to have an incredible therapist.  She helps reframe things more objectively without over-criticizing or over-coddling (coddling is the worst).  I only see her now on an as-needed basis.  And clearly this was needed.

In our session, we went over the reasons why Brad’s actions could have been more about Brad than it was about me.  Then we got to my anger.  She had pegged me as having a problem with anger before and how it was the way I responded when coping (or not coping) with hurt.  And this time, the hurt had gotten severe enough that my anger was out of control.  

 By the end of the session, she talked me down from saliva-fueled desires and helped me understand that, in the end, I have no control over his actions.  But I do have control over mine.  It was not up to Brad to help me find peace.  It was up to me.

She recommended a book called “Anger” by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh...again.  She has recommended this a few times.  As much as I try to be proactive about my mental health, I failed to do this homework.  When you’re busy writing your own book, it gets incredibly tough to read other people’s books.

I supposed this time I could see if there is an audiobook that I could listen to in the car.  But listening to an audiobook by a Buddhist monk might put me to sleep at the wheel and crash.  Then I would have to take Brad on Judge Judy for indirectly causing me to wreck my car.  It wouldn’t be worth it - especially because she would yell at me a lot and most likely rule in his favor.  

It might have been Brad who made me feel like a desperate teenager, but I alone was responsible for acting like one.  I came to realize I had actually been going through the mourning process and had no awareness of it.  The stages of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, and acceptance) are, unfortunately, not linear.

Since I failed to recognize this as grief for the loss of our friendship, I kept blindly bouncing between shock, depression, and guilt, always to land back on anger.  It had become a vicious cycle of shame and rage, and none of it was getting me closer to that final stage of acceptance.  It was ‘mourning mayhem.’

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I spent the next couple of weeks working through my grief so that I could stop acting like a child and respond like a mature adult.  I hadn’t handled this well and I didn’t want to be angry and vengeful anymore.  The only soul it was hurting was my own.  I wanted to find grace in my heart so that I could let Brad go peacefully.  

On March 1st (the tenth week of silence) I decided I had gotten as close as I could get and needed to send one last text in order to genuinely put this thing six feet under.  This is what I wrote:

“Hey buddy, I’m sorry for this weird text. But I wanted to let you know that after New Year’s I decided to see what would happen if I stopped reaching out to hang out. And now, two months later, I haven’t heard from you.  And over this time I’ve seen you hang out with your other friends regularly on social media.  I don’t understand if this distance was intentional or accidental.  But it feels lousy on my end and I think the time has come for me to just make my peace with it and let it go.  And I needed to write this in order to do that. I mean all of this with love and grace. You have been one of my favorite people to befriend and I am truly thankful for the friendship that we had. I am also grateful for all the ways that you helped me. And I will always be there for you if you ever need me.  No need to reply.  Love you, Brad. Take care.”

Six hours and nine minutes later, Brad responded:

“Hey Scotty, I’m glad you reached out, it’s been on my mind too. The space was somewhat intentional, the length of time accidental. I’ve felt a shift in our friendship since the blog and brand launched and I haven’t done a great job of letting you know that it’s been bugging me. That’s on me. I started pulling away because I felt that most of our conversation and connection became centered around your brand as opposed to around you or me. I think that’s the nature of this portion of your life being so wrapped up in this goal/pursuit - that’s not a bad thing! It’s just shifted what we bring to the friendship a bit and I felt like our main connection shifted to brand updates and feedback. I hope that makes sense. I guess it’s just getting hard for me to separate Scott the Friend from The Bare InkSlinger. I do want to reconnect at some point and I want you to know I love you so much. The next 2-3 weeks of March are fucked with work travel, but I’d love to hang out when things settle and talk through some of this in person.”

I guess it would not stay six feet under after all.

To clarify what he meant by some of this, Brad had helped me brand The Bare InkSlinger.  He was the one to point out that my writing is very naked and to make the bold move of sometimes getting physically naked with it.  With his line of work, he knew branding and marketing and I relied heavily on his knowledge to help me figure this stuff out.

When someone calls me out on something, I try my best to remain open to it and to own my actions.  I texted back that I think there was truth in what he said and that I would like to get together to share some perspectives and shine some light on this.  I wrote that, when things calm down, he should touch base with me.

Twenty-four hours later, I realized this was utter bullshit.  While I had talked a lot about the blog, I always remained conscious of not letting our friendship become all about that. Therefore, most of our ‘in-person’ conversations circled around the many woes of his self-proclaimed ‘slutty heart’.

My brain fragmented into a hundred pieces.  I tore into my notebook, writing down all the ways we chatted about his life in lieu of the blog: the constant love triangles he found himself in, the falling apart of his last major relationship, and all the other boy-crushes that led to his constant state of unhappiness.  I was able to quickly list off fifteen different things we talked about.  And over a year’s time, since starting the blog, hanging out once a month or less, this felt significant.

At this point, my anger had returned and I was exhausted.  I just wanted to be done with it.  But I also wanted to meet up so I could find out what in the hell happened, let him know how much it hurt me, and make peace.  Well, this might shock you, but Brad did not ever message me back to set up a time.  However, I wasn’t going to give up.  I needed closure and I needed it face-to-face.

On April 13th, I texted, “So when can we get together and chat.” (And yes I failed to put a question mark instead of a period.)

Brad did not respond.

On May 10th, I texted, “I’ll give this another shot.  Do you want to meet up and talk?”

He replied quickly enough that my phone does not distinguish the time the text was received.  He did want to meet up - maybe between May 21-25th.  His life had been so busy.  He looked forward to reconnecting.  He quit his job.  He got a new job.  He started a new relationship.  This new guy lived in Seattle, but was now planning to move here next week.

Maybe I really SHOULD just spit on him, I thought.  No!  No!  I had to stay strong!  What would Thich Nhat Hanh do?  I still hadn’t bought that “Anger” book.  But it was safe to assume that Buddhist monks probably don’t spit on people when they’re upset.  I wanted to be the kind of man who used honest and gracious words, not vengeful and destructive actions.    

Finally, we made lunch plans on May 24th.  Brad picked the restaurant right across the street - a place we had gone to constantly because he didn’t like venturing out more than a five-block radius.  

I arrived first and got a table on the patio.  A few moments later, I saw him crossing the street from his apartment.  Brad walked up to the table and we gave each other a big obligatory hug before taking our seats.  But even the waitress could feel the tension as she poured our waters.

 My heart pounded as I now sat across from my new former best friend.  I was finally about to find out what in the hell happened.  And as it turned out, the bullshit reason Brad mentioned in his text was, indeed, far from the truth.  To be continued.    

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

Copyright © 2019 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Part I: UnHappy New Years

Every time I get impatient, I pace around my house.  And the longer it took for my friend Brad to text me back, the more I zipped from room to room.  New Year’s Eve had come and by late morning, he still hadn’t gotten back to me about any plans.

New Year’s Eve had typically been one of my favorite nights of the year.  It was the only time I had allowed myself to open the alcohol floodgates (since my early twenties).  We’d gather with friends, I’d get trashed, and it always turned out to be an incredible night of fun, flirtation, celebration and love.

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The previous year had been particularly fun as Brad, our partners and I, had met up with a small group of friends who didn’t yet know each other.  And yet, all of our energies meshed together, right away.  

But things had changed since then.  Brad was no longer with his boyfriend due to some messy love-triangle stuff.  And I had now gone completely sober since I quit bartending the previous July - a decision Brad had helped me make.

I desperately needed to re-harness last year’s energy for this year’s NYE for one simple reason: I was lonely as fuck.  While I had my amazing partner Luke, the writer’s life made it difficult to get out and have social ties.  Brad, who I dubbed as a best friend, had also become my last remaining good friend.

And yet, lately, Brad hadn’t been fully present in our friendship.  He had discovered a new group of outdoorsy guys to hang with.  These fellas were hardcore backpackers.  I tend to be more “outdoorsy light” - I love being in nature, but the second I have to survive in it, I’m out.

I am not really the jealous type and didn’t mind getting left out of their reindeer games.  But it seemed as though I was starting to get left out of Reindeer Brad’s life.  It became increasingly difficult to even grab dinner with him anymore.

When I finally did lock him down for a meal in late fall, the first thing he said to me when we met up was, “I’ve really missed you!”

Without even thinking about it, I blurted out the words, “Are you sure?!”

He laughed.  “Of course, I’m sure.  What does that mean?”

I talked about him being fairly absent.  He talked about his being fairly busy.  I talked about my being fairly lonely.  Our conversations slipped into the usual discussions of my self-deprecating mistakes and the misadventures of his “slutty heart.”  

By the end of dinner, I switched the conversation back and told him I really, REALLY needed his help in staying connected.  Brad responded with an invitation to join him and his new crew to a calendar release party by a local LGBT photographer at a new bar/restaurant.  I accepted this invite and Luke wanted to come along as well. 

The night of the calendar party had gone very differently than I had hoped.  Brad and his friends sat in an oversized booth while we stood to the side.  In my philosophy of being vulnerable and putting myself out there, I tried making small talk with his friends, but they didn’t seem to have much to say to me.  

Then things took an even weirder turn when all of my old bar patrons started showing up.  I hadn’t seen any of these guys since I quit and I had missed a lot of them.  They all wanted to know how things had been since I left the bar and pursued writing full time.  I also ran into a few old friends who I hadn’t gotten to see in a good while either.  

Getting to see people who actually WANTED to see me gave me the wonderful connected feeling I had been longing for in my loneliness as a writer.  The only problem was that I got to be social with everyone but the friend I had come to be social with.  Once Luke and I were able to connect back with Brad’s friends, one of them laughed about how I knew everyone.  I laughed too.

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After that night, Brad seemed even more distant.  Not only did I have trouble getting him to schedule dinner, but he slowed down on responding to my texts.  He no longer liked or commented on any of my stuff on social media and it made me wonder if he had unfollowed me.  

All of this left me confused and hurting.  Did we even have a friendship anymore?  I’d vent my frustrations to Luke, but Luke couldn’t really do anything for me but listen.  Then, a week or so before Christmas, I got an envelope in the mail from Brad.  

It included a handwritten letter telling me how grateful he was and how much he loved seeing me grow in pursuing my dreams of being a writer.  Brad was pivotal in my starting the blog as he helped brand the whole thing. 

The envelope also contained a wallet-sized photo of the two of us laughing together - a shot we had taken when I once wrote a blog post about the unique way we found our friendship.  Then it had more thing - a third little gift.  I pulled it out to find a passport coupon book to bars around the city (also another one for the mountains) for buy-one-get-one on beers and other alcoholic beverages.  

“What the fuck?!” I said slightly disturbed.  Luke leaned over and asked what it was.  I showed it to him and asked the obvious.  “Why would my friend, who helped me decide to get sober, send me a passport book for alcohol?”

My brain immediately spun off in all of the what-does-this-mean and the why-would-he-do-this.  On the one hand, he sent me this incredibly sweet gesture of friendship.  On the other, he included something that insinuated he didn’t know me at all.  As per usual, Luke snapped me out of it.

“Don’t overthink it, my love,” Luke said.  “Yeah, it’s weird he included that.  But everything in there is so thoughtful.  Don’t discount the positive.”

Maybe Luke was right.  Maybe this was a matter of discounting the positive.  I have a tendency to see the bullshit rather than the angel shit.  And maybe the distance between Brad and I had been mostly in my head.  Sure, we hadn’t been hanging out.  But this little package was truly one of the nicest things any friend has done.

So what if Brad had possibly unfollowed me on Instagram?  He and I obviously still had a friendship.  I resumed texting as normal and, right before Christmas, asked him about New Year’s.  I didn’t get a response.  I decided not to read into it.  He’s probably just busy.  A few days after Christmas, I tried again.

Brad finally responded and said he was in the process of making plans with his other friends.  He asked if we wanted to join.  This made me feel second rate - like I was an “afterthought friend” - the person you don’t make plans with, but that you’d invite if they pop and you suddenly remembered they exist.  I didn’t like this.  But what other choice did I have?

On the day of New Year’s Eve, I texted and asked what the plans were.  Like clockwork (or lack thereof), it took him a while to respond.  Finally, he said that he and his friends would be doing dinner at 9:30 pm, and should probably be done around 11 pm and, would meet us at the bar.  But he’d let me know if they decided to go to a different bar instead.

My stomach sank as I read this.  Luke and I weren’t even good enough to be invited to dinner.  But apparently we were just good enough to meet them at a bar they weren’t even sure they were going to.   

Later in the afternoon, my sunken stomach then got punched.  I went on Instagram and saw Brad with his friends celebrating early and wearing silly “FUCK2017” glasses.  Plot twist: this was LAST year’s NYE, not this year’s.  It has taken me over a year to come to a place where I felt comfortable writing this story.  Not since high school had I felt like such a fucking loser. 

Luke could see the overwhelming sadness taking over my whole being and said that we didn’t have to go out - that we could just stay home.  The thought of this made me feel even more like a loser.  Though now, looking back on it, this would have been the better option.  Instead, I said we should still join them at the bar.

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 Luke and I arrived to the bar at 10pm.  We hoped to get there early as to avoid crazy parking or a big line to get in. While the bar was busy, it didn’t quite have the high energy crowd I had hoped for.  While we ran into a few acquaintances, we didn’t really see anyone else we knew.  So, we just stood there…waiting and waiting and waiting.

By 11pm, I hadn’t heard from Brad.  Time had become both excruciating and embarrassing, and I could not remember the last time I had felt like such a dumb doormat. 

I turned to Luke.  “Maybe we should leave,” I said.

This surprised him.  “Yeah?  Why?”

“I feel stupid,” I told him.  “Here we are waiting for Brad and his friends and we don’t even know when or IF they’ll even show up.”

“I gotta be honest with you,” Luke said. “Every time we are around Brad’s friends, I feel invisible.”

The moment he uttered those words, a new sense of truth immediately vibrated through my body.  I hadn’t realized it, but I felt the exact same way: invisible. Not only to my best friend’s new friends, but also to my best friend himself.  And the harder I tried to fit in, to keep my friendship, the more of a fool I had been.

“Yeah,” I made the decision. “I am sick of waiting for them like a desperate teenager.  Let’s go to the other bar.” 

We hopped back in my car, but before jetting off, I texted Brad to let him know.  He asked if the bar was a bust - if it wasn’t busy.  I texted back and said that it wasn’t busy and that the crowd had been kind of strange and that we were headed to the other bar.  I left this open ended to see how he would respond - if maybe he would switch gears and join us at the other bar too.

In being transparently objective, I realize this was a mistake.  It was a passive-aggressive attempt to see if he cared at all.  What I should have texted was the way I had felt.  But that could have been a mistake too.  Confronting someone while we are in an emotional state of mind rarely ever goes well.  Besides, Brad didn’t even respond...again.

The second bar had also been a bust.  Perhaps people just weren’t going out to bars much for NYE anymore.  Either way, I pursued the “ultimate night out” so blindly that I couldn’t see the obvious signs of what would actually end up being the “ultimate disappointment” and the loss of my closest friend - my worst New Year’s Eve ever.

When Luke and I got home, I immediately went and grabbed the alcohol passport book that Brad and had sent, and threw it in the trash.  I thought it would make me feel better.  Instead, I cried.  Fortunately, I had Luke to rub my back and tell me that I would be alright.

I made the decision that I wouldn’t text Brad again.  Part of this was to not feel like such a tool anymore.  But the other part was a test to see if he would ever bother to initiate a text with me again.  As I often say, “action is information.”  And what would happen next would give me far more different information than I expected.  To be continued...

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

Copyright © 2019 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Body Hair Purgatory

Once upon a time, I posted a before-and-after photo of my body on Instagram.  It wasn’t to show off my physique transformation of going from a twig to a tree branch (I never reached tree trunk status like I had originally set out for when I started working out).  Rather, it was in regard to my body hair.

Although I don’t have an overwhelming amount of fur, it had just reached a point where I got uncomfortable with it and decided to go in for some maintenance.  Despite the fact that I don't trim off all that much, I was super curious as to what the insta-people would have to say.

Body hair has always been confusing to me.  It doesn’t help that mine is really weird.  It may not look weird in my photos, but that’s because I feel like I have to trim it to not look weird.  It’s all very meta.  

Below my waist, I’ve got enough fur that if I ran into Sasquatch in the locker room, he’d give me a head nod and say “Sup, bro?”  Above my waist is a different story.  My furry lower regions do lead up to a nice treasure trail...that seems to disappointingly lead to very little.  

Photo by  Michael McFadden

Yes, I have some chest hair.  But if left untamed, it becomes a scraggly mess.  Currently, due to the aging process, I am getting hair on my shoulders and I am surprisingly excited about this.

If it sounds like I am all over the board about this, then the answer is yes, I am a nutcase.  Do I want hair?  Do I not want hair?  I don’t know.  Part of the confusion comes from the fact that I’ve never really cared if other guys were smooth or hairy.  Why can’t both be hot?  Then I receive these mixed messages from gay culture that makes me feel like I should be one or the other, while I land awkwardly in the middle.

I legitimately remember the day I got my first pubic hair.  The moment I saw it, I wanted to look for some confetti so I could throw it into the air (like all boys do when they hit puberty).  Having developed a bit later than the other guys, going into middle school with a high voice certainly didn’t help the bullying.  

This first sprout of hair meant all of that was about to change. And even though deep voices apparently didn’t stop bullying, I still appreciated any follicle I could get.  

I continued to like my body hair until I received my first complaint in my early twenties.  It came from a sexual counterpart who had gotten a hair or two (or five) in his mouth.  I had encountered this same thing on my oral end, but I thought it was just a normal part of having hair and being sexually active.  

I wasn’t entirely familiar with manscaping.  So, my resolution for this was to use a hair brush.  Growing up in a house of women, I often saw how brushing their hair (on their heads) lead to lots of strays hitting the ground.  Ergo, the same must be true for any loose crotch hairs that might casually fall into any unsuspecting mouths.

Photo by  Michael McFadden

Insights on my chest hair shortly followed.  One night, after a pool party, a friend whipped out some clippers and we decided to spontaneously buzz our heads (we were in our early twenties).  As a joke, he jammed the clippers against my chest trimming off the chunk of hair that collected around my nipples.  Being the good friend I was, I took the joke in good fun and resisted the temptation to take the clippers and beat him with it.  

Fortunately, another friend, a hairdresser, was there and I relied on his hair-keened eyes to trim it all down evenly (thanks, Preston!).  Once he finished, everyone unanimously agreed that my chest hair looked WAY better.  

One guy even said that my nipples no longer looked gigantic.  My nipples looked gigantic?  I didn’t even know I had this problem.  Although I can’t speak for women, I have certainly never heard a man say he likes to be told he has huge nipples.

Once again, I took these opinions and got into the habit of trying to fix the problem.  I began trimming my chest hair regularly and, after a few more fellatio complaints, I realized that I might have to do the same with my junk.  Taking the hairbrush to the pubes evidently didn’t cut it.  

But taking clippers to my junk made me nervous.  There’s lots of weird crevices and shape-shifty skin down there.  I didn’t want to cut myself.  I also didn’t know exactly what kind of trim job that would make it look good. 

Thus I did what any logical person would do: I put an ad out on Craigslist so that I could find some random stranger to come help teach me how to trim my bush.  I loved doing this kind of thing on Craigslist - posting the most random request out there (in the platonic section) to see what kind of human would reply.  The guy I linked up with on the pubic post genuinely took it seriously.  

I didn’t know what I wanted to get out of it.  The one thing I did know was that I didn’t want any kind of “polite shapes” - no landing strips or triangles or any other object a child might draw.  This always just looked silly to me.  And when it came to my penis, the last thing I wanted to do was make anyone laugh.

The craigslist stranger lowered himself face level with my groin and got to work.  To pretty much anyone’s surprise, he remained a total gentleman about it.  There were no attempts at ‘groinal creepery’.  

He had me be the one to hold my goods to the sides so that he could do his job.  Somehow, his not being inappropriate made him seem more like a weirdo.  Who doesn’t try to attempt SOMETHING when there is a wiener in their face?  Or was it a matter of my not being good enough to take advantage of?  This thought made me self-conscious.  Have I mentioned I’m a bit of a nutcase?

Photo by  Michael McFadden

When he wrapped up, I looked down to see his handy work.  My pubic hair ended up way shorter than I imagined.  I acted like I loved it to not hurt his feelings, but it caught me by surprise.  I felt weary of these results.  It didn’t seem natural.  It didn’t seem like me.  Though I did appreciate the fact that my dick looked bigger.

In the end, the trim job was indeed effective.  I no longer received complaints from my sexual counterparts about loose hairs.  They seemed to appreciate this more manicured side.  And the same message continually got reinforced when it came to my body hair: less was more. So, that’s what I did.  I followed the fad.

In time, I’d go from trimming my chest hair to completely shaving it smooth with a razor.  I had gotten into working out and having a smooth chest really does make you look more muscular.  

Then a year or so later, everything switched.  A new trend emerged.  Furry was the new smooth.  My trimmed groin and shaved chest wouldn’t cut it anymore.  For the most part, guys now wanted guys to be riddled with man hair.  I didn’t understand.  Did guys now suddenly WANT stray pubs in their mouths again?

I didn’t mind this at first because, frankly, I was too lazy to be manscaping all the time.  But this fur trend put me at a new disadvantage.  Beforehand, I could trim things down.  But now, I couldn’t really hair-things-up.  There was only so much I could grow and I didn’t particularly like the way it grew. 

Once again, I tried going with the trend.  I stopped trimming altogether.  My bush went back to being full and my chest hair turned into a bunch of scraggly wires.  Guys did like it, but then there were those who didn’t like it.  And I became more self-conscious than ever.  My body hair, which I celebrated getting as a teenager, was now a confusing mess.

As someone who wasn’t necessarily smooth and wasn’t necessarily hairy, I felt stuck into trying to follow the popular consensuses.  I didn’t know which direction to go in with body fur - less or more.  I didn’t know who to please.

And that was the actual problem at hand.  It wasn’t my body hair itself.  It was my desire to please everyone else.  I have always been a bit of a people pleaser.  I’ve mentioned before how I don’t believe in the “no fucks given” fad (*cough* defense mechanism *cough*). So, in my sense of transparency, I fully admit I have a tendency to give a lot of fucks.

When it came to being stuck in the middle, my solution was to do what I thought everyone else wanted me to.  But I’ve learned that, oftentimes, when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.  The fur that had given me joy as a teenager had now somehow landed me in body hair purgatory (aka “Fur-gatory”).  

I realized that none of this helped me in my journey to liking myself better.  If I wanted to get comfortable in my own skin, I had to stop the madness.  So, I busted out the clippers once again and began experimenting with all the different ways I could trim - no craigslist help needed.  

If I trimmed it in a way that I didn’t like, the good news was that it would grow out and I could try again.  I liked my natural fur.  But I didn’t like it to be overwhelming.  And finally, I discovered my own happy medium - a seven guard on my crotch and a four guard on my chest.  

Photo by  Michael McFadden

This resulted in a very light trimming - nowhere near as short as my early twenties, but not quite as bushy as my early thirties.  When I looked in the mirror, I felt sexy.  I could still honor the love my hair without it feeling overwhelming.  

Instead of worrying about what pleased others, I now could legitimately say that I did what pleased me.  And indirectly, this pleased others because neither of us had to give two shakes about it when we stripped down and gave each other some major shakes.  When you feel more confident about yourself, people feel more confident about you.

When I posted that Instagram photo of my “before and after” trim job, it seemed as though ninety-percent of them preferred me au naturel. This baffled me as, nowadays, there seemed to be hardly any difference.  The different lighting might have skewed it a little.  But the commenters continuously told me how they preferred it.

However, instead of just going back to the popular consensus like I always did before, I decided not change my current approach to my own body hair.  As much as I like it when people like me, I am now old enough to realize that I like it even better when I simply feel comfortable in my own skin.  That way, I stay out of fur-gatory.

The Instagram post.

The Instagram post.

Please check out more of Michael McFadden’s photography at his website and his Instagram.

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

Copyright © 2019 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Photography Copyright © 2018 Michael McFadden, All rights reserved.

Lyft Me Higher

The following essay is NOT an endorsement for Lyft.

With the internet being so damn good at knowing what we want, I typically get ads for three things: motivational speakers who can help you start your business and sell books, devices to help your poor posture, and ways to make extra money.

For the last one, I usually get targeted by Uber and Lyft ads the most - promising the likes of an $800 bonus if I drove a certain number of rides.  It always piqued my curiosity to do this sort of thing.  I own a Prius (and no, I don’t act smug about it) so I certainly get good gas mileage.

In all honesty, I needed the money.  Being an independent writer means being a broke ass artist for a while.  And, previously, I wrote an essay on how my rental property got hit with a $3k bill.  I had to take this money out of my book publishing funds.  

I wrote about the possibility of doing a kickstarter for the book, but I’ve since changed my mind.  While I support the idea of doing Kickstarters, I think the concept of crowdfunding has gotten a bit soiled with people starting GoFundMe accounts so they can take that fancy trip to Europe.

Anyway, in mid-August, Lyft ran a new kind of promotion - one where they would guarantee you $2,000 in your first month of driving.  That guarantee had me drooling slightly out of the corner of my mouth.  Once I got my saliva in order, I clicked the link to get more info.

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In order to get your $2k guarantee, you’d have to have the driver app turned on for a minimum of 25 hours a week and give a minimum 45 rides for the week.  If you did this, they would pay the difference of what you made to equal $500 for that week (for the first four weeks).

Our basement renter, Eric, who is so phenomenally awesome that I might occasionally guilt him into living with us forever (Hi, Eric!), has driven for Lyft for a couple years.  I decided to ask him if he thought it would be worth it.

“Forty-five rides is a lot,” he said.  “Lyft is banking on the idea that you’ll get close to $500 anyway.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure I won’t be driving ALL of those 25 hours that I’m logged into the app,” I tried justifying my interest.  “I can write in between drives.”

Eric was still skeptical saying that writing in between rides would probably be more disruptive than anything.  He made a good point.  It was hard enough staying up on my writing as it is.  

But I couldn’t think of any other way to get that much money in a month’s time.  It might be an additional distraction to my writing, but it will get me focused on rebuilding my finances.  Plus, it would get me out of the house.  So, I went ahead and signed up.

Before I could even get to making that sweet, sweet road dough, Lyft inspected my car and said that my tire tread was under the legal limit for car share services.  If I wanted to do this, I’d have to get new tires.  Next thing I know, I’m dropping $350 on new tires at Costco.  So, financially, this already blew chunks.

On that first day of driving, I packed up my car, put my shoes on, locked up the house, and began writing - ready to bolt out the door any minute.  It took an hour for my first ride to ping me, and I didn’t get all that much writing done.  I frantically bolted out the door as to not take too long.

When I pulled up to the location, I wasn’t quite sure if I got it right on the GPS.  I went into mini-panic mode.  I don’t know what the rider looks like.  I don’t see anyone looking for a car.  Am I the right place?  Maybe I should call him.  How do I do that on this app again? 

Before I could figure it out, an African-American gentleman with an afro-man-bun suddenly opened the back door.  He seemed very uninterested in me.  But, per Lyft’s suggestion, I told him he was my very ride.  This was a good move.  He perked up and got a lot more patient with me.

His request was quite the distance - over half an hour all the way to the south suburbs of Denver.  The drive was very awkward.  He had no desire to talk and stayed glued to his cellphone - something I have done to most of my drivers as well.

When I dropped him off, I was shocked to see that I had only gotten $16.76 for such a long distance.  Before, I had always been so grateful that these rides could be more on the affordable side.  Now, being in the driver’s seat.  I was a little discouraged.  

As I drove home, a girl pinged me for a ride.  I began swerving on the road trying to get to the app in time to accept it.  You ONLY have 15 seconds to do this!  I can’t even put on my shirt in 15 seconds.  And my phone is so slow that I missed it.

The Lyft app sent me a message telling me what a naughty thing I had just done - that if I don’t accept rides I should just close the app, forget about the whole thing, and go home and shove my head under a pillow.  It’s not my fault, I thought.  Fifteen seconds isn’t enough time.

I decided I would give this another try after the gym.  I turned the app back on and it took twenty minutes before I got my next ride - a disheveled tourist who had me drive all the way across town to a marijuana dispensary (to where I waited 15 minutes for him to make his purchase) and then back to his AirBnB.

By hour five that day, I had only given four rides.  They just kept taking so long to do.  THIS SUCKED!!!  Getting 25 hours of app time wouldn’t be a problem.  Getting 45 rides for the week was going to be impossible!

When I got home, I let out my frustrations with Luke.  “At this rate, I’ll be driving like 40 hours a week,” I said.  “This is NEVER going to work!”

“You don’t know that yet,” he tried calming me down by saying reasonable things (how dare he).  “You still have the rest of the week.”

I continued to be overdramatic - talking about how I either have to quit writing for the month or skip out on the $2k.  In my defense, it really did look impossible.  Currently, each week, I:

  • Work on and manage the blog and newsletter

  • Write and edit the book

  • Maintain social media

  • Turnover our AirBnB room (almost daily)

  • Be my own accountant/business manager

  • Go to the gym

  • Try to get time in with Luke

  • Try to get time with even just one friend (which is already hard enough as it is)

And now,  I was going to add this Lyft thing into the mix.  There was just no way it could work.  I was completely convinced.  But I needed the money andI had to keep trying.

The next day, I decided to skip the gym and just do Lyft all day.  My goal was to get 16 rides to make it a nice even 20 for the two days.  It took 10 hours!  THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK!!!

On Thursday, I figured I’d do another five hour stint after the gym (finishing up around 10 p.m.).  It started off good - getting pinged for my third ride in that first hour.  Unfortunately, that third ride was a prostitute who needed to go all the way out past the airport.

I assumed she was a prostitute because she was pretty, but not too pretty.  And she was dressed kind of slutty, but not too slutty.  Also, I picked her up in the middle of a park downtown, and dropped her off at an obviously really wealthy home.  The ride took me almost an hour and a half and I resented her for it the whole time.

If I could just get a bunch of little rides, I’d be able to meet that 45 ride goal.  But it was these big rides that kept screwing me up.  Here’s the thing about these driving apps, it doesn’t tell you where the person is going when they ping you for a ride.  Therefore, you just have to blindly accept the request.

As I got back to the central part of the city, things started to pick up.  I began to get more rides that weren’t so huge.  Then it happened again.  A drunk couple who came downtown for a fancy dinner needed to go all the way to the northwest suburbs.   

This whole thing was giving me so much anxiety: not knowing which area you should be in to get rides, not knowing who is even gonna step in your car, not knowing where they want to go… all wrapped up in this pressure to get that minimum number of rides.  I hated this.

I decided to give up and drive home.  On my way, I got pinged by two people for a shared ride heading back to downtown.  As I dropped them off, I got pinged right away for another guy heading even further into downtown.  It happened again and again and again - all of these little rides.

At this hour, I noticed a lot of these new rides were women who were clearly out to get white-girl-wasted for the night.  

“What is going on tonight?” I asked one of them.

“It’s Thirsty Thursday,” she said.

“I don’t know what that is.”

She rolled her eyes, “It’s ladies night.”

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LADIES NIGHT!!!! I never even thought of this - probably because I’m gay and would never even go to a ladies night.  But by driving a couple more hours than planned, I ended up with a whopping 17 rides!  This meant I only needed eight more rides and three hours of app time.  THIS WAS TOTALLY GOING TO WORK!!!

Before I hit the road that Friday afternoon, I found Eric and Luke talking in the kitchen about a recent AirBnB guest we had.  She was an elderly Asian woman who had immigrated from Beijing and was now touring the country.  She had been absolutely hilarious and we loved having her.

“I know some of the guests are annoying,” Eric said.  “But it’s just so cool because we get to meet these other great people who we would have never met otherwise.”

I immediately thought back to the moment I posted about driving for Lyft on Instagram.  Three people wrote in saying they were doing the same and were having so much fun.  I thought they were nuts for thinking it as “fun.”

Now, I realized something.  I had been focusing so much on what made driving for Lyft stressful that I completely ignored what made it awesome.  I got to meet really great people and to have wonderful genuine human connection for this brief moment.

I also thought about another mistake I made.  When Luke said, “You don’t know yet that it won’t work”, he was right (again).  I judged what the entire experience would be like on that first lousy day.  Seriously, I should just rename this blog and call it “Luke Was Right.”

I have a habit of “predicting the future” - thinking I know what something will be like before it happens.  When I do this, I rarely predict that something will be good.  I always go to the negative - catastrophizing it all.  Doing this never serves me well.  It is, in fact, what contributes to the stress as we go into those experiences.  

If I hadn’t deemed the whole thing impossible, then I probably wouldn’t have had all that anxiety in those initial days of driving.  In order to avoid all that anxiety and stress, I need to do a better job of living in the present moment and remembering the future is a mystery - one potentially filled with great opportunities.

When I drove that evening, I met these adorable young parents getting out for “date night.”  After mentioning having a “partner” over a girlfriend or wife, they asked about our relationship and whether or not we wanted to adopt.  I told them “absolutely not” - no offense to children.

Then there was the young girl I picked up at the mall.  She had just started her first day at Nordstroms and we talked about first-day-on-the-job jitters.  By the end of the night, I picked up a drag queen who, like me, had lived in this city her entire life and somehow we hadn’t ever crossed paths.  

Even though it took me four hours to get those eight rides in, I felt like I had a fun night.  I didn’t particularly love all the mileage I was putting on my car.  But the fun of meeting these people didn’t leave me feeling so stressed about it.

By the end of the week, I ended up making $378.42.  It looked like Lyft owed me another $121.58.  While this probably wasn’t the best promotion in the world, it was nothing to sneeze at either.  We shouldn’t be sneezing on money anyway.

 

Edited by Glen Trupp

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.