Life During Lockdown
During the first corona virus lockdown, I master two survival skills. In March, I stumble on the recipe for a perfect gin and tonic. My quality of life takes off. Now I can avoid the pesky awareness of being me, even by myself. Soon I find the mix works pleasantly even when sloshed together. This is no small advantage, considering how often I find myself alone and making this stuff.
I stagger through the next three months. My new talent gobbles hours like a water horse, which is a fun way to say hippopotamus. At some point I stop eating. This turns out to be the best possible prelude for my next endeavor. I call my sister Alison, figuring she needs my support during the pandemic, “Yes, of course, I am doing great! Can you believe I’m down to the same weight I was high school? I should start dating.” Her laugh sounds uneasy. I check my glass to see if I need more ice or a fresh lime.
Fungi in the Field
Turns out I’m a natural online dater. It comes down to swipes, and I get one right away – must be the picture of me holding that snake. I send the profile of Roxanne, my match, to Alison and my daughter Sage. “Good job Dad, someone actually likes you!” My sister says the woman looks like trouble. Not a bad start, I think as I slink back into bed to watch the Red Sox win the 2005 World Series for the third time this week.
I go on a date. Roxanne, soon to be known as Crazy Roxanne, welcomes me into her loft. “Come see my fungus,” she says. We travel down the hall, and I look up toward where she is pointing to her art. I expect to see a framed abstract or hanging sculpture. Instead, I see livid purple and green pitted folds creeping and clinging down the corner between her walls. “It’s biomorphic cotton polymer fungi made with wool and human hair,” she says. The art appears to pulsate and will reappear in my dreams for the next three nights. This date ends with fireworks. It is the fourth of July. “She chased me around her loft claiming she was hot, unhinged and willing to do anything,” I groan to my sister over the phone as I flee the building. Driving home, the only pyrotechnics are in my rearview mirror.
Some of you know how this story goes. I suffer through Serious Erin reprimanding me at a local bar for greeting her too exuberantly, before criticizing my parenting on our first and only date. Silent Joan is a lawyer. She will watch as I carry the conversation from oysters on the half shell through ceviche and desperately over a flan finish line. What are the odds on meeting a mute lawyer? One woman asks me if I am a grower or a show-er?
Serious Erica calls me for a second date. I would rather have strangers critique my naked body. I delete the app. Two days later, hunched over and swiping, I’ve added more apps. I am up to four, with a fifth lined up once I exhaust the middle-agers in my current genetic puddle. There is Namaste Amy again. She’s been on all my sites. Although I left swipe her out of existence, it feels like a nod to a friend on the road to market. Hopefully Amy finds her cut of meat.
“Just calm down,” Sage says. “You’re going to come across as thirsty.” According to my daughter the thirsty are wretched indeed, a dating corruption. I’ve been right swiped by the cutest woman in my parameter field. She is interested. The app labels her a “hot ticket” based on swipe ratio. Algorithms push her to the top of all my feeds. I wonder whether it is possible to swallow one’s own throat.
“What do I say to this creature?”
Sage steps in. “Don’t write a book like you did last time. And whatever you do, don’t tell her she is pretty. She hears that every day. Do better.” I beam at my daughter. Did I father this godsend? I introduce myself to Rebecca and comment on a picture of her dogs. I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like, “I love dogs.” Perfect.
I want to claim credit for happens next, and tell you how I put everything back together. There is no secret to share. Analysis deciphers little of love. Rebecca texts back and agrees to meet. She gracefully ignores that our second date hike stretches thirteen miles after I lose the path. She transforms my awkward first pass, saying, “oh, we are kissing!” With a toss of her hair, laughing, she scatters our fears and yellow flags like sparks from the firepit we later build. Rebecca casts knowing eyes over my broken parts. She says I see her. And we fall.
“How do you get these dating apps off a phone?” Rebecca asks. I reach out my hand with an air of nonchalance. This woman is impressive and I want every opportunity to highlight my skills, however trivial. Dusk is falling on our date. I make her a gin and tonic – my mix from the era of isolation – and join her on the sofa. She inches closer to show me a video. “This is the space needle in Seattle. Watch.” We spend 15 minutes mesmerized by pulsating lasers, spinning DNA strands, alien vessels, and human forms dancing. Rebecca smiles, “these are virtual, but it feels like actual fireworks.” Yes it does, and I kiss her cheek. This is real.