With a flick of his wrist, Victor pointed the magic wand at the black box sitting under the television, he uttered the magic words, “Main menu,” and as if by some strange hoodoo, the television screen filled with icons and logos of cable entertainment providers.
“Well that’s two hours I’ll never get back,” Victor spat. “I’m glad we can scratch that off our list. So, my dear, that’s Apple TV for you.”
I looked away from the television screen and deep into the half-eaten tub of microwave popcorn I was cradling on my lap, peering into it as if a kernel of hidden truth waited to be found in one of the popped pieces of corn.
“I’m thinking…” I started to say.
“No! I forbid you to think!” cried Victor, almost spilling the remainder of his Pinot Grigio into the bowl. “Do not say whatever you’re about to say. I forbid you from speaking until morning, at the very least.”
“Why?” I interjected.
“Every time we watch a Julia Roberts movie, you get to thinking, and then go on to make some God awful decision. I forbid you to say whatever you were about to say.”
“Name one bad decision I’ve made after watching a Julia Roberts movie!” I objected.
“Name the movie,” Victor challenged.
“The German hustler at Gay Pride in Miami Beach and the subsequent round of antibiotics the week after.”
“The blackjack player at the Hard Rock Casino and the three hour interrogation with Security that ensued.”
“The South-American man on Bingo Night at the Miccosukee Casino and the close encounter afterwards by the crocodile pit.”
“Fine! August: Osage County.”
“Sunday Brunch with your mother and the Republican nut-job contingency afterwards.”
“I already apologized for that.”
“Do not, I implore you, continue any further. Stop right there. Finish your Pinot and go home. And refrain from thinking until morning.”
“One more. Steel Magnolias!”
“Mississippi, for God’s sake!” he hissed. “Or have you forgotten? We should have rolled up our windows, locked the doors, and not stopped at the Stuckey’s! I can’t bear to walk past a salad bar without remembering. I still wake up screaming!”
Victor was right. I tend to make unwise decisions after watching a movie starring Julia Roberts. But this time I felt different. This time I knew I was on to something.
“I think you should hear me out. This time it makes sense given the circumstances.”
Victor leaned into to me, put his hand on my shoulder and whispered slowly, with an air that seemed threatening, “It may seem like that to you at the moment. But, trust me, it’s not. You’re under the spell of a vixen, a siren, a sylph who has you captive under her spell. Yes, the elephant was pretty. Sure, Italian men are gorgeous. Pasta does not make you fat! And under the right conditions even Javier Bardem may seem, well…attractive. But in the morning things will be clear once again. You’ll snap out of whatever Ryan Murphy fueled horror scenario you’re suffering from and come to realize, ‘What a waste!’”
“But,” I began to say. I wasn’t ready to let this go. “But Ketut!”
“NO! Ketchup is not real! He’s not a thing. There is no Yoda! There is no Ketchup—”
“Whatever! Ketchup! Yoda! Ketut! I don’t care what the little man is called. He’s not real. It’s not real. It’s a movie! Fake! Finito! You’ll get more wisdom out of a fortune cookie than a strange, sarong wrapped, little man. Drink your wine and be happy!”
Victor was upset. I was upset. I looked down at my popcorn and flicked it inside the bowl hoping to find the perfectly popped kernel: the one with a fluffy top I could bite from the crispy popped bottom so I could feel it melt in my mouth. But Julia nagged me. Ketut beckoned. And the elephant at the end of the segment about India had me by the balls. I had to proceed, carefully, around Victor’s objections. I had to make a case and make him see I knew what I was talking about — even if I wasn’t all that clear what I wanted. I had to convince him, as well as myself, that this time things would be different.
“Vic,” I said. “This time I know what I’m doing. This is not a fantasy —“
“Mirror, Mirror! And we both know how well that did at the box office. No!”
“This is not a fantasy I’m making up. I think I should try this. You don’t have to come along if you don’t want to. But I want to do what is right. And I think Liz had the right idea. I want…”
Victor threw himself on the couch and buried his head into several wine-spilled stained cushions.
“I don’t want to hear it. Please. Stop.”
“Victor,” I said solemnly. “I’m not going to date anyone for a year.”
There was a pause. The Apple TV decided to start playing a screensaver of photos Victor had downloaded to the black box. The photos showed moments Victor and I shared together. Some photos were of bright, clear days spent at the beach. There were square Instagram shots of diners at our favorite restaurants in Coral Gables and downtown Miami. Some photos I recognized from his Facebook page of our time at Gay Pride in Miami Beach; and there was the photo taken by a certain German hustler we met walking around that afternoon that showed us laughing while surrounded by a number of drag queens. I winced at that photo remembering the week that followed, and looked away from the screen.
Victor was breathing heavily into the cushion. I put my hand out and touched his shoulder.
“Victor, please,” I pleaded. “What do you think?”
Victor jumped up and looked at me straight in the eye. “You don’t want to date for a year. That’s nice! So what am I supposed to do? Order a tomb? Become a vampire and dig myself a grave and stay underground until you decide to join the world of the living again? Is that what you want for me?”
“Victor, think of it as a gap year from dating. That’s all. It’s just a year. And it’s just dating. It’s not like I’m going on retreat, becoming a monk, or trying some weird secret experiment to jumpstart my life! I just want to take a time out! From dating. From meeting the wrong kind of guys. From striking out! You can still go out and date people if you want. You can still meet the man of your dreams. I’m just…postponing the dream. That’s all.”
“Flatliners,” he said in his most deadpan tone of voice.
“Look, the dating apps haven’t helped. We both played Tinder and cleared the entire Western hemisphere in half an hour. We’ve been to the bars and closed them. There are no more gay bars in Miami. We’ve driven to Fort Lauderdale and met guys with wilted manners. Most of the good guys we met are either married already or from out of town. Maybe we should take a break and enjoy what we have for now and call it a draw. A year is not a long time. It’ll go by quickly; it’ll be over soon.”
Victor looked puzzled. He was not persuaded yet. “So you’re not thinking of going to India,” he said.
“Not anytime soon. No.”
“And you’re not about to go looking for short, toothless Yoda-looking sages named Ketchup in Bali.”
“His name is Ketut. And I can’t afford to leave South Florida. What makes you think I’m going off to Bali?”
“Then I don’t get it? What kind of Eat, Pray, Love nightmare scenario are you concocting? Help me here because I’m at a loss!”
I wasn’t sure myself. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I thought the next twelve months were to be about. All I knew is I wanted a change; I wanted something different — something better — than what the previous five, six years had been about. I didn’t want to waste my time hoping for a WOOF, a Cruise, or a Wink that would later lead to a date from someone on a gay dating or social app.
Instead, I wanted to meet people the old-fashioned way: face to face, analog, over a drink and a conversation. I wanted to talk instead of text. I wanted to be able to have meaningful conversations with folk who didn’t feel the need to be wired, connected, or looking at their phone every 5 minutes in fear of missing out on a post or a dopamine hit from a Like they received on their Facebook wall. I wanted to go in search of connections made without the need of WiFi networks. I wanted a year of meeting the way my body, and my mind, were wired and able to understand. I wanted a year of sensual experiences.
I tried explaining this to Victor, putting into words how disappointed I was at the dating scene and the dating pool in Miami. Everyone we met seemed to complain about the same things: men are emotionally unavailable; everyone has high or unreal expectations; figuring out one’s totem animal and its respective watering hole was confounding at best; sexual prowess after a certain age requires a regimen and quantity of drugs I could not afford and did not want to ingest; weekend parties began way past my bedtime; and no matter how hard I tried, or how comfortable I felt about my greying hair, I still could not abide anyone calling me “Daddy.”
“So,” I said, “I want to take a break. From the apps. From the going out. From dating. From coffee dates. From everything.”
“And do what?” Victor asked. His mind was spinning. He couldn’t find traction or ground in my words.
“Anything else! It’s not like we’re quitting on life or hiding away in a monastery or —“
“Well it pretty much sounds like it!”
“Look,” I said. “We still can go out. To dinner. To the movies. To parties. But the object is now different. We’re not going to look for a hook up. Or a date. Or a phone number to text three days later so we can leave a vague message of interest. We might take a class… [Victor shuddered] …We might take a class we’ve always talked about like the one on red wines at MegaLiquors [Victor perks up sensing possibilities]. Or the slow-cooking class at Williams Sonoma. Or how about learning to paddle row to work on our core? All I’m saying is, there is so much more we could do than focus on getting all…”
“Hook!” Victor exclaimed.
“I was thinking more along the lines of Notting Hill, but, sure! Why not?”
“And this is only for a year, you say?”
“Just a year. Twelve months. All about us.”
“So very Full Frontal,” Victor thought. “And what happens if we do meet someone during that time? What happens if some handsome, Italian sommelier at MegaLiquors should happen to ask for my number and want to, you know, show me his wine rack in his cellars.”
“Well, there’s nothing in the pact saying you can’t taste a sample, but the point is to not buy the whole case. Any good wine should not spoil by taking its time to get better or waiting a few months to get to the right point. What I’m saying is, if it’s going to last, he’d probably be willing to wait. At least if you’re clear about your intentions.”
Victor mulled it over a bit. I bit into a few pieces of popcorn and hoped that he would at least give it some thought.
The photos on the television screen faded in and out of view, reminding me of the many days and evenings Victor and I enjoyed in each other’s company. Why, I wondered, had we not hit it off romantically? Why did we not feel a sexual attraction for each other that would satisfy a yearning and longing we both shared. Those, like other questions that had begun to come up in my meetings with the Sha(wo)man began to float around in my mind.
The Pinot we had been drinking throughout the movie was now exerting its influence on me, clouding my judgement and making me wonder if I was making another Julia Roberts inspired mistake. Maybe some notion the Sha(wo)man had implanted subliminally on my subconscious while I lay on her couch had taken a hold of me, or been triggered by a phrase or scene in the movie we had just watched.
“And you promise not to rush off to some ashram in India, or go off in search of wise shamanic hobbits somewhere in the jungles of Amazonia — or anything like that. Though I wouldn’t mind taking a Sideways to Tuscany and…”
“No to India. No to Amazonia. No to Italy at the moment unless it’s Carrabba’s or the Olive Garden.”
Victor shivered again. “Well, this shall be the saddest Eat, Pray, Love experiment ever attempted, I must say. Liz Gilbert would be disappointed with our efforts. And I’m not sure there’s a movie in this at all.”
“Just think of it as —“
“Stop! I’m not thinking of it at all. I don’t want to…I’m only going along to make sure you don’t do anything silly like walking next to an alligator pit in the middle of the night because some mysterious South-American man wants to show us “algo bueno,” or following a German hustler into a back-alley in South Beach because he’s — well — pretty. Something is bound to go wrong, and someone’s gotta save you from yourself. One of us has to be the sane one, and a sad day it is when it’s me playing the role of the reasonable one.”
“Thanks.” I said. “I promise…”
“Oh, save it for another movie. This won’t turn out to be another My Best Friend’s Wedding. More like Money Monster, I’m afraid. Dreadful!”
And that’s how it started. A year without dating. On New Year’s Eve Victor and I toasted the arrival of a new year: the Year of the Fire Cock (in Chinese lunar year terms). “Ironic, isn’t it?” Victor quipped.
I began the year without expectations of meeting or dating anyone for any reason. I dusted off and looked inside an old notebook I kept while I was in school where I’d written a list of things I wanted to do once I graduated and had time to myself again. On Amazon, I purchased and downloaded the first three books on my Kindle Wishlist. And at OfficeDepot, I purchased a journal where I would document all that happened during the year.
On New Year’s Day, I wrote:
Today I went the Adrianne Arsht Center in downtown to see the last performance of An American In Paris. I went by myself, as Victor was tied up with family, and I didn’t have anyone else to go with. It felt strange going to the theater alone. I almost didn’t go, but I’m glad I did. Once the lights went down and music started, I felt better. As the actors and dancers took to the stage, I lost myself in the story, the dancing, the music! Oh, the music! Oh, that sublime music! I’d forgotten how much I love Gershwin. As the story unfolded, and everyone danced, I longed to dance like them…to move like them…to be like them…dancing, flowing, moving…to the sounds of Gershwin. Oh, to fall and be in-love, to the music of Gershwin playing…