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Author Archives: katearmstrong4
“My name is Katy and I’m a zookeeper from Alabama” I say with my best southern drawl. Across from me was the thirteenth guy from Wall Street that I had already declared to be a douche. He leaned into the table ready with three minutes of questions before the bell would ring signaling that our date was over. The next guy sits down and I introduce myself as “Katy, the Gemologist from Egypt.” The next guy met “Katy, a Political Adviser for the Tea Party.” The girl sitting next to me couldn’t help but stifle a laugh after every introduction, as we had discussed and determined together that speed dating was the absolute worst. 50 dates in two hours had crept by and I had only circled three names. One of them I was sure was gay. He and I would later go on to be in a relationship for six months.
I have approached my journey for love as if it was a fifth grade science fair project. I have not ruled out any opportunity or venue as a possible meeting place. I have gathered intel from my friends on how they successfully snared in a mate. I have listened to the advice of my friends on how I’m doing it all wrong. Each guy has brought me a lesson, if I am in the mood to learn it. I throw a few variables into the mix in case my control group continues to strike out. I, by no means, have drawn out a conclusion but I have had a great time on singles cruises and meetups. My hypothesis has always been: try anything.
I recently read an article on how subcultures values are revealed by the first introductory questions asked when meeting a person for the first time. In the southern states of the U.S. it can be quite common to meet someone for the first time by saying “hello, how’s your mother?” In Northern California, one might jump to ask what someone does for a living. In NYC, people are immediately interested in what judgments can be made by the neighborhood they reside in. During my speed dating experience, I was able to test this theory. When I immediately opened with asking what people do for a living, these New Yorkers became slightly weary about what my intentions were. Asking New Yorkers “how’s your mother” threw the entire conversation into an immediate dose of awkward, which made it my favorite leading question. I also found that, although extremely entertaining to me, follow up questions requesting a complete list of their medications and police record were sure to send them into fits of nervous sweats across from me. With 50 first dates in three minutes or less, you can really try just about any approach. I found my favorite question was to ask them what they did on their last birthday. It was original, light-hearted and showed me what they value as a good time. When the question is flipped back on me, I watch their faces as I tell them about myself taking body shots off of a drag queen at a gay bar. This story has proven to be a valuable litmus test for whether this guy can hang or not
Through my experimentation, I have also found that I attract the most men when I’m in costume. Lucky for me, I’m often in costume. I was brandishing a rubber chicken while struggling to drink my wine wearing redneck joke buck teeth, when Bam!…guys are buying drinks. It’s possible they are attracted to the confidence I’m wearing, but I also have my suspicions that I am the freaks Pied Piper. Testing this theory even further, I decided to drag my friends out to a singles BINGO event in my neighborhood after attending the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. I was dressed up as Ursula from The Little Mermaid, but my makeup was inspired by the drag queen Divine. The bartender immediately took notice of our group as I gathered my tentacles to sit down. Scanning the room, we all came up short for any potential suitors, so I gave myself a weave-pat and focused my energy on the game. It wasn’t long before I noticed the severe case of side-eye that the moderator was giving my group. Within a few short moments, the mermaid at my table had drawn up a classic diagonal BINGO win. A table of boys next to us gave us a congratulatory high five as the moderator declared it to be a mistrial. What immediately transpired was a verbal altercation between the moderator, the mermaid and Ursula over the rules of BINGO. “BINGO can only be won if it is vertical and goes through the middle” she said as she stamped her feet. “In what country?” I would ask with a lifetime of refined sass technique. “Well, maybe if you guys weren’t so drunk, you would know the rules!” She had us there. We were drunk. Drunk and now riddled with injustice. Standing up for our rights as knowing and consenting BINGO participants led us to
leaving/being kicked out of the event. We had a series of high fives on our way to the bar as we shouted “Shenanigans!” several times. The night didn’t end as a bust, as a few of my friends actually met some cute guys as I put out a small fire caused by the s’mores kit on the bar. “It’s the costumes!!!” I say, pointing a stick with a burning marshmallow on the end of it at my friends. I squish the gooey mess into my prepared sandwich and mumble to myself “It’s always the costumes.”
A few weeks later, it was theme week for our Bocce Ball league. My team had chosen to dress up as characters from Clue. I was assigned to be Colonel Mustard with the wrench. As we got to the beer garden where we play our Bocce games, I noticed several people dressed up and wearing name tags. “Is this a reunion, or something?” I ask the closest person as my fake mustache drips beer on my chin. “No, its a Match.com event.” I immediately turned around and walked up to the table, grabbed a name tag and wrote “Colonel Mustard” on it. I made a quick pit stop by the table to eat some of their food before I zoomed in on my first targeted couple. “Excuse me, I’ve heard reports of illegal fire arms over here. Sir, I’m gonna need to see your guns!” I would stare at the man in the couple until he would show me his muscles, then I replied “Very well, carry on” and walked away only to repeat the very same dialogue to several other couples. I offered no explanation for my outfit or my line of questioning. I found my roommate, Miss Scarlett, roaming the party saying she was “looking for a rich man.” As we walked back to our Bocce game, we discussed the uncomfortable looks I was given when I rolled up on people holding a wrench in my hand. Not to stray from my theory, two different men told me that they loved my mustache and that I had a nice “cake”. One even offered to buy me a drink. For a point of clarification, these were straight men. I was dressed up… as a man.
I’m still working out the details of my dating thesis, but I have determined one route of meeting potential men as in desperate need of retirement…my online dating profiles. I found myself, as my friend KL calls it, “suffering a case of low standards” and I also found it distracting. I’m trying to go back to basics and meet people in person. Dating events and speed dating offer me to many opportunities to make trouble, but I won’t completely rule them out in the future if I happen upon one. The beauty of New York City is that most of my friends are in the same warped boat, each one of us encouraging the other not to throw in the towel. As I deleted each of my profiles, I said goodbye to the memories and failed romances. I lit my candles, initiated a seance and had a serious sit-down chat with my guardian angels, “In case there was any confusion, I have compiled a list of the qualities I’m looking for which I will read out loud now. Number 1: No weird body hair; Number 2: A touch of gay; Number 3: diplomatic immunity….”
He looked up at me with an expression of exhaustion mixed with intrigue. A slightly crooked smile crept across the face of my doctor as he nervously clicked his pen. The medical assistant next to me was ready to write down my complaints. She had access to the chart that held all of the intimate details of my medical history that I had forgotten about, and for that I was jealous of her. I remembered the first time I met this doctor, and giggled out loud as I imagined the physicians note that read “23 year old seen today to receive a tetanus shot post cat bite.” Knowing me well, he takes a deep breath to remind me that the clock was ticking. “I know what you are thinking, but I am not here today to ask again for you to spay me. I need an air cast, some sleeping pills and a Hep A shot.” He put his pen down on the table and stared at me over his bifocals. After a full examination, he agreed with my request as he told me that I was “a piece of work”, that he “loved our little chats” and not to “get arrested in Bangkok”. With a swollen arm, a sprained ankle and a hot prescription for Ambien, I limped in my air cast to the nearest pharmacy.
For almost 20 years, I have struggled with chronic, severe insomnia. I tried everything from acupuncture to mystical healers, yet still sleep seemed to escape me. I was prepping for my trip to Asia and figured it was as good of a time as any to score some narcotics. My plan was to time my intake perfectly so I could wake up on Hong Kong time ready to go. This particular trip was a huge treat from my best friend Kendall, who at the time had been given two round trip tickets from her job as a flight attendant. We chose our destination the same way we choose all of our destinations…by random selection. We both had friends living in Hong Kong at the time and we chose Bangkok for our second destination while Kendall and I were eating some mediocre Pad Thai. Kendall looked at me as we paid our bill and whispered “I know where we can get the real deal. Also, elephants.” Our reservations were secured immediately.
During our layover in Detroit, we drank our traditional margaritas and drunk dialed my sister. My sister said she would meet us in Bangkok as we checked-in at our gate. I laughed off her plans to meet us, never believing that she would secure tickets for a next day flight across the world, which is exactly what she did. Kendall and I fought over the power outlet for a last minute iPhone charge as we hear our names called like Bingo winners. We had been upgraded to First Class, which prompted us to have a make-shift dance party. Immediately upon embarking the plane, I was assigned a pod one isle over from Kendall and was gifted a fantastic gay flight attendant who became my instant friend with benefits. The benefit, of course, was consistent flowing of champagne. The first half of my flight was amazingly luxe and I was able to catch up on movies I had been dying to watch. Halfway through Water For Elephants I took two Ambien and gave one to Kendall. Somewhere after my babbling to Kendall about wanting a baby elephant for a pet and my ruining the ending of her movie, Kendall and I fell asleep. Or so I thought. What actually happened was later revealed to me while waiting in line at China customs.
Kendall awoke to a vision of me crouching over her and stroking her legs. “Hey girrrrrrrl! Whatcha doin’?” I asked. It was dark in the cabin, but not dark enough for Kendall to observe the pair of sunglasses I was wearing. She flipped the question back to me to which I exclaimed “everyone on the plane is so nice!” and took off skipping towards the front of the plane. Kendall wiped the fog from her eyes and decided she needed to do damage control. Taking the opportunity to use the laboratory, she wondered how much trouble I could be in. Assuming the worst, she bravely exited the compact room only to be greeted by several uniformed faces and a round of laughter. “Your friend is so funny! She’s been in the galley for over an hour doing a stand up routine and messing with the jump seat! We had her do some announcements and everything!” Kendall initiated a well-rehearsed round of apologies while she tried in vain to get a visual on what trouble I was getting into at that current moment. “No,no, it’s ok. She’s really, really funny.” they said trying to comfort her. Kendall smiled and walked off only to find me sleeping soundly in my seat still wearing my sunglasses.
Hours later I woke up to a familiar flight attendant asking me gently to raise my seatback in preparation for landing. I felt slightly delirious, but miraculously well rested. Standing in the aisle, I shot a quick smile at Kendall across the plane. Looking back at me were several amused faces as a slight jab came at me from behind. “Girl, this is for you when you get to your hotel.” I looked down to see that I had been gifted a bottle of champagne from the crew. I only had seconds to thank my new best friend before we were herded off the plane. As I limped on my still swollen ankle towards Kendall, I proudly showed her my bubbly trophy. “I freaking love gay men! Look what he gave me!” This was when Kendall pointed to the line for customs and filled me in on my mile high performance while she looked around nervously for signs that I would be arrested.
Months later, it was the dead of an oppressive New York City summer back in the days when I would refuse the luxury of an air conditioner. The apartment I was living in at the time had a “backyard” that only could be accessed through the fire escape out of my bedroom window. In reality, this space was a concrete slab covered with overgrown ramshackle weeds, but it was outdoors and it was mine. Kendall was spending the night on one of her many layovers in New York. I took an ambien, said goodnight and went to bed. Kendall reports that a delirious version of myself came out of my room glossy eyed to ask if the backyard was “terra firma”. She laughed to herself and said she did in fact believe that the backyard was “firm earth”. I walked back to my bedroom while I mumbled under my breath “good, I just bought a pool.”
Hours went by that next morning until I checked my email. It was to my absolute horror that I discovered several receipts and shipping notifications from Amazon. Not only had I ordered a legit above ground pool, but also pool chemicals, pool covers, a ground cover and two inflatable mermaid floats. My sober mind was equally impressed and terrified of what this would do to my wallet. I called Kendall to ask her to fill in the blanks of my blackout. “I’m never taking Ambien again! Can you believe I bought a pool? Can you believe I know Latin?” The direction of our conversation quickly changed to all of our imagined future pool parties and what themes were possible.
A week later my pool was delivered and assembled. This did not happen without significant rigging on my part. There was not an outdoor water or power source. One trip to the hardware store bought me a coiled hose and a faucet converter. Refusing the help of my roommate, I fed the hose to my kitchen faucet and around my building. As the water filled very slowly, I blew with all my might to fill the outer layer of this pool with air. As I grew increasingly dizzy, I was distracted by visions of my future backyard. I envisioned the fire pit and my inevitable new hobbies of fire dancing and most likely hoola hooping. I saw the lounges that would be strategically placed to get just the right amount of sun. I saw where I would become sporty and do yoga everyday. Over in the corner would be my zen garden and herbs. I thought of the envy on my friends faces when I invited them to come over to go swimming. When the pool was half way full, I impatiently sat inside of it with my mermaids. I visually placed that at least 6 of my friends could sit in it at once and one floating cooler. My summer was gonna be awesome!
Two days after that, I woke up to see that someone had unplugged my pool and let it drain. A subsequent text from my landlord simply read: “No pools. There are laws about this, Armstrong.” Packing up my pool, I found my dreams deflating with each mermaid lost to a shallow Tupperware grave. Inside, I sat with my prescription bottle in my hand as I declared myself as unfit to take any more pills. As I flushed my meds, I thought about the text from my landlord as if his words echoed into my skull as a message from the beyond. “There are laws about this, Armstrong” became my previously missing True North for my weak moral compass. My North was pointing my ass back to the doctor for a script of something that is not likely to get me in trouble with the Coast Guard or a Federal Air Marshall. My doctor shook his head as he wrote “bought a pool on Ambien” in my chart and referred me to a “specialist”. As I was walking out of his office, I looked at my new prescriptions. One read “Melatonin” in small print. The other, in all caps, read “WRITE A BOOK”, which would mark the first time I have followed doctor’s orders.
I would love to take an opportunity to explain why Kristen and I are the contestants you never knew you needed…until now. I have compiled a list of reasons why you should drop everything, grab a martini and yell “We’ve got our ratings boosters” at an intern. I have checked my phone and it is working. I will await your call.
1. First things first: we are up to date on our shots and are not on the “no-fly” list. Obvi.
2. We have the support of Midwestern mothers and gays everywhere. You could say we are bi-partisan.
3. We are well acquainted at spotting and killing mosquitos.
4. We rep Brooklyn, hard. Without the irony.
5. We spend our days working with people who have intellectual disabilities to live limitless lives. We want people to know more about the population we serve.
6. We both have a signature dance move. We also have a choreographed ballet routine.
7. The struggle is real in our lives with regards to sequin chaffing.
8. We get along with everyone, except for clowns. We don’t like clowns.
9. I had to re-learn how to walk at 18. She was competing nationally in track at 18.
10. I was a choir nerd, which is funny to Kristen. We like to have operatic rap battles together.
11. She is Lisa Frank. I am Katy Gaga.
12. I am a vegetarian. She eats cow hearts.
13. I write blogs. She writes hashtags quoting Kanye lyrics.
14. Snoop Dogg told us we are his “fave”. We take this as the ultimate endorsement.
15. We have our own verb, #twinning. It is defined as: 1. To cause trouble in tandem without pre-meditation; 2. Mutual hilarity amplifiers; 3. To darken doorways spontaneously like friendly versions of the twins in The Shining.
16. Our biggest dilemma will be in what outfits we will wear and who gets to do what challenge. Anticipate a bloodbath.
I know, right? My mind is blown, too!
*Drops the Mic*,
I was sitting in the middle of a group of lesbians on the ferry while I applied sunblock. We were all heading to the Cherry Grove part of Fire Island where I would meet up with some of my friends, but I allowed myself to imagine that I was on my way to a casting call for the “The Real L Word”. I took a minute to savor everything about this moment as I snuck in a head pat on a nearby Chihuahua when it’s owner turned her head. Life has been beautiful for me recently. Sitting on the boat, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to feel all of my senses come alive. The wind was giving me Beyoncé hair and I could feel the sun warming my skin. I went back to a similar moment last year when I was sitting alone on top of a volcano in Nicaragua and I found myself connect with the earth for the first time in a long time. I slowed my breathing to coincide with the wind gusts and I visualized myself pulling loving energy through my crown and then down each chakra. I spent the boat ride in silence, just living in the moment with an intense gratitude all while visualizing the same.
As the ferry was docking, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. As is completely typical of my life, all of my serious moments are immediately followed by the reality that I am, in fact, Katy and this absurd life I have been given never fails to amaze me. I exit the ferry under rainbow flags while two swans swam along side me as I walked down the pier. I waved at my friends and yelled “hey, bitches!” three times before they could hear me over the flute music that was being played for my arrival about ten feet to the left of me. I had arrived in my paradise.
Fire Island is nothing short of perfect. Beautiful beaches, nude men, gardens full of creepy doll heads. We walked along the guest houses as I started visualizing my potential retirement plans. I could see the place where I would gossip with all of the sassy geriatrics while we throw shade at the youngsters. I could see us all lined up in rocking chairs on the pool deck while our helper monkeys fetched us our cocktails. “You call that dancing!” I would say as I cued the music. My arthritis will have restricted my ability to twerk, but it won’t stop me from schooling them in vogueing. I caught myself mumbling to myself “move over Betty White” as we chose a spot in the sand for our picnic.
As we poured our first pre-noon cocktails over ice, we ate cookies my friend flew in from his mother. As the powdered sugar got on our chins from the snowball cookies, it dawned on us that we were celebrating Christmas in July together. We spent a good while discussing Santa’s inevitable retirement to Boca Raton and we wondered about the fate of the elves. We laughed together for hours until I dropped my glass full of fruit and vodka. There before me was what I thought was a hallucination. I worried about telling the others until I knew for sure what I was seeing. I pointed my finger down the beach and yelled “it’s Rudolph!” as cookie crumbs were launched out of my mouth. Approaching us was an adolescent buck, who had walked right up to us looking for the Christmas cookies. My mind could not compute what I was seeing.I felt the little child inside me do back flips as my faith in Santa became re-ignited. Lymes disease be damned, I could not walk away from this deer. I had seen monkeys, dogs, horses and donkeys on a beach, but a deer on a New York beach was way out of the realm of what I thought to be possible. This deer, I felt, was there to deliver a message to me. After careful deliberation, I drunkenly concluded that he was telling me: “bitch, you’re gonna be late for the drag show!” This deer was the reality alarm clock I needed to get me to become re-acquainted with the time of day. I wrapped myself with a sarong and we hustled to the Ice Palace for some afternoon drag queens as was fated by the stars and Santa, himself.
Immediately, I was embraced by a group of deaf lesbians. As is truth in many languages, I only retain a few choice phrases to use in prime opportunities. I signed to them that my sign-name was “Brooklyn k” and that my “boyfriend was in jail”. They all laughed and let me stand in the front for a better view of the show. Performing in front of me was Logan Hardcore, aka the drag queen featured in my kitchen. She was no less than seven feet tall and quite terrible at lip singing. I pulled up a picture I had on my phone of the painting that was hanging in my kitchen to show my new friends. A colleague of mine had inner-officed me a giant print of a photograph he took of Logan Hardcore taken sometime in the 90’s. This piece is the first thing you see when you walk in my apartment. “Um, what is that?” my landlord would ask when he comes in to change a light bulb. The joke has always been that I had really no idea who this queen was, that was until that day when Rudolph delivered me a July Christmas present. As my ass was being handled by deaf lesbians, I watched in envy as this queen performed the very routine I practice in my bedroom almost daily. That envy was quickly set aside as I remembered that I would have my own show here when I am in my 80’s.
After a waterfront dinner, I changed into my night time dancing outfit so we could get in a few minutes of shimmying before the ferry came to bring us back to reality. I pulled on my rainbow leg warmers and plumped my eyelashes. I could feel the pulse of the dance floor calling to me, so I ran to clear my way through the crowd to the stage where I belong. It wasn’t long before I was dancing in the middle of a group of boys and then ultimately sandwiched between two shirtless hotties. It didn’t matter at the time if they were gay or straight. It also didn’t seem to matter that they were likely 22 as Iggy Azalea was our cultural equalizer that night. One guy turned around from his grinding-on-my-hip pose and started making out with me in a moment I am sure he will describe to his therapist as “confusing”. I’ve been told many times that I am the gay man’s exception as I am pretty close to being a gay man myself. I touch his cheek to reassure him that I would be leaving soon and things would go back to normal for him. He shook his head and asked me “why are you even single?” Saved by the horn of our ferry, I laughed and jumped off of the stage for the mad dash for the late ride back to the city. I turned around for my parting sassy blown kiss as he stood dumbfounded under the strobe light.
Back on the boat, I sat again in silence while I communicated with the endless stars that I never get to see in the city. I reflected on the question I had been asked. Why am I single? I get asked this question a lot, mostly by one of my assigned Jewish mothers. The last time someone asked me this was by a group of men who came up to me on Pennsylvania transit while I was dressed up as a sock monkey. At the time, I was struggling in my seat to find the most comfortable way to sit on a tail. I had to explain to them that I was coming from Philadelphia’s only dance party for gay Furries, while wondering why that seemed to attract them to me. I did not have a good answer for their question as to why I am single then, and neither did I that night on Fire Island.
So, why am I single? I searched my heart for an honest answer. I thought back to the few times that I could have married someone. I thought back to all the reasons I have broken up with people. I thought back to all the times I have had my heart broken. Memories and lessons flooded my brain. I realized that I have been in a relationship for the past 3 years. A relationship with myself. I have worked on my issues and learned to love myself. I have learned how to fight through my fears and how to be the best person I can be. I have dated every color of the rainbow. I learned how to accept people for who they really are. I learned how to work through a fear of abandonment. I got therapy and addressed my insomnia. I faced my darkness and laughed my way into the light. I learned that good isn’t good enough. Love alone isn’t good enough.
I guess the answer is that I am not really single. I don’t have a void in my life because I am not married. Children smell funny and are not in my immediate plans. I have love all around me. I have friends who I am convinced are the best people in the world. I have a sister who keeps it real with me. I have future Fire Island pool boys to look forward to. Most importantly, I have myself. I really can’t wait for the day that I have a partner for this ride. But, that person has to be really special. They need to love everything about me, sequins and all. Who knows, maybe Rudolph has a big package on his way for me come December. 😉
I became Colombian when I was 29 years old. It was something that happened suddenly, unexpectedly.
After my 27th birthday, I flew to San Diego to spend time with Kendall and Adam. I had thrown together a bag full of clothes and left my problems in New York. My heart had been recently broken and I was in crisis. Being around Kendall and Adam was the best medicine I could buy, so I cashed in my airline points and hopped across the country. On our first night, we all fell into our familiar rapport and laughed about our crazy lives. We couldn’t believe that we were 27. It seemed so old, something that crept up on us and was unwelcome. “My God, we’re practically 30!” This theme took on a life of it’s own. After several bottles of wine were emptied, we started compiling our “30 before 30” bucket list. My list included typical adventure goals and some wacky items like “date an Eskimo”. When I came back to New York, I tucked the list away in my underwear drawer and forgot about it until it caught my eye six months before my 30th birthday.
Prominent, at the top of my list, “travel abroad by yourself” was written. I took this as communication from my past self and it set me into a panic to book a trip as soon as possible. I chose Cartagena, Colombia because it jumped off the page at me and I could afford the airfare. My tickets were purchased practically sight unseen. Almost immediately, I felt a wave of anxiety come over my body. What was I thinking? My first trip alone, and I choose Colombia?! My fears doubled as I started typing into the Google search bar “is Colombia…” and the first thing that came up was “safe”.
Against the wishes of everyone in my life, I got on that plane. A few hours later, I set my feet on a new continent. It became obvious to me how uncommon it was for Americans to travel here, rarer still as a solo white female. English was not something the locals were accustomed to speaking. My days were spent primarily alone, wandering through cobblestone passages curtained by bougainvillea. The historic part of Cartagena was surrounded by a wall that was built to protect the city from pirates. I spent hours each day in solitude on top of that wall looking for pirate ships and thinking about my life. It’s amazing how you start to listen to yourself when you are outside of your comfort zone with seagulls as your only companions. I was hopping from hostel to hostel throughout the area when I received notification that I had been booked at an airbnb place on an island. I felt I had had my fill of salsa dancing and of asking everyone I met if they had children, cats or if their cats were on fire. The host of this airbnb told me to meet him “behind the hospital on the beach” and to ask for “el mono”. Other than this, I had no idea what island I was going to or what was in store for me.
I felt that my limited Spanish had prepared me to experience embarrassment as I walked up and down the beach asking for “the monkey” at 8am. I slung my big backpack onto the sand and was starting to plan my backup move if he didn’t appear. Secretly, I was also praying that he would emerge out of the ocean, hand extended, with a monkey on his shoulder. A shadow interrupted my thoughts as I turned around to meet a very handsome man face to face. “Are you Katy?” I felt my voice shake as I replied “yes, you speak English? Are you the monkey I am looking for?” He picked up my bag, threw it over his shoulder and laughed as he led me to a small metal boat.
I was so happy to have someone to talk to that I immediately started grilling him about all of my questions I had written down about Colombia. “Do they always leave the eyes on the fish when they put it on your plate” was at the top of my list. I also needed to know why he was known as a monkey. He proceeded to tell me about how I was the first American to come stay with him and that “el mono” is a slang word for “blonde” in that part of Colombia. I was listening to everything he had to say in-between my alternating internal dialogue of “will I die?” and “is he single?”.
I learn that we are approaching Isla Tierrabomba as a crowd rushes the boat offering to carry my bag. El Mono separates the crowd with a series of high fives and hand shakes as he leads the way towards a steep hill. I gaze around the island as we hike and a sharp round of first-world guilt starts to seize my body. The poverty of this island stood in stark contrast to the cosmopolitan skyline of Cartagena, which was only a short seven minute boat ride away. All around me were children running around barefoot on sharp rocks. El Mono had been trying to teach the children English, so a chorus of “nice to meet you! How are you?” came as each child showed up to welcome me. El Mono’s property was beautiful. I had my own cabana and hot tub. I was the only guest on that day, so I immediately sat in the hammock to take everything in. I was panicked that I had not come prepared for that day. I was wishing that I had brought something for the kids; I could have stocked up on clothes and toys. I watched as three little girls played cards on the street while I held back tears. It wasn’t because I felt bad for these people, but because I knew that this was the reason Colombia had called to me. I knew deep inside that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, which was very unusual for me. I needed to get some serious perspective on what’s important in my life, and watching donkeys carry up containers of water for peoples homes provided me with that insight. I am insignificant if I don’t make a difference in this world. I knew that I would be back to this place one day and I stitched the moment into my heart.
A little while later, I put on my bathing suit to head to the beach. A group of young boys had offered to take me, so I packed some cash to buy them something to drink. Over the next few hours the boys made fun of my Spanish and they took turns flipping through the pictures on my iPhone. I became completely mortified as my language skills were unable to explain away the weirdness that is my life. After the third consecutive picture of me being motor boated by a drag queen came up, I confiscated my phone and suggested that we go swimming. We spent hours doing handstands and showing each other our own special tricks under water. In the water, we all spoke the same language. “Can you do this?” I would ask using the universal body language for “come at me, bitch.” I twirled under water three times and came up like Ariel crashing upon the rocks. This has always been my winning signature move, but I awarded the boys points for their adorable attempts to mimic me flipping my hair. We dried off on the beach where I taught them how to toast with Coke bottles. The beach was completely empty, save for ourselves and the lady we bought the Coke from. I had to laugh to myself as I finally had the perfect set up for a story about the time I did Coke in Colombia. “Cheers!” echoed about a hundred times into the jungle behind us before I told them I was ready to head back to the property.
El Mono was busy purchasing a donkey with burn injuries when we arrived. He gathered the kids around to teach them a lesson about kindness to animals. He told them that he would nurse this donkey back to health with the help of the kids. He told them that animals are to be respected, and in turn they will respect you by carrying your family’s water up the hill. He turned to explain to me that he had also rescued the three dogs he had running around the property. All of his pets had been abused. He went on to tell me that people treated animals like pests on this island. One of his neighbors could not afford a door for their house, and when this unlucky donkey had wandered through their front door, they threw cooking oil on it to get it out. I stroked the nose of the donkey and looked into its beautiful brown eyes that were broken through no fault of its own. El Mono then took me to show me his house of rabbits. “The Iguanas on this island are almost extinct because people were hunting them for food. I breed rabbits, who are free to come and go as they please. They make lots of babies very fast, so my neighbors sometimes catch them for a healthy dinner. If the rabbits leave my property, they are free for anyone. Now, the Iguanas are left alone and I can teach the kids about animals.” I had to catch my breath a few times as I felt I was having an out-of-body experience. This man was my age, and he was quickly becoming my hero. The simplicity in his mission made me so proud that I could witness these spontaneous lessons, even as a mere spectator.
El Mono continued to show me things on his property. Every corner had something that impressed me, from rain barrels to personal touches made by the children. I found a big pile of stone statues that were going to make an underwater zoo for the kids to create reef so they can learn about marine ecology. Next to them was a big pile of plastic bottles. “We have one man who is a garbage man for the whole island. We don’t have recycling. These families take five years to build a house because they can only afford one wall per year. The kids bring me bottles, packed tight with trash, and I give them a toy. Today I will teach the kids how to build things for free out of the trash we have around the island. We are making a school and the first wall will go up today using these bottles as bricks.” I told him to immediately put me to work, that I wanted to help while I was there. We strung together the bottles onto chicken wire, then poured concrete. I felt a sense of camaraderie with the kids with each bottle. Since it was the first wall, we tried and failed together. We tried again and succeed. The children participated in every step until it was time for hydration by way of coconuts and an afternoon nap in the grass. I returned to my hammock and to my thoughts.
I couldn’t believe my luck with this unplanned adventure. I was experiencing so many emotions that it was hard to keep up with myself. I wanted to travel alone so I could get to know myself, to really depend on myself and to be myself. Who am I when I’m being authentic, when the laughter stops and the disco ball is turned off? That afternoon I realized that the lesson I needed to learn on this island was also a simple one. If I had my own property, literal or figurative, what would I do with it? Would I make it all about me and my extravagances? Or, would I dedicate part of it towards bettering my community? What lessons could be taught? El Mono was doing things that really spoke to me. I just felt this overwhelming sense of gratitude that my life had led me here, even for a day.
Before I knew it, the lights were twinkling across the waters as Cartagena brought me back to earth. Close to fifty children were showing up to watch a movie on El Monos deck. While “El Gato con Botas” played on a projector, I had my hair braided by a little girl. When the movie was over, El Mono started playing music videos and cleared away the chairs for an all out dance party. It was shocking to see children under ten having a twerk off to win dollar bills, but I wasn’t one to judge as I have pictures of me pole dancing as a child. I made it rain a little. It was for the kids.
My time on Tierrabomba lasted exactly one day, but I think about it almost every day. My friend, KL, even visited El Mono and has her own story to tell. At 29, a “monkey” taught me how to be Colombian. It is by some poetic luck that my passport expired when I turned 30. Closing out my 20’s passport was my stamp from Colombia, which felt like the end of a chapter in my life. I flipped through the used pages and reflected on all the places I had been. 4 continents, 10 countries, but only 1 “monkey”.
WATCH: El Mono’s first Recycling Event for the entire Island
VISIT: Take a trip and make a difference
I take one last look in my backpack to make sure I have my passport as I finish my room temperature beer. I consider all of the Poutine and mullets I was about to encounter and head out the door. “Good luck with your invisible surgery!” My roommate yells as I close the door behind me. Most people would not travel to Canada in the winter, but I gladly accepted the last minute invitation to meet with a Brazilian mystical healer. As I made my way to the airport, I allowed myself to reflect on all of the white clothing items I would be wearing to allow mediums to accurately read my aura. Normally, I would be weary, but Oprah endorsed this guy. I’ll admit, I was also seduced by the promise of a nap on a crystal bed. As I checked in with my gate agent, I felt pressured to make sure this would be number one of my greatest naps of all time. I must have had a far off look of disappointment painted on my face as I realized suddenly that I forgot my dream catcher necklace. “Ma’am. Ma’am? Everything alright?” I return to reality and hand her my ticket and passport. “I’m going to Canada to see a magical man to find out what’s wrong with me!” I leaned in to revel in her reaction as she pointed towards the security line and flatly said “so is everyone else on this flight.” My efforts consistently damned, I have found New Yorkers to be a real buzzkill. They have seen and heard it all, so my oddities have always had a better audience elsewhere.
I was still sucking the vodka off my ice cubes when we were landing. Every time I go to a new country, I look forward to getting my passport stamped. I always present it to customs and point to the exact spot I want them to fill. When customs do not stamp my passport or they stamp a random page in the back, I fill with rage. This customs agent stamped over a spot previously taken by Mexico. Suddenly, all of my preconceived judgments about Canadian culture were realized. The agent smiles at me with the same half-sedated smile I came to know in Canada. I mumble under my breath as I walk away “you had one job…” Aside from passport stamps, my second most important thing to do while traveling is to practice my new language skills. “Enchante’ Monsieur . Ja mapell Katy” I say to my cab driver. “In Toronto, we speak English, ma’am.” I had been called “ma’am” way to many times that day and I decided that I was not a fan of this new land. I resorted to my standby Midwest accent as I was not about to surrender my needs that easy, “oh ya sherrr ya betcha, doncha know.” I took this opportunity to discuss the third most important thing to me when traveling, “Where can I pet a moose?”
I arrive just in time to see my cousin and his friend splayed out on the couch recovering from their invisible surgeries they had had that afternoon. I learned that each surgery required a huge box of prescription water bottles and some post-op instructions. I glanced at the papers and let out a gasp. There before me was the greatest challenge I would face in this lifetime. Spelled out in specific terms was my nightmare prescription: no drugs, no alcohol, no sex, no spicy food, no caffeine for 40 DAYS! “You don’t have to get a surgery, you could opt for a blessing instead” my cousin reassured me. I was obviously in over my head. I had a major decision to make. Had I come this far to bow out as a mere metaphysical spectator? Or, do I go all in? I know my limits well, but this was a moment to exercise self-control. This is exactly why I have failed at attempts to be a yogi master, a guitar virtuoso and a Catholic. I nodded my head in the most pious way I could, and said “if it is willed, I will.” Without skipping a beat, my cousin Will stood up to head to bed. I took it as a sign.
The morning came with a vengeance. The windows in our hotel overlooked some noteworthy lake that blinded me with glitter of a thousand suns at 6am. It is at this point I realized that I needed to savor my last cup of coffee prior to my spiritual enlightenment. I breathed in slowly and started laying out my white clothes. My wardrobe at home entirely consists of professional clothes, dresses and costumes with nothing in between. The instructions I had prior to packing gave me an understanding of the type of crowd I would soon be a part of. I was 100% sure this crowd would not be wearing a tight white pencil skirt, a see-through white t-shirt, a white jean jacket and white heels. It was part of a repurposed outfit from a Gay Pride “white party” cruise I had once taken and it was the best I could do with short notice. I folded up a piece of paper with my wishes written down in purple glitter ink and placed it in the pocket closest to my heart. This was done to clear up any potential confusion as my spiritual guides searched my heart during my scheduled meditation. I have always failed at attempts to meditate as I come down with spontaneous bouts of ADD. I did not want my spiritual guides to listen to the part of my brain trying to imagine what the lady across from me would look like with a parasitic twin. My list had about ten items and I resisted the temptation to write more. “This is not fucking Santa. This is serious. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Don’t laugh” I said out loud to myself in the mirror as I turn sideways to inspect my outfit. Leaning in, I could see the distinct glint of sequins off of my bra. Pleased, I spin around to allow one of the boys into the bathroom. “It was either a black bra or a sequin bra and yes, I need to get my shit together” I say as I spill a drop of coffee on my skirt.
Reality hit me as I walked into the convention center that was flooded with white linen pants. A single escalator rose in the middle of the crowd. Each white-washed person rose up the escalator as the skylight overhead illuminated their bright faces. “Am I dead?” I thought. There were people by the thousands, each one with the same positive energy. I look out the window across the great lake and see a faint land on the horizon. “New York, thank God” I whisper in relief as I paint on my best non-cynical face. This day was the second of a three-day convention. Those that had been there the previous day were trading stories. “Did you feel anything? Is this your first time? Isn’t this amazing! Look at you, you’re glowing!” The boys recommended we bypass the crowd to be first in line for the crystal beds.
I knew I liked these beds the moment I walked into the dark room filled with hundreds of rainbow lights like a gay Christmas. I assumed the position under my crystal chandelier as my little helper arranges the lights over what I assumed to be my chakras. “Lay back, relax and keep your intentions in your heart” I was told as a towel is folded over my eyes. Years of acupuncture had prepared me for this day. Years of acupuncture had also concluded that I am incapable of real relaxation. My thoughts drifted under the crystals in my typical disorganized process. “What are my intentions? What the fuck am I doing? Why are my eyes watering? What is up with the girl next to me? I feel that she is sad? Why do I feel sad for her? Is she even a girl? How many more minutes do I lay here? Can I scratch my face? What are these, fucking tears? Why am I tearing? Seriously, what’s with this chick next to me? Should I get vagazzled? OMG I am in Canada. I need to center myself. I’m centering. I think I’m centered. I’m fucking centered. I think. This is nice, actually. I could do this for a while. Why is there always Spanish guitar playing? Is she coming towards me to wake me up? Not while I’m centering! I’m fucking relaxed! This is great! Really, with the wind chimes? Someone needs to give this girl next to me a hug. I think I need a hug. No, I just need a drink. I can’t drink for 40 days! Oh no, I’m un-centering! Wait, I was supposed to decide my intentions. I need more time!” I walk out of the room in a state as close to Zen as I can get. I found my cousin talking with a group of people he had known from his trips to Brazil. Immediately, everyone embraced me with an impatient need to know about my crystal bed experience. “It was nice. I had these weird things, tears I think, fall down my face. I couldn’t stop focusing on this sad girl next to me. She was making my face wet.” Two of my new friends smiled in my direction and declared “she’s a medium and an empath!” I decided immediately to accept this as fact and move on. “I’m a medium. I knew it!” I said to myself as I decided to check out the gift shop.
I sat down to fail miserably at meditation, yet again. Instead, I picked up new foreign words for my arsenal. “Bem-vindo.” “Bom dia.” “Obrigado.” “Deus.” I realized that my preparation for my trip to Canada was entirely misguided with my French efforts. Picking up Portuguese phrases was a welcome little surprise and I would make sure to exploit the hell out of my new fluency. “Bom dia, bom dia, bom diaaaaaa!!!!!” I asked all of my important Portuguese language questions from this bilingual lady next to me. “Bom dia. How do you say: I am a cold gangster? Ah, obrigado!” Moments later, I found myself standing on line to meet the man himself. Each person stood in front of him for a silent split-second. A medium would interpret for the man of the hour whether you needed an invisible surgery or a simple blessing, indicated with a point to the left or to the right of the room. I grew anxious as it became my turn in line. I stood there expecting an immediate result. Instead, the medium whispered to me “he wants you to look into his eyes” and pointed towards him. Awkwardly, I stumble towards him while I wondered if he could see my sequins. “Bom dia” I whispered. My head started to go into panic mode. “No one else had to look into his eyes! What’s wrong with me? Do I say something? Omigod, omigod, oh meu deus!” I welcomed the interruption that indicated that I needed to step into the room to the right of me for my surgery. I passed the time reviewing my list of wishes and wondering if any of them had come true. At the bottom of the page I wrote down “Eu sou um gangster frio” for later consideration.
After my surgery, I had further confirmation that I am, in fact, a medium. “He told you to look in his eyes! He thinks you are a medium!” I shot off a text to my friends, telling them to pray for my speedy recovery. I didn’t feel any different, other than my new language skills and new title, but there was still time for the procedure to really set in. I learned that if I wanted an actual physical surgery, I would need to travel to Brazil. This news suddenly made it to my bucket list. I received my case of water and post-op instructions and we headed back to the hotel to rest.
The next day I took my 45 minute flight back home. I dropped off my case of prescription water at my apartment and headed out the door for a third date with this guy I was dating because he had legs that looked like a chickens. I was in it for the limp and the story. He also proved to be the perfect audience for my new spiritual enlightenment. I drank in club soda and his shocked reactions. I waited for him to declare me insane and leave me with the tab, but he instead started kissing my neck. “Let’s go back to my place” he said with a wink. At the time, there were literally millions of things I would rather do than to travel to New Jersey to see the penis of a guy I didn’t like. I decided to cash in. “I’m sorry, I can’t have sex for 40 days.” The look of rejection on his face was quickly replaced with genuine concern. “Just how into this metaphysical stuff are you?” I paused for dramatics, took a sip of my club soda and declared “oh, I don’t know. Medium?”
New York City. The land of the quick fix. By the click of a mouse I can have cat litter, craft beer and my folded laundry be delivered to my apartment. Human contact has become optional, if you so choose. Within the hour I can have weed and pad Thai at my door. In that order, obviously. Applications can tell you the exact minute your train will arrive and exactly how many feet away your next sexual tryst is standing. Disputes are settled with instant access to Google and my bank checks are deposited by my camera. It’s a beautiful time to be lazy, indeed. It is also a beautiful time to be productive. I do all of my writing on my smart phone during my daily commutes as well as practice my foreign languages and learn new things through my beloved TED talks. Some of my friends have tried to sway me from using technology to meet men. “You don’t need it, you can find someone easily” they say. I argue that dating aps are just another tool I use, not exclusively, to meet people. Sure, I have met some creepers and crazies, but I’ve also had a lot of fun.
Today my employee was teasing me about my shoes. “You got a hot date?” I laughed as it is not uncommon for me to wear cute shoes to work. My nurse chimes in “you look so good these days, you must be in love!” The assumption that I am the type of person to be positively giddy in love made me laugh even harder. I caved and told them that I did, in fact, have a date tonight. “Oooh is it “Scorpio”? Is he cute?” People in my life sometimes forget that I long ago stopped being excited about dates, but their excitable faces made me satisfy them with “it’s a new guy and I can’t wait!”
I know I sound pessimistic, but I prefer to see myself as a realist. I am a career-driven 30-year-old who doesn’t count chickens before they hatch. If I base my life on my current working theory that I will keep dating until I find the “one”, my math says that I will have dozens of break-ups under my belt when that day comes along. Forecast for a potential break-up? Likely. I have not completely thrown in the towel, as I do put my best foot forward on every date and occasionally my heart melts a little revealing my abandoned romantic side. Unless someone really special comes along who is worthy of my monogamy, I typically do date multiple people at once. This way I keep my heart and expectations in check. I also have noticed that I wax and wane through dating phases. Sometimes, I want a real boyfriend. Other times, I participate in what I refer to as “expiration dating”.
“Expiration dating” is reserved for that hot guy from Barcelona who is in New York for the summer. My mind is in a completely different head space when we get together. We will never work out long term, but we can have a blast in the here and now. “Expiration dating” is reserved for the guy you really don’t like, but you got drunk and invited him to your cousins wedding. “Expiration dating” is for the summer flings, winter spooning partners and anything with a limited shelf life. I have dated many men solely on the prospect of a good story. I even dated a guy once because he crafted the best date scenario ever: a library date where we make pop-up books, eat apples, duct tape each other to rolling chairs and push each other down the aisles.
I caught myself fancying another “expiration date” the other day. Kendall and I were discussing a recent date with a man that I hated within the very first sentence I knew him. There was literally nothing redeeming about this guy. I had gone against my better judgement and agreed to a date with an “actor”. I have learned this lesson one to many times, but I went anyway. He met me at a nice-enough bar and said “you are four minutes early, you couldn’t wait to meet me, huh?” He then talked non-stop for two hours. He spent the first thirty minutes telling me about staring contests he had been in and won. The rest of the time was spent telling me about how his dad was killed by an oncoming train, his pituitary gland issue got him bullied in grade school and about his intolerance for tickling. I had been double fisting red wine and shots of whiskey and decided that I was drunk enough to stick it out. As he was later walking me to the train, we took a shortcut through the park. It had rained that evening and the grass was so slippery and sloped that I was falling down constantly. He pulled me close for a hug and whispers in my ear “I had a lovely time. Did you know that touching is my love language?” I saw his wet lips coming at me for a kiss as I pulled away. I yell “no touching” as I belly flop on the grass and slide down the small hill. It was, truly, a new low for me. I had ran out on dates before, but this was the first time I would have road rash because of it. This guy asked me out on another date, and I got my ass back to my apartment. Kendall asked “so, are you going on another date?” Without thinking it through, I responded “ugh I hated him. But, probably.” I knew that I was on the verge of a story-date situation and I had to resist the urge to drink that Kool Aid again. Just because I hadn’t dated someone I hated before doesn’t mean that I should. This newfound logic is one of the only signs that I’ve grown-up a little. The “I’m dating this guy because he has gun shot wounds” attitude was super fun for a while, but it’s also gotten super old.
Currently, I am somewhere in-between the land of “expiration dating” and wanting something real. I find that a summer romance is exactly what the doctor has ordered, and if something grows from that then all the better. My heart vacillates between the land of the living and the land of the dead, but I am just fine with that. My favorite thing about being in my thirties is that I don’t have room in my life for shitty relationships- friends, lovers or family- and I’m ok with walking away when needed. I’m happy just where I am in life and don’t really give a damn if I’m following some arbitrary time-line for my love life. I may still enjoy my “expiration dates” from time to time, but I let go of my own expiration date on love. One of the most inspirational people in my life, Anne, told me about how she didn’t find her “honey” until later in life. She looked over a table at me and my single friends and gushed over pictures of her husband on her phone with the enthusiasm of a schoolgirl. If that kind of love is worth waiting for, then it’s time I throw my “egg timer” out the window and stop stressing so much. I can always adopt if I want to, and my life is fantastic without a perennial plus-one. Who knows what tonight will bring, or what will happen with the Scorpio, or if I will live as an international woman of mystery for the rest of my life. At least I know I have cute shoes and can handle my liquor. So, off I go….
It seemed as good of a time as any to start drinking shots of rum. We had missed the 9am tour bus headed for the Mayan ruins “Chichen Itza” because we made that last minute liquor run. My friend Adam sat on the edge of the fountain in front of our hotel and started his ritual of painting his ginger body with sunscreen. I hand off the handle of rum to Kendall, “This tastes like pure gasoline.” We stare into the sun for a few more swigs and head inside. There is something about The Ritz Carlton that inspires me to overuse the word “dahhhling”, and the chosen target of the day was the doorman. The poor guy had been unofficially designated as my morning chaperone. “Esscuse me miss? You left your bottle over there. Also, if you are going into downtown Cancun, make sure you don’t leave your bag open. If you are out late and drinking, make sure to arrange with the concierge for car service. Sorry you missed your shuttle…I tried calling you!” It was clear that we were the assholes who scored some sort of deal to stay in a place beyond our means. We had gotten very lucky on this particular trip as we had been upgraded to First Class and had a family discount at the Ritz. I couldn’t help but remember that I was still the same girl that at 10 years old, my grandmother would pay me to wear a dress for dinner at her country club and beg me not to wear shorts underneath or burp in front of her fancy friends. I march into the grand entrance and toss an over-the-shoulder Hollywood glance back at him, “muchas gracias, dahhhling.” We all instinctually start exaggerating the clicking sound our shoes make on the marble floor as we sashay up to the concierge. “We want to see the Chicken Pizza” I announce. “She means Chichen Itza. How do we get there?” Kendall always knows to remain locked and loaded with explanations when she is around Adam and me. The three of us operate best when utilizing each other’s strengths. I charm, Adam haggles and Kendall is the closer. Adam chimes in, “those tours are a bit much, are there any other ways to go there on a budget?” The concierge seemed to be running out of ideas and patience when my chaperone interrupted for the win. “Esscuse me miss? I will show you the way.”
We board a retired school bus heading for downtown Cancun and drop 50 cents into a plastic jar. Adam sits in the pleather seat in front of me and stifles a snort cackle. The same man who doesn’t flinch at buying Veuve Clicquot by the case wouldn’t be caught dead splurging on a frivolous taxicab. I adore this character trait, mostly because it marks him as an easy target for my shenanigans. Later on I went in for the kill, “Hey, I rented us a car! It was $300 a day plus tax and insurance! I hope you don’t mind, but I put it on your card!” I’m not a liar, but I like to lie to Adam. I enjoy timing the moment of impact to the moment his face matches his hair. With impeccable timing, the rental agent pulls around a clown car. “You paid that much…for this piece of shit? Ok…..” The car was really $45, but I live to exploit gullible Adam. “You would think they would have thrown in full sized tires” he says as he climbs into the driver’s seat. His anger is a slow burn which is just the way I like it. I hand him a paper placemat with a rudimentary outline of the country of Mexico. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he asks. “It’s our map…just follow the big black line to the little black line to the thing that looks like a pyramid.” In perfect succession, he discovers that we had no radio, air conditioning and torn up windshield wipers without fluid. Minutes into our drive to the interstate, Adam had to pull over to wipe down the windows with a towel as the brown dust that is omnipresent in Mexico created a delightful little film in front of his eyes and Adam took it as a personal insult. He sits behind the wheel about to blow up when Kendall and I reveal the real cost of the vehicle. His anger quickly turned to delight as he turned the car on with a smile and a “what a deal!”
Finding Chichen Itza was quite easy as all we needed to do was follow the busses full of Gringos. We had a nice enough time searching for virgins to sacrifice and taking inappropriate photographs. The one thing I wanted to do while in Mexico was to find this cave thing with magical blue waters inside that you could swim in. Although, I had no idea what it was called, where I could find it and I forgot to ask Google about it. At the time, all three of us had a basic handle of the Italian language and a sprinkle of Spanish terms. Our quest to find the glory hole was made all the more interesting when our questions translate to: to swim (in Spanish) rocks (in Italian) down in blue please thank you we need (in Spanish). We couldn’t understand why people kept insisting we needed a “la playa” so we instead started refocusing our efforts on finding our way back to Cancun.
We spent the next twenty minutes with me singing Mariah Carey songs with Scott Stapp’s voice as Adam harmonized with his impressive whistling skills. Kendall stared out the window looking for a place we could find some mixers for our rum when suddenly she saw it. “Katy, those are stalactites, right?” She was right to ask me after I had spent exactly two summers pointing at stalactites in a cave and I was clearly an expert. A small road sign did, in fact, resemble a cave. We decide to take our mission off map at the next exit. If Cancun is an Epcot parody of Mexico, then we suddenly found the part of Mexico where heads are found in coolers. We follow an emaciated dog down a dirt road through a village where the families in clay houses slept in hammocks. I stared out the window fantasizing, as I often do, about the news of my death traveling back to the states. “We had to identify her by her dental records” the medical examiner would say to my family. I was so distracted as I was making mental vows to floss better if I survived, that I didn’t realize we had pulled over in front of someone’s home. A picnic table on the front porch had a few coconuts and Kendall was offering to buy them. A heavyset woman flashed us a smile filled with gold teeth and disappeared inside her house. She returned with the same grin and a machete held high in her right hand. “We can outrun her!” I say as Kendall pulls out a camera to document our own death. Three coconuts were decapitated as their innards spilled out. Our mixer problems solved and our necks still attached to our bodies, we carry on. Several locals shook their heads as we kept asking for the magical swimming cave. We were about to give up all together, when we pulled over one last time to ask someone to point us in the direction of the highway. Adam found a small jewelry store and started talking Italian to the sweet couple that ran the joint. By some luck, the woman knew Italian. We asked her if she knew where we could find this cave and if no, how the hell we could find our way back. A crooked smirk came across her face as she pointed 50 yards away to a small wooden ticket booth being manned by a single small child.
We pay our pesos as a seven year old takes us through a gate heading underground. We meandered through the damp darkness which was occasionally lit by basic lanterns. Eventually, we find the ceiling opening to the sky. A tunnel of sunshine shone like a spotlight making the water below it glow an impossible blue. There was another Mexican couple on their way out, leaving us to play by ourselves. Most of the swimming hole was covered by a stalactite roof and hundreds of bats. We immediately change into our bathing suits and jump off a cliff into the water. The water was cool and effervescent as schools of goldfish tickled our toes. At some point a man came and said something to us in hurried Spanish, to which we replied with three thumbs up. We took to floating on our backs with our arms curled around our coconuts for an occasional sip of legit goodness. We watched as the sun started changing the sky from blue to orange to purple. We knew we had very few minutes before dark, so we thought it would be best to find out if our car actually had headlights. We make our way through the pitch black tunnels by memory and cell phone lights. Panic set in when we found a large steel door covering the entrance as it immediately dawned on us what that man was trying to say to us. “No one is around to hear our screams” I say dramatically to Kendall. Adam suggests we head back to the water hole to make a plan in the fading light.
We collectively agreed that our best option for survival was to scale the rocks up to the top of the cave where the skylight was. “We’re from Colorado, we got this” we all concluded. With our clothes wrapped up in our towels like satchels, our bathing suits and our cursed flip flops on, we start the climb. Boulder by boulder we get closer to the top, never once letting go of our precious coconuts. Our shins completely torn up, we finally get to a point where we could stand up straight and look out of the hole.
The most likely chance we had at a successful escape was over a tall wooden fence. We scramble across the slippery rocks and we decide that I had to go over first, being that I am the shortest. Kendall and Adam boost me up to the top and I fall over the edge with a flop. As I stand up to brush myself off, Kendall and Adam jump down gracefully. It was then that we were face to face with a mariachi band that was about to perform right on the patio of a crowded restaurant. Every single person froze in place to observe the three gringos wearing bathing suits and holding coconuts. We do our best to put on our “nothing to see here” attitude and we walk towards the door of the restaurant, stopping by the bathroom before exiting. Not a word was exchanged by anyone and we made it all the way to our car before unraveling in fits of hysterics.
Thunder announced the beginning of our flooded journey back to Cancun. “Goddamn windshield wipers, I can’t see anything” Adam curses. I stare for clues on our placemat map as I tend to the scrapes on my knees and Kendall optimistically declares “well, at least we have dim lights.” “Our vacation was almost ruined! Get it?” I jab Kendall in the ribs. This was a declaration of what ended up being an hour long pun war, which Kendall quickly shot back “yeah, it got pretty rocky there for a minute.”
A few years ago, I was the focus of an intervention. “You’ll never get a boyfriend when you spend all of your time at gay bars!” The look of genuine concern radiated off of about five of my friends. I stopped laughing once I realized that they had put some planning behind this ambush. I had my stock arguments against their logic, but recently I started thinking honestly about their words. Sure, I love the dancing, music and cute bartenders at my favorite gay bars. I dance on stages with my few friends and dozens of new friends. I never have to worry about getting rejected or impressing a potential date, and these beauties let me touch their luscious abs. For a few hours, I feel completely free and exceedingly fabulous. Above all, it was a guaranteed good time and it was safe.
Safe. That was the word that made me wake up. I had found another cynical bone in my body. I reviewed my dating history and realized that at some point I had unknowingly thrown in the towel. I spent quality prime dating years in my twenties prioritizing funny dating stories and my gays over finding a good match. I don’t regret this in the slightest, but it made me look at dating under a new micro and macro lens.
New dating expectations show a scary glimpse into the state of our social society. In the past, I would look forward to a new prospect with as much anticipation and anxiety as a child looks forward to Christmas. The first flirtation usually contained compliments and coyness. Getting asked out was like winning some sort of lottery and the first phone calls leading up to that first date would last for hours. Discussions about each other’s family, vacation history, dreams, and sharing each other’s interests paved the way for future meaningful conversations. I would spend hours choosing the right outfit to match the right venue. His choice of activity or restaurant usually translated into how hard he would work to win your love. It would also show a peek into whether they were traditional, creative or lazy. My prepping had to be perfect, from the right scent to the outfit that shows that I am dressing up just enough to impress, but casual enough to seem down to earth. He would come pick me up and I would get butterflies the instant I opened the door to see a put together man, complete with a smile. Sometimes there would be flowers. The date would be an experience including nerves, opened doors and pheromones. He would grab the check and I would offer to help pay as he would tell me not to be silly. A sheepish thank you would escape my mouth as blush spread over my face. As the night would wind down, the biggest questions I had were: is he going to kiss me and will he ask me out again? I would immediately phone my friends and dish on every last detail such as what he looked like, his hobbies and if he went in for the kiss or not.
Believe it or not, these dates weren’t fifty years ago. They were less than ten years ago. In such a short while the dating experience has changed so drastically that it is no wonder many newly divorced individuals are in a blind panic when they get back into the game. Not all change is bad, as progress is progress. Gays can now date openly in most places -hell- they can even marry in some states! Women have not broken the glass ceiling, but they have gotten closer. Alternative relationships are no longer taboo, and in some cases will earn you a special on TLC. If the 1960’s were the decade of love, then are the 2010’s the decade of “love everything, kinda”?
We whole-heartedly operate within various degrees of FOMO, aka “fear of missing out”. We are so engrossed in technology and possibilities that it has become part of our identity. Don’t believe me? How many times did you check your Facebook today, even for a few moments? Did anyone comment on my photo of last nights dinner? Why didn’t that witty status only get two likes? Why hasn’t he responded to my friend request yet, it’s been three days! Did Kimye leave a new tweet? Did anyone send me a new life on candy crush? Is it time to become “official” with him by updating my relationship status, or will that scare him off? Should I take down my dating profile, or will he think I’m moving to fast? With all of this self-chatter happening in the space of a moment, the only way to cope is to convert it to white noise and take a deep breath. If you aren’t a slave to the cyberworld, then congrats! But, your next date only communicates with text message and status updates… So good luck!
Technology isn’t the enemy here. Without the convenience of Facebook, I would have lost touch with most of the 800 friends I have known in various capacities during my life. I don’t need to communicate with answering machines when I want to talk to my friends. A simple text or email will be answered when they have a quick second. An instant posting to social media and my photo/video capabilities on my smart phone save me from having to describe with words the crazy guy I sat next to on the train. “Here is a glimpse into my life” I portray to my network. Online dating has opened up a world of opportunity as well. I don’t NEED to meet the drunk guy at the same bar I go to every weekend. I can meet the guy outside of my territory and comfort zone who does something exciting that I know nothing about. By process of elimination, theory has it that I can choose someone whose values match my own in a matter of minutes. This, of course, is depending on their capacity for honesty. I am not cool enough to be above social media and I am usually the first to download the newest app. But, I would be remiss to overlook the temperature reading I feel after each first date. I feel an overwhelming sense of “meh”.
I often coach my managers to evaluate performance issues with our staff on a simple graph. Are they failing due to a lack of effort, or a lack of skill? With effort issues, can they be counseled into an attitude adjustment? For skill issues, will extra training and support help them learn the skill sets to perform to my expectations? I have learned so many useful life lessons from my work that it is practically embarrassing. I find myself using a similar graph to handle personal problems every day. Am I failing because of effort or because I need to learn a new lesson? This has helped me make hard decisions about my life path in everything from weight management to professional aspirations. This becomes even more complex when you add another human to the mix. Their level of performance in the relationship is based upon their own issues regarding effort and life lessons. Success is met when both parties are aware of where on their own graph that they reside and what they are willing to do to change that. This is much harder than it sounds. Self-awareness is a scary reality to live in. You can photoshop and edit the way you want the world to see you, but in real life you do yourself a disservice if you don’t take a hard look into the mirror to fix your true self. Admitting that you might be a “princess” who needs people to do everything for you, is not something anyone wants to do. Realizing that you are lazy in relationships and that the other isn’t acting “crazy”, but neglected…is not easy to admit to yourself. Your baggage isn’t going to disappear magically, and remember that every one of your friends relationships that seem to require zero effort…is a myth.
Our generation has become so dependent on instant gratification that the majority of us have become quite lazy. With our social interactions, you see this by birthday cards replaced by wall postings and showing up to a first date in a sweatshirt. Why place a large amount of effort into a stock without a guarantee? I still dress to show my best side when I go on dates, but when I feel a lack of effort on their part, either in wardrobe or in lazy conversation skills, I will admit that I feel less inclined to show my full effort. Why choose to care about someone, when they are busy wondering how many dates until intercourse. Why spend another drink with him when he is distracted by answering text messages -possibly sent by another potential date. No stock, no loss. We split the bills, feel pressured to sleep with people too fast in order to just maybe keep him around, and we drink to many beers. My follow-up gossip sessions are about who paid or and about what red flags I found. It’s not that women are losing the dating game, men have it hard too! There are men out there that genuinely want to take a girl out properly, but the girl is in it for a free meal or to buffer their heart while they are trying to snare the guy they really like. More possibilities can equal more dates. By sheer numbers, if a guy pays for every single first date then it is no wonder that dive bars are en vogue for the locale. Even break-ups have become lazy. We simply stop texting back. From the jump, we have a potential major effort issue to hurdle over, even before the baggage is exposed.
What if we stopped dating by quantity and considered quality? What if we considered our own graphing prior to going out with another? How can we be our best, balanced self? If this happened universally, we would have everyone showing up ready to make a real effort and ready to work on their daddy issues. What do you think, dear readers?