Tinder pt. 2

tinder consultant
Photo via Pixabay.

I’VE HIRED what you might call a “Tinder consultant.” Her name’s Jenny and she’s taking me on pro bono, A) because she’s a good friend and B) (I think) because she gets satisfaction at helping a guy out who hasn’t had a girlfriend in a long time. The best thing about Jenny is she’s honest. She tells me what she thinks and doesn’t get riled at my “Christ alive’s” and “Are you kidding me’s” each time she explains why, for example, a profile picture is unacceptable.

“Mark, I know you’re trying to be funny in your pictures,” she says, “But you look like you have some sort of handicap.”

At first I resisted her advice but then adopted an “I’m putty in your hands” attitude and expect my Tinder escapades will prosper because of it. I’ve still only had a couple matches. I’ve had zero conversations and zero dates. The problem is usually when I match with a girl I look more closely at her pictures and by picture four or five realize she’s actually somewhat of a goblin. This is of course exactly what I’m trying to avoid with my own pictures, and one of the reasons having Jenny’s so wonderful. I have no idea how girls perceive me. For example, I put up one picture of me at a dinner in Argentina to show “social value,” but Jenny said it just made me look like a nerd who’s trying to show off his study abroad friends.

The truth will set you free.

In order to create more matches I’ve also expanded my criteria for what makes a girl acceptable. Basically, if I’m not actively repulsed, I swipe right. I never read the profiles, because if she’s cute I’ll go on a date, and if she’s not, I won’t. This is superficial, but it’s also how it works. You don’t approach a girl who looks like gollum on the off chance she shares your affinity for introspective Norwegian novelists. You approach her because looking at her makes your heart rate increase.

The best part about having a consultant is garnering a more honest appraisal of myself. I thought my profile was hilarious but feared Jenny would find it stupid. To my relief, when I sent it over to her, she responded, “Good.” Which is great, because in the world of online dating, “good” is “great.” Or at least it’s not “terrible,” which sets you apart from 90% of the online dating community. That’s what I’m hoping for, now that I have a Tinder consultant. If good means “dateable” (and I think it does), then I’m just one swipe away from romance.

If you missed “Tinder pt. 1” click here

Linda

My beard is getting longer. I’m almost 34. In nine days I’ll be 34. It sounds so old. Thirty-four. Thirty. Four. Four plus thirty. Ten three times plus four. Who knows how many days, how many seconds, how many moments lived, and how many moments to be lived. Hopefully the best of my life is in front of me. You always hope this. How could you hope for anything different?

I submitted a piece today about Cuba to a magazine called Odyssa. I think it’s a magazine geared toward women. The piece is OK, it’s about the Danish girl I met in Cuba and traveling around with her. Her name was Linda and we met at the bus station for foreigners in Havana. I think I asked her for a light, or maybe just sat down next to her and started talking to her. We sat on the bus together and talked most of the way. Then when we got to Viñales we stayed in the same place, shared a beautiful room with two beds with a brand-new air conditioning unit that looked like a scud missile.

“Don’t use it during a lightning storm,” the lady told us who rented the place. “It could short out.”

The air conditioning unit cost them something like $1,000 dollars. Her husband, Pedro, kept wanting to show me his tobacco leaves. And for me to smoke cigars. He didn’t want to charge me, he just wanted me to smoke cigars.

On the second day Linda and I went to the pool and got fried to a crisp. I don’t think either of us used sunscreen. I remember Linda’s chest, it looked red before we even left, which of course meant the next day she looked like a cherry tomato. But she didn’t want to get out of the sun. I swam a bit, and then we had sandwiches, and then we lay in the sun some more. I felt comfortable around Linda. She was like a sister. She was also attractive, though, and later that night, or maybe the next day, we went out together, first we watched live music, then we went to a tiny place where we drank tray after tray of mojito. It was hot and we were drunk. There was a French guy next to us and Linda seemed interested in him, but then he floated away with his family. Eventually we went home and opened the door to our apartment, which was like opening the door to an ice cave. And then we lay in bed, not talking, just enjoying the cool air and the murmur of the machine.

The next day we traveled back to Havana and the car smelled like gas — there was a leaky gas tank in the back — and Linda was terrified we were going to hydroplane. We drove right into the heart of a storm. In Havana we shared another apartment, had dinner together at a Persian place, had cocktails at a bar I’d wanted to check out, walked down to the malecón and sat next to each other, watching the waves.

It was dark and the black expanse in front of us felt infinite.

This is the moment when you kiss her, I thought.

I looked over at her and then straight ahead. She was looking into the distance. A car drove by behind us and it’s whir mingled with the sound of the ocean.

This is where you kiss her, you jackass.

The silence became longer. Time felt momentarily slowed, looking out over The Strait of Florida, seeing the black clouds, the spray of the waves dancing at our feet.

This is where you kiss her.

****

The next morning David and Elizabeth, the Air Bnb hosts, picked me up at 4:45am to take me to the airport. I don’t remember if I said bye to Linda or not. If I did it was brief and perfunctory and then I left Cuba.

The Wendy Diaries: NorCal

In California I picked up a hitchhiker.

“You want a ride?” I said.

“Sure.”

“I’ve got a lot of crap in my car, but we can make it work. Only thing is: I have a surfboard.”

“I’ll put my stuff in my lap.”

I looked down at his stuff.

“No no, we can make it work.”

His name was San Jin and he got in and started telling me about his life: Living on an island in the middle of Lake Baikal in Russia; trying to write a novel; island hopping in Indonesia; hitchhiking all over Africa.

I was driving slow. We came to a stop light where they were doing road work and I asked San Jin if he had any cigarettes and he said yes and gave me his last Marlboro 100.

This is going to destroy me, I thought.

I took a long drag and the nicotine invaded my lungs and brain. I felt relaxed and cigarette memories came rushing back to me, nights out in Mexico City and Spain, sunsets and soft afternoons. The light turned green and we followed the winding coastline, the sun slipping lower and lower in the sky and finally below the horizon. San Jin suggested just pulling over wherever, he said he’d been doing what he called “wild camping,” so we found a side road that had plants growing up the center line where wheels didn’t tread and branches encroaching from all sides, obviously out of use. I eased Wendy in, the branches making a screeching sound down the length of the car and the undercarriage assaulted by foliage. San Jin and I went to setting up camp and I took out a bottle of Fin du Monde I thought I might save for the end of the trip, but not having to camp alone seemed like a good enough occasion to celebrate so I popped the cork and we sat on the ground and drank while San Jin cooked ramen with fresh garlic and his special blend of spices.

When we finally went to sleep I had a dream in which someone was telling me: “Mark, wake up. You have to wake up. Something important is happening in the outside world.”

I ripped myself awake there was a truck idling just above us. Its lights were right on our tents. My heart slammed.

I was just about to say something to San Jin, to see if he was up too, when there was the sound of the truck being put into gear and it started to reverse. The sound got smaller and smaller and I lay back down, feeling my heart, waiting a few minutes to see if it was coming back, and then sleep finally claimed me.

THE NEXT DAY I surfed Moat Creek, just south of a town called Point Arena. There was one other guy looking at it when we pulled up to the spot and I immediately decided he wasn’t very good, just by the timbre of his voice. He sounded soft. I was almost shaking as I put my wetsuit on and then said, “See you in a bit,” to San Jin and ran off down the trail toward the beach.

The water was cold and the offshores strong. I had been thinking a lot about sharks the last few days, because on almost every spot description on the forecast site it said, “Watch out for white sharks.” But once I was there in the water and not reading about it on a computer, the reef to my left, the waves breaking, the kelp heads bobbing and someone else out, the fear evaporated.

It was a shifty peak, but a predictable shift, like a marching band taking steps to the left in unison. The first wave I got was the best. I clawed into it, the waves were deceptively hard to get into, and then stood up and looked right and saw the best sight a surfer can see (well, second best), the face of an unbroken wave lining up in front of me. I pumped a few times but then sat in the pocket since it was mushy. Toward the end I crouched down and dragged my hand in the face, the spray blown out the back by the offshore winds, the sun shining. I almost screamed with delight.

AT THE SAME SPOT we also met Mary, who told us she’d be camping in a place called Bodega Bay Dunes State Park later that night, and San Jin and I said we’d try to find her. We yearned for company.  When we got to Bodega Bay we bought some ingredients for making stew at the awfully expensive local grocery store, and then grabbed our stuff and headed to the park so we could use the hiker biker sites.

At the site San Jin and I made our stew, a mash of onions, garlic, cilantro, potatoes, and every spice San Jin carried with him in his bag. Afterward San Jin took a shower, and then we smoked a cigarette on the picnic table near the bathrooms, me lying back and looking up at the stars, San Jin for some reason sitting down, craning to look up.

Then Mary showed up. She looked bedraggled and stoned. Apparently she had made camp in a day use park just before Bodega Bay and one of the rangers had kicked her out. We talked for a few minutes, the conversation petering, but I wanted to keep hanging out, and Mary looked expectant as well.

“Should we smoke?” I said.

She looked relieved. I hate smoking, but wanted to keep the night alive. Of course, I got too high. Mary took a few drags to start it off, and then passed it to me. I took two drags, passed it to San Jin, and around it went again. My world started to fragment, as happens with me and marijuana. I’d get focused on one thing, like the way the sand felt underneath my butt, and then realize I was in the company of other people and that they were having a conversation and it felt like an hour since I’d said anything. I tried to pay attention. Tried to participate. But kept losing myself, thoroughly concentrated on trivial details.

For some reason Mary looked like she was glowing, or like the background behind her was glowing Then this image changed, and suddenly I could see the real Mary, Mary at her core, which was disturbing because the real Mary was a 20-year-old drug addict, and also male. Again I tried to focus, to participate in the conversation, but it was impossible. Every time I hauled myself back to reality I would slip away again, consumed by another detail. Eventually I stopped worrying about filling the silences or contributing to the conversation, and the end result was a stream of monologue from Mary, followed by a silence, followed by more monologue.

We sat there for probably 20 minutes but it felt like several millennia. Afterward I asked San Jin if I had been normal, and he just said, “Mary kept talking!”

We giggled and bumped into each other trying to find the way to our tents, still extremely high. In my tent I struggled to get comfortable, but thoughts consumed me, and images, too. They came in waves, ripples. I was flying over a vast Aztec jungle, the sun shining, mist rising from the trees. There was an eagle, and everything rippled.

Meanwhile, outside the tent, the eucalyptus trees groaned.

August 2nd: New York

Day four of no caffeine. I don’t miss it. Don’t have any intention of having coffee. My adrenal glands are reset. My cortisol levels are regulated. I feel less desperate. Things are fine right here right now, on this train in New Jersey, listening to the guy behind me speaking in an East Coast accent. We’re by the airport, traversing industrial yards. The train is cool and air conditioned. I have nothing to do but sit here and enjoy the scenery.

Yesterday I got into New York and went straight to Manhattan. I never want to live in New York. I would rather live in a cabin in the woods, or a small town in  Washington or British Colombia. People say things are happening in New York, but things are happening everywhere. Everything is happening where you are. Right now, this Jersey train is my world. Nothing else exists. What difference between sleeping in a New York penthouse or sleeping on the ground outside a church?

After visiting my friend I had brunch with Ellen, who’s still wildly attractive and who I’m still wildly attracted to. It was a nice brunch. A greasy spoon diner and everyone spoke Spanish. There were some great moments in the conversation and some so so ones, but mostly great. I’ve dated Ellen. I’ve traveled with her. I’ve been her friend in a platonic context, as I am now. And to be honest I don’t think we’ll be together again, and that’s fine. She’s happy. She seems happy.

When we were paying I was a bit dismayed by the price. If the breakfasts cost six and seven dollars each, how did the total come to $22.50? But of course I wanted to look cool in front of her so I just shut my mouth and paid.

After brunch with Ellen I walked to Central Park and it was hot out. I stopped to get a coconut water at the Fairway Market and then killed time by the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel before hanging out with Sarah. Sarah’s a photographer. She lives in Brooklyn. We chilled in the park. She bought me a salad and I ate most of hers and then we watched classical music. “When do you feel happy?” she asked me, and I told her some times I’d been happy, like the times I worked in Alaska or the study abroad programs, when I have camaraderie with people, but then while we were watching the classical music I had one of these moments, nothing else mattered or existed, just lying there on that blanket in Central Park, feeling the summer evening air which seemed to mute but also accentuate everything, hearing the violins and also hearing birds chirping. As were walking to the subway station there were fireflies and it reminded me of being a little kid in Ohio, catching fireflies or just watching them from my grandparents’ porch.

Finally I went to hang out with my friend Jack. He’s a lawyer. I met him at McDonald’s, then we took the subway to Brooklyn where he and his girlfriend and I talked. I felt comfortable. Then they went to bed and I showered and it was glorious, washing the grime off me, washing my hair, and I lay in bed and read Siddhartha and listened to them talk, a thin wall separating us, them talking about what couples who live together talk about at night when they’re lying in bed and not going to have sex. The air conditioning was splendid. The blankets splendid. Everything splendid and I slept well and then went back to sleep after Jack woke me up in the morning then talked to his girlfriend and then left. And now it’s today and I’m on the train. I haven’t eaten anything all day.

I’m starving.