Whip-Smart, College Years: The Spring Session, 1-6

My Drunky Valentine
With everything reminding me that it’s Valentine’s Day soon and that I should sign-up for an online dating service so I won’t be alone forever and thus die a sad old man with nothing but a bunch of Precious Moments figurines, I thought either the song was right and one really is the loneliest number or all this hoopla is just some really savvy pro-two propaganda. In either case, I wasn’t about to let Cupid make me feel sad about being single and the only man in my life is Chuck Taylor, so I decided to throw an Anti-Valentine’s Day party as a big F-You to the holiday and a larger I-Heart-You to my single, and therefore fabulous, friends.

The night of the party, I ambled around the soiree and alternated between disparaging the upcoming holiday and wincing in pain since I had developed a pinched nerve in my foot the day before. Cupid had heard my F-You to him and sent one right back like the cherubic bully he is.

People caroused and drank while I passed out party favors such as little plastic bottles that were decorated with candy heart stickers and filled with bubbles inside. There were also jelly bracelets, the accessory of junior high whores with a sense of retro fashion. The rules say if you snap a bracelet you get the sex act that correlates to the color performed on you, all of which makes me wonder whatever happened to cooties? And to carry on the hooch theme, there was a wide variety of flavored lube because, although we were anti-romance, we were not anti-screwing.

The one person who wasn’t with the anti-romance tenor of the evening was my best friend “Alex.” Alex was giddy about a potential new guy he met over the Internet, which has gone from information superhighway, to a global singles club without secondhand smoke or Rohypnol. Alex was excited by the prospects and I did what millions of singles do when a friend starts talking about a new possible love; I smiled and faked happiness until my eventual real glee showed up.

As Alex continued to blissfully gush about the boy, I realized that the influence of Cupid’s arrow was inescapable. No matter how hard you try to get rid of him, he still manages to sneak in like an underage freshman into a bar or Michael Jackson into a child’s birthday party.

My cynical side decried that love interests are just buses. Some are so exclusive and high maintenance that not everybody can get on while others are dirty and everybody’s ridden at least once. Some are just “special.” And in all cases, if you miss one another will come along in fifteen minutes.

But my optimistic side flared up as Alex talked and said that even though I’m alone now, except for my Chuck Taylor, and most guys I’m going to meet are just short buses in coach bus disguises, sometimes it’s just the knowledge the true ones might be out there and in working order that makes all the difference.

So in the meantime, there is no need to complain about the lack of a love life and fear that the last image I see before I die is some big-eyed angelic figurine with a trite religious phrase scribbled on a ceramic scroll. Life’s too short for a pity party, especially when there are a whole bunch of fabulous keg parties to attend instead.

Oh Me of Little Faith
When you’re single, gay and have a few bits of money to throw around, it’s mandatory that you make at least one pilgrimage to the Holy Land, otherwise known as the Gay ‘90s. So on an incredibly snowy and chilly Sunday night, a group of the devoted went to the ‘90s to go worship at the high altar of Madonna, Britney Spears and Donna Summer and celebrate a friend’s twenty-first birthday.

“This is what I love about the ‘90s,” my friend “Agatha” said to me as we entered the packed club. “No matter how crappy the weather outside, gay men won’t be begrudged their disco.”

We made our way to the Retro Room where dance disciples were grinding to Britney Spears as Mrs. Federline preached the good word of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.” The birthday girl, Agatha’s friend “Raquel,” and her party posse were tearing up the dance floor while Agatha, Alex and I hung back and sipped our expensive drinks.

I spotted a man in all black, looking like a limp-wristed Johnny Cash, grooving his way onto the floor with fag hags. It was the crush, the guy I had spent the previous semester trying to get to no avail. As I hung back at the wall with Agatha and Alex, I determined that this was the strange paradox of gay dating: the pool’s large enough to feel totally adrift in, but its small enough to doggy-paddle into someone you know.

While I was stuck somewhere between heavenly bliss of hot shirtless men dry humping each other to a crunk beat and the hell of seeing The Crush that I wasted so much time chasing after, Agatha’s boyfriend “Duran” was down in the Men’s Room, AKA the porn room, being baptized in the way of gay.

“No glove, no love,” one of the gays said to Duran, pointing at one of the several televisions that were playing hardcore gay porn on them. The one on was a stirring tale of a simple farm boy learning the pleasures of the great outdoors and the missionary position. “We’re all about safety.”

“Look at the camera work,” the other gay said as it zoomed in on the farm boy and his buff barn beaus acquainting themselves quite nicely with each other on a bale of hay. “It’s Oscar-worthy. Keeps my attention more than Ray did.”

Back in purgatory, otherwise known as the Retro Room, I was dancing with my friend Alex as a chorus of voices sang “Love Shack.” I kept looking over at the crush until Alex gave me a hit on the shoulder.

“Is that the crush? The one only dancing with girls?” Alex asked. I sheepishly nodded my head. “Well, forget him. Obviously, he doesn’t get the point of gay at all.”

I laughed a little. It was the kind of endearingly bitchy counsel that only gay men and mean girls have been able to master.

While I danced with my friends and cute strangers and flirted and laughed and smoked and drank the rest of the night, I had a little epiphany on the dance floor. I realized that at the Gay ‘90s, like in church, it all boils down to faith, hope and love. There is the faith to let go of the things that never were. There is the hope for better things to come. Yet, most importantly is something I observed as my friends and I caroused together that night. There is the love of all the things that currently are. In the name of the gay, the straight and the everything in between, amen.

Good Eats
To be young, available and fabulous at UW-River Falls is akin to going to Rodli Commons for dinner. You can sample the healthy things like education and higher learning, the vegetables and fruits of growing experiences. While moving down the line, you can also neatly add friendship and dating to your plate - the meat and potatoes of social life on campus. And at the end of the meal you can have a big helping of ice cream (AKA sex); incidentally, in both cases, a generous helping of whipped cream never hurts.

Mixed together in their proper portions, it makes for quite a delightful meal. Unfortunately, a diner may skip the fruits and vegetables, only push the steak and potatoes around the plate and indulge in the rich dessert until he or she develops an emotional version of a cavity.

My friends Agatha and Duran had not fallen into such a trap and had, in recent weeks, decided to put marriage at the top of their menu. Being the best man and starved for some social contact, I tagged along with them to look at reception sites for their wedding.

We checked out the Zuhrah Shriner Center and Harrington Mansion located in Minneapolis. The mansion was this gorgeous, dream-like place with fireplaces and deep cherry red carpeting and a mural delicately painted on the ceiling above the staircase. While Agatha, Duran and Agatha’s mother looked through pages and pages of different wedding cakes and decorations, I hung back in my swivel chair behind them.

That night I slept over at Agatha’s house and spent most of the evening thinking about the diet of men I ... how shall we say ... had the pleasure to dine with. Who had all been satisfying at first but eventually left me emotionally malnourished. I fell asleep that night with an empty stomach but a mind full of thoughts.

The next morning, we all went to Summit Avenue to look at a large mansion. While Agatha’s parents talked turkey with the representative over how much things would cost, Agatha, Duran, Agatha’s younger sister and I ate cookies and toured through the home.

We wound our way through the mansion - classical music piping through on the first and second floors. On the third floor, looking out at the street and the other large houses that dotted the neighboring blocks, I listened to Agatha excitedly talk about how they could have drinks out there on the enclosed balcony while people danced in the ballroom. Duran nodded along perkily and followed Agatha out onto the dance floor.

I stopped for a second, looking at the two sweetly staring at one another, and imagined them married with all of us there, dancing and whirling and stuffing our faces and downing champagne. I thought to myself, for the very first time, I want what they’re having. And though what I would be having would not be a marriage but a civil union, the sugar substitute of commitment ceremonies, I still felt the first few hunger pangs for something more than just a quick bite.

In the end, if being single is like eating at Rodli Commons, it seems as though it is not just about the vegetables, the fruits, the meat and potatoes or even that big dessert. It’s really about one day your plate being stacked high.

Cirque De So Gay
When you’re single and about to throw yourself back into dating, it can sometimes feel like you’ve left the reality of the real world and have instead walked right into a three-ring circus. This Spring Break, I decided to run off from the dullness of no dating and instead join the colorful world of Cirque De So Gay (coined by my friend Alex) and hopefully try to find love under the metaphorical big top.

“You know,” an older gentleman whispered to me in a voice that I’m sure was supposed to be sexy but came out desperate. And to clarify, desperation is not sexy whether you’re a housewife or a homo.

“I love me an ebony boy. Can you help me get my groove back?”

Barely three steps into the circus and I had already managed to encounter one of the standards of both the real and the dating circus: the clown. While in the real circus clowns intend for the audience to laugh at them, a large majority of the dating clowns do not have this goal and instead suffer from the kind of delusional craziness not seen by the general public, except for maybe the people on the casting special for American Idol.

“That’s nice and all,” I replied, “but that ‘get my groove back’ line is so old it could date Ashton Kutcher.”He grimaced a little bit and walked off, highlighting another big difference between real clowns and dating clowns: real clowns handle getting pied in the face more gracefully.

The next day I ran into another member of the circus: the juggler.

“One of the guys I’m porking loves your column,” the hipster said to me. “Which is weird since my boyfriend hates it.”

“My column or you screwing other guys?” I asked with a laugh.

“A little bit of both,” he replied.

And what circus or dating experience is complete without a magician, a man that can make svelte assistants or self-esteem disappear in a blink of an eye, while also pulling a bunny or a bullshit excuse out of his hat? The magician in my life was no different, elusive as the puff of smoke he generated whenever he vanished from my life at one point and reappeared at another.

Out of thin air he messaged me and asked, “Are you in town? Are you going out?”

“Yes and no,” I replied.

There was a brief pause in the conversation before he typed back, “You are so boring.”

Right before my fingertips hit the keyboard in front of me to send him back a suitably sarcastic response, I realized that in doing so I wouldn’t just be making myself a clown but also his assistant. I had allowed myself to be emotionally sawed in half too many times before.

“You know,” I wrote back to him, “you’re absolutely right.”

He signed off shortly after that. That’s one of the things about magic and its practitioners; the moment you stop believing in it and them, they lose their entire mystique.As I headed back to River Falls - the dating equivalent of a fun house - I figured that while life can be filled with clowns and jugglers and prick magicians, there is always the possibility of finding that trapeze artist that will catch you or the boisterous ringleader that will lovingly put you in the center ring with a large spotlight. But for me, at this point in my dating life, I’m leaving the big top and heading over to the freak show to find myself a strong man.

Undergrads in the Mist
The scientist Jane Goodall once went to the African jungles to study the social habits and behaviors of gorillas. As a sexual anthropologist of sorts, I decided to do my own study of the mating habits of an American animal: the well-groomed, sexually liberated, dollar rails guzzling undergraduate native to the UW-River Falls campus. And like any good scientist, I did field research: the bar scene on a “Thirsty Thursday,” since undergraduates are mostly nocturnal creatures. With spring upon us, the undergraduates have awaken from their hibernation, shed their cocoons of winter clothing and have put on the bright and tight clothing that helps attract a mate.

With my co-scientist “DJ” by my side, I made my way through one of the various watering holes that undergraduates gather at. There was a smell in the air as we made our way through the packs of people.

They say that dogs produce a pheromone that let other dogs know they’re up for mating. As the pungent aroma of Axe Body Spray, Britney Spears’ perfume Curious, cheap cigarettes and imported beer wafted around me, it became apparent boozehound undergraduates do the same.

We moved to another part of the watering hole, and, as we observed the girls who shook what nature and a push-up bra from Victoria’s Secret had given them, I spied one of my closet friends, “Thad the Cad.” True to form, he was in the midst of a swarm of girls, which wasn’t all that surprising since they gravitate to boys like him like slightly tipsy moths to an American Eagle outfitted flame.

“He’s like the king of the jungle since so many girls want to swing from his obscenely large vine,” I explained to one of my friends.

As he continued to dance, DJ and I spotted on the outskirts of the dance floor another staple of the jungle: the slithering snake. There was a whole bed of them clustered together, coincidentally enough all having activities about bed on their minds.

“Where’s Riki Tiki Tavi when you need him?” I thought to myself.

With undergraduates being constantly migrating animals, I wasn’t the least surprised when Thad grabbed me on his way out the door as he headed to the next watering hole where all the animals of the jungle invariably end up: Boomer’s.

Male tigers will sleep with any female that is receptive to their advances and as I walked into Boomer’s that night and observed If-It’s-Good-Enough-For-Demi-It’s-Good-Enough-For-Me women somehow coupled with pretty boys half their age out on the dance floor, it stood to reason that the same was true in human mating.

But right before I could write off the jungle as a whole, I spotted out of the corner of my eye the most rare creature of the jungle: the lovebirds. They seemed completely unfazed by the noise of everybody else pawing at each other and instead were intensely focused on cooing in each other’s ears. And unlike the dodo bird, I’m fairly certain that lovebirds will never become extinct.

That’s the thing about the jungle. It can be a crazed, dangerous place with vultures ready to sweep in on you at any second. There can be cobras to poison your mind, lions that will pounce on you and bugs that can eat away at your hope. But in the heart of the jungle, you also have the chance to find somebody that has a heart. And when you do, they might just give one of the most beautiful things to come from the jungle, real or dating: butterflies.

Jon Err
When you’re an English major, you spend a lot of time reading and critiquing and just generally nitpicking a piece of literature. While busily underlining passages in Mrs. Dalloway, I realized that as a single person, I end up doing the same thing. And where I can discern things like satire from parody in my academic critiquing, my powers of reading people always seem to fail me. I couldn’t help but wonder: when it comes to the matters of the heart, is it possible that singles have become emotionally illiterate?

It was in the midst of pondering that I got an instant message from someone that, if my life were ever turned into a book, which would most likely be called Divine Secrets of the Ho-Mo Sisterhood, would clearly be the antagonist. Dealing with him for the past three years had, for me, been something akin to reading Shakespeare. Both were regal and sophisticated yet to the even most well-read, potentially impossible to figure out.

“So do you have any big plans for the summer?” I asked him.

“Not to read your column.”

“I thought you didn’t read my column.”

“I do read your column,” he replied. “It’s sad.”

In writing, they call this a flashback. For me, I call it hitting a raw nerve. The last time I had seen him in person was two Spring Breaks ago. I had come over to his place to help shave his head and it was mid-shave that he dropped a gleeful little bit of information on me.

“You know the last time I did anything?” he grinned, his Scottish accent both inviting and menacing.

“Last week, directing a few people in a sex scene. Not a porno, though.”

“The last person I did stuff with was you around winter break,” I sighed. “Which was wonderful until, you know, your boyfriend called.”

“You want my pity?” he asked. “You worked out in the gym, lost weight, learned how to be funny and not boring maybe you’d find someone. It’s sad.”

They say in coming-of-age stories, the protagonist has to make a choice. At that moment I chose to see the proverbial writing on the wall and flee.

“I’m going to go now,” I said, holding my peacoat in one hand and seizing the melodrama of the situation in the other. “There is nothing here for me. I just misread all of this completely.”

Sometimes in life, like in fiction, some endings are inevitable. Bridget Jones gets the guy. Romeo and Juliet die. The Scot and I part.

The Scot disappeared from our chat conversation, having exhausted himself with one pithy line. I was deeply invested in the travails of Mrs. Dalloway when I got an instant message from my friend named “Ridley,” a member of a gay rugby club in the Cities. I was chatting with him about life and love and all of those l-words when he said something surprising to me.

“You should have more confidence in yourself when it comes to guys,” he wrote to me. “Just with your way with words alone.”

“Gay guys say, ‘I love his arms/dick/ass/pecs,’” I typed, “not ‘His clever turn of phrase makes me so horny.’”

“Well they should,” he replied.

“Maybe you should get on that one and make it a revolution,” I replied.

“It’s not the phrases that turn me on,” he wrote to me. “It’s the fact that you can make me laugh. That’s the turn on.”

I smiled a bit. That’s the other thing about life and fiction; sometimes things end with a pleasant twist.

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