There’s No Place Like Homo

Coming here from The Evergrey? Welcome! This is my account of the singles event promoted from last week’s newsletter.

“I don’t think I’ve reached that level of desperation,” my friend responded after I asked him to accompany me. “Well, I guess I have. So I’m going,” I sassed back.

The Not Creepy Gathering for People Who are Single and Want to Fall in Love event seemed like the perfect place for me— borderline desperate but new transplant to Seattle with a very limited dating history.

I walked into the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, the chandeliers demure and romantic and poised for an enchantment. Making an entrance fashionably and fashionably late, I slapped on a nametag with the male symbol (a hint to the other love-seekers as to the type of person I’m attracted) and took a sigh of relief— we’re all in this together!

After a darling singer (Arthur James, woof!) crooned me into a lustful trance, Jenna Bean Veatch came to the stage. Jenna’s enigmatic presence instantly made me feel at ease, and we began with her first exercise: everyone is cute! This was the first chance everyone had at scoping out a potential mate; and, surprisingly, I did find everyone cute in their own way— I saw a few faces that piqued my interest.

When we got into breakout sessions, randomly forming groups of two to four, something happened— I started to realize that I was the only gay guy in the room. Now, having grown up in a small town in the Midwest, this was not a new feeling for me— but rather an old one, an isolating one, and not one I ever thought I’d experience in Seattle.

I bumped into a new friend I had made the minute I got there, Lily, and I confided in her, “I don’t think there’s another gay person here.” I had seen several queer women, adorning both the female and male symbols on their nametags. And go fam! But that isn’t my romantic demographic. Lily said, “What! There has to be! Do a lap, and if you don’t find someone, I’ll buy you a drink.” Not one to turn down a bevvie, I did as instructed. Alas, I truly was the only homosexual man in the room. Seattle, you’ve disappointed me! The 10% rule was not in my favor.

Even though I didn’t find love in that room, I found the content very inspiring. The last exercise pushed many out of their comfort zone, getting up on stage and finishing the statement, “I want…[in a partner].” As the women addressed the audience and made compelling statements about what they want in a partner, I felt their empowerment, and that was the real prize of this event. My statement? “I want to find the only homosexual in the room and commiserate over the fact that we’re the only homosexuals in the room.” (A friendly straight man gave me the name of his “gay friend.” My fellow queers will commence in an eyeroll with me. Thank you, sir, but no thank you.)

I retreated back to Capitol Hill to be amongst my people, The Gays™, snuggled up in my bungalow, and took out an Armistead Maupin novel. I didn’t come away empty handed, as I have the satisfaction of putting myself out there and looking my loneliness head on— so, my Seattleites, if you happen to know of a tall, dark, and handsome gay man with a dog who might be attracted to a short, stocky, 20 something, flamboyantly homosexual airline pilot, hit a girl up!

I don’t speak German, but I can if you like: Berlin

I’ve threatened to take this trip before, had a close call last month, and then decided to take the plunge. In sort of a pre-birthday, cathartic adventure.

Berlin has long been on my list of cities to visit. It has a rich history, modern flair, and delicious German men. I mean food. (And men.)

My trip started with the good and the bad— I decided to leave directly from Seattle, heading to Paris where I would connect on Air France. A ZED (Zonal Employee Discount offered to airline personnel) fare would only cost ~$60 from Paris to Berlin, leaving roughly an hour after I landed in Charles de Gaulle. Look, I was content, but miffed, that I missed Delta One to Paris by just one seat— free travel is a luxury. But as I was accepting fate in seat 35J, the greatest words ever spoken were told to me: “Mr. Barnhart, we have an upgrade for you. You’re now in 12B.”

When I am graced with the pleasure of riding in a premium seat, I have a routine. With my dinner courses, I watch a blockbuster film, one recently released. Then I sleep for a few hours, only to wake up for breakfast— that’s when I watch a classic film. I hadn’t seen The Shape of Water, which one practically every Oscar, so I made my way through it— I found it confusing and bizarre, but I was tipsy and drifted into a slumber. When I woke up, I watched the comforting and familiar All About Eve and enjoyed my frittata as we entered European airspace. But my fears quelled as I learned via Wi-Fi that Air France was going on strike; the loads for my Berlin flight had gone to hell, and there weren’t many options getting out of Paris. I made an executive decision to leave via train after waiting in a hot and stuffy customs hall for over an hour— eight hours and 143€ later, I rolled into Berlin Hauptbahnhof, tired and happy to make it to my intended destination— life is a journey, eh?

IMG_2895

I got to my Airbnb, lucky that my host was still awake. I opted for an Airbnb because I

was not trying to live the hostel life on this adventure, and hotel rooms are often exorbitant in Europe. I ascended the spiral staircase to the artist loft in a courtyard, and Mushtaq was waiting for me. Meeting him was the highlight of my trip; he’s a 65 year old Indian native, living in Berlin for some 40 years. He is a supremely talented artist, and his space adorns his works— some paintings, some multimedia, all very impressive. Even the piece he was working on throughout my stay changed drastically over three days!

Mushtaq and I spoke the same language— English, sure, but he was also a gate agent for Pan Am back in the day. His stories of travel and helping passengers far exceed mine in geography and flair (once, he helped Tim Curry track down a missing wig in time for a performance in Berlin). And his overwhelming generosity made my stay so heartwarming. “Young sir,” he said as I started to rise in the morning, “Would you like to join me for a coffee?” And we would, as he helped me plan my day.

IMG_3023.JPG
Mushtaq! 

The problem I face when I visit Europe is my overwhelming desire to live on the continent again; I studied abroad in Madrid circa 2013, and it was the most life changing experience of my life. It solidified my vagabond wanderlust, my yearnings to go, see, do, explore, and meet people and places of all kinds. Mushtaq talked about his becoming a cosmopolitan, and I pondered that word— all of my friends from my study abroad programs are exactly that, American born but living in all corners of the earth. I don’t think I could give up my citizenship, but I certainly subscribe to a higher notion that I am not completely American, that my personhood supersedes the borders of our nation.

If my chosen profession and industry could give me the option to do such a thing, I would. And I will, once I find a way to do it. If I get based on the east coast and bid my schedules heavy for half a month, while retreating to Europe for the other half, that would be my utopia. I would also have to make a ton of money to swing that, too. Notwithstanding, the continent calls my name.

Berlin itself was mesmerizing— a city marred with political grief and stature. I walked 30+ miles over the course of three days, and my ankles just now have healed to a point where it doesn’t hurt to walk anymore. I trotted all over the city, occasionally using public transport to cover the long distances. My first day, I started off in Mitte where I was staying, and I traipsed all the way down to Brandenberg Tor and the Reichstag building. After that, I made it to Checkpoint Charlie where the US policed the comings and goings between East and West Berlin.

IMG_2946The second day, I went to Tempelhof Airfield. It’s more or less abandoned, but the city is in the stages for revamping it as a common space— even though I’m an aviation fanatic, I got weird vibes from the place; my German roots were uncomfortable. So I ate my way through those feelings by having the best kebap in the city, as recommended by my friend Jay, with whom I met up later.

We went to this incredible rooftop bar, very scene and scenic as the sun set. Jay and I met through NGPA, and he’s completing his Master’s degree abroad— a great source of jealousy for me! We caught up, and I reveled in the delight of having friends abroad.

IMG_2972
#NGPAeverywhere

On my last day, I did two somber things on a perfectly cloudy day— I visited the East Side Gallery, the last remnants of the Berlin Wall. I thought I would go there for a few minutes, “see it,” and then leave; but I ended up walking the entire thing twice. I was in awe of the art, most of it making political comments in a stunning way. The bright colors, the visceral notions, and raw emotion of it drew me in. I also went to the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe, a place where I wish I could have spent more time, despite the morose nature of the site. Some people left flowers, others left notes of sympathy. That there are people in this world who believe the Holocaust never happened boggles my mind— and this monument holds a bold reverence for their ignorance.

IMG_3019

And just as soon as I got there, it was time to leave. I took the direct flight from Berlin to Newark on United, and I was treated yet again to a first class experience.

I lead a bougie, globetrotting life at my leisure— and it’s not without shortcomings. I schlepped back to Seattle in middle seat economy, the flight time nearing that of a transatlantic crossing. And the very next day, I started a trip for work. Exhausting? Yes. Worth it? Ja, absolut!

Appropriate German soundtrack that was in my head throughout the entire trip: Nena – 99 Luftballons

Neither Here Nor There: Friendship

“Oh, I see you’ve met Robbie. He makes fast friends with everyone,” the cheeky bastard announced to a group whom I had just met.

This was several years ago at an event, yet those words have stuck with me. I can’t make up my mind if I’m offended or not.

It’s partly true— I am friendly. I could make friends with a wall. But his snide comment did get me thinking about the various levels of my friendships.

There are the acquaintances, the good friends, fringe friends, college friends, friends you see once a year at a conference, close friends, friends you call up when you’re in town, friends who call you in the middle of the night— and it all somehow culminates into your best friend, your very best friend. For me, admittedly, I throw around the term “best” friend too often. The fact is that they’re all my best friends, and they know it. They have enough confidence in our relationship not to question whether or not they are.

And best friends have spats. Where friends run awry, however, is when they do not take responsibility for their actions. Owning up and saying, “Wow. I am so sorry. I did not know that made you feel that way, and I am a huge dick for saying that,” shows true care and compassion for not only the friend, but the friendship overall. And if that friend is not willing to concede and make amends, then we’re at an impasse.

You Can’t Sit With Us:

I’ve been accused of being popular. And my humility will neither confirm nor deny that. I do know a lot of people, and I like the majority of them. But here’s the plain truth: it is not enough for people to like you. Popularity isn’t a game of who can name drop or post pictures with the “in” crowd. You actually have to do something with these relationships. You must care. Because it might not seem like it at first, but as friendships go on, the levels of understanding come to the surface. Your true intentions bubble up and over,  and eventually, out spills the tea— for better or for worse.

You won’t believe me, but I’m just going to say it: I feel like an extroverted introvert (ENFP if you’re nosey). The reason you won’t believe me is that, if you’ve ever seen me, you know what a buzzing, flamboyant burst of energy I can be— but that’s how I am in the presence of people. 90% of the time out of the view of the public, I’m holed up underneath the covers, likely watching CNN and retreating from the world. In brief, when I’m on, I’m on.

I don’t know that I belong to any one group but rather float around all of them. I like to stick my foot into every pool and get the temperature from each. I do know, however, that I do attempt to surround myself with only the best people— people who are much smarter than I am, achieve way more than I ever will, and have a deeper sense of self that I could ever discover. This is a testament to the way I was raised by my dear mommy, and a promise I will uphold.

Friendships in the digital age:

Friendships founded on social media can be powerful— and also disposable. How easy is it to unfriend someone? My general rule is this: if you’re going to be my “friend” on Facebook, I have to have met you in person at least once, and I have to want to at least have lunch with you. (Either that, or your life is so full of drama that I absolutely want to see what happens next.) There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If I’m 99% sure I’ve met you through an event or networking, I’ll likely add you— because I don’t have much to hide on my social medias. That’s how living authentically works. It’s not to say I don’t have my secrets or value my privacy. But I do a decent job of policing how and what I post.

You can’t hang out with someone and look at your phone— it’s “rude” and “inconsiderate.” But it’s also not how we operate in 2018. What I absolutely love is having a day-long of activities with a friend, and later on, I can’t find textual representations of what we’ve discussed. There’s no record other than the memory in my head— you know, actual human interaction? How novel!

Friend Breakups:

Sometimes, it has to happen. When a person no longer brings joy into your life, or it becomes one-sided, that person has to go. I’ve committed a friend breakup before. I’ve also been broken up with before. On one hand, it hurts, both doing the breakup and being on the receiving end. But on the other hand, it can be very liberating, again in both situations.

With a particular friend some years ago, I was fed up with their constant negativity. I kept getting invitations to their pity parties, and I only had the energy to attend every now and then. But that negativity turned into dependency, wherein this friend started treating my other friends like crap. So the friendship fizzled out, and I severed ties. And it sucks, because I want the best for that person, even if they can’t get out of their spiraling downfall.

On the other side of the coin, when I’ve been broken up with, it brings up a ton of questions— am I the toxic person in this situation? What warranted this sudden removal from their life? I know I’m a lot to handle, but I’m also fiercely loyal. Again, I wish them both well on their journeys. Though having played some role in their life, I was no longer to be involved anymore— willingly or otherwise. C’est la vie.

Bottom line:

As I make this flying career into a lifestyle, several things come as a result. You might think it’s glamorous. And it’s a whirlwind, but it’s also very exhausting. It’s difficult enough to make friends in your mid 20s, outside of work no less. But add in the varying, nonstandard schedules that don’t always include free weekends, and you get a mess of, “Hey, I’m actually in town!” texts that may or may not get attention. When I left Chicago, I was craving more diversity in my friends’ professions; I’m slowly growing that friend base in Seattle. But it’s still hard to marry my flexibility with the grounded people at home.

I won’t ever stop meeting people and making connections— it’s in my spirit and truly gives me life. But the number of friends I have won’t devalue or dilute the attention or meaning to each one. And it’s not bound by any one geographic location. Perhaps it’s a luxury of my profession; perhaps it’s a curse of a vagabond.

Soundtrack, obvious yet always relevant:

The Golden Girls theme song

An incredibly insufficient slideshow of darling friends (readily available from my phone):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Exposé: State of the Heart Address

IMG_2362What this is, and isn’t 

This is an exposé of sorts. This is an incredibly personal regalement of my romantic endeavors— or lack thereof.  There are aspects that will remain private and details undivulged. But know that, in truth, this isn’t for you. This is for me— so that I may continue the journey and grow in a new light. I’m not prowling for pity, and I’m not looking for “the one” to rear his beautiful head from such a revealing post. This also isn’t to discredit any past attempts at romance on my part or any other’s; all of my experiences, for good and for bad, have led up to this moment, and I embrace this part of the rocky road to love.

Bold assertion: I don’t think I’ve been in true, romantic love before. I might’ve come close, and I don’t doubt that the emotions I felt tended toward the romantic side— but I’m unsure if I’ve actually felt that deep, intense, pure romantic feeling for another person. Connection, sure. But love? Likely, no.
IMG_2376

I’ve been on this earth for a quarter of a century (in this lifetime, at least), and since I came out over 12 years ago, I have never had any sort of substantial relationship that didn’t go past the range of one night to a month and a half. And I’ve also been very prone, tragically, to the delusion that my feelings with someone else were requited, when in fact they weren’t. It’s a touch embarrassing not to be on the same page. It’s also a touch embarrassing not to have experienced this— yet.

There have been a few instances where I’ve felt a pure, romantic connection with another person— one was extremely toxic, the other went absolutely nowhere, except The Friend Zone™.  The first lasted years, with random meetings and ultimately felt like having my heart dragged behind a truck down an empty highway. He wasn’t there for me, but I couldn’t be told otherwise; nearly all of my friends and family were dismayed time and time again when I would keep this person in my purview. But what did I know? All I felt for him was a yearning that he never reciprocated— and he knew that. Perhaps it was manipulation, and perhaps I wanted to let myself feel some sort of twisted view of love, despite the tricky strings around it. (The latest one is too much of an open wound to explain.)

The problem is that I’m extremely loyal— I’d make an excellent boyfriend or an even better dog.

The Apps

Scrolling. I find myself doing it mindlessly, passing by hundreds of faces in search of a friendly one. And oftentimes I don’t click on a pretty face because I think that I know that they won’t message me.

This catalogue of potential mates is overwhelming— swiping to exhaustion, hoping to find a glimmer of a match somewhere within an abyss of endless profiles. It truly doesn’t matter about the specific app; Grindr, Scruff, Tinder, Bumble, all that jazz— it’s the same people.

One way to thwart all of this negativity is to delete them and find people “organically.” But queer people have rarely met organically— always in the back alleys and dark, seedy bars unbeknownst to the public. And in a charming way, I like that. This subculture within the gay culture is fascinating to me. So, I guess I’ll keep them for the time being, because it’s still a way to meet new people— so long as I have the mindset that not every person who chats me up is my long-lost lover, and not every person who ignores me is a giant asshole. All in all, they’re useful.

My dear friend, mentor, and yoga instructor once asked me, “Do you want sex? Or do you want love? Because the two are very different.” And those questions have plagued me for years. Of course I want both. And I’m sure it’s mind-blowing when the two can be combined— and if that isn’t a euphemism, I don’t know what is.

 Non-monogamy amidst monogamy: Is one guy even worth it?

IMG_2668

There’s a satirical article floating around entitled, Experts Warn That This Polyamorous Relationship Could Expand To Cover All Of Seattle By 2021and if that ain’t the truth! It seems as though almost every online profile touts of an “open relationship” or “I’ve already found the guy of my dreams; we’re just looking for a third.” My textbook response is, “I can’t even handle one relationship, let alone several at the same time.” Plus, I’m an only child, so I need the attention on me, thank you very much. It’s not that I’m against polyamory as a whole. Dear friends of mine engage in it, and it works out for them. I just feel, at this moment, incapable of opening myself up to more than one person.

If and when I find him:

Maybe I’m under an illusion that a relationship has a sense of finality, that you might spend eternity with your beloved. After all, isn’t that how movies go? Those blissful, cinematic moments do happen in real life.

And that is mostly how I’ve pursued romantic endeavors— why go after you without the intent of something long term? Now I know that this is a mistake. Living in the moment and loving wholeheartedly, regardless of the duration of the situation, that’s where the sweet spot is. It’s opening up and handling vulnerability and uncertainty with care and curiosity— but it also means leaving yourself stranded in unbridled emotion and despair when it doesn’t work out in your favor. Love is, as I’ve been told, what remains when the lust is gone.

I’m not unique or alone in this destitute feeling of a romantic abyss. I know for certain that there are just as many gay (and straight) people in my predicament. As convenient as dating and hooking up are in this technological age, the more overwhelming and vapid it has become. I will never have a porn star body, nor will I be a knight in shining armor. I will have my pitfalls and breakdowns just as any other human being will— but I’m throwing it out to The Universe that I might have this chance for unrequited, butterfly, feelings.

When I was a gaybie, my adopted gay uncle told me, “You’ll have your heart broken. But you’re also going to break some hearts.” I didn’t believe that I had that capacity. But I know I have over the years, without intentionally meaning to do so. Being rejected is no fun, and I used to be bitter about it. Now, I’ve cultivated a sense of softness and curiosity about rejection— and I don’t take it to heart anymore— mostly. It used to mean that I was the inadequate one, that I was somehow lacking.  For any number of reasons, though, rejections happen. The Friend Zone™ is an awful place to be. My friend in college noticed this about me early on and said, “You need to stop being everyone’s best friend.” The problem is that I don’t know how to not be friendly (however, don’t confuse that with not being a bitch. I’m perfectly capable in that department).

If I had to choose an ideal partner, he’d be reserved, stoic, charming with a bit of an assholish flair. Like Billy Eichner, except quieter.

The Dating Scene:

I abhor the institution of dating. Quite frankly, it’s nerve-wracking and boring. The mere notion of going out to dinner to engage in small talk about menial things, all the while being surveyed for sexual compatibility— it’s nothing more than a job interview for the bedroom. Because I am so friendly, I don’t have an issue conversing; where I fall short is letting people in, giving away my insecurities and letting go of their expectations.

I’m not opposed to it overall. In fact, I’ve gone on a few dates since moving to Seattle— part of that whole looking your fears head on tactic. It’s not that it went poorly. It’s just that I didn’t connect with them and disliked the hype.

Of course, there are logistical challenges in dating, due to my industry. But I also refuse to date within said industry— most of us are insane. The only feat that would prove to be beneficial is that air crew would understand the lifestyle, schedule, and lingo.

Bottom line:

I’m an enigma, an extravagant (and downright extra) personality, and I’m a lot to handle. Hell, I can’t handle myself most days. And I know that finding a partner is neither like shopping on Amazon (but HOW nice would it be for a husband to be delivered in two days?) nor signing up for a gym membership. It’s not that easy, I never thought it would be, and I definitely haven’t experienced ease in this entire journey.

Three of heartsI wear my heart on my sleeve, and it shows when my friends ask about my love life. I am humbled that they have a genuine interest in seeing my happiness through a romantic partner (and I swear to god— if someone tags me in one more thing about Anderson Cooper’s breakup!). They want me to be ok. I want to be ok. But maybe not being ok will allow me to dissect and disassemble what is years’ worth of angst and hope and worry— and through that crumbling, I can renew a positive direction in what is the State of My Heart.

 

Soundtrack, sappy yet profound:

Brandi Carlile — Wherever Is Your Heart

Waking Up

New Year, Golden Me

IMG_2320

It’s 2018.

And in 2018, I will turn 26— on April 26th, no less, making this my Golden birthday. The golden birthday is the age one turns that corresponds to the actual date of their birth. So, in my true extra fashion, I’m considering this my Golden Year.

The yogic question, “Are you awake?” doesn’t just ponder if one is not sleeping— it asks whether one is physically, spiritually aware of their surroundings. For the longest time, I thought I was. But over the course of the last year, and especially within the last few months, I’m learning that I’m quite the snoozer!

At the risk of using a corny airplane reference, I’ve learned that life does not reach a certain point where the autopilot can be turned on, and the rest is smooth sailing, erm, flying. One must continuously work for each and every day to make life at least bearable and the fullest. Are you thinking um, duh? I guess I was fooled by adults in my younger years that, once you “make it” in the real world, it somehow gets easier. But I’ve been quoting a John Mayer song recently, “I just found out that there’s no such thing as the real world.” (I do want to scream at the top of my lungs.)

I’ve also been duped into thinking that we know more as we grow older— but my path has led me to believe that I’m more unknowing than anything. What this begs of me is to stay curious and malleable in the mind; the more rigid one becomes in their thinking, more work it is to cope at a later date.

Life right now is sort of like pulling sheets out of the dryer— most everything is dry, only to find out that a pillow case wadded up in the corner of a fitted sheet. Warm but damp and not quite there yet— I think about getting there and having it: the life, whatever that means. A well-established career, a loving relationship, and dogs (so, so many dogs); a network of friends and professional contacts. But the illusion is that it already exists, that there is no such thing as “getting there” or “having it.” It’s right there in front of me, waiting to be experienced.

No, this isn’t settling. Don’t mistake my happiness for complacency.

Why is it such a bother to experience joy?

There are barriers to accepting one’s true pleasures. For me, there are a few things that make me light up— languages, aviation, yoga, and travel. But I oftentimes don’t do what would most assuredly bring me joy for fear of falling short of that expectation. And I’m calling bullshit on myself.

That’s why I compiled an absurdly long list of things that would make me happy, not just in spite of my Golden Year, but because of it. I won’t divulge the half of it, because some of it is private (I do have some secrets, after all) and sacred— and parts of it I don’t even know yet.

The catalyst for this epiphany was an experience I had recently with a very striking individual for whom I have a sincere attraction. It was beyond physical, a connection unlike any I’ve had before. I was so dumbfounded by all of it that I kept questioning myself (and a litany of friends) if my emotions were validated, attempting to keep myself in check.
IMG_2504I put my heart on the line, held it out in front of him like a dog bringing back a dead animal to its owner— see! Lookie what I brought for you! It nice. It for you. It special. Need treats and pats thx. Sitting in that awkward vulnerability makes my heart pound, daringly, but that increased heart rate surpasses any fleeing and hiding. I can’t say that I didn’t try, and I can’t say that I didn’t put it all out there. Because if I had held back, I wouldn’t know one way or the other (and, for the record, the jury is still out, but that’s a topic for another day). What I discovered is that being vulnerable isn’t cowering in weakness, it’s the crux of strength. I said what I needed to say (here we go with John Mayer again, sheesh!) for myself, regardless of the outcome.

Maybe I’m having a Diane-Keaton-divorcee moment, despite never having had any sort of meaningful romantic relationship.

Maybe I’ve been afraid to start for fear of not being able to stop.

In a sense, I feel like I’ve been asleep forever.

Albeit groggy, it’s time to wake up.

 

Soundtrack for this post, appropriately featured in a mediocre commercial:

LP – Into The Wild

The Jude

It has been one revolution around the sun since we had Gram with us, and in the most auspicious way, her death was magical.

December 12th was a normal day, sitting on reserve in Chicago at home. I had planned to meet my friend Bryce on his work trip in Seattle, my newly decided future city. But as any plans go, a wrench had been thrown in the mix: work called for a last-minute turn to Madison. As it happened, I ran into another friend on the train to O’Hare for his first day at United Airlines, starting his first Initial Operating Experience trip on the 737. And wouldn’t you know, his first flight was the one I had wanted to take later that night to Seattle— but because of the time I was to arrive back in Chicago, I would have missed it.

Until we got back, and the United flight to Seattle had been delayed for several hours. I sat in the jumpseat, with Eric’s approval of course, and watched him soak up all the knowledge that the amicable check airman spewed.

Once in Seattle, I finally met up with my Pookie (Bryce), and we caught up briefly before going to bed around 1:00 a.m.; we had planned a day out in the city, surveying my soon-to-be neighborhood. But it was around 6:00 a.m. when my mom called and told me to come home. I busted my ass to the airport and caught a Southwest flight to St. Louis, where I took a shuttle to Columbia, and my neighbors picked me up there— it truly takes a village.

IMG_2007As I entered the hospital room, Gram was not conscious. My mom, aunt, and I caught up for a few moments when my aunt left to smoke a cigarette. My mom encouraged me to talk to Gram, but I thought it a bit weird since she was out of it. Nevertheless, I approached her bedside and said, “Gram! It’s Rahbet. Are you col’? Lemme feel your fahred.” (The backstory is that Gram’s Northeastern accent gave her gems of pronunciation, like my name, Robert. And cold. And forehead. And various other “r” words.) As I touched her head, she twitched. She heard me. As I turned to say something to my mom, my aunt came back in the room and looked at Gram. She said, “Is she gone?” And, in fact, within those few seconds, after she heard me, Gram passed. She waited for me to travel all the way across the country and see her one last time before making her earthly departure.

I’ve been fortunate to be in the room when my paternal grandfather died, and also when Gram passed. Regardless of religious affiliation or spiritual inclination, there is a surreal peace that blankets the moment and area when someone leaves this realm. The calmness and ceasing of suffering lightens the circumstance.

We all had a healthy cry as we alerted the nurses who performed their duties. They gave us as much time as we wanted with her, while we made our calls to family members and the mortuary. And as we left for the last time, I rubbed her foot and said what Gram had said to me many times saying goodbye: “Night and Go’bless you.”

Leaving the hospital, I remember an incredible sunset giving way to the biggest, brightest full moon I’ve ever seen.

Gram didn’t want a funeral or any services. The meeting we had with the mortuary was comical to say the least; my uncouth and loud family was seated in this luxurious boardroom with the stoic and professional staff as they went over services that we might want: memorial services, obituaries (written by yours truly), and did we want to attend the cremation? (Absolutely not, but some people, as we learned, are adamant to be present). We mostly joked and told stories about what a riot Gram was, and their work was made so easy, as she only wanted to be cremated. Nothing more, nothing less.

IMG_5040

We planned a celebration of life party in Rhode Island, where we would spread her remains alongside her mother and sisters at their burial plots— where it is, allegedly, illegal to spread remains at a cemetery. But Gram was a rebel in and of her own right, so we did it. And, despite the circumstances, we had a blast. My cousins from all over met up, sharing stories about “Gram” or “Aunt Judy” as they knew her. Amidst the festivities, it showed me that death can evoke real connection, revealing the power of love.

Of course, I still think about her, every single day. She was my Gram. The Boss of the Moms. Jude. A terrible driver (we still call driving faux pas “Jude Moves”), but witty and wise. Maybe she had odd tastes, like peanut butter and tuna sandwiches. And we will forgive her of that one time she stole a fire truck— it was returned without harm to person or property.

There are so many things I could go on about: stories, jokes, and how I came out to her while watching The Ellen DeGeneres Show. But most notably, I realized some months ago that Gram fueled my passion for airline travel. I recount below.


 

I watch the drinks wiggle on the tray table, not quite slopping over the sides but making for quite the liquidy dance. A piece of the conversation I had with Gram came back to me after all these years. The topic was turbulence, and I asked her if it scared her. She said, “I don’t mind it, just so long as it doesn’t spill my coffee.”

And then it struck me. A large part of my love of flying comes from taking Gram to and from the airport every year, when she would make the trek back east to see her sisters. It was a family affair— the two-hour car ride, leaving well before a buffer of two hours needed for airport security, just in case. Gram would check her ticket no less than five times in her purse, just in case. She was a woman with a PhD in worrying.

Driving eastbound along I-70, there’s a certain point when the air traffic control tower at Lambert International comes into view, marking your arrival into the airport.

It was always a little bit sad, giving Gram a hug goodbye; but she’d always be back in a week’s time, bringing home gifts from various casinos— and SkyBars.

Aside: I’m not ungrateful. I was always appreciative of the knickknacks gram would bring back, even if it was a neat coffee stirrer from Mohegan Sun. But Gram would bring back a native east coast candy bar, one not available in the Midwest (probably for good reason). Skybars have several different flavor compartments surrounded by low-grade chocolate: dark chocolate, coconut, vanilla, and god knows what else. At first, I was a naive child who would devour any sweet delectable. But as a grew older, I started to understand why the SkyBars stayed in the freezer in various quantities: they’re disgusting.

It went unsaid for many years. Gram would always come back with yummy treats like Portuguese chouriço or sweet bread— and those damn Skybars. No one would eat them, until we broke it to her one day.

“Oh,” she said with a slight pout and folded arms.

So, maybe I disliked the candy. But I savored every last bit of what she brought back, even down to the peanuts from her Southwest flight. While she was gone, I’d scream at the sky, claiming each one was a “pumpkin plane!” like the one Gram was on.


 

It seems odd, coming home to Missouri without seeing her. Leaving her house was always a feat, because she’d want to give me every last bit of food in her fridge (it was nice to go grocery shopping there, though).

You also can’t tell me that this world isn’t cyclical. Maybe with meaning, maybe without. But today, I’m in Missouri to be with my family. Bryce, as it happens, is on business again in Seattle. The Universe puts us perhaps not in the place that we want to be, but always in the place we need to be. Cancer sucks, but suffering is worse. She put up a valiant fight, but she also knew when to bow out gracefully.

Always and forever, night and Go’bless you, Gram.

 

 

 

 

 

Underqualified Females

Dear Straight White Male Regional Airline Captain,

Look, I get it. You’ve been in the left seat for a while now at a regional airline, and you’re actively pursuing a mainline gig. It’s tough out there— your apps have been out, you’ve crossed every I and dotted every T (wait, scratch that, reverse it). But you haven’t gotten the call yet.

So, you do what every pilot feels natural: complain. And I understand your frustrations. You’re missing out on a multi-million dollar career opportunity, and your seniority shrivels as the clock ticks. But I’m rooting for you!

However, your pity party comes to a halt once you utter those vicious words, “I guess I’m not getting an interview, because I’m not a chick.” Over the past few trips I’ve worked, I’ve heard captains bellyache about “underqualified females” getting jobs at major airlines. I’m going to need for you to take a seat. Many seats, actually, because I’m about to read you your rights.

Five percent. Only five percent of pilots are women— and only four percent adorn various stripes in the airline flight deck. That is a staggeringly low ratio for such a noble profession. And while I’m in shock and awe over how many girls aren’t accompanying me in my office, let me point out a certain perspective.

Captain Regional, you’re worried about that 4%? You’re competing against an incredible 96% of individuals who share your gender. You’re grasping for straws at this point.

Well, majors are just trying to get more women on line.

And? What if they are? A loose count of recent classes at any given major indicates that roughly 10% of new hires are female. That is still, in my opinion, too low. Diversification of the workforce leads to profitability, frankly. Furthermore, it’s an airline’s prerogative on whom they hire. They do not owe you an explanation, despite your presumptions. They also don’t owe you a job for any given years of experience or affiliation with their regional operations.

All I’m saying is that there are a lot of guys out there with more credentials.

Hold on. You mean to tell me that major airlines are hiring individuals with less than their posted minimums? Pfft. Ok. And, by that logic, are you overqualified for the position? If that’s the case, why do you even want to work for a major airline? You’re sitting pretty right now with your boisterous attitude.

Female aviators work as hard, if not more, than the rest of the flying population, because they have to put up with more bullshit than normal. No one questions whether you’re actually a pilot or your flying ability. They don’t joke about how you should stay in the kitchen or your sandwich making abilities. Aviatrices are formidable professionals who band together and support each other purely for the love of flying and camaraderie.

As my mentor once told me, “Lick your wounds, and move on.” Oh, by the way, SHE’S a lady pilot. What are you doing to improve yourself? What steps have you taken to make yourself more marketable? Because I’m willing to bet that you’ve attended the Women in Aviation conference— leeching benefits of a conference for people whom you claim to have stolen your job.

terkerjerbs

You’re just mad it ain’t you.

 

 

The Difference Between Here and There

It’s a beautiful Seattle morning, a glowing sun peeking through puffy clouds hiding to give way to a layer of clouds. A cool breeze wafts through the window, and I watch my coffee steam while a sweet choral rendition of Emeli Sandé’s “Where I Sleep” lulls me into a calm yet blissful existence— this is where I’m home.

I moved into my apartment in late June as the Pride festival enveloped the neighborhood; I was too busy unpacking to participate in the gayeties. My darling mommy helped me set up the essentials, and my great aunt and uncle came over with a bed that I had shipped to their house. It really does take a village.

Are you liking Seattle?

And the answer is wholeheartedly, unequivocally, YES. But there’s one aspect of this job that makes it very difficult to connect and explore a new city; absence makes the heart grow fonder. Because I’m gone so often, and for large chunks of time, it’s not always easy to get down a routine. And let’s talk about the weather: it’s deceitful. Since I’ve moved here, it has only rained a handful of time— much to my dismay. I love my cool, cardigan-wearing, cloud-covered, all-out brooding weather. But Seattleites are quick to slap this notion out of my head, because, “You’ll miss this gorgeous weather from October until May.” Well, that remains to be seen.

IMG_0642

I have a small group of friends who aren’t in aviation, which is a double edged sword. They host a gathering every Friday that we’ve entitled the Queer Coven. It’s BYOB and usually everyone brings a small dish to share— with my Midwestern sensibility, I roll up with a crockpot full of dip (tonight’s selection will be pizza flavored!). This only presents itself as an issue when I get home from a long four day trip and want to unleash— it’s then that the language barrier of aviation becomes a hindrance to understanding.

There was nothing wrong with my time in Chicago. The city itself is a metropolis like no other, and I adore it. I made lifelong friends and partied my heart out; Chicago was fun, but it was too fun. I lost a part of myself that I should have been enriching. Because I was on reserve and not flying a ton, that left me free time to gallivant and twirl many nights with a drink in hand.  I stopped going to yoga. I stopped reading LGBT Young Adult fiction. I noticed these destructive habits and a retreat from my passions; I had an epiphany that it was time to change. I’m grateful for the experience, for without pain you can’t know joy.

New City, New Me

My intention upon my move to Seattle is to have meaningful experiences and connections. While I was able to remove myself from an environment that was not conducive to my well-being, I realize that my issues are not inherently geographic.

Two things are happening to me; I’m beginning to love my body as it is while making effective changes in eating habits and physical activity. I’ve joined a gym (and, admittedly, don’t go as often as I should) and became a member at a yoga studio. Now, that is where I shine and have made an excellent rebound. This particular studio is the right mix of hippy-dippy while offering a healthy workout. And the instructors are kind and supportive— for Gaga’s sake, one plays Beyoncé. While it’s not technically “hot yoga” the studio is “gently heated.” But I’ll tell you that I come out of class completely drenched and enlivened. IMG_0707

And for the time being, there is no romance, not that there really ever has been. I’m not opposed, but I’m also not very gung-ho on the concept of dating. It’s a side project on the back burner for another time in a distant future— but that’s a conversation for rainy day, if it ever comes.

One final note: I’m on a mission. With this renewed joie de vivre, I aim to tell you my truths as an openly gay—flamboyant—airline pilot. Not everyday is sunshine and rainbows, but not everyday is an oppressive mess. I hope to meet you on your journey as I keep flapping on mine; welcome to The Flight of Your Life.

 

Vagabond Woes: Rejection

As the airline life would have it, I got called out on my last day in my Chicago apartment— I left the keys with the concierge, headed to the airport, and the next day I would fly to Seattle to start life anew.

Except it hasn’t been all magic and rainbows as my life so dearly appears.

IMG_1328

Prior to this decision to move, it was completely in the plan to be a floating vagabond for a while— going here, doing this and that, coming home to Missouri when I could or making pit stops in Montana if I couldn’t make the half-transcon home. While there is a certain freedom involved with not being tied down to any one place, there is a chaotic, survivalist mode in which my brain engages when I don’t know where I’ll rest my head.

It hit home (giggle) recently when I finished a trip in Seattle, too late to catch the flight to Montana where my grandparents live. Not wanting to pay for a hotel for the night, I hopped on a red eye flight to New York, a nice long flight to sleep. I didn’t wake up until the wheels hit the pavement at JFK. Smelling like airplane, I went to the Delta Sky Club (a perk of my American Express Platinum Card) to take a shower.

To summarize, I flew for free on a transcontinental flight and showered in an airport lounge: I’m the most privileged homeless person there is.

IMG_4756
Kiki, a doogle

I hung out in Minneapolis for a few days with my darling Kate and Emily and their doogle Kiki— there are very few ailments that best friends and a dog can’t fix.

My search for an apartment in Seattle is not going well. I’ve scoped out a few places within budget that fall within my parameters (which aren’t that specific, truly. One room, stove, fridge, in the gayborhood). But the ones that I truly like have one common theme— the property management companies (or sole landlords) don’t get back to me.

I feel rejected, the motherlode of all insecurities and perhaps the best vulnerability out there. Of course, there are far worse rejections I’m facing— romance, select friends, dogs who won’t let me pet them— but to be ignored by a leasing company? Sheesh! What’s a girl gotta do to get a home around here?

Most of this rejection is obscure— it is said by the unsaid. When landlords don’t get back to me, I have no idea of knowing where I stand in the matter. Is the property spoken for? Or do I just not fit your building? Silence, therefore, is the culprit; I find it rude and dismissive.

As a classic Taurus, I’m grounded by nature. But when I had my chakras read (yes, I’m that much of a hippie), it revealed that my root chakra was out of whack. The healer pointed to my lack of home and that I hadn’t been eating meat during lent; aside from the suggestion to have a steak, it was obvious that the cure for this imbalance would be to acquire semi-permanent housing. I’m trying, desperately.

Dealing with rejection takes patience. I won’t say that I deal well with patience; I’m more apathetic to the construct overall. But there are deadlines here— sort of! Losing my mind is one of them, because I don’t know how much longer I can manage being uprooted. Breath by breath, day by day.

TFIM

It’s so petty— you post a picture on social media with friends, and someone inevitably comments, “TFIM” or “TFTI.” These new acronyms, Thanks for Inviting Me or Thanks for the Invite, annoy me.

When I hang out with a group of people, it is never my intent to exclude any one person. Usually, my nights are organic and snowball into a few friends meeting up with a herd of people. For example, just a few nights ago, I went out with a friend from college (not aviation) and his colleagues. Next thing you know, it turned into a huge group of gay pilots, kikiing and having a great time.

Whether these slights are said in jest or not, it’s indicative of one’s insecurity with their friend group. Perhaps a more positive comment would be appropriate. I don’t know why you weren’t invited. It could be circumstance— maybe you’re in a different city. Maybe you’re with other friends. Or maybe you really are that salty girl that no one wants at the party. But that kind of attitude surely won’t help you get invited to more things.

We all become FOMO homos (Fear of Missing Out) when we see large gaggles of gays together, and we aren’t there to participate. Whether it’s chartering a private jet to Maui or simply meeting up in the gayborhood for a beverage, let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard of wishing each other well.

I just signed a deal with Lipton with how much tea I spilled, and you can thank me for the next solar eclipse from all the shade I’ve just thrown— but don’t come for me for having a good time, just because you’re not there. It’s unnecessary drama that could be circumvented with a simple, “Looks like you’re having a great time!” Any extra comments can be muttered under your breath, thank you very much. *hair toss, death drop*