Bread Crumbs from the Shelter


We were there - ostensibly speaking - to go over the online dating situation. And to get out of the goddamned heat. And to escape for at least a little while yet another night of our own company, and dwelling on our own personal crusades. The remnants of the shutdown were still lingering, and even Drifters need a night out, once in a while.

The Shelter Cocktail Lounge is the perfect place to lose yourself for a night, and had become a regular hang out. Dimly lit with lava lamps, kitchy 60’s decor and more likenesses of JFK than you can count, The Shelter had been a long time favorite of all of ours, and the first bar I had ever been to in Tucson, so it was only fitting that now that we were once again pressing forward in our lives that we’d start out at the beginning. All good things begin - and end - at the Shelter, in my experience.

I’d expected to do poorly at the online dating thing, and after a week it had become pretty clear that I was going to exceed those expectations. After an initial buzz of excitement about the novelty of it all, the reality of it had set in rather quickly, and whatever flicker of naive optimism that had quietly snuck up early in seeing a match with a pretty face on the other end of the line had long evaporated, like a far off cloud that hints of rain but melts into the horizon while you wait for it to arrive.

“It’s like the worst parts of people and dating, magnified and blown up 10 times, except its just pictures and bullshit on a screen so it doesn’t even matter,” I explained. My experience had not been good, and I wasn’t feeling generous in spirit or in words.

Mack didn’t look impressed. He hadn’t jumped into the video game yet like I had, and even though he swore he would there was an air of reservation about him that made me doubt he would ever really get around to it.

“You just need to muscle through all the bullshit,” said Candy. She was the coach, the cheerleader, and the overall master behind this part of things, and had already had considerable success in converting this online bullshit into real world bullshit. Now that was all she wanted to talk about. The stress of it was causing her to drink harder than normal, but she was trudging forward like a real pro.

“I don’t know, this is a lot of bullshit,” I said, handing her my phone. She liked scrolling through possible matches, and I liked letting her while I ordered more cocktails and eyes the pool table.

But I was harboring disappointment already from an earlier match that I had messaged and had never responded. She had pigtails, a shy smile and an instagram feed that spoke of a soul that was more interested in the world around her than how her posts would reflect on how sexy or adventurous or fun-loving she was. It was a whiff of authenticity that had come and gone, and now didn’t seem real at all.

“Are you kidding?” said Candy. “You two guys are gonna do just fine. You have no idea what kind of dirt bags are out there.”

She meant this to be reassuring, but both Mack and I laughed and sat back and exchanged a look. What kind of dirt bags indeed, were we joining the ranks of….

But we were dead in the water otherwise. Real life, such as it was, was just coming back into the swing of things after a year and a half shutdown, and we were already way behind on the technology side of the romance thing. Two of the last of the analog men trying to stumble their way into the cockpit of the digital era, all in an effort to find happiness - whatever the hell that looks like.

But in its own way online dating was the perfect reflection of the times, and so I was eager to embrace it, if for no other reason than to get a clearer picture of the world we were living in. Entitlement, self-centeredness, narcissism - something better is always just one more swipe away. Everyone is disposable,. Don’t stop until you find the match that fits you perfectly, tailor-suited to the avatar you create online. These are the times we live in, and you deserve nothing less, you f’n legend you…

My profile kept pulling up bleached blonde singles moms from Scottsdale with perfect skin and pictures of them with their hot (but less hot than them) friends at some wine bar while wearing a fedora, or doing yoga on a mountainside or a Caribbean beach somewhere. Another common theme was how down-to-earth and easy-going they all were, who only cared about laughing and finding their soul mate, so long as that soul mate “has their shit together”.

So that counted me out, and rightly so, and later on that evening I would pour myself a night cap and scribble out a new bio for myself on my yellow legal pad: “ I do not have my shit together. And I will never claim to have my shit together, no matter now much money I make, or the kind of car I drive or the job I have or where I live or the type of relationship I’m in. I’ll never pretend like I got it all figured out, because I don’t, that’s not now life works, and whether or not you think you have your shit together isn’t what counts. What counts is how you handle it when the shit hits the fan. Because sooner or later, it always does.”

I would never go on to post it, of course, because in the end, what would be the point of it anyways? If i was looking for a life of celibacy and disappointment I could very well accomplish that without the help of an online app, and some bold, misguided statement penned out while I was drunk and didn’t mean a thing to anyone except myself.

And in the meantime there were more important things to discuss anyways. The summer was here and it was going to be hot, and we were going to need plenty of shade and drink to survive. Candy was recounting hilarious escapades of the past as we sat in the leather booth and scoured the crowd of ramblers that flocked to the bar, drawn in like moths by the neon sign outside under the soft desert night. Most were circled round the horseshoe bar watching one of the cult classics the Shelter always played on its single TV, usually on VHS. Tonight it was the 80’s action classic The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Remember when this used to classify as Sci-Fi?” I asked Mack after I pointed it out. He laughed, and Candy did too, but we weren’t there to get too heavy that night, and Captain Candy wasn’t about to let us go down that rabbit hole. We all knew the kind of times we were living in, and tonight was not a night to harp on it. In the made-up world of the Running Man the people were being fed lies so they would embrace a reality TV death match designed to keep them distracted from the fact they were getting royally screwed by the powers that be. But when the truth was revealed, they switched sides and root for the good guy, who stands for empathy and justice and reality itself. And sitting there watching it, it seemed especially quaint in a way that would probably have shocked its makers back in the 80’s - an era that now seems wildly imaginative about the potential horrors we could create in the future, but deeply naive about how some of us would react once those horrors were unmasked.

Strange ramblings and cocktail fueled laughs among the rabble at the cocktail lounge on a hot summer night, a floating thread that we could each of us touch but never really grab, as it wound between the girl with pigtails on the dating app and politics and movies from the past, a sliver of something genuine and true that spoke to each of us in our own way, even if was just for a while, and had come from our collective imagination…