Years ago, as a baby gay, I had a checklist in mind during my online dating. All of my life has a touch of disorganization, so this approach had some fluidity. But, generally I sought to find a combination of the right job and education with physical attraction. Somewhere in there I would have included whatever I could glean of a person’s interests or personality online, which for anyone who has dated online can attest, it’s not much.
This approach failed me miserably, but I did have a lot of great sex. From a Western perspective with the goal of finding a proper mate, it failed because the person could never live up to (or surpass) the expectations that I had started developing about them before the date. From an Eastern perspective, how could I be so certain as to what I needed when the flow of life delivers what you really need?
With that approach I generally stopped asking questions and just started suggesting coffees. Though this had led to more than a few cul de sacs, it makes the date closer to a meet-cute and gives the connection a chance to flower unexpectedly. That has been my intention at least and I carried it with me here to Cape Town
Thus on Sunday, without a lot of interrogation I suggested meeting Usochi for coffee. I had his picture of course. I knew he was Igbo Nigerian and 34. That’s about it.
Okay, perhaps I knew as well from his picture that Usochi definitely worked out. So, when he walked into the restaurant in a top that he could barely button over his body I was not surprised. He sat down at the table and unloaded his keys, his older iPhone and a remote speaker in the form of a grey mouse from his pockets.
What I saw was a sweet, boyish man, soft spoken with a shy, effacing smile. He had a Nigerian accent that my friend John would call from the bush. Not the posh, practiced nearly British accent of the Victoria Island set, but the sing song quality that sounds like it’s going up and occasionally could break into a whistle.
Usochi finally had accepted himself as gay rather than bi and I was proud for him. He had told his older sister but not his parents, which is more than a lot of the Nigerians I know. He had just ended a year of a “relationship” with a “straight” white man in Johannesburg who was married to a Chinese woman. Briefly it had been explored as to whether he would be a third permanent member of the couple, but instead he had moved to Cape Town to seek greener pastures after a rough patch in Johannesburg.
Well, he confessed, he had just been released from prison for six months.
Weeks earlier, of course, I had finished the monumental task of reading Les Miserables and I couldn’t help but see Jean Valjean in front of me. But instead of sixteen years for a loaf of bread it had been self-defense of a robbery in Johannesburg. According to Usochi, one thing had led to the next and when the fight broke through shop windows, the police hadn’t asked any questions. Finally, six months later his sister sent money and a lawyer had him released.
Typical boy meets boy story, but he wasn’t finished. He explained how he worked out in jail. Surprised that South African jails had gyms, I inquired about that and find out that he had built equipment in jail. I was skeptical until he showed me pictures on his phone of a barbell he had built from two plastic jugs filled with sand and water attached to a metal rod. There was also an impromptu medicine ball in the pictures from a burlap sack filled with rocks. Since it looked like blunt, weapon-like object to me, naturally I asked how they let him make the equipment. He laughed. Bribes, he explained made life in South African prison much better, especially after bribing so that he got to use his phone.
This date left me speechless. I saw Usochi as a genuinely good person, but also on a different plane of life than me. I decided somewhere that I would want to see him again, but it’s not the kind of thing I acted upon with any immediacy.
Instead, the Jair drama continued a little longer. Against my better judgment we dined that night at Sunday at Rick’s Café Americain in the Gardens area. Our conversation was intense and I tried to “friend zone” things with him. I suggested dinner once a week for my Cape Town stay, but left the door open for more. That night, tellingly, I suffered from intense food poisoning and vomited all of the lamb hours after going to bed.
Jair resisted the friend zoning and on Tuesday insisted that we hang out. After lunch in Sea Point we lounged around my flat for hours and yet again, we did not have sex. He accused me of only being interested in sex. I felt money only interested him. The conversation waned and I was relieved when he finally left. The whole experience left me deflated.
Jair wounded me more than I initially admitted to myself. Though I have never been Hollywood attractive, I’ve always been the guy next door type. This is the first time someone claimed to be attracted to me without action to match their claims. Having just recently accepted that my forties arrived, I am not yet ready to accept that I am in my sixties. With many decades of the possibility of paying for sex or companionship still ahead, I firmly decided to follow my instinct with Jair and end it, but that night I skipped work and drank several shots of gin to fall asleep. I was sober for two months at the start of the year, so it’s with considerable self-awareness that I take the gin — but some pain simply needs dulled to be endured. The logical part of my brain accepted it for what it was: a young, attractive guy with a future wasn’t attracted to me. It doesn’t mean that others won’t be and so on, but even with that and a lot of dating experience, I have an uneasy sense that it’s a foreshadowing of things in life to come — whether I accept them or not.
Tristan continued to pursue me and I felt guilt when I accepted his overtures. I enjoyed my time with him and with wisdom have begun to prioritize companionship a bit more, but a spark still seemed elusive. On Saturday I caught an Uber to his house and the driver was from Malawi.
I asked the usual questions that I always asked of my Uber drivers. How he got here. What his town was like. Where exactly in Malawi. I opened my phone as he told me the town of Blantyre, in the Shire Highlands near mountains. We struggled in communications, but I gathered he lived near the highest mountain in the country and, humans being human, that area garnered more interest than the others.
He asked the usual questions about Trump, but then the conversation shifted.
“What is Texas like,” he asked.
If Uber drivers ask about America, it’s undoubtedly about New York or California. From my own perception of America, there are places which I think are globally compelling like New York or Yosemite or the Grand Tetons and then there are places which are nice, like Texas.
“Texas is nice,” I said.
“That’s where I want to visit,” he said, “and to see cowboys.”
“Ah ha,” I said “so you want to get your jeans, your Stetsons and a giant belt buckle.”
“Yes,” he said, “and I like country music.”
I was slightly incredulous about that as I couldn’t recall ever hearing a country song on the African Continent.
“What kind of country music do you like?” I asked.
“Kenny Rogers. Garth Brooks. Alan Jackson.”
Apparently, the Q Score of Alan Jackson did, surprisingly, reach to Blantyre, Malawi. In fact, the Uber driver explained that it was his grandfather that introduced him to American country music. He told me that his grandfather would play vinyl records of American country singers and no one would like it. And that he hadn’t like it either until one day after his grandfather died and he listened and realized that he loved it. I tried to imagine an old Malawian man playing American country music. In my mind I see plastic chairs and the bad lighting of Zambia, but as I had never been to Malawi it’s difficult to envision.
“Well country music always tells a story” I said offering my kindest assessment of the genre.
“Yes and you believe the stories,” he said “and that’s what I like.”
With the windows down in his Volkswagen Polo on sunny Cape Town day, I pulled out my iPhone and I blared Coward of the County for both of us. If a rural Malawian man loved American country music, then maybe Usochi had simply encountered the Gatlin boys in Johannesburg.
Bantry Bay, Cape Town, South Africa