Dispatches from a Nomad #1: Lessons

Atlantic Seaboard on Hike in Cape Town

Somewhere in the argle bargle of talks from Oprah, Wayne Dyer and Alan Watts I decided that yes, treat people like they are sent into your life for a reason. And there in Sea Point on my first rendezvous I met Pieter who, apparently, the heavens sent to remind me the importance of good dental hygiene. Though I had hoped for more walking into the coffee, I had, in fact, visited the dentist in my last week before leaving America.

Pieter did himself the disservice of wearing sunglasses in all of his online photos. As a veteran of online dating, I spot the caps being worn to hide baldness and the closed lipped smiles to hide bad teeth. But I had missed this about Pieter and was taken aback to see a man who had one eye slightly above the other.

Online dating has none of the magic moment of meeting in person and when people hide their peculiarities, it jars that moment even further. Pieter had just come from an appointment at the dentist. At 59, he was about to spend a dizzying amount of money on late life, deferred dental work. Before I reached for my iPhone calculator to convert rand to dollars, he said about half a car.

The fine art of business development in dentistry and law bear remarkable similarities. For some items, a pressing need dictates the outcome. Yes, a multi-millionaire in late stages of cancer ought to immediately prepare a will or trust, but do you need a written contract with the gardener who’s been performing admirably for a decade? At my recent appointment, the dentist gave me a litany of work required. A date which sends you into reveries wondering which portion of your dental work ought to be addressed is hardly the stuff of love poems.

We swap pandemic war stories over coffee. South Africa had taken similar measures as America, but had placed its own unique stamp on the lockdown by banning the sale of alcohol. Pieter explained that such a large portion of emergency room visits stemmed from incidents involving alcohol that the surest way to guarantee hospital access had been to ban it. This has a logic, but begs the question of why we allow alcohol at all. The cultural exchange made the date droll rather than dull. But as Pieter set forth plans of driving me into the wine country, I soon claimed an immediate need to buy groceries and did, firmly grateful of course for the reminder that I ought to see the dentist with as much haste on my return to America.

My first Friday in Bantry Bay made me want to pinch myself. A cloudless sky shined over an azure blue Atlantic. That much I already was becoming accustomed to, but being my first Friday I had yet to feel the weekend energy that beach neighborhoods experience in the summer. Against this backdrop, I met Tristan for coffee.

Tristan had good online game because his real presence bettered his pictures. His eyelashes alone could condemn someone like Pieter into a life of servitude and I was not above his charms. Here in South Africa, Tristan belonged to the colored people, what we would call interracial in America. The kinky black hair and velvet brown eyes told the story of his African heritage and the light caramel skin told the story of something else.

We did not discuss dentistry. One coffee turned into two. He told me about his work here and his business coach. He shared with me that his partner of a dozen years had died of an unexpected heart attack three years earlier. We swapped stories about travel. At some point, I had blathered on enough about my own travel that I felt in danger of being a bore.

“So, I want know more about you,” I said.

He demurred.

“Your partner was white,” I said.

“How did you know that?” he said with a shock.

“Well, you’re sitting here with me,” I said.

He bashfully conceded.

“You don’t have a relationship with your father,” I said.

He leaned in and said “go on.”

“But your father is still alive.”

“How do you know this” he said.

“And you’re not as religious as your mother.”

He nodded.

“You’re already more successful than your mother.”

“Well that’s not that hard to figure out,” he protested.

“She did impart on you an appreciation for education” I continued. “But it’s not clear whether she did so as an insider or outsider, but I am guessing as an outsider.”

“How do you know all of this?” he said laughing and with a higher pitch than before.

“You don’t have any siblings.”

“I have a brother” he said.

“Yes, but a step brother,” I interjected, leaving him vanquished and a bit stupefied.

The entire time of this exchange he had moved uncomfortably in the booth.

“Are you a psychic?,” he asked and then repeated, “how do you know all of this.”

The exchange had in fact left me rather pleased with myself but would dwell and sit uncomfortably for days.

“Because I know myself,” I said and what should have been a triumphal moment led to more doubts. Days later I found out, in fact, that Tristan’s mother had not attended university but worked in a staff capacity at a local college. Precisely the type of outsider who would value education, but being right on that point only further eroded my feelings for Tristan. Why do I attract these young men who only need a father? And what does it mean?

An Afrikaner realtor in Hout Bay had hounded me on Grindr. I flatly told him that I had no romantic interest, but the invite for coffee at the Hout Bay market on Saturday had intrigued me. I had not seen Hout Bay and on Saturday morning I made my way in that direction at a leisurely pace. A perfect, summer blue sky lorded over Hout Bay, a beach town far enough from Cape Town to be outside of it, but close enough to be in its orbit.

Abrie met me for coffee nearly out of breath from his walk to the market. Mom always said that some people looked like they had been ridden hard and put away wet. That phrase came to my mind as I met Abrie. He had the deeply yellow, worn away teeth of a smoker in his sixties. He had close cropped blondish hair and a reddish skin from years of sun worship.

Sometimes seeing an obese person will send me into a day or two of near fasting and intense gym workouts. There are some older gay men who emit such an energy of having a train wreck of a life that I realize I fear that more than death itself. After entering into their force field, I can only compulsively save money.

The subject of real estate has more interest for me than dentistry. And even though I immediately sniffed drama from Abrie, comparing down payments, interest rates and the customs of open houses proved interesting while it lasted. Open houses, he explained, were down sharply as the criminal set had seized upon them as a good opportunity to come and steal everything from the home. Outside of the domestic market, German tourists were the most demanding in their requirements but the most likely to make a purchase. And he informed me that I had overpaid for my rental, a fact which did not surprise me at all but the certainty with which he said so cut me.

At some point in the meandering about real estate, the wreckage portion revealed itself. Business was down sharply in the pandemic and things felt dire. He had a relationship which he said it took him eighteen years to get over, a man who had stolen art from him. He had been a jewelry designer before becoming an estate agent. Life had knocked him from Johannesburg to the Cape. The future for him rested either on a real estate parcel to be developed in Hopefield or in joining friends who had become EU citizens through the purchase of the smallest parcels of land in Portugal.

Hopefield.

Perhaps Abrie offered me more than I had anticipated. If nothing else, a reminder that having schemes of escape can at least sustain us until we move to the great yonder. But I knew as well that the heavens had sent him to tell me to finally let go of Darnell. I saved Abrie’s card with the intention of keeping him in my orbit.

As I wrap up this first dispatch, I feel embarrassed for making the missive almost solely about the men I met. But lockdowns in COVID had often kept me from dating at all. Though I could easily write about the rusks and biltong at Woolworths and the vagaries of load shedding, this is where I started. In the parlance of the great gurus, it would seem that Pieter, Tristan and Abrie had found their way into my life to impart their own messages on me to be sure. But collectively what they had revealed, is that the quest and search for connection remains the great scheme of escape that sustains us most.

Bantry Bay, Cape Town, South Africa

Nomad. Sometimes writer. Sometimes slut. Afrophile. Investor. Art Collector. LGBT. See also: https://twitter.com/HunterStJamesIV