You nearly cried on the jetway. You could hear all the accents in English—distinctly American. Distinctly Californian. You heard the announcements on the PA system and couldn’t believe the feelings of relief. That you expended no additional mental energy at all to receive instructions.
It felt surreal. You couldn’t believe that you hadn’t set foot in that airport in over two and a half years. That you were back again. As though the last 18 months hadn’t happened. But they had. Really, it was that San Francisco was still there, waiting for you with clean, high-tech expectations.
You were met outside of customs by a bearded Chris—your long-term pen pal turned “gym husband” after several coincidences left you both working next door to each other three times over two cities. He was very much his same old self—soft-spoken, happy to see you, slightly impatient behind the wheel. His car was like the Bat Mobile. Jet black, clean, and smooth over the highway. You had forgotten what it was like to travel without bumping. Forgotten how nice it was to be in a vehicle and see something other than the back of someone’s head: the clear blue bay. Welcome home.
It was one hell of a welcome (from Chris alone, who was the only person who knew about your return, as you intended to surprise the daylights out of Katie). You entered Chris’ building and said, “That funky new carpet smell has finally gone down a bit.” His flat felt the same: warm, cozy, slightly more lived in. With a huge entertainment system, a soft futon, DVD shelves crammed with sci-fi series. You enjoyed the cleanness of the place. The cush. The temperature. The bathtub! The enormous mirrors in the well-lit bathroom. The conditioner! The new toothbrush. The fact that your earthquake emergency stuff was still in his cupboards—beans, vitamins, and more. You felt right at home, for in fact Chris’ flat had been something of a third home to you in SF, when you had lived there before.
Chris made sure you had everything, as he does. Made sure the voltage was suitable for your European epilator, that you had a toothbrush (and suggested that you discard the two nasty, sand-speckled ones from your travels), a clean towel, blankets, pillows, and…
Let the record state that you have never really had a Smartphone. In fact, over the past five and a half years, you have had a phone for just 15 months. As you hitchhiked over the years, you’d become aware that it was getting easier, largely because all of your drivers had upgraded their phones and could do things like google map your destination and drive you straight there. When you took your gap year in SF to work, you were still using dinosaur technology; clients would be confirming appointments with you then and there, on the elliptical machine, with a swift touch to their phone; you, meanwhile, had to excuse yourself to jot down a note on a clipboard and then enter it online in your calendar later in the day. At one point, your boss told you that you had to have a smartphone in order to work for him. You defied his expectations by not only having sub-optimal technology, but by working for him for your last month without any phone.
Chris made some speech about his old iPhone. About his desire to upgrade to such-and-such’s new version of another phone. About how, “I have to test games on this brand new Motorolla, so you’re free to use it, you know… just let me test a couple things at some point.” You accused him of making up excuses. He did not deny it.
You held the different mobile phones in your hands like an old lady and asked carefully enunciated questions. “So… is this a 3G, or a 4G? What is a G? A gig? Oh… it means ‘generation?’ That makes sense, because I thought fast internet was seven megabits. When they say that, do they mean ‘per minute’? What? They mean per second? How may megabits is your wifi? Fifty. Wait, did you just say fifty? And I thought seven was fast.”
You handled Chris’ phone, tried to activate it, make it light up, do something. You jabbed at it with clumsy fingers. It didn’t respond. You turned it upside down and gave it a shake. Nothing. “Oh my god, I’m a caveman,” you said.
Chris laughed and swiftly unlocked his phone to show you the desktop covered in aps. It made your head spin.
“Is that a newsfeed? Is that facebook? What is this?” you asked. He tried to explain. You felt overwhelmed. And then suddenly very emotional (probably because you had only slept three hours in the last forty). “I guess I like the size of this screen more, you said, pulling the new Motorolla out of the box.
Chris urged you to turn it on. You failed to do so. He did it. Your eyes went wide from the graphics.
“Maybe you should take that plastic off the screen,” Chris suggested. You laughed in spite of yourself, for you had mistaken the image on the plastic as some kind of holographic image displayed on screen.
“Jesus Christ, I’m dumb.” When Chris peeled off the plastic, you watched the phone power itself up with colorful images that left your eyes wide with wonder. “It wants wifi information,” you said. “But I don’t have a SIM cad yet, so… oh wait… I don’t need a SIM card to use wifi on this, right?” Drum roll! “Because it’s a computer!”
See, you’re already catching on!
You played with the phone for about 45 seconds before you felt defeated. You set it down on the couch and turned to something else. Chris inquired with a look. You explained, “I just need some time to adjust my feelings. It’s very overwhelming.”
When you finally found the resolve to explore the phone, then activate it, then tinker with it—you were continually blown away. Chris used your mobile to turn on his TV and play videos, he showed you how to download exercise apps, how to locate it online if it gets lost, how to “Okay Google!” search.
It was like technology travel. Stupid. But true. You spent so many years exploring other parts of the world, other cultures, other peoples… but there are whole new genres of travel you haven’t broken into.
Here’s one: “Conversational Adventure.”
Because you had foolishly and impulsively purchased a ticket that would land you in San Francisco pretty much the day Katie was leaving to go out of town for one week, you needed to keep yourself occupied. You’d already spent considerable time on OK Cupid, corresponding with weird, interesting, and/or exceptional people. You had dates to go on. Lots and lots of dates.
Wednesday: 50-something, 5’3” soft butch lesbian with her PhD in forensic criminal psychology and who had spent 8 years working in a prison talking to Death Row inmates. Her girlfriend had the exact same job. You could not imagine what it was to live criminal psychology day in and day out. She’d recently had some very hard luck, some very tough disappointments, and was feeling unwell. You felt sick to your stomach from your stomach issue, low blood sugar, jet lag, and her subsequent paranoid hard-to-believe story about how “things are not what they seem.” You cannot determine if it was true, but he earnestness in telling it, along with how she rocked back and forth, made you feel uncomfortable. You told her this much, and she agreed to back off the crazy. You went to her apartment anyway, had ten hours of amazing conversation, and then declared at the end of the night that you were not interested in sex, but that you would love to stay friends.
Thursday: A man in his late forties. Very upfront about wanting to have sex. You were very upfront about him managing his expectations. He took you to a Mexican restaurant which received great reviews but also made terrible food. He told you about his marital dissatisfaction, despite having been granted to freedom to sleep with other people. You felt sorry for him. Told him that he needed to ratchet down his desperation. For the sake of novelty, you offered to give him a tour of Power Exchange, your favorite divey sex club.
Friday: A lunch with a guy named Saam. He was funny, quirky, slightly socially awkward, but a perfect gentleman. He told you that you were not the type of woman he normally would go on a date with, but that he wanted to go on a date with you despite being fairly confident that you were gay. “I was sure that you wouldn’t be after my sperm.” Come again? He explained that most of his dates were with women in their late thirties who had baby-fever/desperation. You laughed. No, he didn’t ever have to worry about that with you. Sex wasn’t on your mind, though. He said repeatedly that you had a guy’s brain and how delightful it was. He asked you to go to a fort. Why not? Once there, he declared you were the first in thirty women that had agreed to go to the fort. He was touched, and honored. No woman ever wanted to go to the fort—and it was his favorite place. Please! You should stay friends! /// Friday evening, you met a very large, very tall, black-clad dude with a wicked long ZZ Top beard. He lived in his van. You checked it out. Asked him what he liked about being “homeless.” You talked about homelessness for a while. He was bright. A college drop out. A hacker. And made his living breaking into things and designing security systems. He offered to teach you how to pick a lock. You spend to rest of the time talking about his Sub-Dom relationship with his girlfriend, about control, possession, and arousal.
Saturday: You named him King Leonidas, because that’s how he looked. He was a normal balanced guy and you found him attractive. He found you attractive. But there was no chemistry. You are, after all, a very robust flavor. After one hour, his body language had turned away from you, his eyes were avoid ant. It was clear he didn’t know how to end the date. You ended it for him.
Sunday: Morning with “Nickle,” a late forties investment manager with ADD who loves weird people and weird experiences. You got along swimmingly. He bought you a coffee and took you to the beach (which you didn’t enjoy). You offered to bring him along some day to pick out floggers. He couldn’t wait. /// Afternoon, all day long with a six-foot-six wall of a man. 53 years old. A professor of contemporary art and a member of a guerrilla grafting group (basically a group of rogues who go around grafting fruit tree branches to city trees to bypass the law that says one may not plant ornamental fruit trees. The goal was to begin a community discourse on why public spaces cannot serve the public. He loved walking next to you. Told you he thought you were very pretty and thought it would be fun to make out with you. You validated him, but told him that you would not make out with him, as you do not fake enthusiasm. He became awkward, shy, then eager, and lastly overly sentimental. //// Evening with a mad scientist meets artist. This guy created a project in which people have out-of-body experiences—they wear goggles through which they can view the backs of their heads. You asked him what happens when you wear the goggles too long. He told you that he wore them for a week and burned some pixel images into his retinas. That when he took them off, he needed to stand on a rooftop and stare at the city—for the macroscopic view—at which point he saw a man ambling down the street and momentarily thought it was himself.
Monday: Morning with Mike, a guy on a project called “One Hundred First Dates.” You were happy to be part of his project. He was an ordinary fellow, well-mannered, a bit shy at first. After you found a common topic of interest—sex—things got rolling. He made some very meaningful comments about spirituality, identity, and biology. You were pleased by the results of the talk with him. Told him so. Related many of your identity issues to him. Thanked him. Wished him luck on the project. Not too long thereafter, we was attempting to see you again, to involve you in his Orgasmic Medication group: the aim of which is… well… female masturbation. For 100 bucks, you weren’t interested.