I went on a date this week — a normal one, not one of those Zoom meetings or socially distant walks. This was a movie inside a real theater, and he even offered to pick me up. The world and especially The City only had limited things to do for a long time, so it’s a little sad that a movie is all it took to excite me. But also — absent a pandemic — San Francisco gay men often had the attention span of mayflies, which apparently held up during one, too. It felt great someone made an effort, and in other ways equally amazing just to be inside a theater.
People talk about how COVID deprived them of house parties, concerts and dance clubs. For me it was movies. Embracing my spinster 30s, I’d catch an indie film at the Regal UA Stonestown (501 Buckingham Way), Landmark Embarcadero (1 Embarcadero Center), or AMC Kabuki (1881 Post St.). I’d sit alone, sip a huge Diet Coke and clutch my imaginary pearls while watching an Alexander McQueen documentary or Melissa McCarthy as she took on a serious role. Something about that time felt enchanting and restorative, and not having that for more than a year was at least as hard as quarantining for holidays or nixing Sunday brunch.
So he asked me out and I recommended “The Courier,” an old-time spy thriller set during the Cold War with a methodical pace that typically would make me skip scenes if I caught it on Netflix. The guy worried a film would detract from conversing, and normally I’d agree — I told him — but sometimes that’s a toss-up: Meeting for a coffee or cocktail often leads to super stale, forgettable Q&A sessions about where we’re from and what we do. Or messy drunken sex.
We could always talk after the film, I told him, and we did.
And I guess the experience wasn’t totally normal. We still wore masks, snack concessions were closed and we both struggled to get there at all. Much of downtown had been barricaded in anticipation of demonstrations following Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict. (Or at least I heard that was why.) Theater employees asked me of COVID symptoms on arrival, and film previews swapped out glossy Coca-Cola ads for montages of theater employees spraying disinfectant on every surface and cushy chair. Only about five other people attended the film, and reserved seating only allowed two pairs at a time, with the other two seats on either side grayed out on Fandango.
Still, I loved that he tried to raise the armrest between us, and as a pseudo-blind date — we only spoke online — we had to sneak glances at the beginning to see what our mask-less features looked like in person, in the dark. Normally I’d invite a stomachache at Mel’s (801 Mission St.) afterward but that was closed. So instead he drove us to In-N-Out Burger in Daly City, where we learned some of those inane first-date details while sipping large milkshakes and staring at each other under harsh florescent lighting. It was perfect.
“The pandemic” feels like a catch-all term for changes we all experienced: weight gain, introversion, depression. And that all happened, but the real teaching moment for me was probably the basic loneliness that came amid very little social interaction. Whereas I once worried if I could take on a relationship, now I felt jealous of everyone not going it alone. I don’t know where that leaves me the rest of 2021 — house party invites are already proliferating, as are actual events. More of it feels frivolous than it did pre-COVID, like a distraction from deeper connection I’ve always longed for in life. Dates are hard, and putting yourself out there is hard.
But I also hope more like this week’s happen in the future. And hopefully some more time with the same guy, too.
This column brought to you by NEFT vodka! Not really, but I did receive some of my first PR swag from them this week. I plan on collecting more free samples and maybe throwing a mixology party once that’s kosher to do. It’s not a name I heard of, but I was surprised Charlie Stuart Evans — co-owner of Lone Star Saloon (1354 Harrison St.) — said he actually keeps NEFT in his freezer. With it, I offer this simple vodka martini I pulled from their website. It’s made without vermouth — go figure.
3 ounces of NEFT vodka
Lemon peel zest, for a twist
Directions: Chill a martini glass with ice water, then empty it, or use an empty one from the freezer. Pour vodka into a shaker with ice and stir, then strain into martini glass. Express lemon peel into martini and drop the peel into the cocktail, and serve.
Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer and apparel designer; visit him at saulsugarman.com. He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.