“an atlas of a specific luxury” (regarding five white male humans i witnessed swiping right repeatedly on the app “tinder” in californian-american public throughout the year 2014)
by tim rogers
Tinder is a way for people to meet people. Tinder is a dating app for smartphones. You take your phone out of your pocket. You touch the Tinder icon. Tinder shows you a picture of a person. You swipe left on your smartphone’s screen if you would not want to meet (or have sex) with the person. You swipe right if you would want to meet (or have sex) with the person.
The service remembers when you swipe right. If that person sees you and swipes right, they can message you.
If you swipe right on a person who already swiped right on you, a notification informs you that you can send them a message.
Here is what happens when you swipe right on someone who already swiped right on you: The white background rattles and drops away. The user interface fades into darkness. A picture of your face slides in from one side of the screen. A picture of the person you liked’s face slides in from the other side of the screen. They crisscross behind one another. They slide off the screen. They line up side-by-side together. They jiggle. They pop in place.
A congratulation of text unfolds: “YOU LIKE EACH OTHER”.
The semantics are simple. It’s touching. The engineers of this experience worked hard to make it touching.
It’s so touching that when it’s not touching, it’s empty.
Maybe this app isn’t for everyone. It might not be for me. I find myself stewing over my decisions. The app supports this: tap on photos to reveal extended biographies. Tinder connects around Facebook: you can see what interests or friends you share with any person before swiping right or left. I try to look at all the photos a person has available. I read whatever words they have typed up in the limited space. Many of them indicate their height. Many of them tell particular demographics to “swipe left”.
“Vegetarians swipe left!”
That one in particular bothers me.
So far I’ve met zero people from Tinder.
We take so many pictures of ourselves. We’ve obtained skill at photographing ourselves. We often look at and constructively criticize photos of ourselves. So many people are so beautiful. Here’s an attractive girl: we share an interest in the excellent film “Sexy Beast”. I swipe right. Nothing happens. She had an Instagram username in her biography. I forgot to remember it. There’s that emptiness: “I have seen you, beauty”, et cetera.
I discovered the app when I was in New York last year. I was visiting NYU. The game development school was having a regular meet-up during which students could offer feedback on one another’s prototypes. This meant a room full of young people who probably found a quarter of their population sexually attractive. Many of them were silent. I saw a lot of them swiping left and right on Tinder. I asked a friend about the app. It occurred to me I might be getting old.
I tried it out later. I didn’t get it. My friend and I discussed Tinder as a game design. I concluded it was at least as interesting a game as Candyland, though possibly more intersting, seeing as sex as one of its landmark events.
Six months later, a friend was staring at her phone. We were drinking coffee at a picnic table outside my favorite local bakery. We were quiet. She was swiping on Tinder.
“Why does everyone these days mention their height on Tinder?”
I still had the app. I opened it. Six out of the first ten female profiles I saw contained a report of the girl’s height.
“Whoa,” I said. “You’re right.”
She was looking me in the eye. Her eyes were wide open.
“I am! I am right.”
We were silent for many minutes.
“I’m going to put my height in my profile,” she said.
Tinder was back on my mind.
I was looking at Tinder.
“Maybe we should go to the beach. I can take a picture of you wearing a San Francisco Giants hat while doing a yoga pose in front of the ocean.”
“I don’t have a San Francisco Giants hat.”
She was quiet for a minute.
“Should I get one?”
For the next several months, I noticed Tinder. I saw a man swiping right on Tinder while walking through a revolving door. I saw a man swiping right on Tinder in a car stopped next to mine at a red light. I saw a man swiping right on Tinder while speeding down the Bay Bridge at three in the morning, alongside the shadow and skeleton of the old Bay Bridge. Workers were then (and now) dismantling that bridge. The skeleton of that shadow of a bridge stops in the middle of space. When we’re asleep, some humans execute sweaty work in silence to dismantle the old world.
I saw a man swiping right on Tinder while he pumped gas into his Hyundai. I saw a man swiping right on Tinder while in line at the supermarket. I saw a man swiping right on Tinder in an elevator. I emerged from a cafe restroom: the man I’d met there was swiping right on Tinder up until the instant we resumed our meeting. I saw a bodybuilder-sized man in an Ed Hardy shirt swiping right on Tinder while his toddler daughter tugged at his jeanshins with one hand and carried a bucket of popcorn in the other as they strode toward me. They entered a movie theater as I exited. I’d just seen a movie suitable for a toddler. I’d seen that movie first thing in the morning on a weekday. I’d seen it alone.
I saw a bodybuilder-sized man in a Stanford T-shirt swiping right on Tinder on a treadmill.
I’ve collected many accidental memories of individuals I’ve seen swiping right on Tinder in public.
I’ll write about five of them in detail.
I was taking out my trash. This reminds me of an attractive woman I saw on OKCupid a year ago. When I say “attractive”, I mean I found her attractive for various reasons. She had a good way with words. It seemed like her work was interesting. She had a good face. Her “You should message me if” section was a collection of bullet points. One of the bullet points was “You don’t own a pair of flip-flops.”
I messaged her: “I own a pair of flip-flops. I bought them in Hawaii. I use them as a doorstop when it’s nice outside. Is that unacceptable?”
She replied: “Do you ever wear them?”
I replied: “If I’m taking the trash out, yes, sometimes I wear them.”
She didn’t reply.
I was wearing my flip-flops and basketball shorts and sunglasses. I was taking out my trash in the middle of a workday. I work at home. I mean, I live in my office. I live in Oakland, California. This is The Bay Area. Lots of people live in their offices. It’s cheap. I get to live by myself. I think all the other tenants live here because it’s okay to have multiple dogs in these units. I estimate that the thirty units in my single-story building contain between forty-four and fifty-six pit bulls.
I was carrying two big bags of packing peanuts and two flattened cardboard boxes around the corner of the building. We have to break our cardboard boxes down in this building. People keep sending me things which require packing peanuts. I could fill a kiddy pool with the packing peanuts I’ve bagged with my bare hands these past two months.
My garbage load was awkward. I pinched the cardboard boxes with my armpit. They were slipping. They were just too big for me to pull up with the tips of my fingers. I had to stop multiple times to adjust. I pushed the boxes up again and again with the bottom of my flip-flop foot. I went around the side of the building. I entered the sidewalk that would lead to the enclosed dumpster. The sun was bright. The breeze was nice. I squinted even with my sunglasses on.
A man stood in front of the mailboxes on the side of the building. He held a large phone (a Samsung Galaxy S4) in his right hand. He held a red plastic extendable / retractable dog leash handle in his left hand. Between the index and middle fingers of his left hand was a lit cigarette. It was a sunny afternoon. He had on a pair of sporty sunglasses and a San Francisco Giants cap. He had a stubbly beard. He was wearing a black North Face jacket zipped up all the way. He was wearing a pair of cargo shorts. He was wearing a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes.
His two pit bulls had stretched the dog leash maybe to its limit. The man was standing against the gate. His dogs pulled the leash about twenty feet, into the parking lot. One of them fluttered its hind legs. Maybe it was trying to get somewhere else. The other one was squatting. It was turding a pencil-skinny black turd onto the asphalt in front of the front driver’s-side tire of a blue Mercedes Benz.
I looked at this guy. I didn’t think: “He’s going to get out of my way.” I believed it without thinking it. I arrived three feet in front of him. He didn’t look up from his phone. Maybe he was asleep behind those sunglasses. I thought about making a sound to get his attention. I didn’t want to bother him. I rotated around. I hauled my garbage bags and cardboard boxes back to the end of the leash. I avoided the dogs. I walked around the back of the Mercedes Benz and toward the basketball court. I turned the corner around the basketball court. I took the long way to the dumpster. I messed up the combination code three times. It’s hard to tell when the dumpster’s electronic lock has reset. I was entering the code a third time. Bike brakes squealed near my ears. It was a friendly old lady on a bike.
“Can I have those boxes?”
“What’s in the bags?”
She pursed her lips.
“Can I have those, too?”
I handed over the boxes. She gripped them with one hand. I extended the bags of packing peanuts.
“Naw, I just want one.”
“Oh, okay.” I gave her one bag of packing peanuts. She rode off. She held the cardboard boxes in a tight grip with one hand. She held her hand up at shoulder height. The cardboard boxes looked like a single wing. I fumbled with the electronic lock on the dumpster. I got the heavy door to creak open. It smelled like garbage in there. I tossed my bag of packing peanuts into the air. It floated like a balloon into the dumpster. I closed the dumpster door. I headed back down the sidewalk. The guy from before was still there. I couldn’t see his dogs: they were on the other side of the Mercedes Benz. I could see the leash jiggling and jerking.
I arrived ten feet behind the man with the dogs, the phone, and the cigarette. His cigarette was a tower of ash. It was burning in his hand. The dogs went on soundlessly jerking the leash. I thought, maybe I should make an “Um” sound to get him to step away from the wall. I didn’t make a sound. I looked at his phone screen.
He was on Tinder. He was swiping right. I stood behind him for ten seconds. I saw him swipe right twenty times. He wasn’t waiting for the pictures to load.
I stood with my knees inches from the dog leash. I did a quick little squat jump. I made a Super Mario voice: “Wa-hoo!” I cleared the leash. One of my flip-flops fell off. I put it back on.
I deposited a big check in the bank. I’m not bragging: you’d get big checks too, if you only got three checks a year. I go to a Wells Fargo bank in Emeryville, California. I’ve seen the interior of this bank as many times as I’ve deposited checks in the past three years. The banker in charge of my account is flirtatious with me. I’m trying to be objective: she always compliments an article of my clothing. Moments later, she compliments a second article of my clothing. She once asked me if I had plans for the weekend, and it was only Wednesday. Now, if it had been one clothing compliment instead of two, and if it had been Thursday instead of Wednesday, I’d guess she’s not being flirtatious. I’m trying to be an honest detective about this.
My bank tradition is this: I go to the bank. I pour myself a Styrofoam cup of black bank coffee. That coffee tastes like hot elephant bathwater. I let the banker flirt with me. I smile at her. I deposit my money. I go sit in my car. I file the receipt into my Important Papers Folio. I wait for the little cup of coffee to be cool enough to drink. I drink the coffee. I start the car. I drive.
That bank is near a highway entrance and exit. Multiple wide roads collide. A gas station sits on each corner. I was in the middle lane of three on my side of the road. I was stopped at a red light. I had my hands at nine and three on the steering wheel. I know that “ten and two” is a myth. I am a safe driver: the secret is terror. The secret of the terror is an understanding that smartphones are going to kill all of us. I had the windows down. It was a nice day. It was a nice breeze. A highway smell entered my car and my nostrils. The highway smell completed the aftertaste of the bank coffee. I felt alright. I had a lot of work to do as soon as I got back to my office. I can’t not think about that work. Thoughts of that work — what I had to finish, when I finished it, how I finished it, and what obstacles I encountered — are in the middle of my mind even now.
The rightmost traffic signal changed. It was a green arrow. The cars in the lane to my right turned right. The rest of the signals changed to green. I accelerated. The GMC Yukon in the lane to my left pulled hard to the right. It cut me off. I slammed on the brakes. I jerked the steering wheel hard to the right to avoid a collision. My depth perception is bad: I jammed my thumb on the steering wheel. Maybe the collision wasn’t imminent: my depth perception is bad. I don’t blame myself for fear. The Yukon cut off the car in the lane to my right. The green arrow had turned into a red arrow. The Yukon turned right through three lanes of traffic. No one honked. My eyes were wide open. The ghost of the Yukon floated back before my eyes. Its windows had been down. I saw clear through the passenger’s side window. The driver had his left hand on the steering wheel. He was wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. His left hand gripped and jerked the wheel. His right hand floated away from the wheel. You don’t have to believe me. I hope you do, because I believe myself: in his right hand was a Samsung Galaxy Note III. You could see that phone from space, if that Yukon had had a sunroof and if that sunroof had been open. The instant before I saw the phone, I prayed he was swiping right on Tinder. I wanted a perfect story to tell. When my mom tells a story of someone cutting her off there’s never a cherry on top of the story. I prayed for a cherry.
Maybe god is real: he was swiping right on Tinder. This was a “The Matrix” bullet-dodging slow-motion moment. A softball of air hovered in my throat after he was gone. The car behind me honked its horn. I was cold. I was still alive. I was maybe still on earth.
My friend was in San Francisco for just a few days for a conference. Someone stole her backpack while she was relaxing in a food court. I offered to buy her a coffee and be nice to her. I bought her a coffee. She and I had a long and good conversation. At one point she asked me what the best city was I’d ever lived in. I told her it was Tokyo. I talked at length about Kichijoji and Koenji. After an hour of conversation, we realized someone had stolen my backpack. I’d had a Burberry scarf and some glasses in there. I’d gotten the glasses in Japan. They were a rare pair of frames. I’m pretty sure the thief removed the $200 Visa gift card my parents had gotten me for Christmas out of my wallet and dumped the bag in a trash can. Those glasses had hinges made of eighteen-karat gold. I’m not bragging: I have awful eyesight. I’m afraid of losing or breaking my glasses. Expensive glasses keep fear in me. I’d loved those glasses. They were in every one of my Facebook profile photos.
I hated myself for carrying an extra pair of glasses that day: I already had a perfectly good pair of glasses on my face. Those glasses I’d been wearing were newer, and too sharp. The older glasses were easier on my eyes. I took the older glasses with me because I figured maybe my eyes would get strained and I’d want to switch glasses.
I filed a police report. I had a bad day all around. My friend kept me company. We were miserable together. Maybe I was more miserable than she was. I told her about the day I’d found that Burberry scarf in the street in Tokyo — November 19th, 2007. It was in a shopping bag in the middle of a crosswalk. There was no receipt in the bag. I didn’t take it to the cops on the corner because the last time I’d tried to give them some valuables I’d found, they put me in a little room for four hours while they ran my passport number through headquarters.
Now the scarf is returned to the void.
In the following weeks, I’d realize that those unique glasses had been part of my face. People didn’t “get” what I was “doing” by wearing a different pair. More than two people accused me of attempting to “reinvent” myself.
Four months later, I tracked down another pair of those frames. It was not easy. It was a morbid coincidence that I was able to find them. My friend sent them to me from Japan. I went to an ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist shone a laser into my retinas. My eyes are weird. He gave me a new prescription. I drove to the Macarthur BART station. I parked. I got on the train. I rode into San Francisco. I got off at the Powell BART station. I stood against the side of the stairs. I queued up an Apple Maps route from the station to the Veo Optics shop where I planned to get lenses made. I lodged the directions into my head. I put the phone in my pocket. I headed to the escalators.
The up escalator was undergoing maintenance. The down escalator was undergoing maintenance. The stairs between the escalators were as wide as one and a half people’s shoulders. I began to climb the stairs. In front of me was a man in a hot green tank top and shoulder tattoos and black cut-off jean shorts. He was carrying a mountain bike in his left hand. His left elbow was at a right angle. The rear bike tire stopped maybe two inches in front of my nose. My depth perception isn’t so good: I have a lazy eye. I paused after climbing each stair. As its carrier ascended each stair, the mountain bike’s rear tire jerked backward toward my face.
The man was carrying a black iPhone 5 in his right hand. The screen was cracked. The brightness was low. The screen had a protective film on it. When it caught the light the screen glared green. His thumb was dashing from the center of the screen and off the right edge with a mafioso’s cash-counting cadence.
He stopped in place. I had to extend my left hand on an instant’s notice: I touched the bike tire. I kept it out of my face. I looked at his phone screen. It was Tinder. He had a match.
The screen offered him a choice: “Send message” or “Keep playing”. He looked at the screen: He tapped “Keep playing”. He swiped to the right once, and then again.
I leaned forward. I touched the top of my head to the center of his back. I gave him a tiny push. He stopped in place. He shuddered. It was the human postural equivalent of a snapped guitar string. He began the climb again after a silent moment.
It was two in the morning. I was filling out paperwork. If I filled out all the paperwork and sent it in, something good would happen between two and six weeks from the moment I clicked “send”. My brain was hot. I cleaned my kitchen. I filled out more paperwork. I vacuumed the rug. I decided to take out the trash. I decided to check my mail after I took out the trash. I took the trash and my mailbox key. I keep the tiny mailbox key loose. I put it in my pocket. I put on my flip-flops. I left my apartment door unlocked. I know that was a stupid idea. I dumped the garbage in the locked dumpster by the basketball court. I walked up to the mailboxes. I extended my hand. My depth perception isn’t so good: the key missed the hole. My finger muscles sighed. I dropped the key. It fell into the bushes beneath the mailbox. I bent down to look for it. I couldn’t see a thing. I went inside. I got a flashlight that some startup I was consulting at had given me at one of their Beer Fridays, when they regularly gave all the employees an engraved trinket as a loyalty-building exercise. I shined the flashlight into the bushes. I couldn’t find the key.
The next morning, I remembered the key. I determined myself to go out and look for it. I was too busy. I went out later in the afternoon. I brought my mop bucket and a pair of gardening gloves. I cleared multiple buckets of debris out of the bushes. I found a toothbrush. I found an unopened bag of Ruffles potato chips. I saw something shiny. It was gold. I felt hope. It turned out to be the foil wrapper of a chocolate golden coin. I was out there for two hours. I couldn’t find the key. I spent those hours pondering how little I can ever know about the world and the universe, given how little I know about a two-foot by two-foot by six-foot shrub.
I realized I was running late to meet some business associates for dinner in San Francisco. I went inside. I changed my shirt. I washed my hands. I ran out the door. I parked my car at Macarthur BART station. I rode the train to San Francisco. I got off at 16th Street Mission BART station. I met my acquaintances at Mission Chinese Food. I ordered a plate of stir-fried vegetable noodles. It’s good and dark in Mission Chinese Food. I like it. The food is good. There’s a lot of Chinese food in the Bay Area, though it’s all just a tiny bit too fancy. It’s posery, probably so they can justify higher prices. It makes me miss Midwestern Strip Mall Chinese Food. This is odd because I haven’t lived in the Midwest since college.
At the long table in the middle lane of the restaurant, sitting with her back adjacent to my left shoulder, was the roommate of the girl I’d been sort of dating until a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know what the status was with me and that girl. We’d met on Twitter. That was a first for me: someone had retweeted a tweet of mine, and she favorited it. She followed me. We had an exchange. Somehow we met and had a great date. She was hilarious and strange. I met her roommates. One of her roommates left a major impression on me: she was kitten-cute, intelligent, articulate, and excitable. That roommate was eating Chinese food at Mission Chinese Food with a mousy, quiet man four out of five ladies would probably call a “boy”. He had dark black stubble and tight, hard, curly hair. This roommate girl didn’t see me. I only barely saw her.
I got up to use the bathroom. Someone was in the bathroom. I waited. The roommate girl appeared.
“Is someone in there?” she asked.
“No, I just felt like standing here,” I said.
“Oh hey!” she said. She had snap-realized I was me. “I remember you.”
“I remember you too.”
She was wearing a little black dress.
We talked for a bit.
“Are you eating carbs today?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“How is your mile time?” she asked.
“I ran a five-forty-five on Sunday,” I said.
“Cool,” she said. She was looking at the palm of her left hand. “Cool,” she said again. She hopped three tiny hops. “That’s pretty fast.”
A man came out of the bathroom. I went into the bathroom. I did what I had to do. I got a text while I was in the bathroom. It was from the girl I’d been sort-of dating.
“Mission Chinese Food, huh?” it said.
“You guessed right,” I said.
“Is [my roommate]’s date going well? She’s had a crush on that guy for like a year.”
“I didn’t get a good look at him.”
I said hi to her roommate again when I got out of the bathroom.
She stepped into the bathroom behind me.
I got a good look at the mousy guy on my way back to my table. He was swiping right on Tinder on his Google Nexus 5.
I sat back down at my table.
I ended up dating the girl a couple more times. She was great. I think she hates me now.
A friend found my mailbox key, two weeks later, after less than thirty seconds of searching.
I was enjoying a walk with a friend today. “I used to be cleverer than other people,” I said. It was true. Before I was thirty-five, I was twenty-two. Before Google Docs, before iCloud, before Gmail, before webmail services even let users save drafts, I kept my private writing on the internet. I had two Yahoo! Mail accounts. Each of them had a capacity of around a megabyte. I wrote emails between the accounts. When I wanted to continue the drafts, I replied to the most recent email. These accounts deactivated automatically if I went a month without logging in. This was a clunky process.
I was living and working in Tokyo at this time. By being white, not unattractive, college-educated, and frequently stupid on Livejournal, I’d made friends in publishing. I took pictures with a crappy digital camera. I wrote fifty-word blurbs about objects I found interesting. I dumped the blurbs into my Yahoo! Mail conversations. Japan was a foreign land to all of my publishers. Any one of my dozens of blurbs was of hilarious interest to at least one of my publishers. At the end of the month, I’d parcel out my blurbs. I’d attach crappy digital camera photographs. For example, a Japanese beer company executed a big marketing push on little tiny four-ounce beer cans. They targeted seniors. “If you’re a Japanese good old boy who wants to drink a beer late at night, and you don’t want to have to pee too much in the middle of the night, here’s a little tiny baby beer for you. It’s got a moon on it.”
You could see my snippy, melodramatically borderline-xenophobic pseudonymous words poking out of the corner of the lifestyle-blurb shotgun-blast in the supermarket-browser-friendliest section of maybe ten different atrocious British magazines every month.
I realize now, I told my friend today, that I was Twittering, for money.
Now of days, so many millions of people do this all day, every day. I used to get twenty bucks a tweet, all while working an eight-to-seven at a big Japanese company.
On the walk to the local bakery today, I saw a sticker under the word “STOP” on a “STOP” sign: “USA”.
I remember the first time I saw a sticker on a “STOP” sign. It was Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1994.
It was “STOP EATING MEAT”.
I remember two weeks ago, at a corner in my neighborhood. I was in my car: “STOP DRIVING”. Two girls were eating It’s-Its. It’s-Its are a Bay Area ice cream tradition. One of the girls was photographing the sign with her smartphone.
Today, a man on a bike barreled down the sidewalk past my friend and I. He had his hands on his knees.
“Wow!” I said. “Can you believe that! That’s amazing: he’s riding a bike with no hands.”
My friend was silent for a second.
“That’s a joke,” I said. “I figured out how to do that when I was six. Someone needs to text that guy ‘Your mom’s not watching you’.”
Then I thought about bikes. I’m so scared I’m going to run over a cyclist. Cyclists in Oakland are always riding in phalanx formations. They have slow and wobbly conversations with one another. They spill out of the bike lane. They spill into the car lane. They ride in the middle of the road in the middle of the night. They run through red lights. They run through stop signs. None of them wear helmets. Many of them take their hands off the handlebars. They pedal with confidence, until a sudden bump, a cataclysmic wobble, and a grab at the handlebars. It terrifies me that one of them is going to wobble onto the front of my car someday.
Last night I was driving home from dinner with a friend. My friend came to California expecting a bigger life. She left after four months. She’d had enough.
A curly haired bicyclist wearing black clothes and no helmet biked in front of my car. I slammed on the brakes. He was pedaling with no hands. He had his right hand on his thigh. He had his phone in his left hand. His phone lit up his face and his goatee. He lifted his hand off his thigh. He cranked a left turn. He slid into the bike lane. I drove alongside him for a moment. My passenger-side window was rolled down. I saw his phone screen. It was Tinder. He dropped his right hand back down onto his thigh.
The light ahead of us turned yellow. It turned red. I stopped. The cyclist continued through the light at a constant pace.
I’d like it if, after tapping a photo to reveal all of a person’s photos, it was a right swipe that revealed more photos instead of a left swipe. Tinder’s vocabulary is such that “swipe right” means “I want to see more of this person”. Instead, I have to swipe left after tapping to see more photos. Sometimes the app lags, and the profile does not expand immediately after my tap. I swipe left, thinking I’m issuing a command to view another photo, and I’ve just dismissed a person I did not have the opportunity to get to know as well as the user interface could allow.
Also, you know what? The app should limit users to one photo. One photo, and no text. If we’re going to hang out with what this is, let’s be honest about what this is.
I have witnessed some of my own friends swiping right with abandon. I raised a conversation about it one weekend afternoon.
“This way you get to see who likes you. If you like them, you can message them.”
I thought about my friend’s “Matches” page within his Tinder app. It was probably as long as some peoples’ phones’ contacts books. I wonder how many messages he’d ended up sending.
I remembered a sunrise in a girlfriend’s apartment eleven years ago. Her suit hung in a dry-cleaning bag a foot above my face. I could smell the dry-cleaning. People were riding bikes down a hill outside the window. The brakes were squealing. A nightingale in a tree to the east chirped. A nightingale in a tree to the west chirped twice. A nightingale in the tree to the east chirped three times. The nightingale in the tree to the west chirped four times, and so forth. The nightingales have about as many words in their language as we do: two. They are “I exist” and “So do I”.
I’m thinking about nightingales.
I updated my Tinder profile.
“I hate culture.
I hate food.
I hate alcohol.
I hate the San Francisco Giants.
I hate the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s all posers here. Let’s face it. This isn’t a real city. It’s Disneyworld after Mickey Mouse died of dysentery.
Please don’t swipe right on me.”
I swiped right two hundred times. I counted the swipes. I didn’t let a single picture load.
Eight days passed. It was nighttime. I was at home. I woke my phone from sleep. I saw two Tinder notifications.
“You have one new match.”
“You have one new message.”
I looked at the message.
“I feel the same way about San Francisco,” she said. “Some parts are pretty.”
I replied: “I enjoy looking at some of the buildings.”
A week passed. She didn’t reply.
I wrote this.
If you go to any coffee shop in San Francisco and remove your earbuds from your ears for more than ten minutes, you’ll hear this at least once:
“You know what I love about San Francisco? . . . Everyone loves dogs here!”
“Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” taught me that only a Sith speaks in absolutes. Maybe San Francisco is all Siths. Maybe Tinder is all Siths. Maybe everyone loves dogs on Tinder.
Side note: I’ve never heard a conversation in San Francisco about how they murder dogs on the street in every other city in the United States and earth.
More or less every girl on Tinder loves to laugh. Most of them have asked someone to photograph them in front of a beach, a pier, or a rock formation. Many of them have done a yoga pose on a beach, a pier, or a rock formation while someone took a photograph of them. Many of them have dogs. Many of them have pictures of dogs, alone. Many of them have pictures of themselves kissing a dog. Many of them tell us, with words, that they are dog lovers. Many of them are “Not looking for a hook-up”.
Most of them want us to know how tall they are.
I’ve estimated that the thirty units of my apartment building in Oakland, California contain between forty-four and fifty-six pit bulls. I’ll add an estimate to this: none of those pit bulls’s owners refers to the breed as “pit bull”.
Their dog is a “pit”.
Also, “Pits are real sweethearts.”
My favorite barber shop in Temescal told me they could only do one haircut, now. It’s that Hitler Youth Haircut that every dude with a mustache has in California. Previously they’d been nice about freestyling me a haircut if I showed up and said “Please help”. I understand their policy change: they got popular. Their customers approach haircuts the way someone else might approach buying a hat.
I tried out a new barber. He had a lot of tattoos. We smack-talked the popular place for a bit. He mentioned his dog. I asked, “Is it a pit bull?”
“How did you know I had a pit?” he asked.
“I just figure everyone around here has a pit bull.”
“Pits are popular.”
“They’re good, solid, robust dogs,” I said. “Solid dogs,” I said. I’d never actually petted a pit bull. I imagined a hard carpet. I’ve petted a dolphin before. They’re like hard velvet. I was thinking about dolphins and pit bulls in the same moment. “Pit bulls, yep,” I said. I recalled the Lee’s Dungarees slogan: “You can’t bust ‘em. Nope: you can’t bust a pit bull.”
“Ah, pits are sweethearts,” the barber said.
“Oh, I’ve heard only good things,” I said. This is as true as it’s true that no doctor has told me I have a brain tumor.
“Pits get a bad reputation.” The barber shook his head. “Pits are sweethearts. Pits are all just big sweethearts. I love my pit.”
So, two years before this, I was at a fancy Italian restaurant in San Francisco. I won’t pretend to remember the name of the place: I found it because I used Yelp. Boy, I bet I could write seven thousand words about Yelp. I wanted a place with a lot of reviews. I wanted to impress a friend.
My friend from Japan had been visiting for just a week. She’s a painter. She’s beautiful. She’s charming. She’s multi-talented. She’s among the best people I’ve ever known. I met her at a low time of my life, and she was generous enough to continue knowing me beyond that. I love her. I think she loves me. We don’t talk about it. Probably we never will. We are each one another’s opportunity to approach the world with a freshness. Every time I see her, it’s like nothing happened in my life since the last time I met her.
One year after I took her to a fancy Italian restaurant, I’d meet her while on a business trip in Japan, and I’d realize that she and I have been on a Ten-Year-Long First Date, during which we hide as much as we show. I broke away from a business meeting one night to meet her at a restaurant in Yotsuya. She drank a few glasses of wine. I watched her hands on the wineglass. Her cheeks turned red. She is gorgeous. She is very important to me. We played that game where two people who have known each other for ten years try to surprise one another with facts about themselves. She was winning. She told me she’d played the trombone in a jazz band and the bass guitar in a metal band. She told me she’d been the house singer at a tiny karaoke bar in the countryside. She told me her father is a designer of minimalist chairs and chests of drawers. Her mother is a masseuse. Her brother is a manager at an old hotel chain. She lives with her parents and her brother in a big old house which contains a piano, a cello, several violins, a set of drums, and many guitars. She grew in loveliness before my eyes. I was in almost as low a time then, last year, as I had been when I’d met her eleven years previous. That night, in the rain, I hugged her at the train station.
“You’re so, so important to me,” I told her.
“You’re so, so important to me,” she repeated. She mimicked my intonation. She made the words her own. She was and is an artist even at her most casual. I do love her.
One year before this hug, she and I went to a fancy Italian restaurant in San Francisco. We ordered a full meal. She drank a few glasses of wine. We talked about our respective businesses. She’d just sold some art in Paris. I told her about jobs I had either turned down or failed to get.
This was in a lovely little hotel-like place. It felt like Europe. Sun shone through white curtains. The bar area was lacquered wood and shiny glass. The waiters were well-dressed and attentive. Sun shone through frosted glass. The silver was shiny. I felt attractive being in there with her.
A man in cargo shorts and a North Face jacket sat at a table alone in the corner. He was wearing tight angular sunglasses and a San Francisco Giants cap. He had a big plate of pasta in the middle of his table. He had an iPad on a stand next to his pasta plate. He had a Bluetooth keyboard in front of the iPad. He had a bottle of wine on the table. He was reading the New York Times on his iPad. He had a fork in his right hand. He was swiping and tapping his iPad with whatever finger he could maneuver away from the fork. He had an iPhone flat on the table. The iPhone was face-up. From time to time he swiped the iPhone screen with a loose pinky finger or thumb. I could see his temples and jaw meat throb with each nibble or chew. I couldn’t help noticing him out of the corner of my eye. I noticed him with obsession probably because his pit bull’s head was situated level with and inches from my plate of ravioli.
The man held his pit bull’s leash holder tightly in his left hand, in his lap.
The pit bull blinked. The pit bull didn’t blink for a long while. The pit bull blinked again.
My friend set down her empty wineglass.
She folded her hands. She smiled at me. She darted her eyes toward and away from the pit bull.
“Maybe it wants some of your food,” she said, in Japanese.
She’d just broken a minutes-long silence. The pit bull, maybe perceiving this, elevatored its head up higher above the table. It trained its eyes on a spot beyond the wall beside our table.
“You know,” I said, quietly, in Japanese, “I like dogs and all, though you know — you know, maybe this is a bit much.”
The man yanked his dog’s leash.
“Leave them alone,” he said.
He shot me a nod.
“She doesn’t mean you any harm. She’s a sweetheart.”