Kelly of Colby's


Twelve episodes

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,
for thereby some have entertained
angels unawares."

Hebrews 13:2

Angels mortal & mythical:
One of Raphael's gets an eyeful:
Kelly of Colby's, whom you'll find
among Other Angels



of The Knapsack
of The Bells
September 1969


of The Falls
May 1971


of Falmouth
December 1971


of The Umbrella
February 1973


of The Gratuity
circa 1973


of The Corvette
circa 1979


of The Vans
June 1985


of The Bic
June 1989


of Gravenhurst
September 1989


of Remington's
April, June, & July 2000


of The Fields
July 2000


of Sneakers
July 2000

From toads to angels

This collection of stories, despite its divine theme, was inspired by a touch of evil. Wicked thoughts. Not "dirty" thoughts, often not evil; but malicious, spiteful, even vengeful ones. Those usually are.

I confess: I wanted to smite toads.

Or, to be more precise: toadies. My dictionary defines "toady" as: "An obsequious flatterer; fawning, servile person." The particular toads I had in mind were gay: fawning all over the powers that be, begging the nod of "respectability."

Letter writers to the gay press distancing themselves from desires less than safely insipid. Sycophant cheerleaders for cops coming down on hookers, street kids, backroom boys -- we can't expect "special treatment"! -- eager to see them evicted from the newly pristine ranks of "gay." (The root meaning of "sycophant, " from Greek: "informer.")

Lesbigay lobbyists, lately fashionable, pleading for "partnership recognition" in law, thrilled to "win" it -- and impose it on affections less ordinary. Smug couples rushing any altar where they might be joined in sanctified matrimony. To which, through the ancient rite of marriage validated by "reading of the banns," the Metropolitan Community Church lately hopes to force the state's secular hand.

There they are in the The Globe and Mail, those lately bann-married boys, smiling innocuous under "A love that dares to say 'I do.'" (Dares? It takes courage to ape convention? Oscar must spin in his Paris tomb.)

There they are again, the same happy two, all over Xtra (spawn of The Body Politic if rarely living up to its radical heritage), "Love at first sight" the opening line there. "Our story sounds cliché," they say. My dear: Even in a wicked fit of parody, I could barely plumb such saccharine depths.

There they are -- endlessly -- on TV (the media love them): dull muffins going on about "commitment," the inevitable backdrop coupled domesticity (kitchen scenes favoured: See? we do bacon and eggs just like you!); rainbow-decked pastors oozing smarm over "Dignity," "Equality," "Rights."

Dignity dressed for the eye of others. Equality as sameness. Rights reduced to the privilege of being "normal," legal reward for "respectable" conformity (and if you don't make the cut, can't afford to -- or don't want to -- tough luck: we're nice, you're not.) We're just like everyone else! Really!

To quote a character in a Julian Barnes novel: "Hie me to the vomitorium, pronto!"

Left behind in all this -- willfully -- is all the richness and variety gay life can offer: its wondrous chance and brave risks; its adventures beyond the bounds of convention; the explorations, the discoveries, the sex.

How did we go from challenging the norm to craving it? From a politics steeped in the erotic to one that shuns it in fear and embarrassment? I'd had a mind to show how, and try to say why, by tracking "gay" from its vast liberatory potential -- for everyone -- to its abduction in the name of "rights" for a "minority" lately struggling not to break out of the prison of conformity, but to break in.

It would have been a lot of work, a long trek from the bright hopes of the early '70s to the tedious spouse touting of the '90s. And all of it on toad turf: tracking their "victories," locked to their language, obliged to endless judicial citation. Obsessed with their efforts, even in opposition, I'd be stuck inside their agenda.

To what end? To refight old battles? Finger "accommodationist" villains? Get More Politically Correct than thou? Talk about boring. And all for spite. A project sure to make me mean, pinched, nasty. When what I deeply want, as I lately wrote Jane Rule, is "beauty, transcendence, joy!"

So: to hell with the toads. And toad talk.

Time to get back to a language I know better. A language taught me by gay life; one that celebrates everything toads disdain: serendipity, varied connections, random affections, promiscuity, magical sex, beautiful boys. Angels.

Angels? Just another word for cute kids, right? "Lambs," "puppies" and "lost boys" favoured by some; those less mushy like "chicken." Maybe "twinks."

Or mere "tricks." French writer Renaud Camus once told tales much like the ones I do here, past episodes captured and reflected upon by his later self. He called them Tricks. Mine, if tricks, are tricks of magic. At least that's how they feel to me. They are not about getting sex (though sometimes I did). They're not about conquests.

They are about transcendent moments -- if often enough mundane in detail; about surprising discoveries, revelations maybe. Intimations; hints of the divine. And the beings who bestow them.

Only in the last while have I seriously thought to call them "angels." I'm not religious in the usual sense, not concerned with theology. But then, neither is the MCC. Or most liberal sects, less about religion that religiosity: spoon-feeding sanctimonious pap more palatable than the stern theologies of the past. Awe-ful mysteries, the vast ineffable, Fear of God -- literal fear: rather a rude boy, that God -- all eased by sappy smiles, smarmy ministrations.

Raphael: St Michael Vanquishes the Devil

(Sometimes a nasty lot)

"And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses."

-- II Kings 19:35 --

My online source for this was, I suspect, Fundamentalist. Following this bit of chapter and verse was a comment: "One angel killed 185,000 people in one night. Not bad for a night's work!"

(Did angels do it?)

In Milton's Paradise Lost, the Archangel Raphael, visited upon Adam and Eve to explain the Creation of the Earth, the War in Heaven, and to warn of impending Satanic dangers, offers a long and lofty discourse on Love. In Adam, it inspires a question. With an encouraging answer.

"Bear with me then, if lawful what I ask; / Love not the heav'nly Spirits, / and how thir Love / Express they, by looks only, or do they mix / Irradiance, virtual or immediate touch?

"To whom the Angel with a smile that glow'd / Celestial rosy red, Love's proper hue, / Answer'd. Let it suffice thee that thou know'st / Us happy, and without Love no happiness. / Whatever pure thou in the body enjoy'st / (And pure thou wert created) we enjoy / In eminence, and obstacle find none / Of membrane, joint, or limb, exclusive bars: / Easier than Air with Air, if Spirits embrace, / Total they mix, Union of Pure with Pure / Desiring; nor restrain'd conveyance need / As Flesh to mix with Flesh, or Soul with Soul."

The archangel dismisses Adam:
"But I can now no more..."
with a warning:

"take heed lest Passion sway / Thy Judgment to do aught, which else free Will / Would not admit"

The friend who sent me this bit of Milton noted: "All this takes place in prelapsarian innocence: once they've eaten the apple Adam and Eve go at it ('Carnal desire inflaming, hee on Eve / Began to cast lascivious Eyes, she him / As wantonly repaid'); the next day they feel shame.

"Nice idea: Shame -- not sex -- a consequence of the Fall."

Still, while not captive to religious myth, I can find it interesting. Myth grows from life, from a deep need to make sense of it, to find some essential Truth. Or, likely better and more true: truths, lower case and plural. And sometimes they have. So I thought it might be fun to investigate the myth of angels.

My sources (hardly exhaustive I admit, most on the Internet; some Catholic though, so surely authoritative) tell me we've got angels all wrong. Or mostly. There are various kinds, not all particularly pleasant.

The Holy Mother Church informs us that there are Nine Orders of Angels. (Some religions say seven, some four, some none.) They are ranked within three Choirs, or Hierarchies -- of military precision and discipline, often with martial intent. (We begin to see how such myths are born.)

The First Choir, closest to God, are diaphonous, unworldly. Some seem a tad obsessive: Seraphim, the highest order (they get six wings) "unceasingly chant the Trisagon, 'Holy, Holy, Holy'" -- for, we must assume, all eternity. Some are Fiery Serpents, even Wheels of Fire. Four have auditioned as Beasts of the Apocalypse.

The Second (I quote again) "act as a sort of middle management between the upper choir and the lower... ensuring that the cosmos remains in order." Here we have Avenging Angels, Angels of Death, and of course Fallen Angels.

Most of Satan's Hellish confreres, we're told, began their careers as Powers of that middle-management Second Choir (military orders birthing bureaucracy): stuck with reconciling "such opposites as good and bad, matter and spirit, and higher and lower, thus risking corruption in doing so."

The Third Choir are guardians: the Principalities, of nations, cities, and towns; Archangels and Angels (Regular) of "people and all physical things."

They are "the least (if one could say that about any angelic being) in the hierarchy," furthest from God, so "most exposed and vulnerable to any corruption of flesh." These are the angels "most well known to us simply because they are most like us."

So, barring Apocalypse, we rate no better than the least of these Celestial Choirs. At best second-least: archangels like Michael and Gabriel put in appearances at Big Events: Evictions from Eden; Slaying of Dragons; Annunciation of Virgins; etc.

Just as well. These lesser angels, arch and regular, do seem the nicest of the lot. Hebrew mythology had only angels and archangels. As one source explains: "It was not until later that the hierarchy was defined, and many of the angels previously named as archangels were given new posts." Some popes were great managers.

Inherent in the name of these divine beings, and central to the role of the nice ones, is the derivation of the word "angel" itself. All the way back -- through Old English ("engel"), Latin ("angulus"), Greek ("angelos"), Hebrew ("mal'akh"), even Persian ("angoros") -- there is one key meaning: "messenger."

Angels make Visitations, to bring us messages. Usually that's all they do: they drop in for a while, pay a visit, reveal something to us -- and fly away.

The angels in these stories, like all we get to see, are mere mortals: human beings, not divine ones. (Not formally, anyway. I do find it salutary to regard humans as divine; it does promote civility.) Mortal angels are embodied: flesh, blood and bone. And thankfully.

They don't have to be boys, though most of mine have been (and all of Jehovah's, by definition "God's sons" -- though that doesn't stop modern marketers of angel imagery selling us dreamy girls with wings). They don't even have to be young. But there is the one thing they may have to be, if they're true angels: Transitory.

Angels as a rule don't stick around. They show up just to visit. Not to make a date, go steady, become your boyfriend, lover, "life partner", "long term companion." Or to get married. They may touch you, they may kiss you; they may even have sex with you. Or may not.

But whatever they do, they'll likely soon be gone. They are wanderers. Passing acquaintances -- if not in the common, casual sense. They can stay with you for life, though rarely in the flesh.

They come, finally, for just one thing: To bring you a message. To reveal some truth. As a gift. Maybe a small one; maybe one you might not notice right away; maybe one you won't see at all until long after that angel has flown off.

Angels come to help you see. To truly see.

I wrote most of these stories not long after they happened, recording them in a journal I kept with some regularity from October 1968 into the early 1970s, and later in letters to friends.

Transcribing them, I applied a light editorial hand to my past prose (but for cutting last names, in one case changing even Christian ones; I have no desire to implicate anyone here, even in divinity, but myself). I wanted to preserve the tone, the style (even when pretentious: I abhor "which" for "that," but found myself guilty of it). I have inserted a few comments, in brackets, usually for context.

Only two episodes here are recalled entirely from memory. I'm put in mind by those (even by tales recorded at the time) of the epigraph Julian Barnes gave his novel Talking It Over, playing wonderfully with different characters' divergent memories of the very same events.

It's a Russian proverb: "He lies like an eye-witness." In my case I hope not. But then, I'm likely the person least able to catch me out.

For wider context assumed in some of these stories, here are a few facts about me. I grew up near Boston, immigrating to Canada on September 16, 1969; I was 19 years old then (so you can judge by dates the age of the person you're reading). My first job was at a bookstore, my second at the University of Toronto Library.

From 1977 to 1987 I was on the collective producing The Body Politic, born in 1971 and becoming Canada's leading voice of gay liberation. From 1986 to 1993 I worked for the AIDS Committee of Toronto, diagnosed HIV positive myself in 1988.

For (much) more see my online memoir, Promiscuous Affections: A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000. At the end of each episode there are links to specific chapters where you can find, should you be so inclined, many of the people and places noted here.

I've spent lots of time in bars, some in parks, very little at the baths, none for decades at the gym. I've known a few men whom, at various times, I could call my "lover" (though loved them most when they didn't act like one). Many more I could not, but loved nonetheless.

Some were angels much like the ones you'll find here, their visitations recorded in Promiscuous Affections -- so most don't show up here. But they were wondrous: to find them (24 in all) just fly to Other Angels.


The links in this page's left column can take you to any episode. All are fairly short, most about 1,000 words, only two over 2,000. The last includes an epilogue.

Or you can begin at the beginning with "Wanderers" below. These stories do make best sense read in order -- chronological, spanning more than 30 years. Each episode ends with a link to the next, and one leading back to this Preface.

About images: Angels here -- God's I mean; as well as Raphael's self-portrait and "Some fields," both in Nathan of the Fields -- are from the Toronto Public Library picture collection. Sources for most were not noted (though some clearly came from calendars catering to the market for "angelic" twee). Where I can identify the artist and/or title I do, near the end of each page. Other images are from Promiscuous Affections.

On this page (but for Kelly of Colby's): a cherub from Raphael's Sistene Madonna, in the church of St Sixtus, Piacenza, Italy; and "St Michael Vanquishes the Devil," also by Raphael.

Finally: Two years after writing these angelic episodes, I did feel obliged to wander toad turf -- if only to keep it from becoming the only turf we'll be allowed to tread. See Gay marriage? Wrong question.

But soon enough I was led back (by, of course, another Angel) to the realm of transcendent magic. See Norsk engel: Sondre of Bergen, May & June 2003.

Go to: I: Wanderers

Go to: Other Angels
Go to: Promiscuous Affections: A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000

Go to: My home page
This page:
January 2001 / Last revised: July 14, 2003
Rick Bébout © 2001-2003 /