A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000


Dancing boys

Genie rules!

Lynne and Aerlyn get a Genie

Jane Rule on Xtra
Jane, too.
Aerlyn Weissman & Lynne Fernie fêted for Forbidden Love, Dec 1993 (photo: Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television); Xtra promotes
Fiction & Other Truths,
Jan 1995.

Our letters helped shape the film: Jane reading hers to me, I mine to her. It was at heart a dialogue on morality -- rarely seen as high on the gay agenda.

But it always is. We face life without a script, forced to figure out every day what is right & what's not.

Fiction & Other Truths won Lynne & Aerlyn another Genie Award. It's available from the National Film Board of Canada, video sales division, at 1-800-267-7710; order number 9194 132. The NFB also has Forbidden Love.

January through September

In 1993, Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman had begun work on a film about Jane Rule.

They were already known for their documentary Forbidden Love, personal accounts of lesbian life in Canada before the dawn of modern gay liberation, intercut with scenes in the style of '50s pulp fiction. It had won a Genie Award, Canada's Oscar.

I hadn't known Aerlyn then, but Lynne was an old Queen Street ally: artist, editor, anti censorship activist. Her work was widely celebrated: she'd been on Xtra's cover five times.

Xtra's January 6, 1995 cover was Jane, with a drawline that would see overuse: "Jane rules." The film, Fiction and Other Truths, was set for its gala premiere at the St Lawrence Centre on January 9, a benefit for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

It had been two years in the making, my contributions modest. In April 1994 I'd spent 10 hours in a loft standing in for 24 Duncan, done up with posters Lynne and I dug out of the Archives. The crew was small, Lynne said, about a dozen people; I marvelled that it took so many to get just one person on film: me.

A few weeks later I did some voice recording. I was one of five people, besides Jane and Helen, who would speak in the film: Margaret Atwood; Donna Deitch, director of Desert Hearts, based on Jane's first published novel; Abe Rogatnick, a friend since the days of Vancouver's vibrant art scene in the '60s; and Marilyn Schuster, from Smith College, talking about Jane's writing.

For all those hours of filming I (and they) would be on the screen, on and off, for maybe five minutes apiece. But another bit of work I'd done would get more play. In August 1993 I had given Lynne, with Jane's assent, excerpts from our letters. That exchange would come to shape much of the film: I reading from mine to Jane; she reading from hers to me.

What we had gone on about were relationships, sex, lust and romance; power, anger, responsibility, community -- and how we dealt with such things. It was at heart a dialogue on morality -- no doubt surprising to some, morality not often seen as high on the gay agenda.

But it always is: we break old rules but have no ready list of new ones. Every day we face life without a script, forced to figure out for ourselves and each other what is right and what's not.


The premiere was indeed a grand gala. Jane had meant to come, with Helen, but was down with pneumonia. (Besides, she'd once said that an invitation to Toronto in January always made her wonder what crime could warrant the punishment.)

But there were other familiar faces: Lynne and Aerlyn, producer Rina Fraticelli, lots of the crew; Shelagh Day and Gwen Brodsky, among Jane's dearest friends, Shelagh once head of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, Gwen leading court challenges based on human rights law; Mary Meigs, as ever patrician and fine, daunted as I was by the crowd; and Marilyn Schuster. I'd not met her but on film; in time we'd see a lot of each other, working on a related project.

Various Pooh Bahs from TV Ontario, the public network which would air the film, took up the night's first 20 minutes, going on in liberal angst about "diversity" -- as if expecting a pat on the head. They got tepid applause. It turned into roaring cheers for Lynne, Aerlyn, and Rina -- our own on stage at last.

Tuesday, January 10, 1995, 9 pm, to Jane:

You've seen the film so you know the next hour -- but for the laughter and even applause at things you said. I found myself stopped at some points, hearing you say things I've heard you say for years, perfectly sensible to me and no surprise -- about children and sexuality; about pornography and censorship; about violence not just by men but against men -- but stopped in wonder that they were coming off that screen and would, two nights later, be beaming off TV screens into the living rooms of good liberals.

It's sad that these ideas will still seem radical to them -- yet they'll have to hear them because someone who might be a favourite aunt is saying them, talking simple, perfect, shocking sense.


"When the relatively simple task of teaching table manners takes so many years, why do we assume that sexual manners need not be taught at all?"

Jane had said that in 1979. In 1995 we'd find that such considered thought might never have gone on at all.

Jane's sense had most potential to shock when applied to children. In a voice over that began with her showing a pop up book to a handsome boy I'd met at her pool, maybe 10 years old, she said:

I think we need greater openness in discussing what relationships really are about and how they work, to be open to answering questions of children and to acknowledge their own sexual desires, to deal with them in talking about sexuality as a language you learn.

As you learn about how to use your emotions, so you also learn about your sexuality. You can do beautiful things with it. You can do mean things with it. You can do anything with it. You can communicate hatred. You can communicate love. And you have to learn how to use your sexuality as gracefully as any other language you speak.

Children have to learn their bodies are their own, she said, taught to say no to what they don't want. "Our silence about sex leaves them undefended. But that's only part of the teaching. You don't want to teach them simply to say no. You have to teach them also that it is a delight to be intimate, to watch their evolving needs and desires."

In "Teaching Sexuality" Jane had written (and we saw it again here, typed across the screen): "When the relatively simple task of teaching table manners takes so many years, why do we assume that sexual manners need not be taught at all?"

"Teaching Sexuality" had first appeared in The Body Politic in June 1979. By 1982 it was in the Flaunting It! anthology, along with "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" and "Another Look," that reassessment Chris Bearchell, Alex Wilson and I had done after TBP's first acquittal. All this had spoken to questions of consent, coercion, power; the rights -- and the control -- of young people, some very young, some nearly adult.

This year, so many years later, we would find that such calm, considered talk might never have gone on at all.


Shel had hoped to come with me to the premiere, but hadn't been able to get off work. He got to see it on January 11, broadcast on TV Ontario at 10 pm (to my surprised relief, without a viewer discretion warning).

Paul and I asked people in for the show, and a small celebration: it was my 45th birthday. Ed Jackson and Sam Carvelli came with food, Sam ever the chef; Joan Anderson next, then Xtra editor / publisher David Walberg. I wanted to link them up, relations between Xtra and ACT, where she was now education director, not always the best.

Shelagh Day arrived but not Gwen Brodsky; I paired her with Gerald Hannon -- feminist lawyer with notorious gay radical -- hoping to make another useful connection. Lynne and Aerlyn arrived at 9:00 -- Shel skidding right up behind them on his bike.

To Jane, Thursday, January 12, 1995, 8 pm
(same letter as above)

I'd been a little concerned that Shel would feel out of his depth but later felt embarrassed even at the formulation. He's not some aspiring undergraduate in English, film or law, so had no need to show off.

He wasn't out of his depth at all, simply swimming calmly in a new pond, so himself, quietly assured, listening with interest but saying nothing as Shelagh talked about Ms Steed's (and too many other people's) misperceptions of intergenerational relationships that could apply to his own life. Then he kibitzed about bikes with Gerald in the kitchen, both fool enough to cycle up in the snow.

After the film Gerald asked Lynne if it had been cut for TV, which it hadn't. Shel asked me, "How long was it?" "An hour," I said. "It didn't seem that long," he said -- and I suppose that was telling commentary.

He was wonderfully comfortable, and I found myself not just loving him, as usual, but admiring him a lot. What a joy he is, still.


Ms Steed (not with us but as a spectre) was Judy Steed, author of a 1994 exposé called Our Little Secret: Confronting Child Sexual Abuse in Canada.

Gerald had reviewed it in Xtra, saying that "she has let pity and outrage run away with her senses, and has produced a book that takes as its premise the notion that sexual contacts between children and adults can never be ethical."

He had begun by saying there was only one interesting question here: "How do we determine what constitutes ethical behaviour?" He acknowledged the possibility of abuse in sexual relations with kids -- and in other relations as well.

I could never understand how children's hockey differed from an organized child sex ring. Both involved children and adults. Both involved strenuous physical activity. Both involve danger. Both involve pleasure. Yet we approve of children's hockey and deplore child sex rings.

Gerald's allusion to hockey would be prophetic: soon we'd see coaches and other rink rats join Christian Brothers on the roster of monstrous child molesters, their crimes long past but dredged up in "recovered memory" therapy on their now adult victims. Maple Leaf Gardens would join the Mount Cashel Catholic orphanage in Newfoundland as a nest of perversion long ignored but suddenly notorious.

We would also see more of Ms Steed.


Two nights after our movie party Paul headed down to Balfour Park. His trips were not rare even in winter: cold kept the dilettantes away, leaving the turf to committed cruisers.

That night Paul found one and brought him home. Rob was a tall, lanky man in his early 30s, handsome, very nice, and soon very much around. His sure presence heralded the end of Paul's brief career as an anxious free-lance romantic.

Monday, February 6, 1995, 7:30 pm, to Jane:

They were out most of Saturday and came back with a new coffee grinder, a sleek little Braun, so we can at last retire the old hand cranked antique, pretty but loud and slow, that was one of David's last holds from the grave. I went down this morning to the two of them sitting knee to knee on the kitchen stools, the beast with two backs again, in new bathrobes Paul bought last week.

I like Rob just fine. Paul tells me Rob knows this is my house too, he formally the interloper -- but in scenes like that I am the third party, not him. I don't resent him in that, but a piece of me wishes not to be a party at all, to simply have my own easy space.

In a way it does give me space, lets me carry less. It was the prospect of Rob's company for Paul tonight that let me say I didn't want to bother with dinner. But I do hope that the things he was learning won't simply be forgotten in a new attachment. He loves to flaunt it and may forget what it was, briefly, not to have it.

Maybe not. But that's the going away I feel right now, his flight back into assumptions I could never take for granted; the loss of a lesson maybe too hard. But why should I proselytize.

I didn't; quite the contrary. Paul asked once if I thought he was going too fast with Rob. "Well," I said, "if you don't think so and he doesn't think so, I'd say you're not."

"We're sleeping together all the time now, you know," he told me. "I guess you've noticed." Yes -- and heard: the regular roar of the post coital shower upstairs could make me smile.

They would soon make official what had long been fact: Rob was Paul's lover, moving in by May. Paul had asked if I'd mind. I didn't. I told him I liked the idea: now he'd have someone at home to take care of him in ways I could not.

And I would have a space of my own, in my room, in my head -- and sometimes out of the house altogether.


The Barn gave me Master Nemesis again, trucker / busboy Martin too, after so many years. And tiny Greg, who seemed a naïf -- but for his tattoos, chicken hawk tastes & expertise in antiques.

I was still going out if less often, the ghetto a subway trip now, not a short stoll. But even that could have its benefits.

I once met a handsome boy in coveralls outside the Summerhill station, very late, having a cigarette, taking a break he said: he worked there overnight, cleaning. His cruise was unmistakable, his intentions otherwise not. We sat a long time, smoked, talked. His name was Elvis; friends called him Wolf. He pulled up a leg of his coveralls to show me why: lots of fur.

We made a date to meet again, same time, same place -- with a dark empty parking lot across the street, an entire subway station right there too and vacant, he holding its key. I did keep that date. Again I did nothing. But I did like the boy.

Sometimes I was back at The Barn -- sometimes with rare luck. It was I, not Paul, who broke our household's domestic virginity. Just before he met Rob I met -- for the first time in years if again at The Barn -- Martin the erstwhile trucker / busboy.

When I got him home he was tired as usual if, I found, otherwise functional. Running my hand up him as he lay back zonked, I brushed his cock floating firm up over his stomach. Martin had a truly beautiful cock: smooth, cut, classic in shape, substantial but conveniently so: a good fit, I knew. And hoped.

I took it, squeezed its root, sucked hard to rouse him further, saying in my head with every stroke: I'm getting this gorgeous cock truly stiff and urgent and eager to fuck me, Martin's rich lankiness driving it. I did -- and he did, at last.

Not thrillingly: I did most of the driving. But I didn't mind: it had been a very long time, not just with Martin but with anyone.

On another January night at The Barn I watched bright faced tiny butt Greg play pool. When I'd first spotted him months before he'd seemed a sweet suburban naïf -- but for his tattoos and, later discovered, his chicken hawk tastes and expertise in antiques.

I saw Master Nemesis again too, once at the door checking his fatigues, dancing later just in the cap, the boots, a harness and a shiny black jockstrap -- quite the attraction, as ever making even this very queer bar seem conventional in its wonder at him.

I liked that but I left him to it -- and to a rousing disco version, complete with bagpipes, of "Scotland the Brave."


Remington's sign
"Men of Steel."
But I was happiest to find the ones made of more pliable stuff.

More often I was at Remington's, still much the same, some of the same boys. But there were always new discoveries.

Little Slovak Aaron was there, brother of big Chad -- but now Chad was dancing as Romeo. Another boy used his heritage as promotion, handshaking his way around the bar and saying to all: "Hello! I'm Peter -- from Moscow Russia!"

It wasn't hard sell, more eager engagement, a big handsome boy hooking his thumbs into the straps of his singlet, yanking them down at odd angles off his chest as he cheerily chatted away.

I'd met another Russian there in December but hadn't seen him since, asked Peter about him. "He quit. Did he dance for you?" I said yes. "I should dance for you. I am a very good boy too." He was, but I settled for giving him a tip on stage and then left.

It was in December too that a big boy there nodded hello on his way by me. Bigger than I usually like but I was floored: white Jockeys, cowboy boots, a leather jacket slung over his shoulder, naked otherwise; crop headed, gentle looking for all that -- appealing even before that hello.

I made sure to watch him dance, went to tip him: he seemed not to know what I was doing. But right after jumping off his platform -- where, marvellously, he'd rubbed his nose, not his dick, across the pole -- he came by and thanked me. It was his first night, he said. He told me his name: Lesley. Likely not born Lesley: he'd been in town just two years, from Poland.

We did a private dance, most fun as usual for the talk. The real pleasure was in finding someone so unlikely (for me) who was so instantly, electrically sexy. I suppose it came from his not yet having learned how to play it.

Still, I would find other boys at Remington's who shared Lesley's ease -- some because they knew how to play it very well.


Brent Hogan
Beanstalk Brent.
"But now he's dead," his little neice shrugged. "That means he's not sick anymore." Photo: Woody's.

The family resemblance was on all of them. And all of them comfortable in this crowd of gay friends.

Beside the door outside Woody's the message board carried ever changing promo: Bad Boys' Night Out (Tuesdays, when the staff wore only underwear); Annual Polish Night (in aid of a local gay group); many other benefits and always, first Monday of each month, Staff Night: All tips donated to ACT.

On Monday, February 27 it read: "Staff Night. All tips donated for Brent. We love you, baby." Beanstalk Brent Hogan, working just weeks before, was in hospital with neurological symptoms, swift; prolonged seizures near the end. That came on Thursday morning, March 2.

Saturday, March 4, 1995, 10:30 pm, to Jane:

Brent's memorial was yesterday, a party, not a service. Here's a flyer that was up around the neighbourhood for it, headed with an update of that Monday sign.

It was in the space above Woody's that used to be Xtra's production office before the move to 491 Church, familiar but emptier now. There was food, drink, pictures of him in and out of drag (madcap, never serious), a book to sign under a rainbow flag, balloons, paper decorations, even the napkins arranged in rainbow colours.

It was crowded and after a hug with Dean Odorico, the manager with whom Brent had moved from The 457 to The Barn (where I first knew them both) to Woody's five years ago, I found it hard to be there. I wanted a place to sit and smoke and finally got one, a chair at a small table under the purple end of a balloon rainbow.

I didn't really want to talk to anyone until I was approached by a little girl, I'd guess six or seven years old. "Do you know Brent?" she asked. I said I had. "He was my uncle." I told her I could see that: she looked like him. "He was my very favourite uncle, but" -- she shrugged, hands up, a bit overdone the way kids can be talking to grown ups, maybe even to each other -- "now he's dead. That means he's not sick anymore."

She told me she had a favourite aunt there, too, pointed her out. I saw another woman I guessed was her mother, another Brent's mother, older, but younger looking than I expected, the family resemblance on all of them. And all of them comfortable in this crowd of gay friends.


I asked the Press's board, quoting them the Mission Statement: Do you want to "entice, incite, challenge & lead" the people who work for the Press? Do you want a workplace that tries to overcome its own "impediments to human fulfillment"?

They said yes. With that I was off -- if exactly where I wasn't sure. Where others there wanted to go was often hard to tell.

My work with Pink Triangle Press had not become my life, but did take up a good deal of it. After that 1994 Vancouver trip there was one to Ottawa, both jaunts and my earlier talks in Toronto generating fat reports.

Paul warned me about that, knowing well from his own work that lots of paper wasn't the best way to get things done. "You should be there, on site," he said. "People have to be able to talk to you." Soon I was, and soon again Counsellor Troi.

I didn't mind that role, but my presence dragged me into too many others. Some fit my title, Staff Relations Consultant (I didn't like "personnel"): work on pay scales; supervision; decision making processes. Others didn't -- but I found easy excuses for sticking a hand in almost anywhere, "communication" always a good one.

Financial planning and data to guide it were a mess; I worked out a system to put all that more firmly in the hands of front line staff who actually earned and spent the money. I helped the three local papers coordinate ad sales, even doing a new unified rate card.

Paul scolded me again: "If you're doing that kind of work, you're a manager. You're supposed to be a consultant." He was right -- but when I saw gaps I could fill I did, any "job description" notwithstanding.

Ken Popert got a bit worried, too, concerned I might be pushing myself too hard. "And besides," he once said, "I'd like to have some of my job left."

My Counsellor Troi persona could have a darker side: The Angel of Death, guiding managers through terminations -- some even "without cause." I usually had good long chats with people facing their demise, hoping the axe might be avoided. I told Paul I was coming to be seen as a dangerous lunch date.


My work was meant to preempt bad dates and improve working relations. I was yet again a policy wonk, if wary of writing a rule book.

In a piece called "Rule making" in The Body Politic in 1985, Jane had said: "I am very leery of any rule that is made after asking 'What would happen if...?' I am on surer ground with 'This has happened. Now what?' "

Rules could be ad hoc, arbitrary, disconnected from deeper purpose. All the policies I wrote followed the same outline: What (defining the issue at hand; clarifying key problems); Why (the rationale for handling them in a particular way, based on guiding principles); and How (specific rules).

It got windy -- too much so if I'd been dealing with a place that shared common values, the principles guiding daily action strong but implicit, making long lists of rules redundant. But I wasn't: the Press had drifted far from any shared sense of purpose.

It did have a Mission Statement, developed in meetings among staff in 1992, growing from the one we'd done in 1986 before The Body Politic died -- in fact going back to values widely shared, if not fully articulated, even in 1971:

The Press engages gay men, lesbians and others in struggle for their sexual liberation by providing them with mass media in which to express their sexuality, share information, debate ideas and advocate actions. Our name, Pink Triangle Press, reflects the original project of our not- for- profit organization: the publication of The Body Politic, a journal and newsmagazine. It does not declare an intention to restrict ourselves to print media.

We commit ourselves to entice and incite, to challenge and to lead. We acknowledge that the struggle for sexual liberation is not just the task of lesbians and gay men nor is it just a local task. That struggle belongs to everyone everywhere who challenges established forms of sexuality as impediments to human fulfillment.

Before I wrote a single policy I sat down with the Press's board and asked: Do you want to "entice, incite, challenge and lead" the people who work for the Press? Do you see them as part of its wider constituency? As citizens of a community? Do you want a workplace that tries to overcome its own "impediments to human fulfillment"?

They said yes. With that I was off -- though exactly where to I wasn't quite sure. To all the reams of policy paper I gave Ken Popert, he made only one recurring marginal note -- correcting my use of "non- profit" to "not- for- profit."

I tell you all this to let you know where I was coming from in my last stab at justice in the workplace, a place I'd help build, giving it my life for years, now the last workplace I would ever know.

Where others there were coming from, or wanted to go, was rarely easy to tell.


One person at Xtra was mad for rules -- providing they were her own. I once watched managing editor Eleanor Brown apply one, ripping through some copy I'd given her, undoing all my italics. I asked (a bit disingenuously; I'd written a Press style guide in 1985, supposedly still in use): "How should I handle italics?"

"Don't," she said. "No italics." "Not even for titles, or emphasis?" (Or cadence, rhythm, even meaning?) "Nope. No italics. That's the policy."

Her policy. Eleanor would inspire my most arcane if necessary bit of wonkery: a policy on policies.

Eleanor had been trained as a journalist -- always a dangerous sign. She once said to me: "We can't always bring everything back to the Mission Statement," implying she had higher values -- presumably the so called "standards of journalism."

She was from Montreal, new to Toronto, ignorant of local gay politics and history. That didn't matter: it let her stay "objective," the community mere fodder for copy. She loved scandal, lots of ink spilled in Xtra over internecine strife everywhere from the Pride Committee to the Metropolitan Community Church.

Scandal right under her nose got less copy. A few years later Pink Triangle Press would be ripped off for more than half a million dollars, over time and by someone well placed to do it: the Press's own bookkeeper. Why he would want to -- he'd been on staff more than four years by then -- or more to the point why no one noticed, were questions never asked.

The apparent limit of Eleanor's politics was "gay rights" of a simplistic sort, along with a bit of post feminist "sex is good" stuff. Homophobe nut cases got lots of facile coverage, meanies occasionally pictured with moustache and horns scrawled on.

Beyond that she exhibited no sense of having a role in any wider social movement, some of her news "subjects" likely allies in it. That wouldn't be "objective."

I once did a safer sex piece, working with John Maxwell at ACT. I told her I was giving him a draft so he could check it. "We don't do that," she barked. I said: "I do that." And did.

I once told her that when people came up to me with potential stories and I said, "You should call Eleanor Brown," the usual response was: "Are you kidding?!" That did make her ponder, but not for long.

She was sometimes called on her worst gaffes by David Walberg, but was adept at lying low until any stiff breeze passed. And it was never more than a breeze: David, swamped in the business of being Xtra's publisher even though he was its editor in chief as well, was mostly content to give his managing editor her head.

I hoped some day on a platter. But I trod lightly -- as I once said to Jane, "a good way to walk when you've got a dagger clenched between your teeth."

But enough of all that. Quite soon it would all be behind me, that dagger behind me too -- its blade not between Eleanor's ribs but my own.


Sneakers -- "a cruise bar":
Meaning hustlers -- & thankfully,
their livelihood depending on easy engagement. Once, for me,
deceptively easy.

In early 1995 George Pratt had added another outpost to his low end empire on (or just off) Yonge Street, south of the Burger King once The Parkside.

"Sneakers / A cruise bar" its sign read, its facade harking back to the old days: blank face, windows darkened. In May I paid a visit, my first and for some years my last. "Cruise bar" of course meant hustlers -- and thankfully. I'd long known they could save a place from stand & model ennui, their livelihood depending on easy, upfront engagement.

I sat by the pool table. One player was about six foot six, thin, his head shaved, his outfit vaguely army fatigue with Doc Martens done up in red laces. I knew this was skinhead code but wasn't sure how to read it. Signing up for the table he scratched his name on the blackboard with its final "s" a jagged lightning bolt.

He was oddly engaging; we talked, there and at the front bar until well after last call. He lived up Yonge Street as did I, so I walked up with him. We stopped once to sit on a bench and talk, sat again at an all night donut shop.

Finally, at 5:30 in the morning, I said, "Well, I'd take you home, but I don't think I could afford you." He sat back, looked at me carefully and said: "Well... what do you like to do?"

I had never before brought home anyone like him: he was, I knew by then, a Nazi. Or so he said. He certainly had down the lingo (I found "race mixers" hardest to take); he was the only person I'd ever met who lived in fear of "Communist gangs."

I didn't challenge him. I wanted to know who he might really be. I sensed none of his spiel as "politics" in any way thought out. It seemed more code, the language of group camaraderie: he was part of a gang and wanted to ensure his place -- and his safety -- within it.

In bed it didn't matter what I wanted to do. He had a tiny penis that stayed tiny and, apparently, no balls. Undescended testicles: I couldn't help recalling that famous World War II ditty on fascist gonads, its first line, "Hitler, he only had one ball."

Coming out of my bathroom, naked, I saw how thin he was, his hip bones sticking out. He might have stepped from a photo of people liberated from death camps. The ironies were too brutal to be funny. His fascist fellows didn't know he had sex with guys, only about his girlfriend.

They certainly didn't know -- he begged me to tell no one -- that he liked getting fucked. He asked me to. I didn't.

I let him out a few hours later, guessing he'd go home via David Balfour Park, maybe having had a hand in graffiti I'd seen there under the CPR viaduct. He lived just south, with his parents in Rosedale, one of the city's grandest neighbourhoods.

I told Paul about him later that day. "Weren't you afraid?" he asked. I hadn't been. I sensed I had nothing to fear from him -- at least while he was alone. Years later I would describe this boy to Craig Patterson. He'd tell me he saw him often, at The Barn.


Riverdale Park
"Looking back, I missed him."
Riverdale Park, west side, where Shel did well with a crew of ballplayers, good with me but needing me less.

Even as I could miss Shel he wasn't gone from my life, still dropping by.

"I shouldn't rib him," Paul said, "he'd decent, honourable." Of course he still did, Shel giving back each poke in kind with his sly, happy grin.

By May Shel had found digs more stable, staying with a man named Bill. He taught at York, was an old friend of George Hislop's and fellow tenant of his apartment building on Avenue Road.

There was an odd circularity here: in the early '70s Bill had found another boy then new in town and taken him briefly under his wing: Paul Pearce. Paul told me: "I didn't treat him very well."

Shel did, or seemed to. I didn't see him much now but he called often, leaving messages if I wasn't home. I loved those messages, loved his voice, took to saving them on tape. "Hey buddy, how's it goin'?" (buddy a Newf term, many a tale there beginning "there was this buddy and this missus").

When he got me he wanted company over the phone while he fiddled with something, often his bike. Once he flipped through Bill's record collection, lots of Broadway show tunes, naming titles. "Hair," he said -- "Hair!" I yelped. "I had that record in 1967!" I sang a few bits. He found me very silly and then said, "Well, gotta go" -- as ever off on some business.

In June he asked me to come watch him play softball with the Remington Steelers (the bar's tagline "Men of Steel"; I was happiest to find those made of more pliable stuff). He called the morning before to remind me. I told Jane about that day.

I liked that call: very Shel, I thought. And he was very Shel when I got there, making sure not to pay too much attention to me in a gaggle of other friends. He was mostly out in right field, did a line drive straight into the pitcher's mitt on one turn at bat, popped out on his next. Out of play he stripped off his shirt (number 37, same as his old courier number) and sat with me for a while.

But he was eager to be with the gang, does well with them. I enjoyed seeing that, seeing him be Shel. He was very beautiful to me, still.

I left before the second game (as always not wanting be in his way when he's intent on work), turned for a moment to look back down into the park at him playing practice catch -- and missed him. Not him there, then, doing fine and I can only be happy for that; rather who he'd been, sitting in my rocking chair on Dundonald with his feet up in my lap; sprawled out on the bed, still dressed, zonked by his day and preparing his night. I missed meaning more to him than I do now.

But on balance it's best, for both of us. I did buy him another card today [I'd taken to sending Shel cards, cute boys on them I knew he'd like] to thank him, by mail, for yesterday.

Even as I could miss Shel he was not gone from my life. He still dropped by occasionally. Paul had long apologized for having called him my "sex toy of the week" -- by now not a sex toy (he never was) and lasting well beyond a week. "I shouldn't rib him," Paul said. "He's decent, honourable. I should let him know that's what I think of him."

Paul still ribbed of course, Shel returning each poke in kind with that wonderful face filling grin. They did it over dinner once, Shel up in the late afternoon not having eaten, Rob doing a big pot of chili. I asked if Shel could stay and have some.

Rob, who hadn't met Shel before, seemed not to know what to make of this scruffy smartass kid at his table, grinning through scarfed down chili. Paul and Shel kibbitzed on; Rob said not a word. I suspect Shel had a sharper take on him, well used to men a bit uptight. At first.


I saw Shel again on Pride Day, Kevin Orr here from London with a new friend, Adrian, smart and lovely. Shel was as the year before up doing music on a sound truck, pulling a float for Remington's. I got a big grin, a big wave, and with that he sailed on.

Three weeks later Shel dropped by again, with company: he wanted to show me another new boyfriend. Sebastian was nine months out of Kirkland Lake and already a well rehearsed ghetto queen. Bill didn't much like him, both staying with him then, two nephews one too many I imagined (and knew).

Sebby already had a house picked out in the burbs -- he worked there for a landscaping firm, Shel briefly did too -- and said Bill could move in with them. Dicey I thought, but did appreciate a generosity of spirit rare in young lovebirds (or even older ones).

Shel by then hoped to drive big trucks -- already training to and he would -- but Sebastian said, "I don't want to live on the road." Or more likely, too often alone. That is how it would turn out, and for some time.

But even then I saw Shel's insistence on himself, gentle but not foregone. He was glorious and I, as ever, loved him hugely.


Many of the boys weren't gay. About Oliver I didn't know, & it didn't matter. What did was his ease, his beauty & smarts; a strength that gave him a sense of himself there.

As I told Jane: "What really counts is what you get beyond what you pay for: something of another person."

Remington's had become my refuge from domestic life getting too settled, untamed boys always there on show, many new ones now.

One was Carter, not able to click with anyone but George Hislop who, fallen on hard times, now worked the door -- but that let me see him and I always like George.

One Friday night no one there, not even Carter, seemed forlorn. The mood was up, the boys chatty. I chatted up and even tipped ones I'd never ask for a private dance: blond hunk Daniel (that's Dan yell), about whom one bartender said, "Yes, he's very... homoerotic" -- meaning a queen, urging on other dancers with campy hoots.

There was Eden, an even more classic hunk with a Hollywood handsome face, saved by a grace rare in big young men; Cassidy, for whose intro the MC purrs a final aside: "He's... cool..." -- and he was, deadpan butch but again surprisingly fluid on stage. When we got to talk he offered a gentle smile.

Then Scott, lean, blue eyed, dark haired; Andrew, a blond who did an interesting routine with a bath towel. He and Scott were roommates, Andrew told me, he a neat freak, Scott a bit of a slob.

And there was Shane, a terrifically handsome young black man who not only did gymnastics to The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" but sang along in a rich, deep bass that said he might if he chose have quite another career. He beamed, asked in jest for another song when his two were over and the crowd -- so often pinched, nervous, ungenerous -- grinned with him and applauded in real pleasure.

Three times during the night they did all cast shows: a crowd of boys on stage with MC Danny (George Pratt's handsome young boyfriend, once featured in Sightlines beaming, naked, and fully erect) introducing them, sending them off to pick lucky patrons for a free dance on the spot -- hardly private, often embarrassing.

Shy Slovak Aaron told me he hated this routine: they had to pick someone, to their taste or not.

I was once picked by a boy I knew just well enough to call by name, not sexy to me if engagingly cute. "I try to find someone who will be a gentleman," he said. I learned he was at the Royal Conservatory, studying opera. Later on stage he play fucked a blown up plastic pig.


Most wondrously, there was Oliver. Jane got to hear about all these boys, but quite a lot about Oliver.

I was glad I stayed for it all but wouldn't have if, just after nine, I hadn't spotted a tiny trim butt casually cased in white Joe Boxers. Oliver? I'd seen him a month before, the butt (so small), the stature (comfortably tall), the skin (so smooth), the face aware but easy. I'd watched him dance but hadn't connected.

So I waited for his name to come up, sat near the stage when it did, smiled up into his face because he smiled, tipped him five bucks and watched him go off and then come back to join a table of friends. I always try to see: do they know who this boy might really be? They may have been new acquaintances (who knows? new acquaintance is the essence of gay life) but I could see they cherished him: smiles, easy talk, comfort, his face even more relaxed.

This was nearby so I got to gaze: a little nose, tiny ears tight against a neat, boxy cropped head, a long, graceful stance -- missing only the odd, humanizing flaw that can animate the otherwise too perfect. (I thought to look up "animate": the act of imparting life; the state of possessing life.)

What a gift to the world, I thought -- even if he also knows how to sell it. Why shouldn't he know and cherish, own and dispense, his own power? And all, apparently, with no attitude! All right, I was far gone.

I wander off to other attractions, tip Danyell on stage -- and just as I had there was a hand on my shoulder: Oliver! My god! A boy smart enough to chat up someone who tips him!

So, a bit of small talk: mine touching on things I'd noticed about him (with playful tweaks of nose, ears, but not yet butt); his (because I ask) about what he does when he's not doing this: a fire prevention program at a community college, second year. I skip the obvious joke about him starting fires. A dance? Well of course.

And of course it's not a dance but an exchange in a small, not entirely private stall between an older man fully clothed and a younger man straddled naked on his lap; a conversation allowing easy caresses and whatever else the younger man might allow (but there was a lot more of that at Colby's than at Remington's now). I didn't even really get to see his dick.

I just asked: Dancing for two months; in Toronto two years from London, Ontario; living in the burbs but might move downtown; not sure exactly what he wants but I hear "family" just briefly, one option. He turns 22 next month.

They're mostly not gay. Oliver may or may not be and it doesn't matter. What does is his comfort and ease, his beauty and smarts and, I judge, some basic strength that lets him be there and have a sense of himself there, whatever else he may know about himself.

There are moments when these boys give me more pleasure and hope than anything else manages, at least in the moment, to do. I like being reminded that all the work has been, however partially, for them, for who they and all of us might really be.

The small, silly gifts there, even the ones paid for -- and as I've said before, what really counts is what you get beyond what you pay for: something of another person -- can make me very happy.


"This..." Alex said, taking the place in with a quick look "-- this is not my goal." I asked, "Do you want to escape upstairs?"

We did, our "dance" as usual mostly talk. We'd once talked about my war & his: Vietnam & Afghanistan. "Russian army," he said, "is so boring."

While Kev and Adrian were in town, I took them to Remington's to meet another favourite young man. He was that Russian I'd first found in December, known to me then as Approachable Sam.

Sam was his announced name. One night with my former protégé Dale Bolivar -- sitting too close to the stage: I think it's rude to chat in apparent disregard of a boy waving his dick over your head -- I'd said I liked Sam. Dale said, "He seems approachable." Hence my personally bestowed stage name.

I'd find he didn't like stage names, "a conspiracy," he called them. His real name was Alex, in his early 20s, long hair ("not good, he'd say, "people think I'm into drugs"), a lean, subtle body, a slight twitch. He looked a swimmer; I told him so and he said, "It was not given to me to be a swimmer."

He'd been a speed skater but not much since 1991 when he came to Canada. Romantically, I wanted to believe he'd defected. Later he would tell me he had, walking out on his team in Montreal, the KGB by then not the threat it long had been.

In the back room we talked: Vietnam, Afghanistan, my war and his or almost: he too had left to avoid the draft. "Russian army," he said, "is so boring."

I lost Alex after that but found him back at Remington's in May. He'd been off to Moscow to see his parents. He found me that night during the second all cast show, he in the first and set for the third. "Can I stay here for a while?" he asked, hesitant. He was trying to avoid a man who expected his attention, one who'd paid him too much of it on stage.

I'd noticed and said so; Alex rolled his eyes. "This..." he said, taking the place in with a quick look, "-- this is not my goal." I asked, "Do you want to escape upstairs?"

We did: two dances so called; again mostly talk, even the routine of taking off his skivvies ("I let you do that," he'd often say) foregone -- though I did hug him, my hands on the small of his back, snuzzling my face into his fragrant torso.

"My life has changed in the last six months," he said, telling me he'd left his girlfriend -- but by then our second song was ending and I couldn't afford to find out more.

He kissed me as we parted, had kissed me earlier when I tipped him on stage -- on the lips: rare for these boys.

On my visit with Kevin and Adrian, Alex was especially sweet, sitting with us for a while before he and I scooted off upstairs. He said he'd been to Nova Scotia with another Russian (also a dancer; I'd not known he was Russian, just quite severe). They wanted to see the ocean, Alex never having seen one.

We had a lovely, easy time that day and I got to bring back to Kev and Adrian my favourite souvenir: the smell of him -- fresh sweat and baby oil, no cologne -- on my hands.


Later I'd not be allowed to touch him at all -- by law. In September the metropolitan government -- they who licensed adult entertainers at $160 a pop -- passed a bylaw prohibiting "lap dancing."

An earlier court case had declared that dancing in men's laps, even in private booths, wasn't obscene, but some women who found on stage stripping acceptable said lap dancing was not, too often a form of forced prostitution for nothing like the usual fee. The government intervened and another court agreed: no lap dancing. In fact, no touching at all.

I could understand such limits between men and women, the power dynamics of gender quite clear. Power was not entirely obscure at Remington's, either. They once offered a ticket that got punched with every beer you bought: buy 10 and you'd get a free dance -- with the bar paying the dancer half his usual fee. More often, as little Ricky had told me, the dancers paid the bar.

But none of this was about gender. Try anything a boy didn't want and you might get decked. I'd never known it to happen but the knowledge that it could did set limits. Yes they were boys, paid for by men -- but boys 18 or older, big ones. The etiquette with them was the same that governed all of gay male life, sometimes violated but not often.


The limits now were not our own but forced on us by law, gender politics -- often useful, even essential -- played out in a place inhabited solely by men. One dancer said to me: "My body is mine. No one tells me what to do with it."

I wrote to Jane: "Well, sexual politics as ever! When all I want is this wonderful, interesting, beautiful man" -- Alex. But this time he was the one wise enough to keep things on a cash nexus.

In time I'd lose him again, this time forever. (So far.)

Go on to 1995: Oct-Dec / Go back to Contents

This page:
January 2000 / Last revised: May 23, 2004
Rick Bébout © 2001 /