Monday, January 16, 2012

Baby Blues

We've finally been getting snow here in Montreal. Doesn't seem like winter without it. This story's about being and not being queer all at the same time.


Sometimes we send our snowstorms to that other Canadian city …
WHEN MICHAEL WON TICKETS to the AIDS organization’s Christmas-party raffle, we teased him: “Trauma? You won a trip to Trauma? What was the first prize?”
The deal included a room in a downtown hotel. He offered to take me along on the condition I left the room to him—in case he picked up any more prizes over the weekend. I didn’t mind. I arranged to stay with my nieces and my sister-in-law, Arlene, in the suburbs.
We went in early January before Michael’s classes resumed. A bitterly cold blizzard hit the Queen City the day we arrived and lasted into the weekend. Back and forth I shuttled through the storm on slush-coated buses full of well-behaved people from all over the world quietly coughing and sniffling and looking at nobody else. At least the buses were heated—not like the subway, on whose cold and damp platforms I waited in misery. I learned to appreciate the rubber tires on Montreal’s Métro for the heat they gave off.
Michael and I went out each night. Thursday, we went to a leather bar on the edge of downtown. Michael got more or less lucky. I didn’t. When I got back to Arlene’s, she and my nieces were still up watching TV. They asked me how it was. All I could say was, “Cold, and hardly any people.”
At lunch the next day he told me about his night. “He kept talking about his former lover all evening,” he said, somewhat desolately. “We went back to his place up the street and did it pretty quick. After that he told me I had to go because his straight roommate didn’t like him to have tricks over when he was with a girl—or something. So I took a streetcar—the Queen Street car, of course—and slept alone on my king-sized bed.”
“At least you got to use your room.”
Michael and I went out again that night to another leather bar, but in the village this time. A plump, grey-haired man dressed in regulation chaps, cap and harness drummed up a lively conversation with Michael about Coronation Street—he was the president of its local fan club. I left them alone. When I returned a half hour later, Michael was in the company of a little guy with handcuffs. I went back to Don Mills.
On the way to the subway a female prostitute tried to hook me. I told her I was gay. “Well, then, can I have twenty dollars for diapers?” she implored.
Arlene and the girls were watching a Full House rerun when I got in. “How was it this time?” they asked.
“Cold, and hardly any people. But at least it was friendly!”
The following day I learned Michael’s evening ended up much like the night before.
“Again, it was quick. I’m beginning to think Torontonians like their sex the way they like their city: fast and efficient,” he mused glumly over his coffee.
Saturday night I was determined to go to a place that was not only warm but crowded. I figured if a bar had lots of people, their collectively warm and hopefully hot bodies would heat it up some, and in more ways than one. Even over the course of Michael’s and my daytime wanderings around downtown I hadn’t seen anyone yet who took my fancy—I was beginning to fear I’d left my libido in Quebec. Michael had his mind set on the same bar we went to the first night, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I decided on a popular dance bar in the village.


Through the blowing snow I trudged to the bus stop that Saturday evening. It felt strange to go out so early, especially as I knew I would probably be taking the bus back in just three hours. It all seemed too orderly: the bars closing at one and the subway at one-thirty. In Montreal, I often go out at two after an evening of writing.
I waited at the bus stop with my back against the wind and the hood of my parka bunched around my face. Suddenly, out of the blizzard flashed wide, sky-blue eyes; hockey skates flapped over a shoulder, and jogging shoes gripped the tire-ground snow to light deftly in the powder beside me. He was small, twentyish, all dressed in that kind of breathable nylon material used for sports clothes. Around his neck hung yellow headphones. His hair—dark blond—was cut very close along the sides, and about three inches long on top. The sweetness of his eyes and boyish face were mercifully checked by a nose that was humped, like a cartoon gangster’s. He rested a few paces upwind of me and lit a cigarette. “Lotta snow, eh?” he offered, energetically.
I turned to face him. I could see that he’d already learned how to melt the frost and get his way by twinkling those eyes and crooking that smile. “Not a lot compared with where I come from,” I replied: the obnoxious tourist, perhaps, but it was true.
“Where’re you from?” he asked.
I told him.
Parles-tu français ? Est-ce que tu le parles souvent ?” he asked. (Do you speak French? Do you speak it a lot?)
Not a bad accent, I thought. Mais oui. Où est-ce que tu l’a appris ?” (Of course. Where did you learn to speak it?)
“I live in Sudbury. I rent out snowmobiles there.” He spoke in that direct, strong way that a man’s man uses: clipped speech, simple words and a forthright, cheerful manner. All the while he shifted from leg to leg, holding his small, athletic body rigid and proud. He brought his cigarette to his mouth overhand, his elbow level with his wrist. A ball of smoke and water vapour popped out of his mouth to engorge my head. “Sorry—I didn’t mean to blow smoke in your face,” he said, his eyebrows raised high with concern.
“That’s okay.” I wondered if hw knew what blowing cigarette smoke into someone’s face was supposed to mean.
“I came down to Tronna to see my girlfriend, and now I’m goin’ to my old man’s on the other side of town. Where’re you headin’?”
“Downtown to meet some friends at a bar,” I lied.
The bus came. I wondered if I were expected to sit with him or whether I could be excused to sit quietly by myself and read my paper—I didn’t want to be drawn into a conversation about hockey. As the bus pulled up, he introduced himself as Dave.
“It’s warmest in the back,” said Dave.
Uh-oh, I thought, getting on first. I guess I’m stuck now. Still. he’s not bad to look at.
Now that I’ve been a grownup for some time, I don’t think twice about sitting next to people on city buses. So I forgot the teenage etiquette that prohibits two guys from sitting together lest people think they’re fruits. After I let him slide in on the back bench next to the window, taking the seat next to his for myself, I immediately realized my faux pas. Dave was swift to recover, however, by gesturing that he couldn’t hear me well through his ear on my side, and he suggested we should switch places. As we moved he slipped the required distance of one seat between us and crossed his legs manly style—ankle on knee—to protect the space, as well as his masculinity.
“Ever heard of the OHL?” Dave asked.
“The Ontario Hockey League?”
“Yeah. I used to play with them in Sudbury. Eric Lindros was on my team. Now I got the snowmobiles to rent out and the marina to run in summer.”
I thought he was a little young to own a marina. And the OHL? Well, it’s more fun to let people spin their yarns and then watch as their stories get all tangled up.
“My wife works there too,” he added.
Hmm, I thought. It was his girlfriend before. Let’s see: “How long you been married?” I asked, innocently.
“Since the summer.”
“Any kids on the way?”
“Naw, not yet,” he said, tugging on his crotch.
He talked some more about his life in Northern Ontario. “One of my mechanics is an old friend of mine. We knew each other since we were kids.” Then, looking intently into my eyes, he added, “And a little while ago, he told me he was gay.”
Here we go.
“ … but it doesn’t matter to me, ’cause he’s the best damn mechanic I got!” A big, crooked smile followed, as he leaned back and spread his hand on his knee, elbow out. “So what about you— You married?” He pulled at his crotch again.
“No,” I said, pretending not to notice. “I prefer the single life.” I wasn’t lying, but I wasn’t going to be too easy. It might be fun to have a “straight,” but I could see this one was going to take a lot of ritual. I also wondered if he might not become dangerous afterward. His macho comportment was too studied, as if his life depended on people thinking him real butch.
Dave banged along that tack for awhile, questioning me about my sex life, but I didn’t give an inch—I knew what he wanted to hear. The way I play this game, the challenge lays in withholding the truth without lying.
Before long he set up for the kill: “Did’ja go out this weekend?”
“Yeah.”
“What clubs did you go to?”
According to my rules, I told him the names.
“I never heard of ’em. What kind of places are they?”
Oh, what a set up! “Gay bars,” I conceded.
“Oh yeah?” Smile and twinkle. “I kinda thought you might be gay when I saw you at the bus stop.”
I’ll bet you did: When you go fishing with those baby blues, you’re sure to get a bite, aren’t you. Any red-blooded fag is gonna take a look at them beauties when they pop out of a blizzard.
“So, where’re you goin’ tonight?” Dave’s face was bright and earnest.
“The Pitstop.”
“Where’s that?” he asked innocently.
“Just south of Sherbourne station.”
“Oh yeah, I know where that is. My father’s office is just across the street from it.”
I’ll bet it is.
We arrived at the subway stop. While part of me wanted to get rid of him—I really didn’t see any great chance of bedding him—the other part wanted to see where he was going with all this. I was fascinated. At least my weekend in Toronto was finally getting interesting!
We sat on a bench inside so he could have a cigarette and decide what to do. Even though I didn’t smoke, I was glad to see someone break the law in this tidy city. Dave pawed his basket yet again. What the hell did he expect me to do? I wondered, blow him right here?
“You wanna go for a coffee?” he asked, ever enthusiastic.
We tried to think of where to go. I really wanted to go to the bar. Finally, I broke down and asked what he was waiting to here: “Do you wanna come to the bar with me?”
Dave became all smiley and aw-gee-shucks like. “Me in a gay bar? Me and my buddies went into one by mistake once, and this guy grabbed me right here”—he pointed to his favourite body part—“so I slugged him.” He grinned. “And if my girlfriend knew I was goin’ to a gay bar, she’d kill me!”
Now it’s his girlfriend again.
He looked at his money. “I don’t have much, but I’ll give it a try. You gotta protect me, though,” he said sternly. “I don’t want any guys comin’ on to me.”
“Just don’t punch anybody out,” I warned him, as we went down to the frigid platform. “You’ll be in our territory.” I preferred him to think I still believed he were straight.
The train came and brought us the four or five stops to Sherbourne. “Follow me,” Dave offered when the doors opened. “I know where it is ’cause it’s right across from my father’s office.” I smiled to myself as I filed out behind him. Once outdoors, he pointed to his father’s office as we passed.
“Aren’t you afraid he might be there now and he’ll see you going into a gay bar?” I baited.
“Oh, no— He’s at home. I spoke to him before I left.”
I smiled some more.
“You’re gonna protect me, eh?” he repeated as we entered the bar.
All he checked were his hockey skates. He kept his nylon and Walkman on. As we entered the main bar, his eyes grew wide. We ordered beer, then he asked a smoker for a cigarette.
“This is my first time in a gay bar,” Dave announced, his eyes searching the guy’s face for surprise. But the smoker only gave him a sarcastic look as he slid open his pack.
“Gays are okay, y’know. I got nothin’ against ’em,” Dave babbled, taking a cigarette. “Hey,” he started, noticing a rather dowdy, not-too-youngish woman nearby. Raising his eyebrows in what was meant to be a lascivious way, he added, “You never know, eh?”
As he sailed over to the woman, the smoker asked sarcastically, “What’s that?”
“I don’t know. He followed me from a bus stop in Don Mills.”
“What’s with all this macho stuff? And why does he pretend he’s straight?”
“Oh, some guys have a hard time coming out, I guess.”
“Really!” he said, rolling his eyes.
Dave rejoined us, saying he wanted to explore the bar. Feeling cocky from his visit with the woman, he started to lead the way, saying thanks to the smoker as we left him; the smoker just looked away, shaking his head in disbelief.
Dave swaggered through the bar with all the macho he could muster—caveman-like, hauling on his cigarette as though it were a joint, and grinning, almost smirking, at the men who lined the walls. While a few more eyes rolled, others gawked. I somewhat enjoyed being seen with this little piece of exotica—as though he were a tough I had tamed and I were taking him out for a stroll.
When we got to the smaller bar I noticed they sold draft by the pitcher. I figured this would make what little money we had go further. I ordered one. “This is my first time in a gay bar,” Dave informed the bartender, playing the innocent-straight-but-darling-boy routine.
The bartender, who looked seasoned, didn’t miss a beat. “Wait’ll he sees the back room,” he winked at me.
“Let’s go now!” said Dave. I noticed he didn’t even ask what a back room was. We entered an empty room with TV screens showing the inevitable fuck film.
“Let’s sit up there,” urged Dave.
We planted ourselves on bar stools at a counter in front of the screens and took in what was meant to turn us on: one stud was stuffing his semi-hard, unprotected cock into another’s asshole while two more studs looked on pumping on their own semi-hard cocks. All were groaning. I expected my “straight” friend to storm out at any moment, but after a few minutes of this I turned and found him slack-jawed with glazed eyes. “This is gross,” I said. “Let’s go.” Even if he wasn’t a virgin, he probably hadn’t done much with men; I didn’t want him to think this is what gay sex was all about.
He nodded, and I led a dazed little hockey player back into the light of the bar.
“Let’s dance,” Dave suggested, coming to.
“Okay.” Hmm, he asked a man to dance…
He danced hard and ferociously, hooking his arms as though he were fighting, the way Popeye the Sailor might have done if he’d had dance music. But his rhythm didn’t match the music’s—he whirled and twisted frenetically. The woman Dave was talking to before stepped onto the dance floor with a guy, and Dave spun over to dance and talk with her. I was relieved to be left by myself. When I looked over, I noticed the girl and the guy laughing to each other, their faces looking incredulous as Dave talked and twirled in front of them. “How d’ya like my dancin’?” he asked me afterward, his hair plastered to his forehead from sweat. “Pretty good, eh!”
“Uh, you’re a real powerhouse,” I offered.
“Can you buy some more beer?” he asked. “I’ll call my uncle and he’ll come over with some really good weed and some money.”
His uncle?! I figured his stories—and where they’d take him—were worth a little more beer. I bought another pitcher. It, plus one more, would hold us until the one-AM closing time. We took it to a high table in a far corner and perched on stools behind it. Before long Dave wanted to dance again. “Will you still be here when I get back?”
I nodded.
“Watch my gloves, okay?” A pair of ski gloves lay on the stool.
“Sure.” While he was gone, I studied the crowd for awhile, happy to be left to observe it. He really was quite tiresome, I thought, his straight act and all. Why did he hang around with me? For sex? An audience? Or just an accomplice. Even if I wanted to go with him, where would we go? I sure wasn’t going to take him to my sister-in-law’s house. And besides, there was still the possibility he’d get ugly after coming and beat the hell out of me.
When he returned, we talked a bit and drank some more beer. But Dave was restless. “I’m gonna dance some more, will you still be here?”
“Uh, I guess so.”
“You sure?” He asked, sensing my discontent.
“Yeah, sure,” I acquiesced. Right, I fumed to myself: The man goes off to wander while the little woman stays put.
Then a cute guy with short, curly black hair smiled at me from across the table. I smiled back. He moved in. “Hi, my name’s Kyle.”
“Hi, I—”
“Can I have some of your beer?” he interrupted, pointing to the pitcher.
Oh great, another mooch. Why are Torontonians hitting up impoverished artist types from Montreal? I poured him some. We made small talk. “What do you do?” I asked.
“I work on the garbage trucks,” said Kyle.
Oh boy, a garbage man, I thought, thinking of all the really hot garbage men that do my street. My roommates and I would run to the front to see them flinging bags through the air, muscles flexing, sweat running down suntanned torsos, and shouting at the driver in a singing way: C’est beau![1] The evening was picking up! “On the back?” I asked.
“Yeah. Look at these muscles.” He laid out his forearms on the table—his shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows. I felt them. Then, for good measure, I groped his biceps. Both sets were big and hard.
Dave came back dripping with sweat. “I called my uncle, and he’ll be coming soon with grass and money.” He swayed.
I held back from asking, Your uncle knows you’re gay? I figured that would only lead to a long story I didn’t think I had the patience to listen to. I introduced him to Kyle as I poured him another glass. “This is my first time in a gay bar!” chanted Dave as they shook hands.
“Oh yeah?” said the other. Not knowing what else to say, he added: “Not many people tonight.”
Dave grabbed the pitcher and poured some beer into his mouth. “Wait, it’s early!” he said.
“But I thought you never been here before,” said Kyle.
“Uh, no! My father’s office is across the street. He told me,” Dave murmured. Looking sheepish about his gaffe, he staggered off with what was left of the pitcher.
“Friend of your?” the garbage man asked.
“No.”
“Let’s get out of here before he gets back.”
I thought I might feel guilty about leaving Dave, but he was getting too smashed to do either of us any good. Besides, a garbage man! “Sure,” I said.
As we waited at the coat check, Dave passed by. “You leavin’?” he asked, with innocent but blurry blue eyes.
“Yeah,” I replied, glancing at Kyle. Then I looked Dave straight in the eye as if to say, in language a “straight” guy ought to understand: A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Dave looked at Kyle, gave his good-ole-guy grin at me, and stiffened up as if to reply: Yup. And his buddies gotta leave him to it.
“It was great meetin’ ya,” he said. “Too bad you can’t stay till my uncle comes. He’ll have lots of smoke and he’ll pay you back for the beer you bought me.” He looked a little dejected—and confused (I was leaving him alone in a queer bar, after all)—but very drunk. He was a big boy nevertheless.
“That’s okay. You have a good time,” he winked, swaying.
By the time I got my coat, Kyle had already gone outside. I found him talking with a drag queen taller than either of us. To my dismay he was inviting her to join us. Lucky for me, I thought, she dourly but politely declined. I’d never unveiled a drag queen before, and besides— I like my males in male drag. I looked at Kyle, stunned. “Let’s go back inside for a quick look around,” he said.
“What! We just left!” The evening had become all too bizarre, and no happy ending was in sight: a country-bumpkin “straight” who had to get completely hammered in order to come out just a little bit, a street-hardened sophisticate into who knows what kind of sex, and, on top of it all, both of them were freeloading off me! “If you want a threesome, forget it,” I shouted, heading for the subway. I’d run out of money and he knew it—he probably wanted to hit on somebody else for drinks. How come these people had good jobs but no money? I wanted to get back to Montreal where getting sex is so much simpler.

The next day I said farewell to my nieces and their mother—I was finally able to tell them that I’d had an interesting evening. I saved the details for Michael after our train started back to Montreal.
“I would have ditched him right away,” said Michael, impatiently. “ ‘Takes one to know one,’ you should have said when he said he could tell you were gay.”
“Well, I really didn’t wanted to get into a semantic tug of war.”
“Yeah, I’ve been down that road before. Let ’em work it out on somebody else’s time. Pretty boys—gay ones—can be had with a lot less effort than that and be a lot more fun for their lack of hang-ups.”
“But it was fun,” I said. “Even if nothing sexual happened. Dave gave me the most fun I’ve had in a long time. And you know what?”
“What,” glowered Michael.
“He even gave me his number!”
Michael rolled his eyes.

From "East of the Big Q," a collection of short stories about queer Montreal, by Raymond John Woolfrey. Copyright 2001-2012 This story was first published in the Blithe House Quarterly, Fall 1998.

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