Two angels; source unknown

of The Knapsack

of The Bells

September 1969


This is from a Tuesday, September 23, 1969 entry in my journal -- only the second I'd made after arriving in town, recording what was just my fifth day here.

That had been a Sunday -- during which, it tells me, "I had nothing else to do but play tourist games." I went to the observation deck of the Toronto Dominion Centre (the city's tallest structure at the time), got my first view of Lake Ontario, then took the ferry to the Island -- from which I judged the skyline "at least mildly impressive." I was still comparing everything to Boston.

I walked (endlessly; I would for years). Cruising, really. I wouldn't have thought of it quite like that then; I see I did use the word, even had down some techniques. But I knew nothing yet of gay life or lingo. As you'll see.

Still, I suppose it's not entirely accidental that I made my way to Yorkville, the only part of the city that, to me, had any reputation at all: a hippie one. If dated even then. So get ready for some rap. At length: few later episodes get this much ink; maybe it came of being 19.

I had bought a 1/4 pound of cashews, which I was eating slowly but which I intended to use more or less to break the ice if I found someone I could talk to. I had been through Yorkville before [the bookstore where I got my first job had a branch there] and I knew it didn't look too promising, but I figured if there was anywhere in this city where people would be willing to simply sit and rap, that would be it.

So for a while I cruised it between Bay Street and Avenue Road, each time a bit more slowly, each time stopping more often to look in windows and hopefully at least to be spoken to by someone. But like any and all hip areas which have been in existence long enough for the weekend people, the tourists, the postcard people and the mass merchandisers of hipness to know about them -- like the Hashbury or the East Village or Harvard Square -- Yorkville is a down scene. It's a monstrous montage of blind faces, drug drunk and co-opted.

So I walked down to Queen's Park and sat there for almost half an hour. Nothing. I should have gone home, but I couldn't. I really wanted someone to talk to. So it was back up Avenue Road, back to the Village. I walked up a way, about halfway to Bay, and then back down. I was almost just going to call it quits. I walked back and stood, indecisive.

But by then I'd had it. I angrily whipped my hopeful little bag of cashews into a litter container and began walking briskly across the street, headed for Avenue Road and home.

But between me and Bathurst Street [my $11.50 a week room at the top of a house there, just north of College] was a recipient for the cashews, even though they were gone.

He was sitting on a stump against the chainlink fence which surrounds the parking lot on the southern corner of Yorkville and Avenue Road [later site of the grand Four Seasons Hotel]. He had a knapsack and a bedroll beside him, and as I passed he looked up rather cautiously at the small group of people I happened to be among.

I walked about five steps more and stopped, stood for about 15 seconds (staring at the illuminated "Br" -- all that was lit of "Britannica" -- atop a nearby building), and then whipped around and sped back past him as if I had some business up the street. About a hundred feet along I turned again and walked back toward him. There was an empty stump beside his.

"You look like you just got in."


"What do you think of this... place?"

"I think it's a drag."

"I think you're right. Can I sit down?"

So we rapped, on and off, whenever, I suppose, either of us could think of anything that might interest the other. He was from Sudbury, which is (as Guy, the thickhead next door in my rooming house has it) "hell, north." He had quit school at grade 9, had had $1,000 worth of psychoanalysis, and had picked tobacco in towns I'd never heard of.

He wasn't too crazy about Yorkville, he figured it was a freak show, and he needed a place to stay. I wished I could have given him one, but I was sure the older tenants in my house (and, needless to say, the landlady) wouldn't have approved. So we just rapped on.

He was nice, apparently younger than me, maybe 18, obviously not highly educated but not stupid. He had dark hair, a pleasant toothy smile in which his eyes participated to good effect, and at least the beginnings of a moustache. He was not really beautiful, but in a quiet way very appealing.

With good reason for me of course: he was the first person outside work I had talked with, and he appeared at a time when I was about to go home in a fit of anger, loneliness, and self pity.

About 15 minutes later a third party joined us. He was more standard looking for the Yorkville scene than either Sudbury or I: his hair was longer, and he was wearing a leather jacket and mildly belled jeans with heavy boots.

He too, it appeared, was pretty much disgusted with the Yorkville crowd. He had been sitting on the other side of the street (the action side) for two hours, and nobody had given him even a kind look. He had almost lost the suitcase and blanket roll he had with him to petty theft. One guy, he told us, had offered him a place to sleep, but he figured he was a fag, especially when, after he said no, the guy said he'd find somebody else.

So the three of us sat and rapped some more. This third person was from Chicago, it turned out. He was a student, of sorts; he went to school one term, worked one, and travelled two every year. He had spent the summer in Mexico. We discussed the hip scene, and Fromm [Erich, of Escape From Freedom, a '60s standard] and if..., which he had also seen [a classic youth rebellion flick of the day], and even suicide, which he had tried but did not advocate.

Chicago was also a very appealing person. He was obviously intelligent, pleasant to listen to; his voice was about half a note higher than I'd have expected if I'd never heard him speak, and he often smiled as he spoke, somehow giving his words a happy, informal sound. He was physically very attractive, with large brown eyes and a large, expressive mouth. He was thin, but not really noticeably; he was well muscled with the kind of narrow hips and slender legs that look good in the tight bells he was wearing.

So we rapped, and all of us were happier; all of us had been wanting to do just that all night, it appeared.

But by now it was getting pretty late. Most of the Yorkville crowd was going home to mother until next weekend, and the proprietors of the small shops around were busily sweeping the piles of trash they had created into the street, where cars made a racket riding over it. It was late indeed, almost 1:30, and neither of my two acquaintances had anywhere to go.

So we rose, and headed up Yorkville toward Yonge to find, hopefully, an all night restaurant. And we did. I left them at the door and wished them the best of luck in getting to wherever they decided to go. And I walked home, a lot happier than I had been three hours before, happier for the existence of two people, going nowhere particular, whose names I didn't even know and would probably never see again.

At least that was what I thought.

The next morning I got up and walked to work, stopping off at Zumburger to get some breakfast and some coffee for Randy [my book boss, since with the National Library of Canada]. I was surprised as hell to see, in the window of one of the restaurants I walked by, the tired grinning face of Chicago. And across the table from him an equally tired Sudbury.

I went in, smiling happily. They had been there about a half hour, studying Chicago's road map of Southern Ontario for the best way to hitch out of big T.O. They had slept about six hours in a schoolyard, awakened by little kids throwing rocks at them. The restaurant they had been in had indeed stayed open all night, accommodating mostly Toronto's queer nightlife.

"You should have seen them," Chicago said, "all flying around. It was interesting."

I wanted to stay and talk longer but it was 10 and I had to get to work. But I was really glad to have seen them again, in the daylight. I kind of hope they took off together, and I hope they make it alright everywhere. I figured they both could cope with that a lot better than I could. I slept in a bed the night before, and I was going to work. But I need a base so I didn't mind.

They apparently left, but I kept them in my head. They were beautiful.

So goodbye to nameless Sudbury and Chicago, and love. God (if a creature existing will answer to that name) bless you, one, one, and both.

Epilogue (Thursday, Sept 25, 1969, 9:05 pm)

I was walking west on Bloor today and met Sudbury, who apparently has decided to stay a while. He said he had met someone he was staying with over on Spadina. Chicago had left by himself for Nova Scotia; as Sudbury put it, he walked one way on Bloor and Chicago the other.

So they did not go together. But no matter, I suppose. Sudbury, anyway, is alright; shoeless but alright.

I did keep them in my head -- if, alas, not their faces: I can't now call either up in my mind. I wish I could: they do sound handsome boys.

524 Bathurst St

524 Bathurst Street:
the room at the top my first digs in Toronto,
from whence I headed out on this wander,
and returned.

For more on how I got to this city, my first year here, and other serendipitous connections then that would shape my life, see Promiscuous Affections: 1969.

Next episode: II: Cherubim

Go back to: Preface

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December 2000 / Last revised: July 12, 2003
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