A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000
Going in

Halls of academe

Elmsley Hall, St Mike's

Victoria College residences

Richly ambiguous
residential variety:

Elmsley Hall at the Catholic St Michael's College; Burwash Hall at Victoria, born Methodist, now United Church; conjoined in the University of Toronto.

There was handsome Donnie, big Steve -- & sweet Rich with his gently wary manner, his swimmer's body in his room at Vic once in nothing but tiny blue skivvies.

I truly believed he was the most beautiful young man I'd ever seen.


The menage at 69 Walmer Road didn't long survive the Sixties. Steve and Wendie needed a place of their own: Wendie was pregnant. They were married at city hall on January 26, my gift to them the $10 licence fee.

They came to live in a married students' residence not far from The Book Cellar. The building had washing machines and dryers and I had neither, so I'd take laundry with me on visits. Steve would greet me with, "Mister Rick" (he always called me that), "have a cigarette." I would, and have smoked ever since. We remained great friends for a few years more.

I didn't have such luck with Joe and Enzo. We'd found a two bedroom place in a three storey walk up at 51 St Nicholas, not far from Steve and Wendie and my work. They got the bedrooms; I slept in the living room -- when I could. There was a desk there; I'd sit writing while Joe and Enzo talked into the night, the little stereo blaring. Janis Joplin I liked well enough; Led Zeppelin drove me bats. ("Squeeze me baby, 'til the juice runs down my leg." Yeah, sure.)

Neither did I enjoy endless stoned raps, meanderings, out loud introspection. What would you do if X happened? What is our responsibility to the world? (That to Jim Morrison: "What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister?" They, I noted.) And really: What is the meaning of life?

I pondered Big Questions, too -- we were 20, after all -- but on my own, mostly in my journal. I soon grew impatient with them: their answers couldn't come in idle speculation, I realized, but only out in life, in looking at what you actually do in the world. Enzo, with the original Steve, would end up seeking his answers in Scientology.

Sometimes I had better company. Second Steve, Enzo and Joe were at St Michael's College, the Catholic school at the University of Toronto. Many kids there were from upstate New York, in their "Western year" (first offered at the University of Western Ontario, to catch up with Ontario's Grade 13).

Through my housemates I got to meet lots, hanging around the St Mike's cafeteria or up in their rooms in Elmsley Hall -- also scenes of endless late night yaks -- and occasionally at the apartment. Preferably when I could be with them there alone: I was often quite enamoured.

There was Tom, who wanted to immigrate; we talked about sharing a place when he had. He never did. There was a sweet boy named Rich. He was at Victoria College. I once sat with him in his room at Vic's ersatz Gothic Burwash Hall, his swimmer's body in nothing but tiny blue skivvies.

I more often saw Rich in a big blue RCAF greatcoat and a long blue and white scarf, out on jaunts together. He had dark hair, sparkling blue eyes behind long black lashes (always a knockout, that combo), a gentle if slightly wary manner. I truly believed he was the most beautiful young man I had ever seen. He knew I was gay. I don't know if he was. He once told me of a bad experience with a man who picked him up hitchhiking.

Rich later went off to Europe and would send me postcards. In October 1971 he'd turn up at my door, more filled out then, his face and once perfect ass losing their fine definition. But his eyes were the same, giving and hesitant. We would talk until 1:00 in the morning. I never saw him again.

There was handsome Donnie from Brantford, his girlfriend Mary from Buffalo, she just 17 but hugely her own person. I loved them both and they knew it: Mary would call Donnie "our husband"; parting I would kiss them both. Once in a restaurant Don, with a soulful gaze, said to me: "You're beautiful." "How do you mean that exactly?" "In every possible way." "Don, you've never flirted with me before." "This isn't flirting. Flirting's a game. This is dead serious."

Mary and Don eventually married. I dressed for their wedding and then, heading to the bus station to go to Buffalo, I turned back. They would be divorced soon after, Steve and Wendie, too. Then Don would marry Wendie.

Mostly there was Steve, yet another Steve. He was handsome, built, jock playful, his big grinning guffaws a joy. He liked to call me "Boo boo." Steve was from Rochester. He too planned to immigrate and later would. My feelings for him I made perfectly clear: once visiting him, he naked to the waist, corduroys hugging his crotch, he asked "So what's new?"

I said: "I want to suck your cock." He laughed. "Okay," I said, "you already knew that." He did. I never did do it, though once got temptingly close. I'd later help get him a job at The Book Cellar.


"Oh Mary, don't ask!"

Two Boys in the Band

Harold, & Harold's
birthday present:

Leonard Frey & Robert Latourneau in promo for The Boys in the Band, from Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet.

I went to see it more than once. So did many boys at St Mike's. In no time Elmsley Hall was ringing with camp.

None of this seemed homophobic -- a word not yet coined. Rather, it was an opening: it let me flirt, & some of them too.


Popularized by Dr George Weinberg in his 1972 book, Society & the Healthy Homosexual): irrational fear of homosexuality -- even in oneself; repressed desires projected onto an evil "other."

Like all phobias it was seen as neurotic, in short a personal problem. Later terms (heterosexism; heteronormativity) would be more sweepingly social. But "homophobia" became common coin, perhaps a comfort to those who want to see social evils as simply the product of a few sick minds.

The Boys in the Band opened here in March 1970. Despite its stereotypes so decried then and later, it gave me a room full of gay men, distinct people (the stereotypes at least more than one) having a wonderful time -- until things got grim in the second half. I went to see it more than once.

So did many of the boys at St Mike's. In no time Elmsley Hall was ringing with camp: "Oh Mary, don't ask!"; "Polly Paranoia!"; "Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here?"

Donnie had a more subtle approach: looking at some boy he'd quietly say with just the hint of a lisp, "He's nice." One of the teaching Basilian Fathers, gay himself I believe, thought Don was big Steve's little plaything.

None of this seemed to me homophobic -- a word then not yet coined. Instead it was an opening: it let me flirt, and some of them too. Most of these boys were not gay but some were, their toes beginning to peek out of the closet in all this play. One would later come out to me.

But, for all the fun this was not gay life, certainly not gay sex, as far I knew. Steve & Wendie, Donnie & Mary, Steve & Cathy (he called her "Cupcake") -- I was a third wheel to all this, my own affections unreal to them amidst all this seriously consequential heterosexuality.

To Don once, he in a quandary about Mary, I said, "Well, to console yourself, consider the state of my love life." I was talking about my feelings for him. "Aw Rick," he shot back, "I can go get fucked anytime I want. It's not that."

Lucky Don: I couldn't go get fucked anytime. Not yet anyway. Not ever, really, not any old time I might want.

Gay life, if not bar life, began for me on March 25, 1970. I recorded it in my journal at 1:05 am:

I don't know exactly where my head is about my sexuality. Was propositioned tonight in the store by a regular customer from whom I have been expecting such. Would have gone but really (honest) had to do laundry. He doesn't really appeal to me all that much, but I would have gone just to see.

His proposition was for coffee. I know because I later took him up on it. Joel was 24, handsome if in a slightly precious way, rather sober and very smart.

He became for quite a time my closest friend. We'd go to Lum's on Yonge for bad Chinese food, Rugantino's for great lasagna, for crêpes at La Crêpe up on Bloor. He'd come with me on visits to Steve and Wendie's, delighted by their baby daughter. He'd call me almost every day. We talked endlessly: about artists (mostly New York Abstract Expressionists, whose work he knew well); about poetry; about boys he was in love with, always unattainable.

Joel could be morose sometimes. Too much therapy, I thought: he had been and would be in it most of his life, eventually becoming an art therapist himself. I played foil to his occasional gloom, generally more optimistic about life.

We were an odd match, a good one, finding that skill so special to friendship: hearing each others' woes (I had a few, too) while knowing we need only listen, not try to rush in and play fixer.


Frank O'Hara and Vincent Warren

"...since once we are together
we always will be in this life
come what may":

Frank O'Hara (seated) with dancer Vincent Warren, 1965.
Photo by George Montgomery, in Brad Gooch's City Poet.

I would come to know Frank O'Hara's poetry, something of his life; even to my great surprise the man for whom he wrote his most beautiful love poems.

Frank O'Hara

There are many books on & by O'Hara. Some key ones:

Donald Allan, ed:
The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara. Alfred A Knopf, 1971.
Fully indexed, annotated -- & incomplete: more of Frank's poems, often sent to friends or casually stuffed away, were uncovered years later.

Frank O'Hara:
Art Chronicles 1954-1966. Braziller, 1975.
Frank as art critic. In his day job he was a curator at the Museum of Modern Art.

Marjorie Perloff:
Frank O'Hara: Poet Among Painters. Braziller, 1977.
First scholarly study of O'Hara's work, in particular its links with Abstract Expressionism. Most academics found Frank's poetry "frivolous" -- what with all those crazy painter drinking buddies.

Brad Gooch:
City Poet: The Life & Times of Frank O'Hara. Alfred A Knopf, 1993.
Massive bio, lots of pics -- if a bit precious. Joe LeSueur (below) would call Brad's Uptown take on Downtown art antics "a cold, deadly account of Frank's life."

Joe LeSueur:
Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara. A Memoir.Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2003.
Frank's longtime roomie (& most unresolved love) tells all: their messy lives & mad social scene viewed as wondrous, not scandalous. Joe died, age 77, in 2001.

For more on Vincent Warren, see 1973.

It was Joel who introduced me to Frank O'Hara, or rather to some of his poems. I didn't much like them at first. They seemed too coy, too "in" -- full of references I didn't get, to his friends, his city, New York City.

He was famous as the poet of New York and long would be, if not a poet any more: he had died in 1966 at the age of 40, hit by a dune buggy on Fire Island.

Among the poems Joel gave me was "À la recherche d' Gertrude Stein." That one I liked well enough to transcribe into my journal. It was a love poem, one of many (he had done a whole volume called Love Poems), written to Vincent Warren, this from 1959:

When I am feeling depressed and anxious sullen
all you have to do is take your clothes off
and all is wiped away revealing life's tenderness
that we are flesh and breathe and are near us
as you are really as you are I become as I
really am alive and knowing vaguely what is
and what is important to me above the intrusions
of incident and accidental relationships
which have nothing to do with my life

when I am in your presence I feel life is strong
and will defeat all its enemies and all of mine
and all of yours and yours in you and mine in me
sick logic and feeble reasoning are cured
by the perfect symmetry of your arms and legs
spread out making an eternal circle together
creating a golden pillar beside the Atlantic
the faint line of hair dividing your torso
gives my mind rest and emotions their release
into the infinite air where since once we are
together we always will be in this life come what may

Later I would know this by heart. I read more of Frank O'Hara's poetry, came to know something of his life and would, to my great surprise, even come to know the man for whom he had written this poem and many others.

Sex came in April. I'd written out endless quandaries of sex, desire for delicious straight friends feeling an unfair imposition -- even as I thought friends were precisely the people one should sleep with.

It doesn't usually turn out like that in gay life, often for sound reasons: "Honey, you don't have sex with your sisters" --though occasionally in my life I would. It certainly didn't turn out like that the first time.

Sunday, April 26, 1970:

A day that will go down in history. A day that ranks with Sept 16, 1969.* The day that fate took my hand. Yes! Mission accomplished! I MADE IT!

And you know what? Nothing's changed. **

The asterisks led to notes I made just days later: *Oh yeah? **Exactly. Clearly I was not impressed. You likely won't be either.

Little Billy (late of Walmer Road) had called me, bored. So we went to a movie. It was at Cinecity, a place noted for art films but I don't remember what the film was, art or not. Looking for seats we found two right beside a big bleach blond man and another smaller, darker one. The hunky blond was called Joe Hill. He was reputed to have hung around the fringes of Andy Warhol's Factory in New York. Billy knew him.

We all went back to my place, my roomies out. Joe Hill asked, "Got any dope?" I didn't. "Got any booze?" No. He pondered a moment and then said, "Well -- let's just fuck."

We did. All four of us. More or less. I wrote about it the next day.

I have done lots of thinking about last night. I'm not really confused, though there exist some conflicting feelings in my head. Sure it was good finally making it. Joe Hill, who I more or less started with, is beautiful. I think I really could have flipped out completely with him alone.

But therein lies the rub. We weren't alone and I didn't flip out. My whole mood during most of it was a kind of wry amusement. How could I help it? There was poor little Billy, whipping himself madly to get it up after already having had sex five times that day [he said]. It was aggressive at times, perhaps, but rarely passionate. Rarely was there any real fervent feeling.

The biggest thing I discovered is that though I certainly didn't dislike it, I wasn't eager to do it all again as soon as I could. I had the feeling: If this is it, well baby, I can take it or leave it. It was not what I had been after. I don't feel bad about it. I just know that I'd rather make it with someone I care for to some extent. I'd rather do without it completely than not have anything else. I certainly wouldn't touch drugs for all the fags in T.O.

I wouldn't go completely without it, of course, though my next lesson wouldn't come for nearly six months. Then I would find something else.


88 Carlton

"This should be housing."
Graffiti on 88 Carlton. It would be: by 2000 unbarricaded, renovated & made a co-op.

The place wasn't much but it was mine, the first place I'd ever had on my own.

One day in April I came home to the St Nicholas Street apartment, carting a bag of groceries. When I got in, no one else was there. For the moment. It felt great. I had a vision of carting groceries into an apartment that was mine alone, independent at last. And in time I was.
Saturday, May 9, 1970:

I found a place to move to yesterday. My new address will be 90 Carlton Street, Apt 408. It's a $95 a month bachelor with an almost detached bedroom, and a 2x4 closet for a kitchen. But it's all mine and it's exactly what I wanted.

Ninety Carlton was a typical Toronto apartment building circa 1920, paired with number 88, both long three storey boxes with their short ends facing the street. The bottom floor sunk into the ground as the grade rose to the back. Apt 408 was on that bottom floor, my window sills sitting right on the sidewalk of Mutual Street. Maple Leaf Gardens was nearby; when there was a game on I'd see lots of passing feet.

Diagonally across Carlton and Mutual was an big ornate Victorian house. In 1973 it would become The Club Baths. But I knew nothing of baths then, or in 1973 or much at all even later on.

The Club is still there. So are 88 and 90 Carlton, long vacant but for homeless street kids who once turned them into squats. The kids were turfed, the doors and windows barricaded against them with concrete blocks.

The place wasn't much but it was mine, the first apartment I'd ever had on my own. The rent was more than I earned in a week, but I could swing it. I moved in on June 1 and shopped the next day, buying $95 worth of dishes, pots, pans, linen, a lamp, and some food. All I'd eaten that day was a popsicle.

Some days he would follow a man, a man he'd just seen in the street, for minutes or for hours, thinking he would go up to him and ask him if he knew the way. I can remember doing that in my own time. Thinking that maybe this man was the right man, that maybe it was him I should ask for directions, him who would take me home or wherever it was I was trying to get to. Boy was like that, he was hoping that somebody would take him to the place where everybody else was.

But he never did ask any man for directions; he walked and he walked.

Neil Bartlett, on Boy, in
Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall

In the time I lived on Carlton Street I'd quite often go out and walk. Sometimes I drew maps of the routes, a few very long. The place where everybody else would be was right around the corner, Church Street destined to become a glittering gay mecca. But it was not yet in 1970, far from it.

I did sometimes follow men. Boys actually. I once made a note about trailing a lovely, dark haired kid up Yonge Street, to Isabella and then over to Church, nearly a mile in all, but there I stopped and watched him saunter away. It was incredibly foggy that night, giving the experience a strange wonder.

I wanted to write it, a story with parallel plots: in one I get him; in the other not. But each was to have the same beginning and end: myself alone, either way, at both the beginning and the end.


Toronto Dance Theatre
The founders. For each, fellow pioneer Donald Himes had a distinctive word:

Trish Beatty

"Passionate": Patricia Beatty
"A dramatic, self assured, & flamboyant figure both on & off the stage." Photo: Anthony Crickman; "Rhapsody in the Late Afternoon," 1972.

Peter Randazzo

"Possessed": Peter Randazzo
"Walking electricity with sparks flying in every direction; he was almost scary to be around." Photo uncredited, c 1970.

David Earle

"Profound": David Earle
The trio's peacemaker (right, with Donald Himes), his "rapport with the melancholy 'other' " in part coming, he said, "from growing up gay." Photo: Ken Mimura, c 1970.

TDT tales
A source, & some stories

Nadine Saxton & Katherine Cornell:
Toronto Dance Theatre 1968-1998: Stages in a Journey. Captus Press (York University), Toronto, 1998.

A history marking TDT's 30th anniversary (source of the quotes above; photos courtesy of Kate Cornell at TDT). Full of great tales, particularly of the founders. So I'll recount a few. (In fact, quite a few.)

Patricia Beatty (usually Trish; b 1936, Toronto) got ballet lessons as a girl &, from 1959 to 1965, more serious training in New York with Martha Graham.

Graham (1894-1991) was the 20th century's most potent force in modern dance, her dedication nearly mystical, her discipline legendary: you can't own dance, she once said in essence, until dance owns you. She performed into great old age.

Trish returned to Toronto in 1966, opened a studio at 22 Cumberland St (over an auto body shop, where I first met TDT folks in 1970), & founded the New Dance Group of Canada.

David Earle (b 1939, Toronto) grew up "a sensitive, dreamy kid" caught between sparring parents, his greatest love his grandmother: "I would dance & perform for her & fall at her feet, asking, 'Was I good?' & she would reply, 'You were very good.' "

He joined the Toronto Children's Players; at 20 (late for a boy) got a scholarship to the school of the National Ballet of Canada. He studied with Martha Graham & José Limón in Connecticut in 1963, later at Graham's school in New York. He got his US green card in 1966 -- making him draftable -- so headed off to dance in England.

Peter Randazzo (b 1943, Brooklyn, NY) first saw Martha Graham's school in 1958, dragged there by a girlfriend afraid to go into Manhattan alone. Within two years he was with Graham's company, just in the corps but to Graham, he said, "King of the Hill." In six years she created nine roles for him. He in turn called her "Toots" -- irreverance no one before had dared. The goddess was amused.

It was a passionate relationship, ending passionately in a fight before the whole company at rehearsal -- Martha saying "I'll slap your face," Peter recalling "if she touched me I would have killed her. I literally would have ripped her head off." She didn't; he didn't. "I picked up my little dance bag & walked out. That was my leaving Martha Graham." But in dance, Martha Graham's visceral intensity never left him.

David & Peter met in Graham's class & became lovers. They met Trish there too. In 1968 all three presented a work together in Toronto. Earlier Peter had hitched up with David Earle in Liverpool where, one night on a bus, he turned to David & said: "Let's start a dance company." David asked: "What should we call it?" Peter said, simply: "Toronto Dance Theatre." Trish joined them.

TDT's premiere performances, three Monday nights in Dec 1968, eight pieces with nine dancers, were held at Toronto Workshop Productions, 12 Alexander St -- later home to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (for more on which see Media; & another piece on this site, Diva Diaries).

A reviewer of the day reported "near hysterical enthusiasm," comparing TDT's reception with the riotous one Paris gave Nijinsky in 1913. But Hogtown wasn't always so kind. When TDT's founders got the city's Arts Award in 1988, David Earle said: "For 20 years we've been making love to Toronto & for 20 years Toronto has had a headache."

Like any venture born of creative vision ("an artists' commune," one writer called it) but needing to survive as a business, TDT saw a fractious history. The founders turned administration over to managers & in 1983 artistic direction to Kenny Pearl. Kenny, a student of David's in Toronto in the late '60s, had danced with Alvin Ailey & Martha Graham (with Martha literally, his onstage role to stick by her, over 80 then, to tell her what to do -- in pieces that were of course her own).

Trish, David & Peter stayed as resident choreographers, joined by Christopher House (b 1955, St John's NF), who'd been in the dance program at York University since 1977.

David returned as artistic director in 1987; Peter & Trish left the company in all but name by 1992. In 1994 David turned over his A-D role to House, later starting Dance Theatre David Earle. He's also long been artist in residence at the Canadian Children's Dance Theatre.

For their gifts to Canadian culture, Trish & Peter were awarded the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, David left out then, likely as a too vocal critic of the Canada Council. In 1996 David was named to the Order of Canada, the country's highest honour.

What these pioneers created goes on, TDT in a permanent home since the late '70s: the former St Enoch's Church at 80 Winchester St in Cabbagetown. Its own school, begun in the early '70s, for some years under Donald Himes, another student of Martha Graham, graduates new dancers still.

In TDT's first 30 years the company saw more than 120 dancers (not counting the 400, most TDT students, who appeared over the years in David Earle's Court of Miracles, a Christmas spectacle from 1983 to 1994). It staged nearly 350 pieces by 80 different choreographers, among them Danny Grossman, Robert Desrosiers (both later starting their own companies), René Highway, & James Kudelka (now artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada).

I never saw more than perhaps a dozen of those performances, losing touch with people at TDT after just a few years. But I'm honoured to have known them even a little, these few people who -- out of little more than passion, commitment, skill, & love -- created something of great beauty & lasting value.

It's a story Toronto saw (& in this tale you will see) repeated more than once.

One night, that's not how it ended, but for again not ending in sex. It was not an end but a beginning: of new friendships, discoveries, and dance.

I'd been restless, decided to take the usual walk, usually frustrating. But I did anyway. I wrote it up at 1:10 am, July 1, 1970, even giving it a title: "I'm Glad I Took the Walk I Took Tonight."

Well, on St Joseph Street there was this guy who looked very confused, and who I'd seen before at the store and once on Yonge Street where at the time he had been smiling and I had smiled and said hi. So I said hi and said that he looked very lost and he said that he was and started to walk with me. I was comfortably amazed.

Well, you see, it turns out that he is Olivier, half Indian and half French, and he's with the Toronto Dance Theatre and he knows Joel. We went to his house where there were others, one named Terry who was painting a very beautiful picture, and also another guy and girl.

Well the guy and girl left and later another guy came in with food for Olivier. This other guy was also very friendly and looked like Mickey Dolenz and fondled Olivier's feet and spoke of a problem with his mother and about all the relatives she had told about his problem, and I assumed that he and Olivier were lovers. I was quietly thrilled.

Well I had to leave, because what's going to happen with three guys in such a room, Joe Hill notwithstanding? So I asked them to come back to the store soon and not just to look at books and I think they understood (if not earlier), though I didn't mean it exactly that way.

Well, I'm never sure, you see, what can come of such things.

God, such tentativeness. St Joseph Street was the route from Yonge Street and across Bay, through St Michael's College to Queen's Park -- notoriously cruisy, as it had been for decades.

I'm not sure I knew that then, but plenty of other men did: the curved rods at the top of a cast iron fence, around a grand house now part of the university, were bent down from having been sat on so often. Not a few men could look lost there, though most knew exactly where they were. And what they were doing.

Olivier Normand was stunningly handsome, tall, lean and hawk featured with long flowing black hair. He and that boy -- Scotty, much prettier than Monkee Mickey Dolenz -- were lovers.

What came of this was not an affair but a whole new collection of friends. Within two weeks, Olivier and Joel my entrée, I was hanging out with dancers.

Toronto Dance Theatre had been formed in 1968 by David Earle, Peter Randazzo and Patricia Beatty. Peter and David had been lovers for years both here and in New York, where they had studied with Martha Graham.

I would see a lot of Toronto Dance Theatre. They would go on to great acclaim, including, many years later, an Order of Canada for David Earle. The company would change almost entirely over the years, dancers, especially male ones, not having long careers. In 1970 the originals were all in splendid shape.

Joel and I became especial friends of Keith Urban ("physically -- body and face, spiritually, intellectually, vibrantly beautiful," I wrote of him then) and his wife Suzi. She was eagerly engaging, small and cheery under ringlets of frizzy black hair. Joel said she was by miles the most together of the lot. That must have meant very together: I found them all amazing. In my journal I wrote down the names of every one of them for whom I knew a name, and everything else I knew about them, too.

I would come to love dancers: their dedication to their craft, the endless hours of pain and sweat for a few moments of apparently effortless grace on stage; their surprisingly comfortable egos, easy and relaxed off stage. In time I'd meet quite a few more. (And a few actors too, most never off stage.)

I was seeing more of Flav by this time, he my mentor in the possibilities of life. Once passing a donut shop on Yonge (with a counter in the window, seats at eye level: we called it the Crotch Shot) we spied a handsome man with a beard. We didn't know him but Flav smiled; we stopped and went in to chat him up. He was friendly but nothing more came of it -- except my realization that one could do such things.

Our strolls often led to The Parkside. We were both still just 20, but Flav would often go in. I, a Good Boy still, usually did not. Usually.

Saturday, October 10, 1970, 11:40 pm

Flav and I walked down to city hall and watched four beautiful boys with great smiles play over the big exhaust vent near Queen Street. We walked back up because Flav wanted to go to The Parkside. At College and Yonge we met a kid selling Guerilla, whom both of us had met before.

His name was Ken. He walked with us and we dropped Flav at The Parkside. I walked with Ken to the Nightingale, where Guerilla has moved, back to The Parkside where we talked (outside), and finally he decided to follow somebody and went to The St Charles.

I was going to go home but decided, fuck, why should I? I went into The St Charles and found him. We left, back to The Parkside; he obviously was looking so I asked if I could persuade him to stop, and got a very nice, tasteful no. I left him at The Parkside and came home.

Guerilla (that's how it was spelled) was a countercultural paper, born only that year and very much in the style of the day. Some gay people worked on it (for free, of course) and it sometimes ran gay content. Ken Hutchinson wrote in Guerilla as "The Lavender Kid." He was boyishly good looking and (clearly) good natured.

(I have a picture of him with no clothes on. In fact I took it. But that was years later; I'll show you when we get there.)

The Nightingale was a café at 85 St Nicholas Street, also home to a gallery called A Space (which long survived at other addresses). I often hung out there, cute boys sipping coffee and amenable to talk giving it a certain appeal.

In time a Guerillista told the paper's gay contributors it was for the working class, not "hairdressers and ballet dancers." In late 1971 some would go off and start their own paper, very much gay. Sometimes outrageously so.

In early October, four of us from The Book Cellar went off to hear Kate Millett give a talk at the Westbury Hotel. Her Sexual Politics had been on display in the store for some time but I'd never paid it heed, guessing it was about sex in politics, scandals and such. I certainly learned otherwise, that book the beginning of my true political education.

I was there with assistant manager Barbara and my gorgeous big Steve, now working at the store. Barbara might well have been Barbra: forceful, attractive, proudly Jewish and very political -- a "women's libber" as we said in those days, "feminist" not yet in vogue. We were great pals. We once went to Niagara Falls, for a lark playing Harvey & Ethel, newly married young Jewish couple. I hardly qualified but we had to be Jewish: Barbara was in charge. Everywhere.

Randy, manager of the newer store where I worked, showed up at Kate's talk a bit late with the manager of The Book Cellar's older Yorkville branch. That man was drunk, but even sober he could be a tyrannical boor. He was determined to heckle and made an ass of himself doing it: the best line he could get off was, "Kate, do you ball?"

She handled him beautifully. Randy later told me this big jerk's problem was repressed homosexuality. "He probably wants to ball you." Without him, we left the hotel in search of drink, finding it across the street from our store at Yonge and Charles: at The Famous Door Tavern.

It was a gay bar, but I didn't know it. Not much of one: since the mid '60s it had harboured a small homosexual clientele in what seemed an otherwise ordinary venue, just as many other spots long had. But I had no idea of that history and didn't see any sign of it. But for one out front: "Go Go Girls Gone."

We got plastered. The four of us went to the store, unlocked it and collapsed under its mezzanine stairs. Barbara and Randy were having an affair; they went off to the mall's upstairs washroom. I was left with big hunky Steve, he lying half propped up on the floor, I slouched against his legs. My head was in his lap. Slowly, I felt his cock swell to a stiff ridge under my cheek.

For seven months I would not allude to that even in my journal. In May 1971 I did, having just come from visiting him:

It all felt too familiar. I still felt a very strong desire to get his pants off and his cock in my mouth. When I think of that night under the stairs at The Book Cellar, when I had only to unzip his fly to have had what was right there under my head, already getting hard as I lay in his lap, his dick pressing through his pants against my cheek. Blew my chances instead of him!

Years later it would happen again: another boy lolling next to me, the swell in his pants clearly eager. But whether he himself was eager.... Well, I no more knew than I had with Steve (though he was awake, and sober). Both scenes have stayed with me all my life; Steve and that later boy did not.

At midnight on Thursday, October 15, I went to visit a man named Lawrence Bennett. I had talked with him in the store a few times. Earlier that night he had given me his card and got in return my phone number. He called at 11:30 pm, asking if I'd like to drop by -- and I was off.

A friend of his was there. The three of us talked until 2:00 and then it was just the two of us. Lawrence asked if I could stay and I did. The sex was warm and then hot: in the end he jerked me off and I splashed cum all over his bed. I woke there the next morning feeling very good: never before had I slept overnight with another man.

Lawrence was a small man with glasses, red hair, and a nervous energy I'd later find in other redheads. This was not to be an affair: Lawrence had a lover I'd later come to know (if as someone else's lover). Michel was a photographer, neon signs his specialty; he'd later do a big coffee table book of them.

Decades on I still know Lawrence, as a volunteer at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives -- an institution undreamt of in 1970. He looks much the same; still the same energy. I like joshing him about his unique role in my history.

We woke on the morning of October 16 to a more sweeping sort of history. At 4 am, while we were in bed, prime minister Pierre Trudeau had put into force the War Measures Act, in the face of what he called an "apprehended insurrection" in Quebec.

The separatist Front de libération du Québec had kidnapped a British trade official, James Cross, and the Quebec minister of labour, Pierre Laporte. I'd note in my journal on Sunday night, "Laporte and Cross are dead," but the next day had to amend it: Cross was alive and would soon be released; Laporte would be found in the trunk of a car, strangled with the chain of a religious medal he had worn around his neck.

There has since been doubt that a few barely armed men actually constituted an "apprehended insurrection" worthy of tanks in the streets of Montreal, armed troops at the Peace Tower in Ottawa guarding the nation's parliament. In a news clip famous ever since, a reporter asked Trudeau: "How far will you go?" Our dapper prime minister, a rose as always in his lapel, smirked. "Just watch me."

Those few days are engraved in Canadian history as The October Crisis of 1970 (making it easy for me to place Lawrence in the timeline of my personal history). I wrote on the 17th:

The first love affair of concern [there were others, none my own] that went on the rocks was mine with this country. As I write this, Canada is operating with its Bill of Rights completely nullified. Habeus corpus is suspended. Arrests can be made without warrant and suspects can be held indefinitely without charge.

Trudeau has said that the Act will be rescinded "as soon as possible," but until then we are completely without civil rights. It has bothered me today very much.

The Act stayed in force for six months. More than 400 people were swept up and detained in Quebec, much of the province's cultural vanguard among them; almost all were eventually released without charge. In the rest of Canada we were told not to worry, but the RCMP took the opportunity to step up its harassment of radical groups.

Paranoia was high enough to infect even The Book Cellar: Randy told me to take down a window sign I'd made, magazine logos, one for Montreal's Quartier Latin. Its cover was once graced by a man playing border guard on a bridge over the Ottawa River: "Voulez vous quelque chose à declarer?" Cute: it had led to that issue's own declaration: its contents page.

But generally, life went on much as usual. I continued my wanderings, once with the desired effect.

Monday, November 30, 1970, 11:12 am:

I can still smell him on me. His name is Kenny and he works at Sam's on Sunday nights. [Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, a regular stop on my strolls.] I had seen him in the store once before and once on the street. I went into Sam's last night and saw him, smiled. I stayed around him for a while, but eventually left.

I decided, though, that I should go back and ask him when he got off, whether or not he'd like to go out afterwards. So, to my surprise, I did. He was quitting at 12, so I said I'd come back.

We went to his place, which, considering the price and size of my apartment in comparison, astounded me. It had a kitchen, bathroom and three other rooms, all for $100. We had tea, talked and laughed and went to bed around 1:00. We made love until 5:30.

So, I am kind of tired, my face is stinging from his bristly stubble, and I can smell him on my arms. I may see him again tonight.

Kenny was a snuggly little gnome. I saw him three more times in the next week, in bed each time but to my increasing unease. His soulful gaze suggested romantic feelings of a sort I didn't share.

Joel called once while Ken was at my place, inviting me for lunch. We were still sprawled on the two mattresses I'd pulled apart to make enough room, filling the tiny bedroom nook. I was tired, irritated, realizing I'd rather have lunch with Joel than stay there with Kenny. But for the moment I stayed.

After that I called it off, writing in my journal: "I don't think there's really much to be gained from sleeping four times in one week with someone I don't love."

But I had loved his apartment, over a store on College west of Spadina. Seeing how other gay men lived became a fringe benefit of going home with them. In this case it got me off my butt to look for a new place of my own: the rent on my little basement box had gone up to $120. I could do better.



La vie en rose:
Flav, in a photo taken by John Taylor in the fabric draped basement of 167 Huron St, c 1970.

We wandered town, Flav my mentor in life's possibilities, his enthusiasm overcoming my usual caution & I, most of the time, happy enough that it did.

I wanted to be closer to the action, to my friends. In those days that meant the odd, slightly rundown neighbourhoods flanking the broad expanse of Spadina Avenue.

Its surplus stores, ratty bars, greasy spoons in a variety of ethnic flavours made for vibrant street life, upstairs from all of it artists and other low rent types, not a few of them gay. It had long been a haven for all kinds of people making a new life in the city.

Wednesday, December 7, 1970, 11:55 am:

Flav came into the store last night, with a boy named John. We went to his new place later. It's a great basement which he is doing good things with. John was very beautiful, more inwardly than physically, but even physically he was intriguing -- red hair and beard, bright blue eyes heavily outlined by dark lashes. He's very gentle. I touched his face as I left, telling him that I thought he was very beautiful and that I liked him very much.

John -- his last name was Taylor -- soon moved in with Flav, sharing that basement at 167 Huron, just south of College a short block east of Spadina.

It really was a basement, unrenovated, a big furnace central to its layout. But Flav had done his usual magic with bits of old furniture and other odd finds, cheap oriental carpets and floral patterned fabrics hung all over, masking the worst of it and creating separate spaces.

Upstairs in that little house was a menage as bright as Flav's decor: Joanne and Jane, lovers; a drag queen, stage name PJ, aka Peter Jason; and a frequent visitor we called Little Hairy Richard, with a theatre company called Thog. He wasn't gay but loved giving everybody big hugs. They became friends, too.

In time I found a new place: still a box, still basement; the one sink in the bathroom; the fridge, too big for the kitchen if it could be called a kitchen, out in the main room. I'd sleep with my head to its purring coils.

But it had two big windows facing south over the outside stairway and was only $85 a month. I painted it all white, even the floor and the long dead fireplace.

It was at 8A Grange Avenue, not far down Huron from Flav and John's place. Together we, and soon some new confreres too, would become part of the odd and wondrous life of Spadina Avenue.

Go on to 1971

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