A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000



Trax again
Trax again:
And from there, a surprising night
with a twin.

Daniel, three minutes older than Donald, his twin not gay. "It's not like you're not a whole person," he said, but it's clearly more than being brothers, together so far their whole lives.

These are the things I get to find out.

April through December

I kept sending bar tales to Jane.

Her sixth novel, Memory Board, had been published in 1987. The title came from a device used by one of the chief characters, a place for notes to aid her failing memory. Two other characters were twins, a man and a woman both quite old.

In February I'd sent her a short novel I'd found at the Children's Bookstore, also featuring twins -- and "a name straightforward, honest and calm": Jane. I also sent her this.

I'm reminded of last night: because he was a twin. I didn't know this at Trax. I knew only that he was very drunk; that he'd come talk for a bit and then wander away distractedly; and that at the end of the night he wanted very much to be held. I wanted that too.

In his living room there were pictures clearly of him as a child -- but two of him. He is Daniel, three minutes older than his brother Donald ("Danny & Donny"), who was sleeping upstairs, the two of them at 32 still living together. Sex was very gentle with him, slow and tender and mostly on the living room floor. He put me to bed at four and said he'd join me, but when I woke it was light and I was alone. He'd cleared up the apartment and slept in the living room, on the floor. I missed holding him more, in sleep, which is what I really wanted to do.

Donald, he told me, is not gay. Daniel wishes Donald were more sensitive to him; Donald wishes Daniel would get his act together. Surely a symbiotic relationship. "It's not like you're not a whole person," he said, but it's obvious there's more to this than being brothers: physically identical (at least as children; I didn't get to meet Donald); dressed alike in the photos; one photo of one of them alone on Daniel's bedside table -- and it's Donald, Daniel says, not himself; together, so far, their whole lives.

He showed me out this morning in his bathrobe and stood on his porch flipping through the mail. I looked back when I got to the street and he was still there, thin, barefoot, lean legged, a pretty man in a blue bathrobe on a mild winter (though still winter) morning, looking at his and his brother's mail, not at me.

I liked Daniel, liked the affection he wanted and that I got to give, liked the way it was returned: a squeeze of the hand when I took his hand to wake him up on the floor this morning; two offers of coffee even after I had my jacket on to leave.

These are the things I get to find out.

In April Jane got a whole page on Trax. I showed her its front bar, late afternoon light streaming in its big (now unshaded) windows over men talking in circles of three or four, many in office drag if with ties loosened, jackets slung over a shoulder.

I showed her Brad, his dress shirt coming untucked from the back of his pinstripe trousers, playing pool upstairs. I'd taken Brad home once but only once; we did better over pool tables.

In the café, at the back now, I had a burger, a good one, the decor polite and the waiters, too. Had it been later I'd have gone to The Barn, but it was only 7:30, The Barn not alive for three or four more hours. So I went home.

"So that's Trax," I wrote, "at least from 6 to 7:30 on a Thursday. I tell you all this because while I was there I realized I wanted you to see it."

In June, Jane got this:

I went to The Barn and just caught last call. At 2:00 I ran into Geoff there, chatting up a cute, boring man he knows from the gym. When I could get a word in I said goodnight and went home. This for a while felt odd: I've been courting Geoff now for five weeks.

I would court Geoff much longer. He was a tiny man with pixy features, very prim. On the night I first met him he'd said, "I like to get to know people before I have sex with them." I joked to Paul Pearce: How can you get to know someone if you don't know who he is in sex?


We had built a vibrant culture on the erotic yet, oddly, had made sex potentially unimportant, no big deal.

Courtship is rarely a gay ritual. Usually sex comes first, only later a complex person with whom sex might or might not still matter. Courtship made sex the Holy Grail.

In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault noted similar stress in all of Western culture: professional discourses obsessed with sex "while exploiting it as the secret."

Gay men's discourse was not professional but practical: sex was hardly a secret. We had built a vibrant culture on the erotic yet, paradoxically, had made sex potentially unimportant -- no big deal, meaningless but for whatever meaning its partners might bring to it in the moment.

For Geoff, sex was clearly Very Important. We never did do it. It took me some time to figure out why.

One night in November we went to Trax. I saw a scruffy guy against a wall, his eyes locked on Geoff. It was a cruise just short of visual assault. I was miffed; Geoff clearly was not. He asked, "Should we have another beer?" We? I was curt: "You're going to have to tell me." "Well," he said, "I'm sufficiently intrigued...." I left. With that I gave up on him.

But the next year I'd see him at The Barn, once after he'd had enough beer to be giggly. "You know," I said, "there's a very sexy little man inside you just dying to get out." He smiled. "Well, that's a tall order." "I know," I said, "because you know what that little man wants -- and you think it's appalling." He laughed, taken aback. "You know me too well!"

Some time later I ran into him at Boots, in tight jeans and a leather jacket. His earlier look had been preppy. Later still I'd see him with a man on the street, his boyfriend, he told me. I knew that man -- if only as Donny Blowjob.

About the man inside Geoff I'd once thought: He lives six inches up his neat little butt, and some day someone's going to find him. Seems Don had. Little Geoffy was a bottom.


Esther & Shirley's Helpful Hints for Whateversexuals

In "The Misunderstanding," their essay in Pleasure and Danger, Esther Newton & Shirley Walton explored desire well beyond the "homo / hetero" divide. They looked past gender preference to:

Erotic Identity. A public role, one's presentation in the world: man; woman; macho; fem; even het sissy guys & butch gals. (They also called this "persona" -- more apt I think: less identity than public image, even a mask.)

Erotic Role. One's persona in sex -- where the mask might come off: "How you look is supposed to signal what you do [in sex]. Too much suffering has been caused by this assumption." For instance, "you see yourself as an Ava Gardner who, when she gets Humphrey Bogart in bed, orders him to lie back & submit."

Erotic Acts. The anatomical (or other) plumbing: "body zones (anus, feet, penis), objects (shoes, leather, perfume), or specific scenes (rape, capture, school room)." And, of course: do you want to fuck or get fucked? Suck or get sucked? Or, as often put: Are you a top? Or a bottom?

But no category determines any other. A "top" or "bottom" in Erotic Acts may not be top or bottom in life. "Female" (or even queenly) doesn't equal "fem / passive / bottom"; "male" (even studly) isn't always "macho / active / top." But they might be, any mix possible: a swishy straight who likes to fuck; a butch broad a baby in bed with another woman (or man); a stud who wants to suck cock.

Our eroticism may be more surprising than our public image. Isn't that more interesting than simply "gay" or "straight?" I'd say. More enlightening too. And lots more fun.

Straight studs fucking fairies

George Chauncey: Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture & the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890 - 1940. Basic Books, 1994.

George's work amply shows that "butch / fem" was until recently a more vital distiction than "gay / straight," particularly for working class men -- even when they had sex, some regularly, with other men.

"Such men, known as 'husbands,' 'woolves' & 'jockers' ... occupied an ambiguous position in the sexual culture of the early 20th century. They abided by the conventions of masculinity & yet exhibited a decided preference for male sexual partners. ... Some men involved in marriages with fairies were so confident of their status as 'normal' men that they readily acknowledged their relationships to others."

George Chauncey, now at the University of Chicago, is working on his next volume: The Making of the Modern Gay World, 1935 - 1975.

The terms "top" and "bottom" had long been around, if confined to the realm of S/M. Outside that realm -- especially in "correct" egalitarian sex -- they were rarely heard (or if heard taken as insults: "What do you mean?! I'm not into S/M!").

Those words were, as Ken Popert wrote in 1982, "thrust to the edges of our individual and collective consciousness," unavailable to most of us as means of assessing erotic desires.

That conceptual lack had coloured my reactions to Kevin Bryson, Doug Barton, even Michael Wade. With Kevin and Doug I had sensed that sex was somehow not on: I'd heard what Kevin liked; with Doug it was just a sense.

Michael and I, in our old shoe phase, used to joke we had "lesbian sex" -- of the authorized, '70s Bambisexual brand. In other beds he was finding practices more intense. By the early 1980s it was lesbians themselves who were talking about them.

In Pleasure and Danger, that 1984 collection of papers based on the notorious 1982 conference at Barnard College, Esther Newton and Shirley Walton did a piece called "The Misunderstanding: Toward a More Precise Sexual Vocabulary." Esther is a lesbian, Shirley not, but in the days of "political lesbianism" -- less about lust than feminist solidarity -- they had tried sex together.

It was a flop. Later they figured out why. Esther was a top, and knew it. As a heterosexual women, Shirley thought of herself as "fem." But in bed, she liked to be dominant. She was a top, too.

They went on to posit categories potentially more useful. One we knew well: Sexual Orientation. But the others were less common coin: Erotic Identity (or Persona; one's presentation of self in the world); Erotic Role (that persona in sex); and Erotic Acts (the physical details of what you want; see more at the left).

None of these categories predetermined any other. And, on all fronts, any one person might flip flop from time to time. Sex was a lot more complex -- and interesting -- than merely "gay" or "straight."

As for me? I was a bottom, too -- in terms of Erotic Acts. I could do all kinds of things but I knew (as by now you know, too) what I really wanted. Yet I was hardly "passive" going after them. Out in the world, no one would call me "submissive." With Geoff I could feel impulses nearly aggressive: I wanted to probe, stick a finger into him -- metaphorically at least.

I like these complexities. I'm glad I learned them, finally.


Later in the year Cindy Patton was in town. Chris Bearchell and I had lunch with her, Chris then working on a safer sex project with Inner City Youth.

Cindy spoke of a friend sure to confound AIDS educators. He was, vehemently, a bottom, knowing how powerfully he could want a man inside him, even to have a man come inside him. In fact he was an AIDS educator himself, his own desires offering useful if difficult insights.

I sometimes wonder at gay men who claim never to have such feelings. In a way -- confusing Esther's and Shirley's categories -- one might even wonder if they're really gay.

Historian George Chauncey would later show that, until quite recently, they weren't -- or weren't thought to be. In the New York of the early 20th century a man could fuck anyone he wanted and -- as long as he only fucked -- still be, to himself and to the world, just an ordinary, horny straight guy.

Shirley and Esther also noted a connection between erotic persona and class. One night at The Barn I ran into Martin again, by then Martin the Truckdriver. He had parked his rig outside but after last call, so he'd had no beer.

"You're not drunk?" I asked him. "No." "Not stoned?" "Nope." "Then take me home and fuck me while you can!"

He did come home, he didn't fuck me -- but for the first time he did come. He'd told me about picking up a kid who had sucked him off in his cab. I told the story back to him, the details mine this time and as hot as I could make them, stroking his cock all the while. That did it.

Martin's defensive, working class bravado could easily be read as straight. And his choice of gay drag -- a tight, shiny tiger striped shirt one night -- read clearly as working class.

I would know many boys like Martin, none fitting the image of gay men as refined, respectable, affluent. Given that dominant image -- promoted by glossy gay media and "gay rights" mavens seeking mainstream acceptance -- they hardly counted as gay at all. Some weren't, except in the culture of certain gay bars not fussy about class.

Or, as I'd learn, even sexual orientation.


I could get frustrated with nice middle class fags -- even when they were my friends (those friends mostly middle class only by education, not by birth or, certainly, affluence).

On March 18 Michael Lynch had thrown a posthumous birthday party for Bill Lewis. It was polite, cocktails from 5 to 8, and I knew and loved almost everyone there. The ones I didn't know I didn't want to.

Later Michael led us out to a Chinese restaurant. He hadn't made reservations. Standing at the door I was stuck in obligatory chit chat with one of the unknown guests; looking in I saw I'd be stuck sitting with him, the friends I hoped to join seated at a table already full. I squeezed in, found Paul Pearce, and said goodbye. As I told Jane:

I went to The Toolbox. It's in the East End, three miles from downtown [it was the new location at 508 Eastern Ave]. I'd only been there once before and didn't expect to see anyone I knew. I did, but apart from one they were people I know only from other bars, some to talk to, some just to watch.

Among them was Vincent, a young, severely handsome man who looks too big to be a fluid dancer but is, beautifully, alone and unsmiling usually, though tonight he smiled a good deal at one man and charmed him right out the door.

Many others, of course, I did not know, though I got to talk to one -- blond, thick set, sweet faced -- because he'd seen me talking to someone and wanted to know about him. I urged him on; he said he was shy. But they were talking later, then not; when I smiled at him a few minutes later he smiled back and said, "Oh, I'll survive."

At quarter to two I saw a nice looking man in the can and when he left I followed him out, said "Brrr!" to the cold and he said "Brrr!" and we agreed to split a cab. We got only as far as his place. The sex we had was brief and unspecial and distinctly safe. What I did get, before during and after that, was an immense amount of snuggling and kissing and affection and ease -- beginning in the cab.

His apartment was crammed with very fine, formal furniture (perhaps this, and not hot sex, is what a leather harness in a bar is likely to mean), and there was an antique clock on the living room wall that chimed the hours. It chimed five before we went to sleep, chimed nine as we woke up and I asked if we could sleep in a little longer. He rolled on top of me, humped himself to orgasm on my stomach and held me until 11:30, both of us drifting in and out of half sleep, a blessed state.

Over coffee he told me of the lover he'd had for eight years, still a friend. And he said he'd not had sex for three months.

So at The Toolbox I found a mass, and one man, who could give me what I needed, at least at that moment, as that gaggle the night before could not.

Of course I do love my friends. I know what they give me even as I know what they cannot. All this was interrupted a page ago by dinner at Paul and David's. Michael Lynch had been worried when I left the restaurant, but Paul knew what I was doing. He'd called this morning at 11; I wasn't yet home.

Over dinner Paul asked, "Did you go to the bar?" "Of course I did. But The Toolbox, not The Barn." "You sleaze bucket!" he boomed. "Now tell me all about it."


Michael Lynch has not been well, though was better by the time of that party. In January we'd had supper at Fran's on College Street, just around the corner from ACT. We headed there afterwards. Michael had to stop on the street and on those damn stairs to catch his breath.

He was on AZT now. David Newcome and Gram Campbell were too, doing well enough if Gram not spared another bout of PCP this year. AZT made Michael anemic, as it did many people. He was still plugging on, writing on AIDS for Xtra.

He had just done a piece flagged on the cover: "Ottawa's AIDS Strategy: Spend Little, Do Nothing," on federal sloth in approving new drugs, one of them Pentamidine, for treatment and prevention of PCP.

Michael's writing would be the catalyst, he the presiding chemist, for the creation of a new AIDS group -- not to provide service but to kick ass: AIDS Action Now! Tim McCaskell was a founding member (and still is).

The gay movement had proven the value of such synergy: some of us talking to bureaucrats, others out on the streets to keep the heat on. Michael's work would have other concrete results as well.

AZT was new then, the first drug proven to attack HIV -- if too much of the human body as well. It was available only as part of clinical trials, Dr Anita Rachlis at Sunnybrook in charge of them. I first saw her on May 31.

Anita was renowned as the dragon lady of AIDS. I was surprised to find an attractive young woman, a bit brusque at times but who could blame her? She was then one of only a handful of specialists dealing with every case of AIDS in Ontario.

I liked her fine. Paul Pearce thought she was sexy.


Medical mystery tours


The Sunnybrook
Health Sciences Centre:

Many long treks from downtown. Bottom: sign for Dr Anita Rachlis's AIDS ward, D4.

On that first visit, May 31, 1988, I looked up at the big main wing & thought: "This is where you will die." On D4, Anita Rachlis's AIDS ward, & fairly soon. Well, not so far.


Chuck Grochmal had been around TBP in 1983 (then calling himself just Chuck Groch), in a photo group that never took off. Hard to cope with at times, he'd later put his stubborn streak to good use.

His column in Xtra, called just "Chuck," began in Apr 1988. He spared neither "aids" nor anyone:

"There seems to be an attitude toward safe sex of, 'We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.' News flash: You're standing on the bridge!"

"Don't die of ignorance, yours or your doctor's."

I'd often see Chuck at The Barn, working coat check, a chair in his little booth for people who wanted to talk. His "no shit" style won many fans, "Chuck" soon Xtra's most noted column. Even when unwell he hated to miss writing one: "They'll think I'm dead!"

Within days of my first Sunnybrook trip (first, that is, as a patient myself), I had to go back. I had a bad cough.

I saw Philip Berger on a Saturday but his office X ray lab was closed. I went up to Sunnybrook (a 45 minute trip by subway and bus) for one the next Tuesday. When I got back downtown I called them to make sure they had my number at Merv's office.

They'd already been trying to reach me: the X ray hadn't looked good. We all suspected PCP. I went back the next day to give a sputum sample. I asked Maureen Afheldt, another young woman, chief nurse of Dr Rachlis's HIV clinic, whether I could be treated as an outpatient if it were PCP.

"No, not yet," she said: their treatment room wasn't ready. I'd have to be admitted to a ward, D4, Anita's AIDS ward. I'd seen it already, there visiting David.

The results would be in on Friday. I half hoped not to be found that day: one of my rare dates with Barry due Saturday. Michael Lynch called on Wednesday, to check on me. He scolded me for even considering admission: other hospitals were offering Pentamidine to outpatients. "You have to know what you want, Ricky, you have to demand it."

That was Michael: right, as ever. I called Randy Coates for more advice; he said the results might already be in. That was Thursday. Did I really want to know?

I gave in, called Maureen. The word was in: negative. I surprised Victor Bardawill at the typesetter with a hug. "I don't have PCP!" "You mean you thought you did?" he said. Well, yes, I had.


So that's a few days in this as it was then, the logistics of treatment still a mess. I was lucky: I had to see only two doctors (then, if a few other specialists later).

At a public forum Chuck Grochmal, a quirky man writing an even quirkier column for Xtra on AIDS (he refused it upper case status, beating it down to aids), once held up a fan of hospital cards and said, "I'm so busy being sick I don't have time to be sick."

But in time that long journey to the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre -- a sprawling, many winged complex -- would become routine. To date (I'm in 1999 now) I have never been an inpatient, though was there often with friends who were, or who saw Anita at her clinic.

I still see Anita myself, and Maureen too, still there all these years (and two babies) later. I go up about four times a year when things are stable, more when they're not; maybe 50 trips so far.

It does all become just life, after all. On that first visit, May 31, I looked up at the big main wing and thought: "This is where you will die." On D4 and fairly soon, I thought. Well, not so far.


At that moment in 1988, though, things were not stable or routine. Days later I was back at Sunnybrook. Twice.

Once was to be injected with gallium isotopes; two days later to have a big scanner read my radioactive body, the hottest parts sites of infection. The results came back showing my lungs "warm." Anita ordered another sputum test.

I don't remember the results, only their follow up: I had to have a bronchoscopy, June 22. What fun: Sunnybrook is a university teaching hospital and I, in reasonably good shape, made a fine teaching dummy.

I was surrounded by five people, most students. A student got the first try: she stuck the tube down my esophagus and I gagged. (I'd been offered Valium; said no: this throat had coped with bigger things than a scope. Choked on hubris, alas.) Then the resident. He didn't care if I gagged; he got it in, squirted water down, sucked it back up.

The respirologist in charge played a limited role: he held my hand. That was nice: he was six foot four and gorgeous in OR greens. He attached a teaching scope to the tube and gave me at look at my own bronchia. I stopped gagging.

Finally unhanded I sat up, tears streaming down my face, and said to the lot of them: "Thank you." I dealt with such things in a way I knew well: I was always a Very Good Boy.

I also played amateur sociologist, watching how things worked, the logistics, the hardware (so wanted to keep my glasses on -- even as hospitals, like prisons and the army, want bodies bereft of any personal effects). In 1992 I'd learn Computer Assisted Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It was all too fascinating to be frightening.

Whatever was in my lungs (the later diagnosis vague but not PCP) must have got kicked up by that scope. A fever started the next night. In the morning it was 104 F. I was hacking wildly.

Ward Beattie came up at 1:30 the next morning, worried at my cough. I was drenched in sweat. He sat with me for a while. He asked if I was afraid -- I think because he was. I said no.

And I wasn't. For much of the time it seemed a hallucinogenic drift, not entirely unpleasant. When I did get up I'd eat, rinse the dishes and go back to bed. I thought to myself: This is what life could be like now, always.

But it wasn't. From here on I won't have to bore you with my medical details. (Well, maybe a few, and rather a few of others'.)


Unlike the American quilt, this AIDS Memorial spared us banal clichés set against the huge mystery of death.

Just names, & dates, each signifying an entire life.

By June 26 I was well enough to go out. It was Lesbian and Gay Pride Day. Philip Hartwick, a casual friend for years, first in Ottawa then here at The Beep, offered to take me. He could drive me right back if I pooped out.

I didn't. I wanted to see the AIDS Memorial, another of Michael Lynch's ideas, launched in a February 1988 Xtra article called "The Power of Names." That's what it was: just names, with dates.

It was powerful, for me more so than the US AIDS Quilt or its Canadian subsidiaries. Years later Robin Hardy would call their acres of handicraft "probably the largest cruising ground ever created, though the beautiful gay men who are the objects of its desire are all dead. huge innocent baby blanket, marketed to stir sentiment and not the grievous fury that arises from impossible desire."

At Toronto's Memorial we were free to feel whatever we desired, spared anyone else's interpretation (so often sappy clichés set against the huge mystery of death) of who this or that person had been. Here, to any name, I could bring whatever I myself knew.

It was here that I found Fernando Salvagna, the succulent boy I first met at that party in 1971. He had died in 1986; gone and I hadn't known. That would happen to me again there, often.

The Memorial was temporary. The panels stood in the earth and held names in chronological order by year of death, each on its own slat, all moveable, its inevitable expansion thought through. It would be temporary if in bigger versions for four more years, displayed at Pride Day for all of them and sometimes elsewhere.

By 1993 it would be permanent, set into the landscape of Cawthra Park. It's lit at night. There has never been, in my experience at any hour, no one there. There are always people there, a few at least, reading names, sometimes reaching out, a tentative finger tracing a name, just a name, and its dates, signifying an entire life.


In March Barry had bought a neat little Suzuki Samurai. He had always wanted a jeep; this jeep he could afford. Once he got it I always wanted him pull up in it, throw open the door and yell, "Come on, get in! We're off!" And a few times he did.

In June he gave me a ride to Douglas Chambers's farm, near Walkerton, Ontario. I had asked him to, just joking; I didn't think Randy would let him out. Whether Randy consented or not, we were off. I got nearly three hours of him on the trip up and then a few more there before he headed back to Toronto.

Watching that little jeep sail back down the long, straight county road, I said to myself: What a bird on a wire he is, always ready to take flight.


Mikey at the farm
No more into the potager:
Michael Wade in the former kitchen, now sitting room, at Stonyground. Photo uncredited.

Mikey had set the walks in the potager, dug in three feet deep. He wasn't up to much like that now, dealing with chronic hepatitis.

He'd had an HIV test but didn't want to know the results. It had come to seem bad news not told.

The farm, 150 acres, called Stonyground, had been in Douglas's family since the area was first settled in 1849. From 1871 there was a classic yellowbrick Ontario Gothic farmhouse, still there, and a huge barn.

I had first been there in 1986. Craig Patterson drove us up then, Michael Wade, Sara McCormack and Fraser Prince. Sara had been Michael's girlfriend; she was by then Fraser's wife. They had all worked together at Fenton's, Fraser a chef. (He and Sara now run their own bistro, a very good one.)

The year before, Douglas had begun the site's transformation: still a working farm with its acres of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa but soon a ferme ornée -- a term from garden history, Douglas expert in that history -- with walks, flowered borders, plantings formal and informal tucked into the landscape.

The first was the potager, a vegetable patch traversed by an intricate pattern of brick walks, its crops an esthetic pleasure until they became gustatory ones. At its centre was a wagon wheel set like a birdbath on a post, a rosebush below it surrounded by thyme. "The Rose of Fortune growing through the Wheel of Time." I think: the place was full of such allusions, obscure to anyone without an education in Classics and English literature.

The farm called up a very nonurban sense of time. I once asked Douglas over a row of six inch shrubs, "What do you call these?" "The windbreak." Years later I'd help him begin his arboretum, I marking sightlines while he dug in twigs nearly lost in the tall grass. They were walnuts.

"In some European cultures," Douglas told me, "a man couldn't marry until he had planted a grove of nut trees" -- to be harvested by his grandchildren.

Inside was time keeping I knew better: a computer counting by millionths of a second. There Douglas was the professor he could forget when he was "Squire Chambers," as we liked to call him. There Michael Wade had been doing a paper on Virgil to present at an academic conference.


The biggest room of the house had been its kitchen. There was a smaller modern one now, this space for sitting, reading, if still with its big cast iron "Buck's Happy Thought" wood stove.

Douglas taught us how to keep it stoked. We did; it was damp and chilly that weekend. I spent most of my time in that room, with Mikey.

He had set those walks in the potager, their foundations three feet deep. But he wasn't up to much like that this time, in hospital earlier with chronic hepatitis and there again for a while after we got back to Toronto.

His doctor (and mine) Philip Berger had done an HIV test, with Michael's consent of course but Michael didn't want to know the results. Philip respected that, if not happily: people deal in varied ways. By now Mikey was no happier: it had come to seem bad news not told.

One common feature of a ferme ornée is monuments, often ruins, Classical temples built to look decayed by time. Douglas would build many monuments. Some in time would be memorials. I sit by them often when I go to the farm; I've been back almost every year since. I do love the peace of that place.


Barry and I had planned another ride. In January Jane Rule had offered again a summer trip to Galiano, Barry invited if he could come.

He might have: Vancouver interested him then, maybe as his next flight's destination. But he decided not to flee, at least no further than Buffalo. I flew out by myself, in August.

Jane and Helen were as ever gracious hosts and good friends. The kids at the pool were still wonderful, if none quite so seductive as last time. In October I would get to host Jane and Helen myself, in Toronto for a writers' conference. They and I had dinner with Paul and David (so I guess Paul hosted that).

Jane later wrote that Helen had said, "The two best meals we had were with Rick." Paul was a fabulous cook -- not to mention his fabulous wines. The other was lunch, as Jane said, "lighter and more flavoursome than at the trendy restaurants other friends took us to."

I don't remember where I took them; on a later visit it would be P J Mellon's on Church Street -- to show them my favourite waiter, Gary White. He was very engaging and I'd got to know him. He was also classically handsome -- but for ears that stuck out: that made him truly beautiful. Helen would say then, "But Rick, his ears aren't that big."

Of my August visit out, I remember most the nights of scotch and conversation. Barry often figured; I had kept Jane too well posted on even the smallest developments.

Recently there had been one potentially more significant. Barry had started looking for work outside the country, most likely teaching English as a second language. (He had been a teacher once, on Fogo Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. English was its native tongue, if of a dialect quite distinct.) I'd helped him write an application for a job in Nepal. But Japan looked more likely.


Barry, expected home, instead took me off on a bar tour. "Randy will come find you," I said. He did. At Boots.

That's when I reminded him of Barry's January flight to Buffalo -- & learned that lovers are expected to be liars.

I called Barry when I got home. The job in Tokyo was still a prospect, a second interview set for the coming Saturday.

That day he called me from Chaps, four beers giddy: he'd got it. "I go in March! And Randy can't go! And" -- all that in the same breath and I wondered what I'd just heard. I knew he'd been scouting the exits; I hadn't guessed he'd use one soon.

Randy of course wanted to go with him. In September he'd be diagnosed HIV positive, making that trip seem unlikely. Randy dealt with it by denial: the last thing he'd do was call the Japanese consulate to see if HIV, or drugs for it, would bar his entry.

In November Barry took me for another ride. He'd been at my place for the usual beer inspired yak. At 6:00 he didn't want to stop, so called Randy. "Meet us at Trax?" It was a block from their apartment. "No! Come home!" Barry said he would. I took the ride back downtown with him, an extra pair of eyes.

He parked not at home but at Trax. He turned and said, "You know I'm going to stay out, don't you?" From Trax he called Randy again. They fought. Barry hung up. "He'll come find you," I said. So we went to Chaps, then Rawhide, finally Boots.

At Boots Randy did find us. He ranted about all the places he'd been forced to search, including the very places we'd been. In all of them friends of Randy's told him they'd spied us. The message to Barry was too clear: you can't escape. I will find you. You are in my world.

Randy and I had words, alone, when he first rushed in, Barry oblivious on the dance floor. That was when I reminded Randy of Barry's January flight to Buffalo -- and learned that lovers are expected to be liars. Randy moaned: "How can I possibly cope with him like this now?! I have an early meeting tomorrow!"

I went home. They went home too, and fought. In the end Randy would go to Japan. In time Barry would escape. Or rather, he'd be abandoned.


Michael on Parliament Hill
AIDS Actionistas:
Michael Lynch & others flaunt illegal drugs in the face of the state.

Drugs, once got, could have nasty side effects. There were limits to the price I'd pay for a longer life if it wasn't going to be a decent one.

Michael once asked: "But... do you want to live? Really?"

Just after I'd got back from Galiano I visited Michael Lynch. He had PCP now but could do Pentamidine at home.

It had been approved in part through Michael's own efforts: with others from AIDS Action Now! he had sat in protest on Parliament Hill, each of them taking doses of drugs then illegal and smuggled in, as AZT once had been, from Buffalo.

Moving around the house, especially up the chic rail free steps to his loft, made Michael pant. His temperature was down to 100 F from 104 a few days before. Gerald had stayed over with him for two nights.

Still, it seemed Michael would get through this round. I had a hit of his Pentamidine, put into a little machine called a nebulizer, aerosolized and inhaled. It tasted awful. Later I'd get used to it.

A few weeks on over dinner at Paul and David's, Michael and I swapped notes about drugs. I was on AZT by then, had been since August 17. It had taken me that long because I'd worried about side effects, anemia only one of them.

At Sunnybrook I had seen the spectacle of enfeebled men trekking in for hemoglobin rich transfusions to counter the ravages a "life enhancing" drug. There were limits to the price I'd pay for a longer life if it wasn't going to be a decent one.

Michael at one point, looking pensive, said, "But... do you want to live? Really?" I knew there were times when the answer might not be a resounding "Yes!" Michael had already seen such times.

But I never got a chance to answer him. Paul and David, who had been in the kitchen, had come back to the table. David set the agenda for dinner conversation: death was not on it.

Later, talking about Helen Sonthoff, her 72nd birthday just past, David would say: "I never want to be that old. Sixty five would be fine." David's 65th birthday was due on September 21, 2010.


AIDS was all around, but we were doing something about it. Or trying to. Working at the AIDS Committee could be very trying for me. Not just the deaths but the slog against them.

It could take forever to make things happen at ACT, more a bureaucracy than The Body Politic and without its most cursed blessing: regular deadlines that had to be met if the thing were to survive.

We did have deadlines at ACT, but most not pressing. Survival -- of the organization at least -- was rarely at risk if we failed to meet them (unless they were for grant applications). I was once tempted to post a sign over my desk, echoing the Act Up slogan, "Silence = Death." Mine would have read: "Dither = Death." But I thought better of it.

Once, having booked time with a new fundraising director to brief him on the half dozen fronts I knew about and he did not, I went in only to find he wasn't ready to meet. I liked him, wanted to work well with him, didn't like being mad at him -- but I was.

I didn't say anything. I just left, walked out -- wanting briefly in that moment to walk away entirely.


I ended up at Colby's. As I told Jane:

I spent four hours falling in love with a table dancer whose simple beauty -- 6 foot 1, a swimmer's body, a boxer's face and a sweet, laughing, unaffected desire to be liked -- seemed for the moment the only valuable thing in my life.

He let his value be quantified of course; that's his job, when he's not driving a forklift truck. The talk was free; respect for him in his job demanded that the dancing was not, even after hours of easy talk.

But it's the talk that made his dancing a wondrous thing, the formula a commercial transaction but his happy warmth a gift. And the gift I always want: being let inside who someone might actually be.

I would see much more of Colby's.

Go on to 1989: Jan-Jun / Go back to Contents

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December 1999 / Last revised: October 21, 2001
Rick Bébout © 2001 /