Bawdy Divas and Bad Drag Queens

March 9, 2008 was a milestone birthday for El Franco. It was 40 years ago to the day that he sprang forth from his mother’s loins to tell the citizens of the world how they should act, dress, and wear their hair. To help celebrate his birthday, his long time friend Melanie visited us from Ottawa for the weekend. She’s a great girl, although she has a tendency to exhibit sociopathic behaviour but who, in the main, tries to be nice to people and give them the impression that she enjoys their company.

So because we had a guest in town that weekend, we decided to go see the musical Menopause Out Loud–partly because the content seemed relevant to the type of birthday we were celebrating and partly because I knew one of the ushers at the theatre, who’d managed to get us free tickets for the show. Having arrived early to pick up our tickets at the box office, we sat down in the empty theatre waiting for the show to begin. Pretty soon, the room started filling with women of all ages–and I mean women. The males in the audience were few and far between and any that could be spotted in the estrogen-charged audience had a beaten down look on their faces, as if they really, really, didn’t want to be there but thought better of going against their other half’s wishes.

Some of the women were dressed similarly, making a statement with lots of red hats and purple coats. Most were wearing regular outfits, but there were two older ladies who passed by our seats dressed in fur coats. These people hold a very special place in the Seventh Circle of Hell that is Melanie’s heart, and pretty soon most others in our vicinity found themselves listening to a pre-show soliloquy that went something like: “Look at these people in fur coats! How many animals died so they could go around wearing their skins, eh? Do these fuckers know how disgusting they look? These people are fucking idiots! Hey, fuckers – how’d you like to be skinned?” At this point the ladies had moved on and probably couldn’t hear the tirade anyway, and I had just squirmed as far down into my seat as possible–wishing the ground would open up–when the lights started to dim for the show to begin.

All in all, the show wasn’t bad although it was so obviously targeted towards a specific audience who hooted and screeched and screamed with laughter throughout each and every number. The cast was quite good and there was a real sense of camaraderie amongst all the women in the theatre, with a sketch involving an energetic dildo drawing the most laughs. There was also a cute part at the end, where the four divas came down into the crowd and encouraged women of all ages to get up on stage for a final song and dance routine before wrapping up the show.

After exiting the theatre, we decided to go to the Gay Village where the usher I’d mentioned earlier was set to appear onstage in one of the pubs. The friend I’m referring to works in the same office as me during the day, then at the theatre in the evenings, as well as performing at some of the local bars as a chanteuse and a bit of a comedian. She’s quite versatile.

Anyway, we arrived at the bar where she was doing a very short routine, only to find that there are also some drag queens making an appearance onstage. Well, if these weren’t two of the oldest queens I’d ever seen! They had to be older than the Queen Mum just before she passed away, bless her, and one of them even got up onto the stage with an oxygen bottle and tubes attached to her nose. And neither one of them had the wherewithal to do a good lip-sync anymore–the first one on stage (Miss Michelle De Berry) looked like she was being dragged down by the weight of her make-up (which had been slapped on with a trowel, by the looks of it) and had this confused look on her face as if she’d just woken up from a sleepwalking episode only to find herself on stage in front of a (not so large) audience.

It was all quite sad, really, and my friend actually made a joke about the bad miming during her own stint onstage. As we were sat at the bar later, Miss De Berry stumbled over and started mumbling and bitching at my friend for denigrating her performance (she didn’t actually use those words!). Miss De Berry wasn’t happy and accused my friend of insulting her–which she had, of course; but, come on, we’re in a gay bar and those types of bitchy comments are the bread and butter of most of the patrons of such places, never mind the entertainers who get up in front of everyone to give a performance, no matter how bad that may be. If they can’t take comments like that, then maybe they should stay at home and apply a bit more formaldehyde.

At the end of the day, El Franco admitted to me that this had to be the most depressing birthday he’d ever had.


“Now you’ve created a blog,” a colleague of mine kindly reminded me today “you need to start adding to it.” Sounds like good advice, but I’ve discovered it’s harder than I thought. At times, an idea for a story will occur to me and I’ll make a mental note of it, so as to revisit the potential press-stopper later in the day. Well guess what? Those little notes in my mind seem to be losing their stickyness, because I can never seem to find them when the time comes to put fingers to keyboard.

So tonight at home while reluctantly wielding my paint brush and applying Festoon Aqua to the dining room wall, my long-term memories rose to the occasion and saved the day by inspiring me to write about a part of my childhood.


I once hid in a bush. Hiding in a bush can be an uncomfortable experience; they’re made of stiff twigs and all kinds of wooden bits and pieces; they’re full of insects that crawl down your neck and bite exposed skin with tiny, sharp mandibles. Bushes are packed with spiders’ webs; cluttered with the dried husks of flies and beetles which, belying their lifeless nature, do their very best to entangle themselves in hair and clothes.

Given the unpleasant nature of bushes, why would I choose to hide in one in the first place? Did it suddenly pop into my head that it would be fascinating to experience what a bush looked like from the inside out, as viewed through the multi-faceted eyes of its creepy inhabitants? Could it be that I was, in fact, a biologist with an interest in witnessing first hand the small dramas played out by the myriad insects therein?

Or was it more likely that as 8-year-old kids, my friends and I had decided it would be fun to go raid the apple orchard belonging to Mr. Fijakowski, a grumpy old stern Polish immigrant who lived with his wife and children in my home town in the North West of England?

The latter, of course, was true, and after scaling the short fence that separated Mr. Fijakowski’s garden from the large field in which we often played, my friends and I found ourselves surrounded by an embarrassment of apples; none of which were yet ripe, but to our young eyes—and stomachs—they were a feast well worth the risk involved in trespassing on private property.

That risk took the form of a dark and stormy countenance with big, bushy eyebrows and a thick accent, forever ready to reprimand wayward children. And let me tell you, it wasn’t unusual for this tongue-lashing to sometimes be backed by a swift whack on the head should an unfortunately slow-moving brat get within swiping distance of the ‘Old Polack’. Needless to say, Mr. Fijakowski was seen as a kind of ogre to the band of local kids in our neighbourhood—but this didn’t stop us from testing the limits of his generosity when it came to his apples!

It was during one of these raids that, while intent upon picking the ripest of the fruit, I was slow to see my fellows-in-crime quickly scatter in all directions. After immediately realising what would make them disperse like that, I had all of five seconds to find a decent hiding place before the dreaded Iron Curtain descended on me!

Cue the bush…

On the face of it, it was a fairly good hiding place. It was leafy and thick and it was there when I needed it; although it also had many above average-sized thorns that did quite an excellent job of piercing tender, 8-year-old skin. As hiding places go there were, however, a couple of disadvantages to this bush; a.) its proximity to the fence dividing the orchard from the field and b.) the fact that it was on the wrong side of the fence, i.e., in Mr. Fijakowski’s garden, as opposed to the desired freedom of the field. Technically, I was a trespasser-in-hiding whose only hope of avoiding capture was to worm my way deeper into the recesses of the bush in order to become one with nature. It was at this point that—having barely made it in time to this dubious sanctuary—Mr. Fijakowski came charging down the garden path to the edge of his fence, not five feet from where I was intent upon imitating one of the dead insects caught in a web.

Now Polish oaths and swearwords can go a long way towards instilling fear in a young mind, especially when uttered within striking distance of the intended target—although my dead fly impersonation was working wonders for me at that point.

Or at least I thought it was, until I caught sight of Conrad.

Conrad was Mr. Fijakowski’s youngest child who was, at that moment, staring right at me through the leaves! He was two years my junior and hadn’t yet reached that age where he could rightfully be a part of the local gang and, as such, had no ties of loyalty to any of the fruit-stealing, orchard-raiding good-for-nothings trying to steal apples from his father’s trees. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, Conrad’s pyjama-sleeved arm rising slowly to grip his father’s elbow, as he stared right at me and as I sank deeper and deeper into the confines of the bush, which was by then quickly losing its status as the safest place in the world for me.

“Dad…” he said, “I think one of them is hiding over there.”

“Quiet, Conrad—I am trying to see where the little zle dzieci are!” said Mr. Fijakowski. “You should not be out in pyjamas, anyway. Go back inside now!”

“But, dad, I think I can see one of them in that bush!”

“Conrad, I not tell you again—go back inside this minute!” he said, at which point Mrs. Fijakowski, whose English wasn’t the best and who couldn’t quite grasp what her darling little boy was saying, but whose maternal instincts were more than equal to the task of preventing him from being smacked on the head by his father, swept Conrad into her arms and ran back inside as he peered over her shoulder, still pointing at me.

This whole incident of my almost having been discovered passed completely over Mr. Fijakowski’s bald pate, and he was back to scanning the horizon for signs of my troublesome companions. Thank heavens for Eastern European obstinacy, which prevented me from being caught red-handed, scratched, bitten, pricked, dishevelled and scared witless.

After what seemed like an eternity of holding my breath, I finally watched Mr. Fijakowski walk slowly back into his house, all the while muttering and cursing in his native Polish tongue.

After he had gone, I sat in my bush (by then, I considered it worthy of the possessive pronoun) for a long time—thankful for its thick leaves, its thorns, its host of living and dead organisms and, most of all, its sanctuary in times of need—before finding the courage to climb the fence and slink quietly away, never to return to that part of the field again except in memory.

Six Alarm Fire on Queen West

I walked along Queen West today, past the scene of the six alarm fire between Spadina and Bathurst. There were fire crews and police in abundance and the remains of some of the buildings were still smouldering, which was hard to believe given that the fire broke out in the early hours of Wednesday morning and it was now Sunday. That whole section of the street has been cordoned off to traffic and a fence had been set up to keep the public at bay. This didn’t stop people from gawking at the gutted buildings (including me) and taking photos and video of the whole mess on their cell phones. It was actually difficult to walk along the street, there were so many rubberneckers not paying attention to where they were going.

It’s sad that this fire happened, not just because of the loss of homes and businesses for the residents in the area, but because some, if not not all, of these buildings had heritage status and now they’re gone forever. That section of the city has a hip, vibrant appeal which the buildings obviously contributed to, so it’s a shame to see them just disappear like that.

Oh, well – let’s hope that whatever rises from the flames will fit well with the neighbourhood. It wouldn’t surprise me if a condo were built there. Maybe they’ll call it the Phoenix…

Milo the Cat

October 26, 2007 was the day I had to put my cat, Milo, to sleep. That was hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Milo was my little buddy who’d been with me since I arrived in Canada in 1999. He was an orange and white cat who grew from a little ball of fur to a whopping 19 lbs – hard to imagine I could fit him into the palm of my hand when I first got him.

Milo developed cancer of the lymph nodes, which quickly spread, and the prognosis wasn’t good – 6 to 12 months with chemotherapy and even that wasn’t guaranteed to be a success.

I first discovered the lumps in his throat when El Franco and I were watching TV one night and Milo, as was his wont, jumped onto the couch and demanded his rightful place in my arms for a chest-and-belly rub. That’s when I felt the lumps and I immediately realised something was wrong. My initial thought was that he had a virus of some sort; having just moved into an old Victorian house with a small back yard, I let Milo hang out with us whenever we were enjoying the last warm days of summer. He would spend a lot of time sniffing around the perimeter and I thought he might have contracted something from another cat’s feces.

That week, the vet performed a biopsy and the results came back after more than 7 days. Needless to say, they weren’t favourable and I took him to a cat oncologist who had some doubts about the fine-needle biopsy and wanted to remove two of Milo’s lymph nodes in order to get better test results. I had to wait another week for the results and at this point I was already greiving for my little buddy. His personality had changed and he became more and more withdrawn, not wanting to spend time with me or lay in my arms. Eventually, the second set of results confirmed the first and that’s when I got the final prognosis.

Throughout this whole period, Milo had been poked, pricked, pinched and subjected to a battery of tests, none of which were pleasant for the little guy. He had to be force-fed medication and analgesics, which tasted abominal to him and made him froth at the mouth whenever his teeth punctured one of the capsules. The poor thing had just about had enough, I think, and the last few days were a listless existence for him – and, it felt, for me too.

In the end, I had to decide on quality of life versus a humane and painless end for the best cat I’d ever had in the whole of my life. That was so hard. I never thought I’d be without Milo, at least not for another 10 years or so, and it was incredibly painful to take him to the clinic in a cab, in rush hour traffic, knowing that I’d be going home without him. All the while, he’d rub his chin against my hand in his carrier and nibble my fingers.

Milo died peacefully in my arms at the animal clinic, kneading my face and neck as I scratched his chest and belly, just like old times.

Although the pain will ease as time passes, I wonder if I’ll allow myself to feel the same for another pet ever again.