2. Are We In A Relationship? Or What?

 

 

By 1977 I had been living in and around Vancouver for three years.  I was working during the day with an electrician and the odd nights were taken up with music out in Kitsilano.  There were coffee houses and venues one could rent to put on an evening of entertainment.  People then were incredibly supportive and any new song was applauded and encouraged.  I got to know quite a few of the local musicians and we became closer through playing at the coffee houses.  During this time a few of my friends and I put on two shows roughly six months apart- we sold tickets and sang both individually and in groups.  Both events were successes, and some partying ensued afterward with alcohol the principal ingredient.  I ended up having sex with Sandy both times, flush from the applause from the events and the many scotches imbibed.  Since these two happenings were (to me) unconnected I never made a correlation and merrily went on my way.

Up until then I had been sharing a house with a nice couple from Toronto but was finally getting up my courage to lead a gay lifestyle.  I found an apartment not far away and had only been there a month when I got a call from Sandy asking me to come over as we needed to talk.  This was news to me but I cheerfully headed over.  Upon my arrival I was faced with two angry women for the price of one- her best friend who was a bitter, vengeful female Odin type whom I had not met before and baleful brooding Sandy herself. When I asked the what was wrong I was told that I needed to make up my mind- were we in a relationship or not?  Did I think that sex was only for comfort and sharing?  No, the R word kept being bandied about until I felt so guilty that I had missed what must obviously be some hitherto unknown arcane rules of relationships that I agreed she should move in with me (what the HELL was I thinking?) and we would give it a go.  She was a beautiful singer, a great guitar player and a great songwriter; unfortunately she was a shitty person.  At first things went as well as could be expected- we started getting work as a duo and at first this was a lot of fun.  I did notice however if we had any sort of disagreement even days before the show she would make me pay while we were on stage, glowering and pouting and fuming, oh my! We didn’t have sex very often  and this seemed to suit us both, but the endless days of resentful endless misery started taking its toll.

At the same time my boss the electrician started putting pressure on me to take over the business.  He had wanted his son to become his mini me but the son had no interest in any job as unglamorous as a trade, being very happy becoming a yuppie with a Beamer.  Since I understood the work and got along well with all the contractors this seemed to him a perfect solution.  Unfortunately the pressures continued to mount- I found my hands and other joints aching more as time went on, and eventually my legs got so weak I started walking with a cane, and eventually with two canes.  Now I know it was all psychological but at the time the doctors could find nothing wrong, and the pills they gave me were ineffective.

Since I couldn’t work anymore I gave my notice to the electrician and started preparing to move back to Ontario. Around the same time Sandy was offered a job as a musician for a play being put on in Victoria.  We both agreed this was all for the best so goodbye and thanks for all the fish.  I bought an old ’64 Daimler, a beautiful car,  just before leaving, threw my stuff in the back and headed home. Before I left I had a musician friend who told me he wanted to move back to Ottawa so I offered him a ride.  We had an uneventful trip at first- the car had electronic overdrive so we cruised through the Rockies and into the foothills.  About halfway through the prairies I heard a siren behind me- a police siren to be exact.  Just as I was pulling over my suddenly nervous friend confided in me that he had fifty hits of LSD in his backpack.

Years before I had smoked a lot of pot and had at one time carved out a little soapstone pipe in the shape of a whale; I hadn’t used it in years but had kept it as a memento.  When I was packing to leave I had thrown it in at the last moment; it sat in the box behind my seat with the box cover not closed.  As the policeman was waiting for me to give him my licence and insurance he spotted the pipe.  As the back window was opened he just reached in, picked it up and asked me what it was.  I told him I had kept it for sentimental reasons but hadn’t smoked in years.  He seemed somewhat mollified by this response but now his partner also came up and started looking around inside the car.

When I purchased the vehicle the owner told me he had done work on the engine but neglected to tell me he had taken the engine plate off.  I should also mention that a lot of people were stealing cars back then on the west coast (no rust from salt on the roads in winter) and selling them back east, and taking off the engine plate made it possible to muddle the cars’ origins.  As the second cop (constable on patrol) was searching the glove box he came across the engine plate.  Well, you would have thought they had found quantities of heroin or dead children; all of a sudden this was a major event. No more smiles or friendly overtures- this was getting ugly.  By now I was reliving a Twilight Zone episode with everything spiralling out of control.

The next place they wanted to look was in the trunk, where I didn’t have much stuff but my friend’s backpack was in there.  The policeman started searching around in the pack with his hand, and suddenly asked “What is this?” I blanched but otherwise make no comment. The cop pulled out a flashlight, looked at it and put it back. After verifying my credentials they told us to be on our way but to be careful and drive more slowly.

We sat there for a couple of minutes and pulled back out into traffic.  By then my hands were shaking so badly I could hardly hold a cigarette.  I drove for around five minutes, pulled over again and said “Go get your acid”. We each took a hit before heading out onto the open road.  Needless to say our drive across the country had now become a chapter from a Jack Kerouac novel.  Hallucinating didn’t seem to be much of a problem and the trek across the prairies didn’t take a lot of focus on the driving and there were almost no other vehicles on the road, but to ground us somewhat we bought a bottle of Scotch liqueur and sipped on this crossing the middle of Canada.. I drove non-stop from mid-Saskatchewan to Ottawa, dropped him off, then drove back to Cobourg to my parents’ place, where I slept for twenty-four hours.

I wasn’t home three days when Sandy showed up on my doorstep.  She had quit her job and had decided to come live with me- oh joy.  Since this was anathema to me and I was at my parents’ home where there were still a lot of kids I suggested she go live with her mother for the time being.  She was agreeable to this so off she went to Windsor.  Her mother was a Jehovah’s Witness and her father was gone so there would only be the two of them. Thinking that I was finally rid of her I went about the task of getting better. A few months later I moved in with a friend of mine in a very small town. I reached an entertainment agent in Toronto who booked in the vicinity.

The first place he sent me was a hotel in Belleville just before my birthday in January, during which the average temperature was -18.  There was five feet of snow everywhere and the idiot had booked me into a country bar instead of a folk club.  I had no money, couldn’t go anywhere and thought things just couldn’t get any worse.  Imagine my surprise on the third day there when Sandy showed up, saying she missed me and couldn’t live without me. I had had it by this time and finally told her I was gay and that she should go home and leave me alone. She was hurt and asked me why I hadn’t let her know sooner. Since I had left her twice and told her to go away three times I thought this was redundant but I made damn sure to be crystal clear- I had had enough of this nonsense.

I thought I would never see her again but a couple of  years later when Joan (my future wife; wait for it) and I took a trip to B.C. after dropping off a herd of my family in Grande Prairie. We took our time going through the province, stopping in Banff, Jasper and any other place we felt like it. We eventually ended up in Kitsilano in a cafe where I explained to her what the music scene had been like. We were just getting ready to leave when Sandy walked in with her girlfriend. Yes, she was a lesbian and (as far as I was concerned) had always been one.  She seemed as happy as she had ever been and we parted with kind words. At that time I would have bet anything I owned that I was through with straight sex and relationships.  Silly rabbit.

 

Uncle Michael

 

Every niece or nephew should have an uncle who was first straight then gay, who sang on so many cruise ships that he visited over 150 cities in over 70 countries, who became very mentally ill but who got a lot better, who lost his memory for two years then got it back, who lost the ability to play and got THAT back and who then couldn’t find work in his own home town but who became an international sensation.  I know perspective.

But coming as I do from a family of twelve and having so many wonderful relatives, I was happiest with my part as Uncle Michael.  Don’t get me wrong- my life has been an incredible roller coaster with so many ups and downs I’m surprised I don’t have permanent whiplash, but that gets the blood pumping like nothing else, and I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s..

 

A Suitcase Handle On My Back

 

Before the age of ten we had moved several times for various reasons.  My father had debilitating arthritis at the time, and his doctor suggested moving to the south of Ontario as it might improve his condition.  Within a week they had packed and found a new home, where we stayed until we built the family home five years later.  By then we had all caught the travel bug- at one point we had thought of trying to calculate the amount of miles we had travelled collectively but it was a Herculean task- two brothers had driven tractor trailers for years, we had all moved to the coast at one time or another and I had travelled the world by sea.  We are definitely into the millions of miles.

When I left home I moved to Toronto where I worked in a factory loading trucks. Moving from a town of three hundred to a city of almost four million was a lot to take in at first but I loved it- the possibilities were endless. During that time I had met a guy through mutual friends and he loved my guitar playing.  One day in late November he asked if I would like to take a drive-away car to Florida with him- this was a service that let people fly to a certain destination, while others like us drove their car down for them.  Since we only had to pay the gas this was a very cheap way of travelling, and twenty-four hours later we were pulling into Tampa to drop it off. Also, I had developed an enduring hate/hate relationship with the cold- at one point we had three wood stoves heating the house so every weekend (it seemed) we were out in the bush cutting wood, with me standing around freezing and hating every minute of it.  Since we were already at the end of November this was all the enticement I needed.

Since we were in northern Florida we thought we would be remiss if we didn’t see Disney World.  As we were both nineteen we thought it would be fun to do LSD to add to the excitement.  Needless to say, this was an exhilarating experience, and to this day I still don’t know what was acid and what was Animatronics- at 10:30 that night when they started the fireworks, we had reached system overload and went to our hotel. The next day we made our way to Miami and booked rooms for the week in the local YMCA.  This was my first (though not the last) encounter with cockroaches- twice that week they set off these cherry bomb-scented bug killers which chased us out into the open. By the end of the week we had not found a good reason to stay any longer so we decided to go to the zoo that day and make our way home on the next. We brought our guitars out of habit, and late afternoon we sat down to play a few songs.  A young couple came by, heard our music and then our story, made a call and that day we landed a job in a private yacht and sailing club, serving drinks and singing occasionally. The owner had a house he wasn’t using so we spent our first Christmas in Miami, with lizards running up the walls and palm trees everywhere. To me, this was heaven!

Thus began a lifetime love affair with travel. So far, I’ve lived in six provinces and two states, and firmly believe that civilization begins where palm trees grow. I always found it a crying shame that Canada had not gone to war with a Caribbean country so that we could have our own warm climes.

 

Take The Plunge

Let’s start with relationships- two girlfriends and a wife, two boyfriends and a common-law husband.  The main theme running through all but two of my relationships was my inability to say no: those two are dead.

I like to call them the Seven Deadly Relationships as they defined a lot of my character or lack thereof, and ultimately how I became the person I like.

 

 

The Seven Deadly Sins

  1. Ave Maria

 

When I was ten years old we moved from northern to southern Ontario.   Work was scarce and my father’s arthritis was so pronounced that his doctor suggested moving to warmer climes- it was either kill or cure, so off he went looking for a place and within two weeks we were relocated.  I had been in a French school until then but had to relearn all the terms in English as there was no French immersion back then.  Needless to say, anyone different in those grade years was the object of derision, much the same as it is now.  Although people were much less angry in my day there were always four or five young reprobates pushing me around.  Finally one kid wouldn’t stop tormenting me so I started fighting back- not throwing punches, but stopping him by pinning his arms.  I eventually wrestled him to the ground and held him until he promised to leave me alone for good.  Since he was the biggest bully the rest left me alone, but I had no real peace until high school where there were no recesses.  And so began my overlong, serpentine and tumultuous ascent toward homosexuality- the duality of submission and control. ..just kidding- I had a blast, I just learned to be smart and discreet about it.

Fast forward to grade eleven.  Since I was a people pleaser I got along well with everyone in high school but I wasn’t committed to any one group. I liked different people for different reasons.  Maria was a pretty young girl from another class who, for reasons not obvious to me, was the butt of endless jibes and jeers.  Remembering what it had been like for me being the target of so much derision I made an instant decision and asked her to the Spring Fling dance and she accepted.

I had never had a girlfriend and a boyfriend was inconceivable back then.  Growing up I loved gladiator movies without really understanding why I felt something, yet could not bring myself to talk to anyone about it.  Like everything else in an alcoholic household mum was the word-  under the weather and under the carpet were kindred phrases in that environment and tantamount to a religious edict.  Now that I think about it, so was people pleasing, but by this time it was an innate talent and one of my best defenses.

But I digress. Maria came from a family of European descent who had a big farm in the country.  Although she was almost two years my senior this didn’t pose any particular problem for me as my interest was purely platonic.  They were a more traditional family than mine- imagine my surprise when her brother drove her to pick me up; seems we needed a chaperone in her parents’ eyes.  Her brother was about five foot ten and on the wrestling team, easy on the eyes and a cheerful and teasing personality.  It was a great party and we all had a wonderful time.

In my mind this is where the story should have ended- good deed done, everyone happy and life goes on. Unfortunately as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.  Maria and I were still friends but now she started upping the ante- wanting to go for drives, hanging out at school and calling me at home.  Hanging out at school was no problem as I was a very sociable kid and the rides always had her brother as official spoilsport (if they only knew).  No, the trouble started with the phone calls.  She started slowly, calling every few days with just a few words of greeting and some catching up (by now it was summer and we both lived in the country), but the minimal encouragement I gave her opened the floodgates so that the calls lasted longer and longer.  When they passed the one hour mark I realized she needed to talk, though not necessarily to me; after a month or so of this I started passing the phone to any other sibling (I had nine) and told him or her to just grunt once in a while as that was all the participation requested of me.  This went on for a number of months with her being none the wiser.

Since work was scarce a lot of my family got work on the pickle farm they operated.  This was not the easy job you might think- no gloves as cucumbers bruise very easily, so every day we picked by hand, filling our fingers with so many pickle prickles that my hands would swell up and be useless for anything else. Since I could no longer practice guitar which I had done for five hours every day for the last three years I left the farm and got work elsewhere.  This didn’t mean the calls stopped; actually, they got worse and worse. She kept dropping hints that she was almost eighteen and fertile and would love to have sex and babies, especially babies; it also became apparent that my wishes weren’t that important to her. This not only scared me half to death being only sixteen but kept pushing my face into my own sexuality- it was becoming an intolerable situation. Finally one evening as I was watering the lawn after a particularly arid week she dropped by again with her brother. Suddenly all of my frustration panic and fear came to the front and I turned the garden hose on her, soaking her while yelling at her to leave me alone.

This had the desired double effect of releasing me from bondage and from a relationship I had never wanted and relieving the stresses I had felt for so long.  After that I didn’t see her for over two decades. When I did run into her again on the street she told me she had been married and divorced three times but had no children. She had a job cleaning  the local convent in town, but she still seemed adrift and unhappy to me. That was the last time I saw her.

 

They tore the convent down three months later. To paraphrase Forest Gump I don’t know what to say about that.