Toronto
3 min

Bad sweets

There is nothing more annoying than blowing 16 bucks on bad pastries. You look forward to dessert all day, then for the whole meal. It’s like the trusted and true edible present at a birthday party.

There is nothing more annoying than biting into a beautiful iced chocolate triangle and getting some sort of a flaky, layered, rumball thing, with jam in the middle and little bits of slivered almonds, when you were expecting good old-fashioned chocolate cake. Subjective I know, but sometimes you just want what you expected. My surprise bite is actually the icing on the cake of my entire experience at a local food store this week.

I walk in after a long day at work. I have started asking for recommendations right off the bat when I go to restaurants or food shops. The people who work there just know the best choices. It saves me time and money and pushes me to try things I wouldn’t normally choose. I ask questions about ingredients, and I like to know what I’m eating — for the sake of curiosity and nutrition, and so I can attempt to duplicate things I enjoy at home later on, when I pretend to be Jamie Oliver.

“So, what’s in that?” I ask, “and that, and that?” It takes me only a minute to decide, based on the answers I get. I have my neat box of pastries all ready to go.

“Take it to that handsome young thing at the cash and he’ll help you,” says the guy behind the deli counter. “Oh wait, that’s me. Anyway, he’ll help you too.”

It certainly starts innocently enough. Just a little tease about looks between the two of them. I smile and head across the store.

“She’s a whore, that one!” says the guy at the cash, referring to the guy at the deli counter. I’m not sure what to make of that, but chalk it up to the common cultural banter of some gay men.

Then he says, as he looks for the barcodes, “I used to pay her for it, but now she just gives it away for free!”

“She’s such a whore. I mean really.”

I drop my smile and try to focus on finding my debit card in my wallet. Is this supposed to be funny?

“On the counter, behind the counter, she doesn’t care. Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

“That will be $16.23 please. Always working that one. She’s always serving. Just giving it away, the whore.”

I can’t push the buttons on the debit machine fast enough and just want to get the hell out of there. I feel like I do sometimes on the TTC when someone is ranting about something and looking for a sympathetic ear, and I am just not in the mood for the negative energy. I avoid eye contact, fiddle with things, try to look totally consumed in the menial task of say, pulling lint out of my pockets.

“Oh, she’ll help you all right. She’s always happy to serve just about anyone, the whore. You don’t even have to ask.”

“She says her ankles don’t get sore, but I don’t believe her.”

What does that even mean? I quickly do a mental scan of what I think would be the repertoire of a gay, male, queen sex worker who also works behind a deli counter. Cuffs? Heels? Ticker tape? Standing too long? I think about pregnant “cankles.” I don’t get it.

I’ll admit, I have persistent prudish undertones, no thanks to a very conservative home environment growing up. I cringe at the words “fag” and “dyke,” and the word “whore” has probably never come out of my mouth — not even in moments of role play. I get that there are culturally acceptable uses for all of these words. But between a man and a complete stranger, an employee and a customer (in an unrelated environment), over a box of pastries at a cash register? Maybe, perhaps, not so acceptable.

As usual, upon reflection, I should have said something. As usual, I am assertive, articulate and smart — in my head. As usual, and as per the OCD, I replay and replay one scenario or another and imagine my Rudy moment, my Wanda Sykes moment. Why do I so often sit in my discomfort and not address things? If there is one thing I want to change about myself right now, that’s it.

“Thanks dear!” he says finally, and I hightail it out of there. I hate being called dear — it makes me feel small, and cute, which is not how I want to feel in any situation. And coming from him, it makes me feel somehow complicit in his verbal diarrhea. 

Is this cultural customer service? Does that make it okay? Only in the gay village would you get a shopkeeper with that kind of mouth. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. But on the outside it is a fine-food store, a chocolate triangle that should be straight-up chocolate cake inside but is obviously something completely different.

You never know what you’re going to get here in the Village, do you?