The decision to become a madam was taken in much the same manner I take most major decisions — impulsively.
It was three in the morning at the Granville St White Lunch, a time and place that launched many bad ideas in the early 1970s, and I was scribbling notes for my following week’s Georgia Straight column and half listening to a conversation in the next booth.
“I don’t want to work with Dagmire. Her apartment is too far off Davie and her old pimp keeps coming around.”
“Well, we can’t work out of my place; my folks live upstairs.”
“If we could get together an apartment, we could . . .”
The conversation was between three gorgeous young drag queens of my acquaintance named Toni, José and Chrissy, and the next thing anyone knew we were scouting that large apartment building on Bute just off Davie called St James Place. We rented a suite on the second floor (weekly housekeeping included) and were open for business.
My role in all this, aside from having at that point an unblemished credit rating, was a bit unclear to everyone, but the “girls” decided that I was going to be their combination den mother and house bouncer, and Chrissy styled me our “Mr Madam.”
Someone explained to me that guys didn’t usually become madams, but pimps.
Pimps, the story went, stood about dark lounges and clubs dressed in exotic leathers, drove pastel-coloured Lincolns and sneered a lot. That didn’t sound like fun to me, and besides, I never was able to muster a very convincing sneer.
Being a madam, on the other hand, required an ability to change three sets of bed linen four times a night, and not get in anyone’s way while doing so, and the wherewithal to throw together a four-in-the-morning repast for two tired working girls, three drag queens and the occasional leftover and hungover john.
I knew my calling.
Our operation was designed around a twist in the prostitution laws of the day. This was a time when women weren’t allowed to peddle their bodies, but men were somehow left out of the official wording of the law. The lawmakers were either so obsessed with contemplating illicit female forms that they forgot that men had bodies, too, or they couldn’t imagine anyone being willing to pay for one.
Shows you how rarified is the air in Ottawa.
Chrissy clued me in on the game our first night in business.
“They can bust Dagmire or Bonny,” she explained, “because it’s against the law for them to hustle on the streets, but if they nab me or Toni they can only get us for vagrancy. So we hustle the johns up to the apartment and if it turns out they aren’t interested in what we can do for them, we turn them over to one of the real girls for the full treatment.”
This was the pattern we were to follow for the next six months. Our endeavours were supported by two cab drivers trained to deliver clients to our back door, signalling with their headlights from the parking lot so that someone (usually me) could come and let them in.
It was a formative time for me, as I pounded out my weekly column on our kitchen table, usually while the girls prepared themselves for an evening’s work. Many curious characters came into our lives during that period, including a merchant seaman who showed up late one night with Lady Jacqueline Wentworth Brown and spent several weeks camped out in a sleeping bag in our hall closet (he was a little guy). Finally finding his land legs, he went on to a career of his own as “Gary the Grinch,” running a string of boozecans through the late 1970s and into the ’80s. Ask anyone over 50 and they’ll have a bunch of Grinch stories to share!
The Grinch taught us to boost boxes off the conveyer belt at the front of SuperValu (fuelling the 3am spaghetti dinner parties). I also had my share of learning experiences at the hands of deranged tricks — including being chased down the back stairs one night by a naked man wielding a stiletto letter opener. It all reached some sort of climax with a pre-dawn explosion that turned cars in the basement to tinsel and confirmed rumours of a Balkan “terrorist” cell on the third floor.
Obviously, this story needs more than one installment. Watch for Chapter 2.