“The two in the car are us,” Yolanda said, pointing at the mannequins driving the red Pontiac Bonneville on the awning. “The waitress is Del Rita Deluxe.”
All the mannequins wore women’s clothes and mustaches. Beneath this tableau vivant, red, white and blue lights chanted the café’s name: “Doll & Penny’s, Doll & Penny’s…”
“It’s to commemorate the roller-skating brunch we had for the Coronation Ball,” added Blair. “Del Rita’s wearing roller skates, see?”
“Shouldn’t we get back inside with the customers?” I asked. I was shivering in just a T-shirt.
“They can wait,” Yolanda said with a wave. “All they want is a glimpse of Richard Dean Anderson.” An episode of MacGyver was being shot in front of The Holly Lodge. The red brick building had a special guest role as the bad part of town.
“City hall wanted that taken down once upon a time,” said Blair, nodding towards the curved yellow awning.
“Because of the drag queens?” I asked.
“They said the car didn’t fit in with the design of the building.”
“They made Celebrities paint over their mural of the Creation because of ‘driver distraction,'” said Yolanda. “More likely because it’s a gay bar.”
“It was a pretty homoerotic mural,” Blair said to me. “Adam bore a remarkable likeness to Jeff Stryker, and he looked like he wanted to pull more than God’s finger.”
“The point is, instead of letting city hall push us around, we got a petition with 5,000 names…”
“That we bribed people to sign with free coffee,” said Blair.
“And we marched down to city hall, in drag…”
“Levi, the owner’s son who built the awning, pleaded with city council,” Blair translated.
“We raised our fists at them!” Yolanda said, shaking his.
“Levi showed them the building permits and a slideshow presentation on how three-dimensional signs give neighbourhoods a cosmopolitan feel.”
“And they crumbled at our heels,” Yolanda growled.
“And George Puil told Levi to stop wasting council’s time, but they voted unanimously to let the awning stay,” said Blair. “You have to forgive Yolanda, he drank a lot in those days, which may have affected his memory.”
“I remember it like it was yesterday!”
I was covering for Spike, who had a mysterious doctor’s appointment at St Paul’s Hospital.
My lunch gig at the other restaurant downtown had lasted exactly one day. I quit after the owner asked me to go to the neighbouring office building with a box of pastries around my neck and sell them door-to-door. I may have been 20 and broke, but I still had my pride and two shifts at Doll & Penny’s.
Donna was reluctant to leave me alone with Blair and Yolanda. “I shouldn’t be gone for more than an hour,” she told the boys. “Promise me you won’t break the new bartender.”
“We promise,” they said, doe-eyed and innocent.
Blair and Yolanda pounced the moment the door closed behind her. First they took me to the back of the café and showed me their dicks. They were enormous.
“Mine’s bigger,” Yolanda pointed out.
“I have more girth,” said Blair. “That’s why I say, ‘Suck hard, it’s thick,’ when I put a milkshake on the table.”
Next came their rendition of the title track from Dreamgirls where they pointed to an imaginary Dreamgirl. “We came up with that after Del Rita Deluxe got sick with mono,” Blair said.
“It killed at the baths,” added Yolanda.
Together Blair, Yolanda and Del Rita Deluxe formed The Slutbuckets, a tough-drag act. The Slutbuckets never shaved their faces, legs or pits. Instead of tucking, they let cocks hang out of their torn stockings.
To hear the boys tell it, they would have gone as far as Broadway had love not got in their way. Both had hung up their wigs for a peaceful life of domesticity while Del Rita went on to do the windows for the Hudson’s Bay and the rest of Vancouver’s gay male population.
Blair reminded me of an underwear model from the Christmas Wish Book that got my prepubescent self hard while I shopped for things my parents would never buy me. His mustache looked like the leather daddy’s from the Village People and his rose-coloured glasses were like Elton John’s during his yellow brick road phase.
Blair hid a shiny bald head with a white golf cap; I tried to seat him the first time I saw him without it.
Yolanda was tall and jowly, his pants held up by suspenders that were accessorized with a bow tie. He looked more Mormon than gay waiter. And then he opened his mouth.
“If that fucking queen doesn’t stop waving at me, I’m going to throw a drink in her face,” Blair complained.
“Do you want me to kill her?” Yolanda asked. “I’ve graduated from babies and puppies.”
“Only if you promise to choke her with your dick,” Blair said.
There is no doubt Jean-Claude Pasquier was referring to either Blair or Yolanda in his review for Angles, when he wrote:
The service is not very courteous at Doll and Penny’s. Although it is not terrible,
professionalism is not what you will find. When the waiter spilled some coffee on
the table by accident, he did not bother coming back to clean up the mess.
The regulars wouldn’t have had it any other way.
They were presently huddled near the front window: nurses from St Paul’s lured by a 10 percent discount; Michael and his roommate Wayne in a wheelchair; Peppermint Patty, the DJ from the Lotus; and Pasha, the transvestite dominatrix — none could resist the pull that was MacGyver. They looked to see if we were someone famous when we came back inside.
“Isn’t that Diana Canova from Soap?” Patty asked.
“Let me see,” Yolanda said, wheeling Wayne out of the way for a better look. “That’s Hormone!”
“So it is,” Patty said, squinting. “Those silicone tits are something. Shame about the dick.”
“Oh shit,” Blair moaned. “Here comes the Bible Lady.”
“Don’t tell me God hates fags and MacGyver,” Patty said.
The lady in question was five feet tall and wide, with a sandwich board crammed with Bible quotes slung over her shoulders. She waddled in the direction of Jervis St with her red megaphone at her mouth.
“PUT DOWN YOUR REMOTES AND TURN YOUR FACE TO JESUS,” she pronounced to the neighbourhood.
We slid the front window open and stuck out our heads to watch a security guard spin her around in the direction of the café.
“Get back inside before she sees us!” Blair ordered, but we were too late.
She was screaming “REPENT FAGGOTS!” into the megaphone. When she swung open the door, her voice rattled the chandelier. I plugged my ears with my fingers to guard against her condemnation. Poor Wayne was abandoned in his chair and bore the brunt of it.
A bolt of red lightning zoomed past my face. There was a loud splat and I was sprayed with a light dusting of ketchup.
The impact from the plastic condiment bottle was enough to send the Bible Lady backwards out the door and onto her ass. She struggled comically to right herself, getting ketchup all over her hands. We turned in the direction the bottle had come from to see Yolanda next to the waiter’s station armed and ready with another bottle.
“Never fuck with a Slutbucket,” he said, and blew on his finger like it was the barrel of a smoking gun.
Spike’s mysterious doctor appointments and his aversion to drag kept me in beer and cigarettes. Instead of looking for more work, I spent my days writing letters to my best friend, Gord, which would subsequently be interrupted by a phone call from Spike.
“Wanna work?” he’d ask.
There was always a spicy Bloody Caesar waiting at Table 13, the corner booth, in anticipation of Spike’s arrival. Spike’s lover, Kitty, would be sitting next to it feigning patience. There they would sit, hand in hand, getting pleasantly pissed, watching the street traffic on Davie paddle past them like sushi boats.
My favourite job at the café was opening and closing the brocade black curtains. They parted in the evening for screenings of video compilations of That’s Entertainment set to disco, or whatever Donna’s roommate had recorded off MuchMusic. We closed them for the bar rush and for shows.
Tonight was a fundraiser for Celebration 90, formerly the Gay Olympics but thanks to a lawsuit from the International Olympic Committee, officially renamed the Gay Games III.
Celebration 90 marked the first time the Games would be held outside of San Francisco.
Standing beneath the spotlight was none other than the drag laureate of Vancouver, Bill Monroe.
Bill was wearing his famous pink cocktail dress, a replica of Marilyn Monroe’s from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — but his hair was right out of Dynasty. He was presently having a competition with a glass of Scotch to see who could sing “Cabaret.” The Scotch was winning.
“No wonder Spike wanted me to work for him,” I told Ivy.
“He used to get arrested for doing that in Toronto during the 1960s.”
“He’s no Liza, but I wouldn’t throw him in jail…”
“I meant the drag.”
“He does a killer Queen Elizabeth, and his roommate is the founder of the People with AIDS Coalition. So now, when Bill asks, ‘Do you know who I am?’ you can tell him yes.”
Working with Ivy was like working with one foot nailed to the floor: you were always going in circles. Ivy had this way of inserting herself into whatever you were doing and critiquing it — even when you were following her advice. Since I couldn’t afford to lose this job as well, I just smiled and agreed like I didn’t understand English.
Ivy was convinced the café served a higher purpose; one didn’t just work at Doll & Penny’s but was summoned to it like the priesthood.
“It’s built on Indian burial grounds, you know,” she said.
“Really?” I said, trying to remember what was in a piña colada.
“Do you know how much money this place made last year?” Ivy asked, hovering above me. “A million dollars! Can you believe that? A million dollars!”
Another of her quirks was her strict “No ugly people in the front window” policy. It was Ivy’s theory that attractive people didn’t go to places that “uglies” frequented. It was as impossible to enforce as it sounds, especially if you’re a neurotic 20-year-old standing in a sea of empty booths.
“And now ladies and gentlemen,” Bill Monroe said, trying to tap the feedback out of his microphone. “The reason we’ve gathered here tonight: the debut of the theme song for the Gay Games to be performed by its composer, a man you might also recognize as my accompanist — Gary!”
A thin guy with glasses waved from behind an electric piano to polite applause.
A hush fell over the café as the composer’s fingertips hovered above the keys of his electric piano. Please let it be good, I chanted, as I’m sure did everyone else whose undivided attention Gary now commanded.
A couple of bars into the theme it became apparent that Gary was influenced by Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder. His lyrics were lost to the synthetic clapping that counted the time of the song. I couldn’t help but notice the song lacked an identifiable chorus.
“That’s not going to remix well,” Scooter, the dinner waiter, said.
“Retract your claws,” I told him. “We’re being supportive.”
“We dated. He dumped me. I wish him all the worst.”
Scooter’s blue eyes twinkled in the light of the chandelier. He had a Howdy Doody smile and freckles to match. I was sure he had AIDS. He was thin with wiry muscles and sunken cheeks. But Scooter didn’t look like the AIDS patients I’d seen in magazines and on TV. He seemed to have his whole life ahead of him.
“Want to see my cock?” he asked.
“Don’t bother if it isn’t bigger than Yolanda’s.”
Scooter rolled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal a tattoo of a rooster on his bicep.
“That never gets tired,” he said. “So Dex thinks you’re a Prairie Faerie.”
Scooter and Dex were to the evening shift what Blair and Yolanda were to breakfast and lunch, but with manners. Scooter treated Dex like his younger brother, chastising him on his ensemble when he arrived for his shift.
“Dex, how many times have I told you? Your California good looks work best in 501s and a T-shirt,” Scooter tsked. “I thought we got rid of the purple acid-wash jeans.”
“I took them out of the trash,” Dex admitted, his head hung low.
“And why is there a plastic troll in your belt loop?” Scooter continued. “How many times do I have to tell you to call me when you’re feeling creative?”
“What’s a Prairie Faerie?” I asked Scooter.
“You know, like a farm boy from Saskatoon or Regina. The kind that gets married, pops out a few farm hands and has sex in toilets.”
“I’m from Toronto.”
“So who was he?”
“The guy you followed here from Toronto.”
“There was no guy!”
“Well I didn’t follow him exactly. Just his advice.”
We had met at Komrads, the dance club I hung out at. He had short curly hair like a GI Joe action figure and maroon Doc Marten boots. His body was to die for, he was a globetrotter, and more importantly, he had seen The Smiths live in London. We spent a week going to art-house movies, riding our bikes around Toronto and fucking like rabbits.
“Are you from Vancouver?” he asked, spelling his name out in cum on my tummy.
“Brampton.” People usually thought I was from New York because I look and sound Jewish, when really I’m Portuguese and Catholic. “What makes you think I’m from Vancouver?”
“You’re so down to earth, in touch with your surroundings,” he said. “It’s like the world was built around you. Have you been?”
“You’d love it there — it’s the complete opposite of Toronto, all mountains and ocean instead of subways and skyscrapers.”
“I like subways and skyscrapers.”
“I meant it as a compliment.”
All I knew of Vancouver was Expo 86 and that the Canucks had the ugliest jersey in the NHL. After he stopped returning my calls, moving to Vancouver was the only way of getting back at him without actually killing myself.
“What was his name?” Scooter asked.
“Not our Monty!” Scooter proceeded to describe Monty in perfect detail like he was a suspect in a crime. “He used to work at Doll & Penny’s!”
“The longer you stay out of the closet the smaller it gets.”
The show over, Scooter turned to the audience and shouted, “Hear that everybody? He’s not a Prairie Faerie!”