Arts & Entertainment
7 min

Still QQ after all these years

Vancouver's first gay columnist remembers the 1970s

Kevin Dale McKeown as QQ in 1972. Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Dale McKeown

It was three in the morning at the Granville St White Lunch, where the night was ending for some and the party was in full swing for others.

Faces, Champagne Charlie’s and the August Club had sent their revellers home for the night, but those who couldn’t sleep, were too stoned to sleep or had no place to sleep joined others of the demimonde to compare notes about the tricks, the drugs, the rip-offs and the assorted scandals of the preceding evening.

It was my job, at $20 a week, to write it all down for my Georgia Straight column, “QQ Writes… Page 69.” 

The drag shows, the Gay Liberation Front meetings, the boycotts and the hair-pullings, the late nights at the after-hours booze cans and the early mornings at the White Lunch.

You may have been there one of those nights and wondered if you’d show up in next week’s column.

Molly, the fire-breathing waitress, was dispensing vile coffee and shrill instructions to the junkies to stay the hell out of the washroom. A waif-like youth named Jimmy was practising to become the full-blown radical shit-kicker celebrated as Jamie Lee Hamilton. Alone at a table by the front window, cantankerous Chez Victor owner Victor Coté surveyed the scene with his customary gloom.

Over by the counter, a kite-high drag queen was engaged in a screaming match with Molly over how many creamers she should be allowed to take with her coffee. Creamers in those days were hefty little glass jugs, not today’s crinkly plastic throwaways.

Lady Jacqueline Wentworth Brown and Molly worked each other into such a rage that Her Ladyship ended the discussion by heaving one of those creamers at the huge mirror that hung behind the cafeteria counter and flouncing out through the front door. Only to flounce back in again a moment later, throwing a quarter at Molly’s head and shouting “and this is for the fucking creamer!”

Your 19-year-old queer scribe from the Georgia Straight was lurking in a corner booth, taking notes and hoping to finally get laid.

It was 1970 and we didn’t have a clue.

A better quality of drag queen held court a few paces south at Love’s Skillet Café, under the motherly eye of hostess Edie Robinson, soon-to-be Empress I Charity and bevies of lovelies in sequins and heels. And a more desperate kind of junkie found refuge and a quick score further down Granville at Davie, in the Chick & Bull, today’s Two Parrots.

But for those of us who liked the scene a bit betwixt and between, the White Lunch was the place to be at three in the morning.

***

Alan Judge was a helluva guy to share a booth with in the White Lunch, surrounded by speed queens, drag queens, junk queens, tea-room queens and the rest of the family. For one thing, he always sat on the outside, between you and them.

Alan did not perform this service deliberately, or even willingly. At five foot four and a hefty 118 pounds, Alan was not much help against a six-foot tranny armed with White Lunch cutlery. No, what really drove Alan to the outside seat was the memory of a hot, hopeless week spent in a Cuban prison while his cellmates were taken out, one a day, and shot. But that is another story, and not one of mine.

As a result of the Cuban episode, Alan had screaming, clawing claustrophobia.

We were very protective of Alan, because he gave us hope.

Well, actually, he kept us amused, and that amounted to the same thing.

He also gave us a name, which a few of us cherish to this day. We were, he told us, The People of the Post.

Alan had once seen a movie that was about, or at least had in it, a bunch of people in an insane asylum. Some of the inmates met daily in the exercise yard, by a certain post. It might have been a goal post, or a tetherball post, or a watchtower leg. That detail is lost to us now, like the name of the movie.

It was enough that they met there, recognized one another, and, for reasons clear only to themselves, believed that they were much less crazy than the rest of the residents. Perhaps even sane. And they called themselves The People of the Post.

Alan said we were The People of the Post because we were, as we never tired of telling one another, much less of some things and much more of others than anyone else in the White Lunch at three in the morning.

We loved Alan for that. Then one winter things took an unexpected turn, and two Mexican youths stabbed him to his death in an out-of-the-way beach house that he had rented, so as to have a place to lure Mexican youths to his death. That’s another story, too, and also not one of mine.

So there we sat, night pressed upon dawn, the White Lunch’s own People of the Post. Alan, of course; “Riga,” the semi-retired circus clown; Victor, the briefly successful restaurateur; Raymond Hull, the famous “how to” book author; Jack Card, the tits-and-ass choreographer from Izzy’s on Georgia; Polish Don, the blind socialist; Jerry, the bookmaker’s runner; and Booster Bob.

And me, of course, but I was doing research.

***

There were other honorary and temporary members. The old queen whose main claim to fame was that he had once impersonated the Great Imposter; Chrissie Warren, who had impersonated everyone but; Lady Jacqueline Wentworth Brown, star of the creamer episode with Molly; and Scottie, the former WWI flying ace. Ninety-three if he was a day. Gawd, I wonder what he thought of us all!

Into the morning, until the street sweepers began their progress down Granville St and Blackie, the crippled news hawk and alleged police informant, set up his stand with the morning papers, we’d talk about our differences, especially those between us and those not of the Post. The terminal junkies, the suburban chicken hawks in from Surrey to check out the cute newcomers (like young Jimmy Hamilton), the Bay Rum rubbies with their one-cup-till-dawn coffee. You know the ones I mean.

The real lost causes. Not us.

In a column in Xtra Vancouver a few years ago, Robert Rothon made reference to a near-legendary goose-hunting expedition to Lost Lagoon by a People of the Post alumni named Messy Mae.

The story got me thinking.

Messy Mae was briefly, to most of Robert’s readers, a cartoonish nickname attached to a wildly improbable story involving a drunken night in Stanley Park, a hapless goose, a bathtub scene from Psycho and a Thanksgiving dinner. But there must be a few left besides me who can actually put a face to the name, and can conjure up images of Mae’s burly figure scuttling up the side aisle at the Ambassador Hotel beer parlour, rushing to get up the three steps to the washroom before he, well — messed himself.

It’s a sad little story, as is the later story of Messy’s demise, involving a trip to the Gulf Islands and a misstep off the stern of one of the earliest gay boat cruises. But there must be some Friends of Messy Mae left who could tell a few other anecdotes that would give more dimension to this piece of our history.

Messy Mae, like Alan Judge, was one of a special breed of queer that thrived in the ’50s and ’60s, earning a living in the ultra-butch world of the logging and mining camps. Most were cooks and bull-cooks and other sorts of camp life factotums.

They would work through the spring and summer months in faraway corners of the province, helping to clear-cut forests, strip-mine watersheds and build huge hydroelectric dams. When their work season ended, they would hightail it to Mexico or Cuba or wherever they chose to winter, pockets full of cash, in pursuit of exotic young men to help them spend it.

Four or five months later, broke, exhausted and happy, they’d head north again, for the ready cash to be earned making beds and flipping pancakes for the men of the woods.

We saw them twice a year. On their way south in the fall and back north in the spring, coming and going, they’d lay-over in Vancouver, stay in seedy hotel rooms and hang out for a few weeks at the Ambassador or the Castle pubs and the Granville St White Lunch.

It was a good living and one that brought them into intimate proximity with an enviable number of butch, horny young loggers, miners and truckers. The mind boggles.

Messy Mae was only one of many characters I remember from the ’70s, most of them with colourful nicknames. Rosie Slush Guts was a good friend of Messy’s. The Duchess of Bermuda ran the kitchen for a season or so at the August Club, and Miss Las Vegas, entertainment director at North Vancouver’s Seven Seas Restaurant, was an auteur of high camp back in the day.

And, of course, the venerable Duchess Richard, who bore a startling resemblance to Truman Capote. Richard once talked a young man with a Harley into driving him through the swinging doors of the Men Only entrance to the Ambassador, up those stairs to the bathrooms, and out the back door into the alley — making a second grand entrance through the rear door of the Castle Pub.

So many of these larger-than-life personalities have moved on to their final reward, but you won’t believe how many old queers in their ’60s and ’70s and ’80s are still with us, watching with amazement and delight as a queer new world celebrates and flaunts in ways we could never have imagined.

There is increasing pressure from some of that old gang of ours for me to start setting down my reminiscences of those days, before there’s nobody left who cares. And maybe a few good stories from you about Messy Mae, and others we remember fondly, will help me kickstart the storytelling.

Are there any other Friends of Messy Mae out there who want to swap old stories with QQ?

I’d love to hear from you. Let’s rehash some old gossip, reopen some old wounds, put some ancient rumours to rest and generally confirm that the ’70s were a good time to be queer and here.

I’ve started a website at stillqq.com. That’s easy enough to remember, even at our age… so look it up, drop me a line and let’s have one more kick at the can.

Thanks for remembering when.