9 min

The hardest, dirtiest & most-disgusting jobs on Church St

Someone's gotta do it

Credit: (Ted Flett)

Every week rugged but ravishing Mike Rowe takes viewers of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs program into the grimiest workplaces in the US. On Canada’s Out-door Life Network, Barenaked Ladies’ lead Ed Robertson does the same in Ed’s Up. Both hosts have helped raise awareness of the least desirable rungs of the employment ladder.

Behind the gaybourhood’s pristine front-line staff — including the buff bartenders, the composed maître d’s and the unscathed office managers — swarms of worker bees toil away.

Here’s a look at the village’s dirtiest jobs and those who perform them, in ascending order from the back-straining brutal to the shit-cleaning nauseating.

The bar busboy
Tatsju Iijima, Woody’s

Sweet but saucy best describes Tatsju Iijima, who works as a busboy at busy Church St bar Woody’s. His innocent face with raised eyebrows and joyous expressions masks the 38-year-old’s intense focus and artistic motivation.

“I don’t consider myself a friendly guy,” says the Tokyo native. “My job is cleaning and I don’t spend a lot of time talking to customers.”

It would be natural to assume that a busboy would be keen to use the job as a steppingstone to the much sought after position of bartender in the village’s landmark bar, but not Iijima.

“I’m not sure I’d be that good at customer service,” he says. “If I’m not feeling smiley, I can’t smile and it would be hard to chat with a lot of people. Besides, I like what I’m doing and have a lot of fun at it.”

During a typical shift — nights from 8pm to 4am — Iijima clears empties, washes glasses and stocks the bars with bottles and kegs. He operates in the background, crisscrossing through the masses of men in one of the dozens of sleeveless Woody’s shirts he owns, adjusted not to show off his thick arms but to allow more arm movement when reaching and carrying on the job. “I also sweat a lot,” he says.

Iijima estimates he hauls beer kegs and cases of beverages up from the basement at least 10 times a night. To reduce the number of climbs, he carries two cases at a time plus another 15 bottles wedged upside down between the bottles of the top case. “It’s handier,” he says, grinning at the mere thought of the nifty trick.

But all that lugging takes a toll. “At the end of the night, I don’t feel anything. My legs are just tired and I don’t hear anything from all the loud music,” he says. To survive the job, Iijima has a closet full of shoes; he estimates he owns around 40 pairs. “I like shoes,” he admits, “and you need really comfortable shoes to do this.”

Away from the bar, Iijima spends time fulfilling his artistic desires as an illustrator. He describes his work as “Tom of Finland meets Japanimation” and his art primarily depicts faces and gay eroticism. “I’ve always found myself sketching and drawing,” Iijima says. “I can express myself and let off a lot of steam. It can be very therapeutic.”

His work has appeared in coffee shop exhibitions and in Xtra. Iijima travels frequently to Montreal, scouting new exhibition venues.

Single and sexy, Iijima has never been picked up in his two years working at Woody’s. “Bartenders get a lot of interest, but not busboys,” he says.

The restaurant dishwasher
Larry DesRosiers, Churchmouse & Firkin Pub

For the lowest guy on the totem pole and the oldest guy on staff, Larry DesRosiers suffers no inferiority complex during a shift of bussing and dishwashing at the Churchmouse and Firkin Pub.

“I get teased and am called grandpa,” says the 55-year-old. “I just tell them, ‘Hey, when you’re my age, we’ll see what you look like because you don’t even look that great now.'”

But DesRosiers adds that there isn’t much time to kibitz with colleagues. “It’s constant motion,” he says. “I’m running up and down the stairs a lot with food, setting up, clearing, carrying up kegs, doing the dishes and always keeping my eyes and ears open for what’s up next.”

DesRosiers says he’s loved every minute of the fevered pace since he left an accounting job and started at the pub three years ago. “Sitting at a desk was no longer for me,” he recalls.

That said, the chaotic environment can still catch up with him. “Some people say if I don’t break something once a day there’s something wrong with me,” DesRosiers shares. “In the kitchen my hands are always wet and plates slip easily when you’re going in 10 different directions with your mind on 10 different things.”

Colleagues, including service and kitchen staff, can also be trying. “Everybody has their days and there are people that have partied the night before and have a bad day and take it out on you,” he says. “I just deal with it. I’m sure I’m difficult to deal with sometimes.”

After a shift, DesRosiers retreats to his tranquil home life. “I walk in the door, I take a hot bath and sit in it for 20 minutes. My home life is totally uncomplicated compared to work and I need that,” says DesRosiers, adding that he will gladly curl up with his 14-year-old tabby cat, Studly, when he’s done a long shift.

Carving out time with Rob, his partner of one year, takes some juggling given that Rob works days in retail. “We make the most of the time we have together,” he says.

Exercise isn’t essential to DesRosiers given the level of activity on the job but for inspiration to write poetry, DesRosiers will walk to the CN Tower from his home at Church and Wellesley or through the theatre district.

DesRosiers is known to some as Mr Leather Crews 2004 and Mr Leather Zelda’s 2006. DesRosiers says he appreciates the leather scene though not as a lifestyle.

“I find that the leather community is more down to earth and real once you look past the clothes,” he says, adding that he values the way leather makes him feel. “It makes people look at you differently. You carry a bit of confidence with yourself and people seem to respect you a little more and look up to you.”

The mover
Ross Thomson, El Cheapo Movers

Australian Ross Thomson is a man on the move — in work and in play. The 23-year-old nomad has been living in Toronto for more than a year but just returned from a trip home and across Europe to avoid the Canadian winter. The snow slows him down.

“It’s horrible, you have to put on 12 layers and everyone’s miserable,” he says. “During summer, everybody’s out and about and I like that.”

But he’s not just sweating from the sun. Thomson got his start in heavy lifting back home, working for his uncle’s moving company and it’s a skill that he has made use of here in Toronto.

“I reckon it’s a fairly hard job,” he says. “It has long hours at the end of the month and a lot of third- or fourth-floor walkups. I’ve seen a lot of guys come in and give it a shot and within half a day they’ve left.”

He works for El Cheapo Movers, a moving company which has plenty of clients in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood.

Thomson appreciates the variety in the job. “It’s doing different things with different people and at a different place every day.” But the variety in customers brings its perks and drawbacks. Moving is among the most stressful duties anyone undertakes and Thomson witnesses the resulting angst daily.

“We had a customer who, after we reassembled her dining room table and six chairs, asked us to reposition it several times,” he recalls. “It had to be her way and she wasted our time.”

Disorganized clients still packing on moving day can also be a pain. “It puts us off because we have a set way of packing the truck and it throws us off a fair bit,” Thomson says.

As for aches and pains from a move, “I’ve had a few nicks here and there but nothing that’s stopped me from going to work the next day. But, after a 12-hour move, I’m certainly feeling it at the end of the day.”

The work frees Thomson from having to exercise off the job; his lean physique is deceiving. “My arms get a lot more strength in them and I can climb a lot of stairs, but if I was to run across the street I’d be breathless.”

To recover from a day on the job, Thomson spends a lot of time on the couch, planning his next trip and strolling through High Park with Sadie, his 18-year-old girlfriend and travel companion.

Thomson says they both appreciate the flexibility of his job. “As a traveller, if I want to take off for a week, I need a job that will allow me to do that,” he says. “When I come back, I always have work waiting for me.”

The body modification artist
Six, Exotix Studios

“I question why I’m doing this when I’m stationed behind a guy who’s bent over with his asshole in my face waiting to be pierced,” says Six, a piercing specialist and owner of Exotix Studios. It’s important to note here that Six, 28, is straight, so a man’s anus splayed before him does not tantalize.

Six got his first piercings — his earlobes — on his 16th birthday, the age his mother demanded he reach before getting an earring. “I remember that feeling of, ‘I’m going to get more,'” he says. He soon began giving them, too.

After piercing several friends in his teens, Six avoided the family construction business to make a profession of body modification. He trained in Florida, New York and San Francisco before opening Exotix in 2001.

Six says it’s partly the excitement he remembers feeling with his own first piercing that makes him pierce today. But for some clients, trepidation over the temporary pain accompanies the anticipation of the end result.

“I had one guy piss himself,” Six says; the twentysomething customer was among a group of guys all getting their ears pierced. Once Six finished, the boy jumped off the bench and realized he had wet himself in the thrill of the moment. “It was awkward and I wondered if I should have better bedside manner in a situation like that,” Six recalls. “His pants took the majority of it but it did smell.”

The job can be dangerous, too. “I had a guy pass out while I was going through his aftercare and he hit his head on a table so he was out out,” says Six. “When he got up, he was acting out of defence and started walking at me with both fists clenched. I was standing in the windowsill because it’s a small room telling him repeatedly to sit down. He totally freaked me out.”

Six says such cases are rare but that he more commonly deals with just plain dirty piercings. In the case of one woman who wanted a triangle — a piercing underneath the stem of the clitoris — Six spent more time cleaning than piercing. “Normally a Q-tip is enough to clean an area, but with her I was using gauze,” he says. “I used about 10 pieces of gauze and I was wiping all sorts of stuff — shit, lint, you name it. It was totally gross.”

Six himself only sports three piercings presently but he’s had the full gamut at one time or another. His small earlobes now show no evidence of their former enhancement. “I had them chopped last year,” he says. The removal coincided with a broader transformation including a divorce and growth of the business. “I’d turned a page,” he says.

Today, Six says he’s just a regular guy with a new girlfriend, Cara. “People always expect and want to hear that I’m into all this craziness and I don’t really do much,” he says. “I ride my bike, I shop and I watch Nip/Tuck.”

The bathhouse housekeeper
Tony Churman, Steamworks

Some jobs can be really shitty but no one knows that better than Tony Churman. The 29-year-old housekeeper at Steamworks regularly walks into one of the bathhouse’s 72 rooms to a disgusting sight.

“I’ve seen shit, puke, piss, cum, blood, lube, vomit, everything in a room,” he says casually. “All over — on the bed, on the floor, even on the walls.”

Judging from the aftermath, Churman surmises, “[Clients] will fling a condom and cum everywhere or smear shit on the wall. You might also find shit in the shower or floating in the whirlpool.

“The longer you work here, the more you get used to it,” says the Steamworks employee of seven months. Churman has been cleaning — from offices to hotels to bathhouses — since 1992 when he arrived in Canada from Guyana with his grandparents.

The most challenging rooms may require 15 minutes of cleaning but Churman estimates he can normally flip a room in five. From the two-shelf cart he tows around the bathhouse, Churman selects the necessary cleaning products to bring each room back to its original minimalist state. “If it’s shit or blood on the sheets we throw them out, but pee and cum you can Spray ‘n’ Wash.”

At five-foot four-inches and 120 pounds, Churman darts through the bathhouse, navigating through the darkness and crowds of towelled, sex-charged men. Over time, his eyes have adjusted to the dimness and he now easily scans the halls for litter as he heads to his next assignment.

The job can be dangerous and Churman says he works quickly but cautiously. “You have to be careful of needles,” he says. “[Guests] will shove a needle under the mattress and you have to be aware of that.”

Churman says the worst is facing a shitty task right before a scheduled meal break. “It really turns me off eating,” he laments. “I’ll either just get over it and eat, or I’ll wait until I get home hours later.”

In many cases Churman just has to hold his breath and dive in. Steamworks is a busy place. Andrew Kennedy, the site’s head of housekeeping, says some nights more than 200 people will come through and the waiting list for rooms will run three hours long.

Once home, Churman likes to romance his partner, Roger, with a home-cooked meal. His signature dish is chicken curry with rice. “I love to cook for him,” he says, beaming.

The two also spend time with Churman’s daughters from a previous marriage, Mellissa, four, and Alisa, seven.

As for his cleaning career, Churman has goals. “This is a nice job but I’d rather work in a restaurant or a bar.”