Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
(my thoughts exactly)
I don’t normally tell people this stuff, because it embarasses me. It mostly embarasses me because I feel like I should have done better for myself, or moved on, or been fired, or got my degree, or a million other things I won’t bore you with. But I’ll say it now because it’s true and I should own it. I have been working the same (temporary) joe job for 15 years.
I had moved downtown before, but it ended with a boyfriend beating the shit out of me, several late night (early morning) phone calls and pickup trucks, so it doesn’t count. I was again living in my old room at my parents, again, working, again, trying to find a way to make it to the city. I always knew that’s where my future was, for good or for bad, it was where someone like me belonged. When I was young our class made several trips into the city for firld trips, mostly to the reference library. As the school bus snaked up Yonge street from the gardiner, we young ones would press our faces to the glass to gawk at the strange people who inhabited “the city”. It was the 80’s and even thought Yonge Street wasn’t the nicest place to hang out, we only saw normal people, young, old, rich, poor. But one place always stuck out, a tavern, with no windows and giant lamps outside the door. Before I even knew who I was, I knew I belonged there. That was was the ‘gay bar’.
Many years, many life lessons later, I was almost broke. I had finally moved into the attic of a rooming house at 1014 Ossington Ave, strangely, only about a 2 minute walk from where I currently live. When I first moved there I thought I might as well be living in mississauga: far, unwalkable, strange, immigrant-prone, and so much cement. I had somehow managed to save “a lot” of money: those were the days when you could live in the city on a pittance, if you knew where to go. Dance cave coupons in the NOW magazine, the free phone at Pauper’s, Pizza GiGi slices, but even cheap costs some money… And I needed it bad.
I went to this place called mocha joe’s, it was a cafe place on the outskirts of the gay village, carlton and church, kind of like how I felt at the time. It was buy 10 coffees and get one free and I got several free a week. It was there I read the XTRA magazine and I saw the want ad. The local video store was hiring “night” staff, and that just seemed like something that suited me well. It was of great relief when the manager called and arranged an interview; our initial meeting had been victim to my nervous mispronounciation of common words “sure” and “certainly”, it had come out of my mouth as “sir”. I guess that was appropriate.
The manager explained to me that this was a unique place, one that was hard to find the right employees, the right mix, and if I was scared of sexualized people this might not be right for me.
“Well, I’m gay”, I (allegedly) screamed. The words came out of my mouth like a jet engine, like a warrior that carried a sword, like a crackhead eyeing it’s fix, like a bull out of the gates intent on murder. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t realize that was the first time I had ever said that out loud.
My first shift was a saturday night. 10pm until 2am. They did this on purpose, I was told. I guess the first test to working here was showing up at the allotted time, as inconvienent as it was, but when you have spent several days eating nothing but kraft dinner knock offs, you might be willing to show up at a job at a strange time too.
I was greeted by a strange, small, chinese man I had never seen before, but I later learned he was the owner. He spoke very good english, but my suburban white brain had no idea what he was saying. I learned later that he liked me on the spot. The manager guy came into the store and started showing me the ropes. He was a sarcastic fellow, who wore cut off sweatpant shorts and stained tshirts. He was very different from the gay people I knew, later he would be known as a ‘bear’. He seemed to know lots of things, like everything that happened on the strip, in the community and in the news. I liked him immediately. He apologized that I had to deal with the ‘chinese’. He had been on his break, and had seen me show up, early, from his perch on the steps across the street where he smoked furiously. He immediately began showing me the ropes and I did my best to learn.
While the day to day, or night to night was happening, something strange occurred. I was standing in the employee area when someone I can only describe as FLAMING burst throught the doors…
“Everyone remember where you are…DIANA IS DEAD!”. There are not enough exclamation points on my keyboard to express his alarm. He immediately ran out as if it were his duty to notify the others.
“What? What is he talking about??”, is all I could think to respond. Who is Diana? Why is she dead? Why does anyone care? I had no idea what anyone was talking aboout, now that murmers could be heard throughout the store… Is it true? Is it propaganda? who knows.
“Oh, the princess!!!”
“It’s all over the internet”, says the manager. The internet?? That place that star trek fans go?? Just for reference, the internet was not a reliable place for news in 1997. It was place for slow ass porn and star trek nerds. It was all chat boards and text. In 1997, the internet was not a place to be trusted.
But it was true, and some lady everybody loved died that day, or night, depending on where you were when you heard. Later, I stayed up late to watch her funeral, but it was too long and I fell asleep. It is now 15 years later and I am supposed to work there tomorrow.
Everytime I walk into that place, I think, “REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE”, and I do, oh how I do remember. That was the first day I worked there.