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Month: December 2022

To Stop The Tide

Today on the beach, I watched a kid playing in the sand, He scooped up sand in pre-shaped plastic containers and then dumped them out: stars, a turtle, and a series of boxes. The tide, on its way in slowly, lapped at the first, so he added to his little kingdom a giant wall to stop the water.

I remembered.

The first time I ever saw the ocean was English Bay, Vancouver. My brother and sister and I were there with our grandparents visiting our uncle and “his roommate”. Our joy that first day at the beach was pure, and we built a little kingdom as well. My brother was more concerned with building something concrete, height and shape and structure. Me, I had another goal. With a series of trenches, walls, and driftwood barriers, I was going to protect it all. The tide might come in and wash away other people’s kingdoms, but not ours. I was going to circumvent all that. As the waves lapped ever closer, I grew more frantic in building up walls for the water to batter against, and deeper, longer trenches for it to return to the sea.

I wonder now at that innocent hubris, the frenzied certainty that whatever I was doing would be enough to in fact stop the tide. I wonder how that perseverance in the face of inevitable defeat has shaped me since. I wonder how I knew, even so young, that some things had to be fought against. Rage, rage, against the coming of the tide.

You know how this story ends, of course. The tide comes in, and it washes away the wood, it fills the trenches, it flattens the walls. Some things, you cannot fight against. Eventually, everything returns to the sea.
But it’s the fight! The fight that matters.

Stepping Up

Today I climbed up the 1048 steps to the top of Koko Head and drank in the views of Waikiki and Hanauma Bay. While there, it occurred to me how amazing things are since 12 steps changed my life.

When I was drinking, my world was very contained. My work was on 106 Street, my home 117 St, same avenue even. I almost never left this eleven block line. Eleven blocks, It’s a big line but a small world. That was my whole world for so long that it had become ingrained in me. This was the whole world, I thought, this eleven block stretch from Boots to Buddys, this two bar gay bar circuit of beer and blow. I’d long since gotten rid of my car; I was never sober enough to drive anyway.

When I got sober in March of 2011, getting a car was one of my first priorities. And it was amazing how that expanded my world. That summer, I spent most of it across the river, exploring the city I had lived in but never truly seen.

And the world just got bigger with the opening of EVO. Yes, there was luck involved, and yes, a great deal of privilege, but also, a great deal of hard work. First, the hard work in becoming sober, and then the hard work of a career I remain passionate about.

But still, when I looked out over the bay from the top of that mountain today, I thought not about the 1048 steps that got me to the top, or the 1048 I would soon have to take to the bottom, but instead, the first 12 steps that made it possible, the first 12 steps that made my world, the whole world.

If you’re reading this and having a hard time taking that first step, let me reassure you that it is SO worth it.

TBT: The First Baths

I mean, it wasn’t. Really.

The first baths was F212. It was December of 1996, and I was still woefully naive and inexperienced when it came to gayness. We were in Vancouver, me and the man who would become my ex, visiting the man who was recently his ex, and the ex suggested going to the baths. It sounded fun to me, so off we went. Steamroom? Check. Hot tub? Check. Fourway? Check. After that, I was ready for more bathhouse fun.

Small wonder then, when I finished Uni and was looking for a gay job, bathhouses were among the places I applied. Now, I know I literally just talked about Down Under being the first, but TECHNICALLY, my first gay job in Edmonton was at the Georgia Baths. I don’t count it because, well… you’ll see.

Compared to the new, clean Down Under, the Georgia was, politely, a hole. It wasn’t even at the nice end of Jasper. Still, how bad could it really be? I was hired to do the Friday and Saturday graveyard shifts, and graveyard was appropriate. Dead. As. Fuck. Also possibly the first time I ever saw a cockroach. But what really got me was the fact that the guys weren’t even hot. If I was gonna be bored at work, I should have at least been able to get off before getting off, ya know? Sadly, not to be.

(Also technically not true, but it doesn’t count if I just bring outside friends in, right?)

After that first weekend, I got hired at Down Under and left the Georgia as fast as possible. And I just happened to let my new boss know about some of the health violations at the other space, and he just happened to call Alberta Health, who of course visited, and of course found problems. But maybe it was too obvious after me leaving, and the owners of the Georgia put two and two together.

First at Down Under, then at home (at my PARENTS home), I started to get phone calls that became increasingly threatening. “Keep your mouth shut or we will shut it for you” kinda thing. And so my first gay job ended with me going to the police, to have my first gay bosses restrained from harassing me.

Luckily, there would be no more gay drama in my life.

#TBT: The Last Day of Boots – A Gay Bar Moment

That Boots would outlive longtime owner Jim Schafer seemed unlikely, but we made a go of it, me and Ross. The grief over Schafer’s loss was woven into every night though, and the financial reality of the situation became clearer every day. Still, it was, as much as possible, business as usual, which meant, in the spring of 2010, long periods where nothing happened, broken by an ISCWR show or bear bash, and happy hours with my peeps at the Princess Corner. And once a month, Bingo with Bobert.

Now, keep in mind, I was at the height of addiction here. Sure, it wasn’t the circling the drain rock-bottom of the summer of 2007. I had managed to find a way to become a functioning alcoholic cokehead, but drunk and high I was and drunk and high I remained. The erratic moodswings of addiction combined with the still raw grief and guilt and fear of impending change made things extra dramatic that spring, but Bingo with Bobert was a chance to just have fun.

May 31, 2010, was a Monday like any other Monday. I was likely hungover from a Sunday at Buddys or Play, Sunday being my day off from Boots. Hungover Rob required alcohol and cocaine to get through the night, especially when I had to be “on” to host Bingo. Let’s just say, the speed round that my regulars loved so much only happened after a coke delivery, when I was, literally, speeding. As that Bingo started, I had no idea that it would be the last.

It wasn’t busy. There were our usual 20-25 there, and the few regulars along the bar, Claude and Bubbles and so on. We were playing Bingo, and laughing, and everything was normal as we hit intermission and I went to the bar for a drink from Ross. Ross told me to close it down. Right then. I knew when not to question a mood shift, and so I went back to the microphone and said this would be the last round, not knowing yet it would actually be the last round.

After everyone left, as stunned by the abruptly early end to Bingo as I was, Ross told me we weren’t re-opening. This was it. The final night. I was floored. Knowing something is coming along in the future, and having it suddenly there, are two very different feelings. Drugs were ordered, drinks were poured. Ross went upstairs to pass out, and there I was, alone in Boots, the final time.

Looking back, I had no sense of the importance of the space as a forty-year-old gay bar closing. My concerns were immediate, short-sighted, selfish. It was my space. It was our space, me and those 20-25. I didn’t post to Facebook. I just got fucked up, one last time, rummaging through the bar for things to take home. Mementos of my time there. I didn’t know where I would go, I didn’t know what I would do, but I knew this: my time at Boots had changed me as it had changed so many.

And that time was over.

When Ross woke up in the morning, I was still drinking and high as fuck. We left our keys on the bar there, and he drove me and my pile of treasures home. He kept driving west. I have not seen him since.

Then and only then did I post on Facebook. “Boots is closed.” I then turned off my phone and tried to pass out. Everyone who read it knew I meant for good. The writing had been on the wall for a long time. I’d started back at Boots that third and final time while I was homeless, and now, we all were, my bears and court queens, and my princesses of the corner.

Except… while I was sleeping, Deb and Tracey from the Junction read that Facebook post, and when I woke up, they were asking me to call them. We didn’t know it yet, but the days of that little bar on 106 St were not over yet.

The Stardust Lounge: A Gay Bar Moment

For most of my gay life, the Sunday Night drag show was a gay bar staple. Whether it was Feather Boa at the Odyssey in Vancouver, where I saw my first ever performances, or the Sunday shows at Boystown or Detours in Calgary, or Edmonton’s Betty Ford Hangover Clinic at The Roost, the weekend ended with drag.

In the spring of 2005, Twiggy and Kitten Kaboodle had been dominating Edmonton drag for years. Every Sunday, the area around the stage would be filled with people screaming for Kitten to do Tina, or for Twiggy to do a signature number like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or These Boots Are Made For Walking (Fun fact, Twiggy, wanting to avoid doing Boots, got rid of her boots entirely, but that just forced the audience to start wearing boots so she could borrow them when they demanded it as an encore). I was among that crowd for the longest time, but that spring, I was managing Buddys, direct competition to The Roost, and Sunday Night was the night I wanted. We already had Monday, Thursday, Friday on lock, but couldn’t crack into the Roost’s Saturday or Sunday. Who could I possibly find though, that could remotely compete against the drag juggernauts of Twiggy and Kitten?

Then I saw her, walking down the street in front of Buddys on her way to work at the nearby Rexall Drugs. Binki. I’d worked with Binki before. She’d played Dorothy in our drag production of the Wizard of Oz, and then the Sandy to my Danny in the ISCWR production of Grease. As she walked by, I yelled out, “Hey Binki! Wanna host a drag show?” She laughed, I laughed, and I thought no more about it.

Until a few weeks later when she showed up at the bar, proposal and co-host in tow. The co-host was Vanity Fair, who I knew, but not well. They were both talented, and of the same drag generation as Kitten. That was good. Buddys was the gay bar of the next generation, and our queens and shows needed to represent that. The show they proposed was called The Stardust Lounge. They pictured it as a glamourous night out, candles on the tables around the stage kind of glamour. I got the approval to try it, bi-weekly alternating with the already existing GoDonna Show, and we aimed for a June launch.

Just a couple weeks before the first show, Binki and Vanity got to host a set at Coronation, which was maybe the first time the city got to see the two of them in action together. And every performance they introduced, they managed to remind people that The Stardust Lounge was coming.

It came, and it was glorious. I mean, maybe not the curtains those first shows, but the shows? So glorious. And the reviews spoke for themselves, as did the Peanut Gallery of loyal fans the show soon gathered. The Stardust Lounge rang the death knell of the Twiggy/Kitten Sundays, because Twiggy and Kitten soon wanted to be guests in Binki and Vanity’s new gig, with group numbers every show and a wonderfully fresh hosting dynamic.

The Stardust Lounge ran at Buddys for six months. Then, my brand new addiction derailed their first show of 2006, and they quit, until I got fired, then they went back. But when negotiations with Buddys failed to meet their needs, they moved the show to The Roost. There, they operated as Flashback Sunday for 2007, The Roost’s last year, and then they and their casts, feeling the burnout, changed the show into a long weekend special event at Boots.

Soon though, the show suffered a schism. One spotlight was maybe not big enough for two stars like Binki and Vanity. The show had catapulted them to the top echeleon of Edmonton drag, leading Pride Parades, hosting the main stage at our festivals, but they splintered. Binki and some of her girls relocated to Play, as the Playgirls (which became the EVOgirls and then Les Girls); Vanity stayed on at Boots with a new group of girls, starting shows called the Queen of Hearts Cabaret (which eventually led to this becoming an ISCWR event) featuring the Pleasure Dolls. They reunited occasionally though, some gigs at Junction, and then eventually, a stupendous ten-year reunion tour in 2005 at EVO. But it was never the same.

The success of the show was all them, I know that. I was merely fan and historian and stalker, but when I look back, I can’t help but think that without me yelling out at Binki that spring day, this sequin-clad chapter of Edmonton drag may never have happened. To this day, they’re two of the most talented entertainers, hosts, and artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Lost Boys Episode Two: Ashley

Last Seen: February 2011

What I loved about Ashley was how he’d often enjoy just sitting at the bar, same as me, even as our friends danced and flailed about. I hadn’t enjoyed a dance floor for years at that point, and even though I didn’t mind just sitting there with my beer and watching the club, it was always nice when Ash came and plopped down next to me.

                Sometimes, it was to check on me. He had a knack for knowing when people were glum and needed a bit of cheer, and he had cheer to spare. Sometimes, it was the opposite, because with that cheer came the occasional burst of drunken darkness.

                Still, more often than not, he shone gold. He was dating my favorite bartender when I met him, and they were relationships goals. They were young and beautiful and I was certainly feeling like neither of those things at the time.

                He was a huge part of those years at Buddys, those years when I descended further down a spiral of addiction. I think we were both often searching for a “something else” and sometimes, briefly, we touched on it during those kind of barstool philosophy sessions that only happen after Last Call is called and you’re left only with the beer before you and the boy beside you.

                In all the years, through all the beers, and in spite of the fact that he was obviously ridiculously attractive, there’d never been anything more than friendship. Now, one would assume that was of course because he was in a relationship, but that had never stopped me before. In fact, that was usually the last piece of the attraction; the unavailable are, simply, hotter.

                But I was happy with our friendship being exactly what it was. Ashley was pure, and I wanted what we had to be pure, too, untainted.

                I watched the lows and the highs and the literal highs of his relationship with my beautiful bartender, watched it rise and fall, and eventually, fall apart. Neither of them were happy, together or not together, and even though it had happened before, this time, they said, it was over over.

                The last time I saw Ashley was not at Buddys, but at my work. I came in for a shift, and he there, and he was Beautiful. He was all suited up and fancy, and had fit a visit into his day (a wedding, I think?). Just to see me.

                This was a time in my life when I was never sober. My days began and ended with drugs and alcohol. I was out of control, there was no doubt, and I was desperate to find something real that would slow my fall. That he was there, right then, so handsome and just there to say hi, I took it as a sign.

                I asked him out, and at first, he laughed it off. But I knew this was the moment. Eventually, they’d be back together so if I didn’t carpe the hell out of this diem, I’d lose out. He was light, and I needed light. And even when he wasn’t light, well, our darknesses meshed.

                His last words to me were “isn’t just friends good enough?”

                My last word to him was “no”.

                A few weeks later, I quit all the booze and drugs for good, and a few weeks after that, he died.

                He shouldn’t have died. It was stupid and senseless. He’d been at a party, drunk and angry and lashing out, and his friends left him there. I would have been at the party, but my sobriety was new and oh so fragile, and I doubted my ability to resist a party bus of temptations.

                Later, and to this day, I would think that if I’d gone, he wouldn’t have been left alone. I’d have stayed there with him, if I hadn’t been able to calm him down. None of it would have happened. He would still be in this world.

                But that’s not the way it went.

                I didn’t go. He was left behind. And the world is a darker place without him.

#FBF – The Start of EVO: A Gay Bar Moment

When the Junction closed in September of 2012, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. The morning after the Grand Finale, I went on a little road trip – just me and my camera. That first year of sobriety had given me so much freedom, and nothing demonstrated it like the open road. Sobriety had also given me the gift of time to figure out the next step – time, and money. But neither were unlimited.

Meanwhile, south of the border, the economy was crashing and the government response seemed to be an unwillingness to renew work visas, even for those who had lived and ran businesses there for years. My uncles were getting deported (well, by this time, they were living there illegally actually). Did I want to move to Calgary with them, they asked. We could open up a business together. They, you see, also would eventually run out of time and money.

And so I made the call to leave behind the friends I’d made and life I’d built, and take a chance on something new. On a snowy day in February 2013, my loser drove me and all my worldly possessions through a snowstorm to Calgary; it certainly wasn’t our first snowstorm together, but in a lot of ways, it was our last.

You see, Evolution Wonderlounge was very close to being a Calgary bar. We certainly looked around. And more than looked! We found some great spaces, even put in a couple offers, but none of them ever actually happened. While we explored our options, I made some trips back to Edmonton, to visit those people I’d just so recently and dramatically said goodbye forever to. And on one of those trips, we learned that the space that had briefly been the gay bar Play was for sale.

I’d never been a Playboy, but I liked the space, and we bought into the dream of the Edmonton Ice District, and what it would do for downtown. (Narrator: it wouldn’t do much for downtown, that’s for sure!) Edmonton at the time had Buddys and Woodys for gay bars, so there was room for another, we thought, and certainly, we felt we could carve out a corner for ourselves. And so we signed a lease, even as a new gay dance club in UpStares opened.

If you’ve seen the bar, you wouldn’t have recognized it then, with its wood pillars, carpet everywhere, cockroach infestation good times. The bar had one working lightbulb when we took over, and it was so sketchy that delivery drivers and cops didn’t even like setting foot inside. Another basement bar, some drag queens said? At least make it white and bright. And white and bright it was! Then again, everything is bright and shiny when it’s new, isn’t it?

Very little about our original plan for the space stayed. The seven-days-a-week lounge, with after-work happy-hour idea was a fantasy that never stood a chance. But what hasn’t changed in the nearly ten years since we opened is our desire to be something that’s not just a bar. It was a family business from day one, and that hasn’t changed; that family has simply expanded to include so many amazing members of this community who I have worked and partied with for so long. With EVO’s ten year anniversary coming up, it really isn’t too soon to start looking back at the moments and people who have made us what we are.

Stay tuned. It’s coming.

Lost Boys Episode One: Paul

Last Seen: Summer 2004

                ­I think he messaged me first, reaching out across the cyberverse of for what? A friend? A fuck? He was eighteen and freshly out and just needed what we all needed at that stage: some kind of gay connection. He was still living at home, with just a few months left until graduation, and our chats moved off onto MSN Messenger, and moved from friendly into flirty and dirty, as they tend to do.

                We agreed to meet up at Buddys, a local gay club. It was just some random March Thursday, which in the Buddysverse meant Wet Underwear night, a contest that bordered on a rite of passage for so many young gay boys just coming out; it was a great way to get applause, affirmation, and cash. He was even cuter in person.

                Dangerously cute.

                See, I was not in a position to be starting anything with anyone. I was trapped living with my recent ex, an ex who was very convinced that we would end up getting back together because, well, that’s what we always did. I was trying to start a business and had zero income so moving out or otherwise asserting independence wasn’t an option.

                I don’t know if I was thinking about all of that, yet, though. Not that first night. I just wanted to give Paul what I never got: a good first night out at a gay club, a mentored introduction to gay life. He didn’t seem too blown away by it all, but part of that seemed to be just that he was overwhelmed, and happy having met me in person. That other gay person we first meet in real life can have an almost magical feeling to them, and I guess for him, that night, that was me.

                He had a 1AM curfew, so he didn’t even get to watch the wonders of Wet Underwear, but like a gentleman, I walked him to his car. He opened the door as we said good night and I seized the moment and kissed him. He turned away, and I thought I’d misread everything, or that the real life me had been a disappointment. But he slammed his car door shut, spun around, and kissed me back hard.

                It was his first kiss, and I don’t know how it was for him, but it was amazing for me. There was nothing else in the world except that kiss, standing there in the street outside the bar. But his curfew was coming up, and the kiss had to end.

                Over the next couple weeks, he came in to visit, a lot. But between his curfew and my always-present ex, there wasn’t opportunity for much more than kissing. There was lots of that though. Whenever we had a minute alone, our lips locked. Having such short periods made the making out all the more frenzied. He wanted more, and I did too, but the timing. It was hard to find time for first times when you’re on a couch next to your ex.

                Hard indeed.

                Then my life intervened. This was 2004 remember, so Internet wasn’t yet such a major necessity that it took precedence over other bills, and when it got cut off, we had no way to stay in touch. It wasn’t like things were at the point I could call him at home and explain to his parents who I was. The connection, so new, was simply severed, inexplicably to him.

                By the time I could explain, the damage was done, it seemed. The frantic passion of those weeks was gone, and it never came back.

                That fall, he started college, and I started a new job that consumed my life. At some point, he moved to Toronto, as had been his plan all along, to pursue a career in fashion.

                A decade and more after our moment, I saw him on Grindr. He was obviously visiting his parents for Christmas, and the cute boy had become a very handsome man. My message reaching out and saying hi was never acknowledged.

                I don’t even remember his last name so searching socials is near impossible. Every holiday, I check hook-up apps to see if he’s again home. But there’s been nothing.

                Just the memory of a first kiss that makes me smile.

TBT – Watching Him Die: A Gay Bar Moment

In 2007, I started working at Boots, a gay bar here in Edmonton.

This wasn’t the first time I’d worked there. I’d worked there in 2000, but quit to work at The Roost. I’d gone back in 2003, but quit when we started publishing Fresh Magazine and the owners at Boots thought they could control content since I worked for them. Third time’s the charm, right? No, not really, but I was desperate, and beggars can’t be choosers, of course.

In the summer of 2007, I was homeless, and to get un-homeless, I needed work, and Jim Schafer, the owner of Boots, gave me that work. I was a little gunshy, at first, having left there twice, on less than great terms, and I was also just emerging from a year and a half of essential social hibernation, where my life had consisted of getting drunk and high at home, until there was no home left. Luckily, this Boots opportunity came along and changed everything.

Now, I could get drunk and high at work AND at home.

In the end, I wasn’t even there three years, but it was a pivotal three years. Maybe it was the years as a customer, combined with the short lived previous employments that make it feel like I was there so much longer. Or maybe it was because of how it ended, and what we went through together, those of us who gathered around the corner of that little bar on 106 St. The Princess Corner.

By 2007, Boots was not busy. Woodys had opened in 2002, and a lot of Boots’ regular customers had migrated there, in no small part because of Schafer’s shall-we-say curmudgeonness. (Curmudgeonness is a word which here means “cranky, cunty, cantankerous, mixed with an abrasive layer of casual racism and transphobia.” Don’t get me wrong – this was mingled with an incredible generosity of spirit – and spirits!) But there was a core of loyal customers, and they came every day at 4 and we drank our beer and our shooters (fucking sambuca) and we laughed and we laughed and we laughed. Usually, I was nursing a massive hangover, but those happy hours numbed that (hair of the bulldog, and all). That’s how it was though – get drunk all afternoon with Jim, then stay drunk and get high. Many a night became a morning, and I was often there still partying when Jim would come in the morning to start the new day.

(Which is ironic because the first time I got hired, I was replacing someone who had stayed all night partying. I got away with murder)

And then, maybe late 2008, maybe early 2009, Jim changed. He’d always been ornery and antagonistic, but now, that crossed into a new viciousness. But it wasn’t just emotional changes. He would chain smoke until he began to hack (Yes, this is long after non-smoking bylaws. Schafer didn’t care). He would drink until he had to stumble home. And soon, not even that. He would pass out at the bar. And sometimes, even before he had started drinking. Something was very wrong.

We all knew it. We all tried to talk to him about it. Jim wouldn’t listen.

Lorne and Chatty, they could sometimes get through. Ross, Jim’s ex-boyfriend and partner in the business, could sometimes get through. But it got harder and harder, and we watched him fail. And not just watch. His failing was a full sensory experience, as he rotted away from the inside out. He had been an owner of The Roost. He had been an Emperor of the ISCWR. He had navigated the Garage Burger Bar into being an award-winning greasy spoon that dominated local restaurant awards. And he was fading. We all knew it.

If we all knew, why was it so surprising, that day in March, when he left?

You always think there’s more time than there is. Time for another round. But, too often, there isn’t.

I think sometimes about what would have happened if he hadn’t died. Boots would have still closed. How he had juggled finances as long as he did was a mystery Ross and I were never able to solve. If he hadn’t died, I don’t see a world where I’d have ever gotten sober. And yet I would give up so much of what came after for one more round, with that raucous, ragged laugh ringing from the corner of the Princess Bar.

TBT: Down Under Gay Men’s Bathhouse

Down Under was a gay men’s bathhouse that opened in Edmonton in 1998. The weeks leading up to the opening were filled with a great public outcry about what a business LIKE THAT would do the neighborhood. I was completely unaware of that outcry, living as I was in Lethbridge at the time. For me, I was just excited that Edmonton was getting somewhere for me to get laid if the bars or chatrooms didn’t pan out.

When I moved to Edmonton the year after, I wanted a gay job. That was really my only requirement. And Down Under was one of the places I applied. When I walked down those stairs to hand a resume to manager Eric, I had no idea that I’d be getting so much more than some part-time job to tide me over while I decided what to do with my life.

Down Under had three owners. One, Gretchen, also worked at The Roost. The second, George, was the owner of Boots and the Garage Burger Bar. The third, Jim, played the Chief in Edmonton’s Village People Revue, and he invited me to join. That was my gateway drug into gay employment. Really, those three people definitively shaped the rest of my life, with jobs to come at Boots, the Garage, the Roost. All three had been monarchs with the ISCWR, and my Village People days soon led to ISCWR involvement. Looking back now, it’s truly phenomenal what that job did to me and for me.

I remember when my mom found out where I worked that her first question was “do you give people baths?” That, of course, wasn’t the case. I handed them towels; they bathed themselves. Actually, come to think of it, there did come a time when yes, we did give people baths. Eric, old when I started, kept getting older, and he needed some help in and out of the shower and/or hot tub. By that point, he wasn’t just my boss; he was also my landlord, and friend. We’d even adopted his cat (Young Rob, the black cat is hovering). He’d been a professor at Macewan. He’d travelled. He had stories, and oh! Could he tell them! He could also creep along quite quietly for an old man, and more than once, he managed to sneak in to catch me and my co-worker Bobby watching Roseanne reruns on TBS instead of working like we should. In 2003, the combination of alcohol and anger led to me no-showing for yet another shift, and Eric had to call me up. “Young Rob, your services are no longer required.” That was the last thing he ever said to me, as not long after, he passed away. (Young Eric, your services are no longer required)

But the years I worked at Down Under gifted me new friends, new skills, new lovers. Oh, so many new lovers! The Ice Princess. The Lifeguard. The Twins. The Florist. The Flight Attendant, grounded by 9/11. The Buddys boy. The GLCCE chair. The Mistress. Some lasted just an afternoon, an evening; some evolved into friendship. All of them linger in my memory.

Whenever I get a whiff of sauna, I’m there again.