Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling by Rick Whitaker

Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling by Rick Whitaker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ugh. Pretentious, short, filled with unnecessary quotes from long dead authors in the public domain.
The best line in the book I thought was went he went to a drug counsellor and said he was addicted to meth and doing it twice a day. The drug counsellor says So? How's that working for you?
There's this moment when you realize your problems are not someone else's, that you can't blame your childhood on your current lifestyle forever, that no one cares or will care except yourself. And this is touched on for like 2 paragraphs, and then back to Nietzsche quotes, irrelevant notebook entries from years ago and lines that start with "Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in the diary he kept during the First World War...".
Your eyes will be rolling as you read.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book, it's one of my favorites. I just finished another book I compared to Catcher in my review and thought to myself it had been 20 years since I last read Cather. I thought I should re-read it to see if I still remembered it accurately.

"He was one of those guys that think they're being a pansy if they don't break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you. God, I hate that stuff."

The king of hyperbole, I identify so much with Holden.

"But my parents, especially my mother, she has ears like a goddam bloodhound. So I took it very, very easy when I went past their door. I even held my breath, for God's sake. You can hit my father over the head with a chair and he won't wake up, but my mother, all you have to do to my mother is cough somewhere in Siberia and she'll hear you."

I love the wording, the language still feels fresh and new 75 years later. This is the original teen angst book that started the ball rolling for generations of copy cats.

I think this also may have been the first book I read that dealt with homosexuality.

Fuck you.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cabbagetown Diary: A Documentary by Juan Butler

Cabbagetown Diary: A Documentary by Juan Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My favourite book of the year. I loved it.
This is the best book I’ve ever read about Toronto. The author takes you there, to the Cabbagetown slum of 1968 and describes the landmarks of the time so well it’s like you’re there. Picture Yorkville as the author describes it:
“Yorkville Avenue. Two blocks of discotheques with the music blaring out onto the street; sidewalk coffee houses where you can watch people who watch you as you drink a fifty-cent coffee; art galleries full of modern painting that looks like the stuff we did in grade one; a poster store where my friend George got his posters; and about half a million people and cars moving up and down like a permanently flowing river.”
A lot of books have been compared to Catcher in the Rye and to me this one is the closest. The short vignettes, the sense of humour. This to me is what a first book can be. Too often I feel Canadian authors get too swept up in their own lives when writing their first book. I was young, I was depressed, I took drugs, the end. This book isn’t all about the author. A part of it is but it’s also his life, his humour, his friends, and the city.
Some passages still ring true today:
“But just think of all those joes that work in offices. They live in some stupid suburb ten miles out of the city. They have to get up at six in the morning, drink an instant breakfast, kiss wives whose faces are covered in beauty cream so you can’t even see them, run like hell so they don’t miss the bus, and spend an hour on it with about ten thousand other joes all crammed in like so many sardines in a can, fight their way into a subway car, get their feet stepped on about twenty time, and all that so that they can arrive thirty seconds late for work and have the boss give them a dirty look and write their name on a piece of paper.”
I’ve often thought of these self-obsessed pretentious first novels that it’s like depressing fish in a barrel. When you add in the humour, the work can really shine:
“Mrs. Waddling’s caught a cold and every time she blows her nose she reminds me more than ever of a duck. Honk. Honk. She better not leave the city in duck-hunting season or they’ll get her for sure.”
On the St Charles Tavern:
“I went in there one day with a friend. It’s dimly lit and except for the perfume you’d think you were walking into a straight bar. Then, as your eyes get used to the light you see that there’s nothing but guys in the place. Hundreds of them. They look you up and down as you walk towards the end trying to find a seat, and you realize what a broad in a miniskirt feels like on a windy day.”
An elephant in the Riverdale Zoo:
“He’s covered in shit and dirt and he looks about as happy as a hungry Jew with nothing but pork to eat in the house.”
“We walk past a baboon who’s picking his ass for fleas and throwing them at the spectators. Each time he does it, he smiles, his top lip lifting up a foot, exposing buck teeth that would make Jake jealous. Some little kid throws a stick at him and he picks it up, looks at it, then throws it back at him, hitting the kid’s mother. The kid laughs and the baboon smiles. It’s obvious that they’re in on this together. It’s probably the baboon that thought up the whole idea cause the kid doesn’t look too smart.”
Yes there is some anti-Semitism and racism but it seems casual to me and I wasn’t there in 1968 to gauge the mood of the populace so I don’t know how commonplace it was. I feel I can’t judge.
There’s so many great scenes in the book, the author going for a drink in a rowdy tavern, seeing hippies on the street, walking in Allen Gardens.
Loved this book. For me required reading for those living in the city.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Marriage Made in Heaven: Or Too Tired for an Affair by Erma Bombeck

A Marriage Made in Heaven: Or Too Tired for an Affair by Erma Bombeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like many of the reviewers on here read Erma Bombeck as a teenager. I think I may be the only boy to do so. I don't know how many other 12 and 13 year old boys were reading Bombeck in the late eighties.
This being said I remember her very fondly and when a friend picked up this book recently, and it coincided with my recent wedding, I picked up this book and couldn't put it down.
Although it was nice to reconnect with the author, I don't think this was one of her funnier books. Near the beginning of the book I was on the subway reading and I was crying I was laughing so hard. I had to stop! The bit about her husband saying "Why did you wait until you were married to get the mumps?" or sneaking up behind someone and giving them the Heimlich manoeuver were priceless.
Later the book moved into more personal experiences that were nice to share but harder to relate to and therefore less funny. I still had a smile on my face the whole time I read it though.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Last Juror by John Grisham

The Last Juror by John Grisham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are a couple kinds of revisionist history. There's the kind found in Song of the South or Gone With the Wind with happy darkies singing and picking crops while Miss Scarlet throws a fit. There is also the kind found here, in The Last Juror, where an author writes himself into history and always comes down on the good side. Blacks good, whites bad. All whites that is except for the author.
I hadn't read Grisham for a while but I wanted something light so I picked up this book. I found the whole thing misleading. The back of the book describes a man sentenced to a crime who gets out to exact revenge. That doesn't happen until the 84% mark in the book! Talk about spoilers! In between there's a lengthy, too lengthy, Tuesdays with Morrie section where there hero learns the true plight of blacks in the South is paying more for groceries. There's also lengthy sections on the Vietnam war, Lord knows what else. It all started to run together for me as I rolled my eyes at yet another side tangent. Oh, 80 churches visited. Just a lot that has nothing to do with moving the book forward.
The characterizations were good but the book was so light it was like swiss cheese with holes in the page. There was no moral ambiguity here, the people were either angel good or low down bad. And in the end it's proven vigilante justice and guns will solve all problems. Hurrah.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa

Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking forward to reading this book as I had heard of Emanuel Jaques and the murders and their effect of the gay community of the time, culminating in the bathhouse raids of 1981 and the real beginning of gay rights in Canada. This was truly a watershed moment, but no book has ever been written on the case and details are hard to find. When you talk to local gay Torontians about the murder, there is still a lot of emotion around the treatment they were subjected to at the time, being lumped in with pedophiles and murderers and several said they couldn't read this book.
The book starts off very well, painting an incredibly vivid portrait of Toronto's Portuguese community that leaps off the page. The book is set in the year I was born, but images like "the lid of a Bick's pickle jar held tightly under his arm. I could see bugs trying to climb up the side of the jar, only to slip down before they reached the top" still rang very true to my life.
The book continues and we meet Antonio's father, one of the most lovable characters with Ricky, and his broken English. The author recounts a protest march the Portuguese community held with signs like "TAR AND FATHER THEM" which is great.
The book starts to falter with more characters being introduced. Although the author writes description and setting amazingly well, human interaction seems forced. The characters communicate with each other at breakneck speed and while I had the impression the author was clear on what was happening to whom, the reader doesn't always. Many times I found I didn't know who was speaking or what they were talking about or what past event they were referencing. Everyone in this book has their secrets and it's just overdone. Antonio for example goes through far too many things to be believable and with all the action the characters come off underdeveloped. I agree with another reviewer who said the author did too much and too little. Too many events, too many secrets, I couldn't keep them all straight. Was the mother having an affair, and how is there 50 pages of exposition over witnessing one kiss? It seemed like there was a whole backstory there we never got to here. Similarly James, we're set up by the book to like and believe Edite and when she tells Antonio early on he's a good guy, we believe her. I've finished the book and I don't think he was.
Near the end I was just reading it to finish it. The book got outlandish with the patron saint Antonio, and while I found the part with Ricky moving I found it a bit manipulative. I would suppose the moral of the story is that children are taken advantage of by adults in lots of ways, just like the Jaques boy, but I don't know that that is the moral I wanted.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Emanuel Jaques, Toronto Shoeshine Boy Murders and Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa

Just over half-way through Kicking the Sky and I wanted to check out what the local Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives has on the case.
I find it remarkable there isn't another picture of Emanuel, called Manuel on the first newspaper stories about him. 
When you speak to any gay man in Toronto about the case, the first thing they say is the boy was no saint. This to me is a knee-jerk reaction to surviving through that period and the attack on gays that followed. Lost in this seems to be the fact that the boy didn't deserve to be murdered.
I'm glad to read this book and learn more about that period of Toronto's history. I enclose some articles I found in the Archives on the case, there is very little around on the internet.
Will post a full review when book is finished.

Monday, July 7, 2014



There is a Madonna song that goes “This paradise is not for me.” For a long time I felt the same way about marriage.  First it was denied to me as a right, as it was to all LGBT people, and I believe there’s something you internalize from that. The state says you are not allowed to get married, that you are not equal, and try as you might, a part of you believes that.
Through the brave efforts of my fellow man, the right to marry was then given but a part of that feeling still remains. In addition I wasn’t at a time in my life where I was ready to be committed to someone else. I needed to look inside and take time for myself. I needed to be able to love myself.  As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love somebody else?”
You helped me with that Shin. You have shown me that I can love and be loved. You have shown me that I don’t have to give up myself to be in a relationship with someone else.
I constantly feel loved by you.  Your kind actions reinforce this every day.  From your cooking, to your smiles, to rolling over in the night and giving me a hug and a kiss, you remind me of the good thing we have. And also your sense of humour and sarcasm remind me not to take it all too seriously. That we’re all on this journey together and no one gets out alive.
I love you. I am ready to spend the rest of our lives together. I commit to you here today my love everlasting.

First of all I want to thank everyone for coming.  We really appreciate your all being here for us to help us celebrate our big day.
When the act of being in a relationship is considered by some political, there are less constraints you need to follow when planning a wedding. I hope we were able to provide some light-hearted touches along the way and that people have had a good time.
I first met Shin a year and a half ago in a coffee shop. Or maybe it was dinner.  Neither of us really remembers, but we do remember the coffee shop. It was the Timothy’s in the gay village and it was the village of the damned. We were the youngest people in there by decades. I remember moving someone’s walker to get to my chair. I remember thinking “Is this where he likes to hang out?”  But some of my best friends are in their seventies so who am I to judge, perhaps this was fate.
I remember he had brought some Asian rice cracker thing that he gave me a bite of and said I wouldn’t like.  I was trying to impress him so I said “No, I’ll love it, I’m sure!”  Then after taking the bite I spent the rest of the evening trying to hide the rest of the cracker under my chair so he wouldn’t see it. I also remember asking him what he thought of me, if I looked like the photos I had posted online.  He said “Oh, I don’t remember that, I never pay attention to photos.”  Another ego boost, this was going well.
I met Shin at a time when I was having a dating renaissance.  After not dating for a few years I was on a dating spree, having dated 7 or 8 guys in the last couple weeks before I met him. But once I met him, all the others very quickly fell by the wayside so I could focus on him.  I remember confiding this to him later in our relationship and saying I had been a bit of a player when we met.  He said, “When all the guys are in their mid-to-late 40’s, that does not make you a player.” There’s that self-esteem boost again.
For our first vacation together we rented a trailer and drove to a campground. This would prove to be comedy gold. Shin questioned why we had to go to a gay campground, and I remember saying I didn’t need screaming children around. So we went gay camping. First of all the map said I think two hours to get there.  It took four. We pull up in the middle of the night to this place that looks like the Bates Motel and checked in. We couldn’t really see anything so unpacked in the morning.  Shin had the idea, which he had stated many times before this trip, that we should go canoeing.  I had canoed once before in my life, I believe it was 1998, and I was still in pain.
We get in this canoe and I can’t move.  If I relax the tension in my left leg the thing starts to tip over. I have to breathe out the left side of my mouth to keep us in balance. Shin immediately starts in saying how his ex-boyfriend was a much better paddler than I am, but I can’t kick him as he’s too far away.  Lucky.
We actually had a nice time and met some other guys who showed us a portage trail and a waterfall and things were going well.  Then it was time to come back. When we had been leaving the guy who rented us the canoe said there were rapids and rocks and we should always follow them to the left.  Or was it the right.  I wasn’t really paying attention.  Being the weaker paddler I was up front so when I saw the rocks and rapids coming back I was the first one to scream.  Instantly my mouth was filled with mosquitos. Shin’s yelling at me to row faster so we could get up the very slight incline and I’m yelling that we’re all going to die.
This went on for hours.  Well it felt like hours.  We’d row a little, get half way up the incline, then start drifting backwards and end up at the bottom, facing the wrong way.  Finally I said we needed to portage.  Actually maybe a passing canoeist said that.  We went over to the side and managed to get out of the canoe and carry it across some lady’s front lawn and over the bridge to the other side.  Now here was the problem.  The bank was much higher than the water on the other side as it was at the top of the rapids.  So there was about a three foot drop from the edge of bank to the water. Some strangers helped hold the canoe while Shin held me as I got in the boat.  Once in the thing started to sail away leaving Shin on the land and I waved, telling him to write.
We managed to get the canoe back but I couldn’t hold it steady or still and wasn’t really much good for anything.  As Shin is stretching and trying to reach the seat, the edge of the bank gives way and sploosh, he’s in the water.
It was at this point I knew I loved him.
Again I’d like to thank everyone for coming, specifically all those who assisted. We needed a lot of help to plan this event. My mom and Keith, thank you for the decorations, for the gift bags, for lending an ear when required, and for always remembering the smaller details and whipping yourself into a frenzy.
Thank you to my father and Linda for the food and the photography.  I know their daughter Devora helped with that as well and it was much appreciated. I asked my dad if he had ever cooked for 50 people and when he said no I told him this was his chance.  I really appreciate all you’ve done and the food is wonderful.
Thank you to Sarah, my best person, for the cupcakes, but most of all for your support. I know you’re always there for me and in my corner and I love that. The trip we took to BC what seems like so long ago was some of the best moments of my life.
Thank you to Shin’s best person, Yuriko, too.
Thank you to Gerry, one of my best friends, for the flowers.  I’m writing this speech in advance but I know they will look amazing. You always bring a sense of class and elegance with you, which is something I lack, and it’s always appreciated.  Also for always being there and willing to lend a hand.
Thank you to everyone who travelled so far, my brother Arthur from Alberta, my cousins Alicia and Megan, Jonathan from London and possibly farthest Dom from Switzerland. Though Shin from Japan may have you beat there.
Finally, while preparing for this wedding, Shin and I had a running joke. Every time one of us would do something that the other didn’t like, we would say “I’m going to mention this at the wedding.” So for example, he’d get up and forget to make the bed and I’d say to him, “I’m going to mention that at the wedding.”  Soon it got to be we’d add it to the list, so there was a list at the wedding.  Then it evolved into a book.  Everyone would say “Oh, how nice, he brought a bible to the wedding!” and I would say “No, that’s my list of complaints!” Well the only thing I want to share from the list here today is how much I love him, and to thank my wonderful husband Shin.
I could go on but I want to keep this evening moving and as the good Lord says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”